Next time you want to photograph your motorcycle, polish it and put it on a putting green. It will never look better. Now picture two hundred immaculately prepared motorbikes placed in rows on a giant lawn overlooking the Pacific. This is the Legend of the Motorcycle, a new Concours d'Elegance with Elegance underlined. And if you like photographing other motorcycles as well as your own, be prepared for sensory overload.
Legend of the Motorcycle Concours venue at Half Moon Bay
The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay, California was again the venue for the second annual "Legend" but this time sunny skies and brisk ocean breezes favored a well planned and nearly-perfect event. The several thousand enthusiasts who paid $50 in advance or $65 at the door for the privilege of viewing an artful assemblage of vintage motorbikes were not disappointed. Neither were the owners of the motorcycles on display, many of whom came great distances or even from abroad to exhibit their prides and joys, because simply being included in an event of this quality confers a certain distinction. Those who went on to the podium later in the afternoon to receive a medal or, for first place, a sculpted "oscar," went home with tangible confirmation that they own an important piece of motorcycle history.
Three Vincent Black Lightnings
Featured marques this year were Excelsior, Henderson, and Vincent. This designation ensured both a larger number of these bikes on display and judging classes of their own. The number of Vincents was so large - 52 - that they were divided into two classes, depending on whether they were produced before 1951. Eight of the rarest and fastest of the breed, the Black Lightning, were in the Vincent row, prominently located closest to the cliff. The Excelsiors (17) and Hendersons (16) had their place apart, up in the courtyard of the Ritz with a view of the green, the cliffs and the beach and all the other motorbikes below - a classy setup by any measure.
Nearly forty experts and notables - a who's who of motorcycling - were selected to judge some sixteen classes (with designations like "Early Production 1898 - 1929, "European Competition/Modified 1958 - 1975," and "Isle of Man TT") and ten special categories from the democratic "Peoples Choice" to the ultra elite "Best of Show." Sporting blue blazers and carrying clipboards, these eminences walked slowly among the rows asking a question here, poking something there and, if they liked what they saw, requesting the owner to fire it up. The sight of smoke and sound of an engine sputtering signaled a bike that was, literally, in the running. Well-briefed and organized by chief judge Ed Gilbertson, they completed their class assignments by two-o'clock and, by four, had selected the Best of Show. By four-thirty it was all over but the shouting, which commenced at that point at the auction inside the hotel. Of course, no one actually shouted. Like everything else, the auction was a class happening catering to those with excellent taste and the money to indulge it. The glossy soft-cover book
Judges evaluating a 1909 Harley-Davidson 5A
listing the lots to be auctioned might itself become a collector's item one day. Today it was only $20.
In remarks to the press earlier in the day, Co-Founder Jared Zaugg commented that it's not just the motorcycles that make an event like the "Legends," it's the people there, the ones who bring their bikes to be seen and those who come to see them. For this enthusiast, talking with the entrants and spectators was, next to the sheer beauty of the assembled bikes, the highlight of the day.
Take Judy Crocker Jones, for example. She was standing next to a 1939 Crocker. I had just seen a Crocker replica in another area and was directed here for an original. Judy is also an original Crocker. Al Crocker, who founded the company was Judy's grandfather, and her dad, who's 87, is here at the Concours. Only about a hundred Crockers were ever made. Production pretty much ended in 1941 because the steel was needed for the war and, afterward, just a few more were built. "They never made any money on them. They actually lost money but they were so into motorcycles that they kept building them," explained Judy. Finally in 1954 they
Judy Crocker Jones with Boozefighter Jack Lilly's 1939 Crocker
closed down after making less than one hundred kits, total. (Crocker's were always sold as kits.) The Crocker Motorcycle Company of today, located in Toronto, makes replica kits, as well as parts for the original bikes. When I inquired about the company's acquisition of the right to the Crocker name, Judy replied, "We just gave it to them, with our blessing. They're a great bunch of guys." Judy told about the Crocker motorcycle that the family abandoned once, leaving it behind in a barn, having no idea then of its value. "One just sold in 'Vegas recently," she added, "for 270 thousand."
The Crocker's leather seat bore the handwritten inscription "Boozefighters M. C. Jack Lilly 1946 - 2001." So I learned the story of the Boozefighters in Hollister in 1947, Jack Lilly, and "The Wild Ones," not from a book but here on the lawn, told by someone who knew Jack and his motorcycles. That's the bonus of a Concours like this, where you can walk up to the bikes, touch them, photograph them and, best of all, talk with the people who are part of the history. That sort of thing doesn't happen in a museum or an exhibition like the Guggenheim's "Art of the Motorcycle." But it was happening everywhere at the Legends.
The Vincents stood out - in number, pedigree, and even in color (there were a few that weren't black!) Being a Black Lightning would be enough claim to fame, it seems, but to be the John Edgar Black Lightning ridden by Rollie Free in his bathing suit is to have renown unmatched by any other two-wheeled icon. To be a "never before displayed Proptotype Twin 1X" also elevates a machine to a level above the other, "ordinary" Black Lightnings. In the long row of Vincents, historic distinction blended with the fatal attractions of power and speed to leave a spectator short of breath. Just when you thought you must have seen them all, something different would come along, like a Black Prince or the Grey Flash Works TT or a blue, or a red machine. Fortunately not all were restored to the state of shiny perfection. There were a few bikes left in original, or, rather, unimproved condition that were reminders of the hard riding and rough use that motorcycles by their nature encourage.
The judges clearly prized originality - the kind possessed by a motorcycle that was ridden for a few years and then left under a tarp in the barn for the next seven decades. Original paint is hard to beat. The patina of metal once shiny but now weathered like a great grandmother's face, in combination with original paint, can't be beat.
New paint and old patina side by side
To this observer, a Concours seems to favor one extreme, untouched originality, or the other, full restoration to perfection. How the judges can compare a well-preserved original with a perfect restoration is, for me, hard to fathom. But, professionals that they are, they do, so that at awards time we saw examples of each garnering medals for their owners.
Simplicity also counted. Several historic bikes receiving prizes seemed little more than a motor and wheels, connected by a minimalist frame (the 1969 Harley-Davidson ERS Sprint, for example). Perhaps this simplicity represents the elemental essence of motorcycling, something often lost as technical advances change the look of a motorcycle as well as its performance.
While the core of the Concours is the collection of vintage bikes, the surrounding areas was sprinkled with motorcycles whose significance is rooted in the present and, in the distant future, may turn up in the vintage section and motorcycle museums. The ACK A
344 mph at Bonneville last September
ttack, a flat-out Bonneville Salt Flats missile that achieved 344 mph in a single run last September, was positioned where every visitor would pass. The skin was off and you could walk right up and poke your head into the anatomy of this extreme machine and see the two supercharged four-cylinder Hayabusa engines that produce 900 horsepower. A little farther along the path was a 320 hp gas turbine powered sport bike, the MTT Turbine Street Fighter that, in contrast to the ACK, you will be able to buy.
The company that makes the replica Crocker kits has also designed what they believe the Crocker founders would be building if they were alive today. The "New Concept Crocker" model and an assembled kit replica stood right next to each other. Looking at these two very different motorcycles side by side raises the question of how they are connected other than in name. The real connection with the past is the innovative role played by the enthusiast-driven small company. The old Crocker was designed to
2007 New Concept Crocker
be not only different but technically superior to the production competition at the time. It was designed and built by enthusiasts who wanted something better and there was no attempt to build many for the masses. That the company wouldn't survive the long haul seems inevitable in hindsight, but secondary in significance. Whether the New Crocker motorcycle will achieve the same success and have a place of honor in a future Concours most of us won't live to see, is difficult to predict. The important thing for now is they have a chance, and we got to see the beginning.
The biggest leap into the future, however, bore the words "Lightning Lithium" on its "gas tank." Most of it looked like a production sport bike, as that was the starting point in its construction. But the motor was decidedly different. Where you'd expect to see contoured cast aluminum surfaces, shiny pipes and an oil cooler, however, a series of rectangular yellow boxes were clustered together. (No, it was not pretty.) A big chain connected a tiny sprocket maybe two inches in diameter to the biggest rear sprocket I've ever seen on a motorcycle. This electric motorcycle is a far cry from the electric scooters
being produced now in Asia. For one thing, It will do 100 mph. The batteries are lithium-iron and weigh (only) 180 lbs. (They store about the same electrical energy as 4000 AA Ni-MH rechargeable batteries - the type that power your digital camera.) At 65-70 mph the range is 100 miles. When asked what these bikes might sell for in the future, the exhibitor Richard Hatfield, told me about $14,000 for a bike built in a 1000cc motorcycle frame and $8,000 for 250-400 cc sized frame. This will be interesting to watch, even if these initial cost estimates are optimistic. What does this bike and the New Crocker Concept have in common? Answer: the small innovative enthusiast-driven company. If I were a successful venture capitalist with a little money to play with, I'd be having a lot of fun talking with some of the exhibitors at this Concours.
Battery powered sport bike that can do 100 mph
By two o'clock, right on schedule, the awards ceremony slowly came to life. This part of the program had stiff competition for the attention of the visitors as by this time the Concours had been open to the public for only three hours. The vintage motorbikes on the lawn were still the focus for the vast majority of the 5000 people milling around. Master of ceremonies Alain de Cadenet kept things moving - a must if three prizes in each of sixteen classes plus ten special category awards were to be announced and, in the process, nearly sixty motorcycles ridden or pushed onto the stage. He did it, with humor.
The awards reflect not only the judges opinions, they define this year's Concours and set a standard for future events. Here are some of the highlights.
The first award, appropriately, was a prize for a person rather than a motorcycle - a lifetime achievement award to
Willy G. Davidson - Lifetime Achievment Award
Willy G. Davidson for his role in creating the look of today's Harley. The grandson of the original founder, W.A. Davidson, "Willy G." is the CSO (Chief Styling Officer) of Harley-Davidson and is easily recognized by his trademark chapeau and winning grin.
The virtues of rarity, simplicity and unrestored originality combined to land Otto Hoffman's 1957 TWN a first place in its class, Pan-European Production 1930-1975. TWN stands for Triumph Werke Nuernberg and was one of the last Triumphs produced in Germany before the founding firm of Triumph (yes, Triumph in the UK was founded by Germans) went under.
Otto Hofmann's 1957 TWN (Triumph Werke Nuernberg)
Though certainly not as rare as a TWN, a 1963 Vespa GS 160 MKII counts as simple. Also original, unrestored and unadorned, the plain white scooter belonging to Joel Wismer attracted the attention of those-who-carry-clipboards and emerged in first place for European Production 1958-1975, a class that must have had a lot of bikes in it. If that wasn't enough, the little white moto got the Preservation award, too. Personally, I was quite satisfied with the judges' choice, as my first ride, nearly fifty years ago, was a white Vespa GS 150 that looked very much like this one. Quite a good ride, as I recall.
The judges must have a special liking for two-stroke rockets. First place in Japanese Production 1937-1975 went to a 1973 Kawasaki Hi-D 500 two-stroke triple. For the Japanese Competition/Modified 1958-1975, it was a 1975 Yamaha TZ 750 dirt-tracker powered by a four-cylinder, 125 hp two-stroke motor that won. This was a bike so difficult to control that Kenny Roberts said of Yamaha, "They don't pay me enough to ride that thing."
Annie Rageys on her 1938 Velocette TT racer
In honor of the Isle of Man's 100th anniversary of the first running of the Tourist Trophy, a class was devoted to vintage TT motorbikes. Third place went to a 1938 Velocette KTT MK VII ridden by Annie Rageys of France. The bike was first bought and raced by her grandfather. Ms. Rageys, in period costume, and her Velocette cut a fine figure.
The Elvis Award: The motorcycle selected this year as best representing the King of Rock 'n Roll was the 1939 Crocker Big Tank twin, once owned by Boozefighter "Crocker Jack" Lilley. Alain de Cadenet regaled the crowd with stories of Jack Lilly and Boozefighters while the Crocker was approaching and rolled up onto the stage, sharing with everyone some of the tales I'd heard earlier from Judy Crocker Jones.
Medals were presented for second and third place, but first place awardees received a cast bronze sculpture crafted by artist Jeff Decker after a design by Christopher Roner. Titled the "God of Speed," it is also the signature of the
Sculptor demonstrates Rollie Free prone position, to much applause and a little heckling.
Concours. Mr. Decker gets to select the winner of the Sculptor's award, conferred for artistic and historic merit. His choice: the 1948 Black Lightning ridden by Rollie Free that year at Bonneville to a record speed of 150 mph. For the benefit of those few in attendance who may not have been aware, Mr. de Cadenet noted in his best English manner that Rollie Free on his historic ride was "clad only in his knickers." Further edification was provided by Mr. Decker, who mounted the Vincent and demonstrated the prone position for the crowd, several of whom were inspired to yell, "take it off."
The Excelsiors and Hendersons were the last to ascend the podium. Of the selected six motorbikes, four were in unrestored original condition. First place for the Henderson, however, went to a fully restored 1915 model owned by Matt Madden. It is fascinating to see these opposite ends of the spectrum competing for top honors and witness a before-and-after demonstration of the restorer's craft. Madden's Henderson was absolutely beautiful, yet so, in their own way, were the originals with their faded paint and cracked leather.
All sixteen first place winners were moved to a single location, a winner's circle, where the thirty-two judges could examine them and, individually, make their choice for Best of Show. The votes were carried to Chief Judge Gilbertson who, right on schedule at about 4pm, informed us who won. Perhaps the most surprised of all, when the
Best of Show - Mike Madden's 1915 Henderson Long Tank
result was announced, was Mike Madden. Why? Well, because he also won Best of Show last year, then for his 1940 Crocker. It would be interesting, of course, to know how the vote went. But then all you have to do, after a full day on the grass looking at hundreds of motorbikes, is take one peek at that Henderson to realize this was a good, if surprising, choice.
Along with the growing interest in vintage motorcycles spurred by major events like The Guggenheim's Art of the Motorcycle exhibit and Concours like today's, the value of vintage motorcycles is climbing. Part of this is attributed to collectors of antique cars who are acquiring motorcycles as well. But much of it comes from motorcycle enthusiasts who have the money and the desire to own a piece of their heritage. After spending a day in the sun viewing some of the finest bikes in the world, on display but not for sale, it was time to go inside to gaze on another collection of motorcycles and memorabilia and find out what it's all worth. Bonhams & Butterfields had assembled over 60 lots for bidding by those present at the Concours or from remote locations. Top dollar - $93,600 -went for a 1914 Henderson with an excellent provenance. A photograph exists of the first owner, a Scotsman, in his WW-I uniform astride his Henderson, and was chosen by Bonhams for the cover of this auction's catalog. A 1929 Indian Crocker 45 ci Overhead-Valve conversion tied with the 1914 Henderson for the top bid. Poetic justice prevailed when a 1958 Harley FLH Dresser went to top bidder Willy G. Davidson for about $32,000.
1938 Harley Dresser bought by Willy G. Davidson
This rolling chrome palace had been given the title "No. 1 Playboy Dresser" by its first owner. The lot with the highest estimated value (over $200,000) was the rights to the "Brough Superior" trademark and logos in the UK, European Community, and Japan. But in the end it was withdrawn due to trademark issues in the US and not sold. (Contrast this with the Crocker family giving the name rights to the guys in Toronto building the replicas.) Those on a more limited budget could still get a piece of the action for a few hundred bucks -- a painting commemorating the first 100 mph TT lap in 1957 was acquired for only $351. By the time the hammer went down on the last lot, a total of 830,000 dollars changed hands.
My day began with an early-morning ride across the Bay, with the sun on my back and glistening on the bridge's grey girders and San Francisco's steel and glass financial district. Through the City and down 280 along the San Andreas fault I rode. Cool wind and crisp air kept a tingle on my face. Up the hill on 92, past the turnoff to Skyline Blvd. and Alice's Restaurant and then down the switchbacks to Half Moon Bay, I spotted the blue Pacific approaching. By the time I reached the Ritz Carlton and saw the first motorbikes on their way to the green, I thought the day couldn't get better. But it did - the experience was so intense I just forgot about mundane things like eating and drinking. The ride home was refreshing, the sun once again at my back, but by now I was pretty beat. There's a tiredness that is good, even pleasurable, that comes at the end of a day like this. I'm ready to do it again.
The featured marques at the 2008 Legend of the Motorcycle will be MV Agusta and Norton. Imagine another inspirational day on the cliffs, looking at the rich history and the promising future presented by motorcycles and the people who build, own, and ride them.
Captioned Photo Gallery
2007 Legend of the Motorcycle: International Concours dElegance
Best of Show
1915 Henderson D Long Tank Mike Madden, California
1963 Vespa GS 160 MKII Joel Wismer, California
1975 Yamaha XT 500 Steve Casey, California
Steve McQueen Award
1968 Rickman Metisse 441 MK3 Blair Beck, California
Elvis Presley Award
1939 Crocker Big Tank Joe MacPherson, California
Peoples Choice Award
1973 Honda Elsinore DG Racer Charles Tellis, Kentucky
1932 BSA W 32-6 with Sidecar Theresa Worsch, California
1948 Vincent HRD Black Lightning, J. Edgar & R. Free Speed Record Herb Harris, Texas
Mens Vogue Award
1967 BMW R60/2 Tim Stafford, California
Class 1: Early Production 1898-1929
1st 1913 Premier Single Pete Young, California
2nd 1915 Indian Twin with Sidecar Ray Brown, California
3rd 1909 Harley-Davidson 5A Tom McIlhattan, California
Class 2: American Production 1930-1975
1st 1952 Indian Chief Red Fred Johansen, California
2nd 1941 Indian 4 Thomas Mann, Ohio
3rd 1948 Harley-Davidson FL Paul Reed, California
Class 3: American Competition/Modified 1913-1975
1st 1969 Harley-Davidson ERS Sprint Randy Reed, California
2nd 1969 Harley-Davidson KR-TT Yoshi Kosaka, California
3rd 1939 Indian Scout Al Bergstrom, California
Class 4: Pan-European Production 1930-1957
1st 1957 TWN BDG 125 Otto Hoffman, California
2nd 1951 BMW 67/2 Phillip Blackburn, California
3rd 1950 Rumi Turismo John Goldman, California
Class 5: Pan-European Competition/Modified 1930-1957
1st 1952 Rumi Gobbetto John Goldman, California
2nd 1948 Velocette KTT Paul Adams, California
3rd 1954 BMW RS54 Evan Bell, California
Class 6: British Production 1958-1975
1st 1961 BSA Goldstar Gene Brown, Colorado
2nd 1961 Triumph T120C Bonneville Scrambler Marty Smith, California
3rd 1965 BSA Lightning Rocket Bruce Bern, California
Class 7: British Competition/Modified 1958-1975
1st 1966 Triumph Flat Track Racer Ron Peck, California
2nd 1974 Norton John Player Thomas McClung, California
3rd 1972 Norton Commando Production Racer Steven Thompson, California
Class 8: European Production 1958-1975
1st 1963 Vespa GS 160 MKII Joel Wismer, California
2nd 1970 Bultaco MK IV Pursang Blair Beck, California
3rd 1967 MV Agusta 600 Dale Keesecker, Kansas
Class 9: European Competition/Modified 1958-1975
1st 1963 Bultaco TSS Model 6 Hubert Zemke, Nevada
2nd 1965 Ducati Mach 3 Diana Ian Berger, California
3rd 1969 Maico X4 360 MX Jacklyn Lucas, California
Class 10: Japanese Production 1937-1975
1st 1973 Kawasaki H1-D 500 Brad Schuback, California
2nd 1973 Kawasaki Z1 900 Damon Meek, California
3rd 1975 Yamaha XT 500 Steve Casey, California
Class 11: Japanese Competition/Modified 1958-1975
1st 1975 Yamaha TZ 750 Ray Abrams, California
2nd 1963 Honda CR93 Randall Basalt, California
3rd 1972 Kawasaki H2 750 David Jensen, California
Class 12: Excelsior
1st 1914 Excelsior Single Matthew Smith, Oregon
2nd 1914 Excelsior Board Track Racer John Parham, Iowa
3rd 1908 Excelsior Single Urban Hirsch, California
Class 13: Henderson
1st 1915 Henderson D Long Tank Mike Madden, California
2nd 1916 Henderson F Matthew Smith, Oregon
3rd 1919 Henderson 4 Jerry Ottaway, Kansas
Class 14: Vincent 1935-1951
1st 1951 Vincent Series C Black Shadow Lon McCroskey, Kansas
2nd 1938 Vincent HRD Series A Rapide Somer Hooker, Tennessee
3rd 1949 Vincent HRD Series B Black Shadow Alberto Fernandez, Mexico
Class 15: Vincent 1951-1971
1st 1952 Vincent Series C Black Shadow with Sidecar Paul Zell, California
2nd 1953 Vincent Series C Black Shadow Dale Keesecker, Kansas
3rd 1951 Vincent Special John Frei, California
Class 16: Isle of Man 100th Anniversary
1st 1966 MV Agusta 500 3-cylinder ST Jeff Elghanayan, California
2nd 1923 Indian TT Special Richard Bunch, California
3rd 1938 Velocette KTT MK VII Annie Rageys, France