by Gary Charpentier
Cold. If I had to sum up my second trip to the Slimey Crud Fall Cafe Racer Run in one word, that would be it. Mark Foster and I rode for nearly five hours to get to our hotel on Saturday afternoon in forty-some degree weather and I was on a basically unfaired motorcycle. Despite the fact that I was wearing my carefully developed winter riding ensemble by the time we arrived I was mind-numbingly cold. Had I taken an IQ test at that point, I would have registered somewhere south of moron; D-d-d-d-d-duhhhh!
I’ve come to the conclusion that long-term exposure to relatively mild cold affects a rider more severely than short-term exposure to extreme cold. Either that or I am getting old and soft and should start shopping for a Goldwing right now… mmmmm, Nah! Foster was riding his brand new R1, and he seemed to be fairing a lot better (pun intended, of course).
Something on the sportier side of the Sport-Touring equation might just fit into my plans and budget someday soon. These cafe racers were never intended for long-hauls or sight seeing, and Gypsy, my 1982 Kawasaki Gpz 550 pack mule is not much better. She’s good for all day in nice weather, but when the temperature drops, so does my endurance in the saddle. Not much wind protection from that enlarged headlight bezel they euphemistically call a bikini fairing.
Bill Bassett and Glenn Dahl rode in on their Gold Wings around dinner time. Sitting around a table at the Green Mill in Wisconsin Dells, our little group was discussing what time we should head for Leland in the morning. I thought about the forecast I had heard for a low of 28 degrees that evening, and suggested, “Let’s not set a time, let’s set a temperature.” That got a good laugh from my companions, but it also caused us to consider the wisdom of leaving while there was still frost on the road. In the end, we decided we would leave whenever we were ready…
Sunday dawned with the predicted frost covering everything in sight. The sun shone so brightly on our motorbikes that they sparkled like sequins on an Elvis suit, prompting me to grab the camera for a few quick snapshots before breakfast. Comfort Inn offered the same old donuts and coffee “Continental Breakfast” that you get anywhere else, and we made short work of that. Once everyone was suited up and checked out, we topped off the tanks and hit the road for Pine Bluff. It was right around 32 degrees, but the sky was clear and it was warming up fast.
Out of the Dells, we entered a land of rolling hills and peaking fall colors. The roads began to snake over and between those hills, and the ride began to get interesting. Nice, sweeping curves joined by medium-length straights set up a pleasant rhythm, and it seemed no time at all before we were pulling into the parking lot of Morgan’s for a real breakfast. Early as it was, there were already fifty-plus bikes parked around the lot across from Morgan’s, and there was a steady flow of riders rolling into town the whole time we were eating.
A quick side-note here: Angie, the bartender at Morgan’s, built me the best Bloody Mary I have ever tasted! When we ordered them extra spicy, she said, “I’ll just make them the way I drink them then.” Ohhhh, MAN! Talk about a wakeup call… I was still chewing on bits of horseradish during my ride home. I have GOT to get her recipe!
After breakfast, we wandered back across the street to get a look at some of the assembled machinery. The first thing I noticed was that there didn’t seem to be a pure showbike or “trailer queen” in the bunch. As you might expect, the cold weather kept the dilettantes away. Why, even the sole Ducati MH900e that showed up exhibited signs of hard and frequent use. The sheen of that beautiful bodywork wore a patina of bug-splats and road grime. The tires were worn edge-to-edge, the license plate and fusebox cover had fallen off, and the license plate light had been secured to the frame with black tape. I met the owner later in the day, and he didn’t seem like the fastidious type; but rather more like someone you would see on the back of a hardtail chopper. Remember, this was the first bike that was sold exclusively over the internet. On New Year’s Eve, 2000, precisely at midnight GMT, the entire production run sold out in under four hours. Some reports say two. I’m glad to see at least one of these got into the hands of a Rider, rather than speculators and collectors.
The closest thing to a showbike I found was Jamie Valentine’s 1966 Bultaco Metralla. This was a rare, 200 cc version of the Spanish company’s two-stroke streetbike. Jamie’s version is stripped down to its elemental cafe-racer essentials. Simple, bright-red paint covered the seatpan, fenders, and that voluptuous gas tank. The Spaniards seem to share that Latin flair for design with their Italian cousins. Jamie rides this bike, but only on special occasions. A regular attendee at both Spring and Fall Crud runs, he used to ride the bike around the historic AHRMA vintage roadrace gathering at Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
I was hoping to see and hear one of the new MV Agusta F4s at this gathering, but alas, none showed up. (See my comment above re: dilettantes.) However, there was an older 350 twin of the same marque proudly displayed against the cyclone fence near the back of the lot. I couldn’t track down its owner, but did take the time to admire it and shoot some photos. This was another bike that showed the telltale signs of long storage and recent use. Bystanders told me it had been ridden to the event, and I had no reason to doubt that. I wish I could have heard it run.
One sound that seemed as pervasive as Muzak in an elevator was the rattle of dry clutches and the rumble of Ducati twins. Although their predominance at the Crud is beginning to wane, my desmo-calibrated ear picked up the soundtrack continuously throughout the day. Another impressive sound was that of a tuned and piped V-max, whose rider delighted in making short, top-fuel dragster runs up and down the street in front of Sprecher’s Tap in Leland. This bike sounded for all the world like a nitro-powered V8, from its lumpy idle right up to its tire-shredding redline. I guess I can see the appeal of a ride like that.
Apparently, Harley Davidson finally figured it out too, if their new V-Rod is any indication. It’s interesting to see the Motor Company turning the tables and copying their Japanese competition for once. Unfortunately, with the ransom they demand for the V-Rod, I could buy two brand-new V-maxes and a years supply of fresh rear tires for both of them.
So, what about The Ride? Well, I hooked up with an eclectic group of guys on widely varied machines. My friend Robb from Milwaukee piloted his Hawk GT, and introduced me to other riders. There was Dennis on a Cagiva Gran Canyon, Jason on an old Suzuki GS850, and Aaron lead the pack at a surprisingly fast clip on his vintage Honda CB500 Cafe Racer. Gypsy and I flew formation in the number two slot on Aaron’s back tire and stayed there for the duration. We swooped in and out of valleys, up hills and over dales. There were sweepers, esses, tight off-camber kinks with smooth, brand new pavement followed by bumpy and leaf-strewn sections of old tarmac. A smooth and relaxed, 7/10ths pace for Gypsy and I appeared to be a bit more exciting for ride leader Aaron on his older classic. He tended to wobble a bit in the rougher corners and did a spectacular burnout at one of the stopsigns. Apparently he had some history there with another bike on a previous ride. A couple of the guys kind of faded off the back, but everyone made it to Leland in one piece. I arrived at Sprecher’s Tap exhilarated and thirsty. Time for some of their famous home-brewed rootbeer!
A few laps around the parking lot revealed many of the same bikes I had seen in Pine Bluff. A beautiful Harris Magnum 5 had been on display when we left, but apparently the owner beat us to Leland. He wasn’t around to answer the inevitable questions, but had thoughtfully left a laminated factsheet about the bike hanging from one of the clip-ons. For those who don’t know, Harris is a British company who have been making high-end roadrace and street specials for many years. This particular version sports a gorgeous chro-moly trellis frame wrapped around a hot-rodded CBR900RR motor, with premium chassis bits and a really evil, “street-fighter” look.
So many great bikes, so little film… I snapped frame #36 in the parking lot across the street from Sprecher’s Tap, and looked around for someplace to buy more. No luck. Leland is but a flyspeck on the map, and all I could find were the two taverns on either side of the road. Well, the time was passing quickly anyway, as it always does when we dare to have this much fun. So I decided to head westbound.
Not much to say about the trip back; A solo drone on the interstate designed to get me there as quickly as possible. It was all a blur of core-freezing cold punctuated by stops for gas and hot cocoa. I settled in behind trucks to cut the wind, until I spied a fast car with a radar detector and elected speed over comfort. With this method I cut a full hour off my travel time on the way home. Once in the house, I left a trail of riding gear on my way to the bathroom, and settled into a hot bath with a cold beer. There’s no place like home…