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Retro Tours (Part I) - Love Requited
by Robert H. Miller
© 2013 RHM Co. Intl.
If you’re like me, you spent your high school days bored with class work, involved in sports, and longingly gazing out the windows at the few exotic motorcycles in the parking lot. In the mid-70s those exotics were British bikes like Triumphs, Nortons, and BSAs. You’d heard of and read about super exotic Italian models like Laverda, Ducati, and Moto-Morini, but you’d never seen one. At a time when 1000cc Japanese rocketships sold for $1500 and those Italian models commanded $3500, you were stuck on a $1000 Yamaha RD350. Instead of a rocketship, all you could afford was a pocket rocket.
Flash forward forty years and Retro Tours has provided the opportunity to see if the desire for those Italian models was justified. Retro Tours was never an intentional business - it evolved from Joel Samick’s willingness to share the motorcycles he lusted after in his youth. Always passionate about motorcycles, in 1969 he traveled to England to purchase his dream motorcycle, a Norton Commando, then proceeded to tour the European continent for the next three months. He returned home, worked in motorcycle shops, did some racing, and in 1985 founded Honda East Yamaha in Bear, Delaware. For thirteen years he toiled at the dealership until retiring in 1998.
By then, he had amassed a substantial collection of the bikes he loved - the twin-cylinder machines of the 1970s. He made a point of having a collection that was for riding and he had an expensive habit of inviting his friends to ride his machines as often as possible. After another one of those rides, he was struck with the thought that maybe people would pay, or a least cover his expenses, for the chance to ride his classics on a guided tour and Retro Tours was born. Samick’s generousity hasn’t waned one bit. Even today, only descendants of Scrooge himself would argue he does more than cover his expenses on these tours.
On a recent Local Loops a.k.a. Swap Meet Ride there were a dozen riders ranging in age from mid-twenties to mid-sixties. It was easy to understand why the older guys were checking out the old classics, but harder to explain why the younger riders were there until you started talking to them. They wanted to experience what it was like to ride these older bikes in order to have a better understanding of what earlier motorcyclists had to deal with. By the end of the day, most of them fought over the CX500 because it was easy to ride and familiar, but they had developed a respect for the riders of yore who had to adapt to the now-wonky workings and lower-level performance of the old bikes. It turns out the common bond of motorcycling spans generations.
Why does he do this? Samick will tell you he enjoys “seeing how people mesh and figure things out together” when the Brit bikes get cantankerous and the Italian bikes get moody. In every conversation with Samick, if you listen closely, you can hear his love of being on the open road and the feeling of freedom and self-sufficiency that comes with it. These days Samick runs a dozen one to four day rides from his secluded compound in Pennsylvania. Retro Tours is only one of a very few tour companies that do this type of thing and if you don’t do it too there’s just something wrong with you. His website is www.retrotours.com. See if your love of Italian models was justified.