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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Midwest Speed Racers

Secret ride turns 10

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  "The route was kept secret until all the riders were present and ready to start. The rules were laid out and checkpoint procedures explained at a riders’ meeting. Then the race began with a “Le Mans start,” which means all the riders ran to their bikes, started them and roared off to glory! Unless they had a bulky kick start, vintage mount…"

  That’s an account of the first Milwaukee to Minneapolis Tourist Trophy caf race (M2MTT) in 1998 by Gary Charpentier, written for the Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly.

  The M2MTT traditionally takes place the first Saturday after the Fourth of July and has developed a devoted, secretive following.

  Scott Johnson, part owner of Fuel Caf, organized the first few M2MTTs along with his friends. His inspiration came largely from a 1963 British film, The Leather Boys. The film has a race scene that starts at the Ace Caf in London. The gang of bikers that hangs out there must race to a castle in downtown Edinburgh, Scotland, drop off a postcard, as proof they had been there, then race back to the caf.

  The M2MTT is similar, if not as theatrical. They traditionally started at Fuel Caf and raced up to Bob's Java Hut in Minneapolis, with the winner taking a trophy. You had to sign in for a route sheet, and a van followed the racers in case of bike problems. The number of riders has fluctuated over the years from 25 up to a hundred, with an average of 30 in recent years.

  "It started with me and a bunch of guys I knew, but got kind of out of hand,” Johnson recalls. “We started with 35 the first year, and the next year we probably had a hundred."

  A rider named Mark from Indiana, who won the 2001 M2MTT race, wrote about the experience in a posting after the race. He and two of his friends finished that year's 476-mile route in seven and a half hours.

  "There must have been a hundred bikes at the Fuel,” Mark says. “(Scott Johnson is) very laid back, yet hugely enthusiastic. The Fuel crew is dread-headed, pierced and tattooed in the best urban tradition. It's a weird yet wonderful place. You've gotta like a joint that booms out speed metal before opening in the morning."

Getting Crazy?

  After three years, Johnson decided to stop organizing the race. He was afraid that the races would be affiliated with his businesses, although they never actually were. Plus, it had gotten too big for him to handle. "It got a little crazy, and I didn't want to be involved anymore," he says.

  That could easily have been the end of the ride, but the M2MTT had gained a devoted following that wanted the event to ride on.

  I spoke to the current organizer of the race, who wishes to remain anonymous due to potential legal issues. I will call him "Racer X." Racer X dropped the “TT” part of M2MTT, changing it from a race to a simple ride, also for legal reasons. The year of each event replaced the “TT” in the title, making 2008’s race the M2M08. The race traditionally ran from Fuel to Bob's Java Hut, but the start and finish lines were rotated, along with the routes. The route is different each year and mainly follows county roads. Riders have to find out by word of mouth when and where to meet, and route maps show up at the starting line. The route runs 400-500 miles, depending on the route chosen.

  “In 2002, a guy named Rutger Hauer, at least that’s what I remember, organized (the race),” Racer X says of how he came to be in charge of the ride. “I spoke to Rutger in early 2003 and he said he didn’t want the task of organizing it. I was afraid my favorite ride would become history. Somebody had to take control, and that someone was me.”

  Many of Racer X's fellow riders have expressed their appreciation for his efforts. In 2005, a rider from Illinois named Christian wrote an account of his M2M05 experience.

  "The roads you encounter will blow your mind completely,” he says. “They will flip your lid. The people you meet will renew your faith in humanity. The payoff for the accomplishment is a smile on your face from ear to ear."

  Of course, not everyone understands the appeal. In his account, Christian says that his co-workers seemed confused by his weekend plans.

  "It's hard to explain this event to people not in the know," he notes. "‘Let me get this straight,’ [they would say]. ‘You're doing a race from Milwaukee to Minneapolis, and you don't care what place you come in?’"

  Christian answered them by saying, “Buddy, if I finish the race, don’t get hurt and stay on the route, I’m a winner.

  “They all just shook their heads at me like I’m crazy,” he adds.

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