Finally healed up from surgery, I landed in New York yesterday to hang out with my girlfriend and start stretching my professional network as I look for new sources of income.
This morning she went to work, and I went up the highway to call on one of the Craigslist gems I had earmarked while surfing the internet under the influence of (legally prescribed) narcotics last week.
The machine in question was a Honda dual-sport motorcycle called an MT250, vintage 1974. By virtue of it’s age it had a round headlight, metal fenders, and beautiful swooping lines that have since disappeared completely from off-road vehicle designs. Enthusiasts will know it’s one of the few roadgoing two-strokes Honda ever made, and by virtue of it’s engine is noisy, smelly, and very hard to kill.
I found the siren song of this one in particular so enticing because it was well-photographed, cheaper than most of the bicycles I’d seen in Brooklyn, and the ad boasted a “clean title in hand”… a niggling but necessary accessory to any vehicle you hope to get Massachusetts license plates on.
Rolling up to the address with the mild anxiety that prologues any potentially awkward social situation I rang the seller and told him I reckoned I was in front of his house.
“Then you must be looking at an ’82 Harley in my front window” was the reply.
Indeed I was… the gentleman had actually mounted a complete Harley-Davidson where a family in my old neighborhood might mount a giant statue of a stupid horse or something. I was instantly glad I had made the drive out here.
The seller, whose name and location will remain unpublished, came out to greet me with hair-metal swagger and a faded black t-shirt to match. I shook his hand and instead of taking me straight to the motorcycle I had called about the night before, he told me the story of the Harley in the window- a long tale of romance, drama, and swashbuckling, that he transitioned seamlessly into a tour of his house and photos of his drag car; a Rambler on racing slicks with a six-hundred-horse Corvette V8 crammed down it’s throat. Cool.
On the way to the photos we passed two full-sized racing go-carts affixed to the wall, assorted trophies, and a few Playboy magazines as old as the Honda I had come to see. I couldn’t believe the righteousness I had inadvertently stumbled into. I no longer cared whether or not I left with a new bike of my own, my shopping trip had become an ethnographic study and story hour.
We made our way outside and passed his AMX, Corvair, and the Rambler I had seen pictures of. Naturally I asked about each, and he was happy to indulge me with spec sheets, back stories, and a popping of every hood. Each car had the same theme- roll cage, giant tach, and an engine so large only an unmarried man could be allowed to own it. Nearly an hour had passed and I hadn’t even seen the bike I had called about, but couldn’t haven been happier.
We made our way through his basement. Remember that scene in The Matrix where Keanu Reeves says “we need lots of guns” and suddenly infinite racks of ordinance appeared? Turning on the lights in there was like that; only with gearhead treasures. We stepped into a well-lit cave of wonders chock’a block with engines, bikes, tools, more bikes, and a nudie calendar on the wall. (Cliché: accomplished.) Affixed to the floor with racket straps was a stripped Harley with a damn turbocharger the size of my head bolted to its intake. Seller saw my eyebrow go up and smiled; “Snail’s from a Subaru XT. Used to have nitrous on it.”
This was easily the second-best way I could have possibly spent a morning in New York.
“So, this is my mancave, and there’s the Honda” he gestured to the MT250, a little sandy and scratched but essentially as-advertised. I felt the motor; cold. That’s important when buying a vehicle private-party- be wary of guys who spend all morning starting/warming up a machine so it sounds artificially healthy when you go to inspect it.
We wheeled it outside and the seller kicked it, nothing. Kicked it again, and the feisty little oilslurper burped to life- spitting smoke and oil like a dragon with indigestion. It sounded like a a chainsaw. Not like an over exhausted-Civic sounds like a chainsaw. No, like if the thing could drive itself I’d expect it to head straight to Texas to conduct a massacre.
“I’ll be damned. Year-old gas and she goes second kick.”
The engine idled at two grand and fought for life like a drowning bumblebee, coughing and sputtering as a thirty-year-old-engine dormant for a year would. At this point I was content to thank the seller for his stories and move on but he was not satisfied; he busted out his toolbox and we pulled the carb, cleaned the pilot jet, reinstalled, and got the bike partying like it was 1974.
It was pretty, and funky as hell, but after few rips around his block I wasn’t convinced this bike and I were destined to be soulmates. Despite having the signal lights and gauges allowing it to take to the roads, the two-stroke thumper was so noisy and shaky I was having trouble picturing myself enduring it for many consecutive miles.
I’ve already got one impractical, short-range motorcycle… the dirt machine I’m looking for has got to be something for long, epic, adventures- not throwing roosts around a paddock. Though this little Honda was beautiful, I reckon it’s future lies more in a sand pit playground than on an expedition.
I told the seller I’d think about it overnight and departed; all up I spent almost three hours at the guy’s place, about twenty minutes of which had been devoted to discussing the item for sale. Felt great to meet another interesting member of the motorcycling community… and somebody who’s looking for a rascally, historic machine will get a great buy when they take that 250 off his hands.