Riding Into History: A Show Apart

Despite the similarity in name, the Riding Into History Concours d’Elegance is no Pebble Beach. And that’s not a bad thing.

| September/October 2015

  • Honda Fours lined up on the boardwalk at the Riding Into History Concours d’Elegance.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • Former AMA star David Aldana — the perfect Grand Marshal.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • A 1981 BMW R100CS, one of 163 built.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • British motorcycles at the Riding Into History Concours d’Elegance.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • Don Bradley’s 1961 BSA Gold Star.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • Dubble Trubble, the twin-engined Triumph drag bike built by Bud Hare in 1953.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • A fantastic 1959 Harley-Davidson XLCH Sportster drag bike is part of the Hollingsworth Race Team collection and was fired up regularly — it roared.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • The Hollingsworth Race Team’s 1983 Harley-Davidson XR1000.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • A fabulous 1973 MV Agusta 750S.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • A 1911 Reading Standard.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • A lovely 1947 Ariel Red Hunter fronts a Triumph Bonneville.
    Photo by Richard Backus

Golf courses and Concours d’Elegance. The pairing has become a norm, evoking images of wealthy, elegantly dressed patrons languidly strolling across acres of painstakingly manicured greens with perfectly restored, ultra-rare vintage motorcycles or cars punctuating the scenery.

That image is perfectly mirrored at tony events like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and by name alone you’d be forgiven for expecting the same at the Riding Into History Concours d’Elegance (RIH), held annually for the past 16 years at what many consider ground zero for golfing, World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Florida.

The concours circuit has done much to elevate the profile of classic motorcycles, but it’s never really been my scene, leaning as I do toward homegrown street shows, or festivals like Vintage Motorcycle Days and Barber. Yet I’d been hearing great things about RIH for years, so this year I finally made time to head to Florida for the 16th annual event, held May 23, 2015.

Building up

The Saturday show begins for me two days before, on Thursday, when former RIH event chairman Walt Brown picks me up at the Jacksonville airport. In the first of many surprises to come, I learn I’ll be sharing the ride to World Golf Village with event Grand Marshal David Aldana and his wife, Susan. A four-time AMA Nationals winner, Aldana is famous for his signature black leather riding suit adorned with a white leather skeleton outline, a motif he adopted in 1975 when he became a privateer after getting dropped by Norton. Aggressive and fast, Aldana was nicknamed the “Rubber Ball” for his ability to bounce right back up after crashing. “People thought my crashes were spectacular,” Aldana tells me, “but it only seemed that way because I’d push the bike away when I knew I was going down. Hell, it’s not mine, I’m not gonna hurt myself to save the bike.” Enthusiastic and unassuming, Aldana possesses qualities that, I’ll learn, apply to RIH, as well.

The next day, Friday, sees Aldana leading me and a group of 60 other riders for the annual preshow Grand Marshal’s Historic Vintage Lunch Ride, a leisurely 80-mile round-trip ride through the Florida back country to Corky Bell’s Seafood on the banks of the St. John’s River in Palatka, Florida. As I’ll discover during Saturday’s Concours, many of the bikes on hand for the ride are there for the show, including the late Don Bradley’s personal 1961 BSA DBD-34 Gold Star. For 11 years Bradley, an internationally acclaimed motorcycle artist, created RIH’s signature artwork, exhaustively detailed flights of fancy depicting barely clad, often pixie-like women on vintage motorcycles. For 2015, Bradley’s subject for his final RIH poster (he passed away in March) was, aptly enough, a BSA Gold Star.

Aldana continues to impress me with his unpretentious personality, an impression forged in iron during the ride as the lovely T140 Triumph Bonneville he’s riding sneezes and hacks, occasionally dropping to one cylinder while the bolts securing its license plate spit themselves out, one by one, down the road. At one point I’m riding behind Aldana and he reaches down to the Bonneville’s engine, bringing up with his hand one of the air filter assemblies, which has torn loose from the carburetor. I blast up alongside him, point to my bike’s tank bag, and he nonchalantly passes the assembly over to me for safe keeping. A mile later he signals me with another raised hand, this time clutching the filter assembly’s clamp. Another pass-off and he’s moving down the road, laughing through his helmet and apparently enjoying every minute of it. A diva, Aldana is not.

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