I've devoted a fair amount of this space to the subject, with past editorials describing (or comparing) the differences between new and old motorcycles. An obvious agenda for which I won't apologize, few things rub my rat tail the wrong way than statements claiming a modern motorcycle is needed for 'real' riding. No doubt delivered or repeated with the best of intentions, that mindset is at best, shortsighted. For owners, the never ending challenge of keeping our older bikes ready for the task can be described as the great equalizer; be it a new machine or a well-sorted oldie, there's a price to pay for the privilege.
“Some people understand that” says TJ Jackson, “and some never do.” Owned and operated with wife Pam, TJ founded Eastside Performance in 1981 after his tour as a moto-wrench for hire. “Motorcycles are built from the inside out” Jackson once told me. “Just because you can't see a problem doesn't mean it isn't there. Engines from the last forty-years can tolerate an incredible amount of neglect, but nothing can take it forever. Let things go long enough, and the only option is to go back in and start over.”
A former drag racer, performance tuning has always been a focus for TJ, a Kawasaki fan who set numerous records in the seventies and eighties which led to earning the National #1 plate in 1988. That background has served Eastside well, gaining more kudos since with a succession of award-winning, fire-breathing Harleys and concours-level restoration work, in addition to a loyal customer following.
I met TJ and Pam ten-years ago, after a tip from my publisher about a local who had a Brough Superior and a “bunch of nice old bikes” displayed in his motorcycle showroom. Since then, I've leaned on TJ for many of my technical questions, often gaining some of that aforementioned enlightenment. A good example of that is when I casually mentioned favoring Suzuki and Kawasaki four-stroke multis because they were tougher than Hondas of the same vintage. “I don't know about that” TJ shrugged, mentioning he once worked for a Honda dealership. “Honda sold more motorcycles than anyone else, which meant there were more poorly serviced Hondas than anything else.” And while TJ did admit the KZ and GS series fours are a bit more robust, his personal experience took me back to the time when I gave up on Japanese bikes in favor of Euro brands. “Some of the things I saw done -or not done- to new bikes was unbelievable.” Jackson recalled. “The customer wasn't getting half of what he paid for.”
My pal Mike Shabal isn't one of those guys, but he tried. A long time business associate that I met outside of motorcycling, Mike wanted another bike and for years pondered his choices. I suggested Moto Guzzi for the reasons I often do, being very durable, easy to service and (usually) owned by a more mature rider. I explained to Mike that most Guzzis see less abuse than other brands, especially Japanese sport bikes, but he didn't want a Guzzi. Mike wanted a Kawasaki. His search eventually turned up a clean, low mileage 1996 GpZ 1100 that he bought at a very reasonable price. When the big Kwacker needed some work though, Mike discovered his GpZ was a 500-lb orphan. “Most new owners are surprised to learn the dealerships won't work on old bikes” says Jackson, whose parking area is filled with machines turned away by other shops. “Mike had a fuel problem and those can be tricky, so they sent him packing. Dealers might do quick change items like tires or batteries, but mechanical work is too big a financial risk...and that's assuming there's someone there that actually knows how to fix it.”
Confirmed by TJ, there are two basic kinds of used bike owners; ones who buy a specific machine because that's what they want, and those who buy a specific machine because that's what they can afford. “The riders who've done their homework know what they're getting into. They will hold out for a certain bike, often paying more for a machine they know has been properly cared for and serviced. Others get in cheap and think they've found a great deal, until they bring it in and hear the reality of the situation.” One recent example TJ relayed was a customer who purchased a clean, Genesis-equipped Yamaha FZR. “That sucker has five valves per cylinder!” TJ laughed, going on to explain not only the time involved, but material costs too. “Those shims aren't cheap” he said. “An owner can spend several hundred dollars just getting the proper assortment. That big Yammie is a great bike and tons of fun to ride, but an owner needs to know what's involved keeping it serviced so it performs the way it's supposed to”
When I first started riding street bikes way back in 1977, my mentor Jess Collinsworth told me I had no business riding any motorcycle I couldn't fix myself. Over the years I've taken that advice to heart, but the reality of business and family commitments puts many of us in need of a reliable, honest and qualified technician. I've spent enough time with TJ and his lead mechanic Nick Adams (right >) to see how they operate, and have come away impressed with their knowledge, skill and dedication. “I tell my mechanics that people come here because they've heard we're different, that we will handle their motorcycle like we'd handle our own. That's everything. That's why someone like Nick is so valuable to me. Over the years I've had maybe a dozen guys I'd let work on my bike, and Nick is one of them.”
While all this might seem like a grand cheerleading session for TJ and his crew at Eastside, the true motivation behind this editorial is to inspire a deeper understanding of vintage bike ownership. Do your homework. Find out everything you can about the motorcycle you desire. Know that whether it's service, parts or the motorcycle itself, cheaper is always more expensive in the long run. Use patience and budget for the best possible motorcycle, then continue that mindset after you've taken the keys. No matter what you choose to own and ride, I'd encourage you to learn and perform the basic maintenance your motorcycle needs, as it's no secret that most issues come from these needs being ignored. Why have a bad experience if you can avoid it? For those in the area, TJ and his staff at Eastside is a great choice for tuning, rebuilds and restorations, but there are others and it's in your best interest to seek them out. Your vintage bike is not a living room carpet or a new microwave oven. Chances are, it'll take some time and a bit more patience keep everything sorted. The classic bikes we own and ride are truly amazing devices, but it's all for nothing without first preparing the most important element. You. Nolan Woodbury
343 S. Davis Street
Mesa, AZ 85210