Yes, we are here!

In times like these our hobbies become lifesavers. At MOTORCYCLE CLASSICS, we have been tracking down the most interesting and rare classic motorcycles and collections for more than 15 years. That includes researching and sourcing the best books on collectible and rare bikes available anywhere. Our online store is open and we are here to answer any questions you might have. Our customer service staff is available Monday through Friday from 8a.m.-5p.m. CDT. We can be reached at 1-800-880-7567 or by email. Stay safe!


Black Side Down


Looking Forward

retro-motorcycles
A spectacular Dunstall Norton at the 2018 Quail, the bike I most wanted to ride back to San Francisco if I wasn’t on the Scrambler.

When I first got into motorcycling, a major draw was the solo nature of riding, the opportunity to head out on my own to discover the world around me. I was already in love with riding on two wheels — my first job in junior high school was at a bicycle shop — and the self-powered part of the equation just made the proposition that much sweeter. What I didn’t appreciate when I first got into motorcycling was the incredible community of motorcyclists I’d get introduced to, the folks who make this the coolest corner of the universe, a place filled with talented, interesting people driven by a shared passion for motorcycles.

You get to see that passion in action at the hundreds of shows held across the country every year, dynamic reminders of the singular nature of our community. Unfortunately, so far in 2020 there have been no shows, and we all know why. Although I’m sure there are small, unofficial gatherings happening here and there, all the shows and races I look forward to every year have been cancelled. And even the ones scheduled for later this year have a big question mark hanging over them. Right now, I should be in Monterey, California, walking the manicured lawn of the Quail Lodge and ogling the incredible bikes always on hand at The Quail Motorcycle Gathering.

My last visit to Quail was in 2018, when Jean Denney, editor of sister publication Fermentation, and I rode from San Francisco to Monterey and back on a borrowed Ducati Scrambler (thanks Stewart Ingram). The Scrambler’s probably not the first bike you’d tag for a two-up ride down the California coast, what with its highish saddle and, at least stylistically, offroad pretensions. But beggars, as the saying goes, can’t be choosers, and although I’d never ridden a Scrambler before, I had ridden a Ducati Monster two-up from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay for the late and deeply lamented Legend of the Motorcycle event (thanks again Stewart; do you see a pattern here?), so I was pretty certain we’d have a good time, regardless of how the bike worked for our trip.

san-remo-hotel
Getting ready to leave San Francisco’s quirky San Remo Hotel for Monterey. The Scrambler proved a comfortable and fast back road mount for two. Just don’t expect to carry much gear.

It was a spectacular trip, and the Scrambler proved to be an incredibly competent machine, for my money far more fun than the Monster (a decidedly uncompromising proposition in terms of ergonomics), carrying the two of us with absolute aplomb. The 803cc twin feels more powerful than it actually is, with gobs of torque and surprisingly good throttle response, thankfully lacking the abrupt, just off idle light switch-like throttle response of many modern drive-by-wire fuel injected bikes I’ve ridden. Frankly, it exceeded my expectations, proving itself equally at home whether riding up and down the steep streets of San Francisco or diving into the twisties heading down La Honda Road from Alice’s Restaurant toward San Gregorio and the coast.

At first blush it might look uncomfortable for two, but first looks don’t tell the tale. The riding position is aggressive but comfortable, and Jean never once complained riding pillion (something you couldn’t say for the Monster). By the time we got to Monterey, we were ready to get one of our own, and the return ride was just as sweet, shooting up La Honda Road for one last thrill before heading back to San Francisco and handing the Scrambler back to Stewart.

For 2020, Jean and I were looking forward to another Quail adventure, this time amped up a bit with a longer planned ride with Motorcycle Classics regular Dain Gingerelli. The scheme was to borrow a couple of new modern retro bikes, ideally a Royal Enfield twin and a Triumph twin, and blast up the coast from Los Angeles to Monterey. I got to participate in judging at the 2018 event, and was really excited to get invited again for 2020, making this a true pinch-me opportunity, combining an awesome ride with great people to an incredible event for a weekend of vintage motorcycle immersion.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, because the Quail was cancelled. Ever the optimist, I’m pinning my hopes on a return in 2021, because surely by then all this will be behind us? And with any luck, Stewart will have yet another interesting Ducati. Ride safe.

Richard Backus/Founding Editor

(re) Learning the Basics

Laverda-SF 

On a sunny Saturday morning this February, I busied myself getting the 1974 Laverda 750SF ready for the first Wheelsport Vintage Motorcycle Club ride of the new year. Championed by Tech Editor Keith Fellenstein, the club meets on the third Saturday of the month at Gaslight Gardens, a bar housed in an impossibly tiny, cottage-like structure at the north end of the bridge over the Kansas River to downtown Lawrence, Kansas. Along with regular “club” members (it’s an open question if we’re really a club; there are no rules for membership and we don’t do much besides our regular meetup — but we do have T-shirts), we’re regularly joined by members of the local Moped Army, who buzz in on little scoots that sound like chain saws and are capable of some serious speed. Well, for a moped.

The weather was perfect, and while I typically ride the ’73 BMW R75/5 to these gigs, I thought the SF could use some exercise. Rolling it out in the sun it looked fantastic, its red paint gleaming, what little good surviving chrome reflecting the bright sun. I spun it over a few times to get the oil moving, opened the fuel taps, waited a few breaths, turned the ignition on, pulled the choke, and thumbed the starter — and it caught immediately. Awesome. It’d been too long since I’d ridden the SF, and I was stoked. That “too long” bit would become important.

Warming it up, it ran beautifully — as long as the choke was half on. But as soon as I parked the choke lever on its stop it sputtered and fagged, like it wasn’t getting enough gas. Pull the choke on at idle and it ran OK, if maybe a bit fast. Roll the revs up and shut off the choke and it fell on its face, sputtering and gasping. Crap. I really wanted to ride the SF. A few minutes tampering with the fuel/air mixture screws didn’t return any positive results, and if anything it seemed like it was getting worse, so I rolled the SF back in the garage and fired up the trusty /5, which while slower to catch, ran perfectly once it did.

A few days later I set myself to sorting out the SF, checking the usual suspects: fuel and ignition. And you know what they say about fuel and ignition: Ninety percent of all fuel problems are ignition related, and 90 percent of all ignition problems are fuel related. The spark plugs weren’t fouled, but looked odd, dirty, like there wasn’t complete combustion. I dropped the float bowls and checked the float, main and low-speed jets; clean as a whistle. I pulled the fuel/air mixture screws and blew out the circuits, then buttoned it up to see if it ran any better. It didn’t.

The ignition is a new Sachse electronic setup, so I was hard-pressed to think there was an issue there, but I checked just the same. And then I started thinking; when was the last time I’d ridden the SF? I realized it’d easily been 18 months. Really? That seemed impossible, but checking the date stamps on a few pics proved me right. Was it a simple case of bad gasoline? Taking a long, hard draw of the odor of the gas in the tank, it was clear the fuel had gone sour. I’d been running down the wrong path trying to suss out the SF’s issue, when the answer was literally a sniff away.

In my defense, I’ll note that I’d been congested and my olfactory senses were not particularly acute, but once I caught that unmistakable stench of bad gasoline there was no question what was wrong. The fix was simple. Drain the tank and carb float bowls, refill with alcohol-free 91 octane fuel, and start her up. It took a few moments before the SF cleared its throat, and with a little fine-tuning of the fuel/air screws it was soon running as I remembered, settling into a solid idle and emitting a healthy bark when I snapped the throttle.

Frankly, it was an interesting exercise and a reminder of how easy it is to head down a path to nowhere. Although I know better, when a bike starts running poorly I too often find myself looking for the most complicated answer to what is often a simple problem. It’s a reminder of something I know too well, but too often forget: Start with the basics and work from there. Ride safe.

-Richard Backus/Founding Editor

 

 

Old Motorcycle Parts and Passion

Honda CB400T Hawk
A great bike with classic flair, a Honda CB400T Hawk should be easy to keep on the road — if you can find the parts.

Working on a friend’s recent “vintage” Japanese purchase got me wondering if “true” classics like the Norton Commando and Triumph Bonneville are easier to own than we acknowledge. No question they can have their share of mechanical gremlins and dodgy electrics, but compared to the array of more “advanced” machines that followed in their wake, mostly from Japan, they might just be the easiest classic bikes to keep on the road. Or at least to buy parts for.

The problem is, because of their value we tend to relegate them to weekend warrior status, prized jewels we haul out for group rides or a Sunday run to the local pub. If you’re new to the classic scene you might not be ready to pound down $7,500 to $10,000 — or more — to get one of these recognized classics, and then there’s that maintenance thing; they definitely ask more of the owner than the average Honda or BMW.

Regular readers might recall Jean Denney’s article back in the September/October 2019 issue recounting her experience as a new rider taking the basic rider’s course. With her license secured and following some real-world street time on my trusty ’76 Suzuki GT185, Denney, group editor of sister publications Mother Earth Living and Fermentation, made the plunge into motorcycle ownership. Immersed by association into the classic bike scene, she was looking for something with classic flair, but daily usability. If you’ve tried to navigate that same road you know that it’s easier said than done, so when Denney lucked onto a nicely preserved 1978 Honda CB400T Hawk, she jumped at it. An affordable, easy-to-ride standard, the Hawk is a great bike, and this one, garage-kept with just more than 6,300 miles on the clock and a $1,000 price tag, seemed like a bargain.

And it was. Cosmetically it’s maybe a 7 or 8, and mechanically it’s close to perfect. The engine lights up readily and spins freely, the 360-degree crank providing nice torque characteristics even if the little twin produces only something like 36 horsepower. The transmission is smooth and snatch free, the brakes are perfectly adequate, and the suspension, despite being short on travel and a bit soft — like just about every Japanese bike of the era — works well enough. It’s mostly a winning combination, and one that saw Honda produce tens of thousands of the little twins up through the early ’80s, by which time the 395cc twin was bored to 447cc for just a bit more oomph.

It’s pretty much an ideal everyday classic, except for a snag that makes finding parts for it, most recently a replacement exhaust cross-over pipe and mufflers, something of a challenge; the Hawk’s lack of enthusiast appeal.

A solid performer in the market, the Hawk wasn’t exactly an enthusiast’s machine. Its success turned on the fact that it was easy to buy and easy to own. It was a leisure machine for the leisurely owner, a commodity, something to be bought, used, and then replaced by the next shiny thing when its looks became dated. The result is that 40-odd years later, parts beyond basic wear items like wheel bearings and brake linings are hard to find.

Certainly, there are specialists who inventory some of the more arcane bits you might need, but if you stack up parts availability for the Hawk next to a Norton Commando or vintage Triumph Bonneville, it’s abundantly clear what enthusiasm means to model mortality. Norton made something like 70,000 or so Commandos. Honda never reported total production of the Hawk or its variants, but it was easily three times that. Yet try to find OEM-style replacement exhaust parts for a Hawk. Good luck. For a Commando? You have your pick of suppliers. Carburetors? Engine parts? Ditto. Everything you could ever need for your Commando is still available, and in fact still being made, much of it by Andover Norton, heirs to the Norton parts concession.

It’s all down to the simple fact that bikes like the Commando and Bonneville catered to the enthusiast. They inspired — and still inspire — enthusiastic and devoted ownership, which in turn inspires enthusiastic and devoted support, something that bikes like the Hawk didn’t do. That doesn’t mean the Hawk’s a bad bike. Emblematic of its time, it’s a well-engineered machine that will be coveted by some for personal reasons, but it will never achieve the level of passionate ownership of bikes like the Commando or Bonneville. Ride safe.

Richard Backus/Founding Editor

Two of the Same: 1983 and 1984 Laverda RGS

Laverda RGS
Freshly rebuilt carbs have brought the 1984 Laverda RGS back to life after some 10 years sitting idle.

My interest in the storied Laverda motorcycle brand is no secret. Launched in the energetic post-World War II European market when motorcycles were the personal transportation of choice owing to their affordability, Laverda went on to become one of the most famous of the many Italian motorcycle manufacturers. Initially producing small motorcycles for urban use, Laverda found its real voice playing at the top of the game with the 2-cylinder 750cc SF series and, most influentially, a line of 1,000cc triples that included the legendary Jota, in 1977 the fastest production motorcycle in the world.

I’ve been a Laverda nut since my introduction to the brand in the mid-1980s when I lived in San Francisco. I was then riding a 1974 Norton 850 Commando, and was a regular in the Sunday Morning Ride, a weekly gathering of old bike nuts that started in the parking lot of the ARCO gas station in Mill Valley north of the Golden Gate Bridge. From there, riders on everything from Triumphs, Nortons, BMWs, BSAs and Ducatis would work the coast line 39 miles north to Point Reyes Station, where we’d stop for breakfast at the Station House Cafe. Among those riders was a guy on a 1983 Laverda RGS, to my eye the most beautiful piece of two-wheeled art I’d ever seen. Enveloped in arrest-me red bodywork and producing an exhaust note that sounded more like a V12 Lamborghini car engine than a motorcycle, it was to me the pinnacle of Italian motorcycle sophistication. Somehow, someday, I had to have one.

That day came some 20 years later when I got my 1983 RGS (thanks, Scott Potter), and two years ago I managed to acquire a second RGS, a 1984 with a serial number only 630 newer than my ’83. Laverda didn’t make many of the model, perhaps 2,500 in total, and it’s estimated only around 250 were sold in the U.S., which if true means that I own just less than 1 percent of all the RGSs sold in the U.S. Not that that really means anything.

My ’83 had just two owners, both hard-core Laverda enthusiasts who endowed it with a bit of their own opinion of what makes a great bike even better. Along the way the RGS acquired factory high-performance camshafts, reworked carburetors and exhaust, and for a time full Executive livery, Laverda’s take on what a high-speed gentleman’s express should be, with extra hand protection grafted onto the fairing and integrated luggage that, while fetching, fell short of being truly useful.

Likewise, the ’84 had just two owners. The first was supposedly a Laverda dealer, and I don’t know much about the second, who passed away years before I acquired his bike, which had been sitting idle since his death. With the benefit of experience with my ’83, getting the ’84 back into running condition has been a familiar process. Yet while the two are basically identical, they’re quite different.

My ’83’s previous enthusiast ownership molded its character. Owner Number 1 loved it so much he saved all the bike’s original paperwork, passing it — along with numerous photos — to me when we happened to meet up a few years after I bought it from Owner Number 2 (the Laverda world is a small one). After I bought the bike, Owner Number 2 sent me a case of spare parts, including hard-to-find signal lenses and hydraulic rebuild kits, just because he knew I’d want to have them. I’m still occasionally in touch with both owners, which makes my ownership feel like something of a stewardship, a carrying of the torch, if you will.

What makes the ’84 so different is that it doesn’t have a clear story line, which is something I love about the ’83, its rich history of enthusiastic ownership making it much more than just an engine with two wheels. I just got the ’84 running and it’s lovely, its pipes bellowing out a healthy staccato beat for the first time in years, and with any luck it will hit the road this spring, 10 years or so since its last outing. I’m looking forward to giving it some history and a new story to see it down the road. Ride safe.

Richard Backus/Founding Editor

Vintage Bikes Are Cool. The People Are Cooler

Dain Gingerelli
Guest of honor Dain Gingerelli joins the group photo at the Getaway.

Vintage motorcycles are cool. No argument there. Cooler still are the people who collect and ride them, a fact that hit home again in a big way during the 4th Annual Motorcycle Classics Ride ’Em, Don’t Hide ’Em Getaway this past August, a two-day romp through Pennsylvania’s beautiful Laurel Highlands with 70-some vintage bike fans. Attendees are riding machines typically 40 years old or older, and more often than not they’re on bikes they’ve personally brought back from the dead, or tendered since new. That speaks volumes to owner engagement and enthusiasm, two ingredients in the old bike mix that make this such a rich corner of the world.

There are plenty of newer, more comfortable and, frankly, better performing motorcycles available for pounding down the back roads of Pennsylvania than the 1967 Moto Guzzi V7, 1973 Triumph X75 Hurricane and 1976 Kawasaki KZ750 — to name just a few — that joined our group. But for those bikes’ owners, that misses the point: Anybody can ride a new bike, but it takes a special person to brave the blacktop on a 50-year-old BSA or Benelli. And contrary to what people outside the category think, the old bike group isn’t just a bunch of motor-crazed nut cases. That’s definitely core, but it’s so much deeper than that, and if you went to Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, you couldn’t miss that fact.

For two-plus days, we explored some of the most beautiful roads you’ll find anywhere, reveling in the discovery awaiting us around each turn and over every rise. But more than that we gathered as a community, engaging our shared passion and exchanging valuable knowledge of our bikes learned over years of ownership. You might not own a 1988 Ducati Paso Limited, but it’s fascinating learning the more arcane details of the one-year-only model (only 50 made it to the U.S.) from its enthusiastic owner, who upon hearing me say I’ve always wanted one handed me the keys so I could take his for a spin. Awesome. And just what I didn’t need: I’ve often thought about getting one, now the hook’s set.

Motorcycles at the Getaway
Cool old bikes as far as the eye can see at the Saturday lunch stop.

A highlight of the weekend was the opportunity to get to know Dain Gingerelli, this year’s special guest. A well-known face in the California race scene of the 1970s and sport editor at Cycle Guide from 1979 to 1987, Dain is one of the most under-recognized figures of the last 40 years of motorcycle journalism. I’d met Dain briefly a few times before, most memorably riding behind him down California’s Palomar Mountain during Royal Enfield’s 2014 intro of the 535cc single-cylinder Continental GT. Dain’s imprint at Cycle Guide was instrumental in forming my interest in motorcycle journalism, so it was something of a pinch-me moment riding behind Dain, watching him effortlessly swing his bike through the 20-plus hairpin turns heading down from Palomar’s 6,140-foot crest to its 2,800-foot base. I’ll never forget getting to the bottom and catching up with Dain, who’d pulled over to wait for the rest of the group. Pulling off my helmet, I remarked what a job it was trying to even come close to matching his pace, to which Dain replied — with absolutely no sense of boasting or ego, just raw enthusiasm — “Yeah, that was fun, I was practicing not braking.”

When Cycle Guide folded its tent in 1987, Dain decided it was time to get out of the corporate world and go freelance. He’s continued working in the motorcycle industry ever since, actively engaging the sport he loves, keeping abreast of the people and companies that define the industry, and maintaining the same wide-eyed enthusiasm for the sport that he’s had since he bought his first bike, a Honda S90, as a teenager in the Sixties. Fit and agile, Dain’s natural competitiveness in the saddle shines through every time he swings a leg over a bike, and getting to ride with him — and everyone else who attended this year’s Pennsylvania event — was a lifetime treat, and a powerful reminder of the incredible people who surround us. Ride safe.

Richard Backus/Founding Editor

Looking for the Right Bike

Richard Backus on his BMW K75

Backus on his K75 leading riders during the 2019 Tour of Lawrence (Kansas).

My modest stable of motorcycles is occupied by less than a half dozen machines, each one bought not so much on a predicated search for that specific bike but the simple expedience of opportunity. The 1983 Laverda RGS is the dream machine, a bike I never thought I’d own until one miraculously made itself available (thanks Scott Potter). I was riding a black 1972 short wheelbase BMW R75/5 when we started Motorcycle Classics back in 2005, but sold it when the Laverda came along the same year, so when a green 1973 long wheelbase R75/5 was offered to me a few years back I just had to get it. The 1976 Suzuki GT185 on the other hand was nowhere on my radar when a friend said he was selling his, but one ride around the block and I knew I had to have it. It’s a brilliant little machine, stone cold reliable and the perfect learner bike for new riders, young and old. The 1974 Laverda SF2 doesn’t really count as mine, a build I did for buddy Matt, who seems to like the fact that it’s sharing space with two other Laverdas: my RGS and yet another RGS the two of us bought as a future project.

That brings me to the latest addition to the garage, my 1995 BMW K75, which, like the others, just sort of presented itself. I’d been thinking about getting something in the way of an “appliance,” a reliable non-collectible I could ride daily without worrying about scratching its paint or dulling its brightwork from days spent under the hot sun, a bike that wouldn’t bum me out if I dropped it for whatever stupid reason. Laverda plastic is close to unobtainium and classic BMW bodywork keeps getting harder to find.

So that made the idea of finding something not so dear attractive. But what to get? The answer came when I spied the K75 for sale on the local Craigslist. I’d just sold my 1972 Datsun pickup, so with a bit of cash in hand the timing was perfect, and the K75 seemed the ideal appliance if ever there was one. Renowned for its reliability and boasting an impressive list of standard features including triple disc brakes with ABS, fuel injection, liquid cooling and a smooth, counter-balanced inline triple, the K75 seemed perfect. And yet, nine months into ownership, I’m still not sure how much I like it, because it doesn’t seem to move me emotionally.

After years of riding old and oftentimes decrepit machinery, I’ve gotten used to making adjustments in riding style and expectations with the bikes I ride. My old Norton required a certain attitude every time I swung a leg over it, and I sure didn’t ride it for the maintenance-free experience. My R75/5 on the other hand is hugely reliable, but it requires concessions to less-than-ideal brakes and suspension, the drums a little on the feeble side compared to modern machinery and the suspension regularly overwhelmed by its limited travel.

The Laverda is an absolutely awesome road bike, happy to run autobahn speeds all day, but it’s ponderous in town and simply ill-suited to urban riding. Contrast that with the GT185, a fab little in-town bike that’s completely out of its element on the road. It’ll get up to 65mph no problem, but it’s simply not happy running fast.

So that made the K75 seem perfect. Unfaired it might not be the best road bike, but it’ll sing along at 85mph without effort, and its excellent balance makes it easy to ride in town. The stock saddlebags are great for quick trips to the grocery story or stowing rain gear and tools on a day trip. It gets great mileage — so far averaging around 47mpg — doesn’t burn any oil, stops on a dime, has a huge headlamp, big blinkers and excellent rearview mirrors that never vibrate, giving a clear, crisp view of the road behind.

So what’s the problem? It’s boring. While the inline three is an excellent mill (albeit a bit slow to respond to revs), it has all the personality of an air compressor. There’s no soul to the muted exhaust and the whirring of the engine is simply white noise; there’s no hint of anything interesting going on inside. I suppose that’s the point of bikes like the K75, machines that insulate the rider from the mechanical goings-on to, theoretically, augment the riding experience. For me, that insulation just blunts the joy of the riding experience.

And yet, a recent gig motorcycle marshaling the local bicycle races showed the K to be the perfect mount for the job, its appliance-like qualities complementing the task at hand. Quiet, predictable and smooth, its big turn signals flashing brightly courtesy of the built-in hazard switch, I couldn’t think of a better bike to be on during the two days I spent leading racers around the course. I’d been seriously considering selling the K, but now I’m thinking I need to ride it a little more to uncover its character. Maybe it is the right bike and a keeper after all.

Richard Backus/Founding Editor

Learning Curves on the Training Course

Hard as it is for me to accept — because it means damn, I’m getting old — I’ve been riding motorcycles for over 40 years. When I got my motorcycle license at the tender age of 18, motorcycle safety classes were still something of a rarity. They were available, but at least in the Midwest, it seemed like most aspirants to the world of two wheels got their “training” on the road, mixing it up out on the street with all the four-wheeled metal boxes fighting for their piece of the asphalt. Like myself, a lot of riders got their first taste of motorcycling in the dirt, the operative word being “taste”: I’ll never forget burying the front wheel of a Honda CB175 in a hidden wash in the tall grass of a hillside, the bike coming to a quick stop while I continued forward over the bars and into the dirt — face first.

Recollections of my first experiences riding motorcycles rushed to the top of my memory bank recently as I watched Jean Denney, group editor of sister publications Mother Earth Living and Heirloom Gardener, going through the paces of the Basic Rider Course at Kansas City Kansas Community College. Tracking Jean’s progress out on the course, coming to terms with the dynamics of piloting a powered two-wheeler as the instructor guided her and three other women through a series of challenges, I was reminded that riding, at least for most, doesn’t come naturally. It’s a focused exercise, or at least should be, and it benefits from training, a fact too many riders don’t seem to appreciate.

I certainly didn’t, at least not in the beginning. Fresh out of high school, free from the “’rents” and ready to start college, I’d been scheming to get the bike my mother wouldn’t hear of. So when I went into the DMV on my 18th birthday to update my auto license and the bored woman behind the green IBM Selectric asked, “You want a motorcycle license?” I said, “Sure, what’s it take?” “Fifty cents.” Fifty cents? That’s it? Hell yeah. No test, just two quarters handed over to the lady at the DMV. And I’d never ridden anything bigger than a minibike.

The riders in Jean’s group had each shelled out $225, and watching them being put to work to understand the nature of the machines they were hoping would open doors to new experiences, it was clear it was money well spent. I’ve watched more than a few new would-be riders, usually encouraged by a misguided friend or mate, try to make their first launch on a bike, and with predictable results: With no training or real understanding of what they’re doing, they crash within 50 feet. Jean’s group was in a controlled environment. Removed from the stress of lurching out onto the streets like weak-kneed newborn calves ready to fall over, they could grapple with the unfamiliar in an environment that let them focus completely on the task at hand.

No doubt there are differences in the experiences. Age is a big one. I was young when I got my license, mentally and physically agile, and eager for the challenge. Jean is 56 (the youngest in her group was 39, the oldest in her early 60s). And while she’s mentally and physically fit, there’s no questioning that we don’t process information — or move our bodies — as quickly when we’re older. Jean’s been going for rides with me on the back of my bike for a few years, so when she expressed an interest in learning to ride herself I was cautiously enthusiastic. Few people take up a new sport when they are older, and at many levels that’s what motorcycling is. It’s a physical and mental challenge that requires engagement. It involves exposure and risk, and physical and mental competence if you’re going to be safe. As Jean and more than a few others in the class discovered, if your bike falls over, you have to pick it up. And when you do, you need to understand the physics of using your 140-pound body to right a 400-pound machine.

Riding is one of the great joys of life for me, whether I’m on a wheezy little 2-stroke or a thumping twin. And every ride brings new experiences that teach me how to be a better rider. The unexpected rain storm, the blacktop road that suddenly turns to gravel, the wrong turn that takes me onto the wrong road with too many trucks — every inch of it is a potential learning experience that can return dividends. No doubt Jean and the other students in her class were filled with a certain terror as rain started falling on their last morning of training, but their instructor made them ride through it, in the process helping them discover they could ride in the wet, no worse for the wear. Without planning, an unexpected negative turned into a positive piece of their learning curve.

Jean passed the class, and she’s looking forward to getting in some real street time. I guess it’s time to tune up the ’76 Suzuki GT185, a perfect learner street bike if ever there was one, for Jean to continue her education. Ride safe.

Richard Backus
Founding Editor







The sound and the fury: celebrate the machines that changed the world!

Motorcycle Classics JulAug 16Motorcycle Classics is America's premier magazine for collectors and enthusiasts, dreamers and restorers, newcomers and life long motorheads who love the sound and the beauty of classic bikes. Every issue  delivers exciting and evocative articles and photographs of the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!

Save Even More Money with our RALLY-RATE plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our RALLY-RATE automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5.00 and get 6 issues of Motorcycle Classics for only $29.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and I'll pay just $34.95 for a one year subscription!




Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter