Not long ago, Santa Cruz County was the perfect place for a weekend shop crawl. You could find every major brand within a few salty blocks of the ocean: Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Harley-Davidson, BMW, Yamaha, and Hinckley Triumph. There were multiple incarnations of Ducati and Moto Guzzi dealers, for the discerning Italophile. You could even find a full set of gaskets or a Lucas wiring harness to patch up your weepy, flickering Meriden Triumph.

But where are they now? Gone, like points and condensers – victims of the Great Recession, a fickle market, and more than a few bad decisions.


Through it all, one shop has remained, ticking over like that old two-stroke in your garage: Moore & Sons Motorcycles has been plying its trade one short block from the beach since 1964, selling KTMs, Husqvarnas, and – through the years – just about every venerable bike brand you could hope to see in that dirt lot near your house in 1972.

To visit Moore’s is to take a journey through history. Everywhere you look, there is the well-worn evidence of 51 years of selling dirt bikes. In one corner, there are gas tanks stacked like cordwood: Maico, Penton, Bultaco, Montesa, Ossa. An ancient kids’ Montesa trials bike hangs from the ceiling. Faded, dog-eared photos wallpaper the office, of races won and lost. Out back, in a storage container, shelves spill over with Bultaco fork legs, Maico cases, and the gearbox remnants of a thousand missed shifts.


John Moore’s tiny, somewhat scruffy shop is a paean to another age, when you could rattle your blue-smoke dream down East Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz and turn not one head. An age of three inches of suspension travel, anemic drum brakes, Steve McQueen, open land, and uncomplaining neighbors. It was a time when you could roost your way up the main fire road in what is now a State Park. After all, who would stop you? No one, that’s who. To visit Moore & Sons is to miss all those things. And to love them.

This is no espresso-serving shop with MotoGP on the big screen and a posh waiting room with the latest moto mags on a chrome table. At Moore & Sons, there are scandalous comics tacked to the wall. The words, “you could eat off the floor” have never been uttered in this place, and never will be. The bathroom may not be something you would recommend to your mother.

John Moore (center) with mechanic Tom Dillenbeck, left, and son John Moore Jr.

John Moore (center) with mechanic Tom Dillenbeck, left, and son John Moore Jr.

The venerable John Moore, 75, is the occasionally taciturn commander of this leaky but stout vessel. His customers love him, and may even worship him – when they are not frightened by him. If you go, watch out: he bites.

Welcome to Moore’s: it may not be pretty. But it’s the real deal.

Despite the low-brow appearances, Moore & Sons has been the leading KTM dealer in North America on multiple occasions. And it’s certainly the oldest, if you count the years Moore sold Pentons (the previous incarnation of KTM).


Moore’s sold thousands of dirt bikes. That’s a lot of joy, premix, and broken collarbones. And Moore shows no signs of slowing down. He still rides, albeit a bit slower, every weekend.

Moore knows the dirt under his scruffy shop is worth millions. After all, he’s just a block from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (Twin Lakes, near the Santa Cruz Harbor). Most people would die for just one of his five-minute test rides. It’s gorgeous, even if the shop is not.

Time was, a gas island and two pumps sat out front, operated by Moore’s father. In those days Studebakers and BSAs would stop in for a fillup, where lowriders and bearded hipsters on fixie bicycles now pass in a steady procession of strenuously achieved coolness.

You’ve got to be good at something to be around that long. And he is.

“I’ve got a trophy at home that says I’m the longest-standing dealer in North America for KTM,” says Moore. “And I’m probably the longest Husky dealer too – I started selling them in ’66.” In fact, only one guy comes close to the latter record: Malcolm Smith, of “On Any Sunday” fame. The two have raced each other.


In an era of thoroughly sanitized shops, KTM has probably wished Moore would quietly go away – or maybe add that espresso machine. Or perhaps just get rid of some of the piles out back? Of course, he won’t do any of those things. And why should he? It goes against everything he believes in. And besides, as KTM flourishes, so does Moore. The bikes roll out the door in a steady procession, defying every marketing principle you can think of. No website. A token Facebook page. If he had a Twitter feed, it would probably just tell you to go jump. He’s doing just fine, thank you very much.

Moore & Sons mechanic Tom Dillenbeck – a local legend in his own right – has worked in just about every shop in the county. Every so often, he counsels Moore on how they used to do things at All-American Honda, or Plam’s BMW, or one of the other half dozen shops where he’s turned a wrench.

Moore considers the point, then says simply: “Yeah? And where are they now?”

He’s got a point. Those shops are gone, every one of them. These days, it’s only Moore, in all his raw, unsanitized glory.

Moore’s wife, Judy, oversees the books from a tiny hobbit hole midway between the parts counter and Dillenbeck’s workstand. After 52 years of marriage, she, above all others, knows how to handle Moore’s indiscretions and occasional tantrums. Out front, overseeing the parts counter, is Johnny “Junior,” the mountain bike-riding son, making it three generations of Moores on the property. Fully half of the building is occupied by Moore & Sons Outboard Motors, run by John’s brother, Jimmy.


Left to right: Jimmy, John and John jr.

It’s a family affair, and like all such operations, it is an exquisitely refined catastrophe. They clearly love each other. And to express it, they fight. “I hate boats,” says John of brother Jimmy’s operation. “We sort of fight for every little piece of property.”

The son, John Junior, is not hampered by the square footage. At the end of each day he brings in all the bikes from the parking lot out front and fits them in the tiny showroom like the Rubik’s Cube of your dreams: end-to-end, sideways, whatever – as many as 17 of them, plus minibikes and KTM bicycles. It’s a wonder to behold.


Jimmy and Harley

Out back is a kind of Moore & Sons menagerie. There is an African desert tortoise named Harley, who is 40 years old and weighs 127 pounds. There is also a 95-year-old California desert tortoise. There used to be a pig. These are just not things you would find at your average motorcycle shop.

Dillenbeck has been Moore’s sole mechanic for 15 years, and the two are engaged in a beautiful, if occasionally antagonistic, dance. “As long as he gets his way, things are great,” Moore says of Dillenbeck. “He’s just like my wife. I can’t figure out who’s most stubborn, my wife, or Tom. It’s really close.”

“Who loves you, baby?” Dillenbeck taunts from the back of the shop. Heck, you could make a sitcom in there. The banter is that good.

And the whole lot of them are local celebrities. As we talk, a jacked pickup truck goes by, and someone leans out the window, bellowing in Dillenbeck’s general direction. “Hey Tom!” Dillenbeck shrugs it off. This kind of thing happens all day long. Welcome to life in the epicenter of Santa Cruz motorcycling. It’s tough being this popular.

121015-moore-sons-dealership-grandfathermoore1966“My Dad had been an auto mechanic his whole life,” says Moore. “He started a Union 76 gas station on this spot in 1960.” But selling gas, says Moore with characteristic frankness, “was a pain in the ass.” Meanwhile, when Moore was 21, he bought a Honda Scrambler. Then a Greeves. And he started riding. A lot.

It was a life filled with the joys of unfettered motorcycle riding. This was not an age of driving four hours to find the legal OHV park and ensure that the stickers are correctly affixed to the left fork tube. No. This was a different time. “Every weekend I’d either go to a hillclimb or scrambles, starting in ’66,” he says. “Sometimes we’d ride all the way to Uvas, race at the dam, get gas, and come home. I’d be on a Montesa, with the ‘horn of plenty’ – an open silencer that spit flames out the back. And I’d come home with a trophy now and then.”

He decided to make it a business. “In December ’64 I went to the county bank and they gave me enough money to buy three Montesas. I sold all three in two weeks. And all three seized up, tighter than a drum.”


Undeterred, he started selling Husqvarnas in ’66, having purchased them from the legendary Edison Dye, known as the “father of motocross” in the U.S. The rest came with an air of inevitability: Moore started selling Pentons, then Ossas, then Bultacos, and just about every famous two-stroke you could slap an expansion chamber on. By then, the gas station was long gone.

“I was a one-man show,” he reflects. “I’d sell the bikes and fix them. I was self-taught. I’d get a motor to rebuild, and just take the phone off the hook until I got it done.”

His timing was impeccable. In the ’70s, dirt bikes were a juggernaut of profit and popularity. When the movie “On Any Sunday,” came out in ’71, “it played in a theater in downtown Santa Cruz,” says Moore. “I put a Husky in the lobby, and sold three the next day.”

Indeed, for the next dozen years, the bikes practically sold themselves.

As we’re talking, just for grins, Moore fires up a 155-pound Beta trials bike with one soft kick, and proceeds to do a few improbable things in the shop-cum-dump that comprises the back of his property. He executes a tight turn toward the bathroom without a dab, banks off some metal debris, then rides straight into a cement wall – gently, of course – and bounces off, using the front suspension to ricochet in a new direction, all without putting a foot down. “I’m a little rusty,” he says. Maybe so, but half of the riding world couldn’t do what this 75-year-old just did. It just comes natural to the guy.


Time has not slowed the venerable Moore down one bit. He rides off-road nearly every weekend. He rides dual sport, and enduros, and pretty much every piece of unpaved landscape from Santa Cruz to the Sierras. He plays squash. He goes pretty good, for an old guy. He competes in the Geritol Trophy – a trials competition that combines the age of the bike and rider – and usually wins. As always, he’s most passionate about trials: plodding, featherweight bikes that you grandmother could load into a trailer. But Moore is no hop around guy: he’s old school, where you actually ride over stuff without stopping.

Customers these days are different, says Moore, reflecting on his five decades of selling motorcycles. “They used to be carpenters, plumbers, and truck drivers. Now, it’s harder to be a poor guy and ride a motorcycle. And kids these days have more distractions. Back in the old days, on every corner you’d see a kid on a 50.”


And if there’s one thing Moore hates, it’s “computerized shit.” Black boxes. Laptops on the workbench. Fuel injection, for all its advantages, is nice. But carburetors, for all their imprecision, are things of beauty, requiring the dark art of jets, slides, and float levels.

And then there’s online shoppers, always in search of the lowball deal. “Everyone discounts stuff,” Moore laments. “It gets pretty cutthroat.”

It’s enough to really piss a guy off. But Moore has seen it all, and he doesn’t get pissed off often. He’s too old for that. He’s had too good a life for that. And after all, he’s still riding, and wrenching, the lord of his sacred and scruffy kingdom on the ocean’s edge in Santa Cruz. Things could be worse. Much worse.

“You couldn’t start a KTM shop doing what I do now,” says Moore, reflecting on his remarkable journey in two wheels. “They want a showroom. They try to influence me, but I give it right back.

“They’d have a hard time getting rid of me now.”

If I were “them,” I wouldn’t even try.

  • Old MOron

    Bravo! Really enjoyed that. I wish someone would do a story like this on West Valley Cycle Sales in Winnetka, CA. Oldest BMW dealer in the country. They don’t have anyone like John Moore riding trials in the back yard, though.

    • Sean Alexander

      Old Moron, How about I hire you to do your first paid story for MO? I’d gladly run a story on West Valley from your perspective.

      • Old MOron

        Well, an employment offer is always a happy occasion. I used to know Ruth, Jay, Laurie and Don, but they have all passed away now, and the business is in the hands of Laurie’s sister. I think their mechanic, “The Kid,” is still there, but I doubt he’d recognize me, so I don’t have any contacts, anymore. But I will stop by there this weekend and see if they are interested in some publicity.

      • Old MOron

        I sent email to the MOronic address you had 10 or 12 years ago. It didn’t bounce back, so I’m hoping you received it.

  • Daimyo

    What a great read! Thanks for this.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Enjoyed the story.

    Another shop of this type is Gunnison Motorsports run by Fritz Kadlec in Gunnison.
    Snowmobiles and quads are what makes that dealer viable. Fritz loves dirt bikes though, he is one Hell of a rider and raced in the ISDE back in the 80s.

    Shops like these are rare gems, we need to patronize them.

  • JMDonald

    Trials riding requires great skill. A great shop and a great owner. A lot of greats going on. There’s no character like old characters.

  • Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Wow! Great story, Geoff! I’ve always been a fan of that shop, and of the Moores. Tom’s an incredibly cool guy as well. I’m hoping there’s a new generation of guys like this (but I’m not holding my breath, either!).

  • Starmag

    I don’t even do dirt bikes but that was a good read with great pics. Thanks Geoff and Randy!

  • ‘Mike Smith

    Great article. Sorta reminds me of Hap’s in Sarasota. They’ve got a friggin museum upstairs from the showroom. If you’re in the area, they are awesome. As a customer, they have always been great to me and even saved me money on my insurance coverage.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    My KTM dealer in Roseville, CA, MPC KTM (Motorcycle Performance Center) claims to be “one of the oldest and largest KTM / Husaberg / Husqvarna Dealers in North America” and has been in business for 40 years (since June 1975). The owner Brad Teegarden was a racer and still rides in the dirt on weekends with his son Matt who helps run the business.

    • Dave Duarte

      Both MPC, and Moore, and Sons were Penton dealers until 1975 when KTM bought back the west coast only, and the bikes were branded KTM. Both are great long time dealers of both brands.

  • ADB

    Fabulous article. You just made my day.

  • Ray Boone

    Wow. Great read. I really appreciate articles like this that get at the soul of motorcycling rather than the sales.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    “…tortoise named Harley, who is 40 years old and weighs 127 pounds”
    So funny! So true.

    • Ian Parkes


  • SRMark

    Makes me want to watch Malcolm, Mert and Steve ride around in the surf. I like to save money as much as anyone. I get spammed by all the vendors and occasionally pick up a clearance helmet, jacket or tool from the net. That’s just how the market goes these days. But if I want to have my hometown bike shop available when I need them, it certainly behoves me to funnel cash to them. Those special moments spent wrenching that result in “oh shti” are the times when I need them the most. It sure is hard to order up a hour of wisdom from the major internet retailers. Sure, I can often find a YouTube video, but most of my stuff is uncommon and older. My local boutique bike shops aren’t quite as free with their expertise and time as are those smaller shops like Mr. Moore’s. There is nothing like having a seasoned shop owner and his staff available when oh “shti” hits the fan. Thanks Geoff for highlighting these special folks. Now run down to your local crusty bike shop, if you can find one, and buy something from them. Every once in a while try to pay full price. I pity the younger folks who only get to shop in boutique bike shops. No soul there.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      I learned the same lesson from my KTM dealer MPC KTM in Roseville, CA (40 years selling KTMs, Husabergs and Husqvarnas, and Pentons before that). I needed a rear tire for my 1190 Adventure R and the prices on the internet were cheaper so I asked Brad Teegarden (the owner) why I shouldn’t buy the tire online and he said you need to support your local dealer. They have taken excellent care of my bike and have always been there for me. I wouldn’t have bought the KTM if that dealership wasn’t there.

  • TC

    Thanks for the memories this article brings back. Used to be, the owners of motorcycle shops were in the business because they loved to ride. I bought a brand new Yamaha RD350 from Redlands Yamaha, and the mechanic was also a roadracer.

  • Mitch Berger

    We had a old school family BMW motorcycle shop in Torrance, Ca. Martys Foreign Motors Back in the day you could have many different product lines. The manufactures were greatful that you sold their product which paid their salaries. Nowadays, the manufactures think they own your business. Have to use their carpet, fixtures, etc so the charming old school shops have all but vanished. Botique dealerships suck. Glad to see Moore and Sons are having fun running their old school dealership.

  • Gary J Boulanger

    Love the article, Geoff. Tell your editor to ask for more personality pieces like this from you.

  • ducatirdr

    I remember when all motorcycle shops were like this. Then the corporate world knocked a big square of sameness into the once round hole of individuality. Still shops like this survive and are islands of tribal knowledge that trump any low prices found on-line. It’s the wise people that live there.