Antique Cycles Northwest

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Antique Cycles Northwest

Where Legends Live Again

The exposed valve lifters rise and fall, ancient thunder fills the room and another legendary motorcycle comes back to life as Norm Gerlich twists back the throttle on a 1918 Excelsior that's as old as the shop it was just restored in.

Some restore classics from the 40s and 50s, others restore vintage Japanese bikes from the 60s and 70s, but Norm Gerlich, owner of Antique Cycles Northwest makes a living restoring turn of the century motorcycles, and sometimes bicycles. Names like Thor, Pope, Reading Standard and Iver Johnson lead a long list of bikes Gerlich has restored.

"This was the first production year after Schwinn took over Excelsior in 1917" points out Gerlich as he twists the throttle back one more time before shutting down the beautifully restored steed. This is a man who knows his motorcycle history from A - Z.

Gerlich didn't always restore motorcycles. Before opening his shop in 1992 he was a group insurance broker. Until that time bikes were just a hobby, always maintaining a small collection of his own. His early retirement soon ended when he rented the old Maxwell Automobile Dealership on University Way in North Seattle. After six months of refurbishing the inside structure which included sand blasting the brick walls, building a new roof and replacing 210 panes of glass, Gerlich had created a comfortable setting in which to restore and display turn of the century motorcycles.

Today Gerlich spends an average of 60 hours a week restoring bikes. "I guess you can call it work, but it's a lot of fun for me" says Gerlich. "I actually work about 2-3 hours a week - that's when I sit down to pay bills." What started as a service for a few friends blossomed into a full fledge business which requires skilled help to keep up the pace. "We don't have any manuals because in most cases they don't exist, everything is done based on know how and past experience" he notes. Business is so good Gerlich has never felt he needed a website so we won't be able to give you a link in this story. The tip here is to make a visit to the shop and see it for yourself.

A trip into Antique Cycles Northwest is a lesson in how the motorcycle came to be. By looking over the many restored bicycles and early 20th century motorcycles you can see the gradual evolution of how the two wheeled motorized vehicles came to be. You'll also find a few glass display cases that hold memorabilia that would make any moto-trawler on e-Bay drool.

So let's suppose grandpa dies and you're cleaning out his garage and you stumble upon his 1927 Indian motorcycle. Just what will it cost to restore this gem? Restorations can run from $5,000 to $25,000 depending on the existing condition and just how accurate you want the work. Gerlich quotes a price to each customer on the front end of the job.

And how intricate can that be? "I consider each restoration like I'm going to put it in a vintage show" says Gerlich. "I can do a 97 point restoration for one amount, but to take it to a 100 point restoration can cost up to $5,000 more because then we're getting into details like density of metals, matched thicknesses on bolt heads and so forth."

Good help is not easy to find. Indian Jeff worked with Gerlich until his debilitating accident in Montana in 1997. Today he has a shop manager, John (right), who specializes in British & European restorations and bikes from the 30s and later. Gerlich still likes to work on "teens" restorations. "We're one of the few places left in the Northwest handling these types of bikes" notes Gerlich as we discuss the disappearance of previous competitors such as Pokes, Three Set Cycle and others.

Parts for turn of the century motorcycles are rare. Decals are even more scarce. Often times Gerlich has to fabricate in house, or send out for any kind of part imaginable. "Sometimes we can get something off a scrap bike, other times we can tear down a restored bike and fabricate the identical bolt, nut or part just by having a good one available" he points out. "And we've even gotten into fabricating decals because there's no other way to obtain them."

As for painting, Gerlich uses a number of sources. The painting ranges from simple color match and spraying to more detailed work such as hand or mask painted pin strips which were common on many European and American bikes.

So what do you do with all these restorations when they are done? "Ride them!" pronounces Gerlich. You can often see Gerlich with one or two of his gems at the VME Meetings, the first Wednesday of each month at Teddy's Tavern on Roosevelt and 65th in Seattle at 7pm. But if you're knocking around the U district, take a trip into Antique Cycles Northwest and get a good look at many of Gerlich's re-born legends.

TM/Spring 01

Antique Cycles Northwest
5601 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105
(206) 522-8010

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