Looking back, high summer equates to rally season. Whether you ride a Vespa or a Ducati, there will be a rally somewhere for your chosen mark. Say what you will, most of us enjoy looking at and comparing our own to those things that are familiar. Bikers are no exception and it is great fun to kick tires and swap lies with like-minded riders.
With all of this in mind, and the hopes of finding some riding pants that fit, we (my trust R80G/S and I) pointed south in mid July for the BMWMOA National rally in Vermont. I had only ever attended one big rally prior to this summer and expectations were running high. Now that I am back home and the bugs have been washed off the bike, I am somewhat ambivalent about the whole experience.
The organization and thoroughness with which the rally was marshalled was truly impressive. 5,000 plus bikes is a truly astonishing number of vehicles, plus all of those who arrived by other means – we are talking about a serious crowd… Registration, traffic flow, camping, seminars, vendor facilities – I have no complaints on any of those fronts. So why am I less than enthusiastic in retrospect?
Let me describe one particular bike that happened to be parked beside mine at mid-day. This was a 2004 model G/S – ostensibly a dual-sport machine. It sported aftermarket panniers that brought the width of the bike to 46 inches across the rear. There were no less than three small view-screens mounted on the handlebars-GPS, Radar detector and something else that I could not identify; plus a CD player, garage door opener, and a few more mysterious gizmos. Heated seat and heated grips were factory installed as were fully integrated ABS brakes. The tail trunk looked big enough to hold two full-face helmets as well as the kitchen sink. The tank bag was one of the variety designed to keep electronic components recharged from the bike’s electrical system. There was a small sticker on the windscreen to let the world know that a performance chip had been installed. The proud owner informed me that he had put 2,700 miles on the bike and that it had never been ridden in the rain or on gravel. This was his longest trip so far (280miles) and he was quite proud of himself. He was staying in a nearby hotel for the rally.
Why? What happened to freedom? To adventure? To the out of doors? To the pleasure of riding for the sake of experiencing the country and the roads?
I guess part of me is jealous that someone would have $30K plus to drop on a bike. But part of me despairs that gadget junkies on expensive machines are not interested in riding, but more in the presentation and image. Sort of like the cruiser set at the local donut shop, only different. Motorcycles as lifestyle accessories!
I know that this is not universally the case as there were many at the rally on high mileage, well travelled machines. But the general trend seems to be towards high-tech, gadget laden, computer chip technology – and riders who fear to tread the unknown. This is not uniquely a BMW phenomenon – most popular makes appear to be going down the same road. There is nothing inherently wrong with this scene – but somehow the magic is being overwhelmed with money and gadgets. I’m all for maximum comfort and safety and convenience, but something is inherently wrong when the image gets in the way of the ride. Riding is not tidy — gravel roads, rain, bugs, lumpy tent sites, getting lost, high winds, driving off the edge of the map… not necessarily the choice memories of motorcycling – but the magic and the reality. Sure I would prefer perfect weather and smooth pavements and a king size bed and Jacuzzi every night… but to live in a cocoon and isolate myself from the realities of riding along unknown paths just doesn’t make sense to me.
For the values that I cherish and for the adventure I crave, I will happily stick with my venerable airheads. The modern gadgets are truly amazing but I’m not certain that my brain could cope. My old bike wears her scratches and stone-chips with pride and many happy memories of truly adventurous rides. Besides, the thought of riding something as expensive as a new machine would put me into panic mode. Like cars, motorcycles are more user-friendly after the first paint-chip!
Next year I’m heading for the Mid-Ohio Vintage Days. That will be more my style. — Alison Green