For the past two years I have been saving up for a car, ideally a transporter or truck, always with metal detecting trips in my mind. Well, last month I turned all those plans upside down and began researching motorcycles. It was all only a distant plan because I do not own a motorcycling licence, right until I stumbled over a very German thing that turned out to be an amazing choice for me to get around. This is a long post full of history, financial calculations and a small insight into German law, so hopefully it will prove an interesting read.
It is the lovely S51E by Simson, an East German motorcycle producer that built these when ‚I live in Germany‘ would still bring up the response ‚which one?‘, which is a complicated way to say these motorcycles are quite a bit older than I am and were produced in the former GDR.
This very unique detail has since made them dream bikes of many a German growing up, due to a distinct law that was created when the two Germanys merged into one.
That is the fact that speed limits for small motorcycles and scooters was not the ludicrous 45 kph we have for all new scooters in West Germany. No, the East (’not everything was bad‘) had a far more reasonable 60 kph limit. 60 kph is quite usable in my opinion, fast enough for city traffic (50kph limit) and just a mild annoyance on country roads with their 70 kph limits. I am far from a speed junkie (hence metal detecting as a hobby), in fact I prefer 70-100 when I’m in a car. That being said a 45kph scooter is nothing but a death trap on German roads and I still wonder how I survived the two years I owned one before getting my car licence.
So speed and being able to ride it with my car licence were the two main reasons I ended up buying it, but there are quite a few others, outlined below:
- While the company itself has gone bankrupt by now another company took over and still produces every single spare part to this day, making it a very viable solution to stack up spare parts and keep these bikes running for a long, long time. My engine has been rebuilt from the ground up along with some other parts two years ago, making it basically a brand new vehicle with better lights, upgraded ignition and some other upgrades.
- It’s cheap. Amazingly cheap to be honest:
- Fuel costs are incredibly low when compared to any of the car / transporter choices I considered. While used cars in my price range usually come in between 7 and ten litres no transporter I could even remotely afford would use less than ten litres. The S51 uses no more than 3 litres, admittedly with some 2-stroke-oil mixed into the tank.
- As it is a scooter by law I have to pay a whopping 37€ a year (!) for insurance, that’s all fix costs right there. I chose to get a premium membership of the ADAC (German automotive club, will pick me up everywhere in Germany and even Europe if I have a nervous breakdown) for another 84€ a year, but that is optional. Seemed like a reasonable thing to get, though.
- I paid 1300€, making the S51 less expensive than one year of insuring a van would cost me (wtf by the way, how is that much for insurance even remotely reasonable?). In comparison the Vespa scooter I rode for two years cost me 1000€, that isn’t much of a difference and I wonder why I didn’t get an S51 in the first place. I would probably still be riding it.
- Spare parts are cheaper than some parts I have on my bicycle. It doesn’t really matter what part I checked on the online stores specializing in Simson parts, nothing looked expensive. A fully rebuilt engine costs only about 250€, and a lot of stuff has to go wrong before I have to swap in a completely new engine. Everything else is even cheaper, which frankly surprised me in some cases as I would have paid twice or more for some parts (like kickstands) without flinching.
- I can do every single repair myself (given some special tools for ignition and such that I currently do not own), most of them are easy enough for someone who knows which side of a tool goes where. Youtube once again proves it can be an amazing ressource for something other than cat and fail compilations, a couple of guys put in amazing effort to document how to keep these beauties running.
- From my scooter days I know just how much cargo can be fitted on two wheels, which should be enough for all our magnet fishing finds. I have already fitted a top box and will add at least one side pannier. I am not sure what I can fit on the right as the exhaust is so high up and kind of gets in the way, but I’ll see what’s possible.
- The technology involved is super simple, making it both possible to repair and also durable. I have worked on some cars in the past and everything that goes beyond oil changes and swapping in new bulbs basically is stuff for expert these days.
- The community for these bikes is great. While I have no personal experience as of yet there are forums, frequent meetups and festivals for Simson owners who keep knowledge and the bikes themselves alive. Lots of stupid mods as well, there are S51s turned into drag racers or low riders, I even briefly considered a chopper modification that was available in my city. Damn, now I want ape hangers again.
So that’s enough of the benefits, let me share the adventures involved between deciding an S51 was a great choice and actually getting one.
About a month ago I started researching what was available in a fifty kilometer radius. It proved to be quite difficult to find offers that I could reach with public transportation, most where so far in the countryside that not even buses drive there anymore. I guess it makes sense because that is where the Simsons become great choices.
So I ruled out quite a few just for being too far away. Next I put emphasis on the S51E variant, which is the enduro version that has a higher exhaust for mild offroading. Not that I plan to do much of that, but it also comes with a stronger frame and who knows where the Trashure Seeker adventures will take me. I would have been okay with the normal version, but I’m more than happy I ended up finding an E variant in the end as it allows me to easily drive up curbs and the stock tires are great on gravel roads.
While I didn’t exactly rule the other variants out just for being a non-enduro version an amazing portion of the already small market here in northern Germany turned out to be garbage for one reason or another. If you have ever done any used vehicle shopping on Ebay or craigslist or whatever you will know how some offers / sellers leave you scratching your head. Here are a few highlights:
- „I haven’t tested if it runs, when I last used it five years ago it did“
- „I had to drill the ignition key, but it is mine“. A new ignition key costs 10€, if you do stupid shit at least replace it so people buy it unknowing it’s likely stolen.
- „Frame is slightly broken“ with the heading „S51 in almost new condition“
- One guy told me after about twenty messages back and forth that the bikes actually stand parked a hundred kilometers away from the place he mentioned in the ad. Thanks for nothing man.
- On Sunday I wanted to purchase one that was looking really nice for 1600€ in great condition, but when I was on the bus after a half hour train ride I received a message „sorry, I decided I don’t want to sell after all, hope it’s not too late.“
Luckily I ended up finding another guy who was willing to meet on Monday, making the day I had taken off from work to learn how to ride not completely wasted. Granted I still wasted a lot of time watching Simson videos on YouTube, but in the evening we met roughly 20 kilometers away from my home and believe it or not everything worked out fine. The bike was in good condition, the guy sold it because he had just gotten his proper motorcycling licence and needed money for a bigger bike. He gave me both a crash course in riding motorcycles and a can of oil he had left and set me on my way after exchanging cash for papers and keys and a few stories each way.
Then the real fun began, riding a motorcycle through city rush hour traffic with motorcycling practice of exactly ten minutes. I don’t care what others tell you, that is one hell of a way to teach yourself how to ride. I think I annoyed more than a few people with my snail like starts from red lights, and I am proud to say I only stalled the bike on three occasions and only once on a four lane crossing. As a matter of fact I am quite surprised to say I wasn’t honked at a single time, but the one time I couldn’t start the bike back up (turned out fine after about seemingly thrityfive tries though) a nice guy walked up to me telling me a bunch of stories of how he owned the exact bike back in the day and helped me push it along the pedestrian path until it started back up (thanks, man!). See what I mean about the community? Took me exactly half an hour to meet a nice guy.
But my adventure wasn’t over, I had my first ride in pouring rain, the first occasion where a car cut me off and found out the enduro version is great for jumping down curbs after I had stalled another time and needed to get back on the road.
So after I miraculously made my way home I can say a couple of things:
Why did I not get an S51 sooner? Who thought the motorcycle shifting pattern was a great choice? What’s wrong with foot-clutches? And one final thought: The clutch sucks big time, it doesn’t engage for miles, then engages within about one millimeter. So far I am not sure if it is my fault (chances are it is) or if the clutch can be adjusted. However not a single start happened with the smoothness I am used to from car driving.
EDIT: Turned out I wasn’t completely stupid. The problem was not the clutch itself but rather a rotten seal at the exhaust leading to the engine getting more air than it should and irregular gas intake. With my first proper repair under my belt I can rightfully say again that these bikes are repairable for average joe with some fiddling and reading up on forums.
So before I get to the long awaited pictures let me say two more things: I HAVE MY OWN SET OF WHEELS! And METAL DETECTING AND YOU GUYS ON YOUTUBE PAID FOR IT!
Which is another thing that keeps amazing me, while the helmet camera and riding gear I still need will be out of my own pocket for now all detecting gear, the camera stuff and the bike were all paid with money I would not have if we hadn’t started this hobby a good year and a half ago.
You guys rock, bikes rock, metal detecting rocks, and there are lots of treasure hunting adventures before us that will be thoroughly documented on our YouTube channel.