Common Tread

What motorcycle do you regret selling?

May 17, 2019

Sit around a campfire with some long-time riders and one question is sure to get some wistful replies: What motorcycle do you regret selling?

For many people, it's the first motorcycle they ever owned, the one that introduced them to the joys of riding. In the excitement of "upgrading," it's easy to let go of that first — probably humble — bike. But years later, many wish they still had it as a tangible keepsake of those memories of getting started. For others, it was a bike sold due to financial pressures or maybe a trusty ride traded in on a new one that didn't live up to expectations.

Whatever the motivation, I hope readers will tell us about the one they regret selling. To get the virtual campfire conversation started, I asked fellow Zillans to reveal their regrets.

1970 Yamaha R5
Joe Zito wishes he'd never sold the Yamaha R5 giant-killer. Photo by Joe Zito.

Joe Zito, Video Production Coordinator: I have had a shitload of bikes come and go, including a 1970 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide I restored from the crank up and a 1967 BSA Hornet that I helped restore when I worked at Classic Cycles and I later sold and shipped to Japan. But my biggest regret was selling my 1971 Yamaha R5. I scooped this bike from Craigslist from its original owner with every single service receipt, sales brochure and even a few Yamaha factory service bulletins from the 1970s written with an actual typewriter. My plan was just to fix it up and flip it, but once I got it running and rode it, I fell in love with it. I rode it at least a few times a week for three years or so and sold it to another ZLA employee, who was later fired and has no interest in selling it back. Selling the little $600 giant-killer is my biggest regret, by far.

Pat McHugh, Product Research and Tester: I think everyone misses their first bike (mine was a Honda CB599) when they decide to move on, but my biggest regret is helping my dad sell his midlife-crisis 2008 Harley-Davidson Softail Custom a few years back. It only had a few thousand miles on it. It was neglected for a year or so while he had health issues. I would have loved to buy it off him, but the cost and my lack of garage space were issues. We decided to sell it because it was still worth a pretty penny. About two years later, my dad passed away. If I could, I would definitely want to get my hands on that exact Harley to rekindle the bond. Maybe one day I will track down the new owners and try to buy it back.

Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883
Katie loves the Dyna that replaced it, but she still misses her old Sportster Iron 883, which she had customized just the way she liked it. Photo by Katie Lomax.

Katie Lomax, Showroom Geek: I regret trading in my first bike, a 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883. I put 11,000 miles on it in a year and I added a new handlebar, a custom sissy bar and some pinstriping, so it became pretty personal. I traded it for a 2015 Harley-Davidson Dyna Low Rider, which I totaled a week later. Six months later, after recovering, I got a 2014 of the same model. The ideal situation would be to have both — the Sportster for throwing around the city and the Dyna for longer trips — but the lack of a garage in the city makes it difficult. If I have to choose one, it's the Dyna, for both logical and emotional reasons, but I miss my little Iron with the customizations I had done.

Joe Mair, Director of Financial Planning and Analysis: Maybe dozens of people say this, but I regret selling my first motorcycle — a 1981 Honda CB650. Just a great all-around bike, bought from a high school buddy, but pretty much all original. I would love to have that back. But impending kids and house moves made it a necessity to sell.

Andy Greaser, Common Tread Writer: If I could have a bike back, I’d love to own my 1978 Yamaha SR500 again. It was a super desirable one, too: black with gold pinstripes, seven-spoke mags, and disc brakes front and back (see the image at the top). The bike was basically untouched, too. I recovered it with difficulty from a storage area underneath the kitchen on the cliffside home of the guy I worked for in college, who was the original owner. I fixed it up enough to ride for a year before more important projects took priority. That meant the SR just wasn’t getting the attention it deserved, which really bothered me. It was too good to ignore. Meanwhile, my brother had fallen in love with the thing, so I decided to give it to him when he graduated high school. Of course, Johnny’s got the SR pretty well dialed in now. I rode it a few weeks ago and it felt better than ever, thanks to his care. I definitely made the right decision. So the SR500 got away, but it didn’t get far. 

1999 Honda VFR800
Spurgeon fondly remembers his time on the Honda. Spurgeon Dunbar photo.

Spurgeon Dunbar, Manager of Original Content: While I try to live a life with few regrets, there is one motorcycle I miss from time to time, and that's my 1999 Honda VFR800. This bike was arguably one of the best sport-tourers ever created (aside from the lack of luggage options). It was the perfect blend of sporty handling and touring comfort, leaning heavily toward the "sport" side of things. I once put 800 miles on this bike in 24 hours, covering everything from four-lane freeway to two-lane mountain roads across Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. I sold it to make room for another bike, and it was the right choice for me at the time. That being said, every now and then I miss having this bike in the garage. I also miss living three hours from some of the best roads the Smokey Mountains have to offer.

Triumph Street Triple R
Andy's salvage-title Street Triple was a great city bike — except for the city-sized insurance bill. Photo by Andy Mello.

Andy Mello, Buyer (helmets and tires): I moved to Philly just two weeks after I graduated from college to work at RevZilla as a Gear Geek. I had a 2009 Triumph Street Triple R with a salvage title. The previous owner dropped the bike and the head of the motor landed squarely on a rock, cracking the aluminum, so the dealer I bought it from had swapped in a motor from a salvaged Daytona, which gave it a bit more pep than the factory configuration. It was the perfect all-around bike — comfortable, sporty, fast and looked funky in matte tangerine paint — but my insurance rates quadrupled after I moved to Philly. Paying $2,000 for basic insurance on a bike that was worth nothing made absolutely zero sense. Fortunately, a local Triumph dealer offered me a hell of a trade deal against a new Bonneville. Supposedly, Street Triples were in high demand back then. I walked away with a brand new bike that was about one fourth the cost to insure, had a clean title, and was a perfect fit for the city. I still have it and don't plan on getting rid of it any time soon.

Adam Ponzek, Copywriter: My first bike was Loretta, a 1977 Yamaha XS400, red with gold pinstripes. I used to ride it to high school in my dad's too-large Schott Perfecto jacket. I distinctly remember impressing Julie Colasante after school — the only time, before or since, I've ever experienced a motorcycle attracting someone other than old dudes at gas stations. I kept it for about a year and sold it to get something bigger and better (a 1985 Honda CB650 Nighthawk). The Honda was smoother, faster and more practical, with its aftermarket windshield and luggage rack. It took me around Acadia National Park two-up and to my summer construction job with lunchbox and tools in tow, until I saved up enough money to buy my first car. But I still get pangs of heartache when I think of that spunky little Yamaha twin. I guess there is nothing less sentimental than "progress."

BMW F 800 GS
Maybe if Dan hadn't sold his BMW, he wouldn't have been in that crash on his Triumph. Photo by Dan McBrearty.

Dan McBrearty, QA Analyst: My biggest regret is trading in my 2010 BMW F 800 GS. It was the most versatile bike I ever owned, and if I had kept it I wouldn't have been in a pretty serious crash. I traded the BMW for a new Triumph Tiger 800 XRx. I crashed on my way home after getting the first 500-mile service done on the Triumph. Also, looking back, one reason I traded for the Tiger was to get electronic cruise control, and I think tinkering with the cruise control on the highway distracted me enough to contribute to the crash. If I had kept the BMW, I wouldn't have been in that time and place and on the BMW in that kind of situation I might have been paying better attention. Maybe the crash was destiny's way of telling me I should not have sold the BMW, but anyway, it was the best bike I ever owned and I sure do miss it.

Harley-Davidson Sportster
The Sportster that morphed into a basement renovation. Photo by Ed Merriman.

Ed Merriman, Software Engineer: A fellow Zillan asked me recently how my search for a small dirt bike was going. With regret, I informed him that due to a renovation of my basement, funds had been re-purposed. With 20/20 hindsight, I wish I hadn't sold my 2001 Harley-Davidson Sportster. Partly, I miss owning a Harley, but after buying a Yamaha Super Ténéré, I just never rode it. What I really miss is having two bikes in the garage. Had I replaced the Sporty with a dirt bike, I would have kept the space for a second bike in the garage. Now, that space is filled with junk from the basement and the "common wisdom" in the house is "one bike is surely enough." New rule for me: Never sell, always replace.

Trevor Velez, Customer Service: I've owned my fair share of bikes, but I really regret parting out my very first bike after it was totaled in an accident. I had a 1965 Sears Allstate (just a rebranded Vespa 125, really) that produced so much joy that I can't do the bike justice in a few sentences. The insurance company let me keep the bike, since it would cost more money to get it to a salvage yard than it was worth, and my payout was more than enough to restore it. But I sold most of the parts and scrapped the frame instead (all money is beer money in college). I still have the engine. One day I'll get around to finding another frame so that Oscar the Great can ride again.

Zack Gagnon, CS Team Lead/Harley Parts Pro: My "one that got away" was a 1977 Yamaha XS750 triple. It was early in my moto-life and I rode it for about six months in stock form. It was the bike I really learned how to corner on, and the first bike I had that would lift the front wheel with ease. New England winter rolled around and I had the hot idea to make it a bit more classic and racy (read "half-assed café"). Unfortunately, my ambition outran my skill, as it so often does for young customizers, and the bike ended up being shifted to the back of the garage. A few years later, my kid was on the way so I dusted it off, sold it "as is" for $400, and have been trawling Craigslist for another ever since. Unfortunately, it seems nobody else is foolish to give up such a sweet machine for an unreasonably low price.

So, those are the bikes some Zillans regret letting go. What motorcycle do you wish you had kept?