Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How and Why I got into Motorbikes

Since Gary France asked...

From the Internet
When I was a kid, a privileged few in our neighborhood had minibikes and I was blessed with a few rides up and down the road. Later on when I was teenager, I was visiting relatives in Watsonville, CA, and one of my cousins friends came by with his Honda Trail 70. After I tried it around the farm roads, I really wanted one of these and started looking for a way to earn money to get one of these gems. Shortly after this, I got a car, job and a need to start saving for college. So no little Honda.

While in college in California, I was bitten by the bicycling bug and started riding everywhere. This was prompted by a lower back injury and my physician suggesting cycling as a low impact exercise that I could actually do. I got into bicycle touring and camping and travelled tens of thousands of miles on my bicycle over the next couple of years.

BMW R65 - From the Internet
In the early 1980's after I moved to Fairbanks, a friend bought a BMW R65 and he let me try it out. I rode briefly around the university and this brought renewed interest in getting a motorcycle. Another colleague had a Sportster and with my experience as a mechanic, I helped debug several weird problems he was having. Working on his bike just added gas to the fire. Unfortunately getting a motorcyle wasn't going to happen on my teaching assistant stipend. Some other friends after they finished school and got real jobs bought matching BMW R100RT's and I loved the way that they looked. At this point, I was still touring on my bicycle but there was never enough time to actually go anywhere. Then came marriage, kids, etc. and my first wife strongly discouraged me from getting a bike (motorized variety). It was portrayed as a selfish, irresponsible activity. Something that no sane person would ever seriously consider.

883 Sportster - From the Internet

Fast forward to the summer of 2007. Kids are mostly grown and my current wife told me to just make sure my life insurance was paid up. The bad influence in the next office from me at the university has about a dozen bikes. He strongly recommended the MSF BRC course as an great way to see if I am really interested in starting to ride. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and this convinced me to start looking for a bike both at the local dealers and on Craigslist. I made a couple of offers on 883 Sportsters, Honda Shadows and a 650cc V-Star
Yamaha V-Star 650
From the Internet
but they never went anywhere. People believe that their bikes are worth a lot more just because they had to be hauled up to Alaska. Plus, I was interested in touring and none of these machines fit the bill very well. The salesman at the local HD dealer suggested I consider a BMW instead of a HD. I guess I didn't fit the HD image very well. The BMW dealer shared the building with the HD dealer so it wasn't much of a trip. All of the new Beemers were really expensive and those GS things really looked weird. They had a couple of used machines there on consignment and one of these was an early 80's R100RT just like the bikes that my friends had back in the early 80's. I made an offer and I was now the proud owner of a 1983 R100RT. The only problem was that it was the middle of December. One of the other used machines was a Chang-Jiang sidecar rig with a BMW engine. Interesting but strange.

This picture was taken the day it was dropped off by the dealer. Also included were the side cases and a top box. The following Spring, I rode many miles up and down the roads in our subdivision. Lots of hills, dead ends and gravel. 20/20 hindsight. I probably should've looked for something lighter and dual-sport. Plus I was unaware of the valve seat problems affecting the early 80's models.


  1. My motorcycle career also started with a little Honda called Monkey which left me weirdly impressed when I was, well, little.

  2. The heart wants what the heart wants. :) You may realize now that a dual sport might have served better. But I'll bet you still smile at the R100RT.

  3. Don't know what the valve problem is but a neighbour has an 80's R100 hooked to a sidecar. Last year, it had done over 200,000 km and had a bit of gearbox noise so he had it completely rebuilt. There was (unsurprisingly)very little wrong with it!

  4. We have some similarities in stories. Not enough time to tour on bicycle? Get a motor! We had a motorbike before kids and returned to riding when the kids were grown.

  5. Richard

    It's funny te reasons why we start riding or why we wait. The main thing is that you are riding and love it.

  6. Wait, you had a chance at a sidecar rig?!

    Well, I guess a Beemer was the better choice, the CJs fall below the Urals in the reliability scale.


    Redleg's Rides

    Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

  7. Sounds like you had a long road to get back into motorcycling. I am glad you have an understanding wife. And I agree, life insurance is a must when one rides.

  8. Dear Richard:

    There is nothing like a story with a happy ending... A romance that beins with a kiss... A rain storm that has a rainbow... And a desire to ride that ends in BMW.

    I was dabbing away the tears ion the corners of my eyes at the end of this piece.

    It was 52º here today at the Jersey Shore. More realistic temperatures to arrive next week.

    Merry Christmas!
    Fondest regards,
    Twisted Roads

  9. Richard,

    Ah, the things you want when you get your first bike. Me? I wanted a machine that was light, was cheap, and ran. I got two of those things, as the blown head gasket kept me from getting more than a couple of miles from my house. (Though gave me the best year of cardio, leg and arm training of my life)

    Now, you know, and you can lust after all those features that will surely make your life better because of it.

    Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

  10. Apart from flirting with a few rides in your early years, coming to biking after the kids are grown was unusual, although very similar to Bluekat’s story. She did at least ride on the back of bikes before having her children.

    I can just imagine your excitement when the R100RT was delivered and it sat there with you admiring it. I can imagine your first few rides on this bike, especially the gravel which I am sure presented a challenge or two!