The Spannerman collection includes some pretty terrible bikes, he picks the three worst…
The Chinese call it Yin and Yang. Marx called it dialectical materialism and Newton formalized it in science with his Third Law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
What this means for us motorcycle collectors is that if the best collector in the world exists, at the other end of the cosmic duality there also has to be a worst collector. I’m probably that man.
In truth, you wouldn’t call my humble assembly of around 20 bikes a ‘collection’. Some of them were repair jobs for owners who never picked up the finished product and others pretended they were only going to stay in the workshop for a short period but somehow never got around to leaving.
Let me introduce you to the three worst collector motorcycles of all time.
MCI Sharpy 150 LJ150T-4
There was a time in Australia’s recent past when budding entrepreneurs discovered you could import scooters and small motorcycles from China with a landed cost of around $400.
The dollar signs blinded them to the fact these bikes couldn’t be registered without going through a $30,000 Australian Design Rule compliance procedure.
No matter. Blokes still cleaned out their garages and became micro-importers of 50cc scooters with names like the Arriba Arriba Ondelay Toady Jolly 50. Dads bought them for their kids for Christmas to annoy the neighbours and terrorise caravan parks and other places where registration wasn’t considered necessary.
These bikes lasted until the first crash or the engine broke. It was then discovered no parts or service was available and the distributor who had provided the bike in the first place had closed after a whirlwind six weeks of trading.
Some importers did it on a grander scale which included ADR compliance and national distribution. The Sharpy 150 was one such bike. The example you see here has a compliance plate stamped 10/2007 and was distributed out of Western Australia.
It arrived in my shed via a $100 deal on a jetty in a NSW coastal town. It would start and idle but would not proceed from there. The new owner wanted it brought up to roadworthy condition.
Both rear shocks were blown and a couple of quick calls to the current national distributor of MCI scooters revealed they’d bought the business from the original distributors in 2012 and carried no parts for any bikes before that date.
Actually, that’s not entirely true: there were a few boxes of parts up in the attic of the factory which had never been catalogued and if I were to take some images of the shocks and measure their length, someone would have a look around for me.
The shocks were specific to the Sharpy 150 with inverted U mounting plates so trawling through the wrecking yards would have been a waste of time.
While I was involved in this investigation, the instrument panel collapsed into the headlight shell. The instruments were held in place by a molding which had turned into chalk once it was exposed to Australian-grade UV.
The Sharpy was disintegrating before my very eyes and becoming less rather than more roadworthy the longer it stayed in the workshop.
Its owner eventually called to tell me he’d bought a Suzuki GS500 and, by mutual agreement, we’d never talk about the Sharpy again.
It can’t be made roadworthy, it’s useless as a paddock bike because of its small wheels and lack of ground clearance and no parts are available for it anywhere in the world. It may, in fact, be the last Sharpy 150 in existence which, surprisingly, makes it even less valuable. And it’s mine…
Cost when new: $2399
Now: Free to a good home.
What follows is true.
In 1983, BIKE Australia magazine decided to do a comparison test of the big four 250 four-strokes: Honda’s CB250N; Suzuki’s GSX250, Kawasaki’s Z250B and Yamaha’s just-released XS250RK.
I was dispatched to Milledge Yamaha to pick up the XS250 and arrived at the workshop to be told the sales manager had taken it for a quick spin and would be back soon.
I was standing innocently in the workshop when he arrived and, without realising I was there, he shouted at the workshop manager that under no circumstances was the bike to go out for a comparison test as there was either something major wrong with the engine or it was, indeed, the slowest bike Yamaha had ever produced.
Considerable embarrassment followed but I eventually left on the bike. The sales manager was right: it was a slug. It duly came last in the comparo and went on to be the worst seller in the 250 segment of the market. It wasn’t entirely Yamaha’s fault.
Like the CB250N, the XS250 was originally designed as a 400 for the Japanese domestic market and sleeved down to 250cc to comply with Australia’s ill-conceived learner capacity limit.
Even in 400 form the XS was slow and heavy so you can imagine the impact of reducing its engine capacity by 150cc.
You could argue that its sluggish performance was a safety feature as with its top-heavy, tall engine, it was the worst handler in the group. At least when you crashed you wouldn’t have been going very fast.
My XS250RK is a genuine orphan.
It was generously given to me to get running so that I could pass it on to an impoverished learner desperate to join the motorcyclist ranks. He ended up with another bike and the original owner doesn’t want the RK back. It sits in the workshop forlorn and unloved.
Some bikes are never destined to be classics – they just get old. You could argue that none of the bikes in the original BIKE Australia comparo are classics and, for my sins, I have the worst of them.
Cost when new: $2199
Now: A slab of Toohey’s New
Honda 50 Stepthru
The Honda 50 deserves better than to be included in a list of the least collectable bikes of all time but it’s here because of its ubiquity: Honda has made and sold over 100,000,000 of them since it was introduced in 1958.
Yes, all those noughts at the end of the ‘1’ are genuine: one hundred million. You can’t describe it as a collector’s item as they’re as common internationally as male testicles.
Until 1964 the 50 Stepthru had a pushrod, overhead valve engine but an overhead cam version replaced it and essentially the same engine is still being manufactured under license in many third world and developing countries.
“You meet the nicest people on a Honda” drove millions of sales initially but in countries like Australia the 50 was too slow to be safe in traffic.
The speedo has lines drawn on it to indicate the top speed in the three gears (how’s that for a cheap tacho) with first good for 15mph and second peaking at 30mph.
Top speed was determined by how steep the downhill run was but the line for third gear finished at the last number on the speedo: 60mph. Certainly the bike is capable of 60km/h but problems start if you encounter a hill – speed washes off dramatically. In the case of my 50, it’s further disadvantaged by having to carry my 91kg.
They wear out, too, thanks to the only oil filter being a mesh strainer and having a top end lubrication system which relies on the oil getting hot enough to vaporize and mist through the camshaft and valves.
With careless servicing, 10,000km was about it. Even with meticulous mechanical attention, 20,000km would see the engine out.
Oh, and they get slower as the engine wears. The 50 gracing INFO MOTO got to the stage where it had a top speed of about 10km/h. In a particularly desperate period of my life, I rode it to Melbourne airport along the bicycle lanes and abandoned it in the long-term car park.
Guilt got the better of me after three months and, late at night with a ute, I collected it again. I had a choice of paying the $46,000 in parking fees or pushing it out the unmanned entry gate. What would you do?
It got some attention recently when I replaced the old engine with something better only to have the gearbox seize in second about 100km later. I’ll keep fixing it with increasingly worn-out second-hand parts and it will keep breaking. Such is life.
Cost when new: $200 (approx)
Now: “Dad paid $200 for it in 1966 and he reckons if he sold it now, he’d nearly get his money back!”