As the famous line from “O Brother Where Art Thou” goes, paraphrased, we are all searching for answers. Fortunately, author Ray Roske has a few in his new book, A Life in Motorcycles: The Mechanics Guide for Reviving Motorcycle and Marriage
.He makes no claim as to having all the answers, but you may enjoy some of the ones he offers.Roske begins with an opening chapter called “Harkimeter’s Harley
,” which features an image of a 1963 Harley-Davidson Duo-Glide in blue and white. As an eight-year-old kid, this Harley opened his eyes to the romance of motorcycles—and other things.
For me, this was an astonishing common experience. When I was about the same age, I have vivid memories of an identical Harley roaring across our hayfield with the two neighbor boys astride it and blasting down our gravel driveway into the yard in a cloud of dust.
My older brother and those boys were all about 13 years old—not a driver’s license in the bunch—but my brother got on with them and off they went, three-up on the most impressive machine I had ever seen. Roske’s book had me right there.Roske goes on to plumb the depths of how to define a motorcyclist as compared to someone who merely owns a motorcycle—and I think he may have it right:“Let me clarify. Someone has a minibike, a dirt bike, as a kid, or a Honda in college. In four years, they ride it to Hell and back and love it. They graduate, sell the bike, get married, and have kids, whatever. Twenty maybe thirty years pass, and they get the bug again. Maybe it’s the smell of spring or the sound of a Harley thundering in the distance, but they act impulsively. They buy a motorcycle and have a born-again experience. They ride as often as possible and live happily ever after, having rediscovered a lost part of themselves. These are motorcyclists at heart.”He continues:“On the flip side (pun intended), someone had the same minibike or Honda years ago. They have the same impulse, but upon buying a motorcycle, they discover things about ownership and riding they had either forgotten or never known. Now rain, cold, maintenance, slick roads, left hand turns, bad drivers, blind spots, life insurance, and terrified wives are all factors to be considered. Soon, this motorcycle begins to die a slow death right there in the garage—or covered out back by the trashcans. The light leaves its eyes, the air leaves the tires, the battery grows cold, and the gas turns to varnish in the tank and carburetors. After a few years, and maybe a failed attempt at a jumpstart or two, the bike is up for sale. These are motorcycle owners, and this is where motorcyclists step in.”
Roske gives a rollicking account of his youth and the tribulations of his father going from one relic to another in search of a serviceable family car.Those experiences, it turns out, informed his later endeavors buying various scooters and motorcycles to revive, restore and otherwise rejuvenate enough to ride for a while and then sell at some modest financial gain. While he certainly endorses the practice, he at once offers a cautionary note:“Before you ever buy a vintage motorcycle, if you’ve never owned one, do this. Borrow one and push it around the block. Then do it four or five more times. Make sure there’s a hill. It’s great exercise, and you should have a little experience pushing a motorcycle if you are going to take this leap of faith. The question you need to keep asking yourself is this: What if?”But that note of caution is tempered with the further admonition, “Don’t fret yourself with all the ‘what ifs.’ Just buy ‘em and sell ‘em. It’ll all work out, even if you get a bad deal now and then. My only real advice to you is to buy a fire extinguisher now and hang it in your garage because you’ll need that too.” He goes on to explain his personal near-disastrous experiences that underscore that advice about a fire extinguisher.Roske leads us to the inevitable truth of buying and resurrecting corrupted, corroded, neglected motorcycles in hopes that those old motorcycles will generate a handsome return on investment in personal satisfaction through the adventure of it all, if nothing else. He says, “Real life with a vintage bike is relying on years of hands-on experience to get you to your next destination. Classic motorcycle ownership is pure and creative problem solving at its finest. True motorcyclists do not fear the word adventure, even though it sometimes is translated to ‘broke down on the side of the road.’”Ultimately, he boils it down to three rules in the game of classic motorcycle acquisition, restoration and resale:
- RULE #1 – You make your money when you buy, not when you sell.
- RULE #2 – If you have to sell, you are at a disadvantage. If you want to sell, you are in a position to negotiate. If you don’t want to sell, you are holding all of the cards.
- RULE #3 – Buy bikes you’d love to ride and wouldn’t mind keeping if they don’t sell.
It is all part of the potentiation of profit, where each successive resto and sale generates more cash building a financial nest-egg that ultimately is enough to leverage that one buy you have really wanted all along.
One other rule he doesn’t enumerate, but comes up in the narrative could be hard for some vintage bike owners I’ve met who buy what they buy because of prior history with the model, perhaps the same bike their father owned, or they owned as a kid, or simple nostalgia. That rule is to not get sentimental about any particular bike if it is part of the long-term goal to get THE bike.Part of the magic of the book is how Roske explains some of the less-known travails of buying cast-off bikes. A fairly common encountered but not often covered problem is the bike with no title. While his explanation of the process is largely based on Colorado state DMV systems, the general advice he gives helps show the way.There is a lot going on in Ray Roske’s new book—personal at times, often funny, spanning a lifetime of successes and failures, good buys and bad, sometimes sad; revealing much more from his life than what he had to share about buying and reviving old motorcycles
. No small part of the story is the power of his wife in supporting his passion for bikes and their shared lifestyle.It is a trip down memory lane and is laced with remembrances of events and experiences that a lot of us can relate to from adventures as a kid, adolescence and on to adulthood. Best of all, it is a well-told story of a life in motorcycles well-lived.Want more reviews of books about motorcycles? Check out our Rider’s Library.