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!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Plunge

As I first caught the motorcycle bug, I headed for the local Harley dealer. It was close to me and, like most Harley dealers, was a real emporium. But it only took a few minutes of browsing before I realized I wasn't a Harley person. There was country music playing loudly, the parking lot was full of pickup trucks with NASCAR stickers, and most of the people in the shop had tattoos. That's all fine, but it's just not me.  (Since then I've put in several hundred miles on rented Harleys, and realize that I made the right choice.  I find them beautiful but the performance and comfort are mediocre at best).

I then went to the Honda dealer just down the road. All the bikes in stock were either crotch rocket sports bikes or cruisers which seemed like Harley wanna-bes. Again, not me.

But the Honda dealer also sold BMWs, so I wandered down to that end of the showroom. I hadn't really thought about BMWs before but was curious.  I've always been a fan of German engineering, having driven German cars exclusively since the mid 1980s. The BMW 318i I had in the 1990s was one of my favorite autos.  So I was interested. Very interested.

I briefly considered looking at Triumphs, but geography sealed it: the Triumph dealer was 30 miles from my house and the BMW dealer five.

Then I did something that was very unlike me. Normally when I buy anything, particularly a major purchase, I first do extensive research. This time, though, I was impulsive.  I found that looked cool and was in my price range. I asked the salesman and a buddy if they thought it would be OK as a starter bike. They both said "yes." I later decided that was probably bad advice but a few days after beginning to think about motorcycling, I bought a 2008 BMW F800ST.

I picked up some basic kit--a helmet, gloves, and a jacket--and got a neighbor to ride it to my house. So five days after the first glimmer of an idea, I was a motorcyclist. Sort of.

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