And I was slated to be in the thick of it.
The ambient light in the room gave no indication of the weather outside nor of the pending dawn. The muted droning of a bedside fan nearly lulled me back to sleep, but I didn’t want to set a bad example for fellow Mac Pac member and K75 rider Mike Cantwell, who was still sawing wood in a room down the hall. Cantwell is an old friend of mine from a previous life in Lake Placid, New York. He’d ridden the four hundred miles from the Adirondack Mountains two days before, just to participate in this event.
Beating the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of BMW motorcycles in a single parade formation sounds like a fairly ambitious objective, yet it is one that is subject to some interpretation. The current “confirmed” Guinness World Record for this event is somewhat modest in the extreme, and was awarded to 128 BMW motorcycles gathered in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, on June 12, 2004. Records of this nature are set to be broken. Grass Roots BMW, in Cape Girardeau, MO, is currently awaiting confirmation of 241 riders in a subsequent record-breaking attempt event last September. Compared to the 2,100 Harley riders who hold this title for their brand, BMW numbers are rather sparse but accurately reflect the market share of the marque in the US.
The Mac Pac initially considered going after the record 9 months ago, but opted to focus its organizational resources on events of a more regional nature. It was the success of the Cape Giradeau group that once again brought this subject into the limelight. Cursed by the enthusiasm of Todd Trombore, a former US Marine with a stable of 34 antique, vintage, and new motorcycles (the majority of which are BMWs), the project went from discussion to completion in less than a month.
Trombore brought the concept to Bob Jones, the CEO of Montgomeryville Cycle Center, the newest BMW dealer in Pennsylvania. Jones is a consummate businessman, but he is also a BMW rider and has a thing for bringing bikers together for any good cause or even just a decent ride. Jones also brought something else to the table — a parking lot the size of two football fields adjacent to a state highway with a two-mile long straight-away.
Bolstered by boundless support from his fellow riders in the Mac Pac (the vast majority of whom simply responded, “Yeah, that would be nice” when asked about breaking the record), Todd waded into a logistical swamp that included repeated discussions with the Guinness folks, local police departments, several area newspapers, and the officers of neighboring BMW clubs. Their general response was a collective, “Sure, that would be nice.” The first volunteer to step forward to help with the planning was David Case, a Mac Pac rider who was recovering from an involuntary dismount on a vintage bike in flawless condition. He suffered minimal injuries in the initial crash, but experienced greater trauma off-loading from the emergency vehicle. (Case was in the process of being transported by helicopter from the accident, but leaped from the aircraft to the hospital roof —from 6,000 feet —when he was informed of the cost of the transit.)
The team of Trombore, Jones and Case worked out a complete program, including publicity, mapping out a parade route, arranging police support and traffic control, plus devising an arrival process by which participants could safely exit the facility while maintaining the tightest possible formation. Jones went further, and provided cases of ice cold bottled water, gallons of hot coffee, and a complimentary hot dog lunch through the generosity of Hatfield Meats. Another Mac Pac rider and a strong motorcycle racing aficionado James “Big Jim” Ellenberg supplied several thousand hand-crafted chocolate chip, peanut butter, and pecan cookies — that will soon be available commercially, through a new business venture.
And so the dominoes of the Mac Pac’s epic Guinness Book Record-Breaking Attempt were set to fall. All I had to do was get there.
Having volunteered to man the registration table, I thought I should get to the site early, about 7:30am. It was my plan to meet with a few cohorts at the Exton Diner for a pre-event steak and eggs breakfast, at 6am, and then to head off to Hatfield by the most expedient means. Unfortunately, my arthritic joints had other plans. Every part of my body, except one, was as stiff as a board. I could barely stand up in the bathroom. My legs were so unsteady that I felt like I was trying to take a piss while standing on a moving train, and I briefly considered aiming for the bathtub as it presented a larger target.
Putting on my boots can take twenty minutes under these conditions and I was determined to get this done before Cantwell was even up. I flavored my first mouthful of coffee with Celebrex and Tramadol, and staggered out to the garage. The jointed door rose like the expectations of a Victorian virgin on her wedding night, and I stepped out onto the driveway, where I was knocked unconscious by the humidity. Looking up to catch the faintest trace of the sun, my face was covered with raindrops. “Fuck this,” I whispered in supplication to the motorcycle gods. It had only taken 5 minutes to get my boots on. It then took me ten attempts to get my leg over the saddle... And that was using my portable step.
My 1995 BMW K75 (mystic red) named “Fireballs,” and Cantwell’s 1993 BMW K75 (silky blue) named “The Nobility Of Mankind,” (or some shit like that) started without hesitation. I went through the usual nonsense of getting my left leg up to the peg (for the first time in three weeks), and we hit the road.
Cantwell made an interesting observation... While our bikes are virtually identical in so many ways, like coins stamped on the same press, there are also as different as two quarter horses bred from the same mare. The distinctive K75 whine is there, as well as the buttery smooth sound of changing gears (like hitting a coconut with a mallet), but they have separate personalities with regard to the way they ride, the way they idle, and their overall impression. Cantwell likes the “naked” look of his machine, which is adorned in the Amish tradition of almost nothing, other than a clear OEM windscreen that wraps around the headlight. He claims this concept best adheres to the austere Teutonic design philosophy of the K75. His deference to additional lighting is limited to a modulating headlamp.
My bike caps the hard, straight lines of the K75 with a “Scout” fairing from Parabellum. I have removed anything shiny and replaced it with black powder-coated or Jet-Hot-treated parts. (I specifically wanted an all black exhaust system and crash bars.) The Russell “Day-Long” saddle is huge, as is my ass, but really adds character to this rig. I have Motolights, HID PIAA lights, and a fancy LED strobe affair connected to my brake lights (that fits in the OEM lens). Other riders who come across this bike in the parking lots of saloons, pool halls, whorehouses, and the Rayburn Building in Washington (where many Senators and Congressmen have their offices) come away thinking I am one tough BMW rider. They are right.
It generally takes me ten or fifteen minutes to get my joints adjusted to the seat. The pegs are high on BMW’s and I can rest my elbows on my knees, which are just below my ears. Not on this day, however. Everything continued to hurt on the fast 7-mile ride to the diner. (This is what comes from riding this bike once every three weeks.)
Our waitress was a pretty little thing who poured coffee in such a manner that I decided to father her children. All of them. I introduced the four riders at the table (Dick Bregstein, Matt Piechota, Michael Cantwell, and myself), explaining that we’d be her customers this morning, and that she’d be welcome to join us after hustling the fragrant steak and eggs out of the kitchen.
“Shove it, Fatass. I wouldn’t fuck you if you had his dick,” she replied, nodding at Cantwell before disappearing behind swinging doors. (This caused Cantwell to blush for about 25 minutes.)
“Kind of reminds you of being married, eh Jack?” noted the sage Bregstein.
It was after breakfast that Matt Piechota announced he would be riding out to Montgomeryville in the company of Earle Bare, and others of the Mac Pac peg-dragging ilk. Piechota is a calculating individual and he withheld this statement until after I had paid the check. Matt meant no offense, it was just he had an all too vivid recollection of following me out to New Jersey on the White Castle run, and didn’t want to take any chances of a repeat performance. “Thanks for breakfast,” he sneered, snicking his “R” bike into gear.
So it was just three BMWs that headed off into the murk, with three unnamed riders, who found an unnamed stretch of road, and subsequently hit 111 mph (107 on the GPS) on a quiet Sunday morning ride. It is my understanding that there is nothing to match the regal sound of a certain model of BMW, discontinued in 1995, when it is allowed to run unrestrained. It sweeps into curves by telepathy, flirting first with gravity and then with centrifugal force. I must try it someday.
I had planned to arrive at Montgomeryville Cycle Center prior to 7:30am. It was an hour past that when Dave Case waved us into our parking spaces, like a deckhand on an aircraft carrier. Case welcomed me with a half-smile that clearly said, “You’re late, you douche.” Case had worked out an elaborate system by which every motorcycle that pulled in would be assigned a special place in line, guaranteeing that each machine could be easily counted, and would be poised for the fastest and safest exit from the parking lot. His system worked flawlessly and was well marked by highway cones. Bregstein returned Case’s wave with a salute and assumed his position in line, quickly followed by Cantwell. I flipped Dave the bird and parked “Fireballs” sixteen inches away from the seat I would occupy that entire morning. (As an extremely junior-level administrator for this event, I decided rank had its limited privileges.)
Case’s parking lot volunteers had motorcycles tucked away in a flash. These guys, and several women, were like the June Taylor Dancers with their gestures and signals. As each kickstand came down, a volunteer handed the rider a registration card, after first carefully writing down the motorcycle’s plate number. (Many riders don’t know the registration or plate numbers of their bike and this step was intended to eliminate having bikers leave the registration line to go back to their bikes.)
Above — As time wore on, the parking lot for Montgomeryville Cycle Center, in Hatfield, Pa became a sea of BMW Motorcycles. At this point, the heat was on it way to 92º(F). Photo by Jim Sterling.
Registration was manned by Patti Minner (who just got her motorcycle permit), Dave Crank (who rode in on a flawless Vellocette, which was not eligible for the ride), Gorden Till (who is the parts manager for a local Harley Davidson dealer, but who rides to work everyday on a BMW GS), Rogers George (who covered his “R” bike’s fairing with commercial grade rhino hide), and myself (details upon request).
Above — Dave Case's parking crew packed 'em in tight. In the foreground is Mike Cantwell's Blue K75 (yellow triangles on the top case). Photo by Jim Sterling.
The temperature went from 82º(F) to 92º(F), with traces of the earlier rain turning to the kind of mist one finds in atomic reactor cooling towers. Bob Jones discovered a torrent of water running out from under the registration table and realized it was my sweat. He promptly invited me to move the registration tables into the air conditioning. But I looked at Dave Case and crew sweltering in the sun and realized I’d be lynched if I fled into the cool dealership. So Jones rolled out a huge vent fan which I believe is used to test the aerodynamics of submarines. He switched it to “Gale Force Five,” and the atmosphere under the registration tent became delightful... Until 60 people decided to stand in the breeze.
Then the bikes started to arrive.
BMW riders do not often do the group thing. They are creatures of the solitary ride cult, substituting speed and distance for companionship. At best, we expected to see groups no larger than three. Bikes buzzed into the parking lot in endless cycles of twos and threes and started to accumulate around the edges. Riders came up to registration, presented their credentials, and signed in. Their points of origin were predictable: Bucks County, Montgomery County, Chester County, Lancaster County, and Philadelphia. And then a guy handed me a card from Hudson County, New Jersey. He had ridden in from Bayonne, the sister community of my native Jersey City. Riders (like Don Eilenberger and Bill Dudley — Junior and Senior) came in from the Jersey Shore, along with guys who came in from the Skylands Region of the Garden State (like Bill Mara). Riders checked in from Connecticut, Queens (New York City), Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland. Some had been on the road since 5am. There were representatives from the Jersey Shore Riders, The New Sweden Riders, The Delaware Valley Riders, and the Mid-Atlantic Riders. Some of these guys came in small groups, but many came by themselves. Surprisingly, many did not belong to a local chapter, a club, or even the national organization. They’d heard about this event through various means — and just came.
The numbers mounted slowly.
An hour into the open registration it looked like we were chasing a pipe dream. The bikes started arriving in a steady stream after 10am. It seemed as if they were coming in at the rate of one per minute. And what bikes they were! There were some of the newest and hottest BMWs on the road. Dozens of mighty GSs rolled in covered with battle scars, exotic road dirt, and the remains of insects from the tropics melded into the windshields. There were “Toasters” in mint condition. Bikes with more than forty-years of service on the road bounced in like they were just off the assembly line. Sidecar aficionados were well represented. “Big Jim” Ellenberg’s AUTBD sidecar rig was about the 10th from the lead, which was Todd Trombore’s antique sidecar, complete with Larry Bowa, the BMW riding dog. There were bikes dressed to nines, and naked machines that made Cantwell’s look positively ostentatious.
Above — "Big Jim" Ellenberg's sidecar rig, the flagship bike of the AUTBD. Photo by Dick Bregstein.
There is nothing like running into a motorcycle riding buddy on the road, just over the horizon from anyplace on the map. But it becomes something special in a group like this one, where some of the legendary names are among the faces in the crowd. Moto Edde Mendes roared in on the same two-tone blue K75 that he rode from Morocco through the Sahara, and up through the silk route... Thirty-nine thousand miles in 11 months, without a back-up team.
The event started to look like an ATGATT convention, until a rider, whose only protection against the ground were his tattoos and a “do” rag, pulled in on a Beemer made out to look like a muscle bike. There was even a Hannigan trike conversion, easily recognized as a stately BMW LT.
Yet the flow of traffic had stalled by 11:15am... The crowd grew pensive, with many voices asking, “What’s the count?” We were 8 bikes away from tying the record. Each machine that rode in was regarded as another notch in an invisible belt, that stretched from Cape Girardeau to the offices of the Guinness World Record folks. The police arrived to begin closing off the road for the epic count. I thought they’d be firing tear gas to disperse the crowd if we couldn’t get the numbers. Suddenly, the margin was down to five... Then to three... And then the count hovered at 240.
Regardless of the model, a BMW makes a distinctive sound. If it is a “R” bike, it sounds like a twin cylinder meat grinder at idle, but quickly becomes a chorale of power... A sound that has mesmerized riders since 1923. If it is a “K” bike, then it sounds like precision power calibrated to the music in one’s soul. Now this may sound like a lot of drivel to those genteel Harley riders and Suzuki fans out there. But they can kiss my ass as it is the truth.
There was no mistaking the sound coming around the curve.
It was a BMW bearing a plate from Tennessee, and it tied the record. Two minutes behind him came a brand new S1000RR from Philly, ridden by a nice guy in leathers who just pulled over to see what all the excitement was about. He hadn’t even heard of the event. I thought the crowd was going to pull him off the bike and ride him around on their shoulders. He was number 242. Four more riders came in behind him, but the place was a bedlam.
Trombore and Case calculated it would take 12 minutes to empty the parking lot at Montgomeryville Cycle Center. They were off by a second or two. For one brief moment, there was a symphony that I had never heard before: the sound of 246 BMWs starting all at once. And everyone of them started on cue. The cops had closed the one-way ramp from RT. 309, allowing the riders to go against traffic for a couple of hundred yards, before effortlessly turning north onto Rt. 309. The procession smoothly surged forward.
There was a brief pause or two, and riders in line invited me to pull out in front of them. I declined, wanting to be the absolute last bike to pass before the video cameras marking this event. My old riding partner Clyde Jacobs left the line to wait with me. “Someone has to be around to pick up your fat ass if you drop the bike,” said Clyde. “It won’t be me, but I can find somebody who might.”
There were still about 20 bikes left to go when Clyde and I roared out. Once on the highway, I was amazed to see the line (now moving at about 50 miles per hour) stretched out far ahead of me. It took my breath away. I was always the kid who got picked last to be on any team... Yet that didn’t matter with this team.
Technically, we assembled 246 motorcycles and are now contenders for the Guinness World Book record for BMWs gathered in one place and exhibited in a parade formation. But we are only contenders until our evidence is evaluated and certified by the Guinness organization. This could take months or even a year. So until that happens, others can claim the title.
Events like these bring riders together. And in the current economic crisis, bringing greater visibility to the BMW marque, showing the enduring appeal of the brand, and displaying a sense of camaraderie not commonly felt in other riding sectors can only be a good thing --- For all of us, not just one club.
Not everyone was delighted by the news. Mac Pac leadership received a communication from someone claiming to be a member of the Cape Girardeau group, who described our effort as “mean spirited,” as we made the attempt before they were yet certified. The writer went on to say that “Cape Girardeau is in the middle of nowhere, and had to draw riders from 17 states, while we had the advantage of pulling in everyone off the streets of Philadelphia.” Apparently, some folks are under the impression that Philadelphia is hotbed of BMW activity. I regret to inform them that it’s not. This e-mail writer also indicated that if he were riding his bike through Philadelphia area, and it broke down, he’d push it to Fredricksburg before asking for help.
Records are made to be broken. Records with such little numbers like 241 and 246 are just asking to get broken. A man who recently claimed the title of the world’s fastest motorcycle on the salt flats waited years to take that exalted designation from Chris Carr. He held it two days before Chris Carr reclaimed it. Should Carr have waited a month, or a year, or two years before throwing his hat in the ring again? If we got a call from the New Jersey Shore Riders, or any other group, who claimed they were going after a similar record breaking attempt in two months, the Mac Pac would be honor-bound to send as many riders as we could... And we’d do so happy just to be included in the project.
Events like these bring riders together. And in the current economic crisis, bringing greater visibility to the marque, showing the enduring appeal of the brand, and displaying a sense of camaraderie not commonly felt in other riding sectors can only be a good thing... For all of us, not just one club. I expressed doubt that the email our group received was even legitimate, as it referenced a BMW breaking down, and I’ve never heard of such a thing.
But I would say this to our colleagues in Cape Girardeau, feel free to call me if you break down in Philly. I have a trailer and I’ll come and get you. So would anyone of 20 Mac Pac members I know (who are so equipped). And anyone of them would stake you to dinner too.
To any other chapter going after this title I would tell you there is talk about the Mac Pac making this an annual event. (Yet let me tell you, it was a stretch pulling in 246 BMWs.) And if the BMW Motorcycle Owners Of America did this at one of their rallies, they'd have 8,000 to 10,000 bikes in their count. The world — with its records — is getting to be a pretty small place.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)