Old Skool is (Usually) Cool

This is the tale of three intrepid "old school" motorcycle devotees from Knoxville who ride to an "Old Skool" event in the wilds of southeast Kentucky

This is the tale of three intrepid "old school" motorcycle devotees from Knoxville who ride to an "Old Skool" event in the wilds of southeast Kentucky, and then scream home on the interstate in the pelting rain (on their modern bikes).

The "Spring Fling" was Internet-spawned, a gathering for members of the Adventure Riders (www.advrider.com) "Old Skool" sub-forum. The core of Adventure Riders is mostly world travelers and regional BMW riders, with heaping helpings of everything else, with extra portions of dual sporters and dirt riders. The Old Skool contingent are primarily fans of airhead BMW models, the more elderly the better, but anything remotely old and cool is appreciated. Their events are laid-back and fun, once you get past the silly "So what's your (Delta Tau Chi) name on the forum again?" introductions.

I wanted to ride an age-appropriate bike to this event in Renfro Valley, Ky. Really. Saturday's 190-mile ride in near-perfect conditions would have been at least as stimulating on one of my old Guzzis as it was on my FZ1. Once we exited 25E onto 11 at Bimble, Ky., the roads were empty and twisty, and I wouldn't have missed the extra 50 horsepower of the five-valve Yamaha's motor. Equally fun were US 421 and then Kentucky 89, which dropped us into Livingston, one exit south of Renfro Valley.

But modern weather forecasting being what it is, the ride home on Sunday was going to be wet and chilly. It wasn't if that giant green and yellow amoeba on the radar was going to reach East Kentucky, but when. In some ways, old Hondas and BMWs and Guzzis tolerate such use even better than new-uns, but the weak link was us-uns. Old bikes are tough; old riders can be wimps. Holding open the bullworker Guzzi throttle for hours on the superslab is a recipe for carpal tunnel syndrome, and a seven-inch headlight is not much to hide behind in the rain.

At least we weren't alone in our weakness. On the forum there were rumblings of modern-bike capitulation for a week before departure time; mechanical gremlins and sheer distance had riders one-by-one make their excuses for riding the modern stuff. Of course, some folks don't have the luxury (or curse?) of multi-motorcycle ownership, so they rode what they had, be it old or new.

Then there was the "dry-county" excuse: A vast beer-less wilderness lay between the last alcohol oasis just before the Cumberland Gap tunnel and the post-ride campfires of the Renfro Valley KOA. An assortment pack from Maine's Magic Hat brewery is fragile treasure in these parts, and modern locking hard saddlebags helped keep it safe and secure. The campground owners, by the way, were thrilled to have a pack of motorcyclists, some dirt-encrusted, renting cabins and campsites in their otherwise empty campground, a silver lining to the current economic storm. One other benefit was the aforementioned lack of back-road traffic.

When we arrived, the campground was full of BMWs, but mostly the more modern oilheads and 650 singles, and a KTM and a few V-Stroms. There five or six airhead BMWs, and the belle of the ball was Steve Little's 1973 R75/5, with original curry paint and a "SLASH5" personal plate. Thankfully, none of the few folks who actually rode their "old skool" bikes was the type to rub their superior cred in the noses of those who opted for the easy comfort and power of modernity.

But so what? Aficionados of old stuff don't have to ride it exclusively. I don't restrict myself to reading about old motorcycles in books printed on a wooden-block printing press, by oil-lamp, and the old-school motorcyclists at Renfro Valley didn't have to bring their old heaps to enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded riders. The few old bikes that did show up enjoyed that much more concentrated attention from the attendees, and these events are more social gatherings than concours anyway. Once darkness fell and the campfires (and some campers) were lit, no one could tell who rode what, and the fact that we showed up was enough.

The rain held off until after everyone was asleep, but by early Sunday morning the weatherman's prediction had come true with soggy accuracy. At least there was no waffling on whether to put on raingear or not. The goal for the ride home would be to make it as short (in time and in miles) as possible. It wasn't a fun ride, but it was quick, and I was thankful for the power, windscreen, and comfortable ergonomics of the FZ. Except for the occasional blinding cloud of spray concealing a moron cager with his lights off, our ride was swift and unfettered, and I stood dripping in my garage by 10:15 a.m.

After stripping off the soggy gear and warming up in the house, my afternoon was spent squatting on a short stool, cleaning the chain-lube mung off the back of the bike. Had I ridden one of the old shaft-drive Guzzis, the bike would simply need a rinse, but I would need a hot bath, two Advil, and a chiropractor.

Fred Sahms is a curmudgeonly Luddite who has been soiling his fingernails with old motorcycles for 25-plus years. His garage is located somewhere in North Knoxville. Drop him a line at fred(at)fredsgarage(dot)net.