Vintage Motorcycling on the Rise

Story by Graham Clayton// Photos by Graham Clayton
June 1 2009

I attended my first vintage motorcycle event about a dozen or so years ago at the invitation of a friend. I had been hooked on bikes since I was sixteen, owned numerous different machines, and had participated in various motorcycling activities, but I wasn’t sure what to expect at a vintage bike meet. As it turned out I had a terrific time, met some great people, and discovered a new dimension to the sport that I had enjoyed for years. That dimension was vintage motorcycling.

Today nostalgia is definitely in, some of the mainstream motorcycle manufacturers (such as Harley-Davidson, Triumph and Ducati) have introduced modern era retro-type models, and this year’s calendar of vintage motorcycle events is more crowded than ever.

One of the great things about vintage motorcycling is that it has something to offer for virtually every motorcycle enthusiast. It has also been a factor in resurrecting interest in motorcycling among former riders who had given up the sport, either to raise a family, grow a business or to pursue a career.

One top flight vintage road racer (John Ellis) that I spoke with last summer told me that he had been out of biking for about twenty years raising a family, etc. Then one of his buddies had invited him out to a track day just to experience some of the old fun. In his youth John had raced a 750 flat tracker, but had never raced on pavement. That one day of paved-track riding was all that it took for John to get the bug back. He now competes very successfully in vintage Formula 750 road racing and is thoroughly enjoying it.

People have started to purchase bikes that they couldn’t afford in the day, for example that old 1966 that they so badly wanted way back when. Well, people have started doing that sort of thing in far larger numbers than most of us would have expected not so long ago. Vintage bike ownership is up. People are joining vintage bike clubs and brand owner clubs to get reconnected and to rediscover the sport. Often they are bringing others with them, like their kids and friends.

There is no shortage of older bikes, especially for street riding use, though your local dealer may not always be overly keen to work on them. Technology has moved on and getting older bikes worked on can present a bit of a challenge, unless you are handy and inclined to do it yourself.

For those not so inclined, the various marque owners clubs and some of the vintage motorcycle clubs can be a great resource. Who better to ask about working on older bikes, locating parts for them, or solving their peculiar mechanical or electrical quirks than people who have owned such bikes on and off for years. Helping new old bike owners out with such challenges is often a core activity for such enthusiast clubs.

Finding the owners clubs is not difficult. Regardless of whether the make that you are looking for is North American, European or Japanese, they can generally be found on-line using any of the main search engines. The owners clubs typically have a web site and many have listings or ads in various bike magazines. There are even clubs for owners of particular models of certain motorcycles, such as the various Goldwing Owners Clubs.

The owner clubs also offer many other services and opportunities of value to vintage bike owners. Most have newsletters, attract advertising and support from bike dealers and parts suppliers, organize various types of riding events (such as road rides, rallies, track days, etc), and also maintain a connection with the factory (if they are still around) and/or with acknowledged experts of the brand.

The vintage motorcycle owners clubs offer similar types of benefits to old bike owners and vintage enthusiasts, but are more inclusive. The CVMG (Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group) is the largest and best known such club in Canada, and has chapters located across the country. Other major vintage clubs include the AMCA (Antique Motorcycle Club of America) and the VJMC (Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club). These two clubs also have local chapters across both Canada and the USA.

The larger vintage bike clubs have established a series of festivals, rallies and other motorcycle events that now have become quite well known in vintage motorcycling circles. The CVMG’s annual Paris Rally (held in June) is one such event. It includes vintage bike displays, road rides, riding exhibits and games, an active swap meet plus other features.

Motorcycle swap meets are a kind of flea market come open fair for older bikes and bike parts, as well as for riding apparel and motorcycle aftermarket products. You can buy anything from a running, fully restored machine to a rusty old basket case. Other items offered for sale can range from fully rebuilt engines to as-is non-running motors, assorted original used parts, NOS (New Old Stock) items and newly manufactured replacement parts.

Swap meets are typically held on and off at various locations from spring through the fall, and often provide a great opportunity to locate a used motorcycle or much needed parts at bargain prices. They vary in size and may cater more to American, European or Japanese bikes depending on the event location and the organizer.

Swap meets have become very big in the U.S. and a fair number of Canadians attend them. The biggest and best known U.S. vintage swap meet takes place at the annual AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days Festival at the Mid-Ohio race course in late July, but there are a great many others held year-round across the United States.

Vintage Motorcycle Festivals are a phenomenon that is on the rise across the United States. They usually combine numerous vintage bike activities and events including; vintage bike exhibits, judged concours d’elegance, vintage bike auctions, road rides, various vintage motorcycle competition events (including road racing, motocross, flat track racing, trials riding and enduros), swap meets and much more. It’s not uncommon for such events to be attended by legendary people from motorcycling’s past, including former racing champions, bike designers, engineers, top tuners, builders, customizers and motorcycle company executives.

In Canada, the VRRA (Vintage Road Race Association) is the largest club and organizer of vintage road races with events in Ontario and Quebec, with their largest event held at Mosport Park in mid-August. There are other vintage motorcycle competition groups across Canada that also organizes such events at the provincial or regional level.

The largest vintage race sanctioning organization in the United States is AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association), which runs both national and regional series for road racing, motocross, flat track, trials and cross country. As in Canada, there are also other smaller organizations that run similar vintage competition events largely at the state or regional level.

Anyone who is heavily into vintage motorcycles will know that Canada lags behind the U.S. and Europe when it comes to the development of motorcycle museums. This is hardly surprising considering those countries’ more extensive motorcycle production history. Nevertheless, there are some significant collections in Canada that have been developed by enthusiastic individuals such as Bar Hodgson and the late Trev Deeley.

There are also other smaller fledgling museum collections being developed by various vintage enthusiast groups. One of these is the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Museum located in Brantford, Ontario that has a collection of 33 bikes, plus various motorcycling memorabilia.

Motorcyclists and motorcycling have been part of the Canadian social fabric for a good hundred years now, and will continue to be so. The growth of interest in vintage motorcycles and vintage motorcycling activities is in part a reflection of this, one that potentially offers present motorcycle enthusiasts new and enjoyable outlets that are well worth exploring.


Websites worth checking out for more information.

• Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group

• Antique Motorcycle Club of America

• Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club

• AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days Festival

• Vintage Road Race Association

• American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association


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