Just for Motorcyclists
I was born into a motorcycle gang . . .
All my title needs is a bodice-ripping woman draped over a glossy Harley while a smooth-chested Fabio with an iron jaw stares into her eyes. This ain’t that, and I dunno what a bodice really is but I suspect it is not safety gear. To give you a hint, my first motorcycle gang debated the names “Sons of Tylenol” or “Sons of Policy”.
I am the child of the original generation of white-collar bikers that Honda introduced to motorcycling — you know, “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” in the 1960’s. When dad got a taste of my brother’s Triumphs and BMWs, well, he just HAD to have a Honda CX500- little brother to the Goldwing. I was watching all this as an impressionable 13-year old who had a bad minibike fixation and the die was set; I was to be a motorcyclist for life.
Then, it happened; a barn-find Hodaka Ace 100 arrived at our house on long term loan and I was out about town and country non-stop. I loved that bike and the smoky ring-ding, the forgiving fuel mixture, silver tank.
At 19 I bought the 1979 Yamaha SR 500 that took me all over South Louisiana’s hurricane-blown flatlands. I had a chance to ride many rural country roads with my dad as we were inspecting our tiny forest lands, creating some fond memories, and enduring some scary situations.
You see, Dad could somehow defy physics by taking a 40 mph corner without leaning. He was convinced the tires would “let go” if given any tilt. Of course, he imprinted on driving tracked amphibious tractors and believed in horizontality and pivoted corners. He also had a penchant for center-punching green cow pies in the middle of the road (open range for woods cows there).
That kick-start thumper SR500 was a dirt-simple machine that could make a guy feel like a competent mechanic. Back in the day, the owner’s manual actually provided instructions on how to adjust valves, tension chains and timing chain, and change oil.
That paint-shaker rattled me through the Utah and Wyoming Mountains for 40,000 miles around the same time my first marriage was being shaken apart. The bike was an important escape valve but may have let me turn away from the relationship more than was healthy. This was followed by an impulse buy of a spectacular and lightly used BMW R100 and though I loved it too, it was just too tall for me and had the tractor-like dry clutch that lurched and humped up etc. There was no chemistry there.
A few years later, my second wife got pregnant (somehow?!) and in a misplaced fit of being a good father, I sold my bikes and entered the dark period of non-riding for 6 years for my only dry spell between 6 and 65. Eventually, she just said something like “OK, just go get a damn motorcycle and stop whinging already!” so I leapt onto a lightly used BMW F650 GS. After fitting panniers and tank bag, that one took me from our new home in Alberta, Canada to Maine, to Louisiana, California etc. for another 44,000 miles.
Three years later an illegal U-turn by a hit and run driver (no injuries) bent the frame and got me sufficient insurance for a big road bike, a used R1200GS that let me do 65,000 miles of round the country circuits, Dawson, Yukon to the tip of Baja all without once stranding me. The Suburban wagon of motorcycles indeed!
My-35 mile back road Canadian commute each day through traffic and back roads however, called for less droning and more punch and pucker so I added yet another big single- a race-ready KTM 690.
That was the first bike (other than a borrowed BSA Victor 441) to slightly scare me with power deliver.
It was on the 6,000 km Baja trip though that I felt the limitations of the big 1200 cc “Dual Sport –HA!” BMW though. Deep sand? Angled slopes with smooth rocks the size of a baby’s head? No way. I tipped over 3 times at walking speeds. It is too tall and too heavy, especially fully loaded with extra fuel cans and 3 weeks of camping gear. Oh yes, those 65 year old’s legs too.
Then a funny thing happened. I saw a fellow named Chuck Loftin who had an F650GS for sale in Oregon, near where I was passing. It was a doppelganger for my old bike down to the Pelican Cases. He welcomed me into a retiree’s dream shop where 5 motorcycles and 3 sidecar rigs sat. He builds these things from scratch. Two ready to roll, two under construction and one other naked bike all ready to be evicted. I admire the handiness and undaunted willingness to tear a motorcycle down to its frame then re-build it but I will stick with basic maintenance.
I will admit to a fleeting change of heart as I thought “Man, I could just commission Chuck to build a sidecar rig for my 1200!” but that is a different world into which I have not yet dipped my toe. As I told him, I don’t want to try cocaine, turkey hunting, or hacks because I think I would like each of them toooooo much.” I don’t really have time or bandwidth for a new hobby. I know my limits on mechanical stuff and I don’t want to go re-take trigonometry to try to figure out the hack world.
Nothing funny about that you say? Well, here is what happened. He looked at my R1200GS with the same “I know what to do with that bike” look that I was casting toward my nostalgic F650GS and he asked what I was going to sell my bike for? Ironically, I was going for the exact same price as the F650 so a swap was proposed, simultaneous test rides taken and plans struck for a trade. I have no idea how we will figure the Canadian duty on this one.
There is a saying that “It is better to ride a motorcycle that feels like it is doing 100 when you hit 60 than it is to ride one that feels like 60 at 100”.
Let me be realistic here — I have had exactly one small accident in 51 years of riding. I know that I feel invincible. I know I have taken far too many high speed corners at the edge of my tires’ tread limits where a simple transmission fluid, oil, or sand spill would have sent me low-side sliding. I know enough statistics to know that risks and probabilities are cumulative. Also on this time line is an aging body that will break more easily and repair more slowly.
Yet, I have an addiction to unfettered movement, to managing risk, to exercising a stream of executive function on decision-making in real time with consequences. Riding well produces exhilarating and exhausting flow experiences that are probably shared with trail runners, mountain climbers, whitewater kayaking, and snow skiing on moguls. We are respondents to stimuli and the unpredictable situations being tossed at us; hopefully, we cope with mastery. It feels really good to self-demonstrate competence.
So what is the ideal bike? I know that a 220 KPH motorcycle ride is thrilling for a few minutes then turns into a tiresome blur of fuel-guzzling, equipment-straining, high risk endeavor. Extreme acceleration is a moment of costly G-force. Something more is needed.
I think I need a street oriented dual sport that is a tad lower, and 100 lbs lighter than the R 1200GS.
Yet, I want comfortable 80 mph cruising potential, 50–65 MPG possibilities for moderate riding, and gearing (sprocket) alteration for plonking around slowly. It must carry 3 weeks of gear comfortably and be easily worked on. Escape from the very high-tech electronics and digital management systems are preferred (Luddite tendencies from my era) and it should have a well-proven round-the-world track record of dependability.
Because I am somewhat vibration tolerant and I like the efficiency and simplicity, I already know my preference for big single cylinder bikes. Thus, I am left with the following older choices: Suzuki DR 650, Kawasaki KLR 650, KTM 690 Enduro, Yamaha XT 600, or BMW F650GS. The first 4 are more off-roadish and rougher machines, though durable. The BMW is a more refined road bike with larger oil capacity, better panniers, some off-road capabilities and some niceties like rear suspension adjustments. It has a low fuel tank that doesn’t require tank bag removal and good parts availability. Yes, it is sometimes considered a beginners or a “woman’s” bike for the low seat height and moderate power. Yet, the vintage F650 becomes the logical choice. Failing that, I would probably jump to a modern 700 cc twin cylinder dual sport and just trim down the seat (ouch).
For now, I get to downsize to an old friend. Can’t wait.
There is a whole rasher of import stuff that has to happen with the US census bureau getting involved, the RIV process, title, Recall checks, General sales tax payment, Emissions conformation, BC vehicle inspection, Registration and Insurance (one and the same in BC). All in all, probably $500 worth of nuisance, travel, certification, and inspection hassle but I am retired so I can wade through it OK.
Life is a ride!