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Looking back to look ahead

Posted By John Phillips, Saturday, April 2, 2016

By default, the first motorcycle ride is one of the most memorable. So it was for me, a nervous teen perched on the back of a ’64 BMW R 60/2, black with white pinstripes. Back in the day - before Japan, Inc., before BMW cars - the roundel represented smooth, refined two-wheeled Teutonic precision and sophistication in the era of raucous, vibrating British vertical twins that ruled American boulevards then.

The memory stuck for nigh on three decades until the day a cherry ‘84 R 100/7 parked on the side of a country road with a ‘For Sale’ sign taped to its sport fairing came home with me. I was bound to honor the spousal pact to ‘buy one, sell one’. The Harley went. I liked the Harley, a lot, but I didn’t like the weight and I hated the constant expectation from other Harley riders to make riding about image. It is liberating that the understated BMW draws little attention, except from like-minded enthusiasts. I never tire of admiring its timeless aesthetic. Its blend of performance, comfort, reliability and maintainability meets my every riding need and want. But at the root of it, the BMW combines three levels of motorcycling enjoyment that few other bikes of any era can, and no other bike I’ve ever owned has:

  1. The technology leap from 1984 to 2016 is startling, as one would expect. But with proper maintenance, updated front and rear suspension and new rubber, the old technology still works pretty damn well. The R100 surges with sure-footed ease through the off-camber corners, blind bends and fast sweepers that comprise the winding rural roads of PA, NY and northwestern NJ where I mostly ride. For longer distance work, the seat is comfortable, the set of Krausers are spacious and look right and there is enough horsepower to accelerate smartly down the on-ramp and cruise the interstate smoothly all day long at 80+ mph.
  2. The joy of wrenching. Wrenching on a proper motorbike from the mechanical age can be (should be, IMHO) as enjoyable as riding it. It’s that ‘Zen and the Art..’ thing that opens a portal to learning something about ourselves as it teaches us about our machines. The R100 was made when it was most practical, preferable and often essential for owners to perform their own routine and at times even major maintenance. The bike was designed for it. The technology allows it. Wrenching on the R 100 more than doubles the fun and satisfaction of owning and riding it. For newer riders particularly, this portal is rapidly closing rapidly in the era of digitized, computerized systems. More’s the pity.
  3. With airhead ownership comes an entire community of fellow enthusiasts and support resources (a nod to BMW) that is unsurpassed by any motorcycle organization. “Airheads” are down to earth, fun to be around and ever eager to share and help with their extraordinary depth of knowledge and experience. As one Airhead put it, he might have to give up his riding his airhead one day, but he will never give up the community.

Putting it all in perspective, the high quotient of smiles per mile delivered over the years by one motorcycle, an airhead BMW, has been a constant of enjoyment and of expectations met and exceeded in an inconstant world too full of disappointments and too dependent on throwaway gratification. It has helped keep this enthusiast young at heart, energized and looking ahead with a sharper focus on what matters most in this pastime. I’m a lucky fellow indeed.

Not John's R 100
This isn't John's R 100, but a general photo borrowed from

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