Pre-1916 Motorcycle Ride

Old, old bikes - good 'ol time

pre2

Fred Lange gasses up his 1916 Harley Model J at the Pozo Saloon lunch stop.

Tod Rafferty

Content Tools

Each spring California’s Central Coast comes alive with greening hillsides, carpets of wildflowers — and the sputter-pop-bang of old motorcycles. Really old motorcycles, as in pre-1916 motorcycles.

Under the capable guidance of semi-legendary historian/restorer/author Stephen Wright of Morro Bay, Calif., this year’s annual Pre-16 Ride was also graced with the additional sobriquet: the Inaugural Bud Ekins Memorial Spring Tour. Geezers on Wheezers?

However, not all these guys are in the geriatric category; among the younger was Pete Young of Mountain View, Calif., age 38, on a 1930 Velocette KSS 350. Granted, the Pre-16 rule is loosely enforced at best — the roster also included a 1941 Harley XA opposed twin, a 1936 Crocker, a 1946 Indian Scout and a 1948 Indian Chief. But more than half the bikes were actually Harleys, Indians and Excelsiors built before 1916, some restored and others original, out for a putt in the California countryside.

The original Pre-16 designation came about because events of this type were run in collaboration with the Horseless Carriage Club of America, which adopted the title to cover vehicles built before World War 1. (Thus, in Britain, it was Pre-14.) But now, as that era approaches its centenary, fewer of the pioneering machines remain on the road, which is also true for most of their original riders. Today’s event honors the pioneers of motorcycle design and engineering, provides a fun ride and gathering of like-minded enthusiasts, and the chance to drink beer and eat barbecued tri-tip steak at the Pozo Saloon (est. 1858). 

This year, the meet was again headquartered in Atascadero, Calif., a convenient hub for rides in the coastal foothills through miles of wine country, farms and horse ranches on narrow, entertaining roads — a good bit of which remains much as it was a century ago, but with fences.

Although the word icon has been driven firmly into the tarmac by scribes waxing earnestly over heroes past and present, Bud Ekins (1930-2007) defined the term for more than 50 years. So who better to name a vintage ride for?

“Bud used to find some great bikes when he went around the country working in the movie business,” Wright says. As Hollywood’s head wrangler for both cars and bikes for about three decades, Ekins had both contacts and credentials around the world. The list of folks who rode, raced, repaired, bought and sold many of the best of the motorcycles of the 20th century, successfully, is a short one; and Bud Ekins name will always be at the top. Most of the seniors in this crowd knew and rode with Ekins, so there’s no shortage of stories.

The iron 

It’s not often you see a La Paz Police Indian Chief, a nitrous-charged Excelsior, an unrestored Hedstrom Indian and the random Rudge, Sears, Ariel, Douglas  — or a concours-winning Crocker — motoring along at speed. Owner Mike Vils admits that a few purists sniff at the sight of his nitrous-breathing 1913 Excelsior. “It makes some of these guys crazy,” he says. “But I’ve never been into correctness.” Vils enjoys the ride: “It’s a good program; the roads, places and food.”

British-born Victor Boocock is rebuilding his 1914 Harley single-speed, which he first rode some 30 years ago. A Northern California trials champion in the 1960s, Victor plans to retire in England soon, but first he hopes to ride the Harley across the U.S. “A ride just to drink in America. Something that will last you the rest of your life,” he says.

Pete Young, who last year split his time between a 1913 Imperial and a 1925 Rudge, this year was aboard his wife’s Velocette 350. “It was still in the truck from the previous weekend’s ride at the Legends Show in Half Moon Bay (Calif.),” he says. “I’m glad it was, as my 1916 Excelsior died about five miles into the ride.” Always nice to have a back-up. Young’s Sherlock Holmes helmet cap is period perfect.

At the end of the day, vintage rallies are for fun: If it’s old and runs, bring it out and enjoy the ride, the camaraderie, the food and the beer. For more info on the elder bikes, go to www.antiquemotorcycle.org. If you’d like to join the Wright gang in the spring, inquire at wrightbike@aol.com. MC