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Airheads. Many of us still ride them, even though the last one rolled off the assembly line in 1994. They hold special places in our hearts and garages. This blog is dedicated to them and those who ride, wrench and love them.

 

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Delaware Valley BMW Riders Annual Fall Foliage Fromhold/Myers Observation Ride

Posted By Todd Trumbore #32872, Thursday, November 14, 2019
Photos by Chris DeRosa.

In spite of the frigid early morning temperature, we still had nine riders in attendance at the start. It was too bad that some bailed out due to the cold, because of the bright sunshine and very clear skies, it actually turned out to be a terrific day for riding.

We didn’t have as much of the bright fall foliage due to the heavy rains and high winds earlier in the week, which blew lots of the leaves off the trees. There was still enough foliage left on the trees to make for a pleasant ride.

Unfortunately, Stoney Read experienced a charging problem with his R 90 S and didn’t trust the bike to continue. It’s a shame he only made it through a third of the ride. Tony Karas and Mac Kirkpatrick were gracious enough to follow Stoney, as he decided to turn around to find the closest Bavarian Ale Haus (just kidding). Tony suggested they ride back to his house to park the bike to be picked up later.

Walter Michl said back in the day that his father would always have his mother drive a truck and trailer and follow the group ride to their destination. Hopefully we don’t have to start doing that!

The remaining six of us continued on with the ride to the Point Phillips Hotel. I felt bad for our hosts at the hotel, because I reserved the whole back room for 20 of us. Somehow they thought I said 26, which made the situation even worse because they brought in extra staff just for us.

I had a good feeling we would be well short of attendees, so Walter and I decided to have our better halves meet us at the hotel to boost the numbers a bit. Ale and Laura were more than happy to join us for lunch, as the food is terrific and we all had a very relaxing time telling tales while enjoying our meals.

John Melchor, Walter Michl and David Zillhardt filled in for Doug Raymond to tell their fair share of jokes and had us laughing. I failed miserably at the one lame joke I told, so I quickly gave up and let the others take over.

Now for the Observation Quiz: This was the only time that we had more questions than riders! They did an amazing job as always answering the questions. I don’t know how they observe so much considering the speeds at which we travel. Congratulations to Chris DeRosa, the winner, who answered 12 of 18 correctly. An honorable mention goes to Dave Zillhardt with 11, and Walter and Ale with 10 correct answers.

John Melchor, who usually does extremely well and takes great pride with his ability to observe on these rides, had an off day. He claims he couldn’t concentrate because his mind was preoccupied the whole time with trying to analyze Stoney’s charging problems. When we got to the hotel, John was extremely busy drawing page after page of schematics of the R 90 S charging system; he even asked our waitress for colored pencils. Two hours later, he had Stoney’s problem solved. He said Stoney need to drop the bike off at Lou Stellar’s BMW repair shop.

Monica, our waitress, was wonderful in doing her best to attend to our many needs. I hope Dan, the proprietor, wasn’t too upset at the low attendance and will forgive us. I think the destination is a good one. It is located well off the beaten path in a nice rural area. The food is certainly very good as well as the service. I hope more of you will be able to join us next time.

A big thanks to Tony and Mac for hanging in there to see Stoney home safely. Stoney should probably have a driver and trailer at his beck and call for the next ride!

Thanks to all who braved the chilly early morning temperatures to participate in another one of our club rides. To quote the legendary Karl Duffner, "Every time you miss out on a ride, that’s one less ride you will have in your lifetime." We all know there is nothing that brings more joy and happiness than a good ride on a motorbike. Keep that quote fresh in your memory. Thanks for those words of wisdom Karl - we miss you every day!

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Lawnmowers and airheads

Posted By Paul Henderson #217570, Tuesday, April 30, 2019

My first two-wheeling experience, at the age of 11, was not on a real motorcycle. My best friend Kevin and I found a rusted-out lawnmower someone had thrown away, but whose side-shaft 3.5-horsepower Tecumseh engine looked good. We mounted the engine on a piece of plywood, and mounted that just forward and below the white banana seat off my light blue Schwinn Stingray. Power was transferred via belt from the engine’s crankshaft pulley to three sandwiched circles of plywood, the center circle having a diameter less than the outer two. This sandwich was bolted to the rear wheel.

The engine ran at a steady RPM all the time. It had a pull start, but the best way to start it was to run alongside the bicycle until the engine caught and then jump onto the seat, placing your left foot on a dangling pedal (the chain was removed) and the other on a C-clamp we fastened high enough up on the frame to keep the right leg off the belt. You held the white plastic grips of the high handlebars tightly as you flew along.

A Schwinn Stingray did not have the well-engineered front fork of a motorcycle, but rather a solid fork going to a small, thin bicycle tire. To slow down on the curves you would use a big screwdriver to ground out the spark plug until you were through the curve and needed to accelerate again. Ditto for stopping.

Brakes? That would be your left sneaker dragging on the pavement. You had to plan ahead. Safety equipment consisted of my brother’s NY Giants football helmet whose strap had broken, and one thick old leather glove I found in the basement.

Our engineering discussions never surfaced one major design flaw, namely what would happen if you dropped the screwdriver. This happened to our friend Cale who, cool as an Apollo astronaut, steered the bike 10 blocks to the high school’s playing fields and crashed it into a practice net. He was unscathed.

This led to a design modification where we loosened a head bolt, wrapped a wire coat hanger around it and let the other end of the wire dangle free. If you wanted to slow down or stop, you could use the one gloved hand and hold the wire to the spark plug tip. This modification was well received by the motoring community and became the de facto throttle for future runs.

This motor-bicycle was incredibly dangerous, but it was a thrill to ride, complicated and scary, but really FUN. The kids who rode it jumped off with a smile as wide as the sky. To this day I am amazed that my mom, who saw us blowing by the house on this thing, didn’t say a word. Those were the days before helicopter parents, and when you were told to stay out of the house until dinner (as if you actually wanted to be in the boring house), you actually stayed out of the house until you heard mom calling your name. We had an absolute BLAST.

After college, I got my first real motorcycle, a non-running Honda CB350. I paid $85 for it; I bought it from a guy who lived uphill from where I lived. I picked it up and coasted it home in neutral. The workshop manual had maybe 50 pages (this was a very simple bike) and was translated from Japanese. It had all these great phrases like “if oil not seen on stick, add the oil.” My favorite was a decal on the gas tank that showed a picture of a helmet, and the phrase “Wear helmet. Preserve nature.”

I fixed it up and rode it for years, much to the detriment of my jawbone. This thing didn’t just buzz, it shook, and at 60 MPH you were fighting to keep it running in a straight line. Curves were handled through continuous corrections. It always started and ran and got me where I wanted to go.

Around that time, I met a guy who had a BMW R 65. We would go out riding all the time, and he became a lifelong friend. We lived in western Virginia, and we would head up to the mountains for day-long rides whenever we could.

When he graduated from an east coast law school, he wanted to move to Silicon Valley to become a patent lawyer, so we planned a trip to ride his R 65 and drive his BMW 325 (stick, of course) out there.

On the ride, somewhere in Texas, I was down on the tank flying along at about 95 MPH (boxer engines are SO sweet at high speed), the bike hunkered down and planted when I noticed lights behind me – and gaining. I slowed down to about 80 thinking it was a cop, but within what seemed like a second, a beautiful red Ferrari passed me like I had been on the side of the road tying my shoe. The Ferrari was wound out and I will never forget the raspy scream of that engine. Then I saw another pair of lights. Cops for sure I reasoned, but in a flash a Cadillac Eldorado passed me, keeping pace with the Ferrari. No memorable sound then, just a “WHOOSHHHHH.”

The R 65 was a great ride, and I caught the boxer bug. When I returned from the trip, I bought my first BMW, an R 65 with a Hannigan fairing. I rode that for several years. In 1987, I was in a bike shop and saw a 1987 BMW R 80, sans tank, sitting on the showroom floor. I asked about it, and they said the tank was scratched in shipping and went out to be repainted. They gave me a price and I wrote out a check without even a test ride.

I rode it to work and for pleasure for many years, but about 10 years ago, life’s complications forced me to store it in a barn. This year I pulled it back out, cleaned out the mouse nest in the air filter, rebuilt the Bing carburetors and the dual Brembo front calipers, and she is back on the road again. After 32 years parts are still readily available, a testament to how BMW stands behind their motorcycles.

Friends ask me when I’m going to buy a new bike, but for now, I’ll stick with the R 80. It just has…. well… something about it that is just perfect. Uncomplicated, comfortable, willing, and it just feels right. It is a joy to ride.

While I’ve ridden a lot of miles on real motorcycles, I still think the times riding a Stingray with a Tecumseh 3.5 HP motor between my legs were the most thrilling.

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The true story of when Spring arrives in Vermont

Posted By Muriel Farrington #89517, Friday, February 9, 2018

We’ve all heard of Punxsutawney Phil and his ability to predict the onset of spring, but what about the Airhead Spring Predictor? The late MOV and MOA member Paul Bachorz (#115456) was tired of some ratty old groundhog in Pennsylvania getting all the publicity, so he suggested members of the BMW Motorcycle Owners of Vermont get together, wheel out an airhead, and start ‘er up. If she starts, there will only be six more weeks of winter in Vermont.

Chuck Otto (#57121) offered his Slash 5 airhead for many years, and more recently Larry Gold (#132581) has done the honors. Larry wheeled out his GS and put her on her side stand (the side stand did not cast a shadow). She was pointed more or less north. He flipped the petcock and pressed the starter... again and again. He has a really good battery. She almost started.

But never say die – she finally caught!

We will only have six more weeks of winter! That works with Larry’s schedule, as he and others ski right up to riding season.

We all celebrated with a sip of Slivovitz – Larry goes first class. A toast to an early spring and the Airhead Spring Predictor. Larry then rolled his bike back in the garage and covered her with a blanket to resume her long winter’s nap.

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My barn find

Posted By Tom Letourneau #27060, Sunday, January 14, 2018

In all the years I've been doing Barn Find photos and articles for two magazines here in the States and one in the UK, I am here to tell you that the following has to be my best find ever. As it almost always is, it ain't just the find – it's the story that goes with it!

Wayne Carini of the TV Show Chasing Classic Cars Fame would have a field day here. Maybe even those two Brits that do the show Wheeler Dealers, too. It’s worth at least a one-hour show.

I went with my best friend, John DeWaele, up to Quebec to pick it up my barn find. I rented a six-foot-wide trailer from U-Haul, as I could not find one anywhere! The trailer had to be wide as my find and its sidecar were 68 inches wide.

After an almost seven-hour drive to west of Montreal and driving down an almost half-mile-long driveway into the Quebec woods, I backed the trailer up to the garage door where my find had been stored for 38 years. We opened the door, pushed my find out into the fresh air it had not seen in decades, dropped the ramp down... and the damn thing would not fit! Pay close attention to the rig and to the rear of the trailer and tell me WHY it would not fit - and why we had to turn around and head back after blowing about $500 on the trip.

Fellow Canadian Alfa Romeo Club member Alex Csank, a native of Hungary and retired NATO serviceman, told me of the rig, a 1972 BMW R 75/5 with a custom made sidecar from England. Alex, a Ural owner sent me pictures of the BMW. He told me it belonged to an elderly, disabled friend of his. The rig had been sitting for something like 38 years and only had approximately 12,000 miles on it. I bought it sight unseen.

Alex met us just off Canadian Highway A40 and guided us to his friend's place on hundreds of acres off in the wilderness. Under the guy’s humongous home was a garage where the BMW was located. Next to it was a 1957 T-Bird. Next to that, a 1970 Olds Black on Black on Black 442 convertible. Next to that a beautiful 1927 Rolls Royce. Outside under a canvas-covered storage unit was a 1964 Mustang and two circa 1932 Fords.

In another large Quonset-style metal storage unit were some other vehicles, including a 1947 MG TC. The entire side of that building was filled with old motorcycles piled on top of one another. Another building had a few more vehicles, including a Willys Jeepster that was being restored.

All in all, I could not get pictures of all of these vehicles as there were so many, and they were all so close together you could not move. One I really wanted to see was a 1979 Mercedes 300SEL. Unfortunately, it was crammed in a corner with a car cover on it.

We were told there was a fully collapsed barn further in the woods. The barn's roof now sat on approximately 20 Ford Model A and Model T cars. John and I believed them and passed on the muddy walk to see the Fords.

After the tour of the property, and realizing that there was no way that my find was going home with me, John and I decided to do an overnighter and head home down through Rouses Point, New York, and then island-hop our way across the many beautiful islands at the northern tip of Lake Champlain to get home.

The very next Saturday, loaded with photos, I drove down to Rogues Island’s longtime BMW dealer, Razee Motorcycles of North Kingstown, to show Gordon Razee and others my find.

Tags:  Airheads  Barn  Green  Sidecar 

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If you build it, they will come: R 100 RS 40th anniversary celebration

Posted By Phil Sikora #9135, Monday, November 20, 2017

R 100 RS 40th anniversary celebration, Harleysville, PA, 14-17 September 2017

Just as he did for the commemorative R 90 S rally in 2014, Todd Trumbore dug deep and put together an amazing 40th celebration rally honoring the R 100 RS. Todd flew in Hans A. Muth from Germany at his own expense. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Mr. Muth had many recollections on designing this groundbreaking motorcycle. My favorite one was when a Japanese designer asked him for heuristics on design. How do you do it? Muth's answer was you have to feel it. He likened rider and machine to a centaur: rider and bike become one.

Back in the day, when I purchased my RS, I read that the flat finish on the fairing paint was due to supplying wind resistance to keep the front of the bike grounded, similar to the side pieces of the fairing. Mr. Muth said that the flat finish was chose to hide some of the surface bubbling imperfections from the molding process that was unacceptable to BMW.

Some of the other presentations included tech talks and recollections from Udo Gietl, Tom Cutter and Karl Myers. On the riding side of things, Ed Bach gave a presentation on his five year trip around the world, when he dropped off the grid in 2012, visiting 110 countries.

There were many more items on the agenda, such as a private museum tour of vintage motorbikes and motorcars in nearby Skippack Village each night.

This was a very poignant time for me. After a trip from New Jersey to Colorado to do some work for the National Park Service in the summer of ’76, I tired of my Honda 750's drive chain splitting and being thrown into the case. The repair required epoxying to keep the engine oil in. I decided to purchase an R 100 RS that October. I sold my Honda (with requisite Windjammer), sold my car, cleaned out my meager bank account and took out a loan. I never looked back. While I love my ’94 R 1100 RS to death, nothing will replace the feeling of pining over and acquiring that R 100 RS.

I have many anecdotes about owning that bike, including getting pulled over just so the officer could admire the machine. The funniest story was going around the green in Morristown, New Jersey, with my club just as church was getting out. A young boy pulled his mother to the curb, pointing at my bike, and exclaimed, "Look, Mommy! A space ship!" That bike did rocket me through some of the best times of my life.

As with any good rally, the time spent with new and old friends is immeasurable. Here’s a nod to friends Lou Stellar, Steve Bauer, Naomi and Bob Lonergan (of MOA National vintage display fame), the William Dudleys and Jim Danhakl.

Possible next rally: a combined R 65 and R 80 G/S commemoration. Maybe even a smaller one, peeking into Todd’s garage?

When all is said and done, the thing I think about still is Todd’s commitment to hosting these rallies. I can’t begin to appreciate the financial commitment. His expenses were not nearly covered by the paltry rally fee. He flew Mr. Muth over; Muth invited the Siebenrocks to come, and Todd covered that. He built the pavilion just for the rally; even more staggering was the time and mental and physical effort put in for our benefit. Wild. Then there was the support staff. Even the universe ponied up and kept the passing showers away from the grounds.


Ed Bach's blog is the most-followed thread in the history of ADVrider.com and has over five million hits. It's split into two parts: the First Two Years and the Last Three Years.

Tags:  Airheads 

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Rich Nagy hosts Airhead tech day

Posted By Bruce McKelvy #127096, Regional Coordinator, Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Mac Pac and Airheads member Rich Nagy hosted a tech day for Airheads at his home this past Sunday (5 Nov 17). The event was well attended with about 25 people. There would have been even more had the rain date for the Del Val BMW clubs Fall Foliage run not conflicted with it. I and a number of others would have liked to attend both, but the timing would not allow it. The tech day consisted of a presentation of how to properly adjust Airhead valves and carburetors. Lots of wrenching followed and "everyone's bikes went home running a little sweeter," as per Rich’s Facebook post.

For clubs struggling to host meaningful events, these tech days are at the top of the list for getting people involved and showing that being a member of a club is important to maintaining our bikes and enjoying our hobby. Riders can save a lot of money by learning to work on their own bikes from the vast body of knowledge available in most clubs.

Rich said, "It was a pleasure to have a hands on tech session for all to take advantage of the expertise of the caliber that Bob Sipp and Dave Cushing provided. It is also great to note that the attendees all were extremely interested how to work on their bikes in an area that is mysterious to many, the carburetors. Once they were tuned they all ran smooth and I’m sure that their bikes felt like new rides on the way home."

Rich is known for offering up his garage for tech days as often as he can in order to promote the proper care and feeding of Airheads.

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3V Racing's maiden voyage

Posted By Dave Kaechele #4562, Thursday, October 12, 2017

About a year ago, I responded to an advertisement for a Slash 5 front end for sale at Dutch Trash Choppers in Portland, Oregon. The owner, Noll Van Zweiten, builds choppers and sidecars. Thinking I would not be long, my wife, Deborah, decided to wait in the car. When I went in the shop, I looked to the side and there was a BMW sidecar chassis in the shop.

I walked out of the shop and called my friend, Jason Vaden, and told him about the sidecar chassis, asking if he was interested in going together to buy it. He paused about a few seconds and said yes. That was the start of 3V Racing, named after Jason and his sons Vincent and Hans.

My wife said, “You go into the shop to buy a front end and come out buying a sidecar, too. I thought we were done with racing. I should have known better.” I raced a R 75/5 BMW vintage twin road race bike for 20 seasons, then sold it in 2012 because my lap times had increased. I missed the friendship and fun on the track, so I thought a sidecar would be fun to race.

The chassis was built, but not finished, by Bob Bakker for Larry Coleman near Sacramento, California. Jason and I analyzed what we needed and started developing the bike. One of the things we needed were 3"x16" wheels and sidecar road racing tires. After two months searching in the U.S., we ended up sending two Slash 6 hubs to Central Wheel Components in Birmingham, England, for spokes, rims, tires and tubes. That put the bike at the correct height. The 10” wheel needed a spindle and height block welded at the correct height and angle for sidecar's toe-in. Jason and Noll worked on the chassis and body development while I built the motor and transmission.

AHRMA rules require a 1972 appearance and 750 cc engine. I obtained a 1981 engine, with a flywheel carrier for lightness, and a 1979 five-speed transmission. The narrowed Slash 5 swing arm was on the car. I worked with Dan Baisley of Baisley High Performance to install and degree the sport cam, dual-plug the heads and raise the compression. As neither Jason nor I had driven a sidecar rig, we wanted a reliable rig for the first year as we learned what we were doing. Ozzie Auer from Chico, California, gave us some tips on the chassis and car setup, which we as novices, really needed.

Our first race was on July 13-14 at The Ridge in Shelton, Washington. The engine and chassis were ready, but we did not have the full fairing installed for the first race. In practice and the first race, we had a fuel delivery problem. We eventually replaced the fuel pump and the rig ran well on Sunday.

Sunday morning practice was fun with no problems, but it provided a good story for Jason. He works as a contractor and, at 41, had high cholesterol problem. About a year ago, he had a heart attack, which resulted in a defibrillator being installed. On Sunday, Jason’s defibrillator recorded a high heartbeat at 10:30 a.m., 10:33 a.m., 10:36 a.m. and 10:38 a.m. When Jason got home on Sunday around 10:00 p.m., the modem for the defibrillator downloaded to the hospital the recordings. At 8:30 a.m. on Monday, Jason got a call from his doctor’s office and the nurse was quite concerned about him. Jason explained about the racing, claiming it was better to apologize afterwards than ask the doctor permission and be denied. The nurse laughed and told him to come in on Wednesday for a defibrillator adjustment.

The race on Sunday was smooth with no new defibrillator events for Jason. We were the one vintage outfit in the race, so we got a 30-second head start over the four modern F2 outfits. Two outfits passed us and the other two stayed a few seconds behind us. We had lap times of 3:00, 2:58, 2:57 and 2:54. It felt good to finish third out of five the first time out.

We have several things to improve on the outfit: the handholds for Jason and shift linkage for my left foot. We had fun and were successful for the first time out. We were drifting and occasionally lifting the car on right corners, which made the spectators happy. The modern outfits made us feel welcome and were glad to have another outfit out on the track. Even though our knees ached and Jason’s arms were pumped up, we really enjoyed ourselves.

Our next race was the AHRMA 8th Bonneville Vintage GP road race held at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah over Labor Day weekend. Jason, Noll, Vincent and Hans drove Jason’s motor home and trailer 12 hours east for the event. Ten to twelve sidecar outfits were at the SRA points event. The sidecar went through tech and was approved to run on the track for Friday practice. We got more practice time on the track at Miller than ever before.

Jason and I were getting more comfortable as a team and working together in synchronization. When we came in after each practice session, other sidecar passengers advised Jason on how to move out to the right and back to the left as we cornered. I started picking up speed as we cornered more aggressively. We were drifting and using more body English to move smoothly through corners, so our lap times dropped with each practice.

During Saturday morning practice the motor began to slow, so I pulled off the track and rode back to the pits. We pulled the right valve cover and saw a broken exhaust valve spring. We had 90 minutes until the race so we had to find a fix quickly. We knew that there were no shops that would have our parts; we asked around the pits and found out that Larry Coleman had a core engine for his new outfit in a bucket. I asked him if we could use the parts we needed and he lent us the right head, which we quickly installed. The borrowed head was not dual-plugged, so I secured the extra spark plug to the block. We made the starting grid by two minutes and had a good race. We were running second and slowly lowering our lap times each lap.


Vincent (left) and Hans Vaden.

We went through tech inspection again for the Sundays race, but we had ignition problems. I thought the problem was fixed, but on the warmup lap, the rig went on one cylinder again and we had to pull off the track.

We had a good race weekend and really appreciated the help from other fellow outfits to keep us going. Larry Campbell and his son, Larry, lent us tools and advice, Larry Coleman loaned us the spare head and Bob Baker provided setup tips.

From a raw chrome alloy chassis to a running competition outfit, it took a full team of people. We will remove the bugs for next season and will be back for more fun on the track!


At Miller.

Tags:  Airheads  Racing  Sidecar 

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Wanted: Next Gen Airheads

Posted By John Phillips, Saturday, June 18, 2016

Attending Airhead events is certainly satisfying, but a little troubling in one respect. There is undeniable comfort in associating with like-minded folks who not only share a passion for air-cooled BMW motorcycles, but also generational memories.  Many moons have passed and we are all taking on a certain patina, shall we say. The lurking question surfacing more and more is how we will keep the sport/hobby we love vital and growing when we don't see that many younger faces in the crowd. This is not unique to Airheads. The same question comes up at gatherings of Norton owners and perhaps other vintage bike groups as well.

There are, of course, newcomers that fly to the flame regardless, each with a unique story of how their drive to march to the beat of a different drummer intersected with an opportunity to acquire a vintage Beemer and eventually to connect with the Airhead community. Jonathan and Chris are two. Both are in their 30s, both married, Chris with a young daughter. Jonathan is an Ivy Leaguer who helps implement policy for Princeton University. He and his wife enjoy leisurely weekend rides on a '60s R 60 and more recently a '70s R 75. Chris is a skilled machinist who sculpts complex molds from blocks of aluminum. He enjoys tinkering and tweaking his '70s R 60, and as we speak is prepping his modern adventure bike for an extended tour through the Maritimes.

It has been a delight to get to know both, and though they come from different backgrounds and work experiences, there are a few things they share in common worth noting. First, both acknowledge that they came into Airhead ownership and eventually to the Airhead community by circumstance and serendipity, not by some grand plan or design. Second, they are hooked on the Airhead experience and now can't imagine leisure time now without it - i.e., it is not a passing fancy. Their appreciation for the sophisticated simplicity of 40- and 50-year-old Airhead BMWs enhances their riding enjoyment and also drives the enjoyment of learning to do their own maintenance in an era when it is almost impossible to do anything on a modern bike except to maybe change the oil. With a nod to Emerson, both have discovered that owning an Airhead is a journey, not a destination. As a result, both fully intend to enjoy their Airheads, and especially the Airhead community, as long as life circumstances allow.

Most of all, it is encouraging to know that there are more Chrises and Jonathans out there. The challenge is to find them and to not leave to chance that they will eventually find us. Airheads own and promote an important part of BMW history and heritage that will sustain if we focus on connecting with those we will eventually pass the gavel to.

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AMA Vintage Days are on the way

Posted By John Phillips, Wednesday, May 25, 2016

AMA Vintage Days are fast approaching and Gary and I are feeling the pressure to complete rebuild projects begun last Fall, my '74 850 Norton Commando and his '54 Vincent Series D Rapide. The unanticipated surprises that arise in such frame-up restorations are stressing the schedule and unfortunately mean that riding my '84 R 100 (S) and Gary's '81 R 100 RS are a second priority for both of us until after AMA.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to contrast the similarities and differences in design approaches of 40- and 60-year-old vertical twin, V-twin and boxer twin airhead technologies. The Mk II Commando was the next to last model built by Norton Villiers before production ceased in '76. By then, Norton had addressed all of the major weaknesses from expanding a 1947 30 h.p. 500cc vertical twin to a 56 h.p. 828cc in 1973. The final Commandos were decent performing, fundamentally reliable motorcycles by 1973 standards, but had maxed out their design limits. Without further innovation and capital infusion, Norton's fate, and the fate of the British motorcycle industry generally, was sealed by a flood of rapidly advancing, better performing and less fiddly Japanese imports.

A close look at the Vincent reveals notable innovations and a high attention to quality in the era before computer aided engineering and manufacturing. Vincent kept refining its 1,000 cc V-twin motor from the 1930s until limited market demand and rising costs ended production in 1955. The Vincent motor was all aluminum alloy, a feature not adopted by Harley big twins until the Evo engine of 1981. Vincent introduced the motor as a stressed member of the frame, an innovation adopted by the Yamaha Virago of the '80s and of course, by Ducati. The Series D Rapide pioneered the use of a monoshock rear suspension, adopted by Harley for its Softtail, and today by virtually all modern sport bikes, including BMW.


An all-alloy engine that is a stressed member of the frame, mono-shock rear suspension and monoshock girder front end that is adjustable for side car use were hallmark innovations of the last Vincent series, the D Rapide of 1954. Due to gas quality in England at that time, the low compression 1,000 cc motor was rated at about 45 h.p.

The clock is ticking. Both bikes are going to Mid Ohio come Hell or high water. Gary and I will swap rides when they're done. I'm getting the better end of the deal. Can't wait to buckle on the Go-Pro to record for family posterity my first and maybe my one and only ride on a Vincent motorcycle.

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Bike Night at the Chatterbox

Posted By John Phillips, Friday, May 13, 2016

Now that the 2016 riding season is in full swing, motorcyclists are flocking to their weekly "go-to" places to kick tires for a few hours and share their common passion over breakfast or maybe burgers and hotdogs. We're hard wired for the social interaction they provide, regardless of the motorcycling we enjoy.

In north suburban Chicago where I started riding in the '80s, the go-to place was the Highland House diner off old highway 41 in Highland Park, a hangout going back to the early '70s when members of the Chicago BMW club first began showing up there for Sunday breakfast. When I transferred to NJ it was the Marcus Dairy in Danbury, CT at the junction of Rte. 7 and I-84. For over 30 years the faithful gathered there Sunday mornings, with periodic Super Sundays drawing thousands of bikes from across the tri-state area in epic, over-commercialized and at times out-of-control spectacles. After decades of service to their respective communities, both destinations fell to the wrecking ball in the name of progress. Their loss was noted in the The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Photo posts of the bereaved standing in front of rubble piles crying "Where will we go?" hit the forums. Not to worry. Within weeks of the Highland House closing, the Full Moon diner up the road in Lake Bluff hung out a welcome sign. Riders heading north on CT Rte. 7 pass the Marcus Dairy silo kept as an historic landmark at the Danbury Mall on their way to the Toymakers Cafe in Falls Village, CT.

Here in the Skylands of Sussex County, NJ, enthusiasts started rolling into the Chatterbox Drive-In in late afternoon this week for "Bike Night" Thursday, now that warm weather has finally arrived. As word of Bike Night spread over the past few years, what started as small groups of locals now attracts riders from neighboring NY and PA, filling the parking lot that encircles the octagonal shaped restaurant with a couple of hundred bikes on peak Summer nights. Most importantly, the full array of riding interests is represented, from custom cruisers to Italian and Japanese sport bikes, to trikes and an assortment of vintage rides.

I hope the Chatterbox has a long run, but accept that change can come at any time. When it does, the community will observe a moment of silence and then pack up the moveable feast with all its magical music and move on, confident that the closing of one chapter simply marks the opening of the next. As one rider put it, "Park two bikes in front of a diner and watch nature take its course." It is the circle of life.

www.chatterboxdrivein.com/bike-night


Airhead Chris Sutton and his '76 R 90/6 periodically make the hour run to Bike Night at the Chatterbox from his home in Martins Creek, PA. He and a buddy, also on an airhead, grabbed a burger and started outlining a planned trip to Nova Scotia, Labrador and Newfoundland next year.


The first really warm Thursday of Spring this week brought over a hundred bikes of all descriptions and riders of ll ages to Bike Night at the Chatterbox. There seem to be more and more women riding in every season.

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