Airheads Unite: The Airheads Beemer Club’s Death Valley Rendezvous

Bill Stermer meets up with other members of the Airheads Beemer Club to celebrate vintage airhead BMWs in a peculiar place.

| July/August 2015

  • Airheads Beemer Rally
    An Airhead Beemer descends on Death Valley.
    Photo by Bill Stermer
  • Airhead Beemer Rally
    It’s no wonder they call it Death Valley; there’s almost nothing living in it. Well, nothing besides a crazed crowd of vintage airhead BMW fans celebrating their favorite bikes.
    Photo by Bill Stermer
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
    John Covington and his 1941 BMW R12.
    Photo by Bill Stermer
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
    Rick Huemmerich and his 1959 BMW R50.
    Photo by Bill Stermer
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
    Vintage airhead BMW fans celebrating their favorite bikes in Death Valley.
    Photo by Bill Stermer
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
    Lunch stop at The Ranch House restaurant in Olancha, California.
    Photo by Bill Stermer
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
    Fellow airheads came to the rescue when Mac Kirkpatrick’s GS suddenly died.
    Photo by Bill Stermer
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
    Robb McElroy has ridden his 1993 R100GS across 14 countries and more than 135,000 miles.
    Photo by Bill Stermer
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
    Bill Stermer and his 1976 BMW R75/6 at Death Valley.
    Photo by Bill Stermer

  • Airheads Beemer Rally
  • Airhead Beemer Rally
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
  • Airheads Beemer Rally
  • Airheads Beemer Rally

Vintage motorcycle clubs abound, but the one I have belonged to for more than 20 years is the Airheads Beemer Club. Founded in 1991 for owners and riders of air-cooled BMW motorcycles, it follows a simple slogan, “Simple by Choice.”

One of the attractions of older Beemers is that they are indeed simple machines; generally reliable, easy to work on and you can still get parts for them. BMW’s Mobile Tradition Parts Catalogue claims it’s possible to get “everything you need to restore a BMW motorcycle manufactured between 1948 and 1969.” For 1970 and later models, a Beemer dealer usually has or can get most parts, and as most Airhead club members tend to work on their own bikes, if any problems arise, be assured that a group of Airheads will descend upon the bike to offer help.

The club holds several events every year, including the annual Death Valley Rendezvous. I’ve attend this event many times, and this past February I loaded up and pointed my 1976 BMW R75/6 north toward Death Valley, heading from my home in Southern California for the 23rd Annual Death Valley Rendezvous, held over the Presidents Day weekend.

Heading out

For the ride, I hooked up with Airhead riders Mike (R100RS) and Bernie (R60 with an R100 engine), along with Bernie’s cousin, Scott, riding his R1100S oilhead. For us, all good rides begin and end on SR 33, the twisty route north out of Ojai, California, so we headed up and over the 5,000-foot Pine Mountain Summit pass before working our way to Death Valley.



I was anticipating meeting BMW fan Mac Kirkpatrick in Death Valley, a fellow Airhead who had contributed photos for my book BMW R100RS. Mac lives in eastern Pennsylvania and we had never met, but he and his friend Rich Nagy were trailering their Airhead GSs to Phoenix, Arizona. From there, they were going to ride to Death Valley. A short distance out of Phoenix, however, Mac’s bike began to experience trouble and he emailed me, asking if I could recommend an Airhead-friendly shop near Phoenix. I didn’t know of any shops in that area, but after posting Mac’s request on the Internet we were soon pointed to Dave Alquist at Quality Cycle Service in Mesa, Arizona. The bike was soon fixed and back on the road.

That Friday, my group of four rode more than 300 miles, riding through Arvin, California, before heading up the Bodfish-Caliente Road to Ridgecrest and Trona. When we finally arrived at the rally site in Death Valley, we were pleased to find about 60 bikes already in the parking lot, ringed by tents. We checked in at the registration table under the trees, having already paid our $45 fee for three nights of camping, beverages, firewood and snacks. And what was that over in the shade? Why, there were some round, metallic containers holding certain adult beverages popularly known as “micro brews.” With the help of some of this elixir we set up our tents within view — but not within snoring distance — of the other Airheads.



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