Back when BMW’s R nineT motorcycle had just been released in the US, I got to take one for a test ride. The iconic Boxer motor, nicely sorted chassis, and fabulous brakes impressed me through some sweet curves along Scantic Road and Crystal Lake Road in north-central Connecticut. The bike’s crisp neo-retro style caught the attention of pedestrians when I stopped to take pictures. But two guys in a highly modded Honda Civic were most impressed.
Waiting on their left at a traffic light, I noticed they were laughing quite hysterically. The driver pointed at the bike and called over to me. “Where’d you get the BMW logos?” His question was punctuated by more laughter.
“They must have put them on at the factory in Germany,” I said.
“Yeah, like BMW makes motorcycles.” “Right, since before they made cars.”
They were still laughing when the light turned green.
There’s anecdotal evidence that many people aren’t aware BMW makes motorcycles. I was shopping in my hometown grocery store, and as is often the case, I was wearing a baseball hat. This one featured a BMW roundel with “BMW Motorcycles” embroidered underneath. In one particular aisle, I had stopped to compare items on the shelves when I heard quiet laughter. I looked around to see what I was missing.
“That’s funny,” said the only other shopper there.
“Excuse me, what’s funny?”
“What’s funny about my hat?”
“BMW doesn’t make motorcycles.”
“Actually, BMW has been making motorcycles longer than cars.”
“They make sportbikes, touring bikes, adventure bikes, cruisers, you name it.”
On my phone I pulled up a picture of my R 1200 RT. “Here’s mine,” I said, zooming in on the BMW roundel on the side panel. “See?”
“Oh my god, you’re serious! I can’t wait to tell my husband. He isn’t going to believe this!”
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Then there was the brief conversation I had a few years ago with a teenager doing his best to look cool while pumping gas into a minivan. His parents and siblings were in the van, a potentially embarrassing situation for a teen, but he took control of the situation by calling over to the motorcycle guy.
“Hey, man, nice bike!”
“Thanks,” I replied as everyone in the van turned to see.
“What kind is it?”
“A Honda ST1300.”
“Wow…really? I never knew Honda made motorcycles. Pretty cool.” He hung up the nozzle, gave me the slightest nod of acknowledgment, and hopped in the van.
My motorcycle brand philosophy is “Two wheels good,” but I’m more than happy to return a little shade thrown my way. While stopped on my ST1300 and waiting to turn right, a Harley-Davidson Ultra pulled up next to me in the left turn lane. The bike had gleaming two-tone paint and acres of spotless chrome. The couple on board sported matching leather jackets with flowing fringe. The rider looked over at me and shook his head. “Nice scooter,” he laughed, with obvious satisfaction. Witty guy.
I raised my visor to reply. “Thanks, man. Nice tractor.” His passenger laughed so hard I thought she’d fall off the bike. Slack-jawed, the guy turned his gaze away and waited for his opportunity to turn left.
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At that same intersection one sizzling summer day, a young woman in a doors-off Jeep Wrangler pulled up on my left. She looked over at me, dressed as I always am in an armored, all-weather riding suit, and announced, “You sure look hot in that suit.”
“Thanks a lot!” I replied with a thumbs up. She seemed confused at first by my response, then laughed, looking a little embarrassed at her unintended double entendre.
Sometimes it’s the motorcycle passengers who initiate a conversation. While I waited in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, to board the ferry to Maine, the cold gray sky poured a drenching rain. A ferry terminal worker directed a group of bikes to the staging lane at my right. I exchanged waves with the riders and passengers. Despite the wet conditions, the only “raingear” I could see was on a couple of passengers who had cut out head and arm holes in large plastic garbage bags to fashion rain vests. One of the passengers called over to me, “Are you dry in that suit?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “Warm too.”
She thwacked her rider on the back of his helmet and commenced a tirade of I-told-you-so’s.
On a much drier day, I approached the old (and structurally deficient) Lake Champlain Bridge between Chimney Point, Vermont, and Crown Point, New York, and an official-looking woman wearing a uniform and high-viz vest signaled for me to stop . “Good morning, sir,” she began, “I’m conducting a survey for the DOT that will inform the design of a new bridge at this location. Can I ask where you are going today?”
“Calabogie,” I replied.
“Calabogie, Ontario, Canada.” I said it was located on a lake west of Ottawa and, pointing to my GPS, explained that my planned route would take me through the Adirondacks and into Canada via the ferry from Cape Vincent.
“Calabogie,” she said, making a note on her clipboard. “That is going to be an outlier. Enjoy your ride!”
I do enjoy my rides, sometimes made more memorable by the things people say to the motorcycle guy.
This column from longtime contributor Scott A. Williams originally appeared in the September issue of Rider.
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