What’s a Disposa-Bike?
by Thomas Day
A Harley-BMW riding friend of mine recently commented on my past motorcycle history as a long chain of “Japanese disposa-bikes.” I guess, compared to his bike owning history, my bikes have been disposable. After all, I rode ’em till I was tired of them and sold (disposed?) them. And he, in comparison has owned the same 1950s 11 horsepower, dish-pan-head, ton of iron since he was a kid. Still, I’m not convinced that my bikes have been any more disposable than any other mode of transportation.
My Harley-BMW buddy has admitted to owning a fair number of other Harleys, which are no longer in his garage (disposed?), during the same time period. He’s even admitted that his ancient ride has rolled out less than 5,000 miles in the last decade or so. But his point is that his new RS1100 BMW is more built for the long haul than my diddly Suzuki SV650. One piece of evidence that he tossed out is a piece of advertising fluff BMW spouts claiming that 9 out of 10 of all BMWs ever built are still on the road. I think it’s safe to say that Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha have no shot at a claim like that. His other compelling evidence was a challenge to find a Japanese collector bike that is worth $100,000.
My first reaction to the BMW ad comes from my short stint as a sports car owner. In the 1960s, I owned a second-hand 1959 MGA. If you didn’t know better, I suspect you might think that I wish I’d have hung on to that car, since it’s a multi-thousand dollar collector’s item these days. If I could have stuffed it into a garage, vacuum sealed the room, and had no other clue how to spend the money that storage and investment would cost over the years, you’d be right. However, that wasn’t my situation. I actually bought the MGA thinking it would be cool transportation. If you can get from Point A to Point B in any product ever designed in England, the two points must be within walking distance. Or, more likely, pushing distance
In the 1970s, Volvo made pretty much the same reliability claim for their brittle vehicles. I think they might have pushed the hype envelope as far as claiming that 10 out of 11 Volvos sold were still being driven. This was at a time when Volvo’s fuel injection was so unreliable that Volvo owners practically expected to spend several thousand dollars on repair bills just to have a vehicle that might start occasionally. What we have here is another example of “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Any data found in marketing drivel shouldn’t be mistaken as useful information.
In the painful and expensive six months I owned my MGA money-sink, I poured nearly two thousand dollars into head gaskets and transmission repairs. Even though the car was a smoking hunk of junk, when I sold it, I refused to take less than $750 for it. I just couldn’t stand the thought of all that cash vanishing completely. Fortunately, there was yet another sucker born after me. That seems to be the never-ending story for collectors’ vehicles, there is an unlimited supply of fools with cash burning holes in their Dockers.
In my opinion, that phenomena is a big reason why Harleys and Euro-trash bikes find their way from one garage to another and are rarely found properly parted-out in salvage yards. The initial investment is huge and the follow-up maintenance, customization, personal investment and commitment does wonders for the “value” of these vehicles. Even the severely awful Brit stuff, like the amazingly incompetent 1960s BSA 441 Victor (the “Victim,” to those who know it best) has become a collectible. I never thought I’d live long enough to see that.
So, I’ll keep riding my Japanese disposa-bikes, turning them over every 60,000 to 100,000 miles, and I’ll probably never own a bike that’s worth real money. On the plus side, I tend to get my investment back when I sell my bikes so if that’s what owning a disposable is about, I’m not complaining. Don’t get me started on English vehicles, though. I’m still not through bitching about my run-in with the folks who are capable of casting every sort of engineering material into a shape unable to contain oil.