Lifestyles of the Vintage Biker

Few things in life are more enjoyable to this writer than packing -then going- for a long ride. Nothing feels more comfortable than your favorite gear, nestled into your favorite bike, all sorted and anxious to begin the adventure. Driving this editorial are memories of how easy and fun that used to be. Back when my energy for motorcycles seemed limitless, and the highways didn’t seem so hostile. Picking up a nasty habit of confusing what might be real as perceived, I wonder when anticipation turn into trepidation. Not fear, yet more of a looming unknown. A real problem for those who like to prepare for any situation. Fact; when you ride through city street and freeways, expect to see someone do something outrageously reckless and stupid. That’s unsettling, but the trick is anticipation and how to stay clear. There’s many factors in my situation, but communicating and sharing with riders everywhere through this webspace, I’m reminded that while each path is unique, it remains deeply familiar to others. That profound reality binds like-minded people, and keeps the riding brotherhood alive. May we always celebrate that together!

Like many, I keep a group of machines tagged and insured for road use, and behind them, projects. Over the last two years both of my main riders suffered various fixable, but time consuming issues. This set off a common chain reaction of pushing old projects even farther into the corner, thus breeding frustration. Having to pass on group rides because there wasn’t anything working inspired a self-examination for these failings…even if I knew deep down the time normally reserved for weekend fun was being consumed by weekday spillover. With age and experience often comes greater responsibilities, a fulfillment of your training and frankly, expectations. Still only counting 24-hours in a day and seven days in a week, submerging yourself into one thing means another waits. Time out of the saddle also means more acclimation when you return, done in a whirlwind of PlastiSteel boxes focused on out gunning, out knifing, and out stopping your prized vintage motorcycle.

Then again, it doesn’t have to be like that. Just pick the right time and place to get back out. Lesson learned: self pity inhibits problem solving.

Some years ago, I confessed to Bill Ross how I’d come to regard the Le Mans 850II and CX-100 variants as favorites. Not just for De Tomaso’s wedge styling, but the 850II’s place among Lino Tonti’s production masterpieces. Criticized for its touring engine, the CX-100 was indeed Moto Guzzi’s answer to Berliner’s 1000cc Le Mans question – made at the factory for US riders and a big part of the worldwide V1000 Le Mans scene. Knowing it might be my last chance to afford an early roundhead Le Mans, this re-sprayed 1980 carves up the backroads like nothing I’ve owned before, but persistent oil leaking translated into parts ordered to reseal the bell housing. Plans changed when ‘old faithful’ Le Mans IV began puking fork oil and brake fluid from its (unobtainable) OEM integral switch/throttle/MC. Laughing out loud in a room full of busted bikes schedules kept son Alex and me away, but both were eventually returned to service when the stars aligned. Credit some great tips on social media, MG Cycle, key eBay finds and generous friends.

“Then again, it doesn’t have to be hard or difficult, providing you pick the right time and place for sharpening your skills to get back out. Lesson learned: Complaining inhibits problem solving ideas.”

If you’re still reading, it’ll be a waste of time to offer advice on which vintage brands or models enjoy the best support. There’s a better than average chance that you know more about your favorite motorcycle or brand than I do, and I couldn’t be more thankful. Here’s another fact – when those who have owned and ridden specific bikes for decades take the time to reach out, they provide the greatest journalistic gift possible; knowledge. This writer usually finds these things out in specific research, but the trick is saving it where you can find it later. I wasn’t very good at that when I was younger, so advantage old age. More important are the network of genuine enthusiasts, many of whom invested considerably to offer support. These ground-level interactions are at the core of motorcycling, and often result in lifelong bonds. All having their favorites, the rapid ascension in value have taken many classic riders off the road and into museums. A risk too great. I’ve been asked about this practice often and respond with the same answer; no machine, even a carefully prepped one, will survive inactivity forever. In effect, a motorcycle’s high value can actually become its death sentence. With respect to your dollar and decisions, it seems prudent to only ride what one can afford to lose.

Knowing that all the advice given above is based on common sense, I’ve made it an editorial point to focus on the machines just left or right of motorcycling’s most expensive center. For some only a Z-1 will do, but later Zed 1000s have better legs. Speaking personally, two Japanese bikes haunt me, and one is Kawasaki’s steel frame Ninja 1000R (GPz1000RX) which will be my next purchase. Incredibly popular, Honda’s iconic CBX might be the company’s most famous product, and that’s saying something. Sure, the CB1100R is yards better, but as a display it’d be hard to beat that six-cylinder bling. This campaign goes on: Guzzi’s touring 850 and 1000cc as an alternative to the spendy Sport or Le Mans. I’ve never owned one, but to me the (valve spring) Ducati 750 Sport (photo: Mike Larson) and Desmo Super Sports are so proportionally righteous, it is hard to justify the ever so lovely GT standards. Few bikes screamed 80’s performance like Suzuki’s GS/X1100 (I almost bought this one) unless you’re talking Bimota, Rickman, Egli or any number of special frame builders. Full membership in the DIY club won’t stop the committed. Salute!

In the end, we’re all responsible for our own happiness and well being, but it can’t hurt to offer a little inspiration. Fully convinced at this stage that most of us do the best with what we have, I’ve been taking steps to restore this rider’s performance and vigor. After a thorough examination at a certified service facility, key repairs and upgrades were done to my chassis. First rate technicians. There’s more to do and I’m trying, as so many are to strike that perfect balance of sustaining a riding career and finances. Remaking an earlier point, I know for certain that many or most readers can relate and that’s a relief. Too much isolation isn’t healthy, especially for motorcyclists. Enjoying some conversation with a moto-icon recently, one note was ended with these words: “Keep riding your bikes…ride them as long and as far as you can, as often as you can”. That reads like good advice to this vintage biker, and time waits for no one. People say age is just a number and maybe it’s true. Of one thing I am certain, some machines really are ageless, and given time that feeling takes in the pilot. That’s the payout. This is why we own and ride them. Nolan Woodbury

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