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One for the Road: Old bikes and new friends

By Shadow

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I’d been looking forward to the 4th of July weekend for some time. Generally, I choose not to travel during holiday weekends, preferring to enjoy a nice, quiet weekend at home rather than battling traffic, crowds, and jacked-up prices. But this year, the Antique Motorcycle Club of America Rhinebeck Grand National Meet moved from its usual June dates to July 1 and 2. And although it was my third Rhinebeck meet, it was the first time I’d attend as a Colonial Chapter member. I’d even volunteered to help out at the gate for a few hours, which, as it turned out, was a great way to meet other antique bike buffs.

One of the benefits afforded to AMCA members is that we are permitted to camp onsite, and I fully intended to take advantage of that privilege. For $15 for the entire weekend, campers can set up a tent under a covered pavilion that’s only a short walk to the bathrooms with showers. So I plunked down my $15 and selected a place to pitch my tent, parking my bike right next to it. In short order my site was set up and I wandered over to the meet area. It was the day before the meet officially started, but there was already lots of activity, with vendors and exhibitors setting up their displays. And there was already some early horse trading going on.

I wandered back to the camping area to rustle up some dinner, and that’s when I noticed the beautiful black and red Shovelhead bobber not far from where my tent was. I went over to get a closer look, and asked one of the guys who was sitting there, “Is this your Shovel?” The guy responded, “Well, I built it for a friend who owns a shop.” I admired it some more, peppered him with a bunch of questions, and finally asked if I could sit on it—just to see how it felt. He gave permission and damned if that bike didn’t fit me perfectly.

Affixed to the rear fender of the Shovel was a sign: Custom Made for Groton Cycle Center by Dick Linn 2013. Dick was the gentleman standing in front of me, and the friend he mentioned was Don Titus who owns Groton Cycle Center. Dick used to own a bike shop but now he works with Don, building bikes and doing other things. Don eventually strolled over and I repeated my compliments on the Shovel. Dick said, “Want me to build you one?” and he quoted me a reasonable price. Very reasonable, in fact.

Since I wasn’t making any deals that day, we moved on to other topics. Dick and Don and the other guys they rode up with invited me over to their “campsite” for some dinner and conversation. Some (or maybe all) of them had each come up with a list of various bike components they were looking for. These guys were serious parts seekers, and the depth of their knowledge was impressive, as were some of their stories of gallivanting about on their old bikes.

I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the weekend, as well as their company, and I found myself going back to that Shovel to admire it yet again. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to learn how to ride with a foot clutch and suicide shift—and kickstart only—but the guys assured me that once I got the hang of it, I’d have lots of fun. And besides, those are the types of builds in which Dick specializes. I dunno… can one teach an old dog new tricks? They invited me to come to the Finger Lakes region, which was in their neck of the woods, to ride with them and find out.

But seeing that stunning Shovel did get the gears turning in my mind. It forced me to think about what I really wanted in a vintage bike. My desire for modern conveniences seemed incongruous with old iron. But I’m not looking to score AMCA points; I’m just looking to fulfill my dream of an antique bike that I can enjoy and ride more than just a few miles at Interstate speeds.

While pondering the multitude of choices that exist, I happened upon my old friend Skeeter Todd and his wife Marie, both longtime riders and vintage enthusiasts. Skeeter has a pedigree as long as my arm, and is highly respected in the motorcycle industry. He was one of the 50 builders invited to enter a custom bike for S&S Cycle’s 50th anniversary celebration and has a star-studded resume of builds for some mighty big names. My thoughts and concerns came tumbling out, and he assured me that I could have what I wanted. He suggested that I make a list and start filling in the pros and cons and take it from there.

In the days following, random fragments and questions swam through my mind until last week when he messaged me, “Back to our conversation about your Shovelhead. There are a lot of cool things you could do to make the bike think it was a Evo and perform like one. When we get to Sturgis, let’s talk. I enjoy exploring best-case designs.” We started exchanging some questions (mine) and ideas (his), and then we agreed that I would start looking at bikes I like, make that list and bring it to Sturgis where we could talk more.

So it seems a project is in the works, once Skeeter helps me figure out the best options. I know I want to do it on the cheap, except for certain key components, of course, and that I need to do a lot of planning beforehand. But to have the bike of my dreams, and, with a lot of help, of course, figure out how to put it together? It doesn’t get any better than that.

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