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Beginning at the beginning

Posted By Scott Auld, Sunday, December 3, 2017
Updated: Sunday, December 3, 2017

My buddy Wes asked me to write up a short article for you folks based on my vast, extensive experience with motorcycles. By vast, extensive experience, I mean the three weeks I had ridden as of the time I wrote this.

I blew up (don't ask) my MINI Cooper and had been looking around to replace it was something that was small, light and good on gas again, and started thinking that maybe a little scooter would be fine for commuting the nine miles and back to work. As I started to look into those I realized that the price of a scooter gets you almost all the way into the price of a motorcycle, so I started thinking maybe I need to be a motorcycle owner for the first time in my life. The problem was, I didn't know anything about motorcycles and the idea of even riding around without a seat belt seemed terrifying to me.

I did what every red-blooded American male does. I got on YouTube and started watching videos about how to ride a motorcycle. I bet you've seen some of the same ones I saw. Some of them were terrible, and some of them were actually very good with experienced riders taking time to show exactly what is involved in even the basics, like starting a bike and just moving slowly around the parking lot. I started to get the idea that maybe I could do this.

The author at the Ace Café's US location.

I started listening to motorcycle podcasts and following popular YouTubers and bugging my buddy Wes about everything I could think of. He's been a BMW guy for as long as I can remember him riding, so I'm naturally attracted to the precision engineering and beautiful lines of Motorrad's offerings. Plus I already had experience with BMW from my MINI.

I watched Long Way Round, Long Way Down, watched Charlie Boorman's Dakar Rally movie, and started learning everything I could about motorcycles in general. I bought a copy of Precision Motorcycling by David Hough for three dollars online at a Goodwill, and started reading through that and realized that there's a lot more to motorcycling then hitting the gas. Several of my coworkers ride, and when I brought up this topic they immediately told me I needed to take the MSF class before they would even discuss it with me.

I used some Christmas money to sign up for the class and took it two rainy weekdays in early January. Man, it was pouring rain for that class but maybe that's a good thing. I'm not afraid of the rain now, that's for sure, and Florida gets more rain then anyone in the US except Washington state.

The BRC is the ultimate learning-to-ride equalizer.

Over the protestations of my friends, I decided I wanted to start on a very small displacement motorcycle since the class basically qualified me to drive around in a parking lot. That's not a bad reflection on the class, it does a great job of teaching you everything you need to know about a motorcycle from the beginning. Before I went to the class I didn't know how to start one, I didn't know how to shift, I didn't know how the clutch responded, I didn't know a friction zone from a freak show. The class was an excellent beginning introduction in confidence builder. You did a good job of warning you of the dangers enough so that you can take them seriously when you do get out on the road. But honestly nothing is a substitute for actual traffic experience. I think it would have been foolish to leave that class and go out and buy a 1000cc bike. A funny thing happens when you tell your friends you're shopping for a motorcycle – they start shopping vicariously through you. I had guys recommending 1200cc Harleys, an FZ9, and all kinds of crazy stuff that I really don't think would be appropriate for someone who had never driven over 20 miles an hour in second gear.

I ended up settling on a 250 Suzuki - the exact same bike I was using in the class - and had a good time driving around town, gently staying out of peoples' way and watching out for left-turners of all types. I've owned it right at two weeks now and have about 250 miles under my belt right now, less than one percent of most of the people I know who ride bikes. But I'm going on an adventure!

I would recommend the MSF class to anyone who wants to know How a motorcycle works and has never sat on one before, or even to the experienced rider who just wants a refresher and a fun chance to drive around the parking lot around the cones. Some of the best money I've ever spent, I figure.

Scott's first bike, a Suzuki TU-250.

The class itself was an eye-opening experience. There were eight students -  two 40-somethings (of which I was one), two 30-somethings (who were cops getting their endorsements because they were applying to be motormen for the City of Sunrise Police Department) and four early-20-somethings who all just liked motorcycles or scooters and wanted to learn. It was refreshing to see so many young people wanting to learn to ride. I have been told that motorcycling is dying out, but based on the demographics in my class, that isn't the case. Millennials are (generally speaking) interested in experiences, and motorcycling provides that.

The first 30 minutes or so was paperwork - signing releases, filling out forms, etc. We went around the room and introduced ourselves and told why we wanted to learn, which was cool. Then, out to the bikes. We picked up helmets and struggled to figure out how to operate those D-rings in the blind, then walked over to a row of Suzukis and picked one out for ourselves. They were all identical so it really didn't matter, other than there were two 250cc cruiser-type bikes from Kawasaki, which went to the girls. Oh, did I mention there were a couple of ladies in the 20-something group? 

Finally, we got on the bikes, put kickstands up and started walking the bikes in neutral around the parking lot. This gave us a feel for the weight of the bikes, and got us familiar with the front brake's response. It was a big moment when we all got to start the bikes up, what a great sound. We sat there revving our 250cc engines like little kids, grinning like goofballs. SO COOL!

Preview for Scott's YouTube channel, AmenMoto Motorcycle Adventures.

Then it was time to concentrate - we put the bikes in first gear and got to know the friction zone. We just rolled the bike a foot or two forward, then braked, keeping both feet on the ground. This went on for a good five minutes or so, then it was time to get the bikes rolling, still in first gear, and we went back and forth across the parking lot in straight lines. It was a cool feeling when we finally got both feet up on the pegs. I know this sounds almost ridiculous to a seasoned rider, but that was the moment it really felt like we were learning to ride motorcycles - when we had both feet planted and let the bike go fast enough for gyroscopic action to keep the bike upright.

What followed is a little bit of a blur. We would get off the bikes, walk over and talk to the teacher (or "rider coach"), discussing what we learned and what we felt, then we would go back out ot the bikes, start them up, ride around the course accomplishing some other small task, then bikes parked, discuss again. The constant parking and starting and parking and starting was ingraining the process of turning off the bike and parking it safely and then starting it up again. We didn't know this, we just thought it was all fun.

After a break for lunch, we returned to the riding range for a series of increasingly complicated tasks, like the double-U-turn box, learning how to coordinate both brakes, weaving through small cones, handling a mid-turn stop, learning how to upshift and downshift (and what downshifting does to traction,) and ended the day with a discussion and a video and opted to take our written tests, since if anyone failed they could take it again the following day. Two folks got perfect scores, the rest of us each missed one question. A passing grade for everyone on the written test, it was nice to have that out of the way.

The AmenMoto duo, Doug (L) and Scott.

We were invited to come back early the next morning, so I arrived at 6:30 and did some laps and some cones and the double-U-turn box a few times. Then the class started up with more complicated driving tasks. The rain was absolutely POURING by this point, and the instructor gave us about a 30-minute break to wait for a break in the rain, which never came. We all agreed we would skip the lunch break and try to power through the rest of the course without any breaks. We were all completely soaked all the way down to our skivvies, and it was chilly, but we powered on.

By noon it was time to start our testing. There were something like 10 or 12 tasks we had to complete, some of which were done two-tests-at-a-time. For example, "Demonstrate you can drive a half circle staying in your lane, then come to a stop within this box." Each person did their task while the rest of the class watched, then we all moved on to the next task. When the tasks were over, we parked the bikes by the shed, helped fill them back up with gas, and put them away. My trip-meter said 11 miles total for the two days of class. Finally, we were all done and we went back inside, wondering how we did.

In the classroom, the rider coach let us all know we had all passed, and after a collective sigh of relief he told us each how we did and where we had a point or two deducted. No one was anywhere near close to failing. With a round of applause for ourselves, we packed up and headed home - or, some of us to the DMV, where our test results had already been transmitted - to get our license endorsements.

Scott's trade-up Triumph.

Scott rode that little Suzuki for a year, after which he traded it in on a barely used Triumph Bonneville, pictured above. He still hasn't bought another car and rides everywhere he goes, having recently ridden his 20,000th mile in his two years of motorcycle ownership. You can see his collection of motorcycling videos by searching for AmenMoto Motorcycle Adventures on YouTube. He even rides his Triumph off-road, as the video below shows!

Tags:  beginners  MSF  Safety  travel 

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One-way wanderlust

Posted By Matt Gulseth #194042 , Wednesday, October 11, 2017

This is a story about a guy that loves to ride but does not have the time take a long vacation to travel around the US. It’s a story about my journey around the USA, broken down into 15 different one-way trips. I have logged 30,000 miles in 45 different states on my 2004 R 1150 RT over the past few years and feel blessed to have seen the splendor and glory of our country.

I have done all of this travel in the span of approximately 70 days - while taking less than 20 days of vacation time to ride. I did that by using a simple process.

  1. Travel from one destination to a new destination.
  2. Find a safe spot to store your bike at the next destination.
  3. Fly home.
  4. Fly back to your bike and repeat steps 1-3.

I book early morning flights to start my trip and later flights coming back home, which helps reduce the number of vacation days taken and the number of days you need lodging.

This process came about because necessity is the mother of invention. I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the riding season lasts from approximately mid-April to mid-October. Once the leaves fall and the snow arrives, my fellow Minnesotan riders are putting their bikes in storage. The issue I had in the fall of 2014 was that I ran out of storage space in my garage. I was thinking of renting a storage locker in Minneapolis, but then I thought why not ride to a storage locker in a southern climate where I could keep riding my bike in the winter months.

My journey started with a spectacular three-day run down the Mississippi River. I headed east to Louisville, Kentucky, and dropped the bike off at storage locker near the Louisville airport, took a cab to the airport and flew home to Minneapolis. Three weeks later I flew back to Louisville on the back end of a round-trip ticket, picked up the bike from the storage locker and rode it over another four-day period to Austin, Texas. Since then my R 1150 RT has taken me to (and been stored in) Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Red Lodge, Montana, Memphis, Tampa Bay, Miami, Washington D.C., Boston and Denver.

I won’t describe all of the beautiful places I have been able to see by using this one-way technique because it would fill a book. A one-way road trip gives you a special feeling of freedom. It feels good knowing you don’t need to travel back to where you have just left. I have learned that this type of travel develops and feeds a wanderlust in me. Frankly, I have become addicted. I now favor a one-way journey over its more restrictive round-trip cousin. You sense how much more country and miles you are covering by simply heading to a new destination.

I have been blessed to meet so many people from all over the world while going on this journey. People are seemingly inclined to reach out and talk to you. “Have you ridden that bike all the way from Minnesota to here?” is usually the opening salvo from strangers. I met a bunch of Germans in Key West, Florida, that were riding rented Harleys. They liked the American riding their German horse and they loved the look of the old R 1150 RT at the beach.

People are inclined to provide assistance if you need it. There was the off-duty cop on a Harley in Virginia that helped me avoid a two-hour traffic jam by guiding me on some of the most scenic back roads in the Shenandoah valley. There was the Chinese citizen that I ran into at a rest stop on my way up to Acadia National Park in Maine. He was using a work visa to travel the lower 48 states on a 2015 BMW K 1600 GT and documenting the journey online. I knew the guy less than 10 minutes, but felt comfortable offering to share my room in Acadia that night because he had no lodging. Only folks on motorcycles can have a bond and trust to do such things for each other.

If you want to do this type of travel you need to understand and be comfortable with storing your bike away from home. Boredom warning: I am going to be giving practical tips in the following few pages so you can start dreaming of traveling around the US and storing your bike in any city.

The three types of places I have stored the bike are: a storage locker, motorcycle dealerships, and friends' places. I have found that the storage locker provides me the most flexibility and the lowest total cost in most locations. The following is a list of tips to think about to make your storage the most trouble free.

Storage Locker Checklist

  • Figure out the size and profile of your bike to determine the size of the locker that you need. Before you go on a journey, ride your bike to a storage facility in your home town to get a feel for how it will work. This local tryout will reduce anxiety on your first drop-off location away from home. If you have a wide bike you might need a wider locker, which will lead to higher pricing. I used to curse the side mirrors that detach off of my RT, but now they are a blessing. When I detach the mirrors and the side cases from my bike, I can get it through any external door on a 5-by-10-foot locker.
  • Find a locker near the airport of your destination. is the for storage lockers; essentially a storage locker concierge for the United States and they have helped me immensely on my journey. I look for a spot on their website by typing in the ZIP code of the airport. You may want to pay a little more for your locker to be close to an airport to avoid higher taxi or Uber rates. I strongly urge you to call Sparefoot once you have done your search to help you find the most appropriate location. I have always talked to somebody before I have booked any locker. They are not paying me to say this, they have just giving me outstanding service.
  • Usually you can get half of the first month storage free, but you will likely have check-in fees. Keep your lock for future use. Most companies require you use a certain lock, and I have two different locks. I have usually paid $45-60 per month for storage depending upon the city. Ask if the monthly fees are prorated, because some facilities prorate and some do not. This factor could affect when you might want to fly back and go on your next journey. The fees in San Francisco have been the priciest at $139 per month.
  • Ask about the business office hours of the facility and plan at least a half hour for checking in at the storage locker office. The longer the operating office hours, the more flexibility you will have with your flight back home. Plan another half hour to put the bike in the locker and get things sorted. There is nothing worse than ending your trip in a rush to get to the airport. I generally try arriving at storage facility two to three hours before flight departure, depending on the locker's proximity to airport. Also ask about the access hours for the gates once you have checked in the locker. Sometimes you can get 24-hour access to give you more flexibility.
  • Have your registration and proof of insurance with you and always on the bike. You will need these to check in. Do not buy insurance from the storage company. Your insurance on your bike should cover you in case something happens to it in the locker.
  • Keep your battery charged if possible. Ask for a locker with a light and bring a light socket converter to plug in a battery charger for your bike. Make sure it has a three-prong adapter if your charger requires it. If there is no light in the locker, then ask where there is an outside socket so you can charge your battery upon your next arrival if you need to charge your bike. If you are gone for a long time without a charger, consider disconnecting the battery.
  • Download the Uber app for an easy way to get transportation to and from the locker and airport and have the storage location entered on your navigation devices to easily find the facility on your arrival.
  • Remember to leave your riding gear in the locker. There’s no sense bringing all of this stuff back home unless you think you’re going to be riding another bike.

BMW Dealerships for Service and Storage

Some dealerships will offer you short-term storage if you are getting enough service on the bike; others have simply charged me an extra storage fee. Remember to look up the operating hours, as they likely will be more limited than using a storage locker.

Many of my journeys ended on a Sunday or Monday when dealerships are closed. If you use a dealership, you will need to spend more time planning your arrivals and departures. Another disadvantage with the dealership is that you will need to lug back home any gear that you cannot store on the bike.

Friends or Fellow BMW Owners

The issues that I have had with storing my bike at friends’ houses revolve around personal guilt and pricing. Most of my friends live a long way from airports; my taxi costs can eat up any savings on locker fees. Your friend might be willing to drive you back and forth to the airport, but then you have the same guilt issues. I am usually pressed for time on my normal morning flight arrivals and evening departures and feel it is rude for me to essentially store my bike and run to the airport or leave for my next destination.

I have not tapped into the BMW owners' network as a means for storing the bike for similar reasons. Frankly I would be happy to pay whatever fees I would incur to a BMW owner close to an airport and would probably feel less guilty because the fellow Beemer owner would know that I wanted to get heading down the road on my arrival. Heck, maybe the owner would join me on the trip for a bit.

Final Tips and Notes

I have never really worried about booking a room anywhere along these trips, and I have never had trouble finding lodging at a moment’s notice. Lodging at popular National Parks on busy holidays and in the summers are exceptions, though. Frankly, many times I’m not sure what city I’m going to end up in by the end of the day. My standard technique for acquiring lodging is to ride until the sun sets and find the closest city. I go to a restaurant, order dinner, and start searching for lodging. I prefer cheap motels with an exterior room door. If the town is small enough, I may just ride around and look for lodging.

I am an Iron Butt Association Rider and have done 2,000 miles in two days. During this journey, I was able to acquire the National Park Tour Master Traveler certificate by going to 50 different National Parks or Historic Sites in 25 states in one year. It was my favorite Iron Butt certificate that I have earned. Look this award up because it will open your eyes to some places you never thought you would go. It also helps you get on the roads less traveled, which is what wanderlust is all about.

One final note: I have found that is good to sometimes do a few round trips out of one city/locker. When you develop a familiarity with a region, you start to have more time to find some hidden backroad twisty treasures. I have found a love for the topography in Arizona and Utah and have left my bike in Phoenix or Las Vegas for extended stints for a number of round trips from each location. My Beemer is currently in Phoenix and I am planning three different round trips out of the same locker over the next couple of months. I know that soon the wanderlust will strike me and I will be heading down another road traveled to another destination somewhere.


Tags:  r1150rt  tips  touring  travel  wanderlust 

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