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2014 Kickstart Classic: Vintage bikes for go, and for show

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The Kickstart Classic is a no-frills, three-day event with two simple rules: "Have fun" and "Be safe." As the name implies, the event focuses on antique motorcycles, although riders on modern bikes are always welcome, as long as they don't mind riding at a slightly more relaxed pace on two-lane backroads and rural highways, and entries are limited to 100 riders. What really sets this run apart from your average motorcycle event is the sense of community that has developed between the participants. It is not uncommon to find folks who have been on all five Kickstart Classics, and you get the feeling that you're taking a trip with your best riding buddies, instead of just a group of nameless bikers.

This year was a little different from previous runs. In years past, we finished our ride at swap meets, vintage races, or other motorcycle event. Instead, for the fifth Kickstart Classic, we made a tour of motorcycle museums in North Carolina and Tennessee. It is no coincidence that these museums are located near some of the best motorcycle roads on the East Coast, making the 400-mile ride just as breathtaking as some of the rare machines on display.

We started out at the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, N.C., which boasts a collection of more than 300 vintage American motorcycles, all kept in running condition. On any given day, you can see owner Dale Walksler or his son, Matt, riding around the grounds on machines that just don’t exist anywhere else. When I rode in on my ’64 Panhead, I was glad to see so many motorcycles that I recognized from previous runs. As soon as I dismounted, I was shaking hands and catching up with old friends. I did manage to sneak away long enough to photograph several of the original V-series Harley-Davidsons in the museum, just to clear up some lingering questions I had with my ’33 VL build.

We left WTT the next morning with a pack of over 100 motorcycles. As you can guess, this makes for slow going in the mountains, but for us flatlanders, it gave us a chance to brush up on our cornering skills. Still, it took us four hours to work through 120 miles of Blue Ridge Parkway and Cherohala Skyway, and by the time we pulled into our lunch stop it was mid-afternoon.

We made it to Chattanooga, Tenn., by dinner time and pulled into the parking lot at the Coker Tire plant. Coker Tire provided a great meal and gave us unfettered access to their collection of antique cars, motorcycles and planes. Even though the food and scenery were excellent, what everyone enjoyed most was access to their spotless workshop. As old motorcycles were pushed in for repairs, everyone broke into small groups to triage the machines. Soon, the wrenches were out and an excited buzz could be heard across the shop, as one bike after another was made ready for the next day’s ride. For me, this is always the most enjoyable part of the event, because it gives me the chance to learn about so many different motorcycles from people who have years of experience working with vintage machines.

After riding with the main group on the first day, I decided to join 11 other riders and strike out on our own for day two. One member of our group was a local, so he adjusted the route to improve upon what was suggested by Google Maps. This turned out to be a wise decision, as we pulled into our final destination four hours before the main group.

The third museum on our tour was Cyclemos Motorcycle Museum in Red Boiling Springs, Tenn. Owner Mike Silvio has spent the last 15 years putting together an awesome collection of motorcycles and memorabilia, but what is more important is his passion for old motorcycles. Besides the museum, he also has a full-service shop, which specializes in rideable restorations. Personally, I was glad to find out that he had a rear chain in stock to fit my Panhead. After two days of riding through the mountains, my old chain had finally stretched to the point of no return and was in dire need of replacement. Mike let me wheel my Panhead right into his shop, provided the chain and a couple tools, and I had the job done well before dinner time.

When the main group finally arrived, we found out a couple wrong turns and two minor accidents had made for a much longer ride than anticipated. Luckily, no one was hurt and motorcycle damage was minimal. Still, one bike had ridden off the road, slid down an embankment and into a tree. When it arrived back at the shop, a group of us Panhead "experts" descended on the bike and went over every nut and bolt to make sure it was road-worthy. A second bike, which was riding back to California the next day, was in need of a new rear sprocket. Mike Silvio came to the rescue with an NOS sprocket, and after a couple hours we had the new sprocket riveted on and ready to cross the continent. It was well past midnight when the last repair was finished and my hat’s off to Mike for letting us take over his shop for so long.

Sunday morning was filled with goodbyes and the sound of motorcycles being kickstarted back to life. After one more visit to Cyclemos, I pointed my bike towards home and started the two-day ride back. By the time I rolled into my driveway, I had ridden more than 1,200 miles on my old Panhead.

Getting out and riding these vintage machines is what the Kickstart Classic is all about. As Mike Silvio says, "Knock the dust off your rust!"

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