my $100 '81 xs400 intro


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San Luis Obispo, CA
Once upon a time, in a land near Central Coast California...

A guy I work with bought the bike from someone else, excellent condition. Pretty sure his dad bought it for him (more detail on that, later). He took his sweet time transferring the title into his name. Meanwhile, he started riding it to work...

...then one day a lady pulls out in front of him in the parking lot and BAM. I've never personally seen a triple tree twisted and bent like that!

Anyways, I hear about this and tactically decide to wait a few months before approaching him. Finally I casually walk up and say, "Hey I hear you have a bike for sale." To which he immediately replies, "Yes. I need to get rid of it for parts. I'll give it to you for 100 bucks."

Wow. Really?

We exchanged numbers and I very coolly walked away, making sure not to skip or jump.

I had a hard time waiting the two days before sending him a text message, asking for pictures. I had a hard time not just screaming I'LL TAKE IT to his face. He is the type of guy who would back out simply because he didn't realize he could have asked for more money.

This is where the story gets interesting. He sends pictures. The forks are twisted. Two blinkers are busted off. The tank has some big dents. I finally feel I waited him out long enough, and with reserved excitement, text him back. I'LL TAKE IT!

And... he immediately tries to back out of the deal. I tell him, don't worry. I will cover all DMV fees, anything that needs to be paid off within reason. I handle this stuff all the time. When can I come pick it up?

"So yeah about that. I will sell it to you for parts only, on the condition you won't try to register it. See, I never completed the title transfer before I got in the accident, and I've bugged the lady I bought it from too much, dealing with the accident, and don't want to harass her anymore. I really just need it off my property. If you don't want it just for parts, I'm probably going to grind the engine number off of it, and dump it in a ditch somewhere."


He was dead serious. My shock was a mixed cocktail of jaw-dropped-brow-furrow and STFU-WITH-THAT-NONSENSE-BEFORE-I-SMACK-YOU-IDIOT. To say the least, he caught me off guard with that last line.

So again, I played the waiting game. A week went by. He wouldn't say hi in passing, let alone look my direction at work. Eventually that changed. I took the initiative. Asked him if he planned on getting another bike, to which he said, yeah, he would like to find a 650. This was my in!

I showed him pictures online of 650 builds. I got him excited about it. Then I dropped the hammer. (We have a friends cb350 frame in our shop right now, which I have a picture of in my phone...) So I casually show him that frame, and I ask... "Are you ready to sell me a parts bike yet?"


Naturally, my response to that was, "great I'll come pick it up in the morning before work." To my amazement, this was fine with him.

So the next morning I drive the truck to his apartment, bringing along a friend, a couple tie straps, and a legit handwritten bill of sale (of course I want this to go smooth and easy). We load the bike up, strap it down, exchange some bills, and sign some paper. He starts to walk away. "Oh right, I should probably give you the keys first", he says.

The next moment could have been in a movie.

He stares down at his feet as he slides the key along the ring. "Just one more thing." His hand reaches out holding the key. I go to grab the key, but he doesn't let go. He looks me in the eye. His face is serious. "Remember. Do not try to register it. Parts only." I nod at him and mumble something along the lines of, sure thing. He lets go of the key and says, "ok cool man! see ya work."

Ok now I think I just paid cash for a stolen bike.

Skip ahead 24 hours, and naturally, I'm in line at the DMV. Hi I just bought a motorcycle and, this may not surprise you, the guy didn't have a title, and was very insistent that I do not attempt to register it, or apply for new title. Please tell me we can fix this, oh awesome DMV person whom I love right now.

Mr. DMV takes a minute to tell me I have to contact the previous owner. After I take even more minutes, retelling the story of how this isn't going to happen, Mr. DMV goes over to his manager. She comes over to the front desk, and pulls me aside. She then spends 5 silent minutes typing into her computer, looking back and forth from my notebook paper bill of sale to her screen. I'm not sure what to do. It seems like an hour goes by. Finally she looks at me.

"The name of the person on the current title doesn't match the name on your bill of sale. That person released liability, but the new name also doesn't match the name on your bill of sale. At least, the first name doesn't match. The last name matches, maybe his father, or brother?"

Awesome. Great. "So the bike isn't stolen?"

"No. It's not stolen, it's salvaged. Apparently they already collected the insurance claim on it. Can you have him contact the old owner for a title transfer?"

"Again, that's not an option."

"Ok, let me think..."

At this point my hopes and dreams of a custom xs400 are about as far away as the start of this story.

Then the miracle occurs. Ms. DMV says, "Oh! Ok, this is what we will do. We will just do a statement of facts in which you declare the minimum value of an '81 xs400, and we can bypass the need to contact any current owner."

To which I say, "What?"

She hands me a stack of papers. You will need to fill these out. Application for duplicate title. Application for salvage certificate. Application for title or registration. Statement of facts. Another statement of facts. And you will need your bill of sale.

Fast forward an hour, and I am standing back at the desk, bank card in hand. "Ok sir, that comes out to... $286 including past due registration, new registration and tags, new plates, title transfer, salvage reversal, and new salvage title. And you will of course need to have a VIN verification, and light and brake inspection completed."

I paid up. I got the first names of the DMV employees that somehow found it in their hearts to walk me through a magic loop hole that lets you BYPASS CONTACTING A PREVIOUS OWNER, SIMPLY BY STATING THE MINIMUM VALUE OF THE SALVAGED VEHICLE. I will bring them a gift basket probably filled with chocolates and bottles of wine.

And after a total of $386 and a very stressful cash transaction with a coworker...

I walked away the proud owner of my very own xs400! (And I finally gave into the temptation for skipping and jumping.) to go tell that guy about how I just went and registered it without needing anyone's permission. Bwahaha.