FINAL REPORT - 1999 FALCONE SOUTHWEST TOUR
In 1993 a Falcone club from Italy staged a very elaborate tour of the western U.S. I helped to serve as organizer and host for this tour. Many enlarged photos of the tour are on display at the Guzzi factory and a full-length video is for sale in their parts list. In 1999, we have scheduled a somewhat similar tour with our reformed Club. This time John Loyd of Las Vegas has taken the burden of the planning and organizing host. I provided a similar service in 1993 but this time I am merely a translator and rider and moral support to John. Only I know the investment of time, energy, and angst that John and his helpful son Larry have put into this expedition.
The Falcone motorbikes have been shipped weeks in advance and arrive safely in Las Vegas about 10 days ahead of schedule. Each bike has been neatly cradled in its own modular aluminum frame. The entire lot is secured two-high into a shipping container. Eleven Falcones, one Astore and one modern V35Nevada are included. There is ample room in the container for spare parts and supplies. The Silverton Hotel does a good job of unloading the container by forklift and they store the machines under protective cover and watchful security guard. Now it is time for the riders to join their machines.
Day 1 - Saturday, July 31 The gathering day.
Jerry Kimberlin and I load his GTW and my SuperAlce onto my trailer and drive 560 miles to Las Vegas. Flights from Venice and Zurich are scheduled to arrive two hours apart. The Venice flight is delayed and both planes arrive within five minutes of each other just before midnight. Bruno Cannali (a Las Vegas local who speaks fluent Italian) stays with us through the delays and makes the arrival greeting a little smoother and more comfortable. Nice to meet my old friends again and make acquaintance with several new ones. I know about half of these people from the 1993 Falcone tour, the 1997 Isle of Man tour, and my several visits to Italy in 1995, 1996, and 1998. First order of business is a series of convoluted phone calls back to the families in Italy to announce the safe arrival.
Day 2 - Sunday, August 1 The Shakedown Day.
The motorbikes are uncrated and prepared for riding. Only one or two require pushing to get started. Local Guzzi rider Tim Crump helps out and takes several digital photographs for immediate posting to the internet so that everyone can see the organization and start of our tour. The club fuels at a nearby gas station and then a Tim leads a ride to join a local motorcylist breakfast in the nearby mountains. The gas station was a national brand, but somehow must have loaded a tankful of poor quality fuel. After a short while of use, the bikes were running terribly, hard starting, and stalling everywhere. We first thought it was the differing carb setups on the European bikes, but even Jerry Kimberlin and Bill Ross had serious performance problems and their motorbike are adjusted for this region. The breakfast meeting turned out to be a dud so the club continued its local touring and riding. Bill Arbour, another Las Vegas Guzzi rider, provided guidance through the Red Rock Canyon park. Returning to the hotel for the afternoon, everyone rested and worked on resetting their internal clocks to the new time zone. In the evening, the club joined Bill Arbour at his home for a barbecue dinner and party. After dinner, there was a spontaneous decision to ride down the Las Vegas Strip and show off for the other tourists. This turned out to be a very bad decision. There was incredibly dense traffic, it was still very hot air temperature, and the motorbikes had not yet consumed all of the bad fuel. The result was a disconnected string of stalling, vapor locking, and smoking Falcones littering the length of the Strip. Not a very good show. I missed all of this circus as I was previously committed to a family wedding at Lake Tahoe. While the club was struggling, I was flying back and forth across the state.
Day 3 - Monday, August 2 The local tour.
Now I get to gather up my SuperAlce from John Loyd’s garage and show it off to my old friends. They have seen pictures and we have been communicating on the restoration by e-mail for several years. The Italians have some concern that a bike with this gearing won't be able to keep up on the highways and that the engines with exposed valves wont be durable in the desert. Both of these presumptions will eventually be proved false. We gather at the home of John Loyd for a light breakfast. Our first tour of the day is to visit the Las Vegas Fire Department communications and training center. Bill Ross, a Falcone rider and firefighter from Escondido California arranged this very special insider tour. As a public relations effort, the firefighters sponsor and run a specialty drag racing motorcycle. Alas, the cylinder head is off for repairs so we can’t hear it run. But it sure looks fast. We relax for the afternoon and then ride off in the evening for a wonderful dinner at the home of Las Vegas local rider Jim King. Jim’s foyer is occupied by an 851 Ducati and a nook in the family room houses a pristine V-7 Sport.
This particular Guzzi has been photographed by Nolan Woodbury and featured on the cover of the MGNOC news. There are several more exotic motorcycles in Jim’s garage. We are treated to a wonderful multi-course authentic Italian meal prepared by a woman from Modena who now lives in Las Vegas and has become a friend of John’s. This casual dinner includes at least 20 bottles of wine, some quite extraordinary.
Day 4 - Tuesday, August 3 Las Vegas to Prescott, AZ.
We start early as this will be our longest, single-day ride. Las Vegas local Tim Crump provides guidance out of town on his yellow Centauro. We stop in the late morning in the revived ghost town of Oatman on US66. Upon arrival, we are confronted by a band of old west hooligans who demand money as a toll fee for passing through their town. Soon, one of them is seen displaying a bag of gold coins and a greed-induced gunfight ensues. Within minutes, all have been slain (but they rise again to pass the hat). A good wild west show for the tourists. No harm done other than prolonging the stereotype. The afternoon ride up Skull Valley grade is really wonderful. Now the SuperAlce can display what low gearing is all about. Out of my way sport bikes! We gather at Watson Lake Park in Prescott for a delicious barbecue by Jim Knaup the local Guzzi dealer (he will be forever known by his beans). This park has become the sight of the Arizona Guzzi Rally in recent years. A member of the local press arrives and asks for a ride on one of these old beauties so he can take photos. Several weeks later, Jim sends us a photo from the local newspaper showing my ear and the front of my bike from the photographer’s back seat viewpoint. Cool.
Day 5 - Wednesday, August 4 Prescott to Mesa.
We start with a visit to Jim Knaup's Guzzi shop. One Falcone has a broken exhaust hanger strap and we need some artistic welding. Jim has never wrenched on a Falcone before and refuses direct payment. A bottle of wine and another of grappa do the trick. Next on our list is a tour over the mountains into historic Jerome. We ride on to Montezuma's Castle but for unknown reasons none of the group is interested in the tour so we press onward. Over the mountain, we are hammered by a terrific thunderstorm with hail and lightning. Those ice pellets sting with no fairing, windshield, or facial protection! Just for complication, one bike gets a flat tire in the worst of the weather on the upgrade. Quick unloading of the spare bike from the luggage trailer minimizes the nuisance. John Loyd is a master at unpacking and re-packing. We arrive into Phoenix for our last fuel break of the day. It takes us quite some time to get all restarted as it is now fairly hot. Within a few blocks, Bill Ross loses his magneto to heat. More time is lost to the diagnosis. We have no trailer room because the flat tire Falcone is in there. We consider switching Bill’s rear wheel onto the one with a flat tire. It is late, we are tired, the hotel is not far away and some local has offered to get his truck to transport Bill to the hotel. We start out again and within another two blocks my bikes spits off a valve stem cap. We install a spare cap within a few minutes and start off again. The nearby hotel turns out to be 30 miles away and now the wind has come up so our faces are sandblasted for the last part. We approach the hotel with some marginal instructions to discover that nearby intersections are under renewal construction and all of the signposts have been removed. It was a circus but we finally arrived. But where?? This is surely our hotel and the reservation is in order. However, our long-posted Internet page lists another hotel across town and so friends and relatives are waiting there for us. Now for the worst! We inspect my valve train to try and diagnose why the stem cap was lost. Suddenly we see a badly ovalized exhaust guide and the valve stem moves horizontally about 3mm before it begins to descend vertically. Oops! This bike is down for the count and will not be repaired along the road. (It is not until some weeks later at home that Jerry discovers a broken valve spring creating a tremendous lateral imbalance on the valve stem and subsequent damage to the guide. Perhaps this was even broken before the tour started? It had been replaced just last year.) I am visited by my nephews from Phoenix who have come over to visit us and see the antiques. I arrange to go home with one of them, rise early the next morning, and fly back to Las Vegas to get my car and trailer. It is a costly decision, but both the car and trailer become exceedingly useful during the remainder of our journey.
Day 6 - Thursday, August 5 Mesa to Tucson.
I rise early with only about three hours sleep to catch the first flight out of Phoenix. I arrive in Las Vegas and Larry Loyd gets me to my car before 7:00 a.m. My friends back in Mesa don't fare much better. During the middle of the night, some local vandal has dumped teargas into the hotel hallway at 2:00 a.m. and the fire department rousts everyone outside for medical inspections. My drive back to reunite seems easy and uneventful. I stop again off the highway in Mesa for fuel and a telephone call. We had prearranged for any messages or altered travel information to be left with the local Guzzi dealer and I would call them before passing through. I make the call and receive information that Bill's magneto has been replaced with a spare, everything is operational, and the club is heading to our next destination in Tucson. The maintenance delays of the morning have forced them to abandon the visit to the Champlin Warbirds Museum. Back in the car I fly low to reach Tucson before they do. Somehow I have missed some of the tour plan and I sit waiting at the hotel parking lot for 4 hours while the club is partying at the nearby Guzzi dealer. How did I miss this? When we finally get together, I discover that there is NO SUPERALCE! To save space for additional breakdowns, my motorbike was left at the Mesa hotel and a message for me to pick it up was left with the Mesa Guzzi dealer. HUH? What message? The only message I got was that everyone was heading to Tucson. Back in the car, back 125 miles to Mesa, load the SuperAlce, 125 miles back to Tucson (about 650 miles in total for the day). Folks, this has been one long and harrowing day on only three hours sleep.
Day 7 - Friday, August 6 Tucson area tours.
Today I get to ride the spare Falcone. It is still painted Local Police green. It starts and runs well, shifts with the gentlest of clicks, and stops firmly. I’d like to own this one! We tour the Pima air museum and the Sonora Desert Museum (this took some extra persuasion on my part, but they all agreed it was a world class facility). On the way out to the Sonora Desert Museum we located a nice roadside park with some scenic vistas. Nolan Woodbury took time to join us and work his magic with lens and film. I hope to see some of his photos in future publications. In the evening we join a motorcycle show and party at a local shopping center. We get lost along the way and arrive somewhat late. We have an unfortunate incident, as a few of the ‘V-Twin’ crowd are openly not pleased by this late invasion of foreign motorbikes. We stay only long enough for a hug with the Bud Girls. (Interestingly, one of our group has complained for days of an inability to speak any English. The Americans have all taken turns helping him with simple translations for food and shopping. As soon as he gets one of these girls on his arm, fluency sets in and we can't shut him up. Go figure. He gets little sympathy from then on.) It looks like a thunderstorm is on the way, so it is just as good that we leave soon.
Day 8 - Saturday, August 7 Tucson to Silver City, NM. The breakdown day.
We start out with a fair weather day and wonderful roads. The border crossing from Arizona into New Mexico is a spectacular, almost alpine experience. Halfway up a long, hot grade, Jerry's GTW screeches to a halt in an area where there is no extra breakdown lane. The rear sprocket has sheared all of its bolts, the chain is in several pieces, and everything is wrapped into his bent swing arm. Not a pretty sight at all. We quickly load him onto my trailer and now he rides the spare Falcone. Just as we prepare to start off, our leader Yvan comes back with his head gasket leaking compression badly. This grade damaged two motorbikes. Yvan decides to continue riding it and he makes another 150 miles into Silver City. Guzzis are durable under the worst circumstances. It makes me think for a minute about taking the SuperAlce off the trailer. The disassembly begins and we find that Yvan has snapped a cylinder stud at the block. Now we have serious work to do. The hotel manager has an ailing friend with a truck repair shop at the outskirts of town. We go there and drill and remove the broken stud bits. We find an old leaf spring shackle bolt and manufacture a new stud. We turn down the diameter of the stud by hand, cut a new metric thread on the block end and leave the fine pitch SAE thread on the head end. Its a bodge, but it will last the remainder of the tour without difficulty. Jerry's sprocket is a little more difficult. It is bent both out of plane and out of round. He sits on the curb for a log time, tapping with a hammer like Santa’s Little Helper until the reshaping meets his standards. He is amazing. This pretzel of a sprocket will last the remainder of the tour.
Day 9 - Sunday, August 8 Repairs and the best road.
We complete the sprocket repair, align the swingarm, and add a new chain. The club has departed earlier with only three of us behind to finish this repair. Once complete, we ride out to join the club at the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The road out and back is near 60 miles and seemingly has not a single straightway. A sign at the start warns of a 2-hour ride for 60 miles. Is this possible? We all ride very hard and just barely beat the time specification. Certainly a top ten road. We arrive back at the hotel for some earned relaxation and shopping at the local Walmart.
Day 10 - Monday, August 9 Silver City to Albuquerque. The near loss.
Mostly this is an uneventful day but it was close to disaster. We travel north along the frontage road of NM1, which doesn't even show on our maps. Parallel to the superhighway, this is the old rural road, which passes through the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. We stop in Socorro for lunch and photos in front of a historic church. Some miles north of the city we stop at a roadside rest area to meet Wally and Annie, relatives of John Loyd, who will escort us with their Harleys into the busy Albuquerque. Wally is a member of the Blue Knights motorcycle police fraternity. At this meeting stop, we suddenly realize that an all-important backpack has been left at the front of the church in Socorro. This particular backpack carries all of the financial records of the tour to date and the airline tickets back to Europe. Yikes! Wally takes off for retrieval at a very high rate of speed. His Harley is wired with a cellular phone and he calls ahead while driving. Someone has already found the backpack and turned it in to the local police. A quick pickup from the station and soon we're all together and back on the road again. When we arrive in Albuquerque, Wally buys beer for all and then goes off checking for some special request bolts. What a really nice guy! A few local Guzzisti show up at our hotel and I discover that one has a SuperAlce at home. That now makes a total of 8 of these spread across the U.S.
Day 11 - Tuesday, August 10 Albuquerque to Taos. The rain.
After shopping at a local native American jewelry exchange, we leave Albuquerque in a torrential downpour, which lasts nearly 2 hours. How did we avoid an incident or losing someone in the highway crowd in this terrible visibility? We stop in Santa Fe for lunch and the two cars get slowed in traffic and eventually separated from the bikes. After 15 minutes of isolation and disorientation we are prepared to press on to Taos and hope the rider group all make it safely. Again, out of the blue comes Wally to escort and leads us back to the group luncheon. We arrive in Taos without further incident and meet an interesting Hot Air Balloon pilot. More of him tomorrow.
Day 12 - Wednesday, August 11 Taos to Durango, CO. The lodging failure.
We leave Taos early to take time to stop at the Rio Grande Gorge bridge just east of Taos. Five miles north we can see our balloon friend lifting off from the desert. He gains very little altitude and then soon drops out of sight. He sinks into the gorge and then rides the flow of cool air below the canyon rim and above the water. For a substantial fee he will be happy to take you for a ride. But what a view this must be! We leave the gorge and pass through a colony of 'earth ships'. These are high technology homes built into the countryside using many recycled materials to maximize natural energy sources and provide a sense of cultural independence and self-sufficient isolation for their residents. Today, Mariano drives my car and I get to ride his Falcone. We press on to state number four, Colorado. We are confronted by a very heavy thunderstorm, which turns to hail and literally forces us off the road (wish I had my car back). The nearest driveway has a couple of barns, which are open and provide some cover and relief for the riders. No one seems to be home. We wait until the worst abates and head back out to the highway. At the driveway entrance we are met by a returning farmer who is very irate about our trespass. He is not pleased to have 18 guests unannounced. Its a good thing he wasn't home when we drove in or it might have been an ugly scene. But the worst of our day is still yet to come. We arrive in Durango and go immediately to the train station. Tomorrow we will ride the steam train to Silverton and we have arranged to rent an extra boxcar to carry the Falcone motorbikes up the mountain. We must load the boxcar tonight so that it can be attached in the morning to maintain schedules. Now our local transportation in Durango is limited to ferrying with the two cars. We move on to our hotel and disaster strikes. The hotel computer has failed, our reservation is lost and all the rooms are already given away. We luckily manage to find another hotel across town (at much higher expense) which can handle our entire group on short notice. Now the extra car really shows its value. It would really have been a burden to do all of this shuttling with only one car. The substitute Travelodge hotel is operated by a very nice and helpful Polish family. They are heartily recommended. A local Guzzi rider spots us and stops in. After a few minutes of discussion I realize it is Tom Taggert formerly of the San Francisco Bay area. We shared Monza maintenance many years ago. We both still own the same Monzas.
Day 13 - Thursday, August 12 The Durango/Silverton Steam Train.
What a gorgeous day and what a quaint train ride. We chug our way up the mountain at a brisk 13mph and get our hair and eyes full of soot and cinders. We must stop twice along the route for more water to feed the thirsty steam engine. At every road crossing we look out to see Bill Ross waving and taking our pictures. Bill has been on this train before and now chooses to ride up parallel to the train on his Falcone. The uphill ride is fun, but there is plenty of swaying back and forth. We are all thinking about the jumbled pile of antique motorbikes in the boxcar in front of us. When we open the doors, everything is just as secure as the night before. Unloading in Silverton must be completed very quickly as the train has a tight return schedule. We lunch and shop for a few hours and then ride the motorbikes back down to Durango.
Day 14 - Friday, August 13. Durango to Mexican Hat, UT. We turn homeward.
There is some morning business traffic to contend with as we ride through the town center. The last two motorbikes miss a turn heading west and they continue south, the wrong way out of town. Our mechanic Mariano speeds off to catch them a few miles outside of town and get them headed back the correct way. Later in the morning we almost make a major route change. The open roads begin to create substantial spaces between groups of bikes and the two trailing cars. At a major fork in the road, all the motorbikes continue straight on. This is the wrong way and will take them many miles out of the way to our next destination. They are too far ahead with intervening traffic to see us stopping behind. We stop the cars and wait presuming that they will eventually turn around when they don't see us behind them. After some 15 minutes, there is still no sign. We decide we must follow along the wrong route in case they have some mechanical trouble later in the day. They did eventually stop and turn around so we soon meet them and all decide to turn back together toward the correct road.
Day 15 - Saturday, August 14. Monument Valley tour.
We rise very early for a van ride into Monument Valley and then a Navajo jeep tour into the valley back roads. We arrive at the visitor center before a crisp, clear dawn with an opportunity for spectacular photos of the sunrise over the stone mesa monuments. Our tour is a wonderful cultural exchange with interpretation of the natural history and native American life by our Navajo driver. Back in town we have a sumptuous outdoor steak barbecue dinner.
Day 16 - Sunday, August 15. Mexican Hat to Kanab.
The ride starts terribly today with one Falcone refusing to drive more than a few hundred meters at a time. After the fourth or fifth failure stop in the first mile, we decide to trailer it for the day and Giuseppe Baudo now gets to ride the spare Falcone. Later the problem is diagnosed as finish wax plugging the relief hole in the fuel cap. I know these Falcones are beautiful, but I think they wax their motorbikes way too much.
Day 17 - Monday August 16. Kanab to Las Vegas.
We ride through the main road of Zion National Park (my favorite). The group has planned only to cruise straight through on this long day. One rider pleads for an opportunity to stay behind to tour and photo in Zion Canyon. Bill Ross and I agree to split off from the group and guide him separately. I ride Bill’s Falcone and he drives the car as he wants to get video footage of his own bike on the road. We do not reunite with our club until late in the day back at our hotel. On our way into Nevada, Tim Crump meets us and guides our tour through the Valley of Fire state park and along the shores of Lake Mead. We stop to buy fluids at the Las Vegas Bay Marina. Here we discover thousands of huge, hungry carp, which have learned to beg for food from the dockside pedestrians. You sit on the dock and here are all these mouths gaping at the water surface for popcorn. What a circus! We arrive back at the Silverton hotel but there are no other riders. After some time, Jerry Kimberlin zooms up alone on his GTW. He had gotten bored of the slow pace of the others on the freeway so he just cranked it up to 75 and left them behind. All this with exposed valves and a re-hammered rear sprocket. Viva Guzzi! So much for the concerns of the external valve durability. The group soon arrives from behind with amazement and praise for the oldest bike on tour. A few hours later, my sweetie Regina arrives from California into Las Vegas on her new EV. She is a bit wilted from the heat. She has been safely escorted by my good friend, Rick Hoiland. Regina is well known to many of the club members and they are all happy to meet her again (especially me).
Day 18 - Tuesday, August 17. Death Valley tour.
About half of the club members are eager to continue on into California for a Death Valley loop tour. The weather is not too hot, perhaps only 110F which is bearable and the Falcone motorbikes don't mind at all. Now I get to ride her EV and Regina takes the car and trailer to get air conditioning. John Loyd gets to lead us on his EV and leave his car at home. A beautiful day with no problems. At the start we are by a local rider, Joe Peralta. He seems somewhat quiet and aloof as he tags along our tour. A month later, Joe announces his internet page of pictures and narrative of our day ride. Wow, what a creative spirit. The page has nicely composed photographs and even sound recordings of the Falcones in action. So that’s what he was doing when I thought he was aloof. Nice work, Joe!
Day 19 - Wednesday, August 18. Las Vegas highlights.
Today starts very badly. Our host John Loyd is retired from, the Air Force and fiercely proud of his military service. He has taken extra effort to arrange a tour through Nellis AFB to visit with the Thunderbirds acrobatic flight team. After weeks of planning and confirmation letters, the message has not reached the military police and they will not permit us entry to the base. John spends nearly two hours in phone calls to clear it all up and the tour finally proceeds. We are even escorted by three Las Vegas Motorcycle Police. There is still some delay when we get to the base gate. The security staff will not allow riders with short sleeves and unprotected arms. We are all wearing our full-length riding suits, but Bill Arbour has only a T-shirt. Fortunately, I have a spare long sleeve riding shirt in my cargo bag and Bill is able to stay with us. The tour is wonderful and we are even permitted to set a line of Falcones in front of an F16 fighter for rare photographs. You should see these on the Internet. Leaving the air base, we continue to the new Las Vegas Speedway and a tour of the Shelby motorcar plant. What beauties are made here! On our way out, we stop very a very congenial talk and tour with Freddie Spencer at his motorcycle racing school. We close the day with a downtown final dinner and awards ceremony. Our tour is complete. There were no major incidents and our tourist guests were once again awed by the great open southwest of America.
Day 20 - Thursday, August 19. Packing and good-byes.
The Falcone motorbikes are neatly packed back into their modular crates. Jerry and Regina take the car towing my trailer with the antiques and I ride Regina's EV back home. Next summer perhaps we will tour Spain.
The tour participants from Europe were:
The tour participants from the U.S. were: