Motorcycle Dream Garage
You may have seen a book called “Motorcycle Dream Garages,” by Lee Klancher with a foreword by Kevin Cameron reviewed here a while back (Motorcycle Dream Garages Review). Or maybe you’ve seen one of those shows about Jay Leno’s garage. This is celebrity-type stuff, as evidenced by high-priced machinery and polished floors clean enough to eat off of.
I spend more time in my garage in the winter because the weather has the roads pretty much slopped up with ice and slush making them slicker than hog snot on a wet marble. This forces me to spend more time ruminating than riding. As a result, lately, I’ve been ruminating about my motorcycle dream garage; exactly what are the top ten essentials to create a dream garage?
I don’t begrudge those who have clean garage floors, gleaming, well-organized tools, expensive art and neat collector signs on their garage walls and have the place well stocked with rare, expensive motorcycles, chardonnay, cheese and crackers. That is one vision of the dream garage.
My vision of the motorcycle dream garage arises from the many years in early adulthood that I spent without one. Meaning any garage. I did my oil changes, spark plug changes, chain adjustments and so on in a parking lot or on the street. So, my concept of a dream garage really comes down to just having a garage—any garage. Anything beyond that is gravy.
Consequently, my motorcycle dream garage looks a little less showy than your typical celebrity dream garage. It occurred to me that a number of the features one might find in those “lifestyles of the rich and famous” dream garages can be had in your garage, too and on a pretty reasonable budget. We thought we’d share some ideas with a look inside my economy-minded motorcycle dream garage.
1. Portrait collection: part of the wall above my workbench includes a portrait collection. OK, maybe most of the portraits in other dream garages are not of every motorcycle ever owned by the garage owner, but that’s just me.
As the attached image shows, some of my bike portraits have recently fallen off the wall. I plan to get around to putting those back up as soon as the temperatures get back above zero. That reminds me of another feature of my dream garage: no climate control except a quartz spot heater. More about that later.
2. Art gallery: Since I’ve reserved nearly every square inch of wall space for tools and other items I may need to reach fairly frequently (except that area used for my portrait collection), I was forced to use the flat ceiling in my garage as my art gallery.
My ceiling art gallery includes old concert, movie and motorcycle posters. It also includes decals, metal signs, bumper stickers, flags, motorcycle racing event posters from Santa Fe Speedway and other tracks and photo enlargements of this and that. Some of them appear to be rare, collectible commercial art items. They are not. All are cheap reproductions except the ones for “The Blues Brothers” movie, the first Star Wars movie and Burt Munro with his Indian at Bonneville. As far as I know, they are real posters. Concert posters include the Rolling Stones, Riders in the Sky, the Rat Pack at the Sands, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Sr., the Boss, the Grand Ole Opry and others. All fakes—the posters, that is.
I have a bunch of those neat reproduction tin signs that look old, but aren’t. One of my favorites is the “Unapproachable Norton” sign with an Isle of Man feel to it. Another is of the April 1969 Mad magazine cover with Alfred E. Neuman as Uncle Sam in the famous recruiting poster reminding us, “Who needs you?”
I also have some large flags up there. There is Old Glory, of course and to make my Brit bike riding friends feel at home, the Union Jack. There’s the sky-blue and white flag of Finland—my ancestral homeland and home of one of my boyhood racing heroes, Jarno Saarinen. And there’s the black Jolly Roger adopted as the Ilminen Racing team flag just because it has a kind of cool look to it and there are a couple of checkered flags. There is a giant “Motul” banner I got from my friend, Jim Haraughty, a land speed record holder. That banner adds a MotoGP pit lane garage vibe to the place.
3. Tool collection: Of course, no motorcycle dream garage can be worth having if it isn’t functional at some level. That means there have to be some tools in there somewhere as well as well as a reasonable workbench. My bench is about 20 feet long and nearly four feet deep; and it’s a good thing it is, because after I got all my junk—er—equipment and supplies on it, there’s really not all that much space left.
As you peruse the image of my work area and tools, you may be tempted to think, “What a disorganized mess!”
I can easily understand that. To the untrained eye, it looks as though it has no organization whatsoever; none of that “a place for everything and everything in its place” structure that some people find so comforting.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It is organized using what I call my “evolutionary tool importance principle.” The most frequently used—and therefore most important— tools to rise to the top of the pile. The remaining tools are distributed down in the pile below in order of how often I find them useful. The least used tools end up on the bottom of the pile, with a pile for each species of tool—metric wrenches, SAE wrenches, pliers and so on. It is Darwinian natural selection as applied to hand tools. Stuff that doesn’t lend itself to neat little piles gets hung on the wall or stuck in a tool box somewhere.
4. Chemical cabinet: Just as important as hand tools are the myriad chemicals every skilled mechanic must have to make the magic happen in the motorcycle dream garage. We don’t have a skilled mechanic, but we do have some chemicals. Since the cabinet doors make great surfaces for displaying those decals you can’t help but accumulate, they naturally get covered with them. I include the obligatory caution sign about protective gear, which is routinely ignored.
The chemicals I keep really aren’t that dangerous anyway. Most of it is run-of-the-mill stuff: DOT 3 and 4 brake fluid, electrical contact cleaner, dielectric grease, gas dryer/antifreeze, chain lubes of various types, polishes and waxes for metal and plastic, hypoid gear oil, carburetor/fuel injector cleaner, never-seize, nearly empty cans of spray touch-up paint for cars I don’t have anymore, and odds and ends like dozens of new and used spark plugs, some for bikes I don’t have any more, air filters, light bulbs, and a can of Dip-it. You know, the liquid rubber that you can dip your pliers into to give them nice, soft handles. I’ve used it on some of my old bikes to repair cracked rubber carburetor manifold boots. Slick, hey?
5. Technical Library: What good is having all those tools and chemicals if you don’t have the technical expertise to use them? That is exactly my problem, so out in my motorcycle dream garage I have a small book shelf, which is part technical library and part repository for other stuff I don’t have room for elsewhere.
The technical library part of this is stocked with various factory and aftermarket motorcycle shop manuals for bikes like my 1974 Honda CB350F, 1976 Honda CJ360T, Honda Magnas and Sabres and such. There are shop service manuals for later model bikes, as well. And, then there are shop manuals for bikes I no longer own and some manuals for bikes I’ve never owned but that I got at yard sales for fifty cents—just in case.
The library includes other reference materials like a 1973 edition of the Machinery’s Handbook and numerous Chilton’s manuals—all for cars I no longer own and for some I never owned—just in case. At present, I don’t have a service manual for the car I do own.
6. Guest seating: For those occasions when you entertain guests in your motorcycle dream garage, such as wine and cheese tasting and private showings of your motorcycle collection, you need guest seating. It need not be fancy or even clean and comfortable. In fact, it’s probably better if it’s not; the more comfy the accommodations, the longer your guests are likely to hang around.
In my motorcycle dream garage, I offer a wood stool with Harley-Davidson vinyl-covered cushion on it and a slightly stained, cast-off office chair that no longer adjusts seventeen different ways and whose padding has long ago been mashed flat making the seat about as comfy as a 2 x 6 plank. I’ve noticed most guests can’t stand either one much more than twenty minutes and that’s just about right. For those with a higher pain threshold, I offer Limburger cheese and wine in a box that is on sale at the Shell gas station up by the highway. The Limburger is usually all it takes.
7. Climate control: Heating an entire garage space in a Midwestern winter is a tough proposition. It doesn’t even make sense unless the building is designed to be pretty tight as far as heat loss and infiltration; with a huge overhead door, concrete slab floor and in my case, steel walls and roof, the thing just wouldn’t be feasible, even with insulation and lots of caulking.
There is a happy middle ground, however. An overhead workspace quartz heater mounted on a two-way pivot allows direct delivery of heat at two levels of intensity right at my workbench and out into the floor area. It may not be very high fashion, but it is kind of high-tech and works remarkably well. Simple, cheap and effective, at least for the area in the line of heat—surrounding spaces warm only slightly.
Air conditioning is handled by the most reliable means possible—a box fan and opening the overhead door. That is cheap, not particularly effective in the humid heat of the Midwest in August, but it does serve to limit hang-around time. In the summer, the sweat worked up doing almost anything—or nothing at all—out in the dream garage is silent testimony to the fact that effort has at least been contemplated, if not expended.
8. Stereo sound system: It never ceases to amaze me how much sound can come from even the cheapest AM/FM/CD player and the one rocking my dream garage is about as cheap as they come. Got it on clearance someplace several years ago. This one can handle five CDs at a time and with the bass set to max, sets up a vibration in the tin walls of the garage that rivals real concert hall sound. Sort of.
9. Carpeting: Some may argue against carpeting in a garage. I thought it was odd, too at first. There it was already on the floor at the point of purchase of the property. Now, after having it there and having been able to sit or lay on it instead of ice-cold concrete when I crawl around under bikes and cars for oil changes, chain adjustments and what-not, I can say I am a fan—and it is the kind of luxury that any self-respecting motorcycle dream garage should have. It also does a great job soaking up oil and other spills. Maybe it could stand a shampoo.
10. Dream motorcycle collection: Last but certainly not least is the dream motorcycle collection. Mine consists of 11 bikes jammed into the back of the dream garage ranging in vintage from 1974 to 2015. The collection includes seven Hondas, two Harleys, a Triumph and a Yamaha—and one 1980 Califfo moped belonging to my youngest son.
A number of them are what I call three-digit wonderbikes; those purchased for under $1,000 and you have to wonder if they’ll start when called on. Most of those were roadside finds with “for sale” signs on them. No warranty expressed or implied. The Triumph is still under warranty, but everything else is long expired.
That the oldest bike in the bunch is also a national speed record holder adds certain panache to an otherwise fairly unremarkable clunker collection. Truth be told, I’m just happy that they all run.
Whether this all actually constitutes a motorcycle dream garage or something more akin to a nightmare is to each reader’s taste or imagination. No matter what yours may be like, we hope this enhances the appreciation of your motorcycle dream garage.