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Motorcycle Road trip | California

January 22, 2024

Where the Days Are Longer and The Nights Are Stronger! You know you want to… To burn rubber along Highway 1, with an ocean salty breeze in your face, taking every turn low. Stopping to check out the weird yet delightful hangouts along the way before checking in to a winery for the evening. Yep, it’s the California dream, and Camilla Lindqvist got her chance to soak it all in.
Words and Photos by Camilla Lindqvist

Despite the overbearing sound of the motor, the sounds of seagulls make it through my helmet, welcoming me alongside the chilled air sneaking up through my warm leather jacket. The feeling of being totally free and at these speeds is fantastic. The experience is ephemeral, like you are leaving your body and your stomach is full of butterflies, but all at once.

The wind gets hold of my long hair, making it dance in the air like those scenes from the movies. I get the smell of the ocean, just coming in through underneath my visor. My senses are on high alert, and everything feels heightened, elevated, as I sit behind Robin on his Ducati Multi Strada. I hold onto him tightly as he gears up and accelerates along Highway 1. To my left, the ocean flickers turquoise, like sprinkles spread out over the waves. To my right, luxury villas dot their way up the slopes as LA fades away in the distance behind us.

This is the second motorcycle trip in my life. So, my experience of being a biker chick is pretty limited. My childhood is however marked with a lot of shop talk after hanging out with my father in the garage, and who as a mechanic, would take me along to rally races. I feel at home in this environment, with motor interested people, with men who have the need for speed, and I personally have always love faced paced living and new adventures. When I got the chance to ride a motorcycle with a member of the Sinners MCC, the choice was easy. Robin has longed for this ride, and to also meet up with some old friends in the club in Los Angeles, and I am along for the ride to document this trip.

The sinners started out as classic outlaw club for bad boys in 1952. Holding themselves in the desert outside of LA, they played rowdy. Today it is not nearly as hardcore, rather, they consist more of guys who just like to hang around and build old Harley models from pre-war up through the 50’s. During these days there’s lots of cursing mixed in with motorcycle talk. Engines gone bust. Other parts that aren’t working. One gets the impression that this is the kind of hobby one would love to hate. Like when we were sitting at the local bar with Stevie, a Sinners member who we lived with in LA. He sulks and sighs before saying, “They run the best just before they blow up.”

Locally Made Speedy Sportsters

Before we head off on our road trip, we meet up with some of the Sinners in LA. Brandon Hill of The Speed Merchant has set up in Signal Hill in Long Beach building speed demons under the pretence that, “less is more”. The focus is on modern high-performance racing models from Harley Davidson. The bikes that roll out of these doors aren’t just wickedly fast, but also utterly beautiful. The Speed Merchant holds themselves to a high level of accountability, ensuring that all bikes are 100% locally made here in Southern California.

Harley has produced sportster models for over 65 years and only five people in the entire world have been called upon to build custom versions for Harley Davidsonís jubilee. Brandon is one of them.

When we meet Brandon, he is just finishing up work on a special built Sportster on order for Harley Davidson. Harley has produced sportster models for over 65 years and only five people—in the entire world—have been called upon to build custom versions for Harley Davidson’s jubilee. Brandon is one of them. He rolls the bike on out so I can photograph it, on the serious stipulation that I can not publish said photographs before the launch and the Sportster’s 65th year jubilee.

Chopper Dave

We say our farewells to Brandon and his bike, onward to the next Sinner. Dave “Chopper Dave” Freston looks exactly like what you would imagine of a chopper guy: long hair done up in a ponytail, a beard, authority, and arms full of tattoos. Dave is a renowned “chopper wizard” who has taken the classic choppers of the 50’s and 60’s into the modern day. He builds Harleys that most would think to be impossible. Not only does he do vintage Harleys, but he also builds handmade aluminum casting details for motorcycles, custom parts, gear knobs and changers, pegs, intakes and buckles. Dave and Robin catchup over conversations about old friends and motorcycle parts. Expressions and vulgare language abound, I sneak off, camera in hand, and investigate what’s in the garage.

Robin and Dave loose themselves in a discussion on the Evo motors that Dave works with. I quickly learn that the Evo motor came in the 80’s from Harley Davidson, a solid built piece of modern machinery which translates to less work and more time on the road. I can’t help but think to myself, “gosh, isn’t this a tedious hobby these guys got?”

Dave shows us some various cast parts he has made, including some new buckles with the Sinners logo, a gift intended for some chapter members in Sweden.

High Alert on Highway 1

It was a pleasure to meet Brandon and Dave, but now we are finally on our way. Pulling out of LA on Highway 1, we swing off by Santa Barbara on Highway 101 towards our destination, Sant Louis Obispo; a ride which I will never forget. That morning while we packed things up, I overheard Robin and his buddy Steve talking. There was word that it could be a little windy on the stretch just after Santa Barbara. When we got off on this bit of road, it was more than a little windy—no we are talking storm winds of over 55 miles per hour! The bike takes it bluntly on the side, unevenly, and the lust for speed and wind is fading for me in this fleeting moment.

Normally I do not react too much to this kind of stuff. Maybe it’s age and getting older, or perhaps it is that feeling of not being in control as I hung tightly around Robin. Regardless, I do get scared in that kind of wind and at those speeds. All I could do was position myself, hang on for dear life and endure the next couple of hours which dragged on like an eternity, plenty of time to ponder ones own funeral.

Kitschy Madonna

We turn in at The Madonna Inn, a place that resembles the inside of a pink marshmallow, a gluttonous approach to kitsch style, and I can’t do anything but like it. Stepping off the bike, I realize that I am still alive. I set my funeral plans aside and mention this to Robin, who calmy explains that it is always windy on that part of the road, and he is a veteran of riding in the strong winds. Reassured, I admit that my beginners nerves were a bit spooked.

We turn in at The Madonna Inn, a place that resembles the inside of a pink marshmallow, a gluttonous approach to kitsch style, and I canít do anything but like it.  Stepping off the bike, I realize that I am still alive.

After parking the bikes and checking in to the hotel room I notice my hair. Perhaps that idyllic vision of long hair blowing in the wind isn’t such a good idea after all, as my ponytail has become a tuft of a thousand small dreadlocks which take all evening to comb out. It’s not just the nerves and hair which needs carrying for after a day like that; old muscles pains are making themselves known again, a remainder that I can’t sit like that for too many hours at a time. It is actually quite extensive how exhausted one is, how physical it is to ride like that. It’s like doing yin yoga, but instead of five 10-minute sets of the same stretch, it’s all at once, for hours and at high speeds. I stretch out my stiff limbs, swearing at my muscle cramps, and when my hair is somewhat back to normal, we sit down on the balcony, taking in the view of the green hills  in the evening light and sunset—an unbelievably beautiful sight.

A Classic Motel

After our night at The Madonna Inn, we set our sights on a little motel in Los Alamos as per a recommendation, and wouldn’t you know it, today I braid my hair to avoid any dreadlock situation. First off is Morro Bay where we stop for lunch. We decide to bypass the larger roads, and instead plot a route along the backroads to Los Osos and Arroyo Grande. This feels much safer this time around, my love for speed and wind is coming back. I am relaxed, taking in the landscape around me, the smells, and all the liberation that is riding a motorcycle. We have a nice trip, winding up at the Sky View Motel, an old classic with its charm intact, albeit upgraded to a boutique hotel. 

When I get off the bike this time, there are no muscle pains. In fact, this time around it feels as if all the hours in the same position were actually good for the legs—I am feeling the best I have in years. We take off our leather jackets, take a quick shower and grab an outside table at the hotel’s restaurant. Right by the pool, we have a round of Aperol Spritz and cheer to motorcycle yoga.

Backroad Bliss

The morning after and we are back on the bikes, rolling out on Highway 101 towards Los Olivos where we will take Route 154 past Cachuma Lake and its pristine nature sprawling out before us. When we had passed Santa Barbara, we found a cozy taco stand, Padaro Beach Grill. Right down by the water, we treat ourselves to a well-deserved lunch under an umbrella on their patio.

We decide to once again take the backroads down to LA, Route 192 and 159 through Mira Monte and Ojai, promising route which winds and snakes its way through the canyons. The landscape continues to impress, showing off all of nature’s best sides.

The rough 100-degree weather and leather attire remind us that we need to keep cool. We take a pitstop in Santa Paula for an ice-cold cola under the shade of a tree and a chance to take off our heavy leather jackets. Before we mount up on the Ducati, which we borrowed for this trip, I ask Robin why we aren’t riding a classic Harley Davidson:

We decide to once again take the backroads down to LA, Route 192 and 159 through Mira Monte and Ojai, promising route which winds and snakes its way through the canyons. The landscape continues to impress, showing off all of nature’s best sides.

Well, you said you got pains from riding, right? I wanted to make sure you were as comfortable as possible on this trip, and that just isn’t going to happen on the back of a Harley.

I am thankful for that decision. Although, I can’t help but wonder, after feeling this good being stretched out yoga style on the Ducati, perhaps it would have been even more relieving aboard a Harley. Who knows.

We continue along 126 Catiac Junction 5 past Santa Clarita where the wind whipped up a bit. But now I am about more seasoned and know that I need not fear, for Robin is an expert driver and I am in good hands. We zip past car after car through San Fernando Valley, on our way to LA, ending up with Steve, a fellow Sinner, and his wife Melanie. The evening winds down with dinner in their backyard, full of stories and conversations about motorcycle culture, why not to have long hair let loose when riding, the life, politics, and a fear swear words about motorcycles in general.

Bike Meet

The following day is the grand opening for Bike Shed Moto Co, nestled in the LA Arts District. A 30,000 square foot warehouse building with a restaurant, bar, barber shop, a large exhibition space, VIP room for members, tattoo parlour, and a store—most of the lynchpins of MC culture all under one roof.

I post up outside on the street to snap some shots. Motor-cycle after motorcycle rumbles by, a procession which reminds me of models going down the catwalk. The large atrium inside serves as parking, and is soon bristling with lights and sounds of bikes, the smell of gas and oil hangs in the air. Sights and sounds that give me flashbacks to when I was a kid, hanging with Dad in the garage, it all feels familiar. I suddenly remember that this is our last day, and I take the chance to breathe it all in, to bask in the noise and lights of LA on this warm evening before we head back to Stevie and Melanie. 

Order the hard copy here! American Trails Magazine #12

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