In October, RideApart contributor Pete Hitzeman shared a story called Cheaper to Keep Her. Why You Should Hold On to Your Old Bike. In his essay, Pete gave several great reasons why keeping your current motorcycle is usually better than buying a shiny new one.
Pete makes a lot of great points. Like in business, acquisition costs are often considerably greater than retention costs. There’s taxes, depreciation, fees and the basic expense of paying retail. Unless that new bike is an order of magnitude better, you’re likely better off sticking with the motorcycle you already know and love. Yet in that impulse lies a subtle trap — a trap I’ve fallen into a couple times myself. If I just don’t sell my old bikes, I’m a collector, right? Not so fast.
Here’s the thing. Failing to get rid of a motorcycle is not collecting. It’s hoarding.
In the grand scheme of things, motorcycles are inexpensive to acquire and keep, so it’s surprisingly easy to wind up with a garage full of bikes. Yet for the average person, there comes a tipping point where the costs for storage, maintenance and insurance start to outweigh the actual use one gets out of their fleet of bikes. If it’s not money, it’s time spent in the garage doing maintenance and up-keep — time not spent on the road.
I ran into this myself last year where without really meaning to, I wound up with eight motorcycles in my garage. Living in urban Chicago, simply finding room to park all these bikes quickly became a challenge and a sizable expense. How had my fleet gotten so out of hand? The reason was simple. I didn’t have a collection. I just had a bunch of bikes. Most of all, I didn’t have a plan.
Here’s the thing. Failing to get rid of a motorcycle is not collecting. It’s hoarding. The difference is summed up in one word: curation. So how do I curate an interesting, useful fleet of motorcycles? Use these strategies to keep your collection trim and enviable.
Here in Part One of this two-part series, we’ll begin our collection by dropping the dead weight from our current fleet of bikes.
Rule #1. If it doesn’t start, it’s got to go
Admiring my collection of bikes is satisfying, but getting out and riding them is even better. Unless I have serious plans of starting a museum, my motorcycle collection should be made up entirely of bikes that run and ride. Obviously, a bike doesn’t have to be running when I acquire it, but if I don’t have concrete plans to get that bike going in the near future, then it doesn’t belong in my garage. It belongs over the mantle because what I’ve got isn’t a motorcycle, it’s a decoration. It’s important that I don’t clutter up my garage space with projects I don’t plan to ever really take on. I can’t let half-hearted intentions take up the space a running motorcycle could occupy.
I have to be honest with myself and focus on what I’m actually going to do, not what I aspire to do someday.
In my opinion, this strategy also applies to more valuable “collectable” bikes as well. What’s the point of some priceless old BMW /2 if I can’t actually put miles on it once in a while? Sure, respect an old machine, but I say leave the museum pieces in the museums. Focus on bikes that run and ride, then get out there and ride them.
Live by it: At any given time, my motorcycle collection should have no more than one motorcycle that doesn’t run, and that bike should be on my lift being made to run. Everything else should be rideable, or sold.
Rule #2. Don’t be redundant. Eliminate bikes that are too similar.
In my current collection of bikes I’ve got a 1983 Honda GL1100 and a 1980 BMW R100. This is stupid. I don’t need two naked vintage touring bikes, so one of these has got to go. In this case, the BMW will go up for sale in the spring. By evaluating my collection in terms of overlap, I can identify redundancy and eliminate bikes that aren’t serving a unique purpose or providing unique value for the enthusiasm they bring me.
Why remove redundant bikes? Simple. To make room for more interesting and more useful motorcycles.
In the case of that old BMW, selling it will make room for (and finance) a 650-class dualsport bike — a class of motorcycle unrepresented in my garage right now. This will add a whole new kind of riding for me.
But what if I’m really into a particular bike? I’m not suggesting that every bike in my collection must be utterly unique, but there should be meaningful differences between the bikes I’m keeping. For example, say I’m really into SOHC Honda CB750s. Having two fully restored examples doesn’t serve much of a purpose unless I’m starting my own private CB750 museum. If I’ve got two nearly identical bikes, I should sell one of them to make room for something else. However, having one CB750 that’s showroom restored and another that’s bored out, tarted up and fully cafe’d to the nines is a much more interesting prospect and a great reason to have two CB750s in my collection. The contrast between the two bikes would actually make each of them more interesting by comparison.
Live by it: Every bike in my collection should be uniquely useful or uniquely interesting.
Rule #3. Get rid of bikes you’re not riding
Even if the bikes in my collection all run and don’t overlap, it’s easy to reach a saturation point where I’m simply not riding a particular bike anymore. Maybe I don’t have time to ride everything regularly. Maybe one of my bikes is really specific to one kind of riding and I’m just not doing much of that anymore.
For example, I take big road trips once or twice a year tops, so it doesn’t makes sense for me to own a touring bike anymore. If I eliminate that bike from my fleet, it frees up resources and space for something I’m either more likely to use, or something more interesting and worth keeping.
When a big road trip pops up, I’ll just rent something. Over the long term, I’ll spend less and have a richer motorcycle collection.
Besides the sheer practicality of focusing on bikes I actually ride, there’s a bigger principle at play here. Bikes that aren’t regularly run will deteriorate unless they’re more or less winterized. This is especially true of vintage motorcycles. Carbs will get gummy. Rubber will dry out. Batteries fail. Ideally, any bike not set up for long-term storage should be run and ridden at least once every couple weeks.
Live by it: For any bike worth less than $3,500, if it sits longer than six weeks, I should seriously consider selling it.
Now that we’re down to just the essentials, in Part Two we’ll talk about building that collection back up the right way.