A friend of mine not into old vehicles had an interesting debate with me while looking at my BMW R50/2. Although lots of people probably think these thoughts, it takes a friend to be able to fully probe the depths of your insanity. A much more polite form of this interrogation has happened in parts over time at vintage events, but those venues are not real tests as they are full of like-minded individuals. It is sort of like surveying the inmates in the asylum about the nature of insanity :

“Me, no I’m not crazy, but Bob over there slithering naked on the floor thinks he is a rattle snake. Now HE is crazy.”

My friend Ignacious (name changed to protect the guilty) is a successful business owner, and a very smart guy. He owns a european luxury sedan and a Goldwing, and is an all-around nice guy. However, with the aid of a few adult beverages, the following conversation took place.

“So what year is this ?” Asked Iggy (yes, he now has a nickname for his fake name).

“1965” I said.

“I was 2 years old. It’s crazy that these things can still run around on the roads today.”

“They are actually surprisingly competent if you stay off the highways.”

“With 50 year old drum brakes, and a cable to pull ? There is no way this thing is safe.”

“Well I wouldn’t tailgate an SUV, but if you keep your distance and ride smart, I think you can be pretty safe out there.”

“What about the moron about to rear-end you because he didn’t see your taillight which is the size of a silver dollar and invisible during the day ?” Iggy was aiming to get the battle joined.

“A Hi-visibility vest and hand signals. The true moron will rear-end you even with your huge hyper-lite equipped battle cruiser goldwing.” I retorted.

“My wing has 10 times the horses of this thing, and 100 times the brakes. I am on a different safety planet with my battle cruiser. This thing has no turn signals for christ’s sake!”

“Look Iggy, I don’t ride this to work everyday in traffic, I ride around in farmland on empty roads, so for miles ridden, you may be at more risk than me.” I had no way to back this up, but it sounded very plausible. Iggy was unsure of the strength of my position. He decided to move on.

“What I don’t understand is that you have a newer bike (he pointed to the R1200GS), why do you like this old stuff anyway?”

“Its magic. I don’t have the time or the ability to explain it. If you have to ask, you can’t understand.”

“I understand quantum physics, and I belong to one of the world’s most ritualistic religions, so try me.” Iggy actually does understand quantum physics and I heard him try to explain it to someone once. This would probably have about the same effectiveness. However, he had a point. After decades fooling around with old iron, I should be able to explain why, no? Iggy downed the rest of his scotch, and cupped his hand to his ear in mockery. I sighed the sigh of a man embarking on a journey of certain disaster, and took another gulp of rum and coke.

“At various points in history, different forces have driven the vehicles created. In the beginning, it was pure unfiltered engineering. Later, sales and marketing became dominant, then safety and compliance, and later still the finance department was running the show. For me the best mix of the forces happened post WWII until 1973. Engineers still won a fair amount of the time, and I’m an engineer. Bringing a few of those vehicles back to serviceable condition and operating them floats my boat. What floats yours ?” The defense rests.

1902 Dreadnaught“That actually makes some sense to me. Must be the fine scotch. But you destroy your own argument by owning the GS, which is a strong vote for today, same as my wing.” Prosecutor Iggy turned to face the GS and pointed at exhibit A. I refilled Iggy’s glass and chuckled dismissively while I thought of a response.

“You are missing the point. The GS is a modern example of function over form. It is an evolution of a motor designed in 1923, and the bodywork is obviously an afterthought. Other than the absence of brass and wood, it looks like something from 1902.”

“So the new stuff is the past done better ? The prosecution rests.” It is really always better to pick arguments with people who are not smart. Or people who have had even more scotch.

“No, the past is the past and you can best pay homage by restoring a piece of it. It is the next best thing to a time machine, and besides, riding an old bike fast is more thrill than you can ever get from riding your wing at 23% of its capacity but 100% of yours.” Attacking your opponent is a sure sign that you are running out of ammunition. Just watch any political debate.

“So now you want to live in the past?” He smiled.

“No, you want to argue that the present is perfect?” I smiled.

The repartee went on this way for a few more minutes with smiles turning to laughter, until the scotch and the rum finally took its toll and it was time for closing arguments.

“So you are happy in a vehicle that took a long time to fix, has less ability to go, even less ability to stop, less handling capability, is relatively unsafe, and sometimes leaves you stranded. Do I have that right?” Iggy was laughing.

“Yes, exactly.” I was laughing too.


“And you are happy in a vehicle that envelops you in complete comfort and luxury, with a LazyBoy for a seat, satellite television, power cupholders, three airbags, is the size of a compact car, and has none of the sensation that makes motorcycling what it is. Do I have that right?” Laughter bordering on uncontrollable.

“Yes, exactly.” Tears of laughter now.


We stumbled back inside laughing stupidly and slapping each other on the back.

14 Replies to “If You Have To Ask…”

  1. Inspired writing!!!
    You've convinced me that both the past and present are undesirable. How about living in the future? When can we leave? And is scotch the means for transporting us there?

  2. great post. that about sums it up. there are lots of crazy things people do with their time and money. at least we get something you can hold.on to and then pass it on. thanks for putting it into words so well.

  3. The older stuff is just cool. Thats why todays kids are dressing like it is 1968 again, and the car makers are remaking all of their old models like the bug and the mini. classic is classic.


  4. Dear Wayne:

    I have found myelf in somilar conversations regarding a number of issues. My response is: "If you can ask that question without being ashamed, you mark yourself as being incapable of understanding the answer." If I am having this discussion with a close friend, I will add, "You asshole."

    I win all the time.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  5. It's too bad that vintage machinery is obviously not appreciated by all. I admire the design, ingenuity and craftsmanship of the various manufacturers of yesteryear. I admire the beauty of simplicity . Where nothing is hidden and all of the components are exposed for viewing and easy maintenance.

    I feel today's machinery is very often over-engineered in complex gadgetry and unnecessary luxury and performance components.

    There is something to be said about riding down a scenic country road with just the bare essentials…..a saddle,two pistons, two brakes, some elegant bodywork and the mellow tone of an under-stressed boxer engine. Its amazing how much fun and enjoyment you can have on a 50 year old motorbike.

    Wayne, you own a wonderful example of such a motorbike and I hope to share some of the fun with you on future rides.

    Thanks for the story!

    Happy Motoring !

  6. Dear Roy,

    I'm not sure about the future, but a parallel universe might be worth a try. And, you can use the beverage of your choice. Cheers

  7. Dear Propper,

    This is cheaper than golf in many cases. Even if not, it is far more therapeutic !! Cheers

  8. Dear Jack,

    It takes all kinds. Your love of the K75 is probably lost on any number of BMW riders, much less devotees of other brands. I am often surprised that people have trouble appreciating older machines, but the on further reflection, I am glad. The last thing I need is millions more people liking the stuff I like 😉 Cheers

  9. Dear Todd,

    The simplicity is the great appeal. You put it very well. I look forward to many more of your vintage rides. Cheers

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