The Story of the Swap Meet
“So what exactly is a motorcycle swap meet and why would I go to one?” If this is a question that has ever entered your mind, then read on and prepare to enter a world that sits at the heart of the motorcycle universe.
The term “swap meet” has different meanings to different folks, but the concept of a rider finding the bike, front end, or vintage jacket of their dreams pervades through all interpretations of a swap meet. Swap meets come in all shapes and sizes, from the outdoor, summer meets that typically take place at a fairground, to a club sponsored meet held at a VFW hall in the dead of winter. Some meets accompany biker events like rides, rallies or bike weeks, and meets are as likely to be run by a mom and pop operation out of their garage as a large urban motorcycle dealership. While swap meets vary in size, season, and selection, most swappers would agree that the three ingredients that are necessary for any self respecting swap meet are 1) parts, 2) big selection, and 2) great deals.
Swap meets are a mixture of treasure hunting and shopping, and the meets attract a diverse crowd of motorcycle enthusiasts. The hard core swappers flock to the meets to prospect for the hidden jewels amongst the used and antique parts, spending hours sifting through bins and turning over chrome on the vendor tables. Some bikers will head out to the swap meet to check out the latest accessories or models from area dealers that exhibit their wares to the riders anxious to see the latest and greatest the industry has to offer.
As with most things in the biker world, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this holds true for swap meets as well. One swapper might find unbridled joy after discovering a 1952 Parilla primary cover while another jumps up and down after getting a great deal on a brand new Big Dog. Swap Meets to the patient and well-trained biker eye can lead to motorcycle gold hidden in the nooks and crannies of the venues. All of us have heard the urban myths about someone buying a twenty-dollar painting only to discover an original Van Gogh between the image of the sad clown painted over it. Or the one about the guy who bought a battered old Harley Hummer, then scraping off the years of grime to find "Elvis" painted under the fender, eventually bringing the owner literally millions of dollars. So much for urban myths, since the story of Elvis’ bike took place at a swap meet. Swap meets can be a gold mine for bikes and parts, but also for motorcycle memorabilia such as clothing, photographs, old trophies, magazines, posters and more.
Swap meets are interactive consumer affairs, and haggling is very much a part of the experience. Truly, no price is fixed unless it is that one component no one else has and everyone lusts after. Its not unheard of the witness a bidding war erupt where the original asking price is left in the dust. In other words, having a solid poker face instead of that “gotahavit” grin is definitely advantageous. Just remember, when haggling for a great deal, ‘tis better to show proper respect and appreciation for the object of your desire as well as for the seller. Some sellers will not allow their pride and joy go to just any wallet. Bike parts, like faithful pets, need to go to a good home.
Preparing for a swap meet is like painting a motorcycle. It's all in the prep work. Like you would do for any big shopping trip, make a list of what you need. If you're working n a particular project, say that that '66 Bonneville that’s been collecting dust in your garage, bring a photo or drawing of the part, perhaps some serial numbers, data that will help to identify that part you need. Of course you don't have to be restoring some million dollar bike to make swap meeting an adventure. There's reward in locating that correct tank badge for your old Honda Dream or the tail light lens for your humble Sears Allstate.
Then again, just going to a swap meet to start a project requires no list at all. Just the twinkling of an idea. Entire bike projects have begun only after finding just a simple sidecover. Take it as a challenge inspired by the motorcycle gods. That's what makes swap meets so much fun...the unknown.
Swap meets sprout up just about everywhere and anywhere, some small and spread only by word of mouth while others are scheduled well in advance and announced in a timely fashion. You can check your local newspapers, recycler publications, bike club newsletters and occasionally the motorcycle mags for the mega-swap meet events like the Giant Motorcycle Swap Meets.
All swap meet aficionados must make the pilgrimage to one of the nine Giant Motorcycle Swap Meets held every year in Michigan and Ohio. These events are real jaw-droppers and are known throughout the Midwest as not only the biggest, but the best. The venues are huge and there are hundreds of vendors at each event. Bring money, and a truck, as each of these events are one day events, Sundays only, and you’ve got one shot to make your trip worthwhile. It doesn’t matter what you ride or what you’re looking for, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for at a Giant Motorcycle Swap Meet. All brands are welcome and all are represented, from bikes, to parts, to memorabilia.
Giant Motorcycle Swap Meets have been a fixture of the Midwest biking culture since 1975 and have become a vital economic engine that keeps bikers on the road and biker friendly businesses in the black. Giant Swap Meets have become “gotta-be-there” social events and red letter days on the biker calendar. With three events in the Fall and six swap meets in the Winter and early Spring, most of the events take place when bikers aren’t riding. The Giant Swap Meets give folks a chance to catch up with each other on a leisurely Sunday afternoon and reminisce about or plan their next riding adventure.
So if swap meets sit at the heart of the biker universe, then the Giant Motorcycle Swap Meets are the soul. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been on the road for thirty years, just started riding or if you’re thinking about biking, if you’re looking to get a true measure of the motorcycle experience, you’ve gotta make it to a Giant Motorcycle Swap Meet.