Why I Ride

There comes a time when you are so familiar with the controls, the feel, the kinesthetic feedback that boundaries between motorcycle and rider become blurred. You have found the zone where the lightest touch, the slightest countersteer, the tiniest shift of weight or movement of the throttle causes the bike to follow your bidding. You set yourself up for every curve and lean into it perfectly, knowing the bike will carry you through even as your footpegs touch pavement and your tires begin to protest. Look, lean, believe! Look where you’re going. Lean into the curve. Believe that the bike will not fail you. Anticipate hazards and avoid them before they materialize. You’re floating, flying, free.

It’s much the same with a sidecar rig, though it’s a team effort and the handling is muted. There is no leaning into curves and dragging of pegs. You ride more conservatively as your maneuverability, acceleration and speed are reduced; more than ever throttle control is your friend. It’s a very different style of riding. The love of the dog at your side adds a new and delightful dimension, however, and the sharing of adventure creates a special bond between the two of you.  I suspect that’s why I never found group rides attractive. Once you’ve found the perfect riding partner anything else is a distraction.

I gave up motorcycling while in the service, as the deployment schedule was brutal and there just wasn’t time for it. Then grad school monopolized my time. But then I married, settled down into a stable lifestyle in the Green Mountains of Vermont, and felt the bug again. First came a smallish Yamaha FZ6 to regain my road legs. Next was a Triumph Tiger for longer rides. The Tiger was the bike on which I first felt the tug of far away places, and also learned that a bike designed to remain on the pavement didn’t exactly meet my needs. On a trip to Nova Scotia I could see many delightful coves along the coastline that could be accessed only by steep and often rutted dirt roads I dared not tackle with street bike. And so, a year later, I switched to the BMW R1200GS.

I no longer worry about road conditions.

The GS is a remarkably ugly and utilitarian motorcycle. But to a man living on a dirt road, in a part of the country where the majority of roads are either dirt or winter-damaged pavement, and “Mud” is a season, ugly is a blessing. The Tiger was such a lovely bike that I cried over every scratch, hastened to remove every bit of dirt and mud, spent hours cleaning and waxing the beast. But nothing happens to a GS that detracts from its appearance. Scratches add character and prove to the world that you use the bike as it was intended, as a large dual-sport machine. Great gobs of mud set you apart from those who restrict their riding to the highways. The quiet exhaust, upright riding position, and incredible cargo hauling capacity are perfect for safe long distance adventures. And few bikes offer a greater selection of functional aftermarket accessories with which to customize your ride.

In 2009 I set off with a friend to ride the length of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway from Front Royal, VA to Asheville, NC, then back home via lesser known backroads. It was a wonderful trip, with one exception.

I missed my dogs…