Old bikes and fresh coffee: Hanging out at Century Motorcycles

Publish Date: 
Feb 2, 2011
By Mike Vaughan

SAN PEDRO, Calif. - Motorcycle stores  haven’t always been great shining temples of glass, steel and concrete. Places where an attractive woman greets you as you enter, where bikes are arranged in cascading ranks by brand and type. Stores stocked high with aftermarket products arranged and displayed in a manner scientifically calculated to catch your eye. Businesses with myriad staff prepared to meet your every need.

Only decades ago, motorcycle stores were shops. They were housed in a variety of buildings, some appropriate and some not. The back shop floor was concrete and the show room floor was well-worn wood. Glass? Sure, on the counter and in the windows. The dealer probably stocked one or two brands, and what few aftermarket items he sold were behind the counter and guarded by a vigilant counterman, who in all probability was also the owner, salesman, and in many cases, the head mechanic.

For most folks it wasn’t a very inviting environment. Motorcycles weren’t mainstream and being a motorcyclist meant you were a member of a very exclusive club, and likely as not, the dealership was your clubhouse. For all its faults the old-time dealership was a haven for the motorcyclist. You knew the owner on a first name basis, and he likely knew quite a bit about you as well.

I’m not saying we go back to that formula, but it’s nice to know it’s possible to visit a shop that still carries on some of the better traditions of the “old days.” Century Motorcycles located at 1640 S. Pacific Ave. in San Pedro, Calif., is like a snapshot of that era.

Century opened in 1963 and through the years has handled, BSA, Indian-Velo, Kawasaki, Lilac and Marusho. The store doesn’t carry a motorcycle line anymore, but deals in used and vintage bikes, as well as parts and service for just about any brand that comes through the door. In Southern California that can be anything from Adler to Zundapp.