Turners Falls shop finds niche in vintage motorcycle repair

  • Sayre Anthony works on a vintage Norton at Nova Motorcycles in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sayre Anthony works on a vintage Norton at Nova Motorcycles in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sayre Anthony and Pete Chilton look over a custom motorcycle they are creating at Nova Motorcycles in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sayre Anthony and Pete Chilton co-own Nova Motorcycles in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Nova Motorcycles in Turners Falls specialized in the maintenance and repair of vintage motorcycles. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 11/21/2019 6:16:16 PM
Modified: 11/21/2019 6:16:06 PM

TURNERS FALLS — As one of very few motorcycle shops that can work on almost any bike regardless of its make, model or year, Nova Motorcycles draws customers from throughout New England, and sometimes from as far away as New York City.

“If it’s got two wheels and a motor, we’re into it,” said co-owner Sayre Anthony.

This year, the shop expanded for the third time since first opening in 2013, now to 147 2nd St., a block away from its former location on 3rd Street. The new garage is big enough to store all the motorcycles the shop may be working on at a time, and still have room for the mechanics to work, Anthony said.

Most of the shop’s business is in maintenance and repair of vintage motorcycles. Anthony said most shops and official dealerships are unwilling, or at least hesitant, to work on anything more than 20 or 30 years old.

And there seems to be new interest in old motorcycles, Anthony said. Many of the shop’s customers are older people who have owned the same bike for decades; but just as many are in their 20s or 30s, riding bikes that are older than themselves. Resale prices of vintage motorcycles have recently gone up, Anthony said.

Part of the appeal is probably stylistic, he guesses. But the realities of owning and maintaining an old machine are probably also part of it.

Motorcycle technology tends to change in waves that may last a decade or two or three, Anthony said. There was a major change in the 1960s, for example, followed by a period of incremental changes in the ’70s and another revolution in the ’80s.

For a consumer, the difference between a vintage bike and a modern one can be seen as how much work they require. In that sense, modern motorcycles lack something. They require virtually no routine maintenance, only an occasional service appointment.

“Modern bikes often feel like they’re electric. They’re so smooth and everything works so right. It’s fine, but it’s a little boring,” Anthony said. “If you have an old bike, you change your own oil, you set your own valves. You’re connected to it in a different way. That resonates with a lot of people.”

Nova Motorcycles opened in 2013 in Millers Falls. Anthony had recently moved to this area from Boston, and was running a small motorcycle garage on his own. He met co-owner Pete Chilton when Chilton brought his bike for a repair, and the two found that they had similar interests and complementary business skills. Anthony is more the mechanic of the two, and Chilton’s background is in design and marketing.

In Millers Falls, most of Nova’s business came through referrals from a shop Anthony had co-founded in the Boston area, Madhouse Motors. But the Millers Falls location, a rented space in a larger industrial complex, was so out-of-the-way that there were almost no walk-in customers, Anthony said. People would drive into the parking lot, look around, then leave.

In 2015, the business moved to a garage on 3rd Street in Turners Falls. The move was a “leap of faith,” Anthony said, but it paid off. Business quadrupled in the first year, due mostly to drive-by traffic. In the next two years, Anthony and Chilton hired two more mechanics.

Soon they were dealing with more motorcycles than they had physical space for. To make enough room to work in the garage, bikes could only be stored inside at night, and had to be kept outside during daytime business hours, Anthony said. When it rained they would set up a canopy.

In April, the shop moved to its present location on 2nd Street, which Anthony expects to be large enough to handle the amount of business the shop now gets. He and Chilton don’t expect the business to grow any more: there’s probably a limit to the market for vintage motorcycle maintenance, Anthony said. But they do want to host more community events. The shop has held a few classes on motorcycle safety and maintenance that have been well received, Anthony said.

The shop is also eyeing a business opportunity in regional motorcycle tours. Bikers in more urban areas like coming to Western Massachusetts, Anthony said; but when they get here, they don’t know where to go.

“They get up here thinking Route 2 is the greatest road they’ve ever seen because they’re used to straight lines,” Anthony said. “But if you live here, Route 2 is a really boring road. We want to be guides to people who come and explore the area, and make it a destination for people on two wheels.”

Nova Motorcycles is open Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and by appointment. The garage’s phone number is 413-824-6826. The website is novamotorcycles.com.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.

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