Tanya Doyle fawned over a 1974 Norton 850 Commando Hi-Rider on Saturday morning at South Point hotel-casino.
“I’m restraining myself from sitting on it and driving it right out of here,” she said.
Doyle, owner of BFE Vintage Motorcycles in Luther, Iowa, bought the motorcycle along with three others during the 25th Mecum MidAmerica Motorcycle Auction, which was attended by more than 10,000 people from Thursday through Saturday.
According to Doyle, she only has eyes for what she calls “survivor bikes,” motorcycles that haven’t been restored.
“I’m looking for bikes that have been historically preserved,” she said. “Many people have the skills set to restore bikes and we do restorations in our shop, but the ones that are in their original condition are the ones I’m interested in.”
Doyle, who stuck out among the mostly male crowd, said she gravitates toward motorcycles from her childhood.
“I’m looking for ones that my eyes saw and ones my neighbors had because they represent my history,” she said. “I’m an unusual biker chick.”
Though her passion for motorcycles began at an early age, it didn’t come from within her own family.
“My dad wasn’t into motorcycles, but my neighbors were,” she said. “I became part of their family so I could ride their bikes until I had enough money to buy my own.”
Auction sales were expected to surpass last year’s sales of $7.3 million, according to David Morton, Mecum Auctions manager of communications and event marketing.
The top-selling motorcycle was a 1912 Henderson Four, which sold for $165,000, followed by a 1955 Vincent Black Prince for $120,000.
Dale Keesecker roamed the auction floor on Saturday morning looking at the 700 antique motorcycles.
“I began riding in the early 1950s,” he said. “My dad told me about his generation in the 1930s and how he and his friends would ride bikes because they didn’t have the money for a car.”
Keesecker now owns 150 motorcycles and keeps them in a temperature controlled facility near his home in the Midwest.
His favorites from his collection are a 1950s Laverda and 1970s MV Augusta.
According to Keesecker, motorcycles have come a long way over the years as the technology, handling, styling and engine efficiency have changed.
“The biggest thing is reliability,” he said. “When I was a kid they weren’t all that reliable, and today it’s not as big of an issue.”
Keesecker attended the first Mecum MidAmerica Motorcycle Auction 25 years ago.
“For me, it’s an obsession,” he said cracking a smile. “Now there are a lot more dollars involved, a lot more people and a larger quantity of bikes. It’s almost overwhelming; there’s so much stuff here.”
Ron Christenson, president of Mecum MidAmerica Motorcycle division, said the first auction offered nearly 200 motorcycles for sale.
“Now, I have to cut it off at 700 because we’re limited to only three days,” he said. “For many, this is a social event and our customers love Las Vegas so that’s why this auction works.”
Phoenix resident Wayne Hamilton has bought 10 and sold six motorcycles over the past 12 years at the auction.
“The thrill of the find is the fun of this whole thing,” he said. “I also have friends who I meet here every year, and I always learn something significant.”
After retiring from Microsoft Corp. in 1999, he traveled and played golf for five years until he yearned for something more “mentally stimulating.”
Hamilton began building his collection of 60 Triumph motorcycles and opened a private museum in 2010 to share his passion with others.
“It’s more of a history lesson than it is about the motorcycles,” he said. “You can tell a lot about what was going on during the time period when a bike was made.”
Hamilton said he hopes younger generations will become interested in vintage motorcycles.
“When I’m gone, my collection most likely won’t be sold in a group so I hope that my bikes will still be around in the future,” he said. “I want to get younger people involved, but you won’t get rich doing this and that’s part of the problem. Also, the knowledge you need to do this is incredible.”
Johnny Saris, 22, of Lake George, N.Y. said he’s up for the challenge.
He said he’s drawn to vintage motorcycles like the 1971 Triumph he owns.
“These old bikes are so quirky, and they increase your mechanical ability when you ride them,” he said. “They have character that new bikes don’t have and there’s something special about them.”
Saturday’s auction was Saris’ first one, and he was in awe at the selection.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” he said looking around at the rows of motorcycles on the showroom floor. “I’m going to have to get more bikes.”
Contact reporter Ann Friedman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4588. Find @AnnFriedmanRJ on Twitter.