Kickstart Classic Motorcycle Tour & Barber Vintage Fest

It’s going to be hard for me not to gush in this story — given this magazine was one of the main sponsors — and not sound like I’m exaggerating, but this was a flat-out awesome event! Or, rather, they were awesome events. We have a lot going on here, so try to keep up. The boss man, Buzz, came to us last year with a new idea: “let’s go on a fun ride with our readers.” Granted, he was probably inspired by his participation in the 2010 Motorcycle Cannonball, where he rode his 1915 Harley nearly clear crosscountry, maintaining and rebuilding components at each night’s hotel stop. I think that turn of events laid the groundwork for his inspiration to create the RoadBike and American Iron Kickstart Classic for fall 2011.

The idea was to invite anyone so inclined to participate and ride with magazine staffers from a start point of Wheels Through Time museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, to the Barber Vintage Fest at the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, with an overnight stay in Rome, Georgia. There were some catches, though. While all brands and styles of bikes were welcome to participate, they needed to have operational kickstarters, and the rider would need to use the kickstarter to start the bike. We would not be riding any major interstate highways; mostly we planned for backroads the whole way — the twistier the better. And, finally, it was mandatory for everyone to have fun! (Really, that was one of the instructions.) Late-model, electric-start bikes would be welcome to ride along, but they would be relegated to the back of the pack.

We had several months notice, and I enabled a countdown clock on my computer desktop to remind me of how much time I had left to resurrect my 1979 Kawasaki KZ1000 Shaftdrive. Yes, it came original with a kickstarter backup device stored under the seat. But try as I might, that countdown beat me. There was nothing I could do to make it slow. Other staffers were busy preparing their kickstart bikes for the trip (with my help no less), so I needed to come up with a plan B. What could I get my hands on for the trip that was reliable and comfortable, and most importantly, would start with the push of a pedal? There are not many new bikes available still carrying a kicker. Imagine my elation when I received a reply from the folks at Royal Enfield USA after I reached out and asked for assistance.

The plan was coming together, albeit with tweaking as every day passed and we got closer to our departure day. One staffer would drive our brand-spanking-new company truck hauling our gear, his own Honda CB, and Buzz’s Harley Knucklehead. While the remaining two suckers, I mean staffers, Web Director Matt, and myself rode our mounts south to our Maggie Valley meeting point.

Monday morning, October 3, was here before I knew it, and we were packing for the trip. Our intrepid armada of an untried CB550 café racer, a brand-new Royal Enfield Bullet C5 Chrome, and a loaded-down camel of a Ford F150 departed our Stamford, Connecticut, offices bound for North Carolina and kickstart glory.

Our first night goal was to visit longtime RoadBike contributor and now hotel operator Pam Collins at her brand spanking new Comfort Suites in Orange, Virginia, coincidentally situated at almost the perfect halfway point of the first leg of our trip (see page 24). We arrived just at dusk, and the place was a sight for sore eyes. After dinner out, it was straight to bed for our crew and some ibuprofen for Matt’s shoulders. He was already regretting those low-rise clubman bars he’d installed.

The next day, we followed Pam’s directions over the Blue Ridge Parkway and back to the highway, where we turned south. No wimping out that day, we had to be Maggie Valley by sundown. Some gas station chain adjustments and power bar snack stops later, we arrived at Wheels Through Time just in time to catch Proprietor Dale Walksler and Buzz heading out for dinner.

The next day, Wednesday, would be our prep and party day. So I felt the most grueling part of the trip was behind us. After a quick tour of the museum, it was time to break out the tools for some bike maintenance. While my Enfield was performing flawlessly, I checked fluids, applied chain lube, and mounted my video camera. I was ready. I made the rounds to help wherever I could, and Matt and I even found time for a quick ride up the Blueridge Parkway for some elk-spotting and tire-scrubbing. It was good to be back in the South. At Wheels Through Time, our Kickstart cohorts were assembling, and it was great to get back there and see our old friend Shannon “Shoe” Gower from Hotshoe Customs. You’ve probably seen the name before in these pages, we’ve featured a bunch of Shoe’s creations over the years. Shoe rode all the way from Oklahoma on his CB750 touring bike to join in the fun.

Thursday morning’s gathering of Kickstart participants, about 70 or so, was a sight to behold. Truth be known, we weren’t sure how many, if any, folks would show up. We had everything from meticulously restored Harleys to customized bobbers to battle-worn baggers, a majority of which arrived on their own two (and sometimes three) wheels. After a ceremonious countdown and simultaneous kickstart, we were stirring up quite a dust storm in the museum parking lot.

Next stop Cherohala Parkway and all points west. The downside to riding in large groups like this is when we have to snake through small communities. Unfortunately, some riders got separated from the group at red lights and sharp turns. Me and some staffers included. But the bottom line of this trip was to ride with like-minded folks and have a good time. Shoe had a GPS on his bike and came to our rescue, and we rode our own ride. We caught up to the rest of the group at night two’s Panhead City motorcycle shop in Rome. Proprietor Chuck put out a barbecue spread for us, and everyone had war stories to tell after just the first day of riding. Thus far, we had heard of only one major breakdown, a guy popped the motor on his vintage bike and had to be hauled home. But everyone was safe and sound at Panhead City and enjoying the heck out of each other’s company. The man with the name synonymous for performance Harley transmission and kickstart products, Bert Baker, was on hand to emcee some impromptu awards for our Kicker participants, and a good time was had by all.

Day two would bring us into Birmingham and the gorgeous Barber Motorsports Park. Our roads that day were a bit straighter and more direct. We wanted to get there, to the Barber Vintage Fest, where these kickers belonged! Our midday arrival caught the event ushers slightly off guard, but Buzz led us into a perfect parking area situated smack dab in front of the main doors to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Not sure if that’s where we were wanted, but, man, did we make an entrance!

My first task? Change into some comfy shoes and find that swap meet! There was much to do at the Vintage Fest, but I wanted to get in on some deals. After my first pass around, I found myself carrying armfuls of parts. I did ponder, “How am I gonna get this stuff home?” But I was determined to figure that out later. The tram that circles the facility was a godsend and made getting around easy: just find a nice place to park your bike and tram-it the rest of the day.

The Barber Vintage Fest had a classic bike auction presented by Auctions America by RM, a manufacturer’s midway, a Wall Of Death show, a Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club bike show, and an Antique Motorcycle Club Of America concours going on at the same time. The Southern Vintage Fire Apparatus Association was showing off some majestic fire engines and the Ducstock national Ducati party was in full swing. There were seminars being conducted at the Barber Museum, but I never made it on time, as once I walked through the doors of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, my eyes wandered and my feet followed. There are approximately 600 motorcycles on display ranging from 1902 to current-year production. There’s everything from streetbikes to rare, one-off Gran Prix racing machines, even a few Lotus race cars. More than a half day was spent walking around in there.

All this against the backdrop of vintage American Historic Motorcycle Racing Association (AHRMA) racing on the 2.38-mile roadracing track. No matter where you were, the drone of a bike swarm buzzing the track could be heard in the distance. It was a wonderful soundtrack of background music. Saturday afternoon brought the granddaddies of them all out on track for the Century Race. To qualify for this race, the motorcycle must be at least 100 years old. Our friend and fellow Kickstart participant Dale Walksler rode his 1911 Indian to a first place finish in the single class and helped himself to an extra lap after the checkered flag flew.

But no matter what you’re doing at the Barber Vintage Fest, all eyes turn to the skies when the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team flies in to entertain in its North American T-6 Texans trailing smoke and dropping faux bombs. This year’s event occurs on October 12-14. Look for me while you’re there. I’ll probably be wearing out the pavement at the swap meet and having a great time doing it. RB

Story by Steve Lita, Ride sponsored  by Baker Drivetrain