How the Cheap Bike Challenge Saved My Retirement

Remember the infamous Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Cheap Bike Challenge? Probably not. Back in the dark Great Recession days of 2009, the gist was, “Each entrant was to be given $300 and two months to find a bike and prep it for an event that would require the riders to ride an unspecified distance and complete special challenges. Like the International Six Days Trial, the event would test both man and machine.” Mostly, we spent a few weeks (or days, in my case) preparing a junk motorcycle to ride and, then, toss in the dumpster. My bike, a long-abandoned 70’s Honda CB-450, probably should have been left in that garage to finish returning to iron-oxide undisturbed.

There was a moment in my last-ditch attempt to find a motorcycle that had lasting effect on me. A Minnesota Sportbike group acquaintance emailed me that he had the perfect bike for the Challenge: a 1980’s KLR250 with a “new motor.” Turned out, the new motor had been “stored” in a cardboard box under a picnic table in the owner’s back yard for at least a decade. The motor was seized, the gas tank was full of smegma and rust, the wiring was rat-eaten, and the rest of the KLR was a mess. More to the point of this essay, the 6-or-8-car garage the KLR came from was jammed full of motorcycles in similar condition. I don’t think a single bike in that garage was salvageable without major money and time spent. Putting my clueless, rude foot in my mouth, I asked, “Why do you have all of this crap?”

The owner’s answer was, “Tom, when I was a kid I realized that when I sold a motorcycle I spent the money and then I didn’t have a motorcycle or the money. So, I decided to keep every motorcycle I ever owned.” That answer scared the shit out of me. Not that I had a collection of junk motorcycles or ever wanted one, but I did have a similar hoarder fetish for fine and not-so-fine microphones. At the time, I owned at least 50 microphones and I could easily imagine myself owning ten-times that many.

But I wanted to retire and I knew to do that my wife and I would be downsizing considerably from our 2700 square foot 1800’s farm house with an 850 square foot garage and a normal recording studio in the attic and 2 1/2 acres of Twin Cities yard. So a few years later, I made a retirement/downsizing plan: I would sell all but a few microphones; to allow just enough toys for hobby recording projects. Outside of that normal remainder, I’d sell the rest of my collection and put the money directly into my house principle. My end goal was to own our home before I retired.

In the end, I didn’t quite reach that goal, but I did only have $14,000 to pay off from our original $106,000 home loan. I haven’t once wished that I’d have kept any of the equipment, the extra space (we downsized to 1100 square feet and could go normaler), or even the microphones I’d owned since I was a very young man.

Collectors all over the world are discovering that the market for their collections is shriveling. New stuff is consistently better in every way than old stuff and younger consumers are unwilling to pay exorbitant prices for products whose sole intrinsic value is “that it is old.” A couple of my friends are muscle car collectors and they’ve seen the value of their collections practically disappear in the last decade. Obviously, the Great Recession put a hit on a lot of that stuff, but so has a hard dose of reality. Vintage guitars and guitar amps, pro and home audio equipment, motorcycles, dishes and dolls, and all of the other crap that Boomers and their parents collected are ending up in the local land fill.

At least four of the microphones that helped me pay down my mortgage had more collector value than real value. Two were a prestigious Danish manufacturer’s 1970’s instrumentation microphones that I’d snagged in an estate sale for a pittance at least a decade earlier. Their selling price about took my breath away and really took a hit out of that home loan. Likewise, two big German tube mics brought an unrealistic price; especially compared to the price I’d paid for those instruments 40 years ago.

So, if it weren’t for the freak-out I suffered hunting down a ride for the Cheap Bike Challenge, I might not be comfortably retired today in a paid-for house with some cash in the bank. On more thing I have to thank Victor and my MMM editors for my 20 years with the magazine. Not only was it a great ride, but it still is.

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