The VOCNA is the only vintage motorcycle club in the world that has traditionally run rallies of this length, although the Australian VOC has followed suit for many years, after a few of their members made the big trip to join our event. By Paul D'Orleans
This was my 30th running of the annual Velocette Owners Club of North America summer rally, traditionally a 1000-mile tour of the West, which has meant back roads from LA to Vancouver, and Alberta to New Mexico. It isn’t required that one own or ride a Velocette, but it’s encouraged, and while I own several, my partner Susan prefers the comfort of our ’65 Triumph Bonneville, at least until we buy a touring Velo (all mine are racers). The VOCNA is the only vintage motorcycle club in the world that has traditionally run rallies of this length, although the Australian VOC has followed suit for many years, after a few of their members made the big trip to join our event.
This year the rally was centered at Mt. Shasta, a jewel of the Cascade mountain range, one of a chain of dormant volcanos stretching from Mt Lassen all the way into Canada, across 3 states. ‘Dormant’ doesn’t mean dead, as the Mt St Helens eruption 39 years ago proved, and the number of hot springs near all these peaks reminds us the earth moves on geologic time, and change is the only constant. We may not see another eruption in our lifetime, but can clearly see the record of past events near Mt Shasta, with lava flows and major explosions changing the landscape for hundreds of miles, some with still no vegetation after hundreds of years.
Age and time have taken a toll on rider participation on this rally. I was ‘the kid’ in 1989, when I showed up on my green Velocette Thruxton, and my girlfriend Denise Leitzel rode her blue Venom. Most of the riders were in their early 40s, while I was only 27, and Velocette had only been out of business 18 years. Now Velocette has been gone nearly half a century, and I’m no longer the kid of the group, and many of the founder members of this ride have passed away, or are passing into their 70s and 80s, with attendant physical limitations. Kudos to those who still ride, or even show up for a weekend to simply say hi.
The peak year of rider participation was in 2005, the centenary of the founding of Veloce Ltd, and although no motorcycles of that era exist, nearly 100 machines showed up at the Evergreen Lodge in Yosemite, where I organized a rally crossing 8 Sierra passes over 8000′, which is very good fun. The rigors of a 1000-mile week keep any bikes older than the late 1920s at bay, and my 1933 KTT Mk4, the Mule, is among the oldest regular entrants. It’s been off the rally since I attempted to run the Cannonball with it in 2012, but it will return, as it’s too fun to ride to lay idle forever.
Since club membership is aging, several younger members have taken to inviting non-Velocette owners to join the ride for fun, as the gateway drug to someday buying one. That strategem has generally worked, as watching a few dozen bikes from the 1950s and ’60s burble swiftly over hill and dale is inspiring, and a beautiful sight. The chance to borrow a machine for a day or the whole week is generally all it takes to convince one that ownership is inevitable, as few motorcycles possess the charm and smooth competence of these hand-built, engineer’s machines.
This year we managed to find considerable mileage on dirt roads, which I prefer, both for the challenge, and the intimacy one feels with nature, with the greenery at arm’s length, and the feel of our planet’s skin rolling beneath one’s wheels, not the invention of Mr. Macadam. Plus, with no other traffic whizzing past, it’s a far calmer riding experience, although the concentration required for surface irregularities does detract from the scenery. Our most inspiring ride was a 90-mile journey off-piste from old-growth redwood forests at sea level, up a narrow mountain path to a fire lookout at 6500′, with a 360deg view for a hundred miles. As we were well off the rally route, this was an experience we could only share through photos and stories, and no vintage motorcycles had ever visited the place in ranger John’s 28 years manning the post. Despite the danger and rigor, all of our batteries were recharged by the adventure, and we’d done something memorable. I encourage you to take the ‘other path’ sometimes, regardless getting lost, as you never know what you’ll find – it will definitely be an adventure.