There’s a near-obsessive passion that drives motorcycle enthusiasts, but when Bryan Bentley was gifted a vintage Japanese motorcycle by his wife a few years back, neither of them could have guessed what it would lead to.
Now Bentley has 17 motorcycles — at least he thinks that’s right, he had to stop and count up bikes stored in several locations — and is hosting what he hopes will turn into an annual swap meet, show and auction. Hosted through the national Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club of which Bentley is a member and former board member, the goal is to get club members together for a day of celebrating their shared passion.
Along the way, Bentley said he hopes the event draws in the uninitiated, so newcomers can learn more about the appeal behind these motorcycles. The event will feature an indoor and outdoor swap meet, bike show and an auction by Lakelands Auction Company. A horsepower competition will let bike owners use a dynamometer to judge the power output, with awards for highest horsepower and most horsepower according to motor size.
“There’s absolutely no cost of admission to people coming in to enjoy the show,” Bentley said. “I can’t get any cheaper than that unless I pay people to come.”
He said any profits raised at the event will be going to Davidson Street Baptist Church, and the event is family friendly.
Bentley’s first exposure to these kinds of motorcycles — which are more compact than American-made bikes and tend to have smaller, sportier engines — came when he was 16. He had a Honda CL90, which was a small motorcycle that made a big impression.
“It was just a little 90cc, it wouldn’t go but 55 mph,” he said. “But when you’re 16 years old, 55 mph is pretty fast.”
The bike could tackle terrains on and off-road, and despite his and his friend’s best efforts to ride the bike to its very end, it never gave out on him. That bike, however, wasn’t the one that sparked Bentley’s love for these machines — that would come years later.
He worked as a car mechanic as a teen, then was an engineman in the Coast Guard before working as a school bus mechanic and eventually as transportation director for Laurens County School District 56.
In 2004, his life changed when he had a heart attack. While recovering after transplant surgery, he found himself idle and struggling with the idea that he could no longer do the kind of work he’d always loved.
“I was sitting around bored, and my wife bought me a little Honda step-through motorcycle,” he said.
He laid out a tarp, took the bike apart and restored every inch of it from tip to tail. That motorcycle is now sitting in a motorcycle museum in Newburgh, New York, Bentley said.
“I knew he had to have something to do,” Rosemary Bentley said. “He had been a three-job man his entire life, he had to have something physically to do.”
Eventually, he joined up with the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club, eventually become a board member and advertising director for a while. The club connected him to a world of enthusiasts, broadening his horizons and networking him with people who would tell him about bikes that were on the market.
He works mostly on his own bikes, but can occasionally be talked into doing work on someone else’s bike. He said there’s something magical about hearing an engine kick on after sitting idle and ignored for decades. The hobby has paid for itself — along with his towing trailer, vapor-blasters, cleaners and various other tools.
“It has just been a life-saver for him,” Rosemary said. “The people he has met and the joy he’s had just from that first little motorcycle to what it is now.”