I hate it when I run out of summer.
No matter how many times I try to avoid it, summer’s end sneaks up on me, leaving me feeling like there’s a million things I should have done, 100,000 motorcycle rides I should have taken, a thousand camping trips that got away, with another year’s worth of Hollywood Calendar leaves flying off the screen and into the irredeemable past.
Some things are too important to let go, though.
Finn and I have taken our share of little backroad scratches together — little 40 minute vacations of road schooling, of boy bonding time.
I kept talking to him about ‘a trip’.
It didn’t have to be a long trip.
It would of necessity at least be one with frequent breaks as Finn’s single gets about 60 miles per gallon and struggles to carry a gallon and a half of gas.
But to have a trip you have to have some semblance of a destination, or at least the willingness to head this way over here without one.
I looked at motorcycle races and vintage museums but nothing seemed to fit the bill.
Finn hadn’t done any extended riding on the Interstate, and I really wanted to try and avoid that when possible.
We’d spent a lot of time this summer wrenching on the little Buell, fixing our home’s deck and camping out, but one day a look at the calendar showed about three Saturdays left before Finn headed back to College Park.
It was go or don’t go, so I did something uncharacteristically bold.
I look at the Craigslist Motorcycle for Sale Ads the way some people probably look at porn.
I got started while I was looking for a bike for Finn.
But now I just can’t stop.
The listings are a mechanical menagerie of Thoroughbreds and Mongrels, a museum gallery split between some Constantin Brancusis and seeming random piles of welded rusted chainsaws and drive sprockets.
The constant laugh of surprise, the sigh of newly discovered Moto Lust is endlessly entertaining.
While lately engaged in my demented little hobby, a certain pattern revealed itself to me.
While skipping through the Western Maryland listings, I started to sense a thin veneer of discernment and taste starting to take shape on top of the endless piles of butchered Harleys, wadded dirt bikes, and Things-That-We-Found-In-There, those Things-We-Are-Sure-That-Ran-When-We-Parked-Them.
In Seventy Eight, I think it was.
Anyway, in amongst the debris, there were jewels.
A perfect, low mileage MotoGuzzi Norge, in Of Course It’s Red It’s Italian.
A first year of production Triumph 900 Sprint. Again, perfect. In British Racing Green.
A matched pair of Suzuki VX800s. Perfectly maintained, intelligently modified good runners. Both of them.
An MZ Silver Star, with an OHC 4 Valve Rotax air cooled 500 Single.
A 400 cc Suzuki Bandit. Again, modded, maintained, running, perfect.
There was a Ducati or two, and some other stuff, who can remember?
Is it hot in here or is it just me?
The pictures, though, put it together for me. All the pictures…. deep green treed location, gravel driveway, pole ag-style building … these listings were all the same guy. The same guy was selling all of these cool bikes.
My dumb-butt mode slow thinking big amperage relay slowly bzzzzzted and slammed closed.
“If he’s selling all these bikes…..my God…. What….Is….He…..KEEEEEPING?”
Which brings me back to right where I was doing something uncharacteristically bold.
I responded to one of the ads.
My name is Greg Shamieh, and I have incurable motorcycle illness.
I recognize you as a fellow sufferer. …”
I went on to tell the seller I thought he had great taste in bikes, and that but for Fair-haired Son In College Here, I would likely have already showed up at the bottom of his driveway with my Pickup Truck and A Peachbasket Full of Hundreds.
And I told him — at least I assumed it was a him — about Rolling Physics Problem, and Invited Myself Over.
And then sat by my computer and waited.
The answer didn’t take long.
When I was still in formal schooling, I had a writing teacher who was a retired bigtime Television executive.
Dr. B provided the following guidance, which was completely consistent with his prior employment.
“If you have a grabby opening, the rest will take care of itself. If you don’t have one, the rest doesn’t matter.”
Time and again, that has proved to be Wisdom.
An e-mail popped up in my inbox.
“Hi, my name is Joe, and I am a motorcycle addict. I never get to any of the other steps in the twelve step program, though.”
Looked like we had a classic meeting of the minds.
So Joe and I traded a few e-mails.
I told him straight up I was looking for a destination before Finn went back to school.
Joe seemed to know exactly when that was, which seemed significant, even if I didn’t exactly know why.
And as we talked back and forth, it began to seem like Joe and Finn had some shared tastes. Joe was a member in good standing of of the Four Stroke Singles National Owners Club — Finn was a Buell Blast rider.
Of course, Joe had come by his credentials honestly. He’d even organized a ride known as the Coast-to-Coast Tiddlers Tour (C2CTT) where he and his wife, Carol, had crossed the country and returned (Alive!) on a matched pair of Honda CBR 250s.
Finn, on the other hand, while having a built-in bias for singles — he’s started out wanting to find a nice used Enfield Bullet, or perhaps a Yamaha XT400 — had been signed up for Blast Love by an Old Man who had exhibited an uncharacteristic lack of concern for all of the things folks had told him which generally threw shade at the Harley Sportster-based single. Still, despite the fragility of tune the bike had demonstrated, Finn seemed to have bonded with it anyway.
Then, there was the small matter of stickers.
Joe shared a story with me about his R1100GS, and the minor disagreement it had had with a deer. The deer had demonstrated its displeasure by placing two or three substantial hoof dents in the R1100’s tank. Joe, being a man of practical and somewhat situational frugal bent, decided that form did not affect function, so strategically put some stickers over the worst damage.
The stickers, to Joe’s eye, looked lonesome. So he put a few more on to keep the first ones company. And, like a lot of folks I know, once he got into the habit he just couldn’t help himself.
There is a little of the stock red paint showing on that tank, but one needs to work a little to find some.
And it would be one thing if Joe had stopped when he ran out of R1100 tank. But that was just the jumping off point.
Joe, as you recall, had A LOT of motorcycles. Most, but not all, of them were also festooned with stickers from fantail to bowsprit, windshields, top cases and panniers to boot. I’d even find out that it didn’t stop there, but let me try and move the narrative along here.
Finn, too, had developed a singular need to sticker something — in this case, the carrying case for his Epiphone Firebird Electric Bass. The Firebird is the longest scale electric bass ever mass-produced, and as a result has the longest case of any electric instrument. We’re talking billboard sized, Twin-Towers Drive-In Movie Screen size ridiculous.
If you are going to try and cover such a thing with stickers, Bud, you are really going to have to work at it.
Of course I’d been willing to help out wherever I could. “Shoei”, “Aerostich”, “Vintage Iron Motorcycle Club”, “Ace Cafe” — I was on the hunt for Finn stickers whenever I was on motorcycle walkabout.
What’s the likelihood you know two different guys with the same adhesive obsession?
Not much, I’d wager.
After the exchange of numerous e-mails, we settled on a particular time, and then addressed our kind entreaties to the Gods of Weather that we’d get a nice riding day.
The Gods delivered bigtime for us that Saturday morning.
As Finn and I grabbed coffee and breakfast, we had a clear, crisp spring morning that was wandering around lost in the beginning of August. It was about 67 degrees and sunny in Jefferson, and we’d lose a few degrees as we climbed in altitude while motoring westward.
After finishing my coffee, we geared up and headed for the garage.
Joe’s place is in Little Orleans, Maryland, about 75 miles or so west of Jefferson. Given the rivers and mountains in the way, there are about a million different ways up there and none of them straight. If you think to yourself that this makes it a perfect place to which to ride a motorcycle, you’d be spot on. I’d had more than a few meandering routes up there that quickly expired in the face of Finn’s lack of urgency in getting himself up and ready to go in the morning. Hey, anything that has Finn fully operational before noon probably is urgency, but never mind that.
In the face of our lack of alacrity, I made a necessary adjustment. Whereas Buell Blast Touring is probably best experienced off the Interstate, we’d need to make up for lost time by using Interstate 70 to make quicker work of Frederick and Washington Counties, and then jumping off onto Scenic US Route 40 as we climbed up the ridgelines that separate central and western Maryland.
In about 18 months of street riding, Finn hadn’t had the opportunity for much Interstate Highway point-to-point travel, but there’s a time and place for everything, and this was the time. As I had tried to do with every step in his riding education, I’d try to provide information, guidance and room to learn.
We shared a gas pump and took on a few gallons of high test – Finn his maximum load of about a gallon and a half, and my R90S about five and half, and then diced up Holter Road towards I-70 and the mountains of Western Maryland.
Holter Road is near the top of my list of favorite roads. Holter slices through the Middletown Valley — the land rises on either side of the road as it snakes through the Valley’s center — and with long sightlines and sweeping corners, it’s a wonderful place to warm the sides of one’s tires and see if your ‘A Game’ is going to make an appearance this riding day.
As my R90 and Finn’s Blast made our way north towards the distant ridge, and our route west, it was made apparent to me that my choice of ventilated gear — a set of mesh armored overpants and my Vanson Supermoto jacket, might have been a tad excessively hopeful. Some of the shaded spots along the road were downright chilly — downright weird for Maryland in mid-August. We’d be climbing about 2500 feet in elevation as we worked our way west, which meant I was dressed right for conditions at about 3 pm. Shame it was closer to 10. I’m personally well insulated — I’d tough it out.
Still, between the bright sunshine, the crisp breeze, and overall spookily cool temperatures, its hard to imagine a better start to a riding day. With my son Finn carving crisply on the other end of the string out on the road behind me — the exhaust bark of his big single distinctly audible in the sonic seams of the old boxer’s basso drone — it was hard to think anything other than right now, all was right with the world.
We beat our way from corner to corner up the length of The Valley, first into Middletown, and then following Maryland 17 up to Myersville. 17 has some great corners — a massive colonial property line 90/90 of the largest radius I can recall — where the road goes around a prosperous, modern farm — and lots of tighter more technical stuff as the road runs the ridgeline up the grade towards the Interstate. These old technology motors — big, aircooled cylinders, two valve pushrod overhead valve setups — really love the cool air, and one can tell. One gets denser intake charge, and running cool they rev better. On corner exits both bikes take well to big throttle, booming out, front wheels lightened, making some joyful noise.
As we make the left onto I-70 I indicate a stop. The ramp there is a major entrance, with a wide apron to allow tractor trailers to stop and set a spell. I leave room for Finn to pull to a stop inside me.
“Ok, Dude. I’m going to let you lead. Find whatever speed works for you and The Blast, and I’ll adjust. We’ll be doing this for a little while so you should do what’s comfortable. We ride in a stagger on the Interstate — tighter than on backroads, but still a sensible distance apart. I’ll demonstrate. I’ll run tail gunner and try and keep the Vehicular Aggression Society off your 6.
We’ll take 70 up to Hancock, where we’ll exit onto I-68. As soon as we get up there we’ll exit onto Scenic US 40, which is a total peach of a mountain road.
I got a steely nod, and a visor slapping shut.
After a look over his shoulder, Finn klocked The Blast into gear, and rolled up the ramp, leaving everything behind bathed in sound.
I followed behind, as we rolled though the gears, winding every one out, as we made our way up the giant grade that is 70 West coming out of Myersville.
Working one’s way west in Maryland is an adventure in successive mountain grades. Crossing Frederick, Washington, Allegheny and finally Garrett Counties, one hits ridgeline after ridgeline, climbing continuously as one works one’s way west.
Now I’ll take a brief pause here, to allow my friends who live in the American West to catch their breaths and stop laughing, slain at the thoughts of our 3500 foot ‘mountains’, but if it has switchbacks, and big grades I must climb, it sure seems like mountains to me, OK?
The first one is South Mountain, and it’s what we’re climbing the back of as we work our way up to speed. After a mile or two of steep climb — semis falling back sharply in their climbing lane — Finn and I hit the top and break back into bright, bright sunshine and a breathtaking view down the steep long descent down the other side dropping into Washington County. He adopts about a 67 mile an hour cruise, which is below the power in the bike’s top gear. It’s as unstressed and quiet as the now hot-rodded single can manage. If every bike has a sweet spot where it channels its inner touring bike, this, apparently, is the Blast’s.
We adopt an easy, easy cruise across the county, through Hagerstown, and onto the long shallow 25 mile climb towards Allegheny County and the next set of mountains. Finn quickly demonstrates he’s comfortable out here in slabland, just as he has with every new motorcycle experience we’ve thrown at him.
Or at least as comfortable as the Blast’s rudimental saddle will permit.
It’s a good thing this initial snack size motorcycle trip isn’t some sort of big mile monster. Don’t want too much, too soon — these things take time.
And before I can overthink it, we’re rolling into Hancock, and the I-68 cut off. Just west of town I-68 takes off towards the sky again, as we hit our next Mountain, which is inexplicably called Sideling Hill.
Hill nomenclature notwithstanding, Sideling Hill is a mountain, and a pretty spectacular one at that. Highway engineers, when the Interstate went in, looked at the route they’d have to work with if they wanted to take a big road over it, and came up with an alpine route that covered somewhere between twelve and eighteen miles. So after a thoughtful scratching of the head, they blew the top clean off the mountain, and cut it down to four of the steepest runaway truck ramp filled miles I’ve ever seen on the interstate.
It turned out the inside of the mountain that they removed was some of the prettiest geology you will ever see, which makes losing the mountain almost worth it. The rock cut revealed a massive syncline of mixed sandstones and shales, which looks like a picture of an upside down mountain hidden within the mountain. Its a spectacular, jaw dropping place in and of itself, but that’s not the only reason it speaks to me.
I used to have a riding bud named Paul. Paul, who is riding better roads now, was a rider’s rider, a gentleman’s gentleman, and one of the inexplicably humble men I have ever known. Paul was prone to things like calling out at work because he’d decided to ride to Montana for lunch. Paul’s last motorcycle had a BMW 1,000,000 mile badge, and he lived and rode like that until the week he quit our roads for smoother ones.
Paul, while prone to spontaneity, was also a creature of habit. Whenever he set off on a really big ride, he had a favorite place to start it, and that was to greet the dawn from Sideling Hill. There is a parking lot in the center of the cut, that allows you to see the mountain within the mountain as well as the rising sun. Such a view from such a place places one in the mind of just how small one really is, and gives one a reminder of who’s really running the show.
Its is good to be fully cognizant of one’s insignificance in the universe before the prideful act of vaporizing continents from the saddle of a motorcycle. I have to think of Paul being up there just to make sure his head and his heart were fully in the game.
So I never approach this mountain without a sense of wonder, and of revery, and a sense of being in the presence of the big spirit of my friend.
Interstate 68 was intended to replace US 40 – the Old National Pike – through the Maryland Mountains. The Pike was too steep, and too twisty to enable modern commerce, so the big slab went in to modernize and streamline the route. Just like Route 66 runs in the shadow of Interstate 40, so runs Scenic 40 eclipsed by Interstate 68.
Of course, being Bikers, the very reasons that US 40 was replaced are the very reasons we’d most want to ride it, so at the very first chance to leave the slab Finn and I promptly bailed.
Immediately upon leaving I-68 the whole world slowed. The surface of 40 was deliberately abraded — they get a fair amount of snow up here and traction seemed to be the goal. We were beating our way up the mountain old school, the hard way, with seemingly endless strings of short straights and switchbacks. Except for minding some loose macadam in the bellies of the switchbacks it was a 10/10s rider’s blast.
As we neared the cut at the mountain’s peak, there is really only one way over, so 40 dumped us back on the Interstate, and then took us off again in a mile and a bit on the other side. As Finn and I carved down the back side of Sideling Hill, we had clearly made the leap into Western Maryland — trees were greener, larger and more plentiful, buildings were older, and one could plainly see just looking that the pace of life had slowed down two gears.
The more 40 we did the more that we liked it. It was getting to the point where getting to Joes was almost unwanted.
I’d memorized Joe’s street name and the road that ran to it before we’d left Jefferson. I knew basically where I was going even if I was a little weak on the details. When Orleans Road came up, I took it, and having a choice between a right and a left, predictably, I blew it.
Finn and I found ourselves running a nicely groomed pea-gravel road, running the ridgeline through beautiful, fertile green working farms. When five or six miles up the road I came to a ‘Welcome to Pennsylvania’ sign, my loss in the 50-50 was apparent, so I signaled a stop with my elkskin gloved hand.
“Sorry about that, Snorky. We had a choice between a right and a left, and I shoulda made the left.”
“No problem, Pop. With roads like this and views like this, you can make all the wrong turns you want.”
I love that boy.
As we backtracked in the right direction, Finn indicated he was out of gas. An Exxon station miraculously appeared, and we went big, buying about 4 bucks worth.
Rolling again we came pretty much immediately to Joe’s road. I immediately felt that weird familiarity, realizing I’d been down this road before when my family and friends had camped in an isolated unimproved campground down at the end overlooking a spectacular bend in the river.
We felt our way slowly along the road, until I saw the ‘Gilmore’ on the mailbox. Finn and I turned in, slid up the gravel drive, and killswitched and side standed the bikes in front of the large Pole Building at the end of the drive.
Welcome to Joe’s.
The first time laid eyes on him, I knew I was going to like Joe.
It was kind of like looking in a mirror with dirty glasses — there might be persistent evidence of a few more good porters enjoyed, and a little more beard, heck a little more hair, generally, but it was kind of like encountering a brother you didn’t know you had.
If this was a beauty contest, though, let’s be frank — there’d be no winners. Best either one of us could hope for was Miss Congeniality.
“I’d just about given up on you guys, it’s nearly time to go for a ride…..”
“Sorry Joe. Between being lazy, slow and lost, it just took a lot more time than I’d anticipated.
Can we get the tour of the garage?”
So we stepped inside.
Joe’s Garage is a steel skinned pole constructed building — common enough hereabouts in farm country. But where most pole buildings aspire to be some form of Tractor’s Nirvana, Joe’s was clearly designed with something else in mind. Wrapped with workbenches, equipped with an industrial hydraulic vehicle lift, and back in the dim recesses, a loft — filled with moto luggage, leathers and boxes of spares — that sat just high enough to allow motorcycles to fit underneath.
There were motorcycles everywhere.
When it comes to collecting, some people are specialists.
Joe appeared to have no easily discernible biases or brand loyalties. Joe just liked what Joe liked, and didn’t much care if anybody could hang or not.
For what its worth, what Joe liked tended to be pretty righteous, but let me not get ahead of myself.
As we walked though the door into the shop, the Triumph Sprint I’d seen advertised was sitting immediately inside. This big triple looked to be a fairly early example of the first Hinckley Triumphs — their premanufacturing design consultations with Kawasaki clearly visible — the power unit in this motorcycle was simple, robust, brutal in its appearance. There was no question who they were hoping would buy this motorcycle. It was painted British Racing Green — its cockpit fairing finished off with an endurance racing style twin round headlamp setup — and the ‘Triumph’ script was florid, dangerously close to exaggerated — just a tiniest bit too large. With the exception of some performance exhaust canisters, the bike looked as clean and tidy as the day it rolled off the line.
Snap the bike’s hard cases on, fill up the tank and make that big triple howl until you arrived in, say, Brazil.
I could easily see how, with the proper resources, I’d buy that bike if the opportunity presented itself.
Which, of course is how Joe got all of them, and why this garage was such a supremely dangerous place.
On the other side of the Sprint was a BMW F650 — one of the earliest Rotax-engined examples. Bike with stories to tell and many miles under their wheels have a well used look about them, and this bike had clearly been some places. And maybe a few more places. Dirt, insect bits and road mung spoke of tens of thousands of tough miles.
Indicating in that direction, Joe said, “That one’s Carol’s” referring to his wife and occasional partner in moto-foolery.
“That one does have patina. It took a few shots on a trip Carol and I took out to Montana. I looked out behind me on one corner exit and she wasn’t there anymore.
I turned around and went back and found her where she’d run off, and she’d gone down an embankment. She was a little beat up, but nobody was riding this bike back to Maryland. I made sure she was ok, got her settled and then I just went and rented a truck. Got this bike loaded and figured I might as well load mine too … there was no reason for one of us to drive the truck and the other ride.
Do you know there are three ways you can drop a motorcycle trying to load it into a truck?”
I am not Einstein but I do understand the Universe when it sends me the signs of a story that is just about to turn south and gas it.
“First way is to push it up, run out of momentum and drop it off the ramp on yourself. Second way is to ride it up the ramp, run out of momentum and drop the bike and yourself off the ramp too. Third way is to ride it up the ramp, not run out of momentum, and plant it in the front of the truck.
That’s the way I picked that day.
Somebody that rented the truck before us had been carrying grain, and the entire floor of the truck was covered with dust.. I hit the brakes…. nothing… it made quite the dent.
The Indigenous Nation Constable that took our Police Report clearly had an opinion about the two roadrashed and beat looking visitors to The Nation, but he worked hard to keep it to himself.
It was a very quiet ride back from Montana.”
Working our way deeper into the shop we came upon a brand new, matching pair of Suzuki VanVans. Matching, of course, being one for Joe and another one for Carol. If you have never seen a VanVan, its difficult to know how to describe it to you. Best I can manage is that its sort of the mini-dirtbike equivalent of one of those balloon tired, beach cruiser bicycles. It has a 200 cc four-stroke single motor, hugely oversize balloon tires, the squishyiest, most comfortable-appearing saddle you’ve ever seen off a GoldWing, all wrapped around a half size classic dirtbike chassis.
If there was ever an unthreatening, all round fun playbike — equally comfortable on the beach or in the woods — the VanVan would have to be it.
“I sold a pair of Honda Trail 90s this morning, before you showed up. In the Green Ridge ORV areas, they were fun, but just not enough. These, though, should be fine. haven’t taken ’em out yet, though.”
Joe looked pensive.
“I have sold 10 motorcycles in the last 90 days and I still have toooo many motorcycles.”
On a service lift in front of us, sat a disassembled MZ Silver Star. Something utterly terrible had clearly befallen its final drive — bits of rubber cush drive, a drive sprocket, and aluminium fragments that had formerly been the drive hub were dispersed across a wide area. Clearly when this had gone ‘boom’ it had gone ‘boom’ in a big way.
The Silver Star had an earlier version of the Rotax single than was in the BMW — this was a belt driven overhead cam air-cooled four valver. I’d actually considered this bike for Finn, until I discovered that despite its technological sophistication, a longevity-enhancing detuning had limited this motor to exactly the same 34 horsepower made by the stone axe-vintage motor in the Blast. 34 horsepower is 34 horsepower no matter how you slice it, and if you need to fix your bike, do you want to try and find a Harley Davidson dealer, or an MZ Dealer?
Yeah. Thought so.
Joe and Carol’s matching CBR 250s were next — these were the bikes they’d taken to the West Coast and back on the C2CTT. Both bikes looked well enough prepped to clear racetrack Tech Inspection — spotless with not a drop of anything out of place.
In the back corner of the shop was Joe’s UR-R1100GS, The Deerslayer, alternately known as the Mother Of All Stickers (MOAS). It looked a lot like my R75 — seeps of motor oil and gear oil mixed with rock dust and mud. This was no pretty little girl bike, this was a bike that got used, and got used hard.
I didn’t have the heart to tell Joe about my Internet BMW Riders friend, Brian Curry, who had ridden his K75RT, two-up, through a pair of deer, killing them both and leaving both himself and his passenger uninjured. For this, the imposing 5 foot tall hunnert pounds with his Aerostich on figure of Brian became The Deerslayer.
Since we’re not out of deer yet, I suppose there is room in this universe for two of them.
On another service lift was on of my personal favorites, a Honda Pacific Coast. On first blush the Pacific Coast looks like a K1200LT that someone left in the clothes dryer too long, inducing shrinkage. The basic elements of the motorcycle — the curved front fairing and windshield, the bodywork integrated crash bars, the integrated, aerodynamic side and top cases – all look like they came from the same pen.
What’s under the Honda’s plastic, though, is typical oddball Honda-think.
Underneath the plastic was the first generation water-cooled Honda V-twin — an engine architecture it shared with the Shadow cruisers, the Ascot tracker, and the TransAlp and AfricaTwin dual sports. These engines were offset crankpin twins, that looked like Vs but fired like an 270 degree engine – with dual plugs, three valves per cylinder, and hydraulically adjusted valves. All these engines needed to keep them running was clean oil and gas. In the Pacific Coast, one couldn’t even see the engine. It was a recipe for minimized drama and high levels of reliability.
The single most abused, highest mileage running example of any motorcycle of I am aware of is a Pacific Coast. Its owner, an AdventureRiders board inmate known as Vermin, had taken two-up tour of a lifetime from Detroit to San Diego, with a bike whose running condition looked so marginal at the time that the betting line was running heavily against the bike, known as Cack, even making it to California.
Once there, Vermin flew home, and stored the bike at his in-laws’.
Through machinations lost in the mists of Internet forum time, somehow Vermin ended up lending Cack to another AdventureRider, for another inadvisable and Quixotic journey.
Once home, that Rider then passed the bike and its key to another fresh pilot.
And so the bike ended up being essentially passed from hand to hand, where it became the linked ingredient of multiple long, arduous continent-swallowing rides.
I seem to even remember someone taking the Cack up the Haul Road.
The bike that looked like it would never survive even one adventure, somehow survived them all.
A tupperware wrapped, hatchback clamshell trunk like a Civic, overgrown scooter appearing endurance monster of a motorcycle.
A Honda Pacific Coast.
So yeah, anyone that chooses to have one of these has likely done so because they’re in on the secret. And any time I lay eyes on one it plays all those stories back.
Joe peered into the PC’s plastic innards, and at the mylar and foam wrapped motor that one so rarely even saw.
“I’ve got a carburetor rebuild kit for this — jets, seals and floats — should be great when I’m done. It’s next in line. It’s always something, you know?
It’s why I’m selling bikes. Simplify”
Behind the PC was a flash of red.
It was the MotoGuzzi Norge I’d become so irrationally attracted to.
If an R12RT was sexy, it would be a Norge. Where the RT is hard edged, the Norge is sensually curved. In the middle of it all, there’s that big 90 degree Guzzi twin, wrapped in fairings that let the cylinder heads protrude though. In keeping with the modern Italian habit of big port engine turning, the Norge has exhaust headers the size of your leg, the curvature of which is enough to make one swoon.
Well, it makes me swoon anyway.
If I owned such a bike, with a well-appointed, high-speed capable cockpit, I should likely head straight away to Montana, and therein, according to Joe, lies precisely the problem.
“If you breakdown with this in Missoula, the nearest MotoGuzzi dealer is a looooooooooong way away…”
And like the Beauty Queen who shattered one’s illusions the minute she began to speak, all of a sudden that Guzzi didn’t seem quite so attractive as it had just seconds before.
As we strolled out of the shop back out towards the light, my eye was drawn to what was apparently Joe’s shop beer fridge. Like many objects Joe, this one was enthusiastically stickered. Stickered, in fact almost excessively, even by Joe standards.
As I tried to drink it all in, Joe slid a binder filled with his sticker collection over to Finn and encouraged him to help himself to anything that struck his fancy. Lots did.
“It’s a 1930’s Philco. Found it sitting in an old farmhouse. It was the first ‘fridges sold in America that didn’t have the condenser coils sitting in the big cylinder up on top of the fridge — they’d figured out you could move the condenser to the lower section. This one had an envelope on the back with the bill of sale from the original store that sold it in Hagerstown, delivering it to the family we bought it from via the US Postal Service!
We bought it for nearly nothing, trucked it back here, plugged it in…” said Joe as he opened the door and reached in for a cold one and to offer me one, “…keeps the beer cold. Works good, it was just a little rusty, so stickers.”
One had to admit, stickers.
And the more one looked at the fridge, the more there was to look at. Racy ’40s Pin Up Girls. Politically incorrect sentiments. Motorcycle and motorcycle racing promos from every era and every country. Pictures of a younger Joe, lapping a racetrack at speed. It was like the legendary Chinese porcelline… it just pulled one in with endless unknown and unknowable mysteries.
But any fridge that has a Hunter S. Thompson magnet, containing his wisdom, “I’d hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”, is certainly an OK fridge by me.
As we walked back out into the sunshine, Joe turned to the right, and approached a third garage door that had initially escaped my attention. This door lead into an Amish-built garage — also common hereabouts. There garages are built on a series of 4 x 4 timbers, and are typically installed on a leveled gravel pad by simply sliding them — via the beveled 4 x 4 skids that they sit on — off the back of a flatbed truck trailer right into the position where they will be used. I have a garden shed that is built like this, and I know of at least one independent motorcycle mechanic that has his shop in a larger one.
Joe, apparently, had run out of space in his substantial pole barn, and had had to improvise.
Inside, there was a car — however nice it may have been, we’re not here to talk about cars — and another half-dozen or so motorcycles. As always, Joe’s discernment and good moto-taste were on full display. First, there was a matched pair of Yamaha SRX 600 Super Singles. The matched pair thing, if you havn’t picked up on it by now, is the ultimate Joe Moto-endorsement — bikes that Joe likes, he buys one of, bikes that Joe really likes are bikes that Carol should have one of as well, so Joe buys two. Like any of Joe’s matched pairs, both bikes were in perfect mechanical and cosmetic condition, and looked like the day they rolled off the line.
The Super Single was pretty much the ultimate development of the air-cooled single-powered sport bike. An Overhead cam, 4 valve head with two barrel carburetor driving a narrow steel perimeter frame stopped by triple disk brakes. The SRX was clearly aimed at serious, quirky enthusiasts, because there were very few street motorcycles sold in 1986 that were kickstart only. These bikes were nimble backroad weapons — looking at Joe’s pair it seemed like the typical Yamaha flat-topped racing style tank was no more than 8 inches wide. From the rider’s perspective these machines were almost more like bicycles than the motorcycles I know well — but for going around corners its hard to imagine anything better.
Also in the barn was a pair of Honda NX650 Dominators. Like many things Honda, the NX650 was a true dual sport motorcycle from a period in time — 1988 – 2000 — before most people knew what dual sports were. Made 10 years later, these would have been sales leaders, but in one of those repeating Honda stories, they were so far ahead of their time, that consumers were perplexed instead of amazed.
Joe’s NXs were beaters — clearly used offroad and appropriately dumped in the dirt from time to time. They were mechanically sound but far from pretty.
Joe, Finn and myself made our way back into the driveway and grabbed a set of folding lawn chairs.
As we sat down, Joe grinned and handed me a business card. From Frostburg State University – part of the University Of Maryland System.
Well, that explained why Joe — or perhaps more correctly Dr. Gilmore — knew exactly when Finn’s classes started. Professor Joe knew when classes started because that was exactly how long he had left to ride before he had to go back to work.
I asked Joe how he’d become a College Professor.
And he told me a story about an Administrator from Frostburg calling him to ask if he could cover for a Business Accounting course for which the University had unexpectedly found itself without a professor. Joe had been working as a CPA at the time, but graciously agreed, just to help them out.
Well, to cut to that chase Joe discovered he enjoyed teaching, he liked working with young people, and The Young People and The University seemed to like him, too.
So it just sorta stuck.
“And of course, the ten or eleven weeks to ride every summer isn’t bad either.
This year coming up is my last year. Then it will all be riding time.”
Joe let on that he wasn’t always an academic type. He’d originally been trained as an industrial mechanic — working on heavy equipment like trucks, tractor trailers, forklifts and construction equipment.
Joe had been working for a municipal government down in Texas, and explained a ratings and compensation system that incentivized the drivers of The City’s Garbage Trucks to load their trucks as full as was mechanically possible before they came off their routes to go to the landfill.
Even if that ‘as full as mechanically possible’ was a weight well over the rated capacity of the truck.
If you are the mechanic that gets the call when an axle or suspension of one of those trucks lets go, This Is Not A Good Thing.
Especially since a truck that has had such a failure will not be coming back to the shop under its own power to effect such a repair.
So a younger man who would eventually become Dr. Gilmore found himself, on 100 degree Texas day, underneath a garbage truck with a broken axle, with the lovely and indescribable fluid which emerges from all garbage trucks slowly leaking down around him as he worked. And Potential Dr. Joe, at that juncture, had that most rational and understandable of thoughts.
“There has got to be a better way to make a living than this.”
And there sure as heck was. Joe went back to college, struck a whole bunch of letters behind the name on his business card, and, I surmise, ended up making a materially comfortable living somewhere out there in the Big Friendly World of Corporate Finance.
In my job I work occasionally with emissaries from that Big Friendly World, and I suspect that to this Joe it probably felt a lot like wearing a shirt and tie whose neck was 3/4 of an inch too small.
Then Academia had called, all was right with the world, and Joe ended up exactly where Joe was supposed to be all along.
It really is the Best of All Possible Worlds.
Joe was married to his high school sweetheart, who both shared and tolerated his enthusiasm for any form of moto-adventure.
Joe and Carol had a nearly contractually detailed agreement about Joe’s little enthusiasm and his tendency to invest in it. This agreement, which was of an adult nature and was neither G nor PG Rated is one I shall decline to detail, as this is A Family Show.
One can assume, however, from the nature of that Agreement that Joe never felt in any way constrained from buying any particular motorcycle or a whole buncha motorcycles.
And those motorcycles had taken the two of them from coast to coast, and helped to introduce them to many friend, including me and my son Finn.
Joe spent some time deep in conversation with Finn. Finn, it should be noted, is not the world’s most prolix conversational communicator, but the two of them were humming right along.
Professor Joe wanted to know about Finn’s Architecture Program, and his experience on the campus at College Park.
Just watching the two of them it was clear that Joe was genuinely interested, genuinely empathetic, and an obvious Natural at The Professoring Biz.
I don’t like to sit, generally.
I make a strategic exception for the saddle of my motorcycle, but otherwise, I don’ t like to sit.
So after a few minutes in the lawn chair I got antsy, and started to walk around.
In between the doors to the pole building, was a vintage gasoline pump.
“Roar With Gilmore — Blu-Green Gasoline!”
“Ethel — contains Tetraethyl Lead”
I was also admiring a perfect Honda 650 Hawk GT that sat right in front of it.
“So you like the pump, eh?,” asked Joe. “A friend found that for me. I think they went out of business in the 40s. I had stickers made up, though.”
And so he had — both Hawks — another perfect matched set — had ‘Roar with Gilmore’ decorating their tails.
“These Hawks are perfect, Joe. I test rode one during a special program Honda ran when they were new — its was a little razor — it went wherever you thought it should.”
“We do like ’em. We’re taking ’em for a ride later, after you guys head home.”
“Well I don’t want to hold you up any longer, man. It is way too nice a day to burn talking to me when you should be ridin’. I sure had fun, though.”
Finn and I shook hands with Joe, geared back up, waved and slid back down the gravel drive. It was a perfect day for a ride and we were really in no hurry to get back home.
US Scenic 40 East heads towards home, so we took US Scenic 40 West.
The pines of this forest were larger here, and the road, as it wound its way toward Town Hill, grew more shaded and cooler are we worked our way higher. The road was the treat of a road that I remembered from my first big ride to New Mexico — with switchback after switchback and huge grades and sweepers. With one eye on my rearviews it was fun to watch Finn attacking these corners.
I was definitely not the only one that was having fun.
After running about a dozen miles west, we took a loop of side roads that brought us back out on Scenic 40, where we reluctantly turned our wheels east.
The road over Town Hill was just as much fun going east as it had been going west, so it was all good.
Finn and I worked out way back down one mountain, and then up and down the other, grabbing a much needed sandwich when we worked our way back to Hancock.
Coming back out of Hancock one gets dumped onto I-70 for two exits, before Scenic 40 splits off again. Finn and I left the highway there, never to return.
The rest of the ride home was a string of little Western Maryland towns, strung along the Old National Road as they were. We were never over 60 for very long, and then would gently troll into another little town — gas station, library, market, cafe, Post Office — and then back onto the open road between them again.
Too soon, came South Mountain, Middletown, and a view of the ride towards home. Finn and I took a slight scenic detour, cutting back across the Valley on Picnic Woods and then Gapland Roads — trying to stretch this ride out for a few more perfect corners, tires biting, front wheels lightening up on corner exits. Try as we did to avoid it, too soon we were home, listening to the overwhelming sound of no motorcycle engines, pantomiming being stiff as we dismounted and placed our bikes on the stands.
There’s a world of future where there will be other rides, other bike and other trips.
But today with a new fellow traveller, a son I love and of whom I’m proud, and a most beautiful riding day, this ride to Joe’s was a little jewel that I knew I would always hold.