Just by the nature of their design, motorcycles are engaging vehicles to operate. Modern motorcycles require the active use of all four limbs in a tactile experience of nuance and control. And they often lack the power or electronics to compensate for the rider’s mistakes. A digital gauge cluster coddles the rider’s brain by showing all their information they need to know and none they don’t in one handy spot.
But modern bikes are downright easy compared to the past. Vintage motorcycles are a different—and more engaging—story. Take this 1928 BSA S28 Sloper, for example, for sale on Bring A Trailer as of this writing. Though it eschews the need to involve your left leg in the action, there are still six different levers, pedals, or twist-grips that need tending to in order to achieve locomotion. Spark advance, shifter, throttle, clutch, front brake, and rear brake all need to be tended to at appropriate intervals—and those are just the ones to adjust while in motion.
Setting the timing is largely a one-step affair done at startup, with retarding the spark for easier kickstarting, then advancing it for smoother (and more powerful) running. With the tank mounted shifter, increasing speed involves rolling off the throttle, pulling the clutch lever with your left hand, moving your right hand to the shifter and selecting the proper gear, then re-engaging the clutch while getting your right hand back to the handlebars. Now picture downshifting and braking at the same time.
And if riding wasn’t a busy-enough affair there’s still work to be done when this bike is parked. The steering damper, oil level for both the engine and primary drive case, drum brakes, and the maintenance for the exposed valvetrain all need to be tended regularly. Any mechanical object of this vintage has its quirks and requires attention, but classic motorcycles seem to have a pretty high work-to-enjoyment ratio
It’s a lot to ask from a rider, especially when compared to the relative simplicity of the Ford Model A which was new for 1928. If you have experience with motorcycles of this era, leave a comment below with how difficult it really is to ride these machines—or invite me to come try it for myself. Have helmet, will travel.