One of the many things I miss about motorcycle dealerships from the past is the camaraderie at the counter. I’d drop by on the pretext of “needing something” and often stay for a couple of hours. 

There was always an enthusiastic conversation to join and usually an area with an old couch, well-read moto-pubs, and bad coffee. Friendships were made, lies were exchanged, and good humor ruled. The owner usually worked the counter when they weren’t busy wrenching in the back, and family members could be found working in the office, sweeping floors, or washing bikes. And I always bought something.

Unrepentant Curmudgeon Old Skool Dealerships
Tom Keeble is the proud owner of Barnaby’s and is the keeper of the lore.

Sounds a bit quaint, doesn’t it? But it used to be the norm. During the 1960s, nearly 60 brands were available, and small dealerships were abundant, varied, and often prosperous – including the one I owned.

But today, it seems like small dealerships can no longer survive. You gotta go mega-mall if you want to make it. For me, they are no longer friendly places. As greed has pushed aside friendly conversations, it’s natural to view many dealers as opponents. And if you’d like a fair deal on a motorcycle, you had better learn how to play hardball. I still enjoy visiting dealers because I like motorcycles, but the vibe sucks.

Unrepentant Curmudgeon Old Skool Dealerships
The best part of Barnaby’s is the lively bench racing by attendees of its Wednesday gatherings.

That camaraderie, that vibe – if not the motorcycles themselves – can still be found. Barnaby’s in Santa Clara, California, is about as old skool as you can now find. Inside is a maze of milling machines, lathes, presses, and anything else you might need to fabricate motorcycle parts or even complete motorcycles.

More important is the knowledge that resides with owner Tom Keeble and engine builder Rich Dominguez. Walk through this large building, and you’ll find old, unrestored motorcycles, superbly finished dirt-trackers, refurbished moto-jewels, and a few things that defy description. The walls are plastered with old posters, photos, memorabilia, and autographs.

It’s a cool business on its own, but the real fun is found on Wednesday evenings. For decades, Tom has offered up the hospitality, the space, and the barbecue to whoever wants to stop by. For years, two- and four-wheeled legend Joe Leonard was a regular, often presiding over the grill. 

Unrepentant Curmudgeon Old Skool Dealerships
Barnaby’s is the place to be on Wednesday nights.

On a recent visit, former Harley-Davidson factory rider Walt Fulton III could be seen jawing with the regulars, including longtime flat-tracker Chris Rudy. Mike Yarn, a dirt-track racer from the 1960s, was also there.

If you are anywhere near Santa Clara on a Wednesday evening, drop by for a memorable experience. But don’t wait too long. Keeble has decided to retire after 40 years in the business, so Barnaby’s will no longer exist by this time next year. 

When places like this disappear, so does a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, expertise, and of course, that friendly vibe.

Find more Unrepentant Curmudgeon columns here.


  1. If you interested in visiting an “old school” motorcycle dealership I would heartily recommend Donelson Cycles, St. Ann, Missouri. Carl and Kathy Donelson and Kim Keen have been dealers since the 1950s. They currently represent Honda, Yamaha, and Triumph. They have a vast stock of parts for new, classic, and vintage bikes. They offer repairs for modern and vintage bikes. They are passionate motorcyclists who deliver a great experience every time you come through their doors.

  2. The old schooldealerships were great for white guys. Not so much for women. I still remember going into a dealership in the 70’s with my husband and the men wouldn’t even talk to me. They just talked to my husband except for one or two insults thrown my way.
    I find most of the new dealerships are welcoming and I’ve seen women working the parts deparment and service desk, not just the apparel department. Big improvemnt. When things are a little slow they are more than willing to shoot the breeze and answer questions. Some are, indeed, family owned and go the extra mile for customers. I do agree that most technicians get “stuck” if the computer doesn’t tell them what is wrong with your bike. It’s sad that the motorcycle schools don’t teach them how to analyze things like a real mechanic. But that is happening in a lot of industries now. So old school people need to step up and share knowledge and experience before they are all gone.
    That’s just my opinion.


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