Hansen Dam Show and Ride

Badass Brit Bikes Inundate Hansen Dam

story by Paul Garson, Photograph by Paul Garson, Created Jan. 11, 2008
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Standing at the gateway to the sprawling Hansen Dam recreational area outside L.A., a guy with an electronic bullhorn, Bib Bibbiani, was sending off several hundred British bike riders on a 90-mile loop up through the Angeles Forest Highway in search of the ultimate hamburger at a watering hole called the Hidden Springs Café.

The herd of Triumph, Matchless, AJS, Greeves, Norton, Ariel, BSA, Velocette and Vincents was joined by an international gaggle of Italian, German, American, Spanish, and French classics as well as a posse of brand new swoopy sportbikes and several full-blown mega-buck custom Harleys, not to forget sidecar rigs that showed up to take part in the non-partisan, ride-what-you-brung 28th Annual Hansen Dam Ride, aka The Best Ride by a Damside.

“Go forward and multiply. Be fruitful, my sons.”
Pat Owens was the lead motorcycle repair instructor at L.A. Trade Technology School for many years. Prior to that he was Gene Romero and Eddie Mulder's race mechanic. He's a helluva nice guy, too.
The first bikes that grabbed my attention was not one but two ultra-rare and beautifully restored1963 BSA Rocket Gold Stars. What's more, these identical bikes are owned by twin brothers.

More than 650 bikes of all ilk took advantage of sunny SoCal climes for the ride and bike show that commenced once they wound their way 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 E freeway at the Osborne Exit in a place officially called Lakeview Terrace, CA.

The event is literally an institution with riders homing in from all over the state and beyond. Hansen Dam was born back in 1980 under the sponsorship of the West Coast Triumph distributor, Johnson Motors, an institution in itself for local Brit bike fans. A few years later it came under the direction of  L.A. Trade Tech motorcycle instructor Pat Owens who walks the walk, talks the talk via his well-worn Triumph having clocked some half a million miles. Pat and his crusty Triumph were on display at this year’s event, which for the past 18 years has been under the care of the SCNOC.

'We want to focus on bikes that are ridden and not just a bike someone threw a lot of money on to over-restore.'

As to any underlying philosophy for the event, Bib wrapped it up in his distinctive style when he addressed the bike show judges as to the criteria for picking the day’s winners. “Hansen Dam stands for no preeners, no penis extenders, no pretense… just good rides. We want to focus on bikes that are ridden and not just a bike someone threw a lot of money on to over-restore. We’re looking for bikes with character, with something unusual history, bikes that are put on the road and not hermetically sealed in a garage. So go pick 'em!”

Heeding his words this rider/writer began picking his own “winners.”

Talking to the RGS owners Ron and Don Massey, we learned they had brought their bikes all the way from Bakersfield for the Hansen Dam shindig. In fact they had brought a third RGS owned by their buddy Rick Peters, who had been the wrench behind the three engine rebuilds. In real life Ron works at a Honda dealership while Don restores vintage WWII airplanes, so they know their SAE from their Whitworths.

Since you may not have ever seen an RGS before, here’s a quick summary. The 650cc A10 Rocket Gold Star (RGS) was built by Birmingham Small Arms in response to the introduction of their rival Triumph’s new vertical-Twins.

The sport version Rocket Gold Stars are the rarest fraction of that outpouring and the last of the separate gearbox BSAs, only a few dozen built in 1962-3. Features included a double-cradle frame and spectacular silver and chrome color scheme. The RGS engine also benefited from bigger valves, sport camshafts, a light-alloy head and 9:1 compression as well as magneto ignition, two-into-one exhaust and dual speedo and tach instrumentation. (One of the three bikes has a gold colored mag which is the even rarer competition model.) The 419-lb Rocket Gold Stars were capable of 115 mph, definitely at the leading streetbike edge back in 1963.

The twins’ bikes also feature special factory options including the special Dunlop alloy rims and 7.5-inch full hub front brake. There were some slight differences between Don and Ron’s bikes, for example the choice of handlebars and headlamp mounts. The Massey twins also tell us that they and all three BSA’s will be flying to next year’s Isle of Man where they’ll be taking their BSA’s on a laps around that famous course. I guess that would satisfy Bib’s criteria for bikes with the right stuff.

Okay, what else meets the grade... ?

A pair of gnarly, badass Triumph choppers! None of the chrome and gloss of the elegant Beezers, these bobbers exuded attitude, but on inspection also showed a special attention to detail.

The two bobbers were brought to the event by the father and son team of Earl and Brian Kane. Working out of his shop in El Segundo, CA, Earl’s been building hotrod cars and bikes since the 1960s, while Brian, an L.A. County fireman, helps with the wrenching including the build on his own ride seen here. Earl hand makes some of the coolest custom alloy oil tanks and other components for his projects and his way reasonable prices for his 1960s custom bobbers.

Earl’s bike, in gloss black, was built around a 1964 Bonnie motor stuff in a TR-6 frame to which he grafted a hardtail rear end. Up front is a classic Ceriani front end while the rear wheel is a Harley 16-inch wheel laced to a Triumph hub, and that rear spinner knock-off was transplanted from a 1950s Hildebrand sprint car. A 19-inch wheel up front wears an 8-inch ’69 Triumph twin-leading shoe brake assembly.

“The front brake works great, but with the back brake it helps to drag your feet,” laughs Earl.  Earl made the velocity stacks and the chain tensioner as well as the chromed steel pan seat. It’s doubled up with a liner underneath while those pads contain gel foam under leather. Earl says that with the combination of the springs, taken from a Stingray bicycle, it makes for a fairly comfortable ride even with the hardtail design.

Everything shines on this bike.
One of the more radical sidecars, an all-alloy hand-formed one-off that looked a bit like a coffin but was actually an “expandable” camper that you can sleep in.

His son Brian’s bike is a knock-out as well. Painted in hot rod flat black, enhanced by perfect pin-striping, the bobber features a ’65 frame and a Thunderbird motor with Bonneville heads and twin Amal carbs. And, yes, Earl and Brian like those ARD mags. The list of handmade custom parts includes the rigid hard-tail rear section, the front end, oil tank, wheel spinners, velocity stacks and license bracket. The headlight once graced a ’51 Merc as a spot light, while the matching taillight was found on eBay.

Earl’s bikes previously have won the Outstanding Detail Motorcycle Award at the prestigious 58th Annual Grand National Roadster Show .You can check out Earl’s other projects at http://www.earlsbikes.net/or call him at 310-218-2979.

Like they say, too many bikes, not enough time and space, so we’ll let the photos continue the story, but first we’ll let Bib Bibbiani have the last words about the event.

“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. And the Hansen Dam ride proves you don’t need to spend $15-20 to enjoying motorcycle, as most of the bikes that showed up were valued at $5-7,000 with enough performance for all the fun you’ll want.”

At the end of the day, the official results were tabulated. First impressions proved right. Best BSA – Ron Fiore’s burgundy 1954 A-7; Best Norton was Tim Green’s black and white 1960 Norton 99; Best Triumph was Phil Lankford’s all original, as in rusty but running, 1950 6T; Best Other went to Mars Webster’s viciously elegant black Egli-Vincent; Best Modified award went to Brian Kane’s very tasty Triumph bobber; and Best of Show went to the Massey twins and their twin BSA RGSs.

For more information about the SCNOC and their list of rides and events, log on to http://www.scnoc.5u.com/or call Bib at 626-791-0259 or email him at bibbiani@earthlink.net. He’ll also help you with your Norton questions or hook you up with one.

The Alloy Cowboy, hails from Grass Valley, CA, where he fashions custom aluminum fabrication for cars, bikes, trailers, boats, airplanes, you name it. More info at 661-270-0100.

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