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.
A few years later I found myself working at a small Kawasaki–Suzuki 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.
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.