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The Shop

DSCN2556It had been a long, long time—perhaps measured in eons—since I had visited a shop like this. Oh, mind you, I have been to countless dealerships of factory bikes lately. Shiny new edifices of brick and steel, polished to a high sheen, corporate logos blazing in neon. Highway billboards announcing their location for miles around. Service bays so clean and brightly lit that they resembled hospital operating rooms. Fine coffee flowing free and maybe a pool table to amuse you and some deep leather chairs to relax in while your steed is checked over and repaired. But not here. There was nary a greaseless seat available; in fact, the most comfortable place to sit was the curb of the parking lot. The only leather in sight was my riding gear and the only pool table was at the local bar/hooker hangout across the alley. As for coffee, well, although I make it strong enough to tan your stomach, I decided to pass on theirs; the smoke from the crusty pot smelled more like gear oil on an overheated muffler than coffee.

I was on the road, my machine needed service, and the nearest dealer didn’t work on my brand. So I found the shop. What is it they say about any port in a storm? I pulled up near the service door and dismounted. Like junkyard dogs, some shop kids came clamoring out to have a look-see at the unusual bike. Actually, my bike is not that unusual, but compared to the rusty, greasy, well worn-out machines lined up outside, it was surely a rare sight. I have not seen such a collection of dilapidated iron for almost as long as I haven’t seen a shop like this.

Here in the bad part of town, away from the genteel folks, where only the outcasts of society travel or ply their trades is where, decades ago, all motorcycles shops were located. At that time dealers of factory bikes weren’t commonly called dealerships, just motorcycle shops, and they definitely did not cater to today’s mainstream biker clientele. In those days we all were unwelcome in polite company, but we always had a home at the shop. Back in the halcyon days of my moto-youth, I spent uncountable hours—truly stated, days at a time—hanging around shops much like this one.

Of course, those long-ago shops were less cramped and slightly cleaner than this one, since rents, and everything else for that matter, were cheaper, and the equipment was probably newer than the bikes being worked on. Here, a look into the dark recesses of the service area revealed six bike lifts crammed into what would be the area of two service bays at a modern dealership. Under the dim glow of humming and flickering fluorescent lamps, aided by a few yellowish pools of illumination from work lights, the art of motorcycle repair was being practiced. A careful eye revealed that, although most of the machinery of the shop was older and greasier than the bikes on the lifts, it was all well cared for. Which was more than you could say for the bikes. Yes, this was a contemporary of the shops I haunted long ago, albeit now with the accumulated grime and wear and tear of the last several decades. Perhaps this is how I, and some of you, look to the new blood of our sub-culture—old and crusty, far from hip and new.

But can you blame them for considering shops like this, and vintage riders like us, as old and crusty? After all, most new folks in our sport have come along in the new golden years of motorcycling. A world built by the hard work and investment of dedicated enthusiasts like the folks at this shop, aided in the last few decades by the corporate success of America’s only surviving original motorcycle manufacturer. How many new folks are flooding to our ranks each year? How many come with their minds filled with images of TV-star bike-building in sano shops that are more stage sets than actual workplaces? Back in the day, if you drifted into this lifestyle, it was around shops like this, populated by old-timers with cigars permanently attached to their faces and grease tattooed into their hands. Punk kids like me were not welcomed openly, yet we were accepted and little did we know how much they liked having us around to learn the ways of the wheel and the wrench. “Sweep the floor, kid, and keep out of my way!” Well, that was then as this is now, but one thing has remained the same—this shop did right by me, good work at a fair price, with a greasy handshake thrown in for good measure.

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Here is another picture from the weekend

Here is another picture from the weekend ride. Check out that curve, the mountain view in the last picture was what you saw as you came down into the hairpin curve. Keep your eyes on the road, repeat that to yourself often as you ride these mountain roads! http://ow.ly/i/6Yutl


I was able to get in a nice ride on the Buell this past Saturday

Alright!

I was able to get in a nice ride on the Buell this past Saturday. Every time I ride that bike I fall in love with it all over again. It had been out of my stable for a few weeks as friend did some repair work on it. The rocker boxes had developed leaks, which meant the engine had to be essentially dropped out of the tubular frame. While it is not that big of a repair, it does take time, tools and skills. Getting a Buell serviced can be a challenge as many HD dealers won’t touch them, which is a shame. But I consider myself blessed to know a great mechanic (HD trained) who loves Buells and will work on them. So once I got her back I was itching for some quality saddle time. Then I got busier then a long tail cat in room full of rocking chairs.

The few hours I rode on Saturday was worth the wait. I ran one of my favorite local loops. It starts along the French Broad River and passes throughout the quaint town of Marshall, NC. Then heads up to Hot Springs, NC, from there I returned south over some sweet mountain roads that have a nice blend of twisty sections with a few long straightaways. The curvy parts rival the Dragon and then some as they have ear popping elevation changes. Curves are fun, add some up or down hill and Woo Hoo, that is riding. The whole dynamic changes when you are going steeply up or down, especially with hairpin turns. Here are two pictures from along the road, note the turn and the view. You don’t want to watch that view as you ride down through that curve.

Just a passing a thought on what a Buell is to me. It has the heart and soul of a Harley wrapped in the body of an exotic Italian sporting machine. They are are bikes these days, I think the fire will look back on them as the Vincent of our era. I am blessed to own one. Sure hope you had time to ride this past weekend and recharge yourself for the week ahead. Eat Hot and Ride Safe! http://ow.ly/i/6XG2Y http://ow.ly/i/6XG3b


Godspeed Mike Friese!

Mike_FrieseIt is with great sadness and a deep sense of loss that I share the following news. On Christmas Day 2012 Mike Friese passed away. For those who watched the original cable TV series “Biker Billy Cooks with Fire” you will remember Mike as my off camera sidekick and soundman. Our banter was a special part of the show and a source of much laughter and joy. Mike was a good friend and if you had the opportunity to work with him you were lucky indeed. He was a genius with sound and the tip of his soldering iron created many a wonder back in the studio days we shared. I still have and use microphone cables he made over 20 years ago; they have endured the test of time, as will the place he has in my heart. I have so many memories of Friese, he preferred to be called by his last name, although he did let me get away with calling him “Mikey” especially when I had freshly sautéed onions. Mikey loved them onions. One fond memory from our days in production on the show was when I forgot something and had to rush off camera to retrieve it. On those occasions I could always count on Friese to provide some entertaining assistance in what he called “traveling music” which meant he would hum some ditty while I scampered off camera. He enjoyed performing like that so much. So in saying goodbye to a good friend in a way that would make him smile: Friese, how about some traveling music – Godspeed Mike Friese!


Biker Billy at White Rose Thunder Tomorrow

I am very excited to be at White Rose Thunder tomorrow and Friday. I have seen a picture of the venue, and wow, it looks good, great space, food service, beverages, shade and I think they even may have WIFI. Then I get to reek havoc and cook-up some fiery foods. They said I might get a 14 ounce jar of cayenne pepper – whoa ATOMIC BOMB size pepper, They even special imported some of the fresh peppers. It will be a blast – so spread the word, and come have some fun with me at – White Rose Thunder – http://whiterosethunder.com/


Revisiting Halcyon Days – Deja Vu was Never this Good

Biker Billy begins the show at the Crossroads Rally

Biker Billy begins the show at the Crossroads Rally

Deja Vu is not exactly the experience I had but in a very generalized way the term fits the feelings I had. What the &@$¥ is this about Biker Billy you may ask? The Crossroads Rally of course. Recently, I had the pleasure of bringing my show to the Crossroads Rally in Waterbury Vermont, actually outside of town, in a great field surrounded by mountains.

From the moment I arrived I just got a great vibe; I was at home among friends. In short order I felt like I was “back in the day.” A time before, when things were free and the living was sweet. When we were the people and we didn’t even know it. A quarter century of bigger, badder, better, louder, faster and less real was stripped away. This was as close as I have felt to being in the good old days, since, well too long ago.

Nice Shovelhead - don't these much anymore!

Nice Shovelhead – don’t these much anymore!

Before going further I want to set out two facts (or opinions), this rally is an example of a growing trend in regional events (one I am happy to see), you can’t manufacture this experience – it only comes from being real.

So, where do I start? Well I arrived the day before the event, kinda early in the day at that. Heck, let’s face it, the only way I could be sure of being there, bouncing from event to event in one long multi-state weekend was by flying on the first flights of the day. Wake up too early (1:30AM), drive a few hours, fly west to then fly east, sleep on the planes, hope the equipment baggage makes it, yada, yada, yada. Roll into the event site, in the usual anonymous rental car wishing I had my bike to ride on these sweet country roads. Then wham that feeling hit – “it’s déjà Vu all over again” (thank you Yogi Berra).

From the folks at the gate, to meeting my client Tonya, who booked me for the event, I just had that feeling like I was at a run back in NJ in the 1980’s hanging with my riding buddies. If you have been around this two-wheeled thing for some time, then you will know that what I mean by “back in NJ in the 1980’s” as it will equally apply to the late 1960’s or 1970’s in NJ, LA, or Ohio; when or where your MC roots where. Those times and places before our lifestyle was mainstreamed and we were popular fodder for Cable Network TV Shows. No actors or TV stars, just those who ride. Left to ourselves we were family. It was good to be home again.

Chef Ed

Chef Ed

Then there was Chef Ed, my assistant for the event. Ed is the owner and grill master of Ed’s Barr-B-Q in Graniteville, Vermont. Chef Ed handled all the shopping, set up and clean up chores that are involved in presenting the shows. We had a great time shooting the breeze and working together. Ed made my day easier and more fun, which freed me up to explore the event scene. Thank you Ed!

Room for Field Games and Camping

Room for Field Games and Camping

Did I say we were in a field? It was 50 acres of land, which they used only about half, leaving room to grow for future years. Camping was at one end and a big beer tent at the other end with venders and room for biker games in the middle. Trees that concealed a river lined one side of the field where there was a sandy beach and a swimming hole. This is a great location to spend the weekend rallying, within a short ride of the crossroads of the two best roads in Vermont. Hey why do you think they call it the Crossroads Rally?

Beer Tent

Beer Tent

The beer tent featured a stage for bands, and my show, with plenty of chairs and tables to relax and enjoy the cool shade. At night they had both music and various forms of biker entertainment, yes they had a wet t-shirt contest, sorry no pictures. The bands that played while I was there were quite good; there was a blues band that I particularly enjoyed on Saturday afternoon. I forgot their name, but maybe someone who was there can post it in the comments. The rally had everything including a kitchen sink (more on that in an earlier post.)

Slow Race

Slow Race

Slow Race

Slow Race

Plank Ride

Plank Ride

More Plank Ride

More Plank Ride

Tire Toss

Tire Toss

Food Vendors

Food Vendors

During the day on Saturday they held classic biker field games including, the slow ride, tire toss, water balloon toss, keg races, plank rides, weenie bite, etc.; they even had Jello wrestling. I was able to video the wrestling, purely G rated, four brave ladies contended, after the eliminations in the first round the two winners faced off. The overall winner won a hundred bucks and the runner up got fifty, plus they got fresh new rally shirts. Yes that swimming hole was handy for a quick rinse off. To the politically correct it must sound horrible, but it was all good fun. Face it, bikers can entertain themselves with good old all American fun, they call it freedom!

Want a Habanero

Want a Habanero

Got Milk?

Got Milk?

Have a Habanero

Have a Habanero

Have a Habanero

Have a Habanero

Taste Testing

Taste Testing

It was a great event and the weather was perfect. If you can make it next year I highly recommend it; ride, party, camp, ride, play, party, camp, ride home – now that is an agenda!


Liquid Sunshine

Liquid Sunshine

Summer season motorcycle events by nature tend to be outdoors affairs. It only makes sense; why be indoors during the riding season? This is especially true in the northern climes where winters are long, dark, dreary periods punctuated by snowstorms and ice. Friends and clients of mine in Wisconsin tell me they get something like 62 good days each year in the warm season. So it makes perfect sense that they pack a lot of outdoors fun, riding and rallies into that opportunity. This compressed reality applies to the whole Great Lakes region.

Recently I was blessed with the opportunity to be part of one of the fastest growing regional rallies in America – Roar on the Shore – in Erie, Pennsylvania. I was engaged to do two shows on the opening day, Thursday, July 19, 2012. I was pretty pumped about it since I always have a great time doing shows in that region, lots of good folks in western PA, western NY and Ohio. They know how to play and have fun, besides there are a lot of fiery food fanatics in that oft frozen area.

About a week to ten days out I made the final review with the rally planners and checked the weather forecast. All looked good. Their team was very professional and organized. Once all the bases were covered I felt I could move on and focus on other work. When my travel day arrived I headed out looking forward to a Great Lakes rally adventure.

Did you know that Erie, Pennsylvania is the third largest city in that state? I didn’t. But when I called it a nice small town while checking into the hotel, I got corrected. Since I arrived early the day before my shows I had a chance to visit the venue in advance. While nothing was setup for my stage, I got a good feel for where I was performing. I must say that I also got to watch the crews setting up a multiple block event venue in what looked like the center city green space or park. No doubt that the city of Erie was doing it right.

Come show day, I arrived early and got to meet almost all the city inspectors, except the Fire Marshal. I have grown accustomed to meeting Fire Marshals since I “Cook with Fire“, I can only guess that since I was electrifying and UL rated. I was not a fire hazard; tell that to the folks who ate the hot peppers! All was good after some tweaking of the stage and PA. They even had a nice popup tent to cover the stage, always nice to keep the hot summer sun off of us hot heads that are cooking.

Just before the 12:30 show the fickle summer weather turned from comfortably cool and overcast into a solid drizzle. By the start of the show it was just plain rain. Fortunately a short distance in front of my stage was a tent setup for bikini girls, who as fate had it were off somewhere else being exposed to the weather. Before the show was finished everything under my tent from stage floor to tabletop, even under the table was soaked. Damn good electrical setup, as not a single electrical shock coursed through me. Ahhh how nice to not be electrocuted! What was really great was the packed crowd under that other tent. They made the show for me.

After the show the rain slacked off for a while, but by 3:00 PM when I started the second show is was drizzling again. However now I not only had a full house under the tent but there was also folks standing under the open sky. We had a blast! We even had a group of what I guess were a summer school class and their teachers join the growing crowd.

The weather could not dampen the enthusiasm of the bikers or even the little children. Remember splashing in rain puddles as a child? It is that spirit of playfulness that comes naturally to children that motorcycling restores in adults. That is why seasoned riders don’t see rain; they see “Liquid Sunshine!”