Why you should care
Because everything old is cool again.
Bullet Bob Morris was twice smitten. Once with owning and maintaining antique motorbikes notoriously hard to own and maintain (“the preferable nomenclature is ‘vintage,’” Bob says from his home in Georgia), and twice with the racing of them.
Though Morris has recently been diagnosed with ALS and has only a limited time left to live, one of the last things he’s given up is the bikes, the auctions and the races that form so much of the framework of the vintage bike life. AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days in July, the Mecum auctions in March and anything and everything sponsored by the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHMRA) are the tent poles of this obsessive pastime. Each event gives a brief glimpse into the minds of the men and women hung up on ground-pounding, nitro-burning track times.
“Sure, the appeal is partly connected to racing something that needs to be brought up to speed to even be able to race right,” says competitive racer Jeff Hecox. But the rest of the allure seems to hinge on procuring a bike from a particular year that struck the rider’s fancy. How else do you explain auctions where 1939 BMW bikes go for $480,000, or the 1949 Vincent Black Lightning, a cousin of the Vincent Black Shadow that so obsessed Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, selling for $383,317?
Competitive, nostalgic and easy-going. Perfect!
Bullet Bob Morris
For Morris, it started at age 4 when a man who many of us would have considered the worst uncle in the world gave him a hand-me-down mini-bike. Though he couldn’t start it himself, “after that first ride, the fire of passion burned in me like a blowtorch,” Morris says. A passion that extended to making the part whole and fixing up imperfections that many others would have passed on.
But after years of tinkering, Morris went to a race and knew he had to get on the track. Racing non-vintage bikes, but still. The year was 1980 and he was saddled with a two-wheeled addiction that saw him maintaining and racing a vintage Honda, a race bike and three dirt bikes — until a garage fire ended it all, claiming his shop and tools.
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Addictions find other means, though, and vintage racing let Morris turn away from traditional road racing onto a new avenue. “It was a bunch of old guys in their 40s like me, racing old bikes from the ’70s on old-school motocross tracks,” Morris says. “Competitive, nostalgic and easy-going. Perfect!”
Whether you’re racing or restoring, or both, the appeal of antique bikes is obvious and sublime, thinks Michael Green, the Yoda of California vintage racing, and proprietor of West Coast British Racing. “People talk about the workmanship, and that’s part of it,” say Green. “But the fact that these bikes are not made anymore makes them art.”
Art between your legs? Going 100 miles per hour? Hell yes.