Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Saddest Ride Of My Life

He was the first of my close friends to die and the circumstances were murky. He’d been hitch-hiking home from a resort job in New York State on a night when it was raining in solid sheets. A passing cop said he saw my friend give him the finger when the officer drove by. The cop turned around and went back to impose an arrest. At over six feet tall and built like a boxcar, my friend was not inclined to accept social injustice... And not on this night, apparently. There was an alleged scuffle and my friend got tossed into the road, where he was struck and killed by another passing car — driven by his boss.

As I said, the circumstances were murky.

It was a small town where everyone knew everybody else. My friend was regarded as a city kid, up to bus tables. As far as I know, there wasn’t much of an inquest or an investigation. Dennis was certainly the kind of person who would flip off a cop... But would do so looking him right in the eye, in broad daylight. He was an artist, a poet, a citizen of the world, and a voice against repression in labor and in politics. He was a bit of a fighter and not one to back down if he was right. (Even if backing down was the smartest thing to do.) It was the pure Irish in him. Dennis was the real McCoy, initially schooled in Ireland and brought to the United States. Simply stated, Dennis L. wouldn’t take shit from anybody.

I have asked this question over and over again in my mind... How closely could you see someone’s middle finger extended on a dark, rainy night from a passing car? And in the glare of the headlights, Dennis wouldn’t have seen it was cop until the car would nearly have passed. I remember Dennis telling me how he traveled the length and breadth of Ireland hitching rides. “Anybody would pick you up,” he said. “Rare was the day when I had to wait 15 or 20 minutes.” The cop was certainly within his rights — on multiple levels — to go back and investigate a hulking huge person walking on the side of the road in a drenching downpour. I believe the world is a worse place for the outcome, however.

I got wind of the funeral through the friends' network. I’d been sweet on Dennis’s sister for a bit, though I think she regarded me more as a blister than anything else. The word on the street was that she wanted me to be there... And wanted me to make her laugh at least once during this ordeal. Yet to me was also assigned the task of picking up Ray B., a close mutual friend who was studying as a Jesuit novice at Fordham University, in the Bronx, one of my least favorite of New York City’s five boroughs.

The Kawasaki H2 started on the first kick.

This would be a no bullshit run of about 48 miles through some of the most challenging traffic I would ever encounter. Looking back, I can’t recall I ever gave it a second thought. (I would have to take valium and steroids to pull this off today.) I rolled onto to US-1 in Jersey City, also known as Tonelle Avenue, and began a descent into hell. There were a handful of houses scattered between decripit businesses on this stretch, all covered with an inch of grime and solidified truck exhaust. I ran up to Fort Lee and crossed the Hudson River on the George Washington Bridge, heading further north on the Major Deegan Expressway. It was the middle of the afternoon and traffic could best be described as the chaotic flight of millions of steel clay pigeons. The George Washington Bridge is two levels of four lanes — in each direction — with exits from right and left on the New York side. I had a rough idea where I was headed. Fordham Road is the major thoroughfare in the Bronx, and the fastest way to get to the Bronx Zoo, which is one of the finest zoological parks in the country. Fordham University is the imposing Jesuit run edifice of higher learning on the left. It appears to be about the size of Newark Airport.

The tach on the Kawasaki danced its full range as I flogged the gears going through traffic. While I can’t claim to have split lanes, I changed them a lot, running between 60 and 70 miles per hour. That ended at the Fordham Road exit. Here the traffic was bumper to bumper, and stoplight to stoplight. If I thought Jersey City was a dense mass of people, than Fordham Road in the Bronx was a neutron star of packed humanity. Turning into the university complex, I pulled up in front of Murray Weigel Hall. I was educated in the Jesuit prep school system and have a profound respect for these folks. It was like pulling up to the front door of the White House on a motorcycle. (I felt like I was stealing something.)

Ray B., one of my oldest friends (and the priest who would eventually baptize my daughter) stepped out in a black suit with a Roman collar. He folded a mass card into his jacket pocket, looked at the Kawasaki and said, “How do I get on this thing?” He had never ridden a motorcycle before.

Sitting ramrod straight against the sissy bar, he shortly found himself fired out of a cannon. I determined it would be faster to cut through Manhattan. We took the Deegan south toward I-95, headed west into Manhattan, then cut south on the West Side Highway. At the time, the West Side Highway was an elevated structure paralleling the docks on the Hudson River. It was notorious for the high speed of the traffic, it’s incredibly primitive ramps, the accidents that littered its deck, the battered nature of its pavement, and the fact that generations of pigeon shit had thoroughly rotted its cheap steel — so it was in the process of falling down. We exited at the collapsed part and rode over a stretch of exposed cobblestone, before turning into the Holland Tunnel.

I couldn’t help but thinking it was an odd life I led. The last time I’d ridden this bike in New York, I had picked up some bar floosie and rolled around with her in Central Park. Now, I was riding with the polar opposite.

“Are we taking a tour of the most dangerous and desperate places on earth,” yelled Ray over the scream of that two-stroke engine. As the oldest of the two underwater Hudson River crossings, the Holland Tunnel used to be the dimmest and the worst maintained. We surfaced in downtown Jersey City like a blue smoke belching barracuda coming up for air. The funeral home was on Montgomery Street, as I recall. Ray lurched off the bike, removed his helmet, and said with a grin, “Well that was taut and gripping.”

How different we looked... He in a black suit and Roman collar, and me in dress pants, with an oxford shirt under an old Army fatigue jacket that had belonged to my father. He was the personification of Christian solace. I looked like a character from the movie classic, "The Deer Hunter." We each traded a wan smile and went in to the business at hand. It was the saddest ride of my life, over 35 years ago.

Ray and I are so different now. He became a noted scholar and world traveler in the service of Christ and I became a world business travel writer in the service of Riepe. He is now in a wheelchair, and I gimp with a cane. Coming out of that funeral, he said to me, “Don’t get killed doing something stupid. I plan for you and I to be old friends in rocking chairs someplace, pissing our pants together.”

I recently reminded him of that statement, and mentioned that when he said it, I had thought it wouldn’t be this soon.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Seven Letter Word Meaning “No Balls” — Trailer... Not True

There were a bunch of us pulled over by the side of the road, taking a break from an arduous ride when an SUV went by pulling a massive chrome and leather cruiser strapped into an open box trailer. One of the members of our group, all BMW riders, casually remarked, “There goes another Harley Davidson in its natural habitat.” This was followed by a chorus of laughter, the implication being that Harley’s are more likely to be trailered than ridden to cut down on the chrome polishing time and that real riders would rather be dead than trailer their rigs.

But this observation stung me a bit as I happen to own a rather nice motorcycle trailer that I have not hesitated to use when the circumstances so warranted. And furtively glancing about the crowd that day, I realized that several others — including the speaker — also owned motorcycle trailers. Out of 17 riders present that day, seven of us had motorcycle trailers tucked away in respective garages. Now the very word “trailer” is anathema in some motorcycle circles as it seems to indicate the rider is a milk-toast (with unusually small genetalia), or that the motorcycle is something of a fashion statement and not up to the demands of the road. But the truth is that a motorcycle trailer can be a damned useful thing to have from time to time.

For example, a trailer can be helpful:
• When the bike refuses to start, or is running so badly that a mile in any direction is wishful thinking, and you want to get it to the dealer.
• When you are planning a trip and the distance factor outweighs available time to a point where you cannot be delayed by weather, aching joints, or the hint of a mechanical problem.
• If your machine is in the “vintage” or older category and you do not want to burn it up at slab speeds, and there is no easier alternative. (Does not apply to BMWs.)
• When the weather at the northern start of a trip is solid ice, snow, or freezing rain, and conditions at the southern terminus are clear, warm and dry for the next seven days.
• When you are headed to the track to compete or to take a class and the machine has had to be temporarily modified, rendering it unlawful for the street
• When your riding buddies — who relentlessly bust your balls over every little thing — break down and need rescuing.

The first five of these points are matters of personal convenience. The sixth is the most gratifying of occasional circumstances.

I have a Kendon two-rail motorcycle trailer that was purchased as a “ride” extender when my significant other was into biking. Leslie’s (Stiffie's) point was that there were hundreds of regions that she might want to ride her Honda Aero Shadow “around,” but not actually “to.” These included places like the Natchez Trace, the Grand Canyon, and the Adirondacks. But she had no desire to thread her way through highly congested urban areas, truck infested interstates, or miles of stop and go traffic that often connects each. The trailer was regarded as the ideal means to get us there. A bout of vertigo that lasted over a year ended her riding ambitions, however, and the trailer remained. I have used it six times: once to tow a Honda out to Nebraska; twice to tow friends who have broken down (a Suzookie and a Ducati), once when I picked my second K75, once to help move a collection of 17 vintage motorcycles, and once a trip to the Adirondacks (400 miles) that I didn’t feel like riding in a day. (I have serious arthritis in both hips and knees.)

The Kendon dual rail motorcycle trailer is rated to transport 2,000 pounds (2 bikes), weighs 400 pounds, folds, and stands upright in the garage to conserve precious floor space. It has a locking front wheel chock that will hold most bikes upright for the lashing-up. Moving the trailer around the garage, lowering it to the floor and hooking it up to the tow vehicle is a one-man operation. (It is better with two... And lifting the trailer back to the upright position is certainly simplified by the presence of another person.) A Zerk fitting in the wheel hubs makes lubricating the bearings a snap and the 13” tires make towing at 65mph a pleasant experience.

Above: In addition to ease of operation, the Kendon two-rail trailer makes for a neat towing presentation. "Fireballs" seen at rest on the trailer in Lake Placid. Note caster wheel on the back. This is one of several that hold the trailer upright in the garage. Photo by the author.

The loading ramp bolts onto the trailer when folded. (When the trailer is loaded, the ramp rides in the towing vehicle.) The load deck is about 10 inches above the ground, which makes rolling a bike up the ramp (and rolling it off) exceptionally easy. Again, this is a one person operation. A spare trailer tire is bolted underneath. The unit does not have brakes. This trailer is extremely well thought out, and well-built (in the United States). My aged GMC Suburban towed my K75 some 800 miles and never once handled like it was pulling anything. I also towed a Honda Rebel (400cc) out to Nebraska (behind a Toyota Land Cruiser) and didn’t feel any drag either.

My complaints about this trailer are minor. When empty, it bounces a bit on really rough or uneven road surfaces. The electrical connections to the rear lights are the kind where the wire is inserted into a hole and grabbed by a kind of trap. When I get around to it, I intend to replace the lights with an LED retrofit available from Kendon, and will have the connections soldered. Most damage to motorcycles carried on an open trailer are caused by stones tossed up from the tires of the towing vehicle. The Kendon trailer off has a $343.95 stone guard option, which is still sitting — uninstalled — in the garage, as the directions for bolting this on came without illustrations or photographs.

I was sitting at home one fine summer afternoon, when I got a call from my old pal and fellow Mac-Pac member Mike Evans. His Suzuki was on the fritz and gave up the ghost about three miles from his house. Now it should be noted that Mike and I are friends, but a slow-moving target like myself is often the subject of his witticisms, which are as smooth as a bag of broken glass. Evans opened the call with his usual pleasantries, focusing on the weather, the potential for a good tomato crop, and how mechanical things are so unpredictable.

“Let me guess,” I said, cutting to the delectable chase, “You broke down and your bike needs a ride on my trailer?”

“In so many words, yes,” replied Evans.

My response was the kind of laugh for which the late, great Vincent Price was famous.

We loaded his bike onto the trailer 40 minutes later. With Mike sweating and me supervising, the loading process took about 15 minutes. “You’re being an awfully good sport about this,” said Evans. “I expected you’d be bloating and gloating over this episode.”

“Not me,” I said. “This could happen to anyone, especially if they are out riding an older, less sophisticate motorcycle.”

His response was a raised eyebrow.

“I take no satisfaction in someone else’s misfortune,” I said. “But I do take lots of pictures and post them to the internet,” I thought. I had already taken a prize shot of Mike’s rig on the trailer, and with the touch of a button, sent the good news out to the world.

Above: I felt no satisfaction in taking this picture of Mike Evans's Suzuki on my trailer... But I like to look at it a lot. Mike's bike got three miles from the house, moaned, and died. I believe he does his own work. Photo by the author.

Two years later found me enroute to the Adirondacks. It was almost 400 miles of slab riding that had to be done overnight, due to an issue at work. Quite frankly, I wasn’t up to it. I had been dreaming of riding my bike through Lake Placid and Saranac Lake (in the company of Mike Cantwell, Chris Wolfe, and Lee Kazanas for months. Now my plans of a two-day leisurely ride just to get up there simply evaporated. In my youth, I would have straddled the bike and opened the throttle. To do so now with these hips and knees would have rendered me a cripple for a good deal of my time in the mountains. The solution was obvious, and with a sense of resignation, I hitched the trailer to the Suburban.

Getting the motorcycle on the trailer was the easy part. For all its angular looks, as befits the designation “Flying Brick,” the K75 is really short on lash points. Accessing the triple trees is complicated by the support arms for the “Scout” Parabellum fairing. And the lashing directions call for compressing the front forks by 30%. It’s a lot easier at the rear where the pillion hand-holds and the pierced kick plates for the passenger pegs offer great lash-down points. The directions in the Kendon guide are most specific that none of the load stabilizing lashings should extend beyond the fold in the trailer. The reason for this would probably be clear in an instant to an engineer, but I didn’t have a clue. (I just follow the directions.)

Above: The tie-downs are strategically placed and the luggage is removed from the bike. The diamond steel deck attests to the well-made nature of the Kendon motorcycle trailer. Photo by the author.

It is essential to use quality tie-downs with ratcheting tensioners. I use several that are guaranteed not to scratch the paint. (There are some that will easily scratch the paint). I also have fleece sleeves to run over the tie-downs if I am suspect of a possible rub, like on the paint of the pillion hand-holds. Cheap tie-downs produce no savings. Shitty ratcheting tensioners will drive you crazy. While four well-placed tie-downs will hold the bike, I also lash the front wheel to the chock and the rear wheel to the rail to absolutely minimize movement of the bike. It is critical to pull over after the first 50 miles to check the tightness of the lashings. There is always one that seems to get a little loose. Thereafter, I check the lashings every one hundred miles, or when I have to stop for gas.

Never trailer a bike on it's sidestand.

The Kendon trailer minimizes aggravation. Before I had this unit, I once rented a U-Haul open box trailer to pull the K75 to a rally out in Ohio. While there were lash points on the deck and on the rail that ran around the top of the trailer, I was highly unhappy about loading my first K75 into it, and abandoned the idea. But if you do not see a need for purchasing a trailer and need one on the spot, U-Haul does have options. (Here is a great primer on how to secure a motorcycle into an open U-Haul box trailer though.) If I thought I was going to be using open box trailers to move my bike, I would get a locking front wheel chock that I could move from trailer to trailer. The cost varies from $39 to $169.

I also rented a U-Haul motorcycle trailer that was thoroughly rusted at the lash points, and which only had a kind of receptacle for the front wheel. (The U-Haul ads for these look good, and the rentals are cheap enough, but it wasn’t what I had in mind. And please note the U-Haul disclaimer.) If you love your motorcycle and think you will have a need to trailer, I highly recommend the Kendon trailer.

Lots of friends will offer to “borrow” your trailer... There is a real skill in backing up a short Kendon trailer and lots of people don’t have it. Jack-knifing the trailer can easily damage the stone deflector or bend a rail against the towing vehicle’s bumper. I am highly selective about who gets access to this one. I would recommend this trailer to anyone. I have only towed it behind eight-cylinder motors, but I think it would perform equally well attached to a six cylinder engine. I would not attempt it with a four-cylinder engine.

I was headed to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, to pick up I-78 off the Northeast Extension, and I took the shortest way that would pass a Starbucks. With an eight-hour ride ahead of me, I wanted to freight up with their largest cup of java and one of their chicken salad sandwiches on custom bread. And thus are the threads of fate woven. Sitting at a light, the minivan next to me started blowing it’s horn like crazy, and two young boys were pointing at my K75 and laughing as if this was the funniest thing they had ever seen. .

The driver of the van was Mike Evans.

“So that fine piece of German shit finally broke down,” yelled Evans, from the passenger’s window. And then he started fumbling with his cell phone... To get a picture.

I gave him a big smile, flipped him the state bird of New Jersey, and took off as the light hit green. Evans missed his shot.

Above: How Mike Evans envisions me towing my bike in the future. Photo from Mike Evans.

The news of my Suburban’s demise this season made the rounds among my friends, many of who expressed sympathy by remarking at how high gas was likely to become. Mike Evans went one step further, and put together an artist’s concept of my future mode of travel. The man is despicable and without mercy. This started a war of illustrations, and Dick Bregstein also felt compelled to send in a picture of me that he had worked on. He claimed it was one of me in grammar school. There is nothing sadder than to realize your friends and riding buddies have become flesh-eating zombies.

Above: How Dick Bregstein sees me. Illustration from Dick Bregstein, who I suspect "borrowed" it from someplace.

Author’s Note: I have no promotional consideration nor barter agreement with Kendon... Not because I don’t want one, but because no one offered. My experiences with this trailer have all been pleasurable, with only minor issues cited. I cannot address Kendon’s customer service because I have never had to call them.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

When Motorcycle Rides Turn Rogue...

I did not love my first motorcycle, though I was often delighted by it... And it was kind of cool. But once I realized it was never going to be anything special (at least for 36 years), the wonder began to leach out of it. For the first year (1975), the bike got washed every other week and I went after grease and dirt through every nook and cranny with a rag. Then money got tight in the second and third years and I let a few things go. This included a pronounced scratch on the tank. The battery vent hose popped off one day, dripping acid on the pipes, which instantly dissolved the chrome, revealing a shiny brass-colored base metal. There is nothing more pronounced on a bike than the gas tank and the exhaust pipes. A ding or a dent in the tank is like a broken front tooth, and scratched or scarred pipes are like walking around with duct tape on your boot.

Touch-up paint on the gas tank gave the bike a touched-up look, but there was nothing that could be done about the pipes. There was never a question of getting them replaced or redone. From that point on, the Kawasaki H-2 became less of a quarter horse and more of a mule, albeit a fast one. I moved a couple of times and the machine became a full-fledged street bike, in the sense that it was parked on the street. I found it knocked over a couple of times, the victim of some idiot trying to parallel park in a space that was just too tight by an inch or so. This necessitated replacing a couple of mirrors and turn signal lenses, but after a bit, the turn signal stems acquired a bit of a droop.

As a young writer, money flowed in trickles, and tune-ups at the shop became something of a luxury. There wasn’t much to tuning up an an H-2. You replaced the plugs and the points, and then synchronized the three carburetors. I replaced the plugs fairly often. That was easy and I carried a spare set under the seat. The spares were new for a long time. Then they were the previous set, cleaned with emory paper (or carbon tetrachloride) and re-gapped. I never did master the secret of changing the points. I could get the new ones in, but could never get them set right. The manual said something about “when the points start to close...” What the hell does that mean? Do points start to close when the distributor cam makes them quiver or do they start to close when they move a good deal? I tried changing points twice, then had to push the bike to a Harley shop where a mechanic could do the job right in about 15 minutes — for $60.

Synchronizing the carbs was black magic. This called for a gauge that measured how each carb breathed, using columns of mercury, a centrifuge, a pressure regulator, and a barometer. (This was my understanding of it.) Each cylinder was an individual motor joined to the other two in a hellish trinity. None of the cylinders liked each other and would whisper “fuck you two” in a language common to lawn mowers of the era. They would stay synchronized for about ten days, when the vibration of the motor would have successfully started re-adjusting tiny screws held in place by 2¢ springs. Then the odd backfire would occur, or more likely, an internal engine fart where the power would hesitate for a minute as the bike made a noise like firing off a round with insufficient powder.

In tune, the Kawasaki H-2 would start on one cylinder. Friends of mine would kick their Harley’s and their Norton’s to the point where if the bikes had had balls, they’d have kicked those too. I got more respect from these guys as the bike got older, and rattier looking, but they just wouldn’t forgive the noise that bike made. Their bikes growled and mine went “Ying... Ying... Ying...Yinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng, emitting clouds of blue smoke that matched the color of my eyes.

Toward the end of the last summer I owned this bike, our destination was a gin mill on a dirt road tucked away in rural Pennsylvania. Rumor had it that this watering hole was the preferred location of ladies who were unburdened by extraordinary expectations of men. My companions and I (at the time) were utterly expectationless sperm donors with a few bucks in our pockets. I was anxious to arrive at the bar first. Even women unburdened by expectations know enough to pass on the purple Jap bike if something better is in the offing.

I was well in the lead when I came upon the turn-off for the three-mile long dirt road headed to the bar. But that lead would quickly evaporate when the other guys figured out what I was up to. So I did what any other male would have done under the circumstances — I dragged one foot in the dirt. This created huge clouds of dust that threatened to coat both riders and bikes behind me, unless they pulled over and waited it out.

My bike came to a long, sliding stop right in front of the joint, where a woman tricked out in cut-off jeans and an over-taxed halter top viewed me from the porch. Her hair was as black as a lawyer’s heart and she looked at me like I might be the next life guard in her gene pool. This was cool as I was looking at her pretty much the same way the former Soviet Union used to look at Poland. I put my sunglasses in my shirt pocket and grinned. Then I swung my leg over the saddle, caught it on the sissy bar, and pulled the whole damn bike over on top of me.

The boys showed up about this time, covered with dirt, and found me pinned under my bike with the red hot motor burning my leg through old jeans. They all took a second to spit in my direction before going into the bar. A few seconds later, a woman three times my size and an apparent stranger to teeth, rolled out of the door with a much gummed stump of a cigar protruding from her maw. This woman had to sneak up on her lunch if she were to get the benefit of nourishment.

“Where’s the guy who wants to make out with a real woman,” she cackled.

I screamed and struggled against the bike.

She came off the porch like an avalanche of ugly and caught my head in a vice-lock death grip. Swallowing the cigar, she thrust seven feet of tongue between my lips. It was like having a live turkey’s head moving around in my mouth, but not nearly as appetizing.

The incident left me scarred for life. It would be months before I could smoke a cigar without envisioning that woman, holding my face in hands that could knead baked hams. But more tragic was the thought that my riding buddies could so casually throw me to the wolves.

I pulled myself out from under the Kawasaki, gave it a kick, and left it laying in the dirt. Then I went into the bar and tossed back a couple of doubles of Irish penance (or absolution, depending on your viewpoint). Through cunning and stealth (plus the fact that my riding buddies were hard to take even by women who had no expectations), I managed to get close to the halter top beauty who was out on the porch when I arrived in style.

“That was some entrance,” she said to me over a rum and Coke.

“You mean the part where I pulled the bike over on myself, or the finale, where I got attacked by a savage bar floozie?” I replied.

“That was no savage bar floozie... That’s my mamma,” she said, wide-eyed. “Hey Maaaaaaaa...”

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rule # 1: Don't Hide Panties Under Your Bike's Seat...

It was the fight of the century... And nothing would be the same at its conclusion. The woman was older than me by two years, and had all the expectations of someone deserving of a home, children, and a man capable of making simple decisions. I wanted to be a writer, eventually, when there was no other way out. In the meantime I wanted to ride my motorcycle, drink, and get laid. I was 23 at the time, and couldn’t find fault with my logic. I was living in a shithouse of an apartment in Jersey City, which my father likened to the kind of place that Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason, in the TV classic “The Honeymooners”) would call home.

The woman had two points that were hard to argue against.

The first was that I was nailing someone on the side. The second was that I was going nowhere. My counter-points were as airtight as cast iron gauze. I stated that at my age, it is perfectly natural for a man to be suspected of nailing someone on the side, and that I could understand her tendency to question my occasional hard-to-explain absences, which were nothing more than research for a novel I planned to write in my late 40’s. As far as going nowhere, I was presently headed out the door for a weekend of solid debauchery, with a riding buddy named “Cretin.” Our agenda would embarrass a Marine drill sergeant. (Cretin had hooked us up with a couple of beauties who were going to dance naked around the campfire. This was one experience I thought any novelist worth his salt should personally witness.)

My girlfriend made the kind of face worn by an arch-villain about to confront Superman with kryptonite, as she produced a pair of panties she’d found under the seat on my Kawasaki H2.

This is generally the scene in a courtroom drama where the defendant breaks down and admits to owning the bloody hatchet. I did nothing of the kind.

“I found them,” I said, wearing my own face of righteous indignation, borrowed from Pontius Pilate.

“Up some stripper’s ass,” she screamed.

There is no point in trying to explain how a severed arm found its way into the trunk of a car... Whatever you say, it’s going to sound stupid. So I tacitly admitted my guilt by pulling on my jacket, kick-starting the Kawasaki, and riding off to meet Cretin. It was my intention to give the woman 20 or 30 years to cool off. The real bad news was finding a seriously inebriated Cretin rolling on the floor of the shithouse that was his apartment, in the arms of some floozie who was 80 percent breasts and 20 percent tattoo. Judging from the atmosphere — a combination of cigarette smoke, stale beer, and sweat — this marathon fertility rite had been going on for three days.

“Can’t make it this weekend, Reep,” said Cretin, who gestured to the babe with a shrug. “Suzie caught her boyfriend cheating on her and came to me for advice.”

This was one of those times when one guy looks at another guy, and that guy instantly understands that the only appropriate answer is the sound of a motorcycle pulling away.

The 1975 Kawasaki H2 was loaded down with my standard weekend gear: a small tent, a seasoned sleeping bag, Svea stove, Rice-aroni, and quart of rum. What it lacked was a destination. I headed north to New York State. Thirty-four years ago, the border between northern New Jersey and southern New York was where concrete suburbia abruptly ended at a tree-line that vanished into little valleys and climbed abrupt rises of 900 feet. The three cylinders of the Kawasaki ran like a tag team of Samoan midget wrestlers, who had some idea of a common objective, but who weren’t in perfect agreement on pulling it off. That engine ran a lot like my mind, in fits and starts, with an occasional backfire.

Just 90 minutes before, I was a happy guy who was slipping away for a weekend of non-stop screwing around with a go-go dancer, on a shit-hot motorcycle, with a friend who could be relied upon for staging mind-bending orgies, without the knowledge of my stunning girlfriend, who would greet me on Sunday night like I was a conquering hero. And now I was among the ranks of the abruptly single, riding off to a weekend of solitude, without a destination, while the best-looking woman ever to take off her clothes in my short life (up till then), was undoubtedly throwing her shit into a pillowcase, or anything handy, prior to walking out the door.

All over a pair of panties she found under my bike’s seat.

I could barely remember the panty donor. But then I sort of did. Hitting the open expanse of the New York State Thruway, I opened the Kawasaki’s throttle in turn and let it run. The steady outboard motor-like droning of the engine seemed to improve my powers of recollection. The panties had belonged to a blond I met at a local watering hole. She was amazed that I was a writer (not quite true at the time), and that I was working on a story (always), and that my primary character was a blond (34b), and that I was looking for someone who had the fierce beauty and savage sense of independence — to use as a model — in my story (Bingo). At some point that night, I’d clutched her panties to my face and told her they were scented with the passion of life — and that every word I’d ever write would be dedicated in some way to that scent. (Well, that’s been largely true too.)

I pulled over an hour later at a campground in Newburgh, NY. Setting up my camp was the work of a half-hour, and I prepared an hors d'œuvre by pouring four ounces of rum into a half-filled can of Coke. This enabled me to drink out in the open, regardless of local policy. Sitting at the picnic table next to the fire ring in my $14 campsite, I started to write a few things down in my notebook. Some of these statements would be useful in future relationships, like an accurate assessment of my short-sighted behavior with regard to my poor girlfriend. Never again would I hide a woman’s panties on my bike. There had to be a much better place.

I was on my third hors d'œuvre when a voice like butter asked, “Is my music botherng you?" The source of the question was a cute tomato sitting at the picnic table in her campsite. She had pulled up in a battered Volkswagen Beetle, set up a cheap nylon tent that was guaranteed to fall down under the insistence of heavy moonlight, and was strumming a guitar by the light of candle stuck in a wine bottle. She appeared to be a senior in college.

Oblivous to the music up until that point, I replied, "Of course not. Will you play some more?"

"I play my best music by candle light. What are you writing?"

“These are notes for my novel,” I said. “Care for an hors d'œuvre?”

Turns out she had just left her cheating boyfriend. Worse, the bastard didn’t take her music seriously. I thought her rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” was quite good enough. I took her music very seriously.

Copyright Jack Riepe 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Slippery" Dick Becomes "Bundt Cake" Bregstein...

This story was initially written in January of 2007, long before I started my blog. It was my third season as a legally endorsed rider, and I was still taking my turns in a fairly upright and stiff manner. That would soon be remedied. This piece has yet to surface on this blog, and I present it here today for your edification and personal enlightenment — author’s note.

Every ride begins with a little preparation. If that’s the case, then I began the 20-mile journey from West Chester, Pa. to the Pottsdown Family Diner (the site of the December 2007 monthly Mac-Pac breakfast) the night before, and almost didn’t make it. I laid out my riding clothes, my boots, and my helmet in anticipation of an 8am Sunday departure. I set the alarm for 7am, and primed the coffee maker to spew caffeine at the touch of a button.

Then I went out to an Amish bachelor party.

The details of the evening are a bit fuzzy. I seem to recall a naked woman wearing a bonnet, and a bunch of Abe Lincoln look-a-likes yelling, “Take it off! Take it off! Take it all off.” Someone put the first of 52 drinks in my hand. At drink #26, an Amish hottie led me into the back room to “Churn der love butter.”

I awakened on Sunday morning with a case of the horrors. The horrors begin with a kind of numbing amnesia. You’re not quite sure where you are, where you’ve been, nor the circumstances that brought you to the current impasse.

“What the hell did I do last night?” I thought.

My eyes had been focusing independently until this point, but zeroed in on the alarm clock at precisely 6:59:58. Two seconds later, the screaming alarm touched off a nuclear reaction in my head, which subsequently exploded.

Suddenly it all came back to me. Every sordid detail punched me in the stomach. It took twenty minutes to get upright, and then I remembered I was supposed to meet the Mac-Pac for breakfast. I let the dogs out, and took a leak with them in the garden. It looked like someone had tied a square knot in my John Henry.

Getting dressed was an ordeal. The dogs had found my pile of clean clothes and were fighting over a pair of briefs. They had them stretched out a full eight feet. I activated the coffee maker and realized shortly thereafter I’d neglected to put a cup underneath it. It’s amazing how a mere eight ounces of coffee can spread out over most of the kitchen floor.

It was about 35 degrees outside (not the coldest of mornings in the past two months), but between the bite of the breeze and the pounding in my head, I considered taking the truck. But I was supposed to ride to Maryland with my sidekick, “Slippery” Dick Bregstein, after breakfast. Those plans would change if I pulled up in my cabin cruiser-like Suburban.

“Bregstein won’t care if I ride up in the truck. The other guys won’t bust my balls too badly either,” I thought. Who was I kidding? If I showed up in the truck, my balls would be fragmented into dust and cast to the winds. The guys would torture me relentlessly.

It was 8:55am by the time I straddled my BMW K75. I can’t recall the exact minute that I discovered that I’d left all my cash in the cream separator of some Amish beanpole dancer the night before, but I needed to make a fast stop at the drive-up ATM. Every little thing conspired to make me late, including the 9 traffic lights between East Goshen and Spread Eagle, Pa. It was 9:40 by the time I wandered into the diner.

The response from the rabid wolf-pack was predictable.

“Who are you?”
“Can we help you?”
“Who are you looking for?”
“There were some BMW guys here earlier, but they left.”
“We were going to stick you for breakfast. Now we’ll have to stick you for lunch.”
“No seats at this table.”

The only one who understood the extent of my suffering was my riding partner, “Slippery” Dick.

“Want some coffee, Jack?” he asked, in a soothingly low voice.

“Yes, I do,” I said gratefully.

“Me too,” said “Slippery.” “So bring me back a fresh cup from the kitchen before you sit down, will you, Fat Ass?”

It was then I learned that all 25 riders seated at this table told the waitress their names were “Jack,” so there’d be no mistake when the separate checks were presented. I wanted to explain my circumstances and why I was late, but there is no need for apologies with the Mac-Pac.

“Chack. How are you?” asked Horst Oberst, in his rich German acent. “Eat your breakfast... Don’t vaste time explaining nothing... You look like der bird scheißel anyvay.”

And so the day began.

Dick informed me that Gerry Cavanaugh and Horst Oberst would be joining us on the Maryland ride. We had initially planned to meet a mutual friend, Pete Buchheit, at the Tidewater Grille, in Havre De Grace, but Pete begged out as he’d been afflicted with house guests. We then decided to ride over to Woody’s in North East instead. The change of destination allowed Gerry to lead, freeing me up to concentrate on my lean-less turns.

Woody’s Crab House in North East, Maryland (that’s the town’s name) is a well-known destination for this crowd. (Woody's was a once highly popular "crab shack" type restaurant that got trendy to the point of utter touristy bullshit. We switched to the Tidewater Grille in Havre de Grace, but that became a useless tourist trend spot too.) Gerry triangulated the route in his head and we were off like a shot. I was afraid my “leaning” disability would delay the ride.

“Nonsense,” said Horst. “Ve haff vays of making you lean.” He withdrew a taser from a pocket and showed me the brilliant flash when he hit the actuating button. “I vill be right behind you. Ven you go too slow, I’ll zap you in der grosse ass mit dis ting.”

Above: Horst Oberst, 106, remembers the days when he taught Bismark how to ride a motorcycle in Germany. Photo by the author. (This was taken at "Crawdaddy's," before that Cajun restaurant went belly up.)

We stopped at a light less than a mile from our destination, when Jerry gave the strangest set of hand signals. He pointed at Dick, gave the thumbs down, and drew a finger across his throat.

Lifting up my face-shield, I yelled to Horst, “Gerry wants us to kill Dick.”

“Yah, Yah,” shouted Horst. “I haf been exschpecting dis for a long time now. I’ll hold Dick and you can kick him.”

As it turns out, Gerry was trying to tell us that Dick’s BMW F650 had just died. Dick duck-walked it off to the shoulder and the boys attempted to perform an autopsy. It was determined that Dick’s electric clothing had drained his battery. As the gentle reader will recall from my last ride report, Dick had been experimenting with cooking certain dishes using his Gerbings heated gear. On this occasion, he’d been attempting to bake a bundt cake in his pants and had everything turned up high.

“Why a bundt cake,” I asked.

“Because the hole in the center makes it easier to carry,” said Dick. “And if you write a story about this, I insist you call it, ‘The Little Alternator That Tried.’”

“It would be better if you called it, ‘The Little Battery That Died,’” replied Gerry.

A gaggle of Harley riders swept around the corner at that very moment. In a flash, Horst pulled off his leather jacket and draped it over the BMW roundels on Dick’s bike.

“Everyvun, quickly. Stand over here und make like ve are taking der piss.”

The four us ran to the bushes at the edge of the road and appeared preoccupied. “Why are we doing this?” I asked Horst.

“I could not bear for das Harley riders to see us standing dere mit das broken BMW scooter.”

Having diagnosed the problem, the next challenge was to give the bike a jump start from another vehicle. Dick flagged down the first one that came along. It turned out to be an Amish buggy.

“Goot morgan,” said the driver, who looked like a traveling log cabin salesman. “Ist das Englander das sheistkoff vanten to yump das horse?”

“What did he say,” asked Dick.

“He said you are a fine fellow,” translated Horst.

The woman in the buggy with the driver winked at me, making an up and down motion with her closed hand, and I realized she was the butter churner from the Amish bachelor party the night before. Dick lifted up the horse’s tail in search of a battery connection, and not finding one, waved the Amish couple on.

Above: "Slippery" Dick Bregstein demonstrates the proper way to carry a bundt cake in your heated pants. The cake will bake nicely at the highest setting, on an hour and 40-minute ride to Maryland. To the right in the foreground, Clyde Jacobs waits to slice the cake. Gerry Cavanaugh struggles to get into the picture from the rear. Photo by the author.

I pulled a set of cables out of my topcase, Gerry Cavanaugh exposed his posts, and Horst had current running through Dick’s alternator (which said Schwinn on it) in a second. Five minutes later, we were sipping chowder at Woody’s.

“Save room for desert,” said Dick. “I brought fresh bundt cake.”


I received a call last Friday morning from a distraught Dick Bregstein, who was at that moment sobbing uncontrollably in the showroom of Hermy’s, the local BMW dealer of preference in Hamburg, Pa. According to Bregstein, he sauntered into the shop with Gerry Cavanaugh, only to be approached by a member of the staff and introduced to a total stranger as “Jack Riepe’s sidekick,” made famous in my monthly column (found in the BMW Motorcycles Owners of America' Owners News) and in this blog.

Above: Legendary sidekick "Gabby" Hayes (left) with Roy Rogers. Photo from Wikipedia.

Above: Jack Riepe (left) with legendary sidekick "All Wool and A Yard Wide" Dick Bregstein. The photo was taken on Sunday, April 10th, 2011, the last day when the author expects to show up for a breakfast run in a truck (owing to arthritis). Photo by that other turncoat Ron Yee, who at least managed to show how the author lost weight in a photograph depicting him as the sole individual to show up in a cage on a BMW dominated bike run.

“You fat son of a bitch,” blubbered Bregstein. “To think that the sum total of my life is reduced to being your sidekick... I used to be be known as ‘Mr. Bregstein... My opinion was sought with respect... My presence was afforded dignity. And now I am known as ‘Slippery’ Dick... ‘Leather” Dick... And ‘Bundtcake’ Dick... There can be no greater insult than to be recognized as your sidekick. I can’t believe I have finally been reduced to playing ‘Gabby Hayes’ to the Curley Howard of BMW motorcycle riding.”

“Yeah, that’s tough,” I sympathized. “Wanna take a run up to Strasburg for lunch next week?”

“Sure,” said Dick. “What day?”

“The hottest one,” I replied.

“Cool,” said Dick. ‘It would be neat to wear mesh in April. Think women on the sides of the road will lift their shirts as you go by?”

“They did last year.”


Twelve BMW riders from the Mac-Pac (and one radical on a Triumph) assembled at the Starbuck's in Exton for an impromptu breakfast run through Amish country on April 10, 2011. The route was a straight shot up the US-30 bypass, to accommodate the strained joints of the author, who arrived in a cage anyway. The return run was down Rt. 370 to Rt. 82, and then Rt. 82 to the bypass. Cardiologist/rider Peter Frechie said he did not mind taking the bypass for Riepe as he expects to install one for him some day.

Above: "Mike" rode this snazzy Triumph cruiser to a BMW ride. Everyone pretty much acted like they didn't notice. According to "Mike," this sucker gets 25 miles to the gallon. Photo by the author.

Above: Thunder at Starbucks in the morning... (From Left) Gordon Till, Mack KirkPatrick, Dick Bregstein, Buzz Davis, and Peter Frechie take a vote to see if I can still attend breakfast. Photo by the author. The vote is "No."

Above: Mac-Pac member Jim Robinson fills out his BMW MOA mileage contest form on the seat of Gerry Cavanaugh's GS. Cavanaugh is seen here spelling: "R-O-B-I-N-S-O..." Photo by the author.

Above (From Left): Ron Yee, David Hardgrove, Ken Bruce, Gordon Till, and Mack Kirkpatrick in the parking lot at the Hersey's Resort at Strasburg. David Hardgrove hit a top speed of 38 mph on this ride. Photo by the author, who did not ride his bike and who was made to eat breakfast by himself, at a table by the men's room door.

© Copyright Jack Riepe 2007

Thursday, April 7, 2011

German Containers Unsuitable For Chinese Food...

I originally wrote this piece for the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America’s publication —the Owner’s News — back in 2005. It was my first motorcycle story to published in a legitimate moto-magazine. While my colleagues and critics in the Mac-Pac (southeastern Pennsylvania’s chartered BMW riding club) have all seen this story, many Twisted Roads readers have not. So I decided to catch up on my publishing schedule by releasing my Thursday blog at 12:01am, and to get the most mileage out of this story by running it on my blog. Please note, my usual riding partner Dick Bregstein is not tortured in this story.

The standard BMW top case for the K75 motorcycle is strong, holds quite a bit, and pops on or off in an instant. It will easily take a container of fried rice and General Tso's Chicken, but it's German design does not lend itself for carrying an extended Chinese dinner. I found this out the hard way.

The saga began on a recent Sunday evening, when a noticeable lack of activity in the kitchen prompted me to ask the haus-frau "what had become of dinner?" A hunting knife hissed through the air and came to rest in the wall an inch or so from my head. Riding pillion on the blade was a menu from the local Chinese eatery. The lady of the house is not one to waste words.

"Never mind," I yelled down the darkened hall that had just spewed the knife. "I think I'll order Chinese."

These are the kind of heartwarming dialogues that inspire me to get on my bike and take a little ride. I fired up the K75 and roared into town. Actually, this town was about 80 miles distant and a place I had never been to before. There were much closer towns with Chinese take-out places (like the one we live in), but the day was coming to a glorious close and I thought I'd make the most of the opportunity.

At one point, I was passed by a stunning Asian beauty on a tricked out BMW GS. "She must know a great place for dumplings," I thought, noting how the tailored look of her Aerostitch outer skin complimented the gentle curve of her butt. (Actually, I was thinking, "Those are curves I could easily lean into.") So I rode behind her for an hour hoping she was headed to a take-out place of distinction. A BMW GS rider might be headed for the local post office, but by the same token, they could just as easily be headed for Tierra Del Fuego. So I pulled alongside and jazzed my engine, making as much noise as a hamster shredding a newspaper. When I finally got her attention, I made an exaggerated chewing motion with my jaw while pointing down toward my stomach. It was my intention to indicate I was hungry, but since my shape is ill-defined, it could have looked like I was pointing toward my crotch. This must mean something else in an Asia culture, as she flipped me the bird and took off.

Great Chinese cuisine is well worth driving for and everybody has a favorite place. Mine is in a memory from 1975, when a smoking-hot brunette rode pillion into Manhattan on the back of my long-gone Kawasaki, and introduced me to chop sticks. My K75 is like a time machine. Twisting the throttle turns back the years. The effect is temporary, but good enough. When BMW Motorrad comes up with a way to make it stick, everybody will ride a Beemer. In the meantime, I rode until hunger reminded me that a knife-throwing woman was waiting for dinner back home.

Every strip mall in America has a storefront Chinese restaurant. It's now required by many building codes. (But shouldn't a strip mall be the kind of place where one goes to find strippers? I can't imagine anyone fighting a developer looking to push a concept like that.)

The restaurant I went into had a sign outside with a dragon eating a child. My common mistake in a place like this is ordering a little of this and a little of that, eventually resulting in a bale of Chinese food. By discarding the plastic sack and individually fitting each item in the top case like a puzzle piece, I was able to accommodate everything.

Unbeknown to me, however, closing the lid had the effect of compacting the containers, and opening their lids.

"Where the hell did you go?" asked the love of my life as I pulled into the driveway. "Honestly Jack, you go out the door and either get lost or come home with amnesia."

I was tempted to ask, "Was I supposed to bring something back?" But I noticed she was boiling water with laser beams coming out of her eyes, and I didn't want the lady to redirect her aim.

"Wait until you see what I got, " I said, opening the top case. It was then I discovered three of the containers had discharged their contents directly into the bottom of the case. While it was still possible to pick out individual dumplings, stray pieces of beef, and the odd water chestnut, it was obvious we'd be eating a huge "combo" dinner in the garage.

Above: Anything is possible when you ride a K75, especially one with a "Sprint Fairing," like the late and lamented "Blueballs." Here I lured the nice Asian hottie back to garage to have dinner with me. Circumstances made it necessary to eat right from the top case. (Note, the author is no longer this huge, but is still a load and a half.) Photo by Leslie Marsh, who is very open-minded about who follows me home and what goes on in the garage.

German engineering thoughtfully provided a sectionalized bottom to this top case, which allows Chinese sauces of various viscosity to run into a little drainage channel, preventing them from oozing out through the connecting pin device. This clever arrangement seems almost made for this occurrence, which makes me wonder if German engineers think all Americans are as dopey as I am.

Above: The combo dinner from hell: Happy Friggin' Phoenix and Dysfunctional Dragon, alá Munich. The perfectly balanced meal... It had to be, as it leaned with the bike in every curve. Photo by Leslie Marsh.

Above: What setting could possibly be more elegant or more romantic? Dinner for two in a K75 top case. Photo by Leslie Marsh.

Thinking quickly, I dropped a couple of handfuls of white rice on two plates. I then used an oil funnel from the work bench as a scoop to bail a pint of hell’s combo onto the rice. Rushing into the kitchen, I said, "This is something new. It's called Friggin' Dragon, Phoenix, and Tiger... Three flavors in a delightful culinary menage á tois."

"So while you were out riding around for four hours, the lids came off in the top case," sighed my gentle beauty, with the implication that one of us was a horse's ass and that it wasn't her.

"Well, yes," I stammered. "But I intend to complain directly to the top people at BMW, " And I did too.

Author's note: The beautiful model in the photograph is "Kim." If Leslie had ever once said "yes" to the highly romantic marriage proposals I make every Thursday at 2pm, Kim would be my daughter-in-law, as she is married to one of Leslie's sons. The look of askance that Kim is giving me was not rehearsed nor simulated. This is how Kim looks at me all the time. And now her kids look at me the same way. It's nice to know I haven't lost my touch.

Copyright Jack Riepe 2005 — All rights reserved.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tires — A Beginner's Stupidity And A Lost Day At The Fair

The 2011 riding season has kicked into gear this weekend, with hundreds of clubs and thousands of riders observing “National Gassing Day Rituals, on Saturday, April 2.” Initially conceived by the legendary moto-writer Peter Egan, Gassing Day occurs on on the first Saturday in April, when riders roll their bikes out of the garage, and fill their tanks with fresh gasoline. (For those with multiple bikes, this means a circuit back and forth from the garage to the gas station, terminating in lunch at a local diner with a bunch of the guys.) It is like having the swallows return to Capistrano... Or the whales returning off the coast of Maine... Or the hookers returning to stand in their underwear on 10th Avenue in New York City.

Above: Out for "Gassing Day 20011," Todd Trombore on his 1952 BMW R68. Trombore was warned about showing up on a bike that predated the Lincoln administration. About 40 riders showed up for Gassing Day ceremonies at the Quentin Haus restaurant in Quentin, Pa. Photo by Rebel (Brett).

Above: Ken Bruce, the Mac-Pac Monthly Dinner Chairman and a proud BMW GS rider, demonstrates how turning the ignition key and pressing a button lights the coal-burning boilers on his bike, which are cooled by breezes that pass over the cyclinder heads, prior to melting glaciers in Finnland. Mention "green" to Ken Bruce and he rubs his wallet pocket. Photo by Chester Heaver.

Above: Surprise Guest Speaker for the Gassing Day Ceremony was Mac-Pac rider Bill Zane. Bill has said less than 28 words during the past five years. His welcoming speech — a scowl and a smile — was the best this group has ever heard. When asked by Ken Bruce if Twisted Roads publisher Jack Riepe could sit on his Burgman, Zane responded with a look of horror and pain that caused Bruce to withdraw the request. Photo by Chester Heaver.

Above: Rider Floyd "X" pulls out on his BMW K1200S, a motorcycle that is fast as blazes, as stealthy as a divorce lawyer, and as cool as James Bond's martini, owing to an incredibly efficient cooling system that does not require air to fill its sails nor oil to be pumped through a 40-foot tower. We'll publish "X"s last name if someone sends it into us. Photo by Chester Heaver.

Above: This 1986 BMW K75 is a low mileage number with minor cosmetic damage (on the right crash bar - civilian version). $2500 takles it, according to Rebel (Brett), who rode in on it. The bike belongs to his son. This machine would be a great candidate for a "Sprint Fairing" or a Parabellum "Scout" Fairing. With very little effort, it could become a "signature" bike. K75 cult members are likely to snatch this bike before too long. Any interest parties should leave a comment to that effect or contact the author via email. Photo by Chester Heaver.

Above: Iconic BMW R100 with that great orange to black paint job. Photo by Chester Heaver.

About 40 riders turned out for the April 2nd, Gassing Day ride to the Quentin House, in Quentin, Pa (the junction of Rt. 419 and Rt. 72). Members of the “Air Heads” and the Mac-Pac broke bread in joint celebration of the spring. Present were Todd Byrum (the motivator behind the event), Chris Jaccarino, Ken Bruce, Bill Zane, Todd Trombore, “Floyd,” Dave Hillbrandt or Zillbrant (I can never remember this guy’s name, even though I’ve ridden with him 5 times), Jay Scales, Horst Oberst, Gerry Cavanaugh, Rebel (Brett), Marge Bush, Rich Neuman and Dave MacVaugh. And about 32 others. (Dave MacVaugh told me a great story that will run in a future blog.)

The day started out cold, with temperatures as low as 30º (F) in West Chester. Bikes ran the gamut from Todd Trombore’s 1952 BMW R68 to the standard BMW GS (as personified by bikes belonging to Ken Bruce and Gerry Cavanaugh). Floyd “X” didn’t get the “antique” memo and pulled up on his K1200S, which looks like speed right out of the can. Billy Zane arrived mounted on a Suzuki Burgman Scooter. I began the day happy enough, then fell against the bathroom wall (at home) while taking a piss, when my left hip joint popped. So I opted to attend the ride in Leslie’s Subaru. I made quite an impression on Todd Byrum, who said, “Good to see you, even in a foo-foo, country club, Izod, Bonwit Teller, Chester County upscale, creative class, marble countertop, headlamp LEDs, botox injected, red carpet, PING driver set, creased trousers van. Always a pleasure.

“I don't suppose you're going to write about that for your column in the BMW Owner’s News,” Byrum concluded.

Well Todd, I’m man enough to own up to my shortcomings — and yours too.

The event drew an overwhelming response from BMW “R” bike owners, who like riding out to central Pennsylvania, where they can get an ample supply of coal for their engines. As Todd Byrum hissed at me in the parking lot, “We don’t need no stinking efficient cooling systems.”

The first burst of warm weather will also see a surge of riders rush their bikes into the shop for tune-ups, oil changes, and a hundred other things that were not properly addressed from last year. For many riders, venturing into the garage this weekend will be the first time they have laid their hands on their true love since last November. I have fallen into this category, I’m afraid, and I have made at least one or two really bad mistakes over the winter. For example, I just found the unopened bottle of fuel stabilizer I bought at Hermy’s last fall, on the work bench, where I left it, when I got distracted on my mission to pour one or two ounces of it into the gas tank — 5 months ago.

This means that the fine nylon, mesh gas screen on my new $350 genuine BMW fuel pump has been sitting in that rotten, de-stabilized, ethanol-laden shit gas for at least 5 months. Hopefully, it is not now covered with varnish and crud. My chore today, on Gassing Day 20011, is to siphon this fuel out of the tank, get the crap out of the corners, and refill it with 5 gallons of premium, high-octane, ethanol-free fuel, available at a service station in Gap, Pennsylvania. With any degree of luck, the new fuel will purge that screen and spoil the pump with the champagne taste of gas the way it should be. (Since the bike is fuel injected, with the pump on the high end — in the gas tank — none of the rotten gas will be in the system unless I start it without switching out the petrol. If the pump chirps like a bird, then I will go fucking berserk.)

My other pleasure is to remove the seat, the seat lock, the tray, the auxiliary fuse box, and motronic brain so I can get at the battery. While the battery has been on a tender all winter, with the meters reading “ strong charge,” the constant percolating may have reduced the water content in the genuine BMW lead/acid battery. This means having to get an actual look at the battery and popping the caps. Not a big deal, except for having to remove 20 different fasteners and things to get at it. Which reminds me that I have to secure the battery vent hose to it’s tiny nipple with a piece of very fine wire. (I have found it disconnected twice. Does this mean it fell off, or does it mean it was blasted off by explosive battery gases? I have no idea. But who wants battery acid dripping on anything?)

The final inspection will be to check the rig for mice. Ron Ye is my resident expert on what happens when you ride a BMW with a mouse nest among the hot parts. (His bike caught fire for this very reason.) But my real issue at the beginning of every riding season is the inspection of the tires. Going beyond checking for the correct inflation levels, I will spin the wheels in a search for hairline cracks or any funny business along the bead.

Most of my motorcycle riding buddies hate to spend an extra nickel at the dealers, if they can avoid it. And they love to wring every cent out of the normal maintenance stuff before resorting to the replacement. This is especially true with tires. With the average cost of a tire running $120 to $140, plus $50 to mount and balance it, my friends will ride them until the “wear bars” are thin too. (Depending upon the compound, some tires are shot at 4,000 while others may go three times that. And oversize tires or specialty brands can run $400 plus.) My preference is not to push the envelope, but to replace a tire immediately when the wear become obvious, or when a dramatic difference is noted in performance. Regrettably, the first dramatic change in performance may be when a tire lets go on a wet curve, blows out with a tiny piece of glass in it, or yields to dry rot.

My tire philosophy is relatively simply: When doing 95 miles per hour someplace, I do not want to worry about the thickness of the tread because I did not want to waste $11 worth of tire with a premature change of rubber. And yet I had to learn this lesson the hard way. In 2006, I inadvertently rode off to Maggie Valley, North Carolina, on tires that had more than 12,000 miles on them. Then I turned around, and rode to the BMW rally in Vermont on the same wheels. It had been 25 years since I bought tires for a motorcycle and the tread on these wheels seemed fine, if not a trifle shallow. On “Day One” of the four-day rally, Mac-Pac rider and K75 Guru Brian Curry looked at my front tire with ill-disguised alarm.

“You’re not planning on riding home on that front tire, are you?” asked Curry.

My response was the kind of look one gets from sheep or Congressmen (when campaign contributions are not at stake).

“Because the treads would be deeper if they were drawn with a Magic Marker,” said Curry. Without going into specific detail, he pointed out that the machine was carrying about 10,000 pounds... That it was being ridden hard... And between the summer heat and being slammed into bridge expansion joints, my K75’s tires were about to give their last gasp. “You must change that front tire immediately,” said Curry. “You might get another week out of the back.”

I discovered there was a tire vendor at the rally, and I sought him out directly. The gentleman had a Metzler for the front, in my size, and could put it on the next day.

“What ho,” I said, dripping with enthusiasm. I really didn’t give a shit what it cost. What I wanted was a new tire on the bike. I would have paid $300 for it.

“What time should I present myself at your tent,” I asked, with relief.

“Eight a.m.,” said this snake oil merchant.

I was there at a 7:30am... And found myself “number 11” in line. There were 8,000 riders registered for that rally event. And if one percent of them needed tires — for any reason — that meant 80 sets of tires, or 20 sets to be mounted per day. In a 12-hour day, that works out to .6 sets of tires to be mounted in a hour — by one guy and two assistants. Now this may seem doable, if you consider the straight mounting time. But then add to it the time required to remove the wheel from the bike. Not everyone routinely removes their wheels in the garage at home, and so they are not familiar with the process.

The tire vendor cheerfully assigned the ten guys before me, and myself, pick-up times. Mine was 1pm.

When I returned to get my bike 5 hours later, I was astonished to see eight of the original 11 motorcycles still in line (with tires piled against them), and six or seven guys with their wheels in their hands standing at the vendor’s truck door. The owners of the unserviced machines were justifiably disgruntled. But this was nothing compared to the looks on the faces of the riders who were on line behind me. It became apparent there was more money to be made just throwing tires on rims than in removing wheels from bikes.

The proprietor encouraged those who claimed to have a little experience to dismount tires from other patron's motorcycles waiting in line for service, allowing him to throw tires on rims for line-cutters who arrived with wheels under their arms. It was one of these well-intentioned "volunteers" who split the brake calipers on the front on my K75.

The vendor then explained to me that this was my fault for driving a bike with defective brakes, most probably a bad seal. (Remember, I was new to this.) He ranted and raved about the necessity for finding a caliper rebuild kit (closest one was in New Hampshire) or a replacement caliper assembly (closest one in New York). The vendor made a point of emphasizing his potential liability for installing tires on an unsafe motorcycle. He neglected to mention his culpability in letting anyone try their luck at pulling tires off other riders’ bikes under his aegis.

Three additional hours were spent searching vendors at the rally, and on cell phones trying to locate parts. Much of this search was conducted by friends of mine, Gerry Cavanaugh, Pete Buchheit and Chris Wolfe, who stood in various lines for 45 minutes or longer (multiple times) while attempting to locate brake parts. It was Brian Curry of the Mac-Pac who reassembled my brakes, with a vague apology from the tire vendor (which did not include any substantive offer of assistance).

Brian Curry explained to the tire vendor — in his soft, gentle manner implying that one is too fucking stupid to breathe — that the brake seals were probably still good if the "volunteer" help hadn't ripped them out removing the wheel. Suddenly, the tire vendor understood what Mr. Curry was saying, and just as suddenly, my machine seemed unlikely to need a caliper rebuild kit or a new caliper. In the meantime, hundreds of riders were now standing in line, with wheels in their hands, demanding and getting service before the folks who had made pre-arrangements. My tire was mounted on the wheel (which had been removed at 1 pm) at 6:30 pm, 11 hours after I had been told to arrive. Many of the machines that were scheduled for service and promised before noon -- along with mine that morning -- were still without tires as night fell.

I got the tire mounted on the rim as my friend Chris Wolfe refused to leave the tire vendor’s side until it the job was completed. The job was completed in the sense that the tire was inflated and balanced. Brian Curry then remounted the tire to the bike and reassembled the brake. Chris Jaccarino, another Mac-Pac member, then bled the brake mechanism and got everything up to factory spec. The tire vendor then had the balls to explain to me that he could have fixed my brakes in 10 minutes. Odd that he didn't do so. Odder still that it took two skilled guys the better part of an hour to clean the brake pads and bleed the brake lines before the unit was safe to ride.

Yet the day was not without entertainment value. The tire vendor held hundreds of conversations that afternoon: telling the fortunes of potential customers by looking at their tire treads and detailing their riding patterns; explaining in great detail his philosophy of work excellence; and awing the crowd with stories on how he changed tires the day before until 1 am in the morning. In my estimation, the guy was a total asshole and dealing with him taught me a great lesson. Going on a long ride? Make sure the tires are good enough to get you there and back — without becoming marginal for heavy use.

I do not doubt that the tire vendor worked until he dropped on each day of that rally. But the work was without organization, without a support team, and without any consideration for customers who got in line at the crack of dawn. This is not a formula for success. He may be a nice guy. He may be well-intentioned. But he was in over his head at that rally. I lost a whole day at this event, as did several of my friends (Chris Wolfe, Pete Buchheit and Gerry Cavanaugh), through beginner’s stupidity. It will never happen to me again.

I was prepared to pay a premium for getting a tire changing service under difficult circumstances. If the tire vendor had said to me, “Wheels removed from the bike will get serviced first,” any one of ten guys would have been delighted to pull that wheel off for me. And I never would have written this story if the guy had apologized, shaken my hand, and said, “How can I make this up to you?” That was his last mistake in a long chain of errors.

My bike will be out on the road this week. I spent a pleasant hour looking at the tires today. They’re fine. Too bad I can’t say the same thing about my hips and knees. Changing them out will be a bit more involved.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011 — All rights reserved.