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Paul d'Orléans at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2016.

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2016. Custom ‘Russian Prison Tattoo’ suit by Dirty Needle Embroidery. [Hermann Koepf]

Anytime someone states, “Now here’s a person that needs no introduction…” you know you are about to get a long-winded grocery list of an intro. Amiright? Such is the case with our next guest, Paul d’Orléans, whom most of you know as loyal readers of


Aside from having a nearly impossible name to pronounce (when saying it with the correct pronunciation it should sound like you are ordering dessert somewhere in Marseille), Paul is a true renaissance man due in part to his humble Norcal-black-moto-jacket-lets-race-Nortons-on-the-streets-of-San-Francisco upbringing and his insanely curious mind that has produced books, exhibits, art, websites, auction commentary, movie scripts and motorcycle events all over this glorious earth.

The first thing you will notice about Paul is that he is a Wikipedia of motorcycles and moto culture. Then the next thing you might notice is that Paul looks like he might have gone shopping in Vegas with Elton John. This dude is always styled out, and that includes when he rolls up to an event on a “1 of 3 left” vintage bike that requires constant mechanical attention.

Paul d'Orléans aboard a Vincent Lightning, 2009.

Aboard a Vincent Lightning, 2009. [Michael Bachmeier]

Paul is an artist.
Auction nerd.

I have personally worked with Paul on bringing “Wheels and Waves” to the US, sold huge sponsorships for multiple motorcycle exhibits he curated at the Petersen Auto Museum and we were both part of a group that organized a totally loco idea we nearly pulled off where we had the town leaders of Walla Walla WA agree to let us do a “town takeover.” Yes, an entire weekend where we planned to drag race electric motorbikes, have high-speed scooter races, and participate in as much chaos as one can when one “takes over” a town! It got nixed at that last minute, and because of that, we aren’t writing this post from a maximum security prison.

As Paul says himself “Within the story of motorcycling lies the story of the world.”

Paul reminds me (and thus all of us) why we fell in love with these damn machines in the first place. Paul has a great story for everything, and he rides rare bikes with a great story, and then we meet up and talk about bikes and have a great time that makes great stories, and then you remember “Oh yeah…right…moto people are the good ones…I almost forgot.”

Paul is that guy.

Always positive, always a “yes and” and always looking for something creative to put his stamp on so he can tell (yet) another story about motorbikes and how they make our lives better.

Thanks, PD’O for restoring our faith in humanity.

Onward into 2024.

Paul d'Orléans riding a lovely 1925 Sunbeam 'Crocodile' at the Auerberg Klassik in 2018.

Riding a lovely 1925 Sunbeam ‘Crocodile’ at the Auerberg Klassik in 2018. [Uwe Rattay]

Name: Paul d’Orléans


Tell us a little about yourself.
Writer, world traveler, photographer, curator, film producer, and event organizer. I started the first vintage motorcycle blog in 2006, The Vintagent, which led to being an editor at Cycle World, writing monthly columns there and at other mags, curating exhibits at the Petersen Museum, co-founding the original Motorcycle Film Festival in 2013, writing a bunch of books for Gestalten and Motorbooks, producing a bunch of films for The Vintagent, and organizing a lot of motorcycle rallies and festivals.

Paul d'Orléans multitasking aboard a very rare Ner-A-Car motorcycle.

Multitasking aboard a 1921 Ner-A-Car on the Montlhéry Autodrome [Francois-Marie Dumas]

Name one thing no one knows about you.
I’m an open book, but not many know that I set up a homemade benzene still at 14. I liked weed, and started selling at my high school; lunch money stuff. Also, joints were an excellent tool of diplomacy in a dangerous and racially charged environment (Stockton CA – maybe still the murder capital of the USA). I was an equal opportunity seller, a nice guy, and a straight-A student. My buddy Jeff lived in a group home – where unplaceable foster kids are housed – and we had the notion to make hash oil, so built a distilling apparatus from glass chem lab parts, maaaybe borrowed from our chemistry class. We used benzene as a solvent as it leaves no residue, being a pure hydrocarbon ring with no lingering molecular bullshit. After being boiled in benzene, the used weed took a while to dry out, so we did that outside. One day Jeff got impatient and threw a match in our evap bowl. That gave him a clean shave, short bangs, and no eyebrows. Luckily he wore glasses. By that summer, I’d learned to meditate (still do) and quit smoking weed, Jeff went into the Navy, got kicked out, got caught housebreaking, and went to jail. We lost touch.

Where are you from, and where do you live now?

My family is 5th generation San Franciscan, but my father took a job teaching History and Economics at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, so I was born in California’s Central Valley. It was a very rough place, so I left at 17 and never went back. I used to downplay my Stockton roots, but really, anybody who came up from the Valley is a badass. Now I’m the only member of my large family who lives in San Francisco, I moved there in ’84 after UCSC, and have basically been there ever since, with stints in Paris, London, NYC, and now Baja Sur, Mexico.

What do you do for a living?
I write, mostly about motorcycles and motorcycle subcultures, with occasional stints doing TV commentary, and curating museum exhibits.

Paul d'Orléans riding a modern Brough Superior in Biarritz, 2016.

Paul d’Orléans riding a modern Brough Superior in Biarritz, 2016. [Bill Phelps]

Tell us about your first motorcycle(s).
I bought my first motorcycle in 1978, a Honda Express, the kind with the kickstarter that wound up a spring, so you started the bike ‘on the button’. It cost $200, I was 15 and totally ignorant, but kept oil in it, and it was indestructible. I bought my first real motorcycle in 1984, and it was a bastard; a BMW R75/5 chassis with an R60/2 motor, the leftovers of a ‘conversion’ that was popular then (big airhead motors in Earles fork chassis). It cost $600. I soon bought an R26, then a Norton Atlas, and went down the café racer rabbit hole. 200 some-odd bikes later, here we are.


A young Paul d'Orléans aboard his Norton Atlas cafe racer.

A young Paul d’Orléans aboard his Norton Atlas cafe racer. [Denise Leitzel]

How did you get into motorcycling?
My two older brothers were into bikes and pretty crazy, as 1970s kids were. My eldest brother Don had a Suzuki Titan 500 and a Honda 500 Super Sport, and my nearer brother David got into motocross on a DKW-Sachs 175 with a ‘banana’ fork. He’s still a rider, with a Moto Guzzi El Dorado up in Portland. Don has just retired from decades in tech, and David is easing out of producing music, after winning a bunch of Grammys and working with a long roster of artists. I bought the Honda Express to take night classes at Delta Community College so I could graduate a year early from High School. After university (1984) I moved to SF and set up a printing press in my mom’s garage with my buddy Jim Gilman. We printed full-color anarchist posters, event flyers, and books of poetry by Peter Plate. Jim let me ride his original-paint BMW R50, and I kinda fell in love. Then he gave me all his back issues of Classic Bike and Classic Motorcycle, and I was lost forever.

Who or what influences you?

My first real influence was David Bowie, starting in 1975 (his Berlin years) after seeing ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ with my parents. I’d been listening to him, but seeing was something else: he was a north star, and a reminder to live exactly how you want. I dressed very Thin White Duke in high school, part of the reason I got beat up so much. After that, Andrei Tarkovsky and Rainer Werner von Fassbinder in film (I’m a huge film buff), Max Beckmann in painting (I went to art school), Cormac McCarthy in writing (Blood Meridian!), Kropotkin and Bakunin in politics. I’d say the most profound influence on my thinking was philosopher Thomas Kuhn’s ‘Structure of Scientific Revolutions’, about how every society and every person finds the proof they need to support their beliefs, and clings to them until the wheels fall off. That all science, religion, and philosophy are just metaphors to understand an unexplainable reality.

You get to design your dream moto vacation for you and three buds, all expenses paid. Where do you go and why?
That was last April, with Dave Roper and Kenny Cummings (NYC Norton), and our hosts Claudia Vitarelli and her father Gaetano, who collects ‘70s Italian bikes. He loaned us each a machine for a 9-day tour down the length of Italy. As Suzie Heartbreak and I rode double, he gave us a sunburst orange BMW R90S, while everyone else rode Moto Guzzi V7 Sports and Mk1 LeMans. I said, ‘You know my BMW is going to break down. BMWs always break down on vintage rides.’ Gaetano laughed, but later that day my rear wheel bearing collapsed – it’s a Timken and isn’t supposed to. Dave and Kenny got busy that night and replaced the bearing, and the next day, of course, the other bearing went. Luckily we had a spare LeMans, but Gaetano insisted we take his 2000 BMW GS. I gave him a look. Later that day, on a brief autostrada link between back roads, the GS started swerving – we had an instant rear tire deflation at 75mph, in the rain, on a busy freeway. I must have sucked half the seat into my butt from pucker. After that, everything was groovy; we found a replacement tire at a shop in Naples, and while waiting were introduced to the joys of fresh buffalo mozzarella balls. Eat them like an apple, over a sink. Amazing.

What’s a life lesson you learned from motorcycles?
So many. In no particular order: The cost is only the price of entry. Don’t panic: loosen up. When you are stuck and far from home, help will arrive. Always offer help. You may feel cool, but the world sees a selfish, egotistical dick. Be humble, your comeuppance will arrive. If you don’t do the maintenance, trouble will find you. Pay attention. When you make space for it, joy appears. You are blessed to have a body and the freedom to move through space: don’t take it for granted. If you want to go, plan it now. Motorcycles giveth, and they taketh away. That includes life.

Paul d'Orléans on a vintage Mondial at the Quail.

Job perks: the 1951 World Champion Mondial at the Quail, and Paul Cox ‘Berserker’ jacket. [Susan McLaughlin]

Have motorcycles helped you discover some aspect of your personality and/or have they helped you understand your purpose?
Absolutely. I was always comfortable in my skin but had little confidence in my ability to grab my dreams. Figuring out how to raise Fifteen. Thousand. Dollars! to buy my first Brough Superior in 1989 definitely changed me. Getting nominated and then elected President of the Velocette Club was an aha moment. Chasing obscure motorcycles around the globe brought recognition from collectors: I’d done my homework and that brought respect. Being asked to judge major shows like the Legend of the Motorcycle and Concorso Villa d’Este was big. Being asked to write for magazines, and then write books, was huge. Providing live color commentary at auctions was big. Doing that commentary on live TV was big. Positive feedback in all those areas put wind in my sails, all from motorcycles. I know my strengths and weaknesses.

Paul d'Orléans at the Quail, 2016 atop a 1949 Velocette Mk8KTT.

Paul’s 1949 Velocette Mk8 KTT at the Quail; custom shirt by Jussara Lee.

You have $10k and one hour to buy a bike…. Go.
Fuck you, 10 grand, WTF kinda bullshit bike could I get for that? Let’s start with $100k, ok? There’s an unfinished replica 1929 Brough Superior SS100 with an 80hp JAP motor on eBay right now, and that amount would get it to my door. I’ll send you my account deets. Watch me lay a long black streak on the graying vintage bike scene.

1929 Brough Superior 986cc SS100 'Alpine Grand Sports'

1929 Brough Superior 986cc SS100 ‘Alpine Grand Sports’. [Bonhams]

When you’re not wrenching or riding, what else keeps you busy these days?
This past year, 3 weddings including my own. Buying a house in Mexico and fixing it up. I travel a lot less than I used to, but still went to Europe 3 times, Canada once, and Mexico half the year. I’m also researching a couple of books.

Paul d’Orléans in one of his happy places, his library. [Remi Dargegen]

What is one thing you cannot live without when riding?
ATGATT. After high-siding my 1960 Velocette Venom Clubman on a decreasing-radius corner in rural Montana (the front brake cable got trapped between the fender and forks) while wearing jeans, I vowed never to ride in anything but leather, ever again. After passing out, I kicked the bike straight and rode one-armed to a hospital in serious pain. The nurses went white as they’d never seen a rider still conscious after an accident, let alone ride their bike into emergency. Montana has no helmet law, of course, so usually, their clients are dead.

Any previous builds or projects that you’re proud of, or surprised with public perception?

I’m humbled and gratified by my non-profit Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation. Last year we displayed two solar-powered electric scooters built from trash by a Ghanaian teenager, Samuel Aboagye, at the Petersen Museum. We sent two MAF staff, Dan Green and Greg Hatton, to Accra to bring the scooters back to LA as hand luggage, and to film Samuel’s life. That film was shown at a design conference in Morocco, and earned Samuel a year-long course of study at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, plus a computer and weekly mentoring. We materially transformed Samuel’s life, and have a continuing relationship. Now we’re exploring other ways to impact the lives of talented but underserved young people. This is different than anything I’ve done before, and it feels monumental.

What project has your attention currently?
Finishing a feature-length documentary on Richard Vincent, ‘Dirt Track Dickie’

You’re editing your own moto video – footage of you riding with best friends. What song opens the video?
‘Wild is the Wind’, David Bowie.

It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A glass of fine, dry champagne, and pussy.

What was your most memorable day on a motorcycle to date?
Riding a 1925 Brough Superior SS100 over the Rockies on Going to the Sun Road was apex. That was the 2018 Cannonball, and we were riding West. I took a side trip down a rough dirt road to Cut Bank campsite at the foot of the mountains, it was late September and the valley was ringed by yellow Aspens. The day was sunny, but clouds hung on the mountaintops. I circled back to Hwy 89, stopping for epic photos as I approached the summit. Where it began to snow. The Brough had skinny clincher tires running 60psi, so traction was a concern, but my favorite trick is an engine-off run down a long grade, so I pushed off and glided the next 30-odd miles, passing everything in silence. White knuckle at moments, but bliss the rest. That night in Whitefish the Revival Cycles team and I replaced the front exhaust valve and discovered the forks had cracked clean through on one leg, and halfway through the other. Instant death on that road, with those cliffs. We repaired the forks, made an insert, added a brace, and rode safely the rest of the way across the USA. A memorable day for many reasons.

Paul d'Orleans Riding a 1925 Brough Superior SS100 over the Rockies

Riding a 1925 Brough Superior SS100 over the Rockies. Look at that smile!

Extra Credit #1 – Any shout-outs to people who are doing something unique, interesting, or worth acknowledging?
So many. Stephen Skrynka has a Wall of Death in Scotland doubling as a performance venue. I love what El Solitario is doing, always. Check out the Art + Design section of The Vintagent – so many talented and interesting folks in the world.

Extra Credit #2 – Please nominate someone you think we should feature in “Behind the Bars”. Bonus points for females.
Corinna Mantlo, ‘daredevil in training’ and my Film Curator at The Vintagent. Irene Kotnik, founder Petrolettes Berlin. Sinje Gottwald, world traveler. Anna Grechishkina, a world traveler currently fighting in Ukraine.

The Vintagent: Online | Facebook | Instagram

Any additional links to share: Motorcycle Arts Foundation

Is there anything important we forgot to ask, or is there anything else you want to add?
Yes, read this and discuss: The Sex Machine

John Lewis

John Lewis

John is a ranter, writer and marketing consultant who believes in the electric future of motorcycles. Until then, he rides an old Moto Guzzi between LA and Malibu where he lives. John grew up in NY and is grateful for everyday he gets to ride in the CA sunshine.