Roadhouses speckle the landscape of America's byways -- traditionally serving up sustenance to the men who built this great country. From railroaders to miners, ranchers, cowboys, and oilmen, the stools and walls of these establishments speak to the souls of the hard working, the downtrodden, the weary. Men dirty from a hard day's work, men on the run from the law, men wanting to get away from their thoughts, if only for a brief moment, could find a meal, a shot of whisky, and a sympathetic proprietor who's seen and heard it all.
Western expansion relied on blood and sweat, the sheer grittiness, of people who sought after their own American dream outside the confines of the industrialized East. Counting on each other and their collective skills, a man knew his strengths and limitations. The roadside watering holes aired the feelings, ideas, and fears of the day, soothing the mind and body in preparation for the next, hard-fought day. From era to era, they pulled off the dusty trail on ponies, covered wagons, jalopies, and bikes.
2004: a group of four adventurous, critically acclaimed businessmen and avid motorcyclists embarked on their own recent roadside journey. Their vision combined passion and desire with professional management and production processes to create a new, semi-custom production motorcycle company. Using internal and seasoned external designers to ensure the most innovative styles of motorcycles, the Saxon Motorcycle Company rode out of the Arizona desert.
In today's world, we often see venture capitalists, with a love for motorcycles, treading into uncharted arenas. The Saxon strategy, forged over years of open-road research and amber beer discussions, appeals to dealers and consumers alike to create unique and importantly functional bikes using the industry's best components with competitive pricing. Saxon raised the bar by implementing a quality-control system that ensures communication and satisfaction, between the factory and riders who frequent roadside villas.
The motorcycle gracing these pages, the Black Crown, is the jewel of the Saxon line. Saxon called on 20-year motorcycle building veteran Gard Hollinger, of L.A. County Choprods, to design and build the flat, black-boned beauty. Gard worked closely with Saxon's director of sales and marketing, David "Schwamgali" Schwam, to spawn a production bike that stands out in the crowd of brightly colored and chromed competitors.
Sitting in HOT BIKE headquarters, I received a call from Schwamy asking me to take the Black Crown pre-production prototype for a long weekend shakedown ride. That Friday, my delightful assistant, Carrie, abandoned me at Gard's fabrication shop in the back streets of industrial Los Angeles. The Black Crown awaited my marching orders. The bike is reminiscent of the great machines of the past, with a flat-black motif paint scheme and the classic looks of a blacked- out springer frontend evoking thoughts of '20s-era sidevalve flatheads. With the winter-sun setting, lighting up the subtle, red metalflake accents, I attempted to travel south through the thick, bumper-to-bumper L.A. traffic.
For the next 50 miles, lane-splitting the long, sleek, and slender chopper between bloated Hummers and catatonic cell-phone jabbers, I appreciated the balance and prowess of the machine, mentally thanking Gard for doing his homework lessons on rake and trail. The stretched-out seating position placed my arms in an aggressive, streamlined posture while the billet foot controls felt like old friends for my feet, just where they should be. Arriving home, I regarded the 34-degree rake even more while maneuvering the Black Crown around obstacles and bikes in my garage.
Later that night, a light rain quenched SoCal's arid landscape. But, admiring the mighty 111-inch, single-cam, S&S; mill in my garage just wouldn't do. I had business on my mind and a burning Friday night desire in my chest. Donning my rain-helmet, I let out the smooth, but firm, clutch and left a smoldering streak of the meaty 240 rubber from the garage to the end of the concrete driveway -- you know, to warm up the tire for maximum traction on the freshly moistened road. I pointed her west, perched atop the 6-inch-stretched downtubes with an extra 2 inches in the backbone of the Softail-style frame. The motor responded to my every input, barking a staccato like a rabid dog from the inverted fishtail straightpipes, especially considering the less-than-perfect conditions. But, why have such a machine, if not to ride? Besides, Dr. Tork and associates were having a gathering at his LBC safe house.
I promptly got lost in the hood, but luckily the empty bottles of Bombay strewn all over a particular lawn clued me into Tork's whereabouts. I rolled in front of the gated and highly fortified building, stopped on the sidewalk, wiped the rain from my face, and laid the red-rimmed beauty to rest. For good measure, we chained Tork's half-wolf/half-husky, Squeeky, to the Black Crown and commenced the wild evening. I'd recount it for you, but the events are nebulous at best.
I awoke to the sounds of slamming doors and breaking glass as the ghetto birds hovered over the safe house. The sound of a chopper (the flying kind) sent chills of paranoia through Tork's spinal column. It was time to wake up Squeeky and cut a dusty trail. I'd ride the Saxon, soak up the sun at the beach, ride some more, and tear up the streets on a prototype bike sans license plate, registration, or serial numbers.
With that in mind, I tried (honestly) to behave within the dictated, endorsed, and enforced laws of the land. I should have concealed my lidless head with something better a white bandanna. Of course, the local LEOs promptly attempted to pull me over, so I sped into a nearby parking structure with a patrol car in hot pursuit. After the obligatory cavity search, I straightened myself out from the spread-eagle position while the impressed officers ogled my Crown. From the subtle black pinstriping on the headlight bucket, the trick leather seat, to the masterfully crafted billet crown-shaped gas cap, along with the crown rear fender support and emblazoned crowns on the round oil tank. In a show of gratitude for my freedom, I held in the four-piston front caliper, opened up the S&S; gas mixer, dumped the clutch, and lit up the rear rubber, filling the parking garage with white smoke and the sweet smell of melted Metzeler.
With a few get-out-of-jail-free cards in my chain wallet, I needed a drink and a place to soothe my tightly wound nerves. Following the scents the trade winds carried, I found my way to one of the last Southern California beach roadhouses: Mothers Tavern. Located in Sunset Beach, its is past mired in history and controversy. It served the early developers and oilmen of the region, was a train stop before the auto industry tore up the tracks, and was a speakeasy during prohibition. Officially becoming "Mothers" in 1959, it's a rare place where sun-soaked surfers belly-up to the bar with leather-clad bikers. You'll find dozens of bikes out front, especially during the weekends when the place literally shakes to the sounds of blues and folk. This bike exudes an attitude just sitting still. The retro-modern Black Crown sat proudly, amongst shiny new Twinkies in tire prints once reserved for the great Knucks and Pans of yesteryear. Swagger into the roadhouse soon if you can, as greed is threatening to convert the historic location into a latte-mart or some such dismal fate.
Following a much-needed rest and the camaraderie of the always-entertaining patrons, it was time to burn through a few tanks of OPEC's finest. The Black Crown took everything I gave it, grabbing generous amounts of throttle while flying through the six-gear tranny down the coast freeway, in and out of the beach towns that put California on the destination maps of millions.
The open road, due in part to the rpm-reducing overdrive gear, is where this ride really shines, effortlessly racking up the miles while reducing the vibes. It's raw and rude, yet refined, thanks to modern technology and attention to detail.
I needed to get away from the masses and the distractions of beautiful bikini-clad babes. Uptight citizens didn't seem to appreciate the dark-figured badass bike with the longhaired, ratty-jacket wearing pilot in their overpriced neighborhoods. Not everyone understands the bond between man and machine. Besides, the lure of the Santa Ana Mountains was too strong for me to resist, majestically rising above the dignified, neatly manicured landscape of Orange County. Snow blanketed their upper reaches, meeting the clouds as I ascended the twisty, rather desolate old cowboy roads. Pushing on either end of the stretched-out drag bars, I was able to rip through the sycamores and oak-filled canyons with ease, occasionally leaving showers of sparks as the framerails touched upon terra firma. Alone in my thoughts, I followed the hawks and vultures riding their own version of switchbacks overhead.
It's easy to get lost in moments like this, and I did. Like the early settlers of the region, I had no maps and no stinking GPS unit, just my desire to explore the unknown. No matter what happened, like those who preceded me, I had faith in my fellow man if the need arose. Coming around a bend, a sole horseman appeared from out of the rugged landscape. I chopped the motor, coasting to a spot where our two paths crossed. We shared glances, thoughts, and cigarettes, admiring each other's chosen ride. His, with a beautiful mane and beating heart, and mine just as visually appealing but with a different sort of man-made thumper inside. Both rides stirred the deep-rooted passions within us. It's amazing what a bitchin' ride can do for the soul of a man.
We parted ways, but not before he guided me back to civilization and another old roadhouse. Cook's Corner was opened in 1931 to feed and refresh the rugged ranchers who inhabited the land. Nowadays, weekends bring hundreds upon hundreds of motorcyclists to the rustic scenery surrounding Santiago Canyon. It's a place to meet up before the ride, stop in during or rest up afterwards. Good or bad, it's a place where you can see the latest and greatest bikes the West Coast has to offer. A busy road, filled with bikers out front and a gravel-filled parking lot, always make for an entertaining day of people watching.
I pulled into the tightly packed parking area, picked my line through a sea of chrome, and squeezed the Black Crown in. Before I could remove my police-borrowed lid, a crowd mulled around the bike, asking questions and snapping photos. I sauntered inside, had a cold barley-pop and watched the show outside. Each time I returned, the Black Crown was stealing the spotlight from ground-up customs that cost three times as much. I obliged women who wanted to imprint their jeans with the carved Saxon logo on the leather seat. I had to stay focused as night was closing in, and I wanted to ride before being forced to return the bike.
I wasn't looking forward to giving the Black Crown back to Gard, Jay, and the boys, but after the 500-mile weekend on the scoot and all that occurred, I needed to get back to HOT BIKE headquarters. The Black Crown has a strong, unique character that any true rider would want in his stable. Look for Saxon and the unpretentious, unspoken style of the Black Crown and the other four models in its lineup at all the major rallies this season. Check out its website for a dealer near you. Ride another day.
96-inch S&S; motor, 111-inch optional (as tested) with super E carb; Six-speed tranny; 34-degree Softail-style frame; 4-inch over Springer frontend; Laced, powdercoated wheels, 21-inch front, 240x18 rear; Four-piston brakes front and rear; 625 pounds, 74-inch wheelbase; 24-inch seat height; 4.5-gallon fuel capacity chain, final and primary drive; Two-year factory warranty.