Hansen Dam Rally Report - Calling All Brits!

Paul Garson
by Paul Garson

The Hansen Dam Rally, officially known as the All British Hansen Dam Ride, is a SoCal tradition decades in the making and hosted the first week of every November by the Southern California Norton Owners Club (SCNOC). The day-long event includes a 95-mile loop through the canyons of the western San Gabriel Mountains and culminates in a bike show at the Hansen Dam Recreational area located in the northeastern San Fernando Valley, some 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

More than 1,000 machines took part this year, the event’s 35th anniversary. The Hansen Dam parking area was filled to overflow capacity with more bikes than the previous year, and while predominantly attended by British marques – Norton, Triumph, BSA, Velocette, Vincent, Enfield, etc. – all bike makes and years were welcome.

“What a phenomenal ride we had – leave it to the Brit-o-philes to put together the perfect ride,” said Lorenzo Dalla Vedova, the mover and shaker spearheading the establishment of the new Los Angeles Motorcycle Museum now in the works. “The ride is a truly a perfect combination of riding roads and scenery. So you enjoy the technical riding sections, the fast parts, a stop to eat a burger, then more riding. You also meet all kinds of motorcycles enjoying the unbeaten path of a great ride on a beautiful sunny Sunday.”

Greg “GT” Tomlinson aboard his street-legal and AHRMA-raced 1969 TR6C. In 1990 he traded two snowboards for it and has been having fun with it ever since.

The SCNOC emphasizes minimal rules and maximum motorcycle fun during its several events ongoing throughout the year. To quote the club’s president, Kevin Nerden, everything, including the show competition, is “super casual.”

Bill Getty of JRC Engineering, a leading supplier of British vintage parts, has been a Hansen Dam regular for decades, and this year he helped judge the bike show component of this year’s event.

“The Best of Show bike was a very nice Triton, a mix of everything,” Getty commented. “It had a rare Chatland big-bore barrel on a unit engine in a ’64-66 Norton Slimline featherbed frame with a Lyta tank. The front fork was a ’71 Triumph with a ’71-72 conical wheel on the back dressed up to look like a Manx. Kevin, when explaining the criteria to the bike show judges, stated that the winning entries should look like they were used a lot and well-loved – no trailer queens, nothing too shiny. It helps if the tires are half worn out. The Triton showed that it had been used a lot, was very cool, so it took Best of Show.”

Getty chuckles and adds, “The two custom show bikes, including the ’51 BSA brought by Barry Weiss were very cool, too, and he offered the judges new Corvettes if he won. But we can’t be bought.”

Lineup of Nortons includes the red 1974 850 Interstate judged Best Norton.

Another of the show winners was a 1967 BSA A65 Spitfire MK II with an alloy tank. Seems the owner, Brian Person, had bought the bike new and at the same time ordered the custom tank and then added high-level pipes because he always liked them. He was the original owner and also restored it.

The Best British Other category winner was a BSA Gold Star replica built from scratch by the owner after purchasing the original motor and designing the rest around it. Its custom frame was built around the same dimensions as a vintage Velocette he owns and loves, using the same rake, trail and swingarm pivot as the Velo, and all built at home.

Going back to the ride, which Bill Getty took on his 1970 “Old Dependable” Bonneville, he says, “Nobody crashed or even got a ticket – everybody had a great day. But the one thing that was exceedingly sad was that our favorite Mexican restaurant and our usual lunch stop had gone out of business.”

Who are those masked men?

Steering the club as president keeps Kevin Nerden at redline while also running a plumbing company and keeping pace with a son who plays basketball and soccer. Joining him as a loose executive committee are Chris Hovland, Mitchel Reichein and Klaus Wiene, the three actually conferring the title of president/benevolent dictator upon Kevin after all four were picked as club officers by the former president Bill “Bib” Bibbiani prior to his passing.

At this year’s rally, Nerden brought the well-known “Johnny Cash Bike,” a’68 Norton 750 built from a mix of parts and thus the reference to the Cash song, “One Piece at a Time.” It was built, and named, by “Bib” aka “The Voice of Hansen Dam,” who had been the much revered, inspirational force behind the Norton Club and the Hansen Dam rally for many years. This was the second year since the baton had been passed to Nerden.

All Brit bikes were welcomed, including this world touring Vincent Black Shadow that has clocked some 435,000 miles!

“We had great weather, all kinds of great bikes showing up, a safe ride for everyone, a good spread of bike show entries, and all the volunteers, especially Brendan Durrett and his wife Denise, who made it a special day for our 35th,” said Nerden. “We were fortunate to have JRC’s Bill Getty and Jim Ashworth as our judges along with Dennis Tackett who flew in from Texas. He was one of the guys who rode our 1,200-mile run from Tacoma to L.A. last August. He also puts on the Lake of the Pines for the north Texas Norton club. We’re already planning for next year’s event and might even have a surprise or two, like a Norton raffle bike.”

At the end of the day, after the trophies were handed out, the last hangers on geared up for departure, including this rider/writer. The 35th annual Hansen Dam Rally had lived up to its name: The Best Ride by a Dam Site.” Scroll down to see more photos of an eclectic mix of bikes and their owners.

2014 Hansen Dam Show Winners (photo: Tom Haigh): From left to right: Best Triumph: 1968 TR6R – Craig Fennel Best Custom: 1965 Triumph Street Tracker – Ed Cornell Best Norton: 1974 Interstate – Chuck Smoot Best British Other: BSA Gold Star Custom – David Hill Best BSA: 1967 Spitfire – Brian Person Best of Show: 1961 Triton (1972 frame) – Jeff Rogers
Very tasty Canary Yellow 750 Commando with sweet-singing Dunstall pipes.
Winner of Best British Custom Category, Ed Cornell’s 1965 Street Tracker.
Originally from London, Gary Rowley is all grins aboard his 2005 Thruxton that sports a custom alloy tank by Terry “T.A” Baker of Tab II Classics located in Wales who has built more than 2,000 tanks for many different bikes.
A “Zero Emissions” Triumph is taken through its paces by John Callichio of Triumph Classic Motorcycles, Brit-bike restoration specialist.
Callichio and Triumph Classic Motorcycles also build awesome Triumphs powered by engines.
SCNOC Prez Kevin Nerden carries the famous bullhorn synonymous with late, great past president Bill “Bib” Bibbiani. This year’s rally shirt is available from the club’s website: www.socalnorton.com
This 1951 BSA custom is one of two roadsters brought to the rally by realty TV “Storage Wars” celeb/wildman, Barry Weiss, an expert rider who often rides the whirlwind.
One of several clubs, formal or otherwise, that showed up included the Brit Iron Rebels which pays homage to the original 1950-60s English-based Rockers. BIR has clubs in 11 countries.
Winner of the Best Triumph award went to Craig Fennel’s 1968 TR6R.
Brian Person’s 1967 BSA Spitfire, bought new, took home Best BSA award.
This 1936 Moto Guzzi MTS owned by Greg McBride was about as original and unrestored as you could get and still running. Unfortunately, the British-themed rally had no Italian category, but it was still cool to see… and hear. Nearby is glimpsed David Hills’ BSA Gold Star Custom that took Best British Other award.
A newer, shinier Moto Guzzi, a Norge, was ridden by Mike Jacobs and his son Haydan. Oddly enough, the Italian machine was named after Norway because Giuseppe Guzzi rode a 4000-mile trek through it in 1928.
And, yes, there were Ducatis. And plenty of Japanese classics, and Harleys as well. Yes, we can all live together!
Wendy Newton tidies up her 1967 Triumph Trophy, originally built by the legendary Bud Ekins, prior to entering it in the bike show. Newton is a veteran AHRMA competitor as well.
Walter Riddle has restored scores of Triumphs including his own hybrid TR-6 short-rod 750 converted 1970 with a 5-speed tranny. Walt’s attended more than 25 Hansen Dam events and is also known for his one-of-kind, hand-built, belt-driven “Californian” retro-classic.
Early Vincent Black Shadows display HRD logo before the name change to Vincent. Phil Vincent acquired the HRD company in 1928, then designed his now famous engines beginning in 1934.
Adrian Packett (left) of Canyon Motorcycles presented his latest creation featuring many of the custom Triumph parts he offers.
Venice Vintage Motorcycle Club (VVMC) honcho Brady Walker wheels his trusty Trumpet. Following him is Michael Schacht, founder of the revived Crocker Motorcycle Company, who was riding a new Triumph.
Paul Garson
Paul Garson

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 1 comment
  • Robotribe Robotribe on Nov 11, 2014

    SHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! It's already too damn hard to park with all the new folks every year.

    Kidding aside, it's the BEST gathering of bikes in SoCal every year. Hands down.