Lifetime Love of Vintage Bikes

I’ve always had trouble when it came to focusing on a particular passion in my life.

Anyone who knows me would likely say that I am constantly pursuing my passions. That’s the point: it is passions, plural, and they are changing all the time. I never stick with anything beyond intermediate knowledge or competence.

Jörg Michel has no such problem. He is a man who found his passion early in his teens and has stuck with it his whole life.

“It started with an old guy whose dad had owned a motorcycle dealership in the 1920s.”

It was back in Germany and this elderly man still owned some of his dad’s old motorcycles. He had had a stroke and could no longer ride them.

His own family was not interested in them, so he decided to gift them to a certain young man who clearly loved everything about them.

A week later, Michel showed up at his kitchen window, riding one of the (now fixed) bikes saying, “The first dinosaur is running!”

And so it had begun, a lifelong love of very old motorcycles.

That love has translated itself into a mobile motorcycle museum (an old converted bus) that you may have seen in town on the Canada Day weekend.

His oldest bikes are from the ’20s and, while they do run, he doesn’t use them on a daily basis. They are too valuable and it is too hard to get parts to fix them if they break down.

His newest bike is a 1983 BMW. “It’s a fast one,” Michel says.

What he has the most of are the 1954 bikes. Enough of them, with enough spare parts to fix them that he has set up an adventure touring service.

“BMW made 38,000 of this model, so lots of parts around that are not too expensive.”

For a fee, you can join him, the two of you riding vintage BMWs to Atlin or Skagway. You get to experience some history with your own mechanic and tour guide.

The bikes are repaired and maintained, but not restored.

“I think it is important to leave them how they are. There is great value in keeping them how they look after 80 years.”

Michel has done a lot of things over his life.

“Canada was always my favourite country as a kid. I would have loved to grow up playing ice hockey.”

As with many others, it was Jack London that first introduced him to the Yukon. At 12 years old he went to a travel agency, found a brochure and cut out pictures of this place he was dreaming about.

As an adult he owned a bicycle shop in Germany. Over the years, though, the old motorcycles and old motorcycle parts started edging the bicycles out of his shop. It was clear that motorcycles were his true passion.

Michel’s first trip to Canada was with a pedal bike. The plan was to travel from Vancouver to the Yukon. After three days he realized just how far that was and the plan changed. He had a motorcycle with a sidecar shipped over and spent five weeks making the trip.

When he immigrated to Canada he came with a container load full of old motorbikes and the many duplicates of parts he had gathered over the years to keep them running.

Even he admits, however, that there is danger living in the Yukon.

“There are so many things to do it is easy to get sidetracked.”

It is hard not to notice that one of these distractions is sled dogs. “I borrow sled dogs for the winter.” Hyper and Cloud are clearly dear friends, sharing attention with the bikes.

Michel still fixes bikes, motorbikes, pedal bikes and small engines but he is hoping that he might be able to interest adventurers, whether travellers or local, in his true passion: riding the old bikes.

Cloud is hoping for the same thing: spending some time as a passenger in Michel’s sidecar.

As for me, I am afraid I’m likely to get distracted with another fleeting passion.

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