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


As I considered my second motorcycle, I know knew exactly what I wanted: something light and agile enough to commute and ride on trips to Washington; something sporty enough to make me grin when catapulting through twisty mountain roads on my fun rides; something with enough carrying capacity to run errands and take on trips; and something comfortable enough to put in 450 mile days.  I wanted a bit more power now that I was experienced.  (Even though I'd only been riding two years, my mileage was that of someone with 15 years of experience).  Having locked the rear tire and fish-tailed during a number of fast stops on my old bike, I knew that I wanted anti-lock brakes. 

Most of all, I wanted something reliable. Luckily my dealer had a bike on the floor that, with a bit of modification, fit the bill: a 2010 BMW R1200R.  This is the "urban" or "roadster" version of BMW's R series which is built around the 1200 cc version of the horizontally opposed air/oil cooled "boxer" engine that has been BMW's stock in trade since it began making motorcycles in 1923 (I like the tradition).  I added a touring package which included a luggage rack and nice side bags, a windscreen, and, eventually, an Italian-made aftermarket seat to replace the uncomfortable stock one, and I had my perfect bike.

It was love at first ride.  I put 800 miles on it the first weekend I owned it.  I hit 2,000 miles in about three weeks.  Having had it eight months at this point, I have 13,000 miles on it.  I've explored nearly every isolated road and twisty mountain crossing in central Pennsylvania.  I've twice taken it to Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, and am planning a five day ride this spring or summer to transit the full length of the Blue Ridge Parkway and return through North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.  I ride whenever possible, year round.  It is my favorite possession ever.

When I began riding, I promised myself to do everything possible to maximize my safety.  I've devoured every motorcycle safety book and video I can get.  I always wear protective gear.  I practice things like fast stops.  And I get refresher training at least every other year.  In fact, immediately after getting this bike, I retook the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Experienced Rider's Course.  And I flunked!  Having passed it two years earlier and put in 30,000 miles since then, I was flummoxed.  But I practiced a bit more and re-took it a month later with different coaches.  In the rain.  And got a perfect score. Go figure.

Now the saga continues.  Here are some of my favorite photos of my adventures and explorations (so far) on this motorcycle:


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