American Café DVD Review
“Ride hard, ride short.” — the Slimey Crud Motorcycle Gang creedo
About 10 years ago, on a solo ride in October, I happened on a bewildering spectacle in the tiny village of Leland, in Sauk County, Wis. Normally, Leland is home to a scenic pond, two small bars (Sprecher’s being one featured), a few houses, and a gun club — with abundant parking downtown. But on this particular sunny Sunday, there were motorcycles everywhere in Leland; so many it was hard to find a place to park.
Motorcycles of all makes, ages and descriptions: vintage Brit bikes, Euro bikes, Asian bikes, rat bikes, dirt bikes, cruisers, sport bikes, customs, street fighters and café racers. Where did all those bikes come from and why were they there?
It was end point of the Slimey Crud Motorcycle Gang Café Racer Run*. A completely organic event with no real sponsors or promotion, the Crud Run happens twice a year on the first Sunday in May and the first Sunday in October, starting at Pine Bluff, a tiny berg in Dane County, Wis., and ending in Leland. In the years since, I’ve enjoyed the Crud Run nearly every time it has taken place, including one October when snow fell in Leland.
It always seemed like an event with a story to tell and I wrote a couple of articles about it over the years, but the definitive work on the Crud Run, the people who are the Slimey Cruds and the kind of bikes they love is a DVD entitled, “American Café,” produced by Jason Gullickson and directed by Matthew Cribben of Second Society.
The production style is as organic and spontaneous as the Slimey Crud Run itself; more than a home movie, but not Hollywood. It isn’t in the category of Bruce Brown’s “On Any Sunday,” (1970) and makes no pretense to be, but it does compare favorably with Roger Donaldson’s approach in “Offerings to the God of Speed,” (1971), which ultimately gave rise to the acclaimed feature film starring Anthony Hopkins, “The World’s Fastest Indian” (2005).
The film presents interviews with many of the Slimey Crud members, interspersed with segments of various Crud Runs. It also provides a cautionary tale as it traces two would-be café racer builders who attempt to revive a pair of old Hondas obtained in very dicey trim in time to participate in the Crud Run.
Unlike Donaldson’s story about the quirky Kiwi land speed record holder, Burt Munro, and his legendary Indian Scout 45, American Café is about many people and many bikes brought together in the 1970s by common circumstances and an uncommon passion.
The film retraces that early history on through recent years with the commentary of Slimey Crud Motorcycle Gang President for Life Ken Clark, members Randy Abendroth, Eric “Dr. Wheels” Lewis, Mike Puls, literary luminary, Peter Egan (of Cycle World and Road & Track fame), Sprecher’s Bar proprietor Junior Sprecher and motorcycle land speed competitor Bill Whisenant, to name but a few.
Through their reminiscences, a portrait develops of great times and great friends. The Cruds even take us along as they suffer the loss of two of their brethren, Bruce Finlayson and Toby Kirk, and as they say poignant good-byes.
The film documents an interesting cast of characters, their enduring friendship and the event they created; an event that may well endure long after the original Slimey Cruds no longer make the ride into Leland.
Information on where to get the DVD or rent it on YouTube is on the Second Society website.
Images from last year’s Slimey Crud Run
* The 2013 Slimey Crud Motorcycle Gang Café Racer Run will occur Sunday, May 5, starting in Pine Bluff, Wis., and ending in Leland, Wis.