“American Pickers” star Frank Fritz was on hand at the inaugural AIMExpo talking about his upcoming book, his life on the hit TV show and his passion for motorocycles.
“American Pickers” struck a chord with television audiences when it debuted in January 2010 and its first episode garnered over three million viewers. Since then, those drawn to the idea of uncovering the proverbial “diamond in the rough” have been able to live vicariously through Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they brave the rat and spider-infested accumulations of seemingly old, useless junk in search of hidden treasures. Sometimes finds are as small as parts for a pocket watch or an old movie poster, but what really fires these two “Pickers” is when they come across an old, dusty motorcycle left for dead.
To anyone who watches the show, it’s no secret that both Wolfe and Fritz are passionate about two-wheeled machines. Wolfe has worked in the National Motorcycle Museum and has recently become a celebrity face for the Polaris-owned Indian Motorcycle Co. He fired up the all-new Thunder Stroke 111 V-Twin engine on stage during Daytona Bike Week this year and later made an appearance at Indian’s unveiling party at Sturgis when the marque released its new 2014 Indian Chief to the world. Fritz used to teach Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses before becoming a picker and has been to 31 consecutive Sturgis rallies. He began riding as a teenager and now has close to 80 motorcycles in his personal collection.
Motorcycles have been a constant in Fritz’s life since an early age and he’s now preparing to offer some of the wisdom he’s gained over the years in a new book, How to Pick Collectable Motorcycles, set to release November 2013. Fritz was on hand with some of the bikes from his personal collection at the inaugural AIMExpo, talking about his new book, his love of bikes and life since the show began just over three years ago.
“I’ve been into motorcycles since I was a little kid,” explained Fritz. “I started out on mini-bikes and then I went to dirt bikes and then to street bikes. I bought a low rider in 1979 when I was a sophomore in high school and it was $3999. It was $4100 brand new and I think a brand new Cadillac was $6500 back then. My mom and dad almost tripped out because it was a $4100 dollar motorcycle, I mean that’s crazy. I drove a $200 dollar car. I was pretty much destined with what I wanted to do.”
Since then his passion for motorcycles has never waned, and well before “American Pickers” started Fritz was on the lookout for cool, classic motorcycles to add to his collection.
(Above) Fritz’s “Heinz 57” 1954 Harley-Davidson Panhead has parts from a number of different models from the Motor Company. (Below) Fritz showing off his 1942 Flathead.
“I own between 70 or 80 motorcycles, but I had all that way before the show. There are a lot of Harleys and Indians. Mike has all the good stuff though, all the old stuff. I’ve always bought quantity instead of quality. That’s a bad way to be. The best is to by quality not quantity but I always seem to go the other way around. I always preach to buy the best if you can afford the best because it’s always going to be the best. It’s funny too because to buy a pair of work boots that cost 200 bucks it’ll be a 45 minute decision, but I can buy a motorcycle toy (no bigger than a Hot Wheels car) for 200 bucks in less than a minute. My philosophy is that the shoes are going to wear out but the toy is going to hold its value.”
The three bikes Fritz brought along to the AIMExpo from his collection included a 1942 Flathead Harley-Davidson, a ’70s-era Honda 750 custom and a 1954 Panhead which Fritz described as a “Heinz 57.”
“I bought this on the show from a guy in Texas,” says Fritz of the Panhead. “I’ve never even rode it. It has a Harley-Davidson Sprint gas tank, Sportster front-end. It’s a one of a kind.”
The bike displayed front and center on stage, the ’42 Flathead, gets a little more love.
“I’ve rode it a little bit, they’re kind of fun if you’re not going too far. It’s first, second, third and you’re up to 40 or 45 mph and that’s it, you’re tapped out.”
The Honda 750 is reminiscent of styling popular in the ‘70s, but acquiring it proved to be a headache.
“Everybody was doing this in the ’70s. Everybody was putting the amen savior frames on them, there were weld on hard tails, bolt-on hard tails. You have the big king and queen seats, the big sissy bar on the back end, the girder front end. This is a really unique piece.
“I bought it up in Michigan way up past Ann Arbor. You get on that road up there and you get that breeze coming off the water, it’s called the lake effect, and I couldn’t see five feet in front of me. Me and my girlfriend drove for an hour and didn’t say one word. We were white knuckled, and the van didn’t have anything in the back of it so it was light and we’re watching all these cars lying in the ditch…We go all the way up there and the guy says ‘here I’ll start it up for you,’ I go ‘na it’s cool, I’m good you don’t have to start it up, I’m good.’ But he insisted, so he fired it up and put the choke off and it ran. I said ‘that’s cool,’ so we load it up in the back of the van and after about four miles down the road there’s this huge freaking puddle of gas that big in the back of my van. Now what are you going to do? Its five degrees outside, you going to roll your windows down? We had to stop at a hotel and by the time I got there to turn off, it had leaked a gallon in the back. I had to smell gasoline all the way home. Little story on that bike I’ll never forget.”
Fritz is handy with a wrench as well, but the relentless pace of the show makes it impossible for him to spend much quality time in the garage with his collection.
“Never, never get a chance to do anything,” says Fritz when we ask about whether he does his own wrenching anymore at home. “As a matter of fact two days ago I dropped off a bike to have a guy do some wiring and other pretty simple stuff for me because I just don’t physically have the time. Plus I like to pay it forward a bit. His shop is a little slow so it’s nothing for me to give him a little money.
“I’m on the road about 20 days a month, 12 months out of the year. We work about 15 hours a day. I get up to my room anywhere from 9:30 to 10 p.m. but I’m up at 5 a.m. seven days a week. We get one day off every 20. Be careful what you wish for.”
Despite the demands of the show, Fritz also says his life is pretty much the same. He still lives in the same house he did before “American Pickers” debuted and still drives the same car. “It’s just I’m a lot busier now.”
Finally, we asked about his new book, How to Pick Collectable Motorcycles.
“It’s just kind of a coffee table book. It’s got some pictures of some bikes I have in my collection, bikes people can relate to like your Honda 750s and KZ900s and stuff that people grew up with. It tells some of the do’s and don’ts of buying motorcycles and some of the experiences I’ve had buying used bikes.
“I was trying to write a book on my experiences with picking, but that one wasn’t working out so the motorcycle thing seemed the next best option because it’s what I’m really passionate about.”