Sunday was our 8th Annual Rigid Ride. Twenty brave souls fought the elements; the warm 70 degree starting temp, the slightly brisk fog up on Skyline, the minimal ocean breeze at Pigeon Point light house and the comfy 85 degrees at lunch. Ahh, the SF Bay Area is blessed not only with great roads and weather, but a nice bunch of antique motorbike fans too. This year we were joined by riders all the way from San Diego, The Sierras, Portland Oregon and Australia!
Bill Huth has attended all of the rides I think, and the past few years he’s brought his neat 1940 Sport Scout. It was in bare metal for a while, but now has some paint, some rust and some dirt. It has become a nicely worn bike and did the route without any issues. In fact all the bikes made the distance without assistance from the trouble truck. Remember folks–the best way to have a reliable bike is to ride it a lot.
The Fish Fence is still there. Just barely though. This guy is the last remaining carcass and he looks a bit worse each summer. There is some sort of a story about it all, but you’ll have to chat up the barista at the San Gregorio General Store to get the info. While you are there, be sure to check out all the bumper stickers and Socialist books… California is just as weird as everybody thinks it is.
A prewar Indian Chief always looks good, and these red and orange colors work surprisingly well together.
After we crested Old La Honda Road from the east, we continued across Skyline and down the western slope. What a wonderful road! We’ve done it a few times before, but this time it was even more special. There was a slight mist in the air as we rode through the Redwood groves. The one-lane road had zero traffic on it other that our bikes and some small varmints. Great twisties, some views, good tarmac. What else could you ask for? And going this route we bypassed all the squids on their way to Alice’s and the policemen who follow them.
Eventually we did make it out to the Pigeon Point lighthouse. Parking was ad hoc in a plowed field. Here is Terry’s custom Triumph TRW flathead twin. They run well, with surprising engineering details in a motor design that looks primitive on the outside.
Our start/finish point each year is the Alpine Inn, still called Rossotti’s by the longtime fans. It was a card house and drinking establishment back in the gold rush days circa 1852. Now they have pinball instead of cards. And the occasional venture capitalist.
Terry’s Velocette with a Honda OHC top end, Kim, Atticus, Dave, Rick, Victor and Ben Binns. Ben came all the way from Melbourne Australia. He seemed pleased to see that we have an assortment of Eucalyptus trees here in addition to the Redwoods.
Rick parks his genuine Rocket Gold Star in the dirt, ‘cause that’s what you do.
Jim Romain and his swell 1937 Velocette KTS. He restored it last year and it is perfect.
Here is Victor being Victor. His 1914 HD is ready for yet another ride across the USA next month. The prewar Zundapp reminds of the great variety of machines that attend the Rigid Ride. 20 bikes, and almost no duplicate makes/models. Here’s a partial list: Knucklehead, Panhead, Chief, Sport Scout, Zundapp, ‘14HD, ‘15HD, Levis, Velo KTS, KSS, MSS, Triumph preunit twin and TRW twin, Matchless model X, and probably 1-2 others. That’s the kind of variety that we normally see only on the 49 Mile Ride, and it is fun to be around so many different machines and riders.
Adi recently sent a comment via one of the articles asking for info about an AJS motor that he found. He then went back to the barn, as the owner had mentioned that the frame was still around somewhere! And it was there and Brampton forks too! Alas they have been buried in the soil for quite some time. But Adi is motivated and has begun the restoration. He writes to ask if any of the OcchioLungo readers may have c1920 AJS parts for sale or trade, as the the decades underground have not been kind to the good work of the Stevens brothers. All the sheetmetal has disappeared, and he could also use some other bits like carb and a correct magneto, etc. Note the special saddle tank that covers the frame top tube! A few marques used them before they became ubiquitous in the late 1920s.
I’ve already pointed him towards the Yahoo group for PreWar Ajays, and of course told him to chat with Jake Robbins regarding those forks. If you can help, email Adi here: ron.adi9 AT gmail.com (replace AT with @). Comments via the link at the bottom of this page are also welcome.
The motor looks pretty good, but the AMAC carb is missing a few things and the magdyno is from a later model:
A good book is hard to find. Chris Price is working on one right now, titled Georgia Motorcycle History: The First 60 Years 1899-1959. It will feature photos and stories of the early racers, pedal cycle pacers, policebikes, etc. To help offset the costs of publishing rights of the various photos, Chris has started a kickstarter program here. If you are interested, click the link and think about giving. $40 gets you a special copy of the book and also helps him to pay for the publication.
Looking thought the O.L. Bibliography, I see many books that have been published by the author. Most of these were not money-making projects and the first publishing run was also the last. Then years later the books are in high demand, but are nowhere to be found. Last week I mentioned Rob Saward’s book on my instagram feed and many people excitedly said that they were looking for a copy. The $30 that I gave to Rob the author ten years ago is now dwarfed by the very rare appearance of a copy on ebay for $200. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
If y’all are interested, there is a bumper crop of new old bike books that have been published by enthusiastic rider-writers in the past year. I have about a dozen that focus on pre WWI machines alone. These are not widely publicized and don’t show up on Amazon’s top 10 lists, but can be purchased for decent prices directly from the authors. Comment below, and I’ll post info soon on the titles and do some mini-reviews.
VOCNA? What’s a VOCNA? That’s the Velocette Owner’s Club of North America, a few hundred Velo Fellows and gals in the US and Canada. We meet a few times a year to ride the bikes as the makers intended. K & I were lucky to find the group and join back in the mid 1990s, and have enjoyed each and every event to date. Last weekend was maybe the 25th annual(?) Spring Opener to welcome the riding season in Napa, CA.
John at the breakfast stop in Napa.
Eric is the youngest rider in the club, aged 20. He helped his father to build himself this red bike from a pile of parts two or three years ago. Nobody said that Velos have to be black and gold.
Dad rides this green Metisse Venom.
Kim on her 1930 KSS. A little tuning to the carb and years of practice have almost made the bike an easy starter for her. We’ll work on that a bit more this year..
Jim brought two bikes; his fine MSS and his extra-fine KTS.
Olav adjusts the clutch on the red bike during the coffee stop in beautiful downtown Pope Valley, CA. Population 1 I think.
Paul’s MSS had a terminal problem. Although it looks bad, it was OK. The oil tank split along a seam during the morning ride, so he loaded it on the truck after coffee. The bike is worthy of an entire article. He’s bored and stroked the motor from 500 up to 710cc. Stripped off some excess weight, added a belt drive primary, plus that neat outrigger bearing from the swingarm to the gearbox mainshaft. I think that the only faster Velo that is road-ready must be his 710cc Thruxton.
Gil and Dana. Dana has brought his daughter riding pillion for a dozen years. She’s in her early 20’s now, and during the coffee stop she was seen trying on the MACs and KSS’s for size…
Eric leads Jim through the twisties on the new pavement south of Lake Berryessa. This was a lot fun until the CHP arrived. These two were fine, but your author wasn’t so lucky.
Gil’s green MAC. And there’s a blue Thruxtonized Venom behind. Velo color.
Jeff brought his bike hauler, a 1964 Dodge to carry the 56 Venom. It has a slant 6 between the seats, and a surprising amount of room in the cabin and in the bed. The teak wood bumpers are a nice touch. The factory added a big lead bar under the rear of the bed, a few hundred pounds to offset the motor weight in the front.
All the artistic looking pics are by @velocettegirl on instagram.
Paul A.’s shiny bike won him another trophy made of a tube of Semichrome polish.
Some of the bikes at the breakfast stop.
Jim R., Cory and Gil. Each has been in the VOCNA for a dog’s age or two. Cory and Vivian came all the way from British Columbia. Jim A. from Arizona and several riders from Southern California.
Thinking of joining the VOCNA? Click here. Each year we have the spring ride, the 5 day summer rally (unlike any other club, we do 1000 miles), the Rigid Ride, and the New Year’s ride, plus bi-monthly newsletters. A UK friend shared the opinion that younger riders in England are attracted to Velos more than any other marque. That might be true, and we’d love to see more young members on a Velo or any other bike. [pro tip: if you are looking to buy a bike, the club newsletter is THE place to find one].
On Saturday we rode out to Pozo, with stops along the way at the Loading Chute in Creston and in downtown Santa Margarita. If you are ever in the area, be sure to ride Webster Road (#229) from Creston. It is a great little one lane road with a few changes of elevation through the forests. Watch out for RVs or trucks though in the tight corners. That one lane has to be shared unequally at times!
Pozo Road is another good one, but it has one lane in each direction, and a bit of a hill midway. The single speed twins have no trouble, but the single cylinder one-speeders need a good run at the hill.
Here is Buster’s Yale, with the exhaust cam re-timed again. He and Wes went through it a few times to get the cam timed and the ignition timed, respectively to the exhaust stroke and to the compression stroke! Despite what it looks like having a few pics showing him working on the machine, these early bikes are much easier to service than late models. Buster grabbed 2-3 tools and had the cam out and in his hand in about 2 minutes. Looking at the bike you can see the simplicity: no gearbox, no front brake, no inlet cam or pushrod/rocker. Not to mention no electrics (lights, turn signals, generator, brake light, switches, etc). Just a belt, tensioner, coasterbrake and throttle. But don’t forget the manual oiling!
Urban left the ‘15 HD in the parking lot Saturday and rode his Crocker instead. These bikes are just as beautiful as everybody says, and look much better in person than in photos.
For the past several years we’ve had two Crockers on the Saturday run. This time it was one red & black and one red & cream. This bike carried Mike at speeds that would surprise guys on newer bikes. He rides the machine like it was built to be ridden. The dirt and mud on the wheels and fenders was from his climb over Parkfield Grade the week before.
Wes the Curtiss guru has been riding this old Thor for years. It has a two speed rear hub and the gear reduction in the drive side crankcase, with that long chain to the rear wheel. His son Scott attended again from the Portland area, riding the 1914 Excelsior in the earlier article.
Here’s Wes. We had a great time as he explained his newest project; setting up the timing gears on a MM 90 degree twin. The magneto is a standard 180 degree model, but the motor has firing strokes every 270 degrees… hmmm. With a bit of head scratching and Wes’s capable hands and milling machine he was able to set it up. He’ll share some photos with us soon. And maybe his one-of-a-kind Curtiss V twin with pushrods to the OHV intake valves too!
The motor had a fresh rebuild, including new sleeves in the cylinder and stock size pistons. But a crack formed in the casting at the top of the sleeve in the combustion chamber. [Note that these early motors did not have detachable heads, the casting was the cylinder and head in one piece.] Well that crack grew and grew until the combustion pressure lifted most of the head right off the cylinder! In the photo you can see that the pushrod and the inlet manifold are holding the head in place with a visible gap above the cylinder. He didn’t cry about it though, and said “It’s only metal” And he’s right. Nobody got hurt, and metal can be repaired or replaced.
Another few photos of Jim’s wonderful Sears, Roebuck & Co. I can only imagine how the new owner must have felt to get this thing in the mail after ordering it from the catalog 100 years ago. Full of shiny nickel plated parts, oiled chains and 1200cc’s of power. It has only one gear, and that’s all that it needs. I followed him to Pozo and the bike was very comfortable at 45mph despite and hills, with plenty of power to climb from low speeds and to get above the legal limit when desired. If you have enough power and some riding skill, one gear is just fine.
Buster brought this neat Indian too. I think it is a 1914 model, but I don’t know Indians really well. Correct me in the comments if you know them.It isn’t the first bike to have rear suspension, but those leaf springs did the job for Indian for 8-9 model years I think. One neat feature of leafs versus coils is that leafs have friction between each leaf as it slides on its neighbors that acts to dampen oscillations, giving a smoother ride without friction shock absorbers.
John Parker was on his famous (or infamous?) Indian Chief. He has repainted it since last time, now in blue with lots of old style pinstripes and flourishes. It still runs great. Before it looked similar, but less shiny and with the Policia and Johnny Cash graffiti:
Crocker and yellow flower in Pozo. I’ve said it a few times, but it sure it great when guys bring out their rare and interesting machines to be enjoyed by all. Both here on the website and in person on the tour, the topic of a bike’s worth or sales price is hardly ever mentioned. That is on purpose here on the website, as I feel that the machines should be cherished for what they do and how they do it. Even the worst-performing old piece of junk is very interesting when we take the time to look at it and appreciate how things work and what it’s designer and previous owners did with the metal, rubber and leather.
Some of the greyhairs and nohairs, sharing the gallon jugs of beer at the Pozo Saloon. Be sure to order the Pozo Martini, that’s my favorite: one mason jar of beer, with two green olives sunk to the bottom. mmmm.
There was one pretty lady rider, but she was the one taking the photos! Oops. Kim, if you read this, thanks for taking pictures of everybody and all the bikes and stuff. I’ll try to get some of you next time.
Sitting around these tables are a bunch of swell guys who know more about old bikes than we can imagine. It has been a tough spring, with the deaths of Drino Miller, Steve Wright and Dee Cameron. Hopefully these guys will be here for a long while yet and we’ll all share some more stories. Stay tuned to this channel.
The overriding goal of this website has always been to get people excited by early motorbikes, so that they will ride them out on the streets where they belong. Hopefully after reading these articles, you’ll be convinced to join us this summer or next year. Sell a modern bike, and get on an old one for More Smiles Per Mile ™
Steve and his beautiful JDH
We met again last weekend like we always do in Atascadero in early May to ride antique machines and tell lies. But this time was different. Our leader for the last decade passed away unexpectedly just before the tour. Readers of OcchioLungo will of course be familiar with Steve Wright. He’s featured in the Atascadero Tour reports, or in the bibliography pages, and seen in the shots of various old bike shows and rides. His story has been better told in other places, but I knew him as the Brit expatriate who lived and breathed early American motorcycles. Years ago he moved to the central CA coast and immersed himself in biking history, befriending everybody along the way. He gathered the stories of the old time board track and dirt track racers when they were still around. He studied the old adverts, the old books and the bikes themselves. He poured all that research into several great books that stand out from the others in any rider’s library. My favorite is shown below and is still available here:
But Steve did more than write books. A lot more. He listened more than he spoke. And when he spoke, it was either a very truthful anecdote about early bikes, a movie or book, or it was a good joke! I never had reason to doubt any factoid of his, and his quick smile and laugh was known to all of us. When Steve wasn’t writing (with his beloved Cindy editing) he was working on the earliest and prettiest machines you can imagine. He would restore them for himself and for others, and I always loved to see the pics of the wonderful machines and great work that he did. He didn’t ride on the Atascadero Tour very often, as he spent his time manning the trouble truck following the old crocks and delivering fuel and sometimes a tow rope as needed. He took the responsibility very seriously, and was like a mother hen to all us. I’ll let that sink for a minute while the reader contemplates our rag tag group and imagines how many directions we could possibly be going in, all at the same time!
Jim’s 1913 Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Cindy passed away a few years ago and it understandably crushed Steve. He was from the old Brit culture though, and kept his chin up. He also kept his own illness to himself almost right until the end. That was the hardest part about the tour this year, that almost none of us had the chance to say goodbye and to thank him for all that he had done for us and for the old bike hobby around the world. Steve was the healthiest of all of us, bicycling 100 miles like it was nothing and eating and drinking within reason (which can be a rare thing on an old bike tour!). He was 73, but looked a decade younger.
Steve had renamed the Atascadero Spring Tour into the Bud Ekins Memorial Tour after Bud passed a few years ago. Dave Bettencort volunteered to organize the ride this year and next, but we don’t know if we’ll start to call the Bud & Steve Memorial Tour or something like that. Those two guys certainly were giants in our culture and deserve to be remembered for years to come.
Steve is survived by his daughter and grandchildren and a motley crew of old bike guys.
Here’s Urban unloading his early Yale single wearing his proper safety shoes. With AIV, belt drive and a coaster brake, these simple machines will still get you up and down the hills better than you may expect.
Dave brought out this wonderful 192 Excelsior belt drive twin. It was a great turn out of X’s this year, with 5-6 examples all made pre 1916.
Mike T. inherited this 1914 Excelsior a few years ago and is returning to the road. There were some holes in the Schebler float that caused a bit of trouble, but a spare was donated by one of the guys in the parking lot.
Fass Mikey’s 1913 Excelsior. The only X fitted with Nitrous Oxide injection! This one rode across the USA on the first Motorcycle Cannonball, complete with his home made 20” diameter rear disc brake.
Steve’s 1915 X also did that first Cannonball.
A top view of Steve’s bike with the speedo shifter, footboard, etc.
Patrick brought his neat 1920 Ace. Here’s a video of it idling:
Urban brought this 1911 HD twin, fresh from Las Vegas.
Buster gets a little help timing the exhaust cam on his Yale from Wes and Scott. Having an automatic inlet valve, there is no inlet cam to time.
Buster’s bike sleeping in the parking lot.
Mike brought this Indian for the Friday ride. I think he said it was from 1917 with that Powerplus motor and the wheel discs. They are distinctive!
The little round panel must be unscrewed to provide access to the Schrader valve and pump up the tube.
Dave B, Plumber Dave, Mike M. and Richard M. Lunch was at the Coffee House, a converted old gas station in San Miguel, CA.
Two bikes that I love. My 1913 Veloce parked next to Steve’s 1915 Excelsior during a safety meeting.
One more pic of Steve’s bike.
One of the 1915 Harley Davidsons on the tour.
Plumber Dave, Mike Madden, Norm Gerlach, Richard Morris and Jim Madden.
That’s it for day 1. I have 20-25 more pics from day 2 that I’ll post ASAP.