Good Lubrication? – By Barry Sulkin
About 45 years ago, a guy phoned my motorcycle shop and complained that his bike was running very sluggish and would skid the rear wheel when he shut off the throttle. I didn’t know what to tell him then so I suggested he bring it by and I’d take a look at it. He brought it by and I took it for a ride and sure enough it did just like he said. When I got back to the shop, I immediately checked the oil level, it turned out there was no need to check the dipstick, the oil level was right at where the dipstick screwed into the crankcase. I said, “Hey, you didn’t tell me you just did an oil change.” He shrugged his shoulders. On a Honda CB450, the dipstick screws in on top of the crankcase, which is a couple of inches above the top of the crankshaft, which means the crank was spinning in oil causing a major drag. Also the pistons were slamming into oil too! We wound up draining the excess oil and sold him a pair of air filters because the breather hose vented in the air filter boxes and the paper filters were soaked.
He wasn’t even embarrassed, just paid his bill and rode away!
Oh, The Times We Had! – By John Calicchio
Hello All –
In the past, and at pretty much at the same time, Barry Sulkin and I both owned Suzuki dealerships. Recently, because of this, we began exchanging war-stories, which led us to an on-going bantering feud. I’m still trying to determine the victor. Just when I felt I had him beat, he would out-do me (and rightfully so) with his latest story. HOWEVER, being of a competitive nature, I will attempt to get one up on him…
Within last month’s PA, there was mention of a Michael Doyle, one of our newest club members. Well, if this is the same Michael Doyle who owned a BSA 441 Victor, turned race bike, then look out Barry; I’ve got a story for you. It was circa 1971 at El Toro Speedway, Irvine CA. Mike Doyle and I, along with our illustrious band of fellow racers, were getting ready for the Open Expert TT Main Event. That day, my old pal Larry Huffman was announcing the race, as he had been doing all season. Seems the new Yamaha 370 works bikes were being introduced by two former racers; Bob Maynard owner of the Yamaha store in Garden Grove, CA, Orange County Cycles, and his General Manager. Larry Huffman announced that these guys would be participating in our race so watch out. Being works 370’s, I thought hmmm, we may get smoked. The flag dropped and we were off. Not being used to the track, Bob and his GM were at the back of the pack the entire race. Finally, with the last lap flag dropped, Bob and his GM cheated by cutting the track and ended finishing 1st & 2nd place. As Mike and I rode back to the pits, I gently parked my bike, but Mike did not. Instead, he pitched himself off his running bike, which I observed hitting the crash-wall, and proceeded to run over and beat the shi# out of Bob Maynard. You should have heard Larry barking that one out over the loud speaker. A few years ago, Mike and I reminisced about this at the Trailblazers Banquet. Ironically, he and I had not seen each other since that episode in 1971. It’s a crazy world. Barry, can you top that one? Smile… Try this one: Larry Huffman use to hang out at my shop, John’s Racing Cycles, Costa Mesa. One day, he invited me to his radio show broadcast and asked me on the air “how I felt about the new rage of Motor-Cross sweeping the nation” of which I responded with: “I’m Sorry Larry, I’ve Never Heard of Moto-Cross.” Larry, “You don’t know who Roger De Coster and Joel Robert are?” I responded with a simple “No.” You should have seen the look on his face, let alone the looks on my employees faces when I returned to my shop. I felt like a penny waiting for change.
Barry, I have two more Larry Huffman stories ready for bantering, which I don’t think you’ll be able to top. Smile.
To Be Continued…
Let’s Go Racing! – By Brady Walker
Hey BSA fans. Steve O. has been leaning on me for some time to write content for the Piled Arms…and a recent experience has finally inspired me to share a story…and it’s about a BSA to boot!
I have been racing vintage motorcycles for just over a decade. I have campaigned a Yamaha SR500 in both road racing and flat track racing. I’m attracted to the bike because of its affordability & simplicity. One piston, one carb, two valves…easy to diagnose problems and swap engines at the track. I also tried my hand at motocross, first on a big finned, fire-breathing Honda XR350R, then on my ’68 Triumph TR6C with the Hell on Wheels gang. While I still enjoy road racing, playing in the dirt has gone by the way side. At 40 years old I found crashing in the dirt was less than appealing. It seemed that it happened at least once at every event I attended, making me realize that it was time to let the flat tracker and XR350R go to someone younger who could appreciate it more than I. I still have my TR6C and have fallen in love with it as an off-road bike after riding it on the LAB2V with a handful of the BSA crew, including Steve Eorio and Jim and Sandy Wilson…which has lead to BSAOSC led dual-sport rides when I have the time.
I produce and promote Classic Track Day, a road course track day that focuses on vintage machines and air-cooled modern classics at Willow Springs International Raceway. At my last event in July, I met Luke Sayer, regional off-road coordinator for AHRMA. He signed up with the intention of shaking down a pair of Honda CB350’s. Luke approached me after hearing about the success of the Willow Springs Roundup, the first Southern California flat track race during the pandemic that I promoted with my buddy Jim Rosa just a couple weeks earlier. Luke expressed wanting to replicate the event in 2021 while AHRMA was in town for the annual road racing weekend. I agreed that it would be a great idea and that we would work on it over the winter to make it a reality. Then Luke did something spectacular: he invited me to join him at the next vintage motocross race at Glen Helen the second weekend of August. AHRMA’s regional series tagged along with CalVMX that weekend. Luke promised rock star treatment, including riding his fully prepped ’66 BSA 441. Even with the hesitation from my sordid history with off-road racing, I jumped at the opportunity. Plus, my road racing friends Patch and Kerri would be in attendance, guaranteeing an abundance of fun.
I arrived early enough to Glen Helen Raceway in Riverside to find Luke’s pit, drop off my gear and find parking before registration opened. I met fellow AHRMA racers gathered at tech and was introduced to the BSA I would be riding that morning. After being given the run down on the bike’s setup and starting procedure, I took it for a spin to see what I was up against. This bike was setup for Luke, not myself. I am a bit taller and heavier than Luke, so it was definitely worth the time to ride around the parking lot and some unused trails at the track to figure out how I would need to modify my body position to get the most out of my riding experience. A lot of the proficient riders called the BSA a heavy pig in comparison to most of the lightweight two stokes and early eighties plastic tanked four strokes. But, being such a tall guy who is used to much larger bikes that fit my frame, or even my Triumph TR6C which is fitted with a 750 kit, I found the bike to be more like a light little scooter. And I think that feeling was to my advantage, because after ten minutes of learning how the bike reacted to the throttle, braking and turning, I was not nervous to ride it at my skill level. But what I was nervous about were those four and five story hills that I would have to navigate the bike up and down through the course. And big ole tabletop jumps and tight turns…all while 20 other riders were trying to claw past me to gain position.
We had one practice session in the morning, which consisted of three or four laps around the course. Surprisingly the bike handled quite well. More surprisingly, the bike found that I was handling myself well too! After racing with many clubs on and off-road over the last ten years, I know myself and my racing goals pretty well: fun first, driving myself home at the end of the day second, and kicking butt on the track third. I quickly became less intimidated by the muddy, hilly track, especially when I found riders twenty years older and younger gently passing me in turns, on hills and straightaways. (I bet they saw my goofy, inexperienced body flailing around on the BSA a mile away and knew to keep their distance). But by my third lap, I was passing a few bikes and I came into the pits with a big smile on my face and throbbing forearms. Any fear that remained turned to excitement, focusing on doing my best to be competitive during my race…or at least getting out front at the start and using my big frame to block (and upset) any riders who fell into my planned hole-shot trap.
Race 6 was called to staging and I was happy to find my friend Kerri Kress in the race, although in another class. She was riding a hot rod, modern Suzuki two-stroke, and I lined up next to her for some pre-race high fives and posing for the camera held by her husband, Patch Wilkening. When the gate fell on our first race (called the heat race), I did my best to follow through with my plan…but my inexperience with the BSA’s clutch and power band allowed the bike to fall flat on it’s face in first gear. Then I missed second gear. But once it stuck, I twisted the throttle to the red line and made the first turn in the middle of the pack. Folks were all bundled together and bumped and banged in the turns, but we all made it through the first leg of the track upright. Although Kerri got out in front of me, I was quietly ecstatic to find that she dropped her bike at the top of the first hill. As I passed her while she scrambled to pick the bike up, I told myself: “This is your chance to have some fun with Kerri after you beat her in your first ever vintage AHRMA motocross race!” Although Kerri has over a decade of motocross racing under her belt and a pile of metal and wood trophies at home, I thought it was a realistic notion given she was hung over after a friend’s birthday party the night before. (Thanks Patch for the heads up!) I negotiated the rest of the five laps without too much trouble, only stalling the bike once at the top of a small hill, forcing me to impersonate Barney Rubble as I shuffled the bike 10 feet forward to bump start the bike downhill and continue the last lap of the race. (I found out later that Luke had prime spectating to watch my blunder, which led to some fun razzing at lunch…a taste of my own medicine!) Rounding the last turn of the race, with only 20 feet up the hill to the checkered flag, I saw a yellow flash to my right. Although I believed it was just a youngster riding in another class, I was not gonna let this punk pass and beat me to the checker with 20 feet to go! I blocked the track and wrung the BSA’s neck in first gear to narrowly beat the rider. Little did I know it was Kerri, who managed to catch up to me after I led her over a lap after her fall. Taking first in my class, it was only that much more sweet to know I beat Kerri. I returned to our pit, tired and writhing in pain from the forearm pump. But it only took a few minutes to catch my breath, down a few bottles of cold water, toss off my gear and run down the hill to Patch and Kerri’s pit to analyze the race and claim the title of beating a half-asleep superstar. I made it known that it was all in good fun, and Kerri has known me long enough to give it right back. This is what racing is all about to me: challenging myself to accomplish a goal, but also having a ton of fun and laughing and screaming in glee inside my helmet the whole way. Having some fun after the race with my competitors is icing on the cake.
During lunch I had time to meet other riders and take a look at all of the competing machines. There were a dozen or so early British racers and a ton of late seventies and early eighties two-strokes with riders ranging in age from 7 to over 70 years old. Most of the bikes were modern four strokes who “support” the race by showing up and riding with all of the vintage MX’ers in their own class, giving the promoter enough entries to pay for the race and maybe put a little cash in their pocket at the end of the day. You can find this happening at many vintage races, including AHRMA road racing, where modern bikes are included in many race classes. It is important to include modern bike riders at these vintage races, not only to get enough entries to make it worthwhile for a promoter to organize the race, but it gets young eyes on our vintage machines, quite possibly inspiring them to campaign an old race bike themselves one day. It is funny to see younger riders commenting on how sketchy it would be to ride one of these old British bikes, only to watch them ride their modern bikes like banshees with their hair on fire, jumping 10 feet in the air over hills and passing folks in berms running well outside of the track lines. I guess we all have our own definition of sketchy, huh?
For the second race of the day (or the main) I knew Kerri wouldn’t let a repeat of the heat race happen. So I knew my only glory would be to have a great start and get to the first turn at the front of the pack. I have always been a good starter, and I love seeing photos of myself leading a bunch of bikes at the start, even though I know my stamina and lack of experience would allow most riders to pass me in the first lap. I had enough experience on the bike now to know how to wind up the old BSA and feather the clutch enough to keep the power band humming. It worked! I made the first turn before Kerri (pretty much the only accomplishment I hoped for in this race). As we wound around the handful of turns in the first leg of the race, Kerri and I were side-by-side, just before we wound around the last corner before start/finish and the hilly part of the course. I knew Kerri would disappear, so I wanted to give her a little reminder that I was also in the race. She went wide in that corner and I saw my opportunity for some fun. I took the inside and pretty much parked the bike in front of her, struggling to downshift to first to get up the hill. Again, knowing my big frame and trivial riding style would block Kerri, she was forced to slam on the brakes. I gave her a goofy wave as I got the bike running up the hill, and gladly let her pass so she could go run her race without me pulling any more pranks. The remainder of the race went without incident and I was happy to cross the finish line, feeling stronger and less exhausted than the heat an hour or two before. It was time for a cold beer, a sigh of relief, and bench racing for the rest of the day. Luke pulled up a chair next to me and we laughed and commented on the rest of the race action. Fun stuff!
I received a first place trophy for the Classic 500 class, did a little posing for the camera, and high-fived everyone else as they walked up to accept their awards. I couldn’t believe it, but I was getting hooked. Vintage British motorcycles were the first to inspire me to begin my career on two wheels. Although it was modern Japanese bikes that I started, and subsequently quit, riding off-road…it was British iron that inspired me to return to the sport. I should’ve known it would happen, especially after the newly discovered love affair with my TR6C on the LAB2V ride. The Triumph has been parked since the last BSA dual-sport ride in Cal City almost a year ago. I have since pulled her out for maintenance, and quite possibly the next CalVMX/AHRMA motocross race!
So…what have we learned? Of course the first lesson was simple: vintage British bikes are the BEST bikes for any riding or racing! I am actively looking for a light weight single for some more off-road action, which shouldn’t been too hard to find with all of the great resources and friends in the BSA Club of Southern California. Secondly, it’s not too late to compete on these vintage machines. Most of my competitors were in their 50s & 60s, more than one over seventy! One older rider collided with a younger competitor at the start of one of the races, sending his bike to the ground at over 50 miles an hour with his body sliding head first on the ground for what seemed like an eternity, with other bikes narrowly missing him as they sped to the first turn. He didn’t get up for a second, urging the crowd to its feet with excited eyes hoping that he was ok. I bet this guy was in his late 60’s by the look of him, if not older. He finally picked himself up as the medic approached him…and he only wanted to know if his bike was ok! He gave a wave to the crowd to affirm that he was ok, the race restarted, and that was that. Many young and old guys weren’t experienced racers. Some riders had such fancy bikes that they rode around the track as if it was a parade, not a race. Done safely, this isn’t a terrible thing, especially when the rider knows what they are doing and doesn’t ride dangerously, holding their slow lines and running their own race. Maybe this article will inspire a few folks to quit looking at their trailer queens in a basement and pull them out, get ‘em dirty, do what they were intended to do. Thirdly, what a great opportunity local club racing inspires one to get out of the house, use some neglected muscles, and share in some excitement with friends. Maybe you’re inspired, but racing isn’t your scene. How about an on- or off-road track day to get that feeling of speed and seeing what your vintage bike can do? Almost every weekend in Southern California is an opportunity for you to participate in events like this. I founded Classic Track Day with other vintage racers to get on the track without a bunch of maniacs on modern sport bikes to make one nervous. Most flat track and motocross organizations have groups for older and novice riders to participate in.
Check out Roadracing World and the inter-webs for more info on these groups and the tracks they ride. Even without organized racing, the deserts and back roads are calling to be ridden by vintage iron every day.
Rock on and keep riding, Piled Arms fans! You can learn more about Classic Track Day, vintage bike events & Brady Walker at www.bradywalker.com. Any questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.