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.
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…
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.)
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.
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.