The 8th Annual Barber Vintage Festival and MotoGiro-South: Southern Breeze

Café racers make the scene at the 8th Annual Barber Vintage Festival, while small-bore exotics hit the back roads of Alabama in the MotoGiro-South.

Cook Neilson and Rich Lambrechts

Cook Neilson and Rich Lambrechts with Lambrechts’ latest project, Café 31.

Photo By Vicki Smith

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A record 57,000-plus vintage bike enthusiasts attended the 8th Annual Barber Vintage Festival, adding even more momentum to a show that’s become the de facto king of classic motorcycle events in the U.S.

The basic ingredients to success — old bikes, great people and an amazing (OK, mind-blowing) venue — have always been in place at Barber. And while there’s no denying the Barber organization’s apparent advantage of deep pockets, what makes their event special and what really drives its growth is something money can’t buy: Engagement.

The level of engagement at Barber is palpable, starting with the Barber staff (who in the best Southern tradition make each and every attendee feel like the show just wouldn’t be the same without them) and extending to every vendor, every vintage racer and the collectors who haul in literally acres of vintage motorcycles. An amazingly positive vibe drives a lot of talk about Barber, and as word spreads the event draws a wider audience every year, broadening the appeal of vintage motorcycling.

Café racers on the prowl …

The burgeoning café scene took center stage at Barber in 2012, with the legendary Ace Café London and Dime City Cycles occupying the infield area at Turn 17, where they were joined by dozens of other café specialists including Loaded Gun Customs, Cafe Fabrications and Biltwell. Rolled cuffs and greased-back hair were the order of the day, as café fans loaded up on fish and chips and checked out the impressive selection of café builds on hand, including Mabel, the stunning Dime City Cycle/Iron & Air Magazine giveaway bike and easily one of the nicest machines on display at the Ace Corner.

Outside Turn 17 the festival delivered everything we’ve come to expect from Barber, including a top-notch swap meet and American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association racing, with rounds 17 and 18 of the AHRMA/CPL Systems National Historic Cup Roadrace Series taking place on the world-class Barber track. Vintage dirt bike fans took in AHRMA Trials and Cross Country, and the Race of the Century for bikes 100 years old and older returned, with Wheels Through Time’s Dale Walksler leading the 10-strong field to take the win on his 1912 Indian.

There is, in fact, always so much going on at the Barber Festival it’s almost impossible to take it all in. If you didn’t want to watch the racing action you could wander the pits for a close-up look at vintage race bikes, or head over to the museum for any one of 18 tech seminars held throughout the weekend. You could also check out Saturday’s Jerry Wood’s Cyclemarket & Auction, or stroll up the hill from the swap meet and check out the always excellent selection of vintage Japanese motorcycles on display at the VJMC. There was also the Antique Motorcycle Club of America’s annual show, which was bigger than ever for 2012.

Motorcycle Classics was there as we have been every year, hosting our annual Barber Vintage Motorcycle Show. Triumph motorcycles were our featured marque, with a nice selection of vintage Triumphs providing a handsome bookend to new (and some vintage) Triumphs on display just down the way from us at the Triumph Motorcycles tent. Triumph North America CEO Greg Heichelbech helped judge our Triumph class, and international motorcycle journalist Alan Cathcart returned for a second year to help judge our show along with the National Motorcycle Museum’s Mark Mederski and Barber’s Brian Slark. Top honors went to David Hurst for his beautifully restored and very rare 1966 Triumph TT100 factory production racer. (Read more: Top Dogs at the 2012 Barber Vintage Festival.)

Race Tech’s vintage suspension guru Matt Wiley also joined us again, giving another of his excellent suspension seminars. A hands-on tech, Wiley is a regular at AHRMA races, where he sets up shop trackside to help racers sort out suspension issues. Always ready to lend a hand, his knowledge of vintage suspensions is second to none. We also got to meet up with vintage bike fan and Barber Sweepstakes winner Alan Sayler, who got his name pulled to win two free tickets — plus a hotel room for two nights — to the Barber Vintage Festival. Nice going, Alan.

Motorcycles by Moonlight, the Barber Museum’s annual fundraiser, returned for Friday night, with Alan Cathcart leading special guests Gene Romero, Paul Smart and David Aldana through stories from their racing past. Although Smart might be known best for his famous 1972 Imola win for Ducati, both he and Romero rode for Triumph while Aldana, famous for winning rides on Elf Hondas, rode for BSA in his early years.

… and tiddlers on tour

In 2011, the welcome mat was rolled out for Ducstock, a special Ducati gathering spearheaded by Ducati.net’s Vicki Smith. For 2012, Vicki, who’s something of a legend in Ducati and moto giro circles, got together with the folks at MotoGiro-USA to help organize the first of what we hope to be many moto giros at Barber.

Appropriately named MotoGiro-South, the pre-festival Thursday giro was limited to 50 riders, who came from around the U.S. for a 150-mile romp through the Alabama countryside. Sanctioned by the United States Classic Racing Association (USCRA), the oldest vintage racing organization in the U.S., MotoGiro-USA events are not races but time trials. Riders compete for best possible time between checkpoints, with low average speeds the order of the day, and complete timed ability tests at predetermined locations; consistency and agility are the winning factors, not high speed.

Vicki Smith participated in the first Motogiro d’Italia retrospective in Italy in 2001 — and every one after that for 10 years. Her enthusiasm proved infectious, prompting USCRA founder Bob Coy and other USCRA members to ride in the 2003 and 2004 Motogiro d’Italia. Those experiences inspired Coy and crew to organize their own event, and the first MotoGiro-USA was held in 2004.

That first moto giro was so much fun they started holding two a year, MotoGiro-East in the spring and MotoGiro-USA in the fall, and as the Barber Festival continued picking up steam thoughts turned toward holding a giro in Alabama prior to the festival. “We’d been bantering that around for a bit,” Coy says, “and Vicki is certainly a cheerleader on a lot of that stuff. We thought a giro in conjunction with Barber would be great.”

Those thoughts turned to reality in 2012. Coy and Vicki spoke with the folks at Barber, who loved the idea but couldn’t put in much effort because of the festival. But the momentum was there, so in August Coy traveled to Alabama with USCRA members Frank Smith and Mike Gonteski to sketch out a route.

Where the Italian giro was limited to bikes built prior to 1957 (the year Italy outlawed racing on public roads), the American runs are open to bikes built through 1968, with five displacement classes, starting with 65cc and topping out at 305cc. That cutoff is an obvious nod to mid-1960s Hondas, which increasingly dominate U.S. giros, especially Honda 160s. “They’re bulletproof,” quips Frank Smith, who loaned me his 1968 CB160 for the event. Untouched since running the fall MotoGiro-USA in Vermont just a few weeks before MotoGiro-South, it never missed a beat and was a hoot to ride.

I counted 18 Hondas, but Italian tiddlers still ruled the roost, with 23 of the assembled machines bearing time-honored names like Motobi, Ducati, Parilla and MV Agusta. There were also a few Spanish entrants, including two Bultacos and an OSSA. And say what you will about Italian bikes, but they mostly ran flawlessly: To the best of my knowledge only one Italian, an Aermacchi, came home in the back of a truck.

Alabama is blessed with miles and miles of spectacular two-lane roads, and the 150-mile giro took riders through back country even some Alabamians don’t know. “Some of the locals said they had no idea some of those roads existed,” Coy says, adding, “I loved it; I didn’t realize that Alabama was so hilly.”

This was my first giro ever, and it was not as easy as I first expected. I mean, how hard can it be, riding sub-40mph speeds on a CB160? As I discovered, grappling with sometimes-confusing route directions while riding through unknown territory all while trying to maintain your best running time takes a special kind of focus.

I abandoned any pretense of being competitive almost from the get-go, preferring instead to learn what it was all about by following and watching, a “strategy” event director Shane Rivet heartily endorsed. “If you’re winning it’s a great feeling,” Rivet says, “but if you find you’ve blown your course the event’s not over just because you’ve technically lost. Even if you don’t come home with a trophy you still win because you come home with an experience and a memory.” Amen to that.

Riding with like-minded enthusiasts is central to the experience, and participants revel in being part of a community with a shared passion for motorcycles. Indeed, the camaraderie of the road has created many lifelong friendships within this close-knit cluster of riders. Many of those friendships started at the Italian giros. That’s where Coy first met the late Jim Dillard, an Italian bike enthusiast and founder of Vintage Motos Museum in Denver, in whose honor MotoGiro-South was held.

Jim Dillard’s son, Jim Dillard III, shares his father’s passion for small-bore Italian bikes, and made the run riding, naturally enough, an Italian Parilla.

Bringing it home

In line with Shane Rivet’s sentiments, I’m sure everyone who made the run would say they were winners. But at the end of the day there has to be one person who performed better than the rest, and that one person was Devon Frazier. The first woman to ever win a MotoGiro-USA (in 2011), Devon celebrated her second overall win — ahead of her dad, Mitch — and her second class win (305cc), riding her 1964 Honda 305. Devon also took home (or is that handed out?) the second-ever BBG award — Beaten By a Girl — conferred by the women scoring the event. Nice.

So what about this year? Coy says he’s “99 percent sure” there will be another MotoGiro-South just before the 9th Annual Barber Vintage Festival, which is scheduled for Oct. 11-13, 2013.

Routes for giros are ever changing, and for 2013, Coy says he’s been looking at the area in and around the Talladega National Forest southeast of Birmingham. He also says to expect a two-day event, open to an expanded field of maybe 80-100 riders. If it happens, and we expect it will, it will be a great week of vintage fun. Now comes the hard part for the rest of us: fitting it all in. MC