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!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I'll Spare You the Full Details But...

...after a month of trying to figure out what it going on with the recall on my new motorcycle.  I am convinced that BMW's response will be studied in business schools for years on how NOT to respond to a major design problem without alienating your customer base, particularly in a time when the disgruntled customers around the world are networked via social media and thus acting sort of collectively.

To make a very long story short, the Italian made rear shock was either badly designed or produced.  BMW expects a fix some time between July and October.  It has been very disheartening to walk past the wonderful new motorcycle sitting in my garage for month.  And to make it worse, the weather has been gorgeous.

My dealer finally arranged a loaner--a 2011 R1200RT.  I picked it up and put a couple of hundred miles on it yesterday.  It's a typical BMW: two years old with 45,000 miles on the clock.

It's very nice to be back on the road again and the loaner is a perfectly nice motorcycle but it makes me realize what a complete and amazing overhaul the new 2014 model was.  Everything is different: frame, motor, controls, body, seat, dashboard, windscreen.  Everything.  Even the battery is in a different place.

I'm counting the days until I get back on mine.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Crushed and Incensed

A week old motorcycle I'd become one and fallen in love with.  Gorgeous weekend with plans to attend the Reading, PA World War II air show.  2,000 mile business/pleasure trip planned for next week in intricate detail.  It would have included some of the most iconic motorcycle roads in the U.S.: the North Carolina section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Devil's Whip, Tail of the Dragon, Cherhola Parkway.  I'd finally figured out all of the electronics on the bike including the sound system. Then this.

No hard information other than that terse note.  Rumors online that it may take months--the whole summer riding season--for BMW to find and deploy a solution. Lots of people will abandon the marque over this.  Frustration is high because it applies only to people with new bikes many of whom, I'm sure, had also fallen in love with it and planned long trips.  I wish I'd looked more closely at the Triumph.

Monday, June 2, 2014

By the Third Day...

...things were beginning to click.  Even though other commitments have prevented any really long rides, I nearly have 600 miles on it.  It's beginning to feel natural.  And awesome.

The bike is a spectacular mixture of agility, speed and technology.  I'm extremely happy I decided to go with it rather than the larger K1600GT as I had planned.

The only down side at all is a very uncomfortable seat. I'm in pain after an hour.  Since this one has a heated seat, I'm certainly not buying and aftermarket one and hope I can get by with a Saddlemen gel pad that I've ordered.

The next step is to get some bluetooth earphones to figure out if they will work for me to listen to the satellite radio and MP3 player.  There's too much wind noise to use the bike's speakers unless the windshield is all the way up.  And I'll only ride that way on the interstate.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

First Ride, RT Edition

It took a few hours to get everything done to buy the new R1200RT so it was noon when it was pushed out of the dealer's door.  My previous bike had sat on the showroom floor for six months before I bought it but this is such a hot model that the dealer said they can't keep them in stock.

It was a gorgeous Saturday so for my first ride, I decided to use the same route that I did for the first long ride on my previous bike.

My initial impressions were "Wow this is huge."  I came very close to dropping it pulling out of the dealer's lot, and did so a few other times during the first hour or so while coming to stop signs.  I think it was a combination of weight, height and new brake pads which don't stop as well as they will once broken in.  That meant that I was still rolling just a tad when I put my foot down.

My first thoughts were a bit of nostalgia for my old bike.  I had so become one with it that when I was in groove, it didn't feel like I was on a machine at all, but just flying.  With this one I was very much aware that I was operating a large machine.

But when I hit the first tight curve on my route and hit it hard, the thought "This might work" flashed through my brain.  As I came down from the first mountain crossing in my route, my cheeks were literally hurting from grinning.  The bike is really amazing in the twisties and I can't wait to get to the point that I can really push it hard in curves.  This is, I'm sure, a combination of the balance and things like the electronic suspension adjustment and traction control systems.

The next thing I noticed was the speed.  When I goosed it for the first pass of the day, I thought I'd accidentally engaged the warp drive.  I did a couple of routine single vehicle passes in the afternoon and noticed by the time I'd cleared the car and was moving back into the right lane, I was going triple digits.

I'm really going to have to watch the speed.  My old bike would go fast but but a naked roadster, the wind made me very aware of it.  With the full faring on this thing I'm mostly out of the wind, particularly when the windshield is raised.  So it was harder to gauge my speed without constant checking the instruments.  Several times I looked down and was going 80 and didn't realize it.

Being so protected from the wind is also going to mean that I'll have to adjust what I wear.  With my old bike I knew the exact temperature comfort range of every jacket and pair of gloves I own.  I knew exactly when I was going to have to shift to my electric jacket and gloves.  With this one, I think I'll have to add 10 degrees to the calculation.  So, for instance, a jacket that was comfortable from 50-80 on the old one will be 40-70 on this.

There were a couple of down sides to the RT.  I didn't find the seat comfortable and was hurting by the time I made my first stop, which was only 90 miles from the start of the ride.  It's a wide, well made seat but as they say on motorcycle discussion boards, every butt is difference.  I hope my Airhawk seat cushion will fix that.  Second, my shifts weren't smooth, a result of shifting from a dry to a wet clutch, and from a conventional throttle to a very sensitive fly-by-wire system.  I'm sure that will come around, though.

When I finally got home, I sat down with the instruction manuals and tried to figure things out.  In typical BMW fashion, the primary manual plus the one for the audio system total 400 pages.  I was able to get the Sirius satellite radio turned on, figure out how to add a memory card to the navigation system, and to upload routes to the nav system.  I still have a few things to do in terms of the menus.  Like modern cars, the bike has so many features and technology that there's a wheel/mouse thing to operate.

On the second day with it, I have to write my weekly column but hope to get in at least a few hundred miles.  I have what BMW calls the "run in" service scheduled for Friday so need 600 miles for that.  All in all, though, I think it was an excellent purchase that should give me much pleasure for years.