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Bikers Basking in the Sunshine State

Okay, SoCal, move over… Here comes SoFla

Words and Photos by Paul Garson

What better way to tour South Florida…

Flipper’s cousin reminds us to send that postcard back to CA!

While I’ve lived, breathed and ridden motorcycles in the Los Angeles area for these past many moons, my homeboy biker roots extend across the country to South Florida, where I rode a hodgepodge of motorcycles, including 5,000 miles on a Honda 50cc, to a small herd of crusty vintage Triumphs, Nortons, BMWs and whatever I could drag home to get running again.

When I’m in SoFla with my Buell, no motorist can use the excuse “I didn’t see you.”

But I do often visit “back home,” where I keep a Lime Green Buell at my brother’s house. And yes, I’ve ridden coast to coast from L.A. to South Florida, so I’ve been there, done that and can offer a somewhat objective viewpoint.

Mailbox looking hungrily at either the Burger King or the passing scooter

South Florida does have one of the world’s largest alligator populations, and it’s and getting larger. However, now they’re competing with the tens of thousands of very large pythons that have taken up residence in the swamplands.

While SoCal riders generally believe they live in the world’s best motorcycle environment, Florida motorcyclists just shake their collective head and point out a few major facts… Well, like that the Sunshine State shines on the annual Daytona Bike Week and Oktoberfest mega-rallies, as well as hosts a bevy of local, regional and state events. So to give a shout-out to the folks enjoying sun, sea and surf in my old stomping grounds, here’s a look at some of the goings-on and the bikes prowling around the Palm Beaches, as well as a couple Best Little Bike Shows and some rad custom bike builders - all of which you’ll find Down South while sipping coconut milk and chowing down on conch chowder.

Best beaches in the world?

It happens that the warm currents of the Gulf Stream nudge up very close to the east coast of Southern Florida, making for very comfy swimming, so no wetsuit needed… And there’s fishing on the Lake Worth Pier (recently restored, as was the nearby 1920s-era cool and classic Casino) with pools and restaurants with plenty of motorcycle friendly parking.

Made in the shade

Another bike-friendly event is the weekly Thursday Night Bike Week on Main Street in Lake Worth, lined by the Royal Palm Trees and blocks of bikes.

Diggin’ it - West Palm Beach area Vintage Iron Club (VIC) co-founder Bob Gilbert rides low on his Triton café racer

The club’s first annual Iron and Clematis Vintage Motorcycle Festival was a major success, with some 4,000 people attending and several hundred bikes on display, plus money raised for a good cause, so the city fathers decided to make it an annual event. The club’s motto is “Rust Never Sleeps.”

Describing the club’s genesis, Bob says, “Since there were only a few local bike shops that worked on vintage bikes, we got together on the technical support side to help each other with problems on our bikes with repairs, advice and tools. It helps us form a close-knit family. Our event was just the next step to bring more attention to Florida as far as vintage bikes and café racers and to expose the public to the sport.”

A closer look at a very tasty Triumph-powered Triton

The West Palm Beach skyline hugs the South Florida Intercoastal waterways, a super scenic cruising scene that takes you all the way up and down the coast

West Palm Beach is about 60 miles north of Miami, and was founded in 1894 even before Miami, so it’s the state’s old municipality. Nestled on the scenic Intracoastal Waterway, the city has grown into a center for the arts and culture and now that would now include the motorcycle culture. The city’s main street of Clematis, already a popular hot spot filled with restaurants, shops and clubs, was the staging grounds for the Iron & Clematis Vintage Bike Festival held the first week of February.

Not a stretch of Photoshop imagination - measuring 13 ft. 5 inches, this radical Harley chopper is piloted by its builder/owner Steve Martino, originally from New York, now calling Lake Worth home

Another Popular SoCal event is the weekly Lake Worth Thursday Bike Night get-together, often drawing hundreds of riders. All makes and models of bikes are welcome, while the town’s local watering holes and bistros offer special deals.

The now upscale town, population 36,000, adjacent to West Palm Beach had been for years a sleepy little town with not much happening except a fishing pier that had been splintered by a hurricane a while back. Now the pier has been rebuilt, this time out of wave-resistant concrete, the public pool and 1920s Casino have been restored, great restaurants have sprung up and motorcycles have multiplied like rabbits.

Getting wet and wild

If you need to cool off, you’re welcome to strap on the Waterjet system, rentable at West Palm dock for anyone who wants a drone’s eye view.

End to end rainbow of classic iron

The annual West Palm Beach VIC Clematis Street Vintage Bike Show attracts seas of mint 1970s-1980s bikes.

Going green

At one of the VIC’ events, Mike McSween brought his two rare Kawasaki factory racers to the event. #56 is a 1971 HIR, one of only 32 produced of the 500cc triples. The #47 bike is a 130HP/190MPH 1972 H2 he bought new and brought back to the U.S. aboard the USS Constellation aircraft carrier.

Will people flock to it?

Jeff Gundlach built a Moto Guzzi powered “Raven” with his custom frame gas tanks fabricated from a basketball mounting pole. Plans are afoot to build a series of the customs.

Cool before its time

The Harley Super Glide with its “boat tail” was not a success when introduced in 1971, but now is a sought-after “classic,” probably because boats are popular in Florida.

Real boat “boat tail”

Just take one jet-ski and add motorcycle - and yes, it’s street legal and ready for any ocean level rises.

Survival of special species

To be clear about Florida’s indigenous reptiles – there are plenty of American alligators, but no crocodiles, and probably only one “Crocasaki.” And about the parrot tapping on the alligator’s head, remember: Birds are descendants of dinosaurs.

Sometimes size does matter… Electra Glide in red

Not caffeine free

One of Florida’s many talented bike builders includes Alain Bernard, owner of Santiago Choppers. This café racer is based around a 2003 Guzzi Le Mans, a bike he calls “Expresso,” because espresso is his favorite drink. Gas tank is a modified ’74 Kawi 500 piece, but petcocks do not dispense coffee.

How low can you go and still go?

Answering that question is another SoFla builder of unique machines, John Gatti of Gatti’s Garage (Lake Worth, FL), with one of his drag race inspired “spider” bikes he’s tagged “The 8 ½.” The motor was transplanted into the custom single-side frame from a ’73 Honda CB360; everything else was handmade.

Ultimate SoFla custom couple Tony and Laura Baccari

Front row seats

The married couple have been riding for some 25 years and own several bikes, including this pair of Kawi and Yamaha radicals built by John Gatti.

Yes, it’s ridable, but you must have a clown license.

The sun really never sets on the Sunshine State’s biker friendly welcome. Come see us, y’all!