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Friday, 25 May 2018


My history with motorcycles is very short and entirely within the 1970s. Back then a 400cc was considered large (or at least the large end of "mid-sized"). I have zero interest in the monster bikes of the present day, what with their motors displacing as much as some compact cars. Ridiculous!

That said, my retro-bike obsession these days is Janus bikes. The style is from well before the '70s, but OMG are they sweet! 250cc is all you really need, especially if you get your joy from the sound and the feel of the mechanics. Designed for urban use more than open road. Dig around their website (or check YouTube) for videos of people test driving them. They will never win any races, but oh, that beautiful sound!

Never had an older brother, but even at the zenith of my youthful insanity, I realized that a motorcycle spelled the end of said youth.

I was never injured riding a motorcycle. I have been severely injured (ambulance to the ER injured) riding a bicycle.

I was lucky with the motorcycles and unlucky with the bicycle.

I'm not a biker, but am a cyclist and in that I'm a traditionalist as well. I have a steel bicycle and should I ever have to replace it, will do so with steel again. Maybe not the lightest available but will be nigh bombproof and certainly comfortable enough to ride all day! It's the difference between getting a sports car and a GT. The GT might not be quite as fast, but you could drive for hours and finish feeling refreshed.

On the motorcycle issue, the only bike I find truly beautiful is the Aprilia designed by Philip Starck:


I have no idea if it's any good to ride, but having seen one on the street, I can attest to its stunning design.



"This is a note-perfect channeling of pure 1970s two-wheeler style"

Only if a brown metal-flake Morris Marina was the 4-wheeled equivalent... :-)


tho Morgan Threewheelers are cool products of pure art, they share the same disadvantages like everyone's simple "trike":

- like in a car, you get stuck in traffic jams, and
- like on a real bike, you'll get wet

What's not to like (about two wheelers I mean)?


My first motor vehicle was the Honda version of that bike, a 1976 Honda CB400F. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_CB400F) What a great little bike, perfect for a college student - cheap to run, could park it anywhere on campus. Riding it in a small college town was reasonably safe, too. Brings back some nice memories.

I spent well over 20 years riding and racing sport motorcycles; often at very high speeds. Never got hurt and only fell down three times in all that time. Survival on a motorcycle riding is a lot like survival for a samurai....by bringing a very high level of personal discipline to the art based on excellent foundational training, practicing one's skills every day, and keeping a cool head while those around you may be losing theirs. I liken it to the "focused calm" of a samurai archer.

Lots of track days don't hurt, either...

I had a Honda CB350 for a few years in college. My first date with my (now) wife was a ride around the countryside on that thing. It must have had some allure. She had never ridden on a motorcycle before and I'm pretty sure that since I sold it (to buy a couch after we got married, I believe....) she hasn't ridden on one again. Looking back on it, it wasn't a bad strategy for a date--pretty girl wraps her arms around you, you vibrate your way down the road, stop for a picnic...when conversation gets thin, repeat! :-)"

By the way, I agree with your brother, they are donor-cycles. However, they are undeniably a lot of fun. And, Mike, you've already passed on your genes, your son is grown up, and you have no dependents. So, the risk/benefit analysis is pretty much purely yours.....

But I hope you answered "f--k yeah."

I wish I'd had the presence of mind to tell him that, but in fact, it was my friend who, in effect, did so instead.

He worked nearby and made it to the hospital before my parents did -- I was just 19 at the time -- and after hearing me screaming in pain for several minutes, he forced his way into my room and physically stopped the doctor from doing any more work on me until after he gave me a shot of painkiller and it'd started to take effect.

Later, he drove me home while I was laid out on the floor of his van because I couldn't bend my legs well enough to get into my parents' car.

Oh, and did I mention that the driver of the car that hit me was 16 years old, had had his license for only two weeks, was drunk, and speeding to get his mother's car home before she got home from work and saw that he'd taken it?

Needless to say, I was crazy about motorcycles before the accident -- I credit my many years of experience falling off them while I was racing motocross for minimizing my injuries -- but lost all interest in them fairly soon afterward.


Royal Enfield Continental GT. ‘Nuff said.

I had a BSA motorcycle in the mid 1950s when I lived in Los Angeles. It was great for commuting to work, and getting around in LA. That is, it was great until I broke my arm when a car turned suddenly into my path.

If you are DEAD set on getting a motorcycle, ain't nobody gonna talk you out of it.

But, before you do, take a stroll up to highway 54, and just stand on the shoulder for about 15 minutes. Let your imagination fill in the blanks.

Mike, if you really want a big smile when you ride to the shops, then I recommend the electric E-type conversion that featured in a recent high-profile wedding over here.
Failing that, the BMW i3 will still make you smile as you drive to the shops, mine still does after 43 months. No soft-top, and not auto, only one gear, but it still does the trick. A lot cheaper used now than it was new then.

I see the SR500 has already been mentioned. A friend had one and rode it from Omaha to Rocky Mountain National Park and back. Said the romance wore off at about Grand Island. He traded it for a BMW R100.
Speaking of nice looking retro bikes, Triumph has two. A take on a classic Bonneville complete with pea shooter pipes and a cafe racer called the Thruxton. Gorgeous but pricey.
Had a Honda 450 scrambler when I was young. Someone stole it and probably saved my life in the process.
And a final note, nobody ever had to have a skin graft after falling off their Miata.

I more or less grew up on and around motorcycles. Here I am, maybe five, on the horribly unsafe rigged up child car seat attached to the back of a Norton Atlas, waiting to go on a fishing trip. Only crashed a couple times, once as a toddler sitting on the tank, holding on to the handlebars on a Yosemite road (my dad fell off and I held on, according to my freaked out mom, who was following in a car) and once as a 12 year old coming back from Sturgis, on the back of a Norton Commando.

Doctors have prejudices and areas of ignorance like everyone else. I know several who ride motorcycles themselves. One noted orthopedic surgeon, Dr. David Kieffer, was a professional-level superbike racer himself and often helped repair his fellow racers after mishaps (though cynics might say the old saw about the requirements to be an orthopedic surgeon - "as strong as an ox and as smart as one" - apply here).

My S.O. is a pathologist who's autopsied dead motorcyclists and yet continues to let me ride (though she doesn't want me racing any more).

Plenty to drool over here:


At our age, getting a motorcycle is asking for trouble. Begging for it, actually.

I've been riding motorcycles since about 1965. I don't recall exactly what year the passion for two wheels began. Pre driver's license, anyway. I currently, at the surprised age of 67 (how the hell did I get to be this old?), ride a 1984 Goldwing. Near 800lbs of glorious, decaying joy. So I dispute the ageist comment I can't seem to find again about age stealing the necessary strength to ride. My 87 year old Dad has two Goldwings–a four-banger and a six cylinder model, a Harley Sportster, and a dirt bike. He no longer rides the dirtbike because he can't kick it over anymore.

In an era where seemingly everyone is driving 5,000lb suvs (for safety...), I find personal skill and fun to be the dominant factors in my preferred mode of transportation. Of course, you have to enter into every ride with the conscious awareness that you are responsible for getting yourself home safely. You'll find damned little help in that goal from your fellow motorists and their cellphones.

Still, get on the bike and trundle off down the road wagging around your lane to feel the balance and to regain the feel of the tires rolling over pavement. Warm the engine and the tires... that last bit really only applies to racing, but the idea is in the back of your mind that warm tires mean grip. Head for the back roads of choice and I guarantee you will be smiling and laughing in your helmet when the corners start. Think of the best amusement park ride you've ever had, but it goes on and on and on.

The smells of nature, temperature changes that give new understanding to the vintners microclimates. And you see wildlife that you wouldn't otherwise notice. Sometimes animal life appears to be less wary of a motorcycle. If you ride in the country you will have hair-raising encounters with deer at some point.

Stay on the backroads, Mike. Go for it. And if you can, learn to ride on a dirt bike. You will gain skill that will make you a better, safer rider on the road.

Motorcycles consumed my attention in the 60s, 70s, and 80s until photography took over. I've owned about a dozen motorcycles, raced them (on tracks, and have had hundreds of crashes - some on pavement. I never was seriously injured, but the light traffic in my semi-rural streets, the planned safety in road courses, and the forgiveness of off-road crashes played a part.

I still own two motorcycles but haven't ridden any in years. As I approach my 70s, my desire to ride them is diminishing, although I must confess to still being attracted to MotoGP races. I'll let the younger riders take the risks.

If you ever have a "It Must be Red" contest, here's my entry. I still own the motorcycle and leathers pictured, but one doesn't run, and the other won't fit.

Bill Schneider, AMA #418400

Look at Janus motorcycles

My father rode motorcycles on and off for years. He sold his last one just before I turned 16 (some coincidence, that...). Sometime around his 70th birthday, he bought a slightly used Harley-Davidson Sportster. Drove it during the summer fairly regularly up until last year, when his 77-year-old knees finally couldn't take it. Having lived with prostate cancer, congestive heart failure, and a host of other ailments for a number of years, he figured that dying in a motorcycle accident in his mid-70's wasn't the worst way to go...

As a former motocross racer who spent 6 years on the New England circuit back in the early to mid 70's I have to say I miss the trill of the starting line. I did own one street bike a fast and rather bad handling KZ100 but what I would have liked to own back then and even more now? This.

You didn't even mention it's a thumper. A thumper! Be still, my thumping heart.

There is nothing like riding through the mountains on two wheels. You are in the zone, happy and relaxed, yet focused... for hours on end. It's hard to describe.

Bikes are not for everyone though. You need to be honest with yourself about your nature and abilities.

As mentioned, the Triumph Bonneville T120 is a real retro beauty.

In the 60s my father owned three BSA Bantam motorcycles but only one set of number plates. They were so unreliable that on any given morning only one would start. He would quickly attach the number plates to that one and ride to work. He also owned a much larger Triumph which I used to ride on the back of regularly around the age of five. He was a cautious man and roads were quieter then but he never once had an accident on any of them.

I don't know a single person who has ever owned a motorbike or moped or scooter who has not at some time had some kind of accident, series or trivial. Lethal devices, if not to the rider certainly to other drivers. A motorcyclist once ended up on the roof of my car. The idiot had his head down and the throttle open and just wasn't looking. I'll never forget the intervals between (a) seeing that he hadn't seen me; (b) the crash; and (c) seeing two dangling feet appearing at the top of the passenger's side window.

How about one of these?


Nothing like a 3-speed Raleigh. Maybe with one of those new-fangled after-market rear wheels with a built in electric motor. Cheap (relatively) and won’t scare the horses.

My first motorcycle was a Triumph Bonneville that the previous owner had souped up with a 750cc kit and a bunch of other stuff that made it more of a crotch rocket than the off the shelf model. It had mechanical problems that I had fixed and then I rode it right into the back of a parked car. Ouch! Despite that inauspicious beginning, I rode it for a couple of more years. It leaked oil from several places, the headlight would go on and off while riding at night and something was always breaking on it. I learned to be resourceful with that bike.

Years later, I revisited motorcycles with a shiny new black 500cc Honda Silverwing, decked out with fairing and all the trimmings. It was pretty sedate for a motorcycle. Reliable too, just not real fast and not real nimble. I rode it for several years in all sorts of weather over 7 states with never a single mechanical problem or accident. After deciding I was pushing my luck, I decided to sell it and seek more a comfortable and safer means of transportation.

I'm 59, and still riding. I'm off to run a few errands in a while.
Here's a proper single...


You don’t need to actually ride a bike to enjoy them. The NE part of the country probably still is dense with both mixed and single marque clubs and events. You might look up what’s going on in your area. I take it that a lot of immediate appeal is visual, so it’s likely that 60s Brit and European bikes will please you the most. At club events you get people, lore, stories, and sympathetic help.

I don’t think that the book on shooting bikes is finished, but the best I saw appeared in Brit vintage bike magazines during the 80s and 90s, the last time I was paying attention.

Bikes are so small that on the road you experience a unique intimacy with them, their dynamics, the road, and three dimensional space. It might be something like flying a crop duster at small, tree lined fields. ....’at’s flyin’ (!!).

Any way, if you must ride, start with a small bike - the smaller the better -and be part of a crowd or club.

I rode from the 60s to the early 2Ks: ‘65 Triumph Tiger 500, ‘67 BSA Lightning, ‘74 Triumph Trident, BMW K100, ‘95 BMW R1100 RSL. I loved them all. The RSL was so good that it was humbling.

I dreamed of owning a motorcycle when I was a young man, but scrapped the plan after being rear-ended for the second time in two years while casually stopped at a red light (both were distracted drivers). Had I been on a bike, I would have survived one accident, but definitely not the other. And that was 20 years ago, when cellphones and SUVs were uncommon (and smartphones weren't even a dream). In the modern age of distracted driving and 3-ton behemoths with touchscreen entertainment systems, it's a no-brainer. Unfortunately, no matter how skilled a rider you are, you will always be at the mercy of other drivers on the road.

I'm not really a motorcycle guy, but man, is that nice. I want one just to put in my living room.

I learned to ride at 45, bought a Suzuki TU250X at 46 while living in Vermont, and now ride it occasionally in Brooklyn at 48. I’m working up the courage to ride it to work. Riding gives me so much joy. I’d encourage you to go for it. Yiorgos

My biggest regret, was selling my 1976 Honda CB360 for $425, when I bought my Kawasaki 750. The 360 had electric start, plus kick start, and got about 50 mpg. And if it fell over, I could right it with little effort. (In Phoenix, kick stands like to sink into hot asphalt in the summer.)

Just some interesting facts for potential Ural drivers-a motorcycle with a side car handles completely differently depending on whether one is turning toward the car, or away from the car. Turning toward the car will, at relatively low cornering speeds, cause the side car to rise and the motorcycle to lean to the outside of the turn. To control the car, there are two options neither of which may be satisfactory--either slow down, or straighten out the turn. When not carrying an adventurous passenger, side "hacks" often have a weight secured under the passenger seat, or sometimes a fuel tank that serves as ballast to make the rig a bit more user friendly. And I should mention that it is possible to elevate the sidecar and drive the entire assembly either left or right with a modicum of shall we say "control" perhaps to the disagreement of the hapless passenger. That is a Laugh-Out-Loud, for sure. And to be sure the driver is paying attention, unless the car wheel is driven and has its own brake, the motorcycle will try to steer in the direction of the car upon acceleration, and will try to steer away from the car upon braking. All these characteristics can be quite a challenge for a beginner. Good luck with that.

I second the Royal Enfield. That is not retro. It is new. It has always been like that.

Here in India, we still can buy them brand new! First produced in 1901, Royal Enfield is the oldest motorcycle brand in the world still in production, with the Bullet model enjoying the longest motorcycle production run of all time.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Steve William's really excellent blog Scooter in the Sticks. Steve combines making excellent photographs with rambling around western Pennsylvania on a silver Vespa 150. You could make an excellent book just from his photos of the Vespa in the landscape. He makes an excellent case for the scoot as the perfect photographer's vehicle. Easy on/off, can be parked almost anywhere you fancy, and you're going along at a modest enough pace that you can see the photographic opportunities around you.

Given the number of featured comments on this post, I think Ben Rosengart might be right. You’ve got it pretty bad.

And another version of Geoff Wittig’s ending is, “Come back alive, or come back dead. Not in between.”

Personally, I’d go for the Miata. Seems to be plenty of camaraderie, history, and great design there as well.

No idea about motobike but recently Honda seemed to get his old Monkey coming about ... a bit of a news here:


Mr Tuck, to the contrary, if you have a Ducati, you probably will walk... BMW all the way. Cheers, Bear.

Amazing how people think one should give up riding -- or not start -- once the 60th birthday arrives! My late father rode until he was 70, having returned to riding when he was 62. He stopped at 70 because of people younger in body but older in mind than he talked him into it. He told me as he approached 80 years old that he always regretted giving up riding at 70, felt he could have ridden safely until he was at least 75.

As for me, I'm 67, in my 52nd year of riding, just bought another bike and have no plans of giving it all up until *I* decide I'm ready. And I'm not athletic in the least.

There is a saying amongst older riders "You don't stop riding because you get old, you get old because you stopped riding."

Mike, take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course and see how it feels. If you like it, get your license, buy a small bike, and give motorcycling a go. You can sell the bike if you don't like riding or it scares you. Better to say you tried it and didn't like it (or sucked at it) than in your dotage to regret you never tried.

I recently heard this saying:

"Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul"

I have no intention of riding a motorcycle (and gave up riding a bicycle 20 years ago). Too dangerous.

As a young man in the 1940s, my father rode a motorcycle but wisely gave it away after two accidents. Since then, he always walked with a slight limp, from the metal pins in his left knee.

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