Roger Smith of Independence Township with some of his favorite motorcycles, including a Suzuki X6 Hustler, Honda Trail 70, and Honda Trail 90. Photo by Phil Custodio
BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
Roger Smith’s lifelong love of motorcycles landed him a national gig as vice president of the Vintage Motor Bike Club.
“I like motorcycles, the freedom of it, no windows, you can see the engine from the outside,” said Smith, 68, resident of Independence Township for the past 37 years.
His interest in bikes with motors installed dates back to 1964, when he was 14 years old and his brother, the late Edward Smith, would tool around in a Zundapp motorcycle from Germany.
Roger soon started collecting his own motorcycles, starting with a Suzuki X-6 Hustler in 1966.
“That spurred a passion for motorcycles of the ’50s and ’60s that lasts to this day,” he said. “I have always loved things with motors.”
He sold his motorbikes when he went into the U.S. Army for four years, fixing weapons at Ft. Lee and serving in Vietnam. One of the first things he did when he came home from the service was to buy a motorcycle. Over the next 50 years, he owned and restored more than 60 of them.
He served eight years on the Vintage Motor Bike Club board before applying for vice president, and was elected unanimously.
“We do a lot of stuff, networking, writing articles for the magazine,” he said.
In the VMBC Spring 2018 edition, he wrote “Time to Chrome, transforming pitted, rusted pieces into sparkling show-quality parts.”
VMBC was established in 1972, dedicated to the preservation and restoration of smaller motorcycles, scooters, and balloon tire bicycles of the past, no longer in production.
They have board meetings in St. Henry, Ohio. The 46th annual VMBC meet will be in Portland, Ind., at the Jay County Fairgrounds, July 26-29.
“The reason I joined is they were always smiling, always having a good time,” Roger said. “The more expensive bikes, that’s serious business.”
His job as VP also includes recruiting new members, with which he has had much success. His proudest recruiting success was television’s Jay Leno, a fellow collector and restorer of all sorts of vintage motorcycles and cars. They were restoring the same motorcycle, a 1966 Suzuki 250, which Smith saw in the American Motorcyclist Association magazine.
Roger sent a picture of his motorcycle work to Leno at his Tonight Show address. Ten days later, he received a signed picture of him working on his Suzuki, with his telephone number attached.
“Jay is just as down to earth as he appears on his show. He’s one of us,” Smith said. “We sent a thank-you note and let him know we (he and his wife, Fran) were going to Las Vegas in a few months and had purchased tickets for his show at the Mirage. We heard nothing back from him until we entered the Mirage that show night and took our seats. Suddenly, I was tapped on the shoulder and a young lady asked if my name was Roger Smith. She took us behind the stage where Jay was waiting to meet us. We found that Jay and I were born in the same year, only one day apart, and we have many of the same interests. Since then, we talk on the phone about motorcycles, and we have become friends.”
Roger’s restoration expertise has earned him national awards, invitations to compete, and a reputation for quality work. Doug Mitchel’s book Enthusiasts Guide Honda Motorcycles 1959-1985 is dedicated to Roger and Fran, and features one of their motorcycles, a 1962 Honda CL250 Scrambler, on the cover.
“I worked with my son (Matt Tate) for three months to restore the bike,” Roger said.
The Smiths moved to Independence Township from Highland in Redford Township 37 years ago to be closer to their work in Pontiac.
Roger was an police officer and detective with the Pontiac Police Department for 25 years. He wasn’t a motorcycle cop – Pontiac Police didn’t have motorcycle officers at the time – instead working to solve 1,400 child molestation cases and child homicides as lead detective in the major crimes unit.
Fran is a retired registered nurse, working 30 years at Pontiac General.
After Roger retired in 1999, he had more time to work on his motorcycles, as well as volunteer with motorbike-themed boards and foundations.
They have two children, Jennifer Tate, a nurse at Beaumont Royal Oak, and Roger Smith, a Lake Orion High School teacher, and four grandchildren, Alice Smith, Luke Tate, Natalie Smith, and Jacob Tate.
“They all like to go for rides,” Roger said.