February 07, 2018

A tale of two XTs

Over the years I have almost always had more than one motorcycle at a time, but never really had a collection.  Collecting stuff has a lot in common with activities like recreational drug use or gambling, it can be fun, but watch you don't get hooked.  In my case the wake up call arrives when I can't get into the garage anymore, and then it's 'everything must go!' until the garage is empty.  After which, like coat hangers in a closet, a bike creeps into a corner, and another and another.
The collecting bug does not discriminate, people collect all kinds of shit, from buttons to military tanks.

I never saw my random moto acquisition binges as an investment, I was mostly sucked into buying old bangers through the motorcycle price-age curve, a tool used by economists to study the demand for rusty old crap.
As you can see in the graph below, the actual selling price of a motorcycle descends very swiftly the moment it leaves the showroom, mostly because the dealership lied about how much it was REALLY going to cost, vs 'manufacturer's suggested list price' such as taxes, shipping, dealer fees, and all the usual (useless) shit they managed to upsell before the buyer exits the building sadder, wiser, with empty pockets, drained bank account, and 7 years of payments.
Motorcycle price to age curve
Should a buyer decide to sell the newly purchased bike in year one, they will be dealing with a cheapskate who wants the new bike at LESS than what the manufacturer had originally suggested as the appropriate price point to begin picking a buyers pocket, so a year one owner is going to take a bath if they sell.  

After taking the immediate hit that follows the short ride off the dealership lot, the amount the owner can sell their former pride and joy declines less rapidly until it bottoms out somewhere around year 15.  As a bike approaches age 25 its value starts to rise again, depending on how much of a turkey it was in the first place, and whether it was used and abused or had lived a life of pampered idleness in a climate controlled garage.

The moral of the story is, if you are a cheapskate, or broke, or want to start a bike collection, shop for bikes that are older than 15 years but maybe not as old as twenty five.  On the other hand, if you want to make a sound investment on a collectible bike that your heirs will be able to sell for a large number of inflation adjusted dollars when you are dead, you may have to wait a bit longer to gage a potential winner.  If you are looking for a sure fire guaranteed investment that will appreciate faster than leaving your money in an old sock, or in a so called 'savings account' where the bank fees are larger than the interest,  you will need to be able to predict the future.  The easiest way to do this is to review the latest collector motorcycle auction results, borrow Doc Brown's time traveling DeLorean, go back to the year of the your choice, buy the bike that went for the most bucks, stick it in a storage unit, pay the required number of years of storage in advance, return to your own time, pick up the bike, dust if off, and ship it to your favorite auction house.  If this is not a option because, (a) you are busy, or (b) you are afraid you might accidentally prevent your parents from meeting, resulting in no you in the future, ie the present, you will have to do what the rest of us do, take your best guess on which old bike will be the one everyone wants after you are dead.

If you did time travel back to, say, 1976, and landed at a Yamaha dealer, which of the bikes they were selling would have given you the best bang for your buck?  Top of the 76 line was the XS650, the Yamaha version of  a British 650 twin cylinder, a great indestructible and reliable motor, but so so performance and handling, or you could buy an RD400, an air cooled 400 cc two stroke bottle rocket that would run rings around the XS650 and just about every other new under 750 cc motorcycle you could have bought in 1976.  There was the XS500 and its little brother the XS360, bikes that Yamaha and everyone who bought one would prefer to forget.  For dirt bikers, a range of very competitive motocross race bikes with a radical new rear suspension that Yamaha called Monoshock, which would have looked very familiar to anyone who knew about Vincents, but that is another story.  Also sporting the new Monoshock suspension were the TZs, racing bikes for paved circuit tracks, for which you needed legitimate racing creds to buy, and if you were a privateer pavement racer, the only turn key pavement racing bike you could, or should have bought.  New for 1976 was a 500 cc dual sport, the 500 XT topping off a range of two stroke dual sports known collectively as the DTs.  The XT was a somewhat confusing offering of a type of bike that had been rendered obsolete, 'thumpers', large displacement four stroke single cylinders known for their difficulty to kick start, excessive weight and underwhelming performance when compared to the light weight two stroke off roaders that had erased them from the moto marketplace.  

Yamaha is my favorite motorcycle company, I certainly have owned more Yamahas than any other brand.  Yamaha is like a home run hitter in baseball, either they knock it out of the park or they strike out as ignominiously as Casey Of The Poem.  Yamaha hit several homers in 1976, one that sailed out of the park was the XT500.  They also had some whiffers, like the unfortunate XS 500 and 360s.  If you had passed over the XT and selected an RD400 or a Monoshock YZ for your storage unit time capsule, you would have been OK as well.  TZs are another great investment, but were never cheap, new or used.  XS650's remain today what they were in 1976, an imitation British parallel twin that lags in value compared to the real thing, which you could still buy new and heavily marked down in 1976.    

If you were a serious collector of motorcycles thinking about future value in 1976 you would not have considered any of Yamaha's bikes worthy.  Unless maybe you lived in Japan.  For the rest of the world, Yamaha and the other 'Jap' bikes were newcomers, barely 10 years on the market.  Japanese bikes were supposedly made from recycled pop cans and fish parts, plus they burned rice.  A few years back they had surprised the rest of the world with some amazingly advanced motorcycles such as the four cylinder Hondas and Kawasakis, but for the true 'enthusiast', Japanese bikes were all engine, with sub par handling and gimmicky plastic body parts.  The Kawasaki three cylinder two strokes were hell for fast but also had a deserved reputation for killing and maiming more people than the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

If you made it this far, all of this leads up the picture at the top of these words, on the left is a pristine XT500.  It went for $11,000 US bucks at the January 2018 Mecum motorcycle auction.  On the right is my own personal XT500 which I picked up for $800 tiny Canadian bucks, and spent maybe another 800 on to make it rideable.  If somebody offered me 1600 of anything but Bolivianos I would probably take it. At least I would have before I saw the Mecum auction results.  Not to say that mine would ever sell for inflation adjusted 2018 $11K US unless I spent about that much first to make it look like door number one.  Also, mine is a 1977, not that there is anything wrong with that, but it has the upswept exhaust pipe, the 1976 bike has the downswept below the frame pipe that everyone who took these bikes off road flattened on a rock rendering it useless and very difficult to find, because Yamaha realized their mistake and stopped making it, resulting in it being even more desirable.  Which makes little sense, but in a nutshell, that is what bike collecting is all about.  If you think this is crazy, you obviously don't understand collecting.  Tell me why a tiny 5 cent paper postage stamp with Ben Franklin's picture on it could be worth as much as either of the above XTs?  Rationality has no place in the collecting game.