Friday, 1 November 2013

OddBike USA Tour: Part VII - The NPR of Motorcycle Journalism

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum Leeds Alabama

Part VII of the OddBike USA Tour Travelogue. Click here for Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V, and Part VI.

"It's the NPR of motorcycle journalism." JT pats me on the shoulder. I think it's the first time I've seen him this evening without a beer in hand. He has just coined the new unofficial motto of OddBike. Alan glances at my card and flashes a polite smile. He promises to have a look at my site.

This is the close of one of the most intense and incredible days I've ever experienced, the absolute highlight of the OddBike USA Tour. I am exhausted and barely able to process what has happened to me today. This is the moment when I realize that embarking on this journey was one of the best decisions I've ever made, and this day was the beginning of the turning point in OddBike's future I was hoping for.     


Saturday

Exhausted from Friday's events I decide to leave for Barber a bit later on Saturday morning, "later" still being before 9am. I had asked Winslow the night before if he was keen on taking the bikes, as I would have preferred to just hop in his car to get to the Festival. But he was set on riding his XS there, so I didn't argue. 

I gear up and face the gauntlet of starting my bike on a cool morning, and today it is being a particular bitch. It wasn't that difficult to get running, but it keeps stalling over and over again while I try to get it warmed up. I hate running it on fast idle (particularly in a quiet neighbourhood on a weekend morning) but have to resort to holding it at over 2000 rpm just to keep it from stalling while I wait for Winslow to roll his Yamaha out of the garage. This doesn't bode well. 

Vincent motorcycle Barber Vintage Festival

Traffic hadn't been as bad as we thought it would be on Friday, so I anticipate it would be easy to get in today.

I am very wrong.

Traffic entering the Barber property is gridlocked right from the entrance and moving at a glacial pace. There is a relatively short, sweeping road that runs from the highway into the property, probably less than a mile long. Today it feels like it is 20 miles of parking lot. Cars, vans, groups of bikes - all are sitting idle in the steadily rising Alabama heat. Once my radiator fan clicks on I shut off the engine and try to walk the bike as much as possible, up until the road starts climbing up a rise and I can't push it anymore. I keep cycling the engine, turning it on to inch forward, shutting it down and waiting. I am worried about my cracked coolant union, which still isn't patched and is only being held in place by a push-fit coolant junction into the side of the front cylinder. A single O-ring is all that separates my cooling system from the outside world. I am nervous.

Brough Superior motorcycle with sidecar

We crawl along, occasionally getting passed by riders self-entitled enough to lanesplit while the rest of us sit and stew in our helmets. Lanesplitting is great if it is legal and you are using it as a way to filter through morning traffic. If it is illegal and you are using it as a way to cut ahead in line at an event - fuck you. I think a few of them may have gotten nabbed at the head of the line by the dozen or so State Troopers who were directing traffic. Or at least I sincerely hope they were.

We finally creep up to the entrance, where we encounter the bottleneck that was the agent of our misery - all traffic is being directed through a single gate where volunteers are scanning tickets at a leisurely pace. I roll up to within 50 feet of the gate and the bike starts misfiring. Blub-blub-blub...blub...blub.....blub... stall. I restart, it repeats the slow cutting out, and then refuses to restart. She is done. It feels like a fuel starvation issue. A State Trooper walks up behind me to direct traffic around my sick Duc. Fuming mad and soaked with sweat, I jump off and push the bike through the gate and locate the nearest parking spot. I walk across the road to the VJMC area and strip off my gear. I stood there for a few minutes in a daze, almost to the point of heat stroke, my head boiling with white hot rage over my predicament - my bike was now dead, 1600 miles from home, and if I don't get it running again I'm properly fucked. I can't afford to take it to a shop, my budget being stretched to the limit just to cover the basic expenses of this trip. This is going to have to be an on-the-spot job.

Brough Superior motorcycle with sidecar

I take a moment to gather my thoughts and head for the nearest food truck to grab some Powerade and a coffee. I calm myself and decide to wait an hour for the bike to cool down before I attempt to restart it. Maybe it is just heat soaked and will behave once it is no longer the temperature of liquid-hot-magma.

I return to the swap meet to see if there is anything new in the acres of junk. Within a few minutes I spy a familiar shape sitting on a trailer between two trailers. It can't be. Not here. I walk over and pick it up, scarcely believing what I just found - an original all-red 916 monoposto tail, complete with the seat. It's in excellent condition considering the age, barring a few minor paint chips and some cheesy looking metal grilles that were siliconed into the vents in place of the original mesh inserts. The seat is mint. All the federal and manufacturer's stickers are intact - off a 1996 916, US market machine. Finding one of these for sale in any condition is exceptional. There is a piece of tape stuck on the seat with a price - 150$. 

Ducati 916 motorcycle tail swap meet

The seller comes over and explains that he had a 916 and he had this and a few other trim pieces in his spares bin long after he sold the bike. I tell him that I came here to the Vintage Festival on my own 916, having ridden it from Canada. I'm not sure if he believes me - I think he assumes I'm bullshitting to get a better price. I explain I am interested, but I would need to ship it back to Canada... Which will cost me at least 100$... He thinks for a moment. "Best I can do on that piece is 130$." Ok, so maybe I did use the Canadian angle to haggle. Sold.

I was in a much better mood now. You really never know what you might find at a swap meet like this. I drop the tail off with David and Jennifer and continue wandering around the venues for another hour before I return to my bike. Despite a cool down period it still refuses to start - I'm really worried now. I pull out my tool kit and start my familiar troubleshooting procedure, disconnecting and jumping each fuel injection sensor in turn to see if I can get it running, checking the voltage of the battery - the basic stuff. This isn't the first time I've had to fix it while out on the road, and I've never had to resort to towing it yet - and I'll be damned if I get stuck here in Alabama. But aside from a few lazy misfires I can't get it going. I can smell gas wafting through the exhausts pipes so fuel delivery seems to be functional. I suspect my coolant sensor may have finally buggered up in the extreme heat of the morning's traffic. It wouldn't be the first time. I used to commute in stop-and-go Montreal traffic which caused all sorts of fun electrical issues in a short span of time.

A couple of guys passing by pause and compliment me on my beautiful machine. They may have said something about not seeing them very often - I wasn't really paying attention given present circumstances.  I thank them and mutter something about it being a real pain in the ass at the moment. "Beautiful," I think to myself, "so it looks great broken down on the side of the road."               

Time to really get the ball rolling. I need to locate some spare parts to try and get this thing running before the end of the day.

My first stop is the Ducati owner's tent. I explain my predicament to the folks present. The unanimous agreement is to locate Mark Hatten from Wounded Duc, who is racing this weekend and would be in the paddocks. He might have some spares, or ideas on how to proceed.

Ducati 888 Superbike Motorcycle Barber Vintage Festival

I head for the paddocks. After signing a waiver ("I accept that racing is dangerous and if I'm stupid enough to get myself run over by Jay Springsteen I deserve whatever fate has in store for me.") I'm given free run of the massive multi-level paddock area. I hadn't realized I was allowed into the paddocks as part of the standard Festival admission fee. In fact I had walked past the gate the previous day and some curmudgeon working security had told me to turn around and go back to the nearest tram stop, so I had assumed I was not welcome. Screw that guy.

Rudge Multi motorcycle

I zero in on my goal, trying not to get too distracted by the oodles of cool vintage racing machines around me. I find Mark's trailer, empty, his 888 sitting unattended. I ask his neighbours where he is. "He's at the pre-race rider's meeting, his class is coming up next." Oops, bad timing. I wander off to see if I might be able to locate the guys from Wheels Through Time while I wait for Mark to return. The Century Race is today.

I spot Joe Gardella's 1913 Harley in one corner of the paddocks, but he is nowhere to be found. I continue on and run into the Velocity film crew. They inform me that I literally just missed the Century Race, and that Dale had won for a second year in a row on his 1912 Indian board tracker. Dale, Trish and Matt arrive shortly after. Dale is beaming and basking in the glory of his win against arch-rival (and friend) Joe for a second year in a row. Matt is fuming because he encountered the same fuel delivery problem he was struggling with back in Maggie Valley on Wednesday night, most likely due to rust from the gas tank plugging the rudimentary petcock. This would be the second year Matt was sidelined - in 2012 he had a hair-raising blowout pulling out of a corner onto the straightaway. He is clearly not happy. "Why didn't I put gas in both tanks..." he curses under his breath.

I say hello to everybody and describe my situation. A stranger standing nearby pipes up and introduces himself as a fellow Canadian. He point to his pickup truck parked behind me and offers me a lift as far as Ontario, if need be. I give him my card and he promises to follow up the next day to see if I still needed a lift. I am relieved and grateful that I have the option, but I am determined to see this problem through and get the bike back to Canada under its own power. To do anything else would be to return home in defeat, head hung in shame - as far as I was concerned if the 916 spent any time on pickup bed the OddBike USA Tour would be a failure.

Barber Motorsports Park racetrack motorcycles

The Next Gen Superbike event was starting, the race where Mark would be campaigning his 888. I climb up to the grandstands and watch the race from above the start-finish line. I watch a selection of disparate machines battle it out on the track, including one rider aboard some sort of Supermoto rig who is impressing everyone by hanging on with the far quicker machines through the corners. Mark finishes second, which maintains his lead as National Champion in his class.

Barber Motorsports Park Racetrack

After the race I head back to Mark's trailer. He is busy scrubbing the grit off his slicks. I introduce myself and relate my problem, but unfortunately he doesn't have any spare sensors on hand - once again, I hear it is one of those things that never breaks. He recommends I check with some of the other guys who were racing Ducatis - so I begin making rounds of the paddock to hassle everyone who happened to show up at Barber with a Duc. 

Pierobon X60R Motorcycle Boulder Motorsports Ducati

I speak to the guys at Boulder Motorsports and sit down with their mechanics, trying some armchair troubleshooting to figure out what might have happened. I walk the rows for some time, making a bee line to every Ducati I spot. It's always the same story - no spares. Everyone is incredibly helpful and friendly. A few would have been willing to pull the sensor off their bike to help me out, but most had afternoon sessions on the track. And that was the problem: to yank the sensor requires draining some of the coolant, so it isn't a quick and easy thing to do. I just wanted to get my hands on a spare sensor to plug into the harness to see if I could get the bike started. I knew my sensor was wonky due to my persistent cold starting problem, but I wasn't 100% sure if it was the source of today's problem.

Racing Ducatis at Barber Vintage Festival

Eventually I meet a fellow who is acquainted with Ducati guru Bruce Meyers, who is one of the best Ducati technicians in the world. He sends him a message to Bruce and he calls me shortly thereafter. We discuss the problem and possible solutions. He thinks I am on the right track with the coolant sensor, but he expresses some doubt about the no-start condition, noting that even if the sensor is screwed up disconnecting it should introduce a fail safe fuel map that would allow the bike to run. He tells me to go to the Barber restoration department and find Chuck. Apparently Chuck owns a 916 and might be able to help out with my troubleshooting.

Barber Vintage Festival motorcycle paddocks

Perfect timing. I'm sweating profusely and sunburned from running around the paddocks for over an hour. I could use another "break" in the air-conditioned museum.

Barber Museum Motorcycle Bike Rack

Once again I'm in awe of the collection, and now that I'm looking at it again with fresh eyes I'm seeing things I had missed on my first whirlwind tour. I head to the fifth floor to check out the portion of the collection I had not seen the previous day due to a private event. I spend some time photographing the machines I wasn't able to document due to my dead battery. Then I turn a corner and practically stumble into the only bike that truly makes me well up with emotion.

1976 Konig 500 Motorcycle

Sitting on its own is a 1976 König 500. This was the same type of machine that New Zealand rider Kim Newcombe rode to a posthumous second place in the 1973 500 GP, nearly beating the all-conquering MV Agusta team but only failing due to Newcombe's untimely death at a non-championship event at Silverstone prior to the end of the season. He finished ahead of Giacomo Agostini and behind Phil Read. It is one of the greatest motorcycle stories that nobody has ever heard of, and when you learn of the details of Newcombe's career you can scarcely believe that it could have been forgotten. It's an incredible Cinderella story with a tragic finale, and it heralded the arrival of competitive two-strokes in the 500cc category. This is the only machine that can bring tears to my eyes, and it's a story that I am very proud to have shared on OddBike. It's fitting that the König sits here on its own, noble, solitary, and largely ignored while a massive display of racing MVs dedicated to John Surtees hogs the limelight nearby.

Konig motorcycle logo

A group of people are walking by and take a tiny bit of notice of the machine, commenting on the unusual engine layout. I stop them and begin telling them the story of the König, pointing out the modified outboard motor, telling them how Newcombe nearly won the championship despite his death. By the end of my impromptu monologue they are staring at me, then the bike, in disbelief. They are stunned to have never heard about this amazing story and vow to look it up. They are now intently examining the bike and snapping photos. 

1976 Konig 500 Motorcycle

I believe I stumbled onto OddBike's purpose at that moment - OddBike isn't just a collection of cool and unusual motorcycles, it is an archive of what might otherwise be lost and a testament to the people involved with these unique machines. I can't claim to have come up with the "archive" idea myself but this was the moment when that concept was made real, and the importance of what I was doing crystallized in my mind. I hadn't realized before that I might have that sort of impact. Now it was beginning to dawn on me that OddBike could have a purpose, other than just being a repository for my rambling prose.
 
I continue around the museum, asking any staff member I come across where I might find Chuck. I encounter Denis McCarthy, who turns out to be one of the restoration team members. I describe my problem and who referred me, and he kindly takes me down to the "Race Shop" in the basement where he ushers me into the inner sanctum of the Barber Museum.

Barber Museum Race Shop

We enter a surgically-clean room with a couple of work benches and a wall loaded with sliding shelves of individually labelled bins. Everything is clean and well lit, no oil stains, no greasy fingerprints, no errant tools. It feels like a hospital room, and would look pass for one if not for the toolboxes and a stripped frame and crankcase on one of the lifts - looks like it might be a Yamaha TZ or something similar. A black Ducati ST2 with New Jersey plates is parked near the door. A hub-centre steering Vyrus minimoto ("Built by the Vyrus guys when they were here." according to Denis) is hanging from the ceiling in front of a glass wall that looks out over a collection of bikes awaiting service. Chuck is sitting at a computer workstation, relaxing in this quiet refuge as the public buzzes around the rest of the restoration department. While most of the facilities are open to visitors this weekend, this room remains off limits.

Vyrus Minimoto hub-centre-steered minibike
Vyrus Minimoto

We chat about the issue I'm facing for a few minutes. Chuck and Denis suggest pulling the spark plugs and bringing them in for cleaning in case they might have gotten fouled. Denis lends me a ratchet from his personal toolbox and I head back out to the parking area to start pulling my bike apart.

Broken down Ducati 916 motorcycle
Photo courtesy David Morales

I ask permission to roll my bike behind the VJMC venue where I can work without being disturbed. I then proceed to set up a perfect characterization of Italian bike ownership - a sea of Japanese bikes with a sole Ducati in their midst, half-disassembled and surrounded by tools. David photographs the scene for posterity.

Jason Cormier and his Ducati 916 OddBike
Photo courtesy David Morales

It's clear from the colour of the plugs that I am indeed running rich, so at least that part of my diagnosis is correct. I bring them back to the shop and the guys agree the bike is running rich but don't appear to be fouled at first glance. Chuck asks me what number the plugs are. He goes to the back wall and slides across one of the shelves to reveal an entire rack of NGK plugs. He pulls out a set and hands them to me - a gift from the Barber Museum to a motorcyclist in need.

Jason Cormier working on his Ducati 916 OddBike
Photo courtesy David Morales

The owner of the ST2 is in the room, tending to his machine. If I recall correctly his name was Jeff. It turns out that he was in a similar situation. He had ridden his Duc from New Jersey and the bike had died suddenly after he got caught in the morning's traffic, and now refused to power on. Despite the fuses being intact and the battery on a trickle charger nothing was occurring when the ignition was switched on, other than a loud electrical buzz from somewhere deep in the front fairing. I suggest checking the relays, and that he should be able to locate generic automotive equivalents at any decent auto parts store. I help him poke around the bike for a few minutes trying to find some obvious solution but nothing is jumping out.

A man walks across the shop and into the back room.

Jeff leans over and whispers: "That's Alan Cathcart."

The number one motorcycle journalist in the world just walked into the room.

I politely introduce myself to Alan but reveal nothing about who I am or why I'm here. The last thing I want to do is corner one of the top guys in the motorcycle industry and spook him by going into rabid star-struck fan boy mode, shilling my little motorcycle blog. Besides, I'll bet he's been hounded for the entire time he has been at Barber and this was probably the only place he could go without being accosted.

I head back to my bike and install the new plugs. Flick on the ignition, thumb the starter... And the damned thing fires right up. After all the running around, all the horrifying specter of not completing my journey, all my hours of hounding of racers, technicians, and Barber staff members, it was the goddamned spark plugs all along.

Jason Cormier working on the Ducati 916
Photo courtesy David Morales

Once again I trudge back to the museum. I return Denis' ratchet and thank him profusely for his help. Alan and his wife are nearby chatting with some of the staff.

Denis turns to group. "Alan, have you met Jason? Do you know what he did? He rode a 916 here from Canada."

Alan pauses and looks at me with an expression of bemusement on his face. He asks me about my wrists, how far I've ridden. He seems genuinely shocked that I endured a 916 over this distance. To be honest I can't recall exactly what I said after that. Maybe something about losing the circulation to my hands, my need to pick up a Throttle Rocker for the ride home. Maybe something about the trip not being done yet, many miles left to go. I was so stunned at what had just happened, after a day of mad running around, that I was put into yet another daze. In the mere hour or so I had been dealing with the guys at Barber I had already earned a reputation, one that was enough to make Alan Cathcart take notice. I shook hands with everybody and gave a round of sincere thank-yous to everyone for getting me back on the road.

I rush back to the bike, as by now I am behind schedule - I needed to get into Birmingham to visit the Motus factory and meet JT Nesbitt.

Saturday Night

I meet up with Winslow and he guides me into the heart of Birmingham. The Motus factory is located here in an industrial area, apparently part of a block of Barber real estate in the city that was offered to them at a special "local startup motorcycle company" rate. 

Motus Motorcycles City Bike Night Birmingham Alabama

When I was planning the OddBike USA Tour I had contacted Motus to arrange a meeting. Company president Lee Conn responded by inviting me to their annual City Bike Night, a little show and shine they held in the parking lot of their factory that would be starting in the evening after the Vintage Festival was wrapping up. Sounded like fun. I made a point to not wash my bike for the entire trip. I arrive at Bike Night on a Ducati 916 covered in seven states worth of bugs, road grime from 1600 miles of interstate, enough errant chain lube to grease a steam engine, and a set of awkwardly hung saddlebags still loaded with camping gear. 

The Motus factory is in a nondescript one-story building, just down the street from where Confederate is located. The modestly-sized parking lot in front of the building was already filling up with bikes and a few cars. A stage was placed at the far end of the lot where grips were setting up speakers and band equipment. I parked the bike and scarcely had my helmet off before an older fellow came over and introduced himself. I meet George Martin, a veteran sport rider who is a member of the Speed Crazed Riders of the Ultimate Motorcycles (SCROTUMS), a rider who has done his own share of absurd cross-country treks by Italian sport bike. In George's case he had ridden to the (now defunct) Parry Sound Sportbike Rally in Northern Ontario on his Moto Guzzi Le Mans Mark IV. We chat for a few minutes when I spot a tall, slim man with a beer in hand walking over to us. I reach out my hand to finally meet JT Nesbitt. He waves away my hand and gives me a hug.

JT has been a supporter of OddBike for some time. He and I had been conversing via email and phone for a few months before the USA Tour got underway, and he always had high hopes for the site and where it might go in the future. JT was the one who suggested that OddBike could be an "archive", and of making my site a place for honest industry discussion free of bullshit, sponsors, or pretense. I think those ideals are a still a way off, but I truly appreciate that he thinks my site has that much promise. It gives me some frameworks for the future of OddBike. These are concepts I never foresaw or expected for my little project, so it will take me some time to wrap my head around them.

This was the first time we had met in person, and it turned out to be an excellent occasion to do so - JT was here at the Motus factory to unveil his latest design: the Bienville Legacy.

JT Nesbitt Bienville Legacy Motorcycle

You might be familiar with JT's work with Confederate, where he got his first big break as a designer working on the G2 Hellcat before creating the game-changing Wraith. But to tie him solely to his work at Confederate is to sell him short. After all, it's been eight years since he left Confederate to work independently. And the Hellcat and Wraith are not the only projects he has worked on. He has worked as a journalist. He has tended bar. He studied art history. He ran a motorcycle dealership. He can weld and work an English wheel. He sketches and paints. He rebuilt a Katrina-ravaged Lincoln and took it to the Bonneville Salt Flats, aiming to hit 200 mph.  He crafted a stunning one-off car powered by a Jaguar XK6 converted to run on natural gas. He can write some of the best, most visceral and divisive prose you've ever read since Hunter S. Thompson blew his brains out. He is intense, opinionated and frighteningly intelligent. He is a great man to have on your side, and a formidable enemy if he isn't. To suggest he is a "Renaissance man" would be to use a cheap cliché, but I'm going to do it anyway.

Bienville Legacy dash with grasshopper

The Legacy is parked in front of the factory. This is the first time anyone outside of JT's shop has seen the complete prototype - and it is astonishing.

Bienville Legacy Motorcycle exhaust

JT is quick to ask me what I think. I haven't even had time to process what I'm seeing. It's tightly packaged and menacing. It looks like a bulldog with explosive potential - compact and muscular, not pretty in the traditional sense, but with a suggestion of speed and agility that defies that initial impression of visual weight. I think to myself "what the fuck does it matter what I think." JT has always been iconoclastic and to canvas for opinions seems like a moot exercise. A few months prior, upon seeing some of the preliminary mockups, I had made a comment comparing some of the forms to Art Deco streamliners. JT got rather incensed that I used a trite comparison to try and describe his work. Knowing what I know now, I realize his work defies categorization - and I mean that in the truest sense, not in the "weasel-saying-that-journalists-fall-back-on-when-they-are-unable-to-come-up-with-an-adequate-description" usage of the phrase. You literally cannot categorize or compare his designs, so don't try. His work respects the past, but he does not like it to be referenced to the past with ham-fisted art history student clichés. Lesson learned.  

Bienville Legacy Motorcycle front suspension

The Legacy is ridiculous in the best possible way. You must examine it in person to appreciate the work that has gone into it. Every single detail is unique to this machine and built to the highest standards. This is an early pre-production prototype using a set of empty crankcases, so a few details are missing and there are some minor finishing flaws here and there. But it is still magnificent. It is built around a Motus V4 with forced induction via a chain-driven supercharger. The suspension is completely unique: four carbon-fibre blades (the front and rear are interchangeable) operate through rising-rate linkages and pullrods that use a composite leaf spring running down the spine of the bike (the red beam) for suspension. The front and rear operate off the same spring. I don't want to reveal too much yet because I will be writing a proper profile of the machine in a future OddBike feature. For now suffice to say it is amazing and it had the crowd at City Bike Night in awe.  

Bienville Legacy Motorcycle suspension detail

I mill around and socialize. This is a relaxed, fun event with no pretenses. The Motus works is open to the public, and it is surprisingly small - the assembly floor is a spartan, open garage with a couple of lifts and tool chests. Next to that are a few offices, a waiting area, a design studio, and a small meeting room. It's a bit of a shock to see how modest the operation is, considering how polished their prototypes appear. You need to keep in mind that the bulk of the manufacturing is outsourced to suppliers. This will be the head of operations and the site of final assembly. They intend to produce around 300 bikes per year beginning in 2014, which is likely doable in this space if they don't move to a bigger facility by then.

Motus Motorcycle factory Birmingham Alabama

Regardless of how small Motus appears to be, these are real, running bikes, being put through real world reliability testing - they aim to put 30 000 miles on each of the protos they have sitting in front of us before series production begins.

Motus Motorcycle design studio

I notice JT talking to someone who looks familiar. Could it be? Yes, that is Pierre Terblanche, former Ducati designer who is now working for Confederate. They are discussing the Legacy, Pierre listening intently as JT walks him through the machine. Two of the best known motorcycle designers in the world are standing in the middle of an Alabama show and shine while the rest of us mill around, eating food truck tacos and swilling complimentary beer. It is a surreal moment, and it won't be the last one of the night. A few people corner Pierre and try to pry some information about from him about his work with Confederate, but he remains coy and doesn't reveal anything more than the usual press-release stuff that everyone already knows. That in itself was rather unusual - Confederate is the fiercely independent brand of capital-R Rebellion and they have hired a mainstream designer, who is now spouting off coached statements that wouldn't sound out of place at a Honda press conference. Much rumour and heresay was swirling around about what was and was not happening with the boys down the street.

Pierrer Terblanche and JT Nesbitt discuss the Bienville Legacy motorcycle

I meet Michael Walshaw, who runs the US Kriega distributor. Michael had been tipped off about my trip by a mutual acquaintance, and he had offered to provide some gear for my journey. I had politely declined as I had already purchased my luggage at that point, but I wanted to make a point to thank him publicly. I'll admit that later on when I heard a few people praising Kriega gear I regretted not taking him up on the offer. Maybe next year.

Miguel Galuzzi on the Bienville Legacy motorcycle

Another familiar face materializes and begins chatting with JT. That would be Miguel Galuzzi, famed designer of the Ducati Monster and the Moto Guzzi V7. He takes a seat on the Legacy while JT describes the design. A crowd has gathered around the scene. Another surreal moment. I wonder if Chris Bangle or Ian Callum go mingling at blue-collar car shows, wearing jeans and untucked shirts, drinking beer with the locals.

Miguel Galuzzi and JT Nesbitt discuss the Bienville Legacy Motorcycle

Several times over the course of the evening people come up to me and introduce themselves, mentioning OddBike. I'm floored. I hadn't realized that I had a following, and that people knew who I was. I absolutely did not expect to encounter fans of my work on this trip, and it blew me away. I had another moment of realization - I was still conceiving of OddBike as I had a year ago when I began writing my first article, sitting bored at work on a dreary November day. I never considered that I had fans, that people were genuinely interested in what I was doing and what I had to say. I always thought of the site as a goofy hobby, an outlet for my creativity and my personal ranting. It was on this day in Alabama that I realized OddBike was developing into something bigger.



The steady din of conversation is suddenly interrupted by the crack of an open-piped V4 starting inside the factory. Brian is at the lift, working the throttle on a white prototype that is devoid of mufflers - Lee had noted earlier "We do this because we are rednecks." Miguel is walking around the lift, listening to the American-made engine. It's a throaty, crackling roar that sounds exactly like a well-tuned, free-revving V8. Sound clips and YouTube videos don't do justice to how utterly vicious this thing sounds in person. The noise it makes is completely at odds with what a "sport tourer" should sound like, and I think that is fantastic.

Alan Cathcart and JT Nesbitt discuss the Bienville Legacy Motorcycle

I spot JT wheeling the Legacy into the factory. Everyone has taken notice. Alan Cathcart is here and he is setting up an interview with JT about the project. This was unexpected. JT had anticipated a quick series of questions, a handshake, a good luck wish. But when Alan arrived and laid eyes on the Legacy, he was completely blown away. He was agape with hand on head looking at the thing, and he immediately called his photographer to make arrangements to shoot it then and there at the Motus factory. So it was that we watched Alan interview JT for over an hour.

Alan Cathcart and JT Nesbitt discuss the Bienville Legacy motorcycle

It's now getting late and I'm completely exhausted from the day's events. Before I go I need to speak to JT to make arrangements for tomorrow - I'm meeting him in New Orleans to hang out at his studio and interview him about the Legacy. He and Alan are wrapping up and Brian lets me onto the factory floor to say goodbye to JT. I stand off to the side for a minute as they finish up.

JT turns to me. "Alan, have you met Jason Cormier?"

Alan recalls our encounter at Barber earlier in the day. I tell Alan that the whole reason I'm here is because JT gave me the kick in the ass I needed to embark on this crazy journey.

"Jason runs a website called OddBike, have you heard of it?"

I'm trying very hard to remain calm at the realization of what is happening at this moment. I pull out one of my business cards and hand it to Alan.  

"It's the NPR of motorcycle journalism." JT pats me on the shoulder. Alan glances at my card and flashes a polite smile. He promises to have a look at my site. JT later tells me "when Alan says he will have a look at your site, he means it."

Time to head home and get a good night's rest. Tomorrow, I ride to New Orleans.

Ford hotrod

              

9 comments:

  1. Three favorite Canadian things: Brador, Our Lady Peace and Jason Cormier's articles! Nice article.

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    1. Damn, you should branch out a bit with your choice of beer. That's like the Molson equivalent of Colt 45. Try something from Unibroue or McAuslan next opportunity you get.

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  2. Amazing stuff, those agonising hours on the highways really paid off;)
    /Nik K

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  3. Jason, if that night, with those legends was the whole point of the trip it would have been worth it. You got me looking at how to mount bags on my 916. Rock on.

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  4. Jason, great to hear the full story on how you got to our meeting on Satuday evening! You still have YOUTH on your side, but touring on the 916 may be over compensating. :-)

    George

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  5. Great article, glad to have discovered this site.

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  6. Wonderful article, Mr. Cormier. Best wishes from India. :)

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  7. Got turned on to your site by MotoLady. Enjoyed reading about your trip to the Vintage Festival and the time you spent with TJ. I actually saw you and TJ wandering around. I was familiar with Confederate but didnt know the history and names. Wish I had known it while I had the chance to meet you and TJ at the Festival.
    I'm new to bikes (sort of, long story) but old to cars and really enjoyed seeing the Leno segment you linked. Amazingly talented man and look forward to seem more of his designs.

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