Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Not Nostalgia

Some nudniks think that vintage bikes are slow piles of junk and that to race one is akin to wading in the kiddie pool. They have obviously never tried to hustle a flexing, sliding CB 350 through Turn 5 at Mosport with ten other 350s sniffing your exhaust, held 2 fingers over the clutch lever on a race-tuned RD400 on the banking at Daytona praying you got the jetting right or watched the last real men compete on hand shift, rigid framed Harleys and Indians. While most artifices of the past are relegated to scrap heap or museum, vintage racebikes enjoy a hardscrabble second life at the track: flog to within an inch of existence, then re-build, rinse, repeat.

Stand on the corner of Main St. in any town on a sunny Sunday, wait five minutes and you are sure to hear the sound of two types of motorcycle, the growl of a Japanese in-line four cylinder and a barely muffled V-twin of Milwaukee lineage. Stand at the wall on pit lane any vintage race weekend and you are likely to hear so much more: the twitter of a BSA Gold Star, shrieking two-strokes in the single, twin, triple and even four cylinder variety, the bellows of a herd of 4-stroke Honda twins sounding much larger than their actual diminutive displacement. Outdated, obsolete but completely relevant. Some history is worth repeating.

It takes a certain type to be a serious motorcyclist, it also takes an even more specialized person to race bikes, but it takes a seriously crazy bastard to race vintage motorcycles. Anybody can buy a late model sportbike off Craigslist, order an exhaust, get some suspension work done and put it on the track. Vintage machines demand involvement, intimate knowledge of internal workings, weaknesses and quirks. They beg for you to solve, in some cases glaring, deficits in original design before being put to the ultimate test. A vintage race bike requires the owner to be equal parts engineer, tuner, loving caretaker and alchemist, stipulating that the rider be acutely aware of exactly not only what the machine is capable of doing, but what it is likely to do at any given moment. A subtle change in the engine's tone, a slight drop in power, anything that could signal impending internal deconstruction. Like a finicky lover in need of gentle persuasion who is just as likely to hurl a vase at your head as to hug you. These are not appliances, they are instruments. And they are not for everyone.

Kris Larrivee and Tyler Wilson. No quarter given, none asked.

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