This weekend we will be showing two of our builds at a local “Urban Street Culture” festival; Dropped on Drouillard in the Ford City Neighbourhood of Windsor. Both of our bikes happen to be old Hondas. We like old Hondas. There’s a very good reason for this. The quality is definitely there so they don’t fall apart as you try to fix them, parts are still reasonably plentiful, and, perhaps most importantly, parts are relatively inexpensive. This point was driven home for me very recently when I diagnosed a friend’s bike as having a bad ignition switch. This particular bike, a late 90’s Triumph Thunderbird Sport (awesome bike, by the way), will cost its owner a jaw-dropping $200 to fix! Shocking! The old Honda ignition switches are about a quarter the price and they do the same job; the Triumph switch does not have a chip or RFID, it’s just a switch. A dumb switch. A dumb expensive switch. Triumphs, for all their failings exude appeal and charisma (not that I’m biased, being the proud owner of a ’79 T140 and a ’73 T150). That being said, there is a point where a difficult ownership experience, starts to poison the enjoyment of the bike itself. This balance point will lie in a different spot of all of us. Ducati owners for example, will tolerate endless facepalm moments, and service bill aneurisms in exchange for that slender frame, and predatory engine note… If you even hear it over that bucket full of rocks noise the clutch makes.
At the opposite side of the spectrum we have the modern UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle), which at this point in time is a 600(ish)cc standard. They start every time, they’re fast, and parts are plentiful and inexpensive, which begs the question; why get anything else? Nick, the owner of the aforementioned Thunderbird Sport said it well; “This is just the kind of bike I think about, when I think about bikes”. Seems glib, but it’s actually very insightful. I have to agree with him. When I was shopping for my first bike I spent a lot of time lying awake at night with visions of motorcycles running through my head. During the frustrating phase of sleeplessness (typically within the first hour of lying down) my sentient mind would weigh the pros and cons of various styles and manufacturers, but in the syrupy moments before the embrace of sleep, my mind would always turn to an air-cooled parallel twin. With two shiny exhaust tubes standing proud against the wind, and a swoopy badge on the tank (the one where the tail of the “R” becomes the bridge of the “H”). It’s just that simple, the heart wants what the heart wants; to provide another cliché. If a person really has their heart set on something, any replacement, no matter how superior it might be, will always be perceived as a replacement. The Doc Martens that are made in Taiwan are far more comfortable and cheaper than the Doc Martens made in England, which literally rip off your baby toes and turn them into bloody mulch inside your socks, but the Taiwanese ones just aren’t real.
It’s a similar story with lots of coveted items, and the fashion industry basically exists because of this phenomenon. Maybe it has to be a Beretta, or a Coach purse, or a Tiffany Ring, or a Snap-On ratchet, or a Jeep… The point is that when we become passionate about a thing we naturally start to form a mental model of what the idealized version of that thing might be. When the time comes to make that vision into reality, the practical factors really become secondary to our need to manifest the desire. If we fail to faithfully manifest that desire then whatever we do end up with is doomed to be second-best, even if it’s objectively better in every way.
Perhaps that intangible property charm is largely about how well a particular bike (or thing, or person) manages to comply with our subjective idealized vision? So then, we’re doomed to make the irrational choice unless we happen to covet something rational? Well… Yeah! But why is that a problem? A big part of the appeal of motorcycles is simple escapism. If you can live with part of that escape being a long walk home, or waiting for a tow truck to show up, then get that European bike, and enjoy it! Embrace those long quiet walks with your helmet in your hand, and that smouldering credit card as being part of the fullness of the experience. However, if your escape involves getting where you want to be on the first try, maybe start looking at Hondas?