Saturday, September 15, 2012

From the Motorcyclepedia Museum and the start of the 2012 Cannonball, I continued north on the NYS Thruway to Montreal.  Skirting the southwest side of Montreal, I arrived at Autodrome St. Eustache around 5:30pm, for the VRRA's Quebec GP.  The road course incorporates part of the 0.4mi. stock car oval and 1/8 mile dragstrip and, after setting up my pit, I watched some drag racing, exclusively cars.  Despite have drag and stock car races in the evening, there is a quite stringent noise limit for the road racing during the day.  I ran afoul of this last year when I took my 250 Aermacchi there, and was only barely allowed to run after doing much work to improvise baffles.  With my 250 motor still apart, I didn't think there was any chance I could make my 350 quiet enough and was dubious about the Dondolino.  So, I contacted a local who I had befriended last year (Doog), and ask him if he knew anyone who had a quiet enough bike that might want me to bring glory to it.  Doog put me in touch with Rene Girard, who offered a '86 RZ350 Yamaha.
Doog with the 1938 NSU 500 he had just bought
an impressive OHC motor

This is a bike that Rene bought new in '86, rode a couple of days on the street to break it in, then started racing it.  He raced it for several years but, when his twin daughters were born (both motocrossers now), he put the racing aside for a while and his brother Claude took the bike over and put it back on the street.  After a couple of years, Claude got the racing itch and put it back to race trim.
Joe Bar Team '86 RZ350
Since then, Rene got back into racing with an RS 125 Honda and Claude moved up to a VFR 750 Honda, and the RZ became back-up.  It hadn't raced in over a year so Rene put new tires on it: Heidenau from Germany.  I had heard good things about the Heidenaus as an inexpensive alternative to the near ubiquitous Avons and Dunlops one sees in vintage racing, and was very curious to try them.
Practice went well Sat. am.  The Dondolino still had the high rpm misfire that had started at Mosport, despite cleaning the slipring and changing the carbon pick-up in the magneto, but seemed to be happy with short shifting.

Vickie Fournier Photo
 I took it easy on the Yamaha in the first practice scrubbing in the new tires and getting the feel of it, but by the second practice, I was comfortable wicking it up.
Vickie Fournier photo
  It had rained over night and the track was damp in the first round of practice, but totally dry for my heat races which were the first two of the day.
Vickie Fournier photo

Vickie Fournier photo

Once again, I was the only Pre-50 entry and I was gridded behind P-1 Open and P-1 350.  There were 17 entries overall and I ended up 7th behind 3 Open and 3 350 bikes.

Vickie Fournier photo
The RZ350 runs in P-4 F-3, i.e. the 'smallest' division of P-4.  There were 24 entries and I ended up 10th, and my fastest lap was 6th fastest.  I felt in pretty good shape for the finals the next day.
Vickie Fournier Photo
That evening, when Eric Pritchard and I were deciding what we were going to do about dinner, someone walked by with a platter full of burgers and announced free food.  Apparently, a contest had been organized to see who could make the best burgers and, after the judges had their fill, the rest were up for grabs and there were more than enough for all who wanted them. It was a very congenial evening with good conversation with old and new friends.
Sun. morning, I went to start the Dondolino and it popped a couple of times, then nothing.  We tried pushing it a couple of times, but nothing.   I put it on some starting rollers, but nothing; no spark.  I took the RZ out in the fast practice and it was working great. Rene tells me the motor is stock except for the reed valves and the exhaust pipes and the chassis is stock except for an Ohlins rear shock.  I was well impressed by the Heidenau tires and the gearing was perfect, shifting up just under 10,000 rpm.
I futzed with the Dondo magneto cleaning and setting the points and checking the timing, but still no spark.  I went out again on the RZ, and on the 3rd lap, accidentally downshifted twice instead of once going into turn #1, and revved the engine really high.  After that, it went flat and I pull off at the end of the lap.  It wasn't firing on the right side and when Rene pulled the sparkplug, we found it bridged with a ball of something.  But, the ball seemed to be just carbon, as it just crumbled.  We put the plug back in, and it fired on both sides, but was backfiring on the right.  So, Rene put in a new plug:  same thing, backfiring on the right.  Then suddenly, it wouldn't fire at all: no spark on either side.  As my race was the first of the day, all we had time for was to try a different coil, but it made no difference.  My theory is that when I over revved it, the ignition rotor may have come apart.
So, the Spark Gods abandoned me Sunday and I didn't get to start either race.  Some days are like that and it always could be worse.
Rene and Claude are part of Joe Bar Team, named after a French motorcycle cartoon similar to the British Ogri.  In addition to Rene and Claude is their young niece Vickie, races a European market NSR 250 street bike(Vtwin, two stroke), and a couple of other fellows with a RS 125 and an FZR 400.  Joe Bar team is a wonderful crowd with a great sense of humor, as evidenced by the fuel tank on the RZ.
I packed up early and went to say goodbye to Joe Bar Team just as Claude and Vickie were going out for the P-4 F-1 race, Claude bumping up from F-2 and Vickie from F-3.  So, I went up in the grandstands with Rene and his wife and the remainder of Joe Bar Team.  Claude got a good start but, this being the fastest class, started losing ground.  Vickie however, was gaining ground and, as the race wound down, one had to wonder if she could catch Claude.  Sure enough, she pulled along side him in the last corner and got the better drive, just pipping Claude at the line, much to the delight of the rest of Joe Bar Team.
Last year, having not been to Quebec for several years, I was impressed with how well the Francophones and Anglophones seem to get along.  This year, having heard of the narrow victory of the separatist party and the subsequent shooting by the disgruntled Anglophone just before I left for Quebec, I wondered if the atmosphere would be more tense.  Not at all, at least in the racing community.  On the contrary, if anything the atmosphere was more friendly and co-operative and I had a great time despite the disappointment of not racing Sunday.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thus. 6 Sept., I drove to Greenwich, Ct. and picked up Carlos Escudero at his shop, Solo Moto, and we drove to Newburg, N.Y. to the base hotel of the 2012 Cannonball run,  a ride from there to San Francisco over 16 days for pre 1930 motorcycles.  Carlos had been hired by one of the participants to be part of his support crew.  When we got there, they were just finishing up replacing a tappet and pushrod that broke.  I cruised the lot and smoozed with several competitors I knew.  I had race with Norm Nelson many times back in the '90s and now he was riding a 1929 R11 BMW 750 flathead with a team based in Jacksonville, Fl.  There were two other BMWs entered: a 1928 R52 and '28 R62.

I also race with Art Farley regularly.  Art is from Michigan and was doing the Cannonball on a '28 Harley. 

Also Harley mounted is Buzz Kanter, who I often see at Moto Giros.  Paul d'Oleans, who I know through the Velocette Owners Club of N.A. and his Vintagent blog, was on the only OHC machine, a '28 KTT Velo.

 Joe Gardella had an extra ticket to the official kick-off dinner which he gave me and all he ask in return was to take a 'tour' of his 1914 Harley.  This is the same bike he rode on the first Cannonball in 2010, when machines were limited  to 1916.  His internal mods were extensive, but externally the only mods were a later fork and a front brake.  These are considered safety modifications and are allowed and even encouraged.  I chatted with a fellow who brought his Harley from his native South Africa, and he had cleverly attached a disc brake rotor to the spokes, rather than the hub, of his front wheel.

 I wondered if that would put undue stress on the spokes, but he said he had done 400miles of shake down and was quite confident in it.  But, there were quite a number with no front brakes, as original; brave.
Carlos and I returned to his house in Greenwich for the night with the intention of getting up early and making it back to Newburg by 7 am for the start.  But, when we got to his house, he got a text message from his rider saying the bike had seized and they were coming to Greenwich to work on it.  So, Fri. morning, I drove back to Newburg to the Motorcyclepedia Museum for the start.  There was quite a big crowd of fans and well wishers, some who came on interesting bikes themselves, like this 1930 Scott 2 speed.

And a Hesketh.

It was a truly wonderful scene as the rider took off through the crowd into the street amid much cheering and applause.  Some of the bikes looked dubious to make it out of town, let alone 3800 miles to S.F.

You can follow the Cannonball's progress at:
After the participants had left, I went into the museum to check out the new exhibit of Japanese M/Cs of the '60s and '70's and the new acquisition of a replica of Sylvester Ropers first steam cycle, the 1867 'boneshaker'. 

This was made by William Eggers of Goshen, Ct. and someone told me he might be at the museum as they had seen him the day before at the base hotel.  I call him, but he was home 'up to his elbows in mud and grease working on his tractor', but he invited me to visit sometime.
Larry Lawrence has posted a picture of me at the 1990 WERA GNF on his blog the Rider Files. As I commented, the bike is a BSA B-50 that belonged to my friend, the inimitable Dick Miles, and the legendary Dr. John Wittner had previously 'laid hands' on it.  I stated that it came with Dunlop K81 tires, which Jim Allen, Dunlop's race tire chief at the time, told me were at least 20 years old.  Upon reflection, that seems like it must be an exaggeration, as twenty years previous to 1990 was before the B-50 went on sale.  But, in any case they were old, and I learned that while they maybe hard, they're not unpredictable.  So, as with any tire, sneak up on them and find where the limit is.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

After getting back from Ca. at 11:07pm Wed. night, I left for the Salt Lake City at 7:15pm Thus. to compete in the AHRMA 'Bonneville Vintage GP' at Miller Motorsports Park.  I was to ride the same two bikes I rode at Portland three weeks earlier: Gary Roper's '51 Velocette MAC and Mike Bungay's '72 H-D Sprint.  You'll recall that the Velo dropped it's intake valve seat almost immediately at PIR and Gary worked non-stop to get the head repaired, the cylinder bored for a 0.040" over Triumph piston (which has a different wrist pin diameter, so the small end bush had to be re-sized), and get everything back together and tested.  But, his trouble didn't end there.  On the way to Miller, his van died outside Winnemucca, Nv.  Gary and his wife had planned to go to a BSA rally in Ca. after Miller, so he had his BSA A-10 with him.  He pulled this out of the van and rode it back to Winnemucca to get a tow back to town.  They checked into a motel and called their son back in Medford, Or.. and asked him to drive their pick-up to Winnemucca so the pile could be transferred from the van.  They waited for him to arrive, not knowing he was calling the motel repeatedly, but the desk wasn't picking up.  Hours later, he finally got through to tell them he couldn't find the key to the pick-up and wasn't coming.  The U-Haul dealer in Winnemucca didn't have a truck, so Gary had to ride the A-10 two hours on the interstate to Elko, pick up a truck, return to Winnemucca and transfer the pile.  They arrived at Miller about 5 am Sat. morn.
Gary Roper's 1951 Velocette MAC
In the mean time, I got in a couple of practice sessions on Mike's Sprint, and it seemed that the 'ignition' problem we had at Portland was a fuel flow problem after all and was now cured.  We did gear down once and decided we had to gear down again.  That evening, we picked up Mike's son Brennen and his motor guru, Karl Engellenner, at the airport.
Mike Bungay's 350 H-D Sprint
Sat. morning, both the Velo and Sprint worked well in practice.  There were only three Class 'C' entries.  In addition to me on the Velo, was Fred Mork on his rigid 500cc OHC pre-war Norton. and Ryan Ambrose on Big D's rigid 500 pre-unit Triumph twin.  They gridded us behind the CB160 class, which had a LeMans start.  After these riders ran across the track and bump started their bikes, we were flagged off.  Ryan quickly disappeared and I pulled well clear of Mork.  The game then became how many 160s could we pass before the end of the 6 lap race.  In my case, it was nine and in Ryan's case it was 21, only failing to catch former Word Speedway Champion, Billy Hamill.
Tom Marquardt's 492cc Honda four, a Formula 500 class bike
There was a bit of a gap until my 350gp race, so I got a chance to check out 'Motorcycle Classics' concours.  Pre-unit BSA twins seemed to be most plentiful, but I think my favorite was Fred Mork's unrestored Excelsior.
Fred Mork's Excelsior
A 250cc Norton Jubilee, the smallest Norton ever made
An Egli Vincent
A BSA B-50 powered streamliner that had just set a record at Bonneville

After seeing the lap times from the 250gp race, where Paul Germain finished a very close 2nd on his extremely well developed DT-1 roadracer. I knew I had my hands full, as Paul was 'bumping up' to the 350gp class.  Paul got the jump on me at the start and I followed him the first lap.  I managed to get by him on the 2nd lap but, about half way through the lap, my motor cut out and my race was over.  I suspected the same ignition problem we had at PIR had reoccured but, in fact, it was a different ignition
problem: the set screws on the rotor of the Dyna 'S' system had backed out and the rotor had shifted, going out of time.  The set screws were red Locitited and the rotor retimed, and we were ready to try it again the next day.
The bike ran well in the 1st Sun. practice, but I was getting some chatter.  It seemed like the front, but I decided it could be originating with the slightly out of round rear tire, so we switched the rear wheel to one that had a used, but good, tire.  I just did 3 laps on the Velo as it seemed good, then went out again on the Sprint.  On the 2nd lap, the motor cut out again.  This time, the rotor hadn't shifted and it wasn't clear what the problem was other than that it was ignition.  So we installed a self generating electronic magneto that we had used on the bike previously.  This had been replaced by the Dyna 'S' because the new analog tach we had installed, to replace the digital one I found hard to read, wouldn't work with the original ignition.  So we left the Dyna ignition on with a sparkplug grounded to the frame, just to work the tach.
The Aermacchi naked, before the stator for the electronic magneto was installed
The Jim Belland frame.  N.B. the coil for the magneto
A good view of the Belland frame and here you see the magneto stator

Sunday's Class 'C' race was pretty much a repeat of Saturday's, except this time Ryan caught and passed Billy Hamill for the overall win.  I passed a dozen 160s for 11th overall.
In Sunday's 250gp, which Paul Germain won, his fastest lap was three seconds faster than I had gone all weekend.  I had to step it up.  Again, Paul got the jump on me at the start of Sunday's 350gp, but I got by him on the first lap.  He came back by me on the 2nd lap and I got back by him on the 3rd.  Concentrate.  I was starting to get a bit tired, but beat him to the line by less than 3/4 of a second.   It was a satisfying finish to a weekend of challenges, and especially gratifying to Mike and Karl, who had worked so hard.
But, my admiration for Paul increases, as he does it alll himself, from building and develpping a superb 250 that runs with the 350's, to riding to the limit, to driving himself from Winnipeg, Manitoba to and from the races.

Monday, September 3, 2012

After making my reservations to fly Thurs. 30 Aug. to Salt Lake City to race at the AHRMA event at Miller M/S Park, I was asked at the last minute to fly to SoCal to assist Thad Wolff when he rode a Matchless G-50 CSR at a dirt oval in Simi Valley for a Motorcyclist Magazine photo shoot.  It sounded all too much and unnecessary, and I suggested alternatives but, in the end, knuckled under.  I tried to change my reservation so I would fly to SLC from L.A. rather than NYC, but found that that's not so straight forward these days.  After spending more than two hours on the phone, much of it on hold with 'customer service' in India I found every sensible option was denied by arbitrary airline rules, and I gave up.  The next day, it was suggested that I could fly to Ca. and back, then fly to SLC on my original reservation.  I resisted this, but in the end caved in.
So Sunday I went to the annual bike show at Works Engineering in Williamsburg.  This year's was bigger than ever and, in addition to seeing a lot of very nice bikes,  I got to catch up with a  bunch of friends.  
Mon. morning, I was supposed to fly to Burbank, via SLC ironically, but my flight out of JFK was delayed and I missed my connection in in SLC and was put on a flight to LAX.  Thad was able to pick me up there at the height of rush hour, and our trip north and west to his house in Newbury Park wasn't too bad because an accident south of LAX reduced the traffic for us.
The bike that was the subject of the test and photo shoot, is a '62 Matchless G-50 CSR.  This is one of 25 made as a homologation special to enable the G-50 to be raced in the AMA GNC.  This particular bike was raced in TTs by Cal Rayborn, as an amateur before he had become famous.  I was involved in restoring the bike at Team Obsolete and it was felt that someone familiar with the bike should support Thad to make sure every thing went alright. 
Thad had everything well under control, but was a little concerned by a low RPM stumble/hesitation.  This he had largely overcome by fiddling with the pilot screw, but the 'matchbox' float was pissing gas out at certain rpms and we spent Tues. morning futzing with the float bowl, never completely curing it.
In the afternoon, we took the bike to a small private oval in Simi Valley, opposite the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.  The track was superbly groomed by Thad's friend Randy Marsh, an ex-Speedway racer of some note.  A photographer and videographer set up and, after doing many static and detailed shots, photographed Thad doing laps, crossing it up and roosting  dirt.  Gill Vallincourt and his wife, of Works Performance Shocks, who live about 5 miles away, stopped by to smooze.  It all went fine and the photographer was happy with the shoot.
Wed., we left well early for the airport in Burbank and Thad took me first to Gary Swan's house, home of Toad Town Racing.  Thad wanted to visit Skip Van Leeuwen as Don Emde had told Thad that Skip was one of the established Experts who would have been competing at El Cajon when Rayborn was riding this bike as an Amatuer, along with Eddie Mulder, Dick Hammer, Dusty Coppage, and others.  This worked out well, as Gary needed a battery picked up at Skip Van Leeuwen  Enterprises.  Skip had no memory of Rayborn riding the Matchless' which is not surprising as it was 60 years ago and Rayborn was just getting started.  Skip gave Thad the phone number of Dick Hammer and another racer who might remember something of Rayborn and the Matchless, and we went on to Burbank.
There we stopped at Jay Leno's garage and Bernard Jhutli gave us a quick tour of the motor cycles before we had to drive around the block to drop me off at the airport.  It was a somewhat frenetic trip, but Thad and his wife Jodie made in more than bearable by being great hosts.  
My latest read was Ken Sprayson's autobiography "The Frame Man"(Panther Publishing Ltd.), which just came out this year.  Ken was famous to me for building many roadracing frames for some of the greats and for providing a welding repair service at the TT races on the I.O.M.  I had the pleasure of meeting him there when he had a shop set up in a maintenance shed in Nobles Park, just outside the paddock.  But, I had no idea of his wide ranging interest and accomplishments until I read this book.
Ken followed his father and grandfather in the metal trades and includes in the book a copy of his grandfather's membership card in the Amalgamated Society of Engineers from 1878.  Ken grew up in Birmingham and relates his school days where he resisted the academic path.  Born in 1927, he was 13 when Birmingham was being bombed nightly.  He was in the Boys Brigade and, after the nearly nightly air raids, he would bicycle 12 miles to Hospital to get the casualty lists at 7am and bring them to a central office in the City Center, where others would distribute the lists to various police stations so people could check on the fate of their loved ones, negotiating the craters and bombed out buildings in the dark.

Despite  qualifying for exams, Sprayson left school at 14 and started working for a sheetmetal company making components for aircraft.  He relates a story of one of the old-timers observing him work and asking him "who taught you how to file like that?"  He hadn't been 'taught'  by anyone; it just came naturally to him.  It was a different time and he writes of spending a day cutting a 10" X 1" piece of steel with a hacksaw.  "And so I learn that wonderful things could be done with the simplest of tool, something that stood me in good stead in future years."
Ken was called up for National Service just as the war ended and never left Britain.  When he got out of the Army, he got a job with Reynolds Tube, maker of the famous '531' tubing. He worked in the Welded Assembly Dept., which took on one off projects as well as production work. One of Ken's jobs was to make the first example of a production run and this included the Norton 'featherbed' frame which Reynolds had a contract to produce for Norton.  There he got involved in a number of M/C projects, from the mundane fabricating and testing a moped frame, to making one off road racing frames for the likes of Geoff Duke, John Surtees, Arthur Wheeler, and Mike Hailwood.  Initially, he bought a bike, an ex-WD 350 Ariel,  merely for transport.  He eventually took a couple of holidays on the Continent, two up with his wife and luggage.  I find it amusing that now-a-days few would consider doing any touring on a bike smaller than 1000cc by themselves, armed with credit cards, cell phones, and GPS.  Sprayson rode this mid 40's, girder fork, ridge frame 350 1800 miles to Switzerland and back.  By  1956, he had up graded to a 350 Ariel with telescopic fork and swingarm and this took Ken and his wife 3000 miles to Italy and back over two weeks.
Reynolds established a free repair service at the I.O.M. TT races in the mid-1950s which was initially run by one of Sprayson colleges but, when he died in '58, Ken replaced him.  Reynolds eventually abandoned this, but first Shell, then Air Products, and finally the ACU sponsored Sprayson to continue this service.  He did this up through 2008, 51 years of continuous service.
Ken got friendly with Jeff Smith, 500 World Motocross Champion in 1964 and 1965.  In 1966, Smith invited Sprayson to accompany him and his mechanic to the East German, Czech, and Russian rounds of the Motocross world championship.  Ken gives a fascinating account of life behind the Iron Curtain near the height of the Cold War.  This is the dirt version of the Continental Circus, with competitors driving themselves through Europe towing their bikes in a trailer behind their sedans, in Smith's case a Wolseley 110.  This is also a period of transition as Smith's domination on the four stroke BSA is eclipsed by East German Paul Fredricks  on the two stroke CZ.  On  this trip, Sprayson got drafted into being an FIM Juryman.
Sprayson got involved in a British effort to break the land speed record, building a frame for the 'Thrust II'.  Work started on this in 1978, but it didn't run until July, 1980 on a runway in England, and it wasn't until 4 Oct, 1983 that Richard Noble set the land speed record of 633.468mph at the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, a record that stood for almost 14 years.
Sprayson's  wide ranging interests are reflected in his getting involve in organizing primitive retreats in Wales for senior Reynolds management  in an effort to build team cohesion.
In the early '70's, Sprayson acquired a 1923 Ariel powered by a 1000cc Motosacoche when a neighbor died.  It was in quite a derelict and much modified state and, after restoring it, he started participating in vintage events, like the Banbury run.  After he was made redundant at Reyonlds Tube, he did a number of consultancies with a Korean bicycle manufacturer, Goodman Engineering making the H-D powered Featherbed, a revived BSA making a moped, but increasingly working with vintage and classic bikes, some of which he helped make originally.
For someone who eschewed the academic path. Spryson is an amazingly good writer.  And, the photographs are superb.  This book was a real unexpected pleasure and I highly recommend it.
The book is available in the U.S. from; outside the U.S.. check directly with