The Pits

After a very full Friday at the Barber Vintage Festival, hotel sleep, usually a problem, was, well, not.

Saturday morning I woke up when I woke up, a pleasant change from a life overfull with clocks and alarms.

The view out my window was another misty morning — the road to the Barber’s gate looked almost like a dream, except my dreams don’t have their traffic directed by Sheriffs with Authority Gold Wings.

I got cleaned up, geared up, and went downstairs to the Hampton’s lobby, looking for a cup of coffee and some Mini-wheats.

As the coffee kicked in, and I gradually became more aware of my surroundings, I realized I was sharing my breakfast bar with a half-dozen or so folks nattily attired in the uniform of Team Britten New Zealand, resplendent with images of the Silver Fern and The Southern Cross.

I resolved not to intrude, much as I might have wanted to. They likely needed their coffee as much if not more than I did.

As it turned out, I’d see more of them later.

 

***

 

I rolled the LT around the Barber perimeter road just to get a feel for what was happening, and decided that the Racing Pit area was where it was at, man.

I rolled up to one of the two security personnel working the west gate and asked whether I could get in.

“Sure, dude. But its foot traffic only. Find a place to park — plenty of spots up in that direction — and stop at the tent up by the trolley stop to sign a release and get a wristband. Then you’ll be good to go.”

Just what I needed, a third wristband to add to my Ace Corner Festival wristband, and my weekend admission Museum Wristband. WTF, what’s one more wristband? How to get a glove back on that hand was a problem that could wait till later.

So I headed up the ring road until I found a relatively flatter, harder looking spot, with other members of the LT’s tribe.

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I saw a lot of motorcycles over the days that I was on the road, but these two Honda Z50s had the Blue Ribbon Cute Prize completely sewn up. They also get some sort of Honorable Mention for the Motorcycle I Most Seriously Considered Stuffing In My Top Case And Making A Run For It Award.

One release form and one wristband later, I was flagged in by the same security guy and walked down the hill and into the Barber’s Racing Pit area.

Barber’s Pits are laid out in three broad avenues that are terraced down the front of the hillside. One gets the impression of scope, of scale, of a well-considered and well thought out organization.

In the morning mist that was stubbornly hanging in there, the first pit lane avenue seemed to stretch into the distance, into the haze, and right out of sight.

 

***

 

After a very full day roaming the collections of the Barber Motorsport Museum, one could be forgiven for somehow thinking you’d damn near seen everything that ever motorcycled — that the jug o’ wonder was down to fumes, mate.

You’d also be utterly, completely wrong.

If motorcycles sitting on pedestals, perfectly lit reveals them as art objects, as sculpture, there is a whole dimension of them that is left not even hinted at in that environment.

The motorcycle is only fully realized in motion, and preferably in a motion that takes the dynamics and physics of the thing out to their yawning limits, to that place where the slow motion dance of the contact patches just makes time itself stand stock still.

In the racing pit at the Barber Vintage Festival, that element is everything.

If what sits in the Museum are airbrushed pin-up girls, the bikes in the Racing Pits are straight-up hardcore racebike porn.

There are historic and classic racing motorcycles in the pits at Barber that are so quirky or weird that they are too rare for this museum or any museum. Those bikes, though, are out here with tanks full of Sunoco race fuel, fully safety wired, and sitting on a set of starting rollers, ready to rock.

These are motorcycles that get to live.

 

***

 

Walking down the high line of the Barber pit, I came to a team with a soft spot for Harley Davidson KR Flathead racebikes.

It wasn’t a small spot, either.

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These guys had enough bikes and equipment that they needed a full size semi to get to the races.

Each one of these KRs — built between 1952 and 1970 — is a treasure.

I counted 8.

This KRTT, the roadracing variant, is as elemental and purposeful a racebike as you will ever see.

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This isn’t 3 time Grand National Champion Joe Leonard’s racebike.

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It’s easy to tell, because all Joe’s bikes were hardtails. But the owners of this motorcycle clearly were fans.

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Joe seems to have returned the favor by being a fan of their motorcycle.

 

***

 

Right across from HDKRLandia was a truck from Colorado Norton.

These guys do nice work.

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There are people who believe that the Norton Commando is the most beautiful motorcycle that ever rolled on two wheels.

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I got no bone to pick with those people.

 

***

 

I’m prone to expressing opinions which are not widely held.

So no one here will be shocked when I do it again.

Most custom motorcycles do absolutely nothing for me.

The skill to design and construct a motorcycle which both effective as a motorcycle and fully pleasing to the eye is not as common a skill as most custom motorcycle builders believe it is. Many custom bikes do not improve the stock motorcycle on which they are based, while a small minority are actually so offensive as to be cause for the averting of ones pained eyes.

For the many custom motorcycles which add nothing to the art, there are, fortunately, that very small percentage that achieve things that no production motorcycle ever dreamed of.

The racing pits are not where you’d expect to see such motorcycles, but the Barber Vintage Festival is full of pleasant surprises.

 

***

 

There was only one Indian Larry.

Unlike a lot of Reality Show characters, Larry was simply real — there were no layers to what you saw on TV.

Larry built bikes that were meant to be ridden, and that appealed to him.

He had an artist’s eye, and an engineer’s hand. Brought up on a childhood diet of Von Dutch and Big Daddy Roth, Larry’s bikes were Choppers in a strictly old school sense — the goal was light weight, stripped, elemental design, big power and handling to take advantage of it. Like the original bobber and chopper guys of the late 1940s, if a part didn’t do something important, it came off. Fenders, electric starters, primary drive covers all got canned in the quest for the most motor paired with the least everything else. Everything left after that got metalflaked, flamed, pinstriped or polished.

Larry’s motorcycles, unlike most choppers, never had stretched or raked front ends, because such bikes were built for looks, and wouldn’t corner in the mountains where Larry loved to ride.

Since his passing, Larry’s shop continues to be run by his former partners.

I’ve spoken with Larry’s Men at The Big Timonium Bike Show. They run the shop from my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, and they seemed like standup guys, that took their work seriously, and seemed to take their fun pretty damn seriously too.

It seems that at 10:30 in the morning or so in front of their easy-up in the Barber pits, that they must have been taking their fun pretty seriously fairly recently.

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I have to interpolate their fun because while this beautiful, elemental old school New York style chopper — called Movin On — and several of its mates were on display, Larry’s Men were most assuredly not. While many of their compadres in the pits may have still been a little slow, these guys were no show.

It did give me a chance to enjoy the bike’s craftmanship — there were subtle question marks either cut into or engraved on every piece of metal — disk rotors, cylinder heads — and the exquisitely rich paint and stripe work. Even the saddle wanted to make a statement.

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It was a message on which Larry and I could wholeheartedly agree.

 

***

 

The percentage of fabricated or aftermarket components on custom bikes range from shocks and an exhaust to absolutely everything.

This exquisite beast, designed and constructed by Analog Motorcycles of Gurnee, Illinois, is an absolutely everything motorcycle.

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The 1949 Indian Scout was the last new design introduced by the original Indian Motorcycle Company. Indian needed a lighter sporting motorcycle to compete with the then dominant Triumphs, Nortons and BSAs. Indian actually purchased a company — Torque Engineering — to obtain the rights to produce this engine, which was a two cam, pushrod OHV twin of just under 500cc. Take a look at the pushrod tubes, which are splayed wide on either side of the cylinder block, and you’ll see that this engine was not what you probably first thought it was.

The 1949 Indian Scout was met in the marketplace with resounding “Meh”. By 1953 the Springfield Indian plant was closed for good.

My focus on the Scout’s engine is significant, because that uncharacteristically non-V-for-an-Indian twin is the only bit remaining from the 1949 Scout in the motorcycle that Analog calls “The Continental Scout”.

Absolutely everything else, from the Trackmaster frame, to the one-off aluminum fairing, tank and seat, the paintwork, TZ750 wheels and the quadruple leading shoe racing drums is designed and fabricated by Analog, and bespeaks an artist’s eye. The Continental Scout is a beautiful cohesive whole that is far more aesthetically appealing and far more functional than anything that ever came out of the Wigwam.

 

***

 

I have never owned a MotoGuzzi.

I probably should have.

This is the stated position of several of my motorcycling family and motorcycling friends.

The synopsis of their insistent goadings is that the Guzzi is an elemental mechanical animal, that possesses the same qualities that drew me to my Airheads, only more so. And to be honest, even modern Guzzis seem to have been able to retain that mechanicalness, that analogness, when BMW itself seems to have mostly lost touch with it.

And it never really hit home until my walk through the Barber paddock brought me to the display area of Miami’s MotoStudio.

I’m pretty sure that MotoStudio would prefer for me to tell you how beautiful their Ducati Specials are.

But I won’t.

Even though they are.

I’d been talking to a friend of the shop — a guy from Miami named Sunshine. He told me that the shop’s proprietor and chief designer was a sculptor. Waking up every morning next to an artist and spending my fair share of time with other art school and creatives, the truth of that was right before my eyes.

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I mean, look at the thing.

Good sweet googly moogly, this is a motorcycle that is equal parts NASA, Empty Space, Tron, GM Big Block and Constantin Brancusi, for God’s sake.

Heck, maybe GM Big Block isn’t big enough — maybe more like Pratt and Whitney Radial — but no matter.

This motorcycle took my breath away.

It still does.

If I’d been the guy that hit the big Powerball, I’d have called up the shop and had them send this to my house, straight away.

The lines, shape and proportions of the thing are nothing short of perfect –the carbon fiber bodywork is clearly the work of a sculptor. The custom metal fabrication in the supports for the tank and the tail section aren’t far behind. The selection of road gear — suspension, brakes, wheels and tires — are top of top shelf. The visual presence of the motor and transmission — with its uniform matt aluminum finish — is nothing short of huge.

If my R90S BMW is a 9 or 10 out of 10 motorcycle experience, this motorcycle clearly goes to 11s.

Just looking at the thing its telling me about being leaned all the way in at the apex of a corner, tires scrubbing at their limits, huge power pulses coming through the bars and pegs, and lifting the front tire subtly on the exit as the power peaks coming onto the next straight. It’s unusual for motorcycles to speak to me, but the message of this MotoStudio MotoGuzzi is as clear as a Times Square Billboard.

When I got back from Alabama I was dismayed to find that I’d misplaced the business card that Sunshine had given to me — this is surprising because I’m usually pretty good with such things.

So if you’re out there, Sunshine, check in, man.

Cause even though I didn’t hit the Powerball, next time I’m in South Florida, I want to catch up, and see what else MotoStudio has that might take my breath away.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “The Pits

  1. Wonderful, as always, Greg. Thank you.
    Being a Guzzi fanatic (5), I’ve seen your most recent favorite Café` bike b4; along with many Guzzi’s of the type. Search Ghezzi & Brian, for the modern versions. Moto Guzzi Griso’s are a latter day production version of what seems to please you. Nearly everyone in our local Gaggle (MA), has one or more 30 or 40 year old Guzzi’s including a few singles, plus 7 Griso’s. and 4 Stelvio’s. Ever hear of Dave Roper? Team Obsolete? Dave is the coolest guy to know and ride with. ALL Guzzi people are terrific. I’m glad I found them ~20 years ago, leaving the blue and white Kool Aid behind.Thank you very much for the great stories, Greg.
    Your son is doing well? Has the weather allowed any breaks for motorcycling? This time last year we took on 6 more feet of snow. Yesterday and today I rode. Good fortune, B~

  2. I owned a Guzzi V11S wonderful bike, it ran like a streamlined locomotive on rails. Perfect bike for fast rides on old world technology.
    Only two problems, it was way way to easy to go too fast and get tickets… The Other was Guzzi electrics….. sigh, they could make you cry with frustration and then magically work, then lurk for a while and then reoccur lol.
    There is a person on one of the Guzzi forums who had as his signature “Moto Guzzi, making electricians of motorcyclists for 90 years”

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