~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.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Well, It Was Bound To Happen

2007 Kaw 900
I tried to resist, really I did.  I'm retired now, mostly don't have much money.  The 2007 Kawasaki was supposed to last me for a long time but it's been over a year since I bought the Kawasaki 900 and so bike fever set in again.  I am a weak man.

I've enjoyed the Kaw 900, it's an excellent all around cruiser with only two real shortcomings for my purposes.  The suspension, front and back, is harsh, at least to my poor old body.  200 mile rides leave me feeling beat up and the seat, which starts to bite after 75 miles or so, doesn't help.  The 900 motor seemed to be working a bit at 75 mph and that always bothered me a little.

Now I could have spent some dough on new suspension bits and even a new seat but that would burn up $1000+ pretty quickly.   A better solution in my world, is simply to buy another bike, one that rides better and has a little more power.

So off to Craig's List I went for a couple of weeks, pouring over ads for anything that seemed like a plausible replacement for the 900 Kaw.  Looked at a very nice 2006 Concours 1000 but passed -- didn't want to ride leaning forward anymore.  Looked at a lovely Gold Wing but it would have used up all the spare cash I'd rustled up for a bike buy and I didn't want to blow it all.   A Suzuki 1250 Bandit seemed interesting but the ones I saw looked like they'd had a hard life.  A fairly clean 2002 BMW R1150RT wasn't bad but the handling was as wooden the last one I rode six years ago.

I am astonished at how virtually every bike I looked at, save the Concours, had not been decently washed and waxed for presentation. I admit to being picky about the cleanliness of a used bike.  Someone who doesn't keep their bike clean and doesn't care enough to clean it up before they show it to a potential buyer probably didn't worry much about maintenance either.  Bad owner habits show themselves in subtle ways.  Yeah, I know there are exceptions.

Clean bikes are an easier sell, I know, I've sold lots of them.  More than one seller I met lately bemoaned the lack of serious interest in his bike.  Lots of lookers, no buyers.  Hint: Dude, clean your bike, make it shine, make the buyer want it.  As for me, once I had a new owner call me back a few days after the sale and thank me again for taking such good care of the bike he bought from me.  My kinda guy.

In the end I once again looked to the past and the Kawasaki 1600, which I'd had in 2003.  This time I went for the Nomad model which comes stock with hard bags, a plusher seat, and a factory windshield, amongst other nice bits that I'd done as bolt on items in '03.  The bike I bought this time is an '06 model with just under 5000 miles on it.  5k miles on a five year old bike?  One more bike that testifies to good intentions of riding but those intentions waylaid by a poor economy and an owner too busy making ends meet to ride his bike.  The big Kaw was fairly clean when I brought it home but I still spent three hours on Saturday detailing it.  It was clean before, now it sparkles, except for the bug guts I got on it during today's 140 mile ride.

I've always like the Nomad, it's not full of electronic wonderments that go wrong and enrich a dealer, there is no BlueTooth connectivity or 500 watt bun warmers,  No radio, no ABS, no electric windshield.  Nothing wrong with those things, I've had them on other bikes.  But the Kaw is a fairly simple, solid machine and works well.  The hard bags are of good quality while the handling is good for a 700+lb bike.  I like that.

More importantly, the Nomad suspension is just soft enough to keep me comfortable.  As noted above, I rode 140 miles today and could have ridden 140 more without a problem.  Best of all, because it's a Kawasaki and not enormously popular, the prices for used examples in the current market are dirt cheap for what you get.  Kawasaki always seems to trail the other Japanese companies in popularity but I've own several Kaws now and always found them to be a great value for the money.

So, here's the new machine, parked by a quaint little roadside tavern featuring traditional Arizona artwork on it's exterior.  They were closed and as it says up at the top of the page, I don't drink anyway, but the building made for a nice backdrop.

2006 Kaw 1600 Nomad

Jet black, some extra chrome but not too much.  A nice ride.  I may finally get out this summer and do the ride I'd mapped out back in '04 before life got in my way.

Oh yeah, if anyone younger and/or tougher than me would like to buy a 2007 Kawasaki VN900 Classic LT, let me know.  It's VERY clean and well photographed.  I'll even autograph the bike which should add a zero or two right of the decimal point in it's price.  Who knows,  it couldn't be much worse of an investment than my late, great 401k.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Another from 1974

BMW R90S, somewhere on CA Highway 49, 1974
A simple shot of my R90S parked by the roadside next to some walls and large steel doors from the California Gold Rush period of the mid-19th century.  I was very interested for a long time in that colorful period of history in California and made many rides up and down Highway 49 which runs through the heart of Gold Rush country.  49 then was a fine, winding road surrounded by old oak trees, numerous creeks, and lots of history.  Signs of the Gold Rush days, from old buildings to massive scars on the land from hydraulic mining, were all to be seen if you knew where to look. What could be better?  I wish I'd taken more pictures then. Sadly, progress caught up with Highway 49 and the road was slowly widened and straightened in all the fun places and the ride became much less interesting from the motorcycling standpoint.

I note from the picture that I was using my new, blue waterproof duffel bag that turned out not to be waterproof.  I see the 1/2" thick dense foam mattress rolled up there; I was assured that it was better than an air mattress.  It wasn't, not even close.  Never take comfort advice from a hard core backpacker, they are all masochists.   My state of the art plastic military style canteen hangs on the side of the bike next to my rolled up, waxed cotton Belstaff jacket.  At the back of the heap is my warm and comfy sleeping bag -- which I still have.  I should probably wash it one of these days.

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"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence

An Important reminder from the past:
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." - James Madison