by David Soderholm
Is a motorcycle with history more interesting or valuable than one that is showroom fresh? Do paint chips, scratches, fading and other signs of usage add or subtract from a motorcycles appeal? Should one opt for total restoration or keep a historical motorcycle survivor? What is better – patina or perfection? Interesting and thought provoking questions to be sure. In Kris Palmer’s new book, Motorcycle Survivor, Tips and Tales in the Unrestored Realm, he tackles questions like these. Kris Palmer states that his book is a book of ideas and tales, rather than a catalog of specifications or values of restored bikes.
Kris Palmer introduces the term “Survivor Bikes” in his new book. He represents the term as the yin to the flawlessly restored museum show bikes yang, stating that a dust covered classic holds more appeal to many than a perfectly restored one due to the inherent history within it. He makes the argument that as you remove the imperfections time has wrought on a classic bike, you are also removing the history that made that bike special and unique in the first place. Mr. Palmer presents the idea that these survivor bikes are artifacts, preserving their unique build methodology and use history. These machines hold stories and secrets known, forgotten or yet to be discovered, and it is this characteristic uniqueness that represents the appeal of each motorcycle survivor.
The Author also introduced a term new to me: “Patina”. Since I could not find it formally defined in the book, I looked it up. The dictionary definition is “the accumulated changes in surface texture and color that result from normal use of an object such as a coin or a piece of furniture over time.” That seems to fit Mr. Palmer’s use in the book rather well. It also gives me a term to use when admiring old motorcycles!
The book is divided into sections, each containing three to four chapters. Each section deals with a specific theme. In the first section (“Lap 1: Survivor Tips”), Kris Palmer makes the argument for the value of unrestored classic bikes. One of the topics deals with the idea of using these classic survivors as daily riders. He makes the distinction that even though there is value and history in patina, that this does not mean leaving the bike mechanically unsound for daily use. Things like brakes, chains, tires, suspension and such must be mechanically reliable while maintaining as close to originality as possible.
The last four sections (“Lap 2: Survivor Tales”; “Wide Open Throttle”; “Yankee Iron”; “For a Good Home, Call.”) describe amazing tales of discovery and acquisition of various motorcycle survivors. The motorcycles represented in these sections are a who’s who of collectables. Makes like BSA, Triumph, Harley-Davidson, Norton, Thiem, Joerns, Sunbeam, Norton, Velocette, Honda, Ducati and Moto-Guzzi among others. All are gloriously photographed with beautifully done full-color pictures. One of the most fascinating stories describes the acquisition of a 1914 Indian Board Track Racer from Steve McQueen’s Imperial Palace Estate Auction. McQueen seems to have had a Jay Leno like passion for classic vehicles and motorcycles, amassing quite the fabulous collection! (Leno learned it from McQueen. Ed.) The 1914 Indian was but one of many jewels from Steve McQueen’s collection of vintage motorcycles and cars auctioned off that day.
Kris Palmers book awakened a sleeping giant within me. The tales of classic bike acquisition along with the uniqueness and history of these patina-laden bikes has spurred me to want to begin adding classic bikes to my motorcycle collection. Instead of a new showroom bike, my next motorcycle might now end up being older than I am! For those of you even remotely interested in classic motorcycles, Kris Palmer’s book runs WFO on four out of four cylinders!
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