Where’s the fun in buying something nice?

Kyle Smith

It can be so simple and so complex to explain why my garage is filled to the brim with a perfect, 50/50 mix of tools and broken stuff. Not long ago a close friend pointed out—immediately receiving a photo of the latest hulk of a project I was hauling home—that if I would stop buying junk bikes, I could probably afford something nice, ready to ride, and interesting. To which I replied:

“Yeah, but where is the fun in that?”

xr250r parts bike in truck bed
You’re telling me normal people don’t drive hours to retrieve incomplete motorcycles? Kyle Smith

He wasn’t wrong, though. 1986–95 Honda XR250R motorcycles have begun to duplicate like rabbits around my garage. There are currently two engines sitting mid-assembly on the workbench and two running bikes posted up on stands. Carefully organized in tubs on shelves are enough parts to build two more complete bikes, plus spares for spares. That’s only the physical storage space: My web browser is full of bookmarks for random forum threads and chats where others have shared a sliver of knowledge that I will certainly need at some point in the future.

What started all of this? A dare from a few friends, when I sent along a Marketplace listing for a non-running XR250R that I thought I could bring back to life. They called my bluff and encouraged me to go buy the stupid thing. Four years later, here we are.

I’ve made a lot of money disappear in tiny increments to make these junky old bikes look and function as Honda intended. That sunk cost is not why I can’t get rid of them, though. The disappearing stack of cash is not the question, either; my bank account would be bled dry by something, so why not motorcycles, cars, and other projects?

Some of us wander through life like golden retrievers, taking interest in whatever is directly in front of us and forgetting about it a mere two minutes later. Then one day a thing enters our lives and we can’t let go. It’s interesting on a mechanical and perhaps a historical level, and we enjoy looking at it. If that thing is also something we can afford, it quickly ascends to become a part of our personality, perhaps our identity. It’s not always clear why we fell in love with what we do, and the less time I spend trying to figure that out, the better off I am.

XR250R in truck bed
Another one? Seriously? Kyle Smith

Maybe you are like me: If a project is not requiring you to learn or grow, you get bored with it. Some of us seek out our vintage cars because they represent a comfortable space in which we are experts. Some love the wave of nostalgia that comes with operating antiquated machinery: When restored properly, those machines can offer something akin to time travel. The rest of us need the entertainment provided by continuous upkeep and restoration.

It really doesn’t matter why or how we enjoy the objects we do because, at the end of the day, they are just that—objects. That concert T-shirt is just cotton and ink, but since it stirs a positive memory in the brain, you deem it more valuable. Toss in all the times when something positive happened while you were wearing that shirt, and it becomes a prized thing. Thanks to my cadre of Honda XR250s, I’ve met some downright amazing people and had some wild experiences.

XR250R new purchase
At least this one is functional. Kyle Smith

We all have to admit the opportunity cost of any path we choose. At some point, though, calculating that cost becomes a fool’s errand. And maybe, explaining our respective obsessions is even simpler: We do what is fun.

Rehabilitating and building up Japanese motorcycles of the late ’80s is just fun for me. For every hour I spend on the track or trail-riding one of my XRs, I have probably spent eight hours with it in the garage: The hour meter on my road-race bike reads 18 hours, and I didn’t stop racing it because I hated wrenching on it.

I can afford a bike that needs no fussing, but a motorcycle with no needs would likely struggle to hold my attention. It’s just the way my brain is wired. Once you figure out how yours works, you’re best to just roll with it. What’s the fun in arguing?




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    I am with you 100% – or at least I was until I started considering my own mortality, and the fact that someone else is going to have to deal with my “fun” (which includes well over 300 t-shirts with memories attached to them). I’m at the point where I think I need to start looking at ways to thin all of that out and save my heirs the time and trouble.

    I hear you! I am not getting any younger. If, or should I say when something happens to me I am afraid my kids are going to hate me. They would have no idea what to do with the 100 or so motorcycles that I have collected that are laying around the farm.

    I like the new bike hauler. I think the GMT400 trucks are some of the best trucks. No more red van?

    Well, that GMT400 was my bike hauler prior to upgrading to a GMT800 and then to the red van. I miss that blue regular cab/long box as it was about as close to “peak truck” I’ve ever experienced but in reality the utility of a van shadows over that of an 8-foot box 6 days a week. The friends who stowaway in the van on adventures have trucks (one of them bought the black GMT800 from me) and are kind enough to let me borrow them when the need arises. Really I just need to find space to store an open trailer.

    The author sounds a lot like me over the past two decades. Lots of low-value projects, lots of sunk costs, lots of self-identity wrapped up in it all. As soon as I finished a project, or realized it will never be quite what I was hoping for, I’d move on to something else. The next “fix.”

    Recently, I’m ready for a change and a move to more modern cars that are a grade or two higher in stature. Cars I can get more enjoyment from in the driver’s seat on the road, rather than laying underneath them in my garage. Life is short and there are always new things to experience.

    I have a friend who has rescued and fixed a few cars to sell them to people who will love them. He didn’t want to see them go to a bad end.

    In the “throw” away society we live in, isn’t it nice to find something, save it, educate ourselves about it, get it working again, and maybe, just maybe it is therapeutic as well? So many just break out the credit card or checkbook and buy new. No sweat equity involved or learning. Keep working it Kyle.

    It is so satisfying to take a vehicle with one tire on a banana peal and the other in the grave and bring it back to life. I just bought a 1975 Honda CB550 so here we go again. 2 roll cabs full of tools and equipment would be a terrible thing to waste with nothing to use them on.

    Yet another Honda XR650R followed me home yesterday (my 6th??). The only thing older is the GMT400 making the 600+mi, 15hr roundtrip rescue mission. Figure I’ve got maybe 5-7yrs left kickstarting big-bore Hondas. Respect!
    Great minds…

    Another XR650R needs to follow me home sooner than later. I fear those are going to disappear and I will watch it happen just be be sad I let them all get away. Such great bikes.

    I have to say that your article about old motorcycles and rings true but it also holds true for a host of other old things that are just easier to take care of. We have two old, rusty bikes down at the beach, and they perform admittedly for what they are: something you can drive to the grocery store throw it in the bike rack come back and be sure it’s never going to be stolen. We have a Honda minivan with 248,000 miles on it and it just feels great driving along, not caring about where you park it.

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