2006 Legend of the Motorcycle

Raising the bar

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Brough-Superiors and Crockers packed the courtyard behind the Ritz-Carlton.

Photo by Richard Backus

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Fifty-six years ago, the first Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was held on Monterey Peninsula in California. Dismissed by some upon its opening as irrelevant, the event has become one of the most important gatherings of classic cars in the world. With the debut of the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours d’Elegance, founders Brooke Roner and Jared Zaugg are hoping that in time their show will have the same impact on the classic motorcycle scene.

Drawing a parallel between the two events comes easily, especially considering that Roner and Zaugg consciously looked to Pebble Beach as the archetype in their quest to establish the premier, judged event for classic motorcycles.

Two years in the making, the Legend show debuted this past May 6 on the lawns of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Half Moon Bay, Calif. Conspicuously opulent, the setting was deliberately chosen to bolster Roner and Zaugg’s desire to match the tony digs of Pebble Beach down the road in Monterey.

And that it did. On the sweeping greens surrounding the hotel, stretching away to the spectacular, craggy coastline and reaching north towards the clubhouse (where the final judging ceremony took place later in the afternoon), were 254 significant and seldom-seen motorcycles, ranging from a 1900 Orient to a prototype 2007 Crocker.

Classics on the Grass
Many of the people attending this first event (Zaugg pegged attendance at roughly 4,300) anticipated the high order of machinery on display. But even then it was hard to anticipate some of the surprises on hand. Notables included Mike Kron’s restored 1921 Mars, which Kron brought over from Germany. With its 1,000cc horizontally opposed twin-cylinder engine (specially built by Maybach, better known today as the high-end division of Mercedes Benz), the Mars is unique for its gearless “transmission.” Instead of a gearbox, the Mars employs a pair of friction drums, each connected by chain to the rear wheel. The Mars garnered the show’s Founder’s Award for Kron, who is crafting a limited batch of Mars replicas.

Another treat was Californian Jim Lattin’s 1915 Cyclone board track racer, a completely original machine once raced by the legendary Don Johns, who challenged Harley-Davidson and Indian riding the overhead valve Cyclone. The bike received the Sculptor’s Award from sculptor Jeff Decker (Decker designed the show’s trophies), who singled out Lattin’s Cyclone for its preserved original condition.

More important, perhaps, was the culling of 21 Brough Superiors (admittedly, one of those was a modern, Harley-powered interpretation) and 26 Crockers. This was the largest showing of Brough Superiors ever in the U.S., and the largest gathering of Crockers in one place ever.

In England and the U.S. in the late 1930s, Brough Superior and Crocker were considered the Rolls Royce and Cadillac of motorcycles, respectively. With their large-capacity V-twins and high build quality, they were and are icons of their era, and to have so many of each make in one place was simply remarkable. Among the Crockers were two single-cylinder, overhead cam Speedway models, the rarest of them all.

Al Crocker Jr., the son of company founder Al Crocker, made his way to the event with three generations of the Crocker family in tow. Now 86, Al Jr. was only too glad to reminisce about his father, fondly recalling machining oil pumps for the bikes at the Crocker factory in Los Angeles.

Making the grade
Of the 254 motorcycles on display, 172 were judged. Categories ranged from early to modern, with a cap on bikes built after 1975. It was the judging that co-founder Zaugg considered perhaps the most important ingredient for the show’s success. “If you don’t have world class judging, you’ve got nothing,” Zaugg says.

To that end, he and Roner enlisted luminaries such as ex-Andover Norton company owner Mike Jackson and racer, TV host and classic car judge Alain de Cadenet, who also wore the hat of master of ceremonies.

Jackson, a trophied motorcycle racer and experienced classic car concours judge, was thrilled with the event, and not just a little for it’s motorcycle-only focus. “It is something absolutely unique. It is refreshing, not a car in sight,” Jackson enthused. De Cadenet, who has worn out more shoes judging classic livery than anyone you’re likely to meet, called the show “without doubt the most exciting and complete motorcycle show ever in the U.S.”

There are, it should be noted, other venues contending for the title of King of the Concours circuit. For the past six years, Riding Into History, a judged event of upwards of 300 bikes, has been held in St. Augustine, Fla. Likewise, the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio, is gearing up for its fifth annual juried concours. And this year, the second annual Mountainfest Motorcycle Concours d’Elegance was held in Morgantown, W.Va.

Like the Legend show, which raised $22,000 for charities, both RIH and Mountainfest are charity events. In that regard Mountainfest has the best track record, raising $50,000 at its debut.
Admittedly, there were some teething problems with this first event, most of them related to parking and judging. “Parking was tough,” Zaugg admits. “We’ve got to streamline that. And I want to get more judges so more time can be spent with the bikes.”

For his money, Bob Peters, a Ducati lover who’s active in the Heart of America Motorcycle Enthusiasts club in Kansas City, would like to see a more refined approach to bike groupings. “Certain bikes should be put together to give them a better historical placing and perspective,” Peters says. But otherwise, Peters had nothing but praise for the show. “I thought the selection of bikes was very good, and the trophies meant something. They didn’t give an award to every bike.”

Zaugg, clearly appreciative of the dangers of diluting the merits of judging by over-awarding, limited the number of bikes any one entrant could have judged to four. Lattin, for instance, brought 12 bikes, and while every one of them was worthy of judging, only four made the cut.

In scripting the Legend show, Roner and Zaugg sought to make their mark on the classic bike scene. By carefully selecting location, judges, bikes and the overall tone of the event (including mixing in a little celebrity action as well, with folks like Jesse James, Sandra Bullock, Peter Fonda and Ewan McGregor quietly working the wings), they set their sights on crafting the motorcycle event of the year.

Judging by reactions from entrants and attendees, they succeeded, and next year’s event is scheduled for May 7. The call for entries is out, and Zaugg’s looking to repeat the success of this first show. “That was the best show that’s ever been, no doubt about it,” Lattin says. “Jared did it right.”

Lattin’s already preparing bikes for the next show, including a 1928 Excelsior and a 1912 Henderson, one of two in the world. The bar has indeed been raised. MC

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