Thursday, February 17, 2011

Know Your Hand Signals...

My blessing and my curse is that I cruise around in my own world, finding fascination in a thousand things that are regarded as too commonplace for more than a passing glance from anyone else. Sometimes, there is gold in these miniscule details in that I find a rare bit of history, unexpected beauty, raw emotion, or the scent of a unfolding story. And other times, I just get a couple of details that tell me the story is passed, or that I missed the punch line.

Above: Dick Bregstein, my riding partner. Photo by Leslie Marsh

I had just waved goodbye to Bregstein, concluding an early summer day’s ride through Amish country. The season was just getting started so that the killer heat and millions of tourist buses — enabling “das Englanders” to view the Amish in their natural habitat — had yet to make an appearance. Dick Bregstein and I have ridden thousands of miles together, and have grown quite comfortable with each other’s riding style and peculiarities. If I want to stop a lot, so does Dick. If I want to see something stupid, Bregstein acts like it’s his mission in life. And if I want to ride as fast as I can, Bregstein will be six inches off my back tire, guaranteeing we’ll share the same jail cell when they pull us over.

Dick was maneuvering for his farewell turn, when he looked over his shoulder, shot me a smile, and flipped me the bird.

“Aaaah, Dickie,” I thought. “You are a clever son of a bitch.”

Bregstein rides a traditional BMW R1150R, with a boxer engine that hangs a beer keg-sized cylinder out each side. These are so big that Dick once had a California condor nesting on one.

Above: Dick Bregstein's classic BMW R1150, which he named "Suzy Wong." Photo by Clyde Jacobs.

There was less than six very familiar miles to go on this run before I’d hit the garage door button — when the “others” passed me. I was sitting in traffic on a divided highway, in the middle lane, at a light. They came up on my left as red turned to green. Traffic in the left lane was already moving and these guys barely had to slow down at the intersection. They went by in a half-assed formation that managed to snag my attention in the two seconds it took for this scenario to unfold. Now under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t think of tagging onto an obvious group of friends (even if they sported the Roundel), especially if they were wearing colors or a group tee shirt. The “others” fit the spirit of guys who should have been wearing the same tee shirt, but who’d gone beyond that, maybe without intending to. And there was something else that piqued my interest too.

So I held onto second gear for a tad longer than necessary and did the same thing in third. My quarter horse of a K-75 wound up for the pitch, swung into the left lane, and caught up just in time to get in behind these boys at the next light.

The “others” were three guys riding identical Harley Davidsons. Now I do not profess to know much about Harleys, and I had to scan the HD product line to find a machine that matched the one that stuck in my memory. The 2010 “Street Bob” fit the bill exactly. These bikes were painted a lustrous jet black; the kind of black that you would get if you pulled all the stars out of heaven and were just left with the void. The shine on the chrome was such that the exhausts on these rigs could have been used as currency in ancient Rome. The thing that really caught my eye, however, was the handlebars. Not quite the traditional “ape hangers,” these handlebars still placed the riders’ hands at eye level. The rest of their bikes was basically naked and seemed to imply the rider was the portrait of minimalistic existentialism.

Above: Classic lines of 2010 Harly Davidson Street Bob. Sheer power and raw muscle,
in an authentic bobber ride Photo from Harly Davidson on the internet.

Now there are a million reasons why anyone gets a motorcycle, and there is a model or a design to meet each of those reasons. To my way of thinking, however, those handlebars looked like the prelude to crucifixion. But then again the seating position of any late model Ducati makes the rider look like a monkey humping a watermelon — in my opinion. And my aging, bloated carcass won’t do well on either the Harley Street Bob or any Ducati ever made. This story is not a judgement of marques nor of their unique characteristics.

There is nothing unusual in riders wearing the same gear either. Lots of different brand-name ballistic gear has a similar cut and look to it. The same goes for the leather stuff too. What seemed so utterly unusual is that these guys were dressed identically, without going the route of leather nor ballistic stuff. Each was wearing black boots, black jeans, a weathered flannel shirt, and a “do” rag. The shirts were a variation on a theme. The leader was sleeveless. The guy to his left had his sleeves rolled up and the guy to his right had his sleeves rolled down. All of these guys were in their early-twenties, and gave the impression that they were roofers or in construction. (Rugged looking and in good shape; the kind of boys you’d want behind you in a bar fight.) They could have been three guys riding home from work, where they were building a house or something. Three guys dressed identically... On three identical motorcycles... Hanging in the left lane... Barely reaching the speed limit.

I could just see three friends from high-school, getting in trouble together, getting jobs together, hanging out in the same bar together, and walking into a Harley dealership together, saying, “Give us three of those.” There is a certain element of enduring coolness in that. And yet, there might have been trouble in the making. I was certain of it. The leader was out in front, by about three car lengths. I never saw him take his eyes off the road. The two wingman were riding side-by-side — and having a running conversation.

This wasn’t easy to do.

For one thing, there was plenty of traffic. And for another, none of these bikes had the factory exhaust. The wingmen were shouting. I was 20 feet behind them, and I could hear every word over the enraged hummingbird growl of my K75’s engine. It was this shouting that caught my attention as they passed by. And while the Harley’s were identical as they had left the showroom, one of them had a gorgeous brunette on the pillion. I like looking at hot girl asses on motorcycles and this one was a contender for the hall of pillion candy fame.

She was about 19, had her long dark hair in a ponytail, and had a face that will undoubtedly inspire poetry and murder in her lifetime. She wore jeans that could have been applied by a plastic surgeon. Her ensemble was completed by an open denim jacket, that revealed a yellow blouse underneath. It was my conclusion that the guy whose pillion she was straddling was in far over his little pillion head. And the look on his buddy’s face said to me that he had reached the same conclusion... Because while he was shouting his remarks to his pal, he kept glancing back at the girl.

You all know how difficult it is to say anything to a rider on a bike next to you — especially under way. For this reason hand signals have been developed to convey critical information that precludes unnecessary conversation. Tapping the gas tank means “I need gas.” Tapping the top of your helmet means, “Some asshole cop with nothing better to do is monitoring our speed.” And flipping the bird to the guy on the red K75 means, “I had a nice time riding with you today, Jack.” Apparently, there is no hand signal to represent, “Yeah... I’m gonna ride out to the west coast... Malibu... Maybe start a band... Maybe do a video... Too bad I’m goin’ alone...” (I heard all this clearly, riding 20 feet behind them.)

This ongoing conversation between the two trailing Harley riders lasted through 4 traffic lights. The guy without the girl was doing most of the talking. His facial expression said it all though, and I was reminded of the lyrics from the 1981 hit “Jessie’s Girl,” by Rick Springfield. The boys turned onto a side road that was going in my general direction, and I decided to follow along. The conversation fell off as this was one lane in each direction, and the leader had picked up the pace. However, the next intersection had a couple of turn lanes and was wider than most. The light was red. The three musketeers were headed left and my garage beckoned straight ahead.

I pulled alongside of the rider with the pillion candy.

These three guys looked at me like I was a pile of dog shit, wearing a party dress and cha-cha heels, on a pink Vespa. Yet I would remind the gentle Twisted Roads reader of a favorite statement of Julius Caesar, Hitler, or Benjamin Franklin. (I forget who said it.) But it goes like this, “Divide and conquer.”

I lifted the face shield on my Nolan helmet and shouted, “You guys have great looking bikes... But I like yours best.” The brunette shot me a 1500-watt smile, and her boyfriend started laughing. The light changed in that instant, and I pulled away.

There may not be a hand signal to adequately express that you are planning a ride to California, where you might start a band or make a video; (whatever will get you laid first). But there is a hand signal to adequately express the appropriate response. It entails closing your hand like it is grasping a broomstick, and moving it vertically up and down.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011


Nikos said...

The last time I received that hand shandy greeting was in days of riding my 'sports' moped in my youth...I had come across a group of boy racers on sporty Gileras and managed to outbrake them on a bend at the bottom of Sundridge Avenue.
Best wishes from seat 19a, N

BeemerGirl said...

Amusing that this topic comes up now, as it was also discussed at the start of my most recent covered bridge tour. At that time it was in reference to the rock hard clutch on the 1940's Norton. And how men were stronger in those days. Someone suggest that gestures as a way for this generations girly-boys to "strengthen up". Of course, I am too much of a lady to get caught in those types of discussions and I averted mine eyes when demonstration time came.

Crap! Nikos has plans and all! Did you get my email discoursing about our desire to attend the rally? We would love to go, but some stars will have to align. Keep your fingers crossed.

-Steel Cupcake

Allen Madding said...

Since they were dressed identical, maybe they are a new boy band trying to break bad.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Nikos:

I was just amazed by the whole thing... It was so damned unusual. Three guys, who looked like a wrestling tag team — with one definitely hitting on the other's girl friend.

It's a strange world.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steel Cupcake/Lori/Beemer Girl:

Onbly once before, when riding in a highly structured charity group, did I ever see two people trying to maintain a converation on bikes. It was absurd then... And worse now. Like I said, sometimes riding is a study of people.

Yup, I got your letter and answered it this morning. I am thrilled that Nikos and Mrs. Nikos are coming to hear me speak at the BMW Rally this summer. I may need volunteers from the audience. It would be great if you guys could make it too. I was thinking we might do a "Twisted Roads Run," or meet for lunch.

None of my heckling friends will be in the back. They will be in the front, where they can't miss.

Fondest regards,
Jascl • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Allen Madding:

Like I said, it wasn't a Harley thing and it wasn't a riding lifestyle thing. It was just totally strange. Now the highway we were on can see some fast movers. These guys just hung out in the left chugging around at 45 mph, gassing away.

They were barely the type to say hello, much less inviteme to ride with them. What I found amazing was the study of personalities. As far as I was concerned, the leader was the real rider in the group.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

redlegsrides said...

A nice vivid description of the group you followed during the end portion of your ride.

As to HD riders with loud pipes trying to talk above the noise of the exercise in futilty with quiet Beemers, they must have been really shouting for you to catch pieces of the conversation.

I really liked this line: "a face that will undoubtedly inspire poetry and murder in her lifetime"

It's good that you only thought of the appropriate hand signal re the biker's plans about a band in California.....I would think their reaction to you doing said hand signal while at that last light might have caused you some concern.

Then again, I am sure your K75 can leave them behind.


Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Redleg's Rides

Unknown said...


I wished you had a speaking gig in Oregon rather than PA

It would be easier for me to attend and heckle. PA is too far for me, unless of course I received some plane tickets in a brown unmarked envelope

Wet Coast Scootin

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

We got stuck at four traffic lights at which the bikes were idling. I was 15 or 20 feet behind the guy with the lady on the back. (I was preoccupied by her ass.) And I could clearly hear this other guy yelling. At first, I thought they were fighting. The H-ds looked straight off the showroom floor and they were the factory pipes. But even so, if is damned difficult to talk for any length of time, especially moving.

And none of these guys were wearing helmets. Maybe it was easier for them to hear each other. But what was amazing is that they looked like stunt doubles for each other. They handled the machinery well enough... I don't think they were new to it... But there was definitely something strange going on. Sometimes life is a study of people.

The K75 is pretty conservative coming off the line. I doubt I'd have had the edge on these guys.

Thanks for reading and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobskoot:

If someone sends you plane tickets in a brown envelope, ask them to send me a hotel suite reservation too. The rally will be 151 miles from the house and I am looking forward to doing this in one fast shot (meaning two stops).

BMW rallys can be a pisser, and I think this one will be a big success. The fairgrounds are flat... Most of the interior roads are paved... And It will be great for getting in a few local rides too. They are expecting between 8,000 and 10,000 participants.

But you've got something going on about that same time.

Thanks for reading and for humming along.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Steve Williams said...

Thank you for the sign language lesson. Perhaps one day it will come in handy.

Riding in the wilderness of central Pennsylvania I see no other riders or pillion candy. Just the road ahead through rose colored glasses. But I feel better now prepared to offer the appropriate response if I run into a nefarious group of males on Harleys with a damsel amongst them.

Fine story telling again. You not only have extensive experience in life but the brain to allow the rest of us to share your trip.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks
Follow me on TWITTER

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

It was an odd thing to stick in my miond, but it was on actual on the road experience. And rare is the occasion when I will not say "Hello" to a good-looking woman.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

RichardM said...

Hmmm. May get to meet you at the BMWMOA rally. My wife wants to visit her father in PA sometime this summer. The rally time sounds like a good time to visit PA.

BMW-Dick said...

Dear Jack:
How come these things only happen when you're riding alone.

As my friend Horst would say, "Tzack, I haf something here in my pocket to show you..."

Ever since you've learned to interpret my hand signal (I only use one with you), riding with you has become a delight. I hope the salt, sand, gravel, and chemicals leave the roads soon, so you can lead us to the pillion candy store.

Chris said...

Another fun story Jack. I'm surprised how many people don't know your first two hand signals, especially, tapping the helmet.

Ken said...

Butts (female type) on bikes is one of my favorite things!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Ken:

Nothing enhances scenery like a motorcycle... A bike draws you into the picture. And there is no picture more magnetic to my soul than a hot patootie on the bike ahead of me. I didn't give it a second thought. And the wingman of the looser in front of me not only gave it a second thouyght, he was giving it a nibble.

Thanks for reading Twisted Roads and for leaving a comment.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Chris:

Whenever the guys and I get together for a group ride, a few things get reviewed. We met with the understanding that everyone has a full tank. And when the first guy needs gas, we all get gas. The signal is a simple tapping of the tank. In smaller groups, we like to pull the ton... So it behooves the group to be wary of the guy tapping his helmet.

Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dickie:

I've almost run out of stuff that has happened riding with you. Why? Because this winter is dragging on and the time has come to have new adventures.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Richard M.:

I think it would be a pisser to run into you and your wife during BMW MOA rally week this summer. I'd advise making reservations quickly, as some of the hotels are already full in the area. As I was saying, I'm thinking of staging a Twisted Roads Rallying point at the event. Please keep me posted on your plans.

Fondest Regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Anonymous said...

It seems all I ever notice when behind a group of Harleys is the smell of raw, unburned gasoline. The group you mention might have been rentals. Makes me wonder if the pillion candy was a rental...

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Anonymous:

I'd have rented her.

Fondest regards,
Jacl • reep • Toad