Greenhorn Enduros

My first Greenhorn was ridden on my 1950 Triumph Trophy. In fact it was my first enduro. A rather strange one to start with due to the length. But back then, everyone rode the Greenhorn.

It started from Johnson Motors on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena, California. The overnight for this two day event was Red Mountain, an old mining town in the high desert of the Mojave. The event followed a devious route through the Angeles Mountains above Pasadena and out into the Mojave. Each day would cover about 300 miles. This would be the first time that I had ridden the Trophy in the high desert; lessons were to be learned.

Each rider’s pit crew had to travel to specific places where the route crossed a highway, and get there ahead of their rider. My dad was my pit and he was on the way as soon as I left the start. The first rider was away at 6:01 AM, and my start time has been lost in memory. Does not matter as it was early anyway. The event was run on a 24, 30, and 36 mph schedule I think. A chart of time to mileage was taped to my gas tank and my watch was on my wrist. I looked like I should have known what I was doing.

Somewhere in the mountains, on a fire road, I realized that I was getting ahead of schedule. So I slowed down for fear of a secret check. Riders started passing me. “Boy, are those guys really ahead of schedule” I reasoned. Somehow, I was not getting back on my minute, and more guys were passing me. “This is strange” I thought. The light bulb finally lit. My watch had stopped! Full speed ahead. As I started reeling in riders who had passed me, I am sure they figured that I was for sure a greenhorn in the Greenhorn.

In those days it was a long way between gas stops. They were usually where a gas station was for those who did not have a pit crew. There is not alot of them in the desert. Our lunch stop was out there in the desert at a place I cannot recall. It was a long way to be sure and I knew that it would be a stretch for my fuel supply. But, at the mileage I was getting around LA, I should have made it OK. Unfortunately, a dirtying air filter and jetting that was not leaned for the anticipated higher elevation, changed all that. I almost made the noon check, but came up a few miles short. The bike ran dry. Too far to push. I knew my goose was cooked; what a bummer. After awhile a truck came by on the dirt road that I was sitting on. Flagging them down, I scored a rope tow into the check point. I got in 45 minutes late, but I had not houred out. The lunch break was an hour, so to be back on schedule, I would have to leave in 15 minutes. Dad was there and quickly realized the reason for my trouble. He would not send me out again until he had at least improved the situation.. The carb came off and what all he did was not clear to me. I only knew he was burning up too much time trying to get it just right; time was flying by. When the mods were done and I was gassed, an hour was nearly gone.

I started around 40 minutes behind my minute. There were no resets in those days to keep late riders from having to make up time on the roads, as there is now. So as hard as I dared, I hit the roads and trails that laid out ahead of me. At each check point I had picked up some time, but not much. I had something like 150 miles to ride. The spring hub on the back of my Triumph was getting a pounding, all two inches of the travel. I learned about road crossings in the desert. While on a high line service road, which allowed a fast pace, I suddenly saw a cross road graded below surface level. Too late I saw it! Jumping onto the road was no problem but the riser on the other side was a shock. Whatever happened left me with the handlebars in my belly and I was along for the ride. Somehow it turned out OK, but my heart did not settle down for a good while.

A hundred miles of this came and went and I was still cooking along. There was no such thing as a Camel Back in those days and I had not had much water since the start. I cannot remember being thirsty, but it was probably working on me. The last check point was about thirty five miles from Red Mountain. I went through that check about fifteen minutes late. By now I had lost a ton of points. This was my first-ever enduro, so visions of doing well were never entertained. Finishing and doing as well as possible, of course was. When I left that check I felt pretty good but that did not last. I had gone maybe two miles when quite suddenly I felt all energy leave my body. It was so bad that when I came to a turn in the road, which was a graded but unmaintained dirt road, I would drop both feet for fear of falling. I knew that if I fell there was no strength to pick up the bike. That final section was completed at a speed below the average for sure. When Red Mountain came into view I had never seen a more welcome sight. Dad was there OK.

There was a feed that night and strength returned. Good sense surfaced as well. I was too hammered to be ready for the 6 AM start the next day. In fact I was too hammered to understand that the dollies that seemed to be connected with the local saloon were getting some attention. Dollies in the middle of the desert? I didn’t have a clue that ladies-of-the-night could be in such a place. The bike was loaded in the pickup. We followed the run back the next day to Johnson Motors to see the finish.

The next Greenhorn (May 1951) was ridden on my 1951 Triumph Trophy. The week before the run I pulled the top end of the engine down and did a ring and valve job. I had been having trouble with dirt entering the air filter and hanging up the throttle slide. This also had much to do with the frequently required top end overhauls. My dad tried a solution by taping a piece of card stock to the front of the rear fender as a shield. Might have helped, but did not solve the problem.

By that time I was winning trials and had developed my riding style. I was riding the fire roads in the Angeles mountains in a feet-up style where others around me were burning energy with a slide foot style. This continued to help me in long distance events where much burlier riders would run out of poop. I was on a minute near Aub LeBard, a multiple time Big Bear winner. He commented favorably about me to my dad after the event, which puffed my dad up. As with events that go well, there is no clear memory of the first day getting to Red Mountain.

Evidently, the dollies got too much attention last year as they were not present this year. I was hoping to get a look, as in the interim I had been made aware of what I hadn’t understood the previous year. Red Mountain is quite a party for awhile after the riders got in. But facing the 6 AM start, things calmed down early.

I was feeling good that this year I would be actually starting the second day. The course out of town immediately left any sign of road. This would be the first significant cross country section, and it was long. I remember it as being at least 50 miles. It got into lava rock as well as the ever present sand. Starting near me were two guys from New Mexico two-up on a Harley 74. It was an unlikely sight in the desert. But these guys knew their stuff. On two occasions I watched them foot in unison negotiating a deep sand turn. When we got into the mountains in the afternoon, there was a route sign snafu that caused some to go the wrong way. I recall that backtracking riders kept my problem to a minimum. The finish was achieved without memorable incident.

I verified the date of this event by looking up the report in the bound volumes of the Motorcyclist. The top 25 were shown and I had come in 20th. Somehow I had forgotten that. Looking back it seems a worthy accomplishment for a guy still new to enduros. Probably my riding ability was superior to my time keeping ability, so I didn’t feel so impressed with the results. In other words, I could have stayed much closer to the schedule if I could have better figured out where I should be.

The Triumph had worn out its top end in that 600 miles. The very next week the cylinder was pulled and rebored for oversize pistons. The valves were ground again. The rather miniature air filter of those days was not up to the task. When I was to eventually take up desert racing, big custom air filters were built and the problem was no more.

The next year I took a pass since that would be my first time to ride the race on Catalina Island. By then I had a Francis-Barnett 200cc race bike. Not exciting by today’s standards as it would only do 62 mph, but fun just the same. Catalina was a big deal. My dad was trying to figure out how to get more poop out of the Villiers engine. What we did not know about two-strokes would fill a book. He improved the acceleration some, but not the top speed. All this was consuming us and there was no time for the enduro.

Then the Army. So my next Greenhorn would be in 1955, soon after Catalina that year. By then I had my 1955 Triumph Trophy race bike. Annie was around and we would be married soon. She and my dad were my pit crew.

I have no memories of getting over the mountains out of the start. That day I would have a most memorable crash. During my Army time I was fortunate to be in Texas where I had gotten in a pile of bike riding and competition. But things were tight down there. So I was adjusted to looking way too close to the front wheel. So there I was, cooking down this fast sand wash and probably looking no more than twenty yards ahead. The water had taken a right turn and left a pronounced bank on the outside edge. By the time I saw this there was only time to get out an “Oh crap” and I hit it. I remember well, going up in the air in a huge handstand on the bars. Then I was sailing through space looking at the sky. That lasted for a significant amount of time before I landed with an awful thud on my back. I must have made a crater as I have no recollection of sliding. It took a while before I felt I could get up and retrieve my hopefully rideable bike. Riders would stop and look at me and I would say that I thought I was OK but just had to lay there awhile. Finally I made my feet and found the Triumph good to go. In considerable discomfort I made the next check, a “known” where Dad and Annie were waiting for me. They had to extract the bike out from under me as lifting my leg over was out of the question. My legs and my body were on quite different center lines as my hip was severely disjointed. My foot hurt as well.

They loaded the bike in the pick up and we headed for the nearest town which was probably about fifty miles. The hope was to find a chiropractor. Being Saturday, we were not optimistic. Another of my many blessings occurred as there was one to be found. He was able to get my hip straightened out but when he got hold of my foot there was a loud crack. He stopped immediately and said to get an x-ray. He had evidently corrected the problem without realizing it as there was no further problem there.

So ended what would be my last Greenhorn. I fail to remember why I rode no others. With development being what it was, such a long distant event soon became near impossible to put on, so I think there were not too many more anyway...

-- Bill Brokaw

Bill Brokaw and Nick Nicholson were the premeir trials riders in Soutrhern California in the early 50s, but Bill also rode desert, enduros and scrambles. He owned a shop on the eastside of LA before he moved to Colorado. Bill was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001. His wife Annie was also an excellent trials rider and road racer. Annie was inaugerated into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 2004, and awarded the Pappy Hoel Lifetime Achievement Award. She raced Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on a KTM when she was 62 and 63. Annie is still the only woman to race a motorcycle in that event...