Painting of John Ray's 1947 KSS by Zef Carpente, JP Defaut's 10-year-old godson.

Lost and Found

Adventures on a KSS in Oregon on the 1000 Mile rally 2018. By JP Defaut

Jean-Philippe Defaut

“I just became a grandfather.” He said handing me a cold, wet beer. “ ‘You a grandfather yet?” I took a long swig “I don’t even have children yet!” I exhaled. He looked me dead in the eye: “You’re not gay or anything, are you? Got a girlfriend? You married?” “I’m married,” I replied. “Then what the hell you waitin’ for boy? Get back there and get her knocked up!” he said punching me in the shoulder.

Part of a colorful conversation I had with Joe, a local Oregonian who shared time, thoughts, and a much-appreciated ice-cold beer as I attempted to fix what I could on my Velocette in nature’s hottest furnace.

The Velocette “1000 mile” rally is, in more ways than one, special. 2018 was no exception and took me to another realm. Since Kim Young stole my Veloginity a few years ago (see article in issue #…), I had been searching for a ride. Custodianship of the right machine had not yet materialized, so John Ray (JR), one of my Velocette mentors kindly obliged a loaner. His, not quite stock, 1941 KSS did not disappoint: more of a Gentleman’s Hot rod with enhanced performance by none other than the legendary Bob Strode, some of you will recall that I did run into a few issues, namely, the clutch bolt nut tightening thingy kept slipping. After numerous (daily) attempts on the side of many Oregon roads, clutch tool in one hand, rolling bike backward with the other, it became apparent that I needed to pull the clutch out if I was going to get any miles in for the rest of the week. Under the generous guidance of Paul D’Orleans (PDO), tutelage from JR, Pete Young, Jeff Scott, Blaise Descolonges (Desco), with encouragement (and abuse!) from others fuelled by IPA,  I painstakingly learned to dismantle and reassemble the clutch 2 nights in a row. Having proudly put the thing back together just before midnight one time, PDO realized we had forgotten to “peen” the clutch retaining bolt in position. I said I’d happily “pee in” the tank at that point! So once more, cover off, primary, chain, clutch plates, and a million cork tiles on the pavement, we were at it ‘till 2 am. What a pfaff!

Midnight oil: JP Defaut gets into it as directed by PDO and Blaise Descolonges while Pete Young carefully nurses the appropriate lubrication! Photo by Jeff Scott

One particular day, the rally took me to another dimension. Following a morning ride up to the spectacular painted hills of Oregon, I noticed after lunch that I’d not screwed my toolbox shut and riding down the bumpy hills, had flung itself open and shed all its contents: plugs, tools, belts, bits n bobs, and of course the registration documents… Sheeeet! It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have with JR, so momentarily, I abandoned my posse (PDO, Blaise, and Scottie Sharpe) who gave me clear directions, and “quickly” headed back to the Painted Hills in the hope of recovering JR’s family (moto) jewels that I had inadvertently scattered on John Day’s well-beaten paths of Oregon.

Easy peasy.

On a side road before the turn to the Painted Hills, I spotted a rider and his massive Harley laid out on the side of the road. I headed over to help a brother out. He was fine, but his “bagger” was too heavy to pick up solo. “Where are you going on that… thing?” He asked. “Painted Hills,” I exhaled as we lifted his pile back on the road. “Where ‘you from?” “London, but I live in San Francisco.” There was a long pause: “Ah… Bay Area! Painted hills are this way, I’m going there myself, I’ll ride with you if you like.” “I think it’s the next one,” I told him. “This is a quicker way, I know these roads” he confirmed. With that, off we went up this gnarly rocky path. A good while later, as we reached the crest, the road suddenly pitched down very steeply, I realized that we both had a different definition of the concept “quicker way.” I ventured on, hoping to find a spot to turn around, but the road was too narrow and the drop was too… not an option!

The original image for the painting by Zef Carpente, shortly before I lost all the contents from the toolbox in the painted hills! © JP Defaut

We eventually arrived at a crossroad wide enough for me to pull up next to the bagger: “This isn’t a short cut is it.” “Well, I’ll be! I thought it would bring us there all the same. Let’s head back.” I explained that there was no way the “Velo” was going to make it up this track and back over to the other side without a clutch, but since he was going, could he let my friends know where I’m heading as they might be still waiting for me. “Will do!” He said and roared back up the narrow path spinning his back wheel and lifting more dust than a volcano. Needless to say, they never saw him. My eye caught my watch and it was almost an hour since I’d left my crew sunbathing on the garden lawn in front of the shack we had lunch in. Pissed off vibes were coming through the airwaves, even though I had no phone signal. I didn’t have long before the clutch nut bolt thingy would give way again so at that point I thought fuck-it, sorry chaps, I’ll be home for tea later.

Much later as it turned out…”

“Soaking it up!” A quiet moment, as I gave the KSS a rest in sweltering Oregon heat. © JP Defaut
Keep calm and carry on. Growing up in Britain, you actually hear that, a lot. Accept the lemons and move on. American translation.

The rest of the day was an unexpected experience. From ridding clutchless through amazing landscapes, crossing bridges, looking for fuel and water, to also meeting people as they came to look at the bike at gas stations and immediately engage in conversation as they looked in amazement at JR’s Velo. “What year is that thing?” I got asked that too many times, “Too fuckin’ old!” I started replying after the 20th time.

Mark, farmer and landlord. Oregon © JP Defaut

Joe, grandfather and trucker. Oregon © JP Defaut

Between pitstops, however, it dawned on me that this was totally what the Velocette rally, all one thousand miles of it is about. As a French-Londoner living in the US for a few years now, there is no question that 2 wheels are the only way to see America. On a Velocette, given the constant attention they require, it feels like I have really penetrated the country: I’ve met locals, kids, laborers, traders, farmers, and travelers from all over the country: at all times, I have really felt like I belong here, wherever I was in that moment. Over the years, I’ve ridden motorcycles all over Europe, parts of Africa, up and down India, Asia, Japan and had very connecting experiences, but Velo has brought a new dimension that is difficult to quantify in words. It is as much about the machine and the ride as it is about how you approach the landscape and how you are welcomed by the people you meet along the way.

Late nights in the car park outside the hotel, working on the “oily rag”, will, amongst other moments from that ride, remain in my heart for a long time. The will of Velo people to urge you on, help, advise, share knowledge, the right tool, a beer, take the piss, banter, bullshit you stories to keep you going, and above all, stay with you ‘till it's done right, is beyond what I’ve experienced in other motorcycle communities. Sure people help each other, it’s part of the motorcycle landscape all over the world. I’ve seen it and lived it. But not like this. The 1000 mile rally is different. We live in a corporate world where everything is measured through data. Performance is evaluated on charts, algorithms control how we receive information, etc… The gentleman’s agreement, trust, and community have long been abandoned by all businesses globally: they were upscaled with the latest hardware as automation and efficiency took away the need to care for things, and each other. Fortunately in the Velocette community, we still have that bond. On the road, but also in the virtual world, thanks to the global online communities that keep the conversation alive. On occasion, I get asked “Why a Velocette, or any vintage motorcycle? What’s the point if you’re not sure you’ll achieve your destination?”  This trip reinforced the value of a community, with more depth than I had expected. As a bonus, I won 2 trophies: The Citation for Littering trophy, and the contentious “Crock of Shit” award! Both sat in the living room to the horror of my “minimalist” better half!

Somewhere in Oregon… © JP Defaut

2020 has been a strange year, and we have been forced to distance from one another. We are however still connected through this passion of Veloce. This unexplainable, unmeasurable notion that we all understand, many of you more than me, why we chose and commit to a type of transport that continues to deliver experiences beyond the originally designed purpose…

Thank you VOCNA!

Jean-Philippe Defaut