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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Category: Rides and Drives

Norton Gathering 2012

Classic Velocity


This winter has been unusually mild in the northeast, so there has been a fair amount of riding so far this year already. This has robbed the annual Gathering of Nortons of its status as the first riding event of the spring. It has not robbed it of the status as one of the biggest gatherings of vintage bikes in the region all year. As such, it is eagerly awaited and enthusiastically attended. This year I traveled down to the event with fellow vintage bike asylum inmate, Todd Trumbore and a few buddies.

We had a nice jaunt through some Bucks county roads before making our way to the venue. Machines from everywhere converge on Washington Crossing State Park in PA for gawking and bench racing and bench touring and bench talking and bench concoursing. This year, the threat of rain early may have trimmed the early crowd, but things grew rapidly as midday approached. I bumped into many people not seen since the fall or even longer. New machines had been added to stables, and old machines were present with new owners. I finally met Bob Lonergan who has organized the last several Vintage displays at the BMWMOA Rallies. I have seen his good work in Oregon and Tenessee and Pennsylvania, but it turns out that he lives only a few miles away.

Photo Apr 15, 11 28 43 AM.jpg

We have covered this event before (see Gathering 2010 and Season Opener), and it remains a favorite. Even digital cameras can run out of disk capturing all of the interesting bikes in attendance. After a few hundred bikes, the parking lot becomes overrun and a few hundred more machines park in the grass and on the surrounding park roads. CLubs and groups come and go, so you need to make many laps of the place to take it all in. Even with plenty of riding early this year, the even somehow still signals the official beginning of the riding season in these parts.

There is a lot more that could be said about this event, but pictures do it better.

110MPH For Breakfast

Classic Velocity


A variety of product peddlers and institutions have tried to tell you the best way to start your day. They range from coffee producers "The best way to start your day is Folgers....", to breakfast cereal producers "Breakfast of Champions...", to hotels "Awake fully refreshed and recharged..", to the Surgeon General "Eating a healthy breakfast is a good way to start the day...." They are all wrong of course. The best way to start your day is by exceeding 100MPH using a vintage vehicle. Here is the recipe :

1. Add a tablespoon of daybreak.

2. Add one teaspoon of brisk morning.

3. Ladle in 37 miles of deserted country roads.

4. Add a generous helping of 1966-73 Porsche 911. Get the kind with carburettors if possible.

5. Mix ingredients by hand.

6. Warm the tires.

7. Now add a 1.3 mile straight with a slight left hand kink beside a river.

8. Carefully introduce throttle and increase to taste. 

9. Careful with the Cajones, they are potent and can overpower the whole recipe.


If you would like to add some flair, you can then follow up with a gathering of the Erste Gruppe crew (these guys are cuckoo for cocoa mats!), a rare steering wheel clinic, bump-starting Luke's hotrod, and oogling not one, but two sportomatic cars. If you wanted to go over the top, you could finish with a romp back home with more 100MPH vitamins and minerals. Forget the gym, forget a balanced nutritional meal, this is how to start your day. 10 out of 10 Velocitologists owners agree.


Visiting With The Ancients

Classic Velocity


I lived in New York City for a brief period some time ago, and you got a clear sense of history from certain parts of the city. There was grand architecture from the 1920s, and apartments with fixtures from that same time period, steam heat for buildings, etc. Later on, work brought me to Philadelphia where the sense of history was even greater. It was the nation's first capital, it has cobblestone streets, and dwellings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. However, such history is rendered modern when you visit a place like the southwestern USA.


I have visited several cities in the southwest over time, but have always wanted to ride in the area. Logistics have always prevented this, until I decided to try an option that has been around for some time. Why not rent a motorcycle? Previously, the rental business has been mostly centered around Harley Davidson bikes, and I wanted to ride a BMW. Nowadays, in most big cities, you can rent a variety of brands, and in Vegas, you can rent anything including people ;-) Renting a motorcycle is not cheap. You can rent a car for a third of the price. And the hold they put on your credit card is hefty, so beware. That said, in a crazy town like Vegas, I don't blame anyone for building misbehavior into the price.


Armed with a loaded R1200RT, and a some time, I headed out of town before first light. The good thing about Lost Wages, NV, is that it takes all of ten minutes to be in the middle of nowhere. In my case I headed northeast for about 45 minutes and then east to my destination, Valley of Fire state park. The time scale of this region is hard to comprehend given our tiny life spans and frame of references. Millions of years ago, this park was the floor of an ocean. The movement of tectonic plates, and volcanic activity pushed the floor up and caused the ocean to recede, eventually leaving a sandy desert. But what makes this park special, is the particular combination of limestone, sand, iron oxide, manganese, etc that create a palette of colors throughout the rock formations, and give the park it's name. The browns, reds, oranges, and yellows contrast dramatically with the surrounding monotone desert grey.


Since the park is a valley, it seems like you round a corner and suddenly descend into a color movie from one which was black and white. Perhaps the most striking aspect is that the colors can change from rock to rock mere yards apart, but they also change within a single rock. The permutations are infinite, and it makes the scenery all the more spectacular. No Hollywood movie theater with all the computer gear in the world could create something this incredible. You can literally witness the evolution of the park in the striations of the rocks long before you get to the visitors center to read about it. I was there early, so the visitors center was uncrowded. If it was not for the spectacular scenery outside, you could spend a good deal of time reading about the parks' flora and fauna, watching short movies, etc. I was anxious to move on.


The Mouse's Tank area of the park is a small canyon where you can take a self-guided tour of an area utilized by the Anasazi people from around 300BC to 1150AD. They left stories and artwork in the form of Petroglyphs along the walls of the canyon. I was literally walking along the same path as people 1000 years earlier with an almost identical view. There are not many places in north america where you can do this. It is believed that this site was more of a temple or cathedral than a dwelling site, and I can see why. In the early hours there were very few visitors around, and you could sit in silent reverence among the towering picturesque rock formations with a brilliant blue sky for a canopy. I left when more visitors began to appear and headed up the road to the White Domes area of the park. This area is named for the prevalent sandstone formations, which by this point are quite a contrast to the reds of Mouse's Tank. There is a short 1.3 mile hike down into the white domes area and you can see why it was used for many western movies over the years. There is even the remains of an old movie set. The huge areas of slick rock allow you to chart your own path and include some light rock climbing into the loop.


The park continues to deliver vistas as you head toward the eastern exit, and has inviting unpaved roads that made me wish I was aboard my GSA rather than the RT. There are cliff dwellings and juxtapositions of rock formations that will leave your digital camera out of memory if you try to capture them all. Now these are high-rise dwellings that would be worth Manhattan prices. I left the park and headed south running parallel to lake Mead. This road is a beautiful piece of asphalt with sweeping turns for 40 miles. The scenery appears milder in comparison, but it would be superb if you had not already been through the park. You can really open up the throttle and it made me long for an S1000RR rather than the RT. The road ends near the Hoover Dam and I took the short ride over only to crawl through the Dam crowded with visitors. This Dam is an impressive engineering feat, and a great accomplishment. It is a short ride back to Las Vegas, which is a city that is so colorful and modern that it stands out even in a global competition for such attributes. However, my advice is not to visit any man-made attraction, old or new, immediately before or after you visit the Valley of Fire.


7 Miles of Misery

Classic Velocity

The motorcycle is the perfect vehicle for urban environments. it is small, nimble, relatively, efficient, and you can always find a place to park. On a recent trip into the city, I experienced all of those benefits, but I was undone by a mighty urban beast of legendary fame.

There are seven miles of roadway in the US which represent the very worst in motoring experiences. The very name of it strikes fear into the hearts of men and beast alike. 10 time Paris-Dakar winner Stephan Peterhansel said of this road "For zis road I am very afraid". The best that has ever been said about it is, "I got through with only minor issues". In 30 years of using this road, I have never made it through unscathed, and this includes all hours of the military clock.

It is a funnel point for the entire northeast. 150,000 vehicles pass through every day. It is even more of a funnel point for trucks which cannot use NY Parkways, so it is probably the busiest commercial corridor in the country. Fully laden trucks are hard on roads, so they exacerbate the problem. In 2007 and 2008, Inrix, a real-time traffic service, declared the road to have four out of five of the worst intersections (exits) in the country. Impressive, yes?

The shoulder is 6 inches wide and has a combo of broken glass, discarded hyperdermic needles, shards of tire-ripping plastic, and spilled nuclear waste. The road surface has a topographical profile unmatched by the Andes or the grand canyon. Modern SUVs have a special suspension mode named after this road. When activated, a Military transport helicopter picks up your vehicle and carries it to safety. There are websites dedicated to documenting crashes on this road, and a movie starring Robert DeNiro was filmed nearby (Fort Apache).

On two wheels this corridor is like running the gauntlet. Even the cars that try to stay in their lane are dipping, heaving, bobbing, weaving. It turns every vehicle into a mad max machine trying to kill you. Horns bleat, people abandon the road in sudden and dangerous desperation, parts fall off and become impossible to clean up due to the traffic volume, all of the overpasses look like they might drop an I-beam at any time. If this were a video game, it would be rejected as too unrealistic.

Because of all of this, the road clogs, and clogging leads to blockages, which really backs things up. Because there are no shoulders, police, fire, ambulance, and tow vehicles take forever to get to the scene. I have been stuck on this road more than once while entrepreneurial individuals walked among the cars selling water, Gatorade, cocaine, and firearms.

Then you get to the GW. It has expansion joints that are more properly called expansion jaws. Because it has two levels, it has exits right, left, up, and down. Because of the confluence of roadways coming on and off the bridge, your GPS says "Can I have some of that Cocaine?". It costs $12 one-way to get into New York and begin your seven miles of misery. It is free to get out, but chances are you left more than $12 in parts behind you. If you do the simple math, assuming only half the traffic comes into NY, the GW collects a little less than $1Million per day. You would think that by now, a few, just a few, of those dollars would have made their way to the Cross Bronx Expressway. 

How to Catch a Mermaid

Classic Velocity


These things start out innocently. I heard about a car that was for sale. If you are a gearhead, this happens a lot. In my experience, most turn out to be average deals or massive unwanted projects. This car was described as a 1990s BMW with unspecified "fairly low mileage". Sounded like a potential for co-worker (Rob) looking for a car (this also happens a lot..). However, work and life got busy and 3 weeks went by. Rob finally asked again if I had come across anything, and I in turn called my fellow gearhead contact, Ed. Ed called his contact Tom. A few days later, an answer. Yes, it was still available for what was perhaps an average price if it was in good shape (ie: decent paint, around 100k miles, and some service records). At this point, nobody I knew or trusted had even seen the car, and a car salesman at a dealership was the source of info. Hmmmmmmm....


I contacted my co-worker, and passed on the description of the car which was about 4th hand at this point. Could I go look at it and give him an opinion ? Sure (this happens a lot as well). I made a call and eventually I arranged to go look at the car via a contact of my contact at a local BMW dealership. Coordinating the meeting involved a nighttime meeting in a dark alley with the leader of the resistance, a Navajo code talker, an operative who crossed the border through the minefields, and smuggled a message over to their guy on the inside, who was the gardener for the Commandante, and could get close to the target. I was only missing the super model double agent, and my Aston Martin DB5. In the process, I discovered that the car was a 5 speed, which killed the deal for Rob. Great, I thought, my work here is done. However, at this point, I had this clandestine appointment, no buyer anymore, and a car that nobody knew anything about. I did what any gearhead would do, and decided to go see it anyway, since I would be nearby that day.


The owner of the car reportedly wanted to stay arms length from the buy/sell process. This was my first clue that something was strange. Tom described the owner as a doctor who purchased several cars from them and who just did not want any part of the process of selling a car. It was a 1991 525i. Neither rare, nor valuable. We went over to the dealership and walked in to see Tom who was the intermediary for this private sale. It was being sold by the original owner who had just reduced the price to get rid of it. Tom described the car as being in great shape. Yeah, right. The saleman says its a great deal (this happens a lot)! The owner had left the car at the dealership for us to see. We finally asked to go outside and look at it.


26k Miles !! It turns out that we had walked right past the car on the way in. The reason is because the car looked brand new. I mean brand new. Perfect slate grey paint, perfect looking interior. We had walked past it parked in amongst other new and late model certified Pre-owned cars without noticing. Armed with the key, I opened it up and the interior was as good as the exterior. Light grey leather (almost white), not a smudge anywhere, the mats looked new, and the car even smelled new. I was almost hesitant to sit in it with my stained jeans and mud-stained boots fresh from loading and towing another car (this happens a lot). Even the drivers seat really did not show much wear. We learned from Tom that nobody had ever ridden in the passenger or rear seat. It looked it. I started the car and it was similarly flawless. It purred like only the legendary inline 6 can. So smooth that you wonder if it is running. The odometer read 26,200 miles, but there was little evidence of even this low mileage. At this point, The price was already great at twice the mileage. I popped the hood, looked in the trunk, looked underneath, etc, and it was all flawless. Every bit of work on the car, which was nothing but annual state inspections, had been done by the dealership. Tom gave me the records. Everything I saw and heard and touched, validated the conclusion. This was a brand new car. It had only lasted a month because of the espionage-novel-worthy process of getting to see the car. Even so, I pondered why the dealership did not go after it.


For more pics see The GarageI did not ponder very long. The entire transaction including a visit to the notary for paperwork was done in a couple of hours. The owner gave me the original window sticker ($37k!), and assured me that the car was 100% garaged and only driven to and from work a few miles away. I could already see that. He appeared very eager to convince me of the great care the car had received while in his possession. As if the condition of the car was not enough. He finally took one last picture with the car, and appeared close to tears. Ed helped me jockey cars so that I could get it home. I then had to jockey things around to get it into the garage ahead of the impending snow storm the next day. All done, I looked at it in the garage. It was the stuff of gearhead lies told at the bar. It was the one that got away. It was a time capsule car. It was the suspect Craigslist/Ebay/Autotrader Ad that makes us all chuckle in disbelief: like new, 1 loving owner, immaculate, low miles, only driven in nice weather, must go, cheap, etc, etc. This is a mythical machine among gearheads, similar to the Loch Ness monster or a Mermaid.... reportedly seen by a few, but most doubt it's existence. I am here to say that it exists, and that in this case, I was the buyer (this does not happen a lot).

2nd Non-Annual Rallye Report

Classic Velocity

It is often said that the best part of any vintage iron gathering are the personal interactions. It's about the cars, but it's really about the people. That was certainly evidenced by the 2nd Non-Annual Classic Velocity Rallye. There was some doubt as to whether there would be diversity among the participating cars. The weather was lousy right up until the day before, people managed to make it at the last minute, while others had to drop out at the last minute. The core of regulars could be counted on, and they brought others along. We almost had a couple of Mercedes and a couple of VWs to expand the German Marques, but perhaps next time. Kevin did wear his Mercedes shirt and hat, but he left his car in Georgia, so that does not really count. We also need to recruit some more Opel and Audi members next time. In the end we had the following make models represented with more than one example in several cases:

BMW 2800 CS, BMW 2002, BMW 530i, BMW M3, BMW M5, Porsche 356, Porsche 912, Porsche 911, Triumph TR4.

We went for a nice drive around northeast PA. We had a few instances where the tail of the group missed a turn, but we regrouped each time and completed the 4+ hour drive with no mechanical failures and no car left behind. The honor of British cars was upheld by the Triumph. Most of the crew returned to base for some grub and bench racing. With the cars parked, the conversations, and much laughter continued for many hours. Pizzas were ordered as night fell and the revelry continued.

Connections were made, future gatherings promised, solutions to pesky problems offered, little known facts revealed, lies amplified, epic tales recanted, marital problems solved, barn-finds hinted at, ethanol-free gas locations uncovered, 100 rear-wheel hp bolt-ons unmasked, trivia magnified, oil viscosity de-clarified, a lot of beer consumed, secret driving roads unsecreted, how to put a Superbird rear wing on your Dodge Neon, when to wear a scarf in a classic car explained, my burn scar is better than yours competitions, why the new Challenger is better than the new Camaro, who didn't own a VW Beetle?, household items BMW should make, would Lincoln have driven a Lincoln?, new marital problems created, potato vodka, vehicles Porsche should not make, why Tom won't fix the Alfa, the best places to hide an old car from your spouse, the best places to hide an old spouse, why diesel is preferred in Europe, the toxicity of bat guano, where do classic Audi people hang out?, turbo charging an electric car,  how to run a lap of the old course at Watkins Glen faster than Moss, the percentage of VDO clocks in working condition, speedometer calibration conspiracies, commuting in a Bugatti Veyron, better driving through drinking, why we all need a 356, the ingredients of NY style pizza, shortest vehicle-ownership stories. I may have missed five or six.... Dozen.

It's about the people.

2nd Non-Annual Classic Velocity Rallye Oct 15th

Classic Velocity

Time flies and it has been a few years since the last Fall Rallye. There has been consistent nagging to do it again, so we are pleased to announce the 2nd Non-Annual Classic Velocity Fall Drive. For those that attended the first, we had a great time and the format worked out well, so this one will be similar. Classic German cars are of course the focus, but classic anything is welcome. Here is how it will work :

Date: 10/15/2011 7:30 am
Place: Hellertown, PA 18055

07:30am - Coffee, Bagels
07:50am - Route sheets, Driver's meeting
08:00am - Depart
10:30am - Rest stop
10:45am - Resume Route
12:30pm - Lunch back at the start

Format: We will be on the road by 8am and will be including some great driving roads, but this is a fun rally. There will be clues along the way worth points toward fabulous prizes (ok, Classic Velocity swag). It should be fun for a co-pilot as well, so feel free to bring your spouse, buddy, etc. Total mileage is around 150 miles with the vast majority on B and C roads.

If you'd like to come along, you need to ---
1) RSVP, we need to plan for the number of folks planning to attend as early as possible.
2) Get your classic ready for a great fall drive.

More details to follow for those who RSVP, but block off 10/15/11...

Squandering the Attention Budget

Classic Velocity

Computers are wonderful things. They have enabled life as we know it today, and have made many things better than they would otherwise be. Computers are not smart, but they can follow complex instructions with unwavering resolve and reliability. Computers also have limited resources. There is a finite amount of memory, processing power, and storage available. Despite this, if you ask them to prioritize so that A is more important than B, they happily comply. Every time. If you tell them to ensure that A never consumes more than N% of the resources they will similarly comply. What does this have to do with vintage iron? Plenty.

The brain is easily the most impressive computer we know. Memory, processing power, and storage are beyond compare. It also has impressive but finite resources available. However, the brain is a strange computer. It is smart. It thinks. And, it does not always blindly follow it's programming. For motorcyclists, this is a particularly interesting phenomenon. We engage in an activity that needs a fair amount of skill, a large amount of processing power, some memory (muscle and mental), and some survival instinct. Many racing and training books refer to the concept of an attention budget. It is a good way to capture the concept of finite mental resources. Riding needs a large amount of the attention budget in order to be done well. Bad news for those of us with ADD or ADHD, yes?

Step away from the Motorcycle !A recent ride served to emphasize just how much of the attention budget is consumed by physical comfort (or discomfort). The day was colder than the forecast the day before had predicted. It was also raining. I was also running behind schedule. I also switched motorcycles at the last minute. Did I mention that this was a vintage event so the equipment is all 40 years old or more? Now most training manuals would say (if they could speak, and had a police issue bullhorn) "Put the helmet down, and step away from the motorcycle !" And my brain would normally agree. But I was looking forward to the event and had not been able to ride in over a week due to the weather, said I would be there, etc, etc, etc. So A should have prevailed over B, but the brain is a strange computer.

So off I went as soon as the rain became a lighter drizzle. It was quickly obvious that it was colder than I thought, and that the jacket really needed the liner. The liner I left in the tank bag of the bike I was originally planning to take. Then the precipitation turned from drizzle to steady rain. Good, I thought, I'll stop and put on the rain gear and gloves. In the krauser case of the bike was my "rain gear roll" which had rain suit, gloves, and a small bottle of rain-x. However, in my haste, I had dropped the middle of the roll in the garage, and all I had was the rain jacket. I was all of 7 miles from home, my jeans were already wet from the knee down, I was cold, and my gloves were slightly wet. The attention budget was partially consumed by personal comfort. The computer would have said turn around, sacrifice a few minutes and at least get the proper gear. The brain is a strange computer.

With the rain jacket on, it was much warmer waist up. An interesting formula is in effect when riding in the rain: CH2O=H2O3 x V or for you non- scientists, the amount of water in your crotch equals the amount of falling water cubed times velocity. In a steady rain, that equates to about 9 gallons per minute at 50 mph. It is also colder the faster you go. But wait, there's more. For years, scientists have been working on smart fabrics that transform under various temperatures and conditions. I am here to tell you that denim has been doing that for centuries now. When denim gets wet and cold, it turns from a comfortable pliable fabric into an instrument of medieval torture. Particularly when applied to your more sensitive regions. It is reported (by my friend in Toronto) that the Canadian plans for conquering the USA involve applying water from the Canadian Shield to all of the blue jeans in the USA. Think about it...But I digress.

You cannot imagine how much of the attention budget gets dedicated to protecting the thermal and aquatic balance in your more sensitive regions. The computer would easily sort out this battle between safety and comfort, and would ensure that comfort would only consume N% of the attention budget. But the brain is a strange computer. It views the immediate discomfort as a very important priority because it remembers back when Og froze his nozzle off by trying to hide from the sabre tooth tiger in the ice fishing hole. It's in the genes, and now it's in your jeans (you see what I did there). Anyway, the situation feeds on itself. You speed up to get there faster and increase the crotch water and make it colder. I have calculated that if I could get to 93.48 mph in those conditions, I would have a tutu made of solid ice. But I digress....

I got to the event with the attention budget entirely depleted. I could not remember riding the last couple of miles. This is either testament to years of riding and training, or deserted country roads. Ironically, the rain stopped right before arrival. Once I managed to dismount, i had the posture of an injured orangutan. I spent an inordinate amount of time contorting myself under the hand dryer in the restroom. It would have earned me a place on the US Gymnastics team, or at least a top 10 on YouTube. Then I got coffee. Then more restroom gymnastics. Some time later, normal sensation returned. For the return trip into the rain, the computer suggested that I avoid repetition by stopping at the Walmart for a pair of rain shell pants of some kind. The brain made a diaper out of a grocery bag instead. I am thinking about patenting it, so remember to ask for plastic rather than paper at the supermarket. You will help brains everywhere to avoid a massive expenditure against the attention budget.

The scary part is, scientists and engineers are working hard to get computers to emulate the brain....

Pancakes for Porsches

Classic Velocity


For some strange reasons, the crowd that is into older Porsches are always willing to get up early for a chance to drive their cars and get breakfast. I have several theories on why, in no particular order :

The cool morning air produces a more dense and hence more powerful compressed package for explosion in each cylinder. A sort of supercharging by time-of-day.

The roads are blissfully clear of commuters, shoppers, and other impediments to a spirited blast.

The loaded home fries at the breakfast place will grow hair in places on your person that have not seen it for over a decade, and in some places that it is not supposed to be.

It is already noon in Germany, so it is not really early.

They have to get up to relieve the bladder at ungodly hours anyway, so why not go for a drive.

Lunch or dinner are more expensive than breakfast.


Whatever the reason, the phenomenon has held true. The early 911 group typically meets at 7am to attack a now famous loop in the area, the recent post on the Hershey meet emphasized a very early start, and an informal group in our area has only successfully gotten together if breakfast is involved. Runs to PVGP and Limerock also tend to start in the wee hours. And, of course the opening scene from LeMans takes place early in the morning. So it must be the naturally preferred time of day for the early Porsche. A few weeks ago, a few of us chose our reasons, and decided to meet at a Diner in the area.

I arrived first and the waitress asked about the car. By now people usually guess that anything with chrome on it is old. A 1970 Targa looks nothing like a 2005 Carrera to those in the scene, but not to everyone else. She said that her girlfriend's ex had one just like mine from the 1990s. A guy told me about the time he was passed on the Autobahn by a car like mine back when he was stationed in Germany. Then a young boy came over and he asked how fast it went. I said fast enough. Even before coffee, people get talkative about a classic Porsche.


Bill bows in worship of Chris's engine bayTom, Bill, and a few of the crew wandered in and we shot the breeze as others straggled in. We talked about cars and motorcycles and racing and the ones that got away, over eggs and home fries and coffee. Then we paid the bill and congregated outside around the cars. It was a small but interesting collection of cars with a 912 soft window, my Targa, Ed's hot-rodded 912, and Chris's hot-rodded 77 911S. I had seen all of these cars many times before, but discovered something interesting about each. Incoming customers looked and commented and took pictures. We all attempted to leave for at least 30 minutes, but some final bit of conversation prolonged things time and again. You would think that after years, all the stories had been told, but they have not. Or at least we don't remember them all, so it is ok to tell them again. Recycling of a sort.


Finally, the group broke up before we could be prosecuted for loitering. Some were off to further automotive adventures and others to simply drive some more. By this time, many cars were out and about, and the day was fully underway. I took a few back roads to prolong the mood as long as possible, and arrived home with a busy day ahead. No matter, I was already fortified with a high carb, high castrol, high speed start to the day.

2 Wheels 2 Work

Classic Velocity

There are very few positive aspects to $4 per gallon gas, but one of them is the fact that it puts more motorcycles on the road. This is good in a few ways. First, it helps drivers of cars to get used to seeing and hearing and watching for motorcycles. As someone who likes both two wheels and four, it is somewhat puzzling to me how you can fail to see/hear today's larger more powerful motorcycles, but then again, these same motorists fail to see/hear other cars. I have to admit to being a fair weather 2-wheeled commuter. The weather forecast is the primary determinant of whether (pun intended) I am on two wheels or four. Other determinants include factors like how much I need to move around from site to site during the day, and how many bags of mulch I need from the home center that day. Recently though, things have worked out well and I have been on two wheels about 40% of the time. Everytime I do my 150 mile roundtrip on the motorcycle, I feel like I'm doing my very small part. There is a guy that I see year round on a Honda Shadow going in the opposite direction to me. He is riding when it is raining, when it is snowing, and when it is 100 degrees. I am not sure whether this is out of necessity or preference, but here in the northeast, it is admirable regardless. I hope I somehow get to meet this guy at some point because he is a true two wheeled commuter. So in general, the more motorcycles on the road during the daily commute, the better for everyone.

This is not ATGATTThe second positive is that it is good for the wallet and for the environment. It is simply cheaper to drive/ride a vehicle that gets 50-70 mpg than one that gets 25-35mpg. That is roughly half the cost, and if those of us that ride had a commuter bike in the same way that some have a commuter car, we could be on a 250-500cc bike or scooter getting 80+ mpg. It also makes a lot of environmental sense. Bikes put less bad stuff into the air than cars, and according to the Census bureau, about 77% of americans drive alone to work in their cars. I am one of them. It is why I have tried to convince my spouse that I need an Ariel Atom as my commuter car. She pointed out that it lacks weather protection, but I think she is softening....similar to the way in which granite softens....But I digress. I am not an avid environmentalist, I simply believe in horses for courses. I would be miserable slab commuting in a Porsche GT2 if I had one, and I'd probably be writing this from behind bars as well. To efficiently get from A to B everyday in a place where public transportation is not an option, I just want to pick the best vehicle for the job.

Ariel AtomThe third and most important positive is that it is good for the soul. I arrive at work feeling like I have already accomplished something (this is a rare sensation in my workplace most weeks), and feeling energized. YMMV, but it is certainly not a mindless commute when you are on two wheels. You have to pay attention and be acutely aware of your surroundings and the actions of others. You should at least be more alert. I also know that no matter what the day is like, I have a pleasurable experience at the end of it. In many instances I take the scenic route home, or jump off the slab and explore a road that has always looked interesting. Somehow I never think about doing that in the car. Maybe if I had that Ariel Atom......

Motorcyclists call this Target FixationNow commuting on two wheels is not all positive as everyone knows. There are obvious things like unexpected bad weather, pothole strewn roads, and motorcycle-unfriendly construction zones, but the biggest hazard is by far the driving public. This is not true in much of Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa where two wheels are not a novelty used mostly for leisure. So, it is largely an awareness and perception problem rather than a USA-specific fact. But even in the US, very little of this biggest hazard actually has anything to do with motorcycles. NHTSA says that 90% of accidents are caused by driver error. That's 90%. This obviously means that training and education have to be the biggest part of the solution. Avoidance technology is also important, but it treats the symptoms, not the cause. Like all motorcyclists, I have seen some incredibly stupid activities happening as I followed or quickly zoomed around a car. These actions endanger everyone, it is just that the consequences for those of us on two wheels is greater. In a previous post I suggested a different approach to licensure somewhat tongue in cheek (see Differentiated Licensure). I may be revisiting that subject.

Meanwhile, I return to the positive aspects above. Ride your motorcycle to work. Everybody wins.  

Chasing The Deal

Classic Velocity

It was 4:23am and I was driving the pickup at a steady 79MPH as if that 1 MPH short of 80 would eliminate the possibility of a ticket. The speed limit was 70MPH on this stretch of interstate, and despite the hour, a few state troopers were out and about. Frank (name changed to protect the guilty) was fast asleep in the passenger seat and snorting loud enough and infrequently enough to startle me every time. In the droning quiet of night I thought that surely this was a serious medical condition, but then I recalled tales of my own snoring. Perhaps it is a car/bike guy thing. The only other sound was the periodic rattle of the empty trailer behind us when we hit a misaligned expansion joint.  The soft glow of the instrument panel with a few blown bulbs cast a light just good enough for me to see the oscillating speedometer needle. The ashtray was gone, and the instrument light there cast a beam of light right onto the extra large Dunkin Donuts coffee cup that was in the cupholder. The heat was on full blast since the only settings that worked were full blast and off. Off in this case meant 40 degree outside air into the cabin.  Full blast meant 40 degree outside air up top mixed with 400 degree inside air aimed at your feet. Frank needed to do some work on his truck if he was going to expect freeloaders like me to borrow it repeatedly. Slacker.
We were going to a neighboring state to look at and possibly purchase, 2 (yes 2) BMW 1600s. I had become aware of this deal via an email the previous day. It had 2 not-so-good photos and not much description either. One was a running driving, registered car, and the other was a "restorable" car with the engine out and lots of parts. The price was in the "there-must-be-a-catch-here-somewhere-for-this-to-be-so-low" category. I spoke with the owner, got a better sense, and concluded that these cars would be going to the first person who showed up with cash. Was I in the market for a 1600 ? It is one of those cars always on my list because it is the precursor to the 2002, and I really like the all aluminum grill, but I was not actively hunting one at the time. Did I have a place to put it ? The Inn was full and I had no freeloader options remaining. Did I have a place to put 2 cars ? See previous response. Did I have time for another project? I was in the midst of a Honda CB750 project, and I had a healthy todo list on the Targa, etc. It would also not be a good idea to bring another large rusty object to the house. Did I have the budget to consumate this deal? It would take a careful orchestration of funds transfers, off balance-sheet transactions, indexing of derivatives, and obfuscation that would confuse Bernard Madoff. So why was this of interest ? Because it was a deal. 
If you hang out with other vintage iron inmates at the asylum, you are going to come across deals. These deals are not of the ordinary variety now common on Craigslist and other sites, because they are "pre-qualified" by another inmate. Other inmates know your particular brand of insanity and pass on deals that will drive you deeper into madness. This allows them to appear relatively stable by contrast, or to have some company down at their own level. For a while. But I digress. 
Back to the deal at hand. I called Frank and we determined that the only logistical way to make this happen soon was to leave at a ridiculous hour the very next morning (Saturday), get there at 7am, and be back by early afternoon. With two of us, one could sleep while the other drove.  The mark of a true friend is that they would subject themselves to this willingly when they have no vested interest. And offer their truck. I executed the financial transactions during lunch at work, and called the owner. He said that some guy was coming by tomorrow afternoon, but that he had told him that I called first. In other words, I needed to show up first with cash to win. It is said that any great victory requires the defeat of a great enemy. Ok, I just made that up, but it sounds like a 4th century Chinese Emporer could have said it. I now had a worthy opponent steaming toward the prize and hoping to snatch victory. I asked the owner how early he got up. 7am it is.
It was 6:42am. Daylight had emerged, and I was refueling the truck when Frank woke up. 
"Are we there yet Dad?" Frank's lame sense of humor was awake as well.
"Quiet, or I'll have aunt Agnes smother you to death with her hugs." Your lame sense of humor has to get up pretty early to beat my lame sense of humor.
"My neck hurts, these cars better be good, I'm going to take a leak." He wandered toward the Qwik Mart.
"Get me a coffee, Son." He gave me the finger.
Frank returned and we twisted and turned the few remaining miles to the house. It was a victorian style house with a detached garage accessible by an alley behind the house. The better of the 1600s was partially visible. I stopped out front. We got out and walked up to the house. We were already on the steps to the front porch when the owner spoke from a chair over in the corner.
"You boys are right on time. I appreciate that." He put down the paper and picked up his coffee mug. We exchanged pleasantries and went back to see the cars. The one outside the garage was sahara beige. The paint was not as good as pictured, but not a lot worse either. The interior was well worn with drivers and passenger seats in bad shape, while the rear was perfect (as usual). The dash was cracked in a few places and the headliner was falling down. Under the hood, the air cleaner had been expelled in favor of a square aftermarket setup. There was some home brew wiring running around, and some oil leakage that could have been minor or serious. No way to tell casually. So far, below expectations, but not disastrous. The real revelation was the under carriage. It was in far worse shape than the rest of the car would suggest. Lots of rusty spots, and the left rear shock tower was about to rust through in a few places. I got back up and lifted the mats inside. Not good. Frank made helpful comments like "oh boy", "Jeez", and "That's gonna be some work," as we examined the rest of the car.  The owner started the car and it stumbled along unable to idle, while producing some valve clatter."She's a runner," said Frank sarcastically.
"So can we look at the other car?" He opened the grarage and the other car had the unmistakable stance of a car with no engine. It was white with its nose elevated like the prow of a boat. The dash was actually better than the other car, and the back seat was just as good, but there was no driver's seat, and the passenger seat lay on the floor missing one rail. A door glass was missing, it had no headliner, but the floors were in good shape and the shock towers were good. Of course,you know what the owner's plan was here. A transplant. In front of the car was a motor which he described as smoking a lot when he pulled it out. There was also a wiring harness, an extra door with glass, and  a few crates with the original air cleaner, a headlight bucket, some seat hardware, etc. 
The reality of the magnitude of this project began to sink in. The pure adrenalin that had kept me awake despite just a few hours sleep was suddenly gone. This had gone from what-a-deal to ok-project-if-you-can-get-the-price-down-substantially. I did not need one of those, but there one good car and a bunch of parts sitting there. I asked the owner a few questions and then retreated outside to confer with Frank. 
"Let's get outta here," I said.
"Why don't you throw him an offer?" Frank said. "Like $17," he added mockingly.
"You gonna keep them for me?" I knew the answer.
"Tell you what, I'll keep these, and you keep the bugeyes since they're smaller, deal?" Frank's bugeye sprites made both of these cars look like museum quality pieces. They were more industrial art than automobiles.
I sauntered back in and talked to the owner about how I viewed the potential of the vehicles. I made him an offer that was just below what I thought the package was really worth. It was well south of his asking price. With another suitor coming, he was convinced that he could do much better. I did not haggle.
Walking away from a situation like this, you should feel glad that you have avoided some horrible money/time pit that you could not afford. Or maybe you would feel disappointed that the deal was not what you hoped it would be. I was both of those things, but I was also thinking that I might not find a better way to get a decent 1600 into the garage. I was thinking that a few more dollars might have secured not 1 but 2 vehicles. And who doesn't want a parts car for their restoration project? I was thinking of an opportunity lost. I was thinking of looking around for another deal on a 1600.
Back in the truck, Frank took the wheel and we headed back. I was tired and needed to get some sleep. The trailer rattled to remind me that it was still empty. Frank said "You do realize that with the number of things wrong with this truck, and the fact that we hauled an empty trailer around for 700 miles, I have to charge you $3.27 per mile for this trip?"

Dragon Tales

Classic Velocity

There are places and things about which you have heard so much that you are certain to be disappointed if you ever encounter them. If you went to the Magic Kingdom at Disneyworld for the first time when you were a middle-aged adult, I'm sure you'd be crestfallen. It's just another theme park after all. If you are a motorcycle or a sports car enthusiast, and you live in the US, then you have heard of a shrine that you should visit. It is called the Tail of the Dragon at Deal's Gap, and it is touted as the twistiest piece of road in the country. The official site says 318 curves in 11 miles. The Deal's Gap area has some outstanding roads in general, but this particular serpentine ribbon of asphalt has legendary status. If it is a shrine for many, it is a Mecca for motorcyclists. Many sport and touring bikes have a dragon decal somewhere indicating that they have slain the dragon or at least visitied its' lair.

For many reasons, I had not been able to make the pilgrimage until very recently. Several planned dedicated trips had been aborted, and several planned detours had been...well...detoured. I would be on rides or drives featuring fantastic roads and someone would say "This is like a mini Deal's Gap", or "This is like a short version of the dragon, know what I mean?". I did not. But now I do. I know because I carefully orchestrated a detour into a 1100 mile sprint back from Florida on the GS (which is its own story). This time, I would not be denied.

Deal's Gap is an area in the Great Smoky Mountains on the border between North Carolina (NC) and Tenessee (TN). It is on the western fringe of the Nantahala National Forest. I diverted from I-75 through the north Georgia  mountains in the Chattahoochee National Forest. There are endless great roads in this area, and you get a true sense of why half of Atlanta has summer homes up there. However, once you leave the more trendy "Alpine" towns, you get a true sense of the beginning of the appalachian mountains. In my case, I was travelling through very early in the morning, and the roads were empty. In case you think that the south does not get that cold, think again. Temperatures were in the mid 20s, and the trees were bereft of leaves except for the evergreens. I would not see temperatures like these again until I got back to PA at night ! Heated jacket on, heated grips on. A beautiful sunny day dawned and helped to warm things up once I was in NC, but it stayed below 40. At these temperatures almost no motorcyclists were out. It is the equivalent of going to Florida in the winter where the only people in the water are Canadians. On this day, I was an honorary Canadian.

Route 129 meanders through southern NC until it gets to Robbinsville, the official start of the Dragon. By the time I arrived, it was mid-morning, and I was sure that the road would be mobbed by 1000 sport bikes and corvettes even though it was mid-week. I scanned the breakfast places in town and only spotted one Harley, but I assumed that this was because I did not know the place of the sacred sacraments (grits, eggs, and coffee). I decided to press on and discreetly glean some information from the throng at one of the stopping points. There are two types of establishments surrounding the dragon; motorcycle/sportscar "resorts", and motorcycle/sportscar repair shops/towing services. At the very beginning is Wheeler's Cycle Shop which I had seen in many photos with dozens of bikes out front. Today it was empty and closed. Then it dawned on me that they were closed for the winter along with many other places. It turns out that in this part of the south there is a riding season, and this wasn't it.

I jumped back on the road and into the dragon's lair. The road begins curving immediately, and I was taking it easy not knowing what to expect, and since I had full panniers and a top box along for the ride. It was a beautiful stretch of road, very curvy, and following Cheoah Lake and tributaries. I turned up the wick a bit as it crossed into TN, and the curves intensified a bit. I passed section after section that I wanted to do again. I also realized that I had seen only 2 vehicles on the road going the opposite direction. No one was in front of me. This was unbelievable to me. Where was everybody ? The great road continued, but to be honest I had been on several roads just as scenic and just as curvy. I stopped at the "crossroads" where the Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort is located. Closed like everywhere else, but It is the home of "the tree of shame".  It is an oak tree in the courtyard of the motel/resort that is festooned with bits of motorcycles offered in sacrifice to the dragon. Lots of sportbike fairings, some windshields, dozens of mirrors, etc. The dragon apparently likes plastic and carbon fiber.

Click for Onboard Video - Warning 45MbAfter the brief break, I crossed Dalton Bridge, and things changed. The road became a series of sharp curves left, right, left, right, as if they were switchbacks going up some kind of miniature forested mountain. Steep incline to one side of the road, and precipice to the other.  I was scuffing up the boots, such were the lean angles, and I was concerned for the panniers, but oh what FUN !! As soon as you crested one hill, it was down into the next around a similar series of curves. Up, left, right, down, hairpin, left right, left, up, right, hairpin, down, left, right, up. It is unrelenting, and for miles you are never fully upright. Just Brilliant. And I had the road almost completely to myself. As I emerged from the rollercoaster, I could not stop smiling. I looked around, and found a wooded section where I could stash the panniers and top box for a while. A risk for sure, but I had to go back and do this again with more lean angle. I covered things with foliage and headed back up the mountain.

Things were even better until I got stuck behind a road crew of six trucks travelling all of 20 MPH!! I tried just stopping for a while, but then another car went past and made it even worse. With the road that twisty and no straights, it took miles to get past them. There is nothing worse than being detained on a great road. Eventually, I got past and scraped boots to the crossroads. Then I turned around and headed back. This third time was a charm. Zero traffic but for one car which pulled over to let me by. The BMW GSA is no sportbike to be sure, but it will do a fair imitation of one. On this road, rider was more limiting factor than machine. That said, wide bars and plenty of lean meant that I could dance through the now-uninhabited curves with abandon. Many of the curves have incredible (read dangerous) camber changes, and now that I was tackling them at higher speed and with greater lean, I was on the ragged edge once or twice. Eventually, a rhythm emerged, the flow became smooth, and the dappled sunlight through the trees illuminated the scene perfectly. It doesn't get much better than this. At the bottom once again, I dismounted and basked in the afterglow.

The magic of the dragon is certainly the road itself. It is intoxicating, and I can see how easy it would be to repeat the run over and over until you contribute something to the tree of shame. But that magic is surely at its zenith when the road is as empty as I was fortunate enough to experience it. I can't imagine how different that road must be on a nice summer or fall day, full of cruisers and sportbikes and sports cars. In retrospect, I am glad I never had that experience. I get to remember the dragon in its pure form. To really experience the dragon, my advice is to go there on a very cold sunny day in February.

I reluctantly reattached the luggage and continued on route 129. It was still a nice road skirting the lake and allowing me to remember that the bike had gears higher than 4. However, I was still basking in the glow of the 11 miles before when you didn't need them.


Classic Velocity

It was January 1992, and I was driving my 1978 BMW 320i. The 320i was not a very good car (IMHO). It was the replacement for the beloved 2002, and I had a roundlight 02 up on blocks awaiting parts (lots of them) and attention (lots of it). The 320i had the same 2 liter motor, but with more pollution control, more relays, and more weight. It looked good (with euro bumpers), and the interior was more modern, but in many ways it was a much worse car. This particular car came to me from family and had some sentimental attachment. What's that you say, it was the birth of the legendary 3 series? Well yes, and no. It was the first car with the legendary 3 series moniker, but the 3 series really began with the 2002, or perhaps the Neue Klasse models before it. In any case, few would consider the 320i (in US trim) to be the first of the great 3 series cars. But I digress....

I was returning from Orlando to the west coast of Florida. I was using route state route 50 rather than I-4 because I-4 veers to the south and is much longer in distance and time for my intended destination. That is, providing that you do not get stuck behind a convoy of logging or quarry trucks which frequent that route. Or octogenarians traveling west who are avoiding the high speeds of the interstate. Or tractors travelling between pastures. None of those presented much of a problem in this instance because it was...2:00am. Temperatures were relatively cool, and the 320i was running great, showing no evidence of the electrical gremlins I had been chasing. It felt responsive and lithe, and was speeding along “faster than a scalded rump dog”, as the chef at the local diner would say. FL50 had no lights whatsoever once you left Claremont west of Orlando, except for the small towns you would pass through. It is a truly rural road in the Florida interior. Possums and armadillos were a nocturnal menace. Nothing like the threat of deer, but it was not the safest road to go fast on.

Fast and the Furious 1955Except tonight. It was 2:00am on a night that had possibly the biggest full moon that I had ever seen. It cast a light that created shadows and lit up the fields and cows, yet it was in no way similar to sunlight. I got the sunroof crank from the glovebox (it was missing the set screw, and would fall out of the roof and hit you squarely in the kneecap or in the wedding vegetables), and opened the sunroof all the way. Through the sunroof, the rythmic orange lights of the street lamps in Orlando soon gave way to the steady glow of mother nature's nightlight. It was as if I was in a Film Noir, and I should have been driving a Jag XK120 with the top down, sawing at the wheel, careening around corners out in the country, fleeing a rendezvous gone wrong, with a scared (but always seductive) woman in the passenger seat.

Both the gas pedal and the speedometer were buried on a few stretches, and the stretch through the Withlacoochee forest was magical as it has a few curves and has deep forest on both sides. I could have been in Germany's Black Forest, and the 320i was fooled into stellar performance as if not to disappoint its country of origin. The moonlight lit up the road like a silver ribbon, and there I was sailing along the ribbon on moonbeam power. Despite the speed, this segment seemed to go on for a long time, and I did not encounter a single vehicle. I was alone, at speed, with the glow of the moon bathing the interior of the car as effectively as it was lighting the road. I could have turned my headlights off. The midlife Koni shocks were as new, and the suspension balance was perfect in the flow between sweepers.

Finally, there was a segment through the hills and curves of eastern Hernando county. While still in the middle of nowhere, I had to stop. I knew that city lights would soon diminish the beauty of the dream scape. I knew that I would have to slow down and become just another car traveling through town late at night. So I pulled off the road in farm country with no civilization in sight. It was a scene from a Disney movie (maybe I never left Orlando..hhmmm). I turned off the engine and got out. The car was a luminous silver in the soft-focus glow rather than the metallic blue it should have been. The slight bubbling around the rear fender lip, and the faded patch of paint on the roof and trunk were all gone. The BBS wheels had none of the chips and blemishes and brake dust evident in daylight. I got back in and sat for a while looking out across orange groves to one side, and acres of open pasture on the other. The sounds of the frogs and the insects somehow contributed to the sense of silence like some magical sound cancellation system.

Then I looked up at the still enlarged moon and studied its landscape. It was responsible for all of this. This moment was magic, and I was aware that it was special. Back on the ground, a rabbit scampered across the field, and some of the cows were up and grazing. They knew that on nights like this, the grass tasted much better than at any other time, and that it was worth staying up late to experience it.

Fragrance of Castrol

Classic Velocity

There is nothing like an event to get you motivated to sort out a few things. In this case, the Early 911 breakfast club was going to join the local Reisentoter PCA chapter breakfast. Since they were starting at 9:30am, which is practically midday for the breakfast club, Lee Giannone had the brilliant idea of an earlier scenic drive to arrive at the chapter breakfast. What does this have to do with the 914 ? Glad you asked. Since this was to be a more leisurely drive, and I needed an extended shakedown run, I decided that I would take the 914 on its longest journey yet. The starting point was about sixty miles away, and then with the drive and the return home it would be about a 200 mile day.

poppygall.comThere were a few obstacles to overcome. First the logistics of the thanksgiving weekend. Second, the car needed a valve adjustment, and I had pulled the points but got no further on installing the Pertronix unit that I had. Third, it was going to be around 30 degrees with a high in the 40s, and I had no heat in the car. Fourth, the starter was acting lazily sometimes which could mean the solenoid or the starter itself was on the way out. Fifth, the rear valance needed a hole drilled for the last attachment point. I keep forgetting to take care of that after the shakedown runs. Thursday and Friday were out for working on the car because of Thanksgiving. That left Saturday to get a bunch of changes made for the drive on Sunday.

Now I know what you are thinking... Doesn't this break the rules established by your Concentric Circles Theory, not to mention common sense ? Well yes, it does. In fact, in this case, the formula FP=0.5D-NTshould be modified to read FP=0.5D-NT+HT where the HT stands for hypothermia. However, I had experience, wisdom, and cunning on my side...well experience anyway.

On Thanksgiving day, it snowed almost an inch, but fortunately it was not cold enough for it to stick around. On Friday, there were flurries. Saturday was bright and sunny, but still cold. In the garage, I got down to business. I adjusted the valves while the engine was cold, and then reinstalled the points and made sure that the timing was spot on. Then I yanked the points and condenser and installed the pertronix unit and the 0.6 ohm coil. The car fired right up and was noticeably smoother. Same lazy starter, but so far, so good. On to the heat. The heat exchangers were on the car, but not connected to the heat tubes running through the sills. It should be a simple affair to find the pieces, get things reattached, and Bob's your uncle.

Or not. I found both heater valves, but only one of the two hoses. I searched and searched and went through the 911 stuff, and built up a volcano of frustration. There is nothing worse than knowing you have something and not being able to find it. It is worse if you think you are organized. Now these are not the ordinary paper-based heater hoses that you can find at Autozone. AAARRRGGHHH !! I was about to resign myself to half the heat, when a thought hit me and I raced to the basement to check another location. I tend to keep the leftover bits and pieces for cars I no longer own way longer than makes sense. They go from specific bins labeled for the car, to bins with many cars labeled on them. Eventually, the consolidation of bins just descends into ones labeled miscellaneous. But I digest...In the bin labeled 230SL/Ghia/Bug was a heater hose. Why I remembered that one was in there I don't know, but there it was. Once I installed the hoses, I discovered that I was missing the hardware that attaches the heater cables to the valves. Now I know I have these, but I creatively used some zip ties because the volcano was already bubbling, and it would not survive another search without erupting and having me end up on the news.

"This just in, a man burns down his entire neighborhood because he misplaced $5 worth of hardware. He was apprehended by police after a five state rampage of hardware stores. Story at eleven."

I decided that the starter and the valance would wait for another day.

993c4s.comIt was still dark when I woke up on Sunday. I threw the points and condenser into the travelling tool bag, and checked the lights. After replacing a burned out side marker light all was well, and I headed out. The car was running beautifully, and once warmed up even the off-idle dip was much better. After a short while I opened up the heater valve, and there was ....wait for it..... heat !! Good Gravy Gordon, we would not freeze to death afterall. But wait, not so fast with the irrational exuberance, for along with the heat came the wonderful bouquet of ...wait for it again....burning Castrol. I dismissed this as a drop or two of oil in and around the heat exchangers, since as all vintage vehicle owners know (particularly if you like british iron ;-), it only takes a little oil to make lots of smell and smoke.  My theory seemed correct, because as I got on the interstate, the fragrance dissipated and I rocketed along exceeding 100MPH for about 30 seconds on two separate occasions. The car was rock solid, and the noise from the thinly carpeted firewall behind my head was musical. There is nothing like doing 100 before breakfast. It just starts your day off right. As I approached the pre-rendezvous point, the car dropped into a comfortable idle with the tach pointing steadily at 900 RPM.

The pre-rendezvous group gathered and then we set off for the main starting point. The car started easily, and continued to run very well. I was admiring the performance, and at the first exit ramp I was demonstrating the superior handling of the go-cart 914, even over the my beloved 911. As I straightened up, the Castrol fragrance returned with a vengeance, and behind me, a large chemical factory was on fire and billowing smoke. It turns out that this factory was mobile, and was following closely behind me. Ed wisely dropped back along with the rest of the convoy to leave enough room to see the highway. A half mile later, the smoke and the fragrance was gone. Then with the next off-ramp the smell and the smoke were both back. Mercifully, we were soon on local roads with no turns at speed.  At the rendezvous point, the 914 was the lone non-911 and we had a good chuckle about my james-bond-like smoke screen. I checked the oil level, and it was fine, proving that Castrol is superior in the critical smoke-per-ml performance category.

A smoke-free 914 sandwich. Photo by Mark Morrissey
914 Heat -Virtually unchanged since the 1930sAt this point, I knew what the problem was. As stated previously (Theory of Oil Retention), VW and Porsche have conveniently located the most leak-prone fitting on the engine (the valve covers which by the way have just a compression clamp on the 914) facing sideways right above the glowing hot exhaust. Then, they retain a heating system which uses the heated air around the exhaust and brings it into the cabin. Brilliant. I love these cars and these engines, but you never know what will come wafting into the cabin if your car is not meticulous underneath. In the case of my 914 on this day, whenever centrifugal force sent lots of oil against the driver's side valve cover, it leaked enough onto the heat exchangers to produce lots of smoke. This was probably happening all along, but this was the first time the car was driven this hard for this long. In addition, because I had now gone through so much trouble to connect the heater hoses, the smoke made its' way right into the cabin. Thankfully, it was a little warmer by now, and I left the heater valves closed, and the windows a few inches open. However the heater valves are not air-tight seals, so a hint of fragrance remained for the duration. I wisely decided to bring up the rear for the rest of the ride. It was a nice route, and the reasonable pace meant that the car was rarely producing the kind of smoke seen previously.

At the breakfast stop I checked the oil again and it was still fine. After some French Toast with a the crew, I headed for home. The car started lazily after the long cool down, but continued to run great. However, I tended to go easy in the corners. Back at home, and up on the jack, it was obvious that the valve cover was the source of the leak. I pulled the cover and the gasket appeared to be seated slightly askew in one lower corner. You always feel good when you find what you believe to be the root cause. You feel even better when the fix is cheap and easy. I went searching for the new gaskets that I knew I had and found them in one of the bins labeled 914. All was right with the world. After cleaning things up I installed a new one. While finishing up, I brushed the lower valance and it vibrated to remind me that it still needed to be secured. I also saw the zip ties on the heater valves. I got the wire cutters and snipped them leaving the valves closed. We don't need no steenkin heat. 

A Return to Bob's

Classic Velocity

For me, there is nothing like being on the road at first light. Roads are deserted, the world is quiet, and the slowly emerging light creates a magical glow. It is a new day, and all things are possible. I chose a winding route from Pennsylvania to Delaware, avoiding the major arteries even though they would be perfectly clear at this early hour. There was mist in places and fog in a few low lying areas. I traveled at a moderate pace until I had a pretty good scare with a large deer. It was not really a close encounter, but it was one of those things that makes you hyper-vigilant for a good while. As full daylight emerged, the threat went away and I really got to enjoy some nice roads in central Maryland. Eventually, a Waffle House pulled me in like a magnet, and while I ate, I plotted a course further east toward my intended detour.

It has been a couple of years since I had visited Bob's BMW in Jessup Maryland. Bob's is a legendary BMW dealer who runs a shop that is a full service dealer, an Internet vintage BMW parts business, and a museum. As a result, it has become kind of a destination for the faithful. It publishes its location in latitude and longitude. Nuff said. Because it is a destination, the parking lot at Bob's can be pretty interesting as well. On this day, there were 6 or 7 sidecar rigs that showed up in the course of an hour. No organized group, just some local and some not-so-local visitors. Examples included a Ural, a /2 with a Steib, a R100 rig, and an R1200GS rig !! But that was not all, there was a tricked out K1200R, an R65LS, and a few S1000RRs. Surprisingly, a few Harleys stopped in as well, proving the point that Bob's is a little more than a regular BMW dealer.

Inside it is obvious that Vintage BMWs are a focus. Despite having a full array of new bikes, vintage memorabilia and clothing are prominently featured. The main attraction for me however, is the museum area. It is a relatively small area toward the rear and next to Bob's office. However, it is jam packed full of good stuff which rotates in and out over time. This means that repeat visits are worth your time. On this occasion, Bob had several new-uncrated-old bikes on display including an R80GS, an R75/5, and a still-in-the-crate R100R ! The R100R is the last air-cooled carburetor bike to come off the production line in Germany, and Bob has a captivating story about acquiring it. Speaking of captivating, on display was a 1925 R32, the first model to wear the Roundel and BMW brand. In this third year that BMW built motorcycles, you can see the lineage that connects directly to a 2010 R bike. It has shaft drive, a horizontally opposed twin mounted transversely, and a non-traditional front suspension ! It is an excellent example, and I wish I had more time to examine it in detail. Bob and AllanAlso of note was a rare R50S model from 1962, complete with a bikini fairing. As I passed by his office, Bob stopped what he was doing and came out to chat about the bikes and riding. It is pretty rare in my experience that the owner of a business of this size interrupts his work to chat with a guy just passing through.

But wait, there's more. I happened to stop by on the day when world traveler Allan Karl was visiting for a seminar later that evening. I couldn't stay for the show, but we got to spend some time talking about his travels with Bob. Allan has been on the road since 2005, and has travelled more than 63,000 miles on his F650GS Dakar. He has done it alone, with no support crew following in a landrover, or helicopter film crew. Allan's 650 DakarI recommend his site , where you can find blog postings and podcasts. but being able to speak with him in person is even better. And then there is his bike. Yes, the same bike that has traveled the world was parked right outside amongst the rest of the new and old ones covering the parking areas. I'm not sure, but I think the other bikes all turned their wheels in the direction of Allan's bike in homage....

I was only there for a few hours, but it was one of those densely packed periods of time that leave you wondering whether you dreamed some part of it...

Flying Through the Foliage

Classic Velocity


Fall is beautiful in the northeast. An explosion of colors is visible from majestic vistas across the region, and even from non-majestic vistas. The air is cool and the sun still shines brightly. It is the perfect time of year for horizontally opposed air/oil-cooled engines. It would seem that they were manufactured for this time of year. You just have to start the vehicle in order to know that they are much happier machines that are begging to go out and play. Not that I needed any excuse, but John Kolesa and the early 911 crew put together another of the now famous breakfast runs. The idea is simple. Gather somewhere at 7am, drive for 2 hours on uninhabited roads, get breakfast, and head home by 10am....ish.


The E coupe is not a loud car, but it sure sounds loud at 5:45am. I made a hasty departure before the neighbors could identify the perpetrator. Those darn kids with their coffee can mufflers must be at it again ;-) The bank thermometer was reading 39 degrees when I passed through the first town, and the minimal heat in the car had yet to kick in. Cold air was streaming i through the vents. I toppe dup with fuel and left the engine running to save another engine start. Eventually there was that welcome warm flow of air and the unmistakable fragrance of oil wafting around the cabin. A little while later I had to open the windows to ensure the proper air/oil mixture. I love the smell of Castrol in the morning....


When I arrived at the rendezvous site, several of the crew were already getting coffee, and I followed suit. Eventually, a group of about 12 cars showed up including a contingent from NY and NJ. All very nice stuff, and most of them enhanced well beyond a small displacement bump. RS and RSR type mods were present in abundance, engine transplants, backdating, it was all there, and all very tastefully done. Serious time, effort, money, and love had gone into almost everything present. A true R Gruppe..uhmm....gruppe. My almost stock car with a 2.7 was positively mild in this company, and the glowing alternator light provided some question as to how many engine starts I had available given that the drive down required headlights for about an hour.


Breakfast Run VideoAny thought you might have that these cars are pampered conversation pieces would have been shattered in the first few miles of the ride (click here for some video). Let's just say that we got the oil circulating and up to temperature. The first breakfast run was fairly spirited. This run was smokin, and it wasn't the cars. I was above 4 grand on the tach and in the powerband much of the drive. I was happily sideways a couple of times and I was not alone !! The roads were superb tests of the speed and handling of the cars and it was simply fantastic. Curves and whoops and curves and high speed bursts and curves and elevation changes and curves. It don't get much better. The wail of the cars must have sounded bizarre to some of the residents we flew by, while others brought their kids out to see the spectacle as we paused to regroup. Then it was off again in a symphony of the unique shriek of a flat six on song. Flying through farm country and careening past corn fields. I had not driven for that long that fast since the last time on track.


At the breakfast stop, the crew caught up on each other's projects and talked about past and future events. Too soon, we had to disband. Some of the crew was heading on to more driving on their way up to Watkins Glen. Those of us less fortunate headed home. I took the scenic route and continued pushing the limits of the tires all the way back. The scent of castrol scented heat, the rush of cold air throught the windows, the sound of a flat six behind you, and the thrill of driving one of the greatest cars of all time close to your limits for miles at a time. Surely this was what it was like at Le Mans or Spa or Watkins Glen when those circuits cut through villages and farmland just like those I was flying through today.

Oh yeah, I hear there was some fall foliage happening somewhere as well..

Vintage Proving Grounds

Classic Velocity


Automobile magazines and message boards are famous for spy shots of the latest models undergoing secret testing in the Arctic Circle, or in Death Valley California, or wherever their proving grounds happen to be. I have seldom ever seen such things for motorcycles, and wonder why. Perhaps it is the difficulty of getting those visually deceptive paint schemes and body cladding on a motorcycle. Perhaps it is because motorcycle manufacturers are less likely to copy the designs of others. Perhaps it is because they could just leave off all of the bodywork and nobody could tell. Perhaps it is because they can't get anybody crazy enough to ride a bike in those places. But I digest....

For vintage motorcycles, proving grounds are very valuable following a resuscitation or a full-on restoration, or just some new parts. If you have read the Concentric Circles post, then you are already familiar with my regimen for progressively testing a vintage vehicle's roadworthiness. In this instance, I'd like to relate an actual ride to an event at the end of that process.


Twas the night before the event, and the 6V battery for the BMW R50 is on the floor on the charger. The float chambers for the Bing carbs are also on a cloth on the floor awaiting the installation of new gaskets. They were next to the new plugs which I was installing. The headlight is out of its' bucket as I try to discover why the neutral light will not illuminate despite a new bulb, and seemingly solid wiring. The tail bag from another bike that I plan to attach just looks wrong with the straps and connectors looping around all over the place. It is getting late, and I need an early start to make it the 35 miles to the start of the event. That distance will roughly equal the longest single journey to date for the bike. And then there is the event itself.  A fifty mile loop of backroads. And then there is the ride home of another 35 miles. I was breaking my own rules of concentric circles and rolling the dice, but what could I do, the event was here. I put the headlight back together still with no neutral light, and reattached the float bowls. I opened the petcock and let them get some gas. No leaks after 5 minutes, so a big improvement. I  installed the plugs and removed the tail bag, opting for the magnetic tankbag I seldom use. I unthinkingly rested it on the now vacated fender rack and the magnets grabbed on like my son did on his first visit to the dentist !! This thing was going nowhere, and fit the rack nicely. Sorted. I left the battery on the trickle charger and went to bed.


brooksmotorworks.comSunday promised to be a beautiful but chilly day. Highs in the low 60s. Back in the chilly garage, I installed the battery, threw the standard toolkit in the tank-tail bag, and suited up. I opted for the jacket with liner and the fullface helmet, which turned out to be a very wise choice. Now there is a certain twinge of apprehension whenever you are about to start a vintage motorcycle for the first time after doing some work. Particularly one which you can only kickstart. The R50 normally starts on the first or second kick following the appropriate pre-starting sequence, prayers, and a ritual offering of virgin octane boost. After the second kick, if it does not start, the next 20 kicks are useless, you just need to let it sit for a few minutes and then try again. My former Norton 750 was the opposite as it would sputter convincingly on the first 73 kicks, and start only when it could verify that you were going into cardiac arrest. First kick, nothing. I did some light stretching and rolled my head around like a boxer before the bout to loosen the neck muscles. Second kick, nothing. Not even a sputter. I slowly turned to grab a seat, but then quickly spun around and surprised the bike by quickly giving it a third kick unexpectedly.  It fired right up into a delightfully even idle pulsating through the twin peashooters. Ya gotta know your machine.


Now I know what you are thinking. This is an ominous beginning, and perhaps discretion should be the better part of valour. However, discretion is rarely a part of owning vintage iron, and I never liked velour because it wears poorly and reminds me of a pimpmobile. I ventured off into the emerging daylight, which was a good thing because the headlight has the same number of lumens as an aging firefly. The bike loved the cold air, and it was running superbly. Crisp cold air, rural backroads, sunrise, and an excellent machine. This was the stuff of TV commercials. There was a stint of about 12 miles on a two lane highway where the R50 hummed along at 60 like it could go on forever. If my grin was any wider, I would have swallowed my ears.  At every light, the bike returned to idle perfectly, and after 35 miles I arrived at the start point and left it running while I got fuel. Then I pulled up alongside the other bikes present, and reluctantly shut it off for the first time since my garage.


The event was the 4th Annual Fall Vintage Ride and BBQ organized by Todd Trumbore. Todd organized the Guinness World Record attempt earlier in the spring and is a general dynamo of the vintage motorcycle community in this area. Todd should be classified as an alternative form of energy by the department of energy. If we could somehow harness the energy and enthusiasm that he exudes at every event, we could probably power the northeast this winter. But I digest...It turns out that I was the lone BMW /2 on the ride at the start (another joined later). There were plenty of /5/6/7 bikes, and some Triumphs and a few Harleys, a Yamaha, and a Guzzi.  All cool stuff. Todd came over to inform me that the 50 mile loop was nixed, and we would all stick together on the 100 mile loop ! All righty then. I warmed up with coffee, and had a fun conversation with Horst Oberst. It turns out that he used to race an R50, and I asked him how to get the most out of the machine on the ride. He responded in his inimitable accent that I should hang off more and get my knee down. A while later we got the signal to mount up. I looked at the bottom of the carbs and they were both moist. That problem is better, but obviously not completely resolved. Those with tempermental bikes and those needing special assistance were invited to begin their rituals early. Bikes roared to life and I hoped that mine would as well. First kick, nothing... But wait, there was a slight vibration in the bars. It turns out that it started first kick, and I was unable to hear or feel the smoother idle over the noise and thunder of everything around ! We were off.


momentum is keyTwenty-seven horsepower is not a lot of power compared to, well, anything. The BMW R50 does not dart or thrust or zoom, or use any advertising term associated with performance. It builds to a plateau of steady progress in a locomotive sort of way. It also does not stop on a dime or throw out anchors, or use any advertising term associated with braking performance. It retards progress at a steady pace in the same way that land masses retard the progress of hurricanes. Riding in a group of more modern equipment requires an understanding group, keen anticipation of impending events, and a mastery of momentum. I was with a great group and, fortunately, I grew up riding Honda 50 Cubs and other machinery that could only dream about 27 horsepower. The skills honed in those days served me well on this day.  The bike performed admirably, and I am sure that I had close to all 27 horses working as a team. In fact, I came close to grinding the valve covers a couple of times. Horst would be proud. At the gas stop all was well, and temperatures remained very cool.  Several people liked the idea of a magnetic tank bag as tail bag.


Magnificent roads and fall leaves beginning to turn made for a beautiful second half of the ride. Starting from a dead stop was a challenge, but only because I wanted to avoid holding up those behind in the formation. The bike seemed to be running even better and shifting was less ponderous. Finally, we arrived at the park where the ride concluded without a mechanical failure in the group (although with a few hindrances). There is a sort of celebration in the air when a vintage ride concludes that approaches what riders must feel at the end of the Dakar Rally. More than a few are just happy to have made it without issue, and have a mixture of pride, relief, and astonishment. Others have overcome brushes with misfortune and harrowing moments unbeknownst to others where life and limb were at risk. Still others dismount just satisfied with a good day's riding. The outcome was never really in doubt, and the new tires/grips/fill-in-the-blank worked fine. We grabbed some grub and told lies, but with vintage iron, the truth is usually more entertaining. The event wound down. First kick, perfect purr. I headed home and even added a few miles as confidence was now just overflowing.

Back in the garage, I studied the R50 with renewed admiration. It is one thing to hear people talk about how sturdy vintage iron can be, but it is quite another to take a 45 year old machine with a somewhat unknown history, bring it back to operating condition, and then rely on it in what amounts to a high performance situation. This was not a leisurely day of 35 -50 MPH meandering. 175 miles does not sound like a lot, but on this day, it was a long stint at the vintage proving grounds. 

La Jolla Surprise

Classic Velocity


While out in San Diego on business, I was headed to a dinner one evening and almost locked up all four tires of the rental as I spotted several vintage BMWs in an aging garage on the other side of the street. I zipped up to the next block and did a u-turn. Once I pulled up to the place I realized that it was the well-known La Jolla Independent from whom I had ordered parts for my former 3.0CS several times in the past. The place is part BMW vintage wrecking yard, part restoration showcase, part multi-bay mechanic shop, and part parts place. It is not pretty, but it oozes ambiance. They were close to closing, and I would not have a chance to return, to I wandered around like a kid in a candy shop.


If you want to see what BMW was up to with 2 and 4 door sedans in the sixties and seventies, this is a good place to do it. Nothing museum quality, and I may just have had fortunate timing, but there was an example of most of the BMW sedans of that era on the premises. A 3200CS, a 2000CS, and a rare 2000ti. A variety of 2800 and 3.0CS models in various states of decay were around, as well as a number of Bavarias. On the smaller scale there was a 700 and a few 1600s and of course 2002s. Among the 2002s were a couple of nice Bauer cabriolets ! An Isetta 600 was on display inside to round out the small cars. But it was not just limited to cars. A nice array of rare parts were scattered about as well. In particular was a nice set of 2002tii alloys that I would have loved to bring home. They were well beyond the budget for impulse purchases.


All too soon I had to vacate the premises. There is a lot that I didn't get to see including the more modern fare in the shop area, and I'm sure some more vintage stuff. I zoomed off, and got to my dinner late, but I was already well fed. For a chance encounter on a beautiful California evening, this was the best of surprises.  

Quebec Quickly

Classic Velocity

Late summer provided an opportunity to make a quick run up to Quebec Canada for a few days and another opportunity to see a slightly different take on things from our brethren and sistren to the north. Of course, franco-centric Quebec is kind of unique even within Canada, so I needed to summon up my high school french from the musty dungeon of the linguistic castle. Quebec has fought long and hard to keep its identity and to keep french as the primary language. It even moved to secede from Canada a while ago citing how very different it is. Indeed, it is probably the most european looking-and-feeling place in north america. Quebec City is a beautiful historic city that is also one of the oldest in north america. But I digest, this is not a travel blog.

Alfa Montreal - missingUnfortunately for Canada, and in complete contrast to the european feel of quebec, they have been subject to some of the worst products conceived by Detroit's big three over time. In fact, the 4-wheeled automotive landscape looks more like Detroit than anywhere else. I'm not positive, but I think the Oldsmobile Intrigue and the Chevy Lumina were given away for free in Canada. Not much to report on the two-wheeled front either. Montreal from Mont-RoyalI did see a couple of Voxans in Montreal, and a few more Moto Guzzis than I would normally see, but for the most part the mix was not radically different than in the US. Other than having speedometers in KPH rather than MPH, the automotive landscape of Canada is really no different than that of the US. With one exception. Scooters.

Moto InternationaleScooters abound in the cities. While this has only recently caught on in large US cities, it has been the case for some time in Canadian cities and is even more so today. It makes Montreal or Quebec City feel more like Paris or Rome or London. Cool vintage Vespas and Lambrettas were scattered about along with newer Kymcos and brands I did not recognize. The scooter population was complemented by the bicycle population. The cities had a public bicycle rental system called Bixi, which allows you to rent one from hundreds of locations and ride to any other and drop it off. Great system, and well used.

So what of vintage cars and bikes ? This visit did not allow for exploration of that world, but I did not see much. There is a lot of newer german merchandise on the road, but that could be said of any major city. I did pay a visit to the BMW motorcycle dealer in Montreal, and it was an impressive place. Large and well-stocked. I had a conversation with a salesman and he explained that they were doing fairly well in these times. While walking along in Montreal, we were startled to hear loud sirens and a driver quickly pulled over right in front of us. The police officer quickly dismounted from a familiar looking motorcycle, and barked orders to the driver in french while drawing his weapon. The bike was a BMW R1150 RTP. If you squinted your eyes and blocked out the cars, it could have been Paris....