What Happens to Your Used Motorcycles?
Had a nice visit yesterday from the fine fellow who purchased my beloved Triumph Speed Triple. He enjoys astonishing people who cannot believe it has covered 50,000 miles. Triumph of Seattle was wise to hang onto the thick folder with every receipt over the 11 years I owned it. Said receipts showed all the maintenance that was done on time (most of it by the same person, one of the finest Triumph techs in the country), all of the options and tire changes, and all sorts of other details.
That got me to thinking about what happened to all the other bikes I’ve owned. Although I’ve had the rare good fortune to cover hundreds of thousands of miles while riding over 500 different motorcycles, I’ve actually owned a paltry percentage of that total. I found that riding motorcycles owned by the dealership where the fuel was paid for and I was getting paid to ride them was a pretty good deal! But! What happened to the bikes I had purchased with my own money and then sold? What has happened to the motorcycles you have owned? It’s a mental ride that makes an interesting muse down memory lane.
1965 Yamaha YDS-3. My first bike, and one I cherished. I rode it for two years in Minnesota, every chance I got. It was one of the reasons I chose to move to Seattle, as storing a motorcycle for 5 or 6 months of serious winter weather was just not going to work for me. For the Yamaha I purchased a semi-road race fairing from Craig Vetter, the 43rd fairing he sold, if I recall, in 1968. I think it cost $143. Later that summer I rode my little two stroke demon from Minneapolis to Seattle and back on a camping trip.
Sadly, I did not cherish it enough. With youth and testosterone in full bloom, I thought I was a riding god. Alas, physics did not agree, and two days after arriving here I threw it into a ditch at 60 mph. Once home from the surgery for my separated shoulder, the bike somehow ended up with a young man who lived next door to my Dad’s house in Bellevue, where I was recuperating. Said fellow was also recovering from a motorcycle crash, in his case resulting in a ruined knee. The crash was not his fault, and he spent some of the settlement on a new Pontiac Trans Am convertible. If he held on to it (which I doubt), that car is now worth a ton of money. He was kind enough to take me on many outings to Alki Beach that summer, where we trolled in vain for hot babes. Of course, my arm in a sling and his limp did not work wonders with the women. Actually, I would have not done well sans sling, either.
He also purchased the remains of my bike. The fairing was mounted when I crashed, and how I wish I knew where it was – it would also be worth real money today. My new friend purchased a set of front forks from a motorcycle wrecking yard, and for some reason mounted a solo seat. The bike looked ugly and sad, and when I moved to my own place in September I lost touch with my friend and the bike.
Of course I went out and purchased another bike – a 1969 Honda 450 Street Scrambler with about 850 miles. The owner had been smitten with the new Yamaha 650 twin, and as I recall he sold me his Honda for $850. He had removed the center and side stands, smoothed all the rough edges with a grinder, and then had them chromed. It was magnificent. I rode my Honda all over for three years, including trips to San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Minneapolis again on the way to St. Petersburg Florida. Alas, I did not know that the central timing chain on a Honda 450 engine stretches as it wears. Two miles into my planned return from Florida the chain snapped, and I heard the innards of the engine self-destructing as I slowed to the side of the road. A local dealer purchased it for precisely the same sum as the air fare back to Seattle, and I arrived back home with no bike. I remember leaving the dealership and seeing my bike sitting behind a chain link fence. It was raining, and I was crying.
With the kind indulgence of the teacher’s credit union, I purchased a new for 1972 Honda 500 4 – the 3rd one sold in this state. Such technical innovation! Disc brakes! So smooth! Perfect performance. And, to me – dull as the thud of a spoon on a rubber pail full of water. It was actually boring. To me. Fortunately, my freshly minted wife loved old Corvettes, so we purchased a rolling wreck of a 1958 Corvette, with the Honda sold to pay for it. I don’t remember who bought it, but he got a fine bike. Just not for me.
Then came the “dark time.” I did not own a bike for three years. In 1976, as the freshly elected president of the teacher’s union, I decided I needed a motorcycle to commute to the office on nice days. I purchased another 450, but this one was nowhere near as nice as my Street Scrambler. I told myself I would get used to the badly sun-faded paint on the fuel tank and the incredibly ugly welded exhaust pipes. I never did. It went away in 1977, and I don’t remember that sale either. So far the trend is that I do not remember who purchased the bikes I was not all that in love with.
In 1977 we sold our first home and purchased the one we live in to this day. I peeled off $2,000 of the profits we made on the sale of that first home and purchased a brand new 1977 Yamaha XS 750 D. First time I ever paid cash for a new bike. I spent 6 months before the purchase researching every print road test I could find, because I knew I could not afford to make a mistake. I’d promised Susan that my new bike would last me at least ten years.
In fact I rode it for 22 years and almost 50,000 miles. Along the way it gained a copy of a BMW R90S fairing, narrower handle bars from a Norton, S&W shocks, K&N filters, and a replacement three into one exhaust when the first one rusted out. Eventually the engine cried enough, and was replaced with an 850cc unit from Bent Bike, installed with the help of a friend. That friend eventually purchased the bike from the guy who bought it from me. My friend knew the bike well, as he had done all the mechanical maintenance on it for 22 years. Last I knew, and this was in about 2003, it was still going strong.
I sold the Yamaha along with a very sad Porsche 911S Targa I had purchased in a fit of enthusiasm/madness. Doing a rolling restoration on a 911 that was tired when we purchased it was folly. After 8 years of pouring money down its six throats I gave up. Susan was eager for my new plan: sell both the bike and the Porsche and replace them with a small elderly pick-up truck I would not mind parking at the curb and a new motorcycle that would luxuriate in one half of our two car garage.
I really wanted the new Kawasaki ZRX1100, but I feared Susan would rebel at the rather lurid green, white, and purple paint scheme. I took her to Cycle Barn and first showed several alternative bikes I was considering, such as a Honda VFR or an early Triumph triple. She turned and saw the new ZRX and said “Wow – what’s that?” She loved it!
That buying experience also gave me my first insight into how dealerships are rated. I had worked for Cycle Barn almost twenty years earlier for a couple of summers behind the parts counter, the sort of part time job I had almost every year of my teaching career. During that time I got to know owner Jim Boltz well, so when I wanted to purchase a new motorcycle he passed me on to Sales Manager Scott McMillan – allowing me to bypass the sales staff. While we were negotiating with Scott he left the room for a bit, and I mentioned to Susan that if we did not like the price we could go to another Kawasaki dealer.
“Oh no,” she said, “We have to buy it here.” She had two reasons for this statement. The first was that I had worked there 18 years earlier, so it was “my” dealership. The second, and this really stuck with me, was that the bathrooms were clean. Seemingly minor details are crucial!
That was an awesome bike. As fate would have it, a year later I was hired for a position with Cycle Barn that I had invented and proposed to the owner, and the fact that I had been less than a jerk when we had purchased the ZRX helped me in gaining the trust of the Sales Manager. I rode the ZRX 18,000 miles in two years, many of them work-related, as I was now leading customers on rides.
Here is how awesome a ZRX is. I was leading a group up Highway 9 in November, and it was bitter cold. I noticed that they were all dropping back and eventually far behind me. I pulled over in Acme and waited for the group to join me. Riders came up and asked if I had lost my mind. It seems they had been following my tire tracks through the frost that covered the road!
Making a joke, I said “Aw heck – you should not be impressed unless there were two tire tracks.” They all responded “There were!”
A ZRX is such a stable and lardy bus that you can ride in on frozen roads and it will move around a bit, but never alarm you.
In 2001 came the oddest purchase ever. In 1997 Muzzy performance, building on their national and international road racing success, built a run of Muzzy Raptors. These were ZX7Rs taken to the edge of legality. Flat slide carbs, Marchesini mag wheels, full titanium exhaust, and much more. The Raptor was the only street legal bike to ever podium at an AMA Superbike race. It came in two flavors. The “mild” street version for 14k and the comp edition at 18k. That was a lot of money for 1997. Originally the plan was to make 30 of them, and Cycle Barn agreed to purchase all of them. Then Muzzy got greedy and decided to build more, and Cycle Barn trimmed its order back to ten of them. In the end, 53 of them were built. When I went to work for Cycle Barn in 2000 they had two left – basically showroom jewelry. I came up with a whacky plan where Cycle Barn would see me one of them at a killer price. I would then use it to lead sport bike rides until someone just had to have it, and then I would sell it and split the profits with Cycle Barn. Incredibly, this went through.
The bike was sold to me for $6000 on in-house financing. At the same time my salary was raised $200 a month, so all I was paying was the insurance. What a deal!
While I was purchasing, a guy called from Salt Lake City. He and his wife were flying in the next day to look at the other one. I asked the finance person to finish the paperwork before the Sales Department squashed my good idea.
That evening a salesperson called to ask me to make sure I rode it to work the next day, as the other one had not been prepped and the customer would want to hear it run. I explained that the bike now had four coats of wax on it, and that it was raining. Instead, I would drive my car to work the next day and then ferry the couple to my house to hear it run. (There were no test rides for a Raptor, for me or anyone else) In my garage the three of us watched in fascination as the bike warmed up, the titanium pipes flitting through a kaleidoscope of colors. Once it was warmed up, blipping the throttle sent a two foot long sheaf of blue and yellow flame out the exhaust. I drove them back to Cycle Barn and they purchased the bike and had it shipped to Salt Lake City. When I returned home that night, Susan asked me to never do that again, as I had managed to fill the entire house with the strong smell of unburned fuel.
Problems arose immediately. Riding it was such an intense experience that I did not want to have anyone near me. In addition, the mirrors were useless, so it was less than ideal for leading rides. The suspension was hard as a rock unless you were traveling at over 80 mph, where it smoothed out quite a bit. If you gave it too much fuel at a “normal” rpm the flat slide carbs would drown themselves, and you had to wait for the plugs to clean themselves. In addition, the riding position was so radical that I could not see out of my Shoei helmet, so I switched to an Arai, which had a higher viewing port. After a ride I would be so adrenalin jacked that I had to walk around my garage for a while to calm down before coming in to the house
By 2002 the Muzzy Raptor had only 11000 miles on it, and by this time was one of the only Raptors that had not been raced. I sold it to a guy in the Midwest, and I made a serious mistake. When you do this you should make sure the new buyer accepts delivery at the point of origin. In this case I got a few wonderful e-mails from the guy about what a wonderful bike it was. Then the tone changed, and he began to complain about “shipping damage.” The shipper paid him the maximum amount available under the standard coverage, and then the guy began hounding me for more. He eventually sued me (and Cycle Barn) for $5000 in small claims court – in Illinois. I had to fly back for the trial, which took a few hours. Cycle Barn and I were exonerated, and the guy never showed me any evidence of shipping damage. At the end of the day I split about $6,000 of profit with Cycle Barn.
In 2002 I decided I should have a new bike. I don’t recall why. My ZRX was traded in for a Triumph Sprint ST. The guy who purchased the ZRX dropped by to say hello and reported that he was ecstatic with the bike. He commuted from Marysville to Redmond every day and reported that even when he rode only on nice days the fuel savings over his 4X4 truck were more than the monthly payment. A free motorcycle!
Alas, a month or so later he came over a hill to find a dog right in front of the bike, and the resulting carnage destroyed both the dog and the bike. I was so upset, as I really liked that bike.
The Sprint ST was sold to a fellow who was 78 years old. A very nice man, he came in a couple of weeks later to tell me that I had never told him how smooth the bike was cruising at 120mph! I had never told him that because, while I did ride fast, I never cruised at such a speed!
I also purchased a 2000 Kawasaki ZX12R in red. It was traded in with only 538 miles on the odometer in two years. The first owner had done everything you would to such a bike – a Power Commander, Akropovich exhaust, tinted screen, tail tidy, et al. It almost sold the first day on the floor, but the deal fell through. I walked by it each day several times going two and from my desk, which at that time was in the used bikes building. Finally I went to see the Sales Manager and asked how much he would charge me for it. He surprised me by asking me how much I thought it was worth. “$8,000.”
I soon discovered by close inspection that it had never been ridden in the rain and never had the chain lubed. It had a faulty switch that never turned on the radiator fan, and the first owner had never ridden it far enough to be noticed! With that fixed I rode it in earnest for two years, and it was the fastest accelerating motorcycle I had ever ridden. In 2nd and 3rd gear when urged, the data coming in through my face port was faster than I could process. It was like the Millennium Falcon – stuff was streaming at me like bullets. I actually slowed down long before a corner several times because by the time I got to it I would be going so fast any attempt to turn would be a disaster. I entered it in the Cycle Barn dyno tests, and it usually turned in 164hp or so at the rear wheel. Amazing.
Eventually I had the scariest event of my riding career. Accelerating in 2nd gear through a mild corner on a cold and damp evening, I hit a manhole cover and a bump. The rear wheel spun up and the bike turned sideways. I was launched off the seat and had enough time to think “Susan is going to kill me.” By luck, I fell back onto the seat, and the bike straightened out. I continued down the road trying to catch my breath. At the next stop sign my friend Sid rode up next to me, put his arm around me, and said “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I don’t think I’ll do that again.”
I never trusted the bike after that, even though it had done nothing wrong. I eventually put it up for sale on the floor at $8200. One guy talked to the sales person for quite some time and then came to me and said “You know you’re asking too much for that bike.”
“Yeah, I know, but try to find another one that is in that condition.”
He bought it a month later, and then rode the wheels off it. He drag raced it, did a bunch of dyno shootouts, and then mounted a nitrous oxide bottle on it. He ran nitrous through it until he burned through the down pipes on the exhaust. Akropovich was so impressed that they gave him a new system for free.
He dropped by to chat once in a while over the years. By 2012 the bike had been repainted twice. It had over 96,000 miles and the engine had never been apart. Full marks to Kawasaki.
The last bike I purchased for myself at Cycle Barn was a 2006 Triumph Speed Triple. I rode it almost 50,000 miles in eleven years, and had so many adventures and great times. When I went to work for Ride West BMW in 2010, part of the deal was that I got to order a new BMW of my choice each year. The Speed Triple sat in my garage for the next three years, and was ridden only a couple of times a year.
I thought about selling it a few times, especially when someone would offer to purchase it. Susan refused to consider such a move, reasoning that I loved the bike, it was paid for, and that I would not be working for Ride West forever. Wise woman. When I retired for good at the end of 2013 I took it back to Cycle Barn and spent about $1,000 on new tires, a tune-up, and the resolution of some minor glitches that had cropped up, such as the failure of the Oxford heated grips. Then it was back to full enjoyment for the next two years and a bit.
Last spring I traded it in for the 2016 Triumph Bonneville that sits in my garage on this rainy and cold day. How long will I own it, and will the 2nd owner adore it as much as I do.
All motorcycles have stories. What of yours?
Copyright 2017 David Preston