Yet the love of my life -- Leslie -- was a champion downhill racer in high school and her dad (the troll) is a skiing aficionado as well. No one was less delighted than I to learn these two had purchased a condo on the slopes of Whistler “Village,” and that they planned on spending six weeks there every winter. It was like discovering that a winter wonderland would be shoved up your ass part of January, February, and March. However, my late Irish grandfather, Patrick “Nitro” O’Riepe was something of a philosopher and he used to say, “It’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow somebody.” Little did I know that person would be me.
One or two seasons of bad snow (it happens there too), family vacations that didn’t materialize (You can get to France faster than Whistler from the east coast.) and the lure of the Olympics caused the two real estate mavericks to unload the condo, making an obscene profit. They sold in the summer, loaded what impedimenta they kept into a rental truck, and drove home across the country. They got stuck in a small, nondescript South Dakota town in the middle of a bizarre festival. The town was “Sturgis.” The festival was “The Rally.”
Leslie was entranced by thousands of leather-clad women jazzing Harleys, stretching out on Harleys, burning up the tires on Harleys, drinking beer on Harleys, and (some) even riding Harleys. She described the women as tattooed, jeweled, and wearing leather like other women wore perfume: barely on their skin. They were statuesque Amazons and Viking goddesses. It is my understanding that her dad thought some kind of leather, sex circus was in town. He found it less funny when the first hotel with a couple of rooms for the night was 200 miles away.
Leslie called me from her cell phone as they crawled through traffic on Main Street. “What’s going on,” she asked. “There’s a guy holding up a sign that says, ‘Show us your ticks.’ Why are they looking for ticks?”
“Sweetie, look at the sign again. The nice man doesn’t give a shit about ticks. And if he comes up to the truck, kick your old man out into the street. They’ll tear him apart,” I said. I then explained to her the religious significance of Sturgis to iron mined in Milwaukee. I advised her not to get out of the truck
“It’s a great place,” I said, “if you look like Sonny Barger, ride like Cochise, and like Jello.”
“They eat Jello,” asked Leslie.
“No, they like their women to roll around in it.”
Leslie told me that she saw that Kevin Costner was supposed to be leading a ride someplace. “Go on line and see what events are listed for today,” she asked.
“There are several,” I replied, looking at the computer. “There is a chicken choking contest at 12:30pm, a pickle sucking contest at 2pm, and a wet tee shirt contest at 5pm. The ladies open invitational lime jello booby trap removal event is slated for 8pm tonight, provided the authorities can’t beat the location out of a captured drunk.”
“Are you making this up?”
“Believe me, babe,” I said. “I wish I was there.”
The upshot of this whole adventure was that Leslie informed me that we would be getting motorcycles upon her return. My girlfriend had just driven through Sturgis, and ordered me to get a motorcycle. Had I died at that moment, I would have been in heaven.
Two months later we were enrolled in a motorcycle safety course with about a dozen other adventurers and free-booters. Leslie never waited beyond the first night of the course. She wandered into a Harley dealership in Delaware, where the vampire in charge sat her on five different models, letting her start three of the more expensive ones in the showroom! (You read those last three words correctly. This viper was the smartest salesperson I ever met.) He wanted her to feel the bikes come alive and vibrate! I started to say something at one point, but he nodded, and two goons threw me out in the alley.
But all his bikes were black.
The winner was discovered at a Honda dealership two days later. This dealer had exactly what Stiffie/Leslie wanted: a pearlescent white and silver Aero Shadow (retro Harley looking) with the extra lighting package, a windscreen, crash bars, saddle bags (with studs) and a Mustang aftermarket saddle. Leslie/Stiffie whipped out the old American Express card, took the bike, and bought some riding gear that was being modeled by an Elvis impersonator. The card wasn’t even warm when she put it back in her wallet. The dealer, a pimp if I ever saw one, then said, “And we have a large support group of riders, a great bunch of guys, who’d be happy to go out with you.”
The Winner -- Leslie's 2005 Honda Aero Shadow
A reliable, comfortable, classic-looking motorcycle
(Photo courtesy Leslie Marsh -- Click to enlarge)
“You miserable, fuck,” I thought, taking a fast look around to see where they kept the goons in this place. My reflex action was stake this bastard down in his coffin.
It became apparent to me that I had to get a bike quickly. But Leslie and I move in very different social and financial circles. Most of our neighbors explain my presence as the mentally disturbed handiman she hired to do some simple thing, who then refused to leave. The local grammar school runs a history tour for the second grade through our driveway. The teachers tell the kids, “See! There’s a truck that’s older than you. Does anyone know the name of that brown stuff on the metal? It eats paint like you eat peanut butter.” The last time they showed up I turned the garden hose on them.
As a professional writer, I had to buy a motorcycle with what little I could scrape up in tips from under the tables of publishers. Nobody can skin a nickel like a publisher. Even in good years, tips are scanty. I would be buying a used bike. Just how used I had no idea.
It had been 25 years since I last owned a motorcycle. That bike was a Kawasaki S2 750, the fastest production motorcycle of its day, a vicious two-stroke street bike, with the most primitive appointments and a nasty habit of exterminating its rider. It was known as the “Widow Maker.”
Motorcycles have changed since then. They now come in three flavors -- plus one. The flavors are Harleys, cruisers, sportbikes, and something else. Harley’s are simply the sexiest motorcycles ever built. I knew a lot of guys who had Harleys. All of their clothes were stained with oil. They carried wrenches like they were a fashion statement. But these guys claimed their girlfriends could unwrap condoms and install them using only their teeth. I didn’t think I could pull this off.
I started looking at used cruisers. It was the summer, and there were no bargains. The cheap ones looked like shit and the decent ones were priced like chrome gold. I didn’t like what I could afford. And to be quite honest, I didn’t like the feel of the expensive ones I couldn’t afford either. One dealer suggested that this feeling might be linked to my huge gut. I told him that life was full of compromises and that I was as thin as Mahatma Ghandi when I got a hard-on.
I had no interest in sportbikes.
Time was running out. Some asshole named Brett was calling from the Honda dealer’s with ride suggestions.
I mentioned my dilemma to a couple of friends of mine. To my utter amazement, both were riders and members of a highly secretive religious order of Teutonic Knights. This was the “plus one” among the flavors. I had no idea that either of these guys had any interest in motorcycles. One had three BMW motorcycles. The other had nine of the same marque. I visited with one who brought me into his garage. It was dark in there. He hit a switch and concealed lighting revealed each of the nine bikes, and a small covered table in the center of the room. Some of the bikes had an odd sideways jugged appearance to them. Several others looked like they had to take a shit. I had never seen motorcycles like these before.
“Are you feeling nervous,” said my friend Lee. “Relax. This is my garage... My temple... My inner sanctum.” Yet as he said these things, I noticed he had started to roll his R’s.
“It is a warm day. Please... Drink this Kool-Aid,” said Lee.
He removed the cloth cover to reveal a smiling pitcher with eyes for roundels. “It is very refreshing.” I awoke in my bed at home, with a burning desire for sauerbraten.
Then my other pal, Pete, called me. He had just sold a great bike to a guy who had proven unworthy... That if I acted fast, I could probably get this bike for a good price... But that I must not debase myself by haggling... And that I should pay the money without question. For good luck, Pete sent me a huge seed pod, telling me I should put it alongside my bed as soon as I got it.
My pal Pete Buchheit in his inner sanctum sanctorum. Pete likes to dress up in leather and take his own picture two or three times a month. Then he sends them to strangers.
(Photo courtesy of Pete B. -- Click to enlarge)
The bike was an 18-year-old BMW K75. It looked brand new. The unworthy man wanted $5,000. I laughed in his face. That kind of money would have bought me ten 18-year-old Japanese motorcycles.
“Will you be found unworthy as was I,” asked the seller. “The gods of Siegfried only ask once.”
I offered him $4600, knowing that this sum was absurdly extravagant too. My thought was to insult him into ending the conversation.
“I’ll take forty-seven hundred dollars,” was his reply!
I hesitated, looking at the ugliest and oldest motorcycle with the strangest fairing that I had ever seen.
“Are you so poor a man that you do not have an extra hundred dollars to meet your destiny,” said the seller. “I did not think you were the type who would rather have the world think you had a small dick rather than pay the extra $100 bucks.”
I threw the $4700 in his face.
“Ride it over to my house,” I said. I did not want him to think I could not get on this motorcycle. So I did not attempt it to avoid confirming his suspicions. The seat was three inches higher than my crotch. And so I bought an 18-year-old-motorcycle that I had never sat on, for more money than I would have spent over a lifetime in the pleasure palaces of Phuket.
"Blue Balls" had the most incredible curved lines of any K75. Yar Seever's white K75 is just beyond at "Buckingham Lumber," a legendary merchantile fixture in these parts. I remember this day well. I met Yar for the first time at a "firehouse breakfast" on a Sunday morning. It was the first time in 25 years that I rode a motorcycle on the Turnpike. I told Yar that I was wary of the curves. He showed me the right way to take 'em. Ten minutes later, I watched him dodge a car and go right through a ditch full of water. He did not drop the bike. No injuries.
(Photo Courtesy of Yar Seevers -- Click to enlarge)
Leslie looked at the bike like it was part giraffe and part emu. She framed me with those beautiful (though penetrating) eyes and said, “You bought this piece of modern art because the guy said it would mean you had a small dick if you didn’t, right?”
“Well, I’m glad you didn’t trade the family cow for a pocket of magic beans,” she added.
“How does the seat feel?” asked Leslie.
“Good,” I said, looking at the ground.
“You didn’t sit on it, did you?”
My silence would have lied but Leslie was already onto me.
“How much did you pay for this?” she asked.
“He got it all.”
“Honestly, Jack.” And that was all she said.
Later that day, she would read aloud to me from a book titled, “Motorcycle Riding For Assholes and Morons,” stating that BMW’s were specifically not recommended for re-entry riders owing to their top-heavy nature. (The bikes, not the riders.)
The Sprint Fairing gave my 1986 K75 a one-of-a-kind look. I am seen here with Tony Luna (Vulcan Al) on the Delaware River, parked between Mack Harrell's new BMW GS on the left, and Tony's BMW K1200R on the right. Tony had done a track day the week before.
His GPS still recorded his top speed of 147 mph. This was the day that Perditions Socks named Walter Kern "A Fellow Of The Road." It was my first ride of the season that year.
(Photo courtesy of Mack Harrell -- Click to enlarge)
Three days later I moved the K75 out of the garage. It was like shoving a block of iron. I thrust myself up into the seat, hit the “choke” lever (on the handlebars, where it logically belongs), and tapped the starter button. The motorcycle whined into life. The tach needle jumped and a series of warning lights came on and off as each system checked in. A yellow dash light remained on to tell me the choke was still engaged. (It isn’t really a choke but an idle advance with two settings as the 18-year-old BMW K75 was fuel injected, a detail the new Honda lacked.) I jockeyed the Beemer around between my legs. It was like sitting on the top of a flagpole, trying to lever a block of concrete across a muddy field.
“This blows,” I thought. “How could I have been so stupid. Well, fuck it. Into the breech.”
I pulled in the clutch and snicked the bike into gear. This automatically raised the side stand: another feature of the 18-year-old BMW.
It was the oddest sensation. Imagine sitting in a lifeguard’s chair with power tilt. It felt as if I were 40 feet off the ground. But the slightest pressure on the handlebars would lean this sucker over under a hint of power. It became weightless after rolling only an inch or too... And amazingly enough, so did I. Unlike the cruisers I had been sitting on, the seating arrangement leaned me a trifle forward and down. The handlebars were the “S” bars for this bike, which were really narrow. This translated into some really tight steering.
Still, Leslie’s heart was breaking for me. (Actually, it was. She simply said, "Sell it, if you can, and get another one. No big deal.")
Here was my first bike as a deteriorating adult, and I had bought a freak with all my money. She let me ride her Aero Shadow so my feelings wouldn’t be hurt. This gave me an interesting running comparison. Adding to my depression, I had just failed the motorcycle safety course. This was the only driving test I had ever botched. I celebrated by telling the instructor he was “a little shit.” This guaranteed my bridges vaporized as they burned. Fortunately, Leslie passed the course and was able to tell me what it felt like to have a motorcycle endorsement -- all the way home in the car.
(It should be noted here that Leslie never hesitated. She retook the course again -- without any need other than to encourage me -- to make sure I didn't blow a fuse, wet my pants, or run away. And once again, she got a higher score than I did.)
Pete Buchheit's R/7 and my 1986 K75 among the falling leaves at Elkneck State Park in Maryland. The park was shutting down for the season and it was barely warm enough to sit outside without a coat. Nothing adds to the atmosphere like woodsmoke. I lit a cigar.
Photo courtesy of Pete Buccheit -- Click to enlarge)
But the damnedest thing was happening. I started to really like this K75. Granted, this was out of necessity at first. But I could carve a turn on the Beemer with less effort and faster than the longer, heavier Shadow. Despite the fact that they were both 750’s, the K75 had a lot more get up and go. The Honda started to seriously catch its breath at 82 mph. At 103 mph, the K75 still had a grand to go before hitting the red line. I was amazed. After each ride, the Honda had to have the bugs wiped off its chrome. A narrow forked tongue flicked out of the BMW’s headlight and it ate the bugs.
The turning point came on the day I got confused by the automatic retracting side stand, and dropped the bike. Fortunately, it fell on me. The adrenalin surged through my body like an electric current. With strength I didn’t know I had, I righted the machine. A crowd gathered to jeer. I killed them with flaming Godzilla vapor from my mouth.
Raw sentiment poured from my lips. I called the slightly wounded bike “My darling... The spirit of the Rhine... My Bavarian Bitch... The ecstacy between my legs...”
And I told it I loved her.
I loved her self-canceling turn signals. I loved her emergency flashers that could be activated from either the turn signals or a button on the dash. I loved her fuel injection and the resulting 71 horsepower (a statistic that you must hire a detective to learn about many other bikes). I loved her dual disk front brakes (another item missing from the Honda). I loved the powerlet electrical socket under the seat. And I loved that all of these things were standard on this bike in 1986 (before many of today’s SQUIDs were even born) .
I got the bike back to the garage and took a long sip of the Kool-Aid. Actually, it was rum and coke. Leslie was doing something in the kitchen. “Did you have an okay ride on your strange motorcycle?” she asked, over her shoulder. Not getting an answer, she turned... And gasped.
I was standing there, wearing chain mail and winged helmet. In my hand was a brilliant sword, marked with a radiant circle divided by quarters, crowned by three letters. “The jackhammer wiener schnitzel is on me,” I said, rolling my R’s. My trasmagorification was almost complete. I was becoming a Teutonic Knight.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA The Mighty Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)