I’d planned to drive my ‘71 Land Rover to Nevada for a day on the trails with the dune buggy guys, but a text from Editor Surj changed my plans: “Hey man, are you thinking of going to the Moto Bay Classic thing?”
Since Saturday, August 18th was already booked on my calendar with four-wheeled fun, I hadn’t given the first-year Moto Bay Classic much of a look, but Surj’s inquiry prompted me to look again, and it turned out to be right up my alley in many ways.
The Moto Bay Classic is the second such event put on by Roland Sands Designs in their Moto Classics series, combining live music, vendors, a bike show, and a series race in the Super Hooligan National Championship. The first event took place in 2017 in Huntington Beach and was described as “one of the most entertaining and authentic motorcycle events to hit the coast of California in years.”
If you’re a regular reader of CityBike, you know we tend to frown on such inauthentic usage of the word authentic. We sometimes make exceptions for events that include flat track racing, however.
I’m a bit unsure of how I feel about the whole festival-style event. In SoCal last year, RSD combined flat track and drag racing; live music from popular bands like Black Uhuru, Unwritten Law, and Lit; a mini moto race sanctioned by UMRA; a surfing competition; and of course an assortment of vendors. Most definitely a blending of cultures, but still clearly groups with overlapping interests.
Seeing as the surf competition might not work in San Francisco Bay, the Moto Bay Classic lacked waterborne antics, but instead teamed up with the San Francisco Police Department’s International Motor Skills Competition, with its finals taking place on Friday. Competitors could even sign up to run the moto gymkhana course in a “Cops vs Hooligans” race.
Personally, I prefer that to surfing, but may be biased as an occasional moto gymkhana participant.
I really came to the party for one reason: flat track. I’ve long had a fascination with flat track racing, and practice the technique whenever I have a chance—but I’ve never actually participated in a flat track race.
The Super Hooligan series offers racing in several classes, including 150cc and below, supermoto, and the all-encompassing “run what you brung” class. Something of a catchall for people incapable of sitting on sidelines, RWUB operates under a fairly permissive, flexible ruleset. So flexible, in fact, that I was able to race my beloved CRF250L Rally against 450cc flat track bikes, a Yamaha 900 triple, an Alta electric supermoto, and a Triumph 650 flat tracker from the 70s.
I could have raced my FXR, but figured I might as well make my first foray into flat tracking interesting, and we’ve made something of a hobby of demonstrating just how capable Honda’s inexpensive 250L dual-sports are.
The flat track racing at the Classic was sanctioned by Western Flat Track, who’ve been bringing flat track back to California for a few years now. A quick read through their rulebook dashed my hopes of riding the CRF into SF for the races, mainly because I wasn’t willing to spend the entire day in my race leathers, and the prospect of crashing on an asphalt race course and damaging my beloved Aerostich Cousin Jeremy (review coming soon!) didn’t appeal to me. This at least gave me the opportunity to bring my old Land Rover back into the picture, now as a makeshift pit vehicle.
I’m new to flat track, but not new to racing. I packed my spare fuel, some tools, a table, water, and some folding chairs for the inevitable waiting, strapped my Rally on the Moto Tote mounted on the back of my ancient Rover, and headed across the Bay Bridge early enough to secure a pit stall at 7:00 AM. My light packing ensured setup was fast and easy, so I sipped my coffee and chatted up my fellow racers as the day got going. I wasn’t sure who to expect, but was delighted when the always-entertaining Dave LaBree of the East Bay Rats rolled in with two scooters and a supermoto in his truck. Around the same time, Abby Baldini of the Dames Don’t Care Moto Collective and San Francisco Motorcycle Club showed up, and I knew right then this was going to be a whole lot of fun. It’s really hard to have a bad time when combining motorcycles with these two fine people.
Tech inspection was a breeze, thanks to a helpful conversation I had with Randy Kremlacek, founder, promoter and organizer of WFT. Safety rules can be hard to navigate, but Randy makes himself very accessible—so accessible that I was able to call him up on Friday afternoon and get all the info I needed to properly prep my CRF for the next day’s racing.
Let me clarify what I mean when I say “properly prep.” The bike passed tech, but I didn’t bother switching to more appropriate tires or removing any of my lights, including my turn signals. I like to enter new environments with improper equipment. I mean, what would you expect from a guy who rode Bungee Brent’s Backroad Bash—a dual-sport ride—on a Honda Hawk GT?
Post-tech, I suited up for practice. This being my first encounter with a sanctioned oval, I wanted as much time out there as I could get—although it being asphalt flat track meant I was at least on a comfortable surface. I did make sure to be second in line, hoping I could at least learn by following. There was only one hour set aside for practice, so sessions were short—less than three minutes each. In those three-minute sessions, I discovered there was a “line,” but that line was not in the best shape, surface-wise. Aggressive entrance into turns one and two resulted in some serious slideways action.
Luckily my Kenda K761 dual-sport tires are absolutely adequate for paved surfaces! I mean, with a four star rating on Amazon and such glowing reviews as “better than I thought they would be,” I knew I had a competitive edge, especially over the slicks-and-tire-warmers posers.
Action-adventure rocker Graf Holzfeuer arrived just as practice ended and the waiting began. We decided to burn some of that time checking out the bike show and vendors, in the name of independent moto-journalism, of course. Holzfeuer owns a vintage Indian—a 1940 Chief—and there were Kiwi Indian replicas on hand, so we checked those out first. I’d never heard of Kiwi Indians before, but I have to say I’m impressed. The bikes present well, and the integration of modern brakes with the vintage chassis makes sense to me.
Mixed in with the Kiwi Indians were a couple of Arlen Ness creations. Arlen is one of my favorite bike builders (read my musings on his bikes at this year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering here), and his builds really stand the test of time. I’d seen the featured bikes before, but that didn’t make them any less impressive.
The other builds on hand were definitely top quality, but the bike that stood out to me was Roland Sands’ “Dyna Ripper.” I may have professed my undying love for all things FXR, but I’ll never turn up my nose at a well-built Dyna. The Ripper is primarily a showcase for a smattering of RSD parts, but the Trac Dynamics aluminum swingarm, 17” / 19” wheel combination, piggyback shocks and cartridge fork inserts mean the bike has real potential in the canyons and curves, an uncommon focus for a Harley build.
Ducati was on hand with Scrambler demo rides, including my secret crush, the Desert Sled. I wasn’t up for putting my leathers back on, so I settled for some iced coffee and jibber jabber with Andy from Munroe Motors, who was hosting the demos. That conversation ended with the realization that I have known Andy for more than ten years at this point. I felt old, but also appreciated that I’ve made friends like Andy through motorcycling, a timely reminder in the middle of such an event.
I didn’t get to dwell on that feeling too long, as race time drew near. Dreading donning my hot leathers again, I made my walk back to the pits slowly, which allowed a quick hello from Tony at SF Moto, who were showcasing a Kawasaki Z900RS at the Classic—a bike that captured the collective hearts of the Wrecking Crew, and more recently sparked some interest from Holzfeuer too. That conversation ate up enough time that I rushed to suit up and get staged for my heat race.
As the sheets were posted, I found myself in the last RWUB heat race. I needed to place first or second to advance to the main, and there were seven other riders in my race. Not great odds, but I remained optimistic. I had six laps to get it done, or crash the CRF to pieces.
I was too excited to sit in the pits, so I rode over and waited in the staging area behind the track. Pro riders were practicing their launches, and I thought that might be a good idea—all the practices were rolling start, after all. I lined up and abused the CRF’s clutch a few times. Pleased with the results, I waited to be loaded into the chute.
Minutes passed like an eternity, but eventually I rolled down the chute, on to the track, and lined up. My odds increased dramatically as only three other riders showed up for my race. I would start on the front row.
The start is simple: watch the flagger, wait for the blinking yellow, then no light, then GREEN! My previously-practiced clutch dump technique delivered, and I was in first. From the holeshot onward, I managed a half-lap lead on my competitors. Picking the smoothest line, getting on the throttle smoothly as soon as possible on exit, I let the CRF sing. Until the red flag…
The heated battle for second place had tangled the field up and caused a crash. With two laps left, we did a single file re-start. One of the riders in the crash was out, one switched bikes. All I had to do was repeat my launch and hang on.
Yellow… blank… GREEN!
Same launch, same holeshot, more speed this time. Entering turns three and four I found the Rally sliding out in ways that didn’t help my speed. Still in the lead, I gathered the bike up and went for turns one and two. White flag flying, I found myself crossed up and sliding into the turn, just as the newly-entered supermoto passed me on the outside. Again, I practiced my heroic save skills, applied throttle and tucked in behind the new leader. I didn’t overcook the turn this time and managed not to lose ground, but the damage was done. The supermoto had more drive and took the checkers. Second would have to do.
But I’d made the main event. What now? I really didn’t think the CRF had a chance of this, nor did anyone else, judging by conversations in the pits. I stayed suited-up, doused myself with water and got ready to do battle.
When the mains were posted, I found my start position to be dead last. New goal: don’t get lapped.
My competition was packed with 450cc race bikes, mostly supermotos, with an Alta Redshift SM in the mix for good measure. I took stock of my goal, and moved the posts a bit closer by deciding I needed to not be lapped by more than three bikes. Reasonable, right?
Race time rolled around and I felt a bit relieved as I loaded into the chute: my work was all but done. I’d managed to not crash all day, and racing the main was like icing on the cake. Back on the line, blinking yellow light, no light…
Clutch drop, small wheelie, watch the pack close into a ball. I was in last with a 650 Triumph flat tracker right in front of me. I watched his line in turns one and two, and thought I could take him. Turns three and four, I went inside, showed him a wheel… but he took me on the drive.
Directly in front of him was a small electric motorcycle of unknown origin. The Triumph rider was battling that rider, so I kept the pressure up, fighting to get on the gas sooner and sooner with every turn. Five laps in, he went wide into three and four. I had the grip and the line, so I made the pass. There I was, now going to pick off the electric bike.
I found my strength on corner entry, but I lost ground on exit. With the white flag flying, I made one last move and went hot into three and four.
No dice. I made the exit drive, but it wasn’t enough. I’d have to settle for second to last, on the same lap as the leader.
That’s right. I didn’t crash, I didn’t finish last, and I didn’t blow up the bike. I don’t know how I could have asked for a better day of racing.
This was a different feeling than I experience as a crew member of my race cars, and also different from what I feel as a mini-moto endurance team member—a feeling of accomplishment that I’m still smiling about now, almost a week later. As I type these words and relive the finish, I get a rush. There are several famous quotes comparing racing to other addictions, and I now have an even better understanding of how that’s possible.
Ten out of ten, would race again.
Floating on the post-race high, I took in The Vandals’ set. I’m hesitant to use terms like throwback or nostalgia, because the Vandals put on a kickass show. Josh Freese is one of my favorite drummers ever, and his playing is truly captivating in person. Combined with the not-exactly-serious lyrics and fun guitar solos, the Vandals capped the night off perfectly for me.
The Eagles of Death Metal were still to come, but I chose to load up and head home. As I plodded east in my Rover, I reflected on the whole experience.
I might have dismissed the Moto Bay Classic as an outsider-led, marketing-driven money grab, or a hipster pose-fest, but it was actually a shitload of fun. I do lament that most moto-only events lack this kind of draw, but I appreciate the crowd that only a mixed-media event can attract. As a bona fide member of the crusty Aerostich crowd, I tip my hat to Roland Sands and the event sponsors for giving us a place to ride fast in circles, talk shit, and simply be riders.
Tchell shot enough photos of the first Moto Bay Classic for us to make a hell of a coffee table book about it. We’re not gonna do that, but here are a few more to check out.
The Architects of Inspiration Bike & Art Show
The Moto Bay Classic offered a kid-khana course for future Super Hooligans.