The straightest route from San Francisco to San Francisco via Red Bluff and Fort Bragg is 550 boring slab miles and can be accomplished in just over 10 hours. Most motorcyclists looking at such a route wonder what roads might offer an alternative and less direct route; what scenery, twists and turns lie on the side and back roads once you exit the main thoroughfares. The 100-plus vintage enthusiasts that tackled the 2012 Moto Melee XV looked to not only make the journey on over 800 miles of bumpy, twisty two-lane roads but to do it all on pre-1971 machines.
This year’s three-day Melee was as challenging and grueling as previous years, but the riders were at least spared from the punishing weather of prior years. Day 1, the 270 mile trek north from San Francisco to Red Bluff, which typically exposes the riders to triple-digit temperatures, was exceptionally tame; not a single rider ran for the swimming pool as usual upon arriving at the motel in Red Bluff. The mild winter and light rainfall also meant that the water crossings, a harrowing moment for many Melee novices, were all dry… until the last one.
The Melee isn’t a race, although many might think of it as an endurance challenge. The pack of 100 usually breaks into smaller groups of people that find fellow riders of similar speeds and skill. This was my third Melee, far fewer than most of the veterans, many of whom have run all of the 15 Melees. I’ve settled into a small group of riding partners that all share a similar mantra: “100 percent.” We’re not looking to be the fastest or make it to the destinations first; we’re just looking to enjoy every single turn. For that, the 2012 Melee was a howling success, and every mile was enjoyed.
The mechanical challenges of the Melee are always extreme. I’m still sorting out the electrical gremlins the 2009 ride awoke in my 1969 Suzuki Titan. Leesville Rd (more of a continuous pothole than a road) helped cook some of my 40 year old wires in the 100-degree heat of that year. This year was no exception to the traveling equipment-destruction theme, with a Ducati 450 running with no first gear from Fort Bragg all the way back to San Francisco, a BSA top end rebuild in the moonlight with a few make-shift work lights, and numerous on-road repairs for many makes—BMW, Triumph, Norton, and Honda to name a few.
The heat, dust and dirt of Day 1 claims some victims, but the altitude changes of the ride to the coast across Hwy 36 on Day 2 challenges many machines, particularly the two-strokes like the Yamaha R5 and the rare Kawasaki H1 along for the ride this year. Day 3 is often issue free, as riders make their way home down the coast from Fort Bragg, but this year Skaggs Springs Road claimed a Norton crank bearing, forcing at least one rider to miss out on the picturesque views of the ocean from Stewarts Point General Store.
Harley Welch and Jeff Guzaitis put together a fabulous 806 mile route this year, and are always making adaptations, adding alternates and dirt routes, so you never know what to truly expect until you’ve checked in and been handed your route map. I am already trying to put the finishing touches on a rebuilt Norton Atlas for next year, hoping that this one will be able to complete Melee XVI. In the meantime, I’ll look for time to ride up to the Lost Cost, Hwy 36 and many of the other delicious roads put on the Moto Melee XV road map.