They don’t make motorcycles like they used to.
Just ask Jorg Michel. The 50-year-old has monkeyed around with the machines ever since he was a young teenager.
He’s also a collector. You may have seen a few of his machines if you drove past the Walmart parking lot in late June.
There, the Tagish resident had parked a blue-green school bus that had, stenciled on its side, “Mobil Motorcycle Museum.” Inside were six vintage German motorbikes, built from the 1920s to 1950s.
The travelling museum is just the latest attempt by Michel to make a buck off his old bikes. His hope was to catch the public’s attention, then plug his other business venture.
He’d like to rent his bikes out for guided day tours from Carcross to Atlin or Skagway. The business is called Klonbike Classics.
After the museum had been open for several days, Michel figured he had spoken to about 45 curious visitors.
“It’s like an invasion,” he said. “It started a chain reaction.”
Michel moved to the Yukon a decade ago. He brought with him a shipping container full of old motorbikes.
Previously, he had run a bicycle shop for two decades in Germany, in a town near Hanover. As a side business, he’d repair old motorbikes.
He became known for his skill in lacing new spokes on old rims. It’s becoming a lost skill.
Most shops try to sell new parts, rather than fix broken bits. And dealerships are unable to fix the older motorbikes.
Michel points to one of his older bikes, built in 1928. “Its clutch is cork,” he said. If it burns out, the fix is simple.
“Buy a bottle of wine, cut the cork and you can fix your clutch. You can do it without any special tools.”
With a new bike, as with a new car, no such luck. “You need a computer to find the problem.”
Michel said he’s not adverse to new technology. But he knows what works for him.
He doesn’t own a cellphone. Or a computer.
“My life’s worked out without a computer for 50 years,” he said. “I know it’s a time thief.”
Michel owns a digital camera, but he has trouble using it. “I hate too many buttons.”
He bought his first motorbike, a 50-cc moped, at age 14. He got his first BMW motorbike when he was 18. “Then I bought another. And another. And another.”
Michel always wanted to visit Canada, where “nature dominates.” He first arrived in Vancouver, then rode one of his old, single-cylinder, 13-horsepower BMW motorcycles up the Alaska Highway.
It took a while. Michel’s bikes rarely exceed 80 kilometres an hour.
“I like to travel slow,” he said. “That way, you don’t miss much.”
His initial plan was to start a small-engine repair shop in the Yukon. “But it didn’t work out too good,” said Michel.
Then he tried renting his bikes to tourists visiting Carcross. But most didn’t stop in town long enough to take him up on the offer. So he hit Walmart.
Next, Michel is planning to drive to Dawson City next month. He reckons the tourists that visit there may have enough time for a spin.
Michel plans to charge between $350 to $400 for a day tour. That isn’t bad, when, “in Skagway, they rent Harley’s for $130 an hour.”
For Michel, motorcycles beat automobiles for touring the Yukon, no contest. “You’re closer to nature,” he said. “You can smell the flowers and the waterfalls.”
You’re also exposed to rain and bugs. But he figures it’s a fair trade.
“In a car, it’s like you’re in a cage. You’re protected from the bad stuff and the good stuff.”
Michel likes old bikes best. “It’s like time travel. When they run, they smell different, sound different and look different,” he said.
And there’s a talent in keeping them running smoothly. “A new bike, you push a button and they start. For these, you need to know what you’re doing.”
Michel considers any bike built after 1960 to be new. “It depends how you look at it, and your definition of age,” he said.
His bikes are reliable enough that he rode one from Tagish to Utah last summer, with one of his dogs riding in the sidecar. Snow hit at Fort St. John as he returned, but he managed.
Some of Michel’s bikes are BMW, which he calls his “first love.” Others are now-vanished brands like DKW, NSU and MZ.
He received most of his bikes from a German friend who gave them up after having a stroke.
“He would have never thought they’d end up in the Yukon, Canada.”
To rent a bike, call Michel at 867-399-3920.
See audio slideshow at www.yukon-news.com
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