The other day a big truck pulled up to my garage, and my 1969 Triumph went off to a new, unseen owner known only to me by his eBay handle: LOVE_OIL_LEAKS—or something like that.
Truth be told, in the last six months I’ve sold four motorcycles. For the first time in a decade, it’s possible to traverse the entire length of the garage without getting the wind knocked out of me by a handlebar or stepping in the crankcase excrement of a vintage Triumph or Honda. When it’s time to ride, I no longer have to move motorcycles around like some supersized game of chess. Perhaps best of all, insurance and registration renewal notices no longer arrive with all the annoyance of monthly utility bills.
In their place is a nearly new BMW R1200RT with all the latest farkles: traction control, Bluetooth, cruise control, heated grips and seats, ABS, GPS and a host of other bells and whistles designed to impart careless motoring bliss. It only took about a decade to come to this conclusion.
There was a time, when I was young, when I thought I’d own and restore every bike I lusted after. As is usually the case with vintage bikes, this was an eclectic and not entirely logical list: BMW R75/5, Suzuki Titan 500, Suzuki Water Buffalo, Yamaha DT250, Yamaha RD400, Kawasaki Mach III and so on—mostly a litany of loud and leaking machinery of questionable reliability.
In 2004, I spent two years methodically restoring a 1969 Triumph TR6 Trophy 650. When that project was completed, I emerged only briefly from the man cave, then quickly embarked on another, similar project: a nut-and-bolt restoration of a 1974 Honda CB750.
I cherished every minute of the restorations. Night after night, seemingly for years, I would retreat into the cave after dinner and endlessly polish nuts and bolts and unearth dark mechanical mysteries. I’d often escape to the garage with a beer in hand to reflect on the work I’d done and the odyssey of the rebuild. I even chronicled the whole metaphysical journey in a Cycle World feature.
It was a journey through Middle Earth, and at the end was all the comfort of the Shire with the joy of hearing a freshly rebuilt engine pop to life. With just a twist of the wrist, it seemed I could summon the brilliance and light of another motorcycling era.
Both bikes turned out beautifully—at least, to my standard. They looked good enough to make grown men weepy with the remembrance of what was. It seemed everybody owned a Triumph or an SOHC Honda before a host of responsibilities clouded out the sun and cut short their two-wheeled pleasure. Vintage bikes are a welcome salve for memories lost. They certainly were for me.
Then things began to change. I realized I just wasn’t riding my vintage bikes. Year after year I’d diligently trickle charge the batteries, polish the fresh paint, renew the license tags and wish I had more time to ride. The work-to-ride ratio was completely out of whack. So not long ago, with an air of inevitability, I put the old bikes up for sale.
In the two intervening years, I’ve logged almost 30,000 miles of commuting, overnight trips and weekend sport rides on the RT. It runs flawlessly, never fails to start and is a far more attractive pillion perch than the Triumph’s tiny pad. It requires only simple maintenance, which I can do myself in an afternoon, and hasn’t once sullied my garage floor. Best of all, it lacks the joyous unpredictability of Lucas electrics and the quaint slapping of cam chains. It was the right choice.
Will I restore another bike? If I briefly enter the motorcycle confessional, I have to admit I still think about getting a nice BMW R75/5. Sadly, I’m already showing signs of weakness. In a crate in the back of the garage is a small, tenuous connection to old motorbikes: a disassembled 1969 Honda Mini-Trail. You know, the original hard-tail version. (Note to self: don’t shop eBay motors late at night after drinking wine.)
If everyday uselessness is the goal, the Z50 would win the magazine shootout every time, scoring high points in nearly all categories: lack of speed, inadequate brakes, agonizing discomfort, non-ease of starting and poor suspension. The winner is… the yellow bike with the thimble-size piston!
The fact is this bike has absolutely no practical purpose in my life. Then again, neither did the Triumph or the Honda. It is, quite frankly, a ridiculous excuse for a motorcycle. Still, I like knowing it’s there, keeping the RT company. It brings a kind of warmth to my twisted little heart.