~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Like A New Penny

It's not uncommon to look down while walking and see a penny on the ground.  For adults, old pennies are noticed but then usually ignored, left behind for small children to discover and enjoy.   But a shiny penny laying there seems to compel us to stop a moment to investigate, maybe pick it up.  It shines, it could be more than a penny.  As with raccoons, we humans are attracted to shiny things.  Motorcycles are shiny things, usually.

I made mention in the last blog entry about my slight fetish for keeping my bikes clean, and as expected one or two of my twelve regular readers noted that they felt differently than I about keeping their machines clean.  I suppose if I kept bikes a long time I might be less fastidious about their condition.  No, wait, I wouldn't.  I put 30,000 miles on my '92 BMW R100RT and it was showroom clean the day I sold to the first buyer who looked at it.

That's usually how it works for me when I sell a bike.  Maybe a call or two or an e-mail or two, always one idiot low ball offer via e-mail, but then someone comes to look and typically buys the bike because it is exactly what I portrayed it to be:  A spotlessly clean, well maintained bike.  People like to buy clean bikes.

Kaw 1600 replaces the 900

As I spent some hours washing and detailing the Kaw 900 and then the Kaw 1600 after I bought it, I pondered the "Why?" of my regular bike cleaning efforts.  I know in part it's because of how I was raised.

My parents are of German decent and instilled in their four sons the Teutonic notion of maintaining valuable possessions.  Those things cost real money, money usually earned by hard work and sweat, and to let something deteriorate was to disrespect the value of your own work and to waste money.   Beyond that, cleanliness for my folks really was next to Godliness.  Mom grew up on the Oklahoma prairie and later in the farming country of Central California.  It was a hard life and they didn't have a lot, but she tells me that my grandmother's Saturday cleaning motto was "Just because we're poor doesn't mean we have to be dirty."

I confess that I'm not the clean vehicle fanatic to the extent my dear old dad was nor can I clean house as well as Mom could.  I make a good effort but it's one of those areas where I'll never be as good as I should be.  There are other areas like that in my life but I'll spare you the true confessions. 

Dear ol Dad at work.
My dad was in the car business for all the years I was growing up and something he really instilled in me was that people liked to buy clean cars.  Moreover, they liked to buy clean cars that obviously had been kept in a clean garage.  Dad would often bring home some used car that the dealership deemed not worthy of their used car lot.  Dad would buy it for it's trade in value and then the work would begin.

Whenever I saw an unfamiliar car show up in our driveway on a Friday night I knew my Saturday plans were out the window. I knew come Saturday morning there would be no sleeping in, no motorcycle ride, I'd be working in the driveway with Dad, washing and waxing and detailing that car until it shone like a new penny and that was always an all day project.

I hated it, I hated the detailing work, especially cars that had belonged to smokers, those were the worst.  I learned about the power of Turtle Wax, 409 cleaner in a bucket of water, and removing chrome knobs from dashboards to scrub each one with an old toothbrush until they looked new again.  I learned little things like how to mix and match hubcaps so the car looked it's best on the side the potential buyer saw first.  Yeah, Dad was clever, never dishonest, but he was a salesman all the way.  He knew how to make people start to want a car just by seeing it.

It wasn't just the outside of the car that was gone over, but the full interior, trunk, and under the hood.  No pressure washers in our driveway, either, a garden hose, "elbow grease", and German work ethic were our only power tools until Dad splurged one day and bought a buffing wheel for his electric drill.  Engines were de-greased with gasoline, not Gunk Engine Cleaner, gasoline was much cheaper.  Generations of driveway mechanics have cleaned parts with gasoline despite the risks.  These days I use Gunk.

Dad could afford to lavish the time and energy on an older vehicle that the dealer couldn't afford to because Dad didn't have to pay his detailer...me.  I had the temerity once to ask him to be paid for my work.  He looked up from polishing the big, chrome front bumper on an early '60s Ford and asked in reply "Are you planning on eating dinner tonight?"   That was that.  My three brothers (we're rather spread out in age) all experienced the same sort of "training" in their teens.  To this day it's a sin to show up at a family event driving a dirty car.

After the cleaning was done the car would be put up for sale and normally, within a few days, it was gone and with a nice profit.  Car salesmen don't get rich and a couple of hundred dollars extra in the kitty went a long ways.  It still does, now that I think about it.

Down through the years I've not always kept my cars clean, I had some that I disliked and treated accordingly.  Dad would frown when he saw them and tell me "I raised you better than that."  But bikes were a different matter, the thought of taking poor care of a motorcycle would have been, and still is, unthinkable.  Even my motocross bikes were thoroughly cleaned before being serviced for the next week's racing. Just because they were scratched and bashed doesn't mean they had to stay dirty.  A bike wasn't just expensive, it was a motorcycle, a special vehicle in it's own right regardless of it's value.

Owning a bike doesn't make anyone a better person or a more special person but the bike does, whether we like it or not, make a statement about it's owner.  Rat bike owners are making a statement about themselves as "characters" and I can respect that, really.  But if I bought a rat bike it would slowly migrate back to a clean bike that shines.  It wouldn't even be a conscious decision on my part, it would just happen slowly as the monthly cleanings rolled by and I'd wind up with a clean, shiny rat bike.

Is there a real, logical reason behind the cleaning thing?  Yes.  Besides the slight obsession instilled into me by my dad and my own reverence for motorcycles just because they are motorcycles, clean bikes are easier to sell.  If I buy a bike that means I probably had to sell one.  Since I've now owned forty-five motorcycles over the years that means I've sold forty-four of them.  And clean bikes are easier to sell.

I've rarely had a difficult time selling bikes.  The bikes look so good, despite whatever miles I've put on them, that it usually shows in the pictures and most often the bike is sold to the first person who shows up to see it.  They know a clean, well maintained machine when they see it and who wants to buy a beater bike if they don't have to?

Monday was no exception.  After a week on CraigsList The Kawasaki 900 sold to the first buyer to see it.  And it sold for just $100 less than I paid for it in late 2009 and 5,000 miles ago.  The new buyer, a nice fellow named Rob, commented "The bike and how it looks and how your garage looks says something about how the bike has been taken care of."   Dad would be pleased.  I love those easy sales, they make the time spent keeping the machines clean worth it beyond the joy of always riding a machine that shines in the sun like a new penny.


Canajun said...

I don't suggest for a moment that I keep my bikes that clean - I don't. But I do spend a lot more time cleaning them than the cars. I'm not sure why, but to me a dirty motorcycle bothers me a lot more than having a dirty car. Perhaps it's because one is a utility vehicle while the other is a luxury item, a toy. But it's also because I think a lot of riders (and others) pay attention to the looks of a motorcycle whereas a car is just another Ford, or Chevy, unless it's truly a unique or uncommon vehicle like a vintage E-type Jaguar, or even a modern Porsche, or Corvette (which I did keep spotless when I owned one).

Stacy said...

My bike would be a heck of a lot cleaner if I didn't ride it every day, rain or shine.

To those who have the time and patience required to keep a bike in showroom condition, I salute you.

To those who ride, ride, ride, and spend the time that they could be cleaning with even more riding, I salute you.

Doug Klassen said...

Time and patience, indeed. I was forced to learn the patience. I've always made the time, even when I was a young pup riding 25k miles a year. Over the decades those habits have paid off in many ways other than just having a clean bike.

While bikes should be kept clean -- it's a good maintenance practice to keep a bike clean, just like changing the oil regularly -- they don't need to be detailed unless one finds usefulness in it. Anyway, as someone wrote elsewhere "Someplace along the way I went from being an enthusiastic motorcyclist to a motorcycle enthusiast" and I'm good with that at this point in my life.

Unknown said...


I keep thinking of cleaning my bike, but I don't. Now you're shaming me into spending some time cleaning it up, as soon as it warms up. But I agree that a clean bike sells quicker.

Wow, 45 bikes. I've only owned 15 bikes and I thought I had a lot

Wet Coast Scootin

Doug Klassen said...

Ah, Bob, no need to feel shamed. I hope no one really takes the intent of the blog entry that way. Everyone has to do their own ride. If it's any consolation, my younger brother is even worse than I am about polishing his bikes: He not only does it, he LIKES doing it.

It's sort of strange but I don't really enjoy the actual cleaning and detailing of the bike but when it's all done it looks so good and I feel like I did something worthwhile. Compliments from other riders are nice too.

I do have an advantage, over you and I think Stacy, in that I've always lived somewhere that it doesn't rain much. Maybe I'd feel differently if I lived on the Wet Coast?

As I eluded to in my previous comment, the discipline I learned from my dad about maintaining machinery has stood me well over the years in many ways beyond the practical matters of it. Maybe that's a subtext to the blog entry I should have brought out more.

Surly said...

Most of the bikes I saw growing up were racebikes. They all had rattle can paint on the frames, rubber bits from the slicks all over, oil seeping here and there, wear marks from the riders moving around. To me that's how motorcycles were supposed to look. Chrome was for Buick's. That said, I have the utmost respect for folks with a solid work ethic. It's funny, I've washed my current bike once and the guy I park next to give me grief and says I spend too much time cleaning and not enough riding. Oh, and I dig that old Cougar in the showroom.

Doug Klassen said...

Surly, now that I think about it, I've never owned a rattle can bike. I've owned plenty of used machines but never any really rough ones that still ran.

The buyer of the 900 was driving a dirty SUV and he quickly started telling me how it's not usually that dirty but they'd been out in the desert.

As for chrome, some of my favorite bikes had little or no chrome on 'em. The '99 Kawasaki Drifter comes to mind. I always hate to see those painted up and chrome added. The near monochromatic look of the bike was wonderful.

I was wondering if anyone would notice the new Cougar there behind Dad.

Chris said...


I not only noticed the green Cougar, I wondered if perhaps it is still around in that condition! Could be, if owned by someone like yourself. Good Lord, what would your dad have thought of the Cash For Clunkers program? It is obscene how we throw everything away now. My grandmother re-used tinfoil....

BTW a friend of mine likes to say "the way you do one thing, is the way you do everything". When my stuff is messy, my whole life is messy. I don't enjoy cleaning but I do enjoy the feeling afterward. So that clean garage is good for peace of mind!


oldchigger said...

I have to agree with you about the work ethic you mentioned handed down by our fathers. I too am the prodigy of one of those "If you take care of it, it'll take care of you" mentalities. I'm called fondly by my affluent in-laws as anal when it comes to my vehicles and I don't mind it at all! Just keep doing what you do, there's a bunch of us like that and we're proud of it!

Jac Brown said...

I really respect your passion for a clean bike and love the connection with your family and it's history. In fact, this is a great story because explains a lot about you and your relationship to bike, cameras, etc. Very cool.

Like Canajun, I spend more time cleaning my bike than my cars. But my level of clean doesn't approach yours. I actually revel in dirt at times. For example, I was proud of the dirt, bugs, and mud accumulated over 7000 miles riding to Newfoundland and back. I was a little sad that rain had washed some of it off. It's and interesting concept, bugs as a badge of honor. Hmmn... I wonder what that says about my family history.

MotoCraze said...

Just like you, I love to have my bike (and car) clean, shiny and polished. Someone asked me why I'm doing all that by myself, when carwash services are cheap... some think I'm weird when I say that I love doing it, just as I enjoy riding my bikes. I agree, car's of smokers are often terrible, I 've been working in carwsh srvc for several months, in my teen years.
Your new Kawa is beautiful! Ride safe, ride long! Cheers! :)

Greybeard said...

My only quibble with you is that I promised myself long ago I would never be so "rich" that I wouldn't stoop to pick up a penny, shiny or not. Put a hundred of those together and you can buy a buck's worth of gas for your bike!
Keeping the bike clean means you're looking at it closely. And if/when something that shouldn't begins to seep or drip, you'll notice it right away. (But spokes are are a pain in the ass and why I mostly buy bikes with alloy wheels these days!)

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