A lot of readers have told me that I could make a good Geezer rant out of the kind of garage candy that some want ads flaunt. So, one afternoon, out of curiosity and boredom, I scanned the Craig's List ads for a certain kind of motorcycle want ad. I was a little surprised to be so easily entertained. You know the kind of bike's I'm talking about. "Harley Davidson Sportster 1200: Pearl white, fuel injection, removable windshield, 86 actual miles, warranty, brand new bike."
"Harley Davidson Softail Custom: 2K miles. PM wheels, driveside brake, 240 Phatail kit, HD chrome covers, HD Deuce chrome lowers, Hi-flow intake, 9.6:1 comp, Crane Hi-4TC ignition, coil, 310-2 cams, and pushrods – over $38K invested."
or this entertaining piece of creative writing
"2005 30th Anniversary Goldwing: beautiful Black Cherry color, 1832 cc six cylinder, 5 speed, cruise control, adjustable windshield, great sound system and more. The bike has driver's backrest, highway pegs, drink holder, power outlet, wing foot boards, and low miles (7200) - this is the ultimate road bike - like new and ready to ride!!!"
or at the bottom end of the genre
"1980 Yamaha XS 850 Special with only 3,500 miles like new condition, it has been stored since 1982. It has been gone through from top to bottom so its ready to ride."
I could put together a whole column based ads for on unused, overpriced garage candy, but that would be lazy even by my low standards. The point is not these ads, but the stories behind the ads. What motivates someone to invest "$38k" in a motorcycle that he will ride about 400 miles per year? What motivates someone to invest $38k (or way more) in any motor vehicle, for that matter?
I have a close connection to such an "investor," but I've abused my brother a couple of times in this column. He has explained his $60,000 Harley adventure to me and I'm no closer to understanding his logic than I am to knowing why people listen to country music or "classic rock" radio stations. Human nature mystifies me, but it's also downright amusing.
Even though it is on the low end of the financial scale, the XS850 Yamaha ad isn't that different from the high-price-point ads. Owning and storing a 28 year old bike that has only been ridden 3,500 miles (an average of 125 miles per year) is a demonstration of conspicuous consumption and a serious inability to excise useless stuff from the garage. Asking almost $3,000 for that bike is another kind of mental illness. A reasonable person would realize that dust covered piece of Yamaha's embarrassing engineering past is taking up useful space and should be removed as quickly as possible. A nutcase would decide that he deserves a substantial premium for advertising his insanity. Just for laughs, I have a "Geezer with A Grudge Blog" site [And here came the beginning of this blog.]. If you have examples of nutty ads that you'd like to ad to my list, feel free to venture onto the web and add them to the list that I've started. Or if you can provide some insight into this form of investment madness, enlighten me with your financial analysis or social commentary. I may be old, but I can still learn new things if they are presented in simple language.
A few years back, a friend who had "collected" almost two dozen motorcycles in various operational states decided he wanted to use his garage to protect his new car instead. For ten years, the garage had been a packed storage space for unused motorcycles. At first, he tried to sell his collection as "vintage" or "restorable" vehicles. This marketing plan moved a couple of bikes, but it took a year to find buyers and his wife began to put pressure on him to "clean out" the garage quicker. Finally, he rented a truck and loaded up a half-dozen of the worst of the vintage bikes and hauled them to a motorcycle salvage yard. He was disappointed to discover that the salvage yard owned more than enough copies of his collection to supply the parts demand, so was lucky to get $500 for all six motorcycles. He made two more trips to the salvage yard and netted another $1,000 in paring the collection down to four ride-able, semi-modern, reasonably attractive motorcycles. He has, since, sold a couple of those to make garage space for his wife's car. I'm not sure that domestic tranquility was the result of all this asset divestment, but it didn't hurt.
The big realization he came to was: financially, old motorcycles are less like art objects and more like old junk.
He'd lived by the assumption that "vintage" meant valuable for so long that, when he tried to capitalize on that hypothesis, he suffered terrible disillusionment. For example, he'd stored most of a disassembled Norton Commando for thirty years under the delusion that, someday, he'd restore it and it would hold a valued place in his life's possessions. After advertising it everywhere such pieces of hardware are commonly sold (if such things actually sell), he was reduced to dropping off the basket of Norton bits at a Euro-bike salvage yard where his Commando was parted out to restore other, less dilapidated, Commandos. Presumably, those restored Nortons would actually have some value.
I think that kind of assumption is dangerous. It's possible that the advertisers of garage candy at the beginning of this rant found suckers/buyers for their bikes. It's just as possible that those bikes will still be up for sale when this column is published and for months and years afterwards.
Buyers of art are cautioned to "buy what you like," because the value of art holds no guarantee. So, you may as well buy the art you enjoy because that may be the only value the art retains. In the case of motorcycles, you might as well ride the damn thing because your $38,000 investment may only be worth a few thousand dollars when you try to sell it. If you aren't going to ride it and you are going to put a ton of money into pimping it out, you might want to consider draining the oil and fuel from the bike and hanging it on a wall in your living room. At least you can look at it and it won't waste valuable garage space. When you decide to sell it, be sure to list all of the chrome you've stuck on the bike and itemize how much it all cost. The ad is much funnier with the extra detail. Think of your entry as the Craig's List's Sunday comic pages and be sure to include lots of color photos of your brilliant investment.
Footnote: All of the quoted ads have been edited for brevity, while attempting to retain their natural entertainment value.