Middle of the night Craigslist surfing motorcycles and parts is typically nearly a complete waste of time. An entertaining waste of time, but usually little more than that.
One night, through glazed over eyes and a too caffeinated brain I scrolled endlessly to pass the time. Typical ads were for seemingly every Harley-Davidson made, old Suzukis and an occasional rusted solid Ducati (left in the) field bike. But in the mass of throwaway parts, I spy the following ad:
For about thirty seconds my brain tries to find how on earth this ad, with a location being almost rural Minnesota, could be real. The simple answer was that the ad wasn’t real, that this was some kind of scam ad.
But with nothing to lose but my own time the next morning I call the phone number on the ad and express interest. They invite me to drive a few hours and take a look at the parts. I say I need to make a phone call and then will jump in the car.
I call Kenny Roberts.
“Hey, do you have any idea how these parts from one of your GP bikes could be in Minnesota?” I ask as I text him the ad and some pics the seller sent to me.
Roberts says he has no idea. “Sometimes we gave old stuff away. Sometimes we sold a few parts or gave them to sponsors. I honestly have no idea,” Roberts said with deep, deep disinterest in the conversation. Okay.
I set down the phone and call Kenny Roberts Junior, and tell him the same story. How? Why? Who?
He says he has no idea either.
I say to Junior: Well, I am going to take a look at these parts, do you think your dad would want me to buy them back?
Junior laughs and says “Well, you’ve been to my dads shop. Do you think he needs more parts for his old GP bikes?”
This is a valid point. Roberts senior had most of the UK Team Roberts race shop sent back to the ranch after the race team ended. His parts warehouse is quite full.
Well, I am going to drive out there and take a look, I tell Kenny Junior.
Okay, he says, but I’d do one thing before you go.
What’s that I ask. Bring a magnet to see which parts are steel and which are aluminum, or better yet titanium? Will a magnet stick to titanium? Pictures of the bikes?
No, Junior says, take a Sharpie and write your name on your thigh so after they recover your headless body the police can still identify you. Then he laughs
Okay, with that suggestion I borrow my wife’s car and long-arm it for a few hours until I arrive at a townhouse complex. The owner of the parts are a couple who had moved up here from California to get medical treatment. They immediately confess that although the parts are cool what they need now is a reliable car to get to their medical appointments. They take me inside, and in the living room, on a dining table, a treasure trove of Team Roberts odds and ends are laid out for inspection. A quick eyeball inventory shows crankshafts for the V5, with connecting rods and caps, endless V5 camshafts, titanium brackets, fasteners, carbon fiber clutch covers, an aluminum fuel cell/gas tank and generally items that to a non-gear head would have little interest. But to me, and my “ilk”, this stuff is gold.
Two, judging by their incessant and ferocious deep barking, very large attack dogs are locked in the bedroom of the townhouse . The couple explain they have to keep them in their bedroom now because they had them locked in the second bedroom but they ate through the door and escaped. I look at the half-eaten door. The lower third of the nice two-panel interior door is gone, torn away by those two hounds of death. I look at the guy part of the couple and say, “You know, that is damn impressive. But I bet it was terrible to clean up?”. His wife says no, it actually wasn’t because the dogs ate most of the wood they ripped off the door. Wow. Do you have dogs, the guy asks me. I do, I do, I tell him, trying to give the impression my dog is a door-eating death hound too when the reality is she’s a small puffball who is terrified of things like electric fans and water in any form.
I get up the nerve to ask the most pressing question: how on earth did you end up with Team Roberts MotoGP parts?
The male of the couple looks to his wife and she tells me a short story of dating a nameless MotoGP or motorcycle mechanic who lived in California. He worked for Roberts in some capacity and had the okay to take anything out of the dumpster he wanted over a few years. He had put the parts in her storage garage but then the relationship went very bad. She was a victim of domestic abuse, had lost most of her front teeth to the unnamed mechanic’s attacks and after they split he never came back for the parts. She paid for the storage garage for years and after 24 months figured she’d just throw them out but instead threw them all in the U-Haul headed north and they had decided to see if there might be any value with a Craigslist ad. They really need a reliable car, she repeated.
A smarter man would have just made an offer on all the parts, then loaded up and drove home. Instead I asked permission to separate out the parts a little and explain why I did it after I finished. Okay.
I pull out most of a complete set of matching carbon fiber bodywork and a few of the more hard parts, one of the beautiful oil pans, a fuel cell/tank, a bent wheel and other miscellaneous handmade GP bike parts. All the other stuff I put in a “Dean pile”.
I tell them that the value in the ‘I’m leaving here’ parts are in the matching carbon bodywork and the bigger, showy parts. I instruct them to call my contact at the Barber Museum in Alabama and tell him you’d like to sell this stuff and further that I said it should be on display in a museum. The Barber folks will pay more than I can, I tell them, if you negotiate well enough you’ll end up with decent used car money. I make a probably too-much offer on the rest–I’ve been without a car in Minnesota in January and know the pain–which they accept. The boxes are heavy as we load them into my wife’s car. I shake their hands, tell them to call my guy at the Barber Museum and good luck.
The drive home was long. As I sped through the tundra it seems like a dream. I actually stop on a back road, open up the hatch on my wife’s car and marvel at the random-yet-cool stuff. I pull a fairing, from Nobu Aoki’s KR MotoGP bike, and set it by a frozen old fence post for a photo.
When I finally get home to my tiny garage I bring the parts inside and separate them out by things I can identify and stuff that is a mystery. I pull out a box and fill it with some of mystery items and ship it off to my friend Kevin Cameron. The rest I show friends. Ever seen an oil pan to a V5 MotoGP bike? Look at this: a FRAM oil filter on a MotoGP engine case. Most are unimpressed. I fondle them like old family jewelry when alone in the garage.
Anybody need some Team Roberts jewelry? Like I said I paid too much …