The art of the motorcycle is best enjoyed in motion, which is one reason we think the Cycle World Rolling Concours is one of the best bikes shows: All entered machines have to make a 50-mile ride (to a provided lunch at a local park) to be eligible for judging.
Now celebrating its third year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and held in conjunction with the MotoGP race in August, the event this year topped the charts for entries and variety of newer classics. In fact, we even added a class for 1987-’93 motorcycles, recognizing that time is marching on. Trophies once again were exceptionally cool framed photos of the track with pieces of genuine Indy brick mounted alongside.
An added bonus this year was a police escort out of The Speedway and through town. We felt almost presidential (but cooler than the prez since we were on bikes) as the Indianapolis Metro Police motor officers shut down intersections and stopped traffic for our brigade of classic bikes.
My fellow judges were returning Editor-at-Large Peter Egan and Bill Getty, proprietor of JRC Engineering, manufacturer and distributor of classic English bike parts. New additions this year were Jeff Holt, Editor of Hot Bike magazine (now part of the Bonnier Motorcycle Group, along with CW), and Barry Rompella, owner of Hudson Valley Cycle Center in Kingston, New York, who’s very well versed in Japanese bikes of the era relevant to our show.
The era and continent shift in the old-bike scene was more evident than ever. British machines of the 1950s and ’60s are being displaced by classic Japanese hardware from the 1970s and ’80s.
Nowhere was this more evident than in our choice of Best in Show, a 1969 Kawasaki H1 Mach III (1) owned by Bill Reagan. These two-stroke Triples put Kawasaki on the performance map, and are fairly rare these days due to what was incredible engine performance for the time, allied with notoriously bad chassis and weak drum brakes. “I got it out of a storage unit in New York, and I should have left it there!” said Reagan with a smile. Anyone who’s tried to restore a rare Japanese motorcycle understands this feeling. I was not alone in getting a bit light-headed while following this profuse smoker on the ride. “What gives?” I asked. “There was an oil-injection pump recall when the bikes were new that was supposed to address this problem,” replied Reagan. So original, it still needs the recall work. Kawasaki, are you listening?
Gorgeous two-strokes were actually a major theme. Alan Carlson’s 1984 Yamaha RZ350 (2), resplendent in its bumble-bee yellow-and-black paint, had such overwhelming beauty we mistakenly awarded it first place in Japanese Classic for pre-’75 machines (good thing we don’t take ourselves too seriously). Meanwhile, George Nolan’s ultra-rare 1986 Honda NS400R Triple (3) topped Modern Classic, which we opened up to 1985 to 1993 machines. Nolan bought the bike on eBay from a Canadian seller and set about a full restoration; the results are stunning.
Classic III is for bikes built between 1976 and ’84, and no finer example was present than Steve Passwater’s 1984 Honda Interceptor 500 (4). Passwater bought the V-Four new and has kept the bike incredibly well-preserved, down to original tires. It glowed just as it must have on the dealership floor nearly 30 years ago.
Anglophiles got a taste of the top spot in Classic II, with a red 1968 Norton Commando Fastback (5) owned and restored by Barry Schonberger, who knows the history of these early 750s super well. So well, in fact, that Schonberger says his bike’s serial number puts it four digits after the famous “cracking frame” recall. A few non-standard touches aided reliability and ridability, which is all part of the “Rolling” element of the show.
When I asked Harold Holt to roll his stretched and turbocharged 1977 Kawasaki KZ1000 LTD (6) out for photos, he began looking frantically for some cleaning supplies. “I’d like to clean the wheels and get some of the dust off of it,” he said, explaining that he’d ridden the bike 80 miles to the event and that his house is a mile up a gravel road! That pretty much sealed his win in the Street Specials class, open to customs of all flavors 1993 and older.
We were light on both Classic I (1959 and earlier) bikes and entries for American Classic (1975 and earlier), but found worthy winners nonetheless. Don Beadle’s 1939 BSA B21 Standard took its second consecutive class win while James Hoban’s 1976 Harley-Davidson Super Glide FXE Liberty Edition was so cool we stretched the rules on year of manufacture to include this patriotic beauty. And get this: He’d bought the bike near new and gone on his first date with his future wife on the Super Glide back in the day.
The passion and enthusiasm expressed in the shadow of the famed Indy Pagoda was enough to pull many MotoGP racers and mechanics, and even Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta, out to have a look at all the machines. But they missed the best part of the show: the ride.
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