28 June 2011


I was reading an article today about a older man, 60 years, who started motorcycling again - because he got tired of traffic jams, high fuel cost, and so on. He had ridden Vespas and mopeds in his youth but never a real motorcycle. Being 60 years old he started with a 125cc Honda Shadow, later a 125cc Varadero, onto a NT650. His wife started riding, too, his daughter got a license with 18 and also started riding. Friends were jealous, thought they were crazy, but still - I think it was a really awesome story about someone finding something in his life that he really, truly enjoys.

It was very interesting to read. Unfortunately, this story was in a magazine, so I can't link to it, but it brought back a lot of old and also quite some recent memories.

When I got my license, I was 25 - I had ridden a 50cc Vespa for a few years before, but I got the motorcycle license later. I learned on a bike like this, a Kawasaki EL250:

Picture from here

Riding school in Germany required me to take a minimum of 20 hours riding, which I did officially, unofficially it was only 19 but a slot for the exam opened and I got in early. I did ride in the Eifel, the city traffic in Bonn, German Autobahn and a bit of mixed other roads. Also two hours at night. From my teacher I learned a lot about driving safely and also with good cornering technique and I want to thank him again for that. It kept me safe during lots and lots of kilometers and miles travelled.

I stepped up to a Suzuki GS400 which fitted me much better than the little cruiser where I always had the knees nearly touching my ears ...

Picture from here
I rode this bike alone, two up, short trips, longer trips, city traffic, pretty much everywhere and it just kept on going. Lots of fun and a great bike to learn on.

After that, I decided, I could take on a real bike. Was a bit of "too much confidence", though. I dropped the XL600V TransAlp a few times. First time on the second day of ownership, after that a few times on unpaved roads, on a meadow, on a wet road, and stupid me with a brand new front tire about 100 meters from home. Nevertheless, the bike faired exceptionally well, it still had only minor scratches, thanks to engine protection bars, a solid build and me trying to keep it upright while it was sometimes slowly and sometimes not so slowly falling over.

Picture from here

The above photo is not my bike but a lookalike.

I loved this bike and did a lot of trips all over Germany. Finally sold it to a very good friend who took it into good care. I moved on to a Honda VFR750F in pearl white. A beautiful bike, but also quite a handful with its 100HP and quite different handling.

Picture from here

Again, a lookalike, not my own bike. To be honest - at that point in time, this bike was the wrong one for me. Too sporty, too leaned over, too much power. I learned to ride it properly, crashed it once while panic braking because some idiot car driver came at me inside my lane in a right corner and I swerved and then braked, but fell. He went off. Asshole. If you are out there somewhere reading this: I wish you pimples everywhere for the rest of your life! May it be miserable.

I fixed the bike and fortunately I was still comfortable on it. Rode a lot again alone and with my girlfriend until I sold it to get a car. What a disaster. But okay. We make mistakes in our lives.

Kept the car for a while, then sold it to get a Honda ST1100 Pan European. This bike had been my dream for quite a while:

Picture from here

This is a lookalike as well, I don't have photos from my old bikes. Unfortunately I didn't take many photos in that period of my life.

I rode the ST again for a while and had to sell it to get a car again. Did this for the girlfriend. Again, this was a mistake ... selling the bike, not the girlfriend ... She didn't ask for it, but I felt she never liked the bike and I didn't want to do anything to make her sad. I did later, but that's a different story, so back to bikes.

The ST1100 was the last bike for quite some time. I sold it in 1998 and from then on didn't have a motorcycle for 11 years. My life had changed, I met my wife, the best wife of all, we moved first away from Bonn, then away from Germany. Living in Calgary, Canada, I never really had the desire for a motorcycle. The weather was too bad, the drivers too crazy, not enough money, a time limited work permit, and different plans for the future.

Fast forward to 2009, we just recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and somehow, I don't really recall how, I got the bike fever again. Was looking around for a used one, test rode some, couldn't decide, went to a dealership, test rode a BMW F800GS and a R1200GS. Couldn't decide, it was a lot of money, and we weren't in the country for so long at that time. But my beautiful wife told me that if that's what I wanted to do - I should just buy one. I picked up the phone, called Tom at SJ BMW and ordered a yellow F800GS.

This now was actually my bike!

I loved the handling, loved the engine, how light it felt. I liked it more than the 2009 R1200GS I rode, too. So that was it. After 11 years, I was back to motorcycling. We had only one car, I had the motorcycle and Andrea could use the car whenever she needed. Perfect. Nearly. I did some trips and over time figured out that I always got headaches when riding the bike for more than 20 minutes over 80 km/h (50mph). Not good. Tried several different windshield but couldn't find one that actually worked.

A year later I sold the F800GS again, and got what I still ride today:

The R1200GS is an awesome bike. The new dual overhead cam (DOHC) engine from the 2010 model year has more grunt down low, is a tiny bit smoother, and just about right for me. I added a GS Adventure windshield, and some other farkles and I'm still happy with that bike. It has a bit over 7000 miles now and is definitely a keeper. I just ordered side cases for longer trips and will hopefully have them soon.

I will keep the R for long, I hope. I love how it rides, how it handles, I made it to fit my needs perfectly and it's exactly the right one for me. It might not always be the only one, but I have absolutely no plans of changing. As said, maybe adding something different to the stable, but not in exchange for the GS. No way.

Having about 200k km of motorcycling in Germany, 13k miles now here in the US - I can also say that this is a hobby that I truly enjoy. It gives me a chance to clear my head from work. I feel so happy that I have a wife who understands me and started riding two years ago, too! It's the best thing that could possibly happen.


  1. Your motorcycle career sounds like mine. I obtained my license when I was 26, rode until 1998, and restarted my hobby two years ago thanks to you, my friend, and with the support of my better half. I didn't log that many km's, maybe 50 or 60 Thousand but I went all over Europe with my singles, daylong vibrations including.

    The GS is top end of the class, and I doubt that you will find anything better at the moment, although Triumph is on a good path, and Yamaha's Tenere could be an option.

    If Roland were to upgrade one day to a scooter with more cc's and power I will probably re-consider my current investments plans in a new bike... Tough choice when one is on a one-bike-at-a-time budget.

  2. The "one day at a time" is something that is definitely against MBS (Multiple Bike Syndrome). Which one you fight ... good question. It's not only the budget, it's the garage space, the time, and also general sanity.

    Nevertheless - to one end of the spectrum (naked standard) or the other (fully faired tourer) there is still some kind of an itch. Not sure which way the itch is stronger though ... ;-)