Appreciating The Classics

By Joe Taylor

April 4, 2008 9 min read


Collecting, preserving motorcycles is a hot hobby

By Joe Taylor

Copley News Service

For $800, Jared Zaugg added to his personal motorcycle collection.

But it's the collection he assembles every May in Northern California that truly inspires him, and others who love classic and vintage machines.

Zaugg is the creator and president of the Legend of the Motorcycle international concours d' elegance, the largest gathering of rare, esoteric and classic motorcycles in the world. The annual event, which includes riding activities, an auction and more, has its third staging May 3 at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

The 2007 event attracted more than 300 motorcycles, 6,000 visitors and a global audience.

"We are preserving, recognizing and appreciating the history, honoring the roots of the motorcycle life. We want to focus our understanding on what has come before," said Zaugg, 35, of San Francisco.

The prices for these rare breeds continue to climb. At the 2006 auction of the collection that belonged to Otis Chandler, the late publisher of the Los Angeles Times, 42 of the 90 vehicles were motorcycles and were gaveled for a collective total of more than $4 million. A 1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank single-cylinder motorcycle sold for $352,000, and 1936 Crocker Small-Tank Twin fetched $236,500. Fourteen bikes sold for more than $100,000 each.

In contrast at that auction, a 1931 Duesenberg sold for $2.64 million.

"Classic car prices are going through the roof," Zaugg said. "Classic bikes can be had for half the price."

Collecting and preserving motorcycles is a hot hobby, fueled more recently by baby boomers reaching their golden years. Collectors often are driven by interest in one brand or a certain style or era.

"No. 1 is nostalgia," Zaugg said. "For some it is the chance to get something that they couldn't get as a teen - a car or bike - that, to them, represented the pinnacle of coolness.

"No. 2 is an investment, but for many I don't think that's a primary factor.

"And No. 3 would be entertainment. As a hobby, to work on, to go on rides, to take to shows, to talk about with friends," Zaugg said. "It's saying this is what it meant to you in high school."

Others respect the artistry and craftwork that has evolved over a century and has been celebrated in exhibits at New York's Guggenheim Museum in 1998 and at Rockefeller Center in 2004.

Guy Webster of Ojai, Calif., is a premier collector of Italian motorcycles from 1950 to 1980. Two bikes from his stable - which includes bikes by Ducati, MV Agusta, Gelera, Laverda, Moto Guzzi and more - were featured in the Guggenheim exhibit, "The Art of the Motorcycle."

"I chose each bike ... as works of art," Webster said of his collection in a 2007 interview broadcast on Spike TV. "Whether they are recognized internationally as works of art or have that value is immaterial to me."

No event for two-wheeled machines matches the grandeur of the Legend of the Motorcycle. Many enthusiasts show off their latest acquisitions or restorations in progress at famous hangouts such as the Rock Store near Malibu, Calif., Alice's Restaurant in Woodside, Calif., and The Ear in Manhattan. Collectors have turned motorcycle extravaganzas, such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota's Black Hills, Daytona Bike Week in Florida, the Honda Hoot in Nashville, Tenn., Americade in upstate New York and the American Motorcyclist Association's Vintage Motorcycle Days in Lexington, Ohio, into annual showcases.

The Antique Motorcycle Club of America gives enthusiasts of all motorcycle breeds a chance to ride their rare marques. The organization has 48 chapters around the country and holds a regional series of road runs to put bikes - which have to be at least 35 years old - through their paces.

Gleaming V-twin Indians and lovingly restored Henderson inline-fours stood side-by-side with rugged BMWs and sporty Triumphs in the parking lot of the Borrego Springs Resort, where the AMCA's Southern California Chapter held its annual road run March 7-9. More than 116 riders from as far as Florida, Texas and Montana gathered for a weekend rally through Southern California's desert mountains. The oldest bike on the road was a 1914 Harley-Davidson, which completed a 100-mile course. The oldest rider, at 91, was Max Bubek, a member of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

"It is a good, clean sport, and may people like that it's hands-on," said chapter President Tim Graber. "It is inexpensive in relation to a lot of other things, and it's not just a rich man's sport. We have subcontractors, lawyers, a beauty-shop owner, military. And we have lots of members in their 80s and 70s.

"Some people get into it early. I'm here with three generations of my family," Graber said.

The popularity of rare motorcycles has crossed over to a separate category of collectibles: coins. The New Zealand Mint has scheduled a release of silver coins titled "Great Motorcycles of the 1930s." The motorcycles featured include the Soviet 1938 IZH 8, the Ariel 100 Squarefour, the British 1931 Matchless Silver Hawk, the 1930 BSA Sloper and the 1932 Brough Superior SS100, according to a news release published on The coins will be packaged in a motorcycle tire design box.

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Joe Taylor is a freelance writer and motorcycle enthusiast in Temecula, Calif.

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Museums across the nation

By Joe Taylor

Copley News Service

Museums across the nation have a variety of antique and classic motorcycle eye candy. Here are just a few:

- The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Ala., (; 205-699-7275) has more than 1,100 bikes from 143 manufacturers and 16 countries. About 500 motorcycles are on display at any given time.

- The Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum (; 614-856-2222) in Pickerington, Ohio, will be honoring master motorcycle designer and builder Arlen Ness in an exhibit titled "Awesome-Ness." Ness, a customizer for more than 40 years, was the winner of Discovery Channel's "Biker Build-Off" series. The exhibit opens July 24.

- The Harley-Davidson Museum ( is under construction in Milwaukee, Wis., and is slated to open this summer. The 130,000-square-foot facility will house more than 400 vehicles from the company's collection, including Serial No. 1, the first Harley, from 1903, as well as Elvis Presley's 1956 KH model and the "King Kong," a bike that was customized over a 40-year period by an H-D loyalist. It is 13 feet long and has two engines.

- Dave Mungenast's Classic Motorcycles Museum in St. Louis (; 314-481-1291) has 200 bikes on display.

- California's Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum (; 805-686-9522) emphasizes racing machines and occasionally sells bikes to accommodate recent acquisitions.

- The 250-motorcycle collection at Wheels Through Time ( includes 60 American racing bikes - from board track speedsters to hill-climbers and more - dating from 1909. However, this popular attraction in Maggie Valley, N.C., recently announced on its Web site that it is leaving North Carolina after six years and has not identified a new location.

Also worthwhile:

- Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles (, 323-930-2277).

- The San Diego Automotive Museum, San Diego (, 619-231-2886).

- Route 66 Vintage Motorcycle Association, Joplin, Mo. (

- Vintage Motorcycle Museum, Chehalis, Wash. (

- Glenn H. Curtiss Museum, Hammondsport, N.Y. (; 607-569-2160.)

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Joe Taylor is a freelance writer and motorcycle enthusiast in Temecula, Calif.

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