When you really love a motorcycle, should it become part of the family and live inside the home? Or is there an invisible line that shouldn’t be crossed between garage and domicile? There are a million different types of motorcycle owners and riders. But this issue (among countless others) divides our community neatly into two camps. For some, a beloved motorcycle in the living room really brings the room together. For others, there are lines you just don’t cross.
The idea carries water for some. We keep busts of famous people, fine art, musical instruments, books, or music to show off our taste and class. Is a motorcycle that different? Some bikes certainly qualify as art. But most art doesn’t leave oil stains or smell like gas fumes. A motorcycle lives and breathes outside and usually makes a mess. Do you really want that in the house?
In the spirit of hard-hitting news, Motorcyclist decided to investigate this historically divisive issue. Does putting a motorcycle inside your house make it a motorcycle home? Does one go from “bike owner” to “noted motorcycle collector” when you put two wheels in your living room? Or is a bike in your house just trying too hard on some level?
Here’s an informal sampling of mostly Midwestern motorcycle owners about why they put motorcycles in their living room. Or which particular models deserve a place in their home. Or why they don’t.
“They Like the Warmth in Winter”
The answer to the article question is a resounding yes, five times over for Dan May. As race director for the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association, May is decidedly in the “Yes” camp. A lover of BMW airheads, his collection slowly moved indoors. His motorcycle menagerie counts a few /2 models as well as a lovely R90. For May, it’s partly a question of art, with Midwestern practicality thrown in.
“It makes starting them after hibernation much easier.”
May’s not currently married, but claims his previous spouse wouldn’t have minded a bike in the living room. How about five?
“She probably would not have let me have five,” he allows.
Does he ever sit on the bikes with friends, drinking beer and making happy brapping noises while imagining riding the Nürbürgring, I ask?
“No,” he insists. “I don’t hang out in that room much. Remember, I have a garage full of racebikes. That’s where the beer drinking and wrenching happens.”
“My Wife Doesn’t Mind”
No data supports this, but most indoor motorcycles seem to be “established” classic or vintage bikes. Unless you’re Liviu Alexandru Maslin. His custom-built 2002 Buell Blast makes for a compelling exception. It was actually partly built in his living room.
A veteran of the Mama Tried H-D 120th Anniversary, 2022 Sturgis Buffalo Chip “Motorcycles as Art” show, The Handbuilt Motorcycle Show, and the 2021 Mama Tried show, Maslin’s Buell Blast was a familiar presence on the motorcycle show circuit—until it was sold to a collector.
A 1971 Harley-Davidson Ironhead roller currently resides in his living room, awaiting work. Does his wife mind? Would he add another one to his living quarters?
“My wife doesn’t mind as long as I dust it off and it doesn’t make a mess. And, yes, I would add another—if the space allowed.”
“It’s Just a Cool-Looking Bike”
Jarl Wathne admits to being slightly annoyed when asked, “She lets you keep a motorcycle in the house?” After all, his wife Nicole picked both the bike and its prime location in the foyer. It’s the first thing you see when you enter his West Virginia home atop the Potomac.
The bike in question is a dark green 1968 Honda CL175 Jarl raced with AHRMA (American Historic Motorcycle Racing Association). Built by high school students at a Port Washington, Wisconsin, high school, it’s one of many AHRMA racers springing from the BUILD program. Medals and trophies hanging above give the bike provenance. This is the second home the Honda has graced.
“At our prior house we had a 1954 Parilla 175 and 1982 Morini 250 2C in addition to the Honda in the living room.”
While some consider motorcycles in the basement as “motorcycles in the house,” Jarl begs to differ. Although he’s got a number of bikes in his basement, they don’t count.
“Isn’t that just an underground garage?”
“You Know, He Lives Here Too”
Arthur Kowitz considers his handbuilt monocoque racer to be a “sculpture,” and it’s hard to argue the point. Featuring a coveted Kawasaki rotary-valve two-stroke 350cc “Bighorn” engine, it was his AMA Pro Lightweight bike for the 1974 season, before he graduated to Superbikes.
Kowitz maintains that as long as they don’t smell or leak and qualify as “sculpture,” they’re part of his regular rotation. One downside is that watching TV is a bit harder. But he adds, “Bikes are more compelling to watch.”
While some people consider an indoor motorcycle a big imposition, Kowitz’ wife of 52 years, Wanda, flips the script. Asked why she’d “allow” such a thing, she replied, “You know, he lives here too.”
“I Look at Them as Art”
As owner and proprietor of Moto & Motor north of Chicago, “Stanimal” (as he’s professionally known) earns his bread and butter from keeping vintage bikes running in Chicagoland. So, “natch” (Midwestern for “naturally”) Stanimal is a supporter of motorcycles in one’s living room. On display currently is a 1969 Ducati 350 with a tank signed by Fabio Taglioni. He’d like to eventually add a Darmah or 69S.
Would he add anything Japanese?
“Don’t get me wrong, a vintage Japanese bike would be as cool,” he says, somewhat convincingly.
A patriotic man at heart, Stanimal is also a noted Buell enthusiast. His past collection featured a 2009 Buell 1125CR with carbon fiber bodywork signed by Erik Buell. Would he consider something American in his house?
“I sold the Buell to a museum on the East Coast. But I would put a Hummer in the corner.”
Um, how big is your house?
“Not the car. The two-stroke Harley from the ‘50s.”
Ah. That is fascinatingly specific. Technically called the Model 125 or S-125, The “Hummer” was based on the German pre-war DKW RT125. The Allies took the blueprints as war reparations, so it definitely fits into his love of patriotic history.
“Mercifully, They’re Leak-Free”
Nathan Hill’s inspiration for building a garage space in his walk-in basement came from an unusual place. Watching the 2010 remake of Tron, he was inspired by the lead character’s escape from justice, pulling his Ducati Sport Classic into his bachelor pad. So Hill spent six months making his own man cave workspace. It was a perfect solution to his lack of heated garage.
Married 20 years, a mutual decision was reached regarding the indoor motorcycles and workspace. Also a mutual decision? No starting the bikes, painting, or use of noxious stuff like brake cleaner inside. As a tidy, meticulous sort, Hill keeps moto anarchy and clutter at bay, as much for himself as his wife
“Clearly, I lucked out with an extremely accommodating partner,” he adds.
Like some of the other people in this article, Hill loves older BMWs, counting the 1972 BMW R50/5 as the favorite of his three house motorcycles. But they do have a downside.
“They require tilting the bike to squeeze those big cylinders through the narrow sliding door.”
Otherwise, the only other drawback Hill sees is that his bikes have road grime and fluid seepage, since they’re ridden regularly. “Mercifully, they’re leak-free,” he claims.
No wonder there’s so many Beemers on this list.
“I Think It’s More of a Single Person’s Thing”
Matt Joy and Ellen O’Donnell have mastered the art of motorcycle-related compromise. Neither wants a motorcycle in their living room, but for different reasons. Does it matter why you agree?
“Bikes are meant to be ridden. They’re not coffee table art,” Matt says.
Ellen chimes in, “When you move up in life, you can afford good garage space.”
When they began dating 15 years ago, Ellen found Matt’s habit of fixing motorcycles in his bachelor pad charming and practical. Chicago winters mean cold garages. Fluids freeze and tools stick to your fingers. We wrench in spaces we have, not the spaces we wish we had. But, as happens, life and circumstances changed.
A new shared apartment and baby soon ended indoor wrenching. And a house offered new possibilities with mutual benefits. A large basement became an indoor workshop for him. And a finished, mid-century wood-paneled cocktail bar for her. It helps that the bar entrance is lined with notable bikes. A Suzuki GS1000 Wes Cooley replica, single-cylinder Ducatis, and some ‘70s-era Hondas greet guests. Matt’s home repair and renovation skills sweetened the deal.
“As long as they stay downstairs and I don’t have to move them, he’s in good shape,” Ellen adds.
Matt sums things up. “We make it work. And the bikes make me work. Don’t get me started on the crashed 2006 KTM 990 Duke I just picked up.”
“You Know How Much Dust Bikes Collect?”
It’s worth mentioning this debate came from a conversation between me and my wife Nicole. She owns Tarnish, a store that sells motorcycle accessories and gear, mostly to women riders. For 10 years, she’s kept a motorcycle in the store as a display. The first one was a 1978 Kawasaki KZ650, but now it’s a friend’s 1972 Honda CB350 track bike. They’re perfect for hanging merchandise on. Maybe we could put a bike in our house?
“Absolutely not” came the reply.
She wasn’t finished. “You know how much dust bikes collect? Do you know how much surface area they have? They’re a pain to clean.”
Good point. Unless it’s being restored or repaired, I ride everything I own. And everything I ride is filthy. Parking them in my living room means cleaning them. I’m against cleaning anything for any reason besides good compression or carburetion.
“Plus, if you put a bike in your house, you’re basically saying you’ll never ride the bike again.”
Point, set, match. I hadn’t thought about it like that. I don’t think I can love a motorcycle in the taxidermic sense. I’m not rich or hygienic enough for a trophy motorcycle yet. I feel neither disappointment nor frustration.
I believe we’ll continue having a motorcycle-free home for the foreseeable future.