The 26th Annual Hansen Dam British Bike Rally in Southern California
story and photography by Paul Garson
Last year rain pelted the event, but this year’s 26th Annual Hansen Dam Ride was drenched only in sunshine…and chrome. A record 500-plus bikes of all makes, models, sizes, colors and dispositions showed up for what was ostensibly an all-Brit shindig, as it’s put together by the Southern California Norton Owners Club (SCNOC). But everything on two (or even three) wheels was welcome to what’s known as the “best ride by a dam site!”
Originating in 1980 with sponsorship from the West Coast Triumph distributor Johnson Motors, for the past 15 years the Hansen Dam rally has been under the care of the Southern California Norton Owners Club. Along with classic Norton, Triumph, BSA, Velocette, Royal Enfield, AJS, Matchless, Ariel, Brough-Superior and Vincent thumpers and parallel twins, a posse of brand-new swoopy sportbikes and several custom Harleys showed up to take part in the nonpartisan, ride-what-you-brung event. We should note that the SCNOC has no officers, rulebooks or dues, which probably makes it one of the best bike clubs out there. Often leading the proceedings, bullhorn in hand and a Norton by his side, is the silver-bearded 65-year-old Bill “Bib” Bibbiani, a 20-plus-year SCNOC member and the Voice of the Hansen Dam Ride.
As an indication of the SCNOC’s unique style, its abiding sense of humor and level of dedication to the sport, we offer up a question and answer coined by one of its members, Sven Sandberg of Huntington Beach, California: “Why is the Norton club like Cuba? It’s led by a benevolent bearded dictator. It doesn’t have any elections. It depends on old vehicles. And it asks for donations.”
This year, posted on Bib’s Norton, was a photo of himself lying stretched out wearing shorts and helmetless on the seat of a 1962 Honda CB72 250cc he had bought new as a Marine infantry squad leader stationed at Pendleton. With his buddies in a ’51 Ford woody station wagon pacing him, he tried to match the ad that proclaimed the CB72 could hit 100 mph. Bib says he’s slowed down since, but we have our doubts. How was that new Dunlop rear tire wasted after just a day-and-a-half ride during the club’s California Wine Country tour earlier this year?
As for this year’s Hansen Dam ride, he sums up the annual event when he says, “It’s just a celebration of motorcycles. We don’t care what people ride. It’s a great day to get out on the road. I support it because it shows younger guys that hey, you can have a heckuva lot of fun on an older motorcycle, but it also encourages some of the older guys to get back into it.”
As for the 95-mile ride itself, the snarling, burbling pack rumbled out of Hansen Dam around 11 a.m. and wound its way up Little Tujunga, through Sand Canyon and Soledad Canyon to Acton, along the Angeles Forest Highway (with a stop at the Hidden Springs Café for its famous venison soup), then back through lower Big Tujunga to Foothill Boulevard and a return to Hansen Dam. Which, by the way, is located off the East 210 freeway at the Osborne Exit in a place officially called Lakeview Terrace, California. A couple of hours later the riders would meet up for the results of the bike show and tall-tale tossing.
While the event is focused on taking part in the ride, it was hard to leave the parking lot, which had turned into a museum on wheels. Hundreds of British, Italian, German, American, Japanese and a couple of Russian and Chinese sleds turned it into an international smorgasbord well beyond the herds of gnarly Nortons and troupes of tasty Triumphs. Just as interesting as the bikes were the owners, who come from both ends of the spectrum, all sharing a common passion. For example, long-timers Gary Boyle—who burbled to the rally on a ’75 750 Triumph along with his uncle Chuck Boyle on a 1962 Bonneville—and friend Al Anton on a ’76 Triumph Tiger. Along with crusty graybeards, the younger generation showed up as well. Rikki Rocket, for example, who plays for the band “Poison” and his lovely lady friend Helen, rolled in on a 2004 Triumph.
A blast from the past and present and a legend in Southern California, Sonny Nutter, rode in on his Triumph. Sonny was State Speedway Champion in 1969 and captain of a U.S. team that raced against the top Europeans. Meanwhile Tim “Merciless” Mings, a legend himself in AHRMA vintage bike racing, arrived on a Norton. Bill Getty, aka Mr. JRC, started out on a Norton, but gremlins required a return home for his trusty Trumpet. His company is a major supplier of vintage components for British bikes. For a change of pace, Peter Freiberger—another SoCal musician—chugged in on his pristine Ducati 900SS while Yoshi of The Garage Company, L.A.’s purveyors of classic motorcycles, showed up on a red, white and blue MV Agusta 750 America. British choppers were well represented by Dennis Mortensen and his 650 Bonneville—both are celebrating more than 30 years on the road. BMW rider Neal Zlozower cruised in on an elegant all-white 1967 R50/2 with his buddy James White joining him on a 1962 Triumph. Meanwhile Bruce “Bulbs Will Last 4 Ever” Branstad reminded us that the nicest people ride old Hondas, his a mint 1966 305cc Dream.
One of the particularly outstanding bikes of the day was Matt Madrid’s Champion-framed Triumph, a 1970s vintage miler that he and his son Dennis finished putting together the night before the event, including the installation of a Danny Macias-prepped motor with its ported head, flatslide Mikunis and Megacycle cam. Matt’s a retired police officer and says he’s never gotten a ticket on the racer he’s made street legal. A few bikes away we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Douglass and his 1948 Sunbeam with 68,048 miles. He’s owned the British classic since new. His bike wears a Field fairing manufactured in the Isle of Man, the same company that built the famous “dustbin” fairings for the NSU and Auto Union 1930 speed record breakers.
The Most Unusual Award, if there was one, would have gone to a “bike” called the SUB that surfaced at Hansen Dam making considerable waves. The super lightweight, sleek three-wheeler powered by a 135-horsepower Suzuki TL1000 engine is the creation of designers Jay Brett, Nik Mynott and Niki Smart, who merged an Indy/Formula One car with a motorcycle for a solo-seat adrenaline machine that hopefully will be going into production. It’s a jaw-dropper, to say the least, points to a whole new future class in racing, and is street legal as a motorcycle as well.
As for the joy of riding vintage bikes, top speeds and high-tech bragging rights aside, Bib puts it nicely with one of his quotable sayings, “At my age, anxiety is a nice replacement for testosterone…the sheer pleasure of making it over a 9,600-foot mountain pass on a 40-year-old motorcycle that I built…that’s a good thing and I get a great deal of satisfaction.” You could also say Bib speaks for all concerned when he says, “Classic motorcycling is not found in elapsed times or top speeds, but in enjoying the adventure of the ride and the camaraderie after the ride. It’s about reliving our youth and heck, American history.”
Event sponsors included Century Cycles in San Pedro; British Motorbikes in N. Hollywood; JRC Cycle Supplies; Four Aces; Bruce Branstad of Bulbs That Last Forever; TT Cycles; Symonds Cycles; and Glory Cycles. Plus special effort from Reid Libby and Bib’s wife Janet and the dedicated SCNOC volunteers. For more information about the SCNOC, its schedule of activities, as well as assorted British bike links, log on to www.socalnorton.com, call Bib at (626) 791-0259 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
Hansen Dam Bike Show Winners
Best Norton: Dave Destler, 1962 Atlas (with Manxman tank)
Best Triumph: Tim Green, 1968 Bonneville
Best BSA: Dale Naber, 1969 Rocket III
Best British Other: John Gougeon, 1954 Matchless G9
Best Custom: Larry Horn, Norvin
Best in Show: Dan Schoenewald, 1930 Brough-Superior SS100
[From the June 2006 issue of Rider]