What will happen to our beautiful vintage bikes when the current crop of owners dies or decides to sell them to fund their retirements? I was contemplating this question last Sunday afternoon over a cold beverage on my front porch as a septuagenarian rolled up the street aboard a Jazzy Power Chair. (I refuse to call these devices “scooters,” slighting my beautiful 1961 Vespa and all “real” scooters.) Likely he was on his way home to Guy B. Love Towers from the Fellini Kroger, and I saw a flash of mortality in his Medicare-subsidized ride. I had spent the weekend at a gathering for Moto Guzzi riders and friends in Cruso, N.C., which I have attended faithfully since 1995. It’s becoming increasingly difficult not to notice that we are sloughing into geezerhood.
We read stories all the time about the aging demographic of motorcyclists. The mean age for motorcyclists in general is now over 40, and nearing 50 for Harley-Davidson owners. I could find no age statistics for owners of vintage bikes, but I would bet it’s even older. If we are trying to recapture our youth by buying the bikes that were available when we first became aware of motorcycles, and the bikes that we consider interesting and collectible are from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s… well, you do the math. We’re old. I’d love to see some statistics on the ages of vintage bikes purchased at auction plotted against the ages of the buyers.
Collecting vintage motorcycles as retirement investments certainly sounds like a good idea. And it’s a great excuse for amassing a garage full of cool old iron: “But Honey, they’re just like mutual funds, except they sound butch and I can ride them around.” But will they be? When the big bulge of the baby boom can’t ride or maintain them any longer and starts kicking bikes out onto the market, who will be there to buy them? Will everyone who appreciates that mint ’60s Triumph Bonneville also be at the same point in their personal financial timeline as the seller? Will they end up as estate-sale fodder, between dusty tools and way out-of-fashion clothes?
What will today’s kids, just now noticing motorcycles for the first time, buy to recapture their youth, when they get to the point in their lives when they feel youth needs recapturing? I just don’t see 50-year-olds in 2039 getting misty-eyed over 2009 Ninja 250s, if any are still around and there’s any gas around to power them. All that plastic will be hell to restore or remanufacture.
Thankfully, the “recaptured youth” paradigm doesn’t always apply: My Vespa was built when I was still in my terrible twos, and there are bikes in front of the Tea Room on Tuesday evenings that are decades older than their owners. As I sat pondering these sobering questions of maturity and finality, I heard the unmistakable “brinnnggg” of a two-stroke twin-cylinder motorcycle powering up the street. A blue RD250, circa 1975 or so, carrying a young couple, circa 1987 or so, made a right turn off my street and cruised directly away from me up Fremont Avenue. The young woman riding pillion wore a string-strap tank top and made a fetching picture as they passed through shafts of late-afternoon sunshine, trailing a wisp of blue smoke.
What drew these young adults to a stinky old bike 12 years their senior? Maybe some collective unconscious, filtered to us from previous generations of riders, drives our attraction to these vehicles. Maybe ’80s bikes, with their telltale square instruments and headlights, black-chrome exhausts and rudimentary emissions controls, just don’t the same appeal to anyone that their simpler forbearers do. Just maybe, there is an inherent value to certain machines regardless of the age of the key-holder. I certainly hope so.
My neighbor Wyatt, another circa 1987 non-geezer, commutes to Cosby and back on a 1977 Kawasaki 250 enduro. Knoxville’s own 555 and their counterparts in Portland are likewise keeping the flame burning brightly for bikes older than they are. God love ’em. These kids are mostly into grubby beaters now, for transportation as much as anything, but a few years from now, when I am ready to hand over the keys to my collectible bikes and get my own Jazzy Power Chair, perhaps they will be there to buy my motorcycles and ride them for a while, telling their spouses, co-workers and family what great retirement investments they are. Maybe they’ll even wash them.
Fred Sahms is a curmudgeonly Luddite who has been soiling his fingernails with old motorcycles for 25-plus years. His garage is located somewhere in North Knoxville. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.