The year was 1982, and I needed a new helmet. After years of use my Bell Star smelled like a barn and had acquired a patina that evoked images of the Anzio landing. It was all scarred up and it stunk. I think a mouse had been nibbling on the liner as well. It was time for a new lid.

I had a small problem. I knew what I wanted, and I knew what I could afford, but to my consternation they were not one and the same. Being stubborn and cheap, and an avid reader of bike magazines, I bided my time and poured over advertisements in the bike monthlies while staying awake all night on charge of quarters’ duty babysitting Army trainees at Ft. Knox. Patience may or may not be a virtue, but it certainly rewards miserly junior NCOs with the net worth of a Blatz 12-pack and a carton of PX Marlboros.

A shop up in Xenia, Ohio, Competition Accessories, had the motherload of new Bell M-1 helmets for a price so low I thought it was a typo. I called them and confirmed the price and the availability of sizes in my fat head range. At the first opportunity with a day off I shot an azimuth northeast for the Buckeye State and motored off to procure my new helmet. Two hundred miles later I had my new lid. This was how we did things in the Paleolithic era: We relied on the local dealership or print ads in magazines and dumb luck.

This was of course long before the advent of the internet, this was before the advent of the word internet or the proliferation of the personal computer; this was the Stone Age. The only computer I had ever seen was in the turret of my tank and its repertoire was rather limited.

I have fond memories of my first computer, though it ran very few applications. Well, okay, maybe only one.

I have fond memories of my first computer, though it ran very few applications. Well, okay, maybe only one.

A few years later I found myself working at a small KawasakiSuzuki dealership. It was a three-man shop, and our boss, Mike, was in all respects a very nice guy, with one notable exception; when encountering customers with mail order tires. We did not charge customers who purchased their tires from our shop for mounting and balancing. Most shops would charge a nominal fee for mounting, mail order or not. Our shop? Our rates for customers carrying their tires in were punitive. Mike wanted to discourage mail-order anything, particularly tires. He viewed our shop as a brick and mortar Alamo and he was going to defend it to the end. The introduction of the internet must have made him apoplectic.

And that is precisely why it has been such a boon to motorcyclists. Those magazines I used to peruse ads to find good prices on helmets? Half of them are gone now. Some of those brick and mortar shops that did not transition well into the internet age are probably gone too. The internet had and has consequences, both good and bad. Both of these losses are lamentable in a number of ways, but that is an issue for another day.

We as riders and consumers have benefited. Not only in the ease with which we can shop across the country, comparing prices and such, but in the effortless way in which we can bench race, solicit advice and feedback in what used to be called a “word of mouth” fashion around the entire world.

I have a go-to shop in Irving, Texas I ring up for Yamaha parts; I know a gentleman on the West Coast that seems to have cornered the market on OEM Yamaha SR500 parts; I obtained a couple sets of the old style winged Honda tank decals from Malta of all places. Pre-internet I wouldn’t have even have known these guys exist. Malta? That’s the internet. Back before back protectors, before knee pucks, before tire warmers, and before vented helmets and the internet, we lived in a very small world. Not so now.

Take what used to be the drudgery of finding a used bike – a used race bike in my case – in the days before everything could be found by pounding on a keyboard like a monkey. Week after week I’d leaf through the classifieds in Cycle News and American Roadracing. That’s a laborious process and involves more than a little good fortune. To find the right bike at the right price, and in the right shape, you have to get a bit lucky and be real patient. I did it twice and both times it worked out well, in both instances buying the bikes sight unseen, so it was a bit of a gamble.

All right, she is not going to win any best-in-show prize. Hey, it was a blind date and a mail-order race bike, not a show bike.

All right, she is not going to win any best-in-show prize. Hey, it was a blind date and a mail-order race bike, not a show bike.

In today’s world? Finding a used race bike, or any bike for that matter, is child’s play with sites and boards dedicated to just that sort of endeavor. The bike shop is now as big as the planet. You can view countless pictures, watch a video of a dyno run, watch onboard video, and you are armed with so much information going in that those gambles of the past are eradicated to a great degree.

You can have the most obscure interests; you want to hillclimb a Suzuki Madura, you are looking for a cherry BSA Beagle, you want a replica Dunstall fairing for your Honda MB-5 or a scented candle for the bathroom that smells like two-stroke exhaust? Somebody, somewhere has done it already and it’s on the internet. Mundane things like a selection of Power Commander maps for a 2000 RC51 with a Yosh pipe can be found in your sleep for free.

A lot has changed over the years, well, except for me.

The year was 2013, and I needed a new helmet. My old one was coming close to running up upon its five year mark where WERA won’t tech it, and it should be discarded. Oh, and I think a mouse had been nibbling on the liner. It was time for a new lid.

I sat down at the computer, I clicked on a bookmark, checked my cyber-shopping cart, cashed out some credits I had from previous purchases, entered a few dozen keystrokes, and a few days later the nice fella in the Big Brown Truck left a new Arai on my doorstep. I didn’t ride 400 miles roundtrip, I didn’t spend countless hours paging through the back pages of every motorcycle magazine in North America, I clicked a mouse and typed. This is progress and progress is good.

Ride hard, look where you want to go, and never pay full retail.

It’s just another tool, as necessary today as a Ratio-Rite or Carb Stix used to be in the era of RD350s and Z-1s.

It’s just another tool, as necessary today as a Ratio-Rite or Carb Stix used to be in the era of RD350s and Z-1s.

  • bill curry

    as always a great read and point of view

    • Chris Kallfelz

      Bill, I appreciate the gesture but it’s kind of like your mom said you’ve done well. Now quit acting all nice and trying to convince my boss I’m not a halfwit pounding on a keyboard, Brother…

  • 12er

    Ah yes, I order my tires online everytime. I give my local shop a chance but they are constantly $100 more than online. I’ll then pay them to mount and balance, but they charge that whether you order from them or not. Sure miss my Buddy’s No Mar…

    • Chris Kallfelz

      No truer words. A pair of giant spoons and a big boy bead breaker saved me a bunch of money over the years, particularly back when 20 bucks was a fun weekend and that money saved was a big deal…

  • howard kelly

    Ahh Chris, a rare time when I do not agree with you. Brick and mortar bike shops need our support. If we do all our part and accessory shopping online, who will be open on a Saturday at 2 p.m. need a new crush washer for your drain plug? Who will have the tie downs you need Friday night at 5:45 p.m. so you can load your bike for a Saturday track day. Yes, the Internet and online shopping is a good thing, and I won’t say I don’t use it, but I make a point, consciously, to shop at the stores I want to stay in business for more of my motorcycle things. Think of what a brick and mortar shop has to do to be open, lights, rent, insurances, employees, free Saturday donuts and coffee, stocked inventory. It’s an expensive deal and they deserve our support.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      Heh, Howard, we have discussions going on in two different places…

      No, I agree with you completely…Let’s pick up where we left off.

      “…and more than that I have always had reason to support them even if I pay a bit more…Local bike shops should be supported. Despite this we have
      nothing left here in Southern Maryland…They are all gone…”

      In short, local bike shops need to be supported by the community, it costs
      a bit more but if it keeps their lights on and the doors open that is a
      good thing. Many good shops have found a way to make the internet work
      for them, that’s an even better thing.

      And, Howard? Please, you can disagree with me whenever you want, Partner, but in this case? I think in this instance we are on the same page.

    • throwedoff

      Howard, I agree with you about 95%. However, last years when I was in the market for a new helmet, I went to both of the motorcycle dealers in my city (smallish city just under 200,000 folks) and was greeted with a plethora of offroad helmets but only a handful of full face helmets for street riders. There were also plenty of open face helmets from beanies to three-quarter helmets. What I wanted was a moderately priced ($300 range) helmet with modest graphics in a size XXL. What I found was one lonely XXL in white that was fifty dollars more than the MSRP. After trying on the white helmet, I went online and found the helmet I was looking for. Sure the dealer could have ordered it for me, but the price would have been close to double what I ended up paying for my helmet. Of course I will still buy hard parts and consumables from my dealers even though I have to pay a premium. I can usually walk out with the part. However, if they say they have to order it, I find out what the cost will be. If it is more than I can get it online with the shipping added in I will skip the dealer. I hate be gouged. They charged me $49 including tax last year when I had to order new float needle valve seats for my Bonneville. $49 for two seats on Japanese carburetors! No floats. No float needle valves. Just the seats and no dinner either!

      • throwedoff

        I have had great service from Euro-Tek in OKC. Bought small replacement parts for the Bonneville there without feeling like I had been taken advantage of. Needed new petcock gaskets, but they didn’t have them. They ordered them and mailed them to me in Amarillo as soon as they came in. That is customer service!

      • howard kelly

        There is an exception to every rule. I lived in a small town, 50,000 people so I know what you mean. You have to be treated as a valued customer to offer loyalty. In some cases I would be happy to pay a few bucks more locally, if the appreciation is there, if not, free market society!

  • JMDonald

    The Internet allows us a true free market. As long as the Government allows it. Free enterprise is a wonderful thing. The more it is controlled the less free it becomes. Here’s to free enterprise.

  • Gabe Ets-Hokin

    I think that Hawk is gorgeous!

    • Chris Kallfelz

      Sure was to me, Gabe, that was one sweet handling bike. I have a big soft spot for Hawks, they’re fun, they work well…Man, I used to lust after the Two Brothers bike, that and Bob Meister’s Hawk, Dr. Bob…They were beautiful…

  • James Stewart

    Yes I agree that a local shop is great – and I usually consider a visit to the “off brand” smaller shops to be a treat (KTM, Husky, Beta, Ducati, etc), but the “Big Boy” multi-line Japanese and Harley Mega Stores make my skin crawl. I often feel the need for a shower after I leave those places – I don’t know if the parts and sales guys work on commission or if they just take professional A-hole training or what… makes me run back to the Interwebs – Fast. (Yes – I’m talking to you Big multi-store dealership owned by Ex-Pro Athlete famous in the 1990s…) My personal fav is trolling Ebay for a good low price or selection, then actually CALLING the seller to see if they’ll make me an even better deal – I’ve scored some great deals that way