Morto Olson’s Excelsior Super X
Text + Photos: Mike Blanchard
Spotlight | I met Morto Olson and his wife Gina at One Moto through a comedy of errors. I had spotted his green 1929 Excelsior Super X as soon as I walked up the stairs to the top floor of exhibits. Earlier in the day we met some folks who had come for the show and we had a nice talk as we waited to check in at the hotel. Now I will freely admit that as a person gets older the eyesight gets a little wonky and I think that played into the mixup.
When I met the Olsons at the show I thought, at first, that he was the fellow that I talked with at the hotel. He was not (although the resemblance was uncanny). When I said hi he looked at me for a second like, what? But being the jovial fellow he is, he was happy to talk about his past, motorcycles in general and his Excelsior specifically. Olson has an infectious enthusiasm for motorcycles and he tells a great story.
- Related: One Moto Show
When he was a kid growing up in Missoula Montana he and his dad used to go up to Saskatoon Canada to see Bernie Nicholson. “He ran the army bike depot for the Canadian army. Bernie could get you any bike in the world if you wanted it,” said Olson. “I wanted to buy a 16H flattie Norton military bike with a machine gun scabbard. What 12-year-old boy wouldn’t want that? I had money from haying. My dad said no. I realize my dad was really stressed, he was a WWII vet and he didn’t want any of that (military) stuff around. He let me get a Honda a week later... I probably would not still have the Norton if I had bought it.”
However, Olson still owns the CL90 Honda. “I found out it would do 70 MPH. That’s what the ticket says.”
“I have never lost this focus on bikes,” chuckles Olson. “Where you fall in love, where you see a bike and it pulls at your heart.”
Olson got the Excelsior racer in 2001 from Al Skrelunas who had been a national plate holder and hillclimb racer in the '40s and '50s. He shows up in race results as late as the '70s hillclimbing a Harley. When Al decided to sell the bike, Morto and Gina drove out from Montana to Portland on their first road trip together to buy the bike.
Skrelunas was in his 80s and moving into assisted living and selling the bike was very emotional. “We came to get it and it was his last bike,” said Olson. “He was crying and my wife was crying. He patted the fender and said ‘Goodbye baby.’ The bike has come full circle. Here it is, back for the show,”
Olson took the bike out to Bonneville in 2017 to race it but ended up not running due to magneto issues. Now he is thinking he may not race it. “I’m conflicted, It took me a lifetime to get the parts to get it running,” he said. “If it breaks I don’t know if I could fix it. I have an Excelsior bobber that I ride all the time but I don’t know if I will be able to find parts if I break it.”
Before the Great Depression Excelsior (not to be confused with the English firm of Excelsior) was one of the big three American makers of motorcycles. Indian was in the top spot with Harley-Davidson and Excelsior following close behind. Excelsior was owned by the Schwinn bicycle company. As the depression deepened, Ignatz Schwinn determined that the long term prospects were not good and he shut down Excelsior in 1930 when they were at the height of their powers.
“Excelsior was a huge player,” said Olson. “All these revisionists say the Super X was a crappy bike but they are out of their minds.”