Are Old Motorcycles for Old Fogies? (Video)

by: MCg

1928 Cleveland MotorcycleTHE OLDER I GET THE MORE I LIKE OLDER MOTORCYCLES.  And I’m not only talking about the motorbikes that were prominent when I started riding back in the 1970′s.  I’m talking about bikes that go back throughout the 20th century and even back into the 19th century.

BUT WHY? Beats me.

I’m not a mechanic, an engineer or a motorcycle builder.  I just like to ride. My appreciation for machinery is very practical:  How reliably can this bike get me to where I’m going with as little fuss as possible?

From my perspective modern bikes answer than concern rather well.

I used to think it’s just a matter of age.  You know, getting older and getting “nostalgic.”

But I don’t consider myself nostalgic and I love modern motorcycles just as much as vintage ones. And why would I get nostalgic about bikes that were old before I was born, anyway?

Then a simple experience turned the age thing upside down.

I was walking downtown and I eyed one of the new “retro” motorcycles that I’ve been contemplating as a purchase: a Triumph Bonneville.  While I was inspecting and admiring the parked bike, the owner walked over and I struck up a conversation. He was from the local Navy base.  I told him that although I was thinking about buying one of these too, I couldn’t understand why a young guy, such as himself, would want one.

He just shrugged, smiled and said he liked it.

I laughed and said that made sense to me.

So, I’m not sure how much age has to do with appreciating old motorcycles.

Video: Vintage and Celebrity Motorcycles

I’ve been visiting motorcycle museums and exhibits for years and this weekend toured the “Born to be Wild: Vintage and Celebrity Motorcycles” exhibit in the Air Force One Pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, CA.  Kind of an odd place to view old motorcycles, but Reagan did have a connection to Harley Davidson when he imposed a 45% tariff on less expensive, quality Japanese motorcycles for 5 years until HD got its act together.  Whether that was a good idea or not is a matter of debate (as it was back then in the ’80s), but the exhibit was well worth the visit.

The following video highlights a number of the bikes on display although there were many more.  The main ones I did not feature included a number of motorbikes in the movies, although I’m sure they are fascinating to many people.  Since a number of them were never operational or are currently impractical (flying motorcycles), they just didn’t inspire me.  However, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Fat Boy from The Terminator is included in the video, which is very road-worthy, as well as many prominent, rare, unique, or important motorcycles that have been around a long time – the oldest from 1899.  Others include a 1970 Harley-Davidson “Iron” XR750: Only 120 of these single-cylinder flat-track bikes were built (they weren’t reliable), exclusively for racers. Additional bikes include a 1903 Harley-Davidson replica, a 1913 Sears Auto-Cycle, a 1972 Yamaha XS1b 650, a 1979 6-cylinder Honda CBX 1000 (both of the last which I well recall from their heyday), a 1995 hand-fabricated custom bike with a Harley engine, a 2005 MV Agusta F4 1000 Agostini (only 60 imported into the U.S.A.) and others.

So what about you? Do you like older bikes?

And if you do, why?

Please add your thoughts and “Leave a Reply” below.

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Comments

36 Responses to “Are Old Motorcycles for Old Fogies? (Video)”
  1. David says:

    Nostalgia has something to do with it, as riders are aging and a lot of them want to relive their younger days and mileage.

    For someone still physically and mentally fit to ride all the time, and who is blessed with weather year round to do so, I vote for newer machinery though. In my own lifetime, I’ve gone from Airhead to Oilhead BMWs, and there really is no comparison. The latter is easier and faster to service in my garage, shifts smoother, clutches lighter, gained less than 100cc displacement but also gained about 30 rear wheel horsepower.

    My R100RS had to have San Jose BMW handling equipment spooned liberally throughout to get it to handle properly, including a braced swingarm, fork brace, CNC machined upper triple clamp, braided brake lines and rear set pegs, bottoming fork springs and better rear shocks…and it still wouldn’t handle as well as my bone-stock R1100RS, let alone the R1100S that followed it in my garage.

    The Airhead didn’t get as good mileage on the road, required re-torqueing of the cylinder heads at every valve adjustment (5,000 mile intervals), weeped oil, and they were also known for blowing rear main seals and contaminating the clutch…which is a major hassle to replace.

    Then factor in radial tires, 4 piston calipers with ABS, anti-dive geometry built into the Telelever which neatly separated braking from steering and suspension on bumpy corners, electrical outlets for heated clothing, heated grips and an alternator that had enough capacity to actually run them…on and on and on.

    I guess my point, if there is one, is that an older bike can be a great part time diversion and can still be rewarding to ride…but for relatively fuss-free daily transport and fun, I’ll take something a bit newer. Even then, bikes have become so complex in the past ten years especially, takes a lot of the fun of wrenching on them, especially with the proprietary dealer-deployed software necessary to tune them up.

    That “gap” between say 1990 through about 2001 marks a watershed time frame where one can obtain a really good bike, without layers of electrical complexity that is anathema to the spirit of a motorcycle…but that’s just my own point of view.

  2. mike says:

    I also enjoy older machines. I believe its the simplicity for me that is the attraction. But modern cycles have their definate advantages. Electric start, EFI, trustworthy brakes and tires to name a few. The fewer bells and whistles on a new machine the better but then again that’s my personal taste. Ride what you like….just ride….simply ride!

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  4. David says:

    I’m 70, have lived within 180 miles of Birmingham AL all my life, and somehow had never heard of the Barber Motorcycle Museum until last summer. Went to the Classic Show, swap meet and motorcycle race there in the fall. Greatest place ever. 6 floors of everything from steam powered motorcycles to the latest crotch rockets. It took hours, but I finally found a copy of my first; a 1954 Triumph Thunderbird. Got it when I was 15 and, except during the times my dad grounded me, have been riding now for 55 years.

    If you have not been, you’ve got to catch it this fall.

  5. Doug says:

    I don’t care for old bikes, until I saw a URAL. Now I have one & love it! New, with the old look. Where ever I go, people like it, & want to know more about it, & all the women (old &young) want a ride in the sidecar. This didn’t happen that much on my newer bikes (the young ones). So I guess I like the old, new bikes.

  6. David Tolsky says:

    I’m 52 and have only been riding for a couple of years but I’m fascinated by the older bikes and hope to own a classic sometime soon. My riding group organized a ride up to Solvang, CA, to check out the Motorcycle Museum up there. We even got to go into the guy’s warehouse where his overflow bikes are stored. At places like these, you get to see firsthand how the concept of a motorized bike has evolved throughout the years. There was one bike circa World War 2 which had the motor encased within the spokes of the front tire! What a bizarre concept that was! There is a magazine out there that is devoted to vintage bikes that I may even subscribe to…

  7. TaosBrick says:

    Of the four machines in my stable, my ’73 R75/5 is the MOST fun to ride! When I take off on it, I start grinnin’ and don’t stop until I pull out the key and put it up on the centre stand. It feels like a REAL motorcycle, more than anything newer I’ve ever ridden – some of you guys know what I’m talking about, the REALNESS of an older machine. Kinda like the early days of aeroplanes.

  8. Jayson says:

    While my FXR4 (2000), May not be considered an Old Bike by some It still has all the Good Comforts of the EVO Engine which I think is the best Engine built by Harley Davidson .. On;t Electronics on it is the Ignition and Speedometer which i think are improvements from the Older Models but yet still Has the Good Carbed Near Indestructible Engine and Tranny .. The FXR2, FXR3, and FXR4 were HD’s first CVO’s and Took the left over technology with a little bit of the New and Built One Fine Ride ..

  9. roy says:

    cycle world mag long term test on kaw zx-14 ..5,ooo mile service… 4 plugs, oil and filter = $99 labor $230 ..what $350 with tax ..then at 8,000 miles frt rotor’s, brake pads , set of tire’s …another $1,200 … are you kidding me … with a old bike you can see the plugs , the drain pan for the oil, and if a rider can not do that himself because of 100′s of plastic screws then they should not be riding … or as most riders today can not even add air to the tire’s ..then they should not be riding ..few riders know what’s going on between their ear’s let alone their leg’s .. it’s a sad state moto -cycleing.has become …old rider thinking out loud

  10. Thom says:

    My 99 years old uncle bought a brand new Triumph Tiger 70 in 1932 because it was the newest,most modern motorcycle he could afford. Didn’t want some old mans stuff from the teens and twenties. Of course the concept of motorcycle nostalgia and big boys toys didn’t exist back then as one vehicle had to do it all. Everything depends on the affluence of an economy. Old motorcycles were good in the so called good old days and are ok for museums. To me life is too short to spend time rebuilding and maintaining an older motorcycle.

  11. Riaan says:

    I am 21 years old and I love old bikes and new once but I prefer the older once I’m ridding my dads 1982 GL 1100 Honda Gold Wing almost everyday and I would not trade it for any new bike on the marked. My bike of choice if I had the money and riding experience would be a GSX-R 1100/750 pre Sling or Sling shot the most modern bike I would consider is the Super Black Bird but my dream bike I think will be a GSX 1100 F now I know there is allot of resins people like the bikes they do but for me I love old bikes cos the way they are build they Don’t build bikes like they use to no more its all smaller and smaller like the new 1000′s you struggle to tell the difference between them and the 750 or even the 600 sometimes that is why I like old bikes they still look like bikes big heavy and tough drop it you just pick it up and dust it off now a days you drop your bike its written off and it just fell over I like feeling the bike knowing that I am sitting on something and I like ridding knowing I’m doing the work not all these fancy modern day Safety stuff it takes the biking out of biking and ya’ll know that ain’t fun and then everyone can do it.

  12. r0y says:

    ” old bikes for old people ”…i do not think so just look at the cafe-bike movement in the last few years .all younger riders/builders.. retro new bikes ..triumph bonnevilles for the last 10 years , enfields, ducati classics, now the new retro honda c.b. for next year .and the h.d. for ever old out dated and they sell ….all bikes with feelings attached to them …how can anyone care about plastic when it ages ,fades,cracks,decals peeling….and 20 years when your all electric things just up and quit …and theres no way to replace them …sure they are great rides NOW but in the end just throw away bikes …

  13. Patrick Bone says:

    Early 60′s dirt bikes borrowed from friends kept my interest, but the cost of a new bike would have been out of the question. We rode used cars, used bikes, and old horses. I bought one new bike, 1981 Suzuki GSL. Loved the power. It was my only vehicle and did a lot of riding in weather in Southern Colorado. When I moved for another job out of state, I sold it to a friend who rode it for years longer and sold it again. About five years ago, I quit farming and driving tractors and decided to try out a new bike. The “newbies” (won’t name the brands) had lots of fancy stuff on them, but were crap to drive. Ergos made my horses look good. No fun at all. Sold two and found a 1993 Suzuki GSX1100G for a fourth of the price and haven’t looked back since. Easy to maintain, fun to ride to grocery or touring. Since then, I’ved tried out several other bikes with all kinds of great gizmos. For the $$$. they suck. Hey, I’m sure there are some really good bikes out there, but for my money, my 20 years old gives me all I need and more, for pennies a day. Maintenance is fluids, filters and oil changes once a year. Something to be said about simplicity.

  14. paul says:

    Vintage bikes are the best. I would dream of garages full as something about how primative they feel to ride that takes one back to earlier days of biking . I ride a 1981 Yamaha XT 550 Enduro for the last 25yrs . Other than the fact that you sit on top of the bike vs in lower in the newer models , I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Wait , correct me , if I had the $ I would buy a new BMW GS 1200 adventure but still keep the old gal for local rides and trails. Always glad to see when folks keep the oldies alive for future generations to gawk and glare.

  15. Joe says:

    I am 60 and have a few bikes that carry antique tags. The oldest being from 1950 but would love to have a bike or two from the teens and 20′s. Have had most of mine for well over 30 years. Also have two newer bikes for todays use. But I do use all the bikes in fact I put 50 miles on a BSA this past weekend then turned around and put 35 miles on a old Triumph.

  16. track says:

    I first road on my pops Indian around the farm in the 50′s…and have owned quite a few bikes, been from pole to pole and from iceland to new zealand on 2 and 3 wheels…but as I get older, I like simplicity…thats why I bought a Ural…even though it’s a 2010 model, it’s still pretty much a 1939 BMW…with…ummm..russian quality..(insert snickering here!)…but this is a bike I can work on, anywhere…I can change my tires, patch my tubes…even removed a jug head and resealed a cylinder alongside the road…and still rode it home…and there’s not many bikes you can say that about! I can go from dirt to mud to asphalt and have more smiles per mile than any other bike I have ever owned. It’s not fast, sleek, elegant or a slab speeder…but it gets me where I want to go…365…and starts every morning…rain, shine, snow or sleet….My truck can’t even make that statement!. To me..old bikes are a great way to go….

  17. Adrian West says:

    It is fun to see the old Bikes from yester-year.
    Here is a good video about some old bikes, don’t agree 100% with their choices but still good.

    Adrian

    http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/car-guide-greatest-motorcycles/

  18. Mark says:

    I am 55 years old and I love old bikes. My first road bike was a 1972 Honda CB750K Four that I purchased in 1973. I then purchased a new 1975 BMW R90/6 which I still own and I am restoring it to new condition. I have also owned a 2006 Harley-Davidson XL883R which I traded in for a new 2010 Harley-Davidson FXDC Super Glide Custom which is my current daily rider. So I love old bikes and new bikes as long as the new bikes don’t look like they come from some futuristic movie.

  19. Alan says:

    There’s nothing in the video I would ever consider owning. The Honda straight six maybe when it was new but not now. They are just old bikes with historical value only.
    Oh, by definition a motorcycle has two wheels, not three, so the ones shown in the video relate to a car not a bike.
    I’m a young 55 and I consider my ST1100 old and it’s year is 1999. I’d like the 1300 version in time but there’s lot’s of Kms left in the ol’ girl yet before I go down that road.
    Now would I own the VFT1200 which might replace the 1300?
    No, it’s to ugly but I would love the dual clutch transmission in my 1100 if it would fit.

  20. akhter says:

    OLD IS GOLD i have listen but found its fact : i am 40 years old and having a motorcycle of 91 model Yamaha and really today too i feel it perfect after 20 yrs and durable against latest model. mostly i long drive twice a month. at the morning time in summer enjoy full motion with singing.

  21. Chip says:

    I started riding four years ago (I am 51), and have never ridden a bike newer than 1982. I own 2 vintage ‘zuki GS’s ’79, and “82, and a Kaw vert twin from “81. Plenty of wrenching on them to keep them running, but for me that is half the fun. To ride reliably on something that you have had your hands on is a thrill. The modern bikes with their fuel injection and computers take some of that away. Having said that, I sometimes wouldn’t mind the luxury and ride of a modern sport touring bike. But for now, the old iron is keeping me happy, and I will ride them for years yet I am sure.

  22. Scott says:

    Great video. I’m 41 and have always liked the look of the older bikes. I always figured it had something to do with the more ornate design. Much like older cars, I feel they have a style that is just not present in newer designs.

    That’s not to say I don’t appreciate a modern look, but the ones I do enjoy are more naked, and appear all function to me. Maybe it’s that I prefer the fashion of the past, and the function of the future.

  23. Chris Beatty says:

    Love the video, love the music and love those old bikes! By the way, for you East Coasters, Billy Joel has a display of his own vintage bikes at his showroom, 20th Century Cycles in Oyster Bay, Long Island. He has an impressive collection of about 50 or 60 bikes that are ready to be ridden (by him) whenever he wants to go out. Quite a display. Only open on weekends.

    Hey Bill, hope your new hips are well healed by now. Do ya wanna ride this weekend? topgun470@optonline.net

  24. Patch says:

    Older bikes? Two main attractions. First? The Minimalist factor. When I first began riding, I chose two wheels over four. The attraction was, everything on the bike could be reached, worked on, taken off, repaired and maintenanced without having to crawl into, under or lay on top of. And, to be totally accurate about it, the ability to see the guts of the machine displayed as it operated had a wonderful fascination. Second? The visceral reward of being astride a ‘minimalist’ machine is that esoteric something the new whiz bang high tech monsters just cannot recreate. What is the visceral part? Your manhood I think. Sort of like the difference between Old Schoolers and the newbies out there. I’m writing a screen play about the difference. It’s mainly, the visceral reward. Oh yeah, and to date things here, who? Who may I ask, who is a popular fem actress in Hollywood these days, can match the ‘look’ of Ann Margaret astride a chrome and black Bonniville? Yeah, it’s the visceral reward that old iron provides the new manufacturing systems don’t have any use for.

  25. Phil Miller says:

    I am now an Old Fogie but I have had a love affair with old motorcycles my entire life. I started hanging out in 1954 at Carters Motors, Fairmount, IN, an old Indian dealer. He had several Indians including a 1940 Chief Bonneville that he bought new. He died in 1978 and that Chief is now my most prized possession in a collection of about 75 antique bikes. I like all makes but am most fond of Indians. My oldest is a 1908 Indian single. pem56@yahoo.com.

  26. Bill says:

    Old Bikes and Good Whiskey.
    Both Get Better With Age.

  27. John says:

    One of the more enjoyable things I’ve done lately is follow along on a section of the recent coast-to-coast motorcycle canonball race. No bike newer than 95 years old.
    http://www.motorcyclecannonball.com/

  28. Big Mike says:

    I havent ridden in 21 years my last bike was a 1982 yamaha Maxim XJ650
    I love the cruisers….I just bought a 1983 Honda Shadow Vtwin 750 for a
    grand and I just love it….I am riding again and love it I will pay to have
    this bike completely rebuilt when needed, it only has 18 K on it and
    it will be a long time……I love the old bikes as well and most mechanics
    can work on them…..just stay away from Velocity cycles in Mechanicsburg
    they will tell you your bike needs more work than it needs….

  29. Molly says:

    Hey guys, get real! Sometimes you have your legs wrapped around what feels good and sometimes your legs are around that which feels REALLY good. I love my old YSR.

  30. Molly says:

    Hey guys, get real! Sometimes you have your legs wrapped around what feels good and sometimes your legs are around that which feels REALLY good. I love my YSR!

  31. Adam says:

    Well, why do i like older bikes, dunno really, they are easier on the eye if not the wallet, but you have a feeling that they feel something in the ride.
    I’ve had a lot of bikes and ridden 10 times as more, but one thing has struck me… fuel injection no matter how you packaged it could hold a candle to a well set up rack of carbs!.
    My last two bikes a 2000 zx6rj1 and a 1997 honda cbr900rrt, were rewarding to ride, easy to sort problems on and you kinda just knew when something was up.The fuel injected triumph although i love it to bits, has been off the road more than on it, has roasted my family jewels on more than one occasion and i swear it just has a problem with me!, so when i ride it, i have to take it by the scruff to show it whos boss! cos if i didnt it seems it would pitch me off in an instant!, the worst by far though was a mates GSXR1000 with a full system and power commander fitted, now i know i used to love my two stroke days but his thing is just vicious! .
    Maybe i am getting on, but i dont feel like it, i still lust after the latest gsxrcbryzfzxrrrr thingys but, a nice norton cafe racer or even an early cb750 would suit me just fine, but it seems more than likely that the heavy triumph is on its way out for something easier to live with on these roads in Devon, England, as its winter soon maybe i can find myself a little honda xl for the dreary and ever so cold cold cold really cold mornings!

    So to sum it up: new bikes are nice, fast and give you a thrill, but i feel older ones are more rewarding to ride, make you see sense and give you something that newer stuff can only dream of, that warm fuzzy feeling of history! . Go Ride and Enjoy!.

  32. Steve says:

    I have always been a lover of bikes, specially ‘beautiful and iconic’ ones.
    Living in South-East Asia, Singapore in particular, the first motorbikes I could recall (around 1950s – 1970s) were, AJS, BSA, Triumph and Norton bikes. The AJs and BSA bikes were the ‘left-overs’ from the British Forces stationed here. The Triumph and Norton bikes were mostly privately owned. They were very unique as there were not many around. The AJS, and BSA bikes were ‘old’ machines, but very sturdy, solid and strong. The newer Triumphs and Nortons were ‘immaculate and the chrome parts were very shiny, specially the rims and engine blocks. I didnt ride any of them (though I’d wished I could) as I was only a boy then.
    Later on as more bikes made their way to the market here as the number of riders or the demand increased, more bikes were seen on the road. But most were Japanese bikes.
    The great iconic bikes from the West were hardly seen here until much later. Bikes like INDIAN, HD, etc were nowhere to be seen.
    Though new bikes are looking better and better – attractive colours, sleek design, updated assessories and latest electronic equipment, etc, etc, the old ones have their own, old charm and nostalgia. They looked very ‘basic and simple’ when compared to the latest ones, but they had served man well – then.
    Riding one would be great experience. Owning one would be impossible and not practical.
    Having said that, without the past bikes, we would not have arrived at this ‘sofisticated’ age of ‘modern bikes’. I hope those who still have the oldies, will look after them well into the years, as there arent many left around.

  33. Mark says:

    Thanks again for another great biking article. I love the passion that is shown in your articles.

    I am not a spring chicken (54) and I loved motorbikes for a long time. I like to look at these old vintage bikes and I think it would be kind of cool to ride around on one. In many cases they are just beautiful to look at. And who doesn’t like a thing of beauty. But I would say that I am quite content with my more modern bikes. My Harley is retro enough for me, and it is built to a high level of quality, durability and reliability IMHO as are my other bikes (2 Buells, 2 KTMs). I just remember my first bikes which I rode as a poor student (mostly to save money that I would have spent driving a car) Those old things were not so reliable, sure they were a hoot but the brakes were poor compared to the new bikes and they were comparatively slower. (Although my old 73 Elsignor CR250 was OK) I just love the feeling of riding a bike..

  34. Malcolm says:

    As a Harley Davidson mechanic I’m just glad there are those of you out there who still want to be riding on the old iron. I love working on them, even though the parts for most have to be fabricated it’s nice to see people still putting some miles on them. I came up in the 80′s my first Harley was an 82 XLX Sportster and I’ve been hooked since and to this day I could kick myself for ever selling that bike.
    Since then I’ve owned 11 Harleys and I loved most of them but I only own one at a time no reason for me to have any more than that because my attention span would get the better of me if I actually went into my garage and had to make a choice on which bike to ride!
    KEEP RIDING THAT OLD IRON!

  35. Brad says:

    I could do without the hip hop!

  36. George says:

    I concur and I think my 34 year old son-in-law would concur as well. I think a vintage bike is in the horizon for both of us.

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