Thursday, 29 January 2009

Darn Pilgrims....

Darn Pilgrims and Other Stories from the High Country

A Snapshot from Day 5 of the VOCNA 2001 Summer Ride: Gunnison, Colorado.

On SBS TV there is a show called “Front Up”. The recipe is simple – take one non-confronting journo (Andrew Urban), one sound man, one camera man. Walk up to people in the street at random and start talking. The premise of the show is very sound – real life is stranger than fiction. In general, Andrew takes less than a minute to have his interviewee relax and begin to open up on national TV. Very little editing is used.

Classic subjects include the guy who owned a 60 ft yacht, but couldn’t cruise the world as planned because he was going through a bitter divorce and the yacht was part of the disputed settlement. But he’d led an interesting life and during he course of a ten minute chat revealed:
· that he’d once fallen 50 feet down a cliff while abseiling, broken his back, nearly died from head wounds and loss of blood, but during the night whilst a search and rescue party was being assembled, a heavenly vision visited upon him. After this, he arose and walked out through dense bush unaided.
· that his love partners have been known to levitate during the act.
· that he has mystical powers enabling him to locate opals in the ground. As a result, as a teenager he made a small fortune working the mining leases of White Cliffs.

Another classic subject was assisting her partner selling tropical fruit and coconuts at an open air market in Darwin. But during the first minute of discussion when Andrew asked what she did when the markets were closed, she revealed that she was a bondage mistress. She found this paid a far better hourly rate than teaching. She also revealed that her best clients were from the local military base, and they always demanded tougher treatment and tighter strapping of the various tools of her leathery trade than any other occupational group. Must be something related to events during their training, she mused. Most enlightening for we, the vast ‘vanilla’ viewing population Down Under.

Which brings me to a particular event on day 5 of the VOCNA Colorado bash, Friday 3rd August 2001. It was like Front Up, but in reverse.

As I recall it, Kitey and I had just stormed another mountain range, dispensed with a few cars on the climb, but had more trouble dispensing with a mad bugger in a Hyundai Sonata (must have been a rental) on the descent. He wasn’t quick enough through the corners but he was flooring it along the short downhill straights – how do you safely pass a guy doing 80 when there’s another switchback approaching rapidly? I don’t exactly remember how, but we both slipped by and ran to the bottom with the road to ourselves, another memorable part of our motorcycling that week.

Then we got into some high plains country, heading toward Gunnison. Kitey stopped (possibly a nature call), but I continued, taking a couple of “rider’s view” photos to pass the time – relatively easy with camera stowed in a zippered pocket on the tankbag and with these long, straight, deserted roads. By the way, don’t ever look down the view finder as you would for static photography, as this can lead to the machine taking an unintended course (I discovered this over 20 years ago, and fortunately corrected the course just in time). Just hold the camera one handed, point in the general direction and be prepared to throw away the dud pics.

I reached the outskirts of Gunnison just on lunch time. There was a neat and tidy park on the right with shade trees and a couple of bikes parked. I pulled in to chat with the riders (Debbie McDonald and Sue Ray) and wait for Kitey, and Richard who was tailing us both (unless he’d found a shortcut). Debbie and Sue left to see if Sue’s husband John was in town having a feed. I waited, stripping off my jacket and placing it on a patch of shaded grass. Before I could lie down, it happened.

A raucous Triumph twin roared up from the direction of Gunnison down town. It wheeled in towards the kerb, coming to a halt behind the borrowed Courgette (the aging, strong-hearted D’Orleans Thruxton). Its Roadrunner-capped rider dismounted and walked over. Within a minute of the discussion starting, I realised what was going on. I had been accosted in the town park by a 59 year old, bearded, Triumph-riding native of Gunnison Colorado, the irascible, irrepressible, and at times irritable, DC Trip (“Dee Cee, as in current” he said.) This definitely felt like Front Up in reverse.

Unfortunately, DC had an unnerving habit of moving forward, puffing out his chest and invading the listener’s personal space whenever the subject matter aroused his emotions. But I’m a good listener so the conversation continued. Aside from sharing an appreciation of old bikes, this manic character told me many stories about his life in this remote town – reputed to have the highest gun ownership per capita of any town in the USA and home of the highest tertiary institution in the USA, Western College.

I noticed a Vincent badge on his cap and asked if he had owned one. “I used to ride a Vincent to West’n College in 1958. It had open pipes, Lightning cams and man, it used to go-o-o! I sure showed those darn pilgrims in their ‘57 Chevy’s who was boss!” He then explained how he had a Featherbed frame at home which was still waiting for a Vincent engine. About 3 years ago he’d read about the new Vincent, the RGV, which some Sydney based Aussies were going to produce. DC had been in touch by e-mail and all but placed an order for one of the first production engines when the whole project failed. He was not happy about this. The memory of the disappointment aroused his emotions. I wonder if he’s sussed out where I’m from, I thought, as he moved into my personal space with chest puffed out. “Damn east coast Aussies” I said, quickly dissociating myself from anyone east of Kalgoorlie (easily done for a recently converted West Australian, especially when feeling threatened).

His granpappy taught him the art of fly fishing in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River (a spectacular place with sheer cliffs rising 1800 feet from the river bed). One day DC took the bamboo rod his granpappy had made in 1927, and rigged it with one of his own special flies. “They all wanna know what I put in maa lures but I won’t tell those damn pilgrims. But aa’ll tell you. I use those h-u-u-ge bugs that you saw when you were ridin’ into town – you know the ones that ya hit and they stop ya dead in yer tracks!” On this particular trout fishing sortie, DC spotted a 9lb trout and skilfully flicked the fly within striking distance. But just before the trout struck, a passing bird swooped on the fly. “Then that big ol’ trout leaped out of that river, grabbed the bird and the fly, and as he dis’peared under the water I could see the wings stickin’ out o’ the sides o’ his mouth!” Could this be a Rocky Mountains legend, akin to the many urban legends of our cities? Don’t know, but until I hear the same story from another source, I’ll give DC the benefit of the doubt.

At about the time this chapter of the story began, Kitey and Richard rode up, dismounted, came over to meet my new acquaintance, but were generally ignored. They stood back a respectable distance, assessed the situation then after a few minutes departed with the words “See ya mate – we’re just heading into town to grab some lunch!” Thanks for your moral support mates – you soon find out who you can count on in a time of need, don’t you.

Conversation then moved to my destination that day, Crawford, which was west on 50 then north on Highway 92. “That Highway 92, that’s maa road. Man its got broken edges ‘n potholes ‘n blind corners with a sheer drop off the edge – one mistake and yerr gone. But me ‘n maa ol’ Triumph, we know every inch of that road. An’ ya know those darn pilgrims on their Japanese Soooperbaaks, they come up here on weekends, thinkin’ they can ride fast, and they can’t ride fer nuts. Why last week I was ridin’ up 92 as they was pullin’ one of those green merchines out of the Black Canyon on the end of a wire rope, with the bike bangin’ ‘n bumpin’ all the way to the top. The previous day they pulled the rider out o’ that same Canyon ‘n put ‘im in a bag.” I enquired further as to the particular hazards I might face. “Trouble is, if it’s bin rainin’, the sand washes off o’ the banks ‘n out onto the road on some o’ them blind corners. An’ ya gotta look out fer deer, ‘n stay away from those broken edges or else ya could end up in the Canyon like that green merchine.”

At this point I felt decidedly peckish, having visions of my (former) mates tucking into a hearty lunch at a down town diner. The only way I could distract the conversation was to ask for a photo of DC standing next to his Triumph. “Nice Triumph, that – do you mind if I take a photo?” At this, DC wheeled around, paced over to the bike, making guttural sounds, and then spat on it, vehemently. “Man this bike is NUTHIN’ – you should see maa 62 Bonnie – now that’s a re-e-l nice Triumph.” Despite this outburst, I got my shot of DC standing proud, with his Triumph in front and, at his specific request, included the hillside behind with its monstrous capital W in white. “That stands fer West’n College – that’s maa ol’ college.” At that point I bade him farewell.

Where is Andrew and the SBS Front Up crew when you need them? Real life really is stranger than fiction, especially in Gunnison, CO. QED.

Private Owner Downunder Part 4

A promising start to our return to the track after some major internal work. But would it continue to run sweetly in the lead up to the Nationals?

Li’l Speedy fired up readily in the driveway on Saturday morning 5 October, after some two and a half years being laid up in the shed. This was just in time to be packed on the trailer to tackle the 3 hour drive to get to the track for Saturday afternoon practice for the Collie 2+4 meeting, followed by racing on Sunday.

The last stages of the mechanical refit still held some frustration, with a decision to run the Hoffman bearing on the drive side with an imperial SKF on the timing side, rather than a pair of imperial SKF’s. This would solve the stretched case issue on the timing side and avoid boring a perfectly good drive side case. In addition the use of the Hoffman on the drive side avoided the need to make up a spacer for the mainshaft to allow the primary drive to pull up against it at the correct offset. This decision was also aided by the discovery of a tame hard chroming/precision grinding shop owner only 3 minutes from the office, who was able to grind the single lipped outer to provide the additional clearance needed for ‘C3’ specifications. So I now have a Hoffman / SKF main bearing set installed with another set on the shelf ready for the next time – many years hence one hopes.

We also decided to bore out the Hoffman bearings to take a decent thickness sleeve, as the difference between the 22mm shaft OD and the 7/8” bore of the stock bearing only allows a sleeve thickness of around 0.003” – too thin for a press fit without the sleeve bunching up. So I removed the rollers and the thin steel cage from both bearings to allow the ID of each bearing to be machined to take a 0.010” thick sleeve. The problem then became how to reassemble the damn things without distorting the flimsy cage – give me a solid brass cage like the original bearings any day. I also found an aero industry plating specialist happy to do motorcycle work so delivered the cam spindle and the bare oil pump body and top plate. He built up the outside only of the oil pump parts to restore it to shrink fit condition and similarly plated the embedded end of the cam spindle, which had become loose in the wall of the timing side case. While he was at it I had the taper of an old M17/2 cam plated to restore it to press fit condition and was then able to press it into a spare camwheel. I will try it in Kamahl the Clubman before too long – they are reputed to be a good sporty cam with better mid range than the M17/8.

After a wet drive to Collie, I was pleased to find the track drying by the time we were allowed out for practice. The vintage sports cars had not enjoyed the best of weather during their time on the track earlier in the day, however the late afternoon motorcycle practice sessions went well until a sidecar deposited a trail of oil half way around the track. So we finished the afternoon dusting the oily line and making it safe for the Sunday races.

Sunday dawned sunny so the pit area was abuzz as we prepared the bikes for the 9am warm up followed by the first of 3 races for Li’l Speedy in the Clubman class, which encompasses Sportslights (100cc 2 strokes and 150cc 4 strokes), Period 2 machines and rigid framed bikes built later than the 1946 cut-off for Period 2.

In race 1 we tagged along in close quarters with a small group comprising a Honda 150 and a B33 350 BSA, with another big bore 600 BSA within sight. Due to the fresh engine (self imposed 5000-ish rpm limit) and lack of familiarity with the track, I was happy to feel my way, eventually getting close enough to the B33 to finish only 0.05 seconds behind. Fastest lap 1:07.4 with 5:49 race time. A check over in the pits revealed only a minor oil weep from the rocker feed union which was easily fixed so after a fuel top up we were ready for race 2.

This time I focussed more on the lines that gave the smoothest ride through some of the corners, which were much bumpier than Wanneroo and gave the lightweight webs a workout as the pace quickened. Again I tagged along with the Honda and the 350 BSA, showing a wheel up the inside a couple of times. Li’l Speedy was strong out of the bottom turn and up the hill to the chicane, which is the place we grabbed 2 places when the BSA missed a gear as it went alongside the leading Honda, allowing Li’l Speedy to slip up the inside of both of them on the entry to the chicane, three abreast. It was a case of head down and try to make a break for the next lap, but still with an eye on the tacho – on 2 occasions I felt the end of the throttle wire and backed off a little. This produced the fastest lap of the weekend for Li’l Speedy and sealed a 3rd place in the race only 2 seconds behind the 600 BSA and a very fast DX100 Yamaha. Fastest lap 1:04.8 with 5:39 race time. Smiles all round back in the pits, as we all enjoyed the tussle.

For race 3 Li’l Speedy was finally on the front row so made the most of the position until getting caught in a traffic jam coming out of turn 3, which allowed the 350 BSA and the Honda past. In the run up the hill on the next lap we dispensed with the BSA and then got onto the back wheel of the Honda. It was racing at close quarters for the next 4 laps as we opened a gap on the BSA. On several occasions Li’l Speedy was able to pull alongside the Honda at the entry to the chicane but its light weight and disc brake gave it the advantage. Revs were allowed to run to 6-ish in this race but again I can’t recall feeling the end of the throttle wire as I was mindful of the work that had gone into this engine and didn’t want to spoil our chances of a shot at the Nationals. We finished with a strong run to the line, only 0.06 seconds behind the Honda at the chequered flag. Fastest lap 1:05.9 with 5:37 race time, so I was very happy to see continual improvement during the course of the day. And with a fully run in engine and flat out performance available I am sure that we will be up there with the 600 BSA and other bigger machines in future.
I guess you won’t be surprised to hear that the cosmetics still haven’t reached the top of the To Do List so it will be a mechanically sound but tatty Li’l Speedy that fronts up to the start line at Wanneroo on 22nd November. Stand by for a full report next issue and wish us luck – we have to fly back from the Warrnambool rally a day early in order to get Li’l Speedy onto the grid on Saturday morning. JJ