Have you ever discovered something that has you asking yourself, “Why hasn’t anyone ever done this before? It seems so obvious, and yet…” (The ‘and yet’ is usually the reason why not, but still…..)
Well, that was my reaction when I first came across Joel Samick and his Northeast USA-based Retro Tours operation HYPERLINK “http://www.retrotours.com” www. retrotours.com a couple of years ago – and I’m still asking that very same question after spending two days visiting Joel and his wife Lynn in their spacious home on the Pennsylvania/Delaware border, and riding a selection of their motorcycles. For this lovely semi-rural house comes complete with a large garage and workshop space to house the 23 twin-cylinder motorcycles, plus two fours, a 1976 Honda Gold Wing and a 1983 Suzuki GS550 ES - all except that one built during the 1970s – which comprise both Joel’s collection of 1970s Big Twins, and the Retro Tours rental fleet. They run from 1970 examples of Bonneville 650 and T100C Triumphs, via a 1971 Rickman Interceptor, 1973 Norton Commando Fastback 750, a hens-teeth (well, in running order) 1973 Yamaha TX750, 1975 Suzuki T500 Titan – there’s other two-strokes besides that one – a 1976 Moto Guzzi 850T3, 1977 Harley Davidson XLCR etc. etc. on up to that GS550. It’s a veritable time warp collection that Joel has available for customers to choose from in making their way to Kennett Square, Pa., the mushroom capital of the world (google it to see why!) and gateway to some wonderful riding country, in order to go touring the Classic way, on an authentic period motorcycle.
“It’s important to stress that these are not perfectly restored, low-mileage collector’s items,” says late sixty-something Joel, a true child of the era when motorcycles got used as everyday transportation. “These are working motorcycles which are carefully maintained, but are not concours show ponies. I don’t want to modernise them too much, and I don’t want to fix them up to be better than they really were. OK, I do put on better shocks, and better lights, and a better horn and stuff like that, and blinkers, too, if they didn’t have them as stock. But I want people to experience them warts and all, and most customers appreciate that coming on one of our tours is going to add to their motorcycle knowledge, simply because in a given day they can end up riding up to half a dozen different motorcycles in succession. That’s because on a group tour, we make it a policy to stop every 50 to 75 miles or so, to refuel, stretch our legs and to swap bikes.”
A native of Boston, Mass., Samick had not just one but two life-changing two-wheeled experiences which set him on the path to a lifetime career on bikes. “I was 16 with a summer job washing dishes at a restaurant, and at about 11pm one night, my friend Steve who had a Lambretta 200 scooter came in, and said, “I’m leaving tonight for Montreal to visit a friend, do you want to come?” So at midnight when I got off shift, we got on the Lambretta and headed north, riding the 300 miles to Montreal. I had never driven a motorcycle at that point, and only ever been on one ride as a passenger, but we rode until 3am or so, and then Steve got so tired so he showed me how to operate the clutch and the throttle, and take a turn driving it. I called my Mom from the Canadian border, and said, “I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.” She was not at all happy, and told me to “Come home right now!” But I stayed over, and had a great time running around au Canada on this scooter, which got us home again, too. That was really my first Retro Tour, I guess!”
That was a taster, but the real epiphany came a little later, at college in Schenectady, NY - 200 miles inland from Boston. “I had a double major, electrical engineering and philosophy, but quite soon I philosophised that I didn’t really want to be in college at all, I would rather work on motorcycles. Someone had given me a CL450 Honda, and I got such a thrill out of tinkering with that and learning how to do stuff on it, I just knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So I dropped out of college and went to the local Honda shop, but they wouldn’t hire me because I didn’t know anything. So I just picked up a broom and started sweeping the shop up for free, until the moment they needed an extra pair of hands, and I got hired!”
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