This weekend was the 5th annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering in the Carmel Valley, California. It was great fun to see old friends and old bikes in the sunshine. This was the first time that I’ve made it to the event, as it has previously been scheduled on the same days as the Bud Ekins Tour in Atascadero.
This 1915 Harley was about my favorite bike of the whole show. Tom Holthaus restored it more than a decade ago and has ridden it extensively since. Yet it still looks good. And when he started it for us, a large crowd gathered around to hear it run and to watch the valves bump up and down. I was lucky enough to be asked to judge the early machines, and was able to spend several hours going over each of them with the owners to hear their stories and to see the features up close. The only downside was that so many of the bikes were very high quality, and there can only be one winner. The differences amounted to very little, and scores were just a half point here or there.
Another great old HD was this outfit that Bud Ekins built up for a movie in 1971. The bike has sat for three decades since, and was awarded the FIVA award for preservation.
Tim and his blue BMW
A tasty Indian
I brought the Veloce with the new paint on the tank and the new barrel too.
The pannier carriers on this bluebird are distinctive, even if they aren’t as elegant as some designs.
The Petersen Museum brought two bikes, including this 1904 FN four.
The Petersen group also brought this Jordan. It is a one-off, made by an inventor who wanted to get sales via the CHP or the military. The sheetmetal body is also the frame, and the motor features twin cranks in a side by side configuration. Velocette fans will recognize that layout as used on the Roarer and the Model O. With four cylinders, electric start, and disc wheels, it was an advanced specification for a bike at that time. The styling is even more unconventional than the mechanicals. More info here.
A nice 1910 Indian, from the Baja Cantina right across the street from the hotel.
That’s Fass Mikey Vils with his Excelsior from the first Cannonball.
The nitrous oxide tank is on the frame downtube, feeding through a coiled pipe to the solenoid on the seat tube, which then allows the gas into the custom made airbox on the carb.
A cute little Guilietta
It is a narrow bike.
This Enfield has four valves in the head, twin high pipes, a foot shifter and it sounded really nice.
An old racer; The Harley Eater.
Stacie B London’s race bike.
This one is from Fred Mork’s pile of race machines.
Paul riding a space age cycle.
Saturday was the big show in San Jose, hosted by Don Danmeier and the crew from the BSAOCNC. The show is the symbolic start to our season, but of course here in Alta California, we’ve had good enough weather to ride for a few months already. The event has many facets, including a big show of bikes, a swap meet (jumble for those in the UK), indoor flattrack racing, and a 100 mile ride on Sunday. And no small amount of chit chat and catching up with friends throughout the weekend.
1936 Vincent Comet. 500cc and full of Vincent ideas like the dual front brakes, high pushrods, rear springing, etc. Vincent wasn’t the first to use some tech, but he did a good job of incorporating many details into the designs of the bikes.
Dual rear springs/shocks. And not the rear brake lever. It has a pulley that engages the ONE brake cable that connects to TWO rear brakes. Pulling the middle of the cable allows for both brakes to equalize and provide the same force. Remember that the tension in any cable is always uniformly equal at any portion of the cable’s length, including at both ends.
Barry brought his new toy, a pre war BSA. Now he’s set for the Girder Fork Ride in addition to the Rigid Ride. If you’re reading this and you want to attend on old machines, send me a note via the “Comment” button…
The blue 1939 plate gave him some trouble with the workers at the DMV. Dig the tapered taillight.
This one isn’t British. But BP was messing about with this little MV OHC production racer. That oil tank must have been a chore for the factory guy to fabricate.
Look at the little ports on the rear of the crankcase. They are breathers, and look just like the ones on big ships like the Titanic, etc. This one doesn’t feature the Disco Volante tank, but it is sexy in its own way.
Mark Frost and his M20, complete with tool kit in the display box on the floor.
Several bikes were for sale, this was my favorite. A 39 Ariel VB. 600cc sidevalve in great condition. The price must have been a bit too high, as the bike was still there at the end of the day. But it would be a good bike for somebody who wants to get into preWWII motorbiking.
Are there any Ariel fans out there? When did they go with the speedo drive on the front wheel? I thought it was during WWII? This one has the speedo on the forks, and a blanking panel in the tank, and a plug in the top of the Burman gearbox.
At the other end of the spectrum was this Norton 16H. It was rough, but restorable. There was a tank and mudguards and a few boxes of random parts. The price was less than what it would take to get a restored Smiths PA tanktop speedo for an Ariel…
The bike has a set of new Castle forks from Jake Robbins. Note that leading link, with the wheel axle mounted out front. At the rear of the link is a vertical chrome rod that goes up to the friction damper.
An interesting bike! This Ariel Square Four has a chain on the sidestand, a vinyl seat cover and an unknown blue bottle hanging off the left side. But by far the most interesting features are the twin SU carbs out front, mounted soldered copper pipe as used by household plumbers. I think it runs, but I didn’t find the owner to get his story.
Spotted at the swap meet. But no special tool was for sale with it, so this old Triumph sprung hub will stay as is for another day.
Dennis Magri and his Vincent-engined Indian. Called of course, the Vindian.
The one and only Jeff Scott with a special Velocette Mac that he has just built for a friend. It is a hot rod, or a bobber or whatever you want to call it. Brooklands can, limp sausage taillight, high pipe, no front fender, etc. I loved it. Here he is pouring in some fuel in anticipation of the first start.
So you can see that there were a lot of interesting preWWII bikes at the show, and several more that I didn’t photograph. As part of my volunteering duties each year, I get to pick one bike for the Best Pre WWII bike. It was a tough choice this year as it always is, but I went for this little beauty:
A Coventry Eagle from 1926. About 250cc or 350cc of JAP power. Lever throttle, hand shift Sturmey Archer 3 speed, nickel plating and beaded edge tyres describe the specifications of the bike, but they do not tell the story of it.
The bike has been loved and ridden hard for the last 87 years. The beautiful shape of the tank, as used by the big Coventry Eagle and similar to the Broughs, has a big dent in the side, and numerous smaller ones too. The clutch has some issues, the nickel is worn, the paint is in tough shape. The rear stand lists to one side, but a handy little block is used to prop the bike up. Now these things all sound like bad things, but they are not. The bike was simply wonderful. Each little divot and ding was just fine, as the bike was ready for a ride through the campground, or down to the corner store, or out to the pub. You might complain that it is not as fast as other bikes. However I’ve been noticing lately that my bad influence is starting to show on other guys, who now openly talk about the fun of riding slow. This little bike is loads of fun at slow speeds, full of levers to twiddle and knobs to push and pull. And at medium speeds it is exciting in a way that a modern plastic rocket bike might be fun at 150mph –once you had found a road for that. Old and slow, that is the tempo. Awards don’t mean much, but I think this one was deserved.
Mike Vils might be known to our readers from his exploits on the Cannonball, or maybe from the Atascadero rides, or from his work with the Trailblazers. Here is a photo of him in Kitty Hawk before we left on that first Cannonball in 2010. His 1913 Excelsior had a host of modifications, which we’ll get back to further on the article.
Back in the stone age, Mike was building customs of all shapes and sizes in the SoCal scene. This is a photo of him and his wonderful wife Irma on the cover of Street Chopper 41 years ago. That bike was ridden and ridden over the next several decades, getting only a few changes (disc brake).
Contrary to his badass image, Mike is a big teddy bear –one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet on a motorbike. He’s always stopping to help guys, or painting or tuning machines. Mike is full of life and also full of stories, as often happens with good quality characters like him. His motto is “Ride Fast, Take Chances”, and he’s done just that on his 1913 Excelsior, or his JD Harley, or dirt bikes, flat track/speedway bikes, a modern V twin, and a multitude of customs over the years.
Over drinks the other night, he mentioned that in the old days there wasn’t the fracturing of the motorcycling scene that we have today. Guys might play around on a bobber one day, then ride dirt bikes the next. Builders would work on Brit machines as well as Japanese, new HDs or old Indians. But just like in everything else today, we now have specialization, for better or worse. But he’s still farting around on little speedway tracks, and riding a variety of machines on the road.
“Don’t wear the image if you can’t handle the action” -Mike Vils.
Mike spent some years working with Ed Big Daddy Roth, building and painting machines starting around 1967. Ed took a liking to the youngster and gave him the moniker Fass Mikey, which he is still called today.
Here are some pages from Ed Roth’s Chopper’s Magazine, later changed to Custom Bike Mag. The first image is Mike and his Grandma in the living room with a bike and pile of trophies.
Below are some signed photos from Russ Collins, Dick Mann, and Gary Nixon. Now is a good point to mention that Mike painted factory race bikes for a lot of the big guys in the 1970s. You might have seen the Yamaha has with the black and white paint that looked a bit like old 35mm film. He did that for Kenny Roberts, and a lot more too.
Mike and I played around a bit on the Cannonball at 40 mph, joking for some pictures and trying to make the best of the long, long days and unpredictable machine issues. His bike fouled a plug a mile after this photo, and mine broke the V belt pulley…
That Excelsior looks good. Mike built it and painted it himself of course. But after the first glance, you can see some details. The big rear disc brake is mounted up at the rim. The front brake was added due to worries about the car drivers across the USA.
Vils’ buddy Darrel Bassani made the pipes, and Mike is happy to report that they are “like jewelry”. Perfectly smooth on the inside… One of Mike’s stories is about when it was time for Bassani to move his shop, which happened every so often in the 1970s. Once the shop was empty and the floor was clean, he’d invite in a bunch of Class C heroes like #98 John Hagely and they’d have an impromptu ‘Minibike Nationals’, with hot shoe racing of little XR75 Hondas on the concrete.
The gas tank looks original, but it is brand new, and Mike made it a couple inches wider to hold more fuel for the long trip. You can’t see the special cams, pistons, valve work, tuned exhaust and other tricks that took the motor from the 1913 spec of 6hp to 25hp today. When I first met Mike, he had installed a NOS nitrous oxide system on the bike, just to see what would happen when he pushed the magic button. It didn’t blow up immediately, but the rear wheel had some trouble. When I pressed him for details, he mentioned that it all happened due to some bench racing with buddies. Everybody wanted to know if white rubber tires would leave a white mark on the road if you spun the tire. The best way to try that was to install “the juice.” Eventually the rear sprocket spun its threads right off the rear hub…
Rat Finks: Mike and Jeff Decker at the finish of the 2012 Cannonball.
At Death Valley one year, Mike won a drag race with an 80” Indian. Did the big bike run out of gas? Nobody knows the truth… Here’s a pic from Mike’s collection, taken just after he won the race.
Look closely at the lettering he applied to his Excelsior tank:
Occhio Lungo recently received a note from reader Cydney Kaster with some nice photos. She is writing a book about her grandfather, and has found that he rode motorcycles before WWI.
As information for her book, Ms. Kaster is looking for any info that our readers can provide about the bike, the location, the general experience of biking back then, etc. She thinks that he registration number is a from a Rex 2.5hp, registered in Perth in 1909-1911, and thinks that reg number may have been transferred when Mr. Pearse bought a larger bike. I replied that this is not a Rex 2.5, but that is appears to be a pre WWI Triumph 3 1/2hp.
From the second photo, we can see that the bike features Triumph’s ratcheting exhaust cutout. Does anybody recall when that was introduced? I think it was on their ‘12 models, but I cannot make out the patent details in an old fuzzy parts diagram that I have. There is no gearbox, so it predates the Model H of 1914. But there is an open horseshoe mag, and I think that is a Triumph one-speed hub with a clutch. I really love that curly-que horn and his great expression with his pipe in hand. He looks like an old time movie star.
The man’s name was Godfrey Scott-Pearse, and for her book, she’d love any more info that we can provide. If you have any comments, you can either click on the “comment” button at the bottom of the page, or email Cyndey directly: cydneykaster at yahoo.com Please note that both photos are copyrighted by Ms. Kaster
In case you didn’t hear the news yet this morning. The Sunbeam Club has cancelled the Pioneer Run scheduled for tomorrow, due to heavy snow storms that have left the roads covered in ice. It is the first time that the event has ever been cancelled due to weather. A little bit of details are here.
A dozen years ago, Kim and two friends at Berkeley made this movie about people who work on their old motorbikes. It was a class project, to produce a film about an ethnographic subculture, and bikers was their chosen group.
It shows some of our friends riding and telling stories at swap meets or campgrounds or in parking lots. There was a bit from Zeitgeist and another at Scuderia, which are both still prevalent locales today. And some road scenes from Alice’s Restaurant and the Nicasio Reservoir near Novato.
I’ve always enjoyed watching the film, even with the little quirks that came with using audio/visual equipment for the first time. In 2001, many of the cameras and video editing programs were not cheap and simple and at our fingertips like they can be today.
Someday I hope to make (or help somebody else to make) a short movie about playing around with 100 year old motorbikes. Not a static film of the bikes in a museum, but showing them being alive; ridden, worked on and enjoyed. Until then, we can play around with the Occhio Lungo website.