Friday, October 2, 2020

You may already be a Vintagent; here's how to tell

Old photo of man standing between two motorcycles.
The only two motorcycles I've owned. The 2006 Honda, right, was better.
But I kept the 1999 Royal Enfield, left.
In the darkness of winter, with the whole world at war, and no new civilian motorcycles to interest readers, a writer for The Motor Cycle issued "a sparkling dissertation" about enthusiasts of vintage motorcycles.

In his wry essay, Dennis May skewered those who professed to prefer the 1931 Whatsit to the 1939 Whatsit, although "a cold-blooded comparative analysis may show that the 1939 model was faster, better braked, more comfortable and better protected that the 1931...

"Perhaps if he did start analysing he would find that it was the relative discomfort and poor protection of the earlier model, together, perhaps, with a certain clean-cut classicism of line, that endeared it to him," May wrote.

In the process, May conceded that he himself was "a Vintagent."  His 1943 article is the first use of the term in reference to fans of old motorcycles that were somehow admirable even if odd, impractical or fatally flawed.

The term "vintagent" is naturally important to Paul d'Orleans, creator of today's The Vintagent website. He reprinted Dennis May's nearly 60-year-old essay "Confessions of a Vintagent."

It is delightful reading and I suggest you turn to The Vintagent to appreciate it.

The original Vintagent  was certainly a well educated gentleman. Paul d'Orleans helpfully defines some of May's words as we read along.

I only had to look up one additional word on my own: "sibilating." It means pronouncing words with a hissing sound. May uses it to describe the sound of a vintage motor running.

May's wit must have brightened that winter of 1943 for readers in Britain. He lists a few specific motorcycles he considers outstanding — i.e. ones he would like to own. Paul d'Orleans has owned six of these, and considers them still classics.

How come? Here is May's answer:

"It will probably be asked: 'What did these relics of the motor cycling Middle Ages have that the moderns haven't got?' Frankly, nothing. Rather, their attraction for us stubborn Vintagents lies in what they didn't have. They shared almost to a bike that lean and hungry look — not a surplus pound of what the ads for slimming diets call Ugly Fat."

He concedes that such pared-down perfection would be no help "when you're battling into a barrage of gale-borne sleet at sixty."

(Recall that he is writing for British readers. Not much gale-borne sleet here in Florida.)

Because, in the end, "to a true dyed-in-the-Ethyl Vintagent, the faults of his vintage motor cycle are almost as dear as its virtues."

These words of May's explain, were any explanation needed, why I ride an old Royal Enfield, when even Royal Enfield now sells a motorcycle with a digital thermometer to tell me how cold the sleet is.

Does this make me a Vintagent?

Probably not, because the only other motorcycle I've owned was a garden variety Honda.

Yet possibly so, because the Honda was in every way a better motorcycle than the old Royal Enfield I still treasure.

I sold the Honda.


  1. would not have lasted, huh, David?

  2. Thanks for that, David! British Arcanery is such fun. - CW -


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