December 12, 2012

The Austro-Hungarian Empire Motorcycle Club

Collecting stuff is a disease for which there is no cure.  Motorcycles are a favorite collectible,  they don't take a lot of room compared to say, military tanks or airplanes, but they do need more space than stamps or buttons.  Whatever, if you have a garage, you have room for a few bikes.

If you are going to be serious about collecting, you need a theme.  You can't just randomly collect stuff you come across, you need to apply discipline lest you be confused for a hoarder.  I have pretty much always had a bike collection.  I used to collect British bikes when they were practically giving them away in the late 1970's.   For quite a while I concentrated on 1985 Yamahas, great bikes that had bottomed out resale-wise when I got them.    My first bike I think I paid 50 bucks for.  It had been stripped of most of its parts, but it still ran, but not for long. See the  theme here - they were all cheap cheap cheap.

That first bike was an early 60's 125 cc CZ made in Czechoslovakia, imported by a Canadian department store.  My next bike was another department store bike, an Austrian built Puch, sold here as an Allstate by Sears, you could even order it from the catalog.   A cheap bike, but it served me well for a summer, until the neighbors complaints about the noise became louder than the actual noise of the bike.  (I rode it to work every morning, at 4 AM.)   That bike could also lay down a 2 stroke smoke screen that would kill every mosquito for miles.

The thing with buying old motorcycles is that market resale value is directly related to how cool  buyers think it is, and little to do with functionality, quality or condition.  When I bought that first bike in 1968,  old Harleys™ weren't cool unless they were chopped, but demand and prices were high, so a very used Harley cost more than a brand new VW beetle.  Brit bikes were cheaper but still cooler than fully dressed Harleys, and Sportsters were cooler than the big twins.  Least cool were two strokes, especially if they weren't Japanese.  There were a few cool Japanese two strokes, such as the Kawasaki Mach III, which probably killed more Americans than the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, but mostly 'strokers' or 'ring dings' were not cool.  Your typical non Japanese two stroke came from somewhere in Europe, designed and built to provide utilitarian transportation for people who would rather have a car but couldn't afford one.  Usually no more than 250 cc, ugly, an exhaust note that no one could love and all that smoke.  Dirt cheap.

If you are familiar with Jay Leno's garage, the Steve McQueen motorcycle collection and the Las Vegas Auctions, you will know that a few collector bikes are hitting the six figure and beyond territory.  You might think that Brough Superiors, Vincents, Cyclones, and Knuckleheads are cool, but you would be wrong.  How can something only affordable by the very rich possibly be cool?   Fortunately there is a way out for the impecunious and tightwads.  A thing can be so uncool that it actually becomes cool.  Hipsters are totally into this, think Value Village clothing, the AMC Pacer, Wayne Newton moustaches and Buddy Holly glasses.  I believe this is what they refer to as ironic.

Of course it would be most uncool to collect bikes because they are cheap, or at least to admit to that.  So as a public service, I am proposing a collecting theme for cheapskate bike collectors. the Austro Hungarian Empire Motorcycle Club.  You can be President.

The Austro Hungarian Empire was rolled up as a result of them losing WW I and all the heirs to the throne being assassinated or senile. This also happened a few years before most of the eligible bikes were made, but Austro-Hungarian Empire sounds way cooler than the Obscure Central European Countries Few Can Find on a Map and Nobody Cares About Motorcycle Club.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire consisted of Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, bits of  Ukraine, some Balkans, parts of Poland, and a small part of Italy.  The better known bikes that made it over the pond, were Jawa, CZ, Puch, and KTM.  Surprisingly, the Italian provinces that were once part of the Austro Hungarian Empire, Lombardy and Veneto, are also the home of many of Italy's best known and best loved motorcycles, such as Moto Guzzi, MV Agusta, Cagiva (formerly Aermacchi), Parilla,  and Laverda.  These bikes are cool without having to be ironic, so I am not sure what to do about that, anyway they have their own clubs.  Moving on, for the discriminating collector of the cool uncool, there is plenty to choose, well over a hundred obscure brands no one has ever heard of, or good things about, such as the Hungarian Csepel, Pannonia and Danuvia, the Ukrainian Planeta and Dnepr, Polish SFM and Junak, Tomos mopeds from Slovenia, or the truly bizarre Bohmerland stretch limo party bike from those fun loving Czechs.

Happy hunting.


Eaton's Road King aka 125 cc CZ

Sears 250 Allstate was made by Puch

AHE Survivors


We will make this guy president....

A good place to start.  Payson Arizona

September 26, 2012

Victoria Trail

~90 unpaved kilometers of mostly unmolested North Saskatchewan River valley.

Finding gravel roads near Edmonton is not a problem, but finding interesting gravel roads is nearly as difficult as finding hen’s teeth.  Your typical road here is arrow straight  flat enough to put the horizon  about as distant as tomorrow.  This is OK for a while, but for those who crave variety, it does get tiresome.  

One happy exception that does not require many hours droning down  overly crowded highways filled with morons just to get to an interesting road is Victoria Trail.  
At this point Edmontonians might be saying What!?....  No, no, not the Victoria Trail lined with strip malls and newly planted suburban neighborhoods between the Yellowhead and 153 Avenue, but the original Victoria Trail between Edmonton and Victoria Settlement, 100 kilometers downriver on the mighty North Saskatchewan.

Before railways  and highways people travelled to Edmonton using the rivers between Hudson’s Bay and the Rocky Mountains.  This route followed the Saskatchewan Rivers (north and south) between the Lake Winnipeg, the Red River Colony and Fort Edmonton, by canoe or york boat, or overland on the river banks by red river cart.   Steam boats put a swift end to carts, and shortly after, trains followed by motorized vehicles put an equally swift end to following meandering prairie rivers. The only thing a road or rail builder needed for route planning across the flat prairies was a ruler.  One hundred years later, only a few bits of the old river trails can still be found, one bit is the Victoria Trail between Victoria Settlement and Edmonton.

The North Saskatchewan River valley is gorgeous, more so as it flows through a landscape that is somewhat short on variety.  Property owners along the old Victoria trail have not only seen to the maintenance of the old trail for their own pleasure, they have put in a lot of effort to share its beauty and history with visitors.  A local historical society, with funding assistance from Canada and Alberta have restored and maintained historical sites and buildings along the trail.

Close enough to Edmonton and surrounding communities to be an easy day trip back and forth, Victoria trail offers a little bit of everything.  Mostly well maintained gravel, there is one short single lane stretch that is mostly sand with some washouts about 3 quarters of the way east on the section between Highway 38 and 831.  This tiny stretch can be ridden around on other roads for those not comfortable riding on anything but well groomed roads.  Anyone with a true dual purpose bike will have no problems anywhere, and any bike and rider combination comfortable with gravel roads will not be overly challenged.


From Edmonton

Take Manning Freeway  (Highway 15) or Old Fort Road  to  the bridge over the North Saskatchewan River at Fort Saskatchewan/Lamoureux. Take the Lamoureux exit to Lamoureux Drive on the north side of the bridge.  Follow Lamoureux road and the river to Range Road 222 - north to Highway 38.  East and north on 38 to Township road 564A, right on the north border of the Agrium fertilizer plant.  Go east .5 km or so to Victoria Trail.  

Highway 38 and Victoria Trail

From Redwater, Bruderheim, Highway 28

Victoria trail crosses Highway 38, Highway 831 and Highway 855 just above the bridges crossing the North Saskatchewan (north shore).  

An alternative to following the river on the north shore through Lamoureux past Agrium, is to take the 99 street exit off the Manning into Fort Saskatchewan, to 101 street in the center of town, turn north on 101 and follow it to River road.  River road goes through the town’s riverside park complex, campgrounds and recreation areas.  Follow it out of town to where it ends in the industrial refinery zone east of town, then head north as far as you can go and then go east to the next road north, repeat, repeat, repeat, your goal is to stay as close to the river as you can get.  Eventually you will find yourself on a wonderfully twisty narrow paved two lane road following the river’s south bank that will take you to Highway 38 south of the river.  

Heading back to Edmonton, you can find this road from Victoria Trail and Highway 38 by crossing the bridge to the south shore to Highway 830, the first road on the right (west). At the first intersection turn right (west) on Township Road 564A, and follow it back to Fort Saskatchewan.  


Fuel and food

The closest places for riders and bikes to get fueled up, Fort Saskatchewan at the West end, Highway 38, Redwater (North and West) or Bruderheim (South),  neither  are terribly close, Waskatenau is just a few  few kilometers up Highway 831 or Range Road 193A,  Smoky Lake is about 10 km up Highway 855 or Range Road 170A.

Stuff to see
Between Lamoureux and Victoria Settlement are plenty of monuments and plaques dedicated to the people places and events of the area.

The western terminus of the Iron Horse Trail is in Waskatanau, which you need to pronounce 'Wasetna' if you don't want the locals to laugh at you. The Iron Horse Trail is part of the Trans Canada trail network. It is restricted to hikers, horses, bikes as in legmotors, quads (#&^%!) and snowmobiles (2X#&^%!!!) but no motorcycles please. This is actually OK, as it is pretty boring on an MC given that it is never more than about 200 meters from Highway 28 (I can't tell you how I know this). But, if you have a horse, quad, mountain bike, snowjoke or sturdy boots it definitely beats taking them down Highway 28. The trail has two branches, one going to Cold Lake the other to Heinsburg. 

Beside the trail between Highway 831 and 855, the MacDonald Store and Pine Creek Post Office built in 1908 is now a private residence and a great example of how to do historical preservation and have a nice house. I would like to look this good at 104, but I don't even look this good now.
MacDonald store and Pine Creek Post Office

Mountie Memorial

A little further downriver from Pine Creek is a ferry crossing monument followed by a monument to the first Northwest Mounted Police, better known today as the RCMP - GRC* who travelled down the Victoria Trail in 1874, and evidently had a tough time of it.  
(*GRC does not stand for Gendarmerie Royale Canadien; an acquaintance from North East Alberta informed me that it actually means Gravel Road Cops.)

The house that wouldn't fall
Here's one to watch, the house that refused to fall down. This tiny house has been standing abandoned, pretty much as you see it in the picture on the left for decades. Most of the other abandoned houses and barns along the trail have collapsed. This summer (2012) someone decided that such exceptional determination to remain standing should be rewarded and put a new foundation under it and has started restoring it.

The unpavement ends where Victoria Trail crosses Highway 855, the paved part on the east side of the highway goes down a short distance to Victoria Settlement, a historical park where some of the original buildings have been preserved. There are two old graveyards, one up the hill, and another for on the site of a former Methodist mission to the Indians and (non Methodist) Ukrainians.

Life was hard on the MacDougall Ladies
If you are at the highway 38 bridge over the river and it is the weekend, stop in at the 'Wreck What You Brung Open Invitational Quad Destruction Derby', take 830, first road  south of the bridge, find the sand pits at the southwest corner of the first intersection, Township Road 465A

On the way home stop in at the Tim's on Highway 21 in Fort Saskatchewan and chat with the cruiser people.

If it is Thursday evening its hot rod time at the PetroCanada at 137 Ave and Fort Road in Edmonton

 So whats a range road daddy?
In Alberta un-named country roads that run north and south are range roads, east and west roads are township roads.  If you are on a range road and the township road numbers are increasing, you are going North.  If you are on a Township road and the range road number are increasing you are going west.  The opposite also applies.  This can be valuable knowledge if you are lost in the dark and the GPS is busted.


September 15, 2012

The Forestry Trunk Road

Alberta's Forestry Trunk Road (FTR) is the mini golf version of the Bolivian death road, the drops are just meters, not thousands of meters, no macho speeding bus drivers on the FTR,  but watch for the macho speeding pickup truck drivers. The Forestry Trunk Road is nearly as challenging as its (very) distant Bolivian cousin, but the penalty for errors is much lower.  Best of all, a ride on the FTR is only an hour or two from Alberta's major urban centers, not the 15,000 or so kilometers to Bolivia.  Alberta adventurers can ride the FTR and sleep in their own bed.  Or not, from end to end the FTR is over 1,000 kilometers of mostly gravel from Coleman to Grande Prairie, with plenty of campgrounds and nearby motels.  

Much of the Forestry Trunk Road is unpaved, some bits are 'unimproved' meaning little if any road maintenance, especially in Winter.  Paved are the 60 km Kananaskis Highway, between Peter Lougheed  Park to Highway 1 (The Trans Canada Highway), and 350 kms  of Highway 40 from the Luscar mine, just south of the Yellowhead highway, to Grande Prairie, and for those who must have gravel, there is a 170 km alternate unpaved section between Grande Cache and Highway 43, just east of Grande Prairie.  The Forestry Trunk Road is also designated either Highway 734 or Highway 40, and can be found on any gas station map, or Google Maps.

The Forestry Trunk Road, from South to North, begins at Coleman (A) in the Crowsnest Pass.  From Coleman it is about 160 km of  maintained gravel  to Peter Lougheed Park (B), where Highway 40 is paved and named Kananaskis Highway, about 80 km,  wide and fairly straight to the Trans Canada (Highway 1).  Awesome vistas make up for the boring road.  To get back to the Forestry Trunk Road, take the first exit from the Trans Canada in either direction to Highway 1A, the old highway that parallels the Trans Canada, and head east on the 1A, when you have passed the Ghost Dam Reservoir, start watching for the next leg of the FTR.

The next 200 + km stretch from the 1A Highway (C)   is found just east of Ghost Dam reservoir, to highway 11 by Nordegg (E), this is  the best part of the Forestry Trunk Road.  Plenty of tight curves and switchbacks.  Many roads intersect the FTR between the 1A and Nordegg  for getting on and off  to  Water Valley (Cremona), Sundre,  Caroline or Rocky Mountain House, for gas, lodging, food, and pavement to back to civilization.  About halfway up  is  (D) Mountain Aire Lodge beside the Red Deer River, a surprising resort/work camp in what should be the middle of nowhere, with all the amenities including gas.  Farther towards Nordegg is Ram River Falls, a must stop for sightseeing.

From Nordegg it is about 110 kilometers north to the junction of highway 47 (F).  This part of the FTR is nearly as nice as the part between 1A and Highway 11, but there is much more industrial activity here, logging, oil and gas wells, and mining mean plenty of logging trucks tractor trailers, road maintenance and high speed crew cabs.  If you have plenty of gas left, stay on Highway 40 to Cadomin (G). A few kilometers up 47 is Robb and gas.  Highway 47 is a paved 50 clicks to Edson and the Yellowhead highway.  Just past   Robb on Highway 47 is the gravel Hinton road, about 50 km to Hinton.  More fun but longer, is Highway 40 from Highway 47 to Cadomin.  The 50 km to Cadomin is unpaved but then Highway 40 is paved all the way to Grande Prairie.

Highway 40 from Cadomin to the Yellowhead is about 50 km (H).  Hinton is just east of where Highway 40 crosses the Yellowhead, and the last place to get gas until Grande Cache a little over 100 km north.  Just before Grande Cache,  is the last part of the Forestry Trunk Road (I).  This 167 km stretch is fairly straight and freshly graded gravel.  It ends on Highway 43 about 50 km east of Grande Prairie (J).

Getting to the FTR
Coleman is about 160 km from Lethbridge, and about the same from the Montana border crossing at St. Mary.  Alberta Highway 2 to Highway 3.  In Coleman go north from Highway 3 to 28 Ave., and follow 28 Ave out of town, and it becomes Highway 40, the Forestry Trunk Road.

Between Calgary and Coleman the Forestry Trunk Road can be reached by going west from Highway 22 at Longview, and  also on Township Road 532, near Chain Lakes.

From Calgary get there by going west on Highway 1 to Highway 40 (Peter Lougheed Highway) or Highway 1A to the Forestry Trunk Road just west of Highway 22, east of the Ghost Dam reservoir.  The Forestry Trunk Road can also be reached from Highway 22 by taking the Water Valley road west, or  west on Highway 27, Highway 54,  Highway 752, or Highway 11 to Rocky Mountain House or Nordegg.

From Red Deer, west on Highway 11  to Rocky Mountain House, Nordegg, or south on Highway 22.

Edmonton Riders will have a long boring ride to either  Highway 11,  the Yellowhead to Highway 22 (to Drayton Valley), Edson (47 to Robb) or Hinton (40 to Cadomin), or Drayton Valley via  Highway 39 west from Leduc - Calmar.

At Drayton Valley take Highway 620, to the Elk River Road.  The Elk River Road is gravel and ends on the Forestry Trunk Road about midway between Robb and Nordegg.  Alternatively, stay on Highway 620, called the the Sunchild Road on the other side of the Brazeau reservoir, and ride pavement all the way to Highway 11, Rocky Mountain House or Nordegg.

From Grande Prairie, Highway 40 south, or east on Highway 43 to the Forestry Trunk Road at Little Smoky.

When travelling in Alberta avoid  stupid traffic and very boring Highway 2 by using Highway 2A, 22 or 21 between Calgary and Edmonton.  If travelling to BC consider using Highway 3, way nicer than either Trans Canada route (Highway 1 or the Yellowhead).

Weather.  As much as Albertans like to complain about it, I can say, having travelled from coast to coast, as well as from the Arctic Circle to the Atacama, you won't find better riding weather than Alberta in summer.  Cool, clear and sunny is the norm.  Rainstorms are usually short.   Between June and the end of August, the high temperature is typically in the twenties.  Nights are cool, as are the mornings, leave the mesh gear at home, pack some sweaters and leave the liner in your riding jacket.  No crazy heat means you wear all the gear all the time in comfort.   Don't be too surprised if you wake up to find a few centimeters of snow on the ground, especially if you are in the Calgary to Nordegg area.  Don't fret, it will disappear by mid morning and can be safely ignored if you are off pavement.  The secret to staying warm is layering your clothing, a set of  long underwear bottoms, and a sweater or two to put on or remove will keep you toasty.  Expect plenty of sunshine, watch out for the occasional violent but short lived thunderstorm.

Navigation.  It is difficult to stay lost in Alberta, even if you don't know where you are.  If you get the concept of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west you can leave the GPS at home.  The FTR is generally the farthest west of the North-South roads this side of the mountains, so heading in an easterly direction will quickly land you in civilization, or if you are trying to find your way back to the FTR keep going West.  Most of the other Alberta roads are laid out with T squares from North to South and East to West, backroad road signs will give you a clue as to orientation, numbered 'range roads' run north and south, 'township roads' run east and west, range roads count up from east to west and township roads from south to north so you don't even need a compass. Most intersections have road signs.  If  a road is a dead end, it will be indicated by a 'No Exit' sign.  Maps showing the FTR include the ordinary gas station folding maps, free maps available from the Alberta Tourism Parks and Recreation, or auto club maps.  If you are using a GPS with the ability to load maps,  consider a topographic map rather than the highway map, for the additional information, such as elevations, locations of landmarks, ghost town sites etc..

Accommodation. Because the Forestry Trunk Road runs mostly through Crown Land, it is possible to camp just about anywhere.  There are many designated provincial campsites, with various degrees of service, ranging from none, to hot water showers and electrical hookups in Peter Lougheed Park.  For those adventurers who prefer to sleep in beds with roofs and running water, no part of the FTR is more than an hour or two from civilization in the form of a motel or hotel.  The Provincial campgrounds  fees are reasonable north of highway 11 and silly south of 11.  Sites are self registration using envelopes and a drop box.  Carry some checks or cash with an assortment of bills,  Loonies and Toonies, in 2012 fees range from 11.00 to 25 for provincial campsites.   For those willing to rough it, there are unserviced  campgrounds, (actually they are closed, but easy to to get into with a bike) or just grab a stretch unoccupied creek side if you are on crown land.

Critters.  The FTR is bear country and there are plenty of them, so make sure you take all precautions, such as cleaning up your camp site, keeping all food and smelly stuff well away from tents etc..  If you are unfamiliar with how to share the wild with our bear buddies, familiarize yourself with all the stuff you need to know and do if Yogi and Booboo show up.  In addition to bears expect to see many kinds of birds, deer, moose, various rodents, including our national symbol, the beaver. There are also mountain lions, lynx, and most members of the mink and weasel family, coyotes and wolves.  Besides wild critters you will also need to keep an eye open for range cattle and loose running horses between Coleman and Nordegg.

The bike. Any bike and rider combination comfortable travelling on groomed gravel roads will work on the Forestry Trunk Road.  I have taken a sport touring bike (an FJ1100) down the FTR, rental Buicks, worn out econo beaters as well as my 640 Adventure.  I prefer the so called unimproved portions, as they tend to be hard packed, almost like pavement, but lumpier.  The worst bits are the maintained gravel portions, as they are graded almost daily in the summer, which means piled up loose gravel that grabs the front wheel, and lurches it from side to side unless you are going ass pucker fast.  Whatever, if you can ride gravel, you will have no problems with the FTR.

The happiest riders will be those with plenty of excellent suspension,  and a fuel range of  300 plus kms.  Decent range means no  worries at all about fuel, however, with careful planning even a small 100 plus km tank with a supplemental gas can strapped on will do.  It would be wise to pack some form of tire repair, but for the ill prepared and luckless, assistance is never far, as the FTR is well travelled by full of helpful Cowboys, Indians, Drillers and Loggers.

Hazards.  The most frequent hazard encountered on the FTR are trucks, dump trucks, gravel trucks, high speed pickup trucks and logging trucks.  When it is dry all vehicles drag a dust cloud that is as thick as the thickest fog.  When the road is wet, dust is splashed up on your faceshield or goggles as mud.  If you can't be the fastest on the FTR, (that is, if you don't have a suicidal death wish) be prepared to give way to pickups attempting to break the sound barrier.  Logging trucks are easier to stay ahead of, but almost impossible to pass from behind due to the volume and density of dust they stir up.  If you see a logging truck in the mirrors notch up the knot rate  or take a break for an hour or so.

Stuff to see.
The Crownest Pass has a lot of interesting history, including the Frank Slide, where half a mountain fell off and buried a town in 1903.  It still looks as if it happened yesterday.

Peter Lougheed Park and Kananaskis country offer a variety of the usual mountain outdoor activities, campgrounds and resorts, as an alternative to much busier Banff.

Canmore has some nice restaurants, it has become an overflow for Banff tourism, lots of hotels and motels and time shares.

The 1A Highway is the old highway between Calgary and Banff.  Two lanes and a handful of posted curves between Highway 22 and Canmore have made it a favorite with all the Calgary boy racers with sport cars and sport bikes.  Go on a Sunday to watch the fun.

Longview, Water Valley, Sundre, and Caroline are not too far off the Forestry Trunk Road and good alternatives for getting on or off the FTR besides the major access points mentioned above.  All have gas, food, lodging and grocery stores. They are the heart of Alberta cowboy country, so if you are a vegetarian, best keep it to yourself.

Impromptu quad demolition derbies taking  place at a location near you on the FTR.

Ram Falls, between Mountain Aire Lodge and Nordegg are worth a visit.  A very short walk from the day use parking area.

Cadomin, like Nordegg is what is left of a coal mining town.   There is a small store with a cafe, and a motel but no gas.  If you have a few hours and are in excellent shape, consider hiking up to Cadomin Cave.  This is a strenuous hike, but the rewards are worth it.  The cave is near the top of a low mountain.  No specialized climbing equipment is required, but you will need sturdy hiking boots or shoes, and good lungs.  Getting there is like climbing all the stairs in the CN tower.  The cave is used by bats for hibernation in Winter, there are no bats occupying the cave in Summer.  The cave is closed  between Labor Day and Victoria day, as disturbing the bats impairs their ability to  hibernate.   To go more than a few feet into the cave will require a good flashlight.   If you don't like the cave, the top of the mountain is only a few meters above you.  The view here is fantastic.

Between Cadomin and Hinton on Highway 40, near the Luscar mine site is a herd of Big Horn sheep that are always around the highway everytime I have gone through there, bring a camera.

From Cadomin take the road heading southwest to Mountain Park, a ghost town, but the only ghosts you will find are in the Mountain Park Cemetery, everything else is gone.  This is still an active coal mining area.  Nowadays, the coal mining is done by large machinery.  The Mountain Park road runs alongside the coal mine road, only used by huge rock trucks that are too big for public roads.

Past Mountain Park the road is called the Cardinal River Divide road which takes you to the Cardinal River Divide (go figger), which is a continental divide between the river systems that flows into the Arctic Ocean via the Athabasca, Peace, and Mackenzie Rivers, and the river system that flows into the Hudson's Bay via the  Sasakatchewan.  From the divide south is a road that is not on any of my maps, but it is there and will take you back to the FTR about half way between Nordegg and Robb, along the way you will pass through the Alexis Band reserve.

Near Grande Cache they discovered a major Dinosaur trackway, preserved Dino tracks.  Apparently the dinosaurs migrated north in the summer, the arctic was unfrozen and summer near 24 hour daylight meant lots of plant growth for hungry dinos.   Unfortunately the tracks are located on a mine site and can't be visited.  Stop in at the tourist information building for more information.

February 02, 2012

Undead zombie motorcycles

The dead do come back to life.  Zombies,  vampires  ghosts and Frankenstein monsters are mythical but the dead really do come back to life in the motorcycle industry.

The best example of the motorcycle that refused to stay dead is Indian.   Numerous parties have  to revived Indian from the day the final clod of dirt landed on the company casket.  The Indian sold today is a moto  Frankenstein monster, cobbled together with bits of this and that, including a fake Harley Davidson motor made by S&S.  When the real Indian motocycle (not a typo) went under in 1953, its famous name was  bought, sold, stolen, fought over,  by scammers and a few mad financiers who believed they could breathe life into the dead brand.  This past year, Polaris, the maker of the so far semi successful Victory brand of motorcycles have taken over the Indian name, which might be its best chance yet.

Norton stopped large scale motorcycle production in 1976, but they never actually died.  Chopped up by an evil owner, like a starfish, each part was still alive, a parts factory, a development works, a famous name for selling T shirts, an american who kept improving the Commando to the point that he built a brand new motorcycle.  More money and all the parts have been brought together and Norton is once more selling bikes.

Triumph is the succubus of motorcycling.  Experiencing several near deaths since the first Triumph hit the cobblestones in 1902, Triumph motorcycles were consistently rescued from a sinking corporate ship wreck to live on while each  rescuer (except the most recent) went bankrupt.   Rescuscitated by Ariel, BSA, Norton Villiers, a workers cooperative who refused to go home when their factory was supposed to be closed, and a parts vendor who built a few bikes a year from left overs, Triumph staggered through the 80's and 90's while a new owner built a new factory.   Today Triumph is back on track as major European builder of motorcycles, claiming to be the oldest brand in continuous production, a spurious claim given that the new bike that only inherited a name, which was probably a good thing.

Excelsiors and Hendersons were long forgotten, having built their last motorcycles in 1930, but like a ghost or the Loch Ness Monster, they re-appeared briefly in the late 1990's, in an attempt to cash in on the lucrative made in USA cruiser bike market. They ran out of cash, but not before building about 5,000 Super X cruisers before disappearing into the mist once more.  

Royal Enfield  "built like a gun", went under in 1970.  But back in the 1950's RE  spawned (licensed actually, but cut me some slack here) a factory in India.  Zombie like the factory continued to build the same 1953 Bullet 350 and 500 cc motorcycles as the decades ticked past the swinging sixties, whatever the seventies were supposed to be, the 80's, 90's, no fear of Y2K digital collapse here, the immortal Bullet was the choice of Indian military, police, and the rider with a few extra bucks who wanted to rise above the horde of developing world tiddlers available to the Indian ridership.  As India was still running steam locomotives and bullock carts were a common road hazard,  a 1950's Bullet  was no anachronism in their Indian home.  The India bikes, named Enfields, presumably the Royal was unwanted given Indian independence from the British Raj, but with the rising interest in vintage motorcycles,  the Royal name was bought and went on the India tank, along with the opportunity for enthusiasts worldwide to buy what every bike collector dreams of finding, a brand new, never ridden, still in the crate, vintage motorcycle.  A new redesigned Bullet has lost a bit of vintage authenticity, with modernisms like EFI, disc brakes and electric starting, but like their North American doppelganger Harley Davidson, the look and feel of the ancient Bullet has been kept.  Interestingly, if Triumph can claim to be the oldest marque in production by virtue of having purchased the name, they will have to step aside for Royal Enfield, who supposedly sold their first machine in 1899 and have a much stronger claim for continuous production.

The MV Agusta motorcycle were a sideline for the Italian Agusta helicopter company, mostly because owner Count Agusta, liked bikes.  The most famous MVs were Grand Prix racers, the last four strokes to succeed in GP before two strokes made four strokes uncompetitive in the late 1960's (until moto GP banned two strokes).  Agusta also built high quality premium priced road bikes to finance their racing team.   When the count died,  the company lost interest.  The MV Agusta name was sold and resold to a series of owners including even Harley Davidson.  The body-snatched MVs are as exotic and expensive as the originals ever were, but lacking the creds of GP racing.

Benelli was an Italian motorcycle maker that thrived under government import restrictions in the 1950's but fell on hard times in the late 1960's, when the Japanese responded by building bikes in Italy and the government eased up on import restrictions.  Benelli tried a few things, including being the first motorcycle manufacturer to make a production six cylinder motorcycle, ironically a reverse engineered Honda 500 four with two more cylinders.   The Benelli Sei did not save the company from bankruptcy,  the name was sold to a Chinese motorcycle company, who some fear will hide their oriental products behind the Benelli name.  So far the Benelli name has only re-appeared on made in Italy exotics.

Ossa motorcycles were a Spanish company best known for their two stroke off road competition bikes.  Ossa closed its doors in 1982, but in 2010, the name was  revived and Ossa is back building off road competition bikes again.

The reason for all this is nostalgia.  Motorcycles are more than transportation, they are fashion accessories and retro is in.  In the 1970's motorcyclists mostly laughed at archaic Harley Davidson moto dinosaurs.  Today Harley Davidson and their shareholders are doing the laughing.   One wonders how many of the optimists who hope they can buy  instant heritage by moto grave robbing will be as merry.