By Bill Walsh
Special to the Rappahannock News
If all goes according to plan, Bill Blalock will finally get to ride a motorcycle he owned for many years without ever having cranked up the engine.
That motorcycle is one of about 80 entered in this fall’s Motorcycle Cannonball, a 17-day race from Kitty Hawk, N.C., to Santa Monica, Cal.
Blalock bought the badly neglected 1913 Excelsior in 1952 from the Washington, D.C. family of its one-time owner. That owner, a part-time racing enthusiast, had been living in a nursing home for a few years, and the bike had sat in the basement, neglected, for a number of years, Blalock said.
“[A sister] really didn’t know what it was worth and didn’t really want any money,” Blalock recalled of the purchase, and he can’t remember what he paid for it.
“It was sitting in a basement, and had been sitting there long enough that the rear stand was almost rotted off,” he said. “It was a mess.”
Blalock, founder of Blalock Cycle Co., originally in Silver Spring, Md., before its 1984 move to its present location at 170 Lee Highway in Warrenton, took it back to his shop.
“I got married in ’55, and we had a child in ’56,” Blalock recalled. “I had taken it apart and it was sitting around in boxes,” and with a demanding business and a growing family, he didn’t have much time to work on it.
His original plan was to restore the bike and ride it.
“Usually, there are a lot of parts missing,” in a project like this, Blalock said.
“I had to re-make the rear stand. The pedals were completely worn out, but you just unscrew those, just like a bicycle. I replaced the chain with Diamond chain, which is still in business today; I was able to get the same chains that were on there. The seat . . . I was able to restore the leather on it. The gas tank had pinholes all through it, but there is a chemical that you put in as a liquid and it dries and becomes a plastic-like material.
“The intake valves were worn out, so I made new ones. Rocker arms, spindles, spindle pieces were badly worn,” he recalled.
Still, 95 percent of the motorcycle is original equipment, he said.
While he eventually put the Excelsior back into showroom condition over a matter of about six years. Blalock not only never rode it, he never even started the engine.
“I didn’t want to start it because it had nickel-plated exhausts, and I knew [starting it] would blow them up. I would take it to shows, but I never started it,” he said.
When health problems slowed his show schedule, when the bike once again ended up in a basement, Blalock decided to sell.
He put the machine on eBay four years ago and it sold, sight unseen but for photographs, for $29,500, to a buyer near San Francisco.
“My wife was pretty excited,” he said with a laugh.
That owner sold it again in an auction in Las Vegas, where it brought $40,000.
The current owner has contacted Blalock, trying to secure proof that this is an original Excelsior — reproductions, apparently, are not that rare.
“These motorcycles are really pretty simple,” Blalock said, “and you can get a good, quality machine shop and sit down and make one from scratch. People are picking different models and making reproductions which you can hardly tell from the originals.”
The new owner needs to certify the motorcycle because reproductions are not eligible to compete in the Motorcycle Cannonball.
A coast-to-coast race of antique motorcycles might sound like a tame enough affair, but don’t be fooled. The 1913 Excelsior was originally a racing machine, Blalock said, and is capable of speeds up to about 70 mph.
A coast-to-coast race of antique motorcycles might sound like a painful affair, too.
“Its a rigid fork, with no front suspension” Blalock agreed. “No rear suspension, and it’s not the most comfortable seat, plus you’re leaning over.”
It’ll be a thrill to ride the Excelsior at long last, though Blalock doesn’t intend to go very far.
“I might go down my driveway,” he said. “We have a quarter-mile driveway. I look forward to it, but my equilibrium is not what it used to be,” when he rode in endurance races and hill climbs.