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Welcome to my Motorcycle Swap Meet Survival Guide.
I can admit that I am still dialing in my so-called “Motorcycle Swap Meet Survival Guide.” I have attended many of these events (they are my absolute favorite!), and I have done it VERY wrong more than a few times. That said, just like wrenching mistakes, I have learned my lessons over time and gotten much better at attending these events and walking away happy as a clam. I just attended Biketoberfest in Daytona Beach yesterday, and am adding a few more items to my list below in response.
This is the kind of post that I imagine I will revisit over time, but there is no reason not to get the initial list out there. These are my tips and tricks for attending a motorcycle swap meet and having the best experience possible – consider it my Motorcycle Swap Meet Survival Guide.
1. Go Early, But Not Too Early: In general, my rule of thumb is to be there on the first day of the event if it is a multi-day event; but also not to show up right when it opens. Give vendors time to setup (i.e. if it starts at 9am, show up at 10am or 11am). It is true that some vendors don’t show up until the second day, but also that if you show up later some of the choicest and best parts will be gone. I consider missing the vendors on the tail-end of the event the lessor of two evils; my preference is to be there early and get first crack at any parts I really want. Also, an added benefit is that if you show up relatively early, you can get good parking allowing you to lug heavier parts back to your car and then continue perusing the tables. The last day is not a good day to show up – vendors from further away will be packing up and hitting the road.
2. Bring Sun Protection: You can get sunburn through the clouds, so don’t think that just because it is cloudy you won’t get burned. I wore tons of sunblock yesterday and still got a little color on my arms. You are very exposed at these events and you will burn and be miserable if you don’t protect yourself.
3. Bring Rain Gear: These events are rain or shine. Bring a rain slicker or umbrella. Also, bring rubber boots or shoes you don’t care about. These events are typically held at parks and on fairgrounds that when it rains heavy turn into mud pits. I was sloshing around yesterday for sure.
4. Bring Food and Drink: Sure there are food vendors, but sometimes they don’t open until lunch. Also, your choices will be limited to food truck type items. I bring my own water and save a few bucks. I also pack snacks for the car ride up and back. I typically take a water with me out onto the field, but leave the food, etc. in my car in a cooler – that way, I am not lugging around food and have space in my backpack for parts.
5. Bring Info to Help You Shop: I keep an album on my phone that is entirely pictures of what “Cal” looked like in 1972. That way, if I have a question about the “authenticity” or “originality” of a part, I have something to look at for comparison. I also keep a PDF copy of the original Harley service manual in my email inbox. Between these two, I can usually figure out if I am looking at the right part. Also, eBay on your phone can be a good resource to make sure you are not getting gouged price-wise on an item. Finally, show up with a list of parts that you are looking for (use Google Docs or the Notes app on your phone); otherwise, you will be thinking of things as you go and will forget to look for things you want/need. These events are large and you don’t want to be circling back to look again at every table for that item you “just remembered.” I think this is maybe the most valuable tip here in the Motorcycle Swap Meet Survival Guide.
6. Bring a Mostly Empty Backpack: Some items will be heavy and you will have to take a break from the tables and lug them back to your car. That said, if you bring a mostly empty backpack with you, you can stash a lot of small parts in there before it gets too heavy and requires a hike back to your vehicle.
7. Bring a Cell Phone Auxiliary Power Pack: I tend to spend a lot of time at these events and use resources on my phone (see #5 above) to help me make sure I am buying the right parts. For that reason, I tend to stuff one of those auxiliary cell phone power packs in my backpack (don’t forget a cable). You don’t want to run out of batteries out there.
8. Cash in Small Bills: Bringing cash should be obvious, but the key is to bring small bills. Eventually, like at any outdoor event, vendors will have no more small bills or ways to make change. You don’t want to be running around begging someone to break your $50 for a $5 part. Bring the change yourself. Your shopping list (see #5 above) should help you determine how much cash to bring, but definitely err on the site of more cash vs. less. You are not going to want to leave the event to find an ATM and come back.
Bottom line is that I start my day with a backpack, empty except for sunblock, a water bottle, and a cell phone power pack. I systematically loop through the tables using the Google Docs list on my phone to make sure I am looking for everything I want as I progress from table to table. I tend to put the most effort on looking for the heaviest parts – small parts can be sourced from the internet or eBay in a pinch without getting gouged on shipping. You don’t want to be paying for shipping on exhaust pipes, saddlebags, gas tanks, etc. Find these at the swap meet and you are already saving yourself some bucks!
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