It is all in the semantics… “Restoration” invokes images of powder-coated frames and blue-printed motors – the end result being a vehicle that shows significantly more precise and expert attention to detail than the original ever could. I’ve never attempted to go that far with any project… not really interested in investing that amount of time and/or money in something that will never pay back the effort when/if the time comes to sell. Old bikes can be a bottomless sump for money and time unless one is prepared to do the work solely as a labour of love. Love is a viable motive – profit isn’t.
Now I know.
My winter projects were not ‘restorations’ at all, but rather ‘rejuvenations’. I saw this word used in a motorcycle for-sale advert and realized that it was the semantics of my hobby that was causing me discomfort – not the work itself. I’ve have always felt somewhat of a fraud when using any derivative of the word ‘restore’ – but no other came to mind. My intent has never been to produce a motorcycle that was perfect in every way – better than original. To my mind, the original tooling on the Airhead BMW motorcycles was generally top-flight. Any yes, there are a few serious oversights on the part of the manufacturer – none of their designs is perfect. With few exceptions however, machining, fit and finish have always been quality – so excessive aftermarket upgrading of old machines seems to be a bit over-the-top. I am a rider – not a collector, but I can appreciate the lure of the perfectly preserved (rare as hens’ teeth) or the restoration done to perfection. But I can’t afford one!
So when a tired and abused old bike finds itself in my shop, the aim is to rejuvenate it – to bring it back to life as a functional, reliable and cosmetically acceptable ride. Ergo, the dented tank and chopped fenders and surface rust must be dealt with – but minor stone chips on the down-tubes and wear-burnished pin-stripes on the tank, and innumerable other minor blemishes can be worn with the pride of time and miles.
If the engine is tight and the electrics all work properly, if the bodywork looks great from a few feet away and the chrome pieces look like chrome – then I am content. I lean toward function, not fashion. I have never owned a bike that could be considered ‘concours’ as I am just not sufficiently enthusiastic about cosmetic maintenance. My bikes are clean, properly maintained, mechanically sound and well used. The stress that comes with the purchase of a new and perfect bike, or concours restoration, is not for me. Minor scuffs and scrapes and marks of miles ridden (on the bike – not me) make for a much less stressful relationship.
My last factory-new bike was a smoke-red 1981 R100RT. I loved that bike, but riding it was very tense for part of the first season. It was too perfect – too pretty, and I was terrified of scratching it. Some stone chips collected on a fast ride in the hill country near Cochrane, AB. and a driveway tip-over – all in the same week – put an end to the too- perfect-bike angst. After that it was clear sailing for 50K until I sold the bike many years later. Since that time, I have always purchased pre-owned bikes. Someone else has added the first badges of honour, and I can tour serenely and not fret about the minor scuffs, stone-chips and stains that will accumulate with the miles and memories.
Someday maybe I will have the budget (and garage space) for that immaculate, show-room-perfect motorcycle. Until then, I will continue to enjoy riding my very nice looking but well-used bikes. Like the old saying about canoes – longitudinal scrapes on the bottoms are badges of honour – cross-wise scratches are marks of poor handling and bad decisions. Hopefully we can continue to collect honour badges for many more years and miles. — Alison Green