The REAL Finishing Touch 

It’s Not Paint or Polish … It’s Pants!

text & photos by Bill Ford 

Mike Merling has a passion for history, period clothing, and getting things right. For the past two years, he has been marketing reproduction classic motorcycle clothing from the 1900s through the 1950s era. 

“A few years ago, I was at the Antique Motorcycle Club of America (AMCA) Rhinebeck Grand National Meet and it looked odd to see all these people riding beautiful antique motorcycles, but without the correct period clothing to make the impression complete,” Mike told me. “So I decided to start making my own line of correct period motorcycle clothing and accessories.”

On his website,, Mike states that, “Our goal with Golden Age Motorcycle Clothing is to create a full service clothing business. The quest is to make a high quality reproduction clothing line from 1900 to 1950. We are here to cover the motorcycle rider from head to toe. Over the years, I have bought many a pair of riding breeches, boots and hats, only to find that they were dry rotted or did not fit. Our hope is that we can save you from that experience and provide you with the best in reproduction clothing for the least amount of money.” 

Mike did a lot of research—looking through and collecting old photographs and catalogs—to find what riders were wearing in the early 1900s through the 1950s. What he found was that most of it was adopted from U.S. Cavalry uniforms and accessories - boots, shirts, pants (jodhpurs), gauntlets, were all the same. What could be better than riding apparel developed over the previous 100 years? The cavalry uniforms provided excellent protection and comfort - clothing requirements for riding a horse are closely akin to those for riding a motorcycle.

Mike has also collected an excellent selection of original antique riding gear. He found out how the different pieces were made, the materials they were made of, and what was good and bad. “If I was going to get into this, it was important to me to get the details just right,” Mike explained.

Two years ago, Mike decided to dive in. He found people who could make the patterns and sew to his standards. “My first order was for seven pairs of pants,” he told me. 

“The jodhpur-style pants have more room in the crotch, thighs, and waist, and are made to be worn with knee-high boots so they taper to fit snugly around the calf and ankle,” Mike explained. “They have a reinforced seat area to wear longer, and are made of 100% cotton or horsehide. Horsehide stretches for more comfort than cowhide, it doesn’t break down like cowhide, it's also tougher and lasts longer. The cotton jodhpurs I sell are U.S.-made and have serged edges (stitching around the edges of the material) to prevent unraveling and to make the pants more comfortable. 

“At first, riders just wore standard shirts with buttons. Later, the western-type ‘yoke’ shirts became popular,” Mike said. “They can have alternating colors (yoke, sleeves, cuffs, and trim), snap buttons, and so-called ‘smiley’ pockets because of their upturned, curved shape. They usually had the name of the rider’s motorcycle club on the back and the rider’s name on the front. These were stitched free-form using the almost defunct chain stitch (which looks like chain mail) or chenille stitching like high school letter jackets have. 

“Boots were either the Cavalry-type officer’s dress boot, patrol man's boot, or the full lace-up types—all of them came up to just below the knee. The popular so-called ‘engineers’ boot was introduced by Sears Roebuck in the 1940s. They called it their ‘dress boot.’ In the background of the photo was an engineer wearing the boot, and ever since they have been known as an engineer boot. 

“Hats were originally patterned after the snap-brim, Irish-style baseball caps of the teens and twenties,” Mike said. In the 1930s, riders adopted military-style brimmed hats that were made of fabric, canvas, and even pigskin leather. Caps were sold by Harley, Indian, Henderson, and others, with their logo on the front as a way for riders to show their brand loyalty. It was also a place where riders could attach pins from AMA or other events they attended. The club captain had a gold metal band in the front and the lieutenant had a silver metal band. I have a pigskin leather hat, boots, and gauntlets from the same guy. The hat has 20 years of AMA pins on it and I would love to track down information about him to learn more—to create a connection with the artifacts. 

“Kidney belts were a real necessity with the rough roads riders had to contend with back then, and before the advent of full suspensions,” Mike explained. “They became a type of folk-art decorated with jewels, tacks, hand painting or embossing—real Americana—and are now coveted by collectors. Harley and Indian offered matching belts and saddlebags. Gloves with long coverings to protect the forearm—like Cavalry gauntlets—were another important piece of protection for early riders. We make them especially to fit you and we can decorate them or you can do it yourself. 

“In the 1920s, clubs began to adopt ‘dress uniforms’—the same for men and women—with matching brimmed hats, ties, western-style shirts and pants, with the club logo chain stitched on the back and the person's name on the front. 

“Many of my suppliers have been in business for over 100 years, including our boot and goggle manufacturers, and even use the same patterns,” Mike said. “Our patrol boot is custom-made to order in your choice of leathers, style, height, soles, and colors. The shirts can be made in a variety of colors and trim combinations, as well as our pants. 

“It takes a long time to get something into production—years in some cases,” Mike told me. “My hats have been in development for 1-1/2 years to get them right, and they are just now ready for production. Gauntlets and puttees are currently in development.

“It’s not been easy, but I enjoy what I do and get a lot of pride seeing somebody walking around in the clothes I’ve produced,” Mike said. “I am trying to educate people about quality and at the same time increase volume to get prices down. I hope it takes off!” 

Check out Mike’s website,, for complete details, samples of his work, and contact information. As much as it costs to restore an antique motorcycle these days, for only a few dollars more you can complete the “look,” thanks to Mike. 

Sidebar:  The Value of Friendship 

Three years ago, Mike contracted cancer. During the chemo treatments, he was so sick that he couldn’t continue the restoration of his 1961 Harley Panhead. 

Mike’s friend, Joe Loiero, kept saying, “Send over your parts.” Mike declined a couple of times, but when Joe said he was going to get his tank pressure-tested, he offered to take Mike’s too. “I finally gave in and gave him my tank—and then he asked for the fenders, too. I couldn’t quite figure that out, but I let Joe take them anyway.” What Mike didn’t know was that his friends at the AMCA Chesapeake Chapter had gotten together to restore his bike for him. “Joe was the instigator,” Mike said. “He and John King worked on the mechanical end of things and Art Lumsden did the paint work.” 

Mike eventually recovered from the cancer, but it took a long time. “I went to the Timonium motorcycle show and saw a red Panhead in the Chesapeake Chapter display. It was just like mine, except my tank was blue and had flames,” Mike recalled. “I thought it was one that I had seen before that I had admired. Then someone told me it was my bike! I even sat on it and still thought it was someone else’s—it hadn’t sunk in that my friends in the Chesapeake Chapter had gotten together and restored my bike for me. It is an incredible feeling to have friends like that.”




by Ernie Copper
Thunder Press Publications 

RHINEBECK, N.Y., June 13-15, 2008 -  It's hard to imagine a better setting for a gathering of antique motorcycles than New York's Hudson Valley. The area's two-lane roads wind through the Catskill Mountains and along the Hudson River, passing through towns with names like Woodstock, Hyde Park and Rhinebeck. It is in Rhine­beck. New York, that the Antique Motorcycle Club of America put its side stand down at the Duchess County Fairgrounds for three days to extol the virtues of the archaic.


Joining with the Antique Tractor and Machinery Club of America, the Antique Truck Club of America, The Century Museum and the Old Rhine­beck Aerodrome, six AMCA chapters, known as the Northeast Coalition (Big Sand Bar Long Island, Colonial North Jersey, Empire, Hudson Valley, Sea­board and Yankee chapters) pool their resources to create this event perceived as the ultimate antique experience. "Rhinebeck" is now commonly referred to in the same breath as the AMCA's Davenport and Wauseon meets.


The AMCA was actually late to the Rhinebeck antique-fest, arriving in a big way just last year to events already being held annually by the antique tractor, truck and machinery folks. But they are quickly proving to be the life of the party. The Swap Meet opened to the public on Friday, kicking off the three-day throwback. Admission for AMCA members was just $15 for all three days while non-members paid $15 for one day or $25 for the trifecta. Kids under 13 were free.  

My contact, Meet Coordi­nator Tim Talleur, met me at the gate and drove me into the heart of the event. Had 1 known this was the last 1 would see of Tim, I'd have taken a picture! Tim's a busy guy during the event, but he left me in good company. J&P Cycles' John Parham and Dick Ollhoff, the owner of a very unusual 1906 Indian Tri-Car, were the first people I met. Displaying rare machines like Dick's old Tri-Car is what Rhinebeck is all about.  

According to Ollhoff's reproduction Hendee litera­ture, the Tri-Car offers "a sense of indefinable some­thing that comes from being seated astride a saddle." According to Dick, there is something very definable about what the Tri-Car attachment, called a fore carriage, docs to your bank account. The fore carriage is bolted onto your Indian, converting it from a two-wheeler to a three-wheeler bringing with it the benefits of independent helical springs and the versatility of increased stability to haul people or cargo. Dick added a wooden chest as a temporary accessory until he finds or builds proper Tri-Car seating.  

While the AMCA isn't specifically dedicated to American-made machines, I've never seen such a concentration of vintage American swap parts, complete bikes and projects as this. Prewar bikes were commonplace here and even bikes from the teens weren't unusual. Around every corner or under every shade tree was a good story.  

Ernie and Mary Barkman's bikes were under such a shade tree. Ernie's period-modified drag bike features a '47 Knucklehead engine with dual carbs, built by none other than the legendary Pete Hill. Ernie's only had it to about half throttle so far, but he says with a twinkle in his eye, "She flies." His wife Mary's '52 Panhead was drawing its share of attention too. Ernie's Knuck and Mary's Pan finished one-two respectively at Sunday's Cycle Source Magazine Period modified bike show. 

Pete and Paul Bergeron brought their original Excelsior to the meet. They'd been following the bike fix a number of years and finally pur­chased it from the original owner's son. The Brothers Bergeron couldn't say for certain if the bike was a 1913 or 1914. Experts were still debating the model year, but nobody was debating what a nice machine it was in all its unrestored glory.  

The infield of the fairgrounds racetrack was home to the antique truck, tractor and machinery portion of the goings-on, as well as the Cody Ives Globe of Death show. I went from Charles Kellogg's '37 John Deere Unstyled B Model tractor, to Richard Wiebking's 1928 hybrid-powered Custer Whee1 chair to the Mower Maniac Peter Rutowski without ever leaving the infield. Rutowski has over 300 push mowers in his collection and his friendly personality and willing­ness to educate the public about his passion is pretty typical of everyone at Rhinebeck.  

Bikes don't just sit at Rhinebeck. They ride 'em, too. The intricacies of century-old, megabucks   bikes are many, and it requires patience and understanding to coax them to life. One such example , was Frank Westfall's 1912 Henderson Four. Westfall had inadvertently allowed too much oil into the crankcase of his gorgeous machine and, as a result, was fouling spark plugs. I was intrigued by the meticulous drill that Westfall and Dave Molnar went through as they checked each cylinder for spark and checked the oil level against the dippers and connecting rods prior to refiring the machine. After an hour or so of fiddling, Westfall, was cruising the fairgrounds with a smile on his face that came as much from understanding the old machine as it did from riding it. Other AMCA members rode en masse on Friday evening to Woodstock H-D's welcome party.  

A unique feature of this meet is the Motorcycle Timeline, organized largely by the efforts of Steve Barber. This year the Timeline was held on Saturday and Sunday and highlighted over 300 motorcycles from 1897 to 1973! Row after row of bikes of all makes, condi­tions and purposes were displayed. The oldest bike in the lineup this year was the 1897 De Dion-Bouton three-wheel­er. featuring a pulse-pounding 1-1/2 hp engine.  

Capitalizing an the looks of the past were vendors Mike Merling and Brian Kohlmann. They are the owners of Golden Age Motorcycle Clothing and they really stand out in a vintage crowd. Dressed in high-quality reproduction boots, breeches, shirts and accessories, they offer that look to the owners who want to look as good as their vintage bikes. They even arrive at the show in a vintage Ford pickup towing a genuine vintage trailer with an old Indian on it. Check them out at    

Indoor exhibits includ­ed Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's Mail Box trike, the Vintage Japanese Motorcyc1e Club and an Antique Auction on Sunday. Jean Davidson was on hand for book signings and was also the featured guest at Saturday night's AMCA banquet.  

Various clubs, like the Indian 101 Association, had shows within the show. Joanie Walker, club treasurer and wife of club President Randy Walker, explained that the club has over 400 members from 22 countries with the U.S, Canada and Australia being the most popular homes for the 101, manu­factured from 1928-31.  Find out more at:   

A few miles 1iom the fairgrounds, the excitement for old machines can't be kept on the ground. The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome provides a unique opportunity to see antique avia­tion up close and personal--real personal. One of the highlights for many was the chance to take a 20-minute flight in an authentic Standard Biplane. Air show president Hugh Schoelzel and director/pilot Tom Daly talked me into such a flight, but after a two-hour wait, I had to get back to the bikes.  

The Aerodrome also features an antique air show and untold numbers of vintage aircraft, cars and motor­cycles from 1900-1940. As adver­tised, it truly is a living museum of antique aeroplanes. You could spend an entire day at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome and not see everything  

Along the way, I repeatedly crossed paths with four Harley riders from New Jersey: Jeff, Bill, Vinny and Fred. While Vinny's scotch and nachos breakfast was remarkable, it was our shared passion for old bikes that brought us all together for break­fast and dinner at the Eveready Diner. This uncommon common ground is what vintage types seek and what they find at Rhinebeck. Rhinebeck has the indefinable "it" that makes for successful meets. Things that would stop you in your tracks on the street or at local shows are commonplace here. It truly is an embarrassment of riches that shouldn't be taken for granted.  


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