Friday, May 13, 2011

Two For The Road...

I was on a run with a bunch of guys down to Lewes, Delaware (several years ago), when we got caught up in a Polar Bear Run. There had to be close to 300 bikes assembled in the parking lot of a local watering hole, with more arriving every few minutes. I had no sooner gotten my feet down and my helmet off, when the atmosphere was assaulted by an endless clap of thunder that seemed to roll within itself, as close to 50 regal Harley-Davidsons arrived enmasse, jazzing their engines as they cleared a rise (steel-plated lift bridge), slowed for the turn, and pulled into the lot. I marveled at this impressive presentation of iron, chrome, and noise.

It was nothing less than a multi-sensual celebration of the ride... A combination of sight, sound, and rider solidarity expressed in two unbroken lines of Milwaukee Iron.

“Wouldn’t it be cool to do this with a long line of BMW riders,” I thought to myself. I have expressed this idea to BMW-riding pals of mine, who have invariably shrugged the concept off, preferring to ride in groups that seldom exceed four. Yet the occasion presented itself a year later, when no less than 30 riders of the Mac-Pac decided to take a lunch run to the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa. There was no conscious decision to do this in a group, it’s just that 30 riders showed up, and managed to leave at the same time.

In deference to my arthritis, the guys agreed to take the slab west (Pennsylvania Turnpike) to Route 15 south to the historic battlefield. Gerry Cavanaugh (astride a mighty GS) followed by Horst Oberst (on another “R” bike) led the assembly in the standard staggered formation, setting the pace between 65 and 70 miles per hour. I would finally get my wish, to be part of a long line of BMW riders, bound by style, machine, philosophy, and friendship.

This was unbelievably exciting... For the first twenty minutes.

I was careful to maintain a 25-foot gap between my front tire and the back wheel of the bike that was in front of me, and to my left. My usual riding partner, Dick Bregstein, did the same, about 25-feet behind me, and to my left. Though it is a super-slab and traffic can be heavy, this stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike runs through farmland, which is soothing to the eyes. I know this from other rides. But on this trip, I primarily concentrated on maintaining a precise position from the machine in front of me, occasionally looking up to make sure that there were no problems in front of him. Several of the bikes in the lead were equipped with cruise control, and held a precise speed of 70 mph. I found myself giving “Fireballs” (my 1995 BMW K75) the gas to pull up a bit, and then twisting off the speed when I started to gain.

This was about as much fun as laying brick.

We were all in the right lane when a truck decided to pass us at about 71 miles per hour. That means the driver took 15 minutes to pass the entire line of bikes, boxing us in 10 at a time. Glancing in my mirror, I could see several other trucks getting left to do the same thing. It was then I gave Bregstein our special signal. I raised the middle finger on my left hand and slowly waved it. That means, “Fuck this.”

I hit my flashers for a second, signaled for a left, and broke the line with Bregstein hot on my tail. I could see Dick laughing in my mirror. The line of BMW’s fractured in an instant, with riders teaming up in groups of three or four.

Suddenly the fun was back in the ride. We were moving at speeds that were far more comfortable to each rider, or smaller groups of riders, and maneuvering like eagles instead of ducks. There were times when I was doing 70mph, and times when I was not. And none of us had the claustrophobic feeling that comes from getting boxed in by truck traffic.

Our destination for lunch was the Dobbins House, adjacent to the battlefield at Gettysburg. This is a “period-type” restaurant in which the serving staff dress up like they would have in 1864. The food was good, the service was adequate, and the company was superb. On the way back, the riders started out is smaller groups to explore various back roads on the way home.

But I had gotten the answer to my question. The reason you don’t see large assemblies of BMW riders together is that there is much more fun to be had in smaller groups. Simply stated, privateers have more options than the Armada. It could be argued that there are a lot fewer BMWs than there are other marques... But the truth is that even when larger numbers of Beemers are available, they seem to prefer each other’s company at the beginning and and of each trip. Now I know why.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011

All rights reserved


A five-day ride through West Virginia was coming to an end. Though there would be a few hundred miles to cover before each of us would dismount in our respective garage, it was generally acknowledged that the adventures were over. We pointed our bikes north after the traditional farewell breakfast, and took a series of back-roads as long as these were an option. The time would come for the slab soon enough.

There is always the thought that we would pull off the road, then pull off our gloves and helmets, to properly say good-bye as each of us left formation for a home that might be 20 or 30 miles off the common ride. But it seldom works out that way. Pete Buchheit bailed first. Yet we were on one one superslab as he signaled for a right, and exited onto another. The good-bye was a cavalier wave, and a blast of horns.

The traffic on I-95 north of Baltimore that day was as thick and hot as magma. Clyde Jacobs and I cut through it, dashing from one clear spot to another, like frogs jumping on moving lilly pads, in a game of certain death. At one point, Clyde was three lanes to my right, boxed in as was I, perfectly parallel to me, doing about 75 miles per hour. I could have stepped across the hoods of cars to ask him a question.

This type of riding is hardly fun and I watched Clyde move ahead, then wave me behind him. We left the slab someplace around Bel Air, Maryland. I followed Clyde onto the shoulder of a side-road, and took a swig of cold water from a bottle he offered.

“Let’s take the back way into Pennsylvania,” said Clyde.

I was ready to give him an argument. The pain in my knees was phenomenal and now that the ride was at an end, I wanted to get home, and off this bike, as quickly as possible. But that’s not how a ride always ends. Clyde and Pete had been especially solicitous of me and my quirks on this run. It was my turn now.

“I’ll follow you,” I said.

Yet I couldn’t help noticing that the skies were darkening perceptibly, and that the wind was starting to pick up. We were riding right into a thunderstorm. Local traffic was much lighter, but we were also moving much slower. The storm broke like my last wedding vows, with a fury to match the temper of the enraged bride. It was the kind of rain that lashed down in vicious waves. Riding in mesh, I was thoroughly soaked in about 5 seconds, as was Clyde. The rain fell so furiously that it obscured visibility with its velocity, with its bombardment effect from bouncing up off the road and everything around us, and with the humid mist that rose from the heated pavement.

Clyde and I triggered the four-way flashers on our bikes at the same time. There was no real shoulder on this road and the possibility of getting whacked by a car attempting to pull over was very real. We plowed ahead through water that began to pile up against the wheels. The thought occurred to me that we might have missed this storm entirely had we stayed on the slab, and then, we might also have found ourselves in melee of traffic doing 80 miles per hour in a sudden deluge.

The storm passed in less than ten minutes and the sun came out with a vengeance. I started to steam in my rain-soaked tee shirt (under the mesh riding jacket). I was wearing crash-resistant Defender Jeans® by Diamond Gusset, and they were soaked clear through. Wearing a mesh jacket saves your dignity, in that it disguises the fact you look like drowned rat.

At that point Clyde and I ran into a huge Harley-Davidson event, with hundreds of riders along the side of the road. Many of these guys were in nothing but tee shirts and “do” rags. And so were their girlfriends. A staggering number of these fine ladies were wearing white tee shirts or tank tops — with absolutely nothing on underneath. It was the world’s largest wet tee shirt contest, in which very little was left to the imagination.

“Doesn’t this almost make you want to plink down a third of year’s wages on a Fat boy or a Wide Glide?” asked Clyde.

“Only if one of these women comes with the bike and will take that shirt off to polish the chrome,” I said. “Keep moving... These guys are bound to realize we’re wolves in Teutonic clothing.”

We hit US-1 a few minutes later, and I waved Clyde to the shoulder for the last time. There was plenty of opportunity to pull over and I wanted to thank him for a great ride. We shook hands on the Mason-Dixon Line, which at that point is the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Cyde and I had the pleasure of each other’s company for another ten miles, when he pulled off for home. I had the option of a back road, and I should have taken it. But I was too hot and in too much of a hurry. I followed US-1 to the junction of US-202 and ended a great ride in the exhaust stink of traffic stuck at red lights. Less than a mile from the house, on a road that is little more than a glorified city street, I gave “Fireballs” a burst of gas in third gear, turning into my community. It was my salute to five days of sheer fun.

I killed the engine in the garage, and just sat on the bike for a few moments. This had been a great trip... And while I would be delighted to see Leslie (Stiffie) again... I’d be ready to ride with Clyde, Pete, and Dick, in less than a week.

Author's note: Blogger has been down for the better part of a day here and I had the devil of a time posting Thursday's blog on Friday afternoon. I regret the delay. Some pictures may be posted to this blog episode latter on this evening.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011

All rights reserved


Chris said...

Good story Jack. Too bad you don't have photos from these rides. ;)

Blogger being down has been a pain. I noticed it last night when I tried to post. Down for almost 20 hours. a shame.

RichardM said...

I agree, much more fun in smaller groups. Riding in that kind of formation would drive me up the wall.

I'll check back later for the pictures. Without them, your post seems a it short...


Conchscooter said...

I will have to stalk Highway One all summer long for wet t shirts on pirate hogs if we ever get summer thunderstorms. You are an inspiration Jack!

Doc Rogers said...

Hey Jack,
Good visual with the tees. We need to find you a helmet cam for times like this! And, I agree ... smaller groups riding are more fun.
Take care,
Doc Rogers

Allen Madding said...

You are spot on. I gave up on the charity rides and such that end up with 40-50 bikes in a large slow moving parade of people pointing out every pothole and dead squirrel for 4 hours. The last one, we rode dutifully to the destination, ate lunch, and when the raffles started, we escaped to ride the mountain rodes, just two of us. And that was the best part of the day.

Three or Four tops are lots of fun riding together. Big packs, pass.

Blogger held me up posting as well, but at least we don't have to pay to host our own sites!


Keith - Circle Blue said...

"But on this trip, I primarily concentrated on maintaining a precise position from the machine in front of me, occasionally looking up to make sure that there were no problems in front of him." Been there and done that. And, as you pointed out this tunnel vision causes one to miss what one knows is there in the surround, which means that which is there to surprise on this day is missed as well. Sad. That said, my guess is even under such conditions you would have noticed the "the world’s largest wet tee shirt contest, in which very little was left to the imagination".

Very nice post and a good reflection on the importance some of us place in riding our own ride.

redlegsrides said...


You described perfectly the "yo yo" effect I've found in large group rides and why I don't do them. You spend all your time keeping formation and not enjoying the ride.

Loved the description you had for the heavy rainstorm you and Clyde rode through, thrown in some hail and you could have been in a Colorado cloudburst.

As to the "world's largest wet t-shirt contest", did your throttle hands automatically slow your might Teutonic steeds' speed down to let you appreciate the spectacle?

I trust your superbly honed peripheral vision scanning and situational awareness skills kept an eye on the road while perusing the roadside "scenery". : )

Nice story, and not too long.


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Anonymous said...

I'm fond of groups of one.

As for wet T-shirt Harley chix...


Most of them are closer to 60 than 40; have had one too many double cheeseburgers and sport a titty-do (gut sticks out more than the titties do).

You can keep that, Jack.

Sailing solo on old iron,

Chuck on Fleming.

Ken said...

You are spot on about the group rides! Nice read, and then as I type in the word verification I have to think about your wet T-shirt story. The verification word? "prestifi."

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Chris:

These were snippets iof stories that I will revisit some say in greater detail. There was absolutely no stopping for pictures on the ride home. There is something gewnuinely anti-climatic about heading back to the barn.

Thanks for reading and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Richard M.

I have always wanted to be part of a large grouop of motorcycles on the move. Yet when I had the chance, it all seemed so borimg and purposeless. That's because it was. It is a lot more fun to just careen around like a shooting star.

Blogger really pissed me off this weekend, and I just didn't have the time to really fool around with it.

Thanks for reading my blog and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Conch:

There is a silver lining to every gray cloud. Yes, it poured like hell, but the result was the world's largest wet tee shirt contest. Was it worth getting soaked? Absolutely.

This leads me to speculate on wet tee shirt contests as part of bone fide motorcycle rally entertainment. It would never fly at a BMW rally. But I think the Harley crowd may be onto something.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Doc:

Just imagine this scenario: You out on a run on a red hot day, with 40 guys behind you... And you want to stop at the local topless joint for a cherry cola. Can you imagine the confusion, and the explanations, after pulling over 40 riders, and then having to hold a vote.

I know of one group that took off enmasse in a slight fog on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sho'nuff, two guys ran into each other, resultimg in injuries and extensive damage to one machine.

With three our four guys, making a sudden rest stop is seldom an issue. With a small group of friends, you can tell when everyone is usually ready for a break anyway.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Allen Madding:

The last charity run I participated in was the Pediatric Brain Tumor Ride in Philly. While it was fun, and exciting to be part of this, the ride itself was a major pain in the ass. I was in the last third of a 600-bike line, with two of the biggest assholes on wheels about 75 yards ahead of me. It was some asshole guy (on one bike) riding right next to his asshole girlfriend (on another bike). The dercided to have a conversation as they rode along. Neither one was paying attention to the task at hand, and they let a car into the line.

What's more, the car driver freaked and moved along on a double-line road at about 25 miles per hour. In no time, the two assholes lost the group they were following.

I was riding next to a toughened old Army vet on a Harley. I said, "I'm gonna pass these assholes and the car when the double line becomes dotted."

He followed me, as did about 60 other bikes. The two assholes were utterly clueless.

That was my first and last big charity run. Now it is easier to just send money.

Thanks for reading and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Keith:

There is something to be said for a ride beginning with a great breakfast and ending with a riotous party. However, there is little to recommend a serpentine line of bikes, especially if the roadway is confining, if the traffic is bad, or if the ride is really pretty and you simply have to concentrate on the road ahead.

My response to the huge group ride is, I'll meet you there."

Thanks for reading my tripe and writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

We might have missed the wet tee shirt deal if the rain had started 10 minutes later. The truth is that we got caught at a traffic light, where a bunch of these other riders were pulled over. There was a really great looking young thing on the back of a Sportster sitting there like a codom ad. And then we noticed there were quite a few of them.

At that point, I shut my engine off.

The Harley folks took this development in very good humor — amongst themselves. I didn't see a need to test their patience, however, and we hit the road.

Thanks for reading my blog, and for leaving a comment.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Fondest regards,

Steve Williams said...

As another poster said, "I am fond of groups of one." Three, maybe four times a year I will ride with another rider and until recently it has always been the same person -- Paul Ruby. He can put up with my obsessive need to stop and make pictures, my desire to not talk, and general non-social behaviors. I think if I had to ride in a group of 300 noisy machines I would rather just have sharp stick driven through my eye.

Hat's off to those who like group rides, especially since it leaves the rest of the roads devoid of motorcycle traffic.

And I have to say the descriptions of the ride to Gettysburg or up US1 in a storm didn't sound like a lot of fun. But I guess it built character.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks
Follow me on Twitter

Nikos said...

Baron von Richtofen did not participate in group events with his Fokker, and I won't with my GS.

Kindest regards from stormy Kharkov, N

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Nikos:

There are many advantages to riding in large groups, but none of them come to mind at the moment. Whenever we get the opportunity to ride together, I will keep the number down to three or four. Baron Von Richtofen also keep dachunds. How many do you have?

Thankl you for reading Twisted Roads during these difficult times.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

It was my friend and riding buddy Pete Buchheit who said to me, "You'll know exactly how I feel about group rides after you've taken a few." In truth, the motorcycle is a celebration of independence, and the group ride really hobbles that freedom.

The whole point in getting out with your buddies is to share in the joy of the ride — once you get to the destination. Riding with two or three others is great — as long as they get the joke, and have similar riding styles. I learned the hard way.

Thank you for reading Twisted Roads in a the current martket environment.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Chuck on Fleming:

There are times rogue dinner or a breakfast ride will be posted on one of the BMW lists I subscribe to... And twenty-five guys will show up for the run. The resukt is always they same: the split up into groups of threes and fours, and pick the routing that suits their skill level. Some guys will arrive at the bar or diner with their pegs scrapped, and others will show up an hour later, having stopped for pictures.

What will you do when I show up on Key West astride "Fireballs," looking t ride with you and Michael Beattie?

Thank you for reading Twisted Roads in this time of economic anguish.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Ken:

Some ideas die a slow death. I always thought it would be cool to ride around in a large group... Making some kind of a statement... But it is a real pain in the ass and there are better ways to make a statement.

As per the wet tee shirt incident: Sometimes yopu are in the right place at the right time. Thank you for reading Twisted Roads.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

DC said...

Dear Jack,

You're observation of highway riding is spot-on.

I like to be in a group of one to 4 riders. I enjoy all the riding positions within those confines. Riding 4th of 4, the most challenging (assuming spirited riding).

Yeah, man...Blogger was down for 2 days, at least! :( I wanted to vote "yes" in the worst way. (wink)

Dave C

Question Nikos, Ihor said...

Are you in Ukraine for long?

Michael Roach said...

Dear Jack,
Very nice description of why I ride alone, or with one or two very close friends.

The storm broke like my last wedding vows, with a fury to match the temper of the enraged bride.

Nice turn of phrase there,apparently you've met my ex's.

Michael (Rocket 1)