Rick’s Gentleman’s Express Blog

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The 2016 CVMG National Swap Meet and Flea Market

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I have been faithfully attending the event billed as The CVMG (Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group) National Rally for decades. I have attended since the event was located at the grounds of the Welland County Motorcycle Club, long before its current location at the county fairgrounds in Paris, Ontario. It has traditionally been scheduled for Father’s Day weekend. I have ridden to the rally, driven to rally, even walked to the rally as we now live in Paris. I have attended with my wife, gone there with riding buddies and gone alone. This year may be the last time that I attend. I will explain.

I went to this iteration of the rally with an old riding buddy who I worked with for a few years doing motorcycle training. Our wives took the opportunity to go shopping. We arrived around 2:30 on the Saturday afternoon. Rally attendees start arriving on Friday and the rally ends on Sunday. First order of business was the parking lot tour. I have found more and more that the bikes in the parking lot are just as interesting as the bikes inside the gates. Riders are often hanging around their bikes and are eager to tell their story. I saw some unusual new bikes along with some old bikes that are actually being ridden. I call them “the road warriors”. On this particularly hot and sunny Saturday afternoon, the bike parking was already beginning to thin out by the time we arrived.

Despite slathering on sunscreen, there was a definite self-preservation instinct at work in seeking shade whenever possible. After paying $10 each to get in (it seems to me that it used to be $5) we made an immediate left into the relative coolness of the main exhibition hall. This year’s featured marque was BMW. Behind a barrier was an impressive line of restored Beemers in roughly chronological order. There were a couple of bikes on the other side –- a Laverda and a Norton as I recall — that had apparently won some sort of award, but they were already being moved out by their owners. Scattered in the background were some dusty display cases, some tables with opened cardboard boxes and some dangling signs that I recognized as leftovers from last fall’s agricultural fair.

I was in the midst of taking some pictures when a loud, deep, preachy-sounding voice filled the room. Not knowing what was going on at first, I wondered aloud if this was a religious revival meeting of some sort. Another showgoer passing by remarked in a drawl that the speaker was “the wrong colour” for that. I soon learned that the speaker –- perched on a soapbox of sorts — was none other than author George Elliot Clarke doing readings from his racy book “The Motorcyclist” on behalf of the local bookstore. I haven’t purchased the book yet, but while reading a review I learned that Clarke is the current Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate.

Braving the heat again we began a tour of the booths and stands covering the grounds. Some had whole bikes on display while most had parts spread out for sale. If a vendor’s area had a canopy to duck under to escape the sun, the price of admission to the shade was often listening to a sales pitch. Some were chattier than others. While snapping a picture of a Brough-Superior, I remarked to my buddy that this was the kind of bike on which Lawrence of Arabia met his end. Overhearing this, the owner launched into a biography of T.E. Lawrence that was interrupted around the year 1916 by a customer inquiring about a rat-trap the owner had for sale. I saw our chance to make a polite escape, since there was still a hundred years to go in the story. I did take a passing look at the “part” in question, as I recalled reading about a Harley part called a mouse-trap eliminator. The item for sale here appeared to be an actual rat trap, going for the princely sum of two dollars.

The next building we toured to get out of the heat had some British parts, a guy selling a device to help turn a parked bike around in confined spaces and a guy I talked to about his “vapour blasting” parts cleaning service. It was then back out in the sun for the final leg of the outdoor vendors tour. Some were already packing up their trailers. It was then home to the welcome shade of our backyard.

I mentioned earlier that this would probably be the last vintage motorcycle show that I attend. Here’s the explanation. In reviews of previous years’ shows, I have bemoaned the gradual but seemingly inexorable transition of this rally from a concours d’elegance event showcasing restored bikes to a swap meet, the primary purpose of which is sales. That transition now appears to be a fait accompli. I am not privy to how the event is organized and run but I suspect that the cost of having it as a showcase of bikes was becoming unsustainable, so renting space to vendors slowly became the primary focus. I am assuming here that the booth spaces are not free. Correct me if I am wrong. So here’s the deal. I am not in the market for a vintage bike or parts for one, so the show has become less and less interesting. Paying more to see less of what I am interested in –- beautifully restored vintage bikes — makes no sense to me. Next year I may go to the show, but just walk around and look at the bikes in the parking lot instead of paying to attend the swap meet.

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July 1st, 2016 at 2:54 pm

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