Inside the pure, pastoral bliss of Vintage Motorcycle Days
The Most American Thing You’ll Ever See is actually two days after the country’s birthday, and it takes place at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.
From July 6-8, motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world will make the annual pilgrimage to the Vintage Motorcycle Days for a long weekend of riding, racing, and celebrating anything and everything with two wheels and an engine. Leather-clad Harley riders, sport bike bros, and families of all ages will empty their respective garages of their oil-spattered vintage bikes, load ‘em into their trucks and trailers, and camp throughout the 300 acre complex to participate in the largest event of its kind in the country. In a world that increasingly values the newest, shiniest toy, the vibe at VMD turns conventions upside-down and instead prizes all things rusty, loud, smoky, and obsolete. And as a gentleman who possesses a small fleet of vintage motorcycles in various states of completion and road-legal status, this weekend is an absolute paradise for me, having rarely missed it in the last 20 years. Come along for a preview of a typical Saturday with me at VMD:
Awaken mildly hungover in your tent to the sound of a 50 year-old two-stroke motocross bike 10 feet away being revved repeatedly. That’s OK—you didn’t want to sleep in and miss a moment of this weekend!
Enjoy a nutritious breakfast of whatever you grabbed at the gas station on the way out. Beverage options are coffee and beer; we are on private property so the normal social mores and open container laws don’t apply here. Just use common sense and put safety first.
Help me push start my 1971 Suzuki TC125 (not sure why it won’t kick over) so we can head up to the paddock and meet some of the road racers. It’s open to the public, so feel free to swing by the garages and tents where the racers are working on their bikes. The classes include motorcycles manufactured as early as the 1930s all the way up to the present day, and the racing is much more entertaining when you are rooting for a particular bike or team. So introduce yourself to some of the riders, take note of their names and racing numbers, and be sure to cheer them on throughout the weekend. It’ll add an extra dimension to your whole experience.
My bike won’t start at all, so let’s walk over the bridge to the infield, where several tents contain hundreds of vintage motorcycles on display to be judged for the bike show that lasts the entire weekend. In addition to live music stages, food vendors, and manufacturer displays, the infield also contains the “Wall of Death,” a 30-inches-in-diameter wooden cylinder with 14-foot high vertical walls that daredevils blast around—a testament as much to their fearlessness as it is their abilities to reliably tune a motorcycle.
The infield also offers access to some of the best spots to watch the races. My favorite is the braking zone at the end of the back straight, where riders must slow down from their top speed in time to make a sharp series of turns. With 60-year-old drum brakes and skinny tires, it can be unexpectedly exciting for both spectators and riders alike.
Let’s double up on your bike, and give me a lift to the swap meet, where the world’s largest selection of vintage motorcycle parts awaits. Hopefully I can find the elusive part I need to fix my bike! This section of VMD is so massive and so relentlessly entertaining, that for many participants, it’s the highlight of the entire weekend. Picture “Bartertown” from Mad Max, minus the Thunderdome.
Not only did I find the part I needed to fix my bike, but I did find another entire running motorcycle for sale that I just had to bring home with me! (Thanks for loaning me that $500; I’ll be sure to pay you back as soon as I can). So after we tow my old bike back to the campground, let’s join the relentless sea of motorcycles that perpetually circles the grounds, and take our bikes for a leisurely spin.
Vintage motocross is happening just next to the campgrounds. Unlike modern motocross tracks that launch riders a dozen feet in the air, this track features more bumps than jumps, which better accommodates the vintage bikes (and vintage riders) that do battle in heats all weekend. It’s still a challenge though, as ruts and mud change the course with every lap. And these older bikes are much more prone to mechanical failure, which adds an another layer of difficulty.
We’re heading into the woods to watch trials riding! Trials are slow-paced events that replace speed with precision. Riders traverse an extremely challenging course full of obstacles and have points added to their score each time they are forced to touch their feet to the ground to keep their balance, and the lowest total score wins. The low-impact nature of trials makes it appealing to both young and more “experienced” riders.
Looks like rain, so let’s retreat to the tents for lunch and a nap. It will almost definitely rain at some point in the weekend, so bring appropriate clothing. Rain is not good for the road racing but it just makes things more interesting for the…
4 p.m. …Hare scrambles! This event is a one-hour race that blends the terrain of both the rutted mounds of the motocross track and the creeks and hills of the trials course. The race starts in the fields of the campgrounds and then heads into the woods to encounter unknown challenges (at least unknown to the spectators) where I can only assume mayhem ensues. The riders are always smiling underneath their coating of mud, so they must be enjoying themselves.
The official race program has come to an end for the day, but that doesn’t mean the racing is over! Years ago I participated in an impromptu race on a dirt track created around a porta-potty and a 55-gallon drum in the campground (I didn’t lose, but I didn’t exactly win either). With thousands of rabid motorcyclists roaming the grounds, there’s no way you’ll keep them from competing with each other, and over the years, the porta-potty track has expanded into a free-form, anarchy-driven, run-what-you-brung, 200-yard long circle track with heats lining up all day. Golf carts, three wheelers, mopeds, and Harley hogs have all been known to make an appearance, certainly against better judgement. Hold my beer!
8 p.m. – midnight
With the setting of the sun comes the traditional launching of the Chinese sky lanterns, the firing up of the grills, and the continuous circulation of motorcycles through the grounds of the racetrack, often dimly illuminated through failing electrical systems or with hand-held flashlights. Activity gradually winds down in the “family” campgrounds, while in the other areas, fireworks, music, and the revving of engines continue through the night. Choose your settlement wisely!
Thus ends a typical day at Vintage Motorcycle Days (7.6.-7.8), my favorite event of all time. Hope to see you there, I’ll be the mud-splattered guy with a grin on his face, trying to start a really old Suzuki. For more, visit amavintagemotorcycledays.com.