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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Category: Rides and Drives

MOA Rally 2018

Classic Velocity


With all due respect, the state fair grounds in Des Moines, Iowa would not be on the top 10 list of places to go see in the USA in July. However, it is the 2018 location of the annual pilgrimage for the 2 wheeled BMW faithful. The BMW MOA Rally. An excuse to travel somewhere relatively far away, and to weave in interesting roads along the way. An excuse to take a machine not purpose built for the constant drone of the interstate highway system or the speed of the autobahn, but which never the less is intended to circumnavigate the world. A 1992 BMW R100GS Paris Dakar. Long before BMW had an “Adventure” version of the GS, they had the PD version of the GS. A more Gelande version of the Gelande Strasse. Bigger fuel tank, a bit more suspension travel, high fender (which went on to become the segment-defining “beak”). It was the dawn of the big bike dual sport movement. The R80G/S before it was the original adventure bike, but it did not have the girth and the sheer presence of its’ 1000cc offspring. Sort of like an NFL tackle next to his normal sized mom and dad. The machine has no electronics, and no fuel injection, although it does have upgraded lighting, and luggage. 

Time did not allow me to completely avoid the interstate, so there was several hundred miles of it on the round trip. I used the throttle lock cruise control, which worked adequately for resting your wrist. The PD handles it well even if the tachometer is between 5k and 6k in doing so. It never feels strained, but it seems to be asking you why you are continuing to do this. Good question. Once off onto the divided highways and B roads, the machine is happier. It accelerates well, passes well using roll on throttle, and stops well.  It is obviously not a modern motorcycle, so it draws attention and invites questions. What year is that? How far are you going? You can often see the next unasked question on their faces. Why? Others have looks of obvious envy. Others clutch their smiling curious children to them as if you might infect them with some strange global traveling disease.


I never cease to marvel at the variation and beauty of the landscapes in all parts of the USA, and the Midwest is no exception. What others describe as monotonous is just a different kind of beauty. How is it that you can travel down a tunnel of corn that is almost unbroken in 20 miles? When did the last person leave that little abandoned town, and who has captured that history? Why are these 90 degree turns placed seemingly arbitrarily in this billiard flat landscape? Why is there a speed limit on this road? Why did the city form at this particular point on the river? Why don’t we make more things out of corn? Why isn’t this the best place on the continent to view a sunrise or a sunset? How many places actually claim to have the best barbecue? You have time to ponder these and other questions when you travel more slowly, and you have a large fuel tank.

The MOA rally is a gathering of 7000 plus people and their machines with a common love of the blue and white propeller on a two-wheeled conveyance. With that said, any gathering of humans this large will immediately subdivide into tribes. Geographic tribes, and time period tribes (I see you Airheads), and specific model tribes (I see you chromeheads), and genre tribes (I see you GS Giants). All different,  all able to poke fun at each other, all able to share the same beer tent. Many different origins, many different walks of life, many different faiths, many different world views, united around one company’s approach to combining metal and steel and plastic and rubber. Surely we can find a way to emulate this on a more important level. But I digress.


Seminars educated and informed, test rides informed and even surprised, vendors offered solutions, attendees showered wisdom on each other. Friends reunited. I attended a particularly informative session on lighting and conspicuity. Motorcycles were admired. Oh yes, the motorcycles. Whatever model you rode, many examples of your bike were there. Like the parking lot at Goodwod, you could be well entertained for hours by walking around the grounds looking at machines. Unlike a concours, you are not looking for the most pristine example. The sheer variety of interpretation and personalization is fascinating on this scale, and every machine is a participant. I stopped to admire an R1200ST. Styling only a mother could love, and a rare sighting even at this event, but this machine was well loved and well travelled. The vintage display had a nice assortment as usual of machines from an R32 to an R90S. Green and Red and Grey and Dover White machines broke up the stellar traditional black examples. There was much to discuss at the beer garden that evening. 

The journey back took a different path, and more interstate, with a good bit of rain here and there. The rain washed the bike, and cooled the cylinders and the rider. It somehow feels good to put on rain gear and keep going rather than retreat to wait it out. Riding in the rain can even be fun as I found out some time ago in Nova Scotia. Drying out was quick, and was accompanied by a welcome end to interstate travel. Rolling hills and lush green woods lined the road rather than corn. Place names became more familiar, and the journey came to a close. A lot had happened in a week, and a changed rider stood in an unchanged driveway next to a brilliantly unchanged machine. 




Cross Continental MZ

Classic Velocity

For those of us that believe we need to have a well-equipped electronically-assisted modern touring machine in order to contemplate a cross country trip, Kim Scholer begs to differ. He is taking a 1970 East German 250cc MZ pulling a Czech trailer ! And this is an upgrade compared to his last such trip !!

 Kim's Blog  MC Classics Article  Classic Velocity MZ Blog Posts

mz-pav jpg.jpg

On Being Far Away

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Joshua Tree National Park is thousands of miles from home. It does not look like home.  It does not smell like home. It is dry and dusty brown and filled with scrub brush. But then, it has spectacular small rocks and massive geologic formations that burst with colors and form fantastic sculptures against a brilliant azure sky. What kind of strange and wondrous place is this that spawns such giant structures out of nothing ? You have certainly left the shire Frodo Baggins.

Traveling solo on two wheels in the western USA, you get a very visceral understanding of space. Endless prairies and deserts go on for hours.  Mountains and canyons  take miles to ascend or descend.  Towns and cities seem to appear and disappear leaving little trace. Highways fade into the distance. You do not have a sense that you are always close to civilization. Great well-paved deserted roads snake through the desert, connecting nothing to nothing, leaving you to wonder why they even exist, but leaving you eternally grateful that they do. The average campground is spectacular in setting, if not in amenities, but that is as it should be. Who would want to be shuttered in a motel with a night sky like this ? The tent seems the right abode, and open flame, the right heat.


These roads, these places, force you to contemplate big things, big questions. You can see time in these places in a way that is difficult in lush green places where perhaps a few hundred years is evident. Here, thousands of years are visible in rock formations, and cave paintings, and even in the brilliant simplicity of the homes of native peoples. You can see in canyons stretching for miles, how you are riding on what was once the bottom of an ocean. You can see how water has carved rock, how wind has shaped the mesa.

Riding and camping through these places implants the experience in a unique manner. You have to smell the air and get the dirt first on, and then under your skin. Slowly, over a few days, with nothing familiar around, it sinks in. This is why we should all go far away periodically. Physically, and mentally, you need to abandon the familiar for a time. You need to gain or refresh another perspective, to disturb a comfort zone that is probably deceiving you into thinking that you have figured something out. Your idea of far away may not be anything like mine, but I can only hope that it is as powerful as a motorcycle, a tent, and a few days in the southwest.

Das Motorrad Vintage Fescht 10

Classic Velocity

A Guest Post by Friend of the Blog, Todd Trumbore

Ten years ago, I got together with my good friend Karl Duffner and kicked around the idea of rounding up a group of fellow vintage riders and setting aside a day for a nice scenic tour of the local countryside and ending with a luncheon or BBQ. Karl liked the idea and so plans were made.

That first year, the event was held in the middle of October and the weather was sunny, but a bit chilly. We could only muster eight riders: Karl Duffner on his ‘54 BMW R68, Bill Zane rode his BMW R60/2, Dave Dilworth on a ‘76 Moto Guzzi T3 , Dave’s son riding a Moto Guzzi Convert, Eric Heilveil on his silver R75/5, Roddy Erwin borrowed my ‘55 BMW R90/2 conversion with a Steib S501 sidecar, Rick Kramer on his ‘66 Triumph Daytona and Laura and I rode on my ‘67 BMW R60/2 with our Aussie, Sidecar Larry, riding in the Steib TR500 attached at the hip. Jack Riepe and Dick Bregstein were our tail gunning SAG crew members providing moral support along with amusing commentary. This became a tradition for Jack & Dick for many years to come.


We had a wonderful four county ride, but Dave Dilworth and his son got sidetracked briefly when Dave blew out a clutch cable on the Moto Guzzi,... not to worry they carried a spare. We ended up having lunch at Mal’s All American Restaurant in Skippack Village, PA where I handed out some Flying Merkel Hats and framed FM photos. Every year thereafter a “Flying Merkel” award was given to the person riding the oldest motorbike.


When planning an outdoor event, it’s always a roll of the dice when it comes to the weather. Several events I planned this year or events I planned to attend were rained out. That was not the case for this year’s Vintage Motorrad Festival. This year was our 10th Annual and the weather could not have more perfect. We all awoke to clear blue skies, bright sunshine and 70 degrees...sometimes lady luck is with you and the Motorrad Gods are smiling from above.

I wanted this ride to be special, so I laid out a course with some of the best roads this area has to offer. Some twisties of course to keep our interest and attention, but many long sweeper after sweepers. This kept the pace moving quickly and also helped to keep everyone together. Over the years the group has increased from eight to twenty-five and that’s about the limit for group riding.


I tried my best to gather a rare collection of old iron for this special occasion. But, even the best planning doesn’t always pan out as intended. Rob Caso’s Mike Hailwood Replica Ducati needed just a little more work to be trustworthy, Albert Bold had his MV Augusta 750 America ready to roll, but a conflict with a championship bicycling competition got in the way of those plans. Stony Read’s rare R50S BMW restoration was not quite ready for prime time, Eric Heilveil was planning on bringing his rare ‘52 Vincent Black Shadow, but a family affair also had him on the sideline and Ron Rohner’s ultra rare Red Cross side hack rig was just too precious to chance on the highway.

Not all was lost, many beautiful vintage machines were in attendance, mostly classic BMW’s. The R75/5, R100S and R90S models are always popular with the vintage riders, but we had a couple unique Hondas, Harleys, a Ducati, Moto Guzzi Lemans and a Triumph Bonneville. Wayne Woodruff brought his really sharp 1956 Matchless G11, Tony Karas recently picked up a very nice R100RS Motorsport, 1 of only 200 made and brought that bike to the event. Lou Stellar rode a real nice R90S Silver Smoke and Rich Nagy rode his stunning Daytona Orange R90S, BUT...Klaus Huenecke stole the show and took all honors hands down, with his ultra rare and incredibly jaw dropping gorgeous Munch Mammoth. One of only 360 or so and this is by far the best of the best in my opinion.


Over the years our luncheon at Mal’s quickly turned into an impromptu BBQ at the Upper Salford Park Pavilion, then later became a catered event with Master Chef Alphons Schubeck at the grill working the coals. What a blessing! “Chef Bob” worked his magic along with his crew ( Dave, Susan, Laura and Anneliese) and timed the Bavarian BBQ so that the meal is ready to go as soon as we return from our ride. Many Thanks !

Wayne Woodruff’s 1956 Matchless G11 won him the “Flying Merkel Award” this year, for the oldest motorbike on the ride even though he missed the very last leg due to an ignition and charging problem...Hey it’s British, need I say more. The good news is, the bike did not leave Wayne stranded and it didn’t take him long to fix the problems.


Wayne wasn’t the only one having some problems that day.  John Melchor’s R90S also had either a bad battery or a charging problem, but he too managed to arrive home safely with the aid of duck tape, bailing wire and a spare battery from a hobby shop.

Also...I want to give a really big thank you to those who made donations, someone gave a VERY nice donation (not sure who), but I appreciate that very much.  It really helps defray the cost of putting on this event.    Can’t wait until next year...see you then!

Crossing The Chasm

Classic Velocity


Size Matters. Within the bounds of your immediate family, you are probably a major player.  A big fish. Any move that you make can have a material impact. Without you, the unit is destroyed or significantly diminished. At work, or at your place of worship, or in your circle of friends, you are probably not as impactful. Important, but the group probably survives without you. In your town, you may not be important or even known to very many. And so on, and so forth. Scale is important. Perspective is important. 

At the dealership, I was treated like a valued customer. They processed the rental with ease, asked if I needed gear, went over the BMW F800GS as if I had never ridden one before, and generally offered VIP levels of attention. Multiple people came over to ask where I was heading, to point out the coffee station, to offer tips, and to say what a great time of year this was to ride in the region. I am sure it would have been different if I had been there during prime time, but  I was still impressed. I suited up and headed back to the hotel. It was good to be on two wheels. The wind, the power, the maneuverability, the looks of envy from four-wheeled travelers. The motorcyclist is indeed someone special, whether that is because of perceived risk, freedom, individualism, or just being in a minority on the road...

Dawn is always my favorite time to be on the road. The relative quiet, the infinite possibilities of a day yet to fully begin, the awakening, the rapidly changing sky and landscape. It is magical, and the miles pass blissfully.....After you leave the town of Williams, the road becomes two lane highway. It was not heavily trafficked, so you could travel at 70+ mph. There were ample places to pass the few motorhomes, cars and minivans heading north. The F800GS easily accelerated around them. On either side of the road were open light brown plains full of scrub brush that stretched for miles toward the distant hills. Cattle or horses grazed in a few spots, and the occasional cluster of aging mobile homes broke the monotony. In many ways, a typical desert southwest landscape. An hour later, you reach the park gates. Still nothing unusual. You park and shed your gear. Nothing yet. You follow the paved path and see glimpses of an unusual sky. Then you round a corner !!

The Grand Canyon is beyond impressive. Even the second or third time you visit. It is an inverted mountain range where nature has used the full palette of textures and colors, blended with time. And the amount of time is hard to comprehend. A visiting son asked his father if it was older than grandpa. Oh yes, his father replied, more like the dinosaurs. The child nodded the nod of someone who acknowledges, but cannot possibly comprehend. The size is also hard to comprehend. It instantly reduces you to a speck. You are a mere pixel on nature's high resolution Jumbotron. Your life, less than a measurable unit of time. You are anything but a VIP.

Geology, chemistry, and other sciences have solid explanations for everything you can see, but the whole is more than science. It is like looking out at the ocean or up at the stars. The concepts of time and scale are intellectually understood, but they seem insufficient. Perhaps we are missing the point. Native peoples have simply held this place as sacred for thousands of years, and still do.  

Vultures circle on currents of air that suddenly dip and rise like a roller coaster. Hawks emerge from the perfect camouflage of the cliffs to swoop down toward an imperceptible speck of movement. The sun paints the scene in the muted tones of shadows or the bright reflections of the vibrant varied surfaces. I sit looking out across the canyon until more people start to arrive. Most stare slack-jawed at the first sight. You can see them shrink in size and importance as they take it all in. I mount up and head out along the south rim. There is no other form of motorized conveyance besides a motorcycle that would be adequate for this. You need to be exposed to the elements, to get closer to the edge, to hear what the wind is saying. There are less crowded vistas here that are no less spectacular. A few have no one around....

It is at these points that I begin to understand. There are many lessons that this place delivers to the receptive, but one stands out. The biggest canyon to be crossed is the reconciliation of your own desire to be significant in some way, with the reality of your insignificance.



Classic Velocity


5:45am Middlebury, VT

The tii starts easily as if it is as glad to see the new day as I am. It is covered in dew. The kind of dew that only a summer overnight stay outside can generate. It is not cold, just cool. Maybe in the 60s. The motel was cheap and convenient. A place to shower and sleep. Now with bag in the spacious trunk, and a day of driving ahead, I stretched and smiled. I looked at the tii sitting there, idling comfortably now, smiling with me. At that moment, the day was full of promise. Man and machine were one. 

There is a time of day where the light is magic. In the time leading up to dawn,  a painting is created with a soft glow over everything. Harsh detail is airbrushed by the cosmos, and the most flattering light is  poured like some luminescent syrup onto even the least worthy of objects. Apply this to the hills and valleys of new england, and you have a masterpiece. Then add silence. It is somehow even more beautiful because nature has added a soundtrack of.....nothing. This is now a movie rather than a painting. And we are in it, man and machine.

Somehow, this combination of metal and blood is one form. Somehow the synapses are firing in synchronization with the spark plugs. 1-4-3-2, 1-4-3-2. The undulations and curves of the road in the pre-dawn stillness are in lock step with the suspension and steering. Speed is high, sensing that this glorious window is but for a short while. And miles to go while others sleep...The weak yellow glow of the headlights is a perfect match for the hue of the emerging glow to the east. The whole universe is smiling.

The Pre-Hibernation Ritual

Classic Velocity


Right before animals in the wild go into hibernation, there is a heightened period of activity for preparation. There is a flurry of gathering of nuts, and collecting of items needed to make it through the long winter nap. This preparation is essential to surviving the winter, and must be approached with a sense of purpose and determination. It must also take advantage of any leeway that Mother Nature may offer via an Indian summer, or a mild day as winter prepares its' onslaught. And so it was that there was a gathering of nuts today, as temperatures hovered a full 10 degrees above freezing, and fine machines needed to get the fluids circulating perhaps for the last time this season.


The usual suspects descended upon the unsuspecting folks of an otherwise peaceful hamlet, and invaded their Eating hall. There was much recounting of halcyon days, tales of daring, epic battles, heroic conquests, and even some truth thrown in for good measure. The Earl of Bruce provided a fermented concoction brought back by the people of Nog when they returned from failing to conquer Jamaica. Only a few Noggins made it back, but they managed to capture something called Rum Creme, which they incorporated as an improvement over regular Egg Nog. However, their inability to hold their liquor was legendary, and Nog civilization was soon destroyed. But I digress....

Once they had their fill, they took their leave of the hall to the great delight of the fine people of the hamlet. Mothers clutched their children and averted their eyes (ok, that might have been due to one of the invaders smelling like burned castrol with a faint bouquet of carbon monoxide, but still..). Elders wished they were going off to battle with them. Outside stood their mighty steeds.


Alfa Romeo Berlina

Porsche 911T Targa


Ferrari 400i

Porsche 911 SC

BMW 2002 tii

Porsche 911 SC Targa

Mercedes SL Kompressor

And they roared off into the distance, ensuring that butterflies and jets were operable over their entire range, and that suspension components were supple and responsive. They made a great and mighty sound throughout the countryside, and may have startled a few poor Lexuses on their way to brunch. By and by, they paused at the estate of the Van Sants, who provide stables and winter lodging for strange flying machines. Before the Van Sants could be insulted by a random remark from young Arthur, they fled into the countryside and continued in spirited fashion for hours more.


Miracles were witnessed as the Alfa started twice, and the MGB once. Some continued to more eating and drinking. Some went to adorn their caves with decorations of the season. Some went to tend to their steeds. Regardless, they now feared no hibernation, for their parts were well lubricated. In the words of the ancient philosopher, Rustophiles, "Tis a better beast that emerges in the spring, that was flogged in the fall".


Das Motorrad Vintage Ride

Classic Velocity


What kind of a crazy gathering has both a 1958 BMW R60 and a Ducati 1198 Panigale lining up to start? What kind of eclectic Moto madness has a near pristine Yamaha SR500 and a Vincent Black Shadow? Todd Trumbore's Vintage Fall Ride. You have heard of Todd here before (see record wreckers and vintage fescht 2012). This year, there was a perfect fall day for riding a motorcycle, with blue skies, puffy white clouds, and perfect temperatures in the 70s. The faithful gathered at the traditional starting point to fill up the gas tanks and drain the bio tanks.


Many of the regulars have multiple machines, so it is always interesting to see what will show up. Since it involves a ride of 50 to 100 miles to get to lunch, it can be a good opportunity for unveiling a new acquisition, or a newly completed project. My R60 had its pistons on the bench earlier this year, so this was a good chance to complete the 60 mile round trip to the start, and then the ride itself. BMW is usually the largest marque present, but there was plenty of variety. The vast majority of the bikes are vintage, but not all. MV Agusta (old and new), Harley Davidson, Moto Guzzi, Ducati (old and new), and Buell were among the marques present. 


The BMW contingent included a goodly number of /2 machines, a few very nice /5 and /6 machines, an R100GS, an R100, several K-bikes, and several very nice R90S  machines. 


The ride travelled along nice country roads which included nice sections of sweepers and straights which allowed the group to fan out a bit. Newer machines probably never got higher than 3rd gear, but it is labeled a vintage ride, after all. At the gas stop, there was more kicking of tires and swapping of lies and filling of tanks and draining of tanks. Then it was back on the road again. Todd finishes the event with a BBQ.


There may be better ways for a vintage gearhead to spend a perfect fall day, but this past Sunday, none came to mind.

Recalibrating Normal

Classic Velocity


Sometimes family or friends will hear about something that you have done, and respond with amazement. You will hear statements like "Wow, that's impressive", or "That must be incredibly difficult". Sometimes this amazement is masking the true statement, which would sound something like "You are stark raving barking mad!" Close friends will feel no need to mask anything. Even other like-minded individuals will have a range of reactions. Motorcyclists are renown for this as they are a pretty diverse community with many sub cultures. Having just returned from the BMWMOA Rally, I got an email from a guy following the sub-blog dedicated to the trip. He thinks this trip must have been miserable and risky given the number of miles in the timeframe, weather, etc. Readers of this blog will know that there have been many marathon trips, last minute excursions, and fruitless escapades. So for Mike who emailed, here are the facts and the reasoning to help you put this trip in perspective.

The Facts. The bike, 2003 BMW R1150GSA. Leave PA on Tuesday around 6am and travel to Grayling, MI. I could have taken a more direct route, but I wanted to see what Michigan's upper peninsula was like. Get off the bike in Grayling around 6pm. 12 hours in the saddle. 750 Miles. Leave Grayling on Wednesday at 6:30am, and travel to St Paul, MN. Up and around the U.P., and across northern Wisconsin before descending to St Paul. Again about 12 hours in the saddle. 680 miles. Thursday, at the Rally. 1 hour in the saddle to go to a group dinner across town. 38 miles. Friday, up to Monticello, MN for a service, then back to the rally, then depart and head to Madison, WI. 7 hours in the saddle total. 400 miles. Saturday, travel back to PA via a more direct route. 16 hours in the saddle. 880 miles. Grand total of 48 hours in the saddle. 2750 miles in 5 days. 


The Analysis. If you know the background, then this is not extraordinary. I am an Iron Butt member with multiple certificates. Not that this disproves insanity, it just makes it eccentric. Without the money. The IBA Rally (which requires the completion of qualifying events and an invitation) typically entails doing 11 back to back 1000 mile days! I have no desire to do that. Ever. However, there have been more than a few sudden 24 and 48 hour trips to check out a vintage car or motorcycle, or to attend a show for 4 hours. In addition, these escapades have not always been my idea. There are others who have been accomplices or instigators. You know who you are! Lastly, if you were at the MOA rally (any year), or if you are around BMW motorcycle riders, then you will know that this story can be matched or topped by randomly grabbing 4 or 5 others. Beyond lastly, I know that there are fellow members of the early 911 Gruppe, the 2002 club, and others who have pulled all-nighters driving, riding, or working on vehicles. Some endurance race. More broadly, I have met riders who do not wear a helmet (or any other gear for that matter), guys who use their bike to do a pub crawl, hill climbers, land speed record participants, guys who run their tires to the cords, etc. Risk is often in the eye of the beholder.

The Conclusion. While I can't say that every mile and every hour was enjoyable (rain in Ohio, an infestation of constabulary in Michigan, boredom in Indiana), this was another great trip. So you can see Mike, that as disturbing as this may seem, it is neither unusual, nor particularly risky. The key is to surround yourself with a group of certified lunatics in sufficient quantity to render you solidly in the middle of the bell curve. Mission accomplished. 

A NYC Affair

Classic Velocity


Would you buy a used vehicle from someone in New York City? What comes to mind? A slick seller with the vehicle gussied up to look good? After all, this is a city with roads known for destroying the suspension on Humvees, and potholes rumored to swallow compact cars whole. The cars are often recovered by fishermen in the Long Island Sound. The Humvees go on to the global military theater where it is less demanding. But I digress. It stands to reason then that any vehicle for sale in such an environment would have been thrashed within an inch of its life, and would generally be a treasure chest of hidden disasters. And then there are the people. I mean, how could you trust anyone who has successfully survived in such an environment? Well, as a former resident of one of the five boroughs, and a fan of New York City, I'm here to dispel some myths. The people are good, and there are good deals to be had. The roads and traffic, however, are crap. Always have been. 

The last time I bought a vehicle from New York, it was a BMW 2002 on Long Island and I tow roped it back to Pennsylvania at night after it died somewhere in Nassau County. Ahhhh, the good old days. This time it was a BMW motorcycle, and it was located right in the city. Pictures, description, and conversations with the seller, all indicated that this was a genuinely solid and well cared for machine. The location just seemed inconsistent with that. Who buys a BMW GS, to keep in NYC? The seller, that's who. Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. 

Due to a complex set of circumstances, I needed to get to the motorcycles location with a trailer. This involves bridges and tunnels which have generally been a complex maze to navigate since 9/11. The only safe that into the city is the George Washington Bridge and the Cross Bronx Expressway. That particular combination has been covered in this blog before (see 7 Miles of Misery). The only thing that could make that journey worse would be to then have to find your way via the Triborough Bridge and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway into Queens. Calling these roads Expressways is some kind of extreme oxymoron. If there were any doubts about really wanting this motorcycle, the journey to get it would be a formidable test. As traffic slowed to a crawl approaching the GWB, I resolved to defeat my opponent. 

Running the Gauntlet

Running the Gauntlet

It was Sunday. The traffic was terrible due to an accident. Surprise, surprise. You have no idea how nerve-racking it is to try and move a truck and trailer out of the way with only a few inches to spare so that an emergency vehicle can make its way through a long line of jammed traffic on top of a bridge. Not fun. 45 minutes later, traveling an average of 0.6 mph, I finally got onto the BQE. I ran a gauntlet of steel plates, potholes, metal expansion joints, cabs, sport bikes, and a floral covered sofa which had apparently been separated from its transport. The I got to negotiate some of NYC's famed streets with elevated trains. These streets have two lanes down the center which are in between steel girders holding up the elevated train tracks, and two lanes on either side outside the elevated train tracks in which people generally double park. You don't see very many trailers down in these parts for very good reason. Delivery vehicles are box trucks. You have to be able to get in and out of the girders and the double parked cars and make left and right turns onto one-way streets with more double-parked cars. It's not a fun time with a trailer.

I double parked at my destination, and the seller rolled out the motorcycle from between two apartment buildings. We had a good conversation. He was a genuine BMW aficionado, with several machines, and was buying a new one. The machine was in very good shape as advertised with full documentation. We completed the transaction, and then I was on my way to rerun the gauntlet. I stop twice just to make sure that the bike remains secure given the pounding the trailer is taking at some points. More close quarters, more exorbitant tolls, more traffic, and a potential jumper on the bridge. 

The round trip from GWB to GWB is only 40 miles, but in human miles it is more like 400. On the other side of the GW bridge, there's a strange sense of having escaped unharmed from a perilous environment. I won, but it is the same kind of win at the end of an Iron Butt ride. You just want a shower and a bed.

Defending Appliances

Classic Velocity


In the late 1950s through the early 1970s, light and nimble were the goals of anyone trying to produce a vehicle that stayed in motion. It was a era of Colin Chapman and his minimalist approach, of wind-cheating dustbin fairings on motorcycles, of diabolical sports cars stripped to the bare essentials, of inumerable Italian racing bikes under 250cc, of stuffing big motors into a small chassis, etc. However, towards the end of that era, it was clear that motorcycles in particular were getting bigger and heavier and more powerful. Part of this was the inevitable desire for more and more power, and for machines that were comfortable going longer and longer distances. The US market was the prime driver of this trend and everybody wanted in to this lucrative space.

Nowhere was this more true than at Honda, who experienced a meteoric rise to prominence in the motorcycle market. Light utilitarian small displacement runabouts quickly gave way to the CB series and a progressive march upward in size, complexity, comfort, and performance. The western world  consumed them  in large quantities. However, Honda never really forgot its roots. For much of the world, and particularly the Third World, it was a producer of small light very fuel-efficient utilitarian motorcycles that were the primary mode of transportation rather than racing or leisure vehicles. They eventually produced the game-changing CB 750 in 1969, but they also produced an amazing array of small motorcycles well below that displacement. Which brings me to the CB 360.


In many markets, the CB 360 was a big bike. It was one of the models that helped to define the universal Japanese motorcycle (UJM). That term has become a euphemism for appliance; boringly competent. It was a standard air-cooled naked parallel twin four stroke motorcycle. In 1974 the CB 360 was producing a whopping 34 hp, and was capable of 102 mph according to the specifications. It had two valves per cylinder on the 357cc motor, and was mated to a six speed gearbox. The bike weighed in at 392 pounds full of fluids and with a full gas tank. These numbers sound pretty paltry today and would not get the enthusiasts juices flowing. However, two of them recently landed in the garage, and they were time capsules from the mid-1970s. They illustrated just how different our thinking was at that point in time about these motorcycles, and led to a rediscovery.

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First of all, they are easy to ride. The combination of seating position the stock bars and the controls make them ideal bikes to just jump on and go, or ideal bikes to start out on. Second, they are powerful enough. We have come to think of horsepower as a pure numbers game, but other than on an interstate highway (which is not the ideal home for this bike), there is more than enough power. Third, they are nimble. It was surprising how flickable and maneuverable this bike is on a route that I have used with modern sport bikes equipped with four times the power. Speeds were down, but the grin factor was off the charts. Last, they are good touring motorcycles. Yes, that is correct, I said touring. One of the pair was equipped back in the 1970s for cross country touring and it made the round trip. It has saddlebags (luggage has come along way since the 70s!), a windshield, and highway bars with foot pegs. The original owner claims that it acquitted itself quite well on that journey, and I believe him. The touring bike had the front disc brake making it a CB360T, but the drum brakes are as good in my opinion.

In stock form, these are still a very fun and very practical motorcycles. Far from being an appliance, they have become one of the most beloved platforms for building café racers. They make great backroads and touring motorcycles, and they get good gas mileage. They are light, and handle well. They are also great beginner bikes. They are cheap, reliable, and parts are plentiful 40 years later. They look good. I am not sure that even a new motorcycle off the showroom floor can tout that kind of a resume.


The Gathering of the Clans

Classic Velocity


This year once again, the date for the annual gathering of the Nortons was moved back such that it was not the first big motorcycle event in these parts. That mattered little, as it is still the best early season event, and one of the best of the entire year. A combination of factors make it so. First of all, it is an early outing following the great winter hibernation in these northern climes. Like Bears awakening with a ravenous appetite, the first meal tastes awfully good, and you want to eat your fill.

Second, there is good riding immediately surrounding the venue. East into western New Jersey, North into northern Bucks county, and west into western Bucks county, all present some great B and C roads. Even if there was no event, you would still have hours of great riding. You can add to that the historic attraction of Washington's Crossing, and the cool artist colony towns of New Hope and Lambertville straddling the Delaware river. Not a bad use of a Sunday.


Third, you can reunite with the clan. This event really brings out the brigades and the armadas and the gaggles and the broods of vintage bike devotees. If you love your Laverdas, or you adore your Agustas, or you are thrilled with your Thruxtons, or you urinate on your Urals (sorry), or you are bonkers for BMWs, or you are amorous with your Ascots, then this is the event to gather a few like-minded individuals and show everyone else the depths of your depravity, uuhhhhmm I mean love. This is also the event to unveil your winter's work, or to show this summer's project (which will turn into next winter's work). See the slideshow below or click here for more pictures.

Fourth, you can shop. This is not a swap meet, so it is a great place to look for a fully assembled running motorcycle. Chances are, you can also see a few other examples for reference as well. It is an informed marketplace as well. Chances are, there is a guru somewhere nearby to educate you on the finer points of the potential purchase, or to whisper "Run, Forest, run away...".

Which brings us to the final reason. The event itself. Hosted by the Delaware Valley Norton Riders, another attendance record was broken with somewhere north of 900 motorcycles showing up, with around 75 Nortons !! That may be close to every running Norton within a few hundred miles ;-) There were only a handful of trailers, and they were for non-street-legal race bikes, like the lovely red Vincent. You can stroll around for hours hearing comments like "I had one of those" or "what a beautiful example..." or "why would you do that to a...." or "that's my old..." or "I want to party with this guy..." My most frequent comment was "I want one of those..."

Contrasting Views

Classic Velocity


For those of us that love old iron, there's a tendency to dismiss the new. We tend to make comments like "Oh that's been done before in the 1964 VelociMobile", or, " That's really not much better than my bike". And we are of course both right and wrong. The new machines is certainly evolutionary, building upon prior foundations and in some cases trying not to depart too far from them. However, they are also revolutionary, breaking new ground and doing things that could not possibly have been conceived of when the older models were built.

Which brings me to a direct comparison that I experienced recently between two BMWs built just 20 years apart. The comparison came about because a writing buddy of mine had just purchased a new BMW. It was an R1200RT, and it was his first BMW after many many motorcycles. Late last year, I sold my 1980 R100RT, but that was not the basis for the comparison. We went for an initial ride with me on my R100GS from 1990. Visually of course, the two bikes look nothing like each other. But then again, neither did an R100GS and R100 RT from the same year. The engine configuration, with those two cylinders sticking out in the breeze are the main point in common. But not to be forgotten, is the general sense of form following function that is common to most BMW motorcycles. They are usually not included in the 10 most beautiful motorcycles of the decade, and have a face only their designer could love. However, in motion and function, they are brilliant (IMHO). The engineers still defeat the stylists every time at BMW Motorrad.

The R12RT looks big and sleek and shiny next to the GS. It looks elegant and comfortable, with sculpted bodywork, and protective electronically adjustable windshield. The 5-series autobahn cruiser, firm, taut. Even the luggage blends into the lines of the bike. The older GS by comparison is a big dirt bike, all angles and flexible fenders and exposed motor, and fixed mini windscreen and non-aero luggage. In many ways, it is the antithesis. The other contrast is the way the motor runs. The GS is probably not in the perfect state of tune, but even if it was, it would seem coarse and gruff compared to the R12RT which neither barks, nor vibrates upon startup. It is probably as smooth as a K bike was 10 years ago. Underway, the GS is perfectly capable on the B roads that we were traveling, and is even fine on the highway as evidenced by my trip to the MOA national rally a few years ago. It is geared a little tall in 5th though, and it is happier at a more relaxed at 70 than at 80+mph. By contrast, the R12RT is made to comfortably consume large numbers of miles at highway speeds. Even 2-Up. And, it features cruise control !


So, is new better? Yes. You can go faster and farther in greater comfort. You have more power, and you can stop better. It has ABS and Traction Control. You also have better suspension and gas mileage. On almost every single point of comparison, the new bike is superior. So, would I trade bikes? No. Others have said this, but part of this boils down to the fact that while the new bike needs nothing, the GS needs me. Cables need to be lubed and valves on an airhead need adjusting and there is a certain sequence to starting it. It likes Shell gasoline, and you need to apply the brakes in a certain way due to the softly sprung front end (particularly if you are near full on gas). The heated grips only work on the high setting (after a while), and half the headlight output lights the inside of the upper fairing. The suspension is perfect off-road. You have to know these things. And you need many miles with the motorcycle to know them. Now the R12RT is a BMW, so perhaps in 50K or 100K miles it will teach its owner what it needs and how best to ride it.


Classic Velocity

4:32am Somewhere near Deschallions-sur-laurent, Canada. 

It is still night, but the kind of night that is more deep navy blue than black. Stars are clearly visible, but they are a little less brilliant without the deep black that accompanied them just a few hours earlier. It is cold, and dew has covered the tent and the motorcycle. It is silent. The kind of silent that does not exist at any other time of day. It is prior to the chirping of birds, and the faint background roar of the world awake. A roar that we only know by its' absence. It is absent.

I turn my gaze from the sky to the tent, and finish breaking camp. As quietly as I can, even though there is no one to disturb. Before putting on my helmet, I pause to take in the silence one more time. To see the sky one more time, and to wonder, if there is any other sentient being in the universe fortunate enough to witness such a moment......

The vocal chords of the exhaust bark into life, and a lumpy idle ensues. The engine and the headlight are audible and visual separations, perhaps violations, of what came before. I trundle out of the woods on the edge of the St Lawrence river, and follow the gravel road back out to the country road. The little town is dark and motionless. I am glad for heated gloves, as it is cold once underway. The countryside is peaceful, the farms endless, and there is little sign of life visible in the darkness. The sky and the land are joined. Miles later I reach the highway, and life draws your attention away from the surroundings. The bright lights of a gas station, the many road signs, the sporadic roar of the highway traffic.

I join the highway and head off into nothingness. In Canada, it does not take long to be in the middle of nowhere. The lights fade, the traffic diminishes, and the sky returns to its' natural hue. The bike hums along as only a horizontally opposed twin can. Strong, unwavering, and unrefined. It seems to share a kinship with the motionless tractors, and even with the land. Harmonic vibrations. Inside the helmet, I can hear my thoughts clearly.

The sky was in transformation. Only a few stars were visible now, and the sky faded into a pale blue to the east. A few wispy clouds were visible on the eastern horizon. A light was on in a barn, cows were up and grazing, a few birds were in flight. A tractor rolled down the road toward me, and the driver waved. The sun came up as if in a giant slow moving elevator. It bathed the farms in a warm glow and illuminated the steam rising from the warm bodies of cows. Birds flitted about in larger numbers now, and cars dotted the back roads I was on. The sun made visible that which was formerly hidden. Smoke rose from chimneys, a rabbit scurried off into a thicket, telephone poles appeared, houses and barns dotted the landscape. The world was awake.

I caught the scent of breakfast, and pulled into a small cafe with smoke from two chimneys. I pulled off my helmet, and smiled at the contrast. A warm sun hit my face, and sound was everywhere. I turned toward the entrance of the cafe still smiling. It was 7:00am, and it was already a great day....

On Any Sunday

Classic Velocity

Weekends represents the best time to gather if you have a group of mostly working individuals. Any excuse will do, like national Frappe day, or national Indian Pudding day, or Absurdity day (I did not make these up!). Or, you can gather just because the cars need some exercise, which is what we did one November Sunday. The morning began with a dense fog in places. The kind that varies between pea soup and wispy gray mist which lightly impairs visibility. Regardless of the variability, it was clear that it would burn off in a matter of hours. The starting point beckoned...One of the pleasures of such gatherings of the clan is that you never know what combination of vehicles will show up. The group is kind of Porsche-centric, but there are Anglophiles and Italophiles, and general Germanophiles in the group. There are also raceophiles, and concoursophiles, and projectophiles, and noneofmycoolstuffwouldstartophiles. It makes for a sort of lottery of vintage metal.

The format of the gathering has two basic variations; Meet for breakfast and then go for a drive, or go for a drive where breakfast is the destination. Brunch is sometimes the meal of choice on Sundays, and lunch or dinner are also popular choices on other days. You would be forgiven for thinking that we are really food people driving interesting conveyances. The giveaway that we are not food people, is that the eatery does not have to be any good. It just has to be in the midst of good roads.

On this Sunday, the gathering included two early 911 Targas, an Austin Healey, a 911SC, a 356 D Roadster, an Alfa Sprint Speciale, a BMW 2002, and a Ferrari 360. Fortunately, the Ferrari was able to keep up ;-) We meandered through the countryside enjoying the sounds and sights and smells of this diverse convoy. The drive on this Sunday was not aimed at testing the performance capabilities of any of the vehicles. Although, the Ferrari had probably never gone so slow for so long. Up hill, and down dale, we swept the sweepers and sailed the straights, and traced the tributaries. All too soon, we arrived at the eatery.

On this day, there was a nice buffet, a little tinkering on the D Roadster, and further examination of the varied cluster of cars. You could not have asked for greater variation in engine bays. Everyone departed under sunny skies to further driving, a list of chores, a family event, or some other agenda for the rest of their day. However, all were looking forward to the next gathering on any Sunday.

The Undiscovered Bounty

Classic Velocity

It started with an email from fellow BMW 2 and 4 wheel friend Bill. An open house event at a shop in the area and an opportunity for the vintage BMW auto group to get together. A quick check of the calendar revealed that it would be possible to attend, but not certain. Logistics cooperated for a change, and I was able to make the event. Just as important, there was a transaction involving a certain part for a vehicle that could be handled at the event without shipping, as a contingent of the BMW motorcycle crew was attending as well. Fresh off a road trip to Missouri on two wheels, I opted for four and took the 2002 Tii. In addition, this was a DelVal BMWCCA vintage auto event, and there are not a lot of those happening without the efforts of folks like Bill.

The event was not far away at an upholstery shop. I took a route that was completely B roads and had a nice drive through local farm country. The Tii was its usual competent self, feeling sure-footed and good fun over the twisty undulating countryside. Very different from the high speed highway run to North Carolina. The last few miles take you into an industrial park and then to a cul-de-sac and a non-descript building divided in half between two companies. Parked outside the destination were 3 other BMW 2002s, and a 318is. There were also half a dozen BMW motorcycles, a Ural sidecar rig, and a very cool well worn Land Rover. This must be the place.

The real attraction of course, was on the inside. This was Gary Maucher Upholstery, and was no ordinary shop. Once inside, you are not greeted with the typical yards of material strewn about and seats here and there. What you first see is a double decker row of Indian motorcycles on shelving that might otherwise have contained bolts of leather, vinyl, fabrics, and other upholstery material. The first one is the tank shifter bike on which Gary has won his class nationally in WERA this year. Very cool. But wait, there's more. On both sides of the shop, the first two rows of shelves contain an assortment of vintage motorcycles that the enthusiast would love to have. A Moto Guzzi V7 Le Mans along with an Ambassador, a BMW R90S along with an R1100S, a Norton Manx along with a Commando, a Velocette MSS, a Gilera sidecar outfit, an MV Agusta F4 Senna along with a Ducati MH900E, the list goes on. You get the distinct impression that Gary has assembled what he likes rather than what you "should" collect.

However, as impressive as the motorcycles are, they are not intended to be the main attraction. The main line of work at Gary Maucher Upholstery, is vintage automobiles. And an impressive collection of them was on hand this day. To start with, a Cobra which was in progress. You could see the great work that had already gone into the padded dash, as well as the work remaining. Next to it was an Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciale that was in the process of a full restoration. The dark grey paint was already revealing how great the finished product would be, but it had no interior yet. Moving on, there was a Jaguar E-Type Drop Head. The stunning combination of Dark blue and Camel interior makes any car look good, but the the Jag looked great even while it's top was not quite finished being fitted. This one will look good top up or top down. Stuck on the end was a red over tan MGA awaiting seats. You just cannot beat a British dash when properly trimmed, and this one was. Last, but certainly not least was a Packard 8 convertible with work underway on a new top. It looked like you could fit the Shelby, the Alfa, or the MGA in the interior if you took out the seats.

The level of craftsmanship on display was fantastic. Over time I have recovered some straight flat mostly hidden parts out of necessity and budget. Seeing his work, I would understand if Gary beat me with a bolt of cloth just on principle. How can such a treasure so nearby be unknown to me? How can a place this cool be hidden in the back of an industrial park? There were bolts of leather, and machine tools, and sewing machines, and all of the other necessary tools to turn out great work, but you can't help but be distracted by the cars themselves. There was quite a bit of money parked in the shop this day, and I am sure that it must be this way most weeks. If you can get past the distraction of the cars, there are the motorcycles. I honestly don't know how they get any work done around there, but a lot of discerning clientele are certainly glad that they do.

Ride Long, Ride Strong

Classic Velocity


The very premise of the BMW motorcycle owners is that they ride. Very few people purchase one of these machines unless they plan to ride many hours and many miles. The machines often emphasize function over form more than most other brands, and can be an acquired taste. The BMW Motorcycle Owners of America is then a simple reflection of their members. They have an annual mileage contest, they feature riders from around the world in the midst of their travels, they wax eloquent about products that have withstood global abuse, and they have a long partnership with the Iron Butt Association (IBA). With some admitted bias, no other motorcycle marque is as synonymous with racking up the miles.

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It will come as no surprise then, that the annual BMWMOA Rally is held in places not on the list of major attractions for any given state. Just to list the last few years, the towns include Gillette WY, Johnson City TN, Redmond OR, Bloomsburg PA, and this year, Sedalia MO. Almost everybody has to travel a long way to get to the rally (see Iron Butter). What these places have in common are great riding, ample camping, adequate motel/hotel rooms, and facilities to keep 7000 plus people occupied for 4 days. The default location has most often been a state fairgrounds, and this was true in 2012. A word about camping. With long distance travel, uncertain routes, and uncertain destinations, having your house and bed with you, goes with the territory. A variation on that theme are the motorcycle pop-up trailers and regular trailers carrying makeshift outdoor mansions. It doesn't hurt that it is inexpensive, but it is usually a choice by people who buy relatively expensive motorcycles and can afford a hotel if they want. It is more philosophy than economy.

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To get to Sedalia, I had to slab it. It was over 1000 miles, and the IBA once again had a special deal. I needed to do it in a day anyway, so this was a bonus. I started out in the middle of the night. Temperatures were low (in the 70s) and speeds were high. As daylight was emerging, I was already in OH, and ahead of schedule. The problem is the rest of the route. There is no good way to get to Missouri quickly without 95% interstate. And this interstate, I-70, through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, is mind-numbingly monotonous. Cities like Columbus, and Indianapolis are like oases in the flat desert of corn. There is hardly a curve in hundreds of miles, and I was sure that I could feel my tires being squared off as I traveled along in the 100+ degree heat. Elevation changes maybe 30 feet in 500 miles. Or so it seems. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing endless miles of straight interstate in front of you, and being unable to twist the throttle to the stop. 85 mph just seems far too slow, but law enforcement was out in force, and tends to disagree.

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After an eternity and a half, I crossed into Missouri, and the end was in reach. I headed down to Lebanon, and thought I would finally get onto some more interesting road. The highway did have some sweeping curves and elevation, and the geography was much more interesting as it negotiated the northern tip of the ozarks. Lake of the Ozarks was a picturesque area that reminded me a bit of the area around Lake Okeechobe in Florida. Then I turned onto route 135. It was like water to a thirsty desert traveler. The road is only about 12 miles long, but it is a twisty roller coaster of a road. There is some clearing either side of the road with fencing set back 30 to 50 feet. In short, there was little concern about wildlife suddenly prancing across the road. After about a mile or so of reading the road, I fell in behind a Porsche Boxster puttering along. My approach must have awoken the driver, because he put his foot down and took off. I was struggling to keep up with the loaded bike, but it was massive fun trying ;-) This guy could drive. The big dips in the road bottomed his suspension at least twice, and came close to bottoming mine. The tires finally got some wear on the sides as I scraped a boot here and there in the curves. Great stuff. All too soon, he turned off on a gravel (!) road. I took it down a notch, but still enjoyed the remaining 2 miles to a T junction. Route 135 hangs a left and continues, but it becomes a more substantial county road after that. No matter, it had been just what the doctor ordered at the end of a 1000 mile day. I cruised into Sedalia smiling after 15.5 hours.

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The next morning I showed up at 6am for volunteer duty. The Rally is possible only because hundreds of volunteers do everything from planning to manning first aid stations. The MOA staff is very small, so volunteers are more than just a nicety, they are essential. A few hours of your time to give back seems like a small price. I was on gate duty this year, and in the early morning hours, my stint was uneventful. It was probably different after the beer tent is open and the bands start ;-) The real stars are the committee members and others that have worked months if not a full year to make the event happen. Nobody gets paid.

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The Rally itself is jam packed with training, rides, seminars, entertainment, eating, demo rides, and shopping. Oh, and there are BMW motorcycles as far as the eye can see ! Even 100+ degree heat does not significantly dull the spectacle. I have dubbed this year, the year of the GS. They were everywhere, in every vintage, in every configuration. Plenty of R100 and R1150 variants added to the armada of R1200 machines. And the vendor community has responded by offering a dizzying array of products and enhancements. At least five different seat vendors, multiple lighting vendors, multiple enhanced protection vendors, electronics galore, and the list goes on. And the rider is not forgotten either. High tech clothing that keeps you cool or warm, high viz clothing, helmets that reduce fatigue, gloves that reduce vibration, socks that increase your comfort, etc, etc, etc. Seminars educate on long distance techniques, showcase round-the-world rider/speakers, and show how to rebuild your engine in the outback using only eucalyptus leaves and Kangaroo droppings. If you want to ride longer and further on your BMW, you have come to the right place.

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In my camping area, there was a New Yorker, a Floridian, three Canadians, a Nebraskan, and a West Virginian. Everybody had significant miles behind the handlebars. With the aid of adult beverages, an amazing array of issues were discussed, and global problems addressed. There were no unanimous solutions. We did not agree on tents or technology, on healthcare or helmets, on senators or sidecars. The universal need on which we all agreed, was that we would like to be on the road more, learning more, and traveling greater distances to destinations that did not matter. We did agreed that we had the right brand of motorcycle for that challenge.

Finding the Lowpoint

Classic Velocity


Las Vegas Nevada. The city designed to attract people to the middle of nowhere. Bright lights, nonstop 24 hour entertainment. Eating, drinking, gambling, showing off, and frolicking. Tens of thousands of people visiting every day, attracted to the spectacle. People have two cell phones, one for each ear. The high life, the midlife crisis, and the lowlife, are all here. It is simultaneously a triumph of man over his environment, and some would argue, a lowpoint. A Lamborghini looks rather commonplace, and motorcycles lean toward the fragile and impractical good-for-10-miles-or-less, supermodel-included, you-are-compelled-to-look-at-me variety. They say you can buy anything in Las Vegas, and I for one do not doubt it.

Death Valley California. A place designed to repel people by way of its very name. And if not the name, then the folklore, and legend, and desolation. No lights, no entertainment. Nothing to eat, nothing to drink. Tens of thousands of desert scrub brushes. There is no cell service. There is wildlife. Jeeps and sturdy reliable motorcycles are commonplace. You can't buy anything.


Ironically, the two places are not far from each other. Having had my fill of Las Vegas, (it did not take long) I headed west on a BMW R1200RT, in search of the place with the foreboding name. Getting there this fun, at least for an easterner. You travel through a combination of foothills and a larger mountain, followed by arrow straight roads, and then more twisty foothills. To add to the irony, I was not dressed for the very cold temperatures at elevation early in the morning. After all, I left Las Vegas in the desert and was heading to another desert which records the hottest temperatures on the continent. Cold and hungry, I eventually pulled into Shoshone, CA where I had been advised to gas up as there was no fuel for a long time afterward.


Shoshone is home of the famous Crowbar Saloon which was built in the 1930s and still operates today. I was quickly ensconced in the cafe part of the establishment drinking coffee and eating eggs. Warmed up, fueled up, and fortified, I headed off into Death Valley National Park. The park sees very little rain, and record high temperatures, which contributes to its reputation. Much of the park is also below sea level. In fact, I visited Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Despite all of this, death Valley actually has a surprising diversity of life. Salty marshes contain small fish, small wild flowers bloom along the roadside, arachnids (saw some of these), lizards (saw one of these), and coyotes (did not see any of these) roam the park, and there are plenty of plants found nowhere else. The native Timbisha Shoshone called the area Tumpisa, meaning rock paint after the clay from the area that they used to make red paint. They have lived in the area for hundreds of years. I am sure that they were mystified by a few lost pioneers in the 1860s deciding to call it Death Valley.


That said, there is no question that the arid vistas are the main attraction. There are acres of small rocks leading up to very big rocks. White salt plains leading to a salt marsh. Small trees and shrubs grow out of what look like pure gravel and rocks. Sun bleached driftwood such as you would find on a beach is lying around. Roads disappear into shimmering waves of heat. In some instances there is the appearance of an abandoned mining area, where the excavation has removed all of the soil and left crushed rocks and white residue. You might also imagine this to be a mountaintop somewhere above the treeline. But the altimeter reads a negative number, not a large positive one. I stopped several times just to absorb how desolate it was, and to marvel at how life finds a way to persist in even the harshest of places. Fascinating.


Oh and by the way, the riding was pretty good as well. There was no traffic for long periods of time, and even then it would be one car or another motorcycle. I traveled on through beautiful majestic sweepers followed by right angle curves that opened up to yet new amazing vistas. Long straight stretches of road would have allowed for generous throttle rotation, but I did just the opposite, slowing down to take in monochromatic landscapes or to savor the journey.


However, the park is not just some desolate landscape. It has plenty of interesting and diverse areas throughout. They include the Devils golf course which is an area full of small rock spires. They also include Dantes view and Zabriskie point which are two places to view wonderful vistas of multicolored rock formations from high points within the park. I did not visit any, but there are also several abandoned gold mines. What i did visit was the Mesquite flat sand dunes, which make it seem like a little bit of North Africa has popped up in the middle of "normal" California canyon roads.


There were plenty of places that I didn't get to within the park including Ubehebe crater, the Borax works, the racetrack, and artists drive. Another visit is clearly in order at some point. But even with what I did see, it is clear that mother nature, in her inimitable fashion, has put together contrast, contradiction, beauty, surprise, diversity, the improbable, and the extreme, into a package that leaves you awestruck. You can understand why it attracts tens of thousands of people to the middle of nowhere. Las Vegas has nothing on this place.


Proper Procrastination

Classic Velocity

I had been planning to go for a few years now, but I was not planning to go anywhere. It was a long weekend and there were no solid plans. Perfect for making some progress on projects on the garage list and watching the Monaco Grand Prix. Then I got the email. It said that a procrastinating set of BMW 2002 pilots were making a dash for the Vintage at the Vineyards event in North Carolina. Well I can accept many different kinds of defeat but I will not be out-procrastinated by this bunch of worthy competitors. Suddenly, I had 3 hours to get ready and get on the road. It was 11:40am

So what do you do with three hours to prepare a 40-year-old car that had not been driven in several months for trip of 1000 miles? You change the oil, take the car off the trickle charger, and check the tire pressures. The last time I let the car sit for this long, the clutch plate stuck, but not this time. The forecast suggested that I would be encountering rain somewhere on this journey, so I applied some Rain-X to the windshield. 2002 wipers are more uuhhmm....thoughtful in their operation than efficient. Then I threw the toolbag in the trunk, grabbed a bunch of audio CDs (remember them?) topped up the tank with premium, and got on the road. It was 3:00pm. Late already.

I was forced to set a pretty blistering pace (relatively speaking) right off the bat in order to make the rendezvous point in Maryland. Fortunately, the law-enforcement gods were smiling on me this day and the tii was thrilled to be able to clear its lungs after the long winter siesta. It was all interstate and the speedometer hovered between 80 and 90 for almost the entire segment to the Maryland rest area. I should mention that the speedometer in this car is relatively accurate and not optimistic as many are. That, combined with a four-cylinder four-speed non-overdrive car, made that a true test very early on in the trip.

The convoy was made up of another 2002, a heavily modified 320i, and a 633 CSI. Gustav (name changed to protect the guilty), the other 2002 pilot, pulled me aside and whispered that we should stick together if the other two got crazy. I said fine, being more concerned about cops than anything else. If I were a cop, I would be interested in the badass blacked out 320i even if it was doing nothing wrong. Once we got underway, we were fine for the first couple of hours. The 633 was out front and set the cruise control at 75mph. Then we stopped for gas and Gustav took point for an hour or so. Then the 320i could contain itself no longer and leapt up front. I thought Gustav would let him go as per the plan, but he gave it some welly instead. The 633 followed, and I brought up the rear. Into the night we went covering great distance relative to time, if you know what I mean. Triple digits were not uncommon. At the next gas stop, Gustav emerged grinning ear to ear. "We were hauling butt back there!" . I was going to ask him what happened to the plan, but I know that grin.

It was my turn on point, and the 320i gave me his Passport radar-laser detector. In Virginia. I continued the pace anyway, and soon we got off I-81 and onto 581/220. This is one of those bizarre roads that has 55mph highway that can suddenly turn into a town complete with a traffic light. In between it is a wonderful undulating twisting pathway into North Carolina. There is something pretty magical about driving a car at or near the limits of its headlights, on a road you've never been on before, that has elevation changes and curves. It is exhilarating if not crazy. The 320i and I traded point position and often occupied both lanes side-by-side as we danced along this barely visible ribbon in the night. There was nobody on the road at 10:30pm, and the absence of lighting made it all the more exciting. The 320i boosted horse power was of no advantage here, but his H.I.D headlights were. At some point in North Carolina we stopped at a light, and realized that there was no sign of Gustav or the 633. No answer from the cell phone. We waited for five minutes, and then decided to press on as we were not far from the hotel.

At the hotel we called again, and found out that they were only about 15 minutes behind us and that all was well. It was close to midnight, and I was shot.

At breakfast, we regaled each other with stories that had already become prone to hyperbole. The triple digit speeds were now 110mph+, and Rte 220 had become the Nurburgring. Then we had coffee!

It turns out that there was a large vintage event in town for BMWs!! I attended the very first vintage at the vineyards event around 2004 or 2005. In any case, the event at that time was mostly a gathering of BMW 2002s at the vinyard home of fellow 2002 enthusiast Scott Sturdy. It was a wonderful gathering of a few dozen 2002s along with a smattering of other cars such as Bavarias and 633's. The next year it grew larger, and was quickly exceeding the capacity of the venue. In subsequent years it had to move to a larger vinyard venue, and continue to grow. Eventually, it outgrew the expanded location and moved to downtown Winston-Salem, where it takes over the historic Old Salem district. The vinyard word is now dropped from the name, but the spirit is largely intact. I missed many of the most recent years, as it always tended to coincide with other activities.

The best thing about the Vintage at the Vineyards event, is that it forces a whole bunch of us to get our cars in shape for a relatively lengthy journey to North Carolina. There are many stories of roadside repairs and misadventures getting to and from this event over the years. Including my own, when a throttle return spring sidelined me temporarily somewhere in southwest Virginia. A small and easily fixed matter compared to some, but it serves as a reminder that driving 30-year-old (now 40-year-old) cars several hundred miles nonstop cannot be taken for granted....

I am going to resist trying to describe the show and the vehicles there. Words cannot do justice to the quaint setting of old Salem juxtaposed with machines ranging from mild to mad. I will simply let the pictures speak. Highlights included reconnecting with old friend Mike Pugh and a conversation with Ray Korman (yes, that Korman). While there, Bo, Ben, Mike, and others convinced me that I need to make the Mid-America event. That was in Arkansas this year. Did I mention that BMW 2002 owners like to drive their cars ? By the way, besides North Carolina and Virginia, I think Pennsylvania had the largest contingent.

Question: What's better than a vintage vehicle event? Answer: A roadtrip in a vintage vehicle to a vintage vehicle event.