I’ve been riding motorcycles for more than 40 years. I bought my first bike, a little Yamaha RD350 two-stroke, in 1973. I really wanted a BMW 750, but my father wisely advised that, since I had no experience of riding, maybe I wouldn’t like it. Nah! But it was good advice all the same, because I discovered that you fall down a bit with your first bike—first rainy day, first wet manhole cover, first experience sliding down the road with the bike tumbling on ahead, showering sparks. But I persevered and did buy that BMW R75/5 the following year. I’ve been a fan of big, heavy, powerful motorcycles ever since. Usually in black, if I can get it.
Sometimes I go off motorcycles entirely. Sell the bike or bikes in hand and vow to drive a car forever more. At the time, it usually feels as if I have acquired too many tachyons, like the starship Enterprise—or too many near-misses and unrealized bad luck—and need to equilibrate to a less scintillating state. Once I sold my motorcycle thinking it would be not all that different, except cheaper and probably healthier, to try commuting on a bicycle. I hadn’t been on a bicycle since the sixth grade, of course. I got out in city traffic and discovered that I had zero acceleration (except what I could pump into that chain with my own two feet), zero braking power (two little rubber erasers gripping the wheel rims!), and zero mass (well, maybe twenty pounds of pipe and sprockets) under me to stabilize the ride. The bicycle lasted about a week.
Sometimes, instead of going off bikes for a couple of years, I flip the other way and own two motorcycles at once. Some people find this strange. But look, I know where in the Bible it says I can only have one woman—and she’s a darn good one, too—but I don’t see where it talks about only one motorcycle. Usually, the decision is based on having a combination of engine types and riding positions. But so far with me, as with the Sith, there are only two at any one time.
Over the years, I’ve owned a baker’s dozen of the big motorcycles. As Col. T. E. Lawrence favored the Brough Superior marque, I favor BMWs for their reliability, good engineering, and maintenance-free shaft drives. My stable has had twelve of the German beasts, including five of the two-cylinder, air-cooled R bikes and seven of the four-cylinder, water-cooled K bikes. Lately I’ve taken an interest in Harleys. “Why?” my BMW friends ask in horror. “Well, because …” I reply. Because they are big and stable, well constructed if not exactly a modern design, and made in America. The native Harley is not all that powerful. I’ve had two of them, starting with an air-cooled Dyna in which I immediately installed the 103-cubic-inch engine, to get the power up to about 75 horses. Then I discovered the V-Rod, which has a more traditional V-twin engine—with the pistons on separate cranks, instead of sharing a single crank like a rotary engine—as well as being water cooled and fuel injected. All of this brings the V-Rod up to the output and powerband of a European motorcycle. But the Harleys have been more of a flirtation than a love affair. My heart still belongs to the blau-mit-weiss roundel. (Photos by Robert L. Thomas)
BMW K1600GT (2016)
After years of riding two motorcycles—the BMW R1200R for its comfortable, upright seating position, large saddlebags, and easy maneuverability, and the BMW K1300S for its sportier, leaning-forward position, better wind protection, and amazingly powerful engine—I decided to trade both for a motorcycle that offered the best of these qualities in one machine. The K1600GT is a sport touring motorcycle: upright seating, good fairing with adjustable windscreen, strong engine with lots of torque from its in-line six-cylinder design (160 horsepower, 129 foot-pounds of torque), and superb balance and suspension. And it has all the safety features—ABS brakes, traction control, curve-following adaptive headlight, wide-angle fog lights, varying suspension and throttle responses—and all the amenities—cruise control, AM/FM radio, satellite radio, satellite navigation, Bluetooth adaptability, heated handgrips and seats—that any rider could want. If the K1300S was a starship, this is the Enterprise version with the carpeting, indirect lighting, orchids in every stateroom, and a full-service lounge in Ten Forward.