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last ride of the season -?



The weather prognosticators are predicting significant drops in temperature and increases in that frozen water thing Montana likes to do to us. Meanwhile, my new-to-me 2009 BMW R1200RS-P (patrol or police model) bike has way-too-few me miles on it.

Thursday I pushed all my ‘get the estate ready for winter’ chores aside to grab what may turn out to be my last highway munching ride of the season. The Iron Butt (long distance motorcyclist) guys may snicker, but 160 miles was way better than spending all winter wishing I had taken it out one more time.

The roads were excellent, the patrol bike was a great pleasure to ride, the weather suited my clothes perfectly and the scenery was gorgeous. I coulda skipped the bug splatter on my visor around the Salmon River, but it was in all other ways too close to perfect for me to complain.

The prior owner put a Yoshimura exhaust system on it that purrs like a kitten while I’m cruising, but has a real nice growl when I ask for ponies. That almost begs me to name it LEO. Double appropriate for a police-spec BMW.

Gosh, overtaking cagers along the kinky part of Highway 93 is so easy… Simply THINKING or WILLING the action seems to deliver it… well, there is this little thing I do with my right wrist, and sometimes invoke the left foot. (motorcycle jockey translator: cager = driver of enclosed vehicle / right wrist = throttle / left foot = gear shifter) Acceleration is brisk, smooth and effortless; Cornering is graceful, comfortable and far better than all but the finest sports cars can handle; exposure time spent while overtaking is a fraction of what a big, wide cage requires; fuel economy is night-and-day better than autos … for a gear-head, this is the ultimate refined way to travel.

I am still on the honeymoon with this bike. It doesn’t appear that I will be into that ‘comfortable together’ phase until next Spring/Summer.

I did wear my tires closer to the shoulder on this trip than I had before. You might be able to see the scuffing of the rubber where it has worked hanging on to the pavement in corners. On closer inspection you might see the lines and shoulder below them where the Michelin tires deliver their maximum cornering limits. I do not ride near that.

It is nice to know there is a huge margin left if I need it … and if I am able to request the Michelin Road 5s to deliver. I am not really interested in getting to those edges, but I want to be able to trust the gear and lean-in if the situation requires I tighten up the turn.

Speaking of confidence inspiring, the braking system is almost dazzling. A quick squeeze on the brake lever drops prodigious speed almost instantly. BMW even figured out how to do this safely while leaning deep into a corner. I have not tested that feature, but it is great to know it is there.

The first motorcycle I ever bought was a 3-year-old 1972 BSA 650cc Thunderbolt. It was a wonderful bike, felt extremely agile, lent itself well for “cafe’ racer modifications”, and was the perfect motorcycle for Ted, the budding young biker dude.

At 485 pounds plus rider, those old-school drum brakes would be considered totally inadequate by today’s standards for anything other than a small in-town scooter. I extracted everything that bike could give … even asking a bit more than that, which is why I ended up selling that lovely motorcycle.

I joined up with a dozen British bike enthusiasts who flogged their machines on winding river roads, mountain roads and northern California coastal Highway 1. With the least horsepower and riding experience of the group, I was happy to tag along at the back of the pack, enjoying the rides, routes, adventures and learning from their accumulated experience. We were the Sonoma County version of Britain’s Ton Up Boys. My BSA and I grew faster and more capable together until we were in the lead on every twisty-road trip.

I tested myself intermittently from then to now, but had to wait 47 years before I finally matured enough to leave margins for unforeseeable hazards around the next bend… at least I seem to be that grown up so far. Coupled with the amazing technological advances in acceleration, road-holding and braking I suspect there are many miles and smiles in my future astride LEO.