June 24, 2009

Help! I need your input about old motorcycles.

my el all ready to go!

My '36 Harley EL all ready to go!

While I was on a 1200 mile trip on my 1936 EL trip this weekend, my mind started to wonder like it often does. To no surprise of anyone who knows me, the topic of old motorcycles dominated my thoughts. There is nothing in the world that I would rather do than work on old bikes, ride old bikes or talk about old bikes. It is pretty obvious that I have tunnel vision in my life. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to understand why there are not more people in the world that are as crazy about old bikes as I am.


My 1936 Harley EL Knucklehead and "friend"

Somewhere in the middle of Iowa I started to think about the general motorcycling public’s perception of old bikes. As the one sided conversation evolved in my head I started to wonder what the biggest problems with the public’s perception of old bikes are?

This is where I need your help, I know quite a few people check this site and I need your input, please comment below and let me know what you think the antique motorcycle hobby’s biggest public image problems are.

Do you think that people don’t think old Harleys are useable? Do you think that they are afraid to work on them? Or maybe it is the fact that people just don’t know how to use them. I don’t know, I am sure every motorcycle enthusiast has a different reason. Fill me in on what you think. Thanks in advance.

Filed under Matt Olsen's Blog, Motorcycles by

Permalink Print

Comments on Help! I need your input about old motorcycles.

June 24, 2009

Wolfman51pan @ 1:01 pm

“In my humble opinion” (I just don’t like those little abbreviations like IMHO) a large part of the “problem” is that we have succeeded so well in becoming a “disposable” society, that we have no confidence in any thing that is not “new and improved”. I have tried for years to bring my own son into the “fold” so to speak, without any lasting success. Oh, he’ll give lip service to the “old stuff”, and he is a great mechanic and has built a few bikes for others, but has never shown what I call the three D’s (desire, dedication and drive) to own an Antique or Classic motorcycle.
I have tuned, serviced, repaired and restored antique, classic and modern motorcycles for almost thirty five years, and have seen very few in todays society that want anything but that “brand new” ___________________. (insert your own description of whatever here).
By the way, how does one “use” an old bike? ROFL!
To All: Enjoy the “old Stuff”, it was designed by old guys to be built and rebuilt and to last “FOREVER”. Thank GOD for small favors.
I am and will always be “The Everlovin’ Wolfman”

My bike is a 1951 Panhead and I have had the pleasure of it’s company for thirty seven years!

oldschoolcool @ 5:21 pm

I think some of the reasons that people aren’t into classic bikes is that most want to ride, and not put in the effort to keep them running. They think kicking your ride means its gonna get broken…no idea how to start it..classics belong in a museum, not on the road (not my opinion)..where do you find parts?…who’s going to work on it? How do I register/insure it? I’m sure there are other reasons, but these are just a few of my thoughts. I would personally like to see more classic Harley’s on the road.Thanx for asking 🙂

Buzz_Kanter @ 8:50 pm

I feel one of the big problems with the old bike hobby is that most of today’s riders don’t know much about them. Too many Harley riders today could not tell you the difference between a flathead WL and an OHV Panhead. Another is that not enough owners of old Harleys ride them enough for people to see and better understand them.

June 27, 2009

vlscout @ 5:54 am

I recently took my 34 VL for inspection prior to Registration ! The Government inspector would not have it that my bike was some 75 years old and wanted to treat it as a Brand New bike . He refused to follow protocol for Historic Registration even after I had showed him documentation and an Act of Government covering such vehicles .
My wife also rides old bikes and is often questioned when she got of her 42 Indian Scout Questions like, How hard is that to ride. Last time out it was “Wow that a woman in that helmet!” Wonder how these Cafe Crawlers will react next time when she rides her recent update to a 47 Chief!
I guess I often wonder when Riding along how these folks ride their modern contraptions !

June 28, 2009

Frank S. @ 8:42 am

I have to agree with Buzz on this one. Though my bike would be considered modern (75 shovel) compared to many, most people including more recent entries into the world of Harley don’t have a clue what they are looking at nor do they have any knowledge on the history of Harley.

I belong to a antique motorcycle club that shows bikes anyplace we are invited with the hope of educating people about the older rides.


July 3, 2009

MattWalksler @ 11:42 am


Congrats on getting the ’36 back into tip top shape.

Here at the museum, I get a lot of folks who ask me about how hard it is to ride old bikes. I always provide a simple answer…”If you can ride a new one, you can ride an old one.” All you need is a few minutes to learn a foot clutch/tank shift and your off. Old ones are much lighter and more manueverable, in my opinion.

Perhaps the biggest “concern” that I run into is that many new model riders think the cost of getting into and onto an old bike is through the roof. Granted, if you want to get on a nicely restored pre-war knuck, it can be a bit expensive, but there are many affordable ridable old bikes out there that can be found and ridden without spending an arm and a leg.

July 11, 2009

doug_H @ 7:45 am

I think its the maintenance. THey here that old panheads and such left oil puddles big enough to make an arab sheik drool. and the thought of riding old bikes brings visions of sitting on old abandoned highways in the rain wrenching on the bike trying to get a few more miles out of it. and I agree that we live in a disposable society if it breaks throw it away and get a new one, there for if its old its not worth the trouble.

July 13, 2009

txc500 @ 9:26 pm

I feel like a few great points have been raised. Many people have told me that old motorcycles are unreliable and therefore not practical to ride, but I have a dream to own one…and to ride it. These are usually the same folks that tell me I should upgrade my 2003 Road King because, it is outdated (in thier opnion)!
I love old motorcycles, but admittedly, I don’t know know enough about them. I recently went to the meet in Rhinebeck NY to see, hear, and learn more about classic motorcycles for myself, and I was amazed! Many, many motorcycles that I have only seen in books or heard about, riding around before my eyes! One of the first I saw was Buzz on his Indian…what a great motorcycle…looked to me like he was enjoying it.
It was a great learning experience, and I find that many people are more than happy to share thier knowledge. Lots of cool stuff to look at.
Seeing these classic machines, and the community that keeps them going, made a lasting impression on me. I will continue to research sites like this one for valuable info, and attend meets like the one in Rhinebeck to learn more about the old stuff, and make a purchase when I’m ready.

July 31, 2009

Wilbur @ 7:24 pm

Matt I met you in Daytona this year at a Gas Station. I own a 2009 Electra Glide Ultra; Cream and Green (the colors looks like a 55 Chevy). I was filling up when you road up on your 39 Harley and I was blown away. After commenting on how gorgeous your bike was you did something that to this day just absolutely takes my breath away every time I think of it. You said “Have you ever started a kick start?” I could not believe it, here was a guy half my age asking no offering me a chance to do something I had only seen and never had the opportunity to actually do. I know I’m an old fart but even though I wanted to own a bike earlier it just was not in the cards. But life is constant change and hard work finally allowed me to buy my first bike in 2005, a Classic Springer set up to look like a 1946 Harley by a guy named “Opie” who rebuilds antique bikes for a Harley dealership in Burlington, NC. But alas it was not a true antique and after 4 years I let it go and bought my present bike so this “empty nester” and his wife could really dig some serious riding.

I digress though here was Matt being really cool and offering his bike to a total stranger to turn it over. Well he reach down and fooled with what I would call a choke but probably was something else and tells me to “straddle the seat, and give it a try.” Now bear in mind the whole time he’s telling me all about the process and I’m like a little kid listening to a sage explain the essence of life and I mean that. You just have no idea what this scene was like we are in Daytona about a mile and half from the
Speedway in a sort of “ratty” gas station and this guy is giving me something I have longed for for almost 40 years. I am damn near in “Nirvana” and the Matt is young and cool and I am well old and digging it.

Well it took about 5 times and I got the coordination between kick start and throttle to work. I have to tell you there was no feeling I have ever had between man and machine like this. I have ridden across country and back solo and that was the most fun I have ever had by myself but this was the essence of power from human to machine and I left thankful for the experience and setting a goal for the future.

September 9, 2009

35Chief @ 9:31 am

Matt, keep up the good work promoting antique bikes and involving youth or anyone willing to listen. I will follow your lead and offer up kick starting my 1935 Indian to interested parties. This old Chief has only stranded my once in 26 years and is a daily driver. A couple kicks and away you go. There is something to be said for simplicity. People most often ask, how often it breaks, is it hard to get parts and who is my mechanic. Answers, never breaks , there are parts readily available, I built it and I can fix it. I have to clean the carb bowl and spark plugs once and awile but thats it.
I jump at a chance to put a guys wife or little kids in the sidecar and have him climb on the Chief for pictures. It is a chance to educate as well as dispel myths about antique bikes. It seems everyone’s grandpa, dad or uncle had an Indian and I enjoy those stories.
This summer I asked a big guy who parked near my Chief, who was on a beautiful white Indian at Weirs Beach/Laconia what year it was as he climbed off. He yelled ” for gods sake it is a 1941, a 1941 Indian everyone” loud enough to be heard 100 feet away. If you see a white 1941 with light bars, windshield, saddle bags you know, all decked out with no year/model #s stamped in the engine case just run!
If you don’t want to be bothered, why park on the Weirs during bikeweek on an antique?

Ride’em don’t Hide’em and if someone wants to get a quick education or your bikes story, give it to them!

May 27, 2010

nmaineron @ 11:09 am

Cool site! I have pondered this very same question many times.I started riding in 1974 on a 70 XLCH that I got by swapping a running 750 Honda for.My Sportster was victom of the big long springer and way tall sissybar and almost impossible to ride.In its young life in ran through five different hands before it got to me.It spent the winters in the snow bank which is where I first saw it,I had to rescue it.One day I saw the present owner sitting on the curb in my small Maine town and me on my 750 Honda drove up and parked next to him and offered him an option he couldn’t refuse,the Honda for the Sportster straight up.He took the bait and I was the giddiest Harley guy in the universe that day.

My little story leads me to the question.I think the reputation of the oil leaking, hard to start,unreliable moniker that got attached to the Harley name intimidated people.On the one hand it was so cool to own and ride a Harley and be part of the culture but on the other hand was the anxiety associated with the reputation that I feel people were actually afraid to work on their machines for fear that they would break them.As a young aspiring mechanic it would completely astound me when a man of much greater mechanical ability than I would ask me to work on their bike,set the points check the timing etc.They would tear cars apart but wouldn’t touch the beloved Harley.I can’t tell you haw many bikes went through their lifetime without a timing light pointed at the hole.A point change was major anxiety.What made it even more amazing was that they had no qualms about extending the front end,adding the sissybar and seat and making it look pretty but ask them to tune or even try to learn how to tune their machine was like asking them to get a tooth pulled.

The summer before my encounter on Maine street I had an encounter with a “stroker” 51 Panhead that had the reputation of being unstartable.It was a pretty thing Blue with a big long springer and a big tall sissybar.I knew absolutly nothing about Harleys except for the fact that I was hooked and I wanted one real bad.I went to visit the monster,the guy only wanted $900.00 for it,I wanted it.He drug it out of the shed and told me to have at it.I kicked on that machine for over an hour before I finally got it running,I had never been on a Harley before,actually I didn’t even have a drivers license for a bike.I got this fire breathing dragon started,she is just belching from the short straight pipes and she is just bouncing as it idles,I’m afraid but I’ve got to man up.I spent all this time getting her started I’ve got to take her for a spin.I drop her into first and she takes off without me even letting my hand off the clutch,here I go! I am on this little street with this monster and I got to figure out to get it stopped seeing how I am going when I’m not supposed to be,I can’t even think about second at this point! Finally it just stalled out.

That ole girl intimidated me so much that I coulnd’t even think about taking my money out of my pocket.

Come to find out the distributor was in backwards,nobody could figure it out and because of that it got sold for next to nothing.I only wish that I had some experience and knew a little bit.It was that experience that got me to the point of being the town wrench.No expert but I could make them run.