Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shop Stop: Geiger Works, Philadelphia PA

Theres just something about walking into a warehouse for the very first time and having your vision clogged up with the site of old bikes floor to ceiling. It's a lot to take in and more questions are raised then answered. Where did all this stuff come from? Who owned these? What are the stories behind each and every item. It's a very romantic notion, I know, but I'm a hopeless romantic at heart - what can I say?

John Geiger's romance with Italian motor scooters started over 20 years ago and like me he's a polygamist with his machines. An ex girlfriend turned him onto Vespa's and while she faded out of the picture, the relationship with scooters grew from an infatuation to a way of life. It's not often that someone can earn a living working on the things one loves, but it's even rarer to be able to have such a tight focus on one particular machine such as old Vespas and Lambretta's and still earn a living. 

As a side story, I first got my '74 Vespa in the late 90's. I loved the styling of the scooters and I loved the folklore of Mods riding through London in the early 60's. I found my Vespa resting in a barn in Western Mass with a seized engine and a heavy blanket of dust and splattered paint. Though it was rough, it was complete and the price was right (free). I had owned two motorcycles prior to this, a 70's Honda XR75 as a kid and later a Triumph TR25 - both of which came to me in running order. Finding a machine in need of love (and a whole lot of sorting out) was a whole new experience for me. With the help of my father (who was building a Triton Cafe Racer at the time - perfect irony - see mods vs rockers)  we got the piston unstuck from the cylinder and had the scooter running in a few hours. For the next month I tracked down tires, fuel line, petcock  and carburetor parts all while doing my best to clean and restore the Vespa's appearance. Working on that machine gave me a sense of ownership, understanding and love that I never experienced with a motorcycle before. I also had one of the best bonding moments with my father that I can ever recall. This moment carried forward and I still love rescuing beaten bikes to this day. It just makes it so much more special.

Over the years my Vespa served me well but wear and tear on the engine began to set in and I knew it needed an overhaul, complete with boring, honing and rewiring (if you've ever wired a vespa than I don't have to tell you about fishing wires through the pressed steel frame). The bike eventually went into the corner of my garage and began to gather dust. After many failed attempts to breathe new life into the old girl, I threw my hands up and took her down to Geiger Works in the Kensington section of Philsdelphia.

Jon is one of those guys who loves riding small displacement vehicles on journeys that some would think twice about even on a large motorcycle. He builds his engines to be fast and reliable so when the need to ride 500 miles on a scooter arrises, he's ready. I met Jon at a motorcycle rally a few Novembers ago up near Reading PA. He was on his P200 all the way from Philly (a 120 mile round trip on an icy day). I knew he was the man to take on my engine's reconditioning. When I went down to his shop to drop off my bike I was pleased to see he was an even bigger hoarder than I am. Scooters and motorcycles covering every inch of floorspace and stacked to the ceiling on large industrial shelves. An old lathe sat on a crate in one corner "I found that in the trash" Jon boasted to me "I couldn't let it get scrapped". I could certainly relate.

Jon started working on scooters like anyone else: He found an old Vespa that needed work, so he took it apart - though that bike is still apart and up on a shelf. The passion for mechanics definite;y stuck because soon Jon was working as a mechanic for Philadelphia Vespa.  As scooters gained popularity, Jon and his crew of avid riders became the centerpiece for scooter rallies and events. After leaving Hostile City scooter club (because too many new plastic scooters were showing up), Jon helped co-found The Rabble Rousers - a hardcore group of vintage scooter riding, beer swilling hooligans from the City of Brotherly Love. Again I could relate to the passion of keeping it all vintage - I was in the right spot.

I talked to Jon for a few hours from bikes, machining tools to punk rock. Turns out we both had a fondness for the Bad Brains and we both were at many of the same shows throughout our days. I can't recommend Jon Geiger enough for reviving your old two stroke, he's a nice, honest guy with a solid reputation. I've seen pictures of his work on his site - but more importantly I've seen his scooters in action... and they're usually a long way from home.

John Geiger, 2013
There are absolutely no shortage of parts here.

Like two lost souls, one consoling the other.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

2013 York AMCA swapmeet

For those of us living in North East, winter is long, riding is for the brave and foolish (at least until the trees start to bud again) so the January indoor swap meet in York Pennsylvania is a beacon of light when the nights are longer than the days. This particular weekend was jammed packed with events including James Hammerheads NYC Launch party for his custom V7 Guzzi, The International Motorcycle Show at the Javits Center, but after the Vegas auction last weekend, I decided to stick close to home and possibly spend lots of money - which is not hard to do if you're like me. 

Last year I had a ton of crap to sell, but after unloading a lot of the british spares I had on my friend over at Quaker City Motorworks this past fall, I really had a burning need to acquire versus purge. I have to say I'm proud of myself that I didn't pick up any more projects. I did score a 5 speed transmission for my future Triton build and a few cool t shirts, including one from my friends over at Urban Cycle Works and another from the Gary Nixon estate that was sold by number nine's close pal Bob Sholly. 

I've covered this swap for a number of years so i have nothing much to add - so here's a few pictures which I figure are at least worth a thousand words. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bonhams 2013 Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction.

Las Vegas is the playground for those who like to drink hard and place bets... Neither of which are a part of my life anymore so why am I here? Well, for the avid vintage bike collector (and for the record I barely call myself more than a small time scavenger) - the new year kicks off in the city of sin with a double header of auction-powerhouses, Bonhams and Mid America Auctions- albeit last years party was crashed by RM/Auctions America, leading to one of the strongest buyers market I've ever witnessed, but thats a story for another time. 

The RS225 Kompressor
This year, Bonhms featured several highly-hyped BMW  Rennsports, including an RS255 fitted with a factory super charger or "Kompressor" like the one ridden to the IOM TT victory in 1939 by Georg Meier. While the Rennsport offered by Bohnams was not the bike which was piloted by the first non-Brit TT winner, the factory components used to assemble this machine are original and quite simply, unobtainable. Prices were speculated to hit the half million dollar mark, and fell short by only twenty grand. Three other Rennsports were offered as well as other notable bikes with race history including an original 1970 Rob North framed BSA Rocket III which failed to meet reserve (of six figures) and a 1960 Matchless G-50 that was just shy of $60k. Apparently those with money are still spending it on necessities like collectable motorcycles.

Matchless G50
Rob North Framed BSA Rocket III
Now no way am I in the league with aforementioned buyers, but i do get a kick out of seeing how the other half lives. The 1952 Vincent Black Shadow that brought a hefty $134,800 is not on my current want list or even dream list - possibly beyond-my-wildest-dream-list, but for now I like going to high ticket sales to get good stories and meet good people. So who are the people that go to an event like Bonhams or MMA? Everyone who loves 2 wheels. Museum curators to garage dwellers, race team owners and former pro racers to privateers who look back on their track-days as the best times of their lives. Yes there are jerks who buy that "old-ass board tracker" for their office to impress their buddies, but there are also the common guys who built, restored and traded their way up from humble beginnings.

You don't need deep pockets to get a kick out of the auctions, especially if you're open minded and enjoy meeting people of all backgrounds - ok I love judging people whom I don't know -- so I guess there's that too (like the aforementioned asshole who just wants office status... yeah that guy). For me it's all about the thrill of what MIGHT happen in Vegas. Sales in the volatile moto-market can sometimes break records and other times fall short leading to the bargain of a lifetime. You just never know whats going to happen and unless you're present, and if you don't play the game then you can only revel in other peoples "what happened in Vegas" stories.  Last year I dragged home a crusty 1956 plunger-framed Triumph T-20 in its original paint and probably it's original oil as most of the engine was frozen. The price, even with shipping was well below what I felt to be market value. It's not the most desirable Triumph, but it's unusual in the States and it's interesting to me as I have a thing for the little 200 singles.

It's the love for motorcycles and the history of the sport that draws us all to that blazing oasis in the desert. Raise your bidders paddle and you get a true adrenaline rush from the prospect of a deal you might be getting - perhaps this is the humble beginnings to that unobtainable collection you never dreamt of owning. Be careful as you can quickly find yourself in a bidding war with the guy across the room who also needs that bike. You might just end up paying twice it's value. Its all a gamble I guess - so yeah, scratch that from the list of things I no longer partake in... Whatever, it's Vegas.

1934 Harley 34B Single
1929 Magnat Debon 350cc
HMW cutaway engine
1938 Rudge 250 Special
1958 Triumph Thunderbird albeit wrong color
51 Triumph 6T Drag Racer
1950 Phelon & Moore Panther 600cc