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Friday, July 31, 2015

MINING FOR OLD


One man’s 40-year obsession turns into the single greatest cache of vintage motorcycle parts the world has ever seen.
When a vintage-bike nut manages to find that one NOS part still in its original box, the radiant newness and rarity of such a thing causes a sort of joyous ache in his machine-loving soul. Here is this rare thing, some part of an ancient mechanism that’s never been used, has no wear, square edges are still square, pivots are smooth, surfaces unmarred.
That ache, take it and amplify it a thousand times as you first walk into the Portland warehouse where Mike Reilly and Greg Hult store many of the parts and bikes mined from the Cycle Hub shop on Sandy Blvd., an old-time British bike shop in an old part of town. After four decades in business, amassing parts stocks, buying out old dealers and, most important, purchasing the remaining spares inventories as each of the major surviving British makers—Norton, Triumph and BSA—failed in the 1970s, Cycle Hub owner Cliff Majhor finally sold out his entire stock. No one involved will give you a dollar figure, but it is definitely in the millions.
When you first see all the stuff, it just doesn’t seem possible that it exists. There are pallets full of brand-new Girling shock absorbers, stacks and stacks of Amal carbs of every variety—Concentric, GP, Monoblock—all as fresh as when they left the plant more than 30 years ago, still in their original boxes. Shelving 12-feet high and a quarter of the length of the warehouse store only gas tanks and fenders (there are more than 2000 of the latter!), many pieces in original paint, still in the factory wrapping, waiting to be installed on a bike for the very first time. There were 11,000 pounds of Harley parts in the Cycle Hub attic. Big cases contained 16,000 pounds of final-drive chain, 4000 tires sat on racks, scores of brand-new engine parts were everywhere, cases, cylinder heads, complete new front ends, gauges, brackets, airboxes, mufflers, frames. There are enough NOS Lucas electrical bits to darken a thousand futures.

Something like 11 (known) big—rig tractor-trailers scattered around greater Portland have been “harvested.” One stored only the above-mentioned gas tanks, to the tune of about 500 pieces. There have been anonymous tips telling Reilly and Hult where there are hidden caches of Majhor’s former assets.
“We knew when we saw this stuff that we were going to ruin the market on some things,” says Hult. “Anybody who makes a reproduction fender for Triumphs, well, this was going to take their market away.”
If the repro people weren’t happy, at least bike restorers everywhere would be ecstatic. Who wouldn’t want a tank and fenders in perfect original factory paint in what is inarguably the correct color?
Rims? New chrome Dunlop wheels, virtually every variety of hub and backing plate. So many original alloy Dunlop rims (not manufactured since the mid-’60s), it makes a vintage bike nut weep. These are (were?) so incredibly rare that those who had them generally didn’t wish to sell them. A stack of 20 of these lightweight hoops sat in one of the trailers. They’re for sale now at $1000 apiece.
We came to visit one rainy weekend last spring for the opening of the “military” trailer, a lot of parts bought at auction years ago for something like $7000. It was all rigid pre-unit Triumph stuff, purchased from the Canadian military at a time when they were upgrading from the obsolete TRW flathead Triumphs. Majhor had the trailer delivered 25 years ago, opened it once and left it shut since.
The contents exceeded even Hult and Reilly’s expectations, which must by now have been dulled by the fantastic array of parts already mined over the past one-and-a-half years. There were crates of perfect, olive-drab fenders suitable for any Triumph from 1948 to 1957. This was a motherlode for Hult with his pre-unit Triumph fetish. He pulled a crate marked “Spring, Seat” and opened it in awe.

“These are the straight-sided seat springs that Triumph used from 1937 to 1950. You just can’t find them, There are 200 in this box, in the original greased-paper wrapping, all perfect and clean. It’s amazing!”
How it came to be that Reilly & Co. got their hands on Cycle Hub’s stocks comes down to persistence. And, says Hult, “Mike is pretty laid back, and I think it meshed pretty well with Cliff’s insanity.”
Continues Reilly, “Everybody had known about Cliff for years. He’d thrown around some prices for all the stuff, but no one ever came up with the money. I’d heard about this old guy up in Portland and came to have a look. I tried for a long time to buy the shop, and just kept on working on him. We had a contract ready in case he said yes. Finally, he did.”
He’s also been helpful in the dismantling of his collection. One time, Majhor said to Reilly, “You’re standing next to a BSA.” No way, thought Reilly, but there under an incredible pile of clutter just feet away from a self-described BSA expert was an entire BSA motorcycle. He was floored. And stoked of course.
As Reilly gave us the tour of Cycle Hub, we went upstairs and through some rooms on car way to the attic. A big console radio was blaring country music.
“That radio was completely buried in parts,” says Reilly with an incredulous smile. “It as totally inaccessible. Cliff said it’s been playing on the same station nonstop since ’62!”
Okay, this is getting a little bit weird, but it’s all part of Majhor’s amazing story.

His reputation prepares you for an eccentric, crotchety, unpredictable bastard who may or may not welcome you to his old shop; and then, if he does, who might just throw you out at any moment for no apparent reason. He was not like this at all. Majhor is a sharp, bright-eyed 78-year-old with an apparently fabulous memory and encyclopedic command of the history of motorcycling in the U.S.
We asked how he got his reputation for being so volatile and eccentric, to which he responded, “Assholes! I’m not here to bargain. Try to bargain at the steakhouse down the street. I tell a guy $20, he says $19. I just go put it back on the shelf. He comes back in an hour and says he’ll take it, I say I don’t have it anymore. Assholes!”
Okay, so maybe he’s fairly definite in his opinion of how things are done. But he wasn’t always all about business. He got his start in motorcycles as a racer and “thrill show” rider, which he did until about 1953. After that he opened a motorcycle dealership, in the early days partnered with Bud Ekins in Southern California. Depending upon who tells the story, they either parted due to philosophical differences about how to run a shop, or it might have had something to do with an incident involving Bud’s sister.
No matter, fate took Majhor to Portland, where he opened Cycle Hub in 1962. Majhor gave us a primer on his business model as we walked through the dimly lighted, insane clutter housed in what was once a 1950s health spa, when he pointed to a tattered and slimy AJS Single engine sitting on floor next to a post.
“That’s 2500 dollars,” he says.
We immediately dismiss this as kooky talk and respond, “Oh, c’mon. . .”

“Not like that, not how it is,” he says. “Take it apart, clean it up. Sell the crankshaft. Sell the cases. The nuts and bolts—it’s worth a lot more as parts. You get nothing for it like that, together. At the end of model years, we used to buy the leftover bikes and break them for parts. It was the cheapest way to get them. Dealers don’t make money on new bikes, they make money on service and parts.”
Around the shop are scattered books and photos, for many he has written his own captions, citing the place and the people, the circumstance and content better than what has been included in the book. Two photos pinned to the wall stand out: One is of a motorcycle midair, blasting through a wall of fire in a ramp-to-ramp jump, the other a helmetless man riding an impressively vertical stand-up wheelie on an old Matchless. Both are Majhor.
“Evel Knievel got my autograph when he was 8 years old. He finally acknowledged in his book that I inspired,” Majhor says, adding in his usual, umm, colorful vernacular. “F#!k, I been killed 120 times! You know. I jumped on ABC’s ‘Wide World of Sports,’ the fifth-ever show.”
Pop psychology suggests that Majhor, a youngster during the Depression, might find security in hard assets such as motorcycle parts rather than money, and that being one of 13 children wearing handed-down hand-me-downs two or three times removed, cemented an appreciation for the possession of things.
He still laments the fact that the U.S. dropped the Gold Standard, and has a basic distrust of the value of money. “It’s just paper,” he says, which is one of the reasons he used to put such high prices on parts. “If you bring me 1962 dollars (silver certificates), I’ll give you a 1962 price,” is a favorite refrain.

This hints at the conspiracy theorist that lurks beneath his many stories of Life with Motorcycles, and he will casually slide in during conversation comments about aliens visiting earth or that the planet’s outer crust in the Northwest will erupt in a catastrophic explosion one of these days.
But your “average” person doesn’t gather together so many thousands of motorcycle parts.
A sign hangs in the front of the cluttered old shop that reads, “All is for sale. We are not collectors.” But, says a long-time friend, “There was a time when everything really was for sale. But maybe about 20 years or so ago, that changed.” It was about that time that the prices got so high that sales became less and less frequent.
“Why’d you finally sell out?” we asked.
“I’m old,” says Majhor, suddenly a little less animated and a little more distant.
The task of organizing, cataloging and selling of the parts taken from Cycle Hub is a full-time job for “Aussie Mike” Reilly, an Australian native living in Portland since the buyout. Both Mike and Greg have their pet marques, Reilly a BSA man to the bone, Hult sick for pre-unit Triumphs. What you don’t see at the warehouse is their own private stocks, no doubt the best of the best that they squirreled off quietly in the beginning. Greg said he has 14 or so bikes from the 380 that came out of the shop, while Mike said he had, for example, most of the Dunlop alloy rims—just as a small example of the benefits of being the Keepers of the Horde. The bulk of the motorcycles that came out of the shop were complete, about 40 of them brand-new, zero-mile time capsules. Rarities included three of the Vetter-designed Triumph X75 Hurricanes, two brand-new, one used, as well as eight crated Bonneville Specials.
The goal was to be sold out of everything by this coming summer, but it just doesn’t seem possible given the sheer, untouched volume still within the walls of the Cycle Hub shop. They’ve been selling large lots of parts for more than a year through their website (www.classiccyclespares.com), and point to the full warehouse and tell you they’ve already sold “this much.” Then you go to the old shop, and it doesn’t even look as though a single part has been taken from the place, so full it remains.
As part of the deal, Cliff Majhor still stands at the counter in his shop answering the phone and greeting customers even though he no longer owns the parts he collected for so long. It’s just his natural place in the strange world he built. What’s he doing with all the money from selling out?
Buying more parts, of course.






Source: Cycleworld

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Item Reviewed: MINING FOR OLD Description: Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Sheldon Dcruz
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