Archive for January 2nd, 2013

January 2, 2013

Motorcycle expert recycles his way through retirement


Published January 11, 2004,
The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

It’s a good thing Frank Deihl is retired.Otherwise, he wouldn’t have enough time for work.

The Gambrills god of the British motorcycle toils for “only” 60 to 70 hours a week in a basement workshop that’s so crammed with machinery, bikes and parts that there’s little room to walk around. Gas tanks hang from the wall, exhaust pipes dangle from the ceiling, and there are cardboard boxes in every direction full of parts for repairs.

And that’s just the start.

A barn behind his home – complete with the dust and oily smell of an old garage – holds even more parts and about 30 more bikes, all waiting for Mr. Deihl to lovingly restore them to their former glory. Any cycle junkie could get lost in Mr. Deihl’s work space for years, but everything he’s accumulated in an almost 40-year career in bike repair is carefully cataloged. “This is what happens when your hobby goes out of control,” joked Mr. Deihl, glancing around his digs last week. The 63-year-old doesn’t have any other hobbies, though he said he’s tried them all. Motorcycles keep him more than fulfilled. The British bikes he loves were made by three companies: BSA, Triumph and Norton, and had their heyday in the ’50s and ’60s. Mr. Deihl still gets a thrill when he revs one up for the first time after hours of repair work. “It’s absolutely great,” he said. “It’s the same rush I got when I was 18 – but even more now. It’s even better. Everytime you do one, you learn a little more.” Terry Parker, a Montgomery County resident who organizes an annual event called British Bike Day, said Mr. Deihl knows plenty already. The two men met about 15 years ago through their shared interest in the motorcycles. “He’s like a god when it comes to BSAs and Triumphs,” Mr. Parker said. “Everyone knows Frank. Frank knows everything. He’s done it all. He’s raced. He’ll do whatever you ask and do it with a personal touch. He’s a legend.”

Bikes in the blood

The way Mr. Deihl sees it, he was born into bikes. His father owned several, and he got his first one at 16. But it wasn’t British. That came two years later. He wanted a faster ride, and in those days, British bikes were a lot speedier, he said. He never looked back.

Mr. Deihl said he has nothing against other motorcycle makes and newer bikes, he just prefers the vintage British models because they’re fun to ride and tinker with. Since they weren’t made with computerized machinery, each one has its own personality and challenges, he said. A grandfather of nine, Mr. Deihl got his first motorcycle job at a Wheaton shop in 1965. He stayed there five years before switching to Heyser Cycle in Laurel, where he worked until “retirement” three years ago. His vast inventory was accumulated over his long career. He still goes to shows and travels to England periodically for new stock, but he got a lot of his supplies when British bikes fell out of favor in the late ’60s and ’70s. That was when people became enamored of Japanese motorcycles, and British bike supplies could be bought inexpensively, he said. Mr. Deihl says he likes working on his own, but hates the fact that he’s so busy he has no time to work on personal projects. Mr. Deihl said a lot of his customers grew up with British bikes and might be trying to recapture a bit of their youth by riding them now. A few minutes after he spoke, he started a bike parked just outside his workshop. It had a distinctive sound, faster than the blat of a Harley and a bit higher pitched. “When you get used to it, you can tell which bike pulls up by the sounds it makes,” he said. The power made the ground rumble, and the more Mr. Deihl opened it up, the wider the grin grew on his face. Customer Bobby Gordon of Virginia had the same expression as he looked at a British bike calender while Mr. Deihl went to get a part. Mr. Gordon drove more than 3 hours with a friend and fellow biker, Andrew Brown, to get to the workshop. Mr. Gordon does this several times a year, relishing his visits to swap stories and get supplies for his own bike collection. “(Mr. Deihl) has everything we need or, if he doesn’t have it, he knows where to get it,” Mr. Gordon said. “He’s such a decent guy.”

Beautiful bikes

Talk about putting your work on a pedestal. At Staples Corner Liquors in Gambrills, about a mile from Mr. Deihl’s workshop, one of the main attractions has nothing whatsoever to do with spirits. Sitting on top of two separate wine displays are vintage Triumphs, a purple one from 1971 and a red and white model from 1967. And, of course, Mr. Deihl restored both of them. “People come in here just to look at them,” said Bill Stevens, who works part time at the store. “They’re beautiful bikes. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.” The bikes are the property of store owner John Fisher, who first met the soft-spoken Mr. Deihl about 15 years ago. Mr. Deihl came into the store occasionally when it first opened and Mr. Fisher noticed him pull up on a British bike. It just so happened that Mr. Fisher had one languishing in his garage and asked Mr. Deihl to get it running again. Two days later, Mr. Fisher called Mr. Deihl and told him to fully restore it. Mr. Fisher didn’t have room at his own house for the bike, so it ended up at the store. At first, he kept it in back, but about five years ago, he decided to put it on display. The second bike came three years later – and Mr. Fisher wouldn’t mind more. “It’s good advertising,” he said. “(Mr. Deihl’s) a craftsman. He really is. He does beautiful work.” For his part, Mr. Deihl is flattered that the bikes are on display. (But then he smiles and admits that he’d really be pleased if the bikes were ridden.) “They really should be out,” he said. “Today’s motorcycles are much better (made) than the old ones, but these are fun bikes.” Mr. Fisher used to ride, but said that after bypass surgery he prefers not to chance taking a spill on the road. “I’m just content to look at them,” he said. A few minutes later, he adds, “Did you go in the barn? My God! There’s a lifetime in there!”

For more information about Mr. Deihl and his work, call him at 843-520-0542 or go to his Web site,

Copyright © 2004
The Capital, Annapolis, MD

January 2, 2013


The bright, and crisp, January daylight glistened off this Ford truck. The 4×4 extended cab Ranger. In fire-engine red too! I’d tote about in that…