Don’t Try This At Home

SHIFTING GEARS by Buzz Kanter

SHIFTING GEARS by Buzz Kanter

SHIFTING GEARS by Buzz Kanter, Publisher

I’ve long been fascinated by the mechanical workings of old machinery. As a kid, I remember taking apart a broken watch to try to fix it. It never did run again, but I was drawn to all the fine gears, springs, and tiny moving parts. That attraction has never left me as I continue to spend time working on and riding old motorcycles.

While I enjoy riding my hot rod Sportster, I’m more likely to hop on something significantly older than me for a local ride. And although I love a well-prepped Panhead, Scout, or Knucklehead, my tastes have been shifting to earlier machines. I blame it on my close friends: museum founders John Parham and Dale Walksler, Motorcycle Cannonball founder Lonnie Isam Jr., and my pal and antique bike restorer Dave Fusiak. I’m fortunate to own several wonderful classic motorcycles, but I don’t see myself as a collector as much as an owner/rider.

I often remind myself how fortunate I am to own some great bikes for a few years before they pass on to the next owners — preferably in better shape than when I got them. I enjoy working on, riding, and sharing these wonderful old bikes with others when I can. I think back to all the people who generously shared their passion, skills, and machines with me. I try to do the same — in this magazine, at events, on YouTube and Facebook, and on various motorcycle forums. But it’s not always fun and games.

Not long ago, I brought a recently acquired 1909 Shaw to a local motor­cycle event. The promoter asked me to start and ride it around the parking lot to win the Oldest Running Motorcycle award. I had only ridden the Shaw once before and not very far. I was willing to try, but I wasn’t too confident in the machine or my skills to operate it. The basic starting procedure is to open the gas and oil valves, connect the total loss battery, set the carb, and start pedaling. Once you get up to a decent pace, you need to tighten the pressure on the belt drive and hope the rear wheel spins the engine hard enough to start the engine. No kickstart, no clutch, no transmission. And only marginal coaster brakes. Pretty primitive today, but effective by 1909 standards.

As requested, I pedaled the Shaw (made in Galesburg, Kansas) up and down the parking lot, breathing heavily, with little more than an occasional pop from the engine. Looking back, I know I was lucky the engine didn’t fire and run, as the front wheel started violently flopping left and right. When the 105-year-old steering head stem snapped, the handlebars fell off, leaving no way to steer. It happened so fast, and I have no idea how I did it, but somehow I managed to stop the bike and get my feet on the ground, saving me and the bike from a hard fall. If the engine had caught, it would have shot the bike and me forward with no way to steer or even stabilize the bike. I guess this is a good reason many people with machines this old seldom, if ever, start or ride them.

Maybe I’m nuts, but my goal is to fix the steering head assembly, carefully check for other issues, and see if I can get this Shaw into dependable running shape to try it again. If you like classic motorcycles, we created the Kickstart Classic ride, which is less than a month away. This fun, two-day event for riders of all make and model motorcycles is getting ever more popular. I’d like to thank Spectro Oils for sponsoring it again this year, the Wheels Through Time Museum, Coker Tires, and Cyclemos Museum for feeding us and hosting welcome parties. We can handle only 100 riders, and the last time I checked, there weren’t many slots still available. If you want to join us, act now (AIMag.com or call Rosemary at 203/425-8777 ext. 114) or settle for reading about it in American Iron Magazine later this year.

Ride safe, ride smart, have fun.

Buzz

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This article originally appeared in issue #312 of American Iron Magazine.

To order back issues, visit Greaserag.com.

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Motorcycle Auction Action & Kickstart Classic

SHIFTING GEARS by Buzz Kanter

SHIFTING GEARS by Buzz Kanter

SHIFTING GEARS,  by Buzz Kanter, Publisher

I’ve just returned from the annual motorcycle auctions in Las Vegas, and my head is spinning from all the amazing motorcycles and record-breaking prices.

I was quite impressed with the levels of knowledge of participants. Some were world-class experts, and others didn’t seem to have a clue. I saw people from both groups bidding, sometimes against each other. It made for some interesting action. Prices were all over the board from crazy cheap to insanely expensive.

At the Bonhams auction, a 1947 Knucklehead sold for $26,450 (all prices include commission), which seems pretty reasonable for a Knucklehead. Then at the same auction later that day, a 1940 Knucklehead sold for a staggering $159,000. Granted, it was a pretty nice bike, but a lot of experts who had carefully inspected it wanted to know why it went so very high. I know a little about Knuckleheads, but I’m far from an expert. So when asked why it sold so high, I replied “That’s simple. One person with the resources thought it was worth $158,000 and a second person thought it was worth $159,000.” But I have no idea why it sold for so much.

Speaking of expensive Knuckleheads, a stunning, restored, first-year 1936 EL from the George Pardos collection sold at the Mecum/Mid-America auction a few days later. Even though it might have set the record price for a Harley Knucklehead at auction at almost $180,000, few people seemed surprised. I learned a lesson when my friend Bill Melvin told me of a motorcycle auction many years ago when he was looking at a rare and valuable motorcycle he wanted to buy. One of the world’s leading experts on that particular machine carefully looked it over and proclaimed out loud “Well, that is just not correct!” and walked away. Pretty soon, everyone at the auction was sure the bike was not correct, but my friend was still interested in it. So he asked the expert to come over and point out what was incorrect on the bike. The expert replied “The bike is terrific, but the auction house simply had it listed incorrectly.” My friend said the bidding on that motorcycle was weak, and he bought it cheap.

The next day, I was interested in a rare, old motorcycle that had crossed the block well below reserve. I asked a few people about it and was told it was probably a good replica and not the real deal. So I asked my pal Dale Walksler to look it over. He did and told me it was the real deal and encouraged me to buy it if I was interested. And that’s what I did, at well below the market value for that particular machine. In fact, I bought it for just a little more than what I had sold my old dual-carb Panhead bobber for the month before.

Kickstart Classic

Ride a few years ago, we organized an all-brands, two-day motorcycle ride for the readers of our various magazines (American Iron Magazine, Motorcycle Bagger, and what is now called Motorcycle). It was so much fun, we’ve held the Kickstart Classic every year since. Our next one will be in beautiful backcountry mountains in late July. We’ll gather at Wheels Through Time for a welcome reception and dinner for all registered participants. The next morning, we’ll ride a couple hundred miles to Coker Tires for dinner and an overnight stop. The next day we’ll ride another couple hundred miles to Cyclemos museum for dinner. We’ll stay off the highways for more enjoyment on the old machines, but don’t think this will be a slow ride.

If you wish to join us, please register ASAP, and make sure you and your bike are up for the ride. We’re limited to 100 motorcycles. All makes, models, years, and brands of motorcycles are welcome. If your bike doesn’t have a kickstarter, you’ll ride in the back to pick up any parts that fall off the older bikes up front. Registration is $100 per person, and you can call Rosemary at 203/425-8777, ext. 114 to register or ask questions. For more info on this ride, visit AIMag.com.

Ride safe, ride smart, have fun.

Buzz

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This article originally appeared in the  issue #309 of American Iron Magazine.

To order back issues, visit Greaserag.com.

To subscribe to the PRINT edition, click here.

To receive DIGITAL DELIVERY, click here.