I can’t count the number of times I have talked about going to the Smoke Out rally. I would always make tentative plans, then something would come up that was “more important,” usually the “more important” was something somebody else wanted me to do for them. It almost went down that way again, and I won’t go into the details of how or why, but, on Thursday morning I found myself making quick plans to get on the road, I was going to my first Smoke Out!
Early Friday I was headed east out of Atlanta on I-20 toward the Carolinas and the Smoke Out. Usually I avoid the Interstate when I ride, it’s a soul-sucking drone of major proportions, and the less time spent there the better. I had looked at my iPad’s map several times to find a better two lane route, but nothing seemed obvious, and according to the iPad, it was only a six-hour ride, part of it was on two lane Rt. 1, so why not? By the time I reached the exit for Madison Georgia, I was done, and ready to find anything that did not have four lanes. After a quick stop for water, snack, and a look at the map, still nothing jumped out and said, “Ride me!” So it was back to I-20 and more droning toward the East.
When I stopped in Augusta for gas, I was shocked to see it was under three dollars a gallon, the evening before gas in my area had been a quarter higher. It just goes to show the whole “gas game” is a fixed racket! I met a pretty cool lady at the gas stop, she was riding a V-Star with Harley cop saddlebags she had bought on Ebay and put on herself, we talked a while, then I was on the road again. What looks like a short distance on the map can take forever in real-time, it seemed like I would never get to the exit for Camden SC, and the beginning of Rt. 1, just as I was praying for a quick death to end my misery, the exit appeared.
Camden is a friendly small town, all except for the local that almost clipped me when I was stopping for gas, as I feel the breeze off them I hear, “Asshole!” Let’s see…… I have my blinker on, slowing for a left turn, you aren’t paying attention, have to swerve to miss me when I’m in a turning lane, and I’m the asshole? Really? I had passed them earlier, a man and woman, they were in a POS Pontiac Sunbird, it was a rolling wreck. I could see an open beer bottle between the legs of the driver, who was sporting a “Joe Dirt” style mullet, a real class act!
Route 1 is two lanes of not so great pavement with a speed limit of fifty-five broken up by several flea speck towns with ridiculously low speed limits, each with what was probably the town’s only cop running a speed trap for the unsuspecting traveler, just imagine repeating Barney Fifes every few miles and you’ll have it. By the time I was on Rt. 1, it was mid afternoon and hot as hell, I stopped once for water, it was then I met a guy headed for the Smoke Out riding a bobbed Suzuki. The bike was almost all flat black with hand painted skulls and lettering, sweet! Turns out his wife did all of it by hand on their kitchen table, just her and a paintbrush, you have to admire that. Since it was so hot, I didn’t want to hold him up to get shots of the bike, I wish now I had, never saw him or the bobber again, bummer!
I arrived at the Smoke Out a little after five o’clock, well over eight hours from my start time, so much for a six-hour trip! My plan was to get a two-day ticket, find my hotel and return that evening for the entertainment, that didn’t happen. It was close to six by the time I found my hotel, and it was already spitting rain, by the time I had checked in it was coming down in buckets! Since it was storming, and I was so beat, I figured I would just stay in and rest up for the next day. Looking back, I already had some of the symptoms of heat exhaustion and didn’t know it.
The next morning I headed to the Smoke Out, I was there and in just after the gates opened. It reminded me of some of the events and swap meets I used to go to in the late Seventies when I rode Harleys, I felt right a home. The first people I met were some guys working to install a throttle cable on a Harley 45 trike, the one thing I could not work out was why the owner kept trying to sell it to the guy helping him install the cable. And the other guy is like, “No, no, don’t want it.” I had the good sense to stay out of the discussion, but it was interesting to listen to.
I think it was a good looking trike, it had a Harley tour pack in place of the standard Servicar box, a raked girder fork and some nice graphics. The 45 was called “Menage a Trois,” for those of you that don’t speak Frog, it means “household of three,” of course, most of us Americans just know it as a three way.
Something I didn’t notice at the time was the pinup image on the Sportster tank, the girl has three boobs!
Later I saw this same bike parked behind the booth of the guy he was trying to sell it to, maybe he was successful with his sales pitch? There was a lot to see, all types of bikes, I noticed there seemed to be a lot of dirt track, or “Tracker” themed customs.
I really like this Tracker style flathead with a ratchet top foot shift four speed, it looks like it will haul ass! I especially like the aggressive tread tires.
There were some interesting Shovels, Pans, Knuckleheads, and Sportsters parked around the Baker Drivetrain and de Ville Cycles booths. I have always been interested in de Ville’s products, it was great to actually check out their product in person.
This wasn’t a Harley only meet, there were plenty of Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki customs of every type. The Brits were well represented too, Triumphs, BSA’s, Nortons, there were Indian’s, both old and new, the only thing I didn’t see a lot of was Victory, if you included mine, I might have seen six total.
There was one outstanding drag bike styled Suzuki that was entered in the Smoke Out chop off, it was built by Bryan Trigila.
Bryan’s custom started life as Suzuki GT 550, when I was younger, I used to put these together out of the crate when I worked at a dealership, this bike looks nothing like those! I recently interviewed Bryan, and there will be a complete start to finish article about his build in The Biker’s Garage.
Of all the different things to see, this has to be at the top of the list, I never thought I would see one live, ever, but there it was, a Morgan three wheeler. The Morgan was three wheeled “car” sold in the UK, and in limited numbers here, you rarely see one unless it’s in a museum. If I remember right, they had a partially water cooled J.A.P. engine, this one has a Harley Shovel engine instead. It had some great lines, like an old British sports car, only better.
I can’t describe how big this event was, if you can imagine another row like the image above, filled with vendor booths, bikes and lots of people, that would be it! I tried to hit every booth I could, looking for new ideas and products that I could potentially feature in The Biker’s Garage. One booth I visited had an interesting concept of a shared motorcycle shop arrangement, a bit like a club, where you paid a monthly fee for shop space and tools so you could work on your bike. I was wanting to write about them so I made sure I got their card, I didn’t look at it, just stuffed it in my bag. When I was writing this article I pulled all the cards out I had collected, I then noticed something odd about their card. There was almost nothing on the card, just a name “Cult Classic,” and a Masonic style triangle with 333, no name, telephone number, address, website URL, nothing. I like edgy, but COME ON! They were out of Columbia SC, so I figured a Google search might come up with something, couldn’t find a thing! If I ever find them, I’ll be sure to give them a mention here.
The best product I found was a motorcycle graphics masking kit by Liquid Illusions. The kit lets you apply skulls, flames and other art to your tank and fenders using pre-cut masks. I learned how to lay down paint years ago, I’m great with that, my failing is graphics, laying them out, the masking, I just suck at it. The Liquid Illusions kits does the hard part for you, the base color goes on, the kit next, paint the graphics in, remove the masking, clear coat, and you’re done! Of course I left out the fine points of the job, but you get the idea, and if you can airbrush a bit to add drop shadows and other detail, even better!
It was around one o’clock by the time I had made my way around the vendor area, I had been back to my Vic twice, drank what little water I brought with me, yet I was starting to feel like crap. I figured I was just running out of gas because I hadn’t eaten lunch, so I decided to find something to eat.
And of course, as it always seems to happen, along the way I saw this great truck, and I just had to stop and talk to the owner. I’ll admit it’s easy for me to get side tracked when I see something I like, and I liked this! Basically it’s a GMC truck body sitting on an air bagged Mazda frame, engine and transmission, the best of both worlds, stone reliable with old school looks.
By the time I was finished looking at it and asking questions, my lunch was pushed back even more, and I was supposed to meet friends at the beer tent at two o’clock, I was running behind! I had a quick burger and two bottles of water and headed to the beer tent to find my friends. I never did find them, we all belong to the same Facebook group but had never met before. I’m so generic looking that I find it is best to describe the things I’ll have with me, so I’m like, “I’ll be wearing a gray ball cap that says Bing Vergasser on it, and carrying a blue camera bag.” I guess that didn’t help, much, I couldn’t see them, and as far as I know, they never saw me. I waited as long as I could, but by two-forty-five I was feeling worse, nauseated, wobbly, I figured if I didn’t leave soon I wouldn’t be able to ride to the hotel. So I decided head back, rest up, and return later to catch the evening’s entertainment.
It was several hours before I felt well enough to return, I had cooled off, and drank enough water to fill a fish tank, I felt better, but not great. I made it back to the Smoke Out around seven-thirty, the ground was soaking wet, a storm had passed through while I was gone, now it was at least a bit cooler. There was lots of activity, with folks walking around, or riding their bikes up and down the road in front of the main stage.
An extra bonus for me was all of the hot rod customs at the Smoke Out, sedans, coupes, trucks, and some that all I could say was, “WTF is that?”
I found this Yamaha XS 650 and spoke with Les, its owner, I had seen it before, but it is always better to have the builder on hand so you can ask questions.
I never could figure out if the bike was called “Mad Max,” or “The Heater.” It had “Mad Max” engraved on the clutch cover, but, I had also heard others call it “The Heater.” When I was talking with Les, he mentioned that the faring lowers were made from an old water heater.
Les is one of those guys that never throws anything away, finds bargains at yard sales, and takes advantage of it all to build a bike. I was fascinated by all the different items used to build ”Mad Max,” the windshield is made from a grinding face shield, the head light was something he picked up yard sale, the list of salvaged or found parts was endless!
As it was getting closer to the entertainment portion of the evening, folks were still riding up and down the road, some of it was kinda interesting.
I almost don’t want to know…. What ever it was, it was moving so fast I had some speed blurring going on!
And the Morgan was out, cool! If there’s one thing that I can’t stand to see someone build a bike and not ride it, riding is the point of building, right?
This last frame sums up my overall experience with the people I met at the Smoke Out, fun, willing to talk about their bikes, building, riding, my kind of people. I didn’t meet one person that I didn’t have a good time speaking with. I enjoyed every moment I could at the Smoke Out, the bikes, people, everything, if I had a regret, it was the fact I was so sick I didn’t have the energy to participate the way I wanted. The sun had finally set, and I was trying to hang in there until the wet t-shirt contest started, who wouldn’t want to see that? Right? But I just couldn’t make it, heat exhaustion will make you so tired it feels like all you want to do is sleep, so I was done, time to pack it in. I made it back to the hotel, unpacked the bike, came in, sat down for “just a minute,” and fell asleep in the chair.
The next morning I woke up still in my clothes, boots and all, sprawled across the bed, must have moved in the night at some point, I just don’t remember. At breakfast I checked again for a better route home, but I still couldn’t find anything. Soon I was on the road again, Rt.1 was not quite as bad because it was cooler, same crappy pavement and small towns though. I think I-20 was worse this time around, mostly because I was traveling it in the afternoon. The only break I got at all was a rainstorm I rode through, other than that, it was like riding in an oven all the way home. I won’t bore you with the details of riding back I-20, it was no different from my trip up, only much hotter.
Would I go to another Smoke Out? Hell yes! This event is so big, and there is so much to do and see, I have to come back! Even with the health problems I had on the trip, it wasn’t that bad, others I knew had it worse with breakdowns and accidents. What will I do different next year? For one I will make sure I’m there before Friday, don’t want to miss a thing! I will try to rustle up a group to go, it’s always better to have friends with you on a trip. I may camp at the event, there seemed to be just as much going on in the campground as the event. And, I may have a different bike, or increase the size of my saddlebags on my current ride, the ones I have now are good for day trips, but lack the capacity for extended rides.
The journey is not always about just the destination, often it is the experiences along the way, what you see, the people you meet, these things give you new ideas, make you think differently, help you further define what you want from life, in whatever form it takes, embrace your journey.
Words By: Terry Cavender
Images By: Terry Cavender