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!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


BMW finally engineered, manufactured and began shipping replacement parts for the defective R1200RTs in August.  Mine was repaired on August 28--two months and 25 days after the "stop ride" bulletin.

It was a very difficult summer.  For about a month I hate a loaner 2010 R1200RT from my dealer.  It was clearly inferior to the totally re-designed 2014 edition but it was something.  I put over 1,000 miles on it but then dropped it in my garage when I got off with the side stand opened by not locked, breaking off the clutch assembly.  Over the ensuing weeks, my resistance to not ride the 2014 got weaker and weaker.  I started gently riding around the block in my neighborhood.  Then I'd ride around the block multiple times.  Then I'd do fairly short local rides, never pushing it.  I ended up putting about 700 miles on it before the fix.

Since then I've gotten in about another 800 miles and now I can push it.  It is an absolutely stunning motorcycle.  On twisties, it is as sharp as my old R1200R and even more forgiving if I hit a tight curve too fast, turn in too soon, or don't take a perfect line.  I haven't yet really pushed the envelope but have a good sense that it can be done.  

For interstate cruising, I put the windscreen all the way up, turn on the cruise control, and set the suspension to soft and could probably do a 500-600 mile day with ease.  The soft suspension setting is also very nice on rough roads which need resurfaced which is about 75% of the ones in Pennsylvania.  Then with a simple click, I can turn it back to normal if the road surface improves or I hit some twisties.  It is amazing how easy it is to adjust the comfort level by simply pushing the button to raise or lower the windscreen and change the air flow.  The integrated navigation system, which is made by Garmin, works much better than either of my three previous Garmin units.

I'm still waiting to find out how much of the compensation money from BMW I owe my dealer for riding and busting the loaner, but have ordered a nice pair of Italian made Sidi boots and some Motoport kevlar mesh police riding pants for the times when it's too hot to wear protective overpants.  I also added a Givi tank bag and a remote heat controller for my heated jacket and gloves.  With all of the wind protection from the faring and windscreen on the RT, the electric gear, and five stage heated hand grips and seat, I expect to be able to ride comfortably into the low 30s and maybe high 20s.

I didn't take any time off work all summer and now have seven weeks of vacation stored up so my plan is to take off every nice day through the autumn and get in a few thousand miles.  Hopefully I'll be able to work in a few multi-day trips as well.

During one of the evening rides over the summer it dawned on me that this motorcycle may be the only thing I own that I wouldn't trade for something else even if price was no consideration.  It would be great to be able to own a stable of motorcycles for different purposes but if I can only own one, this is about as close to perfect as I can get right now. Its combination of wonderful handling, comfort, and state of the art technology is unmatched.