Snortin’ Nortons, Trumpeting Tritons, Beastly BSAs, Invincible Vincents … they all rallied to the 36th running of the iconic Hansen Dam Motorcycle Rally. For 2015, the rally broke all its previous records by the sheer number of bikes and people in attendance, spilling into virtual overflow capacity at the popular recreational area. Major gearhead himself, Jay Leno, rumbled in to enjoy the event aboard a major piece of motorcycling history; a well-ridden Brough Superior SS100.
Known semi-officially as the All-British Hansen Dam Ride, the event is hosted every November by the Southern California Norton Owners Club (SCNOC, founded in 1978), with club president Kevin Nerden at the helm, loudspeaker in hand. Along with the bike show, the day-long event includes a 75-mile loop through the canyons of the western San Gabriel Mountains, this year finding more than 350 riders taking part without mishap or constabulary intervention.
When the riders returned, awards were handed out to the show winners. A casually run competition, the 250-member SCNOC prides itself on having no regulations, political agenda, etc.
“We always want this event to be free and easy, a gathering of enthusiasts for enthusiasts by enthusiasts,” says Nerden. “This is a Norton club fundraiser; the only time we sell our shirts and actively sign-up members. The rest of the time we’re just a riding club. A test of the attendance was that we sold out all the rally t-shirts we printed, the first time that’s happened.”
The event welcomes all riders on whatever make or model machine they happen to own and enjoy, both vintage and new, although Brit bikes are the major presence – represented by the British Golden Years of Norton, Triumph, BSA, Ariel, Enfield, HRD/Vincent and their classic hybrid variants including Tritons and Norvins. Also well-represented were an assortment of Japanese and European bikes as well as Harley-Davidsons. Each year a few bikes also make their debut. Hansen Dam is often the birthplace for many homegrown project bikes.
While the lineup of machines competing in the judged event drew crowds, the big show was literally the entire parking lot. You saw everything from a Wankel Rotary RE5 Suzuki with Flash Gordon instrument pod to a mint fire-red Benelli Sport 250, a 1940s Indian Scout, a ’75 Laverda Bol d’Or just to name a few. If you had to pick a dominant species at the rally, it was the slew of new Triumphs decked out with custom café treatment. Naturally there were plenty of Nortons from the ’60-’70s, including at least one of the new iterations ridden in by SCNOC member Jim Ashworth.
Along with several hybrids including Tritons and Norvins, of major interest was Mitch Talcove’s Vincati, yes a Vincent 1000 Twin stuffed into a Ducati chassis. As the story goes, the first Vincati appeared in an Australian publication in 1975 as wrenched together by a Max Johnson. After three years of work it made its appearance where even Phil Irving, who had designed the original Vincent, basically gave it a thumbs up. Several others got in on the Vincati act, building their variations, the major players being Sidney “Big Sid” Biberman and his son Mathew, who melded a 1953 Vincent Rapide into a 1973 Ducati 750 GT chassis, basically a match made in heaven, the powerful engine now housed in a longer, more rigid frame with obvious benefits.
Fast forward to 1999, and John Caraway acquires a Ducati/Vincati chassis from Neal Videan, and the bike eventually passes into the hands of Mitch Talcove, a major Vincent aficionado. Talcove reports that after taking on the uncompleted, non-running project bike, the motor mocked up in the Ducati 900SS frame, he began a complete mechanical and cosmetic make-over.
The 1000cc Vincent engine had originally been overbored past 1200cc, and when fired up for the first time the cylinders were warping, requiring resleeving and a change to 1148cc. Plus, the bigger pistons and sky-high 12:1 compression ratio were chewing up starter gears at $400 a pop. Talcove wanted his bike to be streetable, so he lowered the compression to a more user-friendly 7.5:1, which was still higher than the stock Vincent Black Shadow’s 6.8:1. A host of further improvements and rare parts followed, eventually leading to the completion of the bike. You’ll be able to see it for yourself at the next Quail Lodge show.
Asked to compare riding a stock Vincent vs. the Vincati, Talcove responds, “The Vincati is twice that of a Vincent Black Shadow and so much fun.” You could say, as did Caesar, Veni, Vidi, Vici … Mitch came, people saw his Vincati, and his totally awesome bike won Best British Custom of the show and no doubt will garner many other accolades down the road. Meanwhile he’s just enjoying it. “If people just come and tap me on the shoulder and say, we really liked seeing your bike, that’s all I really need.”
That about sums up the vibe given by all members of the SCNOC.
Prez Nerden is already pondering the upcoming 37th event but wanted to give a shout-out to the SCNOC members who contributed to this year’s success: Klaus Wiene, Chris Hovland, Mitchel Reichein and especially Brendan Durret and his wife Denise. He also gives a thumbs up to John Studden of Valencia Sign and Graphics who designed the rally-t-shirt and the new Norton Club logo.
What follows are my pix and picks of the best from the event.