Editor's Note: This is the first installment in an ongoing series aimed at keeping you on the road and out of the poor house. Hard times demand frugally demented ideas, so we took away vagabond writer Joshua Placa's meds, duct-taped a laptop to his chest, gave him a tin cup, and sent him off to get us the best deals for the biker bucks ... on everything.
When only a card can express your true feelings about long motorcycles; 50 cents courtesy
Does it sometimes feel like somebody hung a foreclosure sign on your head? Everybody is in a funk, feeling too poor to spare any fun. Or maybe just the fiscal fear of fun is enough to keep you staring into free TV, watching cartoons and drinking beer on your cushy couch.
Like everyone else, motorcyclists suffer through this sputtering economy. But this does not mean we have to cry like babies, stay home, and mumble about the days we could afford food and gas. We just need to be a little more creative, tighten our chains, and use our brains. There are ways, my broke friend, to stretch nothing into something.
Wily moto veterans have long used sneaky, well-kept secrets and tricks to get the most out of what's left of their last oily, tattered dollar. Riding relieves stress and puts miles between you and the bill collectors and revenuers. The plan is so simple you'll wonder why you've been moping around like a sissy who lost his lollipop.
After 30-something years of biking and bumming, piling up a wealth of valuable experience at being broke, I am bona fide and institutionally certified to deliver free advice. Truth is, we blow bucks on a lot of unneeded stuff, which wastes money, space, and time better spent on riding, the sole reason why we were put on this earthly pavement.
You can never have too many cheap sunglasses. This nice wraparound pair was found at the G
The author, wearing a hat ($10) and shirt ($2) previously bought at the store, and the fri
A warm, leather and synthetic wool vest ($8) is a versatile layering item. Plucked from th
To further the cause, I have renounced retail and dedicated my dollars to recycled and re-worn moto gear, which includes but is not limited to leather jackets, gloves, boots, jeans, fancy cowhide vests, waterproof layering jackets and pants, bandannas, sunglasses, the odd rocker or factory T-shirt, and maybe the occasional toy to be my saddlebag mascot. Dinosaurs are preferred. All this stuff can be found at the local thrift store. Every town has at least one, their numbers rise as the economy sinks.
Hoodies are hot, especially when they’re made by Ed Hardy. Salvation Army, $5.
The great thing about a thrift shop is that you can walk in and smell the mighty purchasing power in your pants, after taxes and minimum credit card payments. For me, this usually amounts to somewhere around eight dollars and 75 cents, but within those castoff walls, I am rich. Upon crossing the store threshold I have often felt with some giddiness an almost Trump-like I-can-buy-any-damn-thing-I-want glee.
But there can be a price to pay. Beware, the deceitful kiss of the neighborhood thrift store lady, her inviting lips sweet, but venomous. In properly trained hands, these shops are a beneficial, sensible, controllable thing, offering a painless way to fortify your riding gear in the unexpected event of miserable cold or rain while on the road, or add a touch of tasteful retro style to your seasonal wardrobe.
But the Goodwill store has got a hold on me. It's lovely, aromatic pre-worn leather and denim jackets, T-shirts, beanies, faux sheepskin gloves, manly fashion accessories, and stretchy sweatpants galore are a drug. If you aren't careful, you will become a pret-a-porter degenerate, a secondhand fiend, like me-addicted to the irresistible temptation of thrift-shop flotsam. I admit it freely and without hope.
If you like treasure hunting, the Salvation Army offers unique retro and biker chic.
I wasn't always this way. There was a time I shopped at the usual places, you know, dealerships, the mall-that sort of thing. I was normal. There was the occasional jolly lark to a harmless flea market, but that was just for fun, nothing serious, nothing I couldn't handle. That's what I told myself.
The Goodwill and Salvation Army are charitable organizations often employing mentally and physically challenged people and serving their communities, which also means you don't pay tax. Sales tax in my town is more than 10 percent, a civil donation leaving a painful dent. If the government digs any deeper into my pocket they're going to get a nice, biblical bonus.
For-profit thrifts are also thriving. Savers, for example, is a thrift shop chain on steroids. It bills itself as "The Discount Department Store," filling its warehouse-size outlets with everything from clothes and accessories to electronics, housewares, and furniture. Most items are used and generally in good shape; others are new with tags or in the vernacular of the reseller, NWT.
Most thrift stores, including the national chains, offer steep discounts over retail. I've paid as little as $5 for what was once a $200 leather jacket, $2 for $20 sunglasses, $7 for $60 gloves, and $11 for $125 boots. People will pay extra for a vintage look; I just buy used clothes that are vintage, or at least have been well broken in.
Savers is like most thrift stores, just a lot bigger.
Browse the mall and buy at the thrift store. Like planning a road trip or buying a bike, it's best to prepare by having some sense of what desirable items retail for, and a realistic handle on what will work for biking. Stopping at what I need rather than want is a discipline I personally have yet to master. Like any skill, you get better at shopping with practice, but you have to enjoy the process. I call this recreational shopping, enjoying the sweet rush of a ridiculous bargain. This is particularly fun in areas that offer little else to do. Treasure hunting by any other name, though, still smells like musty old police leathers and feels great, especially in the wallet.
You can expect savings of anywhere from 40 to 90 percent off retail, depending on the item's condition and, simply, luck. Thrift stores do their own research, too, so not everything is a killer deal; sometimes overpriced apparel and accessories make it to the racks, but so does stuff that's significantly underpriced. Preferred sizes and colors may also not be available and obviously cannot be ordered. Machine washing or professional leather cleaning is recommended.
Part of the biker accouterments is the ubiquitous ball cap. This one with the familiar log
Thrift shops depend on donations. Anything not too far gone, broken, or ripped up is inspected, somewhat cleaned or disinfected, tested (if electronics) when possible, and put out on the floor. Some trips to the thrift may turn up nothing; other sorties may result in a bonanza. More often than not, the trick is not overbuying and filling your closets floor to ceiling with bargain "trophies," stuff that was too good a deal to pass by but is seldom, if ever, used.
Another source to shop for biker bargains is Craigslist. Ride your keyboard to an array of tasty new and used items. Looking under the "For Sale" department, search "Clothes + Accessories." Also worth a gander is "Garage" and "Motorcycle," especially if you enjoy treasure hunting. As with all private transactions, beware spam and scams. While some protection is available through PayPal, our advice is to never buy anything sight unseen. Do your homework, see what the item is retailing for, ask for multiple pictures and don't be shy about asking questions. If the seller is balky, move on.
If you like your boots with a little attitude, check out these lethal heels. Savers, $13.
Normally, the seller has more to fear than the buyer, and may ask to meet at a public place, which is safer for you both. Most sellers are negotiable but will want cash. Have a price in mind you are willing to pay and stick to it. My rule of thumb is not to pay more than 50 percent of retail for anything, unless I positively need it now, it is truly unique, or it's something I may be able to enjoy for a while and sell to break even later.
Like everything else, thrift prices have risen but if you don't mind some rummaging, that leather treasure can be yours. Throw on some $2 shades, $4 jeans, $11 boots, and a $1 bandanna, and you're good for another thousand miles. Ride smart, shop cheap.
The Budget Biker welcomes suggestions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not everything at thrift stores is dirt cheap, but this Harley vest offered by Savers for
Colorful cowboy guy finds a great pair of boots ($30) at the Goodwill store.
Super-cool biker shirt with leather rockers and embroidery ($9) and groovy jeans ($5) were