Two of my partners in crime during this escapade were the Panther brothers, Jason and James, who team up to run British Customs, a shop that specializes in custom aftermarket parts for Triumph Motorcycles. The Panthers were special guests at the press launch for the 2014 Triumph Commander and LT where the brothers had brought their Vintage Vendetta and Bar Hopper along to showcase their parts and the customizing potential of Triumphs. A few beers and an evening of lively conversation later, the foundation for a friendship was formed.
So when an invite to take part in British Customs “Ride History” to the annual Quail Gathering materialized, I jumped on it. How could I turn down an opportunity to ride one of their cool custom bikes up the California coast, stopping at popular moto-destinations along the way, our travels captured on camera and spread on social media channels. It was also an opportunity to strengthen pre-established bonds.
The journey started on a sun-splashed Southern California day at an unassuming brick building in Gardena, home to British Customs. Several of BC’s showcase Triumph motorcycles sat out front waiting to blast up the California coast to Carmel while others sat on the lift inside the garage. We were meeting BC’s Jason and James along with an intimate group to ride to the annual Quail Gathering, with go-fast-girl Sarah Lahalih leading the charge, BC’s Sean Hicks riding wingman and Triumph’s Larry Fletcher shadowing as chase rider.
Between the Triumph Scrambler 900, Café Racer Deux, and Daytona 675, it was a smorgasbord of British Customs’ goodness. While it’d be an honor to ride any one of their builds, something about the Triumph Tribute Street Tracker spoke to me. Maybe it was the raw metal finish and slick handmade aluminum tail section. Maybe it was its stripped down state and tacky flat track tires. Most likely it was the sum of its premium parts, from Hagon shocks to Beringer brakes. I just knew I wanted to ride it – bad.
Dodging city traffic, we blazed over to Venice Beach to grab some coffee at Deus Ex Machina, a popular moto-cultural surf and bike hub. A strong shot of espresso was just what the doctor ordered to jump-start the senses. The shop provided plenty of sensory overload, from classics to customs to cool threads. I peeked through the windows of Woolie’s Workshop to see what magic was being stirred up inside, pressing my face against the glass like Augustus Gloop ogling the Chocolate Factory. Would have been happy to hang there all day, but plenty of miles lie ahead.
We rolled down PCH in tight formation, the burble of British Customs-tuned bikes a symphony of pounding pistons and snarling exhaust. The angry sound emanating from the Tribute Tracker is intoxicating. It is much like the bike itself, raw and elemental. With no mirrors, no speedo and no signals to worry about, full focus is on the road and the beauty of my surroundings. Takes me back to a time when things weren’t so complicated, just a man, machine and miles to go.
Of course, without these motorcycle mandates, along with a side-mounted, vertical license plate, I’m a sitting duck in California for any officer eager to meet his quota. It was “Motorcycle Awareness Month” after all. Though I’m hoping to keep as low a profile as possible, when we reach Malibu, traffic bottlenecked in a construction zone. A black and white California Highway Patrolmen stationed at the entrance to the orange-coned zone eyeballed our group going by, whipped around behind the tail rider –
me. I sense he’s itching to bust my chops, but an out-of-state Georgia dealer’s plate was my saving grace. The bike came directly from Triumph’s HQ in Georgia to the BC shop in Gardena for the ride, hence the GA plates. Maybe pulling me over was more trouble than it was worth. Grateful he didn’t, we press on.
We pulled over in Ventura for a quick pit stop at Iron & Resin. Like Deus, the slick little shop celebrates both motorcycle and surf culture. The store is fun and funky, a Bultaco serving as door greeter, long boards leaning nearby, vintage helmets and old Triumph signs decorating the inside. Again, a place I could chill at all day and easily drop a wad of money, but riding beckons.
We meet up with “Why We Ride” producers Bryan Carroll and James Walker in Los Olivos for the final leg to Carmel, along with Acorn Woods’ Ron Benfield. Carroll jumped on the Scrambler and I switched to British Customs Café Racer Deux, based on a Triumph Thruxton 900, for the run up Highway 1 above Morro Bay, one of my favorite stretches in the world. After trailing Carroll on Cabrillo Highway’s snaking tarmac, I see he’s a seasoned rider. With his ebullient personality and passion for riding, I gain a deeper understanding how the wonderfully cinematic movie he made wasn’t just another project, but more a labor of love. Our expanded entourage pushes on, the road rolling through sun-tanned hills on our right, majestic cliffs to the left dropping to the breakers below, the Pacific stretching farther than the eye can see. Before long the British Customs café racer is twisting through pines and Monterey Cypress trees, the ride as close to nirvana as a motorcyclist can come.
We stopped to stretch and gas up at Ragged Point Convenience store where we encountered a rider on a Triumph Daytona 675. Turns out Matt, who didn’t want his last name published, is in the US Armed Forces and stationed out of Monterey. The week before our ride, Matt had his radio tuned to local on-air personality Axle who was hyping the Quail Motorcycle Gathering and mentioned there was a group of Triumph riders coming up the coast to attend the event. That’s when Matt began sleuthing. Even though he admitted he’s not a Facebook guy, he set about using Google, Facebook and Twitter to track our progress. About halfway between Hearst Castle and the Ragged Point Convenience Store, he finally found us! We welcomed him to the group and he joined us for the final leg of our ride to Carmel.
We pushed on with the sun setting over the Pacific, the air cooling in the shadows of the trees around Big Sur. It has been a full day in the saddle, from splitting lanes escaping LA to dodging patrolmen in Malibu to the Zen of Highway 1. Riding in a fixed “crouching tiger” position on a modestly padded seat and no buffer from the wind has also taken its toll. Though weary, it’s a good kind of tired, a combined sense of adventure and accomplishment. I retire for the night sated by the day, visions of the ride still playing through my head.
The next day it was back in the saddle of the Tribute Tracker for a 110-mile romp through Carmel Valley. Our ride included a few parade laps on famed Laguna Seca, sharing the track with vintage bikes of all ilk and make. With everybody ushered onto Laguna at the same time, riders are clumped together and it’s a tepid pace through the first few turns. By the time we hit Laguna’s front straight, I finally get to open up the tracker and gain a level of separation, blood pumping from the rush of adrenaline. The British Customs Tribute tracker is quick to respond to every twist of the throttle, the magic Jason Panther worked with a new intake, pipes and mapping making it much livelier than a stock Bonnie engine should be. The bike’s flat track tires were gripping like glue no matter what the lean angle, and the more I rode, the more the fun factor rose. Soon we shared some friendly back-and-forth with the BMW sport-tourer of MotoLink and others. Any time I took a wide line in a corner, The Vintagent’s Paul d’Orleans buzzed up the inside like an angry hornet on his Velocette. I’ve had the pleasure of riding four different bikes on Laguna in four years of attending the Quail, but flogging the BC Tribute bike on the track was the funnest yet.
People use the word ‘epic’ loosely, but that’s what the ride to the Quail with British Customs was. A rippin’ machine on a world-class road against the backdrop of a deepening friendship. For a motorcyclist, it doesn’t get much better.