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Spare Parts: Distant relatives

By Ernie Copper

People often say their bikes are like one of the family. Hopefully that’s just hyperbole, but they certainly can be highly-valued possessions. Having recently been accused of being a motorcycle “collector” by someone near and dear to me, I’ve been reflecting on what causes me to keep or discard certain bikes.

For me, several things affect the value I place on a bike. First is my history with the bike or other bikes of the same model. If we had one like it when I was a kid, it’s got its hooks into me pretty deep from the start. Second is how much has my personal involvement had to do with the bike. Did I rescue it? Did I make it run? Is it better off than it was when I found it? Even if these questions are answered with a resounding yes, it’s no guarantee the bike will stick around forever.

Case in point is an old Honda 125SS. These were only made from 1967 to 1969 so they are getting kind of tough to find. My affinity for the breed stems from the fact that my Dad had a CL version when I was 10 or 12 years old. The bike was the perfect size to make me feel all grown up. For one reason or another, Dad sold that bike to his friend Bob McKinley, who subsequently lost it in a barn fire.

I found an SS on eBay a few years ago, was the high bidder and just so happened to have a trip to the area coming up. I worked things out with the owner to meet someplace near the Berkshires at a joint of his choosing called The Donut Dip. He was a couple of hours late and I can tell you, that’s a long time to hang out at a doughnut shop these days, even if they do make a tasty donut like the Donut Dip does. It is especially agonizing when your significant other, who came along for company, is not equally enthused by the prospects of yet another junk bike and is looking for reasons to quash the deal. But I hung tough and the seller eventually showed. The bike was somewhat less impressive in person, but a deal is a deal.

When I got home, I had buyer’s remorse. I tried, but just couldn’t get the fire needed inside to begin the restoration. I did buy a new key that fit at a swap meet and soon afterwards was able to clean things up enough to get it running. I felt better about my purchase after that, but still didn’t have that twinkle in my eye. You know; the “that bike is all I can think about” feeling that is so essential to the restoration process.

Eventually, I decided to sell it off before it became a hack job. “Don’t start something you can’t finish” is good advice when it comes to tackling restorations. So, I listed it back on eBay and, soon enough, I had a buyer—Sam from the Midwest. The buyer already had one “for parts.” I gave him directions and he and his wife were sitting in my driveway when I got home. I was surprised to see he was driving the exact same model and color of car that I have. We enthusiastically greeted each other and then began to strip the bike so it fit into his car. I hadn’t planned on that, but it didn’t take much time and we already had a ton of gearhead karma going on from the identical car thing. After trading service issues about our cars and getting Sam’s assurance to keep me posted on his progress of restoring the little bike, he and his wife literally drove off into the sunset.

Several months later, I got an e-mail from him, as promised, updating me on the progress of his efforts. I know this can be a 50/50 prospect. Sometimes people promise you the moon because they already have a buyer lined up for that little bike of yours that they tell you they will never sell, and they’re on the phone the second they turn the corner. But not Sam.

A few weeks ago, I got another e-mail with updated pictures of it attached, fully restored. It looked like the jewel I envisioned when I bought it. According to Sam, they’ve had it up to about 45 mph and are still working the bugs out of it, but are off to a good start.

The moral of the story is, you can’t have them all. The trick is knowing which ones to give up. I once read that antique bikes are just old motorcycles at best, and if you don’t ride them, they aren’t even that.

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