STRICTLY DIRT

In the mid 1970’s, I learned that a motorcycle shop in Wurtland, Ky was going out of business. The shop sold a Spanish brand, Montesa, that made mostly off-road type motorcycles, including trials bikes. Motorcycle Observed Trials competition had become my passion in those days and I was competing in events on a bike purchased from the shop. At the time, I was employed as a rehabilitation counselor, working for the state and not exactly rolling in spare cash. But the lure of owning a business, particularly one involving motorcycles, was irresistible. The fact that I knew absolutely nothing about operating a business, and had no place to put it, and no non-working time to operate it was no deterrent to my young self.

I purchased the remaining assets of the shop from the two guys, who were grateful to be getting out of it, for if memory serves, $700. What I got for that was a few boxes of parts, some manuals, and the transfer of the dealership from them to me at the manufacturer level. I rented a storefront in Russell, Ky near the foot of the bridge over to Ironton, Ohio, on a corner across from the hardware store. The building was one large room, maybe 600 square feet or so, partitioned a bit with a sort of temporary wall, one small bathroom and a damp, musty smell that never went away. There was an old sales counter left over from whatever had been there before, roughly the size of a kitchen island, but glass fronted suitable for display. Two large windows flanked the door, with display space built up about waist high. I hired a local sign painter to put the name, “Strictly Dirt” on the window and on the sides of my old Chevy van.

My open-for-business hours were 6 to 10 in the evenings and 9 to 6 on Saturdays, since I also had my full time job to maintain, but I was in my 20’s and sleep was seen as less necessary in those days.

Within a few days of my opening, there was a general labor strike in Spain. Among other things that were shut down, no motorcycles were being built, no bikes or parts being shipped. I was limited to whatever was in the distributor’s warehouse in New Jersey.

I was able to get one new bike, a Cappra motocrosser, displayed in the shop window. One Saturday afternoon, a Cadillac parked across the street and a teenage boy, perhaps 15 at most, came in accompanied by his mother. He was fizzing with excitement, his body in constant motion, as he examined the Cappra, telling me of all its various features and his plans to make it faster and louder. It was already one of the fastest, most powerful -and certainly loudest- bikes of its genre on the market. It was a full-on race bike, intended only for motocross racing, the European version of off-road racing that was at the time sweeping the country. I could easily see that the boy’s information had come from magazine tests, memorized figures and opinions. His mom, dressed more for a society luncheon than a motorcycle shop, stood off to one side, holding her purse in front of her like a shield. It was equally clear that she had heard this litany of praise for the machine ad infinitum and that her resistance had been worn to the point of collapse. She was here to get this over with.

I asked the boy about his riding history. He told me, almost breathlessly, that he had ridden a friend’s mini-bike once, one of those tiny-tired, single speed things sold in hardware stores, powered by a lawnmower engine. Well versed in magazine articles, he had never, it seems, actually ridden a real motorcycle but he was, with all the confidence of youth sans experience, certain that he could do it just like the heroes in the glossy pages.

The mother asked me, somewhat impatiently, “how much is it?”. I took a deep breath and said, “I won’t sell him this one. It is the wrong bike for him now. He’ll get hurt badly.” Though I didn’t have anything else to sell, I began to tell her and her son of the other options that would be coming when the strike ended, but I had lost them. The boy looked as if I had slapped him and the mother was indignant. I cannot recall what she said as they exited my little shop, but I know it wasn’t complimentary.

The strike in Spain did end. I did sell the Cappra to a local motocross racer who did quite well on it, until he crashed a few times too many. My dealership struggled on for a couple of years, with no real success because I wasn’t much of a businessman. I learned a lot about trying to make a profit out of one’s passion, mainly that I wasn’t the kind of person to be able to do it, at least not then. I’m glad that I tried, though, and I’m glad I didn’t sell that bike to that boy.

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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