The bike in front of me snaked through the “S” curve like it was on a track, leaning low first one way, then snapping through the upright position to lean way over on the other. I mimicked the other rider’s moves, noting the skill displayed in maintaining a steady line through the curves. Matching that line improved my speed and stability. Each twist in the road changed the riding equation, causing the other rider to shift from side to side, and to hang slightly off the seat. The road straightened out for a bit, and I twisted on the gas, narrowing the gap between our machines.
You can learn a lot from riding with a seasoned veteran and I wanted a closer look at the other rider’s form. This makes a strong argument for choosing a riding partners with great style, good riding habits, and an inclination to share them. My riding partner for the day met this criteria, but he had left me in the dust hours before. The biker ahead of me was a stranger, an incredibly beautiful woman with a fantastic ass. Her Aerostitch riding gear accented the curves on her body like her BMW traced the curves in the road.
The road opened up to four lanes and I swung to her left, going yet another quarter inch on the throttle.
I imagined the conversation we could have. We already had several things in common. She had a bike and I had a bike. Hers was a BMW and mine was a BMW. She had a perfect physique and I had a line of bullshit three feet wide and a football field-long. She would tell me about her exotic rides and I would tell her whatever it took to peel that Aerostitch down to skin. The trick was to see if she could feel the tug of my animal magnetism as I passed her. I raised the external sun shield on my Nolan flip-face helmet, and prepared to blast her with my famous “battered baby seal look.”
This would be one for the books if it worked. Normally, the battered baby seal look combines eye expression and eye color, paired with the incomparable sincerity of a boyish smile to melt the frost off the hardest female heart. The emotional depth of this complex form of body language occurs only one other place in nature -- on the faces of baby harp seals when they are first clubbed by ruthless Canadian hunters. Yet under these conditions, she’d only get to see my eyes, and a fleeting glance at that.
It was almost as if my K75 understood the drama that was about to unfold. What little vibration I could feel in the handlebars disappeared. The bike seemed to hold its breath while slowly edging forward. Each quiver of the tach needle bought me another few inches in a pass that was nothing less than a pass in the classical sense. I glanced over my right shoulder as we paralleled each other, separated only by ten feet and six degrees of desire. I fired the battered baby seal look -- a micro-burst in a micro second.
The K75 continued to edge forward and I couldn’t tell if I’d hit the target. Suddenly, I heard the engine on her K1200GT change pitch and she accelerated into my peripheral vision. I looked right again, directly into her eyes. She raised her left arm in my direction, and fully extended the middle finger on her left hand. There was a nuclear whine, and the “KGT1200” faded into the horizon.
My riding buddy Pete Buchheit was waiting for me at a convenience store just twenty more miles up the road.
“Anything to report,” he asked, as I pulled my helmet off.
“Nope, just a nice uneventful ride through the countryside.”
“A woman on GT pulled through here a few minutes ago,” said Pete.
“She’s not still here, is she,” I asked, looking around.
“Naw... She kept going. Why?”
“I don’t feel like being bothered with the ‘spirit of the road’ bullshit today,” I said.
“Another one who gave you the finger, huh,” asked Pete, rhetorically.
And that’s the whole point of this story. If you are going to ride with people, you should choose partners who are intuitive, considerate, and willing to compromise. Ideally they should be able to show you something useful about riding, and bonus points are awarded if they are certified mechanics -- with years of experience working on your model bike. Pete has the intuitive part down pat.
Many bikers prefer to ride alone. One friend of mine, a woman from Chicago, insists on riding by herself with very few exceptions. She has very strong reasons for this, which she does not feel compelled to share. Another close friend of mine, Brian Curry -- the renown BMW K75 guru -- is another accomplished rider who prefers to go solo. To some, riding alone is a highly personal experience in which they face private challenges, think deep thoughts, or simply isolate themselves from anything that would intrude on the experience of the ride. Riding with someone else, and certainly a group of people, is always something of a compromise. Riding time is so precious to some people that they prefer not to compromise a minute of it.
I had two and a half years to ride by myself as a re-entry rider, while my girlfriend gradually mastered the art of riding on the street as opposed to a parking lot -- only to have her give it up due to lingering problems with vertigo. I used to ride with a guy in the neighborhood, but he was a little different. He would ride all day, but not outside a 20-mile radius from home. I like getting out into the country. I also like getting up onto the slab every now and again, and letting the 71 horses out of the barn, so to speak.
I found it difficult to join riding groups in my area and so got involved with a number of on-line lists. I then hosted a couple of group rides. Thus was born the Annual Amish Horse-pile Swerve Ride. All kinds of people turned up for this, and I learned a great deal about riding in general, and riding with other people. These folks, now all friends of mine (and not necessarily of the Beemer persuasion), showed me endless consideration and helped me learn a few things about myself too.
I started to ride individually with some of the folks who participated in these runs and learned a lot about about riding technique and about people. Mack Harrell (Beemer rider) and Wayne Whitlock (Harley rider) taught me a great deal about leaning into curves and handling fast changing road conditions. But they were lessons learned over hundreds of miles. Pete Buchheit (Beemer rider) illustrated a number of ways to get the most out of a ride -- and boosting peformance -- without wearing myself out or taking undue risks. Again, over hundreds of miles. Chris Jacarrino (Honda Goldwing rider) showed me the proper way to both ride in and conduct a group ride. And Joe Sestrich (Beemer rider), David Hardgrove (Harley rider) and Jim Sterling (Beemer rider) all showed me the meaning of solidarity on a ride.
But above all, I learned a few things about choosing a riding partner. When you’re new at this, you’re happy to be riding with anybody.You become a bit choosier when you start to get the hang of things. Without realizing it, I began to look for someone who has a similar riding style, dietary appreciation, and bladder endurance. Riding style is the most important. The ideal riding partner not only prefers to ride at a similar speed, but will also have a parallel appreciation for the kind of roads you like. For example, there is a cadre of riders in the Mac-Pac (the BMW riding group I belong to) that feels every inch of a 400-mile ride should occur on a back road, with one peg or another carving the BMW roundel into the pavement, with the tach pegged at the red line. They have cordially invited me never to ride with them as long as I live.
I have accepted the invitation.
Attempting to ride with these guys either as a group, or paired off with a single rider, would just ruin everybody’s ride. They’d be miserable and I’d end up dead.
Dietary preference is another important consideration. My eating preferences are well known. Whenever possible, I prefer the exotic. This includes “authentic” Chinese, Indian, German, Vietnamese, Japanese and Italian. Note the emphasis on the word authentic. On one ride, I stopped into a recommended Chinese storefront eatery and had hacked rabbit cooked with dry chilis. Our group lunches routinely end up at the Himalayan Exotic Indian Restaurant, where goat is a big favorite with us. Riding with someone whose idea of exotic is the Olive Garden can be a bit tedious if you plan to be on the road for three days, or a week. I rode with a guy whose preference was Burger King for lunch and dinner. I got tired of this fast. Things may different if dictated by financial necessity, however, and it may be something I learn this summer (as all of the money in my industry has evaporated).
Bladder endurance is another serious point. Some guys like to ride until the gas warning light (BMWs) has burned a hole in the dashboard. Then they pull into a gas station, take a fast look around, and take a piss while they are gassing up the bike. They are on the road again in 30 seconds or less. I don’t mind stopping every 100 miles for a cold drink, a look around, and a bullshit summary of what we’ve just seen. On a day when my arthritis is screaming, that distance gets cut to 60 miles or an hour’s duration in the saddle. (And I may not be able to get off the bike.) It’s essential to find a rinding partner who shares this sense of timing.
Another point seldom considered is the reason for the trip. I like to to stop and read historical markers, take in the occasional view, or drop into an interesting country tavern for lunch to see what’s going on in somebody else’s world. This is not high on the agenda for a lot of people. Some folks want to get to the final destination and party as the bike cools for the next day. Others find the joy in the riding.
Three years ago, Pete Buchheit, Mack Harrell and I took a motorcycle tour of Gettysburg National Battlefield. Our bikes were whisper quiet and we felt reasonably sure we would not be annoying anyone. (This battlefield is an outdoor cathedral to the bravery and personal commitment of the American soldier. Everyone who died there was an American. It’s not a picnic grove.)The roads through the park meander through areas where skirmishes were fought and stands taken. Each key location is marked with a statue or monument to the unit that was there. There are dozens of them, some of which are quite impressive. Pete and I felt compelled to stop and view them. This was driving Mack Harrell crazy as his bike at the time (a Hirohito liter special) was hard to maneuver at slow speeds and was becoming a handful. We stopped at about 25 statues.
“Wasn’t that wonderful,” I said at the tour’s 2-hour conclusion.
“Yeah,” said Mack. “But why did they set up the same statue 25 times,” Note for the future: historical significance is not big with Mack Harrell.
The riding partner I have logged more miles with, hands down, is Dick Bregstein. As the saying goes: a friend will help you move. Dick Bregstein will help you move a body. Dick Bregstein is the perfect riding partner. He will never tell you to slow down, stop drinking, or tell you that the waitress to whom you’ve been offering your motel room key is actually a man. (Regarding this last qualification, Bregstein would rather wait until the morning then tell the other guys what happened.)
Dick will ride 100 miles or 400 miles, and be happy to call it a day either way. He will ride the back roads and the slab or anything in between with equal good grace. And he will patiently sit for hours in an emergency room, after riding 400 miles on the hottest day of the year, waiting to find out if you died. Dick also has the kind of face that many people don’t question. Rooting through the smoking wreckage of my motorcycle, Bregstein removed my Apple laptop from a shattered top case. A Virginia State Trooper shouted, “Hey, what do you think you're doing?” To which Bregstein replied...
“I’m going to send his girlfriend an e-mail.”
The cop had nothing to say to that. And when I was wheeled out of the emergency room, with the grill of a minivan sticking out of my ass, Dick was sitting there, after 10 hours in the saddle, holding my computer. I regret I was not able to return the favor the following year, when Dick insisted on riding with the big kids, and came to a bad end. (The advice in this column could have saved Dick a summer of pain and busted ribs.)
There are other considerations in choosing a riding partner too. These include political inclination, who reaches for the tab the slowest, and who can best keep his or her mouth shut regarding the details of a really outrageous ride. But this is the fine tuning after the initial cut. And trust me, there is no greater satisfaction than to have someone else call you, asking you to ride with them. It means you learned something.
Female riders looking to choose a male riding partner should select a candidate with spirit, and fire in his eyes. The specimen should move about freely without favoring one leg or the other. In certain cases, however, a candidate with a rapier-like wit will prove far more interesting than one with a great body but a limited repertoire.The ideal candidate should exhibit no sores, botts, nor boils in the saddle area, and remain calm though attentive as you examine his testicles for imperfections or previous marriages.
My Four-star riding partners;
Dick Bregstein (BMW) -- About 38,000 miles, almost all of it noteworthy, hysterical, or simply ribald.
Pete Buchheit (BMW) -- About 8,000 miles
David Hardgrove (Harley) -- Broke personal best of 325 miles in a day (second long ride as a re-entry rider)
Mack Harrell (BMW) -- Broke personal best of 425 miles in a day (third long ride as a re-entry rider)
Chris Jacarrino (Honda, Goldwing) -- Ride captain for one of my best rides and stories for the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America’s magazine
Clyde Jacobs (BMW) -- About 3,000 miles
Matt Piechota (BMW) -- Never has an unkind thing to say, always up for a ride.
Jim Sterling (BMW) -- Covered my ass by riding tail gun Charlie position on 325-mile personal best day
Joe Sestrich -- Covered my ass in a horizontal downpour for 40 miles, my first in 30 years.
Wayne Whitlock (Harley) -- Broke personal best of 275 miles in a day, first long ride as a re-entry rider
I am looking forward to spending saddle time with all of these guys between April and December.
Candidate for Riding Partner Indoctrination Program 2009:
Steve Asson (Kawasaki) -- Meet up in Dodge City
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With a shrug)