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Victoria Motorcycle Club : 100 Years on The Throttle

book about the history of the Victoria motorcycle club

A new book details the long history of the Victoria Motorcycle Club. The setting is local, the stories universal.

Victoria motorcycle club history race startOn Thursday evening July 21, 1921, 15 charter members gathered for the first formal meeting of the Victoria Motorcycle Club. At that meeting the men decided upon a president, vice president, 50 cents a month club dues and to hold a hillclimb 10 days later. From the the start the VMC knew what they wanted to do.

The minutes fade after a year, as historical records often do, but they take up again in 1931. The club was by then well established with expectations of its members:

Your application to become a member of this club having been approved and accepted in the proper manner it is now necessary that you become acquainted with the aims and objects of our organization. 

Its members are expected to contribute to its welfare by supporting every project which it may see fit to sponsor, individual views must be suppressed once the enterprise in question has received the support of the majority. 

All members are expected to be proud of the good name which the Victoria Motorcycle Club holds in the community of Victoria and endeavour to uphold that good name to the utmost of their ability.

They are at all times to observe the rules of the club both written and unwritten and to conduct themselves in a gentlemanly manner on all highways and byways.

The above code of ethics, with very little wiggle room, first appeared in 1931 and still greets new members joining the club. 

The Victoria Motorcycle Club is a storied organization with a 108-year history of riders, motorcycles, volunteers, changing times and changing perspectives on Vancouver Island. Initially a group of riders split from a joint automobile/motorcycle club in1912 to become the seed of the VMC. The automobile group eventually became the BCAA, British Columbia’s arm of the CAA. For some time, the club itself was a little fuzzy on the exact date of its origin and once held an anniversary that was a few years too late as 1927 was often considered the date of origin. But with the official date, pegged by those first minutes, and the 100th anniversary looming  the historians of the club realized that the years were passing rapidly and a written history of the club was essential. A century is a long time and even those who joined the club in the latter half of the its existence would be getting on in years. Stories needed to be recorded. 

Whether looking forward from 1912 or 1921, the Victoria Motorcycle Club spans all but a handful of years of motorcycle riding in Canada. The club’s longevity and encompassing history are what make The Victoria Motorcycle Club: The First One Hundred Years such an engaging read. The self-published book written by three longtime VMC members—Gary Nordstrom, Barb Lohrmann and Roger Boothroyd—will not only prove interesting to people aware of the club or readers in or around Victoria, but to riders across Canada with an interest in the history of riding and the riding community. It is a universal story. 

Through words and photos, the book details the history of a determined grassroots organization focused primarily on off-pavement riding. The club did not begin with the objective of being an off-road group but in 1921, due to the  muddy, rough nature of many roads around Victoria, almost all rides were incidentally off-pavement. It was only as the years passed that the VMC began to purposefully focus on off-road, cross-country, hill-climbing and Trials riding. There was an on-road component to the membership but invariably the club’s interests would lead back into the dirt—indeed, for the first half of the club’s 100 years, the options for dirt rides seemed endless.

Victoria motocycle club side car racesSeveral historical decisions by the astute leadership of the club seem almost prescient. The most significant was the purchase in the 1960s of a 172-acre rural property on Victoria’s western outskirts. This swath of heavily wooded hill country was then still a long way from downtown Victoria but today the encroachment of subdivisions have landed upon the club’s doorstep  (but still several miles beyond the long standing SVI Rangers gun range). What was once a relatively remote holding of logged forestry land is no longer so and the surrounding homes are having an effect. The 172 acres gave the club a place for members to ride and to hold many events. As the years passed, the land became a precious asset as other riding options on southern Vancouver Island began to precipitously decline.

Club leadership also showed remarkable foresight in keeping a comprehensive record of the monthly meetings in the form of the minutes. These minutes held the key to the events, objectives and financial situation of the club. Written by the club secretary, minutes go back 100 years although there appeared to be a short blank period through the late 1920s and another when the meetings were held irregularly during World War II, addressed briefly in the minute records by the club president:

During the years of 1943, 1944, 1945, meetings were held at irregular intervals. Only a handful of the original members were left and it was decided to try to hold the club together until the war was ended. Gas-rationing, tire shortages, and the American Motorcycle Association rules (non-competition during wartime) prevented club runs, competition etc. Letters were written to the boys overseas by members attending club meetings. 

Membership, hovering around 50, dropped even further as the war approached and only bounced back at a meeting in December 1945 with 68 members in attendance.

Another and perhaps most inspiring aspect of the club’s history is both the dedication and passions of so many club members who donated countless hours managing events, rides and going so far as to build trails to ride through the middle of nowhere to complete the VMC’s legendary competitions. The book dedicates a section to the riders and the families of riders who played an important role in the club development through the years. A few pages are dedicated to the Ladies Auxiliary, a group that often kept the club rolling through the early and middle years when only men were allowed to be members. When lunch and a few bandages were needed deep in the brush, the Ladies Auxiliary came to the rescue.

But the stories of people and events, are only part of what makes the book so engrossing. The other is the photography drawn from 100 years of riding and competition. The photos alone are worth a careful and studied perusal and are as good across the decades as one would discover almost anywhere. The imagery documents the bikes, the riders, the ridiculously difficult terrain and the unusual ways members found to compete (sidecar motocross?).

While The First One Hundred Years  touches upon many of the club’s annual events and competitions much of the focus is upon the Terra Nova—a two-day cross-country ride over some of the most challenging terrain on Vancouver Island. The gruelling event became known to riders up and down the Pacific west coast as a ride to challenge the best. The route encompassed miles of logging roads, slash cuts and single track as it wound from the outskirts of Victoria to Lake Cowichan and back again. Because the terrain was so difficult Trials bikes were often required to finish. The biggest bike to finish was a Honda XR600 and it took a strong man to do it. It was estimated that only 60 per cent of those who started finished the ride with the mishaps and adventures along the way leading to many a tall and occasionally cringeworthy tale.

The First One Hundred Years addresses the challenges facing the club, and many other clubs across the country, as it moves into the next 100 years. The most pressing is the closure of riding areas. The Terra Nova ride ended after more than 50 years because much of the land surrounding Victoria is now closed to the public by lease-holding forestry companies or various other groups. At one time, speaking to the right person with local ties would keep access available but those days of corporate community involvement in support of motorcycling seem to have faded. 

The club has seen large swaths of land that were once open to all now restricted to non-motorized activities. Many of the club’s former go-to riding and competition sites are now off limits and the VMC’s home acreage cannot accommodate all activities—especially not motocross. 

Membership has boomed in recent years because many riders still find the club’s property the only convenient place to hone off-highway skills. The booming membership is a double edged sword as the 172 acres of property can contain only so many riders, traffic and useage while keeping the neighbours unruffled. The minutes of the meetings show that the VMC has been looking for a new location for more than 40 years but still has found nothing that would better serve the needs of this active community.

Motorcycling holds a different place in society now than it did through much of the club’s history. Archival photos show huge crowds gathered in city parks to watch motorcycle rodeos, and until 1984 the club’s annual hillclimb was staged in a municipal park—Mount Doug—well within city limits and only a few miles away from the University of Victoria. To most Victorians today, a motorcycle event in a city park is inconceivable. The hillclimb was by no means the only event held on what is now parkland or city green spaces but, as they say, times were different then. 

The first 100 years saw the the club itself along with several of its members inducted into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame including, Vern Amor,  Steve Drane and the Shanks family. With perseverance the next 100 will see several more. 

The Victoria Motorcycle Club can be found online at: https://vmc.bc.ca

Cycle Park : Home to The Victoria Motorcycle Club

The Victoria Motorcycle Club is found on
a beautiful piece of property in Metchosin on southern Vancouver Island. It is conveniently located only 30 minutes from Victoria, and is a few kilometres from the booming community of Langford. Formed from two acreages, the first purchased in 1962 and the second in 1968, it has been the home of the VMC for more than 50 years.

The first 160 acres is a mountainside, and initially was land-locked with access only via the generosity of a neighbour.  The second purchase of an adjacent 12 acres on Happy Valley Road allowed the VMC to have private access to the whole 172 acres.  The Victoria Motorcycle Club currently shares a short section of the neighbour’s driveway where it crosses over the Galloping Goose Trail, a 55-kilometre non-motorized multi-use rail trail that stretches from downtown Victoria into the hills above Sooke.

The second purchase of 12 acres provided a level area that was at first completely covered in broom bush.  Soon cleared away, a useable area emerged for field meets and even scrambles.  A few years later Turk Perepalkin proposed that we establish a flat track which is still visible, but now used for parking and for warming up.

The first clubhouse, complete with a wood stove, took shape at the bottom of the first rock slope.  It was for a time, an adequate rain shelter that is now the carport on the new clubhouse. The current clubhouse is a ‘transplant’, provided by John Rebneris, and with its stove and furniture, provides a more comfortable accommodation for event committees.  The lockable equipment container was a necessary later addition.

Adjacent to the clubhouse is a special Trials section including giant tires, rocks and logs for endless challenging checks.  

Outback, a hillclimb was carved out of the slope and has fencing, timing platform, a backboard and netting for safety.  The hillclimb was extended in 2018 by a hardworking team including Brent Donaldson, Dave Horner, Steve Drane and Mark Fisher.

Access to the next level up the mountain was aided by the building of a 4WD road.  The lower area by the hillclimb had the drainage improved and the parking area increased by Eric Volk and Mike Hornick of Island Equipment.  Eventually an energetic group of guys including Dave and Quinn McCullough devised an enduro-cross circuit above the hillclimb, complete with logs, tires, rocks and a Wall of Doom! 

The mountain is now interlaced with many trails connected by old logging roads, providing routes for Trials, enduros, and hare scrambles from junior to expert levels of difficulty.  Neighbours’ homes now exist on all sides of the property and have to be respected regarding noise.  So far so good.

Finally, to control who is allowed access, a tall fence and lockable gate has been added and provides a certain amount of security.  Through the years the facilities have remained rustic but there is a water tap and hose for clean-up after a muddy day of riding and portable washrooms are available.

Visiting competitors often remark that Cycle Park is such a great place to ride, and so close to the city.  From the top of the property there is a most magnificent view of the Salish Sea, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state and across the water to Victoria.  We are indeed so fortunate that our 1960’s executive had the vision to secure these properties.

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