When you hear the name “Antique Motorcycle Club of America,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most of us, the AMCA brings up images of swap meets filled with old motorcycle parts being sold by guys with even older beards. Unless you are a member, what you probably don’t realize is that the best-kept secret isn’t the swap meets, but the half dozen road runs the AMCA puts on each year across the US. These three-day events are always a great time, whether you come for the scenic roads, the camaraderie, or just the challenge of riding 1,000 miles on a vintage motorcycle in the span of a week. This year, I rode my ’64 for panhead up to Ligonier, PA, for the Allegheny Mountain Chapter of the AMCA’s National Road Run. As is always the case with old motorcycles, it was a bit more of an adventure than I expected.
Ligonier is about 50 miles southeast of Pittsburg, which is pretty convenient if you live in Pennsylvania, but not so much if you live in North Carolina. My ride was just over 400 miles, and of course, as soon as I was 20 miles away from home, it started raining. It wasn’t heavy rain, but the kind where you are continually wiping your glasses with the back of your glove and trying to avoid the spray from trucks as you squint at the lines on the road. As I pulled into the event “hotel” ready for some dry clothes and a hot meal, I quickly realized this was not your typical accommodations. Sure, the parking lot was filled with trucks, trailers, and hundreds of old motorcycles, but something was just a little bit off. First off, there were way too many paintings of Jesus hanging around the place. I don’t mean the typical long-haired American Jesus either, but those unsettling medieval drawings where the faces aren’t quite right, and you feel guilty every time you look at one for too long. It turns out this was the Eastern Orthodox Christian conference and retreat center for the US, complete with a chapel, biblical library, and even a summer camp out in the woods, so packing about two hundred old bikers into the place was probably a first for them.
After checking in, I headed to my room to change, and to my disappointment, instead of TV, there was a painting of Mary holding an 8 pound 6-ounce newborn infant Jesus eyeing me from across the room. They did have free wifi, but I felt like I was back in Catholic school hiding from the nun’s every time I logged into Instagram. Luckily, my buddies, Tim and Steve, showed up before too long, and that gave me an excuse to get back outside. After unloading their bikes, we headed downstairs to the dining hall for the welcome banquet. I was a little worried about what they might be serving for dinner, and the thoughts of robed men passing around baskets of loaves and fishes were definitely going through my mind as we walked in, but it turned out to be a somewhat more modern meal. I did make sure to try all three deserts before we were released back out into the parking lot. A couple of guys had brought along guitars, so we had live music to go along cold beers and last minute clutch adjustments.
The next morning after breakfast and a quick safety meeting, it was time to hit the road. Road runs don’t adhere to a rigorous schedule, and you can ride with whoever you want, but what I’ve learned over the years is that if you don’t roll out early, you end up stuck behind the slowest riders which make for a long day. Everyone had been given route sheets with turn by turn directions for each day of riding, but we decided that paper directions were for suckers, and we would be downloading the routes directly into Tim’s GPS. No one was going to catch us standing on the side of the road, scratching our heads and trying to read through 4 pages of turns to find our way back to the hotel. So, with fresh batteries in the GPS, we headed out for a day of riding, secure in the knowledge that technology would be our guide.
I was a little surprised that within 5 miles of the hotel, we were already making a U-turn and doubling back. This happened several times before we found ourselves riding down a stretch of road that was freshly covered with about three inches of loose gravel. You folks that live up north will recognize this as “tar and chip” and sure enough just up ahead was a truck vomiting hot tar onto the road as another truck dumped loose gravel onto it. Since everyone in my group was from the South, we had no idea why Pennsylvania was trying their best to make the worst possible motorcycle road, but we did know that being stuck behind this road crew was not going to work.
After a mile or so of wading through deep gravel, Tim led us off the road into the parking lot of a questionable looking gas station. Potholes replaced the gravel, but at least they could be avoided. While Tim consulted the satellites for a new route, Steve was pulling tools out to work on the rear brake. As Steve turned the adjuster on his brake rod, it became clear that it wasn’t an adjustment problem, but a stripped adjuster. Now he was left with no rear brake and the prospect of riding at least a few more miles in loose gravel on a steep mountain road. I started asking around the parking lot if there was anyone nearby with a welder and managed to find a woman who thought her son might have one. She gave us some spotty directions, and 10 minutes later, we were pulling up at the diesel shop less than a mile away. The owner rolled out a well-used welder and proceeded to weld the hell out of Steve’s brake rod and wouldn’t take a dime for the service.
With Steve’s rear brake functioning again, we were finally back on the road. Before long we were riding through a rainstorm, which came as a surprise since I clearly remembered in the safety meeting that we would be riding west to avoid the storms to our east or maybe it was riding east to avoid the storms in the west, but either way, we were clearly in the wrong place. As we huddled under the eaves of some long-abandoned building to put on our rain gear, Tim discovered the problem. Apparently, the turn by turn directions we were given had all been combined into one file. This meant that there was no way for the GPS to differentiate between which turns went with which day. Instead, the GPS just took us to the next closest turn. With our chances of making the lunch stop completely lost, we decided to backtrack to the hotel. At least we would be early for dinner…
Day 2, we went back to the paper maps, and things went a lot smoother. The roads were great; we hit all the scenic stops along the way and even made it to the local firehouse for a homemade lunch. Needless to say, on day 3, we thought we had everything all figured out. Which meant halfway to the Flight 93 Memorial I found myself pulled over on a steep section of road unpacking my tools to help Steve fix his throttle cable. Luckily this fix just needed a screwdriver, and we made it up the mountain to the memorial without any other issues.
Road runs always end with a awards banquet, and various trophies are giving out for everything from youngest rider to longest distance trailered. I took home a trophy for the longest distance ridden, and Tim won a heated debate to get the oldest motorcycle award. I also found out that if you ask too many questions at an Orthodox Christian center, they send a Deacon to come to talk to you personally about converting. I have to admit that the church leaders did have some impressive beards, but before they could talk me out of all my worldly possessions, I was back on the road and headed south for North Carolina.
If you ride an old motorcycle, whether it be Shovelhead or a Honda CB750, its worth becoming a member of the AMCA. Besides the national events like swap meets and road runs, each local chapter puts on a variety of activities throughout the year, which give you a chance to meet and hang out with other folks that are passionate about old motorcycles. You may not see a lot of choppers at these events, but keep in mind that those old guys you see riding through the parking lot on pristine knuckleheads were the same ones that were building choppers back in the 1960s. I especially recommend joining if you’ve just picked up your first old bike because you are going to have a lot of questions, and these guys will have the answers. Plus, if you ask nicely, they may have the parts you need too. Check them out at http://www.antiquemotorcycle.org/.
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