There’s a Club for that:

AMCA's Perkiomen Chapter Annual Oley Meeting

In the atmosphere of American vintage motorcycle culture, there are two principal national organizations. Servicing historic racing enthusiasts is, of course, the American Historical Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA). For those who enjoy preserving, restoring, exhibiting, and riding vintage bikes, the Antique Motorcycle Club of America (AMCA) is the largest single such organization. (While AMCA may be the largest–though, at 12,000 or so members, it’s not that large–it isn’t necessarily well known. My interactions with vintage bike enthusiasts lead me to believe that many of them simply aren’t aware of the AMCA…or possibly have heard of it, but dismiss it out-of-hand as just a club for ‘old Harley guys.’ We’ll get to that!)

The AMCA is nonetheless the first (to my knowledge) and foremost American organization devoted to the preservation and enjoyment of all vintage motorcycles. It supports regional meetings and rides organized by their local chapters, and maintains an objective criteria for the evaluation (judging) of antique motorcycles. It’s a first-class operation that should be considered by every motorcycle enthusiast—no matter what machines they ride or enjoy. In the next few pages I’ll hopefully create a picture of the AMCA by means of an accompanying virtual tour of the 2021 Perkiomen chapter meet in Oley, Pennsylvania…so, here we go!

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A typical rustic home around Oley, PA
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Up front, let me state that from nearly any direction you arrive from, to reach the small town of Oley, the ride will almost certainly be beautiful. The old villages of southeastern Pennsylvania, settled by German immigrants in the early 1700s, contain surviving period stone houses and original hardwood barns that continue to be studied by historians and sociologists. Our personal trek, from Harrisburg, in the west, travelling east on the interstate and then taking up country roads from Lenhartsville, past Kutztown and then Fleetwood, is—on a sunny spring morning—certainly a hard-to-beat country drive. The destination town of Oley itself dates from approximately 1700, and is a marvelously preserved small American town.

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The country roads in and around Oley are perfect motorcycle paths—and no less fun in a car! This old farmstead is west of Kutztown.

The Perkiomen Chapter of the AMCA, founded in 1971, has held their annual meet on the Oley Fairgrounds since 1984. There is no admittance fee, and no charge for parking in the adjacent school lot. There’ll be likely no traffic issues, either, as you roll down Oley’s main street. Once parked and entering the fairgrounds—and before you get that next cup of coffee or homemade snack from the nice folks in the food buildings—you’ll encounter one of the key elements of an AMCA meet: the show field. Normally, the morning of the last meet day is Judging/Show Day. We arrived on Saturday morning, so the judging field was filling up; following are some show bike highlights, followed by a look at the vendor area.

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This above creative display greeted us on arrival. It features a 1972 Penton (KTM-built, but heavily inspired by John Penton’s guidance) 100cc Berkshire model, set up for the International Six-day Trials (ISDT; the “Olympics of Motorcycling”) competition. The rider/manikin is wearing period clothing which looks to be actual ISDT attire. The motorcycle is original, and we can assume being judged in the original (un-restored) category. This level of presentation isn’t the norm for AMCA judging, but certainly helps tell the story of an old motorcycle. And, it’s refreshing; simply thrusting something old into public view doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘historical’ or even interesting, and certainly doesn’t reveal any story waiting to be told. While the AMCA rules don’t award points for this type of presentation, such effort certainly assists the viewer in placing the object into its historical context, and furthering the onlooker’s enjoyment. So, Bravo!

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While we’re on the topic of 1970s off-road bikes, here we see a trailer-load of beauties arriving. In front is a 1972 Yamaha CT-175, with what appears to be a slightly newer DT-250 behind it. At right-rear is the famous 1973 Honda CR250M “Elsinore,” the racing machine that changed motocross machinery dynamically in its time, bringing high performance and reliability into one package. Although AMCA membership interest tilts heavily to older American motorcycles (and, within this group, to Harley-Davidson), the machines of the world-wide “motorcycle boom,” beginning in the mid-1960s and climaxing in sales in about 1974, are a growing presence on AMCA show fields.   
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Two spectacularly restored classic 1960’s Yamaha’s. Our personal favorites.
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And speaking of later models of motorcycles, we came across two classic small-displacement 1960s Yamaha entrants. Spectacularly restored—such that you just can’t resist approaching them—the owner commented that he had to “un-restore” one of the bikes a bit, to avoid losing judging points. Judges had previously faulted the yellow bike for “over-restoration,” citing excessive polishing of the wheel hubs (that is, making them shinier than they would have appeared, when new). The enthusiastic owner-competitor complied, dis-assembling the wheels entirely and roughing-up the too-shiny hubs a bit to please the judges. That’s a will to win!
Speaking of ‘winning,’ this term is a bit of a misnomer as applied to AMCA judging. [Like Antique Automobile Club of America judging, on which the AMCA’s system is based] restored bike owners aren’t competing against each other, but against a ‘known standard’—that being the state of the motorcycle as it would have existed, new, on the dealer showroom floor. The AMCA use a 100-point initial score, from which fractions of points or whole points are deducted for any noted deviations from the showroom standard. Owners may submit a motorcycle for judging into either the Original or Restored category; a category for Period-modified Competition machines exists as well.
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The classic American brands—Harley, Indian, Excelsior, and others—are the bedrock of AMCA membership and show competition. These are also the toughest classes in which to compete. The reason is that with these machines generally being the oldest and the most popular, the depth of detailed knowledge in the judging ranks is encyclopedic. These men (and perhaps some women) absolutely know the correct spoke plating finish on a 1929 Harley, or the original color of any particular wire on any classic Indian. There will be classic American experts; there may be a 1970s Suzuki or CZ or Puch expert. That’s just the lay of the land (which actually makes it a little easier for one to sneak by an infraction on your old non-American bike). In any case, the judges—who are volunteers and often travel long distances to do their work on one day for not much in the way of thanks—always do their best. And they are a font of technical and historical data, and a stellar source of information for your restoration questions.

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Judges doing their thing, in this case discussing the details of a restored 1939 BSA. Judges will rarely make any point deduction unless they’re positive of the infraction, and will almost always obtain consensus from other members of their team. Becoming a judge entails a training process (‘apprenticing’ through several judging events under the tutelage of senior judges) and is certainly a badge of honor in the vintage motoring community. More judges are always needed—especially those with experience in newer and non-American brands. It’s great fun, a learning experience, and recommended!
And considering the people who make an AMCA meet happen, here’s the Principal Sparkplug of the Perkiomen Chapter (and really a national presence in vintage motorcycling): Doug Strange. Doug is a key organizer of the Oley event, and—despite his boyish face—is one of the “old timers” of the AMCA, having been a member since 1969 and on the national board of directors for 21 years. He’s also a 50-year member of the AMA! Doug is another font of knowledge on antique motorcycles—he’s coauthored a history of the old Reading Motorcycle Club, and was consulted for the Guggenheim’s Art of the Motorcycle ground-breaking museum show in the 1990s. Take the opportunity to meet him, if you have the chance! (Photo by Bill Wood/AMCA; furnished by Doug Strange)
Moving from our BSA to other Europeans, here are two splendid examples. On top is an early Ducati single sporter—in red, of course. The most-valued Ducati singles feature the exacting “desmodroic” gear-driven valve timing, allowing higher engine speeds by avoiding valve ‘float.’ Bottom is a well-preserved Moto-Morini 500 Sport (like that the author enjoyed). The Morini v-twin is a hidden classic: exotic, well-made, under-valued…and red.
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Here we see several competition bikes (unrestored category) awaiting judging. The AMCA heard their membership’s desire for such a class—realizing the complexities inherent in assessing potentially multiple years of modifications to the bike, with parts made from possibly multiple manufacturers—and responded several years ago. 
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And…the great Crocker! The Crocker—advanced for its time, better than a Harley, and only made sporadically from 1932-1942—is a Holy Grail/Nirvana/Fountain of Youth find for Antique American motorcycle collectors. Only about 200 were made.
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“Winner’s Circle” (denoting past high-scorers) bikes. Note the wide variety of entrants; the AMCA welcomes all brands, and has made a point of opening its arms to other bikes and collector interests in the past decade. The show field certainly reflects this openness. 
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Now, we’ll leave the show area—past a beautiful Norton 850 Commando—and check out the biggest part of an AMCA meet: the swap meet area. (The quaint term “swap meet” must have originated in earlier times, when enthusiasts actually “swapped” or traded parts. Now, parts are traded nearly exclusively for dollars.)

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What’s to be found in the swap meet area? More bikes, for one thing. Since AMCA meets don’t regularly have a special set-aside area for sellers to show for-sale motorcycles, these bikes will be sprinkled in among parts tables and engine blocks. Some owners will also just bring bikes along that they want to show off, but don’t want judged. Bring your cash; you’ll see first-class examples of the most desirable classic motorcycles available—like this Indian. And there will be surprises; no-one knows when or where a seller may choose to put any particular bike on the market. Certainly, many of the most elite vintage machines in the world do not change hands at auction; live motorcycle meets remain a key buying/selling venue. 

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Oddities will be unveiled at AMCA meets, like this Curtis 3-cylinder recreation.
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As we’ve noted, you never know what will show up at a meet. Consider the above photo of an original JAP-engined speedway machine. Who knows when or where it was unearthed—and what caused the seller to bring it to this event? For all we know, this may be the only machine like this to come on the market in years. Furthermore, as one vendor was overheard exclaiming, “I don’t do computers or eBay or the innernet!” AMCA members tend to be older, and some will not use the many digital platforms that others have come to see as the primary selling platforms in today’s world. Attending an AMCA meet may be the only way some buyers and sellers will connect.

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Above is a typical vendor layout; some bikes for sale, miscellaneous parts and a willingness to talk about old stuff on a sunny day in America. This gentleman brought several British bikes, various manuals and helmets, and—a welcome site for dirt bike enthusiasts—a pair of vintage Montesas. Behind the Capra (or stripped-down enduro?) is an early Cota (trials). Note the “WANTED—Montesa Parts” sign. This is a great opportunity to ask what else he might have for sale, or be interested in. Does he need that Spanish watchamacallit that’s been sitting around your garage for decades? Does he have some old Maicos or Bultacos, as well?

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This very nice Yamaha DT-250 caught my eye immediately. It turns out to be actually a repainted 1969 model, in the wrong color for the year, but closely resembling the very important 1968 DT-250—often considered the first modern Japanese trail bike. The bike came with a friendly owner who revealed the behind-the-scenes details: This machine competed in and won several western hill-climbs. The owner maintains that it’s still a strong runner, and offered that it has been partially restored with a pile of receipts. Asking price? $5,500. Seems to be on the high side, but being on the high side comes with the territory at AMCA shows. (Coming from a world of now super-high-value vintage American machinery, sellers seem to imagine that any rusty part is similarly valuable to that 1929 rusty Harley or Indian widget that brings hundreds or thousands of dollars. “Hmm…My bent, rusty Harley half-gas-tank brings $500? Then this complete, slightly rusty and only marginally-dented 1969 Suzuki tank must be worth at least $300.” But, just conjecture.)
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Early Indian Starter Kit’

On the topic of the high-priced stratum, one vendor offers the chance to join the rarified Indian Owner’s crowd, with this “early Indian” starter kit. Looks like the sweepings off an Indian restorer’s garage floor to this insensitive novice. Perhaps the $9,000 price tag is negotiable. And…how much, really, could all those other parts you’ll need come to? Hmmm… Restoring old motorcycles is the cult of possibility.

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Again, as with all vintage bike meets, you never know what’s waiting around the corner—and this is part of the fun. This scooter on display at this “little bit of everything” table appears to date to about 1960, and looks just like the one the author raced around his basement, circa 1963. The similarly-dated Hodaka Ace 90 and BSA would also like to have a new owner adopt them. Often, the best deal on a part (or bike) will come from a seller who doesn’t specialize in one brand. I say this not to impute that such a seller “don’t know what he has,” but, more appropriately—and to such a seller’s credit—I suggest that he doesn’t think he’s got something he doesn’t have. In the end, the rusty scooter or worn Harley front fender are just that; and a diverse seller will probably be willing to let them go at reasonable prices, not ascribing too much importance to old junk.

Choppers, minis, off-road racers, late-model street bikes, rare antiques—and everything else, including wonderful home-made food, views down adorable small-town alleys, and even the Library Association’s Spring Book Sale—are waiting for you at the next Perkiomen Chapter meet at Oley (which also happens to be about the first old motor vehicle event of the year, in eastern Pennsylvania). One more thought—taking up our mention of the ‘old Harley’ characterization of the AMCA. Yes; the AMCA is largely fixated on old Harleys…and Indians. But, in fairness, why wouldn’t it be? These are simply what the majority of the membership of this fine organization prefer. If 10,000 British or Japanese or old dirt bike enthusiasts joined AMCA, then that would become a greater emphasis. So—it’s somewhat on each of us to determine what this club highlights in the future. It’s a great crowd of people who have done exceptional service for antique motorcycling. They have a great bi-monthly magazine, as well. Consider becoming a member of this influential vintage bike club, and making your preferences count.

And…give some thought to coming to Oley, Pennsylvania for a day, next year.

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