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7th May 2004

Opinion: Buying A Classic Bike

'Where can I get such useful research material?' Funny you should ask...We're never slow to grumble about classic bike dealers who get it wrong. In his search for the perfect classic, Martin Peacock met a couple of traders who got it very right...

Striving for an alternative to yelling at the kids and clearing blocked toilets, my thoughts turned to the long neglected idea of a hobby. Though no couch potato, I lacked a leisure interest that was simply fun. Maintaining a house and garden certainly provides challenges and can be fun -- or at least satisfying at times -- but it is altogether too useful to qualify. Stamps, trains, matchstick models and the rest of the usual suspects left me cold, although steam models and stationary engines raised a ripple.

Then it struck me: a hobby was just not enough. What I needed was an obsession!

Quite why this turned out to be a classic motorcycle is puzzling considering the twenty years or so it took to get over the last one. Of course the term 'classic' never featured among the many and often colourful ways we described our limp-along machines at the time. In any event and signs of incipient insanity aside, my thoughts wandered along the lines of something oldish, British, basically all there but in need of fettling. Much like me in fact.

This simple concept lasted about as long as it took my wife to recover from her initial shock. Spotting the implications with amazing speed and clarity, she suggested (OK insisted) that if I really must do this crazy thing, the bike should be ready to go and not detract from work on THE HOUSE.

Not much of a challenge then: find an old British motorcycle that doesn't need work! This would have been hard enough when they were new: now it was an undertaking of epic proportions. Fired by this new sense of purpose and delighted that the obsessive element was already taking hold, I devoured every classic bike magazine and article in sight. was very helpful in this process and I soon developed an idea of 'what' to buy, quickly moving on to the bigger question of finding the right bike at the right price.

At first sight this didn't seem much of a problem. Those same magazines had a broad array of bikes on offer. On the other hand, my barely defined scope of 'a Sixties parallel twin' brought the daunting prospect of choosing from hundreds of bikes scattered all over the land. Even screening out the confrontational 'no time wasters' and 'no canvassing' (whatever that might be) types still left a lot. I also wondered about the veracity of so many 'reluctant' offerings and the apparent epidemic of broken limbs, senility and death among classic bike owners. Either this was some sort of code or there should be health warnings on every bike. Perhaps this too is just a matter of time... but let's not take that path.

So much for advertising but fortunately there was no shortage of advice closer to home: 'Talk to blokes in pubs' suggested a friend who literally unearthed his bike from a compost heap for the price of a pint. Naturally this approach had a certain appeal but there can't be that many classic bikes in local mulch piles. Besides, systematically chatting up strangers in pubs can create entirely the wrong impression.

'72 Tiger 650 outside a suspiciously well decorated bike shop. Beware soft furnishings.

My plan evolved into finding a couple of small dealers to visit so I could compare the bikes on hand with their descriptions. This calibration work done, it would be a matter of waiting until the right one came along. Somewhere along this process I happened upon Brian Taylor's Wheelton Garage website that included my choice of the moment: a T100SS. Unfortunately he had just sold it but that brief call convinced me that this was someone who knew his bikes and was as good as his word.

Similarly, Richard Gaunt of DR Classic Motorcycles impressed me with his straightforward responses and helpful advice. He also had several machines on offer with enough appeal to produce some quick modifications to my list.

Despite her latent dislike of all things mechanical, and motorcycles in particular, my wife provided some welcome company on my visits to DR and Wheelton (by appointment of course). She also supplied that vitally important critical eye. We found the machines on offer were well described, not to say very appealing even taking into account the realities of reasonably priced, forty year old bikes. Many of you will not, therefore, be surprised that at approximately this point, my ingenious plan fell apart.

Waiting for the 'right bike' to come along was no longer an option; I wanted one of them NOW!

Don't wrap it, I'll ride it home.

My choice came down to an unlikely pairing of a 1959 Super Meteor or a 1972 TR6R, representing opposite ends of the spectrum but each appealing in its own way. Having to pick just one left me torn between the Enfield's solid pedigree (and lower price) and the immediate attraction of that flashy whippersnapper.

Given that cool logic and classic bike riding only have a loose association at best, I duly bought the sassy Triumph from Wheelton, realising in the process that what I wanted most of all was a bike to ride and enjoy. If anything, it was better than described. Even after stumping up the cash and getting it home four months ago, I remain delighted. It looks good and runs so well it takes hours for the silly grin to fade after an outing.

Ready to ride, with jacket from ebay...Brian's after sales support is good too. Not that there was much wrong with the bike, it was more a matter of its rider being more out of touch than he dared admit. (Years of cosseting by reliable, well-equipped and comfortable automobiles will do that to you).

Yes I know what you're thinking: 'Not a proper Triumph -- oil in frame, need a stepladder, yadda yadda yadda.' Fortunately my early research hadn't picked up on the generally snooty attitude to OiF bikes or I'd have missed this gem. From what I can see, Rob North knew a thing or three about frame design and, though only 5'7", I have no trouble planting both feet on the ground. The bike sounds good, handles well and is quick enough to need that efficient TLS stopper up front. That and Turner's famous oil-on-floor twin make it a real Triumph in my book.

Add three or four years to its age, another carburettor and a Bonneville label and it would be over twice the price but hardly more fun.

I don't believe I just happened to find two good dealers right off the bat so there must be more out there. As for me, I would happily return to DR Classic Motorcycles or Wheelton Garage, also a fine place for service and repair. Given that classic bikes are like troubles and like company (now tell me THAT is just coincidence) this is probably just a matter of time...

Bonneville: Twice the price but not twice the fun?

Just make sure that's not a copy of 'RealExpensivePony' that she's reading... Note discarded garden implement in the grass.


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