Monday, January 26, 2015

GRAND PALAIS, S'IL VOUS PLAIS..

The enormous, sweeping volumes of the Grand Palais, with its original Art Nouveau ironwork, is something to behold
Bonhams is hosting its February 5th Paris auction to coincide with the giant Rétromobile festival, an excellent reason to visit the City of Light in the winter (and it's a lovely place to be if it snows). The Grand Palais is perhaps the world's most spectacular venue for an auction, an Art Nouveau engineering masterpiece, which the city of Paris has recently put back into circulation to host regular exhibitions and events.
1958 Borgward Rennsport, an achingly lovely miniature of the Jaguar D-Type
As always, Bonhams kills it with their automobilia selection of sculptural radiator caps, original illustrations, and posters, and also as per the script, there's a fine selection of motorcycles for sale before the four-wheelers dominate the podium.  Even then, it's worth sticking around, as European auctions turn up stuff we never see Stateside...like a late-'50s Borgward 1500 Sports Racer with an aluminum body. Want!
One of many European racing posters for sale...
Other drool-worthy machines are a Norton-Velocette with dustbin fairing, and an endurance-racer Bimota HB-1, which is about the sexiest 1970s motorcycle of all.  While Triumph had their Hurricane, and MV made their heavy 4s, Bimota truly captured the sideburn-and-flares era with bikes that scream 'sex!' and 'speed!' with equal volume.  They're still reasonably priced (depending on your point of view), but I can't imagine these remaining in the low-to-mid 5-figures for much longer...
Cafe racer with a twist - a Velocette in a Norton featherbed frame, with a full dustbin fairing.  Cool!
Sadly, no Paris for me this year.  I'm busy building a photography studio, back in San Francisco.  If you go, kiss the grande dame for me, eh?
The only '70s Honda that matters...the 1974 Bimota HB-1 CM3. 

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

'THE KILLER'S' PANHEAD TOPS $385K...

The Jerry Lee Lewis '59 Panhead, a gift from the factory
At Mecum's Kissimmee auction yesterday, Jerry Lee Lewis' 1959 Harley-Davidson FL 'Panhead' which he's owned for 55 years, and was a gift from the Harley-Davidson factory, sold for a remarkable $385k, including fees.  This places his Harley at lucky #13 on my 'Top 20' list of the World's Most Expensive Motorcycles; wholly appropos.   I was asked to interview 'the Killer' and provide text for the auction, which is below:

"Rock n’ Roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis has an outsize reputation as a larger-than-life character living with scant regard for public opinion. Regardless of debauched tales and extreme behavior, this electrifying showman not only climbs onto pianos, but also motorcycles…which should come as no surprise at all. In the 1950s, he seemed the most‘at risk’ performer of all, pioneering a new musical style with an aggressive, almost wild stage presence, as well as the original “sex, drugs, n’ rock n roll” lifestyle…yet he remains alive today, still performing on occasion, and still with a clutch of Harley-Davidsons in his stable.
The Panhead on delivery in 1959 from Ralph Murray of Harley Davidson Sales in Birmingham, Alabama
 Lewis bought his first motorcycle – well, a Cushman scooter – at 16 back in 1951, when he “wasn’t big enough for a real bike”, using money he earned working on his father’s farm. But ‘farm work’, and the Cushman, wouldn’t last long; his first hit record from the historic Sun Studios dropped in 1956, ‘Crazy Arms’, which sold 300,000 copies, mostly in the South. The next year, ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ spread like a grassfire across the globe, and as a gift to himself, Lewis purchased a brand-new, blue 1957 Harley-Davidson FLH ‘Panhead’, with the big 74” motor. “It was a fine motorcycle, and I rode it all over the place. When I put out my first record is when I bought that bike.” 
Jerry Lee with his third (of 7!) wife (and cousin, Myra Gale Brown, aged 13) in 1957, with his first Panhead, also a '57 model
Jerry Lee Lewis was at the peak of his early career in 1958, having already sold millions of records, and established himself in the Rock ‘n Roll firmament alongside Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, and Little Richard. The Harley-Davidson factory, always savvy with ‘product placement’, gifted a pair of new 1959 FLH Panheads to Lewis and Elvis Presley. Jerry Lee got his first, which irked The King; “Harley-Davidson asked if I’d like to have a new bike, and they brought it down to Memphis and gave it to me at my house. Elvis got the second one, and there was a bit of personal talk about this – he couldn’t understand why he got the second one, so I asked if he wanted to trade! That was just a joke.”
Good times, when girl fans tore the clothes off his back...
Lewis really enjoyed this ’59 Panhead, “It’s a fine motorcycle, no comparison to my ’57 Panhead - the motor on that one wasn’t quite as nice. This motor is just as good as the day it was given to me.” Asked why he’s selling a precious piece of personal history he’s owned for 55 years, Lewis becomes pensive. “There was a time I wouldn’t take a zillion dollars for it, but now it’s just sitting there. You can crank that motorcycle up and she purrs like a kitten – but you have to kickstart it you know. I could probably sit on it alright today, but I wouldn’t take a chance. I’m 79 years old. This bike is like a child to me, but I’ve decided it’s time to let it go.”
 Jerry Lee Lewis’ loss is a memorabilia collector’s enormous gain, as few celebrity motorcycles have such an indelible association with a notorious and legendary owner. ‘The Killer’s ’59 Panhead, looking fresh as the day the factory gave it to him, still in his ownership after 55 years; it doesn’t get any better than that, and likely there will never be another classic Harley for sale with such solid gold provenance. If that doesn’t leave you ‘Breathless, Honey’, it’s time to check your pulse."

In the 'now it can be told' file, Lewis admitted a big reason he was selling the Panhead was to prevent a family feud after he dies, with many heirs clutching at whatever fortune he's retained after half a century.  He still has one bike, a Sportster, which he's revved up on stage in the past, and now sits in his Florida restaurant.

Here's a video of the auction sale:


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Thursday, January 22, 2015

LOST WAGES, FOUND MOTORBIKES

Bonhams' Malcolm Barber discusses the 'Shadowized' Vincent Rapide which sold for $47k inclusive of fees
The Las Vegas collector motorcycle auctions every January are the biggest vintage bike sale anywhere, with 1000 bikes going under the hammer this year.  Yet with this huge spread of machinery on offer, some of it at no reserve, I muse on why there aren't more 'ordinary bikers' attending these auctions - this year's event was a strangely mixed bag, with the Thursday Bonhams auction very successful for high-end collectors, while the 3-day Mecum auction was a benefit for dealers who'd come from around the globe. 
Ron Christensen, who sold his MidAmerica Auctions to Mecum, was still touting the herd as it crossed the podium 
In past years, some of these dealers have gone home empty handed, but they reaped a haul at Mecum, with '60s Triumphs going for $5-8k, Harley Panheads for $13-18k, and lots else going cheap or not selling at all.  Several familiar dealers from the USA and Europe looked pleased as cats with tweety bellies, having scored dozens of nice old bikes, which are currently en route to their respective salerooms.  
Bench and Loom's Jared Zaugg aboard the Brough Superior SS100 with sold, then didn't, at $285k...
The Herb Harris collection of fascinating cutaway engine included this ex-factory BSA Gold Star from the 1955 Earls Court show
Cool stuff at Mecum - a Norton Model 50 Featherbed in original paint, and a Harley KRTT
Alan Stulberg of Revival Cycles with the -unwashed- '33 Brough Superior 11-50 we rode in the 2014 Cannonball, on the Sinless Cycles display of Broughs and Vincents.  Good company!
No sale today...the 'Bigsby Special' replica Crocker at Mecum, cataloged with a story that was indeed a crocker something...
Bonhams starts off the week, and as in years past, there are buyers who go to one auction or the other, but not both.  Bonhams attracts the bankroll boys, and really knocked it outta the park this year, with a $4.5M total, and four world record prices set.  A 1950 Vincent 'White Shadow' sold at over $200k, and another 7 hit the century mark.  Records were set for a Matchless-Brough SS80 ($115k), Vincent models 'white' Shadow ($224k) and Rapide ($126k), and Matchless G50 ($115k).  Even with an approx. 75% sale rate, their total sales figure was remarkable, and the high rollers really made the auction.
Artist Jeff Decker shared the Sinless booth, and showed off his white-pencil technique for drawing Sprouts Elder
As usual, Malcolm Barber, now Co-Chairman of Bonhams, used his dry wit to keep things rolling, nudging indecisive bidders by making fun of them with good humor.  A huge selection of Herb Harris' 'cutaway' motors and even a full cutaway BSA Gold Star mostly failed to sell, with very high reserves; in the case of the Goldie, something like 10 times the value of the complete machine!  Clearly, it's passed into the realm of art, but art collectors aren't ready for a cutaway.
A fully race-kitted '53 Triumph Tiger 100 was truly mouthwatering at only $16k
It's hard to imagine a greater contrast to Bonhams than the Mecum auction, which is very fast-paced, averaging only 90 seconds per bike...understandable with 750 bikes to push through.  There's little 'color' at the auction (a job I used to do for MidAmerica), and the sheer volume of the event, in all senses, can be overwhelming, and challenging to sit through for more than a few hours.  Half of the visiting crowd (which must have numbered over 3000) milled around the bike lineups, having a good look and visiting with friends.  It's a terrific social scene, and a great place to hang out with friends from across the country or around the globe.
Hanging out at the AMCA booth - it's only fair I post them, as they made me the poster boy for membership renewals!
For whatever reason, the Mecum auction didn't draw out the high bidders, and the top price realized was $132k for an original-paint 1952 Vincent 'Touring' Rapide in rare Chinese Red, surely one of the finest original paint Vincents to be found anywhere, with an exquisite patina, which knocked off the Bonhams world-record mark for Rapides set two only days prior.  That's the auction biz!  Clearly, Vincents in original paint, or Shadows, are very hot again, although a lovely Rapide in 'riding' condition, with full documentation and history, went for only $43k at Bonhams.  Choose the Vincent you like - the same model can be had for $100k more if you prefer!  With over 13,000 postwar twins produced, the very top prices are clearly collector-driven, and not about rarity per se...
A super-rare machine with a great back story; in 1925, Indian bought a new Velocette K OHC bike, and set about copying it in its entirety!  The chassis and gearbox is nearly identical, and the engine is pretty close too, but Indian-style.  This 1 of 6 motor was installed in a SV Prince chassis.

Mecum has the benefit of TV coverage via NBC Sports Network, and full disclosure – while I recently resigned as a consultant for Bonhams, I enjoyed sitting in with the NBCSN ‘car guys’ as a commentator for the show this year, their first motorcycle auction broadcast.  Hopefully they'll continue to cover the motorcycle auction scene, as it's long overdue.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

WOT! NO BIKE? THE CLASH'S PAUL SIMONON PAINTS

by David Lancaster

 
“A leather jacket never ages”

Paul Simonon’s first memory of motorcyclists is etched in his mind. “It was in Paddington, where I grew up,” he recalls. “Rockers would hang around the 59 Club there, tearing up and down on bikes. One time, a bunch of these characters started wolf-whistling my mum. I said: ‘Who are they?’ – like she knew them. We kept walking. But something lodged. These things are very vivid when you’re a kid – these people racing around, the leathers like a suit of armour.”

Fast forward some years, and the former Clash bassist’s new series of paintings and book Wot No Bike distil a lifetime of painting and riding motorcycles, and the enduring appeal of the classic biking and punk rock uniform: the black leather jacket.
The Clash were perhaps the coolest and most enduring of punk bands. In addition to his bass playing and occasional song writing, Simonon’s artistic sense and drive also led the band’s distinctive look and stagecraft. Since the band disbanded in 1986 and frontman Joe Strummer passed away in 2002, Simonon has played with Damon Albarn’s groups Gorillaz and The Good, the Bad and the Queen.

But painting came before bass playing. As did motorcycling – a later brush with two-wheeled culture came when when a scholarship took him to Byam Shaw School of Art in central London. “There was girl there called Dianne. She was a short little girl, but she had this great big British bike,” he recalls. His head was turned onto British bikes.
The Paddington of Paul Simonon’s childhood, his home just minutes from the 59 Club, still bore the scars of its semi-industrial past. A nexus of road, rail and canal trades meant the area’s streets were a potent brew of workshops and pubs servicing the rail and canal industries. In many ways it was still the Paddington captured by one of his favourite artists, Algernon Newton, dubbed the ‘Canaletto of the Canals’ after his 1930 view of The Regent’s Canal, Paddington. Newton’s work, according to critic Richard Dorment, captured “vast featureless brick blocks built during the industrial revolution that had by then fallen into a state of dereliction”. Even in the 1950s and 60s when Paul was growing up in west London this remained the case – splashes of colour, such as they were, were mainly the state-monopoly red of Routemaster buses and Giles Gilbert Scott’s robust telephone boxes.

The area – “holding on to its soul today, just” according to Paul – housed the 59 Club in the hall by St Mary’s Church. It was run with a benign zeal by Father Graham Hullett, a committed motorcyclist and man of the cloth who, according to regulars, “wore his faith lightly”. For Lenny Paterson, 59 Club regular who was later to reignite so much with his Rocker Reunion Runs of the early 80s, “the 59 Club in its Paddington heyday was a magic time.” Not only did it offer a place for London’s young rockers to ride to, meet at, and fall in love in but in 1968 its private members’ status meant it was able to screen László Benedek’s The Wild One for the first time in the UK after the film was banned in the late 1950s.
The classic 1950s and 1960s rocker look of black jacket, straight-legged denims or leathers which had struck Paul in the late 1960s would re-emerge in punk of the mid-1970s, but not without a struggle. The greasers and teds of the 70s would cross the street to start a fight with a punk. As Joe Strummer observed in a late interview, punks took their uniform and “tore it up… which they saw as disrespecting their kit.”

Yet, despite fights on the King’s Road between teds and punks, the links of style and personnel between music and motorcycling had never been so close since the 1950s. As fellow punk pioneer and classic motorcyclist David Vanian of The Damned says, Rock and roll of the 50s came and went really quickly, and didn’t get a chance to mature. The look was clean, sharp.” The links between the two struck legendary DJ John Peel too, seeing the “raw energy of early rock and roll” re-emerge in punk’s guitar-led attack compared to the stoner-indulgence of much 1970s music.
It was fellow musician, the late Nigel Dixon from rockabilly outfit Whirlwind, with whom a shared love of motorcycles – and chance – led the two to take up biking Stateside and a further chapter in Simonon’s two-wheeled and musical life. “After the break-up of The Clash, we spun a globe – to see it land on El Paso. So we sold our bikes in the UK, and went to live in El Paso, and bought these two old Harleys,” he recalls. After riding across from El Paso to LA, the two pitched up at a bar to be met by a girl Paul knew from London. “Paul, I can’t believe you’ve got a bike like Steve’s!” she said. And so ensued recording sessions with Bob Dylan and months riding around LA on old Harleys with Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols and others, “Like a long, leather motorcycle snake,” as Paul puts it.

But the major influence on Paul Simonon’s motorcycling was the author, eccentric and Russian art expert, Johnny Stuart, introduced to him by Dixon. “The first Triumph I had was a white and gold 3TA”, Paul recalls. “And then a 5TA off a mate of Johnny Stuart’s. We’d all hang out, go for runs. I got to know him very well.”
Stuart was a key figure in late 70s and 80s London classic motorcycling, and Paul’s life at the time. Not only did he pen the seminal Rockers! in 1987 which collated and chronicled the rockers’ movement (Paul is photographed in it) but he built up an archive of original jackets and a network of friends and riding buddies who crossed boundaries of class, work and background. Paul remembers a “complete one-off – a scholar, rocker, great host.” Appointed Sotheby’s expert in Russian icons in the 1970s (his rival at Christie’s dubbed him the “greatest authority on Russian art outside of Russia”) he passed away at the age of just 63. A jacket of Johnny’s features in Wot No Bike.

“Johnny loved every aspect of 50s and 60s motorcycling,” says Paul. “The look, the bikes, the sound. Like everything he did, he became an expert.” His lodgers, Crispin Ellis and Trudi Gartland, would park their bikes next to their ground-floor double bed after a run, and Stuart’s Colville Mews house was, until the very end of the illness which took his life in 2003, a heady mix of Russian icons, dismantled Triumph engines, rockers and musicians such as Siouxsie Sioux, Brian Setzer from the Stray Cats and, of course, Paul. “You’d come home and there’d be a few bikes outside,” Trudi recalls. “But also a black limo, surrounded by bodyguards, as Johnny was valuing a piece of Russian art for some high roller.”
……………………….
There is a quiet determination about Paul Simonon. He’d been playing bass for just six months before The Clash’s first recording. Yet, just a few years later, the band cut London Calling, dubbed by Rolling Stone magazine the best album of the 1980s. Simonon’s reggae-infused bass is a key part of such epitaphs: on the album’s title track it is as distinctive as Herbie Flowers’ playing on Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side, adding a muscular energy and attitude to the limited canon of bass-lines you can you hum, but which also make the record. “The only punk band with groove,” according to Scott Rowley.

His painting displays the same application. For an earlier series of London landspaces, part of the process was “just getting out there, on a bridge, in the wind and rain, and painting,” he says. “I’d avoid eating or drinking – you didn’t want to leave the stuff unattended, or pack it up for a break. So I just carried on, with the odd smoke, for hours.” These days, his Paddington studio is warmer but the same work ethic is evident as the visitor takes in several canvasses on the go. He likes to “keep painting through”. Such commitment extends to being imprisoned for two weeks after working on a Greenpeace ship as a chef, his background unknown to his fellow activist-inmates.
Wot No Bike captures much about classic motorcycling, in elegant still-life. The artist himself is an off-screen presence to a jacket on a chair, or gloves, cigarettes and crash hat resting after a run. “A leather jacket never ages,” he says. A jacket swapped with Joe Strummer for one of Paul’s earlier works – “he couldn’t believe I would paint washing up, in a sink… so we swapped” – carries the title of the book and exhibition.



The paintings are refreshingly traditional, in the realist tradition Paul admires. And in the dark creases, distress and crumpled leather it speaks volumes of two-wheeled experience, both good and bad. “Johnny Stuart used to urge me to ride in the rain more,” remembers Paul. “I couldn’t see the appeal much then. But now he’s no longer with us to tell, I really get it: the balance of power and traction. The focus.”
Simonon’s daily ride is a lightly modified Hinckley Triumph. “The funny thing is when my mum first saw me with my bike, she said: ‘Oh, that brings back memories – your dad used to have a bike like that, a Triumph.’ Then I found out he was a dispatch rider for the army, in Kenya. These things come out. And now one of my sons has a bike. At a young age, he would say to me: ‘Dad, I want to make something that can propel me somewhere.’ And I’d say: yeah, it’s called a motorcycle.”
………………..
Based on his Introduction to Wot No Bike © David Lancaster
Pictures © Dave Norvinbike as marked, and others
The exhibition runs at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London SW1 from January 21 until February 6 (www.ica.org.uk).
Copies of the accompanying book available from Amazon and signed copies from www.paulsimonon.com.
Paul Simonon will signing copies of Wot No Bike in London at Waterstones on Saturday January 31.
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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

VINTAGE REVIVAL MONTLHERY - 2015


The best combined car/motorcycle event in the world is coming May 9th and 10th at the Montlhéry speed bowl, for Vintage-Revival Monthléry.  I've attended both the prior events for pre-war cars and motorcycles, and having ridden both cars and bikes on the track is an experience not to be missed. The quality of the machinery is always world-class, with invaluable historic racers hammered around the historic banking, one of only two full-size concrete speed bowls left intact (the other being Sitges in Spain) from the heyday of concrete and wooden banked racing.  My reports from the 2011 event, and the 2013 event, can be read via the links, and if they don't have you dreaming of France in May, you're on the wrong website!  I'll be there reporting again this year, so expect another batch of Bugattis, MacEvoys, Zeniths, Amilcars, etc, and an interesting cast of characters too.
El Solitario's David Borras checks out the awesome Koehler-Escoffier 'Monneret'
I've ridden the track on motorcycles, in cars, and once in a course marshall's supercharged rally car to 'sweep' the track at over 120mph, which is also quite an experience - I'm sure the door handle retains indents from my fingernails.  Like any concrete racing track nearing its 100th birthday (I know of only two complete, original examples - Monthléry and Sitges, Spain), the expansion joints between the concrete paving create small changes in the track surface, which means in practice a bumpier ride the faster one goes.  But the faster you ride, the higher up the banking you go - and Montlhéry makes Daytona look like kindergarten, with its curved banking nearly vertical at the top.  Amazing good fun!
Yours truly set the record for the most hands-off laps of Montlhéry with the incredibly stable Ner-A-Car.  Note prop-driven cyclecar behind!

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

'THE CHOPPER' IN INTERSECTION

'Der Chopper', published in both German and English, and now finally shipping from Amazon.com...reviewed here in Intersection
Lest you forget in the long wait for 'The Chopper: the Real Story', it's being reviewed in quite a few magazines in the coming months.  Up today is the German version of Intersection magazine, one of my favorite moto/motor/culture mags (published in many languages), who gave a nice 6-page spread for 'Der Chopper', which was of course published both in German and English.  The crux of the review is summed up in the following paragraph, translated just for you (not by me though, meine Deutsche ist schlecht - thanks to Helga Beck at Gestalten):
Photos of John and Genny Reed by Francois-Marie Dumas, Sean Duggan by Michael Lichter, and a couple of pals of Rich Ostrander at his High School in SoCal...

"The myth may smell foul, but the true stories behind chopper culture are untold. Paul d'Orléans illuminates the times in which chopper drivers resembled members of a secret society. Following the long fork, he writes about a subculture sociology and brings both individual customizations and the individualists who built them to life. In this way, Paul d’Orléans has succeeded in showing chopper culture in its original splendor - as quintessentially American folklore whose echoes thunder over the world."
An out-take from 'The Wild One', illustrating post-war Bob-Jobs, in a discussion about early clubs and the origin of the term 'outlaw' regarding motorcyclists - not what you think!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

TUTORIAL FOR THE 'CAR GUYS': WHY BIKES?

I had a conversation with Stephen Cox of Sopwith Motors a few days ago regarding the upcoming Las Vegas motorcycle auctions.  Stephen and I will be filmed by NBC TV during Saturday's Mecum auction at the South Point Casino, where I'll provide 'color' commentary on the machines coming across the podium, for the first time in 5 years...at Vegas, anyway - before joining Bonhams auctions in 2010, I provided 'color' for MidAmerica auctions at their Las Vegas, Monterey, and St Paul sales in 2008/9.
A little price comparison from the upcoming Las Vegas auctions: this is an ultra-rare, 1 of 15 Vincent 'White Shadow', ie a Black Shadow which came from the factory with unpainted engine cases...
Stephen asked for a few reasons car collectors might be interested in motorcycles...a controversial subject among hard-core bike enthusiasts, who feel 'car people' will only raise prices, without returning energy into the motorcycle world by riding/restoring/participating in motorcycle events. That's a respectable argument, but I have a different take; building bridges to the car collecting world just might keep vintage bikes legal to ride in the future.  Car collectors outnumber and outspend motorcyclists by a very large margin, and have robust organizations defending their rights to use old, polluting, and 'unsafe' cars on the road.  The more 'car guys' who think bikes are cool means more people who'll get upset when repressive legislation is pending - and that seems to happen every year, somewhere. Yes, the car guys might make Brough Superiors and Vincent Lightnings into $Million motorcycles, but there are just too many old bikes out there for them all to become unaffordable.
...and this is a Vincent Rapide modified to Black Shadow spec.  It's a well-sorted and reliable machine, but not a 'real' Shadow.  The White Shadow on top will likely sell for ~$150k to a 'numbers freak', while this is more likely to sell for $80k less (although a discerning fan of well-known and well-sorted Vincents might pay more).
Hankering for a Vincent Black Shadow over a Rapide, for example, is an emotional problem, not a rational one, a habit Karl Marx first described as 'commodity fetishism', in which our desires are projected onto objects.  The truth is, 60 years down the line, there is no real difference between a Rapide and a Shadow, barring a little black paint, a big speedo, a few stampings, and $100k.   Similarly, a 1936 H-D Knucklehead gives an identical ride to a '47 model, even though the first-year bike costs $100k more.  I'm fine with giving over supposedly precious motorcycles to the hype-hounds and the connoisseurs, who'll duke it out in price wars, as is their wont.  I've owned over 300 motorcycles since I was 15, from an original-paint 1925 supercharged Zenith-JAP, four Brough Superiors, a phalanx of pukka racing Velocettes, Nortons, Sunbeams, Rudges, etc, and a whole lot of really good bikes from Britain, Europe and Japan.
Not for Sale!  My favorite motorcycle, a 1933 Velocette Mk4 KTT, the 'Mule'.  Maximum fun per cc.
I figured out what I liked over time, and kept what works for me, which was always weighted towards the quality of the ride over ephemera like matching numbers or even provenance.  I found my mismatch Manx just as fun as the one Hailwood rode, and a cobbled-from-parts Velocette Clubman as invigorating as an original-paint, one-owner bike.  That might seem odd for a historian - to value the ride over the story - but for me the joy of motorcycling is in the riding, not the hoarding.
Bargains at Vegas?  How about a '92 Buell RS1200, estimated at $3-4000.  That's a lot of performance for very little money...

Here's the text of my interview with Stephen Cox:

"January 5, 2014

 My true passion was for classic cars and historic racing cars... that is, until the summer of 2012 when I co-hosted Mecum's first major motorcycle auction in Monterey. That auction was my road-to-Damascus moment. My eyes were opened to the beauty, history and raw functionality of motorcycles. As we approach Mecum's biggest bike auction ever at Las Vegas on January 8-10, my plan is to drag as many of my car friends as possible into the amazing world of bikes.


I openly confess that I am not a motorcycle expert, although I play one on TV. When I need a real-life, no-kidding bike expert I call veteran motorcycle journalist Paul D'Orleans, who will co-host the upcoming Vegas auction on NBCSN with John Kraman, Scott Hoke and myself. D'Orleans not only writes about motorcycles, he collects them, judges Concours d'Elegance and rides vintage bikes across the country in his spare time. The guy knows bikes.

So I asked D'Orleans for some reasons why car guys should become motorcycle enthusiasts. His response was convincing.
You can Really see everything in a 'cutaway' engine...Herb Harris is selling his exceptional collection of cutaways at Vegas...
Reason Number One – You can see everything on a motorcycle.

"Unless you're a real tech head and you're going to get under the hood, cars are about shape and motorcycles are really about mechanics,” D'Orleans said. “Everything is visible on most bikes until you get to the 1980s, when there was a real trend for covering everything up.”

"I think anyone who's really interested in engineering should be interested in motorcycles because they are the most pure mode of engineering. And you don't have to ride them to appreciate them. Motorcycles have been made in one form or another since 1867 so there's a lot of intriguing development that happened, especially in the 20th century.”
 
Office trophy?  A replica 1905 Harley 'strap tank'...
Reason Number Two – Bikes go places that cars can't.

D'Orleans says, “They're more compact. You can actually keep one indoors without re-engineering your house. And if you're inclined, they are a lot of fun to ride. Even the old bikes. When you keep your expectations reasonable as far as what performance to expect, they're really rewarding.”

The compact nature of motorcycles is such that I am now re-designing Sopwith's office to feature my 1971 Honda as well as a second, yet-to-be-procured two-wheeled beauty. Why put pictures of awesome vehicles on the walls when you can park one in five feet of floor space?
 
Value for money?  How about a '62 H-D XLCH, the fastest street motorcycle you could buy in '62, according to Cycle World, with an estimate at $13-16k.
Reason Number Three – Motorcycles give you a lot for your money.

"They're a huge value for the money in terms of collectibility,” D'Orleans said. “You can get something from a pedestrian commuter vehicle to a grand prix winner in the motorcycle world and it's not going to cost you the earth.”

"There are lots of opportunities. If you can't afford a Vincent Black Shadow for a hundred thousand, for half the price you can get a Vincent Rapide which is almost an identical motorcycle that just doesn't have the black engine cases or a sexy name.”

"If you can't afford a 1959 Bonneville which might go for twenty-five thousand, you can get a 1968 Bonneville for twelve. And if you can't spend twelve thousand for a '68 Bonneville, you can get a '68 BSA for six thousand dollars with the same engine capacity, the same performance and similar styling.”

So what's your excuse? Join us for Mecum Las Vegas on January 8-10 at the South Point hotel, or watch the broadcast on NBCSN on January 12 at 7 pm Eastern.

You might just fall in love with motorcycles. I did.

Stephen Cox
Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions
Co-host, Mecum Auctions on NBCSN

Driver, Boschett Timepieces/Hoosier Tire #21"

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