Practicing the art of cool rides in Dolores
Restoring vintage motorcycles fuels two Dolores businesses
The Million Dollar Highway and other routes in the state attract motorcycle enthusiasts from all over, and while many choose Harley-Davidsons or Japanese sport bikes, a few are aficionados of brands whose heyday passed decades ago.
By sheer coincidence, two rebuilders of obscure vintage bikes ply their trade in this tiny mountain town.
One of them is Matt Rambow, who has made a living since 1997 rebuilding British Norton Commandos in his shop, Colorado Norton Works, headquartered in Dolores.
“It was the super bike that everybody else measured up to back in the ’70s,” said Rambow, who added that bikes like Norton, BSA and Triumph were the leaders in speed before Japanese bikes began to dominate the market later in the decade.
Though the Norton Commando has passed into obscurity for most of us, Rambow said many riders in their 50s and older who owned one or wanted one in their youth can now afford to purchase one of his frame-up rebuilds, which start at $30,000. Riders from as far away as China, Australia and Peru are willing to wait eight months to a year for one of Rambow’s made-to-order bikes. Colorado Norton Works is booked until 2014, he said.
Rambow said the 750 cubic centimeters and 850cc Commandos that come out of his shop are rebuilds, not restorations. Rambow said Commandos were known for having undependable electrical systems and era-appropriate brakes that may frighten a modern rider.
“There are well over a hundred upgrades (to each bike),” said Rambow, adding that his motorcycles are designed to be dependable, while still maintaining the feel of the original. “The main thing is taking the best of what they had … to keep the personality (of the original), and address all the shortcomings.”
Having one world-renowned motorcycle restorer/rebuilder in town may be unusual enough, but Dolores can boast two. Just a stone’s throw away from Colorado Norton Works on County Road T.5 lives Sam Manganaro, who for the last few years has been bringing another revered British motorcycle, the Vincent, back to life in his shop, Vincent Works.
“Pre-war, (World War II) they were the fastest things around,” Manganaro said.
His approach to fixing bikes differs from Rambow’s – half the Vincents in his shop have all-original parts, and the rest are mostly original.
“These particular bikes are worth a lot more if they’re all original,” Manganaro said.
Manganaro said many of his clients are collectors who buy the bikes as an investment. Next week, he will return a 1951 Vincent Black Lightning, one of only 39 made that year valued at $500,000, to its owner while attending a motorcycle show in Alabama. Manganaro said his client has owned the bike for seven or eight years and has never ridden it.
“I kind of shamed him into riding it (at the show),” he joked.
Rambow and Manganaro said that they both ended up in Dolores by happenstance. Rambow, a self-described former ski bum, grew up in Sweden and came to Colorado for the snow back in the 1980s. He used up his six-month tourist visa, returned home then packed up and moved to Colorado for good, living in Vail and Denver before Dolores.
Manganaro, who said Rambow helped him when he was starting out, arrived in Dolores from New England with family several years ago.
“A lot of people ask, ‘how did you both end up here?’” he said. “It’s just a great place to be, a great place to work, a great place to ride.”