If this spring’s rides are any indication of how the riding season is going to pan out for me this year, it’s going to be a good one. I’m not an Iron Butt rider who piles on tens of thousands of miles every year, but I am disappointed when I can’t roll up at least 3,000-4,000 miles every riding season, and last year I was lucky if I hit 1,500, with work and family loads keeping my time on two wheels to a minimum. Outside of commuting to work and a few weekend rides, the only good road run I managed to squeeze in was with pals Ken Tripkos and Paul Harrison to Cuba, Missouri, for the incredible J. Wood auction of a horde of motorcycles and parts dating from the Teens to the 1970s, shoved over the decades by an eccentric “collector” into barns stuffed to overflowing. October saw me tear my right Achilles tendon, and after that my riding season, such as it was, was over.
Ah, but what a difference a year makes. My Achilles has healed, and thanks to friend Mark Scott of Austin, Texas, I’ve already fulfilled one of my 2016 wish list rides, namely the Vincent Owners Club Lone Star Section annual ride and rally in Leakey, Texas, in late April/early May, made all the better thanks to this year’s pairing with the North Texas Norton Owners Club’s annual get-together, also in Leakey. Vincents, Nortons and pig roasts. It really doesn't get any better than that.
Leakey, if you’ve never been there, is located in the heart of Texas’ Hill Country, an expansive, sparsely populated area stretching some 200 miles west, north and south from Austin and San Antonio. It’s also, I discovered, home to some of the best riding on the planet, with miles of two-lane blacktop twisting through the surrounding country. Leakey is particularly popular for riders, sitting as it does at an intersection of The Three Sisters, a series of roads that take you through some of the most spectacular scenery you’ll ever experience, the route tracking the surrounding ridges and canyons, one minute sweeping you up to the biggest sky anywhere, the next worming down and across the lowland before spinning you back up to the sky again.
The ride was made all the better thanks to Mark, who let me make the 200-some-mile ride from his home in Austin to Leakey on his 1975 Norton Commando 850, while he rode his 1948 Vincent Series B Rapide. My last Commando was also a ’75 electric start, and it was great to be reminded of why I loved the two Commandos I owned so much — and why I need another. Physically small considering their relatively large engine, Commandos are excellent road bikes, and they shine on two-lane backcountry roads like the ones in the Hill Country, where their ample torque and fine handling make them the perfect companion as you hustle seemingly effortlessly from one turn to the next.
The weekend ride got even better when we hit Leakey, where Mark switched bikes with me so I could enjoy the Vincent for the remainder of the trip, including the final run back to Austin. The thrill went way beyond the obvious reaction to riding the Rapide — “Holy sh##! I’m riding a Vincent!” — because I wasn’t riding a Vincent just anywhere, I was riding a Vincent in the Hill Country, where quick reactions reward the rider with sensory pleasures akin to a roller coaster. The Vincent was brilliant, and riding it through the Hill Country made me think what a revelation it must have been when introduced 70 years ago, smooth, tractable and poised regardless of conditions.
The weekend ended with some 700 miles under my belt, a bit more than 200 of it on the Norton, the rest on the Vincent. If that was the start of my riding season, it’s going to be a very good year, indeed.