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Appalachian Moto Jam: Scramblin’ up the slopes

By Geoff Barrenger

Monticello, N.y., Jan. 28–29—How many times have you had the chance to see a coveted Harley-Davidson 45 race against a modern dirt scrambler on a snow-covered hill climb…and win? If that’s the kind of motorcycle mayhem you’re looking for, that’s exactly what the Appalachian Moto Jam has brought to the tracks and to the hills. The AppMotoJam would be best described as a free-format traveling motorcycle race, open to anyone who wants in. It’s the brainchild of Kenny Buongiorno, one of the founders of the already largely successful Strange Days motorcycle show. Motorcycle shows are one thing, but if there’s anything Kenny wants to do with AppMotoJam, it’s to get people ridin’ and racin’, and in his mind, what could be wilder than a snow hill climb?

Josh Kohn and Rick Petko go head to head

The AppMotoJam attitude of “run what ya brung” brought out an oddball assortment of atypical hill climbers on January 28 and 29 to the snow-covered hills of Gotham Mountain MX in Monticello, NewYork. There was competition for every style of domestic and foreign motorcycle; the Harleys came out in full force with Ironheads, modern Sportsters, FXRs, Dynas, Flatheads and 45’s and so did customized Japanese scramblers and leaky British bikes. Not to mention a service car class and a minibike class! There was even a sole competitor in the “Miss Riding Hood” women’s class. Sarah Winslow, the only woman to enter, would love to see some competition next time. Make no mistake, the AppMotoJam might not be an AMA-sanctioned event, but there was also a Pro class and it was fierce! The Pros were vying to win the cash purse racing and an extended climb aptly titled “King of the Hill.”

Over the two-day event, over 90 racers registered. The turnout, the weather, and even the hill conditions were nothing short of ideal. Matt Rush, of Rush Cycles, served as course marshal. But if you were to ask him what his job was, he would jokingly respond that it’s to yell at people who were digging up his hill with their sloppy riding. Kenny and Matt knew there would be some first-time racers so they were sure to pick out a modest hill for this event—something challenging, but not so insane your bike would tumble on top of you if you fell, and pretty much everyone did fall at some point. There were some last-minute fears about there not being enough snow, but the weather moved in and brought enough snow that would make this mild hill climb a squirrely battle.

Patrick Duddy from New Hampshire went with a DIY approach and setup his tires with Tapcon screws. He eventually won the Dyna class.

The first day started cautiously to figure out if head-to-head races would lead to collisions. Rush had a simple plan: riders would do solo runs for the first half of practice to get a feel for their lines and the conditions of the hill. The snow was Northeastern fluff that doesn’t pack. At first riders and bikes were getting swallowed up whole and their lines were completely erratic. Front ends were diving in, rear ends were sliding out, but as everyone’s bravery grew, riders figured out the remedy for deep snow is a wide-open throttle.

Riders started ripping up the mountain and really let loose as practice went on. The right side of the hill was still a complete mess, but riders were getting their footing up the left side. A few dramatic wipeouts happened to the crowd’s roaring amusement, and luckily most people walked away unscathed. A bruised ankle from a wipeout and a sore back from a wheelie gone too far past 12 o’clock were the only injuries aside from bruised egos of the riders who continued to struggle. A wipeout like any of these on asphalt would send expensive parts of motorcycle flying, but the hill was forgiving to pocketbooks and the only damage was a snapped belt on a Dyna.

Joseph Sharkey winner of Pro class and King of Hill

With solo runs going smoothly the hill opened up for head-to-head practices. Ideally, racers would match up against a comparable bike, but everyone wanted to know how their vintage twin matched up against a modern scrambler. These grudge matches were largely lopsided, normally one rider dumping it in the first 20 feet, and the other ripping all the way to top. Combinations of rider skill, tire setup and deep snow on certain parts of the hill would catch even experienced riders off guard. While the most popular setup for tires was Kold Kutter ice screws on knobbies, a few people did have some unique setups. Chains on tires proved to be virtually useless, but the few people that equipped a paddle tire on the rear with ice screws on the front had amazing success floating up the hill.

Tired from battling the snow, riders took the last few minutes of daylight to replace ice screws that had fallen out, others adjusting their carburetors to compensate for the cold weather. As a tractor rolled out to grade and pack the hill in preparation for the races, riders shut down their bikes for the night and made their way to the lodge for a pint or two. The ski lodge bar was more accustomed to seeing families after a day at the slopes, but was definitely down to host this group of bikers. The Lawler Band played inside, and others talked shop by the fire pit out back. It wasn’t a complete ruckus of a party, but once we shut down the lodge bar, the local hotel had the (mis)fortune of having all of its rooms rented out to the riders.

Nick Fuentes on an Evo Sportster

Some new riders straggled in on Sunday morning, registering late, but were still given an opportunity to do a practice run while the previous day’s riders shook off their hangovers. One late arrival, Patrick Duddy from New Hampshire, had spent a few days preparing his H-D Dyna. He had the most unique tire setup with a do-it-yourself approach. He had laced his regular street tires with Tapcon concrete screws. These made for a really nasty presentation, and it wasn’t lost on his wife that a wipe out would be terrifying!

The AppMotoJam being a truly family-run affair, Kenny’s mom had worked on all of the registration paperwork to set up some fairly matched brackets. The rules were simple; these were elimination rounds so you had to beat your opponent to the top if you wanted to keep riding! The hill was in much better condition after having been graded, and it showed at the speed some of the guys were moving.

Kyle Martin, first place on all-Harley class and Pat Duddy first place HD Dyna Class. 

Patrick Duddy with his Tapcon tires ended up winning the Dyna class against some insanely tough competition from Zach Urbanowski from Connecticut. Both of these riders were moving up the hill faster than any of the dirt bikes, and that says a lot about how they can handle a 700-pound motorcycle! Tyler Brice, also in the Dyna class, was so determined he caught air coming off the finish line. These guys were not messing around. The “Hotdoggin’ Hooligan” class allowed riders to “run what ya brung,” and the Sportster class was jokingly renamed “Yer Sister’s Sportster.” In the same loving spirit, “Father Time” was open to any rider 50 years old and up. With close to a hundred racers and the short winter daylight hours, the racing was quick and there was no time lost. If you dumped it or started digging a hole with your rear, you were off the hill!

This was only the second AppMoto event, the first being a flat-track race in Cuddebackville, New York, at the Oakland Valley Park Raceway back in October. Kenny was more than stoked that this second event had drawn an even bigger crowd and managed to pack in even more racing time. Everyone had windburn from being outside in the cold for two days, but no one fared worse than Matt Rush whose voice was hoarse from running the course.

Zach Urbanowski putting on a show on his 2015 Dyna

Of course, no race would be complete without an awards ceremony. The lodge welcomed everyone again with some tunes and brews. Champion jerseys were handed out to the winners of the classes, and Joseph Sharkey landed himself two first-place wins in both “Pro Class” and “King of the Hill.” There are plans in motion to bring more Appalachian Moto Jams throughout the next few months, all of which can be found on their website appmotojam.com.

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