15,000 kilometres through time

Photos: Ron Lacey

Earlier this summer, we told you about Ron Lacey, the guy from Surrey, BC, who was spotted riding his WWII-era Harley-Davidson WLC across the country. Several riders sent us notes after meeting Ron, and it sounded like there was a story to be told there.

We asked CMG readers if they could put us in touch with Ron, and sure enough, they came through. We managed to get hold of Ron and here’s what he had to say about his trip across the country, which added up to more than 15,000 kilometres, after he’d criss-crossed Canada a couple of times.

A ride through time

Why ride a 1942 Harley-Davidson WLC across the country? Ron says he was inspired partly because this year is Canada’s 150th birthday, partly because of his family’s history (his father and uncle rode motorcycles in World War II) but mostly, he wanted to do the trip to prove it could be done. And he certainly accomplished his mission, in style.

We first saw photos of Ron in the parking lot for the Newfoundland ferry, and we thought he’d flown his bike there, and was riding back. But Ron told us he actually rode both ways across the country — west to east, then east to west. The Newfoundland stop ended up being pretty brief; he rode about 80 klicks down the highway and turned back for the ferry. The weather was foul, and in his soldier’s riding gear, Ron didn’t feel like riding in the wind and rain anymore; he’d seen enough of that already, when he went across Ontario.

You see, Ron didn’t do his cross-country ride in the latest textile riding gear, or even in a set of old-school leathers. He pulled off his cross-country ride in military uniform.

“I try to go into World War II mode,” he said over the phone. “I present myself to the public as a World War II soldier.”

That means such authenticating touches as shaving his beard, donning a vintage steel helmet and wearing olive drab battledress. When it rained, he donned an infantryman’s raincoat, made of rubberized canvas, which probably didn’t handle the rain well when it was made and has certainly passed its prime now. As Ron puts it, “It’s 75 years old, it leaks a little.”

And unlike a modern motorcycle, which can be fired up with very little care or concern, every day aboard the vintage army bike requires a careful procedure before departure of checking valve lash, ignition timing, tire pressures and other settings. The postwar technological advances we take for granted are missing on a bike this old.

Even things as simple as an oil change required preplanning. “These old Harleys use a straight 50 non-detergent oil,” Ron said. The only source I knew of outside of B.C. was the Harley dealers. As the bike consumes one quart every six to eight hundred miles, I stopped at a lot of HD dealers.”

But that didn’t stop it from pounding out almost 10,000 miles on the odometer, or more than 15,000 kilometres. Ron’s trip took him five weeks, including a few days spent with family and friends along the way, as well as a stop at the Americade rally and the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group rally in Paris, Ontario (where he camped in a WWII-issue pup tent; there are no half-measures here). His longest day in the saddle was from Medicine Hat, Alberta to Moosomin, Saskatchewan, a 690-km trip. He did it all with no major breakdowns, only routine maintenance and a tire change (with the standard issue World War II tire kit, of course).

To a lot of people, that might sound a bit extreme. But really, is it any different than all the superbike owners who like to dress like Rossi on the weekend? At least Ron’s playing a part that honours this country’s history, as well as his own family’s heritage.


GALLERY

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3 thoughts on “15,000 kilometres through time”

  1. What a fantastic little piece this is. Too bad I didn’t see him this summer on my travels. I’m hoping you can get him to write up some stories of his experience riding across Canada. I’m sure it’d be an interesting read.

    Oh – and um – where can I – um – get some full garb to look like Rossi…..

  2. No this has to be impossible.

    What kind of Harley has sensibly placed bars, a seat placed higher than the top of your shin and feet placed slightly forward as opposed to way forward? That bike looks like it weights less than a Buick and was meant to be ridden; what’s up with that?
    How could somebody cover that many km’s without a $1500 branded riding suit aboard a $20K + adventure-style or loaded touring bike???? How could he pass the time without an infotainment system and bleu tooth thing-a-jigs?
    And how could he arrive safely without tire pressure monitors, ABS, traction control and all the other stuff that’s apparently now indispensable equipment?

    That’s a cool way to celebrate his family heritage.

    1. Excellent commentary!

      IIRC one of the things done to the HD bikes bought for the military was to move the seat forward and up several inches. You can see that in the side shot in the photos: The seat looks like it’s mounted about halfway up the fuel tank at the front and there’s a big gap between the back of the seat and the rear fender. The sprung “seat post” attaches to the back of the seat instead of the center as on civilian models. This apparently caused a much more forward seating position with the feet in a more natural position as you describe, and all the riders were trained to ride with this seating position.

      This riding position, where there is no slouching or crouching but the feet are nearly below the body’s center of gravity with a comfortable upright torso and an easy reach to the bars is just about the same riding position as on modern adventure bikes and scramblers. Maybe that explains the popularity of these comfortable and easy-to-ride adv/scrambler bikes: After 70 years we’ve rediscovered the riding position that is easy on the body and comfortable for long rides.

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