Biking Across the US With My Velocette Venom Clubman

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Photo by Clement Salvadori
Biking across the US, 1965: Clement Salvadori's Velocette and his humble lodging, just west of Winnemucca, Nevada.

After five years of riding 650cc vertical twins, my heart told me I wanted, nay, needed, a sporting single to take me biking across the U.S. so I could jump into the Pacific Ocean. This was the spring of 1965, and the BSA Gold Star was gone. Yes, used ones were available, but as one of my minor mentors once advised: You want your motorcycles new, your cars used and your women experienced. Which left me with a Velocette Venom Clubman.

As with any new romance, I was considerate, breaking the Velo in responsibly on the back roads of Massachusetts before mounting a Craven luggage rack and heading south to Georgia.

The love affair flourished as we thumped along the curvy byways as close to the coast as possible, playing a toccata on the gearbox. One night I rough-camped at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and in the morning did my daily checklist … to find there was no oil in the reservoir. Wet-sumped! I had been warned of this possible betrayal, but was told that if I could get the engine to fire, all would be well after a few minutes. Which turned out to be true, and the bike never again drained all its oil into the sump.

I left Georgia, working my way northwest on the back roads headed for St. Louis, where the reputed premier Velocette mechanic in the country resided. I got to that city only to find that the worthy wrench had crashed two days previously and was in the hospital. Dang! I fiddled with the bike outside the dealership, and all was well.

At the crack of dawn it was west to the Great Plains on U.S. 40, and here the romantic notions began to wear thin. This was pre-interstate, with long, thin roads stretching to the horizon, and I found myself cruising at 75-80mph. Evening came, and somewhere west of Topeka, Kan., I saw an abandoned barn a ways off the highway, rode the Velo inside, put down the side stand, and fell into a pile of old hay — where I vibrated for two hours.

It was still a long way to Denver, after which the Rockies provided some sport, followed by a long haul to Reno; Velo and I were not getting along too well. Then we went over the Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park, and I was so smitten by the park’s roads that I got a job and stayed. On a free couple of days we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and I briefly, very briefly, immersed most of myself in the ocean at Stinson Beach.

One day not long after, an errant tourist in Yosemite drifted over a double-yellow and sideswiped me, putting my left foot in a cast. I bought an old Chevy for $50, tossed the rear seat, and tucked the partially dismantled bike in back for a return to Massachusetts. Foot and Velo repaired, we kept company for a year, but eventually came to the conclusion that we had different aspirations. I took up with a new Triumph 650 TR6R twin, and my thumper vanished from my life.

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