Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The K75 Whisperer...

My significant other — Leslie (whom I call “Stiffie” just because I like the way it sounds) — is a good-natured, beauty of a woman who can see the humor in most anything (like the time the dog grabbed the hose from her hand and ran around soaking everything and everybody). Stiffie and I have been together a long time (twice as long as any of my previous marriages) despite the fact that we are not married. I ask her to marry me every Thursday at 4pm and she just smiles, then shakes her head “no.” She once philosophized, “Why would I buy a hog just to occasionally have a foot of sausage? My response, “To keep others from running off with that sausage,” caused her to raise an eyebrow, and spawned the riposte “Since when did marriage ever stop you from doing anything?”

There is no point in arguing with this woman when she insists on confronting heartfelt emotion with cold, hard fact.

I have explained in previous stories that I now ride a motorcycle because Stiffie insisted we get them. As the hardened, but dedicated Twisted Roads reader will recall, Stiffie had gotten caught in the moto-melee of Sturgis, South Dakota during the height of the summer’s Harley Rally, while driving home from concluding some business in the Pacific Northwest. Her call from the epic-center of leather, chrome, and thundering noise was brief. “Jack,” she said, “I’m getting a motorcycle as soon as I get home. You should get one too.”

Now guys... When was the last time the woman in your life insisted you get a motorcycle? I danced around in the kitchen, wearing nothing but war paint, for 24 hours. Then I sacrificed a quart of rum to the motorcycle gods, by passing it through my kidneys.

Stiffie was like a women possessed. She looked at Triumph’s, Suzuki’s and finally Harley’s. The Harley dealer had the most savvy approach, insisting she sit on the bikes in the showroom — while starting them up. She got the full benefit of the sight, the sound, and the vibration of the legendary Motor Company Machine. But she didn’t see in reality what she had envisioned in her mind... Until she stopped by the local Honda dealer. There on the showroom floor was a white and silver pearlescent Honda Aero Shadow (750cc). She sat on it, and checked the machine’s balance. When she glanced at me, her eyes had that same look that “Mina” had, after she’d danced with Dracula for a bit (Winona Ryder in the 2009 version of Dracula).

It wasn’t long before that bike was in the garage, complete with auxiliary lighting, a windshield, an aftermarket Mustang saddle, saddle bags, a Steeble/Nautilus compact air horn, and special tail-lighting. It was the perfect machine for an Elvis impersonator. And she looked great on it. Shortly thereafter, I acquired a 1986 BMW K75. I bought this bike because friends of mine Shanghaied me into it. Compared to the “Shadow,” the K75 was the most peculiar-looking motorcycle I had ever seen. The bike transcended ugly... It was “fugly.” My BMW-riding friends insisted this was the motorcycle for me to get... And I only got it because the owner at the time insisted he wouldn’t take a cent less than $5000 dollars (for a 19-year-old fugly BMW). So I offered him $4600, and this bunko artist said “yes” faster than I could blink.

Above: Leslie's Honda Aero Shadow — Fully tricked out and ready to roll. Photo by Leslie Marsh.

Leslie and I began with the compulsory rides around the neighborhood, and slowly added the byways and farm roads of Amish Lancaster to our repertoire. Sometimes Stiffie would take the lead, and every Harley rider that passed would give her a big wave. I’d wave too. It is easy to mistake a fully farkled Honda Aero Shadow for a Harley in a split second, and once the mistake is realized most guys are thrilled to get a warm smile and a wave from a chic on a bike. Not so with a BMW K75. To the uninitiated, the K75 looks like it’s constipated, or gives the impression of an honor student who’s just been kicked in the balls by a varsity football player. The waves quickly became extended fingers, sometimes followed by a loogie in flight. I got hit with lit cigarettes on several occasions. One rider u-turned and caught up to us to make sure the guy on the constipated giraffe wasn’t bothering the nice lady.

Above: Leslie and some guy on the back of her 2005 Honda Aero Shadow at Christmas. The "Santa" figure is a handmade doll and part of "Stiffie's" holiday decorations. Photo by the author.

Above: My 1986 BMW K75 was the farthest thing from the classic lines of Stiffie's Honda Aero Shadow, and peculiar-looking too... In the beginning. Now I know better. Photo by Leslie Marsh.

On the occasions when I led, the image of Stiffie following behind me — in her pink leathers or her silver mesh jacket — became a kind of visual foreplay. I liked the way she looked, framed in my Napoleon bar mirrors. The rides with Stiffie were a lot more interesting than the runs I took by myself. She’d feel compelled to pull over and snap a picture of something cool; or stop to admire an old barn, or even a scene unfolding between people. One of these was of an aged Amish farmer, trudging along behind a single mule, guiding a plow that turned over one furrow at a time. Leading the mule was a young Amish woman, her face hidden by a bonnet. She held the animal by its halter and seemed to keep it from moving too fast for the elderly man.

We were a hundred yards or better away from this field, with the bikes parked beneath a clump of trees. And even though we were not readily visible, Stiffie refused to take a picture. She felt it was an intrusion that we were even watching this moment straight out of American Gothic.

“He is probably her grandfather, and this one-acre plot is what they rely on for vegetables in the summer, and for some extra money raised through a little produce stand by the side of the road,” said Stiffie. “He might be a furniture-maker by day, starting at dawn, working the wood with hundred-year-old tools, with handles worn smooth from three generations of men, yet with edges that are razor sharp. And she thinks of an Amish man who might be courting her, but she helps her grandfather, in this little field, in the last hours of daylight.”

“I think she is his wife through some sort of marriage arranged at midnight, for which her destitute parents were cut a break on a crushing mortgage," I said. "She is forty-five years his junior and he never lets her out of his sight. When he goes to the outhouse, he makes her stand outside the door and sing. Under that bonnet is a face stained by the tracks of a thousand tears and the only other living thing she has to talk to is that mule."

Stiffie simply looked at me and said nothing for a bit. “You probably do think that,” she said, “which is indicative of how far your mental state has deteriorated. Some people see a glass as half full. You not only see it as being half empty, but undoubtedly containing something foul."

The woman left the mule and returned with a pitcher and glass, which she filled and handed to the old man.

“See,” said Stiffie. “She brought her grandfather a cool glass of lemonade.”

“Is the glass half empty?" I asked. "I bet she poisoned him."

We rode off together, passing this unique couple.

“It’s poison,” I yelled to the old guy, knowing that Stiffie couldn’t hear me over the Shadow’s growl.

Our ride took us deeper into one of the largest Amish settlements in the United States. This is a broad valley that encompasses a number of communities, some of which are quite large. Others are famous tourist attractions, like Bird in Hand, Paradise, and Intercourse. The road through Intercourse leads to Paradise, but I wonder how many of these bearded guys end up in Bird in Hand.

The road took us past farm after farm. In one field an Amish farmer, as thin as rail and wearing a straw hat, stood ramrod straight, balanced on the yolk of a plow, pulled by five enormous draft horses. These animals can weigh 1500 pounds each. Stiffie and I pulled off the pavement to watch, and it was there I pondered the question: if a draft horse is larger than one of these buggie horses, is it possible that a draft horse can be more than one horsepower? I made the mistake of pondering this out loud.

Stiffie has a sweet expression that suggests she is occasionally required to work extra hard at humoring me. Other women do this with their husbands too. We went to Paris some years ago and spend a few days touring museums and cathedrals. In the Musée de la Armée, I was explaining how French troops went to the front in cabs during WWI, and was showing one of these vehicles to Stiffie, when we passed a Frenchman and a woman, presumably his wife. He was explaining to her the innovations of the first French tank... Stiffie and the other woman, perfect strangers, caught in the perfect moment, rolled their eyes at each other in perfect understanding.

Stopped again with our bikes on the side of the road, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the Amish dairy cows seemed like storybook cattle, clean to the point where they looked groomed and contented, with their teats pulled twice a day by rosy-cheeked Pennsylvania Dutch milkmaids, who could be posing for Hummel figurines. Yet some of the other farms, undoubtedly run by Englanders, had cows that looked scruffy, unkempt, and generally disheveled. It was here I suggested to Stiffie that someone ought to be looking after these bovine charges.

Stiffie gazed at me with an especially deep level of understanding, and said, “You could do it. You could become the ‘cow whisperer.’”

“What do mean?” I asked, touched that she thought I had this ability.

“Well, horses are lean, and muscular, and sensual, as was the Robert Redford, when he played the role of the ‘Horse Whisperer. Cows are sort of docile, and lumpy, and slow moving...” Stiffie couldn’t finish her statement as she was laughing very hard. (For the record, I was laughing too.)

Back at the garage, I delayed entering the house. The bike was making that ticking, clicking sound, as the headers and block cooled off. Running my hand over the K75, which by now had revealed her true self to me as a mechanical marvel, years ahead of her time, and capable of delivering one hell of a good ride (much faster and more responsive than the bovine Aero Shadow), I found myself whispering to the bike. “Tell me your story."

I thought I heard the motorcycle communicate with me, on a level known only to BMW riders. It was more of a sensation than an expression... Though words were clearly understood. In a dream voice with a German accent (like Marlene Dietrich), the bike said to me, “Unless you slim down, what does my precise weight to horsepower ratio really matter?”

I looked to see if Leslie was hiding in the garage, and wondered if she had secretly trained as a ventriloquist. The bike and I were alone. Despite this first level of contact, I had become the K75 Whisperer. The cows could go to hell.

I had plans to ride through Maryland and upstate New York with Stiffie. Alas, they were not to be. Leslie developed a vicious case of vertigo that precluded taking banked curves on a bike. In fact, she gave up driving a car for any distance that year too. She held onto the Aero Shadow for an additional two years anyway, then reluctantly sold it. While I have had some of my best adventures driving around with Stiffie (like the week we toured Ireland in a rental car), I do miss the limited time we had on motorcycles. If it wasn’t for Leslie’s insistence, I would never have gotten another bike in my middle age, nor would I have written any of these stories. Please send your complaints to her directly. Leslie is an accomplished photographer and mixed media artist, Her work can be viewed by clicking here.

Author’s note: This blog episode was a day late in posting. This was because I opted to spend the afternoon in the garage fooling around with my K75, taking a couple of hours to wipe some polish into the paint. Towards the end of the day, I put my hand on the gas tank and whispered, “What would you say to me now?”

“This garage is some shithouse,” said my K75. "Do you plan on cleaning it any time soon?"

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011


BMW-Dick said...

Dear Jack:
What a delightful romantic story devoid of four-letter words. You've reached another plateau in your spiritual development. As I read of your lovely riding adventures with Leslie I could not help but wonder, "This cannot be the same asshole I've ridden with for thousands of four-letter imbued miles." This was a wonderful tale, not only about how you adore your recently polished K75, but about your feelings about Leslie,who I am sure really made that final comment about the garage.

BMW-Dick said...

Congratulations for being listed in the TOP FIVE of motorcycle blogs. My first thought was that it must be directly attributable to Leslie's photography. Keep it up, and keep writing, too.

Nikos said...

There are so many aspects of this story that I could pass favourable, nee witty, comment on but what happened to those pink leathers?
Best wishes from out East, N

Gef Flimlin said...

Having read your column for a while, I think she should be referred to as "Saint Stiffie"


Pass the syrup, Ihor said...

, and send your resume' to Hallmark.
Who ghost wrote this piece??
Who are you and where is John's corpse moldering?
Come clean before I have to CSI your evil plot!
I smell pixie dust and butterflies!!!!!!!

Conchscooter said...

How weird. There was more sexual innuendo in scooter in the sticks discussing rainy days than there was in ytour piece chasing Amish women and being chased by women on motorcycles.
Well this was the week schwarzenegger found someone more attractive than maria shriver and the French Banker raped a chambermaid in a real life nastiness resembling a second rate play. Weird all round.

Ps Next time let me tell about the very small portion of a field i once ploughed beind two oxen. Then you'd know why they went so slowly. I had a bizarre childhood which explains a lot.

redlegsrides said...


Interesting how differently you and Stiffie interpret the same scene in front of you. Again, I wonder why her nomination for sainthood has not been acted on...methinks perhaps the Vatican's "evil source filters" must be catching the work "riepe" in their scans of incoming requests, matching on a list of known "evil influences" and discarding the sainthood nominations.....

As to your K75 talking to you, pay attention....


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Steve Williams said...

Dear Mr. Riepe: What a kind, gentle and romantic little story. What bad thing have you done that you are here trying to earn points with Leslie through your silver worded poetics?

Surely you must have done something stupid and inconsiderate to have passed up so many opportunities to engage in more base prose. Perhaps you should just tell her that you maxed out the credit cards and bought the BMW K1600 GTL that you have been lusting for.

Yeah, like BMW-Dick said, this piece is outside the box. Elementary schools could use it as part of their reading curriculum.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks
Follow me on Twitter

RoadTrip said...

I've re-read this piece three times and was a shocked as the rest of the readers. But I think the closing line holds the clue. Jack's trying to get Stiffie to do the honors. Won't work, Jack.

BTW, the Thunder Road blog is active once again. The most recent post features the new line of helmets available. I think there is one in there just for you.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dick (Bregstein):

All I did was write a simple story to serve as a vehicle for the cow whisperer line. I have written a dozen or more like these. I thought her cow whisperer remark was very funny... Which naturally led to the K75 whisperer piece.

But I'm glad you were impressed with it.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Nikos:

Leslie is wearing the pink leathers now, while she is mixing me a martini, and making noises like a tigress on catnip.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Gef Flimlin:

Some saints were burned at the stake as part of the canonization process. But in truth, behind each saint is a really good story.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Ihor:

In the sequal, Bambi grows an eight-point rack and is photographed in the crosshairs, before turning up on the wall. As you are aware, Stiffie has a million good points — but that does not preclude her from getting off a good shot now and again.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Conchscooter:

The road to where I am now is a very winding one. And the fact is Stiffie was there all the way, with a smile on her face, sympathy in her heart, and murder on her mind has the made thr trip all worthwhile. If she ever reads this damn blog, I may be ducking for a while.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

If it wasn't for Stiffie sending us down the motorcycle route, I never would have met any of you guys... Nor would I have written any of this stuff.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

Whatever I have done, I am sure that writing one nice little story isn't going to get me out of it.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Radar:

I can assure you that cleaning the garage will always be my domain, unless I can con someone else, other than Stiffie into it.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

The Armed Christian said...

I talked Wonderful Wife into riding with me for a bit while I had two bikes. She wouldn't go out on the streets where cars were but a new section in a nearby neighborhood provided a nice car-free environment. She seemed to love it and would ride that loop for as long as I could stand it (sportbikes) are not nice to old guys at low speeds.

I pushed her to ride with the cars a little too early and she chose to stop riding (for a while she says). In retrospect, those boring rides are some of my best riding memories.

Both my son's in law as well as my niece's husband ride and we get to ride together often (but not often enough) those are some good memories too, but not quite the same...

Hang in there


mtlcowgirl said...

Ah, Stiffie's vertigo and Mack's Parkinson's. Those will put a kink in one's armor, all right. Yep, my riding career with Mack was short too but how sweet it was. I especially delighted in the Horse Pile Swerve Ride and I am sure the ride to Delaware would have been a winner too if I hadn't had to deal with the business end of a GS breaking my leg. Who knows? That little Ninja might still be waiting for me down the road. Great story and kudos to Leslie for the superb photography.

Cantwell said...

Dear Jack,

“This garage is some shithouse,” said my K75. "Do you plan on cleaning it any time soon?"

This would be a good time to repost 'the Cantwell effect'.

I'm not sure if I'm going to have time to tidy up your garage when I come down in June. On the other hand, if Leslie asks me I'll do it. She's real nice :)


Doc Rogers said...

Hey Jack,
Glad you are riding and writing! Probably a good shift away from cow whispering ... which would have of course led to random Amish cow tipping. Now, as a K-bike whisperer, you can concentrate on Beemer tipping. Hmmmm ... wait a minute ... you've already done that (like the rest of us at some ignominous point in time). By the way, your other half takes some beautiful pics.
Take care,
Doc Rogers

gary5410 said...

Thanks Stiffie! :-)

Anonymous said...


Imagine how alien you appeared to the farmers...

And yes - I'll break my 'groups of one' rule if you ever managed to sling yer arthritic leg over the saddle south of the Seven Mile Bridge.

Way down below Amish Country,

Chuck on Fleming.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Chuck on Fleming:

If you think I looked odd to the Amish farmers, imagine how alien I will look riding in Key West, with full body armor and a flip-up helmet.

I can think of nothing more delightful than riding around with you two guys, in a tropical environment (72º), in concentric loops around a topless beach. Hopefully, the beach will not cater to the senior citizen crowd, though Michael Beattie cannot be trusted in this regard.

Thank you for reading Twisted Roads during this period of great economic uncertainty.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Gary:

Stiffie said, "You're welcome," but she said it in a manner dripping with suspicion. She's not quite sure if she likes the overall effect biking has had on my literary bent. Then again, she knew it was bent to start with.

Thank you for reading Twisted Roads.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Doc Rogers:

I have once again begun a serious and far more aggressive weight loss program to relieve the pressure on my hips and knees. Hopefully, My riding will be less troublesome.

I'm delighted you took a moment to look at Stiffie's website "Snips and Snails." Her photography (children, dogs, and flowers) has a signature softness that breathes life into each setting. Her landscape shots, which are far fewer, have a rare depth of desolation, that is more comforting than isolating.

Thank you for reading Twisted Roads.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Cantwell (Michael):

The garage will never again become the shithouse it was before your last visit. (That's almost impossible.) It will be fine by the time you get here.

But your schedule for the Mac-Pac breakfast in June is so friggin' tight that I was sincerely hoping you and Carl could arrive here on Friday, as opposed to Saturday, giving you a day to rest (sitting on a block of ice to unswell your ass after 400 miles on that stock seat).

Leslie says you are welcome here anytime... And I have a great time riding with you.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear MTLCowGirl (Karen):

I think of Mack often and regret he was eventually faced with the reality of giving up the ride. For Leslie, it was an accomplishment to get her license and to eventually rider on the road for however brief a period. Yet it was her involvement that introduced me to a new riding/lifestyle, that eventually included getting to know people like you and Mack.

These are difficult times for so many people... Thankfully, we have memories to carry us through the rideless times. I hope you do get that Ninja. There is a little Ninja in every rider.

Thank you for reading Twisted Roads, and for commenting.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Shannon Baker:

Leslie really pursued the learning curve when it came to riding. She acquired a 450cc Honda Rebel, a real collector's piece, to practice on. She really loved that Aero Shadow, and would sit on it out on the garage, when her vertigo got bad.

She is a realist, however, and walked away from the problem before it became a worse problem. I still miss riding with her. It was once my thought to ride with her through the Adirondacks, careening around roads we used to share behind the windshield of a truck.

Thanks for reading Twisted Roads, and for leaving a comment, Buddy.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

ADK said...

"Come to me," whispered Jack.

"I'm scared," murmured the redhead.

"What's your name?" he hissed,

"Mount Gay," she replied softly.

"You should be," wheezed the Rum Whisperer.

Ken said...

Thank you Miss Leslie.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear ADK (Chris Wolfe):

I was just thinking of the last time you bought me a drink, and I realized that Nixon was in the White House. And if you recall, the last time you strreed one for me, you used a cat's tail.

By the way, is the bullshit Broken Hearts Band doing these days? Pretty slow since the weddings have tapered off at the Crystal Room in the Holiday Inn, Huh?

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Ken:

She said please don't mention it, and she means it.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

DC said...

Dear Jack,

What's this about? Dick says your blog is #5 out of all the MC blogs?!?!

Slacker. Your mom called. If you're not #1 by this time next week, she's cutting you off.

I really enjoyed reading this post about you and Leslie, who is a lovely woman with a great eye, btw, but you know that.


nhdude said...

Great tale! Bummer about Leslie's vertigo though. Hey,if you lose another couple hundred pounds, maybe she could be your pillion candy :-) Keep up the great writing!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear DC (Dave Case):

This piece was an experiment in "mellow." I do miss the few ocasions I had to ride woth Leslie. Stiffie always adds another dimension to the trip with her razor-sharp witticisms.

Thanks for reading Dave, and for writing in.

Fondest regard,
Jack • Reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear nhDude:

Does the "NH" stand for New Hampshire?

Leslie/Stiffie is one of the most independent women I have ever met. She would rather eat broken glass than ride pillion for anyone.

Thanks for reading Twisted Roads, and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

nhdude said...

Ayuh, I'm in New Hampsha!

nhdude said...

And... fellow K75 enthusiast... 1993 K75RT ABS blue. My re-entry bike after 30+ years :-)

Jack Riepe said...

Dear NHDude:

Send me a picrture ot this bike and how you came to have it, I'll use them both in Thursday's blog.


Anonymous said...

If the aforementioned brunette is my mom, I'm going to barf.


BeemerGirl said...

Dearest Jack! I'm catching up and this is my first read. How wonderful!

Wish I could say I was sipping some smooth concoction or another when I read "It's Poison"! My monitor would have been dripping wet. That thought will be going through my head for awhile.

Then Leslie's sweet explanation of "Cow Whisperer" had me rolling.

I'm sorry she had to give up riding. I would love to see what hi-jinks she could get into and have you completely speechless. :)

Great read. Thank you for the laughs.

-Steel Cupcake