Interview: Paul d’Orléans

The Vintagent: Paul d'Orleans
This is the first in a series of new features: the Bike EXIF Interview. I’ll be speaking to some of the more interesting people from the motorcycling world, finding out what makes familiar and not-so-familiar names tick. First up is Bonhams consultant Paul d’Orléans, best known for the blog The Vintagent. Paul comes from a long line of artists: his grandfather was an illustrator for magazines such as Colliers, his grandmother was an editor at Vogue, and his mother was a fashion designer.

Paul, what was the first motorcycle you bought with your own money? I borrowed money from my mother and her hippy husband, who was half her age and a motorcyclist himself—$200 for a used Honda Express [below]. It showed me the joy of two wheels and a motor: total geographic liberation. I never left town on it (only 50cc after all) but it took me everywhere, and never broke, even though I knew less than nothing about mechanicals. I kept two stroke oil in it, and a little gas, and it kept running. Genius.

My second bike was a total bastard—a BMW R75/5 chassis with an R60/2 engine, the leftovers of a ‘conversion’ project. I rode THAT beast all over California. I was 21, broke, and free. Still the latter two.

Honda Express motorcycle
What do you think is the most beautiful production motorcycle ever built? That’s an evil question. I could get all Clintonesque and parse words to get the answer I’d prefer, but will take you at your meaning. You know my predilection for the super obscure and specialized.

I’d have to say, beyond all the hype, that a 1928 Brough Superior SS100 ‘Pendine’ is the top for me [below]. It is a symphony of perfect lines and masses, coalescing into something aesthetically magical. It doesn’t hurt that it happened to be the fastest motorcycle in the world at the time; it just proves the old axiom that ‘if it looks right’… But Zeniths [second below] are actually more fascinating to me; similar in concept and layout, a bit less refined, but the bike I’d rather hammer around Montlhéry on. Which will happen next Fall… watch this space.

Brough Superior Pendine
Zenith motorcycle
What motorcycle do you despise? The bastard which won’t start! Or lets me down by the side of the road, unfixable. That’s a piece of shit, utterly despicable motorcycle, at that moment. Otherwise, they each have their charms, like women.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? The totally erotic moment. ‘Erotic’ meaning, completely alive with all synapses firing. On a motorcycle, it’s that moment when the temperature is just so, the road winds endlessly, the scenery is green and spectacular, my machine effortlessly delivers all the power I need, and I’m soaking it all in thinking, it simply cannot improve, I am ecstatically happy. It happens on a bike more often than any other time…

Electric motorcycles: Yes or No? Yes, and hurry up for all our sakes. They’re going to be fun beyond measure. Didn’t you play with slot cars? 100% torque @ 0 revs = Yeehaw.

What is your favorite journey? The one I’m on… I mean that in two ways—my life journey, and any ride I’m actually in the middle of. To explain the latter; I get anxious before I go on a ride—I have soooo many beloved dead friends from motorcycles and sports cars…it’s a horrid fact; shadows loom before me and ghosts haunt me before Every Single Ride. Truly unpleasant, and yes, I should see a therapist and punch a pillow and mourn my friends under supervision. But, fuck that, I’ll be riding instead. An hour into any ride, I’m better than good, and will run rings around you.

Which ‘everyday’ modern bikes do you think will become future classics? The equivalent of the Honda CB750 or Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, if you like? There is no mystery: the bikes everyone lusts after. There is a reason people want them; they are really good and beautifully designed. Modern bikes are beyond amazing. It’s really hard to find an old machine which gives something like the visceral satisfaction of a new machine. But really, I find new bikes boring. They take no special talent to ride well—they don’t need me, and I don’t need them.

Who are your real-life motorcycling heroes? Herbert LeVack. Harold Willis. Kenzo Tada. Georg Meier. Guiliano Carcano. Anke Eve Goldman. I could go on.

Are you optimistic for the future of motorcycling? As long as people want to experience that certain thrill which only two wheels and a motor can bring, there will be motorcycling. We may have no gas, but we’ll have something to play on… batteries, rubber bands, whatever.

What is your current state of mind? Excited, and curious. Excited that ‘The Vintagent’ will finally emerge on paper—books and hardcover magazines, and I’m exploring the idea of video too, of which more later. I’m working with some very talented people in France, Germany, and the US to make this happen, and the support has been really encouraging. The artist in me is thrilled to work with moving images, and I’m adamant about finding insanely cool ways to tell the Story of motorcycling. Watch this space.