The BMW R50 US“Wait till you see this thing, it is an absolutely fantastic buy. You are going to want it for yourself.” Winston (name changed to protect the guilty)was clearly excited, and had been talking about it on and off for 2 hours of the three hour journey. “Did I tell you that is had the slingers done at 40,000 miles ?” “Yes”, I said “Sounds like it has been well cared for”. “The guy has other bikes, and they all look good”, said Winston. I nodded as if I had gained some valuable insight. If you have ever had anything on layaway, or saved up a long time for something, or you are finally going to pick up your first puppy, then you know how Winston was feeling. Except, he had not made the purchase yet, and had not even seen or heard the bike in person. The miles clicked off, and many excited statements later, we arrived at our destination. A lovely home with a new pickup and a nearly new Honda Goldwing in the 2-car garage.

jamesblachly.comAfter some small talk with the owner, we went back to a large shed and slid the door open. There were at least 20 bikes in the shed. Many were leaned against each other, or against the snowblower. Most looked like they had been that way for a few years, and several were beyond saving. They were mostly Hondas of various ages, and they included a couple CB350s, a CB500, a few CL250s, a Nighthawk, a first generation Goldwing, etc. And front and center, right inside the door, was the R50US that I knew I had to stop Winston from purchasing. It was rough. Rough like all of the other bikes in the shed. Pitted chrome on the rims, handlebars, headlight trim, exhausts, and rusted spokes in a few places. The seat was the one-piece Schorsch Meier bench seat. The tank had two good sized dents in it, but other than that, the bodywork was actually pretty good. Winston had a broad smile on his face. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together as children do when they are about to get started on an exciting task. I tried to position myself between Winston and the owner.

The cuban blockade 1962“Looks a little different in person compared to the pictures,” I said hoping that Winston would get engaged in a critique. “My wife did the pictures and the Internet stuff, I have no idea about that stuff.” The owner stepped over a couple of exhausts and made it around my blockade. “Can we start it up ?” Winston said to him as he ran his hand lovingly over the main dent in the tank. “Sure, go ahead, just turn it on, and give it a solid kick. I was impressed, since this looked like the kind of bike that needed extensive owner-specific instruction to get started. Winston looked at me. “Why don’t you do it, so you can see how it compares.” I turned it on, gave it some choke and tickled the carbs. I noticed that the motor was already warm. This had probably been started earlier. The first two kicks did not even produce a sputter. On the third, the thing coughed into life with some bluish smoke, and a lumpy idle which required some gas to keep going. “The smoke goes away once she’s warm.” the owner chimed in. Turning the throttle halfway did absolutely nothing. Then, revs grew gradually from stumbling to coarse but sustained. The motor did not feel unhealthy, so carbs, throttle cable, plugs, etc might get things markedly improved. “What do you think ?” It was Winston smiling hopefully. “It’s rough, and needs some work. Are you sure you are up for a project like this ? A few grand more will get you a much better example.” I spoke loud enough for the owner to hear even over the running bike. “I’m not scared of a little work, I have all winter to work on it.” Winston was sincere, but he was also unaware of what was in store.

“He’s right you know, you could get one all fixed up if you are not ready to tackle a project like this.” The owner verbally lunged at Winston’s manhood with his reverse psychology broad sword. Winston was about to unleash his sabre and throw down some cash to defend his manhood when I thrust my blade between them and said “Winston, why don’t you take it for a ride up the block and back to check out the motor and the shifting.”  We exchanged positions, and in the handoff, I failed to have Winston grab the throttle fast enough and it stalled. Take that you scallywag ! However, Winston gave the bike a single kick and it sputtered back to life with only a little blue smoke. He headed down the block, and I turned toward my adversary. “Winston mentioned that the slingers have been done, do you have any paperwork ?” Thrust to the chest. “I have some parts receipts, but the last owner did it himself.” Parry and counter thrust. “It is still smoking, and if the slingers were done, I imagine he would also do rings, etc. how long has it been sitting?” Thrust. “A few years under a tarp until he passed away, he was a riding buddy of mine.” He nicked me under the arm. I lowered my sword. “This bike needs a lot of work, and Winston has not done anything this extensive before. If you want to see your friend’s bike back in good shape, he is not the best buyer.” He sheathed his sword. “No, but you are. I can tell that you know what it takes. I can tell that just like me. you hate to see a great machine slowly crumble into dust when it can be brought back to its former glory.” I was surprised and rocked backward. He pressed on. “Do you remember the first restoration project you did ? I’m guessing it was something beyond your skills and maybe a poor investment to boot. Did someone try to talk you out of it ?” I was sustaining heavy blows now. “Winston’s few dollars and his enthusiasm along with your knowledge can bring this bike back. My buddy would have liked that.”

johndclare.netWinston returned. “The bings are a mess, are they hard to rebuild ?” There was concern in his voice as the reality of the future was made clear by the ride. Then he noticed the two of us staring at each other intently. “What happened ?” He said. Neither of us moved or made a sound. He shut off the bike. What seemed like a full minute elapsed…..Winston could not contain himself and blurted out an offer several hundred dollars less than asking. The owner momentarily looked at Winston and then returned his gaze to me. I returned the same stare and continued the silence. Finally I said, “What extra parts you got?” He smiled and headed into the shed. I turned to Winston. “This is going to be a lot of work. I’m going to help, but you are signing up for a boatload of work and lots more spending. Are you sure you’re sure about this?” He broadened his smile. “I am more than sure.” Of course he was, he was delusional, but he was me many years back. How can you resist yourself ? It’s why we have children. The owner returned with a cardboard box containing, some new grips, a used petcock, a broken mirror, a damaged valve cover, owner’s manual, and a few other odds and ends. We loaded up the bike.

As we drove back, Winston would turn around to look at the bike through the cab’s rear window. He would spend the gas stop looking over the bike further, and jotting down notes. Even while noting needed care, the machine is viewed through some kind of soft focus lens that descends over the eyes of we vintage nuts like some automated contact lens. The possibilities were endless, the prospects were exciting, the work ahead eagerly anticipated, the camaraderie priceless, the parts would be cheaper than expected, the flaws were already vanishing. The first outing on this restored machine next spring was going to be brilliant. There is nothing like the promise of your first restoration.

8 Replies to “On Resisting Restoration”

  1. Super writing for such short stuff. I first restored an MG Midget, and I was waaaaaayyy over my head. My Dad rescued me on that one, and I learned an expensive lesson. I hope your friend had a better experience……


  2. Very good piece. Of course, if I were in the market for a restoration project, I'd start with Tom Cutter… Amd let him make a recommendation. I'm good for restoring the wax shine on these things.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  3. My first rest was a Honda Dream. It was a disaster but I learned a ton. The next one was much better 😉 nobody was gonna talk me out of that Dream at the time. Some lessons you hafta learn youself. Nice post.

  4. Dear Bill B,

    This story had a pretty good ending. The bike was much improved running, handling, and cosmetically speaking. Winston's wallet was much lighter, and he enjoyed it for a few years before another bug bit him. It was sold and as far as I know is still on the road in New England. Cheers

  5. Dear Jack,

    You can't go wrong with Cutter's work, so that would be a good choice even for those of us that are not toolophobics. Thanks for commenting. Cheers

  6. Dear BillD,

    Too true, nobody was gonna talk me out of my first either, and I too learned a great deal. Although, I would have preferred to do some of that learning with someone else's checkbook! Cheers

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