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A Serial Restoration

Posted By Bill Wiegand, Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

 

There are always several reasons why we do the things we do: why #1 - for those of us who are not professional motorcycle mechanics or professional restoration specialists, we learn a mechanical/restoration technique unique to a particular model, and then, likely, never get to use that skill again. A serial restoration project affords the opportunity to immediately employ that newly-acquired skill again and again, while the information is fresh in the porous regions of the brain; why #2 – along the way, we acquired four R27s, and it was time to clean out the basement.

 

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The whole adventure requires a little more back-story. Back in 1991, my partner, Janet, announced to me that she wanted to get off the back of our 1959 R69 and start riding solo. Janet, not a teenager at the time, thought that if she didn’t start riding before she turned 50 she probably wouldn’t make the leap to solo riding. We all need benchmarks to establish goals…I guess.

Janet fixated on an R27 as her first ride. Of course, a light-weight, dependable, Japanese bike with an electric starter might have been a more prudent choice, but Janet will not own any vehicle that does not win her heart by its visual appeal (a love-at-first-sight-from-across-the-room kind of thing). An un-restored 1961 R27 it was.

It was not a smooth courtship, but Janet was committed (to the relationship). After completing the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Course, a year of riding exercises for Janet, and bike tuning trial-and-error for me, we tore down the R27 in the off-season, and started our first soup-to-nuts restoration. Once the R27 restoration was complete, we tore down my R69 for the same show-quality treatment. These two bikes seen together on the street always drew a crowd.

We had quite a few R27 mechanical catastrophes over the first two years. During that time I would put out feelers for on hand backup parts anticipating the next mechanical emergency. As most vintage bike owners are aware many times it’s less expensive to buy the whole bike rather than just the engine or transmission (alone). So co-incidental to my search for spare parts, we ended up with three parts bikes – consisting of one complete bike and two basket cases - all of which had matching frames and engines.

The (Serial) Restoration Begins
In 1996, I decided to make something of the parts bikes we had accumulated and started the three-bike serial restoration project by consigning the three engines and transmissions over to Lou Stellar, of Bucks County, PA, to be rebuilt. Lou does excellent work and had managed to bring around Janet’s R27 to be a dependable good running bike. However, all the other restoration tasks were mine to execute. It was then that several things happened that put the entire project on hold. In July of 1996, while traveling on I-95, Janet had an accident causing her R27 to temporarily join the ranks of the other three project bikes.

Now there were four project bikes staring at me each time I went down to the basement. When Janet recovered from her accident and wanted to get back in the saddle, we agreed that she consider a more contemporary bike (ultimately, a Honda Shadow), and I shifted over to a K75, an equally contemporary ride.
Fast Forward – The Serial Restarted
(Editor’s note: As things would have it the next few years found Joe and Janet working together on another business project and the four bikes remained untouched. With that project now ended successfully it was time to renew their quest to rebuild the four 1960’s classics.)

In early 2013, Bill Becker, a retired architect/engineer neighbor who had seriously taken up the hobby of building café racers (see the cover of Café Racer – Oct/Nov 2012), approached me and offered to partner (work two full days a week until completion) with me on my R27 project. Bill’s stated objective was “the demystification of BMWs”, and please note: Bill really enjoys building bikes. I thought this would be a great impetus to re-start the project. Our “shop” would be a 600 sq.ft. vacant commercial space on the ground floor of a four-story 1860s building that Janet and I call home. We started in earnest in mid-March.

My strengths lie in the area of surface finishes of all sorts, and I am comfortable dismantling and reassembling immediately intelligible components, but Bill is fearless in the tearing down and re-assembling of anything. When we were all younger, most of us could dismantle the family toaster or lawnmower, but Bill is the kid who could put it back together and get it to work again.

The Serial Process At Work
Initially, and without a set of BMW shop tools on hand, it would take us hours to figure out a process like extracting a bearing race from the bottom of the final drive assembly The second assembly would yield faster, and the third would slip out like we knew what we were doing. Drive shaft assemblies, front and rear swing arms, wheel bearings, steering head bearings, shocks, etc., all provided tech clinic opportunities that informed the following procedures among the group of four R27s. The serial restoration concept was paying off.

As all components were stripped of seals, bearings, shafts and gears, each was cleaned, prepped and grouped with all the salvageable sheet metal parts to be delivered to the abrasive blaster (Plastic Media Blasting, Furlong, PA) to be taken down to bare metal. The idea of blasting with plastic media, to reduce the risk of abrasive contamination in critical mechanisms, was very appealing and it worked like a top. The smaller parts were kept in house for me to clean and blast using a friend’s shop just a block from my home.

Experience is the best teacher
If I had it to do again I would follow Bill’s preferred method of first pre-building the entire bike from unfinished, raw components, carefully adjusting and modifying each part to assure that all the mechanisms are functioning in harmony and all clearances are adequately close. Then, and only then, was it time to send the parts out to the painter and chrome plater, followed by pushing all parts, large and small, toward a finished state awaiting the final re-assembly.

However, since all the bikes had been dismantled prior to 1996, we had long lost the opportunity to check out the fit of parts as they came off the bikes. Consequently, we had to backtrack a bit and test the condition and fit of four center stands, swing arms, steering heads, etc. to ensure that those parts were true and could still work in the frames. Of course there were some surprises: all of the center stands needed adjustment; one fork center stem was compromised beyond salvage and needed to be replaced; sheet metal parts were fitted into fork and frame and adjusted; tanks had to be pushed back into form; headlight buckets needed to be pressed back into shape; frames needed welded-on-post-production ‘modifications’ removed; and after everything seemed to have an acceptable fit, we spent weeks fussing over the surfaces of each part in preparation for final finishes.

Mark Cavanaugh of CR Cars in Philadelphia, would be doing the paintwork, but we were responsible for all repairs and prep work.

The Rims
The Weinmann alloy rims were a unique project unto themselves. We knew that we wanted to lace the wheels in house. The spokes and nipples would be new, but the condition of the rims would determine the quality of the final outcome. We had six out-of-round, dented, gouged, and badly pitted alloy rims, all challenging us to walk away and buy new replacements. (Janet’s two wheels had been restored previously, and survived the accident.) Since this was a “restoration project”, not a new bike build, our decision was to salvage the rims.

We made hardwood molds of the inner and outer rim forms and began clamping, squeezing, pressing, and pounding (there was a lot of pounding). Once all the rims were within spec, a glass bead blasting gave us a fresh surface to work with, and exposed all the areas that needed TIG infill to repair the dings and gouges. All welded repairs were milled, filed, and sanded until each disappeared into the original surface contours of the rim. Then each rim was carefully wet sanded – 320, 400, 600, & 1000 grit – using WD-40 as a lubricant, followed by many hours of polishing with consecutive abrasive grits. Then, as we did with all the other polished aluminum parts of the four R27s, the rims were turned over to Janet for detailing and final buffing. It’s amazing how a beautifully lustrous surface can emerge from such a grimy polishing process.

Bill is proficient in wheel rebuilding and made a clinic of the process for my edification. Again, the serial nature of the project provided an unusual forum, and I had six wheels on which to practice. If there is a down-side to the serial process, it’s that as you finish the last part in the series, your newly acquired skills tell you that you probably could have done the first, or second, in the series better; so you go back and re-do the first and second pancakes.

While waiting for parts to trickle back to us from the painter and chrome plater, we started to rebuild the non-painted sub-assemblies: carburetor rebuilds, re-shoeing brakes, laceing wheels, rebuilding final drives, attaching dogs and grip assemblies to handlebars, wiring switch assemblies, etc. We also bagged and labeled stainless steel hardware kits for each section of each bike. Any fastener that was not originally chromed, and could not or should not be stainless, we plated in house with a zinc/tin alloy to mimic the appearance of the original, BMW hardware finish.

Once the painted frame and swing arm parts were returned, we started replacing every bearing and seal on all mating frame parts. When all the painted sheet metal parts were back in house, we arranged to have the tank and fenders pin-striped on site by DeWayne Connot of DOA Flatliners. In vintage BMW restoration projects, pin-striping day is special: it marks an over-the-hump point in the process, and we really enjoyed watching DeWayne display his craft. Also, seeing the finish-painted and freshly pin striped parts – 4 tanks, 4 front fenders, 3 two-section rear fenders - lined up like soldiers on our work table - looked for a moment like a vintage photo from the Munich factory circa 1960.

The Build
Finally, we could now begin the full re-assembly process and build rolling frames, installing engines and transmissions, routing and connecting wire harnesses and cables, mounting fenders, tanks and seats, keeping each bike on the lift until it was complete. After all those months of pushing parts through the various steps of the process, this was the fun part: the build.

Epilogue
Janet had been keeping a tally of the parts and various service costs since we started in March of 2013. In late November I asked her for the current total and was informed that we were pushing up against $27,000.00 (so far). This startling subtotal did not include the original purchase price of the bikes, or Lou Stellar’s engine and transmission work back in 1996. It also didn’t include the investment we had made in the many parts that had accumulated over the years anticipating the start of this four-bike project. It’s difficult to get back what you put into any motorcycle restoration; but that’s a given.

This was basically a protracted basement clean-out project, with a bonus: we had a good time learning a lot while applying our collective skill sets, and brought three classic BMW R27s back into service for their future owners to ride, show, and enjoy. The fourth bike? Janet isn’t quite ready to let her beloved, and now fully re-restored, R27 go. That bike will be retired to the third floor of our home to be seen and appreciated every day.

 

 

Tags:  r27  restoration 

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The Long Way to The Rally

Posted By Bill Wiegand, Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I met raised eyebrows and puzzled expressions whenever I said I’d be riding an R nineT from Los Angeles to St. Louis following the July press launch. “Wearing a full-face helmet I hope,” some said. “Gonna strap a pillow on that seat?” said another. I questioned my decision.
It would have to be a quick trip. With the press event ending Friday and setup for the MOA National Rally beginning the following Monday, there wouldn’t be any time to deviate from my route to photograph any of the sites I’d be passing. I’d be covering nearly 1,900 miles in three days on a bike not built for long distance travel.
Still, it was an adventure, and I was all in.

 

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The press launch gave me two days to get used to the naked R nineT, and after mounting my Zumo and figuring out how to mount my tail and tank bags in the lights of the hotel parking lot Friday night, I was ready. Only the fuel gauge made me nervous. Lacking a visual fuel gauge, the R nineT uses a low fuel light and counter that adds miles once the reserve was being tapped to tell the rider that he’d better find gas fast. Web forums told me that 50 miles was about all you could expect once the light came on. More than that and you’d be walking.

Traffic was nonexistent as I pulled onto the 101 at 4:30 Saturday morning. The chilly morning air and coffee combined to wake me up, and I soon realized I should have gotten gas the night before as the reserve icon came on just a few miles into the ride. Luckily, the bright lights of a Shell station stood out like a beacon in the darkness.

As I reset the trip odometer, I calculated the 4.8 gallon tank at 40 miles a gallon should give me a range of about 190 miles. I was quickly back on, working my way east.

Growing up a Midwesterner surrounded by corn and soybean fields, it was hard to keep my eyes on the road as I rode through the California desert with the sun beginning to rise over the distant mountains. Thoughts of the movie On Any Sunday ran through my head, and I pulled off the road to take my first photographs. I could almost hear Steve McQueen and Malcolm Smith racing through the sand. This was going to be an awesome ride.

Passing Barstow, California, it was good to see the world’s tallest thermometer working again and only reading 90 degrees. It was a good choice to bring vented gear and ship the heavier Streetguard jacket back home.

As I droned on, I passed a couple on a packed RT and soon realized I should have fueled up when I passed Barstow, as the low fuel indicator had come on. Miles accumulated and I remembered the warning about not riding more than fifty miles with the light on. In the distance I saw a towering GAS sign and relief poured over me. But like a desert mirage, the sign was for a station closed long ago; plywood covered the windows and doors. I said a quick prayer and pushed on with nothing but empty interstate ahead of me.
With the counter reading 32 miles, a road sign told me I had eight miles to go to Baker. It was going to be close, and after pumping 4.5 gallons into the 4.8 gallon tank, I realized just how close I had come to walking. I reset the trip odometer to 0 and my fuel number to 100. Lesson learned, that’s when I’d begin looking for gas. Again on the road, I soon saw another mirage. But this time it was the Las Vegas kind.

I had forgotten just how bland Las Vegas is in the light of day. Without the fountains of the Bellagio, crowded sidewalks and neon lights, the glitz and glamour of Sin City appeared tame. After 20 minutes and a few photographs, again it was back on Interstate 15. I had a long way to go and a short time to get there.
As I pumped gas in Mesquite, Nevada, I knew I was hot, but I didn’t know how hot until a brainiac in a Lexus yelled “You gotta be hot with all that stuff on! It’s 106 degrees out there!” I realized the futility of trying to explain the reasons for wearing protective gear when riding and yelled back that I was trying to lose some weight and that wearing all this stuff melted the fat away. “I read it on the internet,” I continued. “Really,” he said, “I never knew that.” I quickly slipped on my helmet to avoid any further questions from this MENSA member and got back on the road.

I’d grown accustomed to the beauty of the desert, but the Virgin River Valley in northwestern Arizona offered such an entirely new level of awesomeness that I couldn’t get off the highway fast enough. Then, while stepping backwards to set up a shot, I was brought to my knees by the excruciating pain that could only be the result of being bit in the back end by a rattlesnake, scorpion or other large-fanged and angry predator. I instinctively ran like a school girl, only to turn around to see a cactus protecting it’s territory. I spent the next 30 minutes pulling Buckhorn Cholla thorns from my rear end, and after struggling to capture a few images, I gingerly mounted the bike and moved onward. Damn, I wished I had more time to photograph that area.

After fuel and food in Cedar City, Utah, a road sign indicated a National Scenic Byway was just ahead. Perfect! Great images right along the road, and after winding through Parowan, Utah, another sign pointed left toward Second Left Hand Canyon. Intrigued, I turn left. I thought to myself, this is going to be great!

Soon the asphalt road turned to packed gravel. Riding through a shallow stream crossing the road, I soon found myself on a road better suited to a GS with knobby tires. But my need to see what was around the next corner got the best of me, and my GPS indicated an intersection ahead. Dirt bike riders coming down the mountain waved and shook their heads, and I wondered what the boys at the Motorrad would think if they knew where I was riding their bike. Alas, the intersection I had hoped would bring a paved road was actually only the intersection of another dirt trail. Do I continue to travel the unknown? Thinking my luck was all used up at the gas station, I retraced my route back to the highway and got the hell out of Dodge. Though it isn’t the bike’s strongest attribute, I can personally attest to the off-road capabilities of the nineT.

Back on the interstate and with the sun low on the horizon, the neon light in Beaver, Utah, flashed VACANCY. I was too tired to argue.
Sunrise in the mountains is a magical time as the sun breaks the horizon and reveals the topography of the terrain. Again, I wished I had more time there but pushed on, knowing I’d be back in September. I promised myself I’d allow time to explore. With that in mind, passing roads leading to Capital Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks was a little easier.

As the midday sun played hide and seek behind fluffy clouds, I felt the cold of elevation as I moved across the Rockies. Snow still remained on some of the runs around Beaver Creek and Vail, and a saloon sign in Minturn, Colorado, provided a photo op. After another fuel stop, I was back on Interstate 70 when suddenly traffic came to a halt 30 miles from Denver. Taking an hour to travel less than five miles, the heat coming from the engine worried me. After repeatedly stopping and starting the engine, the open shoulder of the road beckoned me. Should I?

A mile of idling down the shoulder in first gear a Colorado State Patrol Hazardous Waste officer blocked my path. After screaming at me for what seemed like five minutes, he pointed at the ignition switch, and I turned the bike off. He began yelling again. What he didn’t know was that I was wearing earplugs and couldn’t hear a single word he was saying; I could only see the animation in his face. When I opened my helmet and explained I couldn’t hear him, his anger escalated. I removed my helmet and ear plugs as he screamed “Don’t let me see you again” and got back into his truck. I got back in line. Two hours later, traffic loosened to reveal construction a few miles outside Denver as the reason for the backup. A long day two in the nineT saddle came to an end as I neared the Kansas border, and, now behind schedule, I knew an even longer day three awaited.
Again on the road at 4:30 a.m., I realized I’d left the mountains behind and was greeted by Kansas prairie. The sunrise provided a final photo opportunity as I had to make it to St. Louis to hand the bike off to Ken Engleman who’d ride it to St. Paul, then back to BMW NA in New Jersey after the rally.

The smell of freshly cut grass filled my helmet only to be replaced by the pungent odor of road kill then with something worse, and the road stretched out in front of me for miles, uninterrupted by hills or curves. I passed Topeka, then Kansas City and entered Missouri.

Finally, five hours later I was in St. Louis at the MOA office. I felt like I’d never be able to walk again after sitting on that 2x4 of a seat, but I made it. All that remained was a trip home and a ride to the rally the next day aboard my GS. What a great ride!

 

Tags:  rally  rninet  st. paul 

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Beemerglide

Posted By Bill Wiegand, Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

James Vann, of Boxerworks Customs, sits comfortably in an office chair and leans in over a shop lift sourcing from a parts catalog. His worn, blue tee shirt proudly proclaims Boxerworks’ second annual tenth annual rally. Don’t ask. My back is against a KLR 650 awaiting attention from Murray Frizzelle.

 

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In this shop, Vann focuses on only one thing – customs. On an adjacent lift are the beginnings of Boxerworks Creations’ second custom – the Beach Bobber, www.beemerglide.com. The third lift in the work area is dedicated to an Airhead café racer, very near completion. Frames, short blocks, suspension pieces and forks, fenders and tanks complete the room.

“This program will showcase all that Boxerworks has been doing for the last 20 years,” Vann suggests. “In these customs, we are setting a new bar for the build of custom BMWs. No one else is doing what we’re doing with these bikes because of our frame.”

What they’re currently showcasing is the first of their custom line of Beemerglide by Boxerworks motorcycles – The War Glide. With the bike sitting just off to our right, and almost lost in sight against a full shop of motorcycles awaiting work, the War Glide is 99 percent complete and running, needing only minor tweaks to be complete. “Oh god yes we’re proud,” exclaims Vann. “For a first effort, yes, we’re all very proud.

“I would not have started with something so ‘hard-edged’ and Harley influenced,” he continues. “But I am over the moon with the final result!”

Boxerworks, owned by Watkinsville, Ga., resident Nathan Mende, is a 20-year-old BMW repair shop located in northeast Ga., and most accurately reflects a life time devotion by Mende to BMW motorcycles. The shop is first and foremost dedicated to the repair and restoration of Airhead BMWs. During the early years of the business’ history, Mende was a one-man operation, handling all the wrenching, ordering, receiving and cataloging of parts, billing and bill paying, telephone answering and, most importantly – the public relations and marketing of the small business. But with the addition nine years ago of mechanic Dean Graham, the recent addition of Frizzelle, and now Vann, Boxerworks has grown into a full-fledged motorcycle repair shop. I witness a pale blue Vespa brought into the shop. Everything gets attention.

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Because Mende is still the one needing to answer the phone – according to Graham every phone conversation starts with “where’s Nathan?” – and he is very much involved with motorcycle repair issues, getting and keeping his attention requires a degree of patience. Really, the patience of an oyster! But it’s this level of involvement in the day-to-day business that has kept Boxerworks at the forefront of BMW motorcycle repair in the Southeast for most of the last two decades. Part of the shop’s reputation has been developed around Mende’s and Graham’s attention to detail in the restoration of vintage BMWs, both mechanical and cosmetically. It was this reputation that initially led Vann to Boxerworks and partnership with the shop. “I was building a café racer for a customer, an R90 that Boxerworks had completed all the mechanicals on. I just came to the source,” suggested Vann. “They were making them fast. I was making them look pretty.”
So, is it a conflict for a business so dedicated to the careful mechanical and cosmetic restoration of original motorcycles to now offer custom bikes with an approach from opposite direction? Vann absolutely thinks not!

Thus far, all these customs are sourced mostly from “rescued bikes,” he suggests. “For the most part, these bikes could have gone the traditional route of being parted out, but we saved them. In doing so, perhaps we’re opening the BMW brand to whole new customer.”

Although Vann was developing a reputation for café racer customs in his Aiken, S.C., shop Speed and Soul, the War Glide is the first joint collaboration between himself and Boxerworks. The bike didn’t start with Mende and Boxerworks, but instead with Todd Rasmussen in Oklahoma City.

In his version of “so what happened was,” Mende explains he and Rasmussen connected at a southeastern rally over 10 years ago when Rasmussen rode by on his version of the Beemerglide, that attracted Mende’s attention – and by his admission put a “s&*t-eating grin on his face. It was not too far removed from the version Boxerworks Creations was introducing, at that time featuring a solo “tractor-style” seat, “fat-bob” tanks with center console-mounted speedometer, pull back bars, heavily skirted front fender, leather saddlebags, and dual fishtail exhaust. “I was immediately interested,” remembers Mende. “I purchased the bike and brought it here to the shop just over seven years ago.” But as Mende explains, shop business took precedence over the development of the Beemerglide, and the bike sat undisturbed for almost six years. During this apparent lull in activity, we were busy working on jigs to ensure each frame was exactly the same as the last, as well as stiffen and improve the chassis.

“One of the primary aspects of these bikes is how custom this frame is,” claims Vann. The Beemerglide started with an R100 series motor built by Graham, and transmission refurbished by Mende. Forty millimeter carbs feed fuel from steel five gallon “fat-bob” style gas tanks, and the gases are routed from the cylinders through a set of wrapped header pipes out through a pair of exhausts. giving the Airhead an exhaust note that, rather than obnoxious, provides a rumble that Vann suggests “completely grabs the attention of anyone around.”

“There’s nothing ‘backyard’ about these builds,” explains Vann. “The bike’s wiring begins with a completely stock /5 wiring harness, and any wiring added remains true to the factory color coding. This bike could be taken to any BMW dealership and worked on following a stock wiring diagram. “Graham has over 40 hours in the wiring of this bike,” claims Vann. “You want to see some real art, pull the tanks and look closely at the electrical work. Although it remains true to factory, it is art none the less!”

“Anyone happy working on their vintage BMW could work on these bikes,” he continues. “The vintage Harley tanks remove with three bolts and you’re right back to basic BMW.”

The flat military green paint, white pinstripes and white star on each tank, without doubt, render the bike a military replica. The blacked-out motor and wheels only add to the purpose-built properties of the custom. “The ‘50s and ‘60s-era Harley Davidsons were huge influences on the beginnings of the Beemerglides, but in this particular build, we looked to the 1963 movie The Great Escape for military inspiration,” claims Vann. In that vein, the bike does not disappoint. It was during WWII the U.S. Army requested Harley build a military-purpose bike based on the features of the R75 BMW the Germans were using: primarily a shaft drive, boxer-motor driven motorcycle. Harley manufactured the XA model military motorcycle, but only produced 1000 before the government canceled the order for that particular vehicle. It would take close inspection that determine this is not the 1001st XA produced!

From the early ‘80s to the late ‘90s, my go-to travel motorcycle was a 1972 FLH shovelhead, the very example of the Harley influence guiding the development of the Beemerglide. Settling into the leather solo saddle, the handlebars sweep wide and back, allowing for a perfectly relaxed, sit-up riding position. But don’t take “settling into” to mean you’re sitting down in the motorcycle. As is very much the fashion with the antique Harleys, you sit “on” the motorcycle. My natural inclination was to place my feet forward on floorboards. It’s here you’re quickly reminded you’re riding a BMW; the design of the engine, with carburetors and cylinders sitting horizontally, puts you in a classic BMW upright riding position. Thumbing the electric start momentarily shakes the cruiser to the right, but built and tuned by Boxerworks, the engine quickly settles into the familiar BMW idle. Clutch pull is typical, meaning it would be easy to ride this bike through many miles of stop and go traffic. Down for first, up for second and beyond and you’re easily on your way. My experience: as I left the shop for the first time on the bike, I was whistling the theme song to the ‘70s hit TV show MASH. I was BJ Honeycutt leaving the unit for the last time!

While I had the bike out for only a short time, and stayed in the country during the ride, both Mende and Vann report their test rides throughout downtown Watkinsville routinely generate stares and questions regarding the vintage of the motorcycle and its military history. “We can’t stop on this bike without someone questioning its age or military use,” claims Mende.

As much as the War Glide speaks to the military history of this country, the Beachbobber custom will speak directly to the California car culture of the ‘60s. Both bikes feature frames built exclusively by Boxerworks. Other than Airhead BMW motors, the similarities end there. Featuring 4.50/18 inch whitewall tires – the biggest whitewall that can be shoed on stock rims – the Beachbobber custom is an aggressive, cut down custom. “We’ve got to modify the swing arm to make the rear tire fit,” explains Vann.

While both bikes can be spec'd with any variation of an Airhead motor, this particular “bobber” will be fitted with a completely rebuilt R100 motor with Mukuni flat side carbs, K&N airsocks and a single side exhaust. Wide, ‘70s-era flat track bars and Progressive suspension will be included in the build. The Beachbobber, as it lives on the shop lift now, is outfitted with drum brakes front and rear, further adding to the vintage appearance of the bike. However, according to Vann, if specified, disc brakes can be optioned.“We’re purposefully doing the opposite with the Beachbobber,” says Vann. “With this bike, I can easily see the owner dropping into the burnout pit at The Ironhorse and shredding the rear tire!” He exaggerates this statement by loosely holding a set of mock handlebars, dumping the clutch and pegging the throttle wide open! “This bike is going to be so hot. Just blow that tire!”

Focusing on the remaining bike in the shop, Vann gestures and suggests the café racer will be the another direction for Boxerworks. “Cafés are comfortable to be around, and I’ve been around them a long time,” he says. “Cafés and scramblers will spread out our line of customs.” With just the tiniest bit of massaging, BMWs make beautiful cafés. In all these builds, it’s easy to see we’re not always about shiny. We’re only about what makes them work. Form is definitely going to follow function.”

As excited as Vann is about the prospect of the custom line and the immediate future for Boxerworks Customs, Mende clearly sees the addition of customs as an extension of what he has strived to create in Boxerworks.

“Mechanical and cosmetic restos are not an end-all goal or focus for the shop,” he suggests. “Restorations are just a facet. Beemerglide will be another direction for us.”

In the years I’ve had the opportunity to know Mende and be around the shop, I’ve witnessed, and participated in, its relocation from his two-car garage, to his farm, to the current location. Each and every move brought with it improvement and expansion in services offered. “Our goal is to become a “one-stop” shop for everything Airhead. I want to simplify the parts purchasing process for these motorcycles; we are already deeply involved in fabricating parts that are unavailable or need improving.”

Moving back into the shop from his office area – which is still very much a part of the shop – Mende suggests what he sees for the shop’s future. “Like everyone else, we like to do different things,” he says. “At the spot we’re at now, I’d like to see Boxerworks build some interesting motorcycles to just show folks what’s possible”
However, Mende expands his vision for the shop by adding, “we would love to build a dozen or so Beemerglide-related bikes a year. From there, we could build the bike you can imagine.” Additionally, Mende and crew suggest the future for Boxerworks will allow them to sell kits based around the Boxerworks frame, letting the customer build as little or as much of the bike as they prefer.

Gesturing toward the War Glide, he concludes, “It would be great to have Boxerworks associated with a certain type of custom. In the Beemerglide, we have that custom.”

Tags:  custom  georgia 

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army of Darness and the S1000RR

Posted By Sam Fleming, Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Knee down, surging through Turn 10 at Summit Point raceway. We are at the top of third gear and Brunhilde is impatient and fidgety. My vision is fixed as we cross the patchy asphalt down to the apex. Far from her native testing grounds on the smooth tracks of Europe, what passes for race track pavement in the US is clearly upsetting her rigid, aristocratic sensibilities. The lady’s frustration is communicated through muscle twitches and small tosses of her neck. She can see the straight coming into view, past the striped curbing, and works her jaw to get the bit up into her teeth. Still navigating the turn, she fearlessly starts to pull for the straight. As she continues to attack, the rear Michelin searches desperately for grip and the electronics fight to rein her back in. Feeling her tense up for a big lunge I stomp the shift lever down attempting to hit fourth, but not today. She rears back and now I can only steer with body English. I shift right to keep her pointed away from the grass and stab for the lever again. Fifth gear brings the front tire back to the pavement, but Hilde will not be denied. As pit out flashes past on the right, she’s back into her top end and at over 140 mph, and on power alone, lifts her front end off the ground again. “That’s a first,” I muse, while pulling her hard right to avoid another bike, which suddenly appears stationary.

 

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My Introduction to Motorcycling

My story began some 30 years ago when I bought my first motorcycle. It was a 1970 BMW R75/5 basket case, and with the confidence of the young and the ignorant, I set about to rebuild it in my parents’ unheated Washington, DC, garage. It was a brutal experience, compounded by a total lack of mechanical empathy or experience. However, after putting it back together about five times, I finally succeeded at getting it up and running. Now roadworthy, at least from my youthful viewpoint, and with the usual road mishaps and aided by the MOA Anonymous Book, I was able to ride my “basket case” to all of the lower 48 states and a fair number of Canadian provinces by the time I was 20.

To bag Alaska, I thought a different bike might be in order, so I bought an R80GS. After riding it 80 miles from point of purchase back to my house, I promptly sold the squiggly wobbly thing.
It was now 1990 and Alaska was still on my mind. The K100RS had been out for a few years and I was able to pick up a low mileage unit with hard bags for $3,200. I promptly spray painted it matte black, and with three friends headed off for Alaska and the “haul road,” a.k.a the Dalton Highway. With the exception of periodically having to hammer the butter soft front rim straight, and that one time when the tip of the water pump exploded out the front cover as the ’85s were prone to do (it was fixed on the spot in British Columbia by a roadside welder who welded the impeller to the shaft and welded the cover hole closed), that K bike was my soulless but competent and constant companion for more than 100,000 miles.

After racking up a quarter million miles of blue highways, I couldn't resist the siren call of new and exciting motorcycle experiences. I wanted to find my way to the race track. I didn’t know much about racing, but I knew I needed a van as a mobile garage and something fast to ride. It was 1989, and I spent the last month of my senior year of college rebuilding the bottom end of a $50 Ford E100 and the cylinders and carburetors of a $350 Yamaha RD350LC. Now “suitably” equipped, I headed out to my first race with WERA, with no greater understanding as to the magnitude of my endeavor other than the challenges I had overcome that fateful winter in my parents’ garage rebuilding my first R bike.

Let’s go Racing

Racing in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a simpler affair than it is today. The bias ply tires were terrible and, as such, could last weekend after weekend as long you kept their operating temperatures in check by running them at 50 psi. Carburetors always needed adjustment, which meant there was never time to mess with suspension. The good news is it didn't matter. Back then no one knew very much about how suspensions impacted racing performance and few, if any, suspensions were adjustable anyway. There were also no track days, which meant if you wanted to ride fast, it was straight into racing. It is easy to get nostalgic for when the Yen was weak and America had a middle class. In those early days, most of the racers were bike shop mechanics or other moderate income blue collar types, and the grids were full of a rag-tag collection of street bikes souped up for racing. Race teams were usually composed of a few good friends gathered around a common mission which, for many, was winning a weekend race at a local track.

After floundering around at the back of the pack for a year or two, we bought a used FZR 400 for $1,800 and won some regional championships. We switched to WERA National Endurance Racing in 1993 under the banner of Army Of Darkness. We dove straight into the deep end and entered a 24-hour race. Twenty-four hours is a lot of swimming. We drowned when we inevitably lost the transmission on the Yamaha after 15 hours. Just as the dawn sun peeked above the horizon, it was lights out for Army Of Darkness, but just for the moment.

The irresistible allure of destroying engines pulled us further into the WERA National Endurance Series. “Us” includes some variations from year-to-year, but at the top of the list of “most years of service” you will find Tim Gooding and me with Melissa Berkoff a close second. Tim is a master fabricator, machinist, mechanic and scientist whose claim-to-BMW-fame, prior to 2013 that is, was closing one loop of the DC beltway by pitching an R100S up the road one rainy evening. Melissa is a certified BMW mechanic who used to strafe California canyon roads on an unbelievably thrashed K75C. She captained her own “Neighbor of the Beast” endurance team, and is a very fast racer and excellent mechanic. But the team, in any given year, was much bigger than just the three of us.

Depending on the season and the world economy, WERA National Endurance races are 4, 6, 8 or 24 hours long. The series is national, which again, depending on the season, requires driving a van and trailer from DC to Oregon, California, Michigan, Texas, Nevada, Ohio, Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and one ill-fated trip to Canada.

The races are, in effect, relay races with the bike as the baton. You can replace anything on the bike except the frame. Each rider usually rides until they are out of fuel, which typically means they have long since run out of tire. We would also build in oversized gas tanks which means, in some cruel years, each rider would have to take a 90-minute shift before a pit stop. For comparision, a typical MotoGP race lasts 45 minutes with no pit stops. At each stop we would refuel using fancy “dry breaks,” which would enable us to completely fill the tank in just a few seconds, and also replace at least the rear tire. A fast stop is typically less than 30 seconds, but when you add the slowing down and speeding up to get into and out of the pits, it takes about a minute. The way to win is simple: ride faster than everyone else on the track, have quick pit stops, and don’t have any critical mechanical issues.

Racing is the ultimate abuse of machinery. When you are racing, you just flog the bike mercilessly in order to shave another tenth of a second off a lap time. This means long hours of preparation and maintenance before each event to ensure the entire bike is up for the beating. Since all the team members have regular lives and full time jobs, the expeditions to the far flung tracks mostly happen the day and night before the event, which means maintaining the transporter and trailer as well. The logistics are daunting.

Technology Changes Everything, Sort of

Meanwhile, my long suffering K100RS was retired and BMW had moved well away from me as a customer. Rather than keeping their basic KRS philosophy and modernizing it, BMW had started down a baffling path of heavier and heavier bikes with quirky overly engineered rider's aids and overly sophisticated suspension setups. Really, what is the point of saving eight pounds with an aluminum gas tank if you follow that up by bolting on 50 pounds of ABS pumps which shouldn't ever be used?

On the racing front, we eventually graduated from the hard knocks master class, and in 1999 won our first national 600cc middleweight class championship. We proceeded to win six more championships, including our perfect year of 2003, where we won every single race of the 10-event series.

The societal changes of the hourglass economy that were occurring throughout the country were also filtering into racing. The switch to radial tires vastly reduced lap times, but at the price of increased tire consumption. Bike engines made more and more horsepower with increasingly sophisticated fuel injection. Other systems like clutches, transmissions and brakes, and the resultant overall weight reductions, made for faster lap times, but at the price of decreased component life and skyrocketing maintenance costs. By 2005 the paddock was filled with huge transporters and the guys racing out of pickup trucks and the backs of vans had largely been forced out of the sport by the relentless and expensive march of technology. Our team was fortunate in that we received enough sponsorship and support to offset most of the expenses. We won the 2005 championship with a last race victory, which required superbly detailed preparation, fast riding from Ben Walters, myself, and for the first time with our team, 16-year-old Chris Peris, and perfect pit stop team work. The wear and tear of racing are always balanced by the sweet savor of victory, and while it was a great day, after 350,000 miles on the van and untold race engine rebuilds, we finally decided to step back from the sport a bit.

BMW Redux

However, Ben Walters kept flying the flag and built a few Yamaha R1 endurance racers for a few years, then in 2009 left them in my care when he moved out West for a few years. Tim, Melissa and I could not leave the R1s sitting alone in the garage, so we would prepare them and race them periodically. Although we were far from series regulars, we could still podium, or at least be in a podium position when another transmission would invariably eat itself.

It was during this transitional time that I noticed BMW motorcycle design was coming back from the wilderness. BMW customers are typically older guys with solid credit and back in the ‘80s these guys would have grown up on Triumphs or CB500s. By comparison, an R100 would seem like a viable alternative. In the ‘90s, however, those 40-year-olds had cut their teeth on Ninja 900s, Interceptors and GSX-Rs, and the BMW offerings looked pretty pedestrian by comparison. Then, change came to the marque and the brain trust at Motorrad realizing the need to rev up the image of their motorcycles in the same manner the automotive division had haloed their cars with the M versions. Their first attempts appeared recalcitrant and petulant, as they released HP (high performance) versions of normal road bikes. Carbon fiber valve covers didn't feel that sporty when they were still levering the rear wheel off the track surface. But BMW was walking a fine line. They were trying to attract a performance-oriented customer base, or at least haloing the brand, without alienating their core customers. Having heavily promoted their enclosed driveshaft as the best way to transmit power to the rear wheeel, they gradually began to reconfigure their public relations, and now had to convince their loyal base that sometimes it was acceptable to have chain final drives and inline, four-cylinder engines.

Der Hammer

After years of carefully avoiding direct comparisons to anything Japanese, the powers that be in Munich finally saw the light and created a real sportbike. In 2010 BMW dropped the S1000RR hammer. It crushed its rivals on specifications and components and, due to the escalating Yen, BMW could even price it aggressively against the Japanese competition.

Chris Peris was recruited to race an S1000RR in AMA Superbike and was often the top privateer. He also has a racing school, which sometimes does international events, and our good friend Ben Walters ended up as a guest instructor at Chris’s school in Qatar. Ben was deeply impressed by the power and balanced nature of the S1000RR and called me when he got back to the States. His goal was to convince me that we needed to jump back into the national circuit with both feet. Hence, an incredibly unlikely Venn diagram arose in January 2013. Riding long distances, Army of Destruction teammates from 2005, really fast motorcycles, and a single point of intersection—BMW.

Chris had been racing one of the first S1000s. The 2010 and 2011 models had a geometry that was more aimed at road riding than track riding and, therefore, had some high speed limitations. One was the offset of the triple trees. Triple tree offset governs trail and trail is one of the pieces of the high speed steering puzzle. Less trail feels great right up until the moment when you lose the front in a high speed sweeper and destroy the bike. The other weak spot was the shock linkage. The early ones had a rising rate linkage, soft initially then firmer; but on the track we usually want a linear linkage that is not soft anywhere.

Fortunately, BMW had incorporated these race-track tricks into the stock 2012 model, so we would not have to mess with them. In another fortuitous twist, due to an assembly line error where someone failed to properly assemble the connecting rods on the crank of the 2012 engines, we were able to get two S1000s for a song. How? Even after BMW had warranteed the connecting rods, some owners didn't want the bikes back, so there were some low-mileage factory buy backs sitting around. We bought two of these through our long time sponsor and local BMW dealer, Battley Cycles.

Because nothing is simple, particularly when you’re trying to do things on a budget, we took possession of the bikes with only three weeks remaining before we were supposed to be on track. That is, quite simply, not a lot of time to build up new and unfamiliar race bikes. The good news is, we had done this before.
We knew the engines were strong and we also knew that they were tuned to their potential. Chris's team had blown up a number of hopped up engines while the bikes were still on the dyno, so we were not looking to make any engine modifications.

The stock ECU and the traction control settings are sophisticated and powerful, but tuning them for individual tracks was going to require special cables, unlock codes and software. Unfortunately, we were not able to locate anyone who had any real-time experience tuning the stock electronics with the race kit. We also realized that we would not have a lot of time to experiment, so we locked the bikes in “Slick” mode and then removed the stock traction control, ABS and quick shifters. We then installed a “Bazzaz” system that we knew intimately from the R1s we set up back in 2009, for which we already had mature air-fuel ratio and traction control maps set.

Building our BMW Race Bike

Today, suspension is really the biggest variable with race bikes. We redid the forks with Traxxion Dynamics internal cartridges and JRI built our rear shocks. We also swapped the stock steering damper for a racing unit. As we were ditching the ABS, we fitted a forged Brembo master cylinder, plumbed it with Hel brake lines, and fitted Vesrah RJL pads to the excellent stock calipers. We deep sixed the stock exhaust with all the valves for a lightweight titanium and carbon pipe from Leo Vince, installing the Bazazz sensor to be able to remap the ECU for smoother throttle response.

We lost some more weight with Speedcell Lithium Ion batteries and by replacing the stock bodywork with race bodywork. Then we had to start making the bike heavier.

First we installed bigger, but still aluminum, 24-liter fuel tanks. We had to cut the tops off of them and weld in double dry break receivers: one for fuel to flow in, the other to let air out. The tanks are of World Superbike design, so they also replace the seat and fill the entire area that we opened up by removing the ABS control unit. We installed various sliders to protect the outside edges of the engine and bike in case of a mild crash. We also swapped out the stock clipons and foot pegs for racing units. There are a number of reasons to do this. The race clipons are faster to repair in a crash.

The aftermarket rear sets allow for more positions for the foot pegs, are tougher and invert the shift pattern. Like the old British bikes, down is up and up is down. There are a few reasons to do this, but basically, it is easier to miss an upshift than a down shift and pushing down on the lever is more positive than pulling up on it.

Another crucial aspect of endurance racing is quick-change axles and wheels. Traditionally, Tim fabricates these items, but since he was busy drilling 1/16" holes in many bolts to safety wire them, a requirement of most racing bodies and good practice for endurance bikes anyway, we bought modified axles and chain adjusters from Fast by Frank, and combined these with captive wheel spacers and spring-loaded front fender hardware. We also shaved off as much of the brake calipers as we dared, and when we were done with the mods we could get both wheels changed in under 30 seconds. That was our target time.

Then we swapped the stock tires for Michelin slicks. The slick tires have no tread, which maximizes the amount of rubber on the track. The lack of tread also gives the tire much improved characteristics with regards to heat transfer. We run a 200 width rear tire to put as much rubber on the track as possible.

In the choreographed chaos of reconstruction, the two bikes began to shed their old “retail showroom” personalities and take on a much harder demeanor. In race parlance people often speak of the “A” bike and the “B” bike. This is not pejorative, but rather just a way of differentiating them. A and B, in our case, became “Eva” and “Brunhilde.”

With five days to go we were finally able to fire up the bikes and were greeted with a cheerful Christmas tree of warning lights and error messages preventing the bikes from running correctly. We plugged in all the stock sensors and boxes again, removed them in a prescribed order, said “Rumpelstiltskin” three times while clicking our heels, and were ecstatic when we got the bikes locked into “Slick” mode with full power available. We were ready to race.

Tags:  Racing  S1000RR 

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BMW's New RnineT

Posted By Bill Wiegand, Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Representing 90 years of BMW Motorrad history and coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the legendary R90S, the 2014 BMW R nineT is the latest bike to roll off the Bavarian assembly line. According to Edgar Heinrich, Chief of BMW Motorrad Design, the R90S “hails from an era in which bikers were regarded as outlaws. There was something rebellious about it. It was fast, loud and wild. Pure emotion, and it has retained its fascination to this day.”

 

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Though the perception of motorcycle riders has changed, the new R nineT was built to remind all who climb aboard, twist their right wrist, and listen to the pulse-quickening bellow emanating from the twin horns why motorcycles make their pulse quicken.

It’s as simple as a motorcycle can be, yet the bike moves a rider both physically and emotionally. It is what motorcycles were before they were encased in plastic. It’s a flashback to your first love. The one that got you hooked. The one that made you believe. What was old is now new, and what is new conjures up memories of what was.

As have several of BMW’s other recent releases including the S1000RR and its naked S1000R sibling, the R nineT represents a departure from the long-distance touring comfort zone BMW has inhabited for so long. This is a motorcycle built solely to bring a rider and machine together for the pure and simple joy of riding. Based on indications that the supply is not expected to catch demand until 2016, BMW has far exceeded their expectations. BMW proves again that they are, indeed, the Kings of Cool.

Though the “official” release of the bike was little more than a month ago, rumors, speculation and images of prototypes had been floating around for nearly two years when BMW Motorrad announced plans of releasing a special bike to mark the 90th anniversary of the marque. It was worth the wait.

The R nine T combines classic, roadster styling with current technology, beginning just as the legendary R32 did 90 years earlier with its iconic BMW boxer engine. The modern nineT powerplant employs the current 1,170cc air/oil-cooled boxer engine which produces 110 hp at 7,500 rpm and 88 lb-ft of torque at 6,000 rpm. Power is delivered via a six-speed transmission geared for quickness and smooth shifting to the rear wheel through shaft drive.

During the recent press launch of the nineT, journalists were teamed in groups of six riders. Riding around the Los Angeles area had all hoping for red lights at each intersection to allow them to release long-lost adolescent attitude and to offer another opportunity to aggressively run through the smooth nineT gearbox while creating a symphony of boxer music in the key of Akropovic.

While paying tribute to its heritage, the nineT front end sports the same gold, upside-down forks used on the S1000RR and offers a classy, high-tech look that contrasts beautifully with the black of the motor, frame, tank and wheels. On the back, the nineT sports a paralever single-sided swingarm with an adjustable central shock. Allowing for customization, the swingarm has been designed to allow installation of a 6 inch wide rear tire in place of the stock 5.5 inch rubber. Braking is provided by dual, four-piston Brembo’s offering exceptional stopping power on the front end and a single rear disk. ABS is standard.

To accentuate the hand-built look of the bike, forged aluminum parts including the yokes and handlebar clamp bracket feature embossed BMW Motorrad lettering and have been glass bead-blasted to produce a natural anodized finish. Other parts receiving this special attention include the front fender brackets, tapered steering damper, seat mount and adjustment knob for the shock absorber. Even the model plate riveted to the steering head is reminiscent of classic BMW motorcycle designs and further evidence of the meticulous attention to detail given the nineT.

A classic round, metal headlight throws a locomotive-like beam and is supported by another forged aluminum, single point mount. Behind the headlight rests the simple instrument cluster featuring round speedometer and tachometer gauges and including an onboard computer displaying gear, time of day, fuel range and more.
The 4.8 gallon fuel tank, made of aluminum and finished in Black Storm Metallic paint, is highlighted on each side by hand-brushed and clear-coated aluminum. The air intake cover has received similar treatment as well as nineT embossing. To further illustrate the designer’s thorough attention to detail, the seat uses hand-stitched seams in white contrasting thread. Finally, wire-spoke wheels of black anodized alloy, cast black aluminum hubs, stainless steel spokes and tubed tires complete the package.

Aside from the roadster’s classic good looks, the designed-in ability to allow riders to personalize their nineT’s look is what truly make this model unique. From the factory, the standard nineT configuration includes rider and pillion seats with a removable, bolt-on frame section allowing for two-up riding. Remove the rear seat and add an optional tail hump, and the nineT becomes a single-seat café racer which can quickly be converted back for two-up riding by pulling off the tail hump and reinstalling the rear seat.

To give your nineT a bobbed look, quickly remove the rear seat, unbolt and remove the rear frame section holding the passenger pegs, and ride. Take this look even further by removing the turn signals, and moving the license and taillight to the paralever. One bike, four distinct looks. Additional options available include a single titanium Akropovic muffler mounted in the standard low position or high by adding a long connecting pipe with carbon fiber heat shields.

Riding the R nineT rekindles memories of the simple, unfaired motorcycles of the ‘70s: the undisturbed wind in your face, the exposed motor growling at each twist of your wrist, a motorcycle in its simplest form. There is no plastic buffering you from the elements or the bugs in your face, nothing blocking your view forward, and with only handlebars and gauges in sight, it’s the closest sensation of flying you can get without buying a ticket.

At first look, the bike seems small. Throw a leg over and your suspicions are confirmed with its 30.5” seat height. At six feet, I’ll admit to initially feeling a bit cramped when seated, but, perhaps because my primary ride is a R1200GS, the initial reaction wasn’t just. Once I got comfortable, the R nineT offered a relaxed seating position with a comfortable reach to the handlebars and controls.

After a briefing at BMW Designworks and lunch, it was finally time to mount up and ride. Journalists at the launch were about to be treated to 250 or so miles of varying terrain between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and we couldn’t get started soon enough.

Heading north on a route that took us quickly away from civilization, we began the ride through calm agricultural roads before abuptly transitioning to exhilaratingly tight, challenging and winding canyons. The bike handled wonderfully and took on the twisties beautifully. After a quick adjustment to the rear shock, the handling got even better. On the couple of occasions where I fell behind the riders ahead of me, the quick gearing of the transmission and powerful boxer motor made closing the gap easy. I purposely left my earplugs in my pocket so I could enjoy the sound of the stock pipes, a sound enjoyed even more when riding close enough to the other nineTs to hear the harmony multiple bikes created.

Conversations during the scheduled breaks along the ride focused on the awesome bike BMW has created and what fun it was to ride. Gas stops turned into hour-long affairs where riders of other bikes would flock around the new beemer, ogling the coolness of the nineT.

Too soon the press event ended. It had been a long time since riding had provided me with the pure emotional charge the R nineT did. Asked by another rider to describe the bike in two words, “soul fuel” were what quickly came to mind. Though borrowed from an inspirational promotional video for the bike, they’re spot on.

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Arizona, Part II

Posted By Carla King, Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I caught a brief hint of wood smoke through the aspen forest as we floated around another curve, a blur of white tree trunks stuttering in my peripheral vision as I followed Brad, trusting his local knowledge. This part of the Alpine Loop above the Sundance Resort in Utah was only open to bicycles and motorcycles this week, and so far we’d only seen a couple of dirt bikers disappearing into single track and one lonely bicyclist in turquoise spandex, head down and pedaling fast.

 

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Brad flung the big BMW K1200GT around blind corners like a sport biker, but then, he lives here, and knows every curve and pothole. I tailed him trustingly on a classic BMW R100GS Bumblebee and Jonathan took up the rear on his KTM 950 Super Moto. We were laughing in our communicators; it was just too much fun and there was nobody up here but us on the sun-dappled black tarmac, weaving through budding leaves and spring flowers pushing up through damp leaves. This was our fourth day here. We only planned to stay three, but we would be here another two, and why not? Each scenic ride ended with a soak in our private hot tub, a visit with our hosts, maybe a walk to dinner at the famed Sundance resort, or an in-house dinner party with a private chef. More hot tub or drinks and dancing at the rustic celebrity hot spot, the Owl bar. We deserved it. We’d been working hard and staying put was a well-deserved splurge in a low-budget exploration of the Arizona and Utah park system that began from Overland Expo in Flagstaff.

From Overland Expo we made a beeline to Highway 89, gritting our teeth through the Flagstaff traffic and breathing a sigh of relief when the few remaining RVs turned west at the signpost for Grand Canyon Village. Suddenly our heavily-laden bikes seemed lighter as the road runs long and straight through the high desert. We’d leave this flat, dry landscape behind in a mere few hours for the delightful twists and turns through the geologic wonderland that defines northern Arizona and Utah, but not before we were bombarded by dodging dust devils racing west across the road through the Navajo Nation.
For many miles Jonathan and I shared epitaphs via our SENA headsets... “oh no, no... woooowooooaaaahhh... Dang!” They were attracted to our slipstream and, unlike attacking dogs, were not tricked by quick acceleration. Though we were well sheltered by protective gear from helmet to boots, the impacts slammed our overloaded bikes into precarious tilts that were hard to recover from. After the first few hits, we learned to meet them with an aggressive lean left and soon it became almost normal in that way things do when you have no other choice.

We approached the Utah border where vertical cliffs of Navajo sandstone rise from the desert floor pale in shades of pink and gray, sporting eroded caps of smooth white domes. Turning off on Highway 89A, we continued to gain altitude and over the next ridge there was a sharp bend to the west where we were plunged into the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Finally, we had left the monotonous pastel landscape behind. The cliffs flickered yellow and orange in the waning daylight, prompting numerous stops to photograph our orange and yellow motorcycles against a series of striated upturned cliffs jutting toward the road in cuestas streaked with iron oxide.

Traffic was nonexistent, so we lay in the center of the road to photograph each other riding. I wanted to stand here for hours to watch the light change on the cliffs and the dark blue sky behind white puffy clouds stained with its deepening indigo.
Our destination the first night was Marble Canyon and we arrived just before sunset. Last year after Overland Expo, I made the same trip, only I stuffed 12 dollars into the box at the entrance of Lee’s Ferry Campground and pitched my tent at a site overlooking the Colorado River. When the sun rose in the morning, I crossed the street to bathe in the freezing river, as the site has only toilet facilities. The shadow of the cliffs made the experience shockingly invigorating, but the sun soon rose high to send shafts of light onto the beach which baked my head dry.

This year we rested at Marble Canyon Lodge, a simple ‘60s-style travelers’ motel. Unfortunately the lodge and restaurant has since burned to the ground, leaving an accommodations void in the area.
At sunset we walked across the old Navajo Bridge, the sides of which are an open weave of steel bars with dizzying views to the river 470 feet below. The air currents sent water spray scented with sandstone upward to buoy the dozens of swallows swooping and twirling in a graceful hunt of invisible insects. We kept an eye out for California Condor with their 10-foot wingspans. They were almost extinct in 1987, motivating alarmed conservationists to capture the remaining 22 birds to breed in zoos and be released little by little as their numbers increased. Now there are about 250 birds, but we are disappointed to leave without seeing any.

Marble Canyon has no marble, but was so named by explorer John Wesley Powell, who thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In case you missed your American history lessons, Powell was the one-armed Civil War veteran who led the Powell Geographic Expedition in the summer of 1869. They set out to explore the Green and the Colorado Rivers and made their way down the Grand Canyon in wooden boats. A description of their travels can be found in his book, The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons.
The next morning we made the short ride down the red rock canyon road to Lee’s Ferry, lined with cliffs, hoodoos and balanced rocks. We reached the dead end at the Colorado River where white-water guides were busily rigging their boats. Before the Navajo Bridge was built, this was the only place to cross the Colorado for 600 miles in either direction.

Jonathan and I sat in the shade of the picnic area above a vast parking lot where tour buses would soon deposit excited river rafters. We feasted on a breakfast of bread, cheese and salami and watched the river guides prepare for their journeys, stuffing dry bags with fresh produce and plastic bladders of tequila and vodkas to augment their rations of freeze-dried meals. In contrast, the success of the one-armed expedition leader seemed all the more extraordinary. Poor Powell and his crew ended up with spoiled bacon and musty flour, moldy dried apples and melted sugar, rotted canvases, no hats and few clothes, but a big sack of coffee survived to keep them caffeinated and alert.

Back on 89A, we stopped just six miles west of Marble Canyon at the intriguingly named town of Cliff Dwellers to pose next to one of the precariously balanced rocks and browse the jewelry crafted by Navajo women at a row of makeshift roadside stands. At ten in the morning in May, the temperature had already soared to over 100 degrees. A peek inside a small house made entirely of huge stone slabs with ledges for sitting and sleeping chiseled into its sides revealed the attraction of such primitive lodging. It’s a constant 75 degrees in here, morning and night.

My polite, cursory tour of the Navajo jewelry stands quickly became a buying spree, as I found that a lot of the trinkets here are of high quality at wholesale prices. I couldn’t afford not to stock up on turquoise and silver for birthday and holiday gifts and, okay, a couple of things for myself, too. During our sales transactions, I learned that we were still in the Navajo Nation we’d entered since just a little north of Flagstaff. The Nation spans over 5000 square miles and is the largest reservation in the country. There’s nothing but rabbits and rattlesnakes here, one woman told me. The men are mostly gone. There’s no opportunity for commerce, so this is the only chance to make a living save going into the cities to sell wholesale, which is also “too far” and dangerous and lonely and crowded. Staying here is better, she said.

Standing in the shade of a rock on the hillside to drink some water and gaze south over a vast acreage of nothing but scrub, I didn’t blame them for choosing this vast and rugged peace over the din of a city. I donned my helmet, grateful in a “for the grace of God go I” sort of way that I did not have to make that kind of decision.

We headed out to pass by the Cliff Dwellers Lodge, first homesteaded by Blanche Russell, a Ziegfeld Follies dancer who quit her job in 1920 to drive her husband Bill west to nurse his tuberculosis. Their car broke down here and they simply stayed, trading food for labor from passers-by to build their rock house. Over time they expanded their spread to include a trading post, restaurant, gas station and then a lodge catering to the few motor tourists headed to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. But their best customers were the hoards of Mormons driving the Honeymoon Trail on the road to sanctify their marriages at the temple in St. George.

As we rode west, the Vermillion Cliffs faded to beige under the white-hot sun but the air cooled as soon as we hit the switchbacked road up to the Kaibab Plateau. We rose into a landscape of scrubby pines struggling to root in the rock and then into a full-fledged forest with pines, aspens, junipers and fresh, clean, pine-scented air.
Jacob Creek up on the plateau bustles with a visitors’ center, gas station, store and motel, plus the area has a large network of campgrounds. At the restaurant we ordered beautiful fresh salads and a burger. German tourists on rented Harley-Davidsons were intrigued by our loaded bikes and especially my classic R100GS Bumble Bee. They were headed to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, but we encouraged them to change their plans and explore the North Rim just 12 miles south. Other locals at the counter agreed and, though the Germans gave us all the thumbs up, we’re pretty sure the language barrier interfered.

We headed to Bryce Canyon, only to be disappointed with limited views from pullouts. But the historic lodge, built in 1925 among towering Ponderosa Pines, has a great buffet. As we lunched with busloads of tourists, we decided that next time through we’d stay here and take some hikes through Bryce to see the stunning rock formations not visible from the road. It’s also one of the only three “Dark Skies” parks in the United States, as there is no ambient light from traffic, signs or housing, so stargazing is purported to be spectacular.

Continuing east on Highway 12, we agreed that this scenic byway is one of the most beautiful motorcycling roads in the USA, perhaps even in the world. Highway 12 passes through Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, meanders over Boulder Mountain in the Dixie National Forest and terminats near the entrance to Capitol Reef National Park.
When we reached Escalante, we decided that we would have rather stayed here than in Bryce yesterday. The unpaved Hole-in-the-Rock Road begins about five miles east of town, which is the main access to the Canyons of the Escalante, the Devil’s Garden and the Hole-in-the-Rock, all geologic wonders that we only read about in our guidebooks. The charming small town has plenty of cabins and lodging, and a charming Mercantile with healthy groceries, and even a small airport. Because we were on a schedule, this time it was just another place to add to our “next time” list.

A few of the 4x4 instructors at Overland Expo had recommended a stop at Calf Creek Campground on the way east, because they thought it was the most beautiful campground in the USA. The sign appeared suddenly around a bend and we swerved to take it, descending steeply into a canyon. I halted at a concrete bridge overrun a little by a marshy creek. I was not willing to ride through without walking it first, but Jonathan, unintimidated by the inch-deep water, headed on across. So I watched, half-horrified and half-bemused, as he and the KTM did a slow, graceful twirly dance in the center of the bridge before toppling over.

It took the two of us plus four campers to haul the KTM upright and slip and slide it back onto the road – a comedic Icecapades-esque show enjoyed by a group of about a dozen who gathered to watch.
Back on Highway 12, we occasionally paused at lookouts, but mostly the road and the landscape evoked deep appreciation for raw nature and occasionally for road builders. Rising to the top of a mountain, we were suddenly aware that we were riding its spine. For several miles we were awed by the scenery from this vista, but only for brief glimpses, for there was no shoulder, no guard rail, only a precarious stretch of asphalt at the top of the world from which a fall would pitch one straight down into the valley below. I felt as if I was floating atop a living breathing thing. I was suddenly connected to both to earth and sky. Yes. This is why we ride.

Tags:  Arizona 

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A Journey of Self Discovery

Posted By Gregg Lewis, Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The road offers endless opportunities—and hazards. It’s not unlike life in those ways. We each venture out in our own way to seek the former and minimize our risk of being undone by the latter. So much of what we find on our journey is a reflection of our attitude. This is certainly true as we watch the road surface and scenery slide by in concert with the rattle and hum of the machines we trust to take us safely forward.

 

...

 

My own trip this past July was long overdue. I had not given myself permission until recently to plan a solo trip of any kind. This one would be to see parts of North America I had never seen. For whatever reason, it took a painful divorce, the years of upheaval that preceded it, and the months of grieving that followed it to consider this journey and see it as one of healing. It was also in many ways an opportunity to look forward. I think in years past I had made the mistake of not seeing a trip like this as something that could re-charge and invigorate me in ways that would have made me a better spouse. Instead, I erroneously considered the idea of such a trip as a potential “taking-away” from the marriage. I mention this only as food for thought to those of you who thought like I did that feeding my spirit in this way would bring little or no value to the ones I love. I don’t think I could have been more wrong.

I have always loved riding. To me it is at once therapeutic, calming and exhilarating. I catch myself with a goofy smile on my face inside my helmet as the road curls beneath my tires and I feel the moment when motorcycle and rider seem to become one in the quest for the perfect curve. This has happened many times over the years and miles, but it still surprises me.

In the wake of the loss I felt in my personal life, I began to think a lot about the distinction between being alone and loneliness. I realized that in my 50 years I had never taken a solo journey of the kind I was considering: eight days of riding across the Northeastern United States and parts of Canada, camping along the way. To be frank, it scared me, but not to the point of avoiding the chance to take this journey. The courage was born in part from the loss and the idea of those days on my own suddenly felt less lonely. It may offend as many readers as it will encourage that I was looking at this as a spiritual journey. I needed the time to connect my spirit to the world around me in a way that the distractions of life had too often stymied. It became a large part of the experience for me.

Planning a trip like this can be an informal affair. Others of us will plan each mile with such care and precision as to extinguish any chance for an impromptu course correction or adjustment to one’s preconceived ideas about what is or should happen next. I took the middle ground mapping out what I thought was a highway-free, 4,000 mile journey that would take me across West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey before heading home to Southwest Virginia. I had specific destinations in mind and things I hoped to see.

As the idea for the trip began to gel, I came across a news article about the most beautiful spots in each of our 50 states. One of the spots mentioned for New York was Watkins Glen State Park and its gorges. I had traveled some in New York but had never heard of the park or its rock formations and was astonished at what I found as I looked into it. I had my itinerary’s first destination.

Roughly 500 miles from my home in Salem, Virginia, Watkins Glen State Park seemed a reasonable day’s ride and the roads I selected—I thought—would keep me off the limited access highways I hoped to avoid. Nevertheless, most of the ride along US 220 North was breathtaking. Much of it in Virginia north of Roanoke was the perfect start to get the juices flowing and allow me to begin making the connections I was seeking.

Fried food, soft serve ice cream and t-shirt shops reign supreme in the village of Watkins Glen like they do in virtually every other tourist town. But at the top of the hill sits one of the most spectacular examples of creation you can see in the eastern United States. Whoever or whatever you want to credit with this, it’s difficult not to appreciate the miracle in it as the water has sculpted the rocks along the gorge for millennia, leaving a canyon of striated rock and greenery that is worthy of much deeper exploration than I was able to give it on this trip.

I set up my hammock and bug net and called it a night, but not before an older fellow from the campsite next door came over for a visit. Turns out he had a beemer years and years ago and went on about how much he missed it, but his wife’s infirmity kept him from feeding this part of his soul. I could relate and didn’t push the notion that our personal sacrifices can have the opposite of the intended affect. He was a minister, and I asked him to keep me in his prayers as I set out.

The next morning dawned bright and cool. The perfect day to cross northern New England, and a spectacular day it was. I enjoyed the increasingly warm sunshine and mile after mile of twisty roads and breathtaking scenery. Through the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and into Maine, Kamele swayed and purred as we pushed north and east with the scent of pine and cool mountain air breezing past us.

As I crossed into Maine and the sun tilted low in the sky, preparing to say goodnight through my mirrors, the ubiquity of moose crossing signs became apparent. Now the chance of seeing a moose in the wild was a big part of this trip for me, and I thought heading to the part of Maine with the highest concentration of the large mammals would improve my chances of seeing one, but I certainly didn’t want to get so close that it ended my trip. In the waning daylight, lengthening shadows, and narrowing roads, every dark spot along the roadside began to look like it could be a moose. My pace slowed considerably as the moose warnings grew increasingly ominous: “high hit rate” and “hundreds of collisions” jumped out at me with flashing lights. I was down to about 30 miles per hour and hoping I would arrive safely at my campsite before complete darkness fell over Kokajo, Maine. I pulled into the campsite just as the owner was turning out the light in her office. After a curt Maine welcome tinged with admonition for this late hour, I set up my tent in darkness without having any idea of my surroundings.

At daybreak I set out for my potential moose sighting in earnest. The sunrise over the campground was truly magnificent and yet would only hint at the extraordinary day I had in store as I set out for Halifax, Nova Scotia. As it turned out the maps I printed out and stuffed into my tank bag weren’t particularly helpful that morning—or, alas, maybe they were. I accidentally ended up on a logging road that prohibited motorcycles and within the first hour of riding that morning I saw four moose. The first guy was slogging through a picturesque bog as I came to a stop. He looked up from his foraging and seemed to question my relevance. The moment seemed to freeze in time as we looked at one another from 200 feet away. He must have decided he should continue his breakfast because he broke his gaze and stuffed his head back down into the watery buffet.

Not long into Nova Scotia, the gray skies decided to offer up some of their moisture. I made a quick pit stop along a very narrow shoulder to put on my one piece, yellow BMW raingear. If you’ve ever tried to pull raingear on over a BMW Rallye 3 jacket you know the armor in the elbows will hang up the rain suit every time. This time was no exception. In my frustration I yanked the yellow plastic up only to feel a tear – not in the raingear, but in my shoulder. Ouch! What should have been a simple task brought me several sleepless nights and near constant pain over the days that followed and was the only real negative I would experience over the eight days on the road. I even went so far as to stop at several clinics to see if I could get a doctor to give me a cortisone shot. Note: if you are a US citizen travelling to Canada, get travel insurance or prepare to pay out of pocket for a doctor’s visit. I was told it would cost me $675 just to register at one of these facilities. I opted to go with the pain.

The next morning brought tired eyes which were all I really needed as it turned out. I had planned a southerly route along the Nova Scotia coast on my way to Cape Breton thinking I would enjoy spectacular scenery all morning. Mother Nature had other plans. The fog that had settled in overnight would not relent until I was up in Port Hawkesbury crossing the causeway to Cape Breton and points north. Riding in the fog always feels somewhat otherworldly—made all the more so by the hulking cadavers of old wooden fishing boats looking as if they too had had difficulty finding their way through the fog. Though haunting, the atmosphere was not an entirely unwelcome wrinkle in my ideal image for the morning’s ride.

Before hitting the campsite, I rode the short mile down the main street in St. Martins to the Sea Caves. This spectacular landscape shone brightly in the evening sun, and seeing it in the evening allowed me to avoid the possibility that morning fog would keep me from seeing it the next day. I had the place almost to myself and so avoided some embarrassment as I slipped and landed on my backside on the seaweed coated rocks at low tide. Thankfully this was the only time my gear—and my rear—hit the ground over the eight days.

Arriving at the campground I found the grassy site I was assigned and set the kickstand. The fully loaded bike promptly sank into the wet ground and toppled over. Righting 600 pounds with two good arms is challenge enough, but with my gimpy shoulder it wasn’t going to happen. I asked my neighbor for a hand, and we got the bike up and found a charred piece of firewood to prop the kickstand and avoid a repeat. Again I set my increasingly damp gear out to dry under a picnic shelter, then took my naproxen and acetomenaphine, rubbed my shoulder with the ointment the pharmacist in Halifax gave me, and was able to settle in for a reasonable night’s sleep.

Heading west along Route 9 toward Bangor, Maine unfurled, some of the best roads of the trip so far. A gorgeous, sun-drenched afternoon almost made me forget about my shoulder as Kamele and I danced our dance toward the New Hampshire border.

Route 2 westbound across the northern edge of the White Mountain National Forest would be the only road I would traverse a second time the entire trip. I cruised into the campground early enough to unload, head out for a sandwich, and still had a few hours of daylight left. I cruised along Route 16 and though it hadn’t occurred to me earlier, I realized the auto road up to Mount Washington might be a ride worth taking. I had seen the bumper stickers and always thought they were a bit tacky but when morning came I was first in line to make the ride up the mountain. In many ways this was the highlight of an incredible trip. Having the road to myself and passing through pine scented forests to the rocky ground above the tree line, the weather held just long enough to get a view across to the mountains and valleys beyond. Truly breathtaking—and they now make motorcycle-sized stickers that say “This bike climbed Mount Washington.” I put mine on as soon as I returned to the base of the mountain. Tackiness be damned.

The trip south from here would take me to a much needed visit with family and friends in Connecticut, and I was able to savor every minute of good company while I rested and pulled myself together for the trip back to Southwest Virginia. For the ride home I permitted myself a nine hour ride on the interstate, clad in raingear and anxious to see my kids.

The journey allowed me to enjoy so much of what the natural world around us has to offer and time to focus on what my own place is in it. The mysteries that surround us I think are better left to remain just that. With two wheels beneath me and the open road ahead, there remain endless opportunities to explore the worlds outside and inside, navigating the potential dangers and finding peace and joy in the journey.

Tags:  canada 

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Adventures with RnineT

Posted By John M. Flores, Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The road offers endless opportunities—and hazards. It’s not unlike life in those ways. We each venture out in our own way to seek the former and minimize our risk of being undone by the latter. So much of what we find on our journey is a reflection of our attitude. This is certainly true as we watch the road surface and scenery slide by in concert with the rattle and hum of the machines we trust to take us safely forward.

 

...

 

My own trip this past July was long overdue. I had not given myself permission until recently to plan a solo trip of any kind. This one would be to see parts of North America I had never seen. For whatever reason, it took a painful divorce, the years of upheaval that preceded it, and the months of grieving that followed it to consider this journey and see it as one of healing. It was also in many ways an opportunity to look forward. I think in years past I had made the mistake of not seeing a trip like this as something that could re-charge and invigorate me in ways that would have made me a better spouse. Instead, I erroneously considered the idea of such a trip as a potential “taking-away” from the marriage. I mention this only as food for thought to those of you who thought like I did that feeding my spirit in this way would bring little or no value to the ones I love. I don’t think I could have been more wrong.

I have always loved riding. To me it is at once therapeutic, calming and exhilarating. I catch myself with a goofy smile on my face inside my helmet as the road curls beneath my tires and I feel the moment when motorcycle and rider seem to become one in the quest for the perfect curve. This has happened many times over the years and miles, but it still surprises me.

In the wake of the loss I felt in my personal life, I began to think a lot about the distinction between being alone and loneliness. I realized that in my 50 years I had never taken a solo journey of the kind I was considering: eight days of riding across the Northeastern United States and parts of Canada, camping along the way. To be frank, it scared me, but not to the point of avoiding the chance to take this journey. The courage was born in part from the loss and the idea of those days on my own suddenly felt less lonely. It may offend as many readers as it will encourage that I was looking at this as a spiritual journey. I needed the time to connect my spirit to the world around me in a way that the distractions of life had too often stymied. It became a large part of the experience for me.

Planning a trip like this can be an informal affair. Others of us will plan each mile with such care and precision as to extinguish any chance for an impromptu course correction or adjustment to one’s preconceived ideas about what is or should happen next. I took the middle ground mapping out what I thought was a highway-free, 4,000 mile journey that would take me across West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey before heading home to Southwest Virginia. I had specific destinations in mind and things I hoped to see.

As the idea for the trip began to gel, I came across a news article about the most beautiful spots in each of our 50 states. One of the spots mentioned for New York was Watkins Glen State Park and its gorges. I had traveled some in New York but had never heard of the park or its rock formations and was astonished at what I found as I looked into it. I had my itinerary’s first destination.

Roughly 500 miles from my home in Salem, Virginia, Watkins Glen State Park seemed a reasonable day’s ride and the roads I selected—I thought—would keep me off the limited access highways I hoped to avoid. Nevertheless, most of the ride along US 220 North was breathtaking. Much of it in Virginia north of Roanoke was the perfect start to get the juices flowing and allow me to begin making the connections I was seeking.

Fried food, soft serve ice cream and t-shirt shops reign supreme in the village of Watkins Glen like they do in virtually every other tourist town. But at the top of the hill sits one of the most spectacular examples of creation you can see in the eastern United States. Whoever or whatever you want to credit with this, it’s difficult not to appreciate the miracle in it as the water has sculpted the rocks along the gorge for millennia, leaving a canyon of striated rock and greenery that is worthy of much deeper exploration than I was able to give it on this trip.

I set up my hammock and bug net and called it a night, but not before an older fellow from the campsite next door came over for a visit. Turns out he had a beemer years and years ago and went on about how much he missed it, but his wife’s infirmity kept him from feeding this part of his soul. I could relate and didn’t push the notion that our personal sacrifices can have the opposite of the intended affect. He was a minister, and I asked him to keep me in his prayers as I set out.

The next morning dawned bright and cool. The perfect day to cross northern New England, and a spectacular day it was. I enjoyed the increasingly warm sunshine and mile after mile of twisty roads and breathtaking scenery. Through the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and into Maine, Kamele swayed and purred as we pushed north and east with the scent of pine and cool mountain air breezing past us.

As I crossed into Maine and the sun tilted low in the sky, preparing to say goodnight through my mirrors, the ubiquity of moose crossing signs became apparent. Now the chance of seeing a moose in the wild was a big part of this trip for me, and I thought heading to the part of Maine with the highest concentration of the large mammals would improve my chances of seeing one, but I certainly didn’t want to get so close that it ended my trip. In the waning daylight, lengthening shadows, and narrowing roads, every dark spot along the roadside began to look like it could be a moose. My pace slowed considerably as the moose warnings grew increasingly ominous: “high hit rate” and “hundreds of collisions” jumped out at me with flashing lights. I was down to about 30 miles per hour and hoping I would arrive safely at my campsite before complete darkness fell over Kokajo, Maine. I pulled into the campsite just as the owner was turning out the light in her office. After a curt Maine welcome tinged with admonition for this late hour, I set up my tent in darkness without having any idea of my surroundings.

At daybreak I set out for my potential moose sighting in earnest. The sunrise over the campground was truly magnificent and yet would only hint at the extraordinary day I had in store as I set out for Halifax, Nova Scotia. As it turned out the maps I printed out and stuffed into my tank bag weren’t particularly helpful that morning—or, alas, maybe they were. I accidentally ended up on a logging road that prohibited motorcycles and within the first hour of riding that morning I saw four moose. The first guy was slogging through a picturesque bog as I came to a stop. He looked up from his foraging and seemed to question my relevance. The moment seemed to freeze in time as we looked at one another from 200 feet away. He must have decided he should continue his breakfast because he broke his gaze and stuffed his head back down into the watery buffet.

Not long into Nova Scotia, the gray skies decided to offer up some of their moisture. I made a quick pit stop along a very narrow shoulder to put on my one piece, yellow BMW raingear. If you’ve ever tried to pull raingear on over a BMW Rallye 3 jacket you know the armor in the elbows will hang up the rain suit every time. This time was no exception. In my frustration I yanked the yellow plastic up only to feel a tear – not in the raingear, but in my shoulder. Ouch! What should have been a simple task brought me several sleepless nights and near constant pain over the days that followed and was the only real negative I would experience over the eight days on the road. I even went so far as to stop at several clinics to see if I could get a doctor to give me a cortisone shot. Note: if you are a US citizen travelling to Canada, get travel insurance or prepare to pay out of pocket for a doctor’s visit. I was told it would cost me $675 just to register at one of these facilities. I opted to go with the pain.

The next morning brought tired eyes which were all I really needed as it turned out. I had planned a southerly route along the Nova Scotia coast on my way to Cape Breton thinking I would enjoy spectacular scenery all morning. Mother Nature had other plans. The fog that had settled in overnight would not relent until I was up in Port Hawkesbury crossing the causeway to Cape Breton and points north. Riding in the fog always feels somewhat otherworldly—made all the more so by the hulking cadavers of old wooden fishing boats looking as if they too had had difficulty finding their way through the fog. Though haunting, the atmosphere was not an entirely unwelcome wrinkle in my ideal image for the morning’s ride.

Before hitting the campsite, I rode the short mile down the main street in St. Martins to the Sea Caves. This spectacular landscape shone brightly in the evening sun, and seeing it in the evening allowed me to avoid the possibility that morning fog would keep me from seeing it the next day. I had the place almost to myself and so avoided some embarrassment as I slipped and landed on my backside on the seaweed coated rocks at low tide. Thankfully this was the only time my gear—and my rear—hit the ground over the eight days.

Arriving at the campground I found the grassy site I was assigned and set the kickstand. The fully loaded bike promptly sank into the wet ground and toppled over. Righting 600 pounds with two good arms is challenge enough, but with my gimpy shoulder it wasn’t going to happen. I asked my neighbor for a hand, and we got the bike up and found a charred piece of firewood to prop the kickstand and avoid a repeat. Again I set my increasingly damp gear out to dry under a picnic shelter, then took my naproxen and acetomenaphine, rubbed my shoulder with the ointment the pharmacist in Halifax gave me, and was able to settle in for a reasonable night’s sleep.

Heading west along Route 9 toward Bangor, Maine unfurled, some of the best roads of the trip so far. A gorgeous, sun-drenched afternoon almost made me forget about my shoulder as Kamele and I danced our dance toward the New Hampshire border.

Route 2 westbound across the northern edge of the White Mountain National Forest would be the only road I would traverse a second time the entire trip. I cruised into the campground early enough to unload, head out for a sandwich, and still had a few hours of daylight left. I cruised along Route 16 and though it hadn’t occurred to me earlier, I realized the auto road up to Mount Washington might be a ride worth taking. I had seen the bumper stickers and always thought they were a bit tacky but when morning came I was first in line to make the ride up the mountain. In many ways this was the highlight of an incredible trip. Having the road to myself and passing through pine scented forests to the rocky ground above the tree line, the weather held just long enough to get a view across to the mountains and valleys beyond. Truly breathtaking—and they now make motorcycle-sized stickers that say “This bike climbed Mount Washington.” I put mine on as soon as I returned to the base of the mountain. Tackiness be damned.

The trip south from here would take me to a much needed visit with family and friends in Connecticut, and I was able to savor every minute of good company while I rested and pulled myself together for the trip back to Southwest Virginia. For the ride home I permitted myself a nine hour ride on the interstate, clad in raingear and anxious to see my kids.

The journey allowed me to enjoy so much of what the natural world around us has to offer and time to focus on what my own place is in it. The mysteries that surround us I think are better left to remain just that. With two wheels beneath me and the open road ahead, there remain endless opportunities to explore the worlds outside and inside, navigating the potential dangers and finding peace and joy in the journey.

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The Deil You Say

Posted By Norton Rubenstein, 95745, Sunday, October 5, 2014
Updated: Friday, December 12, 2014

Sometimes the destination is a place, and sometimes it’s a road. But if you plan well and are lucky, it can be both. US-191, also known as “The Coronado Trail Scenic Byway,” runs through the Apache and Sitgreaves National Forests in the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona and is one of the top low traffic, high scenic highways in the country. Its designation used to be US-666, but 666 is reputed to be the devil’s number, and when that number is combined with the complex topography of this part of the road, it became known by those that rode it on two wheels as “The Devil’s Highway.”

Possibly as a public relations effort, the road was renamed US-191not too long ago, perhaps because of all the US-666 signs that kept being stolen, but those who have ridden this road enthusiastically know differently. The route is painted with a fairly straight highway centerline as it continues south from Alpine for about 20 miles, while treating riders to a few easy sweepers. But, once past Hannagan Meadow, it looks as though the painter found the key to a liquor cabinet and didn’t sober up until he got to Clifton, 72 miles down the road. You won’t see 18-wheelers on this section of US-191 as vehicles longer than 40 feet are prohibited; they just can’t make the turns.

I think the best way to ride it is south from Alpine. My preference is to get to Alpine by first riding US-180 north from I-10 at Deming, NM (elev. 4335 feet). US-180 north begins with a straight run of about 35 miles, then transitions into broad sweepers and slow inclines through the Mogollon Mountains until you get to Glenwood. From there to Alpine the road is a bit more twisty, the inclines steeper, and the temperatures much cooler. There are a lot of great picture opportunities along this route.

The elevation at Alpine is 8050 feet. Riding US-191 south, the topography is mostly descending, but the elevations throughout the 95 miles to Clifton (elev. 3450 feet) vary from about three thousand to ten thousand feet, often with lots of challenging twisties and many switchbacks, but also some broad sweepers through sub-alpine woodlands. The two-lane road is well maintained, but there are long stretches of decreasing radius curves where the shoulders are narrow, the rock faces high and sheer, and the drop-offs steep; don't look for guardrails, there aren't any. Posted speed limits range from short distances of 50 mph to long stretches of 15 to 10 mph—and you’ll know why.

For less experienced and careful riders traveling at moderate speeds with good equipment, it’s an opportunity for a safe and stimulating ride on a low traffic road. For experienced motorcyclists, it’s an exhilarating pleasure, but nevertheless one that for even highly competent riders requires much forethought and caution. Be especially careful of taking liberties with double solid centerlines; the sight line between twisties is very short, and it’s impossible to know what’s coming at you around the curve. Take some time to enjoy the pull-offs; there are a fair number of wide, scenic places to catch your breath. It is typical to see mountain sheep, elk, deer, ground squirrels, and cattle. This is a road best ridden in daylight, when it’s dry, and in the company of friends.

Of course, you can start your ride the other way round, heading north from Clifton and ending in Alpine. It’s great both ways, but the character of the two rides will be different. For the rider who wants to challenge the road, I think riding south is best because I personally find that ascending hairpins are trickier than descending ones. But, heading north or south, every time you ride it, it’s different. By the way, before you start in either direction, find a gas station and fill your tank; they’re scarce on this road.

It can take competent riders in a hurry a little more than two hours to make the run; longer if they take it easy and pull over at the wide spots to take in the views and snap a pictures. With sticky tires and lots of experience and stamina a rider can do it faster; it’ll be an exhilarating but exhausting ride. This section of US-191 is a low traffic ride any time of the year. On an early June morning this year, I saw three cars and two motorcycles en-route north and only one car heading south. Heated gear is recommended if you ride before May or after September; the mornings and evenings are cold. July and August is the height of their “monsoon” season, and it usually doesn’t start to snow seriously in the higher elevations until the middle of October. On a late spring or early fall morning, you’re already riding in or above the clouds.

In June, 2011, careless campers caused a fire that burned over 800 square miles of the Bear Wallow Wilderness area, but it’s recovering quickly. Plant and wildlife are returning, and patches of damaged trees are still evident along this road. I saw mountain sheep, elk, and deer just off the road on my June ride this year.

Be sure to stop near the end of the ride at Morenci, near Clifton, AZ, and you’ll see one of the largest copper producing surface mines in the world, contributing about 15 percent to the total world production. It’s worth stopping at the pull-off and snapping a picture.

No matter the destination for motorcyclists, it’s always the ride, but sometimes it can be more than just the road that makes a journey memorable. In Alpine, The Bear Wallow Café is a serendipity bonus. Riders who long for a time before interstates, when there were lots of roadside and rural cafés, where the service was friendly and the décor strictly local embellishments, will enjoy a meal at The Bear Wallow Café in Alpine.

Walking in the door is like visiting the past. Breakfast is my favorite meal there; the food is good and plentiful, but it’s the 11 varieties of pies, as good as those they say grandma used to make, that make me look forward to a Bear Wallow visit. You’ll meet local people who are glad to talk about where you’re from and where you’re going; if you can’t get into a friendly conversation in The Bear Wallow Café, you must be avoiding it on purpose. While you wait for your food to be served, meander about the place and check out the pictures and critters that populate The Bear Wallow’s walls; it’s like a small museum out of time but in the right place. Prepare to relax awhile; The Bear Wallow isn’t a fast food restaurant.

People who ride on two wheels know that there aren’t words to tell non-riders about the feeling; it’s like trying to tell someone what chocolate tastes like. It’s one of those things that must be discovered in person; vicarious doesn’t really work. Every rider experiences and feels a ride in his or her own way, and for different reasons. There are no standardized thrills; each of us is a different rider, and we're tuned into our own perspectives. That’s what makes telling non-riders about the thrill of a ride so difficult, and why we gravitate to organizations like the MOA and local BMW clubs. As I said, you have to experience something to really feel it, and I also believe that you have to share an experience to really enjoy it. So, one of these days try US-191 and some of the neighboring roads, and while you’re there, try the Bear Wallow Café. I know you’ll look forward to going back and doing it again. As a matter of fact, I just did.

Tags:  Arizona 

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southwest virginia's premier motorcycle trail

Posted By Ted Moyer, Sunday, October 5, 2014
Updated: Friday, December 12, 2014

It would be a challenge for motorcycle riders to find a more beautiful driving trail than the scenic back roads of Southwest Virginia. Looping through the Blue Ridge Mountain range, The Claw of the Dragon is becoming one of the most popular destinations in the South for motorcycle enthusiasts.

With the charming town of Wytheville, Virginia, as the trail’s center or hub, The Claw of the Dragon features loops totaling over 350 miles as it ventures over to the community of Marion to the west and Galax to the east. The drive meanders through parts of seven Virginia counties but is easily accessible from Interstates 77 or 81 as starting points.

Along the way, riders have the opportunity to stop at many interesting and authentic attractions. After a heart-stopping ride on Virginia Route 16, the two-lane ribbon over three mountains between Tazewell and Marion called “Back of the Dragon,” don’t miss some of the unique attractions nearby. Harkening back to the grand movie palaces of yesteryear, The Lincoln Theatre is the home of the nationally syndicated bluegrass music television series, “Song of the Mountains.” This beautiful facility is one of only three remaining Mayan Revival theaters in America. The General Francis Marion Hotel is another favorite of riders with its restaurant called The Black Rooster and a bar with 27 beers on tap. Nearby, Virginia Sweetwater Distillery and Appalachian Mountain Spirits offer a unique taste of local flavor. Wolf’s Barbeque is also a hometown favorite, with several other restaurants nearby. Other interesting attractions include Hungry Mother State Park and the Museum of the Middle Appalachians.

Many people will recognize the Wytheville area as the location where two interstates converge, but there are a lot more interesting roads within the historic community. Riders will enjoy a challenging ride up Big Walker Mountain, the 16-mile scenic byway that makes its way to the top, where they will be immersed in breathtaking flora and fauna of each season. At the top, take a rest at Big Walker Lookout, climb the 100 foot tower, and enjoy a snack in the country store. A variety of other local attractions such as Beagle Ridge Herb Farm, West Wind Winery and Fort Chiswell Animal Park offer the opportunity to enjoy some distinctive “homegrown” experiences. Wytheville’s downtown historic district allows visitors to leisurely walk the streets and discover the history that has made this a town of hospitality for over 200 hundred years. Interesting shopping, museums and the historic flavor of the 1776 Log House Restaurant are just a few of the must-see stops along the way. An evening of music can be enjoyed at the Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre or one of several music venues nearby. Wytheville has a variety of lodging accommodations including all-suite hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and cabins. A historic boutique hotel will also open soon in the downtown district.

The newest anchor community for The Claw of the Dragon is Galax. This Virginia city is steeped in the history of music. The Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention, held the second week of August each year, has earned the community the distinction of being named the “World Capital of Old Time Mountain Music.” Festivals and special events are held at the Rex Theatre and in the downtown, showcasing the area’s authentic sound. Capitalizing on the wealth of local artisans, the area is also home to the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts. A variety of classes offer hands-on opportunities to explore an art or hone a craft with local artists. The words “Galax” and “barbecue” are synonymous, so much so that the annual Smoke on the Mountain, Virginia State Barbecue Championship is held in downtown Galax each July.

This is but a sampling of all the interesting things riders can see and do as they challenge The Claw of the Dragon and explore the interesting communities along the way. For more information, visit ClawoftheDragon.com.

Tags:  Virginia 

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