Hell on Wheels - Jimmy 'Daredevil' Washburn

Performing death-defying stunts aboard his Harley-Davidson in the 1930s and 1940s, Jimmy ‘Daredevil’ Washburn was the Evel Knievel of his day. Descriptions of his feats appear in dozens of period newspapers, including the San Jose News and Santa Clara’s The Sportsman. Writers in those publications used a touch of purple prose to describe Jimmy and his hair-raising daredevilry – including riding while blindfolded and jumping over his wife, Vi. Here’s an example from a front-page story in the March 3, 1941, edition of The Sportsman. “To Jimmy Washburn, going motorcycle riding is not the breezy pleasurable sensation which comes to the average motorcyclist. You see, Jimmy specializes in riding his high-powered velocipede through plate glass windows, burning walls and into brick walls!”

Jimmy Washburn with his modified 1932 Harley-Davidson VL at the Capitol Speedway in Sacramento, in 1952. [Dan Pereyra]
Newspapers, fair and carnival handbills and many show contracts form part of a significant Jimmy ‘Daredevil’ Washburn archive acquired by California-based motorcycle collector Dan Pereyra. Last summer, he bought a 1932 Harley-Davidson VL with its 74ci sidevalve motor: the first of the Big Twin Flatheads. The VL, Dan says, was Jimmy’s main stunt bike, a machine the daredevil bought used in the mid ‘30s and kept in the Washburn family for decades. According to an interview conducted by Glenn Bator of Bator International and posted to YouTube with Jimmy’s son, Jim Washburn II, the VL started life as a $200 second-hand street bike that was stripped down to become a stunt bike. In photographs, depending on the era, the machine appears painted in different schemes, but triple white diamond flashes over black paint are the predominant motif.

Tough guy, huh? Yep, he sure was. Jimmy Washburn in the 1940s. [Dan Pereyra]
Dan is an antique motorcycle enthusiast of more than 40 years, and lives near Jimmy’s San Jose home base, and is justifiably proud of the Washburn archive, as well as the machine. “There’s all this documentation about the stuff that he did, and it’s the most provenance I’ve ever had for any motorcycle I’ve owned; it really is incredible, all of this memorabilia is proof of his outstanding accomplishments.” During Jimmy’s era, he was friends with some very well-respected people, including AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame members Sam Arena and engine builder and tuner Tom Sifton. They raced together at the Garden City Velodrome, a San Jose track where, 25 years earlier, racing legends including Freddy Ludlow, Ralph Hepburn, Ray Weishar, Otto Walker and Jim Davis proved their mettle on the board track.

Making a spectacle of himself against the canvas of night: Jimmy Washburn. [Dan Pereyra]
A June 12, 1968, feature story in the San Jose News about Jimmy provides some of his background. He’s quoted in it, and says, “I bought an old Harley Davidson (1917) for $75. You know how I paid for it? Picking prunes at 10 cents a box.”  Decades before it was paved over to become Silicon Valley, the Santa Clara Valley was full fruit orchards, with a mild climate and very fertile soil. Jimmy’s quote continued, “A friend of mine, Clinton Wells, taught me to ride. No king was any more proud than myself. We began traveling, riding at carnivals, etc. I learned to ‘ride the wall.’ I really had no trouble getting up. It was getting down. But I managed. I received $2 per day for the act at Coney Island.” According to newspaper stories, that ‘tour’ took place as early as 1925.

Not just motorcycles, Jimmy Washburn also drove stunt cars in traveling shows. [Dan Pereyra]
When Jimmy later returned to the West Coast, he took a job with Tri-Valley Growers, but in the early 1930s was offered an opportunity by promoter Lynn Matthewson, at San Jose Speedway on Alum Rock Avenue. Jimmy is quoted, “Matthewson wanted a daredevil act to supplement his auto racing programs. Was I interested? I sure was. Anything for a buck. We had trouble with the first act, though. I was to crash through a wall six foot by six foot, an inch thick. We made a mistake. We used green wood. The outcome was that everything went down in a pile and the cycle was bent into innumerable shapes and forms.” That story ran three years before his death, in 1971.

The MotoBall made by Firestone Tire and Rubber. [Dan Pereyra]
In many of the handbills, Jimmy’s outfit is called ‘Dare Devil Washburn’s Mystery Squadron’; ‘Mystery Squadron’; ‘Hollywood Death Defiers’; ‘Hell Riders’ and the ‘Circus of Death’. Depending on the venue, showgoers were promised excitement with ‘Two Hours of Breathless Thrills’, featuring stunts including, ‘A Thousand to One Ride! Up a 60-ft Incline, Hurtling Through Mid-air at 70 miles per hr, Over a Sedan Car’, and the ‘Human Wall Crash in Flames!’. Jimmy was perhaps best known for his flaming tunnel crash; it’s described in the December 7, 1948, edition of The Sportsman like this, “The Flaming Tunnel which Jimmy originated is the nearest thing to ‘hades’ on earth a stunt man can think up, with a 50-50 chance of shaking the cold hand of an undertaker every time! The tunnel is a 25-foot long box-like structure composed of highly flammable materials and boarded up solid at one end with one inch thick planks. Twenty gallons of high-octane Ethyl gasoline is poured over the structure and fired."

Riding through the Tunnel of Death, which sometimes came close for Jimmy Washburn. [Dan Pereyra]
"The heat is terrific, flames billowing high into the air. Washburn, wearing only a crash helmet and leathers for protection, hurtles down the track at terrific speed to plunge into the flaming inferno. For several long seconds rider and motor are swallowed in that awful maw of flame and your heart stands still, then with shocking suddenness and a shattering roar motor and rider come crashing through the boarded-up section amid a shower of splintering timbers and a billowing ball of flaming gasoline.” Jimmy called trick riding 'sissy stuff,' and the story concluded, “He prefers the wild hair-raising, crashing, smashing stunts with a punch!”

Washburn broke records and won plenty of races, too, as seen in his trophy room. [Dan Pereyra]
Another of Jimmy’s stunts was Motorcycle Speedball. According to Jim Washburn II in Bator’s YouTube interview, an 8-foot diameter rubber ball, made specifically for Jimmy by Firestone Tire & Rubber, was, “Like motorcycle soccer.” Riders would hit the giant ball with their machine, with the orb rolling along to hit another ‘cyclist. “There are pictures of riders eating the dirt because of being hit by that ball!” Jimmy toured the world with his stunt riding, with reports of him having performed in Canada at the Calgary Stampede, in Europe, Australia and Mexico. According to The Sportsman, he rode at the “Chicago and New York World’s Fairs,” and, “He won the championship of the International Congress of Daredevils at St. Louis, Mo., in 1933 and 1934 by hurtling through mid-air on his motorcycle over eight sedan cars, a stupendous leap of 65 feet through space, being 15 feet above ground as the highest point.” Jimmy also made stunt riding appearances in Hollywood films, including the 1936 Universal Picture release Crash Donovan.

Jimmy Washburn with his buddy, the legendary racer Sam Arena, with a Harley-Davidson Sprint. [Dan Pereyra]
Jim II says his father was deaf from the age of nine, and newspaper reports list some of his more significant scars, including a “silver plate in his head, several missing toes on a foot, and burns over three-quarters of his body.” Although he tried his hand at automobile and motorcycle racing and promoted speed events at velodromes, he essentially quit the stunts after an accident in the mid 1950s at the San Jose Speedway. It went awry when he drove a burning car with a bomb in the trunk down the track. Some of the fuel used in the conflagration had found its way onto Jimmy – the bomb never went off -- but he was in hospital for months dealing with skin grafts to second- and third-degree burns.

A poster for the Hell Riders show in Santa Cruz CA, a 'Congress of Dare Devils in Motorcycle Rodeo.' [Dan Pereyra]
Dan says Jimmy’s VL, with its special stunt aids including the fork mounted boardwall crash bars and screen, braced right side rider pedal and bobbed and skirted rear fender had been previously restored when he bought it. “In some areas it just had hardware store bolts with the stamped heads, so I took all that stuff off and replaced it with original hardware from my stock and blacked out the megaphone, which you can see it was like that in the original photos. I just tidied up a few things and made it look more like it did in the period pictures, the way Jimmy used it.” Riding since the age of 13, Dan’s had more than 100 interesting motorcycles through his hands but only has room, realistically, to keep 10 machines in his own collection. With that, he’s decided that he’d part with the Washburn Harley-Davidson stunt bike. He concludes, “I really think this VL belongs in a big collector’s museum, and the Washburn story to me is cooler than the bike.”

Jimmy Washburn's stunt bike today, appropriately refurbished by Dan Pereyra. A 1932 Harley-Davidson VL 74ci Big Twin flathead.




Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Freeze Frame - Allan Tannenbaum

Motorcycles, photographs and stories are intricately intertwined in the life of legendary New York-based lensman Allan Tannenbaum. After decades of capturing stunning and important images of musicians, world altering events and simple moments of everyday life, a few years ago Allan was invited to share his work and experiences at a Motos and Photos NYC event. There, he met filmmaker and motorcyclist Jean Pierre Kathoefer, or as he prefers, JP. “We met there first, and then several more times at other motorcycle events,” says JP, whose daily rider is a KTM 990 Adventure. Born in Germany, JP began riding at a very early age aboard a Yamaha PW50. A career in IT brought him to New York some 10 years ago, but filmmaking took precedence after purchasing a GoPro camera – and then becoming very proficient with all manner of movie equipment. Six years ago, JP founded the video production company johnnypuetz Productions.

Allan Tannenbaum aboard a Norton Commando in 1970 and 2019. [Richard Baron / Peter Domorak]
Always on the lookout for an interesting tale to tell, it soon became apparent to JP that he needed to create a documentary film about Allan. Filmed during the summer of 2022, the work is complete and ready to be pitched to motorcycle film festivals worldwide. Back To The Present, JP says, is a 12-minute documentary about, “Allan, a man who is full of stories that are so interesting. Every time I speak to him, he has a new story and it’s incredible what he’s done through his career. And his images, although I couldn’t have attached his name to them, I’d seen many of them before I knew who he was.”  Watch the trailer for the Back to the Present here!

Mick and Bianca Jagger arrive at the Andy Warhol re-opening party of the Copacabana night club. [Allan Tannenbaum]
Allan’s images are iconic. Beginning in the late 1960s through the early 1980s, he photographed Andy Warhol, Jimi Hendrix The Clash, The Rolling Stones, Blondie, The Ramones and Patti Smith, among dozens of others. His work photographing John Lennon and Yoko Ono filming a nude scene for their “Starting Over” video remains a particular highlight in his portfolio. In the 1970s, Allan was working as chief photographer and photo editor of the SoHo Weekly News, documenting New York’s prolific arts, music and political scene of the era.

Members of the Chingalings Motorcycle Club on their bikes outside their rent-free city-owned clubhouse in the South Bronx. [Allan Tannenbaum]
When the paper quit publishing in 1982, Allan joined Sygma Photo News, traveling worldwide to capture revolutions, rebellions and other significant milestones, including the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. Allan was born in 1945 in Passaic, New Jersey. “America was a paradise in the 1950s,” Allan explains over the phone from his home in New York. “I made that comment kind of tongue in cheek on an Instagram post a while ago, and it got a lot of positive comments, and quite a few negative ones, as well. Nothing is ever perfect. But I had a pretty good childhood. I liked to draw pictures when I was sitting in class instead of paying attention. I loved building plastic and balsa wood models with gas-powered motors, that was my introduction to motors, really. Simply assembling things and making things work interested me. And I loved riding my Raleigh 3-speed bicycle. One of my proudest accomplishments was becoming an Eagle Scout; I learned so much from that.”

Jimi Hendrix and the Experience perform at Winterland, San Francisco, CA, October 1968. [Allan Tannenbaum]
Then came cars. He got his learner’s permit at 16 and his driver’s license at 17. He worked to purchase his first car, a 1954 Lincoln Capri, which was big and luxurious but not really Allan’s style. Next came a stick-shift 1953 Mercury Coupe with a flathead V8. “I didn’t really have a budget to customize it, and it was really such a cool looking car that I didn’t think it needed any customization. I love hot rods and all that stuff, but fast forward to my 1968 Norton project, I just liked restoring it to its classic appearance.”

Debora Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie on their roof. NYC 11/28/80.
From 'SoHo Blues - A Personal Photographic Diary of New York City in the 1970s' by SoHo Weekly News chief photographer Allan Tannenbaum.

In the summer of 1964, after his sophomore year at Rutgers University, Allan and a friend with a 1940 Studebaker sedan drove the car across Route 66 to Los Angeles and up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco where they stayed with friends in a loft on the Embarcadero. “That was, I guess, my first big adventure,” he says. It was also when he experienced his first yearning to learn about photography. While in San Francisco, outside the main post office, Allan witnessed an anti-Vietnam war demonstration. “My friend had a nice 35mm Miranda camera which he’d left in the car, and I felt the urge to take pictures. I wanted to use the camera, but realized I didn’t have a clue. That was it, I said I wanted to learn how to take pictures.”

Allan Tannenbaum on his blue Honda CA77 Dream he bought in San Francisco to explore California and Mexico. [Allan Tannenbaum]
Late that summer, Allan began driving the Studebaker back east but ran out of gas money in Salt Lake City, regrettably abandoning the car and hitchhiking the rest of the way. Upon his return to New York, he says he was out of sync with school and got kicked out of his junior year. “I didn’t feel like hanging around the East Coast anymore after a taste of California and hitchhiked back to San Francisco in the fall of ’64. I got a job, a place to stay, and one of the things I did, because I’d wanted one for a long time, was get a motorcycle.” He went to a Honda dealer and saw a used 305 Dream, in blue, with whitewall tires. After learning to ride, he took off at night to visit a friend in Fresno. He then toured down to Southern California and into Mexico.

Muhammad Ali shadow boxes at his Deer Lake, PA, training camp. [Allan Tannenbaum]
“That was my introduction to motorcycling, and I also bought a Mamiya Sekor 35mm reflex camera. The city had a recreation center, where for $10 a year you could use their facilities which included a studio, a film developing area and a big lab with lots of enlargers and chemicals in trays and attendants that would come and take your prints and wash them and dry them. That was amazing. I would go there, and I learned how to develop film and how to make prints. I didn’t know what I was doing, but got started, and started to get the hang of it. I’m completely self-taught, and that’s where I learned my basic skills. A lot was trial and error, but I also enjoyed going to photography exhibitions and I’d hang out in North Beach and at City Lights bookstore, where I’d look at photography books.”

Patti Smith wears a t-shirt that says 'Fuck The Clock' at a New Year's Eve concert at CBGBs. [Allan Tannenbaum]
Allan was happy with his Honda until seeing a Triumph 650 twin. “My bike was second-rate after seeing that Triumph, that was a revelation for me,” he says. He admits to being an East Coast / West Coast yo-yo, traveling back and forth over the years. In 1965, he shipped the Honda back to New Jersey where he worked a summer job and returned to Rutgers. “I’d started off at school as a five-year Engineering student but was terrible at Math. After getting the worst grades of my life, I switched to Philosophy. I had life questions, but the courses brought up more questions than they answered. I finally switched to Art and had a combination of Art History and Studio Art courses.” There were no photography courses at Rutgers University, but Allan would use his nascent camera skills to shoot pictures for the campus newspaper and picked up a 16mm Bolex movie camera for the first time. Things changed in the fall of 1966, however, when Allan saw the film Blow-Up. “I saw it three times, and I said that’s what I want to be, that’s the life I want, that of a photographer. It portrayed swinging London of the 1960s, with beautiful models, nitty gritty photojournalism and a murder mystery. And I saw the main character, Thomas, played by David Hemmings, using a Hasselblad.”

The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, jumps on Broadway. [Allan Tannenbaum]
In 1967 for his college graduation, Allan persuaded his father and grandmother to give him a Hasselblad 500C. It’s a camera he still owns, and still uses. With his art degree, a good camera and knowledge of how to use it, however, Allan says he found there were no easy opportunities to put it all together as a paying gig. “I went back to San Francisco during the Summer of Love, and went over to Haight Street, but didn’t like that so went to Los Angeles and hung out there in Manhattan Beach. But when summer was over, I’d been accepted at San Francisco State in the graduate film department and went to film school. The film I made there, No Satisfaction [NSFW] features a Triumph T100.” In the summer of 1968, back in New Jersey, Allan went to see a friend who had a visitor riding a Norton Atlas. “I fell in love with the bike, and he let me take it for a ride. Not only did he let me go for a ride with it, but he let his girlfriend ride on the back. A beautiful blonde, I should have just kept on going with the bike and the girl. But that was it, I was sold. And then the Commando came out.”

Allan with his first Norton Commando, after he'd shipped it to Europe for touring. Here he's in Brighton, England, circa 1970. [Allen Tannenbaum]
Working jobs as a U.S. Merchant Seaman and as a cab driver, Allan saved enough money to go to England in the summer of 1970 where for $980 he bought a new Norton Commando under the personal export scheme. He toured England on the Commando and crossed the English Channel to Paris. From France, he rode over the Pyrenees to Barcelona and then took a ferry to Ibiza. He did the same trip back to London before shipping the Commando home to New York. He says in 1972 he tried his hand as a motorcycle photojournalist and was published a few times in Motorcyclist. However, “I soon found out that it was not a financially viable profession.” Sadly, it was in New York where the Commando met its fate in the fall of 1973 when a driver ran a light and took the Norton out from under him. The machine was totaled, and instead of investing the insurance money in another motorcycle, he put it towards photography equipment.

A self-portrait with his Mamiya Sekor 35mm reflex camera. [Allan Tannenbaum]
“I credit that Norton, though, for perhaps helping me get the break with the SoHo News,” he explains. “I was living in Brooklyn, but my hangout was SoHo because that was where the art world was. In the early 1970s, I’d ride over and have a drink and hang out in Kenn’s Broome Street Bar. One night I saw a pile of newspapers on the cigarette machine and it was the SoHo Weekly News (which began publishing in 1973). I saw the photos had credits and thought they had a photographer already. But a friend called a few weeks later and told me they were looking for a photographer and I interviewed and got the job.” Allan characterizes his SoHo News era as “eight years of Blow-Up,” including the murder mystery. “I lived it,” he says.

Shades of the present: a Palestinian demonstrator holding a banned Palestinian flag leaps over a burning barricade in Nablus, during the First Intifada, in 1988. [Allan Tannenbaum]
After the paper ceased printing in 1982, he joined the French photo agency Sygma Photo News which saw him traveling around the world and documenting important events. Although he didn’t own another motorcycle after the Norton for several years, when presented with an opportunity to ride, he always took it. He says, “In 1992, I flew to L.A. to cover the riots there. I hooked up with fellow Sygma photojournalist Bill Nation, who was starting a motorcycle dealership named Pro-Italia. When the story calmed down, we took a 750 and a 900 Ducati for a Sunday morning ride on the Angeles Crest Highway in the San Gabriel Mountains. I rode the 900 up, and after breakfast at Newcomb's Ranch, I rode the 750 back to Glendale.”

Nelson Mandela with his wife Winnie after being released from prison in 1990. Mandela was arrested in 1962 after many years of agitating against racist apartheid in South Africa, when the CIA tipped off the South African authorities to his location. Mandela went on to become the first Black president, and first democratically elected president in South African history. [Allan Tannenbaum]
It was another Norton that eventually led Allan to meet up with JP at a Motos and Photos event. In the mid-1990s Allan’s younger brother, Gary, was running a motorcycle repair and restoration shop called Classic Iron in Morgantown, West Virginia. Although Gary liked his BMWs, he had a basket case 1968 Norton Commando he was looking to sell and offered it to Allan. “I was interested and went down, and saw just a bunch of pieces,” Allan says. But, undeterred, he paid for the Norton project and had his brother start the restoration. It was a slow process that didn’t really evolve until 2015, when Gary was moving. He told Allan if he wanted the Norton he’d better come and get it.

Hutu refugees from Rwanda in refugee camps in Kimumba, Zaire, fleeing genocide in their home country. [Allan Tannenbaum]
Renting a U-Haul trailer to tow behind his Subaru, Allan picked up the machine and brought it back to New York. Hugh Mackie at Sixth Street Specials got it together and back on the road. “Hugh put it together very quickly, and while it’s not a concours restoration, that’s the way I wanted it because it’s something I could ride without worry about scratching it or chipping it,” Allan adds. In JP’s film Back To The Present, Allan’s stories, photographs and the 1968 Commando are prevalent. JP writes in his Director’s Statement regarding Back To The Present, “Allan’s story is one of resilience and sensitivity. While he’s captured huge personalities like Andy Warhol, James Brown, Salvador Dali, it was a privilege to take a step back and speak to the iconic artist behind the lens, who continues to inspire future generations of creators.”

Perhaps his most famous photograph from September 11, 2001. The twin towers had collapsed after two passenger jets were slammed into them, causing almost 3,000 deaths. NYC
Firefighter Tim Duffy arrives downtown on his Harley-Davidson after 1st tower had collapsed. [Allan Tannenbaum]
Allan explains, “I’ve been very lucky that I have had a long career in photography,” and he continues, “Over the years I’ve been able to perceive changes that were coming in the business of photojournalism. I was lucky to be able to transition from covering art and music and showbiz in the SoHo years to doing international photojournalism which was a different game. And I was able to be successful at that. In the 1990s, though, being an international photojournalist wasn’t as easy anymore due to considerations of the news magazines, which were gradually disappearing to be replaced by celebrity journalism.

Photojournalist Allan Tannenbaum arrives in Duane Street after a Lower Manhattan ride on his 1968 Norton Commando. [Allan Tannenbaum]
There’ve been a lot of changes, including the switch to digital photography.” With his workhorse Hasselblad film camera and a top-of-the-line digital Canon R5, Allan continues to shoot but derives much of his living from selling limited edition fine-art prints of the work he shot during the 1970s. In his studio, he currently enjoys poring over his old contact sheets to discover images he’d previously ignored, to find something fresh. All his work is legendary, with four books of his images available, including New York in the 70s; New York; John & Yoko: A New York Love Story; and Grit & Glamour - The Street Style, High Fashion, and Legendary Music of the 1970s. Follow him on Instagram @soho_blues. With some six decades of experience, he concludes, “You have to be very adaptive and ready to change in the photography business.”

You can watch the full film about Allan Tannenbaum, 'Back to the Present', on vimeo.


Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Ben the Pipe Bender - Raysons Exhaust

So much of what makes an antique, custom, vintage or race motorcycle visually appealing is the line of its exhaust pipe – or pipes. How the tube bends and flows. How it tucks in and flares out. And that’s just the aesthetics. More to the point, a correctly built pipe is required for a 2-or 4-stroke internal combustion engine to make optimal power.  It’s both art and science, and Ben Hardman of Raysons Exhaust in the U.K. has established himself as one of the best when it comes to forming bespoke motorcycle pipes and silencers. For more than a decade, custom builders, racers and restorers have been relying on Ben to craft exquisite systems for their various projects.

One of the very many race and road bikes with pipes built by Raysons Exhaust. This Wankel-powered DKW-Hercules was built by Wiz Norton, and raced at the Isle of Man. [Ben Hardman]
Even Hollywood noticed. In the 2022 film The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves, a Honda CB750 café racer ridden by Bruce Wayne, played by Robert Pattinson, is fitted with Raysons’ 4-into-2 pipes and twin mufflers. Of crafting the system for the film’s Honda, Ben explains, “That’s something that I will struggle to top. It was one of the hardest secrets that I’ve ever had to keep. Especially due to lockdowns which delayed filming by two years. But the reward was something that I cannot describe. Getting to see and hear something I’ve made with my own hands, on the cinema screen. There is a great scene, where Bruce Wayne is riding through Gotham on his Honda café racer, with Nirvana playing in the background, and the camera strapped to the rear shock, looking at the silencer. That blew my mind. And then being able to buy the same bike and exhaust pipes in toy form, is something that a little boy’s dreams are made of! It’s still something that hasn’t sunk in fully yet.”

The unique 4-into-2 exhaust system used in The Batman, for a bike ridden by Robert Pattison through Gotham. [Ben Hardman]
Coming from what could be considered something of a motorcycle dynasty, Ben’s background is extraordinary, and it’s steeped in British motorcycles, racing and café racer history. His mom, Gail, was the daughter of Peter Lee. Peter was one of three co-owners of Unity Equipe of Rochdale, a well-known and highly respected specialist shop set up in the late 1950s selling first British motorcycle spares, and later café racer parts to the Ton-Up crowd and to serious racers. While Peter wasn’t a racer himself, he sponsored a select number of local riders and sidecar teams and traveled the circuit in a Unity Equipe racing van to support their efforts. Ben’s dad, Ray Hardman, wasn’t raised around motorcycles. However, Ray’s three brothers were interested in them, and that set the tone for him.

Unity Equipe in the 1980s: Ben's grandfather was one of three owners. Note the Triumph T100 and Morini 3 1/2. [Ben Hardman]
“My dad’s older brother was into motocross and would often enter into local races during the 1970s,” Ben says, and continues, “At which point, Barry Sheene was in all the papers and my dad decided, instead of being chased by the police on the public roads, he would have a go at road racing instead. He managed to buy two old race bikes off a local motorbike shop, who also gave him sponsorship racing a Triumph 500 in an Aermacchi frame, and a Rudge 350 sprint bike. He then signed himself up to enter some classic races, aged 17. It was at this point that my dad started using grandad’s shop, Unity Equipe, to buy his British spares. And that’s where he noticed my mum working. One night in town, he approached my mum, saying, ‘You’re the girl from the motorbike shop,’ and the rest is history.”

John Newby was another owner at Unity Equipe, here seen outside the shop with his Velocette Thruxton Veeline. [Ray Hardman]
Peter built Ray a T350cc Manx Norton with original Manx spares he’d bought directly from the factory via John Tickle. Furthermore, Ray built his own BSA B50 using Unity components and the shop sponsored him to run it. These are some of the fondest memories Ben has of his upbringing, and he starts, “I always say, ‘I’m just Ben, from Bacup,’ an ordinary lad from a very small ordinary town, in the northwest of England, in back corner of Lancashire. I grew up in the shadows of large Victorian cotton mills that lined the valley bottoms and was blessed by large expanses of moorlands and quarries, where we could play out all day and learned to ride our bikes. As a small boy, you don’t notice much of what is happening around you, and you don’t realize how great the people around you are. I grew up surrounded by great racing motorcycles and great motorcycle racers and never really thought much of it. They were just bikes that my dad rode or raced against. And the racers were just ordinary people like my dad, who had ordinary lives and ordinary day jobs. But one thing I didn’t realize until I got older, was how obsessed I was with bikes.”

Ben with his favorite bike from his father's racing stable: a very special BSA B50. [Ray Hardman]
Ray put Ben first on a Yamaha PW50. When Ben outgrew that, Ray gifted him a Yamaha TY80 for his eighth birthday. “We spent every weekend dad wasn’t racing in the local quarry, learning how to trials ride, with a lot of help from local experts that my dad knew.  Dad bought a Fantic 125cc Professional, so he could come out and ride with me, and two years later, when my younger brother, Tommy, got to age eight, my dad decided it was time we all had a change.” Ben took over his dad’s Fantic, while Ray bought a Bultaco 340. The Yamaha TY80 was modified with a Honda C50 engine for Tommy, and the family rode together in the quarry for one short year. That’s when in 1997, at Olivers Mount, Ray, aged 37, died in a crash. Ben recalls, “I was 11 years old, and from that point on, I tried my hardest to keep myself in the motorbike scene, but it was a lot harder when your dad, your best friend, isn’t there to do it with you.” Ray’s ex-teammates helped keep the spirit alive for Ben and Tommy, continuing to take them to races and getting them to help pit for the team.

Ben and Tommy Hardman, still crazy about motorcycles after all these years. [Ray Hardman]
Just how Raysons Exhaust came about is a long-ish story, but it all starts with Ben’s grandad, Peter. After working several other jobs, as a young man Peter became a blacksmith and in his early 20s had saved enough money to buy a BSA Gold Star as a commuter machine. He regularly rode to work in Rochdale but was one day knocked off the BSA. That’s when, Ben says, “Grandad and his friends all used to use a local motorcycle shop for their spare parts. This shop was run by John Newby. It was in this shop, that the idea of a new bigger shop, was first thought up. The plan was to buy the big old CO-OP shop in the next town and turn it into a large British spares shop. I think the idea would have tied in with the general decline of motorcycle shops in the U.K. My grandad, along with John Newby, who already owned the bike shop, and another friend, Brian Topping (later replaced by Bob Mainwaring), would join forces and set up a business called Unity Spares. It would specialize in British bike parts and would buy stock from other failing motorcycle businesses.” Ben’s grandad, Peter, worked the shop full-time. Because of his blacksmithing skills, Peter was also able to create a vast range of exhaust systems, so much so, that by the 1970s, the company was one of the largest suppliers of pipes in the U.K. As the British spares market began to falter, however, a change in direction saw the partners re-brand as Unity Equipe, focusing more on café racer parts. “In the mid 1970s. they managed to acquire the rights to the Manx Norton name, plus all the tools, spares and drawings off of Colin Seeley, who had bought the name off Norton, sold it to John Tickle and then bought it back again,” Ben says. “By buying this iconic name, it meant that Unity could supply all the parts needed to build a Norton based café racer special, and especially the Triton motorcycles which Unity later became famous for.”

A Classic Bike article on Ben's grandfather Peter Lee from the Autumn 1979 issue - the magazine was initially quarterly, but quickly outgrew the limitation, and became one of the most popular motorcycle magazines in the UK. [Ray Hardman]
As Unity became very well established in the early 1980s, Peter had less time to create exhaust pipes and outsourced production to a Birmingham-based tube bender. This lasted until the craftsman making the pipes died – and Peter struggled to find another maker. Around the same time, Ray lost his job at a large engineering company and was unemployed. Wanting to bring pipe bending and other parts manufacturing in-house, Peter and his business partners started a new company called Uni-Bend Engineering, putting Ray in charge. They purchased a lathe, mill, and mandrel tube bender. Ray found a shop space to rent in the cellar of an old cotton mill. He would have been 24-years old, and Ben says with some mentorship from Peter, taught himself to weld and how to bend tubes. “He quickly got to grips with it, and with a steady stream of orders to be sold through the shop, Dad soon made enough money to buy the shares owned by the shop,” Ben explains. “And by the time I was born in 1986, Dad had the sole rights to the business, Uni-Bend Engineering. The cellar of the old mill was where I got my first experience of what he did for a job. I was his first born, and would spend a lot of time with him, in my first four years of life while he was in that old mill. There were times when I had measles, and my mum still had to work, so Dad would look after me at the workshop. We had a large Alsatian and a pet pigeon, (recovering from a broken wing) which lived in the workshop, so there was plenty to keep me occupied.”

A shop photo from Unity Equipe showing a special high-pipe 2-into-1 system for a BSA A10. [Raysons Exhaust]
Ben continues, “I remember one of my favorite ways to pass the time was to roll around on his massive workshop floors using his chalks to draw pictures on the biggest canvas I had ever experienced. I had no idea what dad was doing or how great of an empire he was part of. Dad would often be making footrest/rearset kits on his lathe, using drawings and jigs he’d purchased off Merchant and Durward.” Ray had also purchased a different workshop, one that started life in the 1850s as a coach house for a horse drawn carriage service. This was a building that, during the 1970s to the 1990s, had been owned by Ray’s friend where he stored vintage bikes and cars. Once in Ray’s hands, the space was a better fit for Uni-Bend than the cotton mill cellar. But it all ended in 1997 when Ray crashed at Olivers Mount. “This was devastating for the family and for the business, and an emergency meeting was called. It was decided that the only way to save both businesses would be for Grandad to sell his half of Unity and take over the running of Dad’s engineering company. Grandad had placed most of the orders with Dad and was the only person who knew both what was on order, and also knew what to do to make the orders. So, Grandad sold his half of Unity Equipe in September 1997 to John Newby’s girlfriend. And my mum signed all of Dad’s business over to Grandad.”

Unibend Engineering, opened by Peter Lee to supply exhaust pipes when nobody else was making custom or replacement exhausts, seen here with Ben's father's BSA B50 racer. [Raysons Exhaust]
Peter ran Uni-Bend Engineering for another 10 years, then handed it over to one of Ben’s uncles. This, Ben says, was not a good situation, as the uncle was interested only in making the rearset kits, and not the exhaust systems. He was to pay rent to Ben’s mom, but when he began to falter on payments to suppliers and on the rent, the family grew concerned. “The final straw came, when we found out from one of his friends, that he was trying to sell equipment out of the workshop. I flipped when I heard that news, and immediately asked my mum for the spare keys for the workshop. I went down that evening and changed the locks. It was at that point that my mum said, ‘Right it’s all your responsibility now.’ At 24, the same age my dad was when he started, I had finally become a man and was trusted enough to inherit all my dad’s belongings. It was a scary time, filled with trips to the solicitors etc. We had to give my uncle a week’s notice to finish off his work, and we crossed our fingers that he wouldn’t take anything else from the workshop. Grandad oversaw it all, and once that week was over, I was handed the keys. And my training started, as the new owner of a new exhaust business, RAYSONS EXHAUSTS, named in memory of my dad, Raymond John Hardman, who died doing what he loved, racing his bikes.”

Ben's father Raymond Hardman at the start of his racing career, in the pits at Oulton Park. [Raysons Exhaust]
Ben learned how to manipulate metal at a very young age simply by working with the material. “I was lucky enough to be surrounded by very skilled engineers all my life,” he says. “We used to have a family joke, where we said, metal must be in our blood. But I found out, during lockdown, while doing my family tree, that I came from a family of foundry men. My dad’s grandad, who died in the war, was a director of his family-run iron foundry, which was set up by his grandad in the 1850s to serve the cotton mills and stone/coal mines.” As Ben has said, “I was brought up in dad’s workshop, watching him make pipes and work on his race bikes. I picked up a lot from watching, and as his first son, he would tell and show me everything. And if I was bored, he would let me have free reign in his scrap bin, where I would collect bits of metal, and whack them into any shape I wanted. I still have two pieces on my mantle, a car and a Mickey Mouse, that me and Dad made together when I was a young boy, worked out by me, and welded by Dad. I learned a lot about how metal behaves, from whacking it with a hammer at an early age and I always say, I think Dad taught me more than enough, before he passed away. One of the greatest skills that both him and Grandad taught me, was how to draw. This has taken me all the way through my education and was my main aim in life. Knowing my dad always wanted the best for me, I decided to go to university to learn automotive design, and when I graduated, I got a job locally working as a draftsman, at a laser cutting company. I had always dreamed of making exhaust pipes like my dad, but never thought it would ever happen. I used to sit there, daydreaming about transforming my skills into something that was motorbike related. I used to think, I know how to develop large ducting, cones and hoppers. I know how to draw them out and how they would be formed etc. but I don’t know how to weld them.”

Ben's grandfather Peter Lee with one of his first motorcycles, a BSA DBD34 Gold Star Roadster. [Raysons Exhaust]
Until he was handed the keys to his dad’s workshop, and his grandad Peter spared the time to teach him how to create exhaust systems. “Grandad taught me the traditional way of making them, using only hand tools. Gas welding, brazing and sand bending. But now, I’ve also taught myself a few things that neither my dad nor grandad could ever do. I learned how to make hydroformed systems, using the pressure of water to form a curved cone. And during lockdown, I taught myself how to weld aluminium. That way I can roll and weld my own aluminum silencer bodies.” Ben’s first jobs came ‘from the family,’ and were from his dad’s friends and his grandad, who had long ago built up a name in the industry. “One of my first proper jobs was making a road racing system for a classic Honda 350 K4. That bike had a family connection, as the engine had been tuned by my dad’s old team boss, and the customer had come to have a set made to my dad’s dimensions, to match the tune of the motor. That was the first bike I had out on track that had one of my exhaust systems fitted to it, and to be displaying some of my decals.” Next came a system for a CCM motocross machine, when the son of a former factory CCM rider wanted an exact replica of the pipe used on his dad’s race machine of the 1970s. “Off the back of that job, I’ve made around 50 more systems for CCM bikes. And the early Honda K4 job led to my pipes being fitted to seven-times Irish road racing champion Barry Davidson’s Honda K4.” In fact, it’s the racing systems that Ben prefers to make, and his work has been fitted to a Classic TT race winner in 2023 with a pipe made for Ted Wuff’s Manx Norton. Ben says that ties in neatly with his grandad’s Manx Norton history. He has also produced systems for Norton rotary machines, owned by WizNorton, and raced by superbike rider Josh Brookes at the Manx GP. He’s also made small oil breather pipes to fit inside the extended sumps on Yamaha R1 race bikes run by McAMS, an outfit Ben says is one of the top teams in the British Superbike championships.

A custom exhaust system for a Benelli Sei custom: the megaphones are hydroformed, the exhaust pipes sand bent. [Raysons Exhaust]
“A lot of my repeat work comes from the race scene,” Ben says, “where systems are constantly being redesigned for extra power or need repairs or replacing due to crashes. This is one of the main reasons I went down that route when starting the business, as there is a steady stream of work generated from it.” Custom work is something he enjoys doing, too, but he says it’s very difficult to make a profit on it, due to “all the planning involved. And if you make one mistake while making it, you end up only breaking even.” Ben prefers to make systems in batches, whenever possible, where someone approaches him with a special-interest machine he can use to form a pattern and then build 10 to 12 sets. He also leaves it up to the customer to market the ‘extra’ sets. “Doing it this way means that the person who arranges it, usually gets their systems (one or two) for free, by selling the others with a small profit to other people. And it’s the best way for me, as I only have to deal with one person, and I make all the systems exactly the same, which helps speed things up. They are the only jobs where I make a small profit.” What Ben won’t produce are systems for machines such as Triumph T140s or Norton Commandos. While he can build them -- and has the patterns his grandad once used for the bikes -- they are not economically viable for him to create. He can’t compete with less-expensive systems for those machines being sold online. Ben adds, “Those cost the same to buy, as what it would cost to get one chrome plated. That puts me out of that market straight away.”

Ben at work bending tubing for an exhaust system at Raysons Exhaust. [Ben Hardman]
As to what the future holds for Raysons Exhaust, Ben remains optimistic and opined about the rise of electric vehicles. “I’m all for them, I’ve always been interested in the future, as much as I have been interested in the past. But I don’t think the current plan using batteries is the answer, and I don’t think they will kill off the petrol engine. As my grandad once said, ‘They still sell coal at the petrol station, don’t they!?’ I asked what he meant, and he said, ‘Nobody ever banned the steam engine, it’s just that the petrol engine was better, and everyone swapped over.’ If electric is better, then they will still sell petrol, like they still sell coal. The only problem being that it will cost more, and only the richer people will be able to run petrol engines. For hobby purposes, exactly the same way in which steam engines are run today.”

Moto-love: a beautiful set of hydroformed Honda four-cylinder megaphones. [Raysons Exhaust]
He concludes, “I’ve decided to stick with doing one-offs. That way I can change the business as the market changes. I hope that I can stay in the vintage market, as I absolutely love working on the early, rare bikes. Because they truly are special as survivors. I think we’ll be okay and I hope I can stay in the vintage market, being the only one to replicate a vintage system, using the tools they would have used originally. And if not, I’ll have to slowly start making systems for the next collectible bikes, which I’ve started doing more of recently. Making ‘70s 4-into-4 systems and also copying Yoshimura style 4-into-1s from the 1980s, which I don’t mind doing as the bikes still fall into that competition/special category. And I always joke, that if the world ends completely, I can always set the business up making security railings/fences, to protect everyone’s assets/retirement collections!”




Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Cross-Country Crowdfunding, in Pink


Riding one wildly crazy adventure after another is the fuel that fires motorcycle hobo Garrett Peterson’s existence. Here’s how one of his epic travel stories got its start. In early 2022, Garrett took off on his Harley-Davidson FXR for a two month trip roaming the American Southwest, with a stop in Iowa for some fresh tattoo work. On his way back to Wyoming -- his ‘home’ state, or as close as he gets -- he stopped to buy chain oil at a small independent motorcycle shop. Displayed inside were several pink made-in-China small-bore TrailMaster scooters. A friend he was riding with laughed and said, “I bet you couldn’t do what you’re doing now, riding around the country, on one of those!” Garrett thought about that: “I was like, yeah, that would be kind of funny, wouldn’t it?”

As found: one pink Chinese 50cc TrailMaster scooter, and adventure waiting to happen. [Garrett Peterson]
That was just the beginning of an extraordinary tale. In jest, Garrett posted a picture he’d taken of one of those pink scooters on his Instagram story feed (follow him here @dum_rush). “I was like, ‘Hey, if you guys buy me this scooter, I’ll ride it coast to coast.’ It wasn’t a serious thing, but someone found me on Venmo, and sent me $150. That’s quite a serious investment for some dude to make, sending some random internet dude that much money. So, I posted my Venmo on my Instagram story again, and said ‘someone just sent me $150 – if you actually buy this for me’ -- it was like $2,200 for the scooter – ‘I’ll try and ride it across the country.’ And it was fully funded within 10 hours. Kind of mind blowing, really. There were people sending me five bucks, 150 bucks, 20 bucks. I ended up funding $2,800 by the next day and felt I kind of had to follow through with it.”

Garrett Peterson hits the beach after 1300 miles on his pink scooter. [Garrett Peterson]
Garrett’s 24 years old. Some of his earliest motorcycle memories harken back to Discovery Channel’s chopper shows, including Biker Build-Off and American Chopper. Then, he got an American Chopper 2 Full Throttle game for his Nintendo GameCube. It’s a video game where a player experiences all the pressure of working under Paul Teutul Sr. building a fat-tire chopper. When Garrett turned 16, he wanted a motorcycle of his own, and because he liked choppers, bought a 1981 Yamaha XS650 and built himself a custom. “It was a little short bike, Wide Glide front end with a hot rod motor,” he says. For the most part, Garrett is a self-taught fabricator. His grandpa constructed hot rods, but frowned on street motorcycles, so wouldn’t offer any help. Garrett’s dad doesn’t like motorcycles either, and lacks mechanical ability. So, Garrett was on his own. With a 200-piece Craftsman tool set, borrowed A/C stick welder and YouTube videos as a guide, Garrett built his custom Yamaha. “When I turned 18, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona to go to tech school to take diesel mechanics. I rode my XS chopper around down there, but then got into more dual sport stuff and bought a 2005 Kawasaki KLR650. I was super, super poor while I was going to school, and about the only thing I could afford to do on weekends was go camping because it was pretty much free. And then, I thought maybe I could do this a little more long term, with two week or month long trips. Out of school, I had nowhere to be and $1,300, so I wanted to see how far I could stretch it. On the KLR, I rode from Antelope Wells, New Mexico to the Canadian border along the Continental Divide route and then down to Mexico along the Pacific Highway and did 32 days out on the road at 18 years old with no idea what I was doing. I was grossly underprepared.”

How They Break: the little 50cc motors were fragile, so Garret replaced tehm with a 125cc motor sourced on Amazon and delivered direct. [Garret Peterson]
He just wanted to push his limits, both physically and monetarily and came back to Casper, Wyoming with just $15 in his jeans. At that point, he got a job at a Caterpillar dealership, earned good coin and bought a house. During that period, he didn’t ride motorcycles often but when Covid hit, he got laid off from the job. Taking stock of his life, he says he thought to himself, “Wait a minute, I don’t want to work 45 years and then just crawl around the country in an RV. I might as well tour on two wheels now.” But instead he spent time and money building a 1989 BMW 325i open road race car. He began testing the car on a track and ran some lap times, “I realized I wasn’t a very good driver and the car wasn’t as fast as I thought it would be.” Selling the car, Garrett got another job once Covid started to wind down. Working with a mobility company, helping people in wheelchairs, Garrett was sitting in an office doing paperwork when he finally realized he’d never be happy until he got to go traveling long-distances on motorcycles. A 1990 Harley-Davidson FXR was purchased and preparations were made to hit the road with no destination in mind. In 2021, he rented his house, sold off his cars and gave away much of his furniture and took off to tramp around Idaho and Oregon. From there, Garrett made a Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine run. “I wanted to hit an event that was happening just north of there, where I met some cool people, and then started riding down the East Coast. By the time it was starting to get cold, I began working my way back to Wyoming and planned to stay with friends. I got a job in Wyoming in the diesel industry.”  But in early 2022, he sold his house, more of his possessions, quit his job and left on his FXR. After roaming around and returning to Wyoming, he bought the chain oil and found the TrailMaster scooter – and here the Pink Scooter Story begins in earnest.

All the way to Massachussets. [Garret Peterson]
While Garrett attempted to buy the scooter at the chain oil dealership, he says they tried to add an extra $1,200 in fees. Instead, “I found another little shop that only worked on Chinese scooters in Fort Collins, Colorado. I got in contact with them and said, ‘I want your finest -- and by finest, I mean cheapest -- 50cc Chinese scooter that’s pink.’ I didn’t give them much of an explanation of why or how, and they didn’t ask. A week later I went down to pick it up. From there, I brought it back to Casper and figured out how I was going to put my gear on it. I used U-bolts and square tubing to put footpegs on it and put a pink basket on the front. Anyone who helped pay for the scooter, their Instagram handles are in black paint pen all over the pink bodywork.” Garrett rode it around Casper for four days to break it in and figure out how he was going to make everything work for the journey. He upgraded the 4-stroke engine, installing a better clutch and an 80cc big-bore kit. He laughs and says, “there’s no cheating when there’re no rules.” Figuring it would take 30 to 45 days, Garrett says he extremely overestimated the number of miles per day he could average. The scooter could do 28mph on flat ground at 5,000 feet elevation. “Not necessarily a winner here,” he laughs, “but I set off for Newport, Oregon, a distance of 1,000 miles.” He had 40 pounds of gear aboard, with a 30-litre duffle bag on the floorboard between his feet and 1-gallon of storage under the seat. “I did really, really well on the first day, and that made me hopeful. I got to some smaller town in Wyoming, got drunk in the bar, and slept behind a building in town, and figured this was going to be easy. It kind of was. Once you get into the rhythm of just shutting your brain off for 10 hours a day and watching cars go by you at 80 mph, it’s pretty numbing.”

Garrett's minimal camping rig. [Garrett Peterson]
On Highway 20 through Oregon, Garrett says he was freezing cold and had to buy a bunch of coats at a thrift store for $6 – a good purchase, he figured. Tantalizingly close to the coast however, he blew up the motor. Near Corvallis, with Newport some 50 miles away, coming down a hill, the motor lost all compression. Garrett started pushing the scooter and stopped at the first place he heard activity in the form of a tractor running in a field. “There was a dude with bright green hair and his wife was in pink hoodie pajamas and I figured I was in good company; they wouldn’t think I was too crazy. They were willing to help and asked where they could take me. I looked on Bunk-a-Biker and found a guy in Corvallis who said he had shop space. I called him, and he was in Mexico, but he told me I could use the garage and stay as long as I needed. I ordered a top end kit to his address, and I got hauled in the back of a pickup to Corvallis. I waited about five days for parts and put together a new top end and finally made it to the coast.” That was just one small anecdote of the misadventures of long-distance travel on what was basically an inappropriate machine. “It was pretty much non-stop blowing up motors and broken parts,” Garrett says. “Most days I had a moving average of 24 to 26 mph.” He left Newport and went south down Highway 1 to make a left turn onto Highway 50 to head east. “That’s a really barren road, but I made it across the desert and through Nevada. It was a long, long road. Going through Colorado I started to get a rod knock and decided to stop at my friend’s place, the Jack brothers, in Durango, Colorado. Trying to leave Silverton, I made it about 100 yards from the gas station and was headed to the top of the pass. The sheriff pulled me over and told me I couldn’t take the scooter over the pass because I couldn’t do the speed limit. We got into a shouting match, really about an hour long argument, and I was angry. He went back to his patrol truck, I started going up the hill, and he pulled me over again. So, I turned around, got to a pull-out, and stuck my thumb out. An old Dodge pickup pulled in, and they said, ‘We wondered what you were doing, a big dude on a little scooter.’ I said I’ll tell you what I’m doing if we load this into your truck and you take me to the other side of the pass. I got in, and they asked where I was going. I said Durango, and they asked if I knew Teddy Jack – he’s my friend’s dad – and I said yeah, I’m going to his son’s house. They drove me really close to Durango, I got out and two miles down the road blew up the scooter, like scattered it really bad. Ahead of me was a chopper pulled over on the side of the road, and I knew the rider. He walked back, we hugged, and he asked what I was doing.”

Taking a risk means taking a ride when things go south with your motor that has a life expectancy of 2000 miles... [Garrett Peterson]
At that point, a truck was located and Garrett ended up spending 16 days in Durango where a 150cc motor purchased for $110 from Amazon Prime was installed in the scooter. The frame had to be cut, crossmembers changed, and some minor fabrication work to make it fit but that was a major turning point in the life of the machine. After that, Garrett says he booked it east as far as he could, as fast as he could. He made good time in eastern Colorado, and in one of the midwestern states says he made 320 miles a day for two days at 35 mph average. “Those were long days, and the next major stop was in Pennsylvania where the 150 blew up again, and I did the same thing with another Amazon motor, staying at a little bike shop and then headed to Boston. I had a plan for a chick to fly in from Casper and take the ride up to Maine – I thought I’d be back on the FXR by that point in time – but that didn’t work out. So, I rode up to the Boston airport, she flew in, and she got on the back and we rode two-up on the scooter to the chopper event in Maine” There, Garrett wanted to burn the scooter, but a friend wouldn’t let him, and instead traded a Harley-Davidson ‘Dirtster’ for the pink machine. Garrett and his lady friend rode it two-up back to Boston, where Garrett left her at the airport. From there, he headed for North Carolina and the Trans-America Trail – and that was another grand adventure. The rear wheel of the Dirtster, he says, was made of glass and he blew it out several times with broken spokes. He ended up in Durango where a bicycle wheel builder helped construct a wheel with a good 18-inch rim and stainless steel spokes. “By that time, it was freezing and I was tired. It was a long year, so I just turned off the trail and rode to Casper.” Now, he’s building a chopper. “I had a whole lot of fun with the whole riding the most wrong thing possible, and it all boils down to bragging rights. It’s just fun to tell people when they’re complaining their bagger doesn’t have enough storage space and their wife can’t sit on the back of it to tell them you rode a scooter coast to coast and they really don’t have anything to complain about.”

Success measure in smiles, and miles. Be careful what you say you're capable of, because you'll be tested! [Garrett Peterson]
And the chopper? He acquired an inexpensive Shovelhead motor and thought it would be a quick four month build constructed over the winter. He planned to have it ready to ship in the spring of 2023 to Europe, where he’d, “travel around on a legitimate 1970s-style chopper – no front brake, weird front end set up, big 93-inch motor, magneto; it’s a pretty bad thing to be riding around Europe with a foot clutch and no front brake. But I got carried away building a show bike, because no one builds a show bike and puts 50,000 miles on it and that’s what I wanted to do. I have 180 hours just in molding the frame with Bondo, and I got way too carried away. So, now I’m keeping the same plan but have moved it back a year, for 2024.” The key pieces to the build are a frame from Flyrite Choppers, and the girder front end is from Spitfire Motorcycles. He entrusted the motor to a friend and says he didn’t have the tools or the knowledge to properly set up the bottom end. “The bike’s not crazy over the top, but a lot of it is molded. But a chopper’s a chopper, nothing new. It’ll be pretty fancy with nice paint and a polished motor -- it’s way too much motor for the bike.” To get his finished chassis to a friend who offered to paint it, with no other options to haul it, he built a hitch on the back of his FXR and towed the chopper 700 miles, just like a single-wheel trailer. Assembly is close to happening, and Garrett plans to move to Arizona this fall where he’ll get a job and ride the chopper on a daily basis and dial it in – saving money for his trip to Europe. From a Kawasaki KLR, the ‘rightest’ machine for the job, he’s now embraced the ‘wrongest’ thing possible. “The big thing with doing something wrong – your likelihood of what people would consider more obstacles to overcome increases, and I thrive on that stuff. You break down, you’re gonna meet people, you’re gonna see something interesting, you’re gonna see how people live, and you’re gonna experience something that you’d never, ever see on something like a BMW R1200GS because it never breaks down.” He concludes, “When you have the right piece of equipment, all you ever see are gas stations and mountains.”

Garrett's 'Dirtster', a converted Harley-Davidson Sportster, but it needed stronger spokes. [Garrett Peterson]
Other rigs, other rides: Garrett's FX towing his chopper project home. [Garrett Peterson]
When adventure is part of the ADVenture: “When you have the right piece of equipment, all you ever see are gas stations and mountains.” [Garrett Peterson]


Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics


Seeds of the Future - Howard-Yana Shapiro

With a lifetime spent focused on sustainable agriculture and agroforestry – and all that entails in the realm of plant breeding and genetics – renowned scientist Howard-Yana Shapiro balances his inquiry into the world of seeds with his love of motorcycles.  On the surface, plants and motorcycles don’t seem to connect, but they're both integral to Howard’s existence. “Is there any connection between motorcycles and what I do with plants?” muses Howard, who over the course of his long career has been a Fulbright Scholar and Ford Foundation Fellow, university professor and author. He’s also the recipient of the University of California, Davis, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Award of Distinction. To answer that question, he describes a delightful scene, one where days before our conversation, he’d been out for a spin near his Davis, California home aboard his 650cc Moto Guzzi Lario. “The almond trees were blossoming, and these are little pink/white flowers on the trees. Riding through the almond grove it just looks like a series of balls of this kind of color, and the blossoms were dropping their petals because the bees had been pollinating. The wind blows the petals off, and the center forms the almond of course. But the ground looked like it was covered with snow. We can’t see that anywhere else, unless we walk or ride a bicycle, or ideally, a motorcycle. Riding in third gear, 25 miles an hour, just putting along on the Lario wearing an open face helmet and safety glasses, I could see everything and I could smell everything.”

Howard-Yana Shapiro in the 1980s with his Harley-Davidson FL Panhead. [Howard-Yana Shapiro]
It's a memory that takes Howard back to some of his earliest days of riding, when he was 15 years old on a rather epic road trip that rewarded him with an awakening of his senses that was like nothing else. A friend of the family bought two 1962 Harley-Davidson FLHs from a dealership in Connecticut. From there, he and Howard headed west on the roads of America across the Mid-West, up to the Great Plains and into Washington. When they couldn’t go west anymore, they rode as far north as Prudhoe Bay, Alaska before riding east across Canada and home. They were both rookie riders when they started and learned to handle the bikes in the first 100 miles.  "By 1,000 miles, we were experts. We were so silly, in retrospect - what a crazy thing to do. The dealer gave us a motorcycle riding lesson in the parking lot. The salesman thought we were going to kill ourselves, and said if we made it back, he’d buy the bikes back. Before we left, I went and bought a pair of blue jeans and a couple of t-shirts. We had helmets, goggles and riding boots – there was no riding kit or armored leather jackets. Our sleeping bags were strapped to the back of the bikes and off we went. Eventually, we returned with spare tires and fuel cans strapped to the bikes, and the dealership couldn’t believe we’d made it. They bought the bikes back but at a substantial discount, they were rough! The fulfillment of taking a ride like that as a young person means forever and a day, your life will be inextricably linked to motorcycles.”

Howard-Yana (center) decades back at an AMCA rally with friends. [Howard-Yana Shapiro]
Howard was raised with his two sisters by academically-minded parents. In the late 1940s to early 1950s, the Shapiros lived in tenement housing in New York City, but eventually moved west to Chicago to be closer to grandparents. Before leaving New York, however, Howard spent hours investigating both the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and New York Botanical Garden. He referred to these urban oases as “wonderful refuges” for a youngster keen on agriculture and plants. What enabled him to travel to these gardens – and other places including Coney Island to ride the Parachute Drop -- was a balloon-tire bicycle with a small gasoline-powered motor mounted over the front wheel. He bought the bicycle with cash earned collecting bottles, returning the empties for a refund. Although a more powerful Whizzer motor kit for his bicycle was too expensive, while poring over Mechanix Illustrated and Popular Mechanics, he saw ads for a budget-friendly friction-roller motor. “That gave me a sort of freedom so I could go to these places when I wanted to,” Howard recalls, “and go over the Brooklyn Bridge and increase my range – this was the sort of golden age of New York City, post-war, during the mid-1950s.”

Seeds of speed: the sports bikes give the flavor of the thrills Howard-Yana seeks. [Jaimi Lynn Photography]
There were always larger motorcycles around, Howard says, whether he was in New York City or in more suburban Chicago. Policemen on bikes and people in the surrounding neighborhoods who rode. While intrigued, his fascination with motorcycles didn’t really blossom until that cross-country road trip. “It was the beginning,” he says, and adds, “again it’s that time period in the early 1960s when you could simply pull up and stop and camp, and no one would come running out and tell you to get off their property; it was a more gentle moment, is perhaps the best way to describe the time. It was a great experience. I came back grizzled and hardcore and knew this would be a big part of my life. Then I went off to school and got educated.”

A chronological look at Howard-Yana's tastes in motorcycles, starting with Indian and Harley-Davidson, moving on to Moto Guzzi and Suzuki Katana, then on to Italian sportbikes. [Jaimi Lynn Photography]
After graduating in 1968, Howard moved and worked in the deep South. While there, he says Indian motorcycles were still quite prevalent and he bought a 1947 Indian Chief – it’s a machine he owns to this day. “As I would tour around, I would find little towns where there used to be an Indian shop,” Howard recalls. “I’d go in and find parts that I’d need for my Indian, and in one shop I bought 10 speedometers in their original boxes, never used. I kept them up to about 10 years ago, when I sold some to support my habit of motorcycles – it was just so interesting.” Howard acquired two or three more Indians, but as he and his wife, Nancy, traveled in their pursuit of academia – both were Fulbright Scholars working in Italy in 1972 – he says his eyes were opened to the world of European machines. “I saw this thing called a Ducati up close,” he explains. “I was used to riding a hand-shift ’47 Indian, and here was this sleek thing and I wondered what have I missed? I realized I’d sort of cloistered my understanding of motorcycles, not intentionally, I was just an Indian fan, and I loved the whole culture behind the Indians.”

Howard-Yana on the Bonneville Salt Flats with the 1999 Suzuki Hayabusa drag bike built by Kent Riches. [Howard-Yana Shapiro]
While in Rome, Howard bought, rode and sold a 1971 Ducati 750 GT -- and he regrets selling that one. Upon returning to the U.S., where he worked in Chicago as a university professor, Howard maintained his Indians and also added a racing Harley-Davidson WR 45ci  – and several other Harleys – to his collection. It was this connection to Milwaukee-made motorcycles that led Howard to the late Dale Walksler, who had founded a Harley-Davidson dealership in Mt. Vernon, Illinois. Dale, of course, went on to create the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. “In 1977 or 1978, I was looking for an XLCR, and called around to see if anyone was interested in trading one for one of my Harleys, a Sportster XLCH 1000 - nobody was except Dale,” Howard recounts. “I threw it in my pickup and drove down and we met and had the best time with each other, we were just like cousins who’d not met and we both shared a passion. We traded bikes, I loaded up and was about to leave when he said, ‘Wait, I owe you money, your bike is more valuable than the XLCR.’” After that exchange, the two became fast friends and when Dale would pass through Chicago, he’d stop by and visit Howard. “Dale was on the road constantly following leads on all sorts of vintage motorcycles, and sometimes I’d get in the truck with him and we’d go off together.” Soon they were working and sharing stories in Mt. Vernon at Dale’s dealership and at the enormous storage facility he had there.

A Harley-Davidson EL Knucklehead bob-job amongst the Indians. [Paul d'Orléans]
For Howard, it was another kind of education, and he says life was never the same. “Dale would buy something and there’d be something else there,” Howard says. “He’d say to me, ‘You should buy that.’ So, I’d buy whatever it was without really understanding completely what I was getting into. We weren’t really competing in the stuff we were buying – and all of a sudden, I had a number of ‘30s and ‘40s Harleys in the collection as well.” While he appreciated the early American machines, it wasn’t soon after that Howard’s interest was piqued by a Japanese superbike. Sitting at a Chicago intersection while commuting to teach at university, a motorcyclist rode up aboard a first-year 1982 Suzuki Katana. “Another epiphany,” Howard says, “after seeing the Katana, I just went ‘Oh, wow.’” He knew some of the Harley-Davidsons he’d acquired were valuable, but every once in a while, he’d sell one to purchase two more modern Japanese or Italian machines. In this way, a rather significant collection of motorcycles began to fill Howard’s space, including a 4-cylinder Indian in the living room and a couple of other Indians in the house while an oversized 4-car garage held the rest.

Any color you like...postwar Indian Chiefs and H-D Knuckleheads came in a variety of colors. [Paul d'Orléans]
Relationships with significant people involved in the Antique Motorcycle Club of America -- including Dr. John “Doc” Patt, who joined the AMCA in 1960, six years after its formation in 1954 and who later became the club’s president, chief judge and director -- were fostered when Howard attended his first Chief Blackhawk Chapter meeting of the AMCA. “I met these giants, and I really do mean giants – they were professional people, they were farmers, engineers, doctors – who had a love for early American motorcycles, and the passion was so incredible,” Howard explains. “And Doc Patt told me I needed to join the group and I turned over my money that day. All of a sudden, I was exposed, and I use this word sincerely, to geniuses who were keeping these bikes alive.” Howard became totally immersed in the hobby and followed with interest the goings-on of the various clubs in Chicago focused on British bikes, including Vincent owners, as well as BMW enthusiasts. “It was just an explosion of curiosity,” Howard says, “and I traded, bought, and sold, and was picking up things I liked, including a Katana.”

Howard-Yana with his wife Nancy and a pumped up Buell at Bonneville. [Howard-Yana Shapiro]
And Howard was a keen rider. When invited to lecture, he’d often point his fully faired BMW R1000RS in whichever direction he was headed, and ride, sometimes travelling more than 1,000 miles. All this time, Howard’s thinking about motorcycles, and the era of machines he appreciated, kept evolving. After establishing his own genetics firm, Seeds of Change in northern New Mexico, Howard became even more enamored with Japanese superbikes of the 1980s and 90s. After his firm was bought out by Mars, Incorporated – well-known chocolate manufacturer -- Howard became Chief Agricultural Officer at Mars and was moved to Davis, California where he became associated with UC Davis. “Suddenly, I had more cash to work with and in California, I was in used superbike heaven,” Howard says. European motorcycle magazines, which he began reading in the late 1980s, were much more articulate about superbikes and that specific genre of machine, he says, than many American motorcycle publications. He began to make a list of bikes to add to the collection, including a first year Honda CBR900. That wasn’t the only one. There were Yamahas,  Suzukis and Kawasakis; Ducatis and Moto Guzzis. Again, he’d occasionally sell a vintage American machine to fund the purchase of two or three superbikes. “One day, I woke up and realized I had 30 Ducatis, probably that many Moto Guzzis, and 25 Buells and 40 Japanese superbikes, and I realized I really did have a collection,” Howard says.

Jerry Kaplan assists with a tour of the handlebar-to-handlebar collection of early American and Italian touring machines. [Paul d'Orléans]
Looking after the collection became a task handled by Dixon, California-based father and son team Blake and Daniel Lawson of 1Up Motorsports. “I had a superbike mechanic in my world at that point,” Howard says. “He took such great care, and he and Daniel became my go-to persons for work. I really had an extension of my life with these kinds of people that I became familiar with, including other people in the area who were also collecting bikes and we started having a camaraderie of little groups within bigger groups within bigger groups within specialized groups – there are all kinds of interests here. People start to know what you’re looking for and it’s taken me to incredible people who are illuminating in what they do for a living and their passion for motorcycles.” During the early Covid years, interest in Japanese superbikes was increasing in popularity and values were on the rise. Howard opted to whittle down some of his impressive collection, offering 15 of his machines for sale at the 2021 Mecum Las Vegas auction and again in 2022, selling Aprilias, Japanese superbikes and some BMWs. He did this to focus on MV Agustas, Moto Guzzis, Buells and Ducatis. Not all of the Japanese machines were sold, however, and Howard kept the ones that were most important to him, including examples of a Honda VFR750R RC30, RVF750 RC45 and RVT1000R RC51 and Yamaha FZR750R OW01 and YZF-R7 OW02, among a handful of others. But with that paring down, Howard says it’s the first time in their life there haven’t been motorcycles displayed in the bedroom.

Keeping the mice out of the seats..a friendly helper in Howard-Yana's garage. [Paul d'Orléans]
When Howard turned 70 in 2016, he wanted to return to Bonneville. He’d last been there in 1966 with one of his Indian motorcycles. “We were just riding across the country and heard the Bonneville competition was on and said, ‘Let’s go see’. We had no idea what we were doing, and the rules were very, very different then, so they let us run. I knew that one day, I’d come back.” It only took 40 years for Howard to purchase a 1999 Suzuki Hayabusa drag bike, built by Kent Riches. At Kent’s suggestion, Howard looked up iconic Bonneville tuner, the late Richard Sims. Both the Hayabusa and a Buell were race-prepped for Bonneville. First, the bikes were scrutinized, and thanks to Sims’ attention to detail, they passed with ease. “For the next two hours, they scrutinized me,” Howard says. “’Are you sure you want to do this?’ they asked me. It was physically the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was taxing, but we did it, thanks to help from Jerry Kaplan, Blake Lawson and Chad Hudson.” For Howard, the experience had nothing to do with speed, nothing to do with cost; it was the fulfillment of one of his motorcycle dreams.

The beauty of vintage Indians (with a Crocker steering damper). [Paul d'Orléans]
Back to balancing the world of seeds and motorcycles, Howard opines, “My agricultural work has largely been in the world of genetics and plant science, and one of the efforts we’re working on is ending chronic hunger and malnutrition in Africa by making 101 different food crops, the backbone of the African food system, more nutritious. To me it’s all patterns and how you look at patterns and how things work. I look at a motorcycle, and I can take a motor apart and I can put it back together, but I’m not that great at it. However, I’ve learned to see patterns in all these sorts of things, genetics and motorcycles, and while they’re not the same, it's a way to get release one from the other. I hope I have been visionary in my pursuits,” Howard states. As a note about Howard’s scientific pursuits, his more than 50 years of endeavor regarding plants and sustainable agriculture and agroforestry are indeed visionary and vitally important. Howard has worked tirelessly with numerous groups around the globe in an effort to end hunger in underprivileged countries. As earlier mentioned, he’s a Ford Foundation Fellow and Fulbright Scholar and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2007, Howard was recognized by the Organic Trade Organization with a lifetime achievement award. According to the UC Davis, the African Orphan Crops Consortium was founded by Howard in 2011 and included bright minds from a number of notable institutions and companies. Working together, genome mapping of traditional African plants was done “to help breeders improve the [crops] nutritional content, productivity and resilience.” Furthermore, in 2011, Howard put together the African Plant Breeding Academy – it’s these efforts to which Howard alluded to in his previous comment about the 101 different African food crops that will improve plant breeding techniques, and as a result, help feed more of the masses.

One of Howard-Yana's greatest hits: exploring an ancient corn variety in Mexico that fixes nitrogen in the soil as it grows - something no other corn varietal does. Read this article from Smithsonian magazine for more: it's fascinating stuff, with the potential of drastically reducing the need for chemical fertilizers to grow corn worldwide. [Smithsonian]
In 2018, Howard worked with UC Davis, Mars Inc. and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in identifying corn crops in Oaxaca, Mexico that do not need extensive fertilization due to an ability to secure beneficial nitrogen simply from the air; it’s referred to as nitrogen fixation. Researchers hope the discovery could help other corn varieties grow without heavy applications of fertilizer. Howard co-authored the report, which was published in PLOS Biology. Two years later, a second paper was published with collaborators at UC Davis. This research detailed how rice and other cereals could make their own nitrogen through increasing the production of biofilms; biofilms that enhanced nitrogen conversion from bacteria in the soil. “Nitrogen fixation,” Howard notes, “is the Holy Grail of agriculture. No one thought it was possible – I guess I proved them wrong.” In 2021, Howard was awarded the Lifetime Achievement in Innovation by UC Davis and in 2023 he was awarded The Goldman School of Public Policy Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field by UC Berkeley. Howard is also a noted author, writing or editing the books Great Moments in Chocolate History, Gardening for the Future of the Earth and Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage.

The other, world-renowned side of Howard-Yana Shapiro, as a visionary plant researcher focussed on sustainably and naturally increasing the nutrition value of staple foods, and finding species of plants that naturally fix nitrogen in the soil, eliminating the need for fertilizers. [Howard-Yana Shapiro]
Wrapping up, Howard says, “You can only stay in the lab or out in the fields, at that level of scientific inquiry, for so long – it’s just one of the worlds you live in. And then there are the motorcycles -- I’ve enjoyed so very much the inquiry into both.” Lastly, he concludes, “Doing science and doing motorcycles has been a fairly complete and fulfilling world. Just the people I’ve met in both cultures, in the science culture and the motorcycle culture, have enriched my life immeasurably and I’m so thankful for that because I never could have planned it.”




Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics


"Give a Bike, Change a Life" - Bill Getty

Here’s a novel idea. If you have more than, say, five or six motorcycles and you have the means to do so, give one away to a young person. For years, that’s what Bill Getty of JRC Engineering in Perris, California has been doing. Importantly, more than just giving away the machine, Bill also mentors the kid and figures he’s passed along close to 100 motorcycles – thus introducing dozens of youngsters to the thrills of riding. As aging enthusiasts bemoan the lack of enthusiasm for motorcycles among Teens and pre-Teens, isn’t this one solution?  The idea harkens back to Bill’s early days as a Boy Scout; he wasn’t given a machine, but Bill's Scoutmaster brought a couple of 80cc Yamahas to a Scout weekend to watch the Big Bear Grand Prix races at Dead Man’s Point. “He let us go out and ride around on them,” Bill recalls. “I came home from that and I told my mother, ‘I’m going to get me a motorcycle’, and she said, ‘You’ll get a motorcycle over my dead body’. I told her I’d risk it.”

A young Bill Getty with a BSA ZB34 Gold Star special, with upgraded forks for off-road riding. In the background is the blue Johnson Motors pickup that JRC eventually took as its own. [Bill Getty]
So in 1966, 12-year old Bill saved every penny he earned mowing lawns - eventually enough to buy a used Honda 50. He never looked back. “I grew up in a tumultuous home, and by the time I was 12 I’d seen a lot of stuff that no one ever needs to see,” Bill allows. “When I got on the motorcycle, honestly, they couldn’t touch me. I could get on that thing and get away.” Bill lived in Duarte, just a 10 minute walk from where BSA/Triumph built their Western distribution headquarters in the late 1960s. He’d go over and “bug those guys. My brother and I rooted through their trash cans and we mocked up a motorcycle out of parts they threw away. It didn’t run, but in our garage, we had this motorcycle mocked up out of BSA and Triumph parts.”

Bill's first British motorcycle supply: British Parts Old & New. “When the British thing fell apart in 1975, and I was riding the Norton, people were giving me stuff.”  [Bill Getty]
Another high point in Bill’s motorcycling career was turning 16 and getting a job at a Ford dealership. One of his co-workers was a Vietnam veteran who’d lost an eye, and with his settlement from the U.S. government he bought a brand new Norton Commando. “I really looked up to him,” Bill says. “One lunch time, the guy says, ‘Hey Getty, wanna go to lunch with us?’ So, I hopped on the back of his Norton. Out on Atlantic Blvd. we’re riding in jeans and t-shirts and tennis shoes. No helmets. We got in a drag race with another co-worker riding a Kawasaki Mach III, and I remember looking over his shoulder and seeing over 100mph on the Norton’s speedometer. I watched the Kawasaki disappear behind us and I knew I had to get a Norton.”

Snow in SoCal? It does happen...Bill ditched his helmet for the full experience. [Bill Getty]
That led to the purchase of a brand new 1970 Norton Commando 750. It was a lemon, and broke down on the way home from the dealership, and only managed 10 miles in two months. It never became a reliable runner, and a year later with just under 10,000 miles on it, Bill sold that and bought a BSA Rocket III. “That made the Norton look like a paragon of reliability, but I just really had a thing for the British motorcycles,” Bill says. He dropped out of college to work in a motorcycle shop. “I was there for about two months,” Bill says, “when the manager who was there lost his wife and was drinking on the job. The owner of the business came in, and he looked at me. He fired the guy and he says, ‘Can you be manager?’ I said I don’t know. ‘If you don’t, you’re fired.’” So, Bill managed that shop for four years and then got picked up by Hap Jones and Flanders to be a traveling sales rep. In the mid-1970s, he started his own sales company, taking on numerous different product lines, including California Sidecar Company. He hooked a California Sidecar to his Norton and rode around to dealers in San Diego, San Bernardino, Las Vegas, and all of the Los Angeles area. At trade shows, he says, John Flanders introduced him to everybody who was anybody in the motorcycle industry.

Bill Getty with a Rickman-esque Matchless G80 cafe racer. [Bill Getty]
“When the British thing fell apart in 1975, and I was riding the Norton, people were giving me stuff,” Bill says. “I filled my garage with motorcycle stuff; brand new Norton, Triumph and BSA parts. My neighbor sold me his chicken coop and we moved it into our backyard and we made it our parts department. I filled that up with British stuff and pretty soon I was making more money on weekends selling British motorcycle parts out of my garage than I was making as a sales rep working five days a week. My wife took over my sales route - she’s much nicer to look at than I am - and she did a lot better at it than I did. In December 1980 we opened British Parts Old & New in Whittier on Telegraph Road. That got me further connected in the industry, and I started trying to get young people involved even there.” Hoping to see people enjoy motorcycles the way he did, Bill says, “My mother saw them as death-in-waiting, and I saw them as total freedom.” To date, he can account for logging more than one million miles on a motorcycle, and more than half of those miles have been with his wife Marla as a passenger.

Marla and Bill Getty in Las Vegas for the big Mecum motorcycle auction in 2022. [Bill Getty]
“I have a policy,” Bill says of actively getting young people involved, “that when I hired somebody, I'd hire a young person. And I’d give them a motorcycle in pieces, and they had to put it together. They could take whatever parts they needed out of inventory and when they got done it was theirs. That way when a customer came in working through a problem with their bike, they would have experience and empathy, and they could say, ‘Yeah I just did that.’ I’ve done that through all of my businesses and everyone who works for me now, I’ve given every one of them a motorcycle and they’ve all built them up. A young man working for me now, I hired him when he was 16 and he’s 34; he’s built five motorcycles from parts. When he’s done with one, I say pick another and go for it.”

Bill Getty with his 1956 Triumph TR6 desert sled in the 2022 Barstow to Vegas race, which he's run many times on Triumphs, often built from discarded pieces. [Bill Getty]
Bill never had any formal mechanical or business training. But he had mentors; one of them was Jack Simmons, flat track, scrambles and desert racer with the National No. 88 plate. They met as Jack had a machine shop in Fullerton and Bill brought him repair jobs. “Jack took me under his wing,” Bill says. “And he taught me how to off-road ride. I remember him screaming at me to put my feet on the pegs.” Another of Bill’s mentors was John R. Calicchio (JRC). John started JRC motorcycles in Costa Mesa with Spanish-built Bultaco machines, but soon began retailing British bikes. Bill met John while on his sales route, and the pair became friends. “John bought out Triumph Motorcycles America when they closed in 1983,” Bill explains. “He bought all the assets and got 27 new motorcycles and a million dollars in 1983 value of Triumph inventory and opened up a wholesale business. He soon got into computers, sold off the parts inventory to a guy in New Zealand and closed the business. I’d been buying from him and told him I wanted to buy the business. He said there is no business. And I said sure there was – the three letters, JRC. We worked out a deal and I got a letter of introduction from John to Les Harris in England, and David Holder, who owns Velocette and Vincent and had a parts business. They both said they needed a distributor on the West Coast and they fronted me a huge amount of inventory to pay for when I could. We built a 60-foot by 40-foot barn on our property, filled it with British parts, hung out the JRC banner and said we’re back in business.” It was 1987, and at that point, Bill sold British Parts Old & New and operated JRC Engineering as a wholesale parts business. His modus operandi was  to supply dealers with parts as though Triumph Meriden had never closed. It’s a business model that has treated Bill well, and as the JRC website states, it continues to operate as “an exclusive seller of over 12,000 parts, tools and over 350 private JRC parts,” for Triumph, BSA and Norton machines.

Bill Getty working in his shop British Parts Old & New in 1983. [Bill Getty]
Back to mentors, and how Bill started mentoring youngsters by giving away machines. Bill's greatest influence was the Scoutmaster who taught him to ride the Yamaha 80. His name was Clark Shara and he had a backyard workshop equipped with a lathe, mill and welder. Clark taught Bill how to operate all of the equipment and gave him a key to the shop; he was allowed to use it whenever he wanted. “He was the man who showed me what a man was,” Bill explains. “I had a period of homelessness when I was a teenager, and when I came out of it, I thought it would be a good idea to get involved in some kind of ministry, and our church had a Boy Scout troop and they were going to disband it because they couldn’t find a leader.” Bill stepped in, thinking he’d fill the role until a permanent leader could be found. “That was 38 years ago, and I’m still the Scoutmaster of Troop 127.” It was, in fact, the example and encouragement set by Clark that Bill carries forward today with his motorcycle mentorship. How does Bill connect with these kids? While he doesn’t actively promote motorcycling within his Scout troop, “they all know what I do, it’s fairly obvious,” and he continues, “The Lord leads them to me. Any kid who shows interest, I tell them I won’t sell you a motorcycle or give you a motorcycle - but I’ll give one to your mother. And as long as your mother says okay, then let’s go, come on let’s have some fun. There are plenty of mothers out there who view motorcycles the way my mother did.”

Big Blue, the former Johnson Motors shop truck, now in JRC Engineering's care. [Bill Getty]
If a parent says OK, Bill invites the family to his property for a look around. He doesn’t just hand over a motorcycle, however; it must be clear they’re prepared to put in the effort. And Bill always has a parent involved, encouraging them to work alongside their son or daughter. And just where do these machines – which are not all British - come from? “When people find out what I’m doing,” he says, “they just give me bikes. For example, a friend of mine from an Orange County salvage yard knew what I was doing and gave me a bunch of motorcycles. The kids and I fix the bikes and they ride them around the five acres we have here.” As they grow up, Bill says, many of them do carry on with the motorcycle enthusiasm, “but none of them as a profession.” Bill would like to see others scale up a program such as his, and says he frequently talks about what he’s doing. “Many say oh that’s a great idea, but when it comes time to separate from a motorcycle, they just can’t do it,” he says, and continues, “You talk about it, but then when somebody shows up it’s hard to say here, take this, no strings attached.”

Daniel Calvopina learning the ropes on a local dirt course. [Daniel Calvopina]
Once, Bill took under his wing a group of immigrant youngsters from a local church. They couldn’t speak English, and Bill couldn’t speak Spanish. “But we both spoke motorcycle,” Bill says. “One of those young men was 11 years old and came here from Ecuador. The common language was motorcycles, and Daniel and I were working on a Kawasaki F7, a 2-stroke rotary valve single cylinder bike. We got it running but it had a massive air leak and the engine just took off. We were trying to shut it off and pulled the spark plug lead but it wouldn’t quit. So, we both just stepped back and watched it until it blew up. We were laughing like maniacs.” It was a bond that stuck, and Bill eventually hired Daniel Calvopina to work at JRC Engineering, where he stayed for four years. He then went to work in sales and finance at Douglas Motorcycles Triumph, MV Agusta and Zero in San Bernardino.

Daniel Calvopina with a bit more skill, and more recently. [Daniel Calvopina]
Now in his mid-30s, Daniel is working as a financial analyst for the City of Murrieta. He picks up the story, “I came around often enough that one day Mr. Bill offered me a job at JRC Engineering. Initially, he taught me all about parts for Triumph, BSA, Norton and other obscure brands that I’d never heard of. As he would help customers troubleshoot issues and find parts, he would share how he acquired that knowledge. I really enjoyed this part of the job because there were a lot of great stories that came from learning how to troubleshoot these issues. A couple of days during the week, I would stick around after work to work on motorcycles that he let me borrow or that he was just working on that I liked. Eventually, I got to own two motorcycles, a Honda XR250L and later a ’77 Triumph T140 that Mr. Bill helped me get running. He did mentor me on how to repair motorcycles all the time and a few crucial things did stick, like you need air, gas, and spark to get a motorcycle running.”

Daniel Calvopina today. [Daniel Calvopina]
Bill’s mentorship was invaluable, Daniel continues, “Mr. Bill definitely had a huge impact on my life. He gave me a solid foundation to build on and I will always be grateful for this. Without his mentorship from a young age, the challenges of coming to a new country, new culture, and no relatives would have been a lot harder.” Bill’s motorcycle mentorship has meant Daniel is, to this day, a powered two-wheel enthusiast. “I still tinker with and ride motorcycles,” he says. “I have my own little fleet, but nothing as cool as Mr. Bill’s collection yet [he owns an Aprilia Tuono Factory, Ducati Multistrada, MV Agusta Dragster RR and Honda CRF250L]. I did ask him to save me an older Triumph that I could keep in the living room of my house as he does. Nowadays, I mainly ride canyons or the local go-kart track.” Bill did mentor Daniel on how to ride in the dirt, but Daniel adds, “My off-roading skills were never great and are now even worse, so I didn’t continue to pursue that path of motorcycle riding.”

Marc Froesch with a pile of bits that will soon become a motorcycle. [Dom Froesch Sr]
Another young man Bill has mentored, and given motorcycles to, is 16-year old Marc Froesch. Bill has been involved in Marc’s life since he was a youngster, but he wasn’t the first to give him a motorcycle. That fell to Marc’s dad Dom Sr., who gave him a 1996 Yamaha RT100 when he was 10. “Marc’s always been (into bikes), being that myself and his brothers were interested in motorcycles and own a few,” Dom Sr. explains. “He also always loved going to Bill’s place and seeing his collection. What clinched his interest in really getting into motorcycles was Bill’s offer to come up on his Wednesday Night “Bike Night” and build a bike from scratch. Most would have just seen a pile of rusted out old parts and junk, but to Marc it was a bike waiting to be ridden.” That bike was a 1966 Triumph T100, and with Dom Sr.’s help and Bill’s mentorship, Marc put it together when he was just 13. “They built a desert sled, and Marc has raced this one several times in the Old School Scrambles held at Glen Helen Raceway.” This spring, Marc completed a mongrel Triumph desert sled using a 1970 Bonneville frame, 1968 Bonneville 650 engine and 1970s Honda XL350 fork. He plans to race this one, too. Dom Sr. credits Bill for being “extremely gracious with his time, his shop, and his willingness to give the boys the opportunity to learn that with hard work and determination they’ll be able to build something out of a pile of nothing. Bill walked Marc through the process of preparing the frame, the painfully time-consuming task of cleaning parts and finally, assembling and tuning the bike. Based on the number of bikes Marc owns and his joy for racing and riding out in the desert, I think he is hooked.”

Progress! There's nothing quite as satisfying as building a motorcycle from boxes, and riding it. [Dom Froesch Sr]
Bill says, “If I could emphasize anything to our generation, it’s that we have failed to impart the joys of motorcycling. We’ve made it ours but we haven’t shared it. Go to any club meeting and it’s usually all gray beards. We’re gonna take these things with us to the grave and there’s no point in it. We could share this and be a part of young people’s lives. Give away a motorcycle and see what happens. It opens up doors you can’t even imagine.”

Author’s Note - Greg Williams:

Bill Getty is on to something by passing along motorcycles and providing mentorship to young people. In my case, I’ve known Griffin Smith, now 27, his entire life.  When he was a youngster, I’d give him tin motorcycle wind-up toys. When he was 7, he and his dad came over to help unload a 1939 Triumph Speed Twin project without the forks. In his early teens we mechanically rebuilt an early D1 BSA Bantam, then, with his dad, a 1969 BMW R69S. He took a motorcycle training course, and then took his test aboard my 1972 Honda CB350. After completing a 1952 Triumph T100 bob job, I had Griffin put some miles on the bike. I was impressed with how he handled the machine, and thinking I’d leave the Triumph to him in my will, I quickly realized I’d rather see him riding the bike while I was still around to witness it.

Griffin and Jeff Smith helping deliver a forkless 1939 Triumph Speed Twin to Greg Williams' garage. [Greg Williams]
In the spring of 2016, we transferred the registration, and he’s ridden the T100 every season since – daily for a few summers to work, on short trips and around town. There are now more than 3,000 miles on the Smiths chronometric speedometer. Since then, he’s helped rebuild the ’39 Speed Twin and been involved in a number of other Triumph projects around here. He’s found his own place to call home and work on bikes. He’s got a good bike lift and Whitworth tools, and is accumulating parts to add to a pile of Triumph TRW components he bought last summer -- the hobby is in good hands.

Griffin Smith with the same '39 Speed Twin today. [Greg Williams]


Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

The Passenger: When Grief Rides Along

To watch the Vintagent exclusive trailer for The Passenger, click here.

“Oh the passenger, he rides and he rides,” sings Iggy Pop in his seminal song The Passenger. It’s an apt title for a new film about loss and rebirth, and in essence, it’s grief that’s along for this motorcycle journey. A release date for The Passenger, a Psychogenic Films production in association with Novelty Hat, has yet to be determined, so we’ll have to settle for this Vintagent-exclusive trailer. Presented by Langlitz Leathers and Harley-Davidson, the production also includes Brian Awitan, Jeff Elstone and Gentry Dayton. It was Gentry, during the early days of the Covid pandemic, who essentially came up with the premise for The Passenger. “Obviously, the pandemic left us all with nothing to do but contemplate, and ask ourselves some bigger questions, and wrap our heads around the idea of loss,” Gentry says of his initial idea. He continues, “Loss is something we all experience, but oftentimes that loss comes with answers, a reason why. In contrast, there was a point in my life that I happened to experience a type of loss of a friend where the questions were never answered and I’m not sure they ever will be. I wanted to express this level of pain and suffering in the film, all while making a film with motorcycles, which is a pairing I’ve never seen before.”

Riders passing through the American landscape is an old theme, but the Passenger has a new perspective on the healing power of the journey, and the landscape. Here Wil Thomas and Gentry Dayton ride through the Oregon desert. [The Passenger]
In other words, as producer Brian Awitan puts it, “we didn’t want another cliché testosterone buddy/boob flick always associated with motorcycle culture.” Jeff Elstone picks up the thread. He and Gentry have been friends for more than 15 years, and they met through the New York City underground fashion world, working together on photo shoots. Although Jeff is not a motorcyclist, he’s been surrounded by friends who definitely are. Gentry, who worked on the 2016 motorcycle-based film 21 Days Under the Sky, is one of them. Motorcycles have always been a part of Gentry’s life. He grew up in York, Pennsylvania, rolling around on a skateboard or a BMX bicycle. He says, “The Harley-Davidson factory in York was a staple in our town and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t see motorcycles everywhere.” For a young Gentry, they also offered a distraction during Sunday church services. “Sitting in the back pew, I’d look out the window and watch groups of motorcycles fly by us. I always thought to myself, I want to be doing that. Naturally, Harley-Davidson was the choice and the chopper scene specifically let me pair my creative side with riding so it made sense.”

Gentry Dayton in the wilds of Eastern Oregon. [The Passenger]
For Jeff, who grew up in New Jersey, instead of motorcycles it was music and music videos that drove his passion. He’d borrow his parents’ VHS camcorder for his first forays into directing and recording. And the music, that was metal, post-punk and new wave. “Photographer/director Floria Sigismondi has done some incredible music videos,” Jeff says, “which was really what inspired me to want to make films in the first place. The first time I saw her work, something in my brain opened up in a weird, beautiful way and I knew I wanted to create that same kind of experience for others.” Important filmmaking influences, he says, also include, “Jodorowsky, David Lynch, and Werner Herzog, just to name a few.”

The burden: pushing a recalcitrant motorcycle (Wil Thomas' 'homage' bob-job Knucklehead) as a metaphor for moving through suffering. [The Passenger]
In the early days of the Covid lockdowns, Jeff quarantined with Gentry’s family. Jeff explains, “That proved to be ideal because we were able to interact with each other daily,” and he continues, “Once we knew things were going to be shut down for a while, we just started brainstorming about creative ways of taking advantage of all this free time that we suddenly had. I remember this big piece of paper that we started using in the early days with all kinds of random words and adjectives scrawled all over it. It took some time to refine the ideas and really figure out what it was going to be about, but we just started to build it from the ground up one piece at a time. What I thought was just going to be a fun little pandemic project started to evolve into something more serious. I would say that the shutdown was crucial because it afforded us the time to really devote ourselves to developing the concept and also researching locations, putting together a proper crew, budget, etc. It was definitely tied to that window of time and I think the film itself also reflects that mood.”

Wil Thomas. [The Passenger]
During the fall of 2020, much of The Passenger was shot in Oregon. Langlitz Leathers plays a role, as do many of Oregon’s forlorn landscapes. Cold weather riding scenes also help provide much of the mood. Of the actual moviemaking, Jeff says, “Oh yeah, there were plenty of struggles. We basically shot during one of the last possible weeks in the year before things turned too cold. So, we were on the razor’s edge of having to cancel and maybe it would have never happened at all. In particular, the snow sequence was dodgy as hell and the bikes were sliding all over the place. And then shooting out of a pickup truck in the cold and a minivan with the door open and one of the bikes a few feet away at high speeds. (Key cast members and riders) Gentry and Wil (Thomas) were beasts. I also recall the starter on Wil’s chopper breaking down a few times. And that’s not even getting into all of the complexities of shooting during peak 2020 Covid. But the entire crew was unbelievable and everyone was super motivated to make it happen. Honestly things could have gone a lot of different ways, but somehow it all came together almost poetically in the end.”

Riding choppers through the snow: no 'trailer' shots here. [The Passenger]
Recalling Jeff and his passion for music, he’s proud to have worked with two talented artists on the film’s score. The first is Jarboe, or Jarboe Devereaux, who was a member of industrial rock band Swans. Jeff has a Swans album cover tattoo on his arm, and he says, “Working with Jarboe was literally a crazy dream come true.” Electronic music composer Kris Force is the other. “Kris is also brilliant and managed to pull together some very talented musicians. (Jarboe) and Kris created something that I think is really moving, evocative, and absolutely perfect for the story,” Jeff explains.

Gentry Dayton. [The Passenger]
While the The Passenger is about loss, journey and rebirth, when Jeff talks about the film, he says it is first and foremost about grief. And grief is something he sees, “as a universal experience that binds every human being together. Mental health was definitely something that we wanted to address. Also, the value and importance of friendship in hard times. It’s a lot about nature being this magical force and Wil’s character definitely personifies that, but it’s also gritty at the same time.” Gentry adds, “A good friend of mine once said, the worst thing that has ever happened to you, is the worst thing that has ever happened to you. I can only hope that this film can speak to everyone watching -- at whatever level they may be on. The film is a journey; physically, mentally and emotionally.” Grief and friendship, motorcycles and mental health. Definitely not traditional fodder for a biker film, but as producer Brian Awitan says, “That is one of the exciting challenges of working within motorcycle culture -- the prospect of revealing a new dimension that appears to be fixed,” and he wisely concludes, “All of us are made not only of what we have but what we have lost. And loss is not a subtraction. As an experience it is an addition.”

The scrub of the American West is like a scouring pad for the soul. [The Passenger]
Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics


Alan Stulberg and Revival Cycles

Trading shoes with The Tragically Hip’s late vocalist and lyricist Gord Downie helped alter the course of Alan Stulberg’s career and life. Alan is the mastermind of Revival Cycles in Austin, Texas, where he was born and raised. However, his father was a Canadian (born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan), and that gave Alan dual citizenship. It’s important to note The Tragically Hip began in 1983 in Hamilton, Ontario, and this connection to the land of the north plays a significant role in Alan’s story. When Alan was a teenager, his mom’s friend slipped him a cassette tape of The Tragically Hip’s 1991 release, Road Apples. “She always took me to live shows,” Alan says, “and she gave me a copy of Road Apples and said, ‘You’re going to love it.’”

Alan Stulberg at the Quail Motorsports Gathering in 2021. [Paul d'Orléans]

The Unknown Canadian

He thoroughly enjoyed the Hip’s guitar driven blues-rock music but had absolutely no idea who they were, or where they were from. Until, at 15, when he visited his dad in Edmonton, Alberta. Alan’s parents had separated when he was 7, and his dad, who worked in the oil industry, had returned north for work. In the early 1990s, “I was with a girl walking past an HMV music store in West Edmonton Mall,” Alan recalls. “The entire wall of the store was filled with Tragically Hip posters. I was the only one I knew who’d heard of The Tragically Hip, but the girl I was with told me they’re a very popular Canadian band. From that point on, I kept buying their music and saw them play small clubs (in the States) where there’d always be maybe 200 people at most. Well, they came to Austin to play a show and they hadn’t sold enough tickets so they were doing a live radio promo. I called in and sort of lied and said I’m a Canadian. But that got me an invitation to visit the radio station and meet the band. That’s when Gord and I traded shoes – we were the same size, and we got on very well. We ended up having BBQ together, and I met up with him and The Tragically Hip more than once. We really kept in touch, writing letters and exchanging phone calls. Gord became something of a friend and mentor. I’d seek him out, looking to him for advice. We’d talk about where I was in life and he’d reply with very simple words that were as impactful as his lyrics.”

Alan with the Tragically Hip in the 2000s. [Alan Stulberg]
Alan continues, “I wanted to be a respected businessman who made plenty of money, but Gord would ask basic questions about what I was doing, and why. My dad had always told me artists didn’t make any money, but Gord offered me a different perspective. His influence as someone creative made me want to embrace my artistic side, and he told me to accept who I was and to do what I love to do. I can’t overstate the impact he had on my life, and most people aren’t aware of that.”

How do Revival Cycles, motorcycles and The Tragically Hip intersect? It’s a long tale. Alan’s dad started him early, teaching basic mechanical theory by having his son build a plastic V8 engine model, and then having him take apart and put back together a Briggs & Stratton implement engine. “It was magic, is what it was,” Alan says, “to be able to take it apart and put it all back together and have it run.” Alan’s dad was raised on a ranch and learned to be self-sufficient, gaining mechanical competency in the process. When he was in his early 20s, he owned a late 1960s Triumph he’d customized. “He instilled in me how to be fearless mechanically,” Alan explains. And then, motorcycles. At age 5, “My dad came home with a Honda Z50 Monkey bike in the trunk of the car for my brother and I, and I took to it the first day we had it. My brother crashed it into a fence on that first day, though, so I was dealing with minor fixes right away. But of course, it was a Honda, and it always ran fine. I do remember getting far enough away on it that I was seriously on my own and that made me feel like an adult.”

Young Alan with a rail dragster, which was already vintage when this photo was taken in the 1990s. [Alan Stulberg]
Other bikes followed, but there was a period of years when Alan was more interested in cars; simply because he could carry more girls. At school, Alan was placed in an accelerated program aimed at the gifted. “They told me I was smart, but ultimately I didn’t care about school,” he says. “I did graduate from high school, and immediately after that I moved to Edmonton to live with my dad.” In 1995, he had plans to attend NAIT, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, but that fell through. Alan was working at a Toyota dealership selling new and used cars, but the Canadian economy was simply chugging along, meaning it wasn’t doing well at all. Alan says he was starving and living on a diet of frozen perogis. Going nowhere fast, after a few years he decided to move back to Austin. “I got a good job in the tech industry with Motorola, started school, and then quit school.” Other tech jobs ensued, but ultimately a cousin encouraged Alan to pursue a career in the world of finance and business. “I switched from studying architecture to business and got a bachelor’s degree at a late age (30). Right away, I landed a really good job that paid me more money than anything I’d ever done, but seven months later I was fired for saying things people didn’t want to hear. That cratered me at the time, I broke up with my girlfriend, sold everything I owned including my guitar and stereo and seven of my eight motorcycles. I rode from Austin to New York, flew the bike and myself to Europe, and rode all around trying to figure out what I wanted to do.”

Alan and Jay Leno with the Revival Birdcage BMW R18. [Alan Stulberg]

Revival Cycles

What he wanted to do was open a motorcycle shop. Gord Downie didn’t exactly encourage Alan to pursue machinery. But it was his advice suggesting Alan accept his creative self that ultimately resulted in him embracing the business world of motorcycles – and custom builds. This started slowly, however. In 2008, when Alan returned to Austin from Europe, he was crashing at a friend’s house and fixing and customizing motorcycles in the backyard. “I was basically homeless, but I was doing what I loved doing. I knew there had to be scale to this, and that was the start of Revival Cycles.” Alan took on machines other shops refused to fix. And, with an eye for design, Alan began collaborating with clients on custom builds. “I can weld, I can machine and I can build a motor, but I wanted to do more than my hands would allow me to, and I knew I wanted to be larger than just one or two people. Organically, that’s how Revival has grown.”

Alan with the Revival 140, a custom Confederate Hellcat, at the 2017 Wheels & Waves California. [Paul d'Orléans]
Several top-quality restorations and radically artistic customs including the Revival Henne BMW Landspeeder (reviewed here), Revival Six (a tribute to the French-built art-deco Majestic of the late 1920s based on a Honda CBX), Moto Guzzi 850T Beto, 1972 Indian Bambino 50 and a 1933 Brough Superior have emanated from the workshop of Revival Cycles. These Revival machines and many others have garnered international attention and one person who noticed was designer Ed Boyd. Ed’s deep resume of work includes time spent with Nike and Sony. Now, he’s working with Dell where he is Senior VP of Design. “I got an email inquiry from Ed about discussing a bike build,” Alan says. This happened more than seven years ago, and initially, “he came in with a Yamaha Virago and wanted to learn to build a custom motorcycle.” Alan mulled over the possibilities the Virago presented, but the more he talked to Ed, who was inspired by Revival’s 2015 project J63 Schwantz Ducati, the more he understood what he wanted. Which was basically a Ducati, which Ed designed with Alan’s input. “We wanted to refine the J63, and Ed came up with a full rendering done in CAD. Many of his ideas were so ambitious, I learned more about manufacturing techniques than I ever had before.”

The Revival Fuse, the result of thousands of hours of consideration and construction. [Revival Cycles]

The Fuse

Apart from the 1100cc Ducati Monster engine purchased from an eBay vendor, every other component of Ed’s bike, dubbed the Fuse, has been sketched, then rendered in CAD. This took literally thousands of hours to achieve. And then, there are more than 1,000 hours of custom fabrication involved in the machine. That’s why the entire journey, from start to finish, took seven years. Consider the one-off monocoque tail and tank section. It’s constructed of hand-formed aluminum and the bodywork includes an elegant bikini fairing. On top of the alloy, seven layers of Ducati red paint were applied. All of this is mounted to a stainless steel trellis frame that allows the monocoque to appear as though it’s floating above the Monster engine. The combined triple trees and handlebars, made of machined aluminum, weren’t simple, either. As Alan says, “These were by far the most complex pieces of the build.” The bars blend seamlessly into the top triple and integrate hydraulic reservoirs for clutch and brake, plus throttle twistgrip and its cable and electronic switchgear. As clean and svelte as the Fuse is, the machine is street legal and incorporates Revival’s Supernova turn signals. Fork components are custom made and include Ohlins internals. From CNC machined billet aluminum came swingarm and foot controls – all bespoke, and they don’t appear on any other of Revival’s builds. Even the front and rear 18-inch wire wheels were built to accentuate the custom made hubs and Boyd/Revival designed calipers made in collaboration with engineers at Hayes Performance Systems. The engine wasn’t left alone, either. It was rebuilt, and includes a racing slipper clutch, a custom fuel computer, CNC alloy pulley covers, custom velocity stacks and a 2-into-1 stainless steel exhaust system.

It's all in the details: looking underneath the seat unit to show off the workmanship required to build at this level. [Revival Cycles]
Overseeing the construction and final assembly was Chris Davis. He and Alan have known each other since they were kids and both had jobs in the software industry. While Alan wandered, Chris stayed in tech until a few years ago when, as Alan says, “he just started showing up here, and then I started paying him. He’s a gifted mechanic and fabricator.” In a release Revival shared with various media about the Fuse, Ed is quoted and says, “Revival delivered an opportunity to not only build a concept bike but rather welcomed me into their design house to collaborate on a fully 3D customization that utilized both high tech and low tech to accomplish the end goal of an unparalleled machine.” This is an ultra-high quality build that cost accordingly – close to half a million dollars, when all the time is accounted for. But it’s this kind of jaw-dropping build that sets Revival on a very high pedestal, which hopefully encourages and inspires other builders to reach a new level of design.

The Fuse before paint, assembled for fit and to finalize details. [Revival Cycles]

The Handbuilt Show

Perhaps something might turn up at this year’s Handbuilt Motorcycle Show, running from April 14 to 16 2023. The Handbuilt Show was initiated by Alan in 2014. However, “This actually started as a concept long before Revival,” he says of the show that, with the exception of two canceled Covid years (2020 and 2021), draws record crowds and some of the most renowned custom motorcycle builders from around the world. “I used to see motorcycle shows with cool machines and lots of people hanging around in parking lots, but there wasn’t much happening. I wanted to do something better, and when it was announced there was going to be a MotoGP track built in Austin, I finally started planning an event.” Alan borrowed an old warehouse and was told he could use it for free if it was cleaned up after the event. Word of mouth spread, and the first show was a success, but it wasn’t oversubscribed. Second and third year shows followed the same trajectory, and Alan was soon spending close to $30,000 to mount The Handbuilt Show. Spending between $20,000 and $30,000 a year on the event meant Alan soon had to charge spectators for admission. “As soon as there was a price, the event really started to grow,” Alan says. “Four or five years in, there was a line up around the block.” Now in a 35,000 square foot facility (the former home of the Austin American-Statesman newspaper offices and printing plant), Alan says, “Attendance has gotten bigger, and the builders are getting bigger, too. The tagline is ‘Get Your Hands Dirty.’ It’s universal therapy, but people just don’t know it – when people get their hands into things, it empowers them to do other things – either build or repair – which betters our whole culture.” We can’t break the news here yet regarding the 2023 Handbuilt Show location or other details, but Alan says, “The Handbuilt Show is about to grow, and we’re about to expand it.” Stay tuned for news.

Revival's J63 Schwantz was featured in our Custom Revolution book: order a copy here!

Back to Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip. When Gord was diagnosed late in 2015 with an inoperable brain tumor, The Tragically Hip staged a Canada-wide tour in 2016 in support of their 13th studio album, Man Machine Poem. The dates formed a farewell tour, and Alan made his way to Calgary, Alberta to attend one concert. “That really messed me up,” he says, “It was difficult for me.” Gord died 17 October 2017. Ultimately, it might have been Gord’s advice that helped put Alan on this unique path of artistry and motorcycles, but he is just one of many people with whom Alan has forged relationships that he holds in high esteem, and “who give me the perspective not to get too wrapped up in the drama of the day.”



Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics


Top Ten at Mecum Las Vegas 2023

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not the one involving jolly old Saint Nick. Instead, almost exactly a month after the cheery (or perhaps not so cheery) glow of Christmas fades, Mecum’s motorcycle buying and selling extravaganza takes over the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas from Jan. 24 to 28, 2023. There are some 2,000 motorcycles to be sold, from rare antiques such as a 1906 FN Four to more modern machines including a 2004 Honda Rune. From the quotidian to the exotic, from barn finds to fresh from the painters, platers and powder coaters, all manner of motorcycles are now available for viewing in the company’s online auction catalog. Presented with the Herculean task of picking just 10 motorcycles to watch from that extensive listing, here is my in-no-particular-order selection of machines that caught my eye. Trust me, opinions will vary.

Lot R491 1908 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank

Star of the show, one of the most desirable of all Harley-Davidsons, an original Strap Tank. [Mecum]

Given ‘Main Attraction’ status is this extremely rare and ultimately correct 1908 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank – so named for its plainly obvious pair of nickel-plated metal straps wrapping around that exquisitely finished pair of tanks. That is two tanks – the 2-quart oil tank is above the gasoline tank. These early production Harley-Davidson Strap Tanks are exceedingly rare, as only 450 were built in 1908 and fewer than 12 are considered extant. This one has an outstanding history, having been found complete in a Wisconsin barn in 1941 by David Uihlein. The barn where it was found? About 70 miles distant from the Milwaukee factory in which it was produced. Uihlein kept it in Wisconsin for the next 66 years before Paul Freehill of Fort Wayne, Indiana expertly restored the machine. Freehill referenced an ’08 Strap Tank in the Harley-Davidson Museum for accuracy and overhauled the engine while replacing the gas tank, wheel rims, muffler and a few other parts (all of which are included in the sale). The motorcycle is finished in the Renault Gray and Carmine Red coachlining that led to the coolest ‘Silent Gray Fellow’ nickname.

Lot S46 1947 Doodlebug w/sidecar

Big fun in a small package: when was the last time you saw a Doodlebug with a factory sidecar? [Mecum]

Okay, how cute is this outfit? Here is a diminutive 1947 Doodle Bug scooter complete with factory-produced sidecar. After the Second World War, relatively inexpensive transportation options aimed at a burgeoning teen market were produced and sold, from Cushman scooters to Whizzer-powered bicycles. Doodle Bug scooters fit right in and were built by the Beam Mfg. Company of Webster City, Iowa from 1946 to 1948. Doodle Bugs were badged Hiawatha and sold in Gambles department stores. According to the Doodle Bug Club of America, there were four production runs of these scooters, with each run incorporating approximately 10,000 scooters – for a total of some 40,000. Some of the earliest scooters were powered by Clinton engines, while the majority of production Doodle Bugs all received Briggs & Stratton NP 1-1/2 horsepower powerplants. This example doesn’t appear to be expertly restored, and there are some aspects of it (such as the horseshoe-shaped lower side panels with an external fuel shut off on the tank) that don’t jive with DBCA details regarding production details. But all that aside, with the factory-made sidecar, this little outfit deserves some love.

Lot T69 In-the-crate 1999 Excelsior-Henderson Super X

Rare and unusual is typical at the big Vegas auctions, and every year a 'mint and boxed' bike comes up for sale. This year it's a super rare revival Excelsior-Henderson. [Mecum]

The American motorcycle industry is full of dreamers, and in the early 1990s one of them was Dan Hanlon. What started with a conversation around the kitchen table with his brothers about motorcycles, led Hanlon and his family to resurrect the Excelsior-Henderson name, design a machine, build a production facility in Belle Plain, Minnesota and, for a very brief moment of time, literally just 1999, build the Super X. All of the Super X was proprietary, from the frame with leading link, anti-dive forks to the fuel-injected, 85 cubic-inch engine with unit-construction cassette-style transmission. In the American cruiser market, the Super X stood out for some of its advances but was criticized by some. The machine was a good start, and any flaws could have been improved in future models but by the end of 1999, Excelsior-Henderson was strapped for cash and filed for bankruptcy. Just less than 2,000 E-Hs were built, and this Super X in the crate is one of them. Excelsior-Henderson factory employees signed each crate as a machine left the floor, and the ends of this crate bear such witness. Definitely not as rare or likely as desirable as many other early American machines in the auction, but it’s one to watch. Included with the lot are E-H factory banners. Leave it in the crate, or uncrate it and ride it?

Lot R194 1948 Triumph T100 GP

If you dig patina, here's your huckleberry. Plus, it's a real Triumph GP. [Mecum]

Seeming almost competition shy, Triumph didn’t get too involved in racing activities. However, its T100 GP model is a rare exception. The machine can trace its history back to 1946, when Triumph placed the square alloy barrel and cylinder head of a wartime generator set on the bottom end of its 500cc T100. With a few modifications to the company’s rigid frame, in the hands of Ernie Lyons, a prototype machine won the 1946 Manx Grand Prix. In 1947, Triumph began limited production of the T100 GP, and the factory-built bikes incorporated the square barrel and head of the generator set making them rather unique to the marque. All other Triumph models of that era employed splayed exhaust ports, and in 1951, the all-alloy T100 became so equipped. This machine, in as-last-raced condition, purportedly spent its life in Tasmania and appears unmolested, complete with its dual Amal racing carburetors and larger-capacity 1-gallon oil tank, rear set foot controls and open megaphones. This one should be left as found, or sympathetically resurrected; definitely not restored.

Lot T279 1957 Vincent Firefly

The littlest Vincent! And one most collectors miss: the Firefly. [Mecum]

Not every Vincent is a road-burner, as evidenced by this Vincent-manufactured 2-stroke, 48cc clip-on Firefly cycle engine fitted to a Norman bicycle. Vincent was essentially an engineering firm and alongside its vaunted 500cc single-cylinder Comet and 1,000cc V-twin powered Black Shadows and Rapides, designed and manufactured a number of different products including engines for unmanned aircraft, watercraft and lawnmowers. And bicycle engines. The Firefly cycle motor was originally designed and built in 1952 by Miller (the other British provider of motorcycle electrical products such as dynamos and lights). But Vincent took on its production and built the power unit from 1953 to 1956. Not only was the Firefly sold as a separate engine, but in 1954 and ’55 Vincent built its own machine called the Power Cycle with the engine installed on a purpose-built Sun bike, and then in 1956, a Phillips. “Add POWER to your cycle…” a period Vincent ad proclaims. “No need to pedal up hills. The ‘Firefly’ takes you to the top – without effort.” The Firefly engine weighs 24 pounds, makes a single horsepower, and drives the rear wheel via friction roller. Now somewhat rare, the Firefly has become a must-have accessory for Vincent enthusiasts.

Lot S313 1940 Ariel Square Four Bobber

An OG bob-job in original patina. Very cool to find any early Square Four. [Mecum]

Not a usual candidate for a bob job, this pre-war Ariel Square Four is something of a curiosity. However, it looks terrific in its barn-find state and is era-appropriate with its twin ram horn open pipes, tall bars and stripped down rear fender sans removable tail section. This is one of the 61 machines being sold out of Mike Wolfe’s ‘As Found’ collection – and there are many tantalizing motorcycles on offer from Wolfe, including a 1950 BMW bobber, 1931 Henderson KJ and a number of Harley-Davidsons and Indians. As a fan of Edward Turner’s particular skill at the drawing table to execute a pretty motorcycle, however, the Ariel is my pick of the bunch. And the original customizer has done a good job, keeping the girder fork front end, complete with its two-year only (1939 and 1940) auxiliary check springs, relatively intact while dispensing with the fender. This Ariel is being sold with no reserve, and in the right hands, it could be made a stunner and road legal runner with the addition of the missing footrests and some period-correct lights.

Lot R232 1967 Honda CL77 (R108, R109)

The Honda Scrambler is an iconic machine, and gaining in popularity for its seminal influence on the whole industry. [Mecum]

Honda’s CL77 Scrambler was the dual-purpose variant of its popular 305cc Super Hawk model, but the machine was initially built from 1962 to 1965 as the 250cc CL72, and then the larger CL77 from 1965 to 1968. More than 90,000 Scramblers were sold in the U.S., and the bikes were popular mounts for enthusiasts looking for a reliable rider both on the street and in (somewhat mild) off-road conditions. That doesn’t mean they weren’t put to hard use, however, and as evidence, two early ’62 CL72s raced 1,000 miles across Baja in the hands of Dave Ekins and Bill Robertson, Jr. In 1965 for the CL77, Honda constructed a new frame that saw tubes running under the engine, instead of using the engine as a stressed member such as it was in the Super Hawk. This offered some protection for the crankcase and increased ground clearance, although front and rear suspension only offered about 3 to 4-inches of max travel. The last 50 CL77s were available in Candy Blue (like this largely as found one) or Orange, and it is just one of seven CL77s on offer with no reserve at Mecum this year. Will they remain affordable classic Hondas?

Lot R472 1984 Kawasaki Ninja pre-production 

A pre-production Ninja that was meant for destruction, but mysteriously survived! [Mecum]

No question, Tom Cruise’s character Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell helped put the Kawasaki GPz900R Ninja on everyone’s radar when he zoomed across the screen aboard the model in the 1986 release of Top Gun. And here’s a rare pre-production, one-owner Ninja that’s never been dealer-serviced, having spent 39 years on display with former Kawasaki executive John Hoover. Kawasaki introduced the Ninja late in 1983 for the ’84 model year, and the machine was powered by a transverse-mounted, liquid-cooled, double-overhead cam,16-valve, 4-cylinder engine. Horsepower was a claimed 113 at 9,500 rpm. This particular example was part of 1998’s ‘The Art of the Motorcycle’ exhibit at The Guggenheim Museum and has been displayed in six other museums. All of that pushing has added 5.8 miles to the odometer, and the Ninja is sold with all documentation, brochures and museum books.

Lot R210.1 1925 BMW R37

So very rare, and for many, the ultimate collectible BMW roadster: the R37 was BMW's first sports motorcycle. [Mecum]

One of 13 Bavarian machines being auctioned as part of the BMW Centennial Collection, this 1925 R37 is number 125 of only 152 that were produced over a two-year production run from 1925 to 1926. Restored by master craftsman Hubert Fehrenbach, this R37 has a known history having been purchased out of Germany’s Marxzelle Museum. Fehrenbach bought the R37 some 25 years ago in original, last used condition and proceeded to restore it with an exceptional level of quality and eye to originality. The R37 was BMW’s first racing machine and was largely based on the company’s original production machine, the 1923 R32. While the frame might have been the same, the M36a flat-twin engine gained improvements such as light alloy OHV cylinder heads and a much stronger built-up crankshaft incorporating one-piece connecting rods. So equipped, the R37 produced 16 horsepower at 4,000 rpm, nearly three times the power of the R32. The machines proved capable racers, and won many early victories for the brand, helping to solidify a corporate culture dedicated to engineering some of the finest road and race motorcycles, then and now.

Lot R216.1 1961 DKW 115 Sputnik

From a lost era of sci-fi grooviness! The DKW/Victoria Sputnik/Hummel. [Mecum]

Good things, and exceptionally fantastically designed things, do come in small packages. Consider this 1961 DKW Sputnik. Released in 1961 alongside its badge-engineered sibling, the Victoria 155, it’s simply stunning in its sartorial appeal. A pressed-steel frame is adorned with tinware that sets the Sputnik apart from absolutely anything else in the small-bore segment of the early 1960s. Powered by a 4-horsepower, 50cc 2-stroke single-cylinder engine, the entire package including the deeply padded Denfeld seat and pannier-looking side panels, weighed only 163 lb. With a left-foot shift pedal, a rider could row through the Sputnik’s 3-speed transmission and could ultimately achieve a top speed of 30 mph. Suspension up front is courtesy of an Earles fork, topped by a shapely headlight nacelle that flows back into the gas tank. A rare sight anywhere, as few as 200 Sputniks ever left the Zweirad Union factory, and only a handful have ever likely made their way to America. Be the first on the block!



Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics





Do It In The Dirt: the Vintage 1000

“You can’t plan adventure.” Adam Sheard, of the Chattanooga motorcycle shop Speed Deluxe, lives by that axiom. Proof of that is clear when he shares the story about rolling up to Chastin Brand’s tattoo parlor in Warner Robbins, Georgia. Strapped into the box of Adam’s mid-1960s Ford F100 was his 1971 Triumph T25T 250cc Trailblazer. The day before his visit to add an inked sparrow to each hand, Adam had been out riding the Triumph on dirt roads. When Chastin came out to greet Adam and saw the old dirt bike, a spark was ignited. “We spent the entire afternoon tattoo session talking about vintage off-roading,” Adam explains. “That led to us racing together in a few vintage motocross events, and then we met some other riders. Over a meal one night, we were all chatting about how I wanted to do some kind of long-distance adventure ride on vintage motorcycles.”

Vintage is the watchword: is this scene from 1971 or 2021? Rick on a Penton looking period correct.

They’d heard something about an event where motorcycles under 500cc, purchased for less than $500, are ridden 500 miles. Adam couldn’t find any information, so in 2015 he opted to do the next best thing – host his own ride. “Five hundred miles sounded like nothing,” he says. “I wanted a real adventure and said 1,000 miles on as much dirt as possible sounded like fun.” Thus, the Speed Deluxe Vintage 1000 was created. Adam and his wife, Jamie Sheard, posted the concept to their Instagram page – five days aboard pre-1981 motorcycles, no size limit, no price limit, but insured, registered and street legal. All required gear to survive, including tools, spare parts, and camping equipment but not the cooking implements, had to be strapped to the machine. “I had no route or anything really planned, but people signed up for it,” Adam recalls. Now committed to the project, Adam needed an off-road route and learned about Sam Correro and his TransAmerica Trail. Sam spent years scouting and mapping a route across America that saw little pavement, and Adam reached out for advice.

Watch out for that rock! One reason aluminum rims aren't common on dirtbikes. Mikey's BMW rim took a beating in Arizona - the rim was straightened out using rocks!

“We talked about what I wanted to do, and Sam mentioned some good routes in Mississippi,” Adam says. “I figured riding 250 miles of the TAT to the routes, 500 miles of the routes, and 250 miles back would be ideal.” Adam bought Sam’s maps, which are roll charts, booked the campgrounds and ordered the food. What could go wrong? Come go-time, there was a motley assortment of machines including a Suzuki SP370, Suzuki DS125, Honda CB360, Yamaha DT360, a small Kawasaki 2-stroke, Adam’s Triumph T25T and Chastin’s Honda CB500. “We rode 160 miles the first day,” Adam recalls. “We got into the campground at around 10:30 p.m. A couple of bikes had broken down, but much to my surprise everybody was in reasonable spirits. Still, I sat and wondered what I’d done, especially after Chastin’s bike had caught fire when the cap came off his spare fuel container gas hit the exhaust pipe.” Jamie and Lauren, Chastin’s wife, drove a single-cab pickup towing a 12-foot flatbed trailer along paved roads, following the riders as best they could. They’d meet the group at campgrounds, load up broken down machines, and cook the meals. On day three, while only three of the seven riders left for the trail, “We had a really good run,” Adam says, and continues, “on the last day, most of the bikes were running again and we all made it back into town. I figured, that was it, but the response was fantastic and it was really an adventure – and you can’t plan that, I don’t think.”

When the road turns into a hillclimb, and a rocky one at that.  Among the piñons in Arizona.

Born and raised in a small rural English village, Adam and a handful of his young friends were heavy into BMX bicycles. Motorcycles, ranging in size from 50cc to 100cc, soon followed. “We’d green lane them,” he says, “my dad bought me a 1978 Suzuki RM100, and it was a bit of a project. We did the top end on it and put it back together and I rode that quite a bit. By the time I was in high school, though, I was involved in so many other sporting activities such as soccer, football, rugby and track and field that I didn’t have time to ride.” Adam’s dad nurtured his enthusiasm for machines, however, and took him to speedway races and taught him to drive a manual transmission vehicle. When he got his driver’s license, while Adam’s parents were fine with him riding off-road, they didn’t want him on the street on a motorcycle. That’s when he got into air-cooled Volkswagens. “I bought a 1966 Beetle as a project when I was 17 or 18. I couldn’t weld, so I took it to a shop for some welding work. That took six months, and when I got it back the job wasn’t really done that well.” Disappointed but undaunted, Adam bought an inexpensive MIG welder and taught himself how to fuse two pieces of metal together, with success. “Then, I started doing a few things for other people, and when I was in my early 20s, I rented a small industrial unit to work on my own projects,” he says. While doing these jobs, Adam was working at his dad’s civil engineering firm. “I was going to go to university to take electronic engineering, but decided it wasn’t something I really wanted to do. My dad’s company had a position to fill, and I took it on as an interim job but it was actually something I really enjoyed.”

When your output shaft oil seal blows out in the field, what you gonna do? Replace it on a picnic bench at night.

In 2006, though, Adam decided to make a change. He got an engineering job in New Zealand and moved there for a year, then moved to Australia where he met his future wife, Jamie. “I was commuting in a rental car,” he says, “but I went to an exposition of new cars, and new motorcycles were on display there, too. That day, I put a deposit on a Honda 600 Hornet (CB600F). A week later, I met Jamie. She was from America studying in Australia, and she had a Honda Shadow. I got my bike license on her Shadow, and instead of buying the Hornet I transferred the deposit to a 2007 Honda CBR1000 – my first road legal machine. It was the easiest bike to ride, the power delivery, the brakes, it was as smooth as you’d want it to be. I was just always super respectful of it. I rode that bike every day for two and a half years.” More car projects followed, including a 1968 Mercedes-Benz and a Toyota FJ40. Motorcycles changed, and Adam was next riding a 1,200cc Harley-Davidson Sportster. Adept at painting tins, Adam altered the Sportster’s color three times in his first seven months of ownership. Recalling a magazine article he’d seen while living in the U.K. about a Triumph bobber, Adam thought he’d next try his hand at building one. A frame and unit-construction 650cc engine, along with other parts, were purchased in the U.S. and shipped to Australia.

Campground parking lot in the evening; do you see your bike in there?

“I bought a lathe and a TIG welder,” he says, “and made all kinds of stuff for that Triumph bobber. That’s basically how I found that passion for really building stuff again. At the time, I was doing really well in my engineering job but wasn’t particularly happy. Jamie was working on a PhD, and when she was done, we moved to the States.” In the spring of 2013, the couple landed in Los Angeles and bought a used RV. They traveled around the country, visiting Jamie’s dad in Chattanooga and other family in North Carolina and Illinois. Adam even built a Honda CB350F café racer in Jamie’s grandpa’s garage. “We had to figure out where we were going to settle and made a short list and put Chattanooga on it. It’s two hours from Nashville, two hours from Atlanta, and near the Smoky Mountains. The cost of living was less expensive, and we moved here – and we’re still here.”

Canyon carving with actual canyons in Utah.

Just a week after landing, Adam signed a lease on a shop and opened Speed Deluxe on October 1, 2013. While not in the same location, the shop has expanded and contracted over time. At one point, Speed Deluxe was in a downtown Chattanooga character building, and included a coffee bar. “We hosted a lot of rides and tech sessions, but running the business was time consuming. We couldn’t even take a day off, and our quality of life wasn’t really that great,” he says. Now, it’s just Adam fabricating and wrenching on motorcycles all built prior to 1981. That’s how he came to own his ’71 Triumph T25T Trailblazer. It was a non-running project that he pieced back together and, recalling his days of green lane riding in the U.K., took to a local off-road park. “It was a blast,” he says. “I started to take it to some vintage motocross races, and it was right around that time when Chastin saw the bike and that led to the next adventure.”

Nice selection of semi-appropriate and inappropriate off-road machinery on a pre-1968 Vintage 1000.

After running the first Speed Deluxe Vintage 1000 event, Adam says he planned to do it all again in 2016 using the same TAT routes. He knew where he was going and more of the logistics, and says he’d be better prepared the second time around. Twelve intrepid riders turned up, and while there were a couple of break downs, “It was really good, and I decided the next time around I’d make my own route.” Now, this is the part Adam really enjoyed. Looking to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina, he figured out a start and end point and roughly measured out the miles using Google Maps, Google Earth, Forest Service maps and aerial photographs. He laid out the campgrounds, created a hand drawn roll chart of the route, loaded up his bike and hit the trail. “I’d make adjustments to that roll chart on the fly, but that’s how the 1,000 miles got laid out for each event,” he says. Year after year, popularity of the Vintage 1000 has increased and locations have changed. Events have been held in Arizona, Utah (the June 2023 Utah route is now sold out) and Florida, but Adam says he’d love to plan routes in states including California, Oregon, Idaho and Michigan, “as long as people are interested.”

In the end, it's all about the people; note the smiles despite mud on this slimy hill.

And it’s the people, Adam says, who make the adventures so much fun. “The people we attract are just the best,” he says. “For example, you don’t have to be mechanically inclined to participate, but many of them are. If you break down, by the time you get off the bike someone else already has a tool roll out and is helping. If you turn up here alone, by the time the ride is over you’ve made many friends for life, and a lot of those friendships – and adventures -- are made at the side of the road during a breakdown.”

Jamie Sheard crossing Charlies Creek on her Honda XL350.

[Photo Credits : Matt Best, Spencer Powlison, Thomas Watkins, Mark Miller, Rick Bennet, Randy Bennet, Kate Lamb, Brad Allen, Harrison Holland, Mark Harman, Adam Sheard, Jaime Smialek.]


Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics


The Mary Poppins of Motorcycles

It doesn’t matter if Emma Booton, a Bay Area mechanic who describes herself as a Mary Poppins of motorcycles, is fettling an historic Vincent Black Lighting for a wealthy collector or changing the oil on a humble Honda Spree scooter for an hourly worker relying on the machine to get to work on time; she treats every job with the same degree of attention and respect. For Emma, it comes down to the age-old adage, “Treat people as you would want to be treated yourself,” she says, and continues, “Just by walking through my door, you’re honoring me and you’re doing me a favor. I’ll do whatever I can to help you.” Emma’s door leads into a small 800 square foot shop called Moto Town in Marina, California. It’s the kind of motorcycle mecca where she’ll perform complete restorations to top end rebuilds to tire changes. And she’s really good at those tire changes.

Love for British-built machines runs deep in Emma Booton, here with a Vincent Black Shadow under repair. [Emma Booton]
Emma was born in England in 1962 at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. That’s just two miles down the road from the Norton motorcycle works – and four miles from BSA’s plant. At nine years old she met her first motorcycle when her babysitter’s boyfriend arrived on a brand new 1971 Triumph Bonneville. “He sat me on the gas tank, and off we went,” Emma says. “Oh god, I was done, and that was it. I fell in love with motorcycles.” Raised in a single-parent home by her mother, Emma says the family couldn’t always afford a car, let alone support the dreams of a young teenager lusting after her first powered two-wheeler. Eventually, Emma got a job at a tire shop, fitting tires to automobile and motorcycle rims. “I had that job for a very short space of time, but the skills and techniques I learned there I use to do this day,” she says. Essentially, it’s not every motorcycle rim that can fit on a tire changing machine. If a technician can’t handle a set of tire levers, the rim is likely to get damaged. Doing it quickly and properly by hand is sometimes the only way of swapping skins. It’s a skill Emma mastered many years ago, “and my bread and butter is fitting tires – a machine makes it easy, but if the rim won’t fit, you’re dead in the water. You need to know how to fit tires by hand if you’re in this industry.”

Anything classic or even modern is welcome in Emma's workshop, like this Suzuki GT750 'Kettle'. [Emma Booton]
At 16, a moped is what Emma could legally learn to ride in England but that’s not what she bought. Instead, she acquired a 1967 BSA B25 Barracuda, a single-cylinder machine with a 250cc engine. It was the kind of bike, she says, that you ride once, fix once, and repeat the process on almost a daily basis. But with that machine, she proved she had some fundamental skills with a rudimentary set of spanners. “Back then a lot of my friends weren’t that interested in maintaining their bikes, and I’d do the jobs.” Working flat rate on Saturday’s at Hailwood & Gould’s motorcycle emporium gave her pocket money while she studied mechanical engineering at university. She dropped out before obtaining a degree and says, “You’ve really got to earn money to survive, and my first proper job was as lead technician at Sutton Motorcycles in Birmingham.” It was there, under the tutelage of Mike Shaw, that Emma learned how Honda U.K. liked jobs done. “That’s where I learned to have an enormous amount of respect for the machine, no matter how humble they are,” she explains.

Hot pink is definitely an improvement for an early Honda Gold Wing. [Emma Booton]
When she was 32, Emma left her tools behind and moved to America. “I wish I had something profound to say about coming here,” she says, and adds, “I just wasn’t sure my life was going where I wanted it to go, and I’ve always been a very restless soul. I had a nice house and a good job, but Brits have always looked to America – this is where all the cool people lived.” Emma landed in Miami and took six months to cross the U.S. “I had a distant friend in San Luis Obispo, and I had the vague notion that’s where I’d end up.” Originally, Emma had ideas of purchasing a cheap car or motorcycle to make the trek, but instead rented a car. She made friends in just about every town and city in which she stopped, often meeting owners of British-made machines. These impromptu introductions inevitably led Emma to ask questions about why someone, for example, would be riding a 70-year old English bike. “Motorcycles to me have always been a path to friendship, and we’d talk about how those bikes sound, how they look. I’ve always had a visceral love of English bikes, and a designer such as Edward Turner was a visionary, but there were many other designers who were just as important.”

Emma tutors those interested in motorcycle mechanics at Re-Cycle Garage in Santa Cruz. [Emma Booton]
On her way across America, Emma was evaluating her life. “Motorcycles can become all-consuming and they can take over your life very quickly. When I got to the coast of California, I just wanted to breathe a bit. I had been unhappy in England and thought I wanted a complete change.” But motorcycles wouldn’t leave her alone. Sitting in a café in San Luis Obispo, she was approached by the owner of Coalinga Motorsports. “How he found out I was in town I don’t know, but he knew I was a mechanic and we talked motorcycles,” Emma says. The next day, she was interviewed and hired as lead technician, starting over and acquiring MAC tools as she needed them and working again in an industry she thought she’d left behind. Coalinga was primarily a Honda, Yamaha and Sea-Doo dealership and Emma was there in the mid-1990s during a boom in motorsport popularity. “I was working in a historic building and I had a picture of the Queen on the wall and a pink flamingo hanging by its neck over my bench. I got all of the problem bikes – which I quite enjoyed,” she says. Working with a fresh perspective in a vibrant and fun shop – which is now long gone – Emma fell in love again with motorcycles. But tragedy struck while working on a twin-engine Sea-Doo when the large watercraft fell on Emma’s right forearm. The result was a compound fracture with nerve, muscle and bone damage. After a lengthy healing process, “I had to figure out a way to make a living.”

When in America, American motorcycles beckon, like this post-war Indian Chief. [Emma Booton]
Becoming something of a vagabond, Emma learned to drive a Greyhound bus and drove the highways of America, basically anywhere west of the Mississippi. “Home base was San Francisco, and I had a small apartment there,” she says. “I always rode a lightweight 125cc or 250cc bike to work and was kind of learning to use my arm again. But Greyhound is a lifestyle, and my apartment looked like a motel room. I left there after three or four years and then drove public transit in Santa Cruz. I was also working part time at a couple of bike shops, but wasn’t confident I could move the heavier bikes around.” After buying property where the barn was larger than the house in Prunedale, California, Emma began to figure out how to properly work on motorcycles again without shying away from larger machines. With her new shop, Emma began working on motorcycles for local collectors such as Neil Jameson of Jameson’s Classic Motorcycle Museum in Pacific Grove. “I was still driving transit, but I’d build him bikes in my off hours and was just happy to be getting my strength back while working on motorcycles,” she says. Word spread, and next Emma was restoring and wrenching on bikes for baseball legend Reggie Jackson. “I’d bring full restoration jobs back to the house, or I’d go out and work in their spaces,” she says.

Triumph triples are among Emma's favorites - they certainly offer rewards to the mechanically skilled, and challenges to the inexperienced. [Emma Booton]
While servicing some of these motorcycles, Emma would occasionally buy parts and fluids from Monterey Peninsula Power Sports in Seaside, California. Learning the shop was desperate for a mechanic, Emma was persuaded to come work full-time and made a name for herself as a Triumph whisperer. But with a change of ownership and the dropping of Triumph at MPPS, Emma was once again evaluating her choices. “That served as a catalyst, and I took stock of where I was and where I wanted to be, and that’s when I decided to open my own little shop.” There’s no website or advertisements promoting Moto Town. “I rely on word of mouth, and people tend to just come to me,” Emma explains. She works long hours, and also volunteers as a cook at a local shelter. Another passion is working together with Liza Miller at Re-Cycle Garage, a co-operative where the pair generously impart their knowledge to motorcyclists wanting to learn some of the basics. Now 60, Emma hopes to be working for another 10 or more years and says she will always have a British motorcycle of her own. A favorite of hers are Triumph triple-cylinder machines, and she has one in her garage. She’s also got a Suzuki RF900 and a 2008 Harley-Davidson Super Glide. “Would my life have been different had I not been quite eaten alive by motorcycles?” she muses, and rather philosophically adds, “I’m not sure they’ve been my downfall or my savior, and with a couple of diversions I’ve spent my life doing what I love. If I drop at the end of my ramp with a wrench in my hand, I’ll be the happiest woman in the world.”

Follow Emma Booton on Instagram here.



Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics


Art X Moto: Larry Poons and Big D Cycle

Where art and motorcycles converge.

Perhaps one of the most interesting crossroads in this frenzied world is the one at which Motorcycles and Art intersect. When Keith Martin of Big D Cycle in Texas shared that he’d just completed restoring an ultra-rare Seeley Condor for renowned abstract painter Larry Poons, we had to learn more. For those not familiar with the name, Big D Cycle is an important one in the history of motorcycles. That’s thanks to Jack Wilson – a man who was involved in one way or another in setting 24 of Triumph’s 36 world speed records. It was Wilson who built the finely tuned Triumph Thunderbird engine in Stormy Manhgam’s streamliner that, in 1956, helped propel Johnny Allen to 214.4 mph across the Bonneville Salt Flats. That record in turn prompted Triumph to name, in 1959, its new twin-carburetor 650 the Bonneville.

Keith Martin holds the keys to the legendary Big D Cycles in Texas. [Keith Martin]
George W. “Jack” Wilson was born in 1927, and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was a wizard with a wrench, and in the early 1950s worked as a mechanic at Pete Dalio’s shop in Ft. Worth. At Dalio Motorcycle Sales, Wilson built hundreds of race-winning Triumph engines and was himself a fierce competitor. When Pete retired and sold his shop in the early 1960s, Wilson was eventually asked to run the business. He found a willing partner with ex-owner Pete, and Big D Cycle was established in 1963, selling and servicing both Yamaha and Triumph. Yamaha was parceled off in the late 1960s, and Big D Cycle carried on with Triumph until 1983. Essentially bankrupt, the Triumph name was purchased by developer John Bloor, who had elaborate visions of what a modern British machine could be.

But Big D Cycle never closed. Beginning in the early 1970s, Wilson had wisely been buying up old Triumph dealer inventories. In the mid-1980s, thanks to Big D’s well-respected engine building and restoration capabilities, the shop was busier than ever with customer work, mail-order parts sales, and racing ventures. “I wasn’t really aware of the importance of Big D Cycle back when I first started going there in my teen years,” says Keith, the current steward of the Big D Cycle name. “For me, it was just the closest place to buy Triumph parts.”

The Big D Cycle team with the 'Texas Ceegar', the streamliner in which Johnny Allen to the 214mph unofficial land speed record in 1956, which gave rise to the Bonneville line. [The Vintagent Archive]
Born and raised in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, Keith spent his formative years on a rural piece of property south of the city. His father wasn’t into motorcycles, but when Keith was seven years old, he got a 5-horsepower Sears minibike for Christmas. “I really wanted a guitar, but he wouldn’t let me have one – he bought me a minibike instead,” he recalls. But that minibike proved to be important. “My friends and I rode them on all the country roads. As long as we didn’t go into the city limits, we never got hassled, and that was the start of a fascination with motorcycles for me,” he adds.

From the minibike, Keith moved up to a 65cc Suzuki. It was a machine his father acquired from a workmate, and the piston was frozen in the bore. His father took the engine apart and Keith watched as a broken wooden shovel handle was employed to drive out the damaged piston. “We drove to a Dallas Suzuki/BSA dealership and they bored the cylinder while we waited,” Keith recalls. Other bigger machines followed, including a Honda 100. It was on this that he’d skip school and ride to Dallas to hang out with his friends at Big D, fooling around in the shop or simply staring at the 1956 record-setting streamliner. Keith didn’t sit around, either. “My father was always big into working, and I got a job when I was quite young in the trades, starting in a manufacturing facility, then at a gas station working on cars. I stayed there until the late 1970s, when I started in the cable TV industry.”

Keith Martin has sponsored a team of 1915 Norton 16Hs on several Motorcycle Cannonball cross-country rallies. [Keith Martin]
Keith’s first British motorcycle was a 1973 Triumph Bonneville, and he bought it from a friend’s older brother. That was in 1980, and the Bonneville became Keith’s main ride. It also provided the opportunity for Keith to start hanging around Big D Cycle even more. He’d lend a hand when needed, and was always willing to do something, even just push a broom. When Keith was laid off from the cable company in the late 1980s, “Jack said, ‘Come work for me here at Big D.’” Keith continues, “Dallas/Ft. Worth had a huge motorcycling community in the late 1980s, and we had a lot on the go. There was plenty of racing, and Jack did a tremendous amount of mail-order business. Jack was a hard-working guy – the shop was open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Sunday and Monday. Jack expected a lot, and he didn’t tolerate anything less than 100 % effort. He’d never ask you to do anything he wouldn’t do, the problem was, he’d do anything.”

Larry Poons on his Ducati 250 on which he regularly places in AHRMA racing: 21X is his chosen racing number. [Larry Poons]
Keith left Big D Cycle in 1998 to open his own shop, RPM Cycle, selling and servicing the new Hinckley Triumphs. In the early ‘90s, he’d entered into an agreement to buy Jack out, but the shop was eventually sold to a different buyer. That’s when Keith set out to open RPM, but he was ultimately able to purchase the inventory, tooling and Big D Cycle name. “I didn’t use the name for a while, until I sold RPM Cycle, but in 2008 I dusted off the Big D Cycle name and opened up again.”

Motorcycle racing was a mainstay in Keith’s life, too, after he and a friend traveled to Daytona in 1987 and took in the vintage racing scene. “I saw them racing 750 Triumphs, and decided to get one of those and get involved in AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association) competition.” That’s how Keith first met New York-based artist Larry Poons. Larry, born in Tokyo in 1937, moved to America and studied music from 1955 to 1957. After taking in an exhibition of work by Barnett Newman, Larry’s focus shifted, and he began studying painting at Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts. He graduated from that program, and in 1963, his work was shown in a solo exhibition at New York’s Green Gallery. He continues to paint in his East Durham, New York studio, while still being an avid motorcycle enthusiast. From the age of 16, Larry’s been riding either British or Italian machines, and in the early 1960s, also played guitar in an avant-garde band called The Druids.

Larry Poons' Seeley Condor he's owned since new, and still races, here at the Big D Cycle workshop. [Keith Martin]
While Larry rode on the street, he also raced during the 1970s, later becoming involved with AHRMA aboard a 1971 Seeley Condor – a motorcycle he’d bought new. Powered by a single overhead camshaft Matchless G50 engine, the Condor was built by English racer and frame builder Colin Seeley. When Seeley, operating as Colin Seeley Racing Developments, purchased the manufacturing rights to the Matchless G50, AJS 7R and Manx Nortons in 1966 he planned to build complete engines and place them into his specially designed frames, which evolved over time to become the Mk3 chassis. The straight tubes of this frame run from the top of the neck to the swingarm mount, while a second set of straight tubes run from the bottom of the neck back to the rear shock absorber top mounting points. This design made the engine appear as though it was virtually hanging out in front of the tubes, but it and the separate gearbox were securely mounted in substantial plates, while the engine’s cambox was fixed to the upper frame rails.

The frame was also used for Yamaha and Ducati competition machines and proved to be a race winner. In the early 1970s, while the big Matchless G50 engine was losing its competitive edge on the tracks, Seeley thought it would be a good idea to put the powerplant in a street-legal machine. He drafted plans for a café-racer style motorcycle, and equipped it with a Lucas dynamo, lights and proper silencer. This became the Condor, a motorcycle with a very small production run of just seven -- one of them, of course, was bought by Larry.

Larry Poons and the Ducati 250 racer on which he does particularly well. [Larry Poons]
“I met Larry in Topeka, Kansas in 1990,” Keith recalls. “I was admiring his bike in the paddock as he was trying to change the front sprocket on the Seeley. He was yelling and cussing trying to get the main shaft nut off. I told him to turn it the other way as it was lefthand thread. It came right off and we have been friends ever since. I did not know he was a famous artist until about ten years later. He was a good guy who was always racing hard, and always on it. When we quit racing, I’d see him at Barber on a regular basis, and in 2019, he asked if I’d restore the Condor. He told me to build it as if it were mine, and I went all out.”

According to Keith, Larry’s Condor was a well-used racing motorcycle when it rolled into the Big D Cycle restoration shop. “It had lived a hard life, and he’d been seriously racing it for 22 years,” he says. “The motor was tired, and after one crash, the frame had been reworked by Rob North. But it was nicely done, and the frame was straight.”

The Big D Cycle crew is Ryan Ambrose and Keith’s long-time friend Scott Aday. They all worked hard on Larry’s Seeley Condor, and fabricated fresh alloy engine mounting plates for a new reproduction Matchless G50 engine sourced from NYC Norton. The gas tank was cut open to repair it, and the exhaust modified to run inside the frame to provide more leg room. To achieve this, the oil tank was cut for clearance while new footpegs were fabricated. Instead of being nickel plated as the original Seeley frame would have been, Keith opted to powder coat the chassis. The gas tank was painted orange, with the Seeley name hand painted on its flanks. It took about 10 months for the restoration to wrap up, and when finished, Keith took it for a quick blast down the street.

Another shot of the ultra-rare Seeley Condor, built by Colin Seeley from remaining stocks of AMC racing engines and his own frame, originally for the street as an ultimate single-cylinder cafe racer. [Keith Martin]
“It runs really nice and the motor is strong, but I can’t really ride it because it’s too small for me,” he says. They have, however, had the Seeley to the track for some shake down runs. “Even before we started this job, I thought rather than hand Larry a bill I’d ask him for a nice big painting to hang in our house – what could be better than one of my friend Poons’ works at home?”

Larry agreed, and sent Keith some books of available works. Keith’s family then met Larry and his wife Paula in their New York studio and selected a painting. So far, the Condor is still with Big D, and the painting is still in New York. The plan was to meet at a track where the Big D Cycle crew could pit for Larry while he put the restored Condor through its paces. Covid might put a wrench in those works, but when it comes to Motorcycles and Art, it won’t be long before everything intersects.

Keith Martin with one of Larry Poons' large abstract paintings. [Larry Poons]


Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

David Lancaster: 'Speed is Expensive'

Speed is Expensive: Philip Vincent and the Million Dollar Motorcycle is an ambitious film project about Philip Vincent and his namesake motorcycles.  The film has been a labor of love for writer/director David Lancaster, and its production has been methodically idling along for a number of years.  Finally, it's revving up and rolling out to selected screens in a bid for wider distribution. Narrated by Ewan McGregor, Speed is Expensive debuted June 17 this year during the Barnes Film Festival in the 200-seat Riverside Studios theatre in Hammersmith, London. It played to a sold-out cinema, netted a standing ovation and won the festival’s Audience Award – fitting tribute to the years of hard work David and many other backers and contributors put into making the documentary. Now, the film will be shown at select festivals, with some private screenings too, and discussions with agents should see it widely distributed.

David Lancaster hanging out with a couple of friends: the Barn Job dragster, and Marty Dickerson's 'Blue Bike'. [David Lancaster]
David Lancaster was uniquely suited for the project, as he’s been steeped in Vincent lore and the culture of speed since childhood. “My father, Alan, rode Vincents from the mid 1950s onwards,” David explains. “He and my mother toured a good deal in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s -- to Italy, Yugoslavia, Germany. My father never lost the lust for long-distance travel, normally on his Vincent Black Prince, and went to Europe every year on two wheels, up until his passing in 1990. My first trips were with him: to the Belgium Lion Rally on the back aged seven, in 1973 – which was rich, early ‘70s chaos to a young mind – and to Austria aged nine, at the FIM rally.”

All in the family, part 1: With their father Alan at the controls, David Lancaster and his brother Tom sit in the capacious Steib S500 sidecar of a Vincent Black Shadow. [David Lancaster]
David continues, “My father went far – but my mother Audrey’s family went fast. Her father, Charlie Hornby, was a speedway rider in the 1920s – competing in the UK, South Africa and the USA. And my mother’s brother Colin Hornby was also a racer, gaining second in the 1964 Barcelona 24-hour race on a home-built 650 Norton just ahead of later-world champion Angel Nieto. Colin switched to sidecars and was a regular on the Continental Circus and TT of the late ‘60s, competing on a BMW Rennsport outfit. Colin’s still riding briskly at 80 years old.”

All in the family, part 2: David's uncle Colin Hornby and Mike Griffiths on their BMW RS54 Rennsport outfit in 1971 at the Isle of Man Sidecar TT. [David Lancaster]
When David was in secondary school, he and his brother started a band and performed local gigs. Although a teacher told him he wouldn’t likely excel in either of his chosen professions – musician or journalist – his time at school fostered “a sense of do-it-yourself enterprise, which the explosion of punk at the time really chimed with - and, in the words of The Small Faces: ‘Why go to learn the words of fools?’” David enjoys recounting a poignant example of this generation’s ethos. “I got the train down to Paul Weller’s family house in Woking once, to try and get a ticket for a coach trip to see The Jam in Paris – none were available. But John, Paul’s father, was so gracious on the doorstep about the news that there were no tickets left – I was struck that they were running it all from a council house 30 miles south of London. Real ground-up enterprise.” It was a heady time for David. Passionate about music and skateboarding, he’d attend punk music gigs where bands such as The Ruts would stir up the crowd. “I missed out on seeing the Sex Pistols – the line to the Students Union bar at Brunel University looked just too long, so we went home. But seeing The Clash a couple of times at this period more than made up for it,” David says.

All in the family, part 3: David's parents Alan and Audrey Lancaster aboard a Francis-Barnett trails bike. [David Lancaster]
At college, David gained a genuine appreciation for writing and then attended Warwick University, studying Philosophy and Literature. After graduating, he worked with the renowned Mark Williams on Motorcycle International magazine. He was there for three years as deputy editor, and says, “Mark was a good first boss – he’d cut his teeth on the late ‘60s underground press such as the International Times, and launched the ground-breaking BIKE in 1971. Great writer, too, who refused to publish second-rate words or pictures. Early lesson in quality control. I loved the bikes, and the new-model launches at tracks like Misano – even the speed testing at windy aerodromes – but I didn’t want to write about motorcycles for the rest of my life. After a while there isn’t much to say about the new GSX-R Suzuki which was, of course, faster, better-braked and more garish than the model it replaced. So, motorcycles went back to being my hobby and I worked through the ‘90s and 2000s mostly in the print media, spending two years on The Times (London) and freelancing for Fleet Street and magazines such as Arena.” While working mostly in the world of print media, David also branched out into television. He was a researcher for legendary Scottish journalist and media personality Muriel Gray and her Glasgow-based production company on some of her motoring shows. More time in that field included researching and directing Top Gear episodes and also as a script editor for a food-oriented series broadcasting on BBC2. All the while, an idea was percolating that would eventually become Speed is Expensive and I’ll let David tell this story in his words.

Film poster for Speed Is Expensive: Philip Vincent and the Million Dollar Motorcycle - based on original commissioned artwork by Conrad Leach

Greg Willams: What’s the back story to Speed is Expensive?

David Lancaster: It started, way back, with me looking through some 35mm slides my parents had taken of their Vincent trips in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, after both had passed away. My folks’ slides were from just 10 or so years after the Second World War ended in 1945 – and they were pioneering taking a bike that far into Europe at the time. No phones back then – no Euro, no credit cards and major currency restrictions (you were only allowed a certain amount in or out of each country). I’ve always read history, and there was a drift emerging that history could – or even should -- be told from the shop floor as much as the directors’ office; that as much wisdom, probably more, would emerge from sitting in the workers’ canteen as in the directors’ restaurant for an hour.

A young John Surtees hangs off his father Jack's Vincent sidecar racer: John made important contributions to the film. [David Lancaster]
So, I began thinking: what must this group of cool, young British men and women, on their 1000cc Vincents, have seemed like to someone working the land in Italy or Yugoslavia just 10 years after the war had ended? It was a vanished age, but the bikes remain. So, the idea of recording some of the stories from this period really appealed. I guess my mother and father passing kicked me into action – if I couldn’t record their stories, there would be others. Around this time, I hooked up with co-producer Gerry Jenkinson at a Vincent Owners Club meeting near Manchester. Gerry was already making videos – and as one of the top lighting directors in the UK theatre (go-to lighting guy for people like playwright Harold Pinter and director Peter Hall) and very tech proficient, he could work a camera really well and was into history as I was.

So, over a beer or two, we hatched a plan to track down the remaining men and women who’d built Vincents, to record their recollections. In the end, through social media, contacts and research on sites such as Ancestry, we filmed 14 men and women who worked at Stevenage, the most famous being John Surtees, who was an apprentice there. It was John’s only ever normal job in fact – payslip at the end of the week, day release for college with the other apprentices. From then on, he freelanced for factories becoming, of course, the only man to win world titles on two or four wheels. An amazing man with crystal clear recollection of events 70 years ago.

Vincent history is rich with characters and tales of derring-do. This is Clem Johnson's 'Barn Job' dragster being warmed up. [David Lancaster]
GW: A large part of Speed is Expensive is based on footage and photos from Philip Vincent’s personal archive. How did that evolve?

DL: I’d known the Vincent family for many years through my parents: Dee, PCV’s daughter, her husband Robin and then young (grandson) Phil as he grew up. I’d met Phil Irving a good few times at Vincent events, but sadly I’m not sure I met Vincent before his death in 1979. But I may have done. So, Gerry and I asked – badgered, might be more accurate, but that’s documentary-making -- to look over and perhaps restore the films shot by Vincent in their care. It was a revelation: home life, race meetings, travel in the USA meeting dealers, some of it on 16mm, filmed with his Bolex camera.

The Million Dollar Vincent: Jack Ehret's record-breaker that sold for nearly $1M, and remains the #1 most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction. [David Lancaster]
GW: This project has been in progress for many years. Can you tell us why it’s taken so long?

DL: The film was so long in the making because for the most part Gerry and I did everything: research, production, much of the early filming of interviews, then to travel to the USA, Montlhéry in France, and Australia, where we filmed the amazing Irving Vincents on the track, and the record setting Jack Ehret Lightning, back on the very road it set the southern hemisphere land speed record – for bikes and cars – at 141.5 mph in 1953. We were both busy working, too – Gerry lighting shows and me lecturing in journalism at the University of Westminster in London. The quality and extent of Vincent’s films was a milestone – and there were others, each of which elevated the project’s scope and quality: the Australian shoot above, the last full interview with John Surtees, then with our US producer James Salter helping us set up a day with Jay Leno and on to filming Marty Dickerson being re-united with his famous Blue Bike at the Mojave Desert.

Interviewing Marty Dickerson, builder of the Blue Bike, in the Mojave desert. [David Lancaster]
Marty was another wonderful character who my parents knew well and I’d ridden alongside at a VOC international rally in the early 1980s. Marty would stop with us all for a beer or lunch, unfurl his telescopic walking stick from the rack on his Vincent, and walk into a bar. Very cool. I always wondered if it had a sharpened tip, there if needed, like something out of a Sherlock Holmes story. One of the industry’s great writers and editors, Mike Nicks, stepped in to make this trip happen and came along with us. The best thing, or one of them, was all the people gelled – Philip Vincent’s grandson, director of photography Steve Read (director of Gary Numan: Android In Lala Land, 2016), James Salter, Mike (Nicks). At that time Gerry and I knew we had the making of something. It was wonderful to interview Marty, to see him again, and I guess say goodbye to him. My mother visited him in LA a few times after my father died. Marty passed away just a few months after our interview. I didn’t quite get to record the full stories of my parents or their trips in Europe on their bike– but their legacy, of travel and world-wide and enduring friendships in the Vincent world, have really made Speed is Expensive possible.

More legendary Vincent owners in the USA: Sonny Angel, who also raced and set records with his Vincent, and worked at the factory in Stevenage. [Sonny Angel Archives]
Our financial supporters, many at a medium level, one or two large, have been wonderful at watching the project grow and unfold rather than hassle and hustle for a release date. All have made it happen – but especially early supporters such as Tim Woodward, Mike Nicks and Colin and Wendy Manning, and executive producers Harvey Bowden and Kris Waumans. This private backing has given Gerry and myself freedom to craft the story. We’ve taken some wrong turns, of course, but I think it was this, and the bikes and the story, which Ewan McGregor responded to when he heard about the project. He phoned rather out of the blue, from an introduction through James Salter and Greg McBride, and once he’d read the voice-over script said – yes, he’d be our narrator. We recorded his voice over in the depths of COVID lockdown: Ewan at his home, James in a studio in Santa Monica, me talking to both on Facetime video!

It was great to see Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead at our Electric Revolutionaries reception: Ewan is a big supporter of all things motorcycle, including eBikes, having ridden a LiveWire up the length of South America. [MAF]
The final piece of the jigsaw (and a feature documentary is a massive jigsaw of elements, most of them in flux all the time…) came just over a year ago. Again, it was at another VOC meeting. Gerry had ridden to a pub meet in Kent on his Comet and Colin Manning introduced him to Russell Icke, who’d not long ago bought a Shadow and Comet. In a very British way, Gerry asked: ‘And what do you do?’ to which Russell replied, ‘I’m a film editor…’ Cut to 12 months later and Russell, and his lead editor Liz Deegan, have really got us over the line – long days in there cutting, finessing, plus of course all the major post production work which people really do not know much about, but are key: sound balance, picture grading, captioning. I’ve learnt a great deal at every stage, but working with Russell and Liz was brilliant – their skills have really embedded the jeopardy of the story: Would the company suffer another humiliation in the 1935 TT, the first one with their own entries, as they did the year before? Would the post-war Rapide, planned during the last year of the war, work? Would it sell? What were the effects of Vincent’s crash, riding an early Rapide on a race circuit in 1947? Vincent fans may know the answers to a good deal of these questions – but the key thing in making a documentary for a more general audience is that most will not know…and of course Vincent, Irving and the workforce, didn’t know either. Vincent was a gambler in many ways. For years, it paid off, but later, less so."

David Lancaster with his 1939 Vincent-HRD Comet, an apex vintage motorcycle. [Nick Clements-Men's File magazine]

What's in the Garage?

And with that, of course, the film has launched. No word about DVD releases, but David assures me, as noted earlier, that work is underway to get the film out to all markets keen to view it. In the meantime, David will enjoy running his early Rapide, a bike that was owned by his father in the 1950s and the very machine his parents used for many of their adventures. It had been sold out of the family, David found it in Germany, “and then swooped when it came up for sale at Bonhams.” He’s not letting that one go, but he did sell a 1939 Comet which he’d kept for 10 years. Of the Comet, he says, “It was a wonderful bike: reasonably fast, and on a smooth road great handling, with excellent brakes. Had a wonderful ride at Wheels and Waves, 2015 I think, when Johnny Boneyard and I vanned Paul Simonon’s 'Wot No Bike?' paintings [read David's story on Paul's book here] and our bikes down. I still remember cruising along with Paul d’Orleans and Susan McLaughlin on the northern Spanish backroads, they on a Commando, ducking and diving into bends. Great trip”.

Paul Simonon at the 2015 edition of Wheels and Waves, with his paintings displayed at the ArtRide exhibit. [Paul d'Orléans]
But it’s the V-twins that truly captivate David’s interest. “I still sit, after working on the Rapide, and marvel at the achievement of the post-war twins: they are utterly unique, the work of two geniuses – Vincent and Irving – designed and built when both were at the top of their game, by a dedicated workforce.” The Rapide is not the only machine of interest in David’s garage. He adds, “I’ve also got a 1958 AJS 31 CS, with a Von Dutch tank, which is an easy bike to live with. Still on original wiring, mag, etc. Plus, there’s a 1971 MV Agusta 350, an ’88 Saab 900 Turbo and ’75 Jaguar XJ Coupe. I sold the Comet to buy the Jag. Never easy parting with these things, but I wanted a classic with four seats, not two, which my wife, daughter and our adopted daughter could take a holiday in and enjoy. Which we have done.”

David's 1958 AJS 31CS with a SoCal custom paint job...which just might have been painted by Von Dutch. [Bonhams]
David professes his mechanical skills are limited, “probably by my laziness – but I seem to get home on bikes, even after some roadside fiddling. I choose my riding buddies for many reasons – good company, a sense of humour – but possibly mechanical skills, too. Or so it seems.” He is a member of the Vincent Owners Club and London’s Mean Fuckers Motorcycle Club [a 1980s post-punk/rocker classic bike club, written about in my book 'Ton Up!' - ed.]. While busy with his day job lecturing in Journalism at the University of Westminster, David has been working toward a book that will augment Speed is Expensive. “It’ll be more detailed, more specialist than the film,” he says, “but still built around the same access we’ve enjoyed to those who worked with both Vincent and Irving and knew them well.” Other projects are potentially in the works, as David is working on ideas with his friend and Speed is Expensive executive producer Robert Carr (co-founder in the late 1980s of the Mean Fuckers MC) and Andrew Nahum [read our story on Andrew here]. “We’re working on a film treatment which will combine France, vintage motoring, literature and food,” and David sagely concludes, “Bikes are great – but you’ve got to eat.”




Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics


Jack Leong and the Ace-Hy M.C. Archive

In the days before the ubiquitous smart phone placed a camera in the hands of everyone, photography was an expensive and time consuming hobby. Gear, film, and darkroom or lab costs meant taking pictures was something only a select few opted to pursue. Thankfully, Jack Leong of Calgary, Alberta had the means to support his passion. In his younger years, Jack worked as a grocer, drove a truck and a taxi, and was a partner in a sporting goods store. Everywhere he went, he brought a camera, including when riding his beloved 1947 Indian Chief as a member of Calgary’s Ace-Hy Club in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Jack took an incredible number of photographs documenting the group’s activities, and an impressive archive of 500 black and white images of motorcycles and the men and women who enjoyed them has come to light after being stored away in bins and boxes for decades.

Jack Leong looking cool with his girlfriend (and future wife) Jean Tewsley, his 35mm camera in evidence [Ace-Hy Archive]

Walt Healy 

None of this story would likely have happened without Walt Healy, an integral figure in Calgary’s motorcycle history. Walt was born in 1913 and lived his entire life in Calgary. As a youngster walking to school, he was curious about an Indian Power Plus that leaned against a fence at a local greenhouse.  At 13 years old he was working as a bicycle courier for the Diamond Motor Company Limited – a Graham-Paige garage in downtown Calgary - and had earned enough money to buy a 350cc Douglas twin. Replacing his bicycle with the Douglas allowed Walt to deliver farther and faster, and it was the machine he owned as a founding member of the Calgary Motorcycle Club in 1926. After the Douglas, Walt ran a 1918 Harley-Davidson attached to a National sidecar, and opened shop as Walt’s Service, delivering everything from groceries to paint for 10- to 25-cents per load.

Walt Healy on his Indian TT Warrior hillclimb special at an Ace-Hy event. Note the sweet two-into-one pipes! [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
An Indian 101 Scout and sidecar joined his fleet, but in the late 1920s he was looking for another machine. He left a $20 deposit with the local Harley-Davidson dealer and was assured he'd get the next retired police outfit to come in.  When Walt returned with the rest of the cash for the bike, he was told it had been sold to someone else. And the next outfit didn’t fall into Walt’s hands, either. That bike was turned into a hillclimber by the shop’s proprietor.  For his $20 deposit, Walt instead got an Indian 101 Scout motor languishing on a workbench.  It had been left behind due to an unpaid service bill, but Walt knew who had owned it. He visited the motor’s owner, and for another $10 bought the Scout chassis...and built a hillclimber for himself.  Walt told me he did it just so “I could kick the Harley dealer in the ass” in every hillclimb the dealer entered.

Jack Leong's 1947 Indian Chief in front of Walt Healy's shop on 10th Street in the community of Kensington, Calgary. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
Walt still needed two new machines for his delivery service; he was only 18 but business was strong. In 1931, Walt spoke to the Indian dealer in Calgary about obtaining motorcycles; he was told that for $100 he could buy the entire stock, including enough parts to build two Chiefs, and more to keep other Indians in service.  From a rented garage, Walt ran an Indian sales and repair agency during the hours he wasn’t delivering goods. By April 1939, he and a few other members of the Calgary Motorcycle Club founded the Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club. It’s believed Walt was interested in sponsoring racing - hill climbs, hare scrambles, ice and flat track racing - while continuing to foster an active riding group. The fact he was an Indian dealer meant several of the Acy-Hy members rode Springfield-built machines, but the club was not restricted to just that brand and Ariel, Harley-Davidson, Triumph and even Vincent motorcycles were represented.

Jack Leong and his girlfriend Jean Tewsley in Banff, two-up on their 1947 Indian Chief. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]

John 'Jack' Leong

Circling back to John ‘Jack’ Leong; he was born in 1923 in Vancouver, B.C. His parents moved to Calgary when he was a child, where his father prospered in business and later opened a gambling club. Leong Sr. was generous, often helping new Chinese immigrants gain their footing in the community. “I’m not even sure my dad could speak English until he started school here,” his daughter Denise Eckert says. Jack was mechanically minded and worked hard at whatever job he was doing. During World War II, he flew with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Jack Leong's c.1949 Indian Scout vertical twin. These postwar singles and twins, designed by the Torque Corporation during WW2, were intended to be light and quick competition with British machines. They fit the bill, and looked great, but were rushed into production before all their bugs were sorted, which cost Indian so much in money and reputation, they killed the company. Many old Indian stalwarts resent these models, but in truth Indian had the right idea, but bad timing. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
Jack didn’t see any overseas action but after the war he remained enthusiastic about flying and held a pilot’s license and owned an airplane. Denise surmises it was the thrill of being a pilot that led her father to the controls of an Indian Chief, often equipped with a sidecar. And that’s when Jack would have entered Walt Healy's orbit, and the thrall of the Ace-Hy Club. Denise says, “I know my dad had other motorcycles that he raced and hill-climbed with the Ace-Hy, but he just really seemed to be passionate about Indian.” Of his photography hobby, Denise says her dad was mostly self-taught. He loaded his own film, took the pictures, developed the negatives and enlarged the images in his own darkroom. “Photography was a passion,” Denise says. “He subscribed to photography magazines and read them cover to cover, and he was always carrying a camera.”

A classic image of bikers at rest. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
Many of the images Jack took of Ace-Hy activities were shot with one of his trusty medium-format folding cameras. At the time, he owned a Kodak Vigilant Six-20 (f/4.5 103mm lens) but upgraded to a Kodak Tourist (F/4.5 101mm lens). Many of his photos feature hillclimb competition, and these events were sometimes held on the steep terrain found 23 miles west of Calgary near the town of Cochrane. While Jack was usually behind the camera, some photos show him campaigning a parallel-twin Indian Scout. He also snapped shots of the club on road runs, with a line of machines and riders posing in front of a cafe some 65 miles west of the city, near the Rocky Mountain town of Canmore. On the road, at club socials, racing – Jack had his camera ready and even traveled with Walt and others to tracks in the western provinces and northwestern states to captured the action.  There’s even a shot of Walt aboard his Indian race bike on a track that looks like Montana. Walt raced in Canada with his CMA No. 38 plate, but when he raced in the U.S., his number was 38T because Ed Kretz Sr.’s number was also 38.

On the road to a hill climb or flat track race. The ca. 1940 Buick Limited Touring Sedan was Walt Healy's. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
In the early 1950s, Jack met his wife-to-be, Jean Tewsley, at an Ace-Hy Club dance. “The club had so many social events,” Denise says, “and that’s where they met. My dad was 26, and she was 18. My mom rode her own motorcycle, and she was really a bit of a trailblazer. She rode the bike year round, but after they got married in ’55 and started the family, motorcycles were given up. They did attend some Ace-Hy social events after they were married, but there were no more motorcycles. And when I was growing up, Dad didn’t elaborate very much on stories about his machines. I think he was somewhat sad about having to give them up but realized raising a family and starting a new career as an electrician were now his priorities.”

Preparing the ground on a hill in Cochrane, Alberta, for a hillclimb competition. An image rarely seen!  And poetically beautiful...like a Courbet painting. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
But he kept taking pictures. As an electrician, Jack was often away on job sites and would photograph and document the work. When Denise was younger, she went with her dad on road trips to the mountains to shoot wildlife. In the early 1980s, when the Canadian economy crashed, Jack was laid off from the electrical industry. “At that time,” Denise recalls, “He started working at Japan Camera at Market Mall. A few years later, he began working in the photography department at London Drugs. When the management got wind of his age -- he was already in his 70s but didn’t look it -- he was essentially forced to retire. He loved these jobs and cherished the relationships built with so many repeat customers.” By that time, the Ace-Hy club had become only a memory to those who had been involved during its heyday, as by the mid-1960s it had essentially disbanded.

'Dave' Attitude. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]

Art Gavel 

But some remember the Ace-Hy Club, including Art Gavel. I interviewed Art four years ago and learned he was a talented motorcycle mechanic from Nova Scotia who arrived in Calgary in 1957. The day after he got to the city, Art was knocking on doors. The first place he stopped was Walt Healy’s motorcycle shop, then on 10th Street in Kensington. After a quick word with Walt, Art found himself employed and began turning wrenches the next day. “I never regretted working with Walt,” Art recalls. “He was a wonderful man to work for, but you didn’t want to get him mad. Of course, Indian – the brand Walt had started with – was done by ’53 so by that time we were selling Triumphs, and then Jawa and CZs. In the shop, I could service anything, and what Walt and I didn’t have in the way of tools to fix something we’d make.” He says Walt’s shop was roughly the size of three double-car garages. There was a showroom, and a large service shop. One of the most common chores in those days, according to Art, was bottom end servicing, including grinding crank journals not only for motorcycle engines but also automobiles and tractors.

Prep for the Turner Valley hillclimb with a c.1948 Ford F4 flatbed. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
The day Art started working with Walt he joined the Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club. “There were quite a few members then,” Art says. “The Ace-Hy wasn’t as much about road riding as it was about sport riding – grass track racing, cross-country racing, 100-mile endurance runs, and a lot of hillclimbs.” One of the club’s favourite activities was the annual Christmas Turkey Run. A turkey run is so-called because of the chance to win a prize bird, but the event was mostly an off-road cross-country race held late in the year in the cold and the snow.

Three Ace-Hy Club members at McFarland Lumber Yards in Okotoks, a few miles south of Calgary, on a winter ride. Jean Tewsley and Donna Hamilton are aboard their Indian vertical twin Scout models, while another rider has a JAWA 350cc twin, all attached to outrigger wheels for riding on ice! [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
“The Ace-Hy was a really good group of just ordinary people,” Art explains. “It didn’t matter what make or model of bike you rode, you’d be welcome. And, if somebody bought a cheap bike and joined the group, we’d all pitch in to work together and get the bike into good shape for them to safely ride.” And just like Jack Leong and Jean, if it wasn’t for the Ace-Hy club, Art says he’d have not met his future wife. “An Ace-Hy member, Eddy Thomas, and I had overhauled a motor for his flathead Ford,” Art says. “Eddy was getting the car into shape because he was going to drive it on his honeymoon. We were driving over to work on the car when we saw his bride-to-be Lorna and her friend waiting for a bus. We pulled over and picked them up, and Lorna’s friend was Joan – and Joan offered to buy me a milk shake. I always say that buying me that shake was the biggest mistake of her life!”

An Ace-Hy competition on the prairie: the club was primarily organized around racing. Note the Triumph T100 twin and AJS M18 single in the background. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]

Kaetyn St. Hilaire

When Jack died early in 2015 at the age of 92, Denise began the task of sifting through decades of her dad’s photographs, including the Ace-Hy archive. His work might not have come to light, however, if the Ace-Hy name hadn’t been resurrected in 2018 and used to identify the Alberta chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. Now, the revived Ace-Hy, as an AMCA chapter, holds regular meetings, road runs and swap meets and is fortunate to have young Kaetyn St. Hilaire as an enthusiastic member. Kaetyn works the club’s social media and updates the @acehymotorcycleclub feed on Instagram.

Pit stop on a club competition. Note the AMA patch on his leather jacket; many racers crossed the border for racing. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
In the summer of 2021, Kaetyn began working with Calgary’s boutique Village Ice Cream shop to promote an antique motorcycle display at their Victoria Park location. And Denise, who happens to follow Village Ice Cream on Instagram, took notice when the shop posted a notice about its upcoming Ace-Hy motorcycle event. She made a comment on the post about her dad, Jack, the Ace-Hy club, and his archive of motorcycle images. “I asked if I could see them,” Kaetyn says, “and she allowed me to take all of them and scan them.” That treasure trove of photographs now forms the Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive, and Denise granted permission for the images to be widely shared. Kaetyn routinely posts them to Instagram and Denise is happy, and says her dad would be happy, too, knowing the images have been given new life in a digital environment where others can appreciate his work.

A contrast in gender roles, although Alberta ladies surely had no problem digging in when required. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
As the note says, Banff in March 1950. The snow has mostly melted on the ground, but Cascade Mountain stays white.[Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
This cafe was at the side of the highway at Canmore, Alberta. Mount Lady MacDonald to the right, and what is today know as Bald Eagle Peak to the left. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
Hard to say what Jack Leong thought of the 'white help only' sign at the cafe... [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
That Ace-Hy patch is begging for a reboot! Great club colors. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
Jack Leong's daughter Denise Eckert sitting on Ace-Hy member Robert Olivier’s circa 1946-1947 Indian Chief with sidecar, the same year and model her dad, Jack, would have ridden. She has no motorcycle experience, and this was her first time even sitting on a bike. [Kimberly Eckert]
Out on the Alberta prairie on a club run. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
Bikers: cool without even trying (too hard). [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]



Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics


Thinking Outside the Box: Hossack Engineering

In the mid-1970s, Norman Hossack visited the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London.  Norman had congenital nystagmus, a condition where his eyes dash left and right. Blindness was never a prognosis, but fine, up-close work was a problem.  A professor at the Institute told him farming would be a suitable occupation, but that wasn’t what Norman, who was perfecting his welding and machining skills, wanted to hear. “That was life altering for me,” Norman says of his visit to the RNIB, “But I didn’t stop thinking about stuff.”  Although his eyes were initially a setback, Norman gracefully steered through life’s twists and turns and absorbed the shocks, later developing the radical HOSSACK suspension system, as used by Britten, BMW and Honda in their motorcycles.

The start of it all: a brand new Ducati Mach 1 taken to the track in South Africa. [Norman Hossack]
At the time, Norman was working for McLaren in England. He was involved in many aspects of McLaren’s race cars and crewed on the racing teams, including three years at Indianapolis in 1972, 1973 and 1974. Running a metal lathe, perfecting his TIG welding skills, learning about chassis and suspension design... Norman was creatively inspired and more than happy in his position. “But my eyesight wasn’t adding up,” he says. “Distance sight wasn’t a problem, but any close-up work was ruled out.” Norman left McLaren in 1974 without divulging the reason for his departure. He went skiing, paid for by working in bars; he sailed as crew, and learned to pilot a glider by doing field maintenance. All things, he says, that didn’t depend on the noise and vibration of an internal combustion engine to propel him. Born in Bellshill, Scotland in 1946, Norman moved with his mother and father to South Africa just two years later. Norman’s father was an aircraft engineer, and during WW2 repaired RAF (Royal Air Force) engines in Karachi, India. They moved initially to South Africa and then to Rhodesia, where the family camped under canvas near Rusape for four years while Hossack Sr. maintained heavy construction equipment including bulldozers, tractors and stone crushers for a modern roadway project – the first real road to the East. “We were very remote and didn’t have a lot of things. I had to entertain myself and spent most of my time outdoors,” Norman says.

The first test mule for Hossack's front end, HOSSACK 1, which eventually got a Honda motor. [Norman Hossack]
When the family moved to Umtali, Norman began taking an interest in engineering and mechanics. “I was greatly intrigued by the Luna Park (small amusement parks named after Luna Park, opened in 1903 on Coney Island) that would set up on the square outside our school. Rides such as the Octopus, Chair-O-Plane, Dodgem and Big Wheel fascinated me, and I wondered how it mechanically all went together,” Norman says. At 14, Norman’s father presented him with a challenge. A 1949 125cc BSA Bantam, taken apart and then abandoned, was found. Norman had to go and pick up the pieces and put it together and make it run. “My father didn’t get involved, but after a bit of struggle I managed to work it all out and would then tear around the neighborhood after school.” When he was 16, just about to turn 17, Norman began a 5-year apprenticeship in the motor trade. “I would have preferred to go into the air force, but I’d failed my English exam because my spelling was appalling,” he says. “I was ahead of the job, and fixing cars was a bit mundane – I wanted to be changing and inventing things and couldn’t really see a reason to accept some designs as they were.” He invented a door lock, for example, for a Ford Cortina to replace the bolt-action lock that wouldn’t keep the car door closed on some of the rough African roads. “Mine worked, and kept the door closed,” he explains.

The little bike that could: HOSSACK 1 on the track with a fairing, a winning machine for years. [Norman Hossack]
But the motor trade job provided wages that allowed him to buy his first – and only – brand new machine, a 250cc Ducati Mach I. Paid off in installments, the Ducati was soon on the racetrack. “During our racing season, many of the European racers would come to Africa, and we’d see people such as Mike Hailwood. In fact, I raced a 20-lap race against Mike, and he overtook me three times in 20 laps! Still, I found it significant to have been on the track at the same time as him.” Following advice found in a Cycle World magazine, Norman modified the Ducati’s swingarm pivot to strengthen it.  That didn't make the motorcycle any faster, and he soon sold the Ducati to fund a trip to England and Europe where he spent time hitchhiking and doing odd jobs. One of those jobs, albeit unpaid, was working as engine tuner and mechanic for racer Gordon Keith as he campaigned the Continental Circus on European tracks. “It was me, his girlfriend and him in a van and a caravan, traveling and racing every weekend,” Norman recalls. “He ran a 500cc Velocette single and a 250cc Yamaha 2-stroke twin – that kept me busy.” After the 1970 Isle of Man race, Norman took a job working as a mechanic for a Lotus dealership in London. “I was just fixing road cars, and always found putting engines together a bit boring and not very nourishing – it’s always the same result, you turn the key, and it starts,” Norman says. “One of the guys I’d met in Europe during motorcycle racing invited me to join him, and I told him I’d think about it and had every intention of joining him but before the 1972 season started, I got a job with McLaren. I had to turn him down.” The ‘guy’ in question was a young Barry Sheene, and rather than entering the world of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, Norman found himself immersed in McLaren’s Indianapolis, Formula 1 and CANAM racing pursuits.

Norman's piston-sealing concept after Wankel inspiration: a square piston with a rocking-swiping motion that proved to work, many years too late for two-stroke engines. [Norman Hossack]
During his McLaren years, Norman returned to motorcycle club racing aboard a Yamsel, a 350cc Yamaha engine is a Seeley frame. He campaigned the racer on circuits such as Brands Hatch and Snetterton, but says it was a more a hobby than a serious affair. “McLaren really inspired me,” he says. “It was an opening up of the mind, and it made me a wiser, more experienced and skilled person – that was my university education.” But it was an education that ended in 1974, with the suggestion that Norman take up farming over any kind of engineering ambitions. During this period, Norman was still thinking and tinkering. For example, while living at home in South Africa, he’d pored over his father’s Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines for articles pertaining to alternative engine development. He was most interested to learn about the principles of the Wankel rotary. However, he didn’t appreciate that a power comparison couldn’t be made directly between a Wankel and an ordinary internal combustion engine. Ultimately, he’d come away from South Africa with an idea for an engine that combined a piston with the sealing capacity of a Wankel to the crank of a standard engine. Working with fabricators in London, by 1979 Norman pieced together a running prototype. There was a problem, though. While it started, it would only run for approximately five seconds before dying. It proved his theory of the revised combustion chamber, but the project got shelved without becoming fully realized. Fast forward, though, to 2011. Now living in California, Norman had brought his engine with him, and dragged the pieces back out. The running issue was traced to a defective carburetor – with a new carb on the intake, the little engine ran like a dream. “During the time I wanted it to work, it didn’t,” Norman says of the design. “When I got it to work, no one was interested in 2-strokes anymore.”

Offering the Hossack fork as a kit. [Norman Hossack]
Back to motorcycles and Norman’s story in England. Alongside the engine he designed, he’d also turned his attention to motorcycle suspension. From the dawn of the motorcycling age, front forks have evolved from the simple rigid bicycle blade to sprung girder-style to the most common telescopic versions still in use today. Other methods have been employed; just two examples include hub-center steering as seen on the Ner-A-Car of the 1920s [read our Road Test here], and the ‘pulled wheel’ or trailing-link girder system once used on some Belgian-built Fabrique Nationale single-cylinder machines from 1947 until 1952. Norman was not impressed with the FN fork. “I was always thinking about stuff, and I’d studied telescopic forks and hub-center steering,” Norman says. “I didn’t like either style and wondered if two wishbones with an upright, similar to racing car technology, could be used on a motorbike – this kind of designed itself, really, and it involved some creativity in how it would steer.” Norman constructed a rudimentary prototype dual wishbone and upright system to see how well it would articulate. It worked. His next step was to build a frame, front end and swingarm with scrapyard wheels underneath it. “We were just pushing it around a trading estate parking lot,” Norman recalls. “A friend said to me, ‘You’re doing quite well here, why don’t you put an engine in it?’”

A Yamaha RD350 racer with Hossack front end: zero brake diving, and a great weight reduction. [Norman Hossack]
A Honda XL 500cc single was slightly modified to fit the frame. In 1979, Norman started riding it around the parking lot and within two months, he was piloting it around the track at Brands Hatch. “I was rushing up to Paddock Bend thinking the only thing between me and a lot of pain is my own engineering – there were a lot of thoughts about whether I was doing the right thing.” But it never fell apart. At a time when nickel bronze welding was the popular method for joining frame tubes, Norman’s frame was all TIG-welded and all bearings were needle rollers. Norman raced his special to the end of 1981 and early 1982, and then Vernon Glashier took over the controls. In Vernon’s hands, HOSSACK 1, as it was dubbed, won the 1983 Bemsee single championship. “Hossack 1 was revolutionary in the way it handled,” Norman says. “The front suspension action was the most noticeable difference when seen on the track. The bike did not dive when the brakes were applied.” In 1982, Norman built HOSSACK 2, a 250cc Rotax-powered racer. That machine won the 1983 Bemsee 250cc championship. HOSSACK 1, the same bike that was built as the test platform, won the 1986, 1987 and 1988 British Single Cylinder Championship races. “It was almost 10 years old when it won the last championship at which point Vernon stopped racing it because the rules changed from 500cc to 600cc. It retired unbeaten,” Norman says.

Ray Knight on the HOSSACK 3 racer on its inaugural event at Brands Hatch in 1983; he took 3rd place first time out. [Norman Hossack]
Norman set himself the task of commercializing the HOSSACK 3 racer, now with a 350cc LC Yamaha engine and began taking names of potential customers. His venture didn’t see fruition. Motorcyclists essentially adhere to tradition. “It was only me against the world,” Norman says, and adds, “It was so different, and people didn’t want to experiment.” Common comments Norman heard were “what do car guys know about bikes anyway?” and “if it was any good, the Japanese would have done it.” Norman says he also did not have the wherewithal to put on a decent show. “I was working hard just to stand still, really. And then people stopped building bespoke racers as the club scene turned to production race machines.” What next? Norman’s friend suggested converting road bikes with the HOSSACK front suspension system. He converted a crashed BMW K100RS with front end damage to a HOSSACK system, and “that bike led from one thing to another,” Norman explains. “I converted five K100s for customers in England and the message got around, at which point a delegation from WUDO, a German BMW dealer came to see me, and I started selling (converted) bikes in Germany through WUDO. They helped me get TÜV approval.” Notoriously rigorous in its testing, German TÜV approval ensures the highest quality in design and workmanship. There’s another story here, too. Norman says, “One of my English customers went to BMW in Munich and let them test his Hossack K100 on their test track. After that I was invited into the Munich R/D department where they quizzed me about my design, but they were about to release their Telelever front suspension. When that happened, my BMW market all but dried up. I was a family man making a living and I didn’t have cash to put into this.” His last English-built HOSSACK was a 1994 Triumph Trident 900 conversion. The Triumph was owned by Keith Duckworth of Cosworth engine fame, and Keith got the bike into Hinckley Triumph’s hands. “They couldn’t see the point of it,” Norman says. “I was broke, and had to give up on it and walk away.”

One of Norman's BMW K100 conversions, which the factory took note of, and copied for themselves. [Norman Hossack]
Norman found his way into the medical world and the design of intravascular ultrasound equipment. This career trajectory saw his family relocate to the U.S. in 2001, and “this was much more rewarding work that might actually help people – it seemed more useful to the world than racing motorcycles or cars,” he says. But just as his HOSSACK engine had a second life in America, so too has his HOSSACK suspension. In 2004, BMW launched their K1200S with Duolever front suspension, “and BMW credited me in their literature, acknowledging where the idea came from,” Norman says [he never patented his design - ed.]. For his own personal use, in 2013 Norman converted a Ducati 800 to a HOSSACK system. The bike shed 30 pounds in the process with an upright and wishbones constructed of TIG-welded 4130 tubing. Suspension is supplied by an Ikon damper. Overall, the HOSSACK front suspension provides a lighter, yet more communicative ride with outstanding braking power, but this Ducati is the last motorcycle he'll likely convert. His eyesight did not, thankfully, deteriorate. In fact, the problem got better with time, and he says “It’s still present, but it doesn’t stop me from doing anything.” Norman retired from the medical world in 2017 and has set much of his life’s story down in a yet-to-be-published book that, thankfully, does not contain any chapters about farming.

Norman with a converted Ducati with trellis frame, a perfect match for his fork design. [Norman Hossack]




Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics


Not Just Skidding Around

Falling over and crashing is a possible outcome when learning to ride a motorcycle. But what if a device existed that removed the potential of tipping over from the equation – wouldn’t it make sense to employ it at riding schools? Dane Pitarresi thinks so. He’s the man in North America behind SKIDBIKE, a unique piece of equipment developed in Sweden about a decade ago. Simply described, when a motorcycle is attached to a SKIDBIKE, front and rear tire grip can be electronically adjusted to simulate all kinds of riding conditions – such as squeezing the front brake, for example, while cornering. Doing that in most situations would usually have a rider on the ground. Doing that on a SKIDBIKE-equipped machine would see the bike lean to a certain point before the ‘Safety Wings’ prevented any damage. “In these situations,” Dane’s SKIDBIKE.com site claims, “the SKIDBIKE is ‘The Crash, Without the Rash.’” In other words, it becomes a terrific teaching aid, and one that Dane first discovered as it applied to cars.

The SKIDBIKE system on a motorcycle: it took a late night drinking session to apply the technology to a motorcycle! [Dane Pitarresi]
Born in 1951 and raised in Portland, Oregon, Dane was crazy about anything with wheels. His dad influenced the curiosity. Whenever a new car came into the family, everyone would load up and hit the road, “Just to see how fast it could go.” In 1954, his dad piled the family into a 1941 Buick Business Coupe and drove east to New York. That was followed in 1956 with a run to Mazatlán. In his teens, Dane raced bicycles on the velodrome and on the road, but after graduating from school, he sold everything to hitchhike around Europe. While there, he was presented with an opportunity to go either to Morocco to lay on the beach or to England to take a performance driving school at Thruxton [yes, THAT Thruxton, a WW2 airfield converted to a racetrack post-war, and the source of both the Velocette Thruxton and Triumph Thruxton production racers of the 1960s - ed.]. This was in the early 1970s, and Dane chose the driving school. “I found out I was kind of good at that,” he says.  Returning home, Dane started racing sports cars in 1972 before getting into a bad street crash. He says, “In 1974 I tried to wrap a right hand drive Bugeye Sprite around a telephone pole.” Recovering set him back, but he was racing again by 1976. In the late 1970s, Dane discovered his calling when he began teaching others how to race. “I took the skills I’d learned in the UK and in my own racing career and taught amateur sports car club drivers how to race,” Dane explains, and continues, “In 1986, the manager of the Portland International Raceway took me aside and said some big names were making noise about hosting a race school, and he knew that was something I had wanted to do.”

Municipalities are the biggest customers for the SKIDCAR and SKIDTRUCK systems, all of which provide excellent training for drivers. [Dane Pitarresi]
So, Dane talked his way into some Toyota cars, parts and tires and in 1987 began operating his own race school at Portland International Raceway. Not long after, when PIR’s maintenance manager went to Silverstone Circuit in Towcester, England, he noticed a Jaguar running around with outriggers built by Cedergrens Mechanical in Klintehamn, Sweden. The device, he learned, was called a SKIDCAR. He told Dane about it, and the pair thought a SKIDCAR would prove ideal for training at Portland, where, due to the water table, a skid pad couldn’t be built. “Except, once we got three of them here, we thought it wasn’t race car drivers who needed this, it’s the public and teenagers – we could teach them skid control. In 1990, I made a deal with Cedergrens and became the sole source for SKIDCAR in North America. We spent an enormous amount of money trying to market the driver training device to the public, but they all thought SKIDCAR should be free, and the prevailing mentality has been, ‘everyone else needs to learn to drive, and I don’t.’” Ever since, Dane and his wife and partner Lisa’s largest market for the SKIDCAR device has been to law enforcement agencies. “There are about 330 or 340 SKIDCARs in North America, but it’s something of a niche industry,” he admits. There’s also a SKIDTRUCK device, and, around 2010 or 2011, the SKIDBIKE came about.

A .gif screen capture of an entertaining video by Motorcyclist - watch the video here. [Motorcyclist]
“We’d talked about the idea of doing a skid motorcycle, but there was a lot of engineering and geometry keeping the Swedes from doing it,” Dane says. “But the worldwide Skid community thought a SKIDBIKE would be great, and in 2012, I was in northern Sweden with the two brothers who run Cedergrens. It was a brutally cold January evening and we were talking about a skid bike and drinking whisky when Curt Cedergrens said, ‘I think I know how to do this!’ So, a really cold winter evening and whisky helped push it forward.” Dane’s company is now based in Las Vegas, and he continues to promote SKIDBIKE, SKIDCAR and SKIDTRUCK because, as he says, “With these devices we can allow riders and drivers to learn from their mistakes, and they can learn more quickly. We can literally decrease the coefficient of friction to decrease the tire contact patch, and it becomes like riding or driving on ice. One can quickly learn how to countersteer without getting hurt, and on the SKIDBIKE, it’s easy to understand that the handlebar needs to be square when those two wheels come into alignment – that becomes muscle memory.”

The SKIDTRUCK is impressive! [Dane Pitarresi]
From 2013 to 2018, Dane devoted a significant amount of his marketing budget targeting state-run motorcycle training programs. He says most organizers appreciated the SKIDBIKE technology and could see the value in learning to ride with one. However, a SKIDBIKE is expensive at about $20,000 each, and the curriculum usually couldn’t accommodate the application. That’s not to say no one took it up – a few state-run programs invested in a SKIDBIKE. “But the private training schools didn’t see how a custom program with the SKIDBIKE could be marketed,” Dane explains. Which is a shame, because as Dane says, “The SKIDBIKE could target brand new riders who don’t even know how to twist a throttle to go – but with them on a SKIDBIKE they can start off riding right away. It doesn’t take long to get them to see how it all works and they can make all the mistakes they’re afraid of making without ever getting hurt.” Surprisingly, it’s law enforcement agencies and fire departments who appreciate SKIDCAR, SKIDBIKE and SKIDTRUCK. “With the SKIDBIKE, for example, most of the police departments use bagger-style machines and if they could get used to going down without putting a foot down it would save hundreds of thousands of dollars in injuries. With a police bike, when it goes down, it’s best to just let it fall and stay with it.”

SKIDBIKE and SKIDCAR training vehicles. Sounds fun, actually! [Dane Pitarresi]
Now, with many new vehicle technologies such as traction control and ABS, Dane says most people think they can just drive or ride faster. “These technologies intrude in the riding and driving experience,” he says, “and they try to keep us safe from ourselves. But with Skid training, we could teach riders and drivers how to be safe in the first place. And, we can show how these traction control and ABS systems work, and also show how they can be over-driven or over-ridden – if you overdo the laws of physics, you’re done.” He concludes, “What I get to do is so much fun; put someone in a SKIDCAR or on a SKIDBIKE and they always come back shaking their head, saying everybody should try one.”



Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Traveling by Chopper: Charlie Weisel

After swapping out a clutch hub bearing and installing a new primary drive belt at Rivera Primo’s shop in Goleta, California, Charlie Weisel (that’s pronounced Wisel), hit the road. After a short ride, he pulled over and returned my call. I’d called him a couple of hours earlier, right when he was elbows deep in the drive side of his 2003 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail chopper. With a car or truck passing every few minutes, Charlie sat astride the 10-foot 4-inch long custom. “Everything all right?” one concerned driver shouted out during our conversation. “Yeah, all fine!” Charlie replied. He’s used to the attention, and says, “people do tend to stop and make sure I’m good fairly often, it’s a reminder that humans are far more caring and helpful than we like to believe.” And he’d know. Over the last several years, Charlie has ridden his chopper more than 235,000 miles, traveling the roads of 17 European countries, Mexico, and all 48 contiguous United States. “I’ve never named the thing,” Charlie says of his Harley-Davidson. “But I will talk to it. I have a pretty close relationship with the machine; I’m constantly asking it to go just a little further or saying sorry for riding it where I’m asking it to go. So, either begging or apologizing!” He rides on all surfaces, from asphalt to dirt, sand and gravel. “Typically, the more remote and difficult roads yield the greatest rewards,” he explains.

A familiar roadside shrine near Conception Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico. [Charlie Weisel]
Charlie didn’t grow up around motorcycles, but he was a seasoned traveler. His dad was a career Air Force man, and the family moved around the country every two or three years. And his mom, who was athletic and a marathon runner, got him interested in road racing bicycles. “I raced from the age of 11, up until I was 28 or 29. I basically burned out on it,” he says. “I’d win a race, live for a week on the earnings, and then drive to another race and zig-zagged around the country. Eventually, the fun was taken out of the bicycle racing and the only part I enjoyed was the traveling.” Although not raised around motorcycles, he wasn’t exactly a stranger to them. Having been taught where the clutch, brake levers and throttle were on a friend’s bike, Charlie would occasionally borrow a machine and ride for an hour or two. About 22 years ago, Charlie moved near Boulder, Colorado, and eventually got his motorcycle license. In 2002, he bought a new Harley-Davidson Sportster. “I had the idea that I’d travel, but I’d use a motorcycle to do it,” he says. Ironically, the Sportster was mostly ridden around town. It wasn’t until 2005 when Charlie put money on the ‘03 Heritage Softail that miles really began rolling under his tires. “I took a ride with a couple of friends up to Wyoming,” Charlie recalls. “I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it all felt very natural to me. I’d already been all over the country, just not on a motorcycle – and the motorcycle added something extra awesome to the mix.”

Charley Weisel at a roadside motel. [Charlie Weisel]
As purchased, the Heritage Softail had apehanger handlebars. Everything else about it was stock. Slowly, the machine began to evolve. “I changed the paint, cut a few things off here and there,” Charlie explains, and continues, “But about 10 years ago, I decided to hardtail it and rake it out. I’d always liked long choppers, and it was time for me to do it.” While mechanically competent, Charlie insists he’s not a fabricator or a welder. “I have friends who can help me with that,” he says. Overall, the aesthetic of his long, rigid-at-both-ends chopper is reminiscent of custom builds from Sweden. And Charlie runs a 15-inch car tire on the rear. “That’s both form and function. It’s a Swedish thing to do, and a lot of the old choppers ran car tires. For what I do, it makes total sense. I can run it a little lower on air pressure and smooth out some of the bumps, and I can get 30,000 miles out of a tire instead of changing motorcycle tires twice a month.” Experts enjoy telling Charlie that he can’t ride with a car tire on the rear of his motorcycle, regardless of the fact he has and will pound out 1,000 mile days on the machine. “People who’ve never done it are the first to say, ‘You can’t do it,’” he says. “I’m not going to put a car tire on the back of a sport bike and take it to the track, but people do tend to get super-hot about this kind of stuff.”

Other bikes, other adventures. In Namiquipa, Chihuahua Mexico, parked up with a BMW GS adventure tourer. [Charlie Weisel]
Did a young Charlie ever imagine he’d be living the life of a wayward ‘cyclist? “I don’t remember picturing my life as anything in particular as a kid,” he mused. “I do know that I always dreamt of foreign lands and desolate spaces, I know that I’ve always had an affinity for things on wheels and that being on my own is not something that concerns me. Life has a way of pushing us around and apparently riding a chopper around the world is where it thinks I should be. That might change some day. Who knows? I’ve always been independent, and I’ve been told that I don’t do things the ‘normal’ way, so it seems to add up that my mode of transportation is what it is.” You read that right. Riding a chopper around the world is Charlie’s mission. He’s able to finance this goal because, about five years ago, he decided to put the money he was earning as an electrician into real estate. After purchasing several properties, he quit his sparky gig and is now a landlord. And he doesn’t really have an agenda. He says he makes it up as he goes, but as of this writing, Charlie needs to ride his chopper across the southern states to be in Miami for the 1st of March. From there, the Harley-Davidson will be shipped to Spain. He’ll ride through Europe from mid-March until early June before heading into Russia, pointing his knobby front tire east to Vladivostok. There, the bike will be loaded onto a ship, and he’ll be back Stateside in late September or early October.

We're not in Las Vegas anymore: under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. [Charlie Weisel]
Having completely rebuilt the Twin Cam motor twice, and replaced the top end three or four times, Charlie says his chopper is very reliable. Engine cases, cylinders, heads and transmission are all Harley-Davidson, but the internals have been entirely replaced with S&S components. It started life as an 88-inch mill, went to 95-inches and is now punched out to 96-inches. The saddle is from LePera, and Charlie had more than 100,000 miles on a Signature 2 seat when late last year the company reached out to him – completely unsolicited -- with an offer to send him a new one. “I’ve always loved the LePera seat,” Charlie wrote in an Instagram post about LePera’s generosity, “and I intend to put the same miles on the new one.” All of his gear on the chopper is stowed in a Mosko Moto Reckless 80 pannier system. It’s packed, as Charlie says, “With a boatload of parts and tools, it’s overkill at the moment, but when I get into Russia, I want to be prepared.” He’s got a spare clutch, drive belts, charging system, ignition system, ring and pinion gear, tubes, tire levers and a compressor. “All of those parts have failed on me at one time or another when I’ve been on the road,” he explains. Charlie also carries camping gear, but says, “I do a lot of couch surfing and will stay in the occasional hotel as well. In the last few days, I’ve slept under the stars in the Arizona desert, in the world’s biggest Radio Flyer wagon in Joshua Tree (used by Travis Pastrana and Nitro Circus in the Life Size Toys series) and a cozy bed at my wife’s family’s house in Ventura. Sleeping under the stars is definitely my preferred place to rest, however. I’m not typically a good sleeper but a breeze on my face and a chilly clear night does the trick every time.”

Nobody said it would always be warm, traveling around the world. [Charlie Weisel]
Two questions Charlie hears most often when the chopper’s parked up, he says, are, “’How does it handle?’ and ‘Why are you riding that?’” The answer to the first question is, “Just fine. It’s not a sport bike, but it works for me.” And the second question? We spoke for quite some time about people using inappropriate machines for wheeled adventures. Whizzers going from the West Coast to the East Coast. Mid-1960s Honda Dreams on the TransAmerica Trail. Honda CT90s from New Orleans to Phoenix. “I love that challenge of riding a machine where it really shouldn’t be,” Charlie says, “Now, that’s adventure.” For five years, Charlie owned a BMW 1200 GSA. “I wanted to try one, and took a couple of trips on it, and it did everything perfectly. But I don’t think there’s anything really that adventurous about an adventure bike, and for the most part, it sat in the garage collecting dust, so I sold it. People do tend to think the chopper is unrideable, but I’m going to have a quarter of a million miles on mine.”

Solo traveling on good, if lonely roads, is an amazing gift. [Charlie Weisel]
[You can follow Charlie’s journeys on his Instagram feed @travelingchopper.]

More familiar places: the Rock Store in Malibu Canyon. [Charlie Weisel]
Camping out, looks like Baja California Norte near Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, Mexico. [Charlie Weisel]



Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent.  He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Mecum Top 10 for 2022

An incredibly diverse collection of machines awaits motorcycle enthusiasts rolling into Las Vegas to participate in the 2022 Mecum Motorcycle Auction Jan 25-29, the world's largest motorcycle auction. Whether actively bidding online or in person, or simply sitting on hands and observing the action, this year’s auction listings are extensive. Of the offerings, Mecum’s Greg Arnold, Motorcycle Division Director, says "This auction features well over 100 different makes plus their various models. A little less than half of them are American in origin with the rest of the world from Europe to Asia comprising the rest. The sheer variety is staggering." And of the strength of the market, Greg adds, "Our collector vehicle auction results are very robust. We fully expect antique and vintage motorcycles to continue their upward trend."

Indeed, collectors and riders alike hoping to pick up a gem will swoon over some of the offerings, including exceptional machines from a 1938 Brough Superior SS100 [formerly mine! - Ed], to several 4-cylinder Indians, 1921 to 1923 Ner A Cars (read our Road Test here), no less than seven Vincents and a 1982 Suzuki Katana. All wonderful. Not to mention one of the most extraordinary opportunities – more than 100 immaculate Harley-Davidsons from the Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection, most professionally restored, one from each model year, and all offered with no reserve. An affordable Knucklehead in the mix? It’s difficult to whittle a list down to just 10 picks, but here’s my esoteric and scattered selection.

Lot T14 1920 Harley-Davidson WF Sport Twin

The 1920 Harley-Davidson Sport twin was their first flat-twin and their first sidevalve motorcycle. There would be more of both! This one is rare and what a restoration! [Mecum]

A rare example of the Harley-Davidson flat twin introduced after the First World War is the Model W, and this is actually one of three Sport Twins from the Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection (there are two from 1919, one restored and one with patina, and this well-restored 1920 machine). Borrowing some engineering cues from Britain’s Douglas motorcycles, most notably the engine layout, the Model W is motivated by a fore-and-aft 584cc flat twin powerplant. Several innovations were included in the Model W, including H-D’s first use of side-valve technology, fully-enclosed drive chain, air filter and twin-spring trailing link front fork. These models had a much lower center of gravity and were powerful and relatively lightweight. That combination made the Model W a capable mount in some forms of competition, but the Made in Milwaukee flat-twin was not a popular seller in the American market and less than 6,000 were built in their three-year production run.

Lot T185 1905 Reading Standard Single

Barn find and original to its board hard tires, this 1905 Reading Standard is in amazingly complete condition. [Mecum]

To some it might look like field rust, to others, this 1905 Reading Standard single shines like solid gold. Built in Reading, Pennsylvania between 1903 and 1924, this particularly early model of the marque used an engine designed by Indian’s Oscar Hedstrom, sourced from the Aurora Automatic Machine Co. That was through a series of negotiations that saw Indian in its earliest days outsourcing engine production to Aurora while building up their own manufacturing facility. While Aurora was building Hedstrom’s engine, the company was allowed to sell the powerplant to other pioneering motorcycle manufacturers, including Reading Standard. By 1906, Reading Standard had designed a proprietary V-twin with side valve technology together with its own single-cylinder models. While there is no history regarding where or when this example was literally unearthed, it obviously has not been messed with and many of its original components remain extant.

Lot T198/Lot F119 1951 Imme R100

Gimme an Imme! One of the wildest engineering jobs in history, Norber Reidel's masterpiece deserves close scrutiny. [Mecum]

I was raised to mind my manners, but I’ve just got to say, ‘Gimme an Imme!’ There are two of these delightfully innovative Bavarian-built machines here, including this restored model (Lot T198), and a remarkably original and apparently unmolested example (Lot F119). Either exceedingly eccentric or incredibly forward thinking in design principle, the Imme came from the desk of Norbert Riedel. Riedel’s Imme R100, which means ‘bee’ in German, is centered around its egg-shaped 98cc two-stroke single-cylinder engine that hid both carburetor and magneto under its covers. The frame, such as it is, was made up of the same diameter tube as the single-sided fork and rear swingarm. Even more novel, the engine mounted directly to the swingarm, which acted as the exhaust pipe. This had the 4.5 horsepower engine bobbing along in conjunction with the coil-spung suspension. Too cool and these are machines to watch.

Lot T309 1991 BMW K1000 (K1)

A Two-Wheeled Icon of the 1980s, this BMW K1 looks mean in all black. [Mecum]

Now here’s one not often seen, as just 6,921 examples of BMW’s K1, produced from 1988 to 1993, were built. Based on the manufacturer’s K100 4-cylinder platform, which was designed essentially as a touring machine, the K1 was meant to compete in the superbike category, something that by the late 1980s had long been the bastion of Japanese motorcycle makers. Inspiration for the K1 came from styling work done in 1984 by Karl-Heniz Ave, who, according to author Ian Falloon, had built ‘Racer,’ a sports-oriented concept machine for a special exhibit. The K1 is remarkable for its aerodynamic bodywork that consists of a seven piece fairing and a two piece valanced front fender. Underneath it all, BMW had improved the 4-cylinder engine with a new cylinder head with four valves per pot and an increased compression ratio. While horsepower was ‘only’ 95 with U.S. emissions controls, BMW made up for that with the overall slippery form of the K1, and this one is understated in subtle black – others came in a lurid red and yellow paint scheme.

Lot F156 1967 Bultaco Metralla

Born of competition, the Bultaco Metralla is a gem of the Spanish industry - fast, sure-footed, reliable, and oh so beautiful. [Mecum]

Another rarity here is this 1967 Bultaco Metralla. The first Mk I Metrallas ran from 1962 to 1966 while second-generation Mk IIs were built until 1974, making this a first year Mk II. The street-going single-cylinder two-stroke Metralla was based on the same engine that powered many of Bultaco’s off-road models that were popular in the U.S. Engines were all-alloy with cast-iron cylinder liners, and the Mk I model was powered by a 200cc engine good for 20 horsepower. That power output was bumped to 32 hp in 1967 with the Mk II, when overall capacity was increased to 250cc. The Mk II also gained a cog in the gearbox, going from a 4-speed to a 5-speed. Other upgrades included the addition of battery lighting, twin-leading shoe front brake and a unique system to ensure the correct amount of two-stroke oil was added to the gas tank, without the need to mess about with premix. Styling was simple and effective, and the Mk II was said to be good for 100 MPH or more. Approximately 5,000 Mk I Metrallas were constructed, and that many Mk II models also left Bultaco’s Spanish factory.

Lot T191 4-cylinder Honda Super Hawk Custom

A very special special, this all-Honda four-cylinder has the sweet good looks of a Super Hawk with the bang of a 400 Four. [Mecum]

This is one of the coolest customs here, in my opinion, as it looks like it came straight from Honda as a 4-cylinder Super Hawk. Of course, the Super Hawk was originally powered by a parallel-twin 305cc engine, but California builder and fabricator Bob Guynes managed to shoehorn a mid-1970s Honda 400F engine into the 1966 running gear. Everything has been neatly massaged to accept that transplant, including the notched metal side covers that provide room for the four velocity stacks. The four-into-four exhaust headers terminating in the quad megaphones is the epitome of café racer style, and boy, do they look good. Super Hawk gas tank and headlight nacelle blend seamlessly with the seat and cowl, and everything is neatly finished in Honda’s red. Front brake is a 4-shoe unit, meaning it will stop as good as it should go, and it’s offered with no reserve. Woot!

Lot T105 1981 Yamaha SR500H (crate bike)

Nothing to see here, it's all in your imagination. No, there really is a brand new 1981 Yamaha SR500H inside, one of the most iconic Japanese motorcycles and among the longest-produced models in all of motorcycling - still in production since 1978. [Mecum]

New in the crate is how you’d like to find a vintage motorcycle, and this 1981 Yamaha SR500H, with no reserve, is a tremendous find. Assemble and fettle this bike and put it to good use, as Yamaha’s SR500 essentially paid homage to the halcyon days of single-cylinder, big-bore Brit-bikes such as the BSA Gold Star and Norton Manx. Based on Yamaha’s XT500 engine, in the road-going SR version, the manufacturer did not add extra weight with the addition of an electric starter. The SR is kickstart only, and it employs an automatic decompression system. There weren’t a lot of frills added to the SR, and when first introduced in 1978, it had cast alloy wheels and disc brakes front and back. In 1980, the second-generation SR500H was launched, and it had a drum brake at the rear. By 1981, Yamaha no longer exported the SR to North America, making this a last year for the U.S. example. And, did I mention, it’s in a crate and selling with no reserve.

Lot F205 1938 Triumph Speed Twin (Hamilton collection)

Edward Turner's masterpiece, and the motorcycle that changed the industry, the original Triumph Speed Twin is a gorgeous today as in the 1930s. [Mecum]

This 1938 5T Speed Twin is a machine from Wayne Hamilton’s Triumph collection and was originally restored in 2004 by renowned Triumph guru Terry Clark of Gig Harbor, Washington. When Triumph’s Edward Turner placed a narrow 500cc parallel-twin engine into his company’s heavyweight Tiger 90 frame, he set a whole new course for the British bike building industry. Within years, most every major English manufacturer was producing a parallel-twin cylinder powered motorcycle. Introduced late in 1937, the first-year Speed Twins were notable for their six-stud cylinder to engine case mounting system. This was a weak point, and Triumph fixed this by 1939 with an eight-stud arrangement. Regardless, the early Speed Twin in Amaranth Red paint just looks proper with its girder fork (only used on the pre-war models), panel tank and solo saddle. Every detail of this Clark-restored Speed Twin appears spot-on, and this is one to watch. Could it set a record for a pre-war Speed Twin?

Lot S135 1932 Scott Flying Squirrel

If you've never ridden a Scott, you're missing a unique experience! Surprisingly quick and handling as if on rails, it's also dead smooth and lots of fun. [Mecum]

With a model name like Flying Squirrel, what’s not to love? In the very early 1900s when Alfred Angas Scott of Yorkshire wanted to power a bicycle, he took his cues from a light and simple two-stroke engine developed by Joseph Day and Alfred Cock. Scott honed his porting and piston designs running an engine of his own in a boat, and then built a motorcycle in 1901 with a twin-cylinder two-stroke mounted over the front wheel of a bicycle. He went on to develop a frame to hold a twin-cylinder liquid-cooled two-stroke engine in a more conventional position, down low to aid in overall center of gravity. These early Scott machines featured chain drive, a 2-speed transmission and a rudimentary kickstarter. By 1922, and after several Isle of Man race victories, Scott launched the Squirrel, which led to the Flying Squirrel. This one’s powered by Scott’s liquid-cooled 596cc two-stroke engine with 3-speed transmission and is a replica of its TT-winning machine. It looks a treat.

Lot F99 1970 Indian Velo

An Italo-American hybrid, with a Tartarini chassis housing a Velocette Venom motor, the result is a surprisingly fun motorcycle that has aged very well. [Mecum]

A mongrel if ever there was one, this 1970 Indian Velo was the brainchild of Floyd Clymer. A member of the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Clymer spent a great deal of his life involved in many aspects of the motor industry, playing roles such as magazine publisher and motorcycle manufacturer. The latter came about in 1967 when he bought the rights to the Indian name with intentions to market 50cc to 1100cc machines. One of those was this 499cc single-cylinder Velocette Venom powered model. While the engine was straight from England, just about everything else came from Italy: the double-loop frame by Italjet, forks by Ceriani, shocks by Marzocchi, hubs by Grimeca. While this is not the exceedingly rare Thruxton-powered Indian Velo (VIN would start VMT), it’s had a fresh coat of paint and received other cosmetic and mechanical upgrades. It is still a rare machine as less than 150 Indian Velos were constructed before Clymer’s death in 1971.



Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent.  He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics