~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Dust to Glory - the movie

My son and I went out the other night and saw Dana Brown's new movie and homage to off road racing, "Dust to Glory." Long time desert racer and co-worker Carlo Caya stopped me at work and said "You gotta go see this movie while it's in town." He was right.

Dust to Glory covers the running of the 2003 Baja 1000 off road race and gives a look inside the world of two and four wheel off-road racing, both amateur and professional. Past greats like Malcolm Smith and J.N. Roberts are seen then and now and current heroes like Robbie Gordon are featured too.

Seeing the then-and-now footage of J.N. Roberts was great fun and I'd bet good money that he could still clean the clock of most younger riders. Guys like Smith and Roberts were super fast when they were young. Now that they are old and decrepit they are only really fast.

Dana Brown is the son of "On Any Sunday" and "Endless Summer" film maker Bruce Brown and the family connection definitely shows. The style of Dust to Glory is very much in the form Bruce Brown's movies and Dana Brown's voice and narration sound almost like his father's right down to the slightly corny humor. I even spotted a line or two that could have been lifted right from "On Any Sunday." No problem there, OAS is the single greatest movie ever made and Dana Brown is entitled to lift from his old man if he feels like it. If you're going to copy, copy the best.

I like the Bruce Brown style of movie, it gets across very well the idea that sometimes ordinary people are extraordinary and that maybe we all could be our own kind of extraordinary if we have the guts to give it a go. Dana Brown's movie, Dust to Glory, is a worthy kin to his father great movie "On Any Sunday" (unlike OAS's bastard child "On Any Sunday II").

The action footage in the movie is good and at times riveting and over all the production values are way above the Windows Media Player quality of the MotoGP flick, "Faster." Too much footage in Dust to Glory was spent on helicopters flying around though, so much so that it began to bring to mind scenes from the Viet Nam era movie "Apocalypse Now." I could almost hear Malcolm Smith saying "I love the smell of a two-stroke engine in the morning. It smells like victory!"

One thing I really appreciated in Dust to Glory was a sound track of actual music instead of the deathmetalgrungescreamerangstridden crap that backs up many movies these days (Yeah, my old grouchy fahrt side is showing again). Note to you guys making your own bike movies at home: There is music besides the incomprehensible screaming stupidity that passes for rock & roll now. Be creative, be brave, chose music interesting and different from everyone else's choice.

I think Dana Brown tried to fit too much story into too small a space, consequently Dust to Glory does not rise to the level of OAS in story clarity or drawing you into the stories of all the different riders and drivers. A look at fewer racers and more depth about who they are and where they came from might have made you care a little more about their successes and failures.

The story of Mike ''Mouse'' McCoy's solo ride of the entire 1000 mile race would have made a great movie all by itself and is probably the best part of the movie. I was impressed. The longest desert race I ever rode was 100 miles and that about killed me (100cc Bultaco with 4" of rear suspension travel).

Dust To Glory is playing in limited release around the country so if you get a chance to see it on the big screen, do it 'cause it's definitely worth the price of admission. Not only that, if we all go see racing movies maybe they will make more!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Old Pardners, New Friends


1938 Indian Scout

When I was 16 years old I got a job as a janitor in a large dry cleaning business. To say that it was inglorious work would be an understatement. Sweeping floors and cleaning public restrooms when you are 16 has a way of teaching humility (a trait nearly unknown to 16 - 19 year old boys) while motivating you to find something better and driving home the value of a good education. It also provided $15.36 a week take home pay which was enough to afford a my first bike.

Part of the dry cleaning business was rug and carpet cleaning which was performed on big hanging racks out behind the main building. It was a wet, heavy, dirty business. The guy who did the work on that side was named Dale. Dale was a rough man probably about 50 or so, a chain smoker, thin, profane, and always with two days growth of beard on his face and creases around his mouth and eyes that made him look ready to yell at the dumb, skinny kid who pushed the broom. What made Dale more memorable to me than other people I worked with there at the cleaners was his ride, his 19-old something Indian Scout with the flathead motor.

The battered Scout was like Dale, worn, faded but dark, thin in the middle, rough everywhere, loud, a little scary. Dale looked at home on the Indian, perfect in fact. They were partners in the truest sense. When he'd leave at the end of the day the Indian always started on the second kick and with a fresh cigarette in his mouth Dale would loop around out the dirt parking lot disappearing down the street. He did it so smoothly too, the starting drill, the kick, the jockeying of the throttle while the bike warmed up, light the cigarette just before moving out. There was a grace to the whole departure and grace wasn't a quality that you would have ascribed to Dale thirty minutes earlier as he wrestled wet carpets on the drying racks. After so many years together the movement an old motorcycle and a scruffy man was more poetic that the either of the two could be on their own.

I asked Dale about the Indian a couple of times and he rattled off some stuff about buying it after the war and never wanting anything else. I wish I'd paid closer attention. The Indian did what it needed to do and did to Dale's liking so there was no need to change. As he told me once "There ain't nothing equal to this Indian."

As best as I can remember the Scout had a foot clutch and a hand shift, the throttle was on left side and the spark advance was where the throttle is on a modern bike. Dale explained it all to me one day, how the spark advance was set for starting, how it was reset as the engine warmed or you rode faster. This was nearly incompressible to a kid riding a modern 1967 Japanese bike. Dale never offered to let me ride his Indian and I never asked to. I offered once to let him ride my little Yamaha 60 once and he laughed.

When I bought a new Kawasaki 1600 Classic back in November of 2003 I had this notion that I would keep it for a long, long time. I wasn't riding that much then and figured that the Kaw would last maybe forever or at least until I was finally too old to swing a leg over it anymore. It would become like Dale's bike, an old veteran transporting me around, the bike and rider both relics and obsolete but still interesting and worthwhile in their own way. We'd be a team, two characters rolling down the highway ever so politically incorrect in a world by then populated with tidy fuel cell powered electric safety bikes. I might even stop shaving.



Turns out I'm not as old as I thought...inside my head, anyway.

I rode the 1600 mostly on weekends, rarely to work, and enjoyed the feeling of not just riding but proceeding down the road. It seemed to fit where I was in my mind a couple of years ago. And perhaps it was some foggy memory of Dale and the Indian and importance of being smooth that would lead me out to empty parking lots on occasion to practice low speed turns, starting, and stopping. I value smoothness on a bike more than sheer speed. Yes, after nearly 40 years of riding a little basic maneuvering practice is still a good thing to do now and again. There was this chance that the Kaw and I would be together for a long, long time and I wanted us to be good partners.

Then came the Italian temptress, Aprilia. First came the Falco, Viagra-on-two-wheels and next the slightly more sedate 98 horsepower Caponord. My partner, the Kawasaki, sat neglected more and more. And more. I felt guilty. We'd had something special for a while so I began riding the Kawasaki a little to keep things working right and the battery charged. I was struggling to maintain the relationship. I told myself I'd take a long trip this year on the Kawasaki. But when I rode it on the weekends it felt sluggish and unresponsive and it always took me 30 or 40 miles to feel at home again on the bike. It was Aprilia that had my heart.

When I walked out into the garage it was the Italian babe that drew me, not the big, comfy cruiser. Is this how a sultan feels when he adds a new wife to the harem? Do the other harem women suddenly look less enticing, less in need of attention, dare I say it, a little dowdy? At least the Kawasaki couldn't complain or cut my throat as I lay sleeping after a long ride with the Aprilia.

In truth, the Kawasaki 1600 is a wonderful bike with excellent power, good handling (for a cruiser) and a relaxed riding position and low seat height that makes it in many ways an easier ride that the Aprilia. But I'm not into relaxing right now, at least not when I ride. I like going fast, I like triple digit sweepers and the ability to slow to 5 mph and ride off the road to whatever point out in the dirt that looks interesting. The Caponord is flexible, ready, willing. The Italian sweetheart will do things with me the 1600 won't. I'm a cad, I know but that's how it is.

So the time has come to send the big Kawasaki to a new home, a home where it will ridden lots more and perhaps become and old Indian to some future Dale. It's the only decent thing for me to do. I have no new home yet for the Kawasaki but if you're interested in making your own memories with a big cruiser, rolling up some miles, becoming a partner to a distinctly unfussy and pleasant bike, drop me a note.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Dirt Bike Magazine - A Small Reminisce



1970 something

One of the stops on my rounds when I worked for Uni-Filter in Los Angeles circa 1971 were the palatial offices of Dirt Bike Magazine. Rick "Super Hunky" Siemon was the editor-in-infamy then and again later in the '70s. I recall that one of the early chopper oriented magazines, maybe it was Hot Bike, shared the same general offices, both being part of Hi-Torque Publications. I walked into the very small office lobby one day to find Hot Bike guys with a large roll of seamless background paper and a chopper squeezed between the stairs and the elevator, shooting a cover for Hot Bike. I wonder how many Dirt Bike covers were shot there?

Rick was some place past Cook Nielson at Cycle Magazine in irreverence and general disdain for the corporate motorcycle world and maybe the world in general. I think in time it cost Rick his job but I don't recall hearing that he ever backed down from the fight. Once when reviewing Yamaha's super new SC500 motocross bike the lead for the Dirt Bike article read (working from memory here) "It's Gray and Black, so is a turkey. Yamaha's 500cc ground gobbler." You got the impression right off it was not going to be a glowing review of Yamaha's latest effort. How I would love to see that sort of pointed humor in a review today but I believe the shadow of the gallows on which Super Hunky was corporately dispatched might cast a shadow over the magazine world even now. Worse, advertising brings in big dollars and those cannot be allowed to be risked by writers running rich on candor and humor. Now days it seems to be ok to "Be funny but not too funny, be tough but gentle." Preferably, just distract the modern reader with bright pictures and maybe a babe shot or vaguely crude expression or double entendre.

Back then going to the Dirt Bike offices was not exactly like visiting the Cycle Magazine offices. The differences in editorial style are probably best illustrated by the fact that Cycle was doing articles about Ducati and BMW and tech articles by guru of all things mechanical, Gordon Jennings. Dirt Bike did an article entitled "How to be a pit tootsie" even as they savaged the poor Ground Gobbler. Definitely a difference in perspective and neither one incorrect, just different like Husqvarna and Bultaco.

At the Cycle Magazine offices people were polite, professional, busy, and scathingly funny in a civilized way. At Dirt Bike, Rick seemed to hold loud sway over everything that went on. The Dirt Bike Magazine front desk honey was a flirt and figured out right off that I flustered easily and Rick seemed to delight in challenging me about anything and everything I might say about bikes. Under a barrage of razor edged Siemon questioning about Uni's air filters, plastic control levers, or my Bultaco 125, I easily wilted (and probably would today). Rick was never mean spirited about any of it though, he just appeared to be driven always forward by a curious mind expressed through a brutal edged wit and an impatience with anyone who could not keep up with him.

On my first visit to the palatial Dirt Bike offices I dumped a bunch free Uni junk on Rick and he responded by saying "Well, crap, now I guess I have to give YOU something." He gave me a Dirt Bike T-shirt or at least I thought he gave it to me. Fast-forward to a few years back when I posted him a message on offroad.com reminding him that we'd crossed paths 30 or so years before. He replied that he indeed remembered me and I still owed him $1.50 plus interest for the T-shirt I picked up in his office.
What humor that you do read in today's magazines, the slight degree of irreverence that there is, I think is directly traceable to Rick Simon's editorial style and also to the slightly more civilized Cook Nielson.
Rick "Super Hunky" Sieman can be found at Off-road.com. Approach with caution.

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"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence



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