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!

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Various commitments--canine, family, and professional--have dramatically cut into my riding this year.  In previous summers, I would have been on 350-450 miles rides every weekend.  This year, I hadn't been on a single long ride since my disastrous late June/early July unadventure so I decided to take yesterday off of work, take advantage of having a dog sitter, and ride one of my favorite routes to the north and northwest of home, stitching together routes 74, 235, 144, 120, and 477.

The weather was good and the traffic light.  It didn't take long until my riding was back in the zone and I was deep in the ecstatic feeling of flying.  There wasn't anything particularly noteworthy or photo worthy on the trip but I did notice something about diverse motorcycle subcultures.

Since it was a weekday, there weren't a lot of other motorcycles on the road.  But I did encounter other riders twice.  The first was in a lovely section of Route 144 that runs for nearly twenty miles through state forest land,  It is purely woods--no businesses, no farms, no cross roads.  It can be a hoot to ride but can also be a problem.  There are no passing areas whatsoever for the entire length so if I'm alone, it's great but if I get stuck behind someone, not so much.

In this instance after I was a few miles in, I came up behind a couple of other motorcyclists.  I won't mention what brand they were riding but just say they were dressed like pirates and had after market "mufflers" that literally caused me pain when I was behind them even though I was wearing a full face helmet and ear plugs. 

Their riding skills were pathetic.  They wallowed below the speed limit on a completely empty road.  Their brake lights came on at the slightest curve. And they did their best to avoid leaning in the curves.

Luckily they eventually pulled over and let me pass.  A bit later I'd stopped at a picnic area to drink a Red Bull and they went wallowing past again.  Of course I felt and heard them coming long before I saw them.  But by the time I was finished they had ridden away, undoubtedly to a local bar or wherever else wannabe pirates hang out.

Later I was sort of lolling along on Route 11.  It's a heavily patrolled road, so I don't speed there.  In my mirrors I saw a bike coming up fast and it passed me in the left lane.  To my surprise, it was another BMW R1200R.  They're rare enough that I've only seen another one on the road a handful of times.  The rider was clearly one of my "own kind," not only riding my bike, but also geared up the way I was (white Arai helmet, BMW and Rev'it protective gear).

He got a bit ahead of me and turned off only Route 34.  I decided to chase.  The easternmost section of Route 34 is nicely open, running through sections of forest and farmland with a few twisty sections.  I thought I'd run the guy down but quickly realized he was GOOD.  He was running in the mid to upper 60s so I had to really rocket to catch up.

When I pulled up behind him, he didn't acknowledge me but I know he saw me.  So then we began to play.  We were knifing through the curves on perfect outside-inside--outside lines a couple of inches from scraping a peg.  Pennsylvania posts a sign with a recommended speed before most curves.  We were averaging 20-25 over that.

I didn't push him but stayed glued about 20 yards back.  This went on for about ten miles.  But then we hit the section of 34 where there were a series of little towns.  And I never speed through towns.  The other rider turned off on what was probably a shortcut and I lost him.  Pity because that was someone I'd really like to ride with on a regular basis.