Japanese: Finally Vintage
Up until about 10 years ago, Japanese bikes have generally been considered simply old or used. But these are the bikes that started the 1960s motorcycle revolution and introduced millions of Boomers and post-Boomers to the joys of two wheels. The Japanese dominated the market through the mid-to-late ’60s, ’70s and ’80s with almost 90 percent market share. Now these motorcycles are attracting the attention of collectors who, like their older counterparts, are trying to recapture youthful experiences by purchasing a motorcycle they once had, or the one they wished for.
While Anglophile Baxter viewed the AMA’s Mid-Ohio swap meet as a “shrapnel-fest,” Mitch Boehm, Publisher of Moto Retro Illustrated, a magazine focusing on bikes of the ’70s and ’80s viewed it as hugely successful, claiming that the majority of the parts for sale were for Japanese bikes.
According to Boehm, Japanese parts availability seems to be good and that there’s enough demand to cause several companies to start producing re-pops of things like pipes, cables, levers and so on. He noted that the Old Guard is struggling with the issue of Japanese bikes entering the sacred world of European/British true vintage. In the meantime the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club is gaining strength and membership as each day passes.
Ian Kennedy, proprietor of the Georgia Cycle Depot, in Mableton, Ga., is primarily a wholesaler of vintage NOS, used and re-pop parts for British and some Japanese motorcycles. He’s of the opinion that if you have a vintage bike and you ride it, you’ll keep it in good running condition because it’s cheaper than trying to buy something else and more fun than most of the new stuff out there.
His business is about the same as it was last year, even though his customers, primarily dealer/restorers, seem to have plenty of work. He says business could have been better except for the fact that many of his vendors were reluctant to build sufficient parts to meet demand. Knowing that when the demand comes, he’ll need to have the parts, he’s in the process of building more shelving and acquiring more inventory.
Café racers are a subset of the vintage bike market that seems to be in a growth mode, and this is generating a lot of business for Kennedy. This group seems younger than the typical vintage collector/rider, and while the styles are quite different, their affinity for wanting to build something exclusive is in the same vein as chopper builders. Like the chopper segment, there’s even a TV show dedicated to the genre. From a business standpoint, according to Kennedy, the trick is to take advantage of the trend without breaking the bank in terms of special parts and accessories.