It had been a long, long time—perhaps measured in eons—since I had visited a shop like this. Oh, mind you, I have been to countless dealerships of factory bikes lately. Shiny new edifices of brick and steel, polished to a high sheen, corporate logos blazing in neon. Highway billboards announcing their location for miles around. Service bays so clean and brightly lit that they resembled hospital operating rooms. Fine coffee flowing free and maybe a pool table to amuse you and some deep leather chairs to relax in while your steed is checked over and repaired. But not here. There was nary a greaseless seat available; in fact, the most comfortable place to sit was the curb of the parking lot. The only leather in sight was my riding gear and the only pool table was at the local bar/hooker hangout across the alley. As for coffee, well, although I make it strong enough to tan your stomach, I decided to pass on theirs; the smoke from the crusty pot smelled more like gear oil on an overheated muffler than coffee.
I was on the road, my machine needed service, and the nearest dealer didn’t work on my brand. So I found the shop. What is it they say about any port in a storm? I pulled up near the service door and dismounted. Like junkyard dogs, some shop kids came clamoring out to have a look-see at the unusual bike. Actually, my bike is not that unusual, but compared to the rusty, greasy, well worn-out machines lined up outside, it was surely a rare sight. I have not seen such a collection of dilapidated iron for almost as long as I haven’t seen a shop like this.
Here in the bad part of town, away from the genteel folks, where only the outcasts of society travel or ply their trades is where, decades ago, all motorcycles shops were located. At that time dealers of factory bikes weren’t commonly called dealerships, just motorcycle shops, and they definitely did not cater to today’s mainstream biker clientele. In those days we all were unwelcome in polite company, but we always had a home at the shop. Back in the halcyon days of my moto-youth, I spent uncountable hours—truly stated, days at a time—hanging around shops much like this one.
Of course, those long-ago shops were less cramped and slightly cleaner than this one, since rents, and everything else for that matter, were cheaper, and the equipment was probably newer than the bikes being worked on. Here, a look into the dark recesses of the service area revealed six bike lifts crammed into what would be the area of two service bays at a modern dealership. Under the dim glow of humming and flickering fluorescent lamps, aided by a few yellowish pools of illumination from work lights, the art of motorcycle repair was being practiced. A careful eye revealed that, although most of the machinery of the shop was older and greasier than the bikes on the lifts, it was all well cared for. Which was more than you could say for the bikes. Yes, this was a contemporary of the shops I haunted long ago, albeit now with the accumulated grime and wear and tear of the last several decades. Perhaps this is how I, and some of you, look to the new blood of our sub-culture—old and crusty, far from hip and new.
But can you blame them for considering shops like this, and vintage riders like us, as old and crusty? After all, most new folks in our sport have come along in the new golden years of motorcycling. A world built by the hard work and investment of dedicated enthusiasts like the folks at this shop, aided in the last few decades by the corporate success of America’s only surviving original motorcycle manufacturer. How many new folks are flooding to our ranks each year? How many come with their minds filled with images of TV-star bike-building in sano shops that are more stage sets than actual workplaces? Back in the day, if you drifted into this lifestyle, it was around shops like this, populated by old-timers with cigars permanently attached to their faces and grease tattooed into their hands. Punk kids like me were not welcomed openly, yet we were accepted and little did we know how much they liked having us around to learn the ways of the wheel and the wrench. “Sweep the floor, kid, and keep out of my way!” Well, that was then as this is now, but one thing has remained the same—this shop did right by me, good work at a fair price, with a greasy handshake thrown in for good measure.