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2014 Pioneer Run, part 2

October 13, 2014

We’ll start part 2 with my favorite of the old crocks, Harry Karslake’s famous Dreadnought.  The bike is even better known than the man, but that is only due to its longevity compared to his.  Mr. Karslake was a representative of an oil company (Wakefield I think) and his nickname was “Oily”. As part of his job duties he rode quite a bit in the pioneering days before WWI, and eventually was employed by George Brough as his right hand man at Brough Superior. The early magazines are filled with his exploits, including competing in a number of events like time trials, reliability trials and efficiency runs where he was often able to get either the fastest time, the most accurate time or the most miles per gallon of fuel. He also wrote a bit and gave lectures to teach riders of the veteran era how to get the most of themselves and their machines.  Do a search here for “karslake” to see 34 typical mentions of his name in a 6 month period of 1911 of The Motorcycle magazine. Eventually he was the founder and librarian for the Association of Pioneer Motorcyclists, which you can join if you’ve had a motorcycle license for the past 50 years…P1010242

Upon his death, Oily donated the machine to the VMCC, the world’s largest club for old motorcycles. It is ridden most years on the Pioneer Run by the club president, and has been the very first bike to depart every year since the first run in 1930!  It is often the first bike to finish too, with enough performance to keep the later machines from ever catching it.  Click here to read more about the build of the bike.P1010243


An American in England. This 1912 Excelsior single wasn’t quite unique, and was joined by a 1913 twin.



The Wilkinson four. Quite a machine.



This big twin Ariel looked great in green with red and grey. The gearbox was offered in this layout for 1914 only I think, and the later models can be identified by the kicker being on the other side. It is a minor difference, but the Sunbeam club is diligent about keeping track of which bikes are pre1915 and therefore eligible for the Pioneer Run.

 on pioneer run

The ‘13 Veloce took me all the way to the Brighton beach without any issues. If you get bored and want to read about how it was restored, click on the green link in the previous sentence.


Sunbeams have always been regarded as gentleman’s motorcycles. The very fine black jappaning finish and the enclosed chain drive were two details that added to its reputation. Sunbeams began with chain drive from the start of their production, even while others were still using belt drives. (only one ‘Beam model used belt drive, by requirements of the French army during the Great War). The company is a very old one, with origins in 1790 and they were famous for their black finishing work decades before they began making bicycles and motorbicycles.



This series of photos shows some varieties of the Zenith Gradua. As a mechanical design engineer, I’m always excited by designs like this or the Rudge Multi. Builders and buyers of motorbikes knew that gears were needed from the pioneer days c1903. Some were offered with and without clutches, to echo the features of the autocars of the era. However they weren’t seen as being required 100%, and they only increased the cost of the machine, sometimes more than they increased the value of the machine.  So it was some years before they became standard fitment. Even after the proliferation of countershaft gearboxes in the 1914-1915 era, bikes were still offered with primitive clutchless belt drives after WWI, especially on lightweight models and ladies’ models. In between days, bikes had a variation of specifications. The early NSU two-speed gear on the crankshaft was a common fitment, and other proprietary gears and/or clutches were offered by Mabon, etc. But the Zenith design excelled with its complex belt and pulley arrangement.  A crank lever worked a linkage that changed the width between the halves of the V belt pulley on the motor.  By driving the two halves closer, the belt had to ride up the V to a larger diameter, which made the bike go faster. But that larger front pulley also made the belt tighter on the rear pulley, so something was required. Rudge’s design was to have linkage to change the rear pulley size in conjunction with the front pulley.  Zenith went the more complicated way, and moved the rear wheel forwards or backwards to keep the belt tension constant. That is, the wheelbase was altered via that same linkage to the front pulley. This was done by a series of gears which pushed plungers in the frame chainstays, moving the axle. The gear sets were tied together with a chain that ran across the frame, lest the axle get cockeyed.P1010257

In principal it is fairly straightforward, but there are some complications. The first is that the brake needs to move with the rear wheel, but the brake pedal does not! A compensating linkage accounts for that, while the brake shoe is mounted to the moving portion of the left chainstay.P1010232

The other complication is the sheer number of moving parts required. Three gear sets, two sprockets and a chain, plus the linkages and associated bearings, not to mention the cam and bearing hardware in the motor pulley itself, all added to the cost. And as the exposed components wear, the modern rider must replace or repair items to minimize the slop in the system and keep it moving smoothly. P1010236

Like the Rudge Multi layout, the Zenith Gradua was eventually done in by its limited variation in gearing.  They simply couldn’t be driven to a very low gear and also to a very high gear in the way that a three speed countershaft gearbox could. But for a few years they were the best thing that a rider could imagine, and many races were won by Zenith Graduas against single speed bikes or bikes with fragile gearboxes. Zenith was famously barred from competing in some events as they had an unfair advantage. Zenith jumped on this and added the word “BARRED” to all their advertisements.P1010237

Three or four Zenith Graduas were on the 2013 Pioneer Run. A nice assortment of single and twins in different colors and some with left hand or right hand control levers are shown in the photos above.


This neat Bradbury has the above-mentioned NSU two speed on the motor crankshaft.  The lever above the fuel tank can be spun around to choose high or low gear, or a neutral can be found in the middle if the rider is careful. The drive is taken up by a series of metal discs which make a particular squeal when the hand crank is spun.


And just to be different, here is a 1909 shaft drive FN.

2014 Pioneer Run, Part 1.

September 25, 2014

The Pioneer Run is the largest event in the world for pre-1915 motorcycles, with almost 400 machines taking part each year. Except last year, when the event was cancelled due to snow and ice on the road! This year all the participants were eager to ride from London to Brighton on a warm sunny day.


Organized by the Sunbeam Motorcycle Club Ltd (the club is open to all makes of pre WWII machines, not just Sunbeams!), this event was called the 75th +1 as last year was to have been the 75th event. We met at the Epsom Downs racetrack, and were waved off by the Mayor of Epsom and Ewell, at a rate of about 3-4 machines per minute.  The oldest and typically slowest machines leave first, barring the #1 Dreadnought of 1904 which is faster than many of the later bikes!  George Brough rode the bike in the first Pioneer Run of 1930 with number 1, and the starters number was given to the bike again this year, even though there were several machines from 1896-1903 that were older. In fact there were six machines that participated in the inaugural 1930 event and again this year, and each bike wore its starter number from 1930.

After jiggling the various carburetor and spark control levers and dodging the traffic we finished the route in Brighton, being welcomed by the Mayor along the glorious Madeira Drive. The lineup of bikes along the seafront was impressive, with the waves and the Pier in the background. Personally, I was ready to do it all over again the next day, but will have to wait until next time.

by Dennis Frost

Dave Masters and I just before the start.  It was his invitation that brought me and my 1913 Veloce over to ride the Pioneer this year.  He had the bright idea last year that we should pair my Velo and his 1913 Veloce for their 100th birthdays.  The snow and ice delayed the party, but we were able to ride the bike together along the route this year. His bike, M5054 is the only complete example of Veloce’s bike that had their IOE motor type, complete with a two speed gearbox. Mine is the more conventional sidevalve layout. It was a lot of fun to have two of the three remaining pre1914 Velos on the road together.


This Rex was one of my favorite machines!


Ken Lee rode this 1904 James H. Smith, the only example extant.


A few American machines were on the run this year, including this fine Excelsior twin.



An AJS twin and Triumph single wait for the start.


The 770cc Vtwin motor in the 1914 Sparkbrook had plenty of power for the low hills that we encountered. And belt slip was not a problem with the large front  pulley on the chain-cum-belt drive.


This Triumph has an oddball gearchange, with a pulley mounted just above the motor mainshaft.  The owner has restored it to work very well, but has never been able to find out who built it initially.


Veteran (pre 1915) Sunbeams can be spotted by the large disc in the timing cover. For 1915 and later bikes, the gear and cover were sized much less dramatically.


The guys from Veteran and Vintage were there too, with a few choice bikes for sale.  If I recall correctly, this is a Zedel motor with gear driven primary drive.


A few photos of the Alldays Matchless for you to study.  The leather holster on the seat tube contains a starting handle which engages the right end of the rear axle to spin the wheel, and thus the motor, to life. Rudge’s own Senspray carb, Bosch magneto and sprung footboards are in front of that interesting rear end.


The Slinger is one of a kind.  Some would say that is a good thing!  But I love it with its bogie front end. It spit out some coolant during the run, but still finished under its own power. Note that the dent in the top of the coolant tank was already there 40-50 years ago when the other photo was taken.


I’ll finish part 1 with these photos of a 1896 Leon Bollee.  What a marvelous contraption! The driver sits to the rear, passenger in the front.  A steering wheel is operated by the driver’s right hand, while his/her left controls the drive.  See if you can spot the long lever along the left side of the machine.  Moving it front to rear moves the rear wheel to tighten or loosen the drive belt. The adjustable wheelbase isn’t the problem though.  The issue comes in that when brakes are needed, the rider moves the wheel forward to rub against a brake shoe that is stationary on the frame. Which works as well as expected for a vehicle of this weight. However, if the machine stops on a slight uphill incline, the wheel must be moved rearward to tighten the belt and engage the drive. If the hill is too steep though, the whole bus starts rolling back and the driver hopes for a quick, clean engagement between the belt and the rear wheel to stop moving back and starting moving forward! Smile




The large single cylinder is mounted on the left side of the rear wheel, with the fuel tank on the right side.




Neat steering linkage.  Rack and Pinion steering predates modern sports cars!

Stolen 1920’s Harley Davidsons

September 23, 2014

Updated 9/29/14:  Several items are still missing:

PLEASE SHARE!! On the night of 23 September, 2014, thieves made off with a truck, trailer, motorcycles, parts, riding gear, tools, and luggage from the Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Washington. This rig and these motorcycles had just completed the 4,000 mile Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run from Florida to Washington as a part of the Carson Classic Motors Vintage Racing Team. Within two days and the help of concerned citizens worldwide, the truck, trailer, and four motorcycles were recovered. There are still tens of thousands of dollars in missing tools, spare parts, luggage, gear, and equipment. Any individuals with leads on the location of this property are urged to contact Buck Carson at 936-239-6615, or email to Team CCM is offering a $5,000 reward for the safe return of all spare parts, tools, luggage, riding gear, and related equipment from the recovered trailer. Complete listings of missing items can be found at, and will be updated as items are discovered or added to the list.










Update 9/24/14: The bikes, trailer and truck have now been found!

Buck Carson:

ALL FOUR MOTORCYCLES RECOVERED. Spare parts are gone, spare engines gone, and some small things stripped off. THANK YOU to all for helping spread the word


$20,000 Reward!

PLEASE HELP!   Read, share, spread the word.


Last night, four Motorcycle Cannonball bikes and their support truck and trailer were stolen from the Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Washington. The bikes were as follows (Number 54) 1919 Harley Davidson J, (Number 73) 1926 Harley Davidson JD, (Number 76) 1931 Harley Davidson VL, (Number 99) 1928 Harley Davidson JD. The truck is a dark grey 2001 Ford F250 with Motorcycle Cannonball logos on the front doors, and the trailer is a 16 foot enclosed grey trailer with 4 windows and a large Motorcycle Cannonball logo on the rear door.

License Plate numbers are as follows:

1919 Harley Davidson J (Mississippi Antique Plate): 9620

1926 Harley Davidson JD (Texas Antique Plate) BDKX4

1928 Harley Davidson JD (Texas Antique Plate) BFGV2

1931 Harley Davidson VL (Texas Antique Plate) BFGR3

2001 Ford F250 (Texas Plate) 89LBC7

2007 Doolittle Trailer (Texas Plate) 41968

If you see the bikes, truck or trailer call your local police by dialing 911, then follow up with the bike owners listed below.


Buck Carson  936-239-6615.

Jon Neuman is the truck owner.

Phone number 214-850-6910


David Lloyd – 901-277-7710 –
Mike Carson – 281-705-5634 –



2014 Irish National Rally, part 3.

September 19, 2014


21 year old Paul from Germany. 


Antique motorcycle clubs all over the world have been up in arms for the past few years.  The average age of an antique bike enthusiast seems to be 90 years old. Who will ride these machines when we are gone? How do we get youngsters to be excited by oily machines instead of video games or Instagram? Hmm, tough questions. I’m doing what I can to spread the gospel of old motorbikes via the OcchioLungo site, the Facebook page and even an Instagram account.  (click on them to see more). But the future belongs to guys like Paul. Granted, his dad Dirk is a veteran of 32 Irish Rallies, and supplied the fine Triumph complete with a rubber chicken on the rear mudguard. But Paul is a young man who is having fun on an old bike.  Even more exciting, he is a new rider, with only a little experience before he set off for Killarney. After spending a week on the tough roads, Dirk said that Paul now has gained the experience equivalent to riding three years on normal roads.

Triumphs and Velocettes seem to be somewhat in fashion with the younger riders today. Hopefully more people will realize what fun they are and keep the hobby going for another generation or two.

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Andy Tiernan brought this neat Panther outfit.


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Another great AJS big port.  In this view you can see that there are no screws/nuts holding the barrel to the crankcase.  The long bolt between the pushrods connects to a stirrup that crosses the head to another long bolt.  Loosen the two coupling nuts and the various carb/exhaust bits and the head and barrel can be off the crankcase in just a few minutes.

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Mike and his 1930 SS80.


So many great roads!

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by the water’s edge in Killmac

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This Indian is owned by an expat Irishman who lives in Arizona and shipped the bike over for the rally.

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Chris had a little roadside maintenance when one of the bonded plates in his AJS Vtwin clutch shed the friction material. But he was back on the road about an hour later.



The sticker bushes creep out over the road. Which looks nice, but they sting when you hit them at 30mph with the visor open on your helmet.

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Three pics of Sally’s Black Ariel. Testament to the skills of Val Page. These bikes perform very well, and look good too.

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Climber’s Inn is a nice place for a beverage. I think that it started as a type of hostel for hikers 100+ years ago, but now we invade the premises once or twice during the rally, with 165 people looking for a Bulmers, Smithwick’s or Murphy’s.

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On the Ring of Beara. Not part of this year’s route, but we rode there for a few days before the rally began.

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Mick brought his 1923 BSA from Southport England.

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Jack’s Norton is always a treat to see and hear. He promises to have his Ariel/Jap twin ready for next year’s rally.

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Harry Wiles drove this little BSA car all week.  It sounded really good with the inline 4 cylinder motor.

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Big Dave, Chris and Kim at Killmac. If you ever find yourself in Southwest Ireland, seek out this place and others like it. You’ll be glad you did.


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Waterfalls. Rain. But I’ve changed my mind about riding in the wet.  After 34 years of avoiding it while riding, I found this year that rain doesn’t have to spoil a day of riding. And good riding gear makes all the difference!

2014 Irish National Rally, part 2

September 12, 2014


If you’re ever in Glengarif, stop by the Blue Loo. You’ll figure out how it got the name…

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Dave’s JAP Trump and Chris’s Zenith both attracted some attention.


This was not the worst road we travelled on.

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Local color


A few days before the rally started we rode out to Allihies on the Beara Penninsula.  This isn’t quite the westernmost point in Ireland, but it is close. The pub has a great view of the North Atlantic, but of course I snapped pics of the bikes, not the view!

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More pics of John Quirke’s beautiful 1912 Sun Precision. He restored it from a very rough pile of parts that had been used to power a saw in a woodshop.

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The rider’s view includes a route sheet holder, Bonnikson speedo, clock, hand operated oil pump, timing lever on the left side of the tank, shifter for the 3 speed Sturmey Archer rear hub and the right foot pedal controls the hub clutch.


This is what the bike looked like when John found it!


Another great little road. These are so fun compared to the big highways. Almost no traffic, no litter or graffiti, lined with fuchsia flowers and great views.

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This 1933 Magnat Debon come up from France for the rally.

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Triumph Speed Twin and Ariel Red Hunter. Each received styling from Ed Turner in the 1930s.

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This 1930 Brough SS80 looked great and did the tour without any issues.

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Another SS80.  There were three of this model, plus a 680 this year.

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On the Ring of Beara, near the old copper mine.

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Norton Manx and Brough SS80


The Robinson family at the top of Goat’s Path, overlooking Dunmanus Bay.

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Ariel Square Four in a Norton frame

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Viv and Sally at one of the beverage stops.

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Bobby is being welcomed into the KOBI, and therefore has to wear the necklace for a year.  It does weigh quite a bit, with lots of little metal trinkets from past inductees. He’s happy here, but was less happy the next day when the big end gave up in his 1937 BSA Empire Star.

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to be continued…

2014 Irish National Rally, part 1

September 9, 2014

The 48th Annual Irish National Rally was held August 25th-30th 2014 in Killarney Ireland. K and I arrived several days early this year to enjoy the area around Kenmare with friends, and found several others who had the same idea. Good friends loaned us a 1939 Norton ES2 for two up riding with a comfy pillion seat and rear suspension, natch. This also allowed K to snap some pics of the wonderful roads, sheep and other scenes that we came across:P1010979

A couple of days into the vacation I realized that while it wasn’t stressful, I was doing some intense riding: On the wrong side of the road, on a borrowed bike, in a foreign country with street signs that made little sense, in the rain, with my wife riding pillion, on tiny one lane roads with either slippery grass down the middle or being a road of dirt and rocks, and occasional oncoming traffic that needed some road space. And trying to keep up with very skilled riders who knew the terrain from 15+ years of tours. Throw in the beautiful views and scenery and a few suicidal sheep and it made for a challenging time.  Challenging, but rewarding beyond measure. And oh so fun.  I’ve done rallies with police escorts through towns, or with 500+ bikes riding in tight formation. But the old saying is “If you’re not the lead dog, then the scenery never changes”. A bit of chaos keeps me on my toes and brings the fun level up too. I’d like to think that the challenges, and especially riding in the rain, made me a better rider at the end of the 10 days. 


It should go without saying that I also had the time of my life! Smile

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Arriving at the rally HQ on our 5th day I saw this striking combination of Big and Little bikes.


2014-08-26 11.34.50The howling Scott at the coffee stop in Inchigeela.  I wish that I had photos of the wonderful dirt road that led us to town, filled with potholes, weeds and animal dung. Almost all riders agreed that it was a memorable highlight of the week. Even K enjoyed it, and she’s terrible at riding off road. I kept up with big Dave Miller KOBI on his fixed gear 1000cc JAP Trump, and he did very well on the tough sections. He had to, as there is no clutch on the bike and his minimum speed is about 8-10mph without stalling. Great fun.


P1020023This reminds me of the magazine pics from the 1940s.



The most expensive traffic jam in the world? The Rolls Royce pulled slightly over to allow Paddy on his 680 Brough Superior to pass and stop for a chat. Sally went by in the grass on her 1929 Black Ariel. Just how wide are the roads of the rally? This is typical I suppose.  Narrower than some, but wider than many that we rode.

  2014-08-29 12.06.47Tony’s beautiful 30M Manx. Brooklands can, magnesium crankcases, and ridden with style.


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The other side of the Manx.

 P1020029My ride for the tour, a 1939 Norton ES2. At the top of one of the hills.  I’m terrible remembering the names of all the places. Sorry.


P1020054 Lunch stop in Bantry: Brough, Brough, Enfield, Brough.


P1020072James Robinson on the family Sunbeam. 1930 model 90 spec. It flew.


2014-08-29 09.35.05 An earlier Sunbeam, this model 5 was more to my liking. Sidevalve 492cc. These were the last sidevalve bikes to win at the Isle of Man TT. If you have a minute, study all the oil lines in this photo and the next and try not to get confused.

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 2014-08-29 08.53.18 Where did we go? All over!


Stare at the pic for a second and it makes you feel like you are falling backwards.


2014-08-29 09.29.56Ravas was made in St. Etienne, France.

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Two photos of John Quirke’s wonderful Douglas. I love this machine.2014-08-29 11.25.51 

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A very nice looking BSA. Clean, and simple lines. I’d say that it looks better than many of the customized bikes being built these days.



James models his new rain gear. It kept the rain out, as intended.

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Dummy rim brakes.


The engines-off coasting race down Healy Pass.




to be continued.

2014 Rigid Ride

August 14, 2014

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!P1010711

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. Winking smile2014-08-10 11.24.33


Chris Carter brought his 1915 HD again.  The bike always does well and looks good doing it.  He almost had the Henderson four ready, maybe next year.2014-08-10 11.10.43


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.P1010734


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.P1010766


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.P1010713


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.P1010769


Coffee at the General Store. Chris calls a chat line while Don Danmeier and Charlie chat face to face.P1010761

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Rick parks his genuine Rocket Gold Star in the dirt, ‘cause that’s what you do.

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Jim Romain and his swell 1937 Velocette KTS.  He restored it last year and it is perfect.


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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.P1010762P1010773


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Two dogs to keep him company.P1010764


Along the way we stopped at a friend’s house to look at some old bikes and cars.  Here are a few pics from the garage: 2014-08-10 09.59.05


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