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One for the Road: Iron fever

By Shadow

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Six years ago, I attended the Rhinebeck Grand National Super Meet presented by the Northeast Coalition of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America (AMCA). It was the third year for the event but the first for me, and although I’ve always been a vintage bike buff from afar, the meet cemented my fascination with and admiration for these fine old machines as well as their fascinating owners. I joined the AMCA on the spot.

Sadly, I had not been able to make it to subsequent meets because of scheduling conflicts, but this year when I received an invitation to share lodging at the fairground’s camping area, I was determined to go. So I loaded up my FXD with a few days’ extra clothing and made my way north to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds.

I arrived well before my friend and her crew, so I parked my bike in the camping area, looking to stake out a spot for the RV. It was then I noticed that the front of my right saddlebag was resting on top of the bike’s exhaust. The rear of the bag was still affixed to the mount, which was the only thing that saved it from flying off the bike while I was on the highway.

Figuring I hadn’t attached the bag properly the last time I’d taken it off, I tried to fasten it, but to no avail. No matter what I did—loosening and then tightening bolts, removing washers, angling the bag differently—I couldn’t get it to work. On the other side of the fence were three guys relaxing under a canopy and I called over to them. “Could you guys help me out?” Andy, Ron and Gary were AMCA members that had come from Ontario, and they spent quite a while trying to figure out what the problem was. Serendipitously, Andy is a machinist and he finally determined that a cam inside the locking mechanism was facing in the wrong direction. Seems that when some snapped-off bolts were replaced on the bag mounts, the cam had been improperly re-installed. Andy and the guys got everything sorted out and I was again a happy camper. Thanks, Team Canada, for saving me from having to bungee my bag onto my bike for the next 10 days.

This experience made me realize once again what I find so appealing about the vintage motorcycle culture. The camaraderie, the willingness to help one another, draws me in just as much as the cool, classic motorcycles. These guys and gals are passionate about their machines—most are passionate about any vintage motorcycle—and willingly share that passion, whether you’re new to the scene or an old timer. And these folks know how to fix their bikes, and probably yours, too. You won’t find anything like a conversation I observed in Laconia later that week during a loud pipes contest which was primarily populated with new bikes: “What size is the motor in that thing?” “Uh, I dunno.”

The meet itself was wonderful. Most of the antiques in the motorcycle timeline were things of beauty, many with grand stories to tell of their discovery and their restoration (or “rustoration,” as it were). And each day there was a daredevil show with Doug Danger doing stunts and breaking through a wall of fire, followed by Louis “Rocket” Re soaring off a ramp and landing on another… on an American Eagle Laverda.

Sure, some things have changed since the first Rhinebeck meet in 2007, and there are a few complaints, such as, “These guys are just here for the social scene.” Well, for me, that’s part of the allure. People would stop and chat with purveyors of parts and other merchandise, and no one seemed in a hurry. Many of the vendors had set up tents or campers in back of their displays, and they hung around long after the official 5:00 p.m. closing time; barbecuing, talking, laughing, until it was time to hit the sack.

And it was delightful to meet up with friends and acquaintances that in some cases I hadn’t seen in years. There was Vermin from Yonkers MC who had set up a swap meet table. Nick Pastore from Sussex, New Jersey, was there for his business Vintage Smoke. Mark Johnson from Custom Bike Works in Dover, New Jersey, was trying to offload some old parts and maybe sell a bike or two. Rob Nussbaum had many offerings at the Retrocycle setup. Gary Schnakenberg who officiates at various races, Kevin Valentine, former AMCA judge and Blue Knight who’d moved to Florida, Eddie from Old Dawgs, Panhead Billy from, well, everywhere, and the list went on and on.

Later Friday evening, our campsite was the place to be, with the barbecue grill at full capacity, liquid refreshments and even entertainment. Our hostess had brought her guitar as had her friend Bill who she’d invited to join us. A woman named Jane who was riding around the camping area on an enduro bike saw the guitar cases and asked if we wanted to jam, so she brought over her guitar and her lovely voice. An impromptu concert of sorts took form and we just hoped our neighbors liked our taste in music because the playing and singing went on well into the night.

The next day, I re-upped my lapsed membership. And now I’ve got my eye on an immaculate ’55 Hummer I saw for sale at the American Police Motorcycle Museum in Meredith, New Hampshire. But wait—Vermin looked like he was having a lot of fun tooling around the fairgrounds on his Aermacchi. Now that I think about it, I’ve always wanted an Ironhead. And I’ve been invited to attend the next AMCA Colonial Chapter meet which is practically in my own back yard. Lord, help me. I’ve been bitten again.

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