Some More Racing, Some More Customs, and The End of It All

Having seen and heard the Brittens run, and having walked through and oogled all of the racing paddock, it was finally time to just kick back, have a brew or two, and just drink it all in and watch some racing.

I left the pit area and went back to my bike.

Parked beside me was a perfect Laverda Jota 1000, whose owner walked up at the same time as I started putting on my gear. Laverda Guy was another local boy, who lived just over the Georgia Line.

“I hope you don’t mind me tarrying, but I’d really love to just hear that triple run.”

My short-time friend just grinned and then obliged me by gearing up and firing up his orange beast.

Start up behavior, with the bike’s three Del’Ortos, was just a variant of the cold blooded, too-large throated start behavior of my own R90s, which will usually stall on a cold start 30 seconds after the chokes are turned off.

Italian carburetors never disappoint.

So after the restart, and after oil flow had smoothed the operation of the top end back out, the big orange bike sat there idling lumpily, though taking blips of throttle with a rapid bark.

I bade him safe journey, and displayed the thumbs-up salute as the Jota rolled two gears worth of moderate throttle, doing just the tiniest bit of Italian Moto Opera.

I’m very glad I took the time to listen.


I rolled the LT around the Barber Perimeter Road, just sightseeing and happy to catch even a little breeze. One of my fellow big bike enthusiasts had told me that Ace Corner ticket holders had a paved parking lot across the road from the entrance, on the grounds of the Barber Racing School. Fellow Enthusiast had been right, and sharing a piece of pavement with a line of dozen track Porsches seemed OK to me, though I can’t vouch for how the Porsches felt about their new wheel-challenged neighbors.

I rambled back into Ace Corner, resolved to chill and try to stop drinking it all in before it drowned me.

I wandered up to the top of the hill, scored a burger and a Naked Pig — a nice pale ale from Gadsden Alabama’s Back Forty Brewing — and found myself a place to sit — in the shade and with a good view of the Carousel and the next two corners of the Track.

There were classes for small displacement singles and twins — close battles that played back the 2-stroke vs 4-stroke holy wars that had consumed two or three decades of motorcycle racing. There were larger displacement twins, which saw great sounding combat between BMW AIrheads, VTwin MotoGuzzis and classic Ducatis, with an occasional Triumph or Yamaha XS650 thrown in.

I thought the guys I was sitting next to were familiar, and they were. They were 5 or 6 members of North Carolina’s Tarheel Travellers BMW Club. They were frequent visitors to my local DC Area Square Route Rally, and this wasn’t our first beer-and-BS-session.

We watched some sidecar racing — which rearranged my mind — and a few more heats, including one for the vintage racing singles — the big booms of the Nortons, Gileras, Velocettes and Matchlesses echoing back from the treeline lining the park.

What really was a long afternoon somehow disappeared like water on a hot exhaust pipe — a moment that seemed like it could stay suspended forever disappearing in an instant.

As the sun settled lower the racing calendar wrapped, and the parade laps marked the end of the day.


I was resolved to hang round Ace Corner for a while — to talk to some people and see some stuff. I knew they had a band coming on later, and I wanted to just enjoy the bikey people and the bikey vibe for as long as I could.

There was yet another bike show coming on, and I spent a little time admiring the talent.


I appreciated this custom /5 Toaster. I have one of these, too, but mine’s not quite so shiny.

Also in the Shiny Category was this custom Norton Commando, a machine that eventually took first prize as the Most Custom Cafe of all the Custom Cafes. With everything but the frame tubes naked polished alloy, I had to agree with the judge’s decision on this one.


Also shiny, but in a completely different way, was Walt Seigl’s MV Agusta Bol D’or.


Walt’s motorcycle looks as finished or more finished than anything Agusta has lately built. A complete testament to their heritage making use of their most modern hardware — the best of their past and the best of their future — another bike that would have me running to the phone to buy one if a space-freighter full of currency were to crash land in my yard.

Agusta would have built this if they only knew how.

Sadly, they don’t, but Walt Seigl does.


Unbeknownst to me, It seemed to be Honda 750/4 Day.

I’ve got a soft spot for the Single Cam myself,  but nice as mine was, it was nowhere this nice.


Or this nice.


Or as nice as this either.


Or even this one.


OK, so this one is only half a CB750, but the judges say it still counts.


Ace Corner was scheduled to rock into the nighttime, but the food vendors had gone.

You could still score Naked Pigs and Truckstop Honeys — more fun from my new friends at Back Forty brewing — but you couldn’t get any food.

Note to organizers — if you’re going to throw an evening long party where alcohol is served — to a large bunch of Bikers, no less, one might consider making sure that some food is available, even if only to serve as buffer for the drink people were likely to be puttin down.

I know my body, and this point wasn’t negotiable.

I started moving about the compound in search of someone who had been in a position to think ahead, and had come prepared for this.

So I do what any hungry man would do.

I followed my nose.

And my nose led me to the Vintage Iron Motorcycle Club.

Like me, the Vintage Motorcycle Club was made up of hungry men and women with old motorcycles. Hungry men and women who had multiple charcoal grills working up high, and were blowing grilled beef and vegetable smoke my way.

I introduced myself in that patently subtle manner that is a trademark.

“Hey, Dude. You in the food business? No? You wanna be?”

After learning a little about The Vintage Iron Club — which is based out of Palm Beach County, Florida — who seem to be really nice folk that share a certain illness of mine — I decided I really liked these folk and their attitude.

One of their party was a chef who normally worked on someone’s private MegaYacht, but was between cruises right now.

These folk were rolling big.

So I made ‘a small contribution’ to The Club, and even bought a few raffle tickets.

The Club, it seemed, was raising money for Charity — The Paley Foundation, who helps children with a certain serious orthopedic illness — and was raffling off this.


Looking at it, all I kept thinking was it would be perfect for Finn.

“He’d look badass on that thing. And it’s just the right bike to learn on.”

The people who like to tell you things will tell you that visualization is the secret to success. That if you can see it you can be it.

I visualized that sweet Honda 350 Scrambler into my garage more times than I’m willing to cop to.

It was in the bag.

That shit don’t work.

Never has.


Anyway, after one of the only burgers I’ve ever eaten that I might be willing to admit might have been at least equal to my own (as well as several salads that were rocking good), I bade my new club brothers and sisters adieu, and found a cold Truckstop Honey and went back to chatting with random folk and seeing what I could see.

A few EZ-Ups to the right of Vintage Iron was an Artist, Makoto Endo, who was exhibiting his motorcycle paintings — which of course bespoke the eye of a moto-master, all Vincents and Nortons and Agustas and Kenny’s TZ, oh my. Makoto was also taking commissions on the spot and doing portraits of motorcycles that were presented.


I spent some time watching him working on a painting of this nice /6 BMW with it matching Steib sidecar. From what I could see, Makoto could rightly claim equal parts of inspiration from Japanese calligraphic techniques and from the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. This kind of painting is active, athletic.

Painting isn’t usually a spectator sport, but for Makoto at Barber, it certainly was.


So we talked some more. Then we rocked some more.


And had another Truckstop Honey, and talked and gawked some more.


At a certain point, I kind of put my hands on my hips, leaned back a little, and drew a long deep breath.

“Man, I just can’t believe the things I’ve seen.”




The previous section of The Barber Tales can be read here. The story continues here.


The Promised Land — Part 6

I am a child of the 70s.

And if there was a better time to be coming to motorcycling I can’t think when that was.

Sure, there’s propably a case to be made for the present, but the motorcycle arms race of the 1970s demonstrated a grander sweep of possible solutions — motors, chassis, suspension and braking — and a pace of sustained advancements that I think dramatically outpaces the electronics-led improvements of present day street motorcycles.

Now not all of those ideas were keepers — ‘They can’t all be zingers…’ — Is there anyone in the house that really misses their Kawaski Mach IV?

Show of hands?

“Not you, Rick…”

Ok. Except for that guy, no-one.

But think about it.

Honda changes everything that anyone at the time thought they knew about motorcycles by introducing an overhead cam, in-line transversely mounted 4 cylinder motorcycle. This is a configuration that comes straight from Italian Exotics — Gilera, MV Agusta — and Honda’s own Grand Prix Racing Motorcycles.


This shit be straight from outer space, Jackson, and one day it shows up at your dealer for $1495.

They were not absolutely perfect motorcycles, but they were damn close. Honda took the high output per displacement which they got from high rpms, and added displacement to that.

The front brake calipers — this was the first production use of a motorcycle disk brake — needed rebuilding a bit more often than later designs. The cam chain adjuster mechanism was definitely a Version 1.0, as Dick Mann discovered with his CR750 when it lasted 201.5 miles in a 200 mile Daytona race. The dual ignition points setup was just-fiddely-average for the day and was much improved by aftermarket Electronic Ignition upgrades.

But all that aside, it was smooth, and powerful and felt like the hand of the gods in the small of your back when one rolled on the throttle. My CB got over 70 mpg at 72 mph, and could do it for as long as I felt like doing it, or slightly longer.

The early examples of the CB, like this example, had sandcast, rather than die cast engine cases.

Honda wasn’t sure this “750 Dream Thing” was actually going to catch on, so they hedged their bets by not investing in the die development costs for the cases. They built the first few bikes with the low volume, labor intensive sand casting process, so if the bike sank without a bubble in the market, the company wouldn’t be out the tooling costs.

They needn’t have worried.

The power, ecomomy and comfort of the CB750 changed the perspective and frame of reference of the entire two wheeled universe.


Having seen what a Daytona 200 win in 1970 had helped Honda do in the marketplace with the CB 750, they guys over at Ducati figgured they could use some of that stuff, too.

A crash devlopment program created the original beast of a 750cc desmo valved motor. The factory brought in English racing chassis whiz Colin Seely who wrapped the beast in the bare minimum of steel required to fling it down he road and keep the wheels pointed and carving when it went around corners.

Which it did.

The Ducati men took their 750 SuperSport to Imola, where the open layout helped them run flat out to finish 1-2.

And the success of that model helped them birth the 750 SS supersport model, and later the 900 SS model, which was intended to be more of a sports tourer.






Further racing success in the hands of racing hero Mike Hailwood at the Isle of Man resulted in another race replica, the Mike Hailwood Replica.



The tracks of that first 750 SS motorcycle, with its large displacement desmo twin, and forward weight distribution, are visible still as Ducati’s motorcycle architeture to the present day. Going around corners better than the fours put Ducati on the map and helped to keep them there.




You will start to notice a pattern, here.

Yes you will.

Somewhere in Berlin, yet another Motorcycle Company Executive decided they needed to do some Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday thaang.

Only that motorcycle company was BMW, who hadn’t really been a force in roadracing, well, ever, really.

They had their US Importer, Butler and Smith, work with Rob North to build with a one off Formula 750 racer as a test mule, to see if on-paper torque and steering stability would translate to the reality of the track.


It did.

Reassured, the Factory designed and built the R90S, and went back to the track.

And, as every BMW nutjob knows, in the hands of Steve McLaughlin and Reg Pridmore, the R90Ss finished 1-2 at Daytona, and came back to the marketplace as the Missile Du Jour.




The R90S may not have had the horsepower of its rivals, but could get every pony to the ground, and held that speed through corners.

There are still people who will swear it is the best motorcycle BMW has ever made.




As we have previously said, not every idea about going faster is of equal quality.

Have you seen the old Saturday Night Live routine about the Blue Oyster Cult recording “Don’t Fear the Reaper?” — “More Cowbell?”.

Friedl Münch was a motorcycle designer for whom “More Motor” was “More Cowbell”. No matter how much of it there was, it still wasn’t enough.

Didn’t matter that, perhaps, there wasn’t enough brakes, frame or strong enough wheels in the world to deal with it, if Friedl could lay hands on more motor, he would build a motorcycle out of it. And it maybe doesn’t rise to the overall level of silliness of the modern Boss Hogg motorcycles that come with Chevy 350 truck engines, but using an NSU Prinz automobile engine was still pretty silly.


The Munch Mammoth, just like the Wooly Mammoth, proved to be a dead end on the tree of motorcycle evolution.




In go-fast tech, Kawasaki, and to a lesser extent, Yamaha, tried amped-up street two stokes.

And while they were fun, a combination of factors — wicked peaky, wheely-prone, high-siding powerbands, motors that were prone to full throttle seizures (fun! Right, Deryle? Right Bud?) , and eventually environmental regulations made the Machs and YZs as extinct as the Mammoth.




Once one has started to max out output options for internal combustion powerplants, there are a very limited number of ways left to still faster. Either make more RPMs, or make more mixture move through the engine through better intake and exhaust breathing. Predictably, the Honda men were willing to try both.

Honda’s racing motorcycles adopted V4 motors, which they incrementally developed to new heights. In F1 and Endurance Racing, the VFRs, with their state of the art frame and suspension, and mass centralized drivedrain, had considerable success. The handbuilts that came out of Honda Racing Corporation had gear driven cams, rocket science headwork and tuned exhausts that would allow the engine to scream all day long around 10,000 rpms.

The, going back to their favorite page from the Honda playbook, just as they had done with the 750/4, they took Freddie Spencer’s racebike, and they brought a series production version of it to the street – essentially homologating their best racebike as a production machine.



DSCN2519The Honda Men just love this play, it should be noted. They’ve just done it again, with their RC213V.

People in production classes who didn’t have one said manifold bad words.

For its brief shining moment, that VFR was the fastest production motorcycle ever made. I was a very new rider when they were introduced, and the thing came off as pure rocketship racetrack refugee — clearcoated magnesium cases, perimeter frame, monoshock rear, four active piston brakes — that sound it made from the valvetrain on the gas.

Might seem cute, now, but there was nothing like it at any other dealer, then.

To my young eyes the VF1000R had a halo and floated a full foot off the paved ground.

I might have personally lost a little ground clearence and picked up a little patina, but the VF hasn’t changed a bit.




If the VFR was Honda’s RPM play, then the NR750 was the breathing play.

Honda has always felt that their engineering skill could enable the 4 stroke powerplant to win any contest of speed.

Motorcycles like the 250/6 GP bike proved that, in 4 stroke engines, getting the most valve area per engine displacement would always produce more power, and one’s valve area was linked to number of cylinders. So if we assume any set number of valves per cylinder, then for a fixed displacement, a four will always make more power than a twin, a six more than a four, an eight cylinder more than a six, and so on.

Ergo, to go fast, you need more valves. To get more vavles, and their combustable mixture moving area, you need more cylinders.

Or do you?

Grand Prix racing regulations had evolved to limit cylinders in GP Bikes to no more than 4.

For a good bit of the 1970s, the GP world was ruled by 2 stroke power, that had an advantage in power per displacement.

Engineers at HRC felt that beating the 2 strokes was an engineering problem that they absolutely would solve.

There was no doubt.

The moment of illumination came when one of the engineers realized that what was limiting the number and area of valves per engine cylinder wasn’t the size of the cylinder.

It was the shape of the cylinder.

The easiest way to make a piston and cylinder that can seal the force of combustion gases is to made them round.

But it ain’t the only way.



By making the cylinder and piston pair a long oval, a 187cc race engine cylinder that formerly could accomodate 4 valves, could now accomodate 8.

Sure, you’d need to make a few other small adjustments, but that was not a big deal.

You’d need to use 2 connecting rods per piston so the whole mess wouldn’t twist in its bore.

And you might have a few problems with getting piston rings that were round in some places and flat in other places to do the things that piston rings need to do, like seal and sit flat in the piston lands without fluttering or twisting.

But no big deal.

Despite the Honda Men’s confidence, it was a big deal.

The engine would go through 3 major design revisions before it achieved competitive levels of output and reliability, but despite some highly visible and embarrasing public failures, it eventually did, winning a 500 mile GP in Japan at Suzuka.

And once again, having created something truly unique and bordering on the magical, Honda Racing Corporation made another RC series model available for the street.


Their pride at the effort required to make this thing work could not be contained,





The thing was the Honda NR, signifying New Racing, and it carried the oval piston 8 valve engine and all of the other structure and handling magic they could throw at the thing. At $50,000 1992 dollars, there weren’t a lot of qualified customers, but there were some.




The Honda NR engine was essentially a V8 that racing rules had forced to be packaged as if it was a V4.

Of course, absent racing rules, if you really want a V8, you just make one.

Giancarlo Morbidelli wanted a V8, so he made one.

The Morbidelli Company was a company whose primary business was the sale of woodworking machine tools.

But after work, in a back room, Giancarlo and three of his mates built really fast motorcycles, and then took them racing.

No one had told them that it was impossible that four Italian guys in some back room could beat the men from Honda, and Yamaha, and MV Agusta.

And since no one had told them, they didn’t know, and promptly went out and did just that.

Morbidelli Racing motorcycles won 4 World Championships, and demonstrated creative design thinking and precision machining that made them successful on the track.





The Morbidelli 750 GP bike, for example, was an aluminum monoquoque structure, designed to achive unparalleled lightness and rigidity.

After leaving racing, Giancarlo wanted to achieve something that would eclipse all the other motorcycles of Italy — Ducati and MotoGuzzi. He wanted a motorcycle that that was faster, smoother and more comfortable — truly a refined rocket for men of wealth and taste.

And the V8 was the way.





The 850 cc, 32 valve DOHC V8 made use of the Morbidelli Company’s exqusite skill in precision machining, as seen in their woodworking machinery. The engine and its internals were as nice as any swiss watch.

They had to redo an inital body design approach that reminded people of Star Wars droids, and not in a good way.

Version 2.0 was much better, with flowing lines, and, befitting a woodworking company, had a nice walnut dashboard.




Looking at it, it struck me as if someone had taken the motor out of my K Bike, made it much smaller, and then put two of them back in the motorcycle. Only the overall finish of the Morbidelli was much better than mine — thin, even seams, even alloy cases, deep chrome, great paint.

At $60,000, the market was minscule, and the line was shut down after building just three examples.

It prolly felt just like sex on the gas, but it became another example of art and commerce not wanting to be on the dancefloor at the same time.





The previous section of The Barber Tales can be read here. The story continues here.

Paul Gets Oiled


Everybody has got to start somewhere.

And usually, if you’re living in America, and you are getting your start as a motorcyclist, odds are that start involves some form of slightly beat, slightly old Japanese motorcycle that nobody else wanted.

If your experience was somehow less humble than that, well good on ya, mate — kiss your keys and thank the fates but that’s how mine was.

That’s how my buddy Paul’s was, too.

Of course it bears mention that when I came to my CB750 I was 22.

When Paul came to his I’m thinking it was about 30 years or so later than that.

But no matter.

I’d been riding for close to those 30 years when Paul asked me for a favor.

“Maaan. Dave has been overseas for close to 2 years. He stored this old Honda in my garage.”

“I’ve been riding it.”

“I’ve been riding motorcycles off and on since I was in High School, but I never got a motorcycle license.”

“I figure its time to get legal.”

“There’s a special ‘amnesty’ accelerated Rider Course and Road Test program up at the DMV Saturday — could you ride Dave’s Honda up there and sign me in to certify I didn’t drive the bike to the test?”

I told Paul I’d be happy to.


The appointed Saturday arrived — a perfect clear and cool early summer morning — and Paul showed up in my driveway with The CB.

My old CB had been one of the early 70s Single Cam models — you know, one of the ones that only an idiot would have sold?

Let’s not talk about what happened to mine.

Dave’s machine looked to be about a 79 — a twin cam, but still recognizable in every way, from the slab sided tank, to the saddle with a grab strap, to the twin instrument pod, to the four into four exhaust.

I tossed Paul the keys to my pickup.

I fastened my helmet and gloves on, swung a leg over, and then callendar pages flew around my head in an invisible wind, and it was somehow 1982 again. It was magically as if I had never gotten off of my old CB.

I swear my hair felt longer.

On the 10 miles of highway headed up to the DMV everything was instantly familiar.

Kinda floaty and indistinct suspension. Really small, low effort control inputs including clutch and gearshift activation Smooth, revvy engine with just a hint of chainsaw buzz in the bars and exhaust note.

The DMV came up faster than usual, and the minute I hit the killswitch and the sidestand time telescoped forward back to 2012.

Paul and I fived and then swapped keys.

I gave a look back over my shoulder at the CB as Paul went inside to do the paperwork and classroom work, then I walked back to my truck and drove slowly home.


At about 4:30 that afternoon, I heard the sound of the CB’s 4 shutting off in the end of my driveway.

I walked outside to see Paul removing his helmet and pulling a six back out of the carrier fitted to the bike’s luggage rack.

“Did you get the paper?”


In fact of 22 guys in the class, Paul was the only one who had gotten the paper.

He was more than a little pleased with himself.

Hence the enjoyment of the beers that followed.


During said enjoyment we spent some time wandering through my garage.

We came up to my old /5, which was dusty, and dirty, and punctuated by oil.


“Damn, these things are so cool.”

It might have been that beer talking, but it seems Paul had seen the light.

“Look, man. Put some miles on, now that you’re legal, and when you feel comfortable, come take it for a ride.”

That motorcycle had changed my way of thinking once. Least I could do was pass it on.

Paul didn’t need me to tell him to put some miles on. Everywhere I went in the county over the next month I saw Paul twisting throttle and leading with his chin obliquely into the wind.

He looked like he was having fun.

A coupla Satudays later, I heard that sound of a Honda 4 shutting off, and headed outside again.

“Wanna ride your bike, Maaaan.”

“Cool. I’ll grab the key.”


Now a /5 ignition key is a bit of a visual shock if you’ve never seen one before.

I got Paul in the saddle, inserted said key and and talked him through the controls.

Lights, indicators, horn.

I told him about the dry clutch, and that was it.

“Take a real ride, man. Don’t feel you have to come back till you want to. Enjoy!”

And with that lovely little boxer twin blaat, Paul was off.


I’ve had the /5 since I was 22.

I’d be lying if I stated I was not concerned in any way.

You know what I’m talking about.

But I got myself preoccupied with something else, and some time went by.


I was sitting out on the front porch when Paul pulled the /5 back into the driveway.

Something about him looked…


It took a few minutes for my brain to slowly model the truth out of large random group of possibilities.

Pauls left leg, and Paul’s left sneaker looked, well, dark. Very dark.

Kind of an oily black.

The dry clutch of my brain finally bit as I saw the left exhaust pipe visibly smoking and the darkening of a fair amount of oil down the whole left side of the bike.

“Whooooooooah!” came out of Paul and soon as Paul came out of the helmet.

“I’m smokin! What happened?”

You can’t tell people everything, cause one has to edit for length.

When one bolts a high compression 900 cc top end on to a crankcase whose breathing system couldn’t really keep up with anything over 650, you’re going to notice some things over time. One of those things that will happen is that the dipstick handle on the left side of the motor will be vibrated loose.

You’ll be riding along, and you’ll hear something that sounds like a tiny little bell.

The ringing sound translates directly to the dipstick vibrating in the case as it begins the process of backing out.

If you look down behind your left knee to see this, one just reaches down, tightens it back up and then it doesn’t do it again for weeks, or months, or whatever.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination of course, to figure out how I came by this valuable piece of knowledge.

Problem was, I hadn’t told Paul.

We got him kinda hosed off, provided some loaner pants, and determined that there was enough oil left in the /5’s crankcase that the total downside consisted of the need to move up the /5’s one a decade wash time.

I apologised profusely, Paul Hondaed off, and I’ll admit I didn’t think very much more about it.


One could be forgiven for thinking that this narrative consists of some boring bits connecting these peak experience moments of truth and clarity that always take place in the presence of beer.

It is not your imagination.

Anyway, flash cut more than 2 years later to the grounds of Frederick’s Flying Dog brewery. They’re having a party with J. Roddy Walston and the Business, a band that bused two buses worth of fans out from Baltimore. There’s about 18 different draft beers, 7 food trucks and me and Doris, and Paul and his lady Beth.

We are having a good time.

In fact, never have a seen so many people in the presense of so much beer have such an unfailingly positive vibe kinda experience.

Everybody was on their best behavior.

At one point the talk turned to bikes, and Paul waved his beer at me.

“That time I took your bike….That was frickin’ awesome. After coming off that Honda it just felt so small, and simple, and like it was just made outta one piece of metal. It just tracked.”

“I connected immediately.”

“At a certain point, it started getting a little loose on the gas, but it was soooooo controllable. I just thought it was just part of the experience.”

“Until I didn’t”.

“Cost me a nice pair of jeans and a pair of sneakers, too. Had to throw em out.”

“After I took that ride, I had to get off that Honda.”

“I went right out afterward and bought my Bonneville.”

“I had to. You Bastard.”


I’m really sorry about that, Paul. It did it to me, too

Guess I didn’t tell you about that, either.