Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Classic Gabe: Cheapskates










This first ran in City Bike in October, 2005.

I just read in a national motorcycle publication about a guy who got a motorcycle practically for free. He purchased a 1983 Honda CX650C from a local salvage yard for the princely sum of $250. He then purchased a Clymer manual and fixed the thing up over the next five months, getting the clumsily-styled V-Twin roadworthy for under $1000.

He’s over 40 years old and has never owned or ridden a motorcycle before. God bless him for learning about motorcycles from the ground up. God bless him for not learning to ride on an 800-pound Harley or 160-hp GSX-R. And I’m sure he might become a dedicated, life-long motorcyclist. But where’s the sacrifice?

We’ve all met motorcycle cheapskates. They just don’t think motorcycling is something worth spending serious money on. They spend their money on supposedly important things, like cars, clothing, housing, children and vacations. They usually have many other hobbies and interests besides motorcycles that they like to spend money on.

I racked up tens of thousands of dollars of credit card bills on motorcycle racing. I spent $5000 restoring and souping-up an old BMW that I wadded on Mount Hamilton. I went years without even considering a vacation. I drove a cab for seven years because all that cash could be quickly plowed back into my two-wheeled lifestyle. When I was racing my beat-up 250 Ninja in the AFM, many of the guys younger than me or about my age were bankrolled by trust funds or parents. In the meantime, non-racing guys my age were buying houses, cars, vacation homes, and exotic pets. They were having babies, building careers and businesses. I accumulated a rented garage full of rusty parts and broken plastic while my body accumulated a collection of scar tissue and repetitive-stress injuries.

So this guy got himself a motorcycle for $1,000. I should be happy for him. And it’s not his fault that I made so many decisions resulting in my current state of financial precariousness. But I’m still pissed.

Pissed because he tells me quite clearly: motorcycles aren’t worth spending money on. His cheapness cheapens the sacrifices I made to learn what I know about motorcycles. I know not to buy early-90s Ducatis. I know (now) not to spend more money on a used bike than it cost to buy new fixing it up. I know now not to try to race competitively in a “builder’s” class with a 20-year-old bike.

The guy has plenty of bread to lay out on a motorcycle. He must have a clean, well-lit garage and enough leisure time to work on his bike. For that, you need money, more money than you would spend on a nice evening out with the wife to buy your motorcycle with.

I see folks like him every single day when I’m selling motorcycles. They’re middle-aged people who emerge from expensive, high-status cars asking if I have a running motorcycle or scooter for under $1000. Something they can “screw around on.” Because to them, motorcycles are toys, something you have if everything else in your life is perfect, locked down so tight that nothing can possibly go wrong.

Enjoy your bike, cheapskate. You worked hard for your place in the universe, so you can relax in the knowledge that you’re doing everything right. You can wait until the weather is perfect and take a ride on your budget bike and it will be fine. But you won’t be a motorcyclist.

A motorcyclist is more than a guy with a motorcycle. A motorcyclist suffers, makes sacrifices for his machine. He gets under his bike when it starts to fall. He doesn’t move into an apartment if it doesn’t have storage, a garage, or at least a kitchen door wide enough to fit the bike into. A motorcyclist will spend $60 on a gallon of synthetic oil and $12 on a gallon of Scotch.

Motorcycling isn’t an activity served by rational thought or common sense. It’s not about getting the most bang for the buck. There is no Expedia.com for motorcycling, no motorcycle factory outlet malls, as it’s not about getting the most frequent-flyer miles or saving a half-point on your mortgage. It’s about distilling a tiny amount of pure experience from a vast amount of emotional, spiritual and physical resources. It’s a war on common sense, one you will lose after winning a few glorious battles.

Just remember that you get what you pay for.

What did you get?