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2017 Barber Vintage Festival: Norton Heaven

Barry Schanberger took our Best Norton award for his painstakingly restored 1968 Norton Commando Fastback. Photos by the Motorcycle Classics staff.

The iconic Norton Commando was our featured bike at the 13th Annual Barber Vintage Festival in Leeds, Alabama, Oct. 6-8, 2017, and 18 Nortons showed up for our show, including this first-year 1968 Commando Fastback belonging to Barry Schanberger. Meticulously restored, it took top honors, winning our Best Norton award.

It was hardly an easy decision for our judges, former Norton employee and Barber staffer Brian Slark, National Motorcycle Museum special projects director Mark Mederski, and vintage motorcycle scribe and former racer Alan Cathcart. The bikes on hand ranged from stunning specials to original riders to restored machines like Barry’s, all of them worthy of attention. But in the end, only one can win, and that was Barry’s ’68.

Among the 18 Nortons at our show was James Murray’s fantastic and original 1968 Commando Fastback, fitted with a period optional orange seat like the one fitted to the 1967 Earls Court bike.

Helping us with the awards ceremony was none other than former Superbike champion Wes Cooley, who won the 1979 and 1980 Superbike Championships on a Yoshimura Suzuki GS1000S. This year’s featured guest at the festival, Wes shared stories of his career, marveling at the attention he was getting and clearly enjoying every minute of it. I got Wes to sign my vintage Wes Cooley Arai Signature Addition helmet, a piece of gear I’d somehow never lost track of, and now destined for permanent display in my shop.

And it wasn’t just Nortons on hand, as an incredible variety of vintage bikes showed up for display including a Munch TTS, two Vincents, a Bimota, an Ariel Square Four, a gaggle of Triumphs and BSAs, a perfect and original 1982 Yamaha XJ550RJ Seca and a trio of vintage BMWs with sidecars, to name just a few.

Editor Backus (second from left) discusses judging criteria with this year’s judges (from left) Alan Cathcart, Brian Slark and Mark Mederski.

We don’t have attendance numbers yet, but we’d guess the show was at least on a par with last year, when an estimated 73,000 bike fans gathered at the incredible Barber Motorsports Complex for three days of motorcycle heaven. This year’s event was forced to shutter early, thanks to the impending presence of Hurricane Nate, which was working its way toward the Gulf Coast as the festival started, finally making landfall Saturday night and Sunday morning. The shortened event was more than a little frustrating, forcing us to cancel our planned Sunday Morning Ride, sponsored this year by our good friends at Hagerty Motorcycle Insurance. That was more than a little disappointing, but there’s not much you can do when Mother Nature gets her way.

There is always more going on at Barber than any one person can ever take in, but we’ll share what we saw in the upcoming January/February 2018 issue of Motorcycle Classics. Look for John L. Stein’s incredible story of how he and 10-time pro car racing champion Randy Probst bought two vintage Rickman dirt bikes in the swap meet, prepping them on-site and then racing them in Saturday’s AHRMA off road event. Incredibly, Stein and Probst pulled it off. Cool stuff; don’t miss it in the next issue of Motorcycle Classics!

Russell Briney found this spectacular and completely original 1981 Yamaha XJ550RJ Seca on Craigslist. It won our Japanese Best Rider award.

Klaus Huenuke took home our Editors’ Choice award for his amazing 1971 Munch TTS.

Editor Backus with former Superbike champion Wes Cooley, who signed Backus’ vintage Wes Cooley Arai Signature Edition helmet.

Kawasaki W2 enthusiast Kevin Lemire let me ride his unbelievably original, 411-mile 1969 W2. It now has all of 413 miles on the odometer. What a treat.

I also took a spin on this custom 2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT that’s been scramblerized by Tony Prust at Analog Motorcycles. Awesome, and it could be yours as Tony’s put it up for sale.

Motorcycle Classics Ride at the 2017 Barber Vintage Festival!

Our Sunday Morning Ride at the 2017 Barber Vintage Festival will take us through 40 miles of Alabama countryside.

Motorcycle Classics tent at Barber

A handful of riders congregate at the Motorcycle Classics tent following the 2016 Sunday Morning Ride.

Join Motorcycle Classics for our Sunday Morning Ride at the 13th Annual Barber Vintage Festival on — when else — Sunday morning, Oct. 8, at 10 a.m. Sponsored by our good friends at Hagerty Motorcycle Insurance, the Motorcycle Classics Sunday Morning Ride is a casual 40-mile romp through the hills of the Alabama countryside surrounding the Barber Motorsports Complex. Last year’s ride was excellent, with dozens of readers joining us on their vintage bikes. And thanks to Hagerty, this year we have swag! The ride leaves our tent in the Fan Zone at 10 a.m. sharp, so don’t be late! Ride ’Em, Don’t Hide ’Em!

We’re pretty excited about pulling together another ride, taking us back as it does to our first years at the Barber Festival when we staged an annual ride starting at nearby 29 Dreams Motorcycle Resort early — painfully early! — Saturday morning, winding our way to the Barber park and culminating in our Saturday Vintage Motorcycle Show. But then 29 Dreams shut down, and with the Barber Festival growing by leaps and bounds we kind of lost track with our roots at the show — in a word, Ride ’Em, Don’t Hide ’Em, only we’d forgotten to keep riding. Well, at least at Barber.

Last year, almost as an afterthought, we decided to put together a short Sunday morning ride. Frankly, we had no idea if anyone would be interested because, equally frankly, we barely promoted it. Plus, traditionally, lots of folks are pulling up stakes on Sunday morning, getting ready to head back home to resume their regularly scheduled broadcast. Apparently people were looking for an excuse to ride, because by mid-Sunday morning 30-some readers and riders were at our tent and ready to head out. It was an awesome ride, taking in a great little section of Alabama SR 25 otherwise known as Alabama’s mini-Tail of the Dragon. OK, so it’s nowhere near as epic as the real Tail of the Dragon, but it’s a hell of a road nonetheless, an absolutely beautiful stretch of two-lane blacktop winding up, over and down a series of ridges.

We’ll run an altered version of last year’s route, hitting SR 25 again, but from a different direction. Wanna see the route? Just click here or on the route map below for a little preview of what to expect. Don’t miss it — every participant gets a cool Hagerty Sunday Ride bandana specifically made for the ride and other cool swag! See you there!

Hagerty Vintage Motorcycle Insurance logo

Ride the West with Destinations Writer Joe Berk

The Grand Canyon

The beautiful Grand Canyon in Arizona. Photos by Joe Berk.

Motorcycle Classics writer Joe Berk and our friends at CSC Motorcycles are planning a fall ride the third week of October to visit a number of Destinations out West. Day one will take riders from Azusa, California, through the Mojave Desert to Laughlin, Nevada, with a stop in historic Oatman, Arizona. More Destinations along the way include the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, the Extraterrestrial Highway, Death Valley and more.

If you want a preview of what you’re going to see, here you go … just click on any of the links below!

The Grand Canyon
Zion National Park
The Extraterrestrial Highway
Death Valley

For more info, head over to the CSC Blog here:

Motorcycles at the Grand Canyon

In Arizona, en route to the Grand Canyon.

2nd Annual Ride 'Em, Don't Hide 'Em Getaway

Riding through Amish country

Heading into southwestern Pennsylvania’s Amish country during the 2017 Getaway. Photos by Karl Jarvis.

The 2nd Annual Motorcycle Classics Ride ’Em, Don’t Hide ’Em Getaway is in the books, and what a great weekend it was as 56 riders joined us for a weekend romp through the Laurel Highlands in southwestern Pennsylvania, Aug. 4-6, 2017. Although it was looking like it might rain throughout the weekend, Mother Nature kept her cool, literally, providing two days of perfect vintage motorcycle weather with cool, moisture-rich air perfect for our old carbureted engines. The bikes ran great, the roads were spectacular and after two days of plying the area’s back roads the response from just about everyone there was, “So when does this happen next year?”

That was also the response after last year’s inaugural Getaway, like this year headquartered at Seven Springs Resort in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. The area is a natural for motorcycling, with miles and miles of stunning little blacktop roads winding in and out of the surrounding hills, then spilling out into the valleys and farmland that also define the area. It’s perfect territory for vintage bikes, where speed isn’t really the goal. OK, maybe sometimes it is, but really, what most of us want to do is get our beloved old bikes out for some exercise and stretch their legs, ideally in the company of like-minded enthusiasts, something we did in spades in both last year’s and this year’s Getaway.

There were lots of cool bikes last year, but this year the range of machines on hand was even more amazing, including no fewer than three Ducati 750s, a Triumph Hurricane, three Norton Commandos, a gaggle of Triumphs, a Laverda Jota, a custom Honda CBX, some vintage BMWs and all manner of fabulous Japanese and European machinery. It was, in a word, awesome. And yes, we will do it again next year. Look for a full report in the November/December 2017 issue of Motorcycle Classics! — Richard Backus

Joe Block with his Ducati 750

Joe Block with his 80,000-mile Ducati 750, one of three Ducati 750s on the ride.

Team Obsolete Honda RC165 Returning to Isle of Man

Honda RC165

The extended rebuild of Team Obsolete’s 1964 Honda RC165 250cc 6-cylinder Grand Prix racing motorcycle is finally complete and will return to the Isle of Man for the 2017 Classic TT to take part in the Jurby Festival as well as the “Lap of Honour” on the fabled 37-mile mountain circuit. The rider will be Steve Plater.

Two new crankshafts were sourced from an Italian Formula One Technology Company. New pistons came from Helmut Wahl. New Valves came from Kibblewhite Precision Machining, Inc. A stash of spare parts found in South Africa were extremely helpful.

The bike was run in and tuned on a rolling road. The motor was stripped down to make sure everything was happy. A final test run, then into the air freight crate, and off to the Isle of Man.

Many thanks to our sponsors, Vanson Leathers and Avon Tyres.

Last Call for the 2017 Barber Vintage Festival

A sweet Ducati 900SS in front of the Motorcycle Classics tent at last year’s Vintage Festival. Motorcycle Classics archives

We’re making final preparations for our annual pilgrimage to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum near Birmingham, Alabama, and the 13th Annual Barber Vintage Festival, Oct. 6-8, 2017. The 2016 event had an estimated attendance of 73,000 bike fans, making this the largest vintage motorcycle event in North America.

The event’s almost explosive growth is easy to understand. To begin with, there’s the world famous Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, an amazing collection of 1,400-plus motorcycles spanning every decade of the industry from its humble beginnings more than 100 years ago to today, all housed in a spectacular, state-of-the-art, 144,000-square-foot building. And it just got bigger, thanks to a new five-story, 86,000-square-foot addition.

Then there’s everything else happening during the Barber Vintage Festival, including the American Motor Drome “Wall of Death” — a 15-foot-high wooden bowl that daredevil riders run on vintage Indian and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Over at Turn 17 is the Ace Corner, an event within the event, packed with custom builds and cool café bikes — not to mention food and the only beer sold on site! — while on the other side of the park you’ll find the AMCA and VJMC shows. Motorcycle manufacturer KTM will host demo rides in Lot D, and new this year is a Ferris wheel that’s going to be set up in the Fan Zone, giving attendees a chance to take in the event from high in the sky. Oh, and did we forget to mention the regular motorcycle stunt shows and the Globe of Death?

Metal Rescue is back as the title sponsor of the annual swap meet, Mecca for owners looking for parts for their vintage bikes, whatever the make. There’s also the annual Century Parade, an exhibition race for motorcycles 100 years old or older, and AHRMA racers fill Barber’s famed 2.3-mile track the rest of the weekend as they compete in rounds 19 and 20 of the National Historic Cup Roadrace Series. Meanwhile, the surrounding fields and woods will showcase AHRMA vintage motocross, observed trials and cross country races.

We’ll be there as ever, hosting the 13th Annual Motorcycle Classics Vintage Bike Show, this year featuring the Norton Commando to celebrate 50 years since the model was first introduced at the 1967 Earls Court Show in London, England. We’ll award a trophy for the Best Norton Commando, plus trophies for Best Restored and Best Rider in five other categories. Barber restoration expert and former Norton employee Brian Slark will join us as this year’s special judge, and we’ll hold technical seminars throughout the weekend. 

If you can make only one event this year, this is the one. For more info and event updates, go to — see you there!

Upcoming Vintage Motorcycle Events: September/October 2017

Jim and Carolyn Venable took home the Best Ducati award for their 1974 Ducati 750SS at the 2016 Motorcycle Classics show at the Barber Vintage Festival. Join us this year, Oct. 6-8. Motorcycle Classics archives

Featured events


Back for its 12th year, join us for the fun at the Bonneville Vintage GP, Sept. 1-3, at the Utah Motorsports Campus in Tooele, Utah. Norton will be the featured marque of the Motorcycle Classics Vintage Motorcycle Show on Saturday, celebrating 50 years of the Commando, plus trophies in six classes and a People’s Choice award. Sunday will feature a custom bike show. Both days will feature AHRMA racing, along with the CB160 races with Le Mans starts both days.

Sept. 2

Visit the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Owls Head, Maine, for the Vintage Motorcycle Festival and Antique Aeroplane Show, Sept. 2-3. Owners of pre-1997 motorcycles are encouraged to exhibit and will be admitted free of charge. In 2016 the show attracted more than 400 exhibitors throughout the weekend, along with antique planes and more.


Visit the 35th annual Battle of the Brits Motorcycle & Car Show and Swap Meet at Camp Dearborn in Milford, Michigan. This event regularly draws more than 200 bikes and 300 cars. Classic British, European and pre-1984 American bikes are invited to be a part of the show. Food and beverages will be available, along with on-site camping.

Sept. 16

Join all the good folks and classic bikes at the Modern Classics Ride-In on Saturday, Sept. 16. More than 200 vintage and custom bikes are expected. No judging, no classes and no awards, just a fun day of checking out vintage bikes with friends, food and more.

Sept. 24

Visit the 34th Annual Italian Motorcycle Owners Club 2017 Rally in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. The show runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. All Italian bikes and scooters are invited, and the show benefits the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Judging is at noon for rally classes.

Sept. 24

Join the Old Capitol Lions Club for their 2nd annual Vintage Bike Show and swap meet on the Monterey Peninsula on Sunday, Sept. 24, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Del Ray Oaks, California. Bring your vintage bike to display. All proceeds benefit The Blind and Visually Impaired Center of Monterey County. More info:

Oct. 6

Join us for the 13th Annual Barber Vintage Festival at Barber Motorsports Park outside Birmingham, Alabama. The show runs through Oct. 8 and will feature AHRMA road racing, the American Motor Drome Wall of Death, Ace Corner, the swap meet and more. Our Motorcycle Classics bike show will feature more than a dozen awards, with the Norton Commando as our featured model

Oct. 20

Attend the 15th Annual Harvest Classic European & Vintage Motorcycle Rally. Registration starts Friday afternoon, and you can camp at the location Friday and Saturday night. The swap meet runs both days. Friday afternoon the 100cc Fun Run will take place, and Friday evening enjoy the Ben Beckendorf Band. Saturday is the big day, with the bike show, vintage trials, a home-cooked barbecue, music, raffles, a live auction and an outdoor motorcycle movie on the big screen that night. The Globe of Death will also be running shows both afternoons.

More events

Sept. 8-10
21st Annual Radnor Hunt Concours d’Elegance
Malvern, Pennsylvania

Sept. 8-10
Thunder in the Smokies Rally
Maggie Valley, North Carolina

Sept. 8-10
AHRMA Roadracing at Talladega Gran Prix Raceway
Munford, Alabama

Sept. 9-10
28th Annual Classic British Motorcycle Club of Cincinnati Vintage Motorcycle Rally
Burlington, Kentucky

Sept. 10
Rice-O-Rama Vintage and Custom Japanese Motorcycle Show and Swap Meet
Spencer, Massachusetts

Sept. 21-24
Retro Affair Vintage Motorcycle Show at AIMExpo
Columbus, Ohio

Sept. 23
Vicksburg Vintage Motorcycle Show
Downtown Vicksburg, Mississippi

Sept. 28-30
9th Annual SLO Classics Motorcycle Rally
San Luis Obispo, California

Sept. 29-30
Antique Motorcycle Show and Swap Meet
White Rose Motorcycle Club
Spring Grove, Pennsylvania

Nov. 5
38th Annual Hansen Dam All Brit Ride
Near Glendale, California

Motorcycle Classics wants to know about shows, swap meets, road runs and more for classic motorcycles. Send details of upcoming events at least three months in advance to lhall@