25th Annual Hansen Dam British Bike Rally
Some say Rough, Some Say Brough
The sun set on the British Empire on Sunday November 7 (but only temporarily,) when the rains clouds arrived just as 400 plus bikes were rolling out of L.A.'s Hansen Dam park for the 25th Annual Hansen Dam British Bike Ride and Show.
The ride is a 90-mile loop, through the hills. The day was cold & wet... a perfect day for British bikes.
This event originated in 1980, with sponsorship by Johnson Motors, the west coast Triumph distributor, before the baton was passed to Pat Owens. Pat is one of those living legends. A motorcycle instructor at L.A. Trade Tech for many years, he is also well known for his riding prowess, his well-worn Triumph, purportedly having carried him something like 500,000 miles, was on display at this year's event that for the past fifteen years has been under the care of the Southern California Norton Owners Club (SCNOC).
Yes, along with the classic Triumph, Norton, BSA, Velocette, Brough-Superior (and that would be Bruff-Superior), and Vincent thumpers and vertical twins, there was a posse of brand new swoopy sportbikes and several full-blown mega-buck custom Harleys not to forget several dozen sidecar rigs that showed up to take part in the non-partisan, ride-what-you-brung event. We should make note that SCNOC has no officers, rulebooks or dues, which probably makes it one of the best bike clubs out there. Often leading the proceedings, bullhorn in hand and a Norton by his side, is Bib Bibbiani aka the Voice of the Hansen Dam Ride. Bib, a double decade member of the SCNOC, recalls his very first Norton, a '74 Commando and his first British ride back in 1983 which also marked the fifth anniversary of his successful cancer surgery and a celebration all round.
He also succinctly sums-up the Hansen Dam event, when he says; "It's just a celebration of motorcycles. We don't care what people ride. It's a great day to get out on the road. I support it because it shows younger guys that... hey, you can have a helluva lot fun on an older motorcycle and it also encourages some of the older guys to get back into it." Bib, an ex-Marine squad leader who's now serving as an elected member of his local School Board, has been at the forefront of the club's activities for more than twenty years. He performed a stint as club President, before they decided to do away with the officer thing, as well as Ride Chairman and the creator of many of the club's famous rides. Bib usually has a dozen or more late '50s through '75 Nortons -Dominators, Atlases and Commandos- being prepped for new homes. Now, he's quick to point out that he and his Norton partner Steve Chauvin don't do restorations, and don't seek out work. They'd rather focus on preparing mechanically fit Nortons, so their owners can do the prettying up stuff. "You know you have pet adoptions. I do Norton adoptions," laughs Bib.
Bib is quick to point out that many members of the SCNOC are instrumental in making the Hansen Dam event a continuing success along with the rest of the club's activities.
Reed Libby is one of those longtime steadfast mainstays of the club who also has an eclectic collection of motorcycles. Then there's Harvey Woien who maintains the club's web site and rides a BSA, a Ducati and a Norton. The Hansen Dam event also received support from Works Performance Shocks, TT Cycles, Symonds Cycles, British Marketing, The Garage Co. and Cycle Glory.
You could say Bib speaks for all concerned when he says, "Classic motorcycling is not found in elapsed times or top speeds, but in enjoying the adventure of the ride and the camaraderie after the ride. It's about reliving our youth and hell, American history." Speaking of history, this year he rode his HPI Norton to the event. Now if you're into Nortons you know what HPI stands for Horsepower International. It also stands for the late George Gjonovich, an Orange Country resident skilled in making snortin' Nortons snort even louder and stronger thanks to his famous big bore kits. This writer enjoyed an HPI modified engine several years ago, the motor stuffed into his John Player Replica Norton. Let's just say it was snorty and rorty so it was a pleasant surprise seeing a JPN that had showed up at the Hansen Dam rally. Then there was Leland Powell's incredible polished aluminum bodied 680cc Alpine Brough-Superior to make the head swim with tales of T.E. Lawrence's favorite bike. Or the 1927 Velocette, a petite little thing that looked like it popped out of a Faberge egg. In addition to the dozens of restored machines, correct to the vintage air in the tires, there were plenty of "hotrodded" Triumphs and custom Nortons and unique oneuvakinders like Homer Knapp's Norton framed Ariel. Other Brit bike notables included Bill Getty, the owner of TRW, a purveyor of fine vintage British parts, who appeared on a 1974 Norton Interstate that he had bought new some 20 years ago and still a reliable companion.
Amongst the slew of 1960s Trumpets, there were several of the new highly successful breed of Triumphs in attendance, both in stock and "customized" form. I saw one with a stretched swing arm and a couple others teamed up with sidecars. Yes, a small herd of sidecars had appeared, each a unique combination of motorcycle and "car" including a V-Max, a Moto-Guzzi California, and several Harleys, Goldwings, and BMWs of various vintages. Doug Bingham aka Mr. Sidecar and owner of Side Strider had called his fellow sidehackers to the event and they were welcomed as was any form of motorcycle that found its way to Hansen Dam.
Documenting the action was Rikki Rockett, with a film crew shooting footage for his upcoming film, "Hooligan." It seemed a misnomer since there was certainly none of that at this most civilized of events. We trust it's just a poetic term. Or perhaps it was the members of the "Brit Iron Rebels" kitted up in classic British '60s gear that drew the attention of the camera.
As we said, it's an all-bikes-welcome get together and it wouldn't have been a bike event with the appearance of Paul Montgomery and Anne-Marie Whalen, two Italian bike aficionados, who brought special pleasure to all when they putted in on his and her tomato red 1950s single cylinders Moto Guzzis. Paul, Parts Manager at Pro Italia in Glendale, also runs a thriving vintage Guzzi parts concern via the Internet (www.guzzino.com).
He had recently returned from an Italian bike feeding frenzy at Imola, Italy and scene of the largest Italian bike swap meet on either size of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Anne-Marie had recently finished her studies to be a nurse, and it's always good to have a bike friendly angel of mercy, and none better than she with several bikes in her garage. Joining the pro-Brit festivities was Craig Barrett, vintage Japanese bike fan and bike builder (previously seen in MO) with his latest creation, a 305cc Honda based "Street Tracker" fresh from his workbench. Another well-known British bike racer and restorer Sonny Nutter piloted one of his many fine '60s Trumpets while musician/motorcyclist Peter Freiberger appeared on his awesome Ducati 900SS. A member of the #1 ranked vintage race team, Guilty by Association, Tim "Merciless" Mings rode in the company of no less than the grandson of Bela Lugosi. Yet another celebrity, one oft seen at SoCal bike events, the one and only late night show host and extreme gearhead, Mr. Jay Leno, motored in aboard a very tidy Series A Vincent 500cc Comet, the single cylinder cousin to the vaunted Black Shadow.
The ride itself was braved by many stalwart Britbikers, despite the threatening storm clouds. The snarling, burbling pack rumbled out of Hansen Dam at 10 AM. and wound its way up Little Tujunga, through Sand Canyon and Soledad Canyon to Acton, then along the Angeles Forest Highway with a stop at the Hidden Springs Café (who always do a great job) then back through lower Big Tujunga and back to Foothill Boulevard and a return to Hansen Dam which by the way is located off the 210 East freeway at the Osborne Exit in a place officially called Lakeview Terrace, CA. The good news this year, was there were no reports of either breakdowns or accidents.
The bike show, which itself is low key and nonsectarian, produced some stellar examples of precious metal. It does have one rule... all show bikes have to be ridden on the ride, and they were... including the Best Norton, Ron Zarilla's '71 750 Commando. Best Triumph went to Johnny Green and his '61 Tiger 110 "bathtub." Best BSA was George Murphy's '51 A7 while Best Custom went to Homer Knapp and his Norton/Ariel hybrid. Best Other was awarded to Leland Powells' 1930 Brough-Superior. And Best of Show went to Larry Horn's beautiful red Norvin (Norton frame/Vincent engine).
"You Don't Have to Ride British, But It Helps"
Describing the other SCNOC rides, Bib says, "We've got several great rides. One is Cambria in June where we ride from Cambria inland through wine country via Paso Robles up through Carmel Valley and then the entire length of Big Sur. It takes place the first weekend of June, a 275 mile one-day ride. Everybody's welcome to take part. Another popular ride, one we've done three years in a row, meets in Mariposa in the middle weekend of September in conjunction with the Northern Norton Owners Club. We go over the Sonora Pass at 9600 ft. and stay overnight, then the next morning go over the Tioga Pass at 9900 ft. then back to Mariposa. Last time the Sonora Pass was 36 degrees and Tioga was 32 degrees with a snowstorm, we getting through a few hours before they closed both passes. Riding older bikes creates an real adrenaline rush... like will the bike I worked on all month take me there and back!"
The SCNOC members are known to ride a pretty good clip. We hear Bib's wife is still miffed at him when she rode as passenger on the day they rode from Carmel to Cambria in less than two hours. The bike in this case was a Norton affectionately called "Johnny Cash" consisting of a '68 motor, '75 frame, '72 frontend, '70 rearend, homemade seat, Fastback covers... a real bitsa and also a real flyer, says Bib.
SCNOC hosts monthly rides that usually attract 35-50 riders plus an annual pilgrimage to Guy Webster's incredible bike collection in Ojai. And don't miss the Sid Vicious Ride in February, when the club heads out for some live music and partying.
For more information about the SCNOC and assorted British bike links, log on to http://www.scnoc.5u.com/ or call Bib at 626-791-0259 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He'll also help you with your Norton questions or hook you up with one.
TT Cycles, 1093 Tuxford in Sun Valley (specializes in British twins). (818) 767-3187
Symonds Cycles (bike and parts) in Sylmar, CA. (818) 897-4738
Glory Cycles (classic bikes and British gear), 4659 Hollywood Blvd., LA (323) 644-5679
The Garage Co. Garage Company (everything vintage bike), 3211 Washington Blvd, Los Angeles1 (800) 393-3766
British Marketing, Laguna Niguel, CA; http://www.britishmarketing.com/; (949) 582-2902