Editor’s note: Today we present the second of two blog posts about the age-old motorcycle argument over “old school” versus “new school.” Yesterday we heard the advantages of the new bikes presented by Patrick Garvin. Today we’ll hear from Kody Wisner, who will serve up a bit of nostalgia and common sense in support of the old school bikes. Again, our purpose here isn’t to change anybody’s mind about this age-old issue. The intent is to add ammo to your argument, no matter which side of the road you reside.
Modern versus Classic Motorcycles (By Kody Wisner)
Like Patrick Garvin said in his blog post yesterday (“New School Rules; Old School Drools”), we’re going to look at this as if we couldn’t have more than one bike. Luckily, that isn’t the case for most of us. I have modern bikes as well as classics, and I’m sure that’s the case for a lot of you. While I enjoy several styles of riding, today I’ll tell you why I would pick a classic over modern bike. I realize there are many more makes and models than H-D, but that’s what a lot of us ride, and I will utilize that bike for our comparisons.
Motor/Fuel delivery. It’s said that today’s motors are far superior to the ones on our vintage motorcycles. And while it’s true the new motors utilize fancier manufacturing techniques than my Panhead, and maybe they don’t leak as much as a knucklehead, modern motors are completely lacking in style and soul.
Have your ever looked at a Twin-Cam and said to yourself, “Damn, I’d give anything to have a bike with that motor!” I doubt it. Aside from style, the reliability of a modern motor is without question top notch, but saying a vintage motor is unreliable is a pretty bold statement. Many motorcyclists have traveled the country — and the world — on vintage motorcycles of nearly every make and model. Not every one of us is looking to get from point A to point B in the fastest time. Some of us are out to enjoy the ride, not worrying about the destination.
I’ve ridden a 1945 Knuckle from Arizona to Iowa several times, and I will say I had my share of problems. But I made every trip, every time, without having assistance from a dealer, or relegating my bike to a trailer. I did spend some time doing roadside repairs to the old girl, but I’d like to see you change the head gasket on your Evo on the side of the road. Sure, most of our vintage bikes have carburetors and points ignitions, which, by the way, most of us riding these bikes know how to service and repair. I’d like to see someone tune a stock open-loop fuel-injection system on the side of the road, or figure out why the ignition system isn’t firing. Without a service manual and some special equipment, it just isn’t going to happen.
Brakes. I do like the fact that modern bikes have triple disc brakes with four-piston calipers each, or better, which work well to stop that 900-pound touring machine. The big drum brakes that were stock on an early H-D had no problem slowing down the 550-pound bike to which they were attached. Most early bikes can easily break today’s speed limits, and, if kept it good condition, will easily lock up both brakes to bring you to a screeching halt. Most of us who ride vintage iron are not out to burn the miles as fast as possible. We’re out there to enjoy riding our motorcycle in beautiful weather.
Suspension. Modern telescoping front forks are nice, but let’s remember that those were on most of our vintage bikes, too. Harley stopped putting Springer front forks on big twins in 1948, when their designers crafted the great hydra-glide that modern Harleys still use — virtually unchanged.
As far as weight savings go, I’m going to take an educated guess and say that a complete Springer front end and a modern hydraulic fork are within 5 to 10 pounds of each other. Now, slap on your windshield or fairing and all your turn signals and spotlights, and I’d say your new front end is actually heavier. Starting back in 1952 on K-models, and then in 1958 on Big Twins, Harleys had “modern style” front and rear suspension. Nearly unchanged after all these years, most modern bikes use the same style of front and rear suspension as a 1958 Duo-Glide. Before the Duo-Glide, Harley utilized sprung seats. When properly set up, a rigid motorcycle with a sprung solo seat feels like you’re riding on a cushion of air. Don’t believe me? Find someone with an old Harley that has a factory-sprung solo and see if you can sit on it. Try bouncing up and down. You’ll be amazed.
Not all of us are looking to go ripping through corners or go touring cross-country. A lot of us are content just taking our bikes for a nice leisurely cruise around where we live, or maybe riding to work. In cases like that, we don’t really need a sport bike, or a big overweight touring bike. We’re content with our old, outdated antique machine that we’ll keep rebuilding and then hand down to our kids when we’re finally done with it.
One of the great things about classic or antique motorcycles is that they’re valuable and they hold that value — or go up in value. Ever try to sell your 2-year-old bike? Didn’t get the price you paid for it, did you? Buy a collectible vintage bike, on the other hand, and you’ll most likely be able to sell if for more than you paid, as long as you kept it in the same condition.
Sure we’re most likely going to have to spend money on our classic bike, maintaining it and repairing it. But you won’t be able to wipe the smile off my face as I cruise the countryside on my vintage ride.