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How I became a motorcyclist

Monday, May 11, 2020   (2 Comments)
Posted by: Christopher Ross #130595

When I was 10, my Uncle Mark gave me a ride on his Honda Gold Wing and then for Christmas bought me a subscription to Cycle World magazine. I was 10 and had a motorcycle magazine with my name on it hitting the mailbox every month. As a teenager, I constantly pestered anyone with neat equipment to give me a ride. Mr. Collins lived next door and gave me rides in his Ford Model A as well as various cloth-skinned Royal Canadian Air Force airplanes. A little further up the street, Mr. Trevino gave me rides on his motorcycle, a Gold Wing and as a Boy Scout, Olin Gover gave me rides on his Kawasaki Concours.

In college at Texas Tech in 1997, I took the MSF basic rider course with a borrowed helmet and earned my M endorsement. Sadly, as a broke college student I didn’t have money for a bike.

Finally, after college I found a job in Seattle with a decent paycheck selling aluminum and was finally able to buy my first motorcycle, a black Kawasaki Concours. While I wouldn’t recommend a Connie as an ideal first bike, I had always liked Mr. Gover’s bike and I was just old enough, or scared enough, to respect the machine and not hurt myself. I learned to ride through rainy commutes up and down I-5 to Seattle.

While the Concours was good for commuting, there was something about my overall experience that was missing. On Saturday mornings I enjoyed riding the relatively quiet downtown streets and stopping at a Tully’s coffee shop near the Harbor Steps. From there, I would head to West Seattle or across Puget Sound on the Bainbridge Ferry. But on one Saturday morning I dropped in behind another motorcyclist in Belltown and followed him to Seattle Ducati. Once there, I discovered their free coffee and donuts as well as a dozen other riders hanging out. That was my first experience with the social side of riding. I would spend many Saturday mornings at that shop and eventually, the Concours was traded for a red Italian.

The Ducati ST2 fit my needs, as I saw them. It was extremely attractive, could easily pull the speeds I was comfortable riding, and had side cases. While I was just a daily commuter, I grew up loving road trips and dreamed of travelling on a bike. Six months later I had a chance to cover some distance when a few guys from the Saturday Seattle Ducati gang suggested a lunch ride to Bend, Oregon, some 350 miles away. With eight other guys on various bikes, I made this 700-mile ride which was both exhilarating and exhausting. Over our burgers and fries, the conversation centered on sore backs and bike mods needed to make long distances more comfortable. One of the riders in the group claimed his ride to Bend was as comfortable as sitting in a recliner and while I don’t remember the model he rode, I do remember it had a blue and white roundel on the fairing.

I rode back to Seattle proud of successfully making my first ride on a motorcycle across state lines. While I continued to have coffee at the Ducati shop, at some point I found my way to Ride West BMW, a little neighborhood dealership along Green Lake. There, I befriended Howard, a salesman there who didn’t seem to mind my weekly rides on their demo bikes. Eventually, I decided to let the ST2 go in favor of a real touring bike.

Initially, my heart was set on a dark blue K 1200 RS Ride West had on consignment. It almost worked out. After I cleaned the ST2 and made a final donut run to Seattle Ducati along with a final ride around Green Lake ready to trade for the RS, when I finally arrived it was gone. Howard told me the seller found a buyer on his own. Knowing I wasn’t going to buy new, he told me to wait and that another clean RS would eventually come along. Emotionally I had already said goodbye to the Ducati and we talked about my desire for a bike to travel on. Howard then gave me the keys to a used RT and told me not to come back until after lunch.

I rode the RT across Lake Washington and down the 405, eventually ending up at Dash Point State Park, a place visited frequently close to my home. The RT felt larger than the RS I had wanted, but not as heavy. It also seemed easier to ride and had a top box. While the RT lacked the exoticness of my Ducati and wasn’t as sporty as the RS, I decided it may just be what I needed to really travel. I rode back to Ride West and made the trade.

That first RT gave me room to stretch my legs and I could ride through a couple tanks of gas before needing a break. Its upright seating position never made my back sore like my ST2 did and I soon started planning Saturday rides and putting in some miles after having coffee at the shops. I continued going to the Ducati shop every now and then and nobody seemed to care that I had moved to a BMW. I made little trips into the Cascades or across the Sound to the Olympics in search of good lunch spots, sometimes with other riders, but usually alone.

In January 2003 I was laid off and found myself out of a paycheck. Reevaluating my skills and interests and unable to find a comparable job. That winter was especially gloomy in the Pacific Northwest and in a moment of weakness I sold most of my stuff, including the RT. After returning old Texas college town, it would take some time to find my place in the working world again, and to get back to riding.

Around that same time, my parents bought an RT thinking they would travel on it. My dad had taken the basic rider course but wasn’t a rider yet, so they asked me to come down to San Antonio to ride the bike home from the dealership for them and maybe give my dad some pointers. Over the next couple of weekends, I rode the bike to a large parking lot at Blossom Athletic Center, and watched my dad work on his riding skills. He believed the bike was too top-heavy, and it just didn’t work for him. After several drops and a lot of frustration, my dad had me back the motorcycle into the corner of his garage and park it. After a year of ike sitting there with a dead battery and a layer of dust, I offered to buy it and they agreed. It was the same model I had commuted on in Seattle and I was ready to ride again.

Soon, I found a local BMW club in Lubbock, the Dust Bowl Beemers club. Though West Texas lacks the curvy roads and beautiful vistas I’d enjoyed in the Pacific Northwest, I was just thrilled to be back on a bike. The DBB club I quickly made friends and started planning my vacation time around them.

One day, DBB club member Darrell Newsom mentioned someting about an Iron Butt ride. I had never heard of the Iron Butt Association and had no idea there were people challenging themselves on timed runs but as a child who grew up watching the Cannonball Run movies, I was immediately intrigued. Darrell also mentioned that Michael Graves, another club member was going to attempt a 1,000-mile day, known as a SaddleSore 1000, that coming Saturday. After calling Michael and asking if I could ride along with him, that Saturday morning we met at the starting gas station and riding a loop through New Mexico, we successfully completed our first Iron Butt rides that December day in 2004.

The RT played a main role in my development as a long-distance rider. It had a 7.25-gallon fuel tank, luggage, and a comfortable sitting position. I continued to push myself with more difficult Iron Butt challenges, eventually riding that RT from coast to coast and from Mexico to Canada. I rolled over 140,000 miles before selling it in favor of a bike with an even larger fuel tank.

In the 2000s I went for years without a car and took pride in riding every day, and even made the RT work for my advertising sales calls even those requiring me to wear dress clothes. As my love of riding grew, so did the bikes in my garage. Over time, I tried off-roading and moto-camping with my F 650 Dakar. I also owned a classic K bike and a couple of the K 1200 RS models I had wanted while living Seattle. I also fell in love with Airheads and bought a pair of 1975 R 90/6s, which I still have.

As my passion for long-distance riding grew, I sold the RT and bought a demo bike from Sandia BMW in Albuquerque. That R 1200 GS Adventure came stock with an 8+ gallon fuel tank, heavy duty luggage, crash bars, and additional lights. I found it to be the perfect bike for my tastes and riding interests. After about 50,000 miles with that first GSA, I had an accident on a rural highway in Wisconsin. The bike was totaled and while I suffered broken ribs and a broken wrist, there was never any question in my mind about riding again. While in my hospital bed, I started checking Sandia BMW’s inventory on my iPhone, and when heading home from the hospital, I put down a deposit on a GSA nearly identical to the one I just lost. Six weeks later, I started riding my new GSA to my orthopedic and physical therapy appointments.

My R 1200 GS Adventure would carry me to two bronze-medal finishes in the 11-day Iron Butt Rally (2015, 2017), and help me complete the SCMA Four Corners Tour. The GSA also proved to be a great two-up platform for riding with my wife Mikki and together we have travelled through most of the Rocky Mountain and western states and down the west coast.

If I had to start over again, my first bike would be another GS Adventure.

    Motorcycles I own
  • 2016 BMW R1200RS
  • 2012 BMW R1200GSA
  • 1975 BMW R90/6
  • 2011 BMW R1200GSA
  • 1975 BMW R90/6
    Motorcycles I've owned
  • 1985 BMW K100RS
  • 2002 BMW K1200RS
  • 2002 BMW F650 Dakar
  • 2000 BMW K1200RS
  • 2000 BMW R1100RT
  • 1999 BMW R1100RT
  • 1999 Ducati ST2
  • 1997 Kawasaki Concours


Bob Klocek says...
Posted Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Thanks for sharing your adventures. Well written.
Hooper Jones says...
Posted Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Great story. Thanks for sharing.

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