Getting Your Ya-Yas Out

Since I’m the proud owner of a 2013 Yamaha Super Tenere, I guess I’m a data point in Yamaha’s CRM database, which would explain why I received an email invite to their “Demo Days” at Stamford Motorsports last spring. So on the appointed date—an otherwise grey and drizzly Saturday morning—I threw my riding kit into the back of my truck and drove down I-95 to the dealership, where this was waiting for me.

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What could be more glee-inducing than a bright red trailer filled with delicious new toys? It was like a giant motorcycle piñata waiting to be cracked open by a bunch of middle-aged children.

I mean, look at this man-child.

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Talk about a kid into the candyamaha shop.

Thankfully, the guys from Yamaha arranged their sweets in neat, single-file rows to make bike-sampling easier.  And to prevent a riot from breaking out.

In order to ride, all you had to do was follow a simple drill: show them your (M)otorcycle-endorsed license. Slap on a wristband. Listen to the safety briefing and route description from the demo guys (actually, MSF instructors moonlighting as ride-proctors).

And then they let you gorge on bikes for free. Free. FREE!

The first candy I went for was the retro/modern  Yamaha XSR900, which I’d only seen from afar through the shop window of  the internet.

In the metal flesh, super tasty.

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I’d call it more modern than retro, from the sculpted, brushed-aluminum tank with classic Yammy lettering…

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…to the single, digital instrument cluster, which (while cool-looking) I didn’t really love. TMI in TLS—Too Little Space. Plus too-small data for anyone with eyes over 50. They haven’t come out with bifocal visors yet. More style than substance in this little pod, but the rest of the bike had a genuine measure of both.

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The single halogen headlamp was more traditional…

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But the LED tail light was not, which gave the lighting an asymmetrical vibe, sort of like a luminous mullet: conservative up front, party in the back. Still, I liked both, as I did the suede-trimmed saddle, with its (Ron) burgundy tush.

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Add to all this some chunky, machined aluminum bits, cast wheels, and the inline three-cylinder banshee of an engine from the FZ-09, and you get this:

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Riding-wise (for me, at least) it was pretty comfortable, with upright ergos and a comfortable bar height. The motor and gearbox are unassailably brilliant, and liquid-smooth. It’s well suspended and delivers a taught, ultra-responsive ride.

But for someone used to poky adventure bikes (or old BMW airheads), the rush of power on the XR is so abrupt, it’s alarming.  Even with traction control, a firm twist of the throttle felt like it would leave skid marks on the road, and inside your pants. Braking was equally aggressive and abrupt (thankfully, it has ABS, or you’d be dealing with a second set of skid marks).

None of this is so much a criticism of the bike as an honest observation about the limits and comfort of this particular rider. If you’re one of those YouTube hypermotard hooners, you’d be in pig-heaven on the XSR. It’s a howler. If you’re into self-preservation (as I am) and more casual tootling, it’s more of an anti-life-preserver.

So I moved on to something else outside my comfort zone, but for different qualities. This:

 

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It’s a Bolt. But I think Yamaha might have had a few screws loose when they conceived it.

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It’s sort of a cross-eyed mashup of a cruiser, scrambler, bobber, and cafe racer.

Who mixes clip-on bars with rubber fork gators, gold with brushed aluminum AND matte black AND gloss black; LED and digital gauges with cheezily-retro body stickers…

Oh, and did I mention it’s…um…brown?

The ergonomics are bizarre and even a little hostile—that airbox (or whatever the hell that jutting plastic/aluminum trapezoid is) hits you squarely in the mid-thigh, forcing you to ride splay-legged, kinda like this guy.

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I looked about that cool riding the Bolt. I don’t think that’s quite what Yamaha was going for.

I like motorcycles, but it was hard to find anything about the Bolt that was even remotely appealing or redeeming. Overall, it’s a triumph of attempted-style over substance. Bolt is what I wanted to do after riding it.

Which was the polar opposite of how I felt when I got the chance to ride this. The iconic and thoroughly un-ironic FJR.

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It’s a pretty remarkable machine, exquisitely engineered for comfort and speed. I’d never ridden a proper touring rig before, and this made me actually want one. For such a big bike, the FJR is shockingly nimble, smooth, and easy to ride. All the weight is carrier down low in the belly of the bike (not unlike the dork riding it).

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The seat height would allow most riders (even shorter ones) to flat-foot it, which truly matters, because you can imagine the crunching, cracking, snapping sounds the bodywork would make even if you had a tip-over at a standstill.

Bar ergos were excellent, reaching back to meet you and letting you ride in a super-comfortable, bent-arm posture. Plus the cockpit was logical, relatively clear, and easy to navigate, so you can concentrate on more important navigation.

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Finally, the airflow management was excellent, from the slick adjustable fairing down to the car-like mirrors, which I think they borrowed from an M3.

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All in all, it makes you want to pack these panniers up with a toothbrush and some clean underwear, and head out for a 1,000 mile ride.

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You think they’ll know it’s missing?

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Starling on the Slipstream

What the hell do starlings have to do with motorbikes? Here’s what.

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From Wikipedia:

Starlings are small to medium-sized passerine birds; the species familiar to most people in Europe and North America is the common starling. Starlings have strong feet, their flight is strong and direct, and they are very gregarious.

From the band Pavement:
 I heard what you said
The leaders are dead
They’re robbing the sky
I can hear their followers cry…

Starlings on the slipstream

From Italian, the most musical of languages:
A starling is a stornello. Stornello is also used to refer to an old folk song, as in “C’era uno stornello così da noi.”  ( “That’s a little song we used to sing back home.”)

From Moto Guzzi:
This little bird is a 1972 Stornello 125. It’s a pretty darling starling.

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And this little bird is a 2016 V7II Stornello. My new Guzzi Stornello, a little song I brought back home, my starling on the slipstream.

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Isn’t she pretty? I’m in love with an Italian bird-bike, and I think I like it.

So how’d this red-and-white Italian beauty come to nest in my garage, next to a honking Super Ténéré, a waspy Italian little cousin (my Vespa GT), and a forty-year-old BMW airhead? Well, here’s how.

Last summer, after having had a multi-year itch for a classic bike and finally scratching it, I found myself the proud and newly-obsessive owner of a classic airhead: an all-original, completely unmolested 1974 BMW R75/6.  I wrote about it here.

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My airhead has been (and still is) a total hoot. Between the low seat, gently-raked bars, relatively light weight, and friendly overall ergos, the slash 6 is incredibly comfortable and easy to ride. I’ve done hundreds of delightful, low-key miles ambling all around southwestern Connecticut with her, and she never fails to turn heads, or the corners of my mouth upright into a smile.

But old-bike ownership has revealed a few things to me. First, if a forty-two-year-old bike is officially designated a “Classic” (note the special plate from the DMV below), then what is its fifty-two-year-old rider’s proper designation? Relic? Fossil? Antique?

Second: “classic” charm requires a certain love for (or generous forbearance with) classic technology. No matter how good the preservation or condition, riding a vintage motorbike is still an out-and-out mechanical experience, an analogue counterpoint to today’s inescapably digital world.

For starters, airheads run on carburetors, little metal contraptions that—with the twist of a throttle—fill up with gasoline and oil, which gets vaporized by a stream of vacuum-induced air and detonated in the cylinders. “Carburation” is achieved through a Rube-Goldberg assembly of needles, butterfly flaps,  floats, and bowls, cleverly assembled (Bingo!) into this:

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It’s primitive technology for sure, but not entirely without fascination or charm. The same can be said for many other aspects of this vintage beauty. Everything is purely mechanical and manual, like the choke. The clutch lever provides a vigorous left-forearm workout, and if you use it enough, you might even develop asymmetrical limbs. Shifting requires some aggressive pre-load from your toes to avoid gear clattering and clunking. The brakes, while disc, are 100% analog and unassisted by technology. Which can produce some thrilling/terrifying/upright-sliding moments, especially when deer decide to make a surprise appearance. Don’t ask how I know.

And finally, with my airhead (and apparently 95% of all the other ones) you have to get used to the gas/oil equivalent of “pee stains” on one or both of your shoes, because forty-year-old airheads tend to dribble more copiously than the fifty-year-old men who ride them.

All of which, getting back to my earlier flight of fancy, is what starlings have to do with motorbikes.  A starling is why I decided that I’m not ideally suited to be part of the airhead flock. A starling is why I grudgingly put my airhead up for sale (still pending). And a humble starling is why I decided to take a flyer on this.

It’s a 2016 Moto Guzzi V7II Stornello, or “starling.” The Storny (as I’ve come to call her) is a factory scrambler variant of Moto Guzzi’s seasoned and successful V7 line, taking the basic architecture of the V7 (now in its second II series), but adding a brilliant red powder-coated frame, wire wheels and knobby tires, a high-mount Arrow exhaust,  fork gaiters, rubber tank grips, and several delicious aluminum bits, including machined foot-pegs, laser-etched fenders and number plates, and a micro-aluminum front fairing.

Caution: hi-resolution bike porn ahead.

I mean, how could anyone resist? I first spotted the Storny on the showroom floor of Hamlin Cycles in Bethel, CT.  I’d driven up there in the drizzle to test-ride a garden-variety “V7 Stone” as part of their “Guzzi Demo Day” promotion, just curious what a more modern air-cooled motorbike would feel like.

But the V7 Stornello was sitting there all by her lonesome, aloof and apart from the broader flock of V7 Racers, Specials, and Stones, next to a sleek new V9 Roamer…

The little red and white scrambler just called out to me like a sweet summer song. I made the fateful mistake of swinging a leg over, saddling up, wrapping my hands around the grips, and glancing down at the headstock.

It was Stornello #51. This graying bike-obsessive was also 51. A sure sign. Kismet. It was beshert.

So after some hemming and hawing (and help from Jim Hamlin, Adam Zuckerman, and a sweaty checkbook), I went from bird-watching to bike-buying. Jim gently guided my trembling hand towards the signature line, and with a squiggle and stroke, it was done, and she was mine. Just in time to turn 52. HBD to me.

Happily, the Storny is air-cooled, just like the airhead. She’s also low, light, easy to throw a leg over, and incredibly comfortable (and SOOOO fun) to ride. And just like an airhead, she’s propelled by a clean, maintenance-free drive shaft (not a dirty-bird chain).

But here, the parallels with a vintage BMW airhead end. The lil’ Guzzi might have all the optics and “emotion” of a classic motorbike, but she’s resolutely modern. Goodbye carbs, hello electronic fuel injection. Deceleration is assisted by ABS, which IMHO ought to be required equipment on all new motorbikes (and I guess now is). Wet road handling is made safer via electronic traction control. And the speedometer doesn’t make a gyroscopic whirring sound, since it’s not actuated via a set of gears and cables attached to the spinning front wheel.

I still haven’t sold the Beemer, although together, they make a pretty handsome couple—two birds of an airhead feather, flocking together.

But there’s really only room for one “classic” in my garage, and in my life.  And I’m going with the one that has classic looks, but a higher-tech soul. Anyone in the market for a pristine R75/6?

 

March Mapleness

When in March, most people’s thoughts turn to Madness. Mine turn to Mapleness.

Not that I’m a basketball hater or anything. It’s just that there’s something about maple sap running down collection tubes—nature whispering about winter’s looming demise, and a sure harbinger of spring—that’s more exciting to me than a bunch of college guys running up and down a court.

Plus it’s the perfect excuse to take a ride up through New England in search of this:

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So the other Saturday, I set sail on the good ship Ténéré, in search of some sweet, sticky spring.  Here’s my craft on the causeway over the Congamond Lakes at the CT/MA border.

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I had to stop and defrost at the venerable Granville Country Store & Cheese Shop…

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…where I had a “toasted cheddar” that was better than it had any right to be, and a hot cup of tea. My toes and fingers were frozen (it was in the forties, and I’d been riding for almost two hours), and I wasn’t sure how I was going to press on. I thought, “what are the chances they sell those “Lil’ Hotties” boot/handwarmers, along with cellar-aged cheese,  local jams and jellies, and pies?

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They had ’em. Score.

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The view from the grilled cheese table.

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I didn’t have a Coke, but this still made me smile.

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Before I headed back out, I did a Google search for “maple sugar farm”, and it turned out there was one less than ten miles away right in Granville. Bingo.

Much of the ride there was joyfully unpaved…

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In time, I arrived here at the corner of Maple and Happy.

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The sugar house was cooking with activity.

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Here’s their sparkling new evaporator, creating that intoxicating, maple cotton-candy fog that produces the single finest smell on earth. It’s the olfactory equivalent of crack.

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One of the farm owners (believe it or not, I assume this is Mr. Ripley himself) gave a little impromptu syrup tutorial on how you start with maple water boil it down to waffle-drizzling goodness.

Where there’s maple smoke, there’s maplewood fire.

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Fire in the hole…warmth for the soul.

I headed up to their “Pancake House” and store to buy a pint of their amber finest and some maple sugar candies (they’re so sweet your teeth hurt) before hopping on my Maple-conveyor and heading back south.

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Couple of hours of this….

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And it was time for some of this at our old farmhouse. Not quite maplewood. No sugar air. But you know what they call it. Home sweet home…

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Ski and Ride

Skiing. Riding. Riding. Skiing.

With the possible exception of surfing, eating Twizzlers, or doing the New York Times Sunday crossword, they’re easily two of my favorite things to do on this green and white earth.

Some of these life-loves can easily be enjoyed in the span of a single day. But not skiing and riding. Twizzlers and crosswords? Easy-peasy—I do’em together all the time. Riding and Twizzlers? A natural pairing, and a motorcycle is a great excuse for executing a Twizzlers run (plus you look a lot less like an ass-hat riding with a Twizzler in your maw than a cigar or cigarette, especially since you can chew it and swallow it). Surfing and the New York Times Sunday puzzle? Totally doable between expression-sessions, so long as you don’t drip too much.

But I’ve never been able to jam skiing and riding into the same day, for obvious reasons. Good conditions for one (snow, ice, frigid temperatures, winter) are grim conditions for the other. Especially since I’m not one of these “studded” types.

But this Sunday, the last of this January, the stars (or suns) somehow aligned, and I finally got my chance to ski and ride…without actually planning for it.

According to the Weather Channel, Sunday was supposed to be a pretty mild midwinter day in New England. The weather gods were calling for mixed sun and clouds in the high forties. And since one of my kids is at school (hi Noah!), one’s in Florida seeing an aunt (hi Maisie!), and one’s taking the ACT (sorry, Ivy!), this here kid decided to go skiing. So I roused myself at the usual commuter wake-up time (5:30 am), hopped into my truck, and made a run for Great Barrington, Massachusetts to Ski Butternut.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable ride up Route 8 through the Litchfield Hills and the southern Berkshires. I was stoked to revisit the beginning of the Trans Mass Trail (see my all-dirt MA ride here) at the intersection of Rood Hill Road and Sandy Brook Turnpike in Sandisfield, MA.

That was then….

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And this was now.

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I made it to Great Barrington in under 2 hours, suited up in the parking lot, hoofed over to the base lodge, and was on boards doing runs by 8:45. Butternut (like most of southern Vermont and northern Connecticut) has had a disastrous snow-desert of a season, and everything on the trails was 100% man made. But for snow of the non-organic variety, it was surprisingly well-groomed, and actually pretty sweet.

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I went up and down Lucifer’s Leap a dozen or more times without pause, carving and charging the corduroy until I could feel the burn. Not this one (although I did vote for him  wayyyy back when I was a college kid in Burlington, VT)…

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But the one in my legs. Burning quads on the way down, and then riding the quad on the way up, run after run after run. It was a carver’s delight.

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Despite it being the dead of winter, it was actually warm enough to be skiing in a sweatshirt. Here’s yours truly at the top of Lucifer’s, a Connecticut guy on Massachusetts snow “representing” for Vermont, courtesy of his alma mater. Nice to get a few shout-outs from some other Catamount dads.

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I went up and down like a yo-yo, meeting oddball folks on the lift and making ski-talk on the ride up, and then dialing in the lactic-acid power-carves on the way down. I don’t think I stopped or paused once. And since I’d been making track since 8:30, I broke for an early lunch to rest and soak up some sun.

A plate of fries, a bowl of New England clam chowder, sunny skies and temperature hovering in the mid-fifties? I was having a joy meltdown.

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Unfortunately, so was the snow. I skied until 1:30, at which point the snow was thick like Stew Leonard’s soft-serve, and just as sticky. So before bogging a ski and ripping my hip out of the socket (it almost happened a couple of times towards the mushy bottom), I decided to call it a ski-day, and head back to CT.

The drive back was just as delightful, and for most of Massachusetts it was so warm I actually had the windows down. At one point around Marlborough, the temperature gauge in my truck hit sixty. In January. In New England.

It is a natural law of New England that when the temperatures rise, so do the bikers. And as I drove through Winsted, sure enough I passed maybe a half-dozen guys out on motorcycles. They were the typical Northern  CT black & bedazzled Harley crowd, brapping their way up and down Route 44. But they were out there riding. On a Sunday. In January. In New England. So I stepped on it.

When I pulled into my driveway an hour later, I marched into the house, took off my ski pants, pulled on jeans and riding boots, threw on a jacket, grabbed my (other) helmet, and headed out to the garage.

I can’t express how weirdly satisfying it was to go from ski boots to riding boots, from ski helmet to Shoei, and from snow gloves to motorcycle gloves—all in the span of a few hours. It took a little more effort than usual to swing my tired legs over the bike, but once I was in the saddle, it felt stupendous. My airhead fired up on the second try, and we were off and riding.

Two and half hours earlier I was carving on two skis. Now, I was carving on two wheels. Call it love-squared.

I went for a typical Fairfield beach lap, motoring over to Southport, then Burying Hill, and then on to Compo. Here’s my airhead by the beach at Southport, with a mini dirty Buttenut in the background.

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At Compo, I ran into another guy on an BMW, but a late-model R1200GS. He was out for a cruise with his young daughter, who was riding pilion. He knew his airheads (although he pegged mine as a ’73, when it’s a ’74), and we had a nice bike chat, both shaking our heads at the guilty pleasure of riding through such an unseasonably warm winter.

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“Yeah,” I said. “Whatever happened to skiing?”

Some pleasures shouldn’t be gloated-over. Just enjoyed in private silence.

Airhead Ambling

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It was a dark and stormy Sunday. What else to do but grab your bike and go for a ride?

Once again, thanks to global warming, temperatures hovered in the mid-to-high fifties today—in mid-January. The only downside was the downpour and high winds, which made the Southport and Westport beaches pretty dramatic.

The riding occasionally so, too.

 

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A few observations. First, crash bars really work. I dropped the airhead, but through no fault of my own. Left her idling in the driveway and ran inside to get my helmet. When I returned, she was lying on her side, un-running, with gas dribbling out of the carbs, kind of like a drunken sailor with an open bottle, splayed out and happy. Either a gust of wind tipped her over, or some low-idle cylinder shudder kicked her off her stand.

Whatever the case, I picked her up, adjusted the mirror, and went on my merry way. Not a scratch or ding in sight. (Note to self: you need crash bars on your Super Ténéré.)

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Second, the newish Michelin Pilot Sport Activs are pretty good wet-weather tires. Comfortable, stable, and not a single slip. Great traction accelerating, cornering and braking to avoid the odd tree branch that had fallen into the roadway, and shattered into a blast of wood pulp and bark.

Third, the robots are getting pretty good. I discovered an app called Magisto that lets you dump a bunch of your raw video footage and photos onto their site, along with an uploaded song of your choice, and then it “auto-edits” a video for you. Whatcha think?

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It isn’t going to win any “Editor’s Choice” awards on Vimeo. But thanks Ray Garland and John Coltraine. I couldn’t decide on a track, but Indecision seemed to fit the bill just right.

Uh oh. Starting to rain again. Gotta get going…

2015: The Year in Rear View

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‘Tis the season of the 5″x7″ personalized state-of-the-union address.

Rejoice!

Unless you happen to have a mild Grinch-streak and unlimited-space motoblog, in which case you’re rejoicing at the opportunity to dissect the holiday card phenomenon while you simultaneously indulge in it. (I may be a hypocrite, but at least I’m self-aware and honest).

So here’s the thing. Every December, our mailbox—probably like yours—fills up with cards that look like this:

J. Crew family courtesy of TinyPrints

Perfectly art-directed tableaus of your friends’ perfect families, often with religiously-neutral seasonal messages. Note to Christian friends: it’s okay to send a Christmas card and to call it one, since that’s what nine-tenths of Americans actually celebrate. Nice if you remember to wish “Happy Hanukkah” to your Jewish friends—you have eight chances not to forget, but if you do, no one cares. The Kwanzaa thing seems to have come and passed, but if you celebrate it, I’m happy to wish you a happy one.

The funny thing about these holiday cards is that, in the age of Instagram, they’re like a more permanent status update. But even more considered, since you’re committing to actual ink, creating a sort of suburban family tattoo. You have to decide if you’re going with the hero shot of the kids in their scrubbed, hair-sculpted glory, or making your statement with a montage of smaller family victories—ski vacations, teen tours, the sailboat, the dog.

I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand, I really do look forward to receiving these appealingly cheery moments of our friends and their kids. Some of them I see all the time; some I haven’t laid eyes on since a soccer tournament three years ago, and it’s wild to see the kids change (and the parents age). I also really do appreciate the ritual well-wishing and holiday tidings, and the fact that we’re on someone else’s mailing list besides Hammacher-Schlemmer, AT&T, and J.Crew.

But then there’s the neo-Rockwellian staginess of it, and the fact that so many of the cards look like literal outtakes of a J. Crew catalog right down to the cool typography and merry witticisms. Sites like TinyPrints, Shutterfly and Minted have democratized stylishness (and IMHO sapped originality) to the degree that everyone’s family winds up looking beautifully, homogenously generic. Like the Crate-and-Barrelfication of the American family.

We seem to be in the minority in not sending out a holiday card. This is mainly because we’re lazy and discombobulated, but also because getting our teenage kids to cooperate with any kind of photo-taking (other than selfies) is an exercise in frustration and futility. They’re good kids, just bad photo-cooperators. Then again, maybe we ought to try because our card might look refreshingly, awkwardly imperfect.

But that doesn’t mean Mr. Grinch here doesn’t have a two-wheeled family to pose and primp to his heart’s content, and then subject the internet-at-large (ok, maybe a dozen blog visitors?) to a holiday roll-call of this year’s rides.

So since you won’t be getting a card from me, here’s my 2015 Holiday “Year in Rear View.” Oh, and Merry Christmas from my bikes to yours (only the Vespa is Jewish).

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APRIL

After the Mother of All Winters (snow in the Northeast hung around until frigging June), I seized the first thaw-day to unplug the Ténéré from its electronic teat, roll it out of the garage, and take it to the bridge in Cornwall, CT. New England bliss. Brisk, but bliss.

MAY

Back to commuter-scooting (or is it scooter-commuting?) When I first fired-up the Vespa after winter hibernation, I noticed tufts of hay and what looked like horse-hair poking out from the side of the front cowling; I think the scoot was home to a few shivering mice for the winter. I understand, fellas—it was a rough one.

JUNE

Initiated a new tradition to break up the commuting week: summer f#ride#days. On the last day of the work week, I ride my Ténéré to a more distant train station than usual, just for some extra saddle joy. Work feels a lot less like work when you ride to it (even if you have to ride the rails afterwards).

I also squeezed in a Sunday Mass run through the Litchfield hills and into Massachusetts. My version of church on Sunday.

JULY

My riding buddy Jonah and I met in Salt Lake for our long-planned Utah BDR ride. We covered 1,300 miles in four days—about half off-road—doing a southern swing from SLC down to Torrey, across Capitol Reef State, up to Price and Heber City, and eventually into Wyoming.

Best part? Riding Skyline Drive in a full-on hail storm.

Worst part? Eating dirt in the slick Utah clay, and doing a number on my ankle. You can read the whole shebang here.

AUGUST

After flying home from our (completed) Utah ride, the only place I rode to was the orthopedic surgeon. If you’re going to play, these are the breaks.

Still, I had to get my late summer moto fix, so I drove to the 30th annual Brit Jam 2015gimping around a sea of vintage bikes in lovely Haddam’s Neck. You can see the bikes (and read my drool) here: British Jam and German Toasters.

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SEPTEMBER

After the Brit Jam show, I was bitten by the vintage bug hard. Somehow, the gods smiled and the Craigslist planets aligned, and I found myself the new owner of a not-so-new ’74 BMW airhead, after lusting for one for years. Here’s the skinny on my R75/6.

OCTOBER

Fall meant less riding & more tinkering while the ankle healed. Used the time to get acquainted with the airhead; I did some clean-up work on my own, but sent her off to MAX BMW in Brookfield, CT for some new tires, carb work, and professional TLC. Also commissioned a guy on Etsy to make a replacement tool roll for the bike, and it came out sweet.

NOVEMBER

Thanks to global warming (or el Niño or la Niña or whatever the hell it is), the New England weather remained freakishly warm through Thanksgiving. Which made rides like this to Roxbury possible. I know, it’s only global warming. But I like it, I like it, yes I do.

Even went to the beach a few times this fall. Not quite warm enough to get your toes sandy, but still.

DECEMBER

I went for a 160-mile exploratory loop up through western Connecticut (lunched in Kent), where the daytime high hit seventy degrees. In New England. In December. Bad for polar ice caps and Vermont ski resorts. Good for kooks like me (and apparently fly-fishermen, too).

Also celebrated Hanukkah with the help of my trusty Vespa menorah. Always fires up on the first try.

NEW YEAR’S EVE DAY

On the last day of 2015, I road tripped up to Wethersfield, CT to make my airhead an honest woman (she’s been un-plated until now). The DMV’s website indicated that to register any vehicle more than 20 years old in CT required an inspection at the main DMV office. So I rented one of these things for $14.95, and up to the altar we went.

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Turns out no one asked to see the bike or inspect anything. I didn’t care because it was our special day. Here’s our marriage license. Does this mean we’ll be honeymooning in Hawaii?

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And that’s my 2015 on two wheels. Hope yours was equally ridey. Mahalo for reading, Happy New Year, and here’s to another year of interesting rides…

Ich bin ein Luftkopfer

Well, I done did it.

After about a decade of web-surfing, forum-lurking, Craigslist-checking, and general Beemer-fantasizing, I finally did it. I took the plunge and got myself an airhead (luftkopf in German).

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I’ve tried to find the artist to credit this, but his site—punyearthlingwear.com—is shutting down, I’ve emailed the owner, and can’t find hide nor hare of him or her…

For the uninitiated and to be clear, airhead does not refer to a bimbo trophy wife, at least not here. While airheads do inspire a peculiar brand of mid-life obsession and covetousness (much like vintage Porsches or teak-trimmed catboats), they are far less expensive and complicated, and your present wife and kids will still talk to you after you get one.

I mean, how can anyone get upset with you for falling in love with this?

In this case, “airhead” refers to a particular sub-genre of BMW motorcycles known and loved for their two-cylinder engines. Each cylinder head protrudes horizontally from the bike “opposing” its twin, with their contained cylinders punching outward, perpendicular to the bike, kinda like this.

The engine was designed this way so that its cylinder heads—like the rider’s—would have unobstructed views to the oncoming rush of air, which efficiently cools the valves and cylinders, while it simultaneously slow-roasts the rider’s legs and feet.

But shin-warmth aside, the airhead “boxer” engine has proven to be an incredibly durable piece of industrial design. And it bears more than a passing resemblance to another favorite piece of industrial design which also stirs the soul, but in different ways.

BMW produced motorcycles with airhead engines for more than seven decades, from 1923 to 1995. Although (as far as I can tell) the term “airhead” itself seems to be reserved mostly for bikes made from 1969 to 1995, with the legendary 247 motor.

So how did this gearhead come by one?

Well, on an aimless Saturday morning a few months back, I just so happened to check Fairfield County’s Craigslist to see what kind of two-wheeled metal was for sale. I, like many other machine-crazy web-lurkers/searchers/fantacists, have done this at least a thousand times before, partaking in a sort of one-man motorbike variant of fantasy football:

How about a…(insert vintage Japanese enduro single here)
But ya know, I’ve always kinda wanted a…(insert obscure Italian sportbike here)
Hey lookeethat! What’s about a…(insert oddball sidecar hack here)

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During this itninerant fantasizing, I’ve seen maybe one or two bikes of lukewarm interest. But nothing has ever been so tempting that I’ve actually clicked the “email seller” link.

This time was different.

After searching under “vintage BMW motorcycle, the first thing that popped up was an ad posted that very morning. It was for a listing just a few miles south of me. The bike—a 1974 BMW R75/6, 39,000 original miles, second owner—belonged to a guy in Darien, CT who had possessed it for a quarter of a century, and who only rolled it out of his heated, spotless garage for typically-hard Darien duty. You know, stuff like morning runs to Dunkin Donuts for coffee,  or trips down to his boat. (This pattern of abuse was later confirmed when the owner opened the side bags, which were crammed with telltale cardboard coffee trays and brown Dunkins napkins.)

So after some hasty (and probably over-enthusiastic) emailing, I offered to drive down to meet Don, the owner, and check out the bike.

When I pulled in,  Don was kneeling on the freshly-hosed tarmac of his immaculate driveway, a tube of Flitz in one hand, the other polishing the bike’s tailpipe. He was flanked by a shiny Jeep Wrangler and a trailered, well-kept Boston Whaler.  As we bullshitted about bikes, I learned that Don owned multiple Beemers (including several airheads), and was in the process of “toy-shedding”—a close cousin of down-sizing, which often accompanies empty-nesterdom, and the move south to warmer climes. (Don was moving to Florida where his wife, boat, and other bikes were waiting for him.)

Anyway, Don fired her up on the first try, I fetched my helmet from the car, and went airheading for my first time. Within 11 seconds, it was game over. Hook, line and sinker love.

I toodled out onto Mansfield Avenue in Darien, and spooled her up. The bike churned smoothly,  pulled strongly, and rode shockingly well for a 41 year old machine. It was almost comically low to the ground compared to my Super Ténéré, with an equally low center of gravity, giving it the comfort and easy rideability of (dare I say?) a scooter. But with way more mechanical presence and heft.

The whole boxer experience was also fresh and unique. At idle, like at a stop sign, the bike jiggled noticeably side-to-side, shifting its weight and following the momentum of its horizontally-opposed “boxing” cylinders. But roll on the gas, and that sideways mechanical motion was transferred through gearbox and driveshaft to produce hummingly perfect, almost gyroscope-powered forward motion. Riding the airhead was super mechanically involving, from shifting to throttle to brakes, which required considerable effort, but adequately hauled the bike down from speed.

The only noticeable quirk (forewarned by Don) was a touchy, clunky shift into second; but simply preloading the shifter with pressure from your toe made it thunk in smoothly.

So back in Don’s driveway, and after a little gentlemanly bargaining, she was mine. I consider it one of the great deals of my lifetime, as the delight-to-money ration was and is totally off the charts.

Here’s Don, a gentleman, indeed, dropping the bike off at my house the following weekend. How’s that for service?

It took a few weekends to noodle and get aquainted with her, and to decide where she needed some improvements. Here she is on her inaugural third-owner photo shoot:

At Don’s recommendation, I bought a tube of Flitz, and flitzed the shit out of her. On chrome, paint, or bare metal, that stuff worked its magic.

There are one or two minor cosmetic imperfections, which I may (or may not) address over time. First, there’s a noticeable crack in the front fender.

And second, there are a few rusty spots around the battery box.

In both of these instances, and in a very liberating (but uncharacteristic) way for me, I’ve decided to do nothing, and simply not give a shit.

Don delivered the bike with a Clymer’s manual and a milk crate brimming with miscellanea and spare parts, including the original manual and toolkit.

I decided that such a sweet vintage machine deserved an equally sweet tool roll (the original was vinyl and kinda threadbare), so for $35 I commissioned a guy named Randy (via Etsy) to make a replacement. He crushed it, in duck canvas and leather:

(Notice anything else new? Hint: tool tray gasket). The bike also came with its original handpump…

And various bibs and bobs, including extra spark plugs, fuses, bulbs, hoses, fork oil, engine oil, filters…

Oh, and the original Krauser bags, emptied of their coffee detritus.

The one area of obvious, immediate need was tires. They were largely unworn, but pretty dry and crackly.

And while Don had clearly taken care of the bike (he changed all fluids annually and had installed a modern, sealed battery), I still wanted to get a professional “once over” before starting to ride her in earnest.

So I sent her off to Max BMW in Brookfield, CT, where she was admitted into the care of Phil Cheney, one of their resident airhead master mechanics. Ironically, Phil had worked on the bike about 25 years earlier (and had remembered it) when he was a mechanic at Lindner’s Cycle Shop in New Canaan, CT.

Here’s the key chain that came with the bike. How’s that for kismet?

Phil oversaw a minor tip-to-tail overhaul, from new tires (Michelin Pilot Sport Activs) to new stainless steel brake lines to re-routing the clutch cabling, cleaning and adjusting the Bing carbs, replacing the gas lines, adding a few new seals, new plugs, replacing all fluids, and road testing her.

Phil’s post-overhaul recommendation? “Ride the wheels off it.”

Here’s my little black kitten, purring…

Since then, the only thing she’s missing is a marriage license in the form of plates and registration. It turns out that in the great State of Connecticut, any vehicle 20 years old or older is required to be towed or trailered in for inspection at a sole location in the state: Wethersfield, CT. So until this spring (or unless I rent a U-Haul and take a midweek, midwinter run up I-91), she’s relegated to garage queen, with only occasional autumn leg-stretching around the block.

But man, isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she won-der-ful?