36th-Annual Hansen Dam Rally Report

Paul Garson
by Paul Garson

The best of "The Best Motorcycle Rally by a Dam Site"

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.

SCNOC president Kevin Nerden preps the riders for the run through the mountains.

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.”

Best Italian Stallion Duo: 750cc Twin Laverda Bol d’Or and modern MV Agusta.

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.

Mitch Talcove’s 1145cc Vincent-powered Ducati-framed wunderbike, a.k.a. “Vincati,” took the award for Best British Custom.

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.

Hansen Dam 2015 Show Winners
Best Norton – Ron Nicholson 1975 NortonBest Triumph – Bill Gray 1967 TriumphBest BSA – Dave Destler 1954 GoldstarBest British Custom – Mitch Talcove 1973 VincatiBest British Other – Larry Horn 1948 NorvinBest of Show – Byron Walker 1952 Vincent
Best When Worlds Collide: 1975 Norton 850 Interstate hobnobbies with a millennial’s Honda Dirt Eater … all bikes welcome at Hansen Dam.
Best Wankel My Rotary: The liquid cooled 497cc machine was produced from 1974-’76 to very mixed response thanks to its exotic nature. Good for a purported 62 hp, they were noted for being thirsty, but Suzuki also offered a full engine replacement for any engine problem within the first 12 months/12,000 miles. While it was often considered the best handling Japanese bike of the time, its styling also got it listed among “The Ten Worst Motorcycles.” Of course today it is totally cool.
Best Hardcore Rider: Ural-riding Nate Hall was injured a few years ago when he was rear-ended at a red light. Still an avid rider, Hall carries his cane in a custom holder.
Best High Performance Umbrella: The sun was intense, so Yoshimura came to the rescue. Better than sunblock 5000.
Best Benelli: 250 Sport Special MKIII circa 1971. Well, it was actually the only Benelli, but way cool nonetheless.
Best Fringed Flyer: Making a show-stopping entrance, this leather-clad ’91 Softail Harley was ridden by Betsy Huelskamp who added the patina “in rust we lust” look herself.
Best Home Grown Debut Bike: Hollywood studio sound technician Mark Morrell’s 1962 650cc Triumph-powered Triton. As for the Triumph vertical-Twin powerplant, he traded a boat motor for it.
Mark fabbed the oil tank, seat, the exhaust system, the mix of GSX-R, Harley and Ducati brake components, while the foot-shifter assembly was welded up by his 7-year old son who wanted to contribute to the project and did a bang-up job.
Best Late Nite Show Host Who Digs Vincents: Jay Leno discusses the merits of a Vincent Rapide with owner Bill Melvin.
Best Gnarliest Britster: Larry Feece brought his running 1937 Royal Enfield. The tank shifter 1140cc Twin originally sold in England by Stan Hailwood, father of Mike “The Bike” Hailwood. Huge cases carried four gallons of oil. By the way, Larry’s got some shinier machines; his 1889 DeDion Bouton Peugeot tri-wheeler took Best European Production 1900-1940 at the 2013 Celebration of the Motorcycle event in Del Mar, CA.
Best Green with Envy Norvin: Larry Horn of Huntington Beach rode in on one of his two Norvins, in this case a 1948 B Series HRD, a three-year ongoing project. Larry’s bike took Best British Other in the bike show category.
Best Big Tank Beemeristi in Goggles: Mike Lohrman, a veteran Cannonball rally participant, sailed in on his Hoske-tanked 1951 BMW R67.
Best Expletive Not-Deleted: As a teenager Colleen Duffner rode a 1977 Harley XLCR café racer to high school and bought her black ’04 Road King new. Belt is not H-D accessory.
Best O.G. Shovel Chopper: Brandon rumbled in on his ’82 Shovelhead done Old School with open primary, sissy bar and we-don’t-need-no-stinkin’-flashy-paint job.
Best Moment of Contemplation: Diminutive Honda vs. Big-Twin cruiser.
Best What the F#*!: Okay, all decal and tank indications scream Triumph Tiger Cub, so is this the new version of the classic British single? Uh, no. It’s actually a non-CA imported Suzuki TU250 carefully transformed by Joe Yee, who is also known to cuddle old Jaguars, so that tells you something. Bike is a blast and for sale at only $2,400.
Best Brit Themed Bootware: Tom Haig showed up on a brand new special-edition Triumph and spiffy boots.
Best Badass BSA: High pipes and do-it-in-the-dirt chassis make for a rad off-road racer.
Best Longest Owner: 1970 Honda CB750 has been ridden by Kurt Winter of Valley Cycles (Chatsworth, CA) since 1971. Early CBs are fetching serious sums including parts; a mint NOS seat draws $2k.
Best Expression of Yamaha XS650 Expression: The XS has gained a large following both for its variation on the Triumph 650 theme and its potential for customizing, from hard tails to café racers. Case in point, Eric Stein’s 1975.
Best Ducks in a Row: 1965 Mach 1 250cc Single. This model, first introduced in 1965, was a milestone for Ducati, rated as the fastest 250 street bike of the day that could do the ton. In race prep, a Mach 1 won the 250cc production TT with rider Mike Rogers.
Best Donut Presenters: Brendan and Denise Durrett.
Paul Garson
Paul Garson

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  • Disqus_9GQw44dyM0 Disqus_9GQw44dyM0 on Nov 05, 2015

    Thanks guys, great article and great photos as well.
    Did I miss it...or were you guys at the Barber Vintage Weekend this year? Brittens...were everywhere!

  • -Nate -Nate on Nov 11, 2015

    Thanx for this nice article ! .

    As always the ride was fun , this year I rode rather slowly and worried a few folks who know me , all is well , I'm just old .