I was on a run with a bunch of guys down to Lewes, Delaware (several years ago), when we got caught up in a Polar Bear Run. There had to be close to 300 bikes assembled in the parking lot of a local watering hole, with more arriving every few minutes. I had no sooner gotten my feet down and my helmet off, when the atmosphere was assaulted by an endless clap of thunder that seemed to roll within itself, as close to 50 regal Harley-Davidsons arrived enmasse, jazzing their engines as they cleared a rise (steel-plated lift bridge), slowed for the turn, and pulled into the lot. I marveled at this impressive presentation of iron, chrome, and noise.
It was nothing less than a multi-sensual celebration of the ride... A combination of sight, sound, and rider solidarity expressed in two unbroken lines of Milwaukee Iron.
“Wouldn’t it be cool to do this with a long line of BMW riders,” I thought to myself. I have expressed this idea to BMW-riding pals of mine, who have invariably shrugged the concept off, preferring to ride in groups that seldom exceed four. Yet the occasion presented itself a year later, when no less than 30 riders of the Mac-Pac decided to take a lunch run to the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa. There was no conscious decision to do this in a group, it’s just that 30 riders showed up, and managed to leave at the same time.
In deference to my arthritis, the guys agreed to take the slab west (Pennsylvania Turnpike) to Route 15 south to the historic battlefield. Gerry Cavanaugh (astride a mighty GS) followed by Horst Oberst (on another “R” bike) led the assembly in the standard staggered formation, setting the pace between 65 and 70 miles per hour. I would finally get my wish, to be part of a long line of BMW riders, bound by style, machine, philosophy, and friendship.
This was unbelievably exciting... For the first twenty minutes.
I was careful to maintain a 25-foot gap between my front tire and the back wheel of the bike that was in front of me, and to my left. My usual riding partner, Dick Bregstein, did the same, about 25-feet behind me, and to my left. Though it is a super-slab and traffic can be heavy, this stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike runs through farmland, which is soothing to the eyes. I know this from other rides. But on this trip, I primarily concentrated on maintaining a precise position from the machine in front of me, occasionally looking up to make sure that there were no problems in front of him. Several of the bikes in the lead were equipped with cruise control, and held a precise speed of 70 mph. I found myself giving “Fireballs” (my 1995 BMW K75) the gas to pull up a bit, and then twisting off the speed when I started to gain.
This was about as much fun as laying brick.
We were all in the right lane when a truck decided to pass us at about 71 miles per hour. That means the driver took 15 minutes to pass the entire line of bikes, boxing us in 10 at a time. Glancing in my mirror, I could see several other trucks getting left to do the same thing. It was then I gave Bregstein our special signal. I raised the middle finger on my left hand and slowly waved it. That means, “Fuck this.”
I hit my flashers for a second, signaled for a left, and broke the line with Bregstein hot on my tail. I could see Dick laughing in my mirror. The line of BMW’s fractured in an instant, with riders teaming up in groups of three or four.
Suddenly the fun was back in the ride. We were moving at speeds that were far more comfortable to each rider, or smaller groups of riders, and maneuvering like eagles instead of ducks. There were times when I was doing 70mph, and times when I was not. And none of us had the claustrophobic feeling that comes from getting boxed in by truck traffic.
Our destination for lunch was the Dobbins House, adjacent to the battlefield at Gettysburg. This is a “period-type” restaurant in which the serving staff dress up like they would have in 1864. The food was good, the service was adequate, and the company was superb. On the way back, the riders started out is smaller groups to explore various back roads on the way home.
But I had gotten the answer to my question. The reason you don’t see large assemblies of BMW riders together is that there is much more fun to be had in smaller groups. Simply stated, privateers have more options than the Armada. It could be argued that there are a lot fewer BMWs than there are other marques... But the truth is that even when larger numbers of Beemers are available, they seem to prefer each other’s company at the beginning and and of each trip. Now I know why.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011
All rights reserved
A five-day ride through West Virginia was coming to an end. Though there would be a few hundred miles to cover before each of us would dismount in our respective garage, it was generally acknowledged that the adventures were over. We pointed our bikes north after the traditional farewell breakfast, and took a series of back-roads as long as these were an option. The time would come for the slab soon enough.
There is always the thought that we would pull off the road, then pull off our gloves and helmets, to properly say good-bye as each of us left formation for a home that might be 20 or 30 miles off the common ride. But it seldom works out that way. Pete Buchheit bailed first. Yet we were on one one superslab as he signaled for a right, and exited onto another. The good-bye was a cavalier wave, and a blast of horns.
The traffic on I-95 north of Baltimore that day was as thick and hot as magma. Clyde Jacobs and I cut through it, dashing from one clear spot to another, like frogs jumping on moving lilly pads, in a game of certain death. At one point, Clyde was three lanes to my right, boxed in as was I, perfectly parallel to me, doing about 75 miles per hour. I could have stepped across the hoods of cars to ask him a question.
This type of riding is hardly fun and I watched Clyde move ahead, then wave me behind him. We left the slab someplace around Bel Air, Maryland. I followed Clyde onto the shoulder of a side-road, and took a swig of cold water from a bottle he offered.
“Let’s take the back way into Pennsylvania,” said Clyde.
I was ready to give him an argument. The pain in my knees was phenomenal and now that the ride was at an end, I wanted to get home, and off this bike, as quickly as possible. But that’s not how a ride always ends. Clyde and Pete had been especially solicitous of me and my quirks on this run. It was my turn now.
“I’ll follow you,” I said.
Yet I couldn’t help noticing that the skies were darkening perceptibly, and that the wind was starting to pick up. We were riding right into a thunderstorm. Local traffic was much lighter, but we were also moving much slower. The storm broke like my last wedding vows, with a fury to match the temper of the enraged bride. It was the kind of rain that lashed down in vicious waves. Riding in mesh, I was thoroughly soaked in about 5 seconds, as was Clyde. The rain fell so furiously that it obscured visibility with its velocity, with its bombardment effect from bouncing up off the road and everything around us, and with the humid mist that rose from the heated pavement.
Clyde and I triggered the four-way flashers on our bikes at the same time. There was no real shoulder on this road and the possibility of getting whacked by a car attempting to pull over was very real. We plowed ahead through water that began to pile up against the wheels. The thought occurred to me that we might have missed this storm entirely had we stayed on the slab, and then, we might also have found ourselves in melee of traffic doing 80 miles per hour in a sudden deluge.
The storm passed in less than ten minutes and the sun came out with a vengeance. I started to steam in my rain-soaked tee shirt (under the mesh riding jacket). I was wearing crash-resistant Defender Jeans® by Diamond Gusset, and they were soaked clear through. Wearing a mesh jacket saves your dignity, in that it disguises the fact you look like drowned rat.
At that point Clyde and I ran into a huge Harley-Davidson event, with hundreds of riders along the side of the road. Many of these guys were in nothing but tee shirts and “do” rags. And so were their girlfriends. A staggering number of these fine ladies were wearing white tee shirts or tank tops — with absolutely nothing on underneath. It was the world’s largest wet tee shirt contest, in which very little was left to the imagination.
“Doesn’t this almost make you want to plink down a third of year’s wages on a Fat boy or a Wide Glide?” asked Clyde.
“Only if one of these women comes with the bike and will take that shirt off to polish the chrome,” I said. “Keep moving... These guys are bound to realize we’re wolves in Teutonic clothing.”
We hit US-1 a few minutes later, and I waved Clyde to the shoulder for the last time. There was plenty of opportunity to pull over and I wanted to thank him for a great ride. We shook hands on the Mason-Dixon Line, which at that point is the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Cyde and I had the pleasure of each other’s company for another ten miles, when he pulled off for home. I had the option of a back road, and I should have taken it. But I was too hot and in too much of a hurry. I followed US-1 to the junction of US-202 and ended a great ride in the exhaust stink of traffic stuck at red lights. Less than a mile from the house, on a road that is little more than a glorified city street, I gave “Fireballs” a burst of gas in third gear, turning into my community. It was my salute to five days of sheer fun.
I killed the engine in the garage, and just sat on the bike for a few moments. This had been a great trip... And while I would be delighted to see Leslie (Stiffie) again... I’d be ready to ride with Clyde, Pete, and Dick, in less than a week.
Author's note: Blogger has been down for the better part of a day here and I had the devil of a time posting Thursday's blog on Friday afternoon. I regret the delay. Some pictures may be posted to this blog episode latter on this evening.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011
All rights reserved