Riding a motorcycle and insurance claims go hand in hand, and therefore every motorcycle enthusiast is almost certain to face a situation in which he or she would need a really good insurance attorney. The Founder of Russ Brown attorneys is an original motorcycle rider who started this company in 1975 to help fellow bikers.
Every now and then a story comes along so fascinating I’m not sure I can do it justice. The story of Rob Gibson and the World’s Fastest Darkroom is one such story. It combines motorcycles with history, technical skill with artistry… all happening out in the real world instead of a studio or workshop.
Rob has a background in fabrication, having worked at the old GM plant in upstate New York. He also has a love of history, being drawn into old books and photos since childhood. Eventually, Rob combined these two parts of himself by building an 1800’s-style camera and learning the art of tintype photography.
These early cameras, like those around during the Civil War, had no shutters or really any mechanical parts to speak of. The photographer prepared a chemical solution that made a piece of metal photo-sensitive (usually tin, hence the name), then placed it in the back of the camera.
Then the photographer simply removed the lens cap, exposing the tin plate to light coming through the lens. He then had to rush back to the darkroom to bathe the plate in another solution, brining the image to life directly on the plate.
Photo: Rob Gibson
This means you have to bring your darkroom with you, and while Civil War photographers brought things out to the field in a horse-drawn cart, Rob allowed just a little bit of technology to help him out here, moving his art out of the studio and into the (early) twentieth century.
By mating a 1950 Harley-Davidson FL Panhead to a 1938 package truck (a commercial sidecar made by Harley), Rob was able to bring both his camera gear and darkroom straight to where the action is, combining “history, technology, and art in one crazy contraption,” as Rob says. The combination also makes the worlds greatest business card, just as package trucks were back in the day. Rob explains:
“I remember being at Sturgis doing pictures and hearing these guys behind me and, we don’t have to mention what motorcycle club it was but, they’re the biggest one in the world, and these guys are like ‘holy crap dude, that is awesome.’ You know, I’m teaching history to these guys. It’s great when you see stuff like that because, whether it’s old ladies, children, or guys like that, you know, it’s something everyone can appreciate. So it’s very fulfilling, to do something like that, that’s totally unique, and to do it in such a way where you’re very portable– because you need that darkroom with you— and it gets a lot of attention.”
Photo: Darah Gardner
Everybody grasps the “wow” factor of sidecars, not just gearheads or motorcyclists. And the nearly lost art of wet plate photography is an easy sell once you start watching the process. Seeing an image come to life on a metal plate right before your eyes borders on sorcery. And in a way it is. Rob is only aware of five other people doing tintypes in North America.
The tintype process - YouTube
With so few people doing this type of photography, others are very secretive about their techniques. It took a lot of trial-and-error and a fortunate find before Rob could take his work to the next level.
“I was in this rare bookstore in a little town called Albion, New York back in the 1980’s. I was always looking for old cameras, lenses, anything I could find. This is long before the days of eBay […] And so I ask, ‘do you happen to have any old books on Civil War photography?’ [..] He comes back with this small, beat up book, almost like a small bible, and it had all these brown stains in it. I realized those were silver nitrate stains […] that this was a formula book.”
But even with an original formula book Rob went through many tin plates as he learned which, unlike glass plates, cannot be scraped clean and reused if the image is no good. This is a far cry from today’s digital photography where you can fire off a dozen exposures, review them on an LCD screen, and delete the ones you don’t like. To get any image, even a bad one, takes a big dose of determination.
Many of Rob Gibson’s images are so well done it becomes difficult to tell what decade they were taken in. The vignetting around the border of the image is caused by the way light is blocked entering the lens or from certain lens filters. Once a byproduct of outdoor photography, it is now a popular way to draw attention to the subject, and many cellphone cameras let you digitally add the effect. Photo: Rob Gibson
But enough about photography for a moment, let’s take a look at the bike. Rob already had a background in building hotrods and vintage bikes, and it would have been totally feasible to build a darkroom in an old panel truck from the 1960’s and install a modern crate engine. But if you’re into tintype photography it’s assumed you favor authenticity over taking the easy route.
And the reason sidecars were popular in the early twentieth century is still true: they are more simple and less expensive than automobiles. That still doesn’t make it easy. A 1950 FL may be something you can find and ride, but you need one that does more than the occasional Sunday toddle down the backroads: it has to be a reliable workhorse. And despite the Package Truck being available from 1914 to 1957, there are few survivors and tend to be either museum quality (expensive) or “barn fresh” (haggard).
Photo: Dan Jenkins
But Rob was lucky again:
“I had a good friend out here in Gettysburg [Pennsylvania] who is a collector, and he’s got about 75 bikes […] so I went over to his place, and he ended up having a frame to one, a 1938, and I end up trading him some Harley parts for it. He’s not the type to sell anything but he was willing to trade […] The box was trashed, so we did as much research as we could, found original specifications and plans.
It was basically a sales book that told exactly how to construct them. So I put a guy named Dustin Heisey on it, a good friend and great carpenter, and he did all the wood. We went over the plans and found it was a heavy, like three-quarter-inch plywood, and then skinned with 22-gauge sheet steel. So another friend of mine that was a fabricator named Mark Main did the sheet metal work on the outside. Then I proceeded to turn the inside of it into an area that could be used as a darkroom.”
The first real test came at TROG, The Race of Gentleman. The event is now quite famous, featuring beach races using pre-war (as well as post-war) cars and motorcycles, with the whole thing having an all-American vibe from a 1950’s teen-scare movie.
T.R.O.G. racers pose with their machines. Hard to believe this is a recent photo, but it was captured in 2017 on the beaches of New Jersey. Photo: Rob Gibson.
Of course Rob was an instant hit. Anyone going to see flathead Harley’s squirm in the sand for traction is going to be spellbound by the effort it takes to sensitize a metal plate and capture an image on it. And Rob’s rig and process fit the vibe of the event, where race machines are required to keep the aesthetic of 1940’s-era racers, devoid of zip-ties or plastic number plates.
World's Fastest Darkroom - YouTube
And that draw will hopefully find an even larger audience in the future. Rob has done tintype photos for a number of major motion pictures: Gods and Generals, Into the West, The Assassination of Jesse James, National Treasure, Book of Secrets, and many pieces for Discovery Channel, History Channel, PBS, and so on. This time working on both sides of the camera has allowed Rob to develop a concept for a TV series, based on his Forgotten America Project.
Rob seeks out the crumbling buildings, railyards, and roadways that point back to America’s powerful industrial past. Riding his outfit along the backroads, he has been documenting these places and their stories before they disappear forever.
Photo: Rob Gibson
In Rob’s own words, “We’re in talks with a number of production companies and a couple of various networks about doing a show based around myself and my buddy [and assistant] Bobby Deihl, travelling around the country not only doing the photography, but also highlighting the forgotten roads of America […] Old abandoned industrial sites, the old homesteads that have been forgotten, or ghost towns […] Give me an old creepy building and I’m there. I just love rummaging through that stuff.”
“If I can convince people through my artwork the value of this stuff then I’ve certainly done my job.”
Rob Gibson (right) and his assistant Bobby Deihl. Photo: Darah Gardner.
That sounds like TV worth watching… far from the made-up drama of so-called reality TV. Hopefully a deal is struck so Rob can take his considerable talents for photography, history, and story-telling to the masses. Rob explains, “I call them blue collar adventures, where you just get on the bike with your buddies and off you go and, rather than just hitting bar after bar, you’re hitting all these funky old abandoned places, industrial sites, you know… roadside America […] especially when you’re doing it on a vintage bike. When you’re out there on an old Panhead or Knucklehead, and dressing the part, you’re seeing America like they did back in 1930 and 1940.”
Photo: Rob Gibson
And there you have it. My 45-minute interview went on for over an hour. I couldn’t help but be drawn in by his passion and depth of knowledge. Rob still maintains his studio in Gettysburg, PA, where he does period photos. He also spends a lot of time on the road, having been to Daytona Bike Week and more recently to this year’s T.R.O.G. event. He also plans to be at Sturgis again this year. For more information, videos, images, and booking information, visit Rob’s website at www.americantintype.com. From there you can also find links to his Facebook and Instagram profiles.
Another year, another Born Free Show has come and gone. In it’s 10th consecutive year, the show was nothing short of impressive. Between the unheard of cool weather (and by cool, I mean mid 80s versus the standard 100 degree event temps), insane builds, vendors, and people watching, I’d say Born Free 10 was the best one yet.
What started out as a small parking lot party, the Born Free Show has dramatically changed, hosting over 30,000 attendees throughout the weekend. Hosted at Oak Canyon Ranch in Silverado Canyon, the fairgrounds that hold the event take you back to yester-years, with a vintage vibe all around. There is no event quite like it, and the location definitely plays a part in that. Even more fitting, the grounds are still a “no service” area for most cell phone providers, which allows attendees to forget about their social media, and to focus on their friends, the bikes, and good times happening around them. No need to pull your phone out and post to social media — everyone that needs to know what you’re doing is probably standing right next to you anyways!
Born Free not only accommodates the grassroots, do it yourself, vintage chopper builds, but also now caters to the ever changing and appealing performance motorcycle market. San Diego Customs and crew have organized a show inside of a show, with an FXR Show on Saturday and an Open Class on Sunday, that draws some of the best builds in the performance industry to the competition. If you’re into the Dyna & FXR craze, the SDC shows are a must stop while attending the event.
I personally spent most of my weekend engulfed in the motorcycles on display — whether they were attendees’ bikes on the grass, or bikes built for the event, there were plenty of beauties to be seen. The passion for these machines, new and old, can be felt as you walk through the event. The builds were taken to another level for the 10-year anniversary, and they did not go unnoticed. “Overwhelming” seems to be the term most first time attendees use when they begin to walk through the show grounds.
For some people, it’s not about the show, the bike giveaways, or the vendors—the entire weekend is a reunion event. Friends come from all over the world to attend. It’s a weekend filled with likeminded individuals sharing their love for motorcycles in whatever way they see fit — flat track races, camping, riding, and more. For some, this is the only time of the year in which they get to see each other, as they live on different continents or even across the United States from each other. Born Free 6 was my first BF Event, and the friendships and memories I made that year carry on traditionally with each year’s show. Alas, we don’t have tiki torch parties at Irvine Lake anymore—but maybe one day they’ll let us camp there again!
With activities and people watching galore, it’s almost impossible to see everything going on, even with two days to do it. The beloved Beer Boobies were back, pouring frosty 805 Beers all weekend for attendees, and even a giant boa snake made an appearance as “the only pet allowed at the show.” The people watching is never dull, with grown men in thongs and grandmas showing the youngin’s how to “properly swallow a hot dog,” there is a little bit of sight seeing for everyone. Dunk tanks with barely dressed women (and men), the Vans Half Pipe ramp, and whatever entertainment the vendors decide to come up with….the weekend is the epitome of an epic motorcycle party, clashed with 70s era vibes and modern day entertainment.
Can we top Born Free 10? I don’t know. But we can sure as hell try. With rumors of an event location change for the 11th year, there is definitely a buzz on what direction the show will take for 2019. Without the ideal fairgrounds, the crazy canyon ride to Cooks Corner, the pre and after party hot spot for the event, the show could completely change. We know one thing is certain, and that is that regardless of where the show might go, the love of two wheels and passion for custom creations will follow.
The FIM World Superbike race series comes to the US only once a year, but they pick the historic hills of Laguna Seca (now WeatherTech Raceway) to make sure they do it in style. Better yet, our national superbike series, MotoAmerica, shares the weekend with them, allowing America’s top guns to show off what they can do in front of (and sometimes against) international teams.
And the event is not just for die-hard race fans. Both MotoAmerica and the Motul WorldSBK organizers are actively investing in the overall fan experience, with live music, kart racing, multiple chances to meet the riders, and the ever-present vendor area and factory demo rides. Combine that with Saturday night at Monterey’s Cannery Row, and you can easily find something you’ll enjoy.
As for the on-track activities, the freight train that is Jonathan Rea proved unstoppable once again. Rea and his Kawasaki have won eight of the 16 races run so far this season on the world stage, with another five podium finishes. I was hoping WeatherTech Raceway’s unique layout was going to shuffle things around, but both days ended with Rea easily on top and Ducati rider Chaz Davies in a firm second place.
WeatherTech Raceway is sometimes called a paved motocross track by the many European riders in WorldSBK, who are accustomed to the high-speed, flowing tracks they normally visit around the world. Built in a very hilly area in 1957, the bumps and elevation changes are dramatically different from other tracks on the calendar, especially turn 7, known better as the Corkscrew. The blind corner drops three stories and is often the scene of passes and crashes. And in the MotoAmerica race that turned out to be the case… and then some.
The Corkscrew is one of racing’s most famous corners. Blind on the approach before dropping three stories, there are many ways to get it right and even more ways to get it wrong.
For those not familiar with Josh Herrin, he already has quite a career highlight reel for being only 28-years old. He has won a national championship while riding for the Graves Yamaha factory team, he was won the Daytona 200, and even spent the 2014 season racing grand prix bikes on the world level in the Moto2 class.
But currently the California native is running independently with support from Attack Performance, Yamaha, and others. Despite having to manage a tight budget, the team made the choice to enter both the WorldSBK race while still fighting for a win in the MotoAmerica class. This left the team having to swap tires, number plates, and make set up changes on their Yamaha YZF-R1 all weekend, and Josh having to recalibrate his brain to the different feel between WorldSBK’s Pirelli control tire and MotoAmerica’s Dunlops.
On top of all this, Josh had to iron-man it, doing nearly 60-laps on Saturday alone. In fact, after running as high as 10th place in the WorldSBK race that day, he slowly began to fade back to 16th before pulling in with a few laps remaining. While the crew switched over Herrin’s machine for the MotoAmerica race, Josh tried to work knots out of his back.
When the lights went out to begin the MotoAmerica race though, there was no evidence that Josh was tired. Having broken the lap record during qualifying, Josh launched from pole position and led the field into turn 1. He was under attack for much of the race, first by defending champion Toni Elias, then by Graves Yamaha rider Cameron Beaubier, who eventually took the win, leaving Herrin in a lonely second place. Not a bad day at the office.
Josh Herrin (#2) fought hard to hold off Cameron Beaubier (#6) both days.
Sunday’s race was very much the same, except this time Herrin ran the entire WorldSBK race, running as high as 9th before fading to 16th by the finish. And in the MotoAmerica race he again led early on, but even at a distance you could see he was having to push much closer to the limit to stay ahead of Cameron Beaubier.
When Herrin finally lost the lead to Beaubier, he managed to stay much closer, hinting that the fight wasn’t over. Then, with three laps to go, Herrin lost the rear end while descending the Corkscrew and went sliding off into the dirt. Josh remounted the bike but the corner workers prevented him from rejoining the race. The argument went on for over two laps, with Herrin trying to push past the corner workers and them refusing to let him continue.
Eventually he had to give up and the bike was cleared from the impact zone. Personally I admired the grit of a racer who was dead set on carrying the fight to the bitter end. Even with an exhausting schedule of racing and a damaged bike, Josh Herrin was not going to give up. Race Control saw it differently though and penalized him three grid positions for the next event (essentially meaning he will start one row back from wherever he qualifies).
Josh Herrin was just a fraction of a second too early on the throttle, sending him off into a cloud of dust and out of MotoAmerica Race 2
Josh refused to give up, but the corner workers were adamant his bike was too damaged to re-enter the track.
Eventually Herrin had to give up his chance to salvage a few points. Here he is seen walking away as Cameron Beaubier passes in the background on the final lap, taking the win.
It must be a bitter pill to swallow, going from record-breaking lap times to broken race bikes and losing a huge amount of ground in the championship. He will also have to wait three weeks for a shot at redemption, when MotoAmerica heads to the Utah Motorsports Campus July 20-22.
That event will also be a chance for defending champ Toni Elias to turn his season around. He crashed not once but twice in Saturday’s race, then struggled on Sunday before magically turning things around in the last half and finishing 2nd. Are his struggles over? Last year he absolutely walked away with the championship, but crashes have plagued him in 2018.
Cameron Beaubier’s season is really shaping up. He leads defending champ Toni Elias by 29 points.
American Jake Gange can at least leave with a smile. The WorldSBK rider got his current seat with the Red Bull Honda team here at WeatherTech Raceway last year, after rider Nicky Hayden was tragically killed in a bicycle accident in Italy. Hayden has long been a fan favorite and it has been a large set of boots for Gange to fill. But Jake scored his first top-ten in the series with a 9th place in Sunday’s race. This is a solid result as the Honda Superbike has been lacking a bit in power for the last several years, as Honda does not have a full-factory team of its own. The WorldSBK series moves next to Italy for round nine, July 6-8.
American Jake Gagne had his best finish in the WorldSBK series, finishing 9th in Race 02 on the Red Bull Honda.
As far as off-the-track life, this years event seemed more alive than usual. Attendance was only slightly up from last year, with 64,425 people coming through the gate for all three days combined. But the crowd itself seemed more energetic. The cheers for riders were louder, the crowd at the race podium was larger, and the biggest sign was that people didn’t clear out after the WorldSBK race. Fans for MotoAmerica’s podium ceremony were nearly the same size: a sign that people are once again noticing the fierceness of competition in the domestic superbike series.
Johnny Rea led the field to victory, but also led the race to avoid champagne spray as Chaz Davies (center) is in turn sprayed by 3rd place finisher Eugene Laverty.
Morning fog and coastal weather helped keep temperatures down, but the summer sun was still shining all weekend.
I also got a chance to finally meet Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys-sponsored rider Nic Swensgard. The young gun is still competing on his KTM RC390 despite it being a little short on power, now that the LiquiMoly Junior Cup is allowing other brands of machine in. Combined with a revised RC390 this year and Nic has his work cut out for him.
A crash in qualifying meant he had to start from 14th on the grid, with only about four laps of practice. The race began poorly also, with Nic being sent out on the wrong tire pressures. He still managed decent lap times but was struggling until a red flag stopped the race, setting things up for a five-lap restart. Now on the correct tire pressures, Nic managed to work his was up to 10th, then eventually slip by into 9th. By then the lead pack had pulled away and there was not enough laps left to try and run them down. Still, a top-ten result is solid. Look for Nic’s race report here and our interview with him here.
And with that the world of superbike racing departs. Weathertech Raceway has several car events to round out its year, and MotoAmerica will continue to criss-cross the US through September. See their full calendar, rider profiles, and full results at www.motoamerica.com. Also look for WorldSBK news and results at www.WorldSBK.com
Californians who missed this round have another chance to see MotoAmerica action at Sonoma Raceway, August 10-12. The action has stepped up several notches in the past few years and you owe it to yourself to make it to the track at least once this season and see things firsthand.
Although racer Nicky Hayden has been gone for over a year due to a tragic cycling accident, he remains a fan favorite. Here you can see his #69 logo as well as two young fans wearing his memorial T-shirt. Flags and banners were erected by fans and WeatherTech Raceway around the course as well.
Although a superbike starts out as a showroom stock sportbike, they are slathered with go-fast parts inside and out.
Getting things wrong in the Corkscrew doesn’t always mean disaster, but this image of Cameron Peterson rejoining the course shows just how hard it is on machinery.
Racing remains a family sport, with rider, crew, friends, and family all there to support each other.
Famous riding coach and author Keith Code talks with defending champion Toni Elias after the races.
Everyone was all smiles in the paddock. The atmosphere this year was much more jubilant and excited compared to the past few years.
Wow, Just wow. I would have never expected to be back racing Motoamerica. It was an amazing adventure and I had a ton of fun. I think it’s safe to say I came back a different person, Physically, Mentally and Spiritually. During the moments a year ago when I was not racing, it was a much-needed reset even if I didn’t think so at the time. Now, let’s get into the juicy details.
In Practice 1, I gave myself a few laps to get used to the track again. We only had 20 min of practice before qualifying. I got up to speed fast and ended up 9th. I was shocked that I did so well so early on. I could keep some good corner speed and match the leaders decently so I was very confident going into Qualifying 1. Unfortunately, that was the problem.
In Qualifying 1, I was very confident pumped up. On lap 4 I crashed in turn 6. I was riding very amped and was not focusing. For example, In Practice all I focused on was fun and the results came. But in Qualifying, I focused on going fast and I ended up crashing before I could even get a fast lap in. So, I was sitting in 17th place for the race. Luckily for me, we had a second Qualifying on Sunday. We did not have any track time on Saturday due to World Superbike being there so we just we made some changes to the forks and hung around on Saturday. Let me tell you, I was bored out of my mind the whole day.
For qualifying 2 I was focusing on having fun and seeing what I could do, I was nervous about the weather. We went out at 8:45 am and knowing Laguna being next to the ocean. It was cold and very foggy. Luckily for me, I put my head down and dropped a full second. I was sitting 12th in that session which put my 14th on the grid for the race. I had a little work to do but planned on sticking with Sean off the start.
A Few hours later was the race. Lucky for me, my buddy, Cameron Gish was there on the grid with me like old times. As well as my friend Max Flinders who brought his Girlfriend to be my umbrella girl which was a real treat. I was focused and ready to get a good start. When the lights went out I had a hard time up shifting because every time I did the rev limiter came on due to the new RPM limit. ( We had the same Weight and RPM limit as the new KTM’s Which have an extra 10HP said by Uli from HMC) A lot of people flew by me off the start into turn 1. I braked later than everyone else and came around 4 people on the outside of turn 1. By the time I got to turn 5, I realized my bike was sliding into every single corner and chattering like crazy. Little did I know we forgot to check tire pressure and I had an extra 10 PSI in the front and rear tire. I was pushing hard and crashing in every single corner. I matched my Qualifying time somehow and was running top 15. Then a red flag came out on the 6th lap, It wasn’t for me but I hope the rider is okay. We figured out the pressures and then went out. I had a new grid position which was 15th. I got a better start and put my head down for the 5 lap sprint. I worked my way up to 10th right behind the battle for 3rd place. Unfortunately, I had a hard time getting around the 9th place rider who was a tad bit slower than me. On the final lap, I stuffed 9th place going into turn 3, then I check out from him and was slowly catching up to the lead group but I did not have enough time. Overall I feel I did really well being down on trap speed against the Ninja 400’s (Fastest Ninja 400 was 110mph and I was 102). Hopefully, I will have another opportunity to race MotoAmerica again soon and go for a top 5.
I absolutely can’t thank the whole ASMA family enough and everyone else who donated to make this trip a reality! You guys are amazing! Also a massive thanks to all my sponsors who make this possible!
In 2014 I sold everything I owned—minus my motorcycles and a few boxes of clothes—and moved to Phoenix from Texas. I had only visited twice beforehand and only knew a handful of people, but it didn’t take me long meet some motorcycle enthused Phoenecians that were happy to show me the ropes.
What’s Arizona? A giant desert full of cacti, I thought. WRONG. Arizona is quite possibly one of the most underrated states I have visited (and I almost regret admitting that to the general public for the sake of keeping this place a secret!) The Grand Canyon state is full of countless geological finds and Wild West history, including rich Native American Navajo Culture that thrives throughout the state, remnants of the historic Route 66, and “boomtown” settlements that have long since become ghost towns.
Although I only stayed around the Phoenix area for a mere 18 months, I was able to find some great roads to share with new found friends. These are a few of my go-to’s.
This is my ultimate solo ride route in the evenings, and group ride on the weekends. From Ramjet Racing, head out to the Cave Creek area. Getting out of town isn’t a bad ride as you near the mountain foothills—the temperature drops in the far out suburbs, making it slightly more bearable in the summer afternoons and a chilly ride home if you forgot to layer up in the winters.
There’s plenty of spots to stop at in Cave Creek if you want to grab food or drinks: The Hideaway Grill and The Roadhouse are both well-known biker hotspots and have cold brews and decent food—sometimes even free pizza during the weekdays/happy hour. Head east out of Cave Creek and you’ll eventually see signs for Bartlett Lake, from here (during the week) you wont see too many cars. This twisty little road will take you down to the lake where you can sit and watch boats head out on the water, or you can jump in and cool off at Rattlesnake Cove if you make a day run out to the water’s edge.
If you leave the lake about 30 minutes before the sun sets (the water should be covered in shadows at this point), you’ll end up with the best seat in the valley for the sunset when you get near the Cave Creek/Bartlett road intersection. Purple mountains and vibrant, fiery skies…these are the ultimate desert sunsets. I’ve never seen a bad one from this spot. If you’re out on the weekend or during the day, you can leave the lake and take the scenic route out to the Road Runner for a beer, live music, and bite to eat. Park your bike inside the fenced area or leave it in the lot, the choice is yours. Enjoy the desert!
Middle of summer and you want to beat the heat? I’ve been there. Luckily, northern Arizona is guaranteed to always be at least 20-30 degrees cooler than the Valley’s scorching temps, and you can be out of the triple digit heat index in less than 120 miles!
If you leave early enough, I suggest taking the the 89-A from Sedona to Flagstaff and back down the Mogollon Rim. Riding up and back down from Flagstaff provides some insane views of the Rim country as well as the red rocks Sedona is known for. Slide Rock State Park is a great spot to stop off at along the 89-A if you’re into swimming and jumping off giant rocks.
From Sedona you’ll head south to Jerome, a historic mining town that is built into the side of a mountain. Visit the mining museums or grab a drink at the Spirit Room, the town’s biker friendly bar. From here the ride will take you over Mingus Mountain. If you thought it was hot in Phoenix, you’ll be shocked to find out you can still see snow up here in March—so dress appropriately! If you’re like me, you probably stopped and took in all the scenic views along the way and won’t have time to take the long route. But at about 300 Miles, the short route is one heck of a day’s ride from the Valley.
In February of ’15 I rode with a buddy out to Havasu for the weekend to attend a Hot Rod/Motorcycle Show. Growing up near the ocean, I’ve always called myself a “water baby.” Anytime I can ride a road that follows a body of water, my mood instantly changes and leaves me feeling calm and collected. So of course I was stoked to make the ride to see Lake Havasu and ride along the beautiful Colorado River.
The journey across the desert is long, but worth it once you get to Parker. I like to stop in at the Bluewater Resort & Casino and jump in the river if the weather is right (it’s still comfortable in October!). If not, you can attempt to sweet talk the staff into letting you go down the waterslide in the Casino.
From here, Highway 95 will twist and turn alongside the clear, blue, Colorado River. It’s truly like you went to another world and different type of desert climate. The mountains are no longer a dull brown but instead a rich, deep red, and the scenery continues to improve as you reach Lake Havasu. Rip across the London Bridge and onto the “island,” grab some drinks, and enjoy the evening in this little slice of paradise. If you plan accordingly you’ll be able to catch some sort of Hot Rod & Classic Car show. Almost every time I’ve visited Havasu, I’ve unintentionally visited while a car show was going on.
The Mogollon Rim Country is one of the most spectacular areas I visited in Arizona. The first time I made this trip I was completely unaware of the drastic climate changes the state had between the Rim and Central regions—in fact almost a third of the state is covered in forrest-type land. We ended up hitting Payson right as the sun set and I probably drank 3 cups of crummy gas station coffee trying to warm myself up in the low 50-degree temps I was forced to deal with wearing a hoodie after leaving the warm, 80-something degree valley. I never made that mistake again, that’s for sure. The region is filled with amazing hiking, swimming holes, and Native American history. If you choose to head towards Camp Verde, Montezuma’s Castle is a short sidetrack off the route. If you get the urge for some Motorcycle camping, this area is great for it. With the abundance of public lands, you can practically camp for free throughout the rim country—and actually throughout most of the state. Do your homework if you plan to camp, and remember to pack out what you rode in with.
It’s not a lengthy ride, but everyone that visits the Arizona should see Phoenix from a birds eye view. I prefer to ride this on weekdays (in the early mornings while everyone is at work) primarily because the views are incredible and the traffic along the twisty road to the summit can get a little frustrating otherwise. Be sure to read the info boards at the lookout point and learn about the mountain’s history and the role it played for Phoenix in the early days.
I never visited the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, the Four Corners, or rode the Devil’s Highway (US Route 191) or Route 66 in it’s entirety while I lived in the state, but all are high on most motorcycle enthusiasts’ destination lists.You don’t have to ride the most common and popular roads to get a full grasp of what Arizona has to offer, but you do have to get out there and ride to truly understand the beauty of this state.
WASHINGTON, DC – This coming Monday will mark the 27th anniversary of “Ride to Work Day,” an annual event that promotes the motorcycle as an option for commuting to work. Since 1992, this event has been promoted by the Ride to Work organization with a goal of increasing public awareness of motorcyclists; promoting the use of motorcycles as a method of transportation; and increasing motorcycle safety.
According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, an estimated 150,000 commuters ride their motorcycle to work. While this is a very minor portion of all commuters, figures show these numbers are on the rise. It may be surprising that the numbers are not higher given data that supports that traveling by motorcycle can shorten journey times by as much as 33 minutes of every hour for city travel. Additional benefits can include more parking options, fuel savings and the undeniable advantage of enjoying the environment and the open air preparing yourself for a long day of work, or better yet, decompressing post-work!
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation encourages its members and partners to participate in this year’s event on June 18th to help demonstrate support for riders across the nation and spur recognition that the use of motorcycles as an alternative to commuting can help alleviate traffic and parking congestion.
Another important message that the event sends is that, despite a sometimes less than flattering portrayal of motorcyclists by Hollywood and even the media and naysayers, motorcyclists are our neighbors, teachers, family, lawyers, servicemen and women and friends and they have a rightful place on our nation’s highways.
If you have photos of yourself participating in Ride to Work Day, send them to email@example.com or text them to 202-546-0983
About Motorcycle Riders Foundation
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) provides leadership at the federal level for states’ motorcyclists’ rights organizations as well as motorcycle clubs and individual riders. The MRF is chiefly concerned with issues at the national and international levels that impact the freedom and safety of American street motorcyclists. The MRF is committed to being a national advocate for the advancement of motorcycling and its associated lifestyle and works in conjunction with its partners to help educate elected officials and policymakers in Washington and beyond.
I have always felt that when you clean your bike it is also a good time to do any routine maintenance that it might need. After spending a couple hours getting my bike clean with a plethora of quality products from Star brite, I had several minor issues that I had to take care of. First I had noticed that my front brake wasn’t working the way it should; sure enough, it was in need of some brake fluid. I also needed to add some air in both tires, tighten up some screws on the coil cover AND just when I was about finished I noticed that my rear exhaust pipe was loose. Upon further inspection, the stud that had been welded to the pipe that connects to my frame had broken in two. As much as these old machines vibrate, often times a lot of things end up loose or lost.
After Gabe fixed my exhaust and looked over the bike once more, we decided to take a long ride and visit several counties with small towns. Although I was on my trusty ole Panhead named “Panacea”, this time Gabe was riding his 1967 FLH generator Shovelhead with a pogo seat that he had just put together. With his bike having larger fuel capacity, it was now just my bike that would always need to stop for gas.
The roads were clean as it had just rained a few days prior, the air was warm and the sun was shining with a temperature of around 76. PERFECT! We first ventured into Marion County before we got to Searcy County via the backroads of highways 206 and 235, only having to trek a very small distance on the very popular and VERY congested highway 65. We stopped at a place called Dry Creek Mercantile in a small town called Pindall. For under $20 we both ate a superb breakfast, gulped down two sodas in glass bottles, purchased the local weekly newspaper AND we both indulged in their homemade strawberry pie! The country store had all kinds of snacks, drinks, along with groceries, camping supplies and lots of antiques and knickknacks.
Since this was the first time Gabe had been on the Shovelhead, we decided to run the famous “Jasper Disaster” route to test the bike out. This route is considered one of the most challenging rides in the state with over 316 curves! Since we were in Searcy County, we made our way north first travelling on highway 206 and then riding on highway 43. Both bikes seemed to be running great as we ventured onto the 800-foot climb up Gaither Mountain. This road has such wide sweeping curves I just love the way my bike feels. By the time we got to Compton, I needed gas so we stopped and took a break. While there a few more people rode in on bikes and before taking off I went back into the store, grabbed some mints and spotted a blue and black bandanna that I just HAD to have that matches my ’39 Knucklehead that I am almost done with. SCORE! As we rolled on through Boxley Valley, the elk were nowhere to be seen so we headed on up Highway 74 where there are plenty of tight turns; almost two miles of switchbacks all while rising in elevation and virtually nowhere to pull over to take a photo or stop if you needed help.
Right off of highway 74, we rolled into the small scenic town of Jasper. Jasper is a town in Newton County where the nation’s first national river, the Buffalo begins. Jasper has a very popular downtown square that bikers like to stop at when riding through. The town is home to the Ozark Café, established in 1909 and still maintains a soda fountain. Not only is the Ozark Café on the National Register of Historic Places, it serves great food AND is the second oldest restaurant in the state of Arkansas! While we were there getting some cold drinks, almost all of the customers who came through the door were on motorcycles. Jasper is a very friendly town for bikers and it has several other cafes. After talking to a guy who owns a motorcycle shop on the Jasper square, we ran scenic byway 7 (the state’s first national scenic byway) to get back to highway 206. Since the bikes were running flawlessly we decided to keep riding and go back to Marion County and take highway 235 into Yellville to go eat at a Mexican buffet.
Just as soon as I saw the sign for the town of Bruno, my bike started acting up and I KNEW I was running out of gas so at the bottom of the hill I flipped my Pingel petcock to reserve and it was able to pick up the gas without stalling out. After riding nine miles on reserve we pulled into the first station we saw. Gabe reached over and grabbed something off my bike. Apparently, I had lost my motor mount bolt and the chrome acorn nut was still riding on the motor mount! We continued to fuel both bikes up and when he went to start his Shovel, it backfired and blew the carburetor off! I then had to pull my bike up as he continued to try and fix his. A cool guy named Bones came over and was commenting that he had seen my bike in several magazines but that it looked much better in person! As Gabe continued to work, I pulled a couple of Allen wrenches out of my leg bag so that he was able to get the work done quicker. Another guy came over during this and he told Gabe that he had a Flathead motor sitting on his bench. That, of course, got Gabe’s interest so he gave him a card. You know you can never have too many bikes!
After Gabe got his bike fixed, we decided that we needed to make our way back home and not take the chance of any more problems as darkness would be setting in shortly. Riding an old bike may not always be as convenient or even as reliable as a newer one, but it is the unexpected things that happen that always make the trip memorable. With the great roads and the awesome scenery, even with the minor breakdowns, I was still able to come back home renewed and refreshed. My motto is “Old Iron Never Dies”, but I have to say sometimes it does break down!
I was excited and confident going into round 4 of ASMA. Saturday’s practice was super-hot. The track temp was 140 Degrees and the traction was greasy. I knew this weekend was not the weekend I’d be able to get the 250 CW lap record. I ran old race tires on Saturday to conserve my race tires for Sunday. I must admit, I had a blast sliding around everywhere. Riding Motocross has defiantly helped with bike feel and confidence.
As I was getting ready for Sunday Morning Warm up, my dad rolled in with his Moto Van and my 2015 KTM RC 390. We planned on putting the new K TECH Rear shock on and some Q3+’s and trying to go out in a few races to get some riding time on it before Laguna. Unfortunately, we had some problems getting the Rear shock on so I had to Race the Ninja 250 in 3 of the 4 races I entered.
My first race was 300 Superbike, I got the Holeshot into the kink and put my head down. I looked back and saw Roger Stalking me. He was not making any moves so I suspected he was studying me till he made his move on the last lap. The last lap came around and I ran into some lappers, I passed them on the outside of turn 2 but it let Roger Heemsbergen get close enough to draft me on the back straight. He waved as he passed, I wasn’t going to let him beat me so I made a risky pass under braking on the outside into turn 3. I ended up finishing 1st in that race.
My second race of the day was Ultralightweight GP, this direction was hard to get up front against the R3’s the first lap due to the straightaway being close together. I got a great start and was in 2nd behind Art on his R3. I made quick work of trying to pass him and by the end of the 2nd lap, I started to create a gap from 2nd. I lead the rest of the race to a win.
The next race was Southwest Thunder/500 CUP, I got a great start again and found myself in 2nd behind Art. I passed him as soon as I could and put my head down. I had a pretty lonely race in 1st so I just focused on having fun and hitting my marks. I remember tucking in on the back-strait visioning what I will do in turn 4 and just smiling because I was excited to just rail the corner (lol). I ended up with a Win in that race as well.
My last race of the day was Formula 500, the money race. I was leading the championship going into this race. However, my dad had just finished putting the tires on the KTM and put the warmers on at 1st call. I decided to ride the KTM to get some laps on it before Laguna. I figured the Motoamerica Laguna Round was more important than leading the championship so I lined up on the KTM without riding it for over a year. The Suspension was the same as the CUP spec I raced on in 2016. As you can imagine it was super soft being set up for a 100-pound rider (I’m 140 without gear now). I didn’t get a good start at all, I was in 4th on the back strait. The bike was very unstable, it was wobbling in the corners and under braking. I was slower on the KTM then I was on the Ninja 250. I managed to get a 3rd and salvaged some points for the championship. Coming back into the pits after the 9 lap race I was honestly pissed off, I’m such a different rider then I was in 2016 and I expected to be faster on the KTM. After cooling off and the adrenaline wearing off I was starting to think clearly again. I realized that was my first 9 laps on the bike in over a year and the suspension is way too soft. Think now, I’m glad we realized how bad it was now before Practice at Laguna. We’re hoping to get some track time on it within the next few weeks if the suspension is done by then. I’m confident we will get some good testing done before Laguna and help our confidence with the bike going into the big race.
Indian Motorcycle and Jared Mees have proven themselves an unstoppable force in American Flat Track. The reigning champion has bested all comers so far and last weekend at the Sacramento Mile, Indian swept the front row in qualifying and took the top seven spots in the 25-lap main event.
In fact, Mees has now won every race so far this season (though he was disqualified post-race from Round 2 for an illegally modified tire), a season that has already featured all four of the course types encountered on the calendar: short track, half-mile, one-mile, and the season opening TT event in Florida (TT courses must include at least one jump and one right turn). So who can stop him?
Jared Mees is absolutely dominating the 2018 American Flat Track Twins class. Photo: Johnny Killmore
At the beginning of this year all eyes were on Mees’ Indian teammate Bryan Smith, who beat him to the championship in 2016. A crash and subsequent broken leg put Smith out for three weeks, missing two races and sending him to Sacramento still recovering. Interestingly, the challenge to Mees so far has been from privateer teams, who have been purchasing Indian’s FTR750 directly and rounding up what sponsorship they can. At Sacramento it was Jeffrey Carver and Kenny Coolbeth Jr. who applied the pressure, at least early on. Flat track has traditionally been a place where a well-funded private team can challenge all comers, so it’s nice to see this tradition still alive and well.
Indian was no doubt pleased with the front row at Sacramento not to mention having the top-seven spots go to Indian mounted riders. The only chink in their armor was seeing two privateer FTR750’s grenade their engines, one of them while leading. Photo: Johnny Killmore
The Sacramento Mile in particular calls back to that bygone slice of Americana that so many people wax poetically about. It takes place at Cal Expo in conjunction with the county fair, with the outside steel fence of the horse racing track covered with hay bales and plywood. But just as race bikes are starting to wear more carbon fiber, the corners have modern air fence in front of the hay bales as well. Not all progress is a bad thing.
Fortunately, no one tested the barriers this weekend and the course provided a smooth and consistent surface all night, especially after the bumpy and dusty conditions racers had to battle in Arizona the week prior. The stands were packed like I hadn’t seen in years, but many people came later in the day to catch the races. They ended up missing quite a bit.
Before the event even began there was hooligan racing Friday night in nearby Rancho Cordova. People on heavy street bikes battling each other on a tight track? What could go wrong? Nothing if you’re a spectator.
But at the track Saturday there was a vintage invitational race that brought out about a half-dozen gorgeous machines, ranging from pre-war bikes with hand-shifters and no rear suspension up to 1950’s-era Knucklehead Harleys. There was also a vendor area which, though sparse compared to years past, still managed an excellent meet-and-greet with several flat track legends. It was a chance to hear war stories from racers who ran on tracks that have long been paved over for housing developments. Combining these stories with the sound of vintage thunder was a rare treat.
The Vintage Invitational brought about a half-dozen machines out from different eras, letting fans see and hear the bygone days, alive in all their glory. Photo: Johnny Killmore
Indians, Harley-Davidson’s, and Triumphs were among the field for the Vintage Invitational. George Willis (#6) won the race on his Dodge Brothers-sponsored Indian. Photo: Johnny Killmore
Much like in the old days, several bikes ran into tuning issues. Here Roy Taboada II (#27T) re-enters the track after losing power. The bike stuttered along and he held on for 4th.Photo: Johnny Killmore
In between races there was an autograph session where fans could cross to the infield paddock to meet riders and see the bikes up close. It was great to see the area crowded with fans and I noticed a major uptick in the elusive 20-something motorcycle enthusiast that everyone in the industry is struggling to find.
With flat track having an old-school vibe while also being featured in the X-Games, it’s a great place to find everyone from college kids to grandpa’s, all grabbing an over-priced hot dog and beer. Speaking of beer, 805 Brewery ran an afterparty as well, which was a great chance to recap the night’s exploits and wait out the fairground traffic jam.
Photo: Kate Kriebel
The paddock are for the vintage bikes was a mix of gray hair and purple hair. Old bikes bring everyone to the yard. Photo: Johnny Killmore
But everyone came to see racing, and racing is what they got. Jared Mees won his heat race and was fast qualifier for the 25-lap main event, so it surprised many to see Jeffrey Carver jump to the lead and begin creating a gap. But Carver has been at the front most of the year, riding an old XR750 Harley as well as the new Indian FTR750 to multiple podiums. Despite the early speed, Carver’s race literally went up in smoke when the Indian’s motor lost power on the way to turn 1.
Jeffrey Carver (#23) lost power suddenly while leading the main event early. Photo: Johnny Killmore
This handed the lead to none other than Kenny Coolbeth Jr. The three-time national champ moved from the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson last year to Nila Racing, a privateer team using the Indian FTR750. Despite being new to the bike Coolbeth was on fire and cleared the field with the exception of Jared Mees, who began to run Coolbeth down.
A back-and-forth battle at 135mph began. With a very narrow blue groove of rubber laid down, the racing line called for inch-perfect positioning and micro-second timing in order to make a pass stick, but within a few laps Mees took the lead and opened a slight gap.
Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (#2) fought Jared Mees to the bitter end, coming up only 0.018 seconds short of the win on his Nila Racing Indian FTR750. Photo: Johnny Killmore
Mees’ tire began to fall off though and he came back under pressure with less than 10-laps to go. The pressure Coolbeth was putting on the leader also allowed Bryan Smith a chance to close in from 3rd place. Smith got a terrible start and spent the first half of the race battling in a five-bike group. By the time he got to 3rd there was nearly a full straightaway gap to the leaders, but instead of settling, Smith began a slow charge that saw him visibly gaining on the lead duo.
At this point it was a guess as to whether Coolbeth was biding his time for a last-turn pass or if he was giving it all he had just to stay with Mees. When Smith joined the lead pack the smart move for Coolbeth would have been making his move right away, avoiding any chance of being passed by Smith. Instead, the three bikes ran in lock-step for the final 4 laps, going three-wide on the final run to the checkers.
Jared Mees (#1) and Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (#2) pushed each other for most of the race. Photo: Johnny Killmore
Mees held off the attack by a meager 0.018 second, leaving Coolbeth in second and Bryan Smith another 0.234 seconds back from Coolbeth. That’s your entire podium, covered by a quarter of a second. The finish rightly earned a standing cheer (more like a roar) from the grandstands.
Want to see what 0.018 seconds looks like at 135mph? Me too, but you can’t run a camera’s shutter speed fast enough to catch in at night. Blur one beats blur 2 under the lights at Sacramento. Photo: Johnny Killmore
But despite the closeness of it, Mees has continued his dominance. Bryan Smith’s eight-in-a-row streak at Sacramento has finally been broken, but it took a broken femur to slow down the “Mile Master.” He proved his pace by recovering from a bad start and running down the lead pair in the waning laps. With five of the next six events being mile races, perhaps Smith can be the first to break Mees’ stride this year?
May 26th will feature the famous Springfield TT, but only the Singles class will be there. This leaves the Springfield Mile on May 27th as the next time we will see the Twins in action. In 2017 Bryan Smith managed a 0.005 second win over Jared Mees and the famous oval’s unique, wide-radius turns make passing both into and out of the corners much easier than at Sacramento. A win at the Illinois track is also highly prized by flat trackers. With the clay oval hosting motor-racing events since 1910, the track has a storied history in both car and motorcycle sport.
If not there, then racers have three Mile events in June to take a shot at dethroning Mees. Jeffrey Carver Jr. has been close several times and must be hungry for his first win in the series. Smith will be looking to reestablish himself as the leading contender for the top spot, and Kenny Coolbeth Jr. is as motivated as any time in his career to put more wins under his steel shoe.
Your Sacramento Mile Podium: third place Bryan Smith (right) second place Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (left), and winner Jared Mees (center). Photo: Johnny Killmore
Check the full schedule here and be sure to catch a race in person. Also remember the entire series is being broadcast on NBCSN with a one-week delay and a live webcast of every event is available for free streaming at Fanschoice.tv.
Let’s not forget the Singles class, where defending champ Kolby Carlile, “The Flying Tomato,” took on all comers for the win. Photo: Johnny Killmore
KTM will be bringing their 790cc parallel twin to flat track in 2019. Here we see the old LC8, a 950cc street-bike V-twin that propelled Shawn Baer to 12th in the main event.
Photo: Johnny Killmore
Watching world-class motorcycle racing always makes me wonder what “could have been” if I was given the opportunity to race at a younger age (a girl can dream, right?). From an outsider’s perspective, the speed, skills, gear and equipment needed to go racing seems daunting and unrealistic for the average joe. The riders we see competing for championships on television all have one thing in common: they started very young. The world they live in is different than ours – no 9 to 5, no confusion when someone says the word “suspension setup” or panic when considering the risk of breaking every bone in the human body. And yet, even for me at the ripe age of 33, the idea of racing for glory is enticing regardless of my lack of experience. To my surprise and excitement, racing on a local level is much more attainable than first impressions have always made it seem. After a weekend following a new racer around and helping out every step of the way, I learned a welcome lesson: as long as your goal is to simply have fun and experience the thrill of racing, it can be done relatively easily and on a small budget.
Step One: Find your Local Track
“Local” is a loose term here. I am fortunate enough to live in a city with a small road racing course right on the edge of town. The motorcycle racing community there is made up of people from all over the state and beyond – some drive upwards of 6 hours to get to the track for a race weekend. When doing an online search for tracks across the USA, I found that the possibilities are endless and are only limited by the amount of travel time you are willing and able to endure.
Step Two: Earn your Race License
This is going to be different for every organization, but the general process is usually the same. The best part is, you don’t need ANY track experience to sign up. In fact, some people learn how to ride on the racetrack rather than in a parking lot or on the street.
Here’s how easy it is to get started:
A. Search the online calendar for new racer school at your chosen track.
B. Sign up for new racer school and pay the fee (SMRI was $180 and covered the entire weekend of instruction, track time, and even included entry fees for two races on Sunday).
C. Follow the list of requirements for your bike and your gear to go on track.
D. Attend new racer school – usually a mixture of classroom and guided track time.
E. Participate in the mock race and don’t crash. Pass the written test.
DONE! Race license earned. Simpler than you thought, right?
Step Three: Race!
Seriously, this is the easiest part. Learn the schedule, be ready to ride, listen to the P.A. calls, head to the staging area, do a sighting lap, grid up… and then go fast until you see a checkered flag. At this point you already know all the rules and have been riding the track for an entire day so the only difference is that more people are watching and there’s probably a little more adrenaline flowing through your veins this time around. Just relax, hang on and have fun!
Equipment Requirements – Who Can Afford THAT?
As I walked through the pits on Saturday and Sunday, one thing became extremely obvious: your level of participation is completely up to you. From the comfort of your camp to the modifications on your motorcycle, you decide how far to take it. Want to spend the weekend in a top-of-the-line RV Toy Hauler with a full working shower and kitchen, complete with custom shade canopies and dog pens, three highly-modified sportbikes, two ergonomic zero-gravity lounge chairs and one infrared grill with filet mignon and lobster tails for dinner? Bring it. If that’s not in your budget, have no fear. Some racers spent the whole weekend in the back of a truck or a rented open trailer and simply borrowed shade from their pit neighbors – and won races. Completely acceptable, welcome, and highly recommended if you aren’t looking to spend a fortune. The choice is yours.
The “huge list” of necessary bike modifications needed to go on-track is actually very small. You can get your street-legal bike ready for the track in about one hour. If you are unsure of what to do or how to do it, wait until the morning of your track day and ask someone for help. I guarantee you will be blown away by the level of camaraderie and the sense of community you will feel at the track. There is a ton of information online and in magazines on prepping for the track. From tire suggestions to creature comforts, if you seek it out, the information and advice will flow freely. How do you repay those who have helped you out? Pitch in where you can and pay it forward when you have the chance. You’re part of the family now!
Like the old saying goes, “You never know until you try.” Here’s to the racer inside us all – good luck and godspeed!