I now realize that the F800ST was not a good starter bike. It was too high strung and sporty. Even with all of the riding practice that I put in, I was lucky to not hurt myself during those first few months. (I did stall and drop it a few times, but didn't go down myself.)
But as time went on, I became very frustrated with the numerous mechanical problems I was having. In two years of riding, I had six major warranty repairs and had to call roadside assistance twice. In one two month stretch of prime spring riding, it was in the shop more than it was on road. As I hit 30,000 miles and began approaching the end of my warranty, I was very concerned.
I contacted BMW to complain about the number of problems and repairs. At first, nothing happened. But I harangued them for months. I was getting so frustrated that I considered simply selling the bike and giving up riding. But I stayed on BMW. I told them that I wanted to be a loyal customer and would happily trade for a different and, hopefully, more reliable BMW, but I was upside down in my payments. Finally, to make me leave them alone, they agreed to give me $1800 credit toward the purchase of a new one. So in July 2010, with 35,000 miles of riding in a little more than two years, I gave up the F800ST for what has turned out to be the favorite thing I've ever owned in my life.
In the Beginning
Driving a car, your relationship with the road is like that with a friend. Bumps are softened. On a motorcycle, the relationship is much more intimate, like that with a lover. You feel every small bump and dip.
Me, November 2011
This is the unfolding story of motorcycling and me. While I'd toyed with the idea of riding for several years, I'd never thrown a leg over a motorcycle until I was 51. Then the time seemed right. My youngest kid had finished high school so I considered myself expendable. I'd just spent two years with every waking moment was consumed writing a book. With it completed, I again owned my life and was looking for a new obsession.
My driving force in life has always been pushing myself, taking on new challenges and mastering new skills. I thrive on exploring new places and always prefer to be outside with the wind on me as much as possible. So I gravitated to riding.
As I contemplated this big plunge, I made several assumptions. One was that riding a motorcycle would save money given that gasoline prices had just spiked. A second was that royalties from the book would pay for a motorcycle. But most of all, I assumed that having put in thousands of miles on road racing and mountain bicycles, and manual transmission cars for years, I'd pick up motorcycle riding easily.
These assumptions all turned out to be wrong. What I spent on motorcycling far exceeded any savings from higher gas mileage. I didn't sell enough books to cover the costs. And learning to ride was much, much more difficult than I expected. But it was also much more fulfilling. In life, I've always wanted to be where I'm not. And I'm rushing to get there.
In the few years since I began riding, I've fallen passionately in love with it. The average American motorcyclist rides 1800 miles per year. I did 16,000 my first year, 18,000 the second, and over 20,000 in the third. I've continued to average 15,000 to 16,000 miles per year even when I began writing a weekly column that eats up much of my Sundays. At night I often dream of squiggly lines on a map. Seriously.
When everything is clicking--I'm alone on a winding country road, I've got my "A" game, the music is in a groove--I sometimes forget the motorcycle is there and feel like I'm simply flying. If you don't want to take my word for it, trust Alton Brown.
Luckily, I live close to some fine riding, with twisty roads over mountain ridges, large state forests, miles of farmland (which often requires dodging Amish buggies), charming little towns (each different from all the others), and lots of historic sites. There's always somewhere new to see. (Here's a map of my favorite routes and road food). I particularly like combining riding with photography--one of my other passions.
When I began this blog I was riding a 2010 BMW R1200R. In BMW jargon, this bike was a "hexhead" (named because the engine cylinder covers are hexagonal). So these are the "Hexhead Diaries." I'll update them regularly with stories and pictures. Stay tuned!