The weather forecasts were pretty dire, especially as I was planning on riding my 1949 Harley bobber with no front fender in the predicted heavy rains. Just before the start of our 2012 Motorcycle Kickstart Classic ride, most of North Carolina had been thoroughly saturated with six consecutive days of heavy rain and occasional thunder and hail, not exactly what a motorcycle ride planner looks forward to.
This would be only our second Motorcycle Kickstart Classic. The first, in October 2011, was a two-day, 350-mile ride from Wheels Through Time (WTT) in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, to the Barber museum outside Birmingham, Alabama. We overnighted at Panhead City in Rome, Georgia, which was a great experience for everybody. We had a great turnout of classic bikes and talented riders. Everyone seemed to like the two-day format, so we did something similar for 2012. Again, we started at WTT, but this time we overnighted at Crossroads Harley-Davidson in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and ended at the Denton, North Carolina, AMCA swap meet the next day. We rode over some of the most amazing, motorcycle-friendly roads through stunning countryside the entire way. We even had a police escort (planned in advance) to Crossroads Harley after a full day of riding up the Blue Ridge Parkway.
One of the riders, having followed my exploits on the Motorcycle Cannonball cross-country ride, described the Motorcycle Kickstart Classic as “a working man’s Motorcycle Cannonball.” After riding with all these great old bikes and hanging out with the riders on this two-day ride, I have to agree with him.
We had some pretty interesting people and machines along for this ride. Pete Hill, a world-class drag racer, rode his dual-carb Knucklehead bobber. At 80 years old, he was the oldest rider, but was on what was probably the fastest bike. When chatting with Pete at the opening ceremony, I asked him what the fastest he’d ever ridden a Knucklehead was. He replied that it was 190 mph. One of the guys in the crowd asked if he did that at Bonneville. Pete smiled and replied, “No, I did this in the standing quarter mile at the drag strip.” His best quarter mile was 190 mph in a hair over seven seconds on a top-fuel Knucklehead.
Other interesting riders and bikes include Dale Walksler and his son Matt, both on hot-rod Harley flathead 80″ bobbers. Mike “Kiwi” Tomas rode his US Coast Guard-themed Indian Chief all the way from outside Los Angeles for our ride — and then went on to Washington DC for the Rolling Thunder event. I rode my 1949 dual-carb Panhead bobber that I built more than a decade ago, but seldom ride. And, of course, no one will likely ever forget Bert Baker, his wild antics, or his beautiful custom Panhead. You’ll have to ask someone who was there for details — mention a hot dog. There was a great assortment of machines — classic and custom, Harley Panheads and Knuckleheads, a few flatheads and Shovels, a handful of Indian Chiefs, and six or seven old import motorcycles, too.
Many spent the day before the ride fine-tuning bikes, as well as exploring the amazing WTT museum and great riding roads in the Maggie Valley/Cherokee area. I wanted to check the clutch and brakes on my Panhead so, along with Paul Ousey on his hot-rod Knucklehead bobber, “Boston” Larry on his 1949 Panhead, and “Doc” McCormick on an old BMW, we rode up and over the mountain to have lunch at a local barbeque joint in Cherokee. Back at the museum, we watched as bikes continuously pulled in all afternoon. Our buddy Steve from the Holiday Diner manned the grill and ensured that all the hungry bikers were well-fed.
Thursday morning, we gathered for a group photo, then at 10 am sharp, about 60 motorcycles, mostly older ones with kickstarters, rolled out of the WTT parking lot with Matt and Dale Walksler in the lead on their bobbers. We rode out of Maggie Valley and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, which we followed for about 200 miles up and into the mountains of western North Carolina. If you have not ridden this route, I highly recommend it. But you need to keep your wits about you and stay focused; the roads are not only twisty, but built into the side of a mountain range with a steep drop off on the outside.
All in all, I have to compliment the riders, who obviously have some pretty impressive riding skills to carry so much speed through such twisty roads on these old drum-brake bikes. An hour or so out from Wilkesboro, we met up with a welcome party from the Wilkesboro HOG chapter who were pretty blown away by our machines. Within a half hour of Crossroads Harley-Davidson in Wilkesboro, we were met by a preplanned police escort. It was fun riding behind the police car with flashing lights, but we had to ride hard to keep up to his pace well over the speed limit.
With our bikes parked for the night, the party moved to the hotel parking lot where we kicked tires, swapped stories, drank some beer, and did some fine-tuning on the bikes for the next day.
Leaving from Crossroads Harley-Davidson Friday morning, we had a shorter 150-mile ride to the Denton AMCA National meet. About 10 miles out, we met up with one of the Denton show managers who led us in to the wonderful fairground through the back door. Apparently, they had announced we were coming over the PA system, so by the time our group rolled in for a lap of the fairgrounds, there were hundreds of people lined up with still and video cameras as we rolled by, having covered more than 350 miles in the last two days to get there.
My hat is off to the people who put on the Denton show — first class facilities, lots of room, and genuine Southern hospitality everywhere. On Saturday, the show puts on a rolling show of as many classic motorcycles as possible. Dale was handed the microphone (always a fun thing to do) and lined up as many as a hundred old bikes. Each one in turn fired up and rolled to the announcer stand where Dale shared some info on the particular bike, and let the thousands of people there see and hear these wonderful old bikes run.
After the parade, the AMCA offered field events, where I was surprised only a handful of people entered. I figured why not, and gave it a shot myself on an old Harley flathead. I wasn’t last in all the events, but pretty close to it. I had lots of fun making public my lack of talent, and was blown away by some of the skills out there. Matt and Dale, on the other hand, were so good I am convinced they practice these skills frequently. That night, I had the honor of being the guest speaker at the banquet. We handed out free copies of American Iron Magazine and I invited fellow Motorcycle Cannonball riders Paul Ousey and Jim Petty to share some of their experiences and answer questions about what it was like to ride pre-1916 motorcycles across the US two years ago.
Thanks to BAKER Drivetrain for sponsoring this event, as well as to the people at Wheels Through Time, Crossroads Harley-Davidson, and the AMCA members at the Denton Southern National. This ride would not have been as great as it was without all of you!
In response to those who ask what’s next, we haven’t yet made plans, but there will be at least one Motorcycle Kickstart Classic in 2013. You can stay updated on the American Iron Magazine web site at AIMag.com and/or our Classic American Iron site at CAIMag.com. AIM
MOTORCYCLE EVENT By Buzz Kanter
CLICK HERE to register for the 2013 Kickstart Classic, May 15 – 16
The Spring 2013 Motorcycle Kickstart Classic is a 2-day event on public roads open to riders
of all makes and years of motorcycles. It starts in Charleston, SC May 15, and ends in
St. Augustine, FL May 16.
For official Kickstart Classic t-shirts visit www.GreaseRag.com.