My history with motorcycles:
- When I was an adolescent, an older cousin was riding her motorcycle when the car in front of her stopped suddenly. Her bike struck the back of the car and she flew off her bike and over the car, which then ran over her, causing severe injuries. “You’re never riding a bike!” my Mother assured me in no uncertain terms.
- Several years later, another cousin became a regular attendee at Bike Week in Daytona. One year he met a woman there. She rode home with him, some 1,200 miles, on the back of his Harley and they announced they were getting married. However, as I recall, it wasn’t until they arrived back at my aunt’s house that my cousin learned the woman had children, children who would be moving in with them. Again, my Mother pointed to the “evils” of motorcycles.
- After college, my younger brother owned a Jeep Wrangler, but bought a motorcycle for more economic way to commute to and from work. One time, while she was visiting, Mom actually went for a ride on the back of his bike — and enjoyed the experience. Not too long after, however, my brother had to lay his bike down in an intersection to avoid being hit by a driver who wasn’t paying attention. Almost immediately, he sold the bike.
Except for a day I caught a ride to baseball practice on the back of a friend’s Vespa-style scooter, I’ve never ridden a motorcycle. Yet I think vintage bikes, especially those with some well-earned patina, are gorgeous creations of mechanical sculpture, works of art in metal and leather. I’m in awe of those daredevils who used to race them around board tracks and dirt ovals, and envious of those who still get to ride them along our nation’s bygone byway roads.
It was from such a perspective that I drove from Phoenix to Las Vegas last week to attend two vintage motorcycle auctions, spending Thursday at Bonhams sale at Bally’s and Friday at the MidAmerica by Mecum sale at South Point.
Andy Reid, our East Coast editor and a veteran motorcyclist, was on hand to cover the sales, so I was free to wander around with my camera and notebook.
Here are some photos (from MidAmerica by Mecum), followed by some observations, and more photos (from Bonhams) — oh, and my Mother was wrong, my cousin’s “motorcycle” marriage turned out to be a wonderful thing:
- If space is an issue, you can fit as many as four vintage bikes in the same square footage occupied by a single classic car.
- There is an exception — a motorcycle with sidecar — but that’s OK because vintage bikes with sidecars just look so very, very cool.
- I was amazed at how many brands of motorcycles I’d never heard of until last week.
- If money is an issue, prices being paid for vintage bikes are well below those for classic cars, but appear to be climbing at a nice rate.
- I like Larry Bowman’s and Allen Smith’s tastes in vintage bikes; both collectors were selling parts of their collections in Vegas.
- All those people on their knees next to the bikes aren’t praying, they’re just getting a closer look at the mechanical details.
- You don’t have to have a very long white beard to be drawn to vintage motorcycle sales, it just looks that way. Either that or there was a ZZ Top-lookalike convention going on at the same venues.
Photos by Larry Edsall