If only our other halves knew how much we almost spend at these shows we go to… oh, they know do they?
This jolly piece is being contrived before the October Stafford classic bike show, so you’ll be reading this after it has all happened. It matters not, the point is it got me thinking about shows, and people, and classic bikes in general.
I love shows for all kinds of reasons. Firstly, I just like standing staring at bikes, trials, scrambles, road race, road, they’re all interesting in their own way. Secondly, I am a bit of a people watcher and many of the folks who populate shows are every bit as interesting as the mechanical stuff.
What they do mainly is make me realise how little I actually know. Yes, I have a pretty good general knowledge and understanding of the whole scene, but it is mainly all skimmed off the surface. The people that fascinate me are those with the really deep knowledge, usually of a single marque, maybe even a single model. They can go to the show looking for a second-gear layshaft pinion for a 1933 Grindlay Peerless and spot it from 20yds where it sits at the bottom of a rusty bucket.
It is for that very lack of focus that I rarely buy anything at a show, as I am never really sure what I am actually looking at.
‘They’ say fortune favours the brave. Conversely ‘they’ also say that fools rush in... We’ve all listened to tales of how someone took a punt on a bike and it turned out to be an ex-geoff Duke factory Manx Norton worth a fortune. The stories we tend not to hear about are from the sucker who paid out that kind of money on what was supposed to be an ex-geoff Duke factory Norton and it turned out to be a total lemon, comprising a collection of duff parts including, you eventually discover, a roughly carved wooden piston.
I suspect there are actually far more of the latter occurrences than the former...
Marque specialists are interesting cases to study. There is a well-known Bultaco fan from north of the border whom I frequently leg-pull and who (usually!) takes it in good humour. I just can’t help myself stepping in with a comment as I see him pull a face while perusing the inevitable Sherpa. “What’s the matter,” quoth I, “don't tell me it has the cadmium-plated kick-start cotter-pin washer and not the nickel finish option as used on the updated Mk.2 (limited production run) 1967 model?”
It’s all good fun – well, I think so – and I do actually appreciate such diligence as I know I’ll never achieve that level as I simply don’t possess the attention span.
While wandering round I often idly wonder if the show bikes, and there are some wonderful restorations, go as well as they look. Dave Rowlandson, of Sapphire Motorcycles, some of whose work has featured in CDB, builds immaculate machines that go every bit as well as they look – and that takes some doing. He even machines bushes and fits twin ballrace bearings to Bultaco Pursang rear brake pivots as he can’t bear the slop in the standard production set-up. Now that is attention to detail.
On the other hand, while out and about I come across owners of bikes that look the part but are always running poorly or being pushed back to the paddock by a red-faced owner. This is NOT aimed at any single person and you can all fill in your own personal candidate in the blank space provided!
This phenomenon was once memorably and perfectly described to me by the sage that is Robin Luscombe, a proper Yorkshireman who says what he means and means what he says, as “shiny sh*te”. I laughed out loud at the time and giggled again as I just typed it out and I've laughed many times in between. I am now totally incapable of viewing a sparkly chrome and ally masterpiece without the thought stealing over me, "Is it a real goer or is it just shiny sh*te...!" While chuckling like a maniac.
My reticence to actually back my own knowledge and judgment has probably cost me over the years. I agonised over a Suzuki GT250 (£700) at Stafford several years ago. I told myself I couldn't buy it as I had no transport, yet still baulked when space in a van that would be going right past my house was offered. I kicked myself all the way home. A really nice 1977 air-cooled Suzuki RM125 was another bike I circled the entire afternoon I was at Stafford. At £999 surely I couldn't have gone wrong!
It really is a good job for me that my better half has no idea of how many two-wheeled objects of desire I have 'nearly' bought at shows. Frank Thornton, Newcastle's motorcycle decal king, once advised me to "only buy red bikes" explaining that the lady in your (his) life will not know if the model you are stealthily unloading from the van is new or not! This would, of course, work (or not, I strongly suspect) with any single colour.
As you can see, classic bike shows are both a pleasure and a minefield for me. I'm sure by the time you read this I will have passed-up the opportunity of purchasing yet another dream machine... because of that overwhelming fear of being duped by some dratsab stitching me up with a wooden piston...
…While wandering around I often idly wonder if the show bikes, and there are some wonderful restorations, go as well as they look…”