Bikers, bands and babes gather Saturday for the 7th annual Venice Vintage Motorcycle Rally

By Elliot Stiller

A rally visitor tries out a classic Birmingham Small Arms Co. bike on display for last year’s open vintage bike contest Photos by Edizen Stowell / Venice Paparazzi

A rally visitor tries out a classic Birmingham Small Arms Co. bike on display for last year’s open vintage bike contest
Photos by Edizen Stowell / Venice Paparazzi

Old becomes new once again on Saturday when the Venice Vintage Motorcycle Club leads a rumbling parade of hundreds of bikes into town to kick off their seventh annual club rally.

A daylong celebration of the allure of classic motorcycles that has grown to attract thousands of onlookers — bike enthusiasts and the bike-curious alike — the Venice Vintage Motorcycle Rally gathers a dazzling display of showpiece rides as well as vendors and musical acts in the Venice Farmers Market lot at Dell Avenue and Venice Boulevard, where at 3 p.m. a bevy of retro-style beauties compete in the Miss Venice Vintage Pin-up Contest.

To start the day, the Venice Vintage Motorcycle Club’s 28 members hop on their pre-’78 classics at 9 a.m. to be joined by hundreds of other riders in a cruise from The Stronghold on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, up PCH to Malibu and back down for an 11 a.m. arrival at the rally.

The club itself has grown into a local institution from humble beginnings in an Abbot Kinney garage.

“We wear the patch with pride — it’s like a rock-star lifestyle. When we pull up outside a bar running 35 bikes deep, everyone stops and looks,” says Brady Walker, an avid bike collector who’ll be riding his ’68 Triumph TR6C DualSport Custom.

When Walker stumbled upon the scene in 2008, the club was just emerging from the three-car garage where in 2006 Shannon Sweeney had opened SS Classics to restore and customize vintage motorcycles.  Sweeney’s clients became riding buddies and supporters who brought him other customers, setting in motion a chain of events that turned Wednesday-night meetings at the garage into full-on parties bookended by the thunderous coming-and-going of bikes out for a night ride. When the group grew 20-strong, Sweeney decided to make it an official club.

Walker had already been throwing events in Venice for years. Drinking bourbon on the back balcony of The Stronghold one night, an idea struck: a massive party dedicated to vintage bikes. In a flurry of planning and permit-gathering, the first Venice Vintage Motorcycle Rally went off in 2008, launching an annual tradition.

To join the club, there are some rules: You must own a pre-’78 bike, attend club gatherings for at least a year and, according to the group’s website, “You can’t be a major tool.”

“You gotta meet everyone and be accepted by everyone. We want to make sure you’re not in it for a fleeting moment,” says Walker, a 38-year-old audio engineer.

The club’s members, ages 23 to 50, come from all walks of life. They continue to meet Wednesdays to barhop, see shows or have dinner, sometimes joined by celebrity guests (including musician Pink recently) as they head up or down the coast.

There’s something addicting about riding in a group,” says Sweeney, 46. “You catch up on peoples’ lives. It definitely made my life better. It’s like therapy.”

The club also hosts a regular ride the third Sunday of each month, when they’re typically joined by 60 to 80 riders.

Despite the emphasis on bikes of yore, “We don”t dwell on the past or think about the future. We live in the moment,” Walker says.

Why vintage bikes then?

Contestants in last year’s Miss Venice Vintage Pin-up Contest pose with a beauty of another sort

Contestants in last year’s Miss Venice Vintage Pin-up Contest pose with a beauty of another sort

Built for speed and agility, their tucked-in handlebars let the rider cut the wind and indented fuel tanks give the knees a place to grip. Most club bikes are café’ racers, meaning they’re stripped down to the bare essentials for a lean-and-mean feel.

Some describe the siren’s call of two-wheeled machines as an addiction or disease. That includes Ed Milich, a two-time American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association national champion turned rider/grease-monkey/poet. Milich is reading from his volumes of prose and verse — “wrenched,” “fueled” and “bottom deadcenter” — between band sets and other activities during the rally. From a piece called “Enlightenment”: “… bikes are bought and sold, and, in between, they break. / They’re all piles. / Keep this thought close by /and no motorcycle will ever truly disappoint you.”

The rock, country and rockabilly music bill kicks off with the Rocking Scoundrels at 11 a.m., followed by the Highland Hawks at noon, an open vintage bike contest at 1 p.m., singer Curly Wolf at 2 p.m. and then, of course, the pin-up contest.

Judges — including Dogtown legend Jeff Ho, Rebel Pin-up founder Nick Dee and hostess Nik Falco of Trim Hair Salon — are looking for retro or rockabilly pizzazz in a winner.

The Youts reclaim the stage at 5 p.m., followed by a charity bike raffle benefitting the Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation. The grand prize: a café-style 1973 Honda CB 350 G StreetTracker customized by club member Scott DiLalla.

Carter Falco and the Hell City Rockers close out the rally from 6 to 7 p.m.

“It’s such a fun event. It brings so much happiness,” Walker says.

The Venice Vintage Motorcycle Rally takes place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday in the parking lot at 2150 Dell Ave., Venice. The event is free to attend, but it’s $5 to park your bike.