The Amazing Motorcycles of Riding Into History

A concours motorcycle event that’s much more than meets the eye

Riding Into History concours d’elegance motorcycle show
Each year, hundreds of the country's best-preserved and -restored classic motorcycles gather for the Riding Into History concours d'elegance at the World Golf Hall of Fame near St. Augustine, Florida. The bikes are arrayed around a circular lake on the manicured grounds.Jim Dohms

I always knew the Riding Into History concours d'elegance charity event that happens each May at the World Golf Hall of Fame near St. Augustine, Florida, was special. As Grand Marshall in 2012, I got to experience first hand the amazing motorcycles and people that come each year, and the good work the RIH charity and volunteers do.

The Caddy Shack restaurant
The World Golf Hall of Fame is easily one of the country’s most plush locations for a concours, and the Hall of Fame itself is a major attraction if you’re a duffer. The best lunch spot? The Caddy Shack restaurant, of course, located at the 2 o’clock location on this photo, and owned and operated by Bill Murray and his brother. Lots of movie memorabilia on display.Jim Dohms

But the depth of that notion didn’t fully hit me until the 2016 event’s Friday night Grand Marshall dinner last week, just as I was organizing my notes for the 30-minute speech I was about to give to 250 special guests in Malcolm Smith’s absence. (Malcolm, this year’s Grand Marshall, was ill and couldn’t attend.)

The speaker just before me was Shari Duval, founder and CEO of K9s For Warriors (k9sforwarriors.org), the Riding Into History event's (ridingintohistory.org) sole charity. RIH, now in its 17th year, is a non-profit itself, but has always given generously to a special charity. K9s For Warriors, as I was about to find out, is special indeed.

period-modified Kawasaki KZ1000
This lovely, period-modified Kawasaki KZ1000, donated by Phil Ridgdill, was raffled to the highest bidder during the RIH concours. The winner paid $4800, which, given the bike’s Daytona Superbike racing pedigree, original RC Engineering exhaust and gold-anodized spun-alloy wheels, seems almost a bargain.Jim Dohms

In a nutshell, K9s For Warriors caters to active duty and retired military personnel suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a result of their post-9/11 service. They do this with rescue dogs—dogs that are trained by professional handlers for months before being linked up with a warrior in need. These service canines are often able to help assist warriors return to civilian life with dignity and independence.

The need is urgent and real, too, as Duval explained that we lose 20 vets per day to suicide. I heard the assembled crowd suck in a violent breath when she uttered those words, and over the next few minutes, as she explained the organization’s activities, there were plenty of tears.

1950s-era Messerschmitt KR200 3-wheeler
This 1950s-era Messerschmitt KR200 3-wheeler was one of the RIH show’s hits, and for good reason. Unable to build aircraft after WWII, Messerschmitt turned to building small motor vehicles, and the KR175 and KR200 were two of them. This one was ridden/driven on the Grand Marshall ride.Jim Dohms

“My son,” says Duval, “a veteran K9 police officer, worked as a contractor for the Army as a bomb-dog handler. He served two tours in Iraq and returned home with PTSD. This really hit home to our family. After two years of research on canine assistance for PTSD we decided the best way we could help these deserving warriors was to start a non-profit organization to train and give [them] service canines.”

When Duval told stories about some of the warriors they’ve helped, and how well these vets are doing now, I felt amazingly proud. Proud of Duval’s organization, of course, but also of the hundreds of Riding Into History volunteers, all of whom were putting on this great event to raise money to help K9s For Warriors operate.

Classic bikes at Riding Into History
If there’s one thing you can count on during a RIH concours event, it’s your ability to get up close and personal with an amazingly wide range of classic bikes. The plush atmosphere of the HOF makes the experience even better.Jim Dohms

Earlier that Friday, the 17th annual Riding Into History event had gotten off to a great start during the Grand Marshall ride, which took us from the plush Hall Of Fame grounds to a fantastic lunch along the St. John’s river and back. Some 100 bikes and riders took part, and some of the machines were wildly exotic – a three-wheel Messerschmitt KR200Kabinenroller and a low-mile, original 1975 Suzuki RE5 rotary being two standout examples. One of the coolest things about this RIH group is that many of the rarest and nicest motorcycles in the show are actually ridden, not just displayed and trailered home. I appreciate that. In my book, pristine often takes a back seat to patina.

Early Saturday morning, things got crazy on the World Golf Hall Of Fame grounds. Hundreds of the country’s nicest vintage machines were being arranged around the perfectly circular lake that forms the focal point of the manicured HOF facility. They were grouped according to class, so all attendees and judges had to do to see everything was walk around the lake, point their cameras, and take in the sights. Retro-themed vendors are arrayed around the lake, too, including photographers, sponsors, shops, and restorers, and the K9s For Warriors folks. The RIH folks also have posters and items to sell, the proceeds of which all go to K9s For Warriors. Malcolm and I were scheduled to sign copies of his new autobiography (I helped him write it), but in his absence I was the lone signer that weekend, with proceeds also going to the K9 group.

Riding Into History charity motorcycle event
Similarly pedigreed bikes are grouped together at the RIH show, which makes is easy for judges and enthusiasts to keep track of what’s what. Walking around the lake is an amazing two-wheeled education, and you’re almost sure to spy something you’ve never seen before. The really rare stuff tends to come out for this event.Jim Dohms

One of the most compelling aspects of the event is the custom artwork done each year for RIH by noted artist Don Bradley. Bradley, a longtime artist, art director, technical illustrator and motorcyclist, came to RIH via an association with RIH organizer William Robinson—the same guy who hooked me into the RIH family back in 2011. Robinson saw a piece of Vincent Black Shadow artwork Bradley had done for a T-shirt in Daytona in 2003 and knew immediately it would be perfect for the RIH event’s British theme in 2004. He contacted Bradley, explained what they wanted, and thus was born an artistic collaboration and association that’s become world famous in the years since.

Don Bradley artwork, Vincent motorcycle
This piece of Don Bradley artwork, titled “Black Lightning," is the one that attracted the attention of the RIH’s Bill Robinson at Daytona. It ended up becoming the artwork for the group’s 2004 event, and set the stage for the many years of wonderfully dramatic theme art that followed.Jim Dohms

Each year, Bradley would spend six months—researching, sketching and then painting—a special piece of art specifically for RIH, each a variation of the woman-with-motorcycle image he did with the Vincent. Over the years many bikes have been featured, including a BSA Gold Star, a six-cylinder Honda GP machine, a KR750 Harley-Davidson, a Norton Manx, a Rainey Kawasaki GPz750, a Cyclone board-tracker, and many more. The women aboard are every bit as mesmerizing.

Don Bradley art, Wayne Rainey/Kawasaki motorcycle
In 2012, artist Don Bradley riffed the Wayne Rainey/Kawasaki theme for his amazing "Jade Warrior" painting. And with this author being the Grand Marshall for the RIH event that year, Bradley could’t have picked a better subject.Jim Dohms

The artistic collaboration lasted from 2004 until 2015, when Bradley passed away at the age of 75. He’d been working on the 2016 RIH painting, but died before he could finish it. For a while there was uncertainty on how to proceed—right until his daughter Roni, an artist herself, stepped up and offered to finish the piece for the 2016 event.

Grand Marshall lunch ride
Hours before the Grand Marshall dinner on Friday night is the Grand Marshall lunch ride, in which many of the concours bikes take part. In this photo are two interesting Japanese entries, Todd Haifley’s immaculate RE5 Suzuki rotary and a superb Honda CB400F.Jim Dohms

"At first," Roni recently told author Holly Bond in Folio Weekly, "I hadn't thought about finishing it. But [after] it was a way to hold onto him, a way to keep him close." The end result, a late '50s Ducati 125 single with the obligatory naked woman aboard (the inspiration of which will forever be known only to Don Bradley), turned out wonderfully, and was a big hit at the 2016 event, which ended up being a bit of Don Bradley memorial. Which was entirely appropriate. (See artofdonbradley.com for more information on this amazing artwork.)

Like the AMA’s Vintage Motorcycle Days at Mid-Ohio in July, or the Barber Vintage Festival in October, the Riding Into History concours has become, for me, a don’t-miss sort of event. The organizers, the fans, the bikes themselves and the excellent work this group does for America’s vets…you just can’t beat it.

Wild Bill Robinson
One of the event’s founding members, and the guy who hooked the author on the entire RIH family, is “Wild Bill” Robinson, a consummate enthusiast, amazingly nice guy, and, as you can see, big-time Malcolm Smith fan.Jim Dohms

With the weather so good at this time of the year, I may even ride to next year’s event, scheduled for the weekend of May 20th, 2017. It’s been a while since I did a coast-to-coast road trip. And, hey, my custom Suzuki GS1000S will be done and running by that point. Gotta break that baby in. You never know: It might even win a trophy.

Mitch Boehm, 53, began riding at age 9, and racing at age 11. His moto career includes staff stints at Motorcyclist (18 years), Cycle World and American Honda, plus he recently helped Malcolm Smith write his autobiograhy. All of which qualifies him to jabber away endlessly about Old Stuff.