Thursday, February 3, 2011

Motorcycle Addiction, Uncureable

Last week while talking with Jack Riepe and complimenting him about his recent articles in the BMW MOA Magazine, and on his blog, he dusted off his “critical prick” persona and reminded me that I have not written anything on my blog since last November.
For the record, weather here in the Northeast sucks. Cold and wet came early and forcefully and appear to be the new seasonal standard.  November riding days were few. December was brutal, and January has given us record-setting snow falls and weeks of below-freezing temperatures. Ice, salt, and pulverized chemical mash on the roads easily convince me to keep my motorcycle in the garage.
Snow and ice hanging on bowed tree limbs may be like a beautiful woman… a delightful sight, but perhaps especially dangerous when riding is part of the equation. 

Like a Professional Wrestler's Girl Friend, Winter can be beautiful and treacherous 

                            Ice, tree crap, and freezing rain in my driveway                         
 I hate to make excuses for not riding, but I’ve reached the stage of my life where once I’ve finished shoveling out my driveway, hot chocolate and a nap are more inviting than trying to navigate my BMW R1100R around cinders, salt, road scum, and black ice while staying out of the way of text-messaging teenagers who’ve had their license for a week or two.
Neither Riepe nor most of my other riding buddies are doing much riding this winter, so it’s hard to draft a truthful piece about a motorcycle trip. Although accuracy seldom stops me or Riepe from telling a good story, this got me to thinking about other themes, and my mind wandered back through a series of decades to my youth. I often think of my youth when my back hurts from shoveling snow or my knees ache from walking up and down the stairs, or if I see a cute, brainless woman with poodle skirt.
                                                          Brainless Woman In A Poodle Skirt.
                            (This and warm milk are definite turn-ons for History Channel buffs)
Those memories often remind me of when I could run up ten flights of stairs backwards to strengthen my legs for skiing. In those days,  I could work all week, drive all night, ski all the next day, and party all night before getting up to ski another day and drive 350 miles in a blizzard to get home. But that has nothing to do with motorcycles other than as it relates to the often mis-perceived invulnerability of youth. Maturity teaches that a slice of apple pie is much more appetizing than running up stairs backwards.
One of my earliest motorcycle memories is of a tall, long-legged, Swedish nanny.  Her eyes were the color of the sapphires you’d find in a Christmas catalog.

Swedish Nanny-Eye sapphire that fetched $1.3 million at Northerby's auction house.

Her tanned skin was like baby apricots just beginning to develop their sweetness.  Her long, blond hair would streak out behind her as she arrived at our country estate on her new 1936 BMW R3 with the smell of freshly-picked Edelweiss in her hair.

              Edelweiss found only in the Alps and on music boxes
Edelweiss really has no odor. I suspect if it did it would be close to mountain goat musk. But "the smell of Edelweiss in her hair," creates an interesting image even though it’s bullshit. Riepe taught me that.
Back to the story -
Today I can recall how my heart would quicken each time I saw her and how that molten licorice feeling would slide down my legs in anticipation of my  being transported to an ethereal dimension.
If my riding buddy Jack Riepe had written this he would have reached beyond molten licorice for a more colorful description – probably shades of burnt sienna.  Nevertheless, like most of Riepe’s tales there is perhaps a slim line of truth hiding among an overwhelming amount of bullshit. Well, maybe not this time when honesty could very well be on vacation.
The truth is that I was born in New York City, in the Borough of Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn. There was no country estate in our family. We once went to a park in Bayonne, New Jersey, that my Great Grandfather owned before the city condemned it and stole it from him.
One summer, my grandfather rented a cabana at Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn, which I vaguely recall as a place where it was difficult to walk on the hot sand without stepping on a human being. Today Brighton Beach is the stomping ground of the Russian mob. Stepping on Vladimir is punishable by severe stomping and instant disappearance.

Elegant Brighton Beach, where raw sewerage is often found floating among the human flotsam
The only motorcycle I can recall seeing in my youth was ridden by one the NYC’s finest, Officer O’Something-or-Other. All New York City policemen were Irish in those days, as were firemen, bar owners, most city workers – except for building inspectors, who were Italian and “connected.”
This mounted protector of mobile Sabrett hot dog stands and Good Humor carts could be found on any Sunday seated on his Indian motorcycle in the bushes across from Bay Ridge High School, a politically incorrect institution where typing and stenography were taught to teenage girls who “were going to get married anyway” and needed to know how to cook, clean, wash clothes, and have babies. They were offered only a thin layer of basic employable skills – Palmer Method Penmanship, Stenography, and Sinful Flirting.
Officer O’Something-or-Other was simply lying in wait for despicable criminals who were about to run the stop sign at the top of a hill on a cobble-stone street leading from the Belt Parkway to Fourth Avenue.
A team of vintage motorcycle officers emerging from their hiding place in the bushes.
On a wet day, there was no good way to stop at that intersection and then get going again. The hill was on a 45-degree angle, and when the cobble stones got wet they provided the traction of greased ice.
The good officer rode an Indian which is the only motorcycle I can remember having seen during my young and formative years. When I was a kid, there was a War on. There was The real war, The big one, WWII. Gas was rationed, so most people I knew took public transportation or walked. During the war, we kids didn’t have bicycles, the government said it needed the metal and rubber for the “war effort.” But after the war, we would ride our bicycles everywhere.
Our neighborhood was home to many famous people. Peewee Reese, and a few other members of The Brooklyn Dodgers, lived there, as did several infamous members of the Italian Waterfront Mob. These were the kindly gentlemen who ran the docks and the unions. None of them rode motorcycles.
Affluent good guys and the bad guys shared a preference for large, black Caddys, which brings me to the apocryphal story about Officer O’Something-or-Other.
It seems that this conscientious LEO made the mistake of ticketing one of the “made” guys who ran his pet stop sign. A few days later while screeching out of the bushes with his siren blaring and his lights flashing in pursuit of another stop-sign criminal, the good officer was broadsided by a large, black Caddy. It crushed his Indian and his ticket-writing hand before driving off – probably to New Jersey.
Years later, when I had my driver’s license, I knew I could coast right through that stop sign without fear of being ticketed.  The bushes covering the hiding place were overgrown, and everyone got a free pass thanks to the black Caddy guys protecting the personal freedom of scofflaws.
Many more years passed before I came across a motorcycle again. I was driving from New Jersey to Brooklyn across Staten Island. The officer riding the motorcycle waved at me, and I smiled and waved back. He was perched tall on a shiny large Harley. He looked very professional, spit and polish, sewn-in pleats in his shirt and pants, over the calf boots that could and did reflect the skyline of Manhattan. Then he turned on his flashing red lights and siren and waved at me again.
When we got to court, the judge asked him to recite his pedigree: ten years on the force, motorcycle school, traffic safety school, instructor, married to the Mayor’s brother, yada-yada-yada.
He came across as infallibly capable and honest. He looked like a movie star playing a Highway Patrol officer. He stood tall and straight as if he had rebar shoved up his ass. Trust and honesty oozed from every pore of his matinee idol face. Me, I was glad I wore a dark suit to court, because it would hide the sweat pouring out my armpits, and was sure to hide most of what I suspected I was about to deposit in my pants.
He described how he observed me tailgating another car, and how he pulled me over and gave me his especially reserved award for inadequate driving.  As he finished his recitation I thought my next stop would be The Big House.
The judge then turned a piercing, steel gaze in my direction and asked what I did for a living.  In those days I was a PR flack for an insurance company. Admitting that would done more damage to my case than if I told him I sculpted motorcycle cops out of petrified dog turds. So I explained that I was a clerk at a large company in New Jersey; I smiled shyly, shuffled my feet humbly, and tried to look penniless as I spoke. That last part wasn't difficult, since like the US Congress I was living far above my means.
The judge asked me why I was driving irresponsibly.  In the blink of an eye, a series of smart-ass answers shot through my brain. ...”I was practicing for the inadequate driving course… I was rushing to pick up the last hotdog at Nathan’s, in Coney Island, for a friend who was dying and not expected to last through the day…I was on a secret mission for The State Department, which would deny any knowledge of me or the secret mission… “
Smartass doesn’t work well in court. As a matter of fact, I have scars to prove that it doesn’t work well anywhere, so I carefully crafted a magnificent response designed to raise the question of “reasonable doubt” a phrase I had often heard on Gang Busters.
I’ve often said that the integrity one gleans from working in public relations occasionally has a pay off.
In the end, I was exonerated, paid not a dime in fines, and was set free on my own recognizance. Even the motorcycle cop gave me the thumbs up sign.

                                                     The armed LEO told me it was his thumb
I didn’t think about motorcycles again until the late 1980s when, like some famous and infamous Presidents, I was living in Illinois.
I learned that the Motorcycle Safety Federation (MSF) had a free course leading to a license. I mentioned that at dinner one night, and there was unanimous agreement by and my wife and my children that I was not to be allowed anywhere near a motorcycle. They felt that motorcycles are dangerous, and with great compassion they explained that they needed my income. Sometimes the realization of deep love smacks you in face like a wet bluegill. Other times it’s dropped on you like a 500 pound tuna. In this case I understood their point. I’m also embarrassed to admit I agreed, so I just shelved the motorcycle idea for a while.
It was the end of Summer 2004 – 14 years later. My good friend Bruce, who allegedly has ridden motorcycles since before he had pubic hair, mentioned that he was going to take the MSF course with his son, who was graduating from Penn State and wanted to ride with his Dad. Bruce, who is a true renaissance man, has never done anything half-way in his life. He admitted that he hadn’t had any formal training and thought it would be a good idea. That was all the encouragement I needed. I signed up for the MSF course at Valley Forge, PA. After all, at that point I had been married to the same woman for 36 years, the kids were on their own, and my life insurance was paid. The timing was perfect for a new adventure. If Washington’s Army could survive Valley Forge in Winter with no shoes, it should be a piece of cake for me at the end of summer with over the ankle boots.
The Motorcycle course involves classroom work and highly supervised riding on MSF course-provided motorcycles. Feeling sorry for the old guy (I was now in my 68th year) the kind people at the MSF course gave me a 3cc Suzuki to push around, and they let me borrow one of their sweaty helmets to wear with my ski gloves, chinos, and cherry-red golf jacket; I wasn’t even the worst dressed guy there. This was the first time I had ever put my butt on the seat of a motorcycle. It was great fun. It didn’t take much for me to get a buzz on and develop a real motorcycle Jones.
In an outstanding act of compassion the MSF Course granted me my license. Then I started shopping for a motorcycle.  I knew more about algebra than I knew about motorcycles. I barely passed algebra in high school and haven’t used it since. I’ve heard that the only people who use algebra and geometry beyond high school are carpenters, tile setters, and motorcycle rear-drive designers.
The weather was getting cooler and wetter, so I decided to wait until Spring to buy a bike. That gave me all winter to do research and figure out how the hell I was going to ride a motorcycle in traffic.
I called my friend Larry, who salvaged his first motorcycle from the Johnstown Flood. Now he owned a Yamaha Virago 1000cc, and had just designed and built a gyro copter with his own hands.  Larry gave me some solid advice, and I spent the rest of the winter searching the Internet looking for the best bike for a beginner. Two surfaced: the Yamaha 650 and the BMW F650.

Pre-Johnstown Flood Yamaha V Star 650

My Classic 1997 "Orlando Orange" BMW F650ST

I looked at postings on Cycle Trader, EBay, and other Internet sites. I found a 1997 BMW F650ST in California. It had less than 23,000 miles on it, and the photos with palm trees in the background made it look a lot better than it would have with Pennsylvania ice and snow as a backdrop. When I calculated shipping and handling, I came up with a final bid price, and I won the bike for $1,500, which was about ½ of what similar bikes were selling for at that time.
I was disappointed, but not very surprised, when the bike’s owner fell off the radar and disappeared. I shot a note to EBay. They told me to report him to the FBI (interstate fraud), which I did with great delight; I hate it when people try to screw with me. About two weeks later I received a pure bullshit, “tail between the legs” email saying he totaled the bike.  I replied suggesting that he avoid travelling through Pennsylvania.
Back to the drawing board, back to Cycle Trader, and EBay, and Craigs List.  Suddenly, there it was, almost the identical BMW F650ST, in Ligonier, PA. It had 13,000 miles on the Odometer and looked clean as it would have in a dealer’s showroom. The price was more in line to the real market. The guy who owned it had three Beemers and a Moto Guzzi, and all were spotless and well maintained. 

It was the end of February, and I was concerned about how to get it from near Pittsburgh to near Philadelphia. There was no way given my level of experience that I was going to ride it on the Turnpike in nice weather, let alone in February, while wearing my jeans, golf jacket, and ski gloves. He offered to deliver it to my house.
The bike arrived in early March. He took it out of his truck and rode it up my driveway and into the garage. I paid him and gave him a hot bowl of chili and walked out into the garage to admire my new purchase.  The Howard Johnson Orange-colored 650 sat there on a trickle charger during the “Spring” snow and ice storms.
In late March, when the six inches of ice at the bottom of my driveway had melted, I mustered enough nerve to roll the bike out of the garage and start it up. My darling wife, who knows me as well as anyone could, said, “You may not take that motorcycle out of the neighborhood.” Just run it to the corner stop sign, take left to the next stop sign, a left to the next stop sign, and keep doing that until you get good at it.”
My immediate thought was to respond with something like, “Shut up woman. You’re not the boss of me,” but macho gave way to fear, as is often the case in my house. Also, I was very grateful that she had given me a good reason to chicken out of hitting the road. Sometimes “She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed” is right.  Or perhaps after about 40 years of putting up with my bullshit, she knew I was chickenshit about riding and needed to ease into it. Either way, it was a good suggestion.
There were a lot of good lessons to learn. My neighborhood has some minor elevation changes, sewer grates, and man-hole covers that are good training devices for the inexperienced rider, so for a couple of weeks, I rode the circuit. One day I learned about the hazards of gravel and learned how to pick up an F650ST that was lying on its side case. Another day I learned how to duck when headed for that old pine tree that used to be at the top of my driveway. I learned that plastic milk cases are not a good place to put your foot when you’re backing the bike up into the garage.
The fellow who sold me the motorcycle suggested that I find a club in the area where I’d meet other riders and get some good advice. I began an Internet search, and The Mac-Pac popped as the SE Pennsylvania Riders Group. They let me come to breakfast even though I was wearing my red golf jacket and they all were decked out in Aerostich.
I had all of 350 miles riding experience when I joined the group’s first Rally with a covered bridge ride that terminated at the farm of one of the members. I remember Brian, who is the list administrator, riding behind me and telling me, “you did pretty well, except for the time you almost lost it going through a turn on gravel and sand.”
That ride led to more rides and to new friends and new adventures in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and West Virginia, Delaware and Maryland, Tennessee, New York State, and Vermont. I’ve ridden on dry roads, in rain, on black ice (not good), and through pea-soup fog (also not good). But I’ve done it with a smile on my face and in the company of some very good friends.
About the Bike.

2007 BMW F800ST Delivery Day at Hermy's  (Photo by Herman Baver)
I loved the F650ST. I took it to Tennessee and all over the back roads of Pennsylvania, It was light and easily maneuverable. But, for me, it lacked speed in the low gears, so in 2007 I traded it in on a F800ST that was a powerhouse. It eventually went rock hunting and gave its life protecting mine.

Brave, Deceased F800ST

My current ride is a 2000 BMW R1100R, with the traditional Beemer opposing cylinders. It too is fun to ride. It does better in the low gears than the F650ST did, the stock seat and riding position are more comfortable on long rides than the F800ST seat, and it still has lots of speed, torque, and maneuverability.
2000 R1100R, Resting in Strassburg, PA, after tormenting The Amish

We’ve ridden more than 10,000 miles together in the past year and a half. I can’t wait for the weather to change, so we can get back out on the road again to explore new places and old with my riding buddies. - Snipe eBay items... and win!


  1. BMW-Dick:

    after all those years I am glad that you finally had the courage to defy "she whom must be obeyed" to finally get into riding. I was told that I could not have a bike while I lived at home, and when I moved out I finally got my first Yamaha. At the time I also had an MGB Roadster sports car. This was around 1966 give or take a year.

    Lately I have been admiring "R" type bikes. I hope your weather turns warm soon. We are half way through Winter

    bobskoot: wet coast scootin

  2. Bob:
    It's 33 degrees, and there's crusted-over snow on the ground for as far as I can see. The roads are plowed clean, but the accumulation of salt and chemicals is not very inviting - especially when there's no way to wash it off of the bike's alloy surfaces until Spring. As Frank Loesser wrote, "Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year." It's going to take warm weather an a lot of rain to make our roads ridable least for me. PS I love the R bike.

  3. Bob:
    Check this out -

  4. Don't worry, Dick! We'll all be riding again soon enough... but, if the groundhog was wrong (blasphemy!), and winter just keeps on comin', then you just keep on writin'. Deal?


  5. Dick,

    Thank you for the story! Isn't it strange what we learn from Riepe. I'll never forget the day that Jack explained to me what a 'fluffer' was. He has a universe of knowledge packed into that McBrain of his.

    BTW...I think we all grow up thinking about living on a country estate with a gorgeous blonde BMW riding nanny. When I was young though, I had large Quebecois women as 'baby sitters'...They had mustaches like their fathers.


  6. Dear Mr. Bregstein:

    You are entirely too kind when it comes to defining my work in a public forum. I can hardly recognize you. And I find myself wondering what happened to the Dick Bregstein who enptied the salt shaker into my coffee at the last breakfast... The Dick Bregstein who put itching powder on the toilet seat in my cabin during out last ride... And the Dick Bregstein who once told the toughest, the ugliest, and the butchiest lesbian he had ever met that I was actually a woman (who loved to play hard to get).

    I remember your "Howard Johnson" F650, and the time you tried to bake a bundt cake in your heated Gerbings pants. You bled the current from that poor bike at the first stop light. We had to jump it from the battery of an old woman in an electic wheelchair.

    As you are aware Dick, I live 5 miles from you and your weather is my weather. I don't think we're going anywhere until April.

    Nice blog today Dickie.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  7. Dear Michael:
    The only reason Riepe had knowledge of fluffing is that, with strong feelings of community service, he volunteers as a fluffer whenever he can. What a guy!

  8. Dear Dave:
    From your lips to God's ears. I am soooooo tired of looking outside to see that neverending expanse of snow and ice and tree crap. Of course, it won't be long before I'm bitching about the heat.

  9. Dear Jacko:
    I haven't changed. I just decided that I can trash you in person, which is more fun than putting it in print.
    So, where are we going April?

  10. BMW-Dick, a well written account of your life before motorcycles. It reminded me of how my own "she who must be obeyed" told me at the beginning of my motorcycling days that "I could ride but not when its raining".

    Things have changed a bit since I gained more experience, she saw the love I have for motorcycling, and I proved I've kept up payments on my large life insurance policy. Now she just blows a kiss in my general direction, says "be careful", and tries to hide the cutters she just tried to use on my motorcycle's brake lines.

    Sorry to hear about the crappy riding conditions...I really hope you and Riepe don't have to wait till April to ride. We had clear roads in Denver today, wet and temps in the high 30s but the roads were clear. As my riding companion said: "Great riding weather".


    Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

    Redleg's Rides

  11. Hey Bregstein! We're gonna have a great time looking at the new K1600GT at Hermy's this weekend.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  12. Dear Jack:
    Sorry you couldn't make the trip to Hermy's. The guys and I picked out your new ride - a large construction-quality wheel barrow. Now we have to find someone with enough upper-body strength to push you around. I hear the former Governor of California may be available.How appropriate, being wheeled sround by "The Terminator."