PALA, CALIF., NOV. 9—Shortly after I checked in at the registration table for the Unknown Riders Barbecue and Bike Show at the Pala Casino, I met up with Randy Morton of Rock and Roll Custom Paint in Orange. Randy introduced me to John Oakes, the club member responsible for coordinating the event, who in turn introduced me to club members Buddy Suttle, who rides an ’85 FXR, Nick Leonetti, who rides a ’91 FXR, and Kade Gates, who rides a ’91 FXR. They were getting ready to perform wheelies, burnouts and other stunts in a section of the parking area near the event concourse. It’s normal to watch stunt riders perform on sportbikes or maybe modified Sportsters, but to execute those same demanding maneuvers on full-size V-Twins… man, that’s fancy riding!
In an attempt to set up in the most advantageous shooting position, I ignored the marshal’s warning and hunkered down close to the action. I was so close that when Buddy Suttle pulled off a burnout right in front of me while allowing the bike to rotate around its front wheel, I got hit in the chest with a blast of exhaust that startled me to the point where I almost lost my balance and toppled ass-over-teakettle down an adjacent embankment. Apparently Buddy was aware of what had happened because the next time around in the rotation he flashed me a big smile as he momentarily tossed his head back.
When I got a chance to talk to Oakes, he told me that the Unknown Riders had decided to stage the event a mere three weeks prior. The club has such a loyal and sizable following that word of mouth alone was sufficient to turn out somewhere in the vicinity 500 people. The event drew a group of well-known builders; some participated in the bike show while others were there primarily to promote their facilities. Paul Cavallo and the crew from Spitfire Motorcycles displayed “Rollin’ Bones,” the orange, one-off Panhead chopper they campaigned at the prestigious Artistry in Iron Bike Show held at Las Vegas BikeFest two years ago. Spitfire two-wheeled fabrications have graced the covers on pretty much all of the popular publications over the years.
Yaniv Evan of Powerplant Choppers in L.A., whose entry in last year’s Artistry in Iron competition won first prize and then went on to win the People’s Choice award at the Born Free Show, showed up with his partner John. It’s always educational to get Yaniv’s take on the work of some of the other builders in attendance.
As I sauntered through the bikes staged in the competition area, several entries caught my eye. There was a white bagger from Kaotic Designs with a detailed, provocative painting of a scantily clad, yet tastefully posed, woman on the upper part of its fairing. The purple bagger parked next to it was also striking. Then there was a gray Street Glide, which was notable for the space-age bodywork that has become so popular in recent years. When I came upon Johnny Klein’s highly modified, red and black ’03 Harley-Davidson Dyna Sport FXDX, my lens was drawn to it as if by magnetism. It was no shock that Johnny’s Dyna took Best of Show. His FXDX features a 107″ engine built by Chip Kastelink and TR Reiser, pipes by SP Fabrication, Performance Machine wheels and rotors, and paint by Pete “Hot Dog” Finlan.
The Redlight King, one of the bands that performed that afternoon, is signed to Hollywood Records. It’s easy to understand what all the buzz is about, as these guys not only have a commanding stage presence, but they can also play and sing like seasoned pros. What’s more, their music crosses over multiple age demographics. While I hung out with their lead singer/guitar player “Kaz” near his 1950 Panhead with stroked cylinders, a Super E Carb and a boatload of handmade parts, he told me that he’s the one responsible for most of the original material the band plays. Kaz is also a member of the Unknown Riders.
In a pleasant turn of events, instead of a beauty contest event organizers arranged to have a bevy of pin-up models on hand for the duration of the proceedings. One could observe the group strolling from place to place on the grounds, and a number of attendees were able to prevail upon one and/or all of the sassy charmers to pose for photos. During the announcements of the bike show awards and the raffle prize winners, the ladies formed up in a line onstage and flirted openly with anyone who caught one of their respective eyes. They embodied the essence of the pin-up mystique perfectly.
John Oakes and his staff managed to bring in three food trucks, one of which featured Mexican food, another that served up authentic New Orleans cuisine and the last a pink-colored truck with a delectable display of assorted cupcakes.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot; a young rider named Justin Workman managed to bring his bike to a complete standstill in the middle of the course on the way to dominating the finals of the slow race. I know if I ever see that he’s lined up against me in a similar competition, I’ll merely inform the officials that I concede and save myself the wasted effort.