Maybe what made us all fall in love with two wheels is simply that they’re cheaper than four wheels? That was true for me; I loved my Camaros and Panteras as a youth (not that I’d ever seen a Pantera in person), and couldn’t get enough Car and Driver and Hot Rod. Road & Track was a bit highbrow, but when I saw the checked upholstery in the new V8-powered Porsche 928 in there, I could see myself graduating into one someday…

Someday got here sooner than expected, but the budget never kept pace. Finally I’ve reached a financial position where I can afford (some) nice cars when they’re about 25 years old, but now I really don’t wanna go anywhere unless I can lane-split.

I knew my dad would approve because he had a sportcoat made of the same fabric. An MSRP of $28,500 was a lot in 1978 but seemed doable once I was out of high school. Maybe. Not.

I knew my dad would approve because he had a sportcoat made of the same fabric. An MSRP of $28,500 was a lot in 1978 but seemed doable once I was out of high school. Maybe. Not.

Best I could do exotic-car-wise when I was young was a Triumph Spitfire, which it turned out had nowhere near the speed its looks implied. Somewhere right there in the transition period from automotive fantasy to reality, somebody rolled through on a nice early Kawasaki Z1, and it was just sort of decided without much thought. I’ll have one of those, then.

But my first motorcycles were products of the cheapskateness which had already taken root like crabgrass in my psyche; decades of self-therapy has led me to deduce my fondness for the bottle derives from the fact that none of us Burns kids ever enjoyed our own personal soft drink as a child: It was always, “Share that Coke with your sisters.” Now that I’m grown, I want all the bottles, mine, all mine! The pickings were pretty slim for cool bikes in the classifieds of the Kansas City Star, too, which was how you found them. Color photos? No. Two cryptic lines of type had to suffice. “Yes, it’s in perfect condition,” they’d all say over the rotary phone hanging on the kitchen wall. Perfect for a motorcycle with a tree growing through it, you’d find out when you drove to Martin City or Raytown to view the remains. Yes it runs perfectly, just needs a battery.

Have you got one? No, you?

Well then, I guess the world will just continue to hold its breath…

I don’t believe I have met this gentleman, but I feel a deep kinship.

I don’t believe I have met this gentleman, but I feel a deep kinship.

Those motorcycles, the remnants of the first wave of the Japanese invasion, called for niggardliness; they required you to stoop to the level of their sellers, whose great grandparents had headed West but only made it a few hundred miles past St. Louis before throwing in the towel (which at least beat pooping out later in Kansas). I will give you $700 for your ’82 Seca 750, and throw in a Pioneer stereo receiver I bought in the Army?

When Wes Courier, who was the coolest of the cool as he worked on an actual tow (not tug!) boat, got a new Sportster, well, nobody’d ever done that had they? Nobody knew how to act in the presence of a shiny new bike with no dents in the tank and nubs on the tires. Wes drove it out in the grass in Minor Park to do some donuts, and dropped it, I think only semi-accidentally, to break it in. Smart move, really, the first downing was out of the way and the damp grass didn’t hurt the bike really.

In short, we were cheap because we were poor. There was no other option. Then I moved to California and had my Jethro epiphany. So this is where all the cars and motorcycles in the magazines live! I had no idea actual Americans drove Porsche Turbos and Ducatis; I always assumed they built a few of each for the crowned heads of Europe.

I did scrape up the bucks to fly out for the ’88 USGP at Laguna Seca a year or two before I moved to Cali. I’d never seen a nice replica helmet before on an actual rider (open-face metalflake jobs from K-Mart were our style) and the first guy I saw riding into the track on a new FZR1000 in a Lawson replica lid, I assumed was Lawson on his way to work. Wow. Then six or seven Kevin Schwantzes rolled past us as we sat in my GF’s audibly oxidizing Datsun B-210 there on the access road. Oh. (The ticket guy let us in for free when we balked at $55 each.)

That’s my old GF Lorene in the trunk. I kid, it’s a little joke! But that is her car, same mustard brown which went well with rust.

That’s my old GF Lorene in the trunk. I kid, it’s a little joke! But that is her car, same mustard brown which went well with rust.

So my question becomes, why are people who actually have money so cheap? My favorite local bike-shop owner has one client who’s supposed to be worth in excess of 300 million dollars. When my friend preps and hauls his bikes to the track for him, the guy wants to haggle about gas money. Another guy I know claims to have shared a cab with a famed financier who wrote a book about motorcycling around the world: He tipped the cab driver a dime.

Maybe they grew up poor like me and can’t shake it? Would I act the same way with $300 million? Maybe I am kidding myself, but I really don’t think I would. I think I’d be handing out the Benjamins to everybody I’d encounter and buying veritable plethoras of rounds for the house. If I have 20 years left to live, I’d need to spend $41,095.89 per diem to get through 300 mil. Start the day big: I’ll have the large coffee with that egg McMuffin!

When I think back upon the rich-kid birthday parties I attended before I became a greasy rebellious youth, I do remember those kids being the stingiest and least willing to share their toys. Trickle-down economics begins in the sandbox, I think, and we Boomers were the first generation of Americans (maybe the first generation period?) who really didn’t have to earn it, or to share in the sacrifice. Now that we’re into about our fifth Vietnam, what’s remarkable about the first one is that it was the first war the middle class could “just say no” to pretty easily, with an absence of guilt complete enough to be able to run for President later, most recently on grounds that an expensive military school amounted to the same thing. (Truth: My house backs onto a cemetery, and just as I typed that I heard a 21-gun salute and Taps.)

Journalists have a reputation also for being tightwads, and no compound word conjures up greater frugality than “motojournalist.” I’ve heard stories now from two SoCal motorcycle shop owners who’ve incurred the wrath of a (wrathful) old colleague of mine who can’t seem to come to grips with the fact that getting free stuff for your “project bike” isn’t quite the cakewalk it used to be now that we’re in the age of the internet. Why not crack the wallet just a little to keep the good guys in business now that you’ve achieved the American dream? Well, your wife achieved it anyway. That counts.

Another thing I learned as a youth is that if you are going to cheap out, your motorcycle is not the place to do it. I mean, I’ve been doing it for a long time anyway but luckily never suffered the consequences. I only recently learned from an Evans Brasfield article here on MO that you should use a fresh crush washer every time you change your oil. Well I’ll be. I didn’t even know you could buy crush washers (and isn’t every washer a crush washer if you tighten the bolt enough?). It’s also always been my belief that if you can straighten the cotter pin out enough to put it back where it belongs, it’s still good. I have to admit it never occurred to me to put car tires on my motorcycle, though. Then again, I can’t remember the last time I bought a motorcycle tire.

Skidmarks – Dark-Side Riders

Not that the car guys don’t cut corners, too, even the professional ones. It had to have been a nervous moment for Kurt Busch when his steering wheel came off last Sunday during the Talladega 500.

Not that the car guys don’t cut corners, too, even the professional ones. It had to have been a nervous moment for Kurt Busch when his steering wheel came off last Sunday during the Talladega 500.

In spite of our best Boomer efforts at economic management, I am seeing boatloads of kids cruising on new motorcycles anyway, mostly Ninja 250s and 300s and all sorts of clapped-out old dual-sports and “cafe racers” that have been given the breath of life by youths who didn’t grow up where I did, but do seem to be starting out from the same place figuratively: impecuniousness. Maybe that’s a good thing.

  • Jason

    My lord what a fantastic piece of writing. Maybe it’s the 2nd Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ talking but this bit of nostalgia hit me right in the feels. Keep it up.

    • john burns

      come here often sailor?

  • Starmag

    Only the wise feel rich at low income levels having appreciation on they’re side. If you can also manage working less than 40 hrs a week it leaves more time for family and friends, which to me are all more important than possessions or bank staements. As the below indicates, most folks chase money instead of appreciation and will never be satisfied.

    recently asked people at different income levels how much money they’d
    need each year to feel rich. The results were as follows:

    Those earning under $25,000 would need $293,000 per year to feel rich

    Those who earn between $30,000 and $60,000 say they’d need $394,000

    Those who earn between $60,001 and $120,000 say they’d need $426,000

    Those earning above $120,000 say they’d need around $500,000

    • Ser Samsquamsh

      According to that data the better the existing economic situation the smaller the multiple desired; desending from 11.7x to only 4.2x. The line becomes flat around 3x. Some people value money over anything. Most people chase money until it is no longer a concern or the pursuit becomes impractical.

      • Starmag

        Good observation. As you note, the line becomes flat at 3x. Meaning that they are still not satisfied. If they achieve the 3x and are asked later they’ll still want 3x more, so for some, the pursuit never becomes impractical. That’s how John ends up knowing of someone with a worth of 300 million who’s still chiseling over gas money. Never satisfied, chasing the wrong thing. This is not the only study of this that comes to the same conclusion. To be sure, you’ll never have money if you can’t save money though. John probably nails a few of the money grubbers with this insight: “Maybe they grew up poor like me and can’t shake it?”, but I think it’s more than that.

  • Ser Samsquamsh

    What some call impecunious cheapskate others might style economical steward. That’s why, although they are cool $25k adventure bikes and $80 choppers don’t make any sense to me. You can’t drive those through a fence and feel good about it!

  • Old MOron

    “Well, your wife achieved it anyway. That counts.” It does count, JB. And so does your brilliant sarcasm.

  • John B.

    Burns sure can write. Just like Mark Twain, he even worked the “N” word into the piece.

    You may recall, a Washington DC Mayoral aide had to resign when city employees complained that his use of the word “niggardly” in reference to city finances was racially insensitive (See link below). That still confuses me.

    Just to be safe, I only use “niggardly” in writing; never verbally. Same with the word “cunning.” In any event, given the racial makeup of the MO crew, Burns should not get himself in trouble unless he uses the phrase, “Cracker Barrell.”

    • john burns

      it’s a good word too bad we can’t use it more but i understand why. Reserved for discriminating MO readers.

      • Larry Kahn

        I think you used it as a cunning stunt..

  • Ryan Flowers

    Come on Burnsie, you never took a cruise down Ward Parkway to see how the other half lived?

    • john burns

      I never did when I was a teenager, no. Was quite a revelation when I finally did. In college I painted Thomas Hart Benton’s house over in there, very nice… oils only…

      • Ryan Flowers

        I cruised it every Friday night on my way to Westport…..from my humble abode on 99th and Holmes!

  • Pushr0d

    I’ve got a fair bit o’ Scottish blood, apparently the reason I can’t throw anything away. Heck, I even ‘recycle’ copper crush washers a couple times before they go in the trash! I’m not stingy (at least I don’t think I am), and remember whenever I’m tipping someone that I bagged groceries for tips while in college.
    I tell my kinds that I’d consider myself ‘rich’ when I could drop a $100 on something like I can with a $10 bill now.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Love reading JB’s stuff. He had me at “crabgrass in the psyche”.

    Funny thing about money. We need it to live and to obtain the things we need and want, but we can’t take it with us. Knew that in my head all along of course, but now know it in my heart when I saw my brother die, right before my eyes, of cancer last year. As the executor of his estate, I am now personally and acutely aware you can’t take it with you. He was a good saver/investor, but he also took time to live. I am glad he did, as he did not have as long on this rock as any of us anticipated.

    There is of course a balance between monetary frugality and foolishness that is the sweet spot. Grandma was right. Everything in moderation.

  • Moto Ray

    Thank you for a great read.

  • spiff

    We didn’t have to read the paper classifieds when I was dreaming. We had the “Want-Ad Digest”. It even had a picture section. Of couse the photos were of heavy equipment and horses, never the stuff I wanted.

  • spiff

    Kurt Busch didn’t lose his steering wheel, it was Earnhardt Jr.

    • spiff

      Is this how you flush out those who follow NASCAR?

  • Tim

    I scour these Mo emails for Johns writings and am disappointed when he doesn’t have something in them. I enjoy politically incorrect very much I guess, thanks John!

  • schizuki

    “So my question becomes, why are people who actually have money so cheap?”

    Because they didn’t get rich by SPENDING money.

    • Campisi

      I think it’s a hair more complicated than that. Wealthy skinflints value having lots of money, so they make sacrifices to bring in as much as possible whilst avoiding anything that’d shrink their pile. Being miserly is a symptom, rather than a cause, of their wealth-by-work status. Those tastelessly throwing their money around usually either inherited it or obtained it via questionable means.

  • Luke

    I buy 2 year old bikes, but I consider myself cheap because the bikes that I can handle of the type I seem to like are cheap (current FZ-09). I could afford a $20K Ducati, but it would be no more fun for me than that FZ-09 as I’m just not that good of a rider. Maybe if I was really into cruisers, I would spend more (or long range adventure riding).

  • pcontiman

    Another entertaining read. Thanks. I’m in a place with motorcycles where you are with fine cars. I can buy the older ones I want and it’s kinda working out. Now, If I can just build that garage….. oh, and the lane splitting thing, California has completely ruined me.

  • General_Lee_82

    Burns – somewhere in this story is another story about the “Stone Soup” bike project… as in you’re too cheap to buy that new bike (and suffer the horrors of first year depreciation, so you go find the “stone” on the Lists of Craig – that only needs “a little work”. Several thousand hours later… you’ve spent $4000 on a $2000 bike… never mind the fact that you could have been RIDING instead of WRENCHING for the past year (or two)

  • JMDonald

    A young man ain’t got nuthin in the world these days. Nowadays it’s the old man who’s got all the money. And a young man ain’t got nuthin in the world these days. Some things never change.