Sons of Speed From A Racer’s View

Professionally I am a motojournalist. For fun I am a vintage motorcycle enthusiast. And I was able to combine the two this past week at the first ever Sons of Speed race at the tail end of Daytona Bike Week. As the only journalist crazy enough to get out on a high banked race track on a 100-year-old motorcycle with no brakes, suspension, transmission or clutch, I wanted to share some of my experiences and observations here. Most journalists hang around the pits or track looking for a good story, I wanted to experience racing Sons of Speed for myself.

Buzz Kanter being interviewed with his 1915 Harley racer at the first ever Sons of Speed races at New Smyrna Speedway

I will be going into a lot more detail about the behind the scenes and actual Sons of Speed races in the pages of American Iron Magazine, but I wanted to share a bit of the story here and now.

These motorcycles are all direct drive, meaning if the engine is running, the rear wheel is spinning. So we could not practice anywhere but literally on the track. The first day of practice we all were trying to figure out how to ride the bikes and the fastest way around the track. We’d push the bike up on the high banking – often with the spearkplugs out to make pushing easier. Then we roll down the banking to spin the engine enough to start. The starting was brutal on the bike and rider as you are trying to balance the bike and get it to fire as you lift up your feet and get them on the pegs.

Rhett Rotten sliding out at the Sons of Speed practice. He broke 2 ribs and was back racing the next day

To our surprise there was only one accident on the track. And that was when Rhett Rotten, a Wall of Death rider, suffered a rear tire blow out. He and the bike slid, jumped and bounced down the track at close to 60+ mph. He broke two ribs and after a visit to the local hospital was back on the track for the races.

All the Sons of Speed racers on race day. Notice the crowded stands.

When we finally got out to race Saturday, they had us in four heat races. The plan was the winners of the four move to the finals. And the 2nd place racers in each heat raced for a spot in the main.

I am not going to go blow by blow here, but in the first heat Billy Lane jumped out at the start and took the lead with me following and two others behind me.

Buzz Kanter (white leathers) and Billy Lane (black leathers) at the Sons of Speed races.

I was able to stay within 10 bike lengths or so of Billy until the last lap when I was able to slide past him and hold the lead for the win.

Made it to the main where I was able to hold on to 4th place with Brittney Olsen taking the win with her fast bike and smooth riding. Full report with lots more photos in an upcoming issue of American Iron Magazine. If you don’t currently subscribe, do it now to make sure you get the issue with the race coverage AND save money too. SUBSCRIBE & SAVE

TV Two Cam – 1929 Harley JDH on History Channel’s American Restoration

1920 JDH Two Cam

Buzz’s 1929 Harley JDH Two Cam was featured on an episode of History Channel’s American Restoration.

Text by Dale Walksler
Photos by Jim Dohms

I have always liked a challenge, and this is a great one — a worn out 87-year-old bike and only 45 days to rebuild it in front of a TV audience. To be seen on History Channel’s American Restoration, this is a behind the scenes look at what was involved in redoing this rare old Harley.

This wasn’t the first time my old friend and fellow motorcycle enthusiast Buzz Kanter has thrown a challenge at me. It’s hard to remember all the projects Buzz and I have worked on over the decades, but the reward is always a great motorcycle project, fun with old friends, and some ink in American Iron Magazine (AIM).

My guess is that most Harley riders have no idea what a Harley JDH is or represents. They look like single-cam Harley JDs, but less than 2,000 higher-performance JDHs were ever made. They were fast and reliable machines, and many were ridden hard, abused, and worn out. Eventually they became all but extinct. The few surviving examples have been scooped up by collectors, with the best selling for well over $100,000.

1929 Harley JDH before restoration

Buzz’s 1929 JDH before it got the American Restoration treatment.

Buzz bought his first JDH, a rough and rusty rolling basket case in a basement, in 1992 and immediately fell in love with these rare old motorcycles. In 2012, he rode one from New York to San Francisco on the Motorcycle Cannonball. So you know he has plenty of experience with JDH Harleys. But those are stories for another time.

What we began with on the TV show was actually a pretty good start for a project. It looked funky, but it was all there and in fair running condition. Because we had a tight production schedule to get this bike finished, it became an exercise in precise calculating of which parts got what finishes. It had to look good when finished, but we did not have the luxury of waiting for plating and painting.

If you saw the show (almost a million households viewed the first airing), you know some of this already. Bob, Buzz, and I quickly and efficiently tore it down in the Wheels Through Time workshop. We had it apart in less than an hour. Then, for the first time I can remember, I chased Buzz out of the workshop and told him to come back in a month to see the finished project. Then the real work began.

Bob White and I discovered that the frame and the forks were bent, which was pretty common — remember that these machines were raced, and that means crashed. Fortunately, we had a genuine 1920s Harley frame table at the museum workshop for just this reason. Once straightened, we sent the frame and fork out for paint. John Dills painted the components in a luscious two-tone maroon that Buzz had picked out. We tossed most of the crappy and mismatched nuts and bolt hardware and replaced a lot of it with leftover nickel nuts and bolts from a recent Crocker and other old bike projects.

1929 Harley JDH Two Cam stop taillight

Dale’s sense of humor is evident in this wrinkle to the restoration.

While waiting for the frame and fork to come back from painting, we stripped the tanks for inspection. They were worse than expected, so we opted for replacement tanks with welded seams from Tom Feezer of Replicant Metals in Pennsylvania.

Since the name of the show is American Restoration, all the parts had to either be repainted or replated. My pals at Plating Specialties in Michigan handled this in short order. I am thankful they cleaned the parts prior to plating, saving me the 20-plus hours that I did not have to spare.

1929 Harley JDH

Back to some of the details on this 1929 Harley. The front wheel had a massive British brake from the 1960s. Harley started offering front brakes in 1928, and they were less than inspiring. So this is a welcome improvement. And the forks are Harley, but from a much earlier year, meaning it does not handle like a 1929 road bike. In fact, matching up this older front end and tighter frame geometry makes it handle more like a 1940s dirt track 750 Harley racer, as Buzz was going to learn on his first ride. Next up was the handlebars, which have seen many variations over the years. I contacted Tom Faber, who makes bars for Harleys manufactured from 1909 to the 1950s. I use Tom’s bars on many of my bikes. They have never failed and have always been perfect.

Something happened to us that you won’t see on the TV show. Running tight on time with the painting and plating, we worked long hours to get the job done. It was all coming together when we almost lost it late one night while installing the most critical visual part: the right gas tank.

Want to find out what happened? Find out in American Iron Magazine Issue 338!

Also available in digital format CLICK HERE American Iron Digital

Be sure to check out the work of award-winning photographer Jim Dohms, a regular contributor to AIM, while you’re at it! 

1929 Harley JDH Two Cam on American Restoration

Dale kept Buzz in suspense and didn’t let him see the restoration job on his 1929 JDH Two Cam until the very last minute.

Motorcycle Cannonball 2016 Video – Stage 5 Start

Runnin’ Rabbits Films captures the start of Stage 5 of the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball Run as riders set out from Bloomington, Indiana.

Day 3 Motorcycle Cannonball – American Iron Report

This event for 1916 or older motorcycles to ride across the US from Atlantic City, NJ to Carlsbad, CA looks to be the toughest one yet. The first Motorcycle Cannonball (2010) was for 1915 and older bikes from Kitty Hawk, NC to Santa Monica, CA. The second one was in 2012, for motorcycles 1929 and older, from New York to San Francisco, CA. And the third one was Daytona Beach, FL to Tacoma, WA for up to 1936 motorcycles.

Motorcycle Cannonball riders do whatever it takes to get in the miles each day, including pushing up the underpowered Class I bikes up the steeper hills.

Motorcycle Cannonball riders do whatever it takes to get in the miles each day, including pushing up the underpowered Class I bikes up the steeper hills.

This year, the age of the bikes was dropped back to 1916 or older, so all motorcycles are at least 100 years old. Scoring is pretty basic, the rider gets a point for every mile he or she (3 women riders started the event, including American Iron Magazine columnist Cris Sommer Simmons) rides on the course and during the allocated time. If the bike is picked up and trailered 15 miles, he or she loses 15 points. In take by 10 minutes at the end of the day – you lose 10 points.

Bill Rodencel is riding a boardtrack-styled Class II Harley with 2 cylinders and a single speed.

Bill Rodencel is riding a boardtrack-styled Class II Harley with 2 cylinders and a single speed.

Class I bikes are single-cylinder, single-speeds, Class II is multi-cylinder single-speeds, and Class III is multi-cylinder and multi-speed transmissions. In the event of a tie, the older bike scores higher, then Class I beats Class II and Class II beats Class III. If there is still a tie, the older rider scores higher than the younger one.  Got it?

This year’s event has been the most challenging yet with many seasoned riders already dropping out of the event with mechanical problems they can’t fix. Typically the riders fix the machines on the side of the road or at the host hotel’s parking lot at night. One of the biggest issues here is the lack of available parts for bikes this old, and many of the riders wanted the edge of older machines if possible as they score higher.

Second place (at the end of Day 3) Frank Westfell rolling the day's route sheet into the route holder on his 1912 Henderson. Each rider gets the next days route and needs to load it on his or her

Second place (at the end of Day 3) Frank Westfell rolling the day’s route sheet into the route holder on his 1912 Henderson. Each rider gets the next day’s route and needs to load it on his or her “1916 GPS.” Electronic maps and devices are not allowed.

At the end of Day 3 of the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball, the top 5 riders, in order, are:

#1 Dean Bordigioni on a Class I 1914 Harley

#2 Frank Westfall on a Class II 1912 Henderson (he is reported to have bounced off an 18-wheeler truck yestarday but got in with full points)

#3 Mark Loewen on a Class II 1912 Excelsior

#4 Bryne Nramwell on a Class II 1913 Henderson

#5 Fred Wacker on a Class II 1913 Indian.

Of the 89 machines to officiall start the event this year, only 27 are still holding full points at the end of Day 3.

CLASSIC AMERICAN IRON NEWS! 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball off to Difficult Start

The 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball, a coast to coast endurance ride for motorcycles at least 100 years or older, started with real issues. I have ridden in all three prior Cannonballs and opted out of this one. However I did ride down to the start of this year’s event with my Cannonball partner Paul Ousey. We were surprised at some of what we saw.

On day one, the Cannonballers had to ride four or five miles from the host hotel to the boardwalk for the official start of the event. I saw four Cannonball bikes on the side of the road with mechanical issues and the event had not really even started yet!

Some of the bikes at the start of the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball

Some of the bikes at the start of the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball

At least two of the bikes at the start did not even cross the starting line on the first day. Mechanical issues seemed to plague the machines and they had thousands of miles in front of them.

I have heard reports of multiple break downs and other mechanical problems on the first day, including one racer’s bikes (a 1916 Harley Twin) catching fire.

1914 Harley Twin on fire day one of the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball

John Pfeifer’s 1916 Harley Twin burst into flame after  a rocker arm reportedly broke and the pushrod punctured the gas tank on Day One of the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball.

Nearly a third of the all motorcycles that started the Motorcycle Cannonball on Day One ended up in trucks or trailers – including seasoned Cannonball riders. Not a good way to start the competition.

If anyone thinks a ride like the Motorcycle Cannonball is easy, you are badly mistaken. This is tough on the rider and the machine. We at American Iron Magazine salute our riders and wish you luck in this tough event. More details and results to follow as we get them. – Buzz Kanter, 3-time Motorcycle Cannonball rider 

2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering Photo Essay

1949 Indian Arrow 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering winner

This immaculate 1949 Indian Arrow won first place in the American category at the 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering.

It was an excess of riches, a treasure trove of motorcycles and enthusiasts all gathered on the immaculate green grounds of the Quail Golf Course. The excess included almost 100 more bikes than last year, more tickets sold at the gate, and more stories shared. The 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering rewarded attendees with a wonderful cross-section of motorcycles, from 100-year-old boardtrackers to high tech electrics. Even the sun graced the event with a mid-afternoon blast of warmth. The cornucopia of collectibles definitely runneth over at the 8th annual Quail Gathering.

2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering

Craig Vetter made his first public appearance in 10 months since his accident at the 2016 Quail where the AMA awarded him the Lifetime Achievement Award.

There were some undoubtedly rich characters at this year’s event, visionaries and legends mingling amongst the crowds. Reg Pridmore shared racing anecdotes in a casual conversation with Quail headmaster Gordon McCall. Flat tracker extraordinaire Mert Lawwill engaged in chats with everyone who stopped by his booth with a smile. Cliff Vaughs, a talented man of many hats including designer of the original Easy Rider bikes, civil rights activist, film maker and one of the coolest cats around, made a cameo appearance. The 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering also saw motorcycle visionary Craig Vetter make his first public appearance in 10 months since a motorcycle accident with a deer almost took him out of the game. Vetter was awarded the AMA Doug Perkins Lifetime Achievement Award, and rightfully so.

Judges 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering

The judges had their work cut out for them with the high caliber of motorcycles at the 2016 Quail.

While you’ll have to wait for the full story on the 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering in a future issue of American Iron Magazine, here’s a few shots from the event to tide you over until then.

Keanu Reeves 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering

Keanu Reeves of Arch Motorcycle Co. talks shop at the 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering.

La Mani Moto 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering

There was no shortage of artistry in iron at the 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering.

Cliff Vaughs, the man who designed the original Easy Rider motorcycles, made a guest appearance at the 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering.

Cliff Vaughs, the man who designed the original Easy Rider motorcycles, made a guest appearance at the 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering.

American Iron Magazine Publisher Buzz Kanter On American Restoration TV Show

Our very own Buzz Kanter, Editor-in-Chioef of American Iron Magazine, is on this week’s American Restoration show on the History Channel this Friday, March 5 at 9 PM EST.

Buzz teams up with his old friend Dale Walksler of Wheels Through Time to tear apart Buzz’s very rare 1929 Harley JDH Two-Cam motorcycle. Buzz rode a different 1929 Harley JDH across the US from New York to San Francisco on the 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball endurance run.

You will not believe what Dale and his crew does with the bike in a month. It blew Buzz away and will amaze you too. Check it out this Friday March 5.

American Iron Magazine’s 2016 Motorcycle Kickstart Classic Ride

Details for the 2016 American Iron Magazine‘s Motorcycle Kickstart Classic have been finalized and it’s time for you to check your calendar and register for this fun and social motorcycle event.

Join Wheels Through Time‘s Dale Walksler of “American Restoration” and “What’s In The Barn TV” and Buzz Kanter of American Iron Magazine for a fun time and some great stories,

Join the classic motorcycle fun and some great people. Jim Dohms photo.

Join the classic motorcycle fun and some great people. Jim Dohms photo.

This 3 day event is on public roads and is open to riders of all makes (domestic or import) and years (antique, classic or modern) of motorcycles with electric or kick starters.

We have organized rides on some beautiful roads staying off the interstate highways.

This year’s event offers several excellent rides to choose from near Maggie Valley, NC on Friday July 29 and then we ride to Chesnee, SC. Saturday, July 30 to participate in the AMCA Legends Chapter’s Antiques on Main event. Swap meet, bike shows, Wall of Death and much more.

IMPORTANT FACTS • $100 pre-registration (each rider and each passenger). PLEASE NOTE, after June 28th, registration increases to $150 per person.

All registered riders and passengers receive passes to the Wheels Through Time museum, the free welcome dinner Thursday at Wheels Through Time, one event T-shirt as well as parking and sponsored dinner in Chesnee, SC.

Thursday July 28. 5 PM Free welcome dinner to all registered riders at Wheels Through Time museum in Maggie Valley, NC

Friday July 29. Group photo at 9am. All day and half day organized rides from Maggie Valley, NC. ending back in Wheels Through Time.

Saturday, July 30. 9 am Group ride to Chesnee, SC (back roads) to join up with the AMCA’s Legendary Chapter’s “Antique Bikes On Main.” Bike show, swapmeet, and hosted free dinner that night. Also Wall of Death, stunt riders, fireworks and more. Riders can stay overnight in Chesnee or ride back to Maggie Valley (3 hours on backroads, less than 2 1/2 hours by highway) Saturday afternoon.

Sunday July 31 (optional) Various motorcycle events in Chesnee, SC

For more information or to register for thie fun motorcycle event click on REGISTRATION FORM

Sponsored by American Iron Magazine, American Iron Garage magazine, Greaserag.com and Spectro Oils.

Harley In The Snow – Heck Yes With A Sidecar

So what’s a ride to do when the snow falls and sticks to the road? How about strapping a sidecar onto your Harley and bundle up for some winter fun.

That is what I did here in New England.

Classic Harley & Sidecar In The Snow

Classic Harley & Sidecar In The Snow

Granted, you have to be careful od slipping and sliding your Harley around on the packed snow and ice. And if salt is used on the roads, that can be a big problem too.  Up here in Vermont, where I have a vacation cabin in the woods, there is no salt.

If you are curious about this rig, it is a 1930 Harley V and Harley sidecar. I found it a few years ago sitting in a basement, where it had been for several years. We pulled it out and brough it to Retrocycle in Boonton, NJ. We removed the sidecar and put it aside as we focused on the antique Harley. We went through it top to bottom and followed the progress in the pages of our all-tech American Iron Garage magazine last year.

It did not take much to get it sorted out and runnign well. Then we re-installed the sidecar and got it registered. Now I can ride this rig pretty much year round. There are a few issues with sidecars, 1. They take up a lot more storage space. 2. The do not lean into turns, so you have to steer them with the handlebars. 3. You need to keep in mind how far the sidecar spreads to the right – especially when parking and riding close the the curb or trees.

Wall Street Jitters? Invest In Precious Metals – Classic Harley & Indian Motorcycles

Wall Street and Dow Jones Industrial Average got you worried? How about buying a classic Harley or vintage motorcycle?

This 1930s Harley VL & sidecar were recently pulled out of a basement after 10 years and put back on the road.

This 1930s Harley VL & sidecar were recently pulled out of a basement after sitting there for more than 10 years. It was cleaned up, sorted out and is now back on the road.

While most people think of gold and silver as the presious metals to invest in, we at American Iron Magazine would like to propose this is a great time to invest in a different kind of precious metal – classic motorcycles.

If you bought an original paint or well restored Harley Knucklehead, Indian Scout, or just about any pre-war classic American motorcycle five or ten years ago, your investment would be better than any oil stock. A lot better. And more fun too.

And to all the nay-sayers who say there are no more real barn finds out there, we are pleased to report you wrong. They are there, but you have to dig a bit harder to find them. But the reward is well worth the effort.

Before buying a classic motorcycle, we suggest you do your homework first. There are plenty of places to do this – on-line (try Classic American Iron) and in print (like in American Iron Magazine) and vintage motorcycle clubs.