Friday, April 5, 2019

Lesson learned: Two great motorcycles that got away

Woman admires a Velocette Indian motorcycle.
"That bike was just simply beautiful. If memory serves, it was silver/blue..."
By Maynard Hershon
In 1970 I was working as a rep in the motorcycle business, selling aftermarket accessories all around the San Francisco Bay area. One of my clients was Self Harley-Davidson in Oakland, nice people.

I remember walking into the service department there and seeing a partially uncrated black CH Sportster, the kickstart model. It was sprinkled lightly with sawdust from the wooden crate. I knew in an instant that I had to have that bike. I found the $1,800 and bought it.

A year later it was stolen from the garage where I kept it, windows newspapered over. I’d always shut off the engine and coasted the last few downhill blocks to the garage, so no one would know the bike was there. Someone took it anyway.

The insurance company sent me a check. I visited a Suzuki store in the East Bay and there on display was a Velocette Indian, technically a Clymer Tartarini Velocette Indian — a Velo 500 single engine and transmission in an Italian frame with German electrics. I bought that bike.

Let me take a paragraph to mention that many of yesterday’s bikes that are so desirable today stubbornly did not sell when they were new. The Indian Velo, the first glorious Suzuki Katanas, gorgeous (even race-kitted) Bultaco Metrallas, Honda 125 Benly Supersports, Trans-Alps, those lovely little 250cc V-twins and GB500s, Royal Enfield big twins and singles, Moto Guzzi V7 Sports, on and on. I bought several sale-proof bikes, including the Indian Velo.

I rode it a lot in NorCal and once down to Gardena in SoCal to watch the races at Ascot Park.

It was a perfected Velocette Venom, as the sporty 500s were called. The headlight was bright, the spark always sparked, the bulbs didn’t blow from vibration. All those old British bike faults had been erased by European components.

Motor and gearbox of Velo Indian 500 motorcycle.
...with a slender, graceful Velocette engine in the frame.
There was never anything wrong with a Velo engine or transmission… well, there was that clutch... and the primary case... but you’re not here to read about Velocette quirks.

The seat was comfortable, the riding position just perfect, to my mind. You sat leaned slightly forward, your weight lifted off your wrists. The footpegs were also naturally placed. The bike seemed to vibrate less than Velos of the past.

The sound, the “thump,” from that reverse cone megaphone muffler was perfect. I can hear it now, nearly half a century later.

That bike was just simply beautiful. If memory serves, it was silver/blue. I wish I could remember more accurately, but I think the fenders were painted like the tank. The motorcycle looked like the photo on David’s blog of the Royal Enfield Indian, except of course with a slender, graceful Velocette engine in the frame. And one exhaust pipe with that perfect megaphone at the end.

The bike handled wonderfully, as you’d imagine. Steered precisely. It was narrow, there was not much weight and there was that sturdy Italian chassis and suspension. The front brake was a huge, alloy double-leading-shoe model, maybe the best drum brake I ever used.

Let’s say I put 10,000 miles on that motorcycle. Inevitably, I wanted to buy something else. I let it be known that the Velo Indian was for sale. I heard from a wealthy professional man in upscale Napa County, I believe, who wanted to see the bike.

I put it in a pickup and took it to him. Let’s say I wanted $1,000 for it. In his lovely Wine Country home, he offered me $850 for my Velo Indian, the only one that I or he had ever seen. It was as if he were buying a used car for his wife, a paint-faded Plymouth Valiant maybe.

I can’t remember what I wanted so badly as to let this man take my motorcycle. I made him a counter-offer and he bought my bike. I swear to you, as Valentino is my witness, I would never do that again.

That man was buying a bike he would display in his man-cave, a bike he would impress his friends with for decades, a bike that would be thing of beauty and a source of pride forever.

If you are buying a bike that will serve in your life as a thing of beauty and a source of pride forever, please stand up and pay for it. Pay what the seller asks.

If you are selling a motorcycle that has been an appliance to you and will be an appliance, mere transportation, for the next guy, do what you need to do. But if you own a bike that will soon grace some museum, don’t do what I did. Wait. Wait until the museum offers to buy it.

Maynard Hershon has been riding motorcycles since 1962 and writing about them since 1985. He was a regular columnist in the Bay Area's CityBike paper edition for more than 30 years. He's currently featured in Motorcycle Sport and Leisure from the UK. He also wrote columns about bicycling for Winning Magazine and Velo-News. He's living in Denver these days and is, for the first time in decades, in-between motorcycles. 

5 comments:

  1. Maynard, Lovely tale. It IS peculiar how some obvious classics linger in the showroom. That these chassis also contained Interceptor 750 warp speed producers is the obvious connection here @ an RE nexus, not to mention 500 Brit thumper. These machines are elemental, they're sound, power even aroma were then from an earlier day. Still they were modern with fine brakes, fine performance, sweet handling. Leopoldo Tartarini, opinion heading your way, is the finest Moto Stylist on my lifetime. I guess I'll head out to the shed and have a gander @ mine... Pj



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  2. Proofreading before posting often, in my case, is rewarding. "Their" not they're...

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  3. Pj, where is there a "they're" instead of a "their?"

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    1. He means in his own comment. I read right through it. Good comment.

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    2. Ah! Thanks, David! It WAS a good comment!

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