Among other distinctions, California's City by The Bay is the birthplace and home of the second oldest motorcycle club in America. The San Francisco Motorcycle Club was founded at Thor Motorcycles in 1904, a charter bested only by the Yonkers MC of New York City in 1903.
I'm not sure how many members of the SF crew that met me for breakfast at Lefty O'Doul's off Union Square last March know about the SFMC, but that didn't stop us from talking choppers in the heart of the most beautiful city in America.
I started my icebreaker for this meet-and-greet a few weeks earlier on a thread in the ChopCult forum. There I asked CC members around the Bay to ride in Saturday morning for some down-and-dirty photo sessions on the streets of San Francisco. Nothing fancy, and bloody marys on me.
Not surprisingly, all but two of my nine new friends were on Sportsters. Ted and Doug rode a CB750 and a '69 Triumph, respectively. After noshing on the hearty grubsteak Lefty's is famous for, we trundled curbside for cigarettes and tall tales.
If the bikes on hand were any indiciation, mild customizing and heavy riding are alive and well in the Bay Area. Road grime was in abundance on every machine in attendance, and several bikes showed scars from losing battles with tarmac.
All three rigid customs I shot for future CC features boasted patina that only blossoms after time and toil on the highway. Is it the salt air swirling around the bay that gives these freedom machines their crusty allure, or have all the lefties in NorCal banned contact cleaner and Simple Green?
Ironically, one of the toughest-looking late-model XL's parked on Geary Street was owned by the lone woman in the SF posse. This super friendly girl's ChopCult handle escapes me, but Doug, the owner of a righteous unit Triumph chop, told me he sees her at every brodown and campout in NorCal.
There was no shortage of bungee cords, sissy bars or tool bags on the other bikes, either. Such flotsam and jetsam always tells me a bike is ridden hard, and often for long distances. Curiously, you don't see a glut of road grime or paraphernalia on machines of similar vintage and pedigree inn SoCal.
Casey, a stylish cat in a black denim vest and tweed cap from Redwood City, rolled in on an ironhead chopper that featured a king and queen seat perfect for hauling gash and gear when wanderlust strikes. Casey works the chopper business from several angles, and his bike will be featured in weeks to come.
A crusty wizard named Ted whom I've known since 2008 told me some road tales over breakfast that would make any fairweather chopper freak jump out of his Pendleton. Ted has ridden on at least two El Diablo Runs from his home in NorCal, the first time on a CB750 with the route map laminated onto his gas tank. Ted built his rigid Honda with a broken arm, then cut off his cast to cross the US border for a shakedown run. I haven't met many bikeriders from anywhere who can say that.
Of course, these words of derision are dripping with hypocrisy. Sadly, not one of the bikes parked outside Lefty's was mine. You see, my old lady is a flight attendant on Virgin America, and she shipped my lazy ass on standby for our NorCal funfest. It was 33 member DougT—not this judgmental keyboard jockey—who popped Stacey's chopper cherry during our visit. Pot, meet Kettle.
To reclaim a pinch of any self-respect I have left, today I'm turning off the computer and leading a group of friends on a 1,500-mile trek through Vegas, Nevada's Great Basin National Park and Death Valley. If you live in Las Vegas, we'll be pulling into the Stratosphere around 4:00 p.m. May 23. If you live in Sin City, please join us for cocktails and bullshitting at the casino bar.
Nothing I've planned for this week's ride is particularly organized, and that's what I hope will make our trip great. If the San Francisco Motorcycle Club can remain intact for 108 years, surely we can keep it together for seven days… heat, misery and heartache be damned.