A Taste of Dakar

It was a dark and stormy night…. And I was up worried about the weather.  Would we be able to ride at all?  If so, would we be wet and miserable in our tents?  How bad is it going to suck loading the truck in the rain?

In January, when we signed up for ALT Rider’s Taste of Dakar, I don’t think anyone thought that it might fall on the same weekend as the largest storm to hit Southern California and Nevada in years.

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Like a lot of things I do on a bike, the planning for this one started with an email from Demien.  He sent a link to ALT Rider’s site saying he was driving out to Nevada to do it. 

Grant and I had been talking about doing something that required sleeping in tents next to our 650s for a while so this seemed perfect.  Jay agreed to join us on his 800GS.

As the trip got closer, I think it hit home that Grant and I were pretty unprepared.  This was the first time Grant or I had done a ride like this.  The trip would require us to camp and ride in some varying weather and navigate over 140 miles of Nevada desert using digital GPS routes given to us by the organizers. 

After some research and hand wringing, we decided we’d borrow camping gear, wear motocross gear, bring ski gear in case it got cold and just tag along with someone who knew how to use a GPS. 

It seemed like a plan at the time.

But then there was the weather.  Friday promised downpours all day with thunderstorms over the camping area continuing late into the night. 

Saturday looked a little better with 50% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon – when we would be on our bikes and furthest from home.

At Dark O’Clock on Friday morning, I loaded the DR in a torrential downpour.  Wet and miserable, I hooked up our trailer and set out to pick up Jay and Grant.  I wondered aloud if we shouldn’t just forget the whole thing. 

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Grant reassured me that if it looks terrible, we can just keep driving to Vegas and spend the weekend at a poker table.  Fair enough.

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As we got to Pahrump and the campsite, we found most guys were in RVs.  The ones in tents looked silly trying to set them up in between rain showers. 

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While we all gathered in Demian’s RV to shield ourselves from one particularly nasty wall of rain, I made the call to wuss-out and get a room at the Holiday Inn down the road.   I believe I looked at Grant and Jay and asked if we were being pussies in a way that bothered us.  

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After a good night’s sleep, we geared up and attended a riders meeting where Jimmy Lewis said that he frankly didn’t know what the conditions would be like out on the course.  It was the desert and the desert does strange things when you dump that much water on it.  Some of it might be unridable and some of it might be way more difficult than planned.

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We opted not to ride with Demian and Ilya since they were on smaller, lighter dirt bikes, were tuned up from a week of riding in Arizona and we frankly didn’t know what kind of “hard” the Hard Route would be.   

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Instead, we had found ourselves some guys on Triumph Tiger 800s who were planning on doing the Intermediate Course and who agreed to be our GPS guides. 

They looked a little serious but they assured us several times that they were just going to have fun and they wouldn’t leave anyone behind. 

At about 9am, the nine of us set off into the dirt.

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The first hour was slow going.  

We stopped every 10 minutes or so.  It was either the Triumph guys making small adjustments to their bikes or gear or someone from another riding group having fallen or broken down.

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At one of these stops, Grant and I realized we had lost Jay and a guy named Ian who was tagging along with us on his 1200GS. 

The Triumph guys took off without making sure everyone was there and - concerned we’d lose our guides - Grant and I took off with them. 

We figured they’d stop soon enough, realize we were light two riders and wait to regroup. 

They didn’t.

After another 15 minutes, Grant and I had a decision to make:  Stop and look for our friends and lose our GPS 30 miles from nowhere or continue on hoping Jay and Ian could find their own way. 

It wasn’t a decision really.

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We stopped and watched the Triumph guys – the guys who assured us they’d ride with us – ride away without looking back.   

While Grant and I sat waiting for Jay and Ian to catch up, another group rode up to us. 

We flagged them down to ask about Jay and Ian.  They hadn’t seen them but after hearing of our situation, one of them handed me a GPS unit before taking off.  Without a way to mount it to my bars, I put it in my bag knowing we could use it if things got shitty.

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When Ian and Jay didn’t show for about 20 minutes, we started to worry.  We doubled back and found a guy on a KTM sitting quietly.

On a proper dirt weapon wearing a, “District 37” sticker, this guy told us he had sent a rider back to find the rest of his group - including one guy who has having a hard day already.

When the rest of that group finally appeared, they said the thought there were two more behind them.  

Five minutes later, Jay and Ian finally join us.

Jay later told us that Ian had his gear off during one of those early stops and in the time it took them to get going, we took off.  It took them 45 minutes or so to feel their way up to us.

We realize we’re the last group on this ride and we all agree to stay together until lunch.  Speaking of lunch, we’re also running out of time to get there.  It’s 11.  We’ve done 35 miles and have more than 125 left to go before the sun sets.

One of the guys riding with us explained confidently that we could ride about 5 miles to Highway 160, hop on it for 15 minutes and we’d be right at the lunch spot.  Excellent.  Let’s do that.

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Three miles of dirt later, we were at the road – and my throttle gets stuck wide open.  I shut the bike off and watch our new group ride away from us.

Jay, Ian and Grant wait the two minutes it takes me to quickly rig the loose bolt that caused the problem and with that done, we set off on the pavement for the promised short highway sprint to the lunch spot.

After 20 minutes, we find ourselves at the edge of suburbia and within sight of the Vegas Strip.  It feels wrong.  I pull us all over and - assuming we have phone service - Google the, “Pioneer Saloon”. 

My phone cheerfully reports that all we need to do is continue on this road for 5 miles and then head South on I-15 for 20 miles.  Estimated time to destination?  40 minutes.  It’s 12:30 and lunch ends at 1. 

You have got to be kidding me.

When we get on 15, we all get a sense of just how far off course we are.  We’re at the very South end of the Strip.  It’s gotten colder and at 80mph, the wind is tearing through my motocross gear.  The DR is buzzing away and I’m kind of miserable.   I spend the next 20 minutes wounding why I drove 5 hours to ride my DR on the highway as fast as it will go.

When we finally arrive at the lunch spot, we see our guides on their Triumphs.  Jay and I approach them.  For a minute, I genuinely think Jay is going to hit one of them.  

When he confronts them about their total disregard for the promises they made earlier, they stare blankly at us.  We realize there is no point in talking to them and walk away.  Fuck those guys.  

Grant, Jay and I shovel food in our mouths and talk about a plan.  It’s 1:15 and the route plan says we have 90 miles left.  With our freeway detour, we have already covered 90.  The one benefit to suburbia was that we were all full on gas.  I had also had time to properly fix my throttle cable.

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If I’m honest, I’m ready to go back to the campground and have a beer.  I’m tired, cold, cranky and if the afternoon was going to be as difficult as the morning without a GPS, I’d rather head back by road, open a PBR and shop for a GPS on my iPhone.

Grant and Jay persist and Grant finds a group willing to shepherd us the rest of the intermediate trail. 

I’m so glad he did.

We join three guys on KTM twins, one other DR and two 1200GSs and head out joined by Jimmy Lewis himself.  About 100 yards into the afternoon’s first dirt section - perhaps the most difficult section of the day - Ian calls it quits and heads home on the highway.  

This group is different.  The mood is lighter.  There is a guy riding sweep and a guy leading.  The pace is reasonable.  We count heads every few minutes.   I’m glad we’re here.

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While staring at a terribly ominous wall of rain just next to us, we find a sand section that was promised earlier and head out to play.  

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When we all start getting wet, we realize it might be time to make a run for it.  I put on my 15 year old North Face shell and we head out away from the rain. 

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When we get to a dry lake bed, our group’s leader looks it over surveying how ridable it might be after the storm.  He looks for a minute, looks back at the wall of water and darkness bearing down on us, then shrugs his shoulders and takes off.  

We all dutifully follow.  

In fourth gear, the DR is moving around a lot on top of the slippery soft top layer of sediment.  It’s 50% Bonneville and 50% skiing powder.  

I’m enjoying the shit out of myself.

For the next three plus hours, we ride with this group.  Speeds are high but comfy.  Terrain is difficult without  ever being hard.  We regroup every 10 miles or so.  The storm never catches us.  

We ride the full route save for one flooded lake bed that forces us to hop on the highway for 15 miles.  

We arrive back to camp and it’s dark enough that our headlights are making a difference to the world in front of us.  Grant, Jay and I have covered 193 miles with our morning detour to Vegas and I’ve never stood on a motorcycle for so long - ever. 

Beer hasn’t tasted that good in a long time.  

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After a big dinner and a few more beers, we all retire to our tents and try to sleep.

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The next morning, I’m pretty spent.  I’m not sure I want to ride again even though Demien and I had chatted about going out again. 

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When I find him, I see something from Demien I had never seen before - He was done too.  I guess yesterday was hard on everyone.

Driving back to LA, I realize that I finally understood this event’s name.  Until then, it seemed silly to me.  

One of the things I love best about riding and racing a motorcycle is that mere mortals can get to feel what the legends feel. 

While a football fan will never be able to feel what it’s like to stand in the pocket against a pass rush, anyone who has done a track day at Laguna Seca can talk to Nicky Hayden about the deceptive entrance to Turn 9. 

It gives a connection to the sport that I think is only shared by cycling and maybe golf.

On Sunday morning, I’m tired enough to not want to do anything other than sit quietly in my truck for the drive home.  We did 190 miles navigating intermediate terrain in groups and never further than 30 miles from civilization.  

Last year’s Dakar had a 540 mile stage in it.  And that was one day out of 14.  

I knew the event was hard but I don’t think I had any idea how insane it was until I got this very small taste.  

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It’s worth noting as an epilogue that I had to hunt down the owner of the GPS loaned to me out there. 

When I finally found him, he was unconcerned about the $500 Garmin he had handed to a helmeted stranger in the desert someplace.  It’s fun meeting people who casually make you aware of how good a person you probably aren’t.  Thanks again Kevin.  .

American Supercamp

Friends at Cycle World are good friends to have.

When Garrett asked if I could join him and some of the Bonnier Motorcycle Group for a private day with Danny Walker, there was no question.  I was in.

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The basic description is the same as Colin Edwards’ and Rich Oliver’s schools:  You ride around on a TTR125 with an intermediate rear tire and learn how to slide a motorcycle around.

What’s different about Supercamp is the pedigree.  Danny Walker has had a hand in training just about every American Roadracing household name.  When introducing us to the day, Danny was flanked by Hayden Gillim, Jake Gagne and Tomas Puerta. 

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I spent the day being the slowest guy in the fastest group (my sweet spot). 

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Then again, when the fast group contains Danny, Jake, Hayden and Tomas, there’s no shame in getting lapped as often as I was.

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Jeremy came with me and while he hadn’t been on a bike in a long time, the years he spent racing at a high level were apparent to all.

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Every time I tried to keep up with him I ended up on my ass. 

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I spent a lot of time on my ass.

When not riding, Danny encouraged people to sit on his body position trainer - really a half-TTR-hobby-horse he built one drunk night.  

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After falling off it a few times, the bike felt more natural.   

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But it just looks so much better when Jake does it.

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At some point in the afternoon, Jeremy, Garrett and I realized that all the other guests had gone home.  No matter.  We kept riding with the boys until Danny pulled the plug and kicked us out.   

A huge thanks to Cycle World for an awesome day.

A Day in the Dirt

When I started writing here, I decided I would be honest.  That means documenting the failures as well as the triumphs.  To be honest, I’m not really sure where Day in the Dirt falls.

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Over the last few months, I had done a fairly good job of turning myself into a guy who - from a distance - might be confused for a motocross rider.  Last weekend for example, I spent the morning clicking off laps at Cahuilla Creek’s Vet Track.  I was comfortable and happy and fully aware of the progress I had made since venturing out onto the baby track at Milestone unsure I’d come back to my truck without a broken leg.

After all the logistics of an RV rental, race entry and bike prep, I arrive at Glen Helen on Friday and am immediately surprised and intimidated by the firepower out here. 

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I sit around wondering what I had gotten myself in to and and wait for, “Open Practice” since I can’t really take shelter with the vintage bikes or the children - no matter how much I want to.  When it’s time I line up next to some serious looking dudes until the starter sends us into Turn 1 and they turn all into a cloud of roost and rocks.  

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The course at Day in the Dirt makes use of almost all the features Glen Helen has to offer.  Two of those features are steep, long, loose hills.   I’ve looked for a picture that gives a sense of the hill and the best I can find is from Guy B. at VitalMX taken half way up.

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Its here where my 125 feels like a poor decision.  Given my 200 lbs and pathetic corner exit speed, in order to get up them, I need to keep the bike pinned all the way on loose, rutted face.  Closing the throttle even a little means the bike bogs and I find myself with a stalled bike stuck on a near-vertical slope with fast-moving bikes pointed at me.  Ask me how I know this.

On the way down these things, I’m sitting on the back fender hard on the brakes and trying to keep my wheels sort of in line while Josh Grant comes by me on the limiter.  I can’t get my bike to go slowly enough and he can’t get his to go fast enough.  Right.  So that’s where we are…

I spend the rest of my two, 10 minute practice laps just holding on.  Well, except for the two crashes.  I let go of the bike for those.
 
It was clear that I had underestimated this event.  I think I called it more of a party than a race.  It’s not.  It’s Cole Seely coming with his game face on and Kendall Normal sitting in the pits drinking a protein shake. 

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Its braking bumps bigger than the whoops at Milestone and most of the field thinking that’s just fine with them.  

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I went to bed that night unsure if I wanted to race.  Instagram is full of pedantic images about doing things that scare you.  Fuck those things.

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This is scary and with racing, you don’t control how long those fear-filled moments last.  Unlike jumping off a cliff on vacation in Mexico, when practice finishes at 1pm and your race isn’t until 11 the next morning, there’s a lot of time where you can’t just go for it to put an end to the fear.  You’ve just got to sit with it and try not to spin to hard.

But I’ve felt this before.  I’ve done enough dumb stuff with a motorcycle that this is a familiar feeling.  Hell, it’s probably why I do this. 

By the time the sun came up, I knew that I was going to line up.  I had come too far and frankly if I went home without seeing a green flag, I’d feel like a pussy.  

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I decided I’d forgo the 2 stroke race since that meant I’d be getting in Josh Grant’s way (again) and I’d just do the Beginner / Novice race. 

When those considering themselves Beginner or Novice motocross racers gather at the start, I’m among them.  You can feel the nerves.  When the bikes start, it’s an audible incarnation of what’s going on inside everyone’s head.  The green flag drops and immediately - immediately - all the fear is gone.  Replaced only with concentration at the task at hand.

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By the time we’re down the second large hill, my start group has checked out but I’ve reeled in a guy on a Honda.  I decide I’ll sit behind him for a while and just ride.  The course is pretty chewed up and the two of us are just trying to stay on our bikes. 

After a few minutes, I decide to pass him hoping that he’ll pass me back and I’ll have a race to make this more fun.  He doesn’t.  Four corners later, I’ve dropped him.  I go back to just riding. 

When I get to the finish line after one lap, I’ve had enough.  I’m not having fun.  I’m not playing.  I’m not racing.  I’m just trying to ride this course and I don’t see an upside to doing another lap. 

I pull off, head back to my pit, pull off my helmet and immediately feel like I should be back out there.  It’s weird.  Being out there wasn’t any fun but not being out there was worse. 

Whatever internal argument is going on in my head, the amount of fresh casts and new crutches in the pit remind me that the consequences are maybe a little high to go back out without some clarity. 

I pack up my stuff and call it a weekend. 

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The next day, I watch the Novices race again and I’m consumed by the feeling that I should be out there with them.  I’m fully aware of the small victories this weekend and at how far my motocross skills have come in a few short months but I’m as unsatisfied as I’ve been about anything. 

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I suppose there’s always next year.

In Which I Ride a Motocross Track (Reprise)

On the one hand, the last (and only) time I rode a motocross track, I spent the time alternating between absolute terror and complete exhaustion.  I was fairly miserable and overwhelmed. 

On the other, while growing up in New York City - and way before the roadracing or anything else on two wheels - I somehow became infatuated with motocross while obsessively reading issues of MXA and dreaming about a bike of my own.

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At work one day, someone casually suggested to me that I should do a Day in the Dirt this year. 

As I understand it, Day in the Dirt is probably more festival than race.  It’s a three day party where people from the film and motorcycle industries get together thanks to Troy Lee at Glen Helen and race and give each other high-fives until they can’t stand up or lift their arms anymore. 

Everything about this event sounds like heaven to me - except for the fact that I can’t ride a motocross bike.

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Nothing to do, I guess, but buy a motorcycle and learn how to ride it.

I suppose from the outside, it was obvious that I would end up buying a Husqvarna again.  On the inside, there was much hand wringing over the bike.  I spent a ton of time on the forums and tried to buy an RMZ250 from a WMX pro who couldn’t focus on setting a date to bring me the bike and a CRF250R from another similarly distracted seller.

Eventually, it was how starting a new CR125 immediately brought me back to the first motorcycle I ever rode - an 80cc 2 stroke at camp one summer - that sealed the deal.  It’s all two stroke ring with the smell of oil in the air.  

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I rented a truck and headed out to Milestone’s, “Entry Level” track to see what’s what. 

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The internet assured me that I could ride like I still had training wheels while rolling the jumps and limping through the corners.  

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In all honestly, there’s not a lot to tell about the two days I spent out there other than I had a blast, it was fucking hot and I only crashed once.

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My crash was predictable.  I was fresh off two days at Rich Oliver’s place and I was getting a little comfortable with a sideways motorcycle.  I was both tired and confident - and that always spells danger.

In the middle of a corner, I lost the rear, then the front, then the rear again. I think I was still trying to save it while I was laying on the ground with the bike on top of me.  Damage was limited to a scraped up and bloody forearm.  I look at it more of a warning than a crash.

While packing up after the second day, I looked at my hour meter.  

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The bike had been running for less than 100 minutes and I could barely stand up.  I had apparently solved (perhaps temporarily) the terrified part but of motocross but not the exhausted part.

I suppose it’s a reminder that if I’m going to do this event, when I’m not on my MX bike, I need to be in the gym.

Fair enough.  We’ve got a deal.

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To the bike’s credit, the tool kit I packed was never needed.  

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So… So far so good.  Maybe I can do this motocross thing after all.

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Rich Oliver’s Mystery School

The idea started at a company retreat in Snow Bird, Utah.   There seemed to be enough moto guys at work to put together a takeover of Rich Oliver’s place.

Mystery School is essentially Rich’s back yard in Auberry, CA - a one-stop-sign town just South of the Sierra National Forrest.  Rich raced for Kenny Roberts for a year or five and as one of Kenny’s racers, Rich trained at the famous Roberts’ Ranch.  When he retired, Rich went about recreating Kenny’s ranch but for dipshits like me. 

I put the call out and we ended up with Eight solid guys from Headquarters all piling into a rented van for the trip up North.

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Because of the remoteness of the school, lodging options are limited.  That’s not a problem when you’ve got a place like Daddy Joe’s Java Time coffee house.  If you call them needing a place to house Eight guys, Joe will rent you three small, unintentionally eclectic cottages. 

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While Stefan and Alexandre took the Red Barn, Chad and Jay took the Cottage.  That left Ryan, Scott and I in the Yellow House with its amazing living room straight out of an episode of Married with Children.

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We all dropped our stuff in our bedrooms, made a beer run and gathered in the Yellow House’s back yard to drink some beer and make the transition from friendly co-workers to a group of dudes riding motorcycles for the weekend. 

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The next morning, we were up early to meet Rich and start the school.

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Rich’s school puts students on small, TTR125s with, “intermediate” rear tires.  They’re not quite street tires but they’re pretty far from knobby.  Students ride these things around several small tracks offering many kinds of corners.  You spend your time in 2nd and 3rd gear and (if you’re doing it right) mostly sideways. 

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The school is designed to get students comfortable with riding at - and over - the edge of available traction.  Through a series of progressive drills, Rich gets you used to sliding the motorcycle around and steering with the rear wheel. 

You start by concentrating on the middle of the corner and getting the bike pointed where you want to go.  Then you start working on corner exit and using the right amount of wheel spin.  After that gets comfortable, Rich teaches you how to pitch the motorcycle sideways on corner entry in order to get it back to where you wanted it to be in the middle. 

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Buy doing this on little bikes with very little traction, speeds are low and throwing a motorcycle around seems much more like a manageable idea. 

Of course, some drills were more successful than others.

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After a day of getting highsided by children’s bikes, we were beat up but pretty happy.

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Stefan suggested that we drive to a local lake to take a swim.  I believe  everyone thought it was a terrible idea but he’s everyone’s boss so we all quietly went along with the plan. 

After maybe a half hour in the van, we found ourselves deep into Sierra National Forrest at Shaver Lake.  Filled with snow melt, it was clear, freezing… and perfect. 

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This was probably the point where we had all forgotten our roles in the office.  We were comfortably just some dudes out on an excellent moto adventure.

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We had dinner by the lake and later made our way to the sketchy looking bar across from Daddy Joe’s to play some horseshoes.

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Stefan’s terrible idea had become the best moment of the trip.

In order to solidify what Rich has taught you, Day Two at Mystery School involves racing.  Lots of racing. 

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Rich runs several short races where the winner gets to pick the track for the next race (but has to start at the back).  I managed to win a few of these but I think we were all focused on the promised 25-Lap Main Event at the end of the camp.

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I’m sure we were all sizing each other up and while everyone was riding really well, I was most worried about Stefan, Scott and Jay. 

Jay has ridden for years and has competed in a number of desert races.  He had the most dirt experience of any of us.  Scott was riding really solidly.  In the beginning of the weekend, he wasn’t that fast but toward the end, he was has getting harder and harder to drop.  Stefan was just fast.  Effortlessly and annoyingly fast.  In the shorter races, we were always very close to one another. 

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The Main Event was a 25-Lap race using one of Rich’s longer tracks.  I was given a second row position on the outside (but next to Stefan).  My plan was to make my way to the front without mercy - people were going to get punted - and try to check out.  Probably with Stefan, Jay and Scott. 

When the green flag dropped, Stefan got a great start and I followed.  I knew I couldn’t let him get away and so I was a little ruthless in following his passes (sorry guys… but it’s racing).  After a lap, he was running first and I was second.  After another lap, we had left the rest of the group behind. 

Stefan was going real good and I decided I’d sit behind him, gap the rest of the group and hope that I could pressure him into making a mistake.  At crossed flags (halfway through the race) he hadn’t made a single bobble.  Throughout the weekend, he was often a little out of shape but in this race, he was rock solid, smooth and fast. 

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Change of plan then. 

Stefan and I were starting to lap some of the other guys and I figured I could use them to hold him up a little.  When he got caught for a moment behind Chad, I made my move.  And promptly ended up on my ass facing the wrong way.

Shit.

I picked the bike up, restarted it and tried not to panic.  Stefan was gone and I was now worried about keeping my second place.  Thankfully, I had a bit of a cushion behind me so I focused on the work I had ahead of me to bring Stefan back.

I started clicking off laps knowing I had to go about a second a lap faster then Stefan in order to get him by the end. 

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At this point, my fitness let me down.  I started making mistakes.  Mostly mental but I was also dragging myself around the track a little.  Sitting on the back of the seat.  Missing shifts.  Being a little lazy with my body position. 

It became clear that Stefan was gone and not coming back.  He took the win and I finished second with Jay coming in third to round out the podium. 

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Much credit to Stefan.  I threw everything I had at him and he beat me.  He stepped it up for the Main Event in a big way. 

I think it took us all a few minutes after the race to realize we were done riding for the weekend.  None of us were tired.  None of us wanted to go home.  Scott came up to me and suggested another 25 laps.  Honestly, it didn’t seem like a bad idea at all. 

Back in the office, Stefan and I were looking at the pictures from the weekend and talking about body position and who looked good on the bike.  When I pointed out that he looked natural on a sideways motorcycle, he sent me a picture of his grandfather and suggested that it was in his blood.

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Fucking awesome.

Huge thanks to the guys for coming on this trip with me.  It was a stellar weekend on a million levels.

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Project Spaghetti Western: Part Eight

The last time I saw my gearbox and final drive was in December of 2011.  I had driven out to Sag Harbor in Demian’s Fiat to deliver them both to Garley Cole.  Charley knew more about Guzzi gearboxes than the Guzzi factory currently does.  He has more parts too.

As the project dragged on and I got distracted by moving to LA and learning to ride a dirt bike, I had all but forgotten about my gearbox vacationing on the North Shore of Long Island.

When I called Charley to ask if he still had my parts, he laughed at me.  He was wondering what happened to me but was happy to tear back into the stuff.

About a week later, I get an email with an invoice, some pictures and the following description:

I normally work 7 days a week, but just lost this last whole weekend to a nasty tooth infection. The whole side of my face was swollen like I got punched in the face. I wish.

Anything would have been more fun than a toothache.

Anyway, I’m back at it. I spent the last couple of days with your gearbox. It is deeply troubled. I was trying to decide if it was worth trying to clean the plated on crud and stains when I discovered in addition to hours of cleaning, that crazy hose going from the fill plug to the level plug was more than “just a hose”.

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BOTH of the plugs threaded into the fill and
level holes were NON stock plugs with NPT tapered threading, which ruined the stock threads. That did it for your housing. You need a new one. I was able to save the rear cover which is no small thing. Nice Eldorado rear transmission covers are getting harder and harder to find and are worth $200+.

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The internals were troubled as well, but there is still lots of value there. Most of it can still be used. It would take a couple hours to completely explain every single little part or problem this gearbox has. I am taking lots of pictures, which will make clear what needs attention.

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Maybe the easiest way to illustrate what is still good about your gearbox is the following comparison. I sell several commissioned gearboxes every year. This is where the customers DOES NOT send me a gearbox, but instead, just tells me what gearbox and mods they need and then I build the whole gearbox out of EXCELLENT TO AS NEW parts. In the case of an Eldorado gearbox where the rear cover is worth more than the one used on Tonti bikes and they need to have a 2mm shallow spline clutch hub (NLA for the last two years…..I have them, but there were sourced from all over the world…pricier @ $125), these commissioned gearboxes
cost $1,650.00.   

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After taking your whole gearbox apart and assessing it, I can get you a nice housing, clean up your rear cover, replace two destroyed bearings, replace damaged parts and get the whole thing back to excellent condition for $900.00. A lot less than selling you a commissioned gearbox complete. I am working on it now, but before I get too far, wanted to get a “go ahead” from you.

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 The rear drive needs all of the bearings, gears, pinion carrier, drive flange and more replaced. Everything except for the parts that you cleaned up and sent back. If you would like an Excellent set of 8:37 gears (stock OEM gear ratio) which is getting hard to find in EXC condition, bearings, shock stud, drive flange and lots more it would cost $850.00. This would be a plug and play…..bolt it on and go….rear drive.

I told Charley to do what he needed to do and make it pretty.

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A week later, 55lbs of Guzzi transmission and final drive are waiting for me at my door when I get home.  Thanks Charley.

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A Good Day in the Dirt

I had sold Alex my TE250.  I had sold Grant my KLR.  Having successfully created people with whom to ride, we now needed to get the bikes dirty.

Alex was way ahead of me.  He and his brother, Teddy bought another Husky and were heading out to Gorman quite often.  They are both very new riders but their enthusiasm makes up for their inexperience. 

This past weekend. we had planned to head up to Gorman but it was on fire. 

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A bunch of forum-reading later, we decided to head to San Gabriel OHV.  There seemed to be a ton of fire roads running out of a large play area. 

Grant rode the KLR to my place, we loaded it into the truck and headed out.

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When we got to the ranger station, there was some bad news.

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The fire roads were all closed to vehicle traffic.  We would only be able to ride, “the pit”.  I had visions of doing donuts in a dirt parking lot for an hour, getting bored and going home. 

The ranger then told us that the river crossing was over one-and-a-half feet deep.  River crossing?  Yes Virginia, before you can get into the pit, you need to cross the river. 

Grant and I suggested Alex and Teddy drive their truck through the river and unload on the other side.  Since our rented Silverado was 2WD, we wouldn’t be allowed to take the truck off the paved parking lot.  Nothing to do but cross the river.  Having never done this before, Grant and I shared a look and then jumped in.

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Safely on the other side, Grant and I high-fived and picked up the Brothers Baroian on their matching TEs.  About 100 yards of rocks later, we came on another river crossing. 

Alex and Teddy were a little nervous (and fair enough) so Grant and I rode our bikes across and then walked back in possession of our new-found aqua skills and rode the Huskys.

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Through these two crossings, we found, “The Pit” was  actually about 2 miles long and filled with all kinds of different terrain.  There were rocks, sand, gravel, riverbed and brush. Hardly a dirt parking lot, this place was a playground.

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The four of us all sort of split up and enjoyed the hell out of this place. 

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The far end of the area was bordered by a lake where we stopped for a rest.  We all looked at each other.  It was 68 degrees with a cool breeze coming through the valley.  We were all beaming.  It was a good day.

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On the way back, we explored the outer edged of the park a little.  We found some loose inclines on which to play. 

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Grant got his KLR good and stuck on one particular climb. 

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We pulled the bike out only to have Grant bury it again.  

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I told him he was on his own this time.

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We spent the rest of the day exploring the park and doing donuts in this big dirt parking lot.  I had underestimated how much fun that could be.

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On the way back to the trucks, we told Alex and Teddy we really wanted them to try the water crossing.  They were probably good enough to do it and they were certainly good enough to give it a good shot. 

I led the way with Grant following.

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Much to their credit, they both dove in and both made it.

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While the boys loaded the TEs, Grant and I had one more crossing.  Grant stalled the KLR halfway through and was upset that we all took pictures instead of helping him.

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When back at the truck, we dumped the water from our boots and reflected on a really fun day.

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So I bought a DR

When I bought the KLR, Grant kept telling me how he always wanted one too and referring to it as his bike.   I called his bluff and sold it to him. 

This left a 650cc-sized hole in my garage.  No worries.  I had also always wanted a DR650 and dealers seem to have more than a few leftover 2012s.  Oh and Suzuki is offering 0% financing.  Sold.

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The DR and I spent our first day together riding around Malibu and having coffee at Deus.   I’m thinking we’ll get along just fine.

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Project Spaghetti Western Part Seven

With the metal work done on the frame and fenders, it’s time to make things pretty.  The guys at Andrews Powder Coating took care of the frame, swing arm and center stand.  They’re not cheap, but when they bored me explaining how they dehumidify and then refrigerate the air used in their blaster to make sure there’s no moisture, I knew they were my guys.

I was surprised at how much easier it was to transport the frame by subway in New York than it was to get it in my car.  Oh well.

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Back home with the wrapping off, the benefits of double-secret-special air became apparent.  It was beautiful.

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I dug out the original head badge I had been saving for exactly this moment and bought myself a riveter and some stainless rivets.

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I stood back and looked at my work and was a little overwhelmed.  This feels like a big corner has been turned.

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While this was going on, the tank, fenders and other bits were at Venice Beach Auto Body getting painted.  Now the color of this bike has been a long process. 

When I first bought it, I started obsessing over what color to paint it.  I poured over Ferrari and Alfa color charts from the 1970’s.  I created a huge collection of jpegs found on ADV’s Old School forum, Bubble Visor, Le Container and Bike Exif.  I did dozens of terrible cobbled together paint renditions to see what the bike might look like wearing Porsche Macadamia Metallic or Ferrari Tour de France Blue.  No color was off limits and I’ll be damned if this thing is black like every other Eldo.

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As this project has dragged on, my interest (obcession?) over the paint hadn’t waned.  As I got closer to needing to actually commit to a color, there was a certain amount of anxiety.  Over beers one night at Oli’s house, Cadmar from Garage Company quipped that paint isn’t something you can think about for a year.  You need to just make a decision quickly. 

He was right.

I went back to a picture Oli had sent me that made me swoon and focused the conversation.

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That was the ballpark.  It’s almost Mini Cooper Silk Green Metallic. 

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But no quite.

It’s almost a color Scion used to offer too.

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Then I saw a Range Rover Sport in a really excellent shade of blue.  I ran to the Google and found Marmaris Teal Metallic.  Yup.  That’s it.  Let’s just do it. 

A few weeks after providing the paint code to Martin, I had my parts back.  I’m not at all disappointed with my choice.

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And remember all those holes I filled in on the rear fender?  Yeah, me neither.

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So I bought a KLR

I’m always looking at bike classifieds.  Some people wake up and read the paper.  I wake up and look at the ADV and BARF classifieds. 

One particular morning, I spot a green 1998 KLR650.  It had been up for a while and the seller was asking $1750.  I send the link to Grant asking if we were going to buy that.  He replied, “we might buy that”. 

We bought that.

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My first ride on the KLR was to BevMo to put a bottle of bourbon in the Ortleib saddlebags.  The bike was hilarious.  I don’t think I’ve ever been on an easier to ride bike. 

For the next week, I use the KLR exclusively.  It’s great.  I wring it’s neck in between stoplights.  I look for speed bumps to hop over.  I fantasize about places to ride it.  I look at maps of the Trans America Trail.

I’ve always wanted a KLR.  Turns out I was right.

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Project Spaghetti Western Part Six

Between getting back on track the other week, being at that Las Vegas Auction and spending time with Oli Holtzman at work, I was reminded of the simple fact that I love motorcycles.  Part of that love means resurrecting this once loved and long-forgotten Guzzi.

With that - and inspired by a passive-agressive note from my apartment management saying tenants weren’t allowed to store stuff in the garage (“But it’s a motorcycle” I protested.  Never mind…) - I moved the Boxes O’ Guzzi into my empty guest bedroom.  That’ll show ‘em. 

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With the bike’s sorry state of incompleteness taunting me every day, I dig back into it.  First up was finishing the frame so I could send it out for powder.  Luckily I found a 3rd Ward-esque place here in LA that would allow me to do the work myself.

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Molten Metal Works is in Glassell Park and owned by a guy named Matt.  He teaches welding and lets people use the shop for their own projects.  Most guys seemed to be working on furniture but this place was perfect for my needs. 

After running a phosphoric acid-based rust converter through the frame to kill any corrosion that might have happened, I closed up all the speed holes I made back in New York.

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With that, the frame, swingarm kick stand and center stand went off to Andrews Powder Coating to get pretty. 

Andy had recommended me a painter and while gathering the stuff to take over to him, I decided that I wanted to take a shot at doing some basic bodywork myself.  Again, doing this myself - even if the results aren’t great- is kind of the point here, right?

The rear fender looked as if it has had every taillight in the J&P catalog bolted to it at some point.  Poor thing.  After blasting the black, white, blue and (!) red paint off, I had a clear view of the challenge. 

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The internet tells me that a small piece of copper can be useful here. The weld wont stick to it but it will support the molten metal and absorb a lot of heat so you don’t blow through the fender.  Great.  Where to get small pieces of copper? 

Thankfully plumbing supply places are lousy with small copper fittings so I bought three of them and flattened them in a vice.

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Armed with my new tools, I went to work. 

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After several satisfying hours in the metal shop, I was pretty happy with my work.

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As I write this, the parts are at the painter and should be back in a week or so.  I’m pretty excited. 

Creating a Monster… I mean… Collector

The email from Mike had the subject line, “Dangerous”.

It was a link to a classic bike auction Bonham’s was holding in Vegas in a day or so.  I didn’t think a lot of it.  Non-moto people send me links to motorcycle-related things often.  Mostly, they don’t have a lot to do with me and I assumed that a Bonham’s auction in Vegas was going to be a ton of over-restored Indians and mega-dollar exotica.  That definitely doesn’t have anything to do with me.

It was slow at work and I started looking through the lots.  To my surprise, there were a number of weird, cool, inexpensive-looking bikes. 

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I should maybe back up.  A few weeks ago, I decided that there was a hole in my dining room about the size of a small motorcycle.  You see, when I started getting into racing, I lived in a small apartment on the ground floor and wheeled my race bike into the living room.  I loved having it in there as a piece of furniture. 

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I had been looking at Cragslist for a $500 non-runing something but this auction piqued my interest.  There were a few Honda S65s and several awesome and obscure small scooters from the 1950s  that would be perfect.

I focused my attention on two Victoria scooters and a particularly weird and beautiful Flandria moped.  All were expected to sell for about $1000. 

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Registering for a Bonham’s auction is easy.  A few forms and a credit card number. 

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When you call them on the phone to ask a question, they all have British accents.  Perfect.  When I got confirmation that I was a registered bidder, I wondered if a, “Bonham’s Client Number” (of which I am now an owner) comes with a smoking jacket, a pipe and a droopy basset hound.  Spoiler alert:  It doesn’t.  I should call someone about that.

Anyway.  The auction started slowly at 10am with some road signs and posters.  I started to get the feel for Bonham’s clunky online live bidding site.  I also continued to scour the listings for bikes.  I absolutely fell in love with something called a Terrot. 

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It was expected to fetch $3-5k and I thought for $3,000 I would buy it.  When the motorcycles started coming up, it became clear there were deals to be had.  The S65s sold for under $500.  A 1980 XT250 went for $700.  Jesus.  For that money, I should have bought it, ridden it until April and then sold it for $2,000 to one of the hipsters who hang around Deus ex Machina.

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I bid $500 on cool 1980 Honda C70 step-through (it sold for $900) and I bid on a cool Bultaco flat track racer that sold for $200 more than my bid.

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The Terrot went for just above what I was prepared to pay and at about 4:00, my scooters came up.  At this point I was pretty excited.  The energy of an auction is infectious - even if bidding online.  I had a feel for the rhythm of the bids and was ready to buy one of the Victorias or my Flandria.  I felt like Wayne Carrini.

I was also annoyed at having, “lost” the Bultaco and the Terrot for so little money.  I was aware that I was being emotional but I was also having a lot of fun.  For all the hours I’ve spent watching Barrett Jackson and pretending to spend money, the real thing felt great.

The first Victoria came up and quickly went past it’s expected take.

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It ultimately sold for $3400 - three times the estimate.  Then the next Victora came up and the pattern repeated.  Surely no one else was looking at the Flandria.  Right?  Wrong.  I bid more than once but quickly saw it head way past $2000.  I liked it but not that much.

As the auction came to a close 7 hours after it started, I was tired and a little sad.  I had signed in hoping to buy something.  Grant was texting me all day asking if we had to go to Vegas to pick up a bike.  We didn’t.

Later that night, a thread on ADVRider pointed me to something called the Mid America Auctions.  Also going on this weekend.  Also in Vegas.  Ok, I thought.  I’ll look.

Whoa.

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The stuff for sale here was amazing.  Perhaps 600 motorcycles and almost all of them awesome.  Tiny MV Agusta singles, several BSAs, a ton of excellent flat trackers, an RC30, two spotless 1961 Harley XLCHs.  It was a little overwhelming.

The next morning, I signed up to bid and started watching stuff go by on my computer.  Very early, it was clear this was a different auction.  There were few bargains to be had.  There was a different rhythm to the bidding.  I left the auction up on my computer and went about my day.

I came out of a meeting to see a small red thing coming up.  It was a 1954 Moto Parilla and it was beautiful.  The descriptions read, “A very nice older restoration on a rare Parilla 150 Sport. Good running condition. 26SS Dellorto carburetor. Factory aluminum rims. From the Michael Harper-Smith collection.”   Oooh.  From the, “collection” of a guy with a name.  I have to have that.

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Bidding started at a very reasonable number.  It stayed at that reasonable number for a while.  I jumped in and was quickly outbid.  Annoyed, I bid again and was outbid again.  I became acutely aware of the psychology of auctions.  I was now in a competition with some other dude for MY motorcycle.  All I needed to do was be more committed than this joker and I’d win. 

Well, tuns out I was more committed.  The hammer came down and my computer played a silly, “applause” sound.  The screen turned green and the words, “You Won” appeared.

Crap.

What did I just buy? 

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I texted Grant and told him that I had once again done something stupid and I’d pick him up at 6am tomorrow so we could drive to Vegas and pick up my 1954 Moto Parilla 150 Sport.  He asked what that was.  It took a little Googling before I could answer with anything other than, “a motorcycle”.

The next day, we were on the road at dawn and at the South Point Casino by 11 am.

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I walked into the auction hall and found my little bike.  It was beautiful.  It was also in much better shape than I imagined.  On the one hand, it was leaking a little bit of oil.  On the other, the oil coming out was brand new and spotless. 

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I loved it. 

After some paperwork, I wheeled my prize out of the auction hall and loaded it into our truck.

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Grant and I then hung around the auction and tried to find a bike we didn’t want to own.  We failed.  I very quickly decided that buying another bike wasn’t completely ridiculous and spent a good amount of time with those XLCHs.

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Thankfully sanity prevailed (and the Harley’s sold for way more than I was prepared to spend) and I came home with only one motorcycle. 

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While driving home, I said to Grant that Mike was right: This was a dangerous thing to learn how to do.  Grant wondered if today was the day I became a collector.  I wonder the same thing.  The slope is slippery.  While at the auction, I bumped into Yoshi from Garage Company.  He dismissively said he had only bought three motorcycles.  After the last two days, that didn’t seem like a ridiculous statement. 

I wonder if I can still ride a motorcycle…

Short answer is that I can.  Slowly.

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Now that I’m back in Los Angeles, I can spend more time at the racetrack.  It’s one of my favorite places to be and living here makes weekends spent destroying tires and burning gasoline an easy thing.

But can I still ride? 

In order to find out, I headed out to Chuckwalla Valley Raceway on a weekend when Andy would be there with some friendly faces.  I took the Tuono to ensure that I didn’t feel any pressure to go fast.  This was the first time I would have the Aprilia at the track since getting off of it at the entrance to Turn 7  at Thunderbolt and I was excited.

Chuckwalla is far.  By the time you’d be at Willow, you’re not quite halfway to Chuckwalla.  No matter.  It’s an excellent track, the weather was perfect and Andy was there with El Mechanico, Drew Price and others from the AP Moto Team.  Jason Pridmore was there teaching a school and Rich Oliver was hanging around talking about how he wished he brought a bike to ride. 

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We all spent two days going around in circles at vastly different paces and telling jokes in the pit.  On the second day, I had my Tuono cranked over in Turn 15 when Drew came around the outside of me, patted me on the ass, then turned around and waved.  

Good times.

Project Spaghetti Western Part Five

Life gets in the way of projects like this.  Progress stalled in the late winter and Ryders Alley is all but uninhabitable in the summer due to the fact that it sits right on top of the water heaters for a large apartment building.  In August, you have about Ten minutes in there before you want to kill yourself.

Before the stall, I found myself confronted with the desire to do a little cutting and welding on the Guzzi’s frame in order to clean up some brackets and holes I wouldn’t use.  I decided that I wanted to do that work myself which meant I needed to learn some new skills.  That’s the point of this whole thing right?  

I found a place in Brooklyn called 3rd Ward that along with carpentry, cooking, computer programming and fund-raising classes, offered a basic metal shop class with a focus on welding.  Perfect. 

Four, three-hour classes (including a hilarious hour writing words in metal with a plasma cutter) later, I had some new found skills to take to the Guzzi.

First off was the steering lock.  I don’t think I’ve ever used one on any bike and its ugly so I wanted it gone.  I used a drill and a Dremmel to (inelegantly) hack out the lock.

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I then went to work with my new fabrication skills and an angle grinder to get rid of the stump.

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That left some nice clean metal with which to work.

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I then carefully filled in the hole by laying beads around the edges with a MIG machine until I sealed it up. 

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After a little work with a grinder, I had completed my first metal work job.  The sense of satisfaction was immense.  Working with metal is also a ton of fun.

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Like any good New Yorker, the Guzzi rode the subway home from Brooklyn.  Not a single person looked at me funny for carrying a motorcycle frame on the L.  God bless New York City.

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Once I arrived back at Ryders Alley with the frame, I noticed that some water was coming out from inside the frame.  I traced it to a weld just under the head tube. I cut off the mount for the crash bars and discovered that the weld had corroded through. 

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Crap.  I ground away material until I saw clean metal but I was also concerned about internal corrosion in the frame rails.  I hope to ride this thing after all. 

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At the advice of the internet (how could that go wrong?), I used a center punch and a hammer to see if the various tubes were still strong.  They all passed that test.  Concerned that there might still be moisture in there, I drilled a few small holes into the frame and ran compressed air through the thing. 

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The plan is to then follow up with a rust converter and then weld the holes shut.  One the one hand, this sucks.  On the other, I get to play in the metal shop some more.

While this was going on, I had taken the first batch of stuff to powder coat at AMS in Queens.  AMS had done some work for one of the other guys in the garage with good results and I was anxious to keep pushing things forward with the project.  This involved another subway ride with a big, heavy box of motorcycle parts.

The stuff I brought came back looking excellent. Grant had told me that it’s a special moment the first time you start to see parts come back finished.  He was right.

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The gas tank also came back from Moyers in Pennsylvania.  They pressure tested it to make sure the seams were still good then cut a large hole in the bottom and blasted the inside.  After that, they welded it back together, coated the inside and primered the outside. 

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From there, the project sat.  

As the summer came to a close, and the garage started to cool enough to spend some time in there, I got a job opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.  In Los Angeles. 

Without any idea what kind of space I’d have out there, I boxed up the project as best I could and told Demian I’d send for it… eventually.

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A few months later, I was settling in to my new apartment in LA and had a guy with a van bring me my boxes of Guzzi.   For now, they reside in my shared underground garage with my other bikes.  I hope soon I’ll find some work space and be able to make use of the ample resources that Southern California provides.

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Only an Asshole Crashes at a Track Day

Hi.  I am asshole. 

I should have seen it coming.  I broke every rule that I ride by.  I didn’t sleep much the night before.  It was the first session of a very rainy day and traction was a question that hadn’t yet been answered by others.  I rushed to get out for my session.  I was riding in the race group despite having not a lot of recent track time and felt pressure to go fast. 

At least I navigated 6 turns in on the first lap before hitting the ground. 

I was tip-toeing around in the wet when someone on a 600 came underneath me with their knee on the ground.  Thinking there must be much more grip out there than I thought, I went into turn 7 a little harder. 

As soon as I turned in, I was on the ground sliding along next to my bike. 

Damage to the bike was minimal.  Damage to me was nonexistent. Many thanks to Aprilia for designing really effective crash bungs.

I’ll be quieter now about making fun of guys who crash on practice days.

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