I’ve been riding motorcycles for almost 50 years. I bought my first bike, a little Yamaha RD350 two-stroke, in 1973. I really wanted a BMW 750cc model, 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 was 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 more than a 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 seventeen of the German beasts, including eight of the opposed two-cylinder, air- and oil-cooled R bikes and nine of the in-line four- or six-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 an aircraft 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.

 

2022 BMW R1250RT

BMW R1250RT (2022)

This motorcycle hits the sweet spot for weight, power, carrying capacity, and creature comforts. It has the 1250-cc water-cooled engine with variable valve timing (called “shift cam” in the BMW world) that I have come to value in my two most recent “boxer” bikes (the first “R” in the designation). But this bike is a touring machine (the “RT” designation), which means it also has a larger gas tank, better saddlebags (able to fit my full-face helmet), and amenities like a big display with navigation, separate riding lights, and cruise control with an active sensing feature that will slow down if there is a car ahead of you. The white paint job is easier to care for than the metallic black favored on most of my big bikes. And—bonus points!—to the casual and unobservant eye, this looks like a police motorcycle, which will keep the careless crowders at bay.

2021 BMW R1800

BMW R1800 Pure (2021)

This is a relatively new motorcycle for BMW: a cruiser with original styling from the 1930s, designed to attract the American heavyweight market currently dominated by Harley-Davidson. As noted below, I’ve had two Harleys and liked them for their weight and torque. The bike sits below the rider’s mass and so is stable, and the engine pulls like a tractor. But I always wished those bikes had the features, fit, and finish of my BMWs. The R1800 fulfills that function. And it's designed for customization, as I've done here, with a windscreen, light bar, cylinder head bands, and round, tapered exhausts instead of the “fishtail” pipes that come on the stock version (more of that 1930s look). The R1800 as originally shipped does not have all of the creature comforts found on other BMWs—fuel gauge, tubeless tires with tire pressure monitoring, cruise control, radio, and such—but it has the safety features like antilock brakes, “hill start” (which holds the brakes on a grade), stability control, and for a bike this heavy, a reverse gear to pull it back up a slope. This is a bit of nostalgia but with the biggest boxer engine BMW has ever produced.

 

Honor Roll

BMWs

R75/5, 1974-76

R100, 1981-84

K100RS, 1984-85

K100, 1987-95

R100GS, 1989-90

K1200RS, 2002-04

K1200R, 2006-07

K1200GT, 2007-08

K1200S, 2008-13

R1100S, 2008-09

R1200R, 2013-16

K1300S, 2014-16

K1600GT, 2016-17

R1200Rwc, 2018-19

R1250RS, 2019-20

K1600GT, 2020-21

R1250R, 2020-21

Harley-Davidsons

Dyna FXD, 2008-10

V-Rod Muscle, 2011-12

Yamaha

RD350, 1973-74