El Sobrante Press ESP
Presented here are a number of adventures--the planned and the unexpected--as I've wandered along the road of life. These include events in travel, sport, and other activities that will offer the reader some insight into the pros and cons of such happenings.
A. Motorcycle Trial and Error
B. Skydiving in Hawaii
C. Flying the Warbirds of WWII
D. Kayaking in Hawaii
E. Seaplane in Alaska
G. Biking in Hawaii
H. Rickshaw in Thailand
JB and the 1984 BMW r65 650cc
All of a sudden the front wheel hit the curb at 30 MPH. The bike's forward momentum, coupled with the immovable object of the curb, caused the bike’s rear end to flip up, ejecting me out of the seat and into the air. To anyone viewing this debacle, they would have seen a grown man arcing through the air, accompanied by a motorcycle to his right on the same trajectory.
But I get ahead of myself. My experiment with 2-wheel motoring began in the early summer of 1986. I was working as an intelligence analyst in round-the-clock shift operations for the Defense Department at Ft. Meade, MD. I became intrigued as the senior reporter talked of his motorcycle adventures and his long-distance excursions on two wheels. I had been curious of what it must be like to feel the freedom, the power of those wheels, the acceleration and speed…the hint of danger. He suggested I should give the sport a try and, by the way, a young lady he knew was selling a nearly new, 1984 BMW 650cc r65 shaft-drive (no chain) motorcycle at a great price.
Well, I bought the bike—with free delivery to my house. You see, I had never ridden a motorcycle and obviously did not have a license to drive one. Signing up for a motorcycle riding course was the thing to do. I spent a couple of weeks taking classes in the early evening at a riding school in Baltimore. The school provided the bikes, usually smaller 175-250cc street bikes. There 4 or 5 of us took lessons in motorcycle structure and handling, proper rider techniques and skills, starting/stopping, changing gears, acceleration and balance, etc.
When we had reached the proper skill level, the school trailered their bikes to the DMV testing facility and a testing officer, usually a state trooper, would evaluate our performance on their driver course. Included was an assessment of the rider’s skill in taking the S-curves of the chicane, using proper speed, extreme slow riding uphill while maintaining balance, obeying traffic regulations, etc.
That test went so smooth! I did all the maneuvers properly. When finished, the officer instructed me to ride my bike over to a waiting area about 50 yards away. Once there, I waited anxiously for the officer’s arrival and his certification of my riding ability. But the officer had other news. I had failed the test! I had not obeyed a traffic sign!
When the officer had instructed me to ride to the waiting area, he noted I had gotten underway and ignored the STOP sign about 30 yards to my right. My plea that I didn’t think the STOP sign was part of the course, because it was so far away, fell on deaf ears.
I did finally pass the test and got the “M” endorsement on my driver’s license but not without three additional visits to the testing facility. Everything would be perfect and then I’d lose it going up the slow-ride incline, where touching the ground with your feet for stability is a demerit. It didn’t help having a different bike for the test every time. Nevertheless, I did eventually pass the test! I could now legally ride that beautiful BMW 650 that had sat forlorn in my carport, gathering dust for weeks!
I was fully equipped with safety gear—a deluxe full-face BMW helmet, leather shoes and gloves, and a leather jacket. Even so, I sometimes threw caution to the wind by riding in shorts, riding without a helmet, and riding in slip-on boat shoes. The silver dollar-sized scar I acquired, when the bike tilted over in soft dirt and its hot tailpipe settled on my right leg, is testament to the sensibility of wearing long pants!
For the next 2 years I’d ride the bike in all seasons, on the back streets and on the freeways, testing my endurance and the handling of the machine. I say “endurance” because there were special issues when riding in summer, as opposed to winter; when riding on a city street, as compared to a high-speed freeway. Nevertheless, these wheels were a joy to ride most times, particularly in the spring and fall when it was neither too hot nor too cold to be comfortable—akin to goldilocks and the three bears—just right! The exhilaration of speed and open air were invigorating. In an acceleration dual, no car could match my machine.
Having said all that, there were some drawbacks that bikers must deal with. For example:
- In the summer, wearing the safer, heavier clothing can be stifling, particularly in the hot, humid summers back east. One summer afternoon on my way to work it began to rain—a real thunderstorm. I had a full one-piece rain suit; however, by the time I pulled over into a gas station to change under cover, I was completely soaked. Even so, I zipped into the rain suit, mounted the bike and continued my journey. It took only 5 minutes for the rain to stop and the sun to break through the clouds. Soon, the heat vapors were rising from the road and I was steaming hot in my suit. I arrived for the evening shift somewhat disheveled.
- In winter, travelling along a highway at a modest 55 MPH, in 50-degree temperatures, the windchill factor comes into play. The cold air invariably finds every loose seam or open button in jacket and gloves. It’s not exactly comfortable. The fingers begin to go numb. Getting a good feel at the controls (brake, clutch, throttle) is dubious. Split-second actions become uncertain. And so, on cold or hot days, I tended to leave the bike in the carport in favor of a climate-controlled, four-wheeler known as a “car.”
- A few times when riding the bike around the freeways of the Baltimore-Washington area, I’d have the situation where I’m travelling down the highway at 65 MPH, while, in the next lane, a big-rig tractor trailer is suddenly moving along beside. I concentrate on staying in my lane and either dropping back or moving ahead for safety purposes. But for a few seconds, I steal at glimpse at, or merely sense, the movement of these giant wheels turning menacingly a few feet to my side. A split-second mistake could send me crashing into them. I get a chill and begin dropping back, letting the big-rig pass me by. There are dangers out there.
But let’s put all that aside and get back to the beginning of this tale. I’m not 100% sure of the date, memory fades over the years. We’ll call it early spring 1988. It was a weekend afternoon. I was on the bike en route to a friend’s house in Glen Burnie, MD from my own place in Pasadena, MD. It was an easygoing ride on side roads as I approached the area of North Arundel Hospital. A big white, older Cadillac was moving along rather slowly ahead of me. This was a 35 MPH zone, and he was doing 20. With no traffic ahead, I pulled out to the left, revved up the speed, passed the Cadillac, and angled back to the right.
Unfortunately, as I remember it, the road was entering a curve at this point and the 6” to 8” high curb was quickly getting closer. That split-second look at the curb was time I didn’t have, the bike struck the curb and launched rider and vehicle into the air. I have no perception of how high I went, but the arc was sufficient for me to land directly on my head and for the bike to land next to me, upside down, about three feet away.
Even though I had crashed, the Lord must have given me the benefit of the doubt that I was worth saving. I had landed in a relatively soft grassy area close to the road. As my head smashed into the turf, an instantaneous thought came to mind, “These helmets really work!” As I lay there, I looked over to my right. The Beemer lay upside down, the engine sputtering—kajung, kajung, kajung—the rear wheel still turning, dark grey smoke billowing out of the tailpipe. At this point I reached over with my right hand and pressed the kill button on the handlebar. The engine stopped. All was quiet.
While sitting up and surveying the scene, I pulled clumps of dirt and grass from the helmet visor. The jeans I wore now had dirt and grass smudges on the knees, but my legs were intact. The Cadillac I had passed had pulled over and the elderly driver offered help, but I thanked him and declined. The only injury here was to my pride.
I righted the bike and checked out the damage. Most of it was superficial. The windshield was in pieces, one mirror had broken off, the front fender was cracked, and the gas tank suffered some deep scratches. Using a couple of tools from the saddlebags, I removed the remainder of the windshield, gave the bike a good once-over, here and there knocking off clumps of dirt and grass. As if placed there for my convenience, a dumpster sat a dozen yards away. I picked up the scattered remnants of the windshield and made a dumpster deposit.
It took a few cranks of the starter to get the engine to turn over, but it eventually did. As the exhaust fumes dissipated, I once again mounted my BMW stallion and proceeded on my journey. This time with less speed and more caution. Even though I wore a full-face helmet, it was a shock to me how forceful the wind could be without a windshield. When I arrived at my destination, a little later than planned, I had a story to tell.
I think back on that event and thank my lucky stars, and the Lord above, that I got through it without injury. That 450-pound Beemer landed three feet from me. What if it had landed on me instead? What if I had landed on the road instead of the soft grass? What if I had not been wearing a helmet?
Not long after this I put the bike up for sale. That was enough fun for me. I had enjoyed riding the local roads in the fresh air, and even travelled as far away as Philadelphia one Sunday—a 220-mile round trip. After 2 years of merriment, I decided to forego the 2-wheel exhilaration and renew my friendship with a more sedate but safer 2-seater, 4-wheeled sports car, a Fiat X1/9. But that’s a story for another time.