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One for the Road: Swap or not

By Shadow

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Rob Nussbaum and his crew at Retrocycle in Boonton, New Jersey, decided to throw a big open house on May 31 to celebrate 10 years in business. Swap meet spaces were available for free, and I’ve been collecting motorcycle takeoff parts for nearly 15 years, thinking I might need to use them again someday. That someday never came (who ever replaces snazzy new parts with old takeoffs?) so I called and reserved a spot. Then came the hard part—looking through every basement box, bag, drawer, shelf, nook and cranny for old parts, some of which I didn’t even remember I had. I dragged a tarp outside, set the parts on it and wiped everything down.

Then I loaded my SUV with seats and backrests, pipes and mufflers, carb and exhaust manifold, choke and air cleaner cover (I have no idea where the backing plate went), helmets and face shields, foot pegs, shifters and brake pedals, grips, mirrors, fork springs, wheel rotors, clutch pack, rear sprocket, pistons, cams and lifters. Then went sissy bars and pad, gauge brackets and top clamps, light lenses, cowbell horn, cable clamps, points covers, license plate brackets, handlebars, fork bags, rain boots and gaiters, gas cap, headlight ring, disc alarm lock without the keys, do-rags, old riding gear and an H-D Christmas ornament set.

It took me nearly an hour to set up at Retrocycle, laying everything out neatly and in a way I thought was visually appealing. Then I sat on my camp chair and waited. For 10 minutes. Until the aroma of food grilling proved too tempting to resist. I grabbed a plate of barbecued chicken and brought it back to my display, ate and then went over to chat with some other vendors and say hello to our host Rob and listen to one of the seven bands play.

Finally I went back to my setup where a guy was perusing the merchandise. I offered, “If you’re interested in anything, I can tell you which bike it fits.” His response was, “If I have to ask, I don’t need it.” I had just learned a valuable lesson in swap meet etiquette. After that, I just smiled at everyone and waited until they asked me a question like, “Do I have to buy the set?” or “How much is this?”

And that’s where I had to wing it. It seemed too time-consuming to write out and place price tags on everything, so I just blurted out whatever amount came to mind. The guy walked off without buying anything so I went back for more food and to admire the vintage bikes that some Colonial Chapter AMCA members had ridden there. Now an hour had passed since the start of the event and I hadn’t sold a thing. I thought that since most everything I was selling was takeoffs and if I didn’t want it, why would anyone else? I wondered if the stuff I had wasn’t old enough or, conversely, wasn’t new enough or interesting enough or sexy enough. Or maybe my lack of sales was because of my lack of presence, I decided to plant myself in the chair for a while and in short order sold a helmet and the two sets of rain gators, then another helmet and a set of handlebars.

Another guy and his wife came over and bought two sets of grips and a set of matching rider pegs. I pointed out the matching highway pegs and he declined, but came back a few minutes later and bought them too. Then another guy bought a set of footpegs. He said he was going to mount them in the shower so his wife could shave her legs. And slowly, but surely, more purchases transpired.

I just couldn’t believe people were buying my old stuff. I was starting to have a lot of fun, now that my parts pile was dwindling. I chatted with some folks I hadn’t seen in a while—Leo from the long-closed Deals in Wheels in Rahway who, after all these years, still remembered my name; PegLeg and Shakespeare from 13 Rebels MC, Desh from Morris Magneto in Morristown and other old friends.

Then I saw someone wearing a T-shirt from Steele’s H-D where I bought my Sportster in 1999 so I grabbed the Steele’s license plate bracket I had, brought it over to show him and he exclaimed, “Is that for sale? I want it!” His name was Bill Steele, and he was former owner Glenn Steele’s cousin. Well, the nostalgia bug bit and I turned down the sale opportunity. Steele’s had been sold some years ago, but Glenn is still my motorcycle insurance agent and we chat on the phone from time to time. I decided to keep the bracket.

By then it was late afternoon and I still had a bunch of stuff left. Rob came up with a brilliant idea: trade my seats for a gel insert job by Slim’s Custom Gel Seats. Slim, who’d also set up a display, was all for it so that was four less seats to drag home.

Time to pack up, and although I loaded my SUV again with what I didn’t sell, I swore those leftover parts were not going back into my house. A week later I drove the parts to Manx Cycle in Dover and gave them to Richie because he has always treated my bikes and me real well. Then I had my seat redone with gel topped by memory foam. What a difference! The seat is now ready for my ride to Mississippi, and following that, my ride to Sturgis.

This had been quite an experience. I made some money, got myself a comfy saddle and was able to repay some favors. But with the amount of effort involved, I don’t think I’ll be doing it again any time soon.

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