Southern California Norton Owners Club
Dubbed the "best ride by a dam site," an estimated 900 mostly leathery baby boomers from across the country lit out under drifting clouds for a 100-mile rumble through the San Gabriel Mountains on such mostly bygone marques as Norton, BSA and original Triumph motorcycles. As the ride has grown in recent years, some beautiful classic Italian and Japanese motorcycles have also joined the ride. In fact, there's no rules on who and what can join ride, but the bike should be a least 25-30 years old, or be modified to look like classic cafe racer.
"If you show up with a Teddy bear on your back, you're thrown out," said Bill "Bib" Bibbiani, self-professed "dictator" of the Southern California Norton Owners Club, and host of the event who wore a Rule Britannia T-shirt. "The point is to get out there and ride - no pretense. No rules.
They came on machines once the envy of every kid who'd seen Marlon Brando swing a leg over a Triumph Thunderbird in "The Wild One." Or Sean Connery as James Bond scream through "Thunderball" atop a BSA Lightning. Or who'd fallen for the Norton Commando poster girl.They were fast, though they leaked oil. They could handle, for their day. And they were oh-so-cool, with names like Gold Star, Rocket, Super Meteor, Bonneville, Venom, Manx and the invincible Black Shadow.
The best part of "The Ride" is the morning check-in at the Hansen Dam Recreational Area parking lot. The Ride begins at 10am, but I wanted to be there much earlier at about 8am to have time to look at all the cool bikes and chat with their owners. I didn't want to sleep-in on this Sunday morning and arrive at the Dam Parking Lot for the end of The Ride, knowing how British bikes like to break down, chances are some wouldn't make it or would be delayed for hours, while other more valuable collector bikes might not even participate in the ride.
I had sold my Norton 750 Commando years earlier because I never remember to keep the battery charged, or how to check the oil after it had sat parked for months. The oil in the underseat oil tank would always drain back into the dry sump engine. leaving the tank empty. So when I'd come back to start the bike every 6 months, like a dutifully owner I would check the oil tank's dip stick and find it would be dry as a bone. Thinking my last ride must have burned or dripped it all out, I'd pour in another quart of oil. Then when I'd start the bike, the original oil that had drained down into the crankcase had to find room to go somewhere now the oil tank was full again, so it would blow out the breather vent, soaking the bike and my garage floor in oil!
A beautiful Royal Enfield.
Another interesting side note, when I went to register my TC at the DMV after I first bought in about 4 years ago, I was approached in the parking lot by still the owner of the "Love Story" MG-TC. He told me his movie car still resides in a garage in Boston where the movie was filmed. It is in crashed condition after O' Neal left it parked on a hill with just the had brake on, forgetting to also leave it in gear with the wheels turned into the curb as he had been told to do. Needless to say the British hand brake didn't hold.
I was there early enough at Hansen dam to park right in the middle of the Parking Lot, with all the other British bikes soon filling in around the TC. My car was the oldest British vehicle there and drew a lot of admiring comments.
The period dress. It's 1964 all over again," said Craig Dillmann, 54, of West Hills, who rode his 1964 Triumph TR-6. "It's a throwback. It makes me feel like a kid."
The All-Brit ride was launched in 1980 by former racers Pat Owens, Skip Van Leeuwen and Gene Cox, an executive of Triumph, as a way to encourage sales during the throes of a dying British motorcycle industry. But what began as a Rose Bowl gathering with heaps of hot dogs and hamburgers soon moved to Hansen Dam, where hundreds of riders ogle English iron before sprinting toward the hills in clouds of rich-running motorcycle exhaust.
Skip Van Leeuwen bought a brand new Triumph at 16, then became a lifetime racing legend on dirt tracks in Southern California. Soon he became a Triumph sponsored factory racer on the national circuit. "They're lighter. They're faster. They handle better.," said Van Leeuwen, 73, who has a motorcycle parts distributorship with his sons that bears his name, inthe next town of Arleta. "And they're a lot of fun." Van Leeuwen Distributing sells our FastDates.com Calendars to dealers, and handles the retail phone sales from our website.
"It's a disease, that's all there is to it," added John Ebert, 59, admiring his black Interstate Commando, with its gleaming sand-cast primary cover, who'd driven all the way from of Phoenix for the ride. "If you park this bike next to a row of Harleys, they'll all come down and look at your bike. I love it."
Chris Tucker, of Moorpark, piled his Pomeranian into a tank-box atop his Bonneville and took him along for the ride.
Scott Buehl, of Upland, donned a kilt for his dash atop a modern-day Triumph. "This kilt has been tested at 130 mph," said Buehl, 44, of Upland, who'd been given the Scottish plaid on a dare. "There's a bit of a draft, but it's great on a hot day. Or any day."
There were even young women riders from the Eastside Moto Babes, who were among the interlopers who rode in on non-British classic or other bikes. "Nice people ride Hondas," joked Jeannette Mekdara, 29, of Los Angeles. "I like British bikes. And British bikers."
When Gideon Kotler was growing up in Israel, Triumph was the two-wheeled Rolls Royce of the desert. Now he's riding a black-and-gold Bonnevile that took a full three months to restore. "It's the noise, it's the oil on your feet," said Kotler, 56, of Encino, smiling. "The bugs in your eyes. It's two cylinders, when it works. You can't buy that sound anywhere. Even your ex-wife, she can't growl like that."
"There's nothing like going 85 mph down the freeway on a 60-year-old motorcycle," said Tom Gross, 63, of Redlands, who'd ridden his Norvin, a hybrid cross between a Norton and Vincent motorcycle. "It makes you feel like you're shaking to death. It's great."
Robin, one of the few younger riders who rode in on a newer Ducati, said the annual event was a scene that may not be around in distant years."It's the love ... the love these guys have for their bikes," said Robin, 34, of Studio City, who declined to give his last name. "They remind you of your dad. Guys in the 1960s, a more innocent time, when guys were cool and girls were girls."
For additional information on the annual Hansen Dam British Ride visit: www.SoCalNorton.com / Bill Bibbiani phone 626 791-0259
They old timers were crawling out of the woodwork! Famed 2-stoke tuner and friend from the 1970-90s, Harry Klemm / Klemm Research was on hand with a pair of immaculate Kawasaki 350 Big Horn single cylinder rotary valveengined dirt bikes that he had converted to streetbike specs, which he now roadraces in AMHRA, winning handily against the 4-cylinder 4-stroke Honda CB-550s in his class.