Sunday, June 6, 2010

Flats and Pans at the Red River Rally

It's a Burrus tradition to spend Memorial Day weekend at the Red River bike rally. For a few days in May, the small, traffic light-free town turns into a biker oasis. The Red River Memorial Day rally draws close to 50,000 bikes and is one of America's top 25 rallies.

This year I spotted some really cool vintage bikes amidst the thousands of stock Harleys, a slew of Goldwings, and a spattering of "Hollywood Choppers." I dig the old bikes because when I see one of them out on the road I know the owner is more than likely very mechanically savvy. Those owners are also really cool to talk to because they tend to be older, and have more to talk about than custom handlebar grips and chrome.

Below are a couple of the bikes I stood around at Red River while their owners told me tales of epic breakdowns, wrecks, and 6 volt problems.

Up first is this killer 1947 Harley Flathead. This was my first time to ever see one of these things in person. What makes this bike so killer? Well, this is one of Harley's first big twin engines that predates modern engines (Evo's) by over 40 years. Just imagine cruising down the road on a motorcycle that's over 60 years old! Super cool. For its age, the bike is immaculate. It's a kick-started, hand-shifted, springer-frontended masterpiece of early big twin design. I chatted with the owner a bit while he fiddled with some little springs inside an old something or other part of the bike. I never really understood what he was doing, but he said on a 500+ mile ride he'll usually have to pull out the wrenches a few times before he gets where he's going. Rest assured, I ran into him at Red River where he entered his bike in the vintage class bike show.

This next bike is a 1963 Harley Panhead Electra Glide. The bike is a far cry from the modern Electra Glides you see cruising around today. Back then there were no front or rear fairings, no comfy seat for the misses, and definitely no radio/CD players. The real advancement with this bike was the electric start, hence the name. However, as the owner told me, you can't always count on that electric starter so the kicker pedal remains as a trusty standby. The solo seat is not original to the bike, neither are the saddlebags. The owner explained that after being rear-ended in the mid-'70s he couldn't find or afford the stock replacement tailpipes, seat, or bags, so he stripped them off a Sportster and made them work.

I think the bike looks great and wouldn't have know anything wasn't stock (minus the bullet hole stickers) unless he'd told me. One of my favorite things about this bike is the exposed oil filter on the right side. I figure back then Harley wasn't as concerned with hiding away or chrome plating all the unglamorous components of their motorcycles. Like the guy with the Flathead, this man entered and later won bike show in the vintage class. He said the judges liked his original paint. The man also told me that professional painters have offered to paint the bike for free, but he continually turns them down. Can't blame him.

And lastly I'll leave ya'll with an image of my own "old" bike. My Virago 1100cc is only 15 years old now, but it does meet one vintage requirement: it's discontinued, meaning it takes me a week to get parts for it...when I can find them.

Here I'm just leaving the Palisades Sill in Cimmaron Canyon. For all of you who knew my Dad, next time you're cruising by this spot be sure to pull over, walk down by the river, and say a few words to Dad. My family and I scattered his ashes here during the rally, giving new meaning to Memorial Day. It was his favorite spot on the way to his favorite rally.