Vintage motorcycles will roll through Spanaway woods at Marymount trials

Staff writerJune 13, 2014 

You don’t often hear motorcycle competitions compared with golf, but an event Saturday in Spanaway practically begs for it.

Yes, the Vintage Motorcycle Trials at Marymount will be louder and dirtier.

But like golf, the action will be slow and require extreme concentration. It will take place on a course of linked sites spread through a large, park-like setting. Players will compete mainly against themselves, and the lowest score will win.

“And don’t forget,” Dana Salsman said, “they both can be extremely frustrating.”

Salsman is the “trials master” for this weekend’s trials at Marymount, which means he designed the series of twisting routes through the 88 acres of forested land that surrounds the LeMay family automotive museum.

Salsman is the Robert Trent Jones of vintage trial courses in the Pacific Northwest, and he says he was thrilled when the LeMay Family Foundation agreed to let him set up a course on its undeveloped acreage.

“It was a lot of work,” Salsman said. “But this place is pretty much perfect for it. It took a little bit of brush clearing and tree limbing, that’s all.”

Relax. They’re not going to be tearing up the earth. The vintage bikes in the competition have so little air in their tires you can depress them with your fingers. Competitors rarely get out of first gear, and they typically move so slowly, the main safety risk is falling over from lack of forward momentum.

“We’re not going to be getting on the gas,” Salsman said. “By this time next year, you won’t even know we were here.”

The 35 to 50 riders in the trials will be using old motorcycles, dating from the early 1950s through 1979. The point is demonstrating balance and control, and judges give penalty points for touching the ground with your feet, stalling the engine or going out of bounds.

The course is set up so that — again like golf — spectators will be able to watch along the sidelines at each of the 10 trial areas, although some are more accessible than others.

The cut-off date for bikes, said Harvey Widman, one of the motorcycle masters at the LeMay Collection, was set at 1979 because that’s when the suspension systems and weights of bikes changed so much that older models wouldn’t stand a chance in tight competitions.

“With modern bikes, it’s like watching a magician,” Widman said. “They could climb all over those cars in the parking lot over there. With these older bikes, it’s more like an ultra-slow ballet.”

Widman explained that “observed trials,” as these competitions sometimes are called, are a significant part of historic motorcycle competition.

Cross-country riding is how motorcycling began, he said, and as bikes and roads improved, riders still challenged themselves with off-road competitions on ancient Roman roads and on “cow and wagon” trails in the United States.

The vintage trials are part of Marymount Motorcycle Week, which started Monday and continues through Sunday.

Inside the showrooms, some 200 bikes are on display, some dating back to the early years of the 20th century, just after bicyclists first began putting engines on their rides.

Also on display are the historic black-and-white photographs of early Northwest motorcycling history, on loan from the Pacific Northwest Museum of Motorcycling.

Fans of vintage motorcycles will have another treat in Tacoma this summer. The other LeMay museum — the LeMay-America’s Car Museum next to the Tacoma Dome — once again will host its annual Vintage Motorcycle Festival on Aug. 23 and 24.

They’ll have 300 classic bikes on display on the outside show field. Activities will include a “Used Bike Corral” and a swap meet for parts and accessories. The second day of the festival will include a ride for about 150 bikes to Mount Rainier and back.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693

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