Some people put money into superannuation; I put it into old motorbikes.
Republished from July 2021
THERE’S an interesting tension in the world of old motorbikes right now. On one side, some are angry at the escalating prices of classic machines. They believe motorbikes should be, as they once were, affordable means of transport which happen to be a lot of fun and should be ridden frequently and with gusto. On the other side are those who see motorbikes — or some of them, at least — as ridgy-didge investment vehicles that should be preserved, admired, and held until it’s time to pass them on to a new custodian. At a handsome profit, thanks very much.
Classic bikes were already appreciating strongly before momentum started to gather for electric cars and bikes to replace the venerable internal combustion engine. While there was some expectation that demand for petrol-engined machinery would collapse, classic bikes appear to be going the other way — and prices seem to be growing even stronger.
Bob Whittingstall lives with one foot in each camp of the investment-versus-enjoyment argument. A motorcycle enthusiast since buying his first bike, a Honda Dream when he was 14 years old, Bob has assembled a wonderful collection of rare and valuable British and American classics. He’s not a buy-and-sell collector. He buys bikes that he admires, he repairs them, and he rides them — in some cases shipping them from one side of Australia to the other to reunite with once-a-year friends and fellow bike enthusiasts at veteran rallies.
But he’s not oblivious to the growing status of old motorbikes as appreciating assets. “Some people put money into superannuation; I put it into old motorbikes'” he says. “I think I’ve done okay out of it.”
Some of Bob’s bikes were in excellent condition when he bought them, some needed work, and some needed major restoration. A self-taught mechanic and fabricator, Bob is adept at rebuilding and repairing tired machines and has established a network of like-minded souls he can engage for expertise beyond his own.
As a result, the quality of all Bob’s bikes is superb — a quick inspection of his worker-man Norton Commando and A65 BSA show the same dedication to detail as that applied to his top-shelf Brough Superior or his two Hendersons. Even bikes undergoing repair or restoration have that same do-it-right-or-don’t-bother look to them. The day we visited, there was a 1918 Henderson on the bench, getting substantial attention in preparation for a veteran rally (COVID permitting …) later in the year. It didn’t look like an old old bike. It didn’t look like a bike that needed work. It looked like a new bike getting a service, in a purposeful neat-and-tidy workshop.
Recently retired from the trucking company he founded with two friends in the early 1990s, Bob is an active member of Albany’s Vintage and Classic Motorcycle Club on the south coast of Western Australia. He’s one of the driving forces behind Albany’s highly-regarded classic motorcycle weekend and an enthusiastic participant in veteran bike rallies.
“Much of the enjoyment I get from bikes is about the people you meet; the friends you make at rallies,” Bob says.
“You can not see someone for a year, or even two, and you’re still great mates when you reconnect at these events.”
Bob gave us a tour of his marvellous bike shed, and we took our camera.