The New Oldness

“They’re doing a little rally on those motorcycles they make, and I’m going to drive his old Ford F-1 pickup as a chase car.”

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Delivered via text message, those were the words that got me to this spot amongst a group of friends, a ’49 Ford F-1, and a bunch of…motorcycles?

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Well, technically, they’re considered “motorized bicycles”.

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They have a license plate, but no registration tags; it’s just a one-time $18 fee to register a motorized bicycle. Plus, they’re completely smog-exempt. The downside to this classification? California imposes a 30mph top speed, which is incredibly slow. Even with the tiny amount of horsepower these things make, they can easily exceed that. So, like any motorcycle club, there’s an element of rebellion here.

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These bikes are made by one man in his home shop here in Northern California, and their construction is impeccable. This is actually a prototype electric bike which, on this day, was using this mini-rally as a vehicle test.

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Sup dog! This furry little guy would be our companion on the front seat of the truck.

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After a quick meeting to confirm the route and riding etiquette, the rally was underway.

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We collected the little pupper and rolled out slowly in the Ford. By that time, the group of bikes had dusted us! The roads started off straight, but then progressed into rolling hills and curves.

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Due to a misunderstanding, we actually missed the first stop, which meant some inadvertent extra cruising through some twisties. Then we reached the half-way/turn-around point at the entrance to the park.

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I love this truck. I grew up cruising around in my dad’s ’36 Ford pickup hot rod hauling 60’s and 70’s Japanese bikes, so far from being a wild new experience, it actually felt familiar and comfortable.

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As for the truck, it was right at home too. Back in the 40’s the interstate highway system hadn’t been developed yet, so this truck was designed mainly for moderate speeds on slower roads–just like the two-lane roads out here in rural northern California.

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Those are some awesome gauges, but not a single one was hooked up except the tachometer. Luckily, there was an auxiliary pod of gauges below the dash that showed water temp, fuel level, and oil pressure, so it’s not like we were flying blind. Except for the speedometer, that is. But a quick GPS-verified check on our speed showed that 55mph felt fast, so it was highly unlikely we’d be going much quicker than that.

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And then they arrived!

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They all parked up on the side of the road to relax and chill out for a while, which gave me some time to look over the bikes.

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So what the heck are these things anyway?

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Well, it’s called a Sportsman Flyer, but there are a few other models too (this red one is a Bonneville Flyer, which is a more powerful version). They’re heavily influenced by old board track racers from the 1910’s, particularly Indians, which is why this dude’s bike was decked out in a few Indian parts.

1913 Indian board track racer

See the resemblance?

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No air filter needed, because as Jay Leno says, “air was a lot cleaner back then.” 😉

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And then the electric bike arrived! Her testing procedure involved a steady 30mph cruise, and the length of the rally could only be described as perfect: she ran out of charge just as she was rolling into the entrance to the park. Watch that shoelace though!

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Lately the hip thing in design seems to be looking toward the past for inspiration. Even though this is a brand new electric bicycle, it has an awesome vintage aesthetic. World’s coolest electric moped? I think so.

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The other chase truck rolled up carrying supplies, an extra bike, and some family members, so it was officially time for a very crucial part of any rally: hanging out on the side of the road!

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Beverages and snacks were consumed, stories were told, and laughs were had.

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I actually had to wait a while for this moment, but finally the bikes were alone!

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Pretty cool lineup. I like how the bikes are generally similar, but each one has its own suite of details that distinguish it from all the others.

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My only regret on the day was not spending more time on the details. They’re very well built with plenty of interesting touches. Like this friction damper, which is adjusted by simply tightening or loosening that bolt. And the material in the middle? Leather, exactly like in the good ol’ days.

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The seats are another period correct detail. It’s funny to me how normal bicycle seats have such an ugly connotation; not only is the standard bicycle seat a phallic nightmare of aesthetics, it conjures imagery of Lycra-clad fitness enthusiasts clogging up twisty mountain roads. But take the same seat, cover it in saddle leather, and add those skirts on the side? All of the sudden you’ve got a classic motorcycle! Am I the only one who feels that way?

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At this point there was some bike sharing, which is another fun part about going on rides like these.

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Another cool detail is this portable electric starter. You can start these bikes by the usual moped way of pedaling, and they actually do have onboard electric starters. But the coolest way to get going has to be using this portable starter that’s normally intended for the racing bikes.

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We eventually rolled out of there, and this time we managed to stay close to the bikes.

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There was another little stop at a huge, dirty turnout in the middle of a valley.

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Even though it was deep into April, the hills were remarkably green; normally by March in Northern California the vegetation is dry as a bone. The only reason I bring it up now is because I got two socks full of that nasty foxtail barley for that shot!

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I’ve always thought wearing nothing less than a full-face helmet on a motorcycle seemed like an absolute no-brainer, especially in California where there are quite a few bugs flying around. It blows my mind when I travel to other states that don’t have helmet laws; the number of dudes I’ve seen riding with nothing more than hair on their head is absurd.

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The last stop was supposed to be here, where we’d eat tacos on the patio and look at the bikes. But when we arrived just after 2:30, they were already closed! Banker hours, even on Saturday, eh?

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Oh well, it wasn’t a huge loss. The start/end point for the rally was actually in the parking lot of a restaurant, so we ended up just eating there instead.

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This day went to 13! I had such a blast just hanging out on a beautiful day. Sometimes I think people try to do too much in the pursuit of adventure, but I think this movie cliché sums it up well: “Life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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