ST. PAUL, MINN., JUNE 11-12–For two days in June, the Minnesota State Fairgrounds is the one place you want to be if you’re into old bikes. The Viking Chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America hosts their annual National Meet there, and it’s not just a bike show. An AMCA National Meet is a huge event packed with more activities than you’ll ever be able to squeeze into two days. Sure, their indoor display is one of the largest and most diverse in the Midwest (174 vintage machines this year), but you’ll also have the chance to go on old bike rides, swap for old parts, camp under the stars, listen to experts give their motorcycle restoration secrets and maybe bump into motorcycle celebrities.
The diversity of machines you’ll find at a Viking AMCA National Meet is mind blowing. Yeah, it’s heavy on American iron, but the Viking Chapter has teamed up with the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club to display their bikes, too. All told, the display included machines from a second-year 1903 Indian all the way to the 20-year-old cutoff for VJMC machines (1993). Many of the bikes are immaculate restorations, but there’s a lot of original paint, unrestored gems and plenty of modern customs built from vintage stock.
One of the most eye-catching examples of a modern custom is the flat-track racer campaigned by Brittney Olsen. A female motorcycle racer is rare, but one that rides a 90-year-old machine on a dirt flat track is unheard of. But we got to meet Brittney and have her explain her amazing machine during the Viking Chapter meet. “The engine is a completely stock ’23 Harley J model, although it has a lot of the common improvements that you’d find on any early 20th century race bike.” The displacement totals 1100cc. It may look small, but it has a lot of power and will reach speeds up to 80 mph.
Asked about the unique-looking frame, Olsen replied, “I needed a frame that would work with my body. I visited a lot of museums and collections of old Harley and Indian racing bikes so that I could get a feel of what worked and what didn’t. Then I chose the right frame and right handlebars to give me the control I needed for such a powerful motor on a small, slim bike.”
Motorcycle racing is scary business, and racing antique motorcycles adds new challenges to an already harrowing experience. “The bikes are required to have no brakes, and only one gear. Then there’s the risk of parts breaking or even crashing during the race.” However, Olsen is no stranger to racing as she started racing quads at the age of 12 and then quickly progressed to drag racing a 1969 Camaro only weeks after obtaining her South Dakota drivers permit. Plus, Brittney has quite a team backing her up. Her husband, well-known Harley-Davidson restorer and custom bike builder Matt Olsen, has gotten plenty of help from builders and antique motorcycle racers like Michael Lange, Matt Walksler, Jim Wall and George Hood. Matt grew up around old motorcycles and has proven his custom builder chops time and time again. Most recently, Matt’s Knucklehead took first place at the Born Free 4 show in Silverado, California. The crowd got the treat of hearing Matt and Brittney describe the build of the 1923 bike, and other tips and tricks from Matt’s award-winning restorations. You can learn more about the Olsens and their unique motorcycles at www.20thcenturyracing.com.
Following up on the Olsens was probably the most famous shop teacher in the Midwest— Kevin “Teach” Baas. Kevin described to the crowd how he is bringing up another generation of vintage bike addicts in his shop class at Kennedy High School located in the Bloomington suburb of Minneapolis. His students’ bikes have won many awards at events like the Donnie Smith Bike Show and other bike build-off competitions. Kevin thanked the crowd of vintage bike enthusiasts for all the support that they’ve given to his program over the years. The Viking Chapter has raised hundreds of dollars for the Kennedy High School program and their members have volunteered in his classroom to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.
A Viking Chapter meet is packed with ways to learn about and enjoy old motorcycles. With perfect weather for most of the two days, the parking lot was full of bikes including many vintage bikes drawn in from around the region. A steady stream of bikes was a show in and of itself. The club organized rides on both days of the meet that were open to anyone, members or not, even if they didn’t have an old bike. But with many tree-lined and twisty parkways spidering out from the fairgrounds, the organized rides included quite a few Cushmans and even a Whizzer along with the usual contingent of old Harleys and Indians.
But the diversity of the machines at a Viking Chapter meet could be best seen from within their indoor display. A perfectly unrestored 1913 “Pope 4” displayed the height of technology a hundred years ago in the cutting-edge, American-made machine. With two 100-year-old Indians and a 100-year-old Harley, the 1923 Harley sitting on a motorcycle lift seemed relatively modern. That machine collected a huge crowd not only for its unrestored and original beauty, but the ingenious wooden mechanic’s stand. Long-time residents of the Twin Cities recognized the name of the mechanics’ stand as belonging to Egeberg’s Motorcycles—the family that sold Indians and Harleys for seven decades. As luck would have it, I found Howard Wagner at the show. At 86 years old, I knew that Howard had actually worked at Egeberg’s back in the late ‘50s. I showed him the stand and he remembered wrenching on that very bench over 60 years ago!
If you love old bikes and have any chance to get to St. Paul, the Viking Chapter will be hosting their National Meet again next year on June 12–13. For more information, visit vikingmc.org.