We ride. We bench race. We opinionate

There seems to be a lot of conversation about the new Harley-Davidson Pan America within the BMW community. I follow both groups on social media and I’m amazed at some of the comments I’ve read coming from both crowds. Even Zach and Ari have a video out explaining how either brand shines outside of their respective genre. As a guy who likes all-things motorcycle, I find the Us versus Them to be the same argument as to the chicken and the egg. I like eggs and I like chicken. Why argue about it?

Clearly, Harley-Davidson has stepped beyond their comfort zone with the Pan America and BMW has done the very same with the BMW R 1800 Classic. Or are they still in their comfort zone? Both companies have been around a very long time, (and it shows) and both companies have produced motorcycles that have appealed to a wide range of interests. Just take a look at their powerplants and you’ll see how each have held on to the past and brought those designs into the future. Classic lines and designs can sell product, that’s for sure.

I’ve never been the guy that thinks mine is better than yours when it comes to brands. Every brand can have a bad day and even a model within ranks can have issues that it can’t outrun. Rose-colored face-shields can soften our opinions but time marches on. So back to these respective groups on social media – reading comment after comment of how owners of one brand talk and think of others amazes me. As riders, we ride and usually own several makes and models over the years. Heck, even in some sort of secret and successful marketing strategy by these makers of motorcycles, we may own several bikes at a time consisting of different brands! And then to splinter off even further, these bikes could even be for different types of riding based around touring, dirt or sport. Does that make any of the plethora of bikes I’ve owned any better than yours? Of course not. But social media has given most folks the power and authority to comment their negative opinions that add nothing to the discussion. We ride. We bench race. We opinionate.

I’ve owned a lot of motorcycles over the 45 + years of riding. Some were good, others were great and a few left no impression on me. But they all served a purpose in getting me where I am today. It took many miles and a lot of dust to figure out what kind of riding I like to do and of course, some motorcycles are more suited to me for that purpose. I’m not going to go out of my way to pull the conversation down to a lower level by beating up the so-called competition to the brand I’m currently riding. If it takes Harley-Davidson to up the game in the ADV category, then so be it. Honda, Moto Guzzi, Triumph and Yamaha will have to up their game along with the BMW line-up. Will Harley-Davidson bring out a smaller displacement ADV bike? The Saucepan America? My bet is not in the near future. But would it be so bad?

Will Harley-Davidson bring out a smaller displacement ADV bike? The Saucepan America? My bet is not in the near future.

There’s plenty of room around the world for any manufacturer to step out and create something new and exciting. As a consumer, I can appreciate the effort it takes to bring a new bike to the dealer’s floor and it’s interesting to see how opinions and brand loyalties then become the discussion. I get it, we take a certain pride in what we ride and bragging is what fills the comment section. I still wave at anyone on a motorcycle regardless of what they’re riding because you never know at what stage of the motorcycle experience they are in. At the end of the day, we ride, and what we ride is a matter of where we are in our participation in this sport.

I acknowledge all of my fellow riders and would stop to help or shoot the breeze with any of you wherever I may find myself on this road we ride. With a new year ahead of us and a new model year coming, we can only hope it brings with it a bunch of new stuff to discuss. Save travels!

Don’t Call Me Shirley

For October, the weather has been ideal and I know I should ride more but lately I haven’t been feeling it. I’ve had a big project hanging over me and it’s finally finished, so it’s taken me a minute to let that go. The constant reminder is gone of a house that needs remodeling to sell and has left me with withdrawals and a sense of how much time it was actually consuming. Whether it was the physical or mental part – either way it was draining. Now, that time is filled with a guilty feeling for taking an afternoon ride when surely, there is something that needs done… trust me there is and don’t call me Shirley.

I had a great ride around the countryside with lot’s a gravel and dirt roads and plenty of time to think. It’s weird getting my head on straight, and quite honestly, it makes my helmet fit a bit better. This ride just reinforces the fact a motorcycle can convince me to take a few hours and just let it go. Call it what you will, but as for me it was much needed.

Although I usually have a direction in mind when I leave the driveway, this time I just went. I didn’t pay any attention to which way or what time it was because that wasn’t the point of this ride. I was going to allow it to unfold as if each intersection was multiple choice with no right answer. I’m more likely to have a plan in place but this time I let the ride happen, and it worked. I let my mind and bike wander together.

Kansas can be tough for someone who rides motorcycles, or at least the perception of Kansas can with it’s rolling hills and straight roads. But you just have to know where to look. Even better, maybe you don’t need to look – just let your mind and bike wander.

The Way It Should Be

It’s odd really, to be sitting here typing out a blog that is so long overdue. It’s been a busy year with work, large projects and a constant sense of urgency to get things done. Even with this punching me in the face every day I have still managed about 20,000 miles on my motorcycle. Mostly a daily commute but also some backroads and a quick trip to Sturgis a couple of weeks before the annual Motorcycle Rally. That trip was weird, with 2200 miles and a total of seven face-to-face conversations with two of those being in Kansas. It was a good ride with lots of time to duck some of those punches to the face I’ve felt most of the year.

I’ve had lots of great experiences going to Sturgis for the Rally, and although the memories can run together, some of them stand out as clear as if it were just this year. The ride there and back, the people you meet along the way, and the conversations you have with those you will never meet again give you this sense of how it’s the people we bump into in our lifetime that can have the biggest impact in any given situation. Interactions with our fellow human beings is still one of my favorite parts of riding a motorcycle. And even as I like to ride either alone or with very few others, I find it’s those brief moments of fellowship along with the interesting stories people will tell you, that make any trip memorable.

Coming back from this trip to South Dakota, I could see as I approached Grand Island Nebraska, I would eventually run into this storm that was building across North Central Kansas. What ride through several states doesn’t end with a crescendo? I have ridden in many rain storms and I travel with a rainsuit at the ready, so this wasn’t that big of deal. South of York Nebraska it was clear to me I would get my chance to pull my rainsuit out to see if it fits. If any of you read my blogs from my previous trips, you will know my history of the ever-shrinking-it-must-have-been-put-away-wet rainsuit. Well, this one still fits.

If any of you read my blogs from my previous trips, you will know my history of the ever-shrinking-it-must-have-been-put-away-wet rainsuit. Well, this one still fits.

As I hopped around pulling it on over my boots, I could feel the rain coming. Within a mile after getting back on the road the rain came and it wasn’t messing around. It hit and hit hard. By my rain gauge that I keep conveniently inside my head, this is at least the second or third worst rain I’ve ridden in. As cars were slowing down or pulling over, I kept pushing through. Yes I know, pulling over would have been the wise thing to do, but… Within a few miles it was clear I wasn’t going to ride out of this without a fight, so I turned my heated grips up a notch and titled my head down.

Once I settled in to a water-filled groove, I knew this was going to be okay. I noticed another rider heading in the opposite direction and quickly realised how lucky I was to be prepared. He wasn’t. I felt sorry for him because I know how miserable it can be. I did have a few cars pass me but mostly I would pass them. I’m sure I was an odd sight but let’s be real, I’m an odd sight regardless. I did notice a white truck from Louisiana that kept hovering around – first following me then passing me only for me to pass again. I sensed visibility at times affected their designated position on the road, but just make up your mind fer-cryin’-outloud.

When the rain subsided around Belleville Kansas, I decided to ride on to Concordia where I would need gas. This gave my rainsuit a chance to dry off before putting it back in it’s bag. It was a good ride from Belleville to Concordia as the skies were clearing and the temperature started warming back up. Another successful ride in the rain and I will be able to tell this story for days and weeks to come. Embellished of course.

As I pulled into the gas station and climbed of my GS1150 the white pickup from Louisiana pulled up to the pump next to me. As I gracefully struggled getting my foot out of my pant leg the woman in the passenger seat came over and asked if I was okay. She and her husband intentionally followed me to make sure I was going to be alright. She asked me several questions about the dangers of riding in this type of rain and what I would have done if it started to hail? Before I could answer, her husband also walked over and fired off several concerns as I stripped off my suit. I explained how an experienced rider like me who’s no-fear attitude towards adverse conditions, my nerves of steel and a perfectly fitted rain suit could get me through anything. Along with my perfect smile and full head of hair of course.

I explained how an experienced rider like me who’s no-fear attitude towards adverse conditions, my nerves of steel and a perfectly fitted rain suit could get me through anything. Along with my perfect smile and full head of hair of course.

What a beautiful moment this was. Perfect strangers concerned for someone they didn’t know who was in a very vulnerable situation. You know, like it should be. And even more so, they were concerned for ME. I thanked them for worrying and wished them safe travels back to their home state. I’m telling you, it’s the people that make this short time we have on earth a beautiful thing.

Motorcycle Mentor

For early December, the weather was looking good. I had a list of things to do but mostly I just wanted to go ride my motorcycle. So in the early afternoon I put on my gear and took off, not sure of the direction I was headed I mostly wanted to put some miles on. Feeling guilty at first because walls won’t paint themselves, I hesitated but quickly got over that feeling as I rode off.

It felt good to get out. The weather hasn’t been the best but I figured an hour or so on the bike is what I needed to sort my thoughts. I hadn’t been on Humboldt Creek road for a while so I headed East towards Alta Vista to take Humboldt back North towards Junction City. I figured a big loop finding my way back home was a good bet.

It’s funny how the same road can look different based on direction, the time of year and the time of day. How the light casts shadows and the specific colors nature is wearing during any particular season can make a familiar road feel different. This was one of those rides.

How the light casts shadows and the specific colors nature is wearing any particular season can make a familiar road feel different.

After a quick ride on the scenic Humboldt Creek road, I ended up at a park to take a minute and enjoy the afternoon. I pulled up and laughed at myself for hitting the kill switch to shut my bike off. I don’t normally shut the bike down this way, and for some reason I did – even wondering why I would do that. Oh well, I’m getting older and I do weird stuff some times.

While sitting there admiring the side view of my BMW GS from about 30 feet away, a couple of kids rode up on their bikes. As I sat there on the bench I remembered how I was at 10 or 12 years old, riding my bike and dreaming of owning a motorcycle. I noticed one of the boys kept looking at my bike as they were horsing around and I was sure he too had an interest like I did in motorized two-wheel motion. I smiled at the thought.

I noticed one of the boys kept looking at my bike as they were horsing around and I was sure he too had an interest like I did in motorized two-wheel motion. I smiled at the thought.

I’m sure it was only a few moments as all of these thoughts ran through my head. Then, out of nowhere, it appears this boy is coming over to talk to me. At first, I thought what shall I say? Is this my chance to influence a young man who shows some interest in how motorcycles can change your life? Am I up to it? And how cool would it be to bump into him in 10 years on some lonesome highway where he recognizes me and says “hey, you were the one who got me into motorcycling.” How strange, I was just thinking this and now he’s 20 feet away and closing.

12 year old boy; Hey mister, is that your bike?

Me; Yes, it is.

Now keep in mind, my brain is clicking along faster than the conversation. I’m anticipating where this is going and I’m trying to be helpful and attentive to his questions because after all, this is my chance! For the last 20 minutes or so, while I’ve been sitting on this bench, this boy has admired my motorcycle. Now he’s mustered up his courage to come over to ask what it’s like to be wild and free on two wheels. Pay attention Jeff!

12 year old boy; Your headlight is on.

57 year old me; Hey, thanks…

When I pulled up and hit the kill-switch, I forgot to turn the key off. That usually happens to new riders – and guys like me just trying to enjoy a ride in December. For 20 minutes or so my key was on while I admired the profile of my motorcycle in the afternoon light. Thanks kid, for letting me know. As I got up and walked over to my bike, the boys climbed on theirs and took off. I guess they already know what it’s like to be wild and free on two-wheels.

Long Way Anywhere

After spending the last 15 years or so on Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, I decided to make a switch to the Adventure-Touring segment. I purchased an older BMW GS and honestly, couldn’t be happier at the moment. There are many great bikes out on the market, and I realize that it isn’t so much the BMW GS itself but more so I just needed a change. After my trip to the Sturgis Rally this year, I made up my mind that when I got home I was going to do it.

I’ve been a big fan of the GS series and as a matter of fact, I like the Harley-Davidson Pan America due to be release in the near future. But thanks to Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, I’ve wanted a BMW GS for many years. This is one step in the process of getting back to exploring the backroads that are hidden away – much like I did when I first discovered motorcycles. Of course I’m not riding the Road of Bones in Russia like Ewan and Charley, the back-roads of Morris county will have to do.

Of course I’m not riding the Road of Bones in Russia like Ewan and Charley, the back-roads of Morris county will have to do.

But there is a larger point I’m trying to make. Sometimes we need to go back to our roots and find that ember that lit the passion of motorcycling within us. We need to see where we came from to understand where we might be headed – not only as motorcyclists, but also as a industry. It has been reported Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman are filming Long Way Up, number three in a series of traveling the globe, while riding the Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric bike. When this hit the internet, you could hear a collective groan from the masses. How can you do a Long Way Anywhere on a electric motorcycle with a range of 100 miles? How will you cross streams and climb Yak trails on a street bike with a design more akin to traveling the Road of Potholes?

How can you do a Long Way Anywhere on a electric motorcycle with a range of 100 miles? How will you cross streams and climb Yak trails on a street bike with a design more akin to travel the Road of Potholes?

Unless these Yak trails are in your neighborhood, it might be difficult to do so in the wild without the electrical grid required to get you back home. But here we are – making an adventure from what you might least expect. Putting the excitement into riding and making the adventure about man and machine. Wait, this sounds eerily similar to what Ewan and Charley have done in each of the Long Way series riding their BMW GS’s.

So back to my point. No matter where we’ve been, the roads we traveled or where they may lead us today, we will continue to ride. We evolve – not only as riders but also in what we ride. The adventure is what you make it, whether you are a beginner or have a million miles under your seat. Let’s support the industry we’re involved in and let’s support each other. Let’s see where this crazy ride takes us, but more importantly let’s remember how we got here and how much fun it was. If E-Bikes are the future then I believe the manufacturers will make them the most badass bikes we’ve ever seen. Kind of like we have now? Why not? At least I know I’ve come a long way.

1974 Harley-Davidson 90