Three Flags Fun

2017 HD Ultra with a vintage Santa Fe Caboose

Two wheels, three countries and four days equals one kick-ass ride

Story and Photos By Mitch Friedman

The Southern California Motorcycling Association (SCMA) has held its annual Three Flags Classic Motorcycle Tour for the past 44 years. It’s a cool event, and I took part, but hang with me for a bit of history first, eh?

Back in 1974, after reading about border-to-border runs in a 1914 AMA newspaper, Josef (Joe) Usatin of the SCMA thought it would be great to rekindle the idea, and named his new ride the Three Flags Classic. It’d start in Mexico near the U.S. border over Labor Day weekend and end somewhere in Canada. In the early years the British Columbia Road Riders (BCRR) were partners, and managed and hosted the finish location in Canada. Together with SCMA they provided a great ending to what has become a long-term tradition. The ride has certainly earned its classic status over the years.

The author, relaxing at the Vernon, Canada finish and feeling damn good about being a three-time finisher of the Three Flags Classic. Above: Checking out an old Santa Fe caboose near Arizona’s Grand Canyon Harley-Davidson store.

As of 2019, there have been 44 Three Flags Classics, which have started in places like Tijuana, Mexicali, Nogales, Cuidad Juarez and Puerto Penasco, Mexico, as well as in Vancouver, Regina, and Abbotsford, Canada. More than 25 have ended in Canada at cities such as Kamloops, Penticton, Calgary, Harrison Hot Springs, Medicine Hat, Vancouver, Nanaimo, Kimberly and Whistler, B.C. Some have ended in Mexico, too. Three or four checkpoints are included to keep track of the riders that seem to spread out over several states during the course of the event.

This year’s Classic started in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico and finished in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada. This was my third time as a finisher; my first was in 2008 when we rode from Mexicali, Mexico to Nanaimo, BC, Canada. For my second tour, we started in Deming, New Mexico and went to Winnipeg, Canada. 

Most riders this year started the ride at 3am in San Luis, and even at that time of the morning the temperature was 89 degrees. As we rode through Arizona and into Utah to the first checkpoint in Cedar City, Utah, the roads and the view were amazingly beautiful – which blunted the hot weather quite a bit. 

You always feel like you can ride forever when you’re near the Grand Canyon – and you pretty much can! Few places rival its impressive breadth.

On day two we rode from Cedar City to checkpoint two in Mountain Home, Idaho. This day was extra fun, as we rode part of Highway 50 – The Loneliest Road in America – and also part of the very first transcontinental road in the U.S., the Lincoln Highway from New York to San Francisco, dedicated in 1913. Gotta do that one of these days. 

Day three was from Mountain Home to Wallace, Idaho. Wallace is town the movie Dante’s Peak was filmed in. Also Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner was born in Wallace. She was known as Judy until she went to Hollywood at age 16 and changed her name to Lana, becoming one of the era’s most famous and glamorous movie stars. 

Until the late 1980s, Wallace had a thriving prostitution industry. The local police simply ignored the brothels for 100-some years, and it wasn’t until the feds got involved that they were forced to shut things down. The Oasis Bordello Museum gives $5 tours of an old whorehouse, left exactly how it was when the ladies had to scramble in 1988. A copy of People magazine is among the exhibits, its cover featuring Baby Jessica, the little girl who had the whole country freaking out after falling down a well.

Checking out High Desert Harley-Davidson in beautiful Meridian, Idaho on my way to the Canadian border.

Wallace was also famous as the home of the only stoplight on I-90 until uncaring road builders finished the overpass and ended the town’s claim to fame. But the town got the last laugh by holding a grand funeral for the stoplight, putting it in a coffin and having a horse-drawn hearse carry it as a band played. Now, a sign at the old site gives directions to the Wallace Mining Museum, where the light can still be seen resting in its coffin.

Day 4 was the ride into the rally finish town of Vernon, BC, Canada, a town about three hours from the US/Canada Border. It was a beautiful ride as long as you remembered that you were now riding in a place where the speed limit is in kilometers, and not miles, per hour

Border crossings with Mexico and Canada are part of the Three Flags thing, and couldn’t be more different.
About to enter Canada

The banquet on Tuesday had all 200-plus riders and friends that finished in attendance, with everyone finding out where next year’s ride would start and finish. The 45th running of the Three Flags Classic will start in Mexicali, Mexico and finish in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Some fun facts we learned at the banquet: The tour started with 233 riders, five from Mexico, 88 from Canada and 141 from the US. There were 15 different makes of motorcycles ridden, with 74 Hondas, 56 BMWs and 52 Harleys. The average age of the men was 59, the women 58. The oldest riders? 93 for the woman and 88 for the man. The youngest male was 24, the youngest female just 17.  The oldest bike was a 1996 BMW. I’m hoping all this will cause riders to want to try out this wonderful adventure we all know as the Three Flags Classic. For more information visit www.sc-ma.com, or email them at 3flagschair@sc-ma.com or find them on Facebook. 

Hope to see you there!

The roads and scenery along Canada’s Highway 1 are breathtaking, and not to be missed if you’re up that way.

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