The Velocette Owners Club sponsors an annual Spring Opener ride, hosted by John and Sue Ray at their 40-acre spread in the hills above Napa. Beautiful location, and the Rays are generous hosts, plus there’s a lot of room to spread out the motorcycles, no matter how many show up. We met Saturday morning the 19th of May for a ride of about 70 miles through the amazing countryside around Napa and Lake Berryessa – perfect motorcycle roads, especially if your motorcycle has rear suspension, as some of the roads are badly paved and bumpy in the areas where you’d like to be cranked over.

Kim and KSS, with Bill Charman, long-time club member who we don’t see enough of on these rides. Bill has an amazing, barn find ’55 MSS, which keeps on going without much input – he’s had it for 18 years or so, and bought it from Frank Forster for the princely sum of $1200. Frank thought he got the better end of the deal at the time, but Bill has had the last laugh, as these days original/unrestored machines are getting hard to come by. [Paul d’Orleans]

This year, as all my Velos were on the bench, I borrowed John’s 1967 Velocette Thruxton [read our story on the Thruxton here], which is a fast and well-sorted machine. I think I kept my promise to only ride it to 80%, and I only opened the throttle WFO to pass a couple of cars along the way. Still, the bike is very fast through the twisty bits, and as that’s all there is in the hills, away we went. Thanks John!  There was only one mechanical mishap, when Kim Young’s 1930 KSS had primary chain/clutch problems, which she’s been trying to sort for a while. The bike has had a bit of teething trouble, and her husband Pete puts a lot of time and effort to ensure Kim has it available for rides.

Note the smoke coming off these riders – they’re coming in fast! Paul Zell on the MeSS 680cc custom [Read our feature here], Jeff Scott on a race-tuned Norton Commando, George Shoblo on a Moto Guzzi V50 which he flogs mercilessly (what, no Thruxton George?). [Paul d’Orleans]


Frank Recoder’s VMT, freshly recovered from a nasty T-bone accident and looking great. Pic 4 is Frank himself, fiddling with the unreacheable float bowl of the GP carb -it was once explained that a ‘cooperative, trained snake is helpful in tickling the carb’. Too true; Frank uses a special tool to help. [Paul d’Orleans]


The line-up. There were around 35 people present for the event, and about 25 riders. Bikes ranged from Kim’s ’30 KSS to a gaggle of Thruxtons, and a few brand-x machines as noted. [Paul d’Orleans]


Starting games! If you can start your bike in one kick and it idles without touching the throttle, you win. That would be Frank Brennan, another long-time club member who we don’t see enough. In the pic is Frank Recoder being watched – the usual Velocette law of inversion (‘the likelihood of a Velocette starting is inversely proportional to the number of people watching’) is suspended for the event, as all spectators are Velo fans, and most of the bikes started first kick. They were all really shiny too; either standards are going up, or we’re not riding our bikes enough, or maybe Bill and I didn’t bring our scruffy bikes! [Paul d’Orleans]


Dana Shatts giving it a go. His Thruxton was having none of it, and got the sulks. [Paul d’Orleans]
Bill Charman doing what we all ended up doing, relaxing with a beer in the sun. [Paul d’Orleans]

To join the Velocette Owner’s Club of North America, click here!  The club has an annual 1000-mile Summer Rally (since 1983), and set the gold standard for vintage riding clubs worldwide.


Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.
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