Cover Bike Owners

An Interview with Jim and Joan Vandergriff

June 30, 2009
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Jim and Joan Vander Vandergriff own the Circle V Garage in Linwood, Kansas and are one of the largest collectors of vintage motorcycles in the Kansas City area. They own more than 40 motorcycles ranging from 1917-2005 and were kind enough to let us photograph their 1939 AJS Model 39/26 for our July 2009 issue. Joan also agreed to the following interview.
CC: What are your occupations?
Joan: We own a retail catalog sales business. Jim is also a former potter and three-dimensional art teacher and I was a writer/editor and taught at UMKC.

CC: Do you guys have any hobbies other than collecting motorcycling?
Joan: Yes, Jim is into gardening and enjoys gathering and growing orchids and other plants from Costa Rica. He also enjoys reading. Offshore fishing is my specialty and I also enjoy reading and traveling.

CC: Why do you ride?
Joan: We love to get our bikes out on the roads, especially the vintage bikes. It's a great way to see the countryside and to meet people as you travel.

CC: How long have you been riding?
Joan: Jim has been riding since the age of 15 and I started riding as a form of transportation in graduate school at Berkeley, California.

CC: What was your first bikes?
Joan: Jim's first bike was a Cushman and mine was a 1971 Suzuki 185.

CC: How many bikes have you guys owned?
Joan: Lots and lots. Too many to count.

CC: How many bikes do you currently own?
Joan: We stopped counting at 40, but they cover the years 1917 through 2005. We own Triumphs (1917-2005), BSAs (1939 – 1969), Nortons (1975s), Velocettes (vintage), Ariel (vintage), Matchless (vintage), AJS, Indian (custom racer project and moped), Harley-Davidson (vintage and modern), Buell, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and a custom chopper built by Jim.

CC: What do you like most about your AJS?
Joan: The AJS typifies the “Golden Age” of motorcycling (pre-War British), including the girder forks and grace of form. This bike is especially interesting as it is a single twin-port.

CC: What is your dream bike?
Joan: Both Jim and I love the British pre-War bikes. They combine beautiful lines with great functionality (as witnessed by our 1939 bikes that went through the war and then continued on as ready riders for more than 60 years since decommissioning.

CC: What is your most and least memorable riding experience?
Joan: It is actually on the same trip: riding our BMW 1150GS from Costa Rica to the U.S in 2003. We had an incredible ride through Central America, stopping to sightsee in Nicaragua, San Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. We spent one wonderful night at the incomparable hotel/resort Las Mananitas in Cuenavaca. Then we hit the autopista to Mexico City, where our BMW started emitting smoke from under the tank metal. Pulled off the housing, there was a small fire in the wiring. A passing motorist stopped and asked (in English) whether we needed help. He had the same bike and offered to take us to his BMW dealer in Mexico City. After a long haul on a “plataforma,” a two-hour diagnostic at the BMW shop, shopping for a replacement bike, negotiating in Spanish with every hauler we could contact in Mexico City, dinner at the home of our new friend with his friends, etc., we opted to fly home and hop in our pickup truck to drive back to Mexico City to pick the bike up. The Mexican BMW dealer would not accept any payment, and we were back in Kansas (yes, Dorothy) in two days of hard driving. Moral? You meet the nicest people while riding (or in our case not riding) a bike, and don’t believe all the hype about the bike that touted to be the “Around the World Tourer!”

CC: To what motorcycle clubs or organizations do you belong?
Joan: We belong to the Heart of America Motorcycle Enthusiasts (HoAME), the Santa Fe Trail Club, the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, and the AMA.

CC: What motorcycle rallies & events have you attended, and which is your favorite?
Joan: We’ve done our time at Sturgis. We now go to the HoAME club show in June; the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days in Ohio in July; Baxter Cycles’ customer appreciation rally in August; and Chief Blackhawk Chapter’s rally in Davenport, Iowa in late summer. We love the Baxter rally as there are all brands of bikes there, and there is a great people’s choice motorcycle show in Sunday. In July 2007, Willie G. Davidson was Grand Marshal of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum Motorcycle Show at the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days, and chose the AJS for the Grand Marshal Award -- the best British bike of show, citing that it was a 'work of art.'

CC: Do you prefer riding in a group or by yourself?
Joan: Both Jim and I prefer riding with each other rather than in a group. Our interests are quite different than other riders’, and we like to be able to stop and go when we want to.

CC: Thank you again for letting us photograph your AJS and for taking the time for this interview.

Interview and photos by Mike Schweder

Published in Cover Bike Owners