I’ve been riding motorcycles for almost 50 years. I bought my first bike, a little Yamaha RD350 two-stroke, in 1973. I really wanted a BMW 750cc model, but my father wisely advised that, since I had no experience of riding, maybe I wouldn’t like it. Nah! But it was good advice all the same, because I discovered that you fall down a bit with your first bike—first rainy day, first wet manhole cover, first experience sliding down the road with the bike tumbling on ahead, showering sparks. But I persevered and did buy that BMW R75/5 the following year. I’ve been a fan of big, heavy, powerful motorcycles ever since. Usually in black, if I can get it.

Sometimes I go off motorcycles entirely. Sell the bike or bikes in hand and vow to drive a car forever more. At the time, it usually feels as if I have acquired too many tachyons, like the starship Enterprise—or too many near-misses and unrealized bad luck—and need to equilibrate to a less scintillating state. Once I sold my motorcycle thinking it would be not all that different, except cheaper and probably healthier, to try commuting on a bicycle. I hadn’t been on a bicycle since the sixth grade, of course. I got out in city traffic and discovered that I had zero acceleration (except what I could pump into that chain with my own two feet), zero braking power (two little rubber erasers gripping the wheel rims!), and zero mass (well, maybe twenty pounds of pipe and sprockets) under me to stabilize the ride. The bicycle lasted about a week.

Sometimes, instead of going off bikes for a couple of years, I flip the other way and own two motorcycles at once. Some people find this strange. But look, I know where in the Bible it says I can only have one woman—and she was a darn good one, too—but I don’t see where it talks about only one motorcycle. Usually, the decision is based on having a combination of engine types and riding positions. But so far with me, as with the Sith, there are only two at any one time.

Over the years, I’ve owned more than a dozen of the big motorcycles. As Col. T. E. Lawrence favored the Brough Superior marque, I favor BMWs for their reliability, good engineering, and maintenance-free shaft drives. My stable has had fourrteen of the German beasts, including seven of the two-cylinder, air- and oil-cooled R bikes and eight of the four-cylinder, water-cooled K bikes. Lately I’ve taken an interest in Harleys. “Why?” my BMW friends ask in horror. “Well, because …” I reply. Because they are big and stable, well constructed if not exactly a modern design, and made in America. The native Harley is not all that powerful. I’ve had two of them, starting with an air-cooled Dyna in which I immediately installed the 103-cubic-inch engine, to get the power up to about 75 horses. Then I discovered the V-Rod, which has a more traditional V-twin engine—with the pistons on separate cranks, instead of sharing a single crank like a rotary engine—as well as being water cooled and fuel injected. All of this brings the V-Rod up to the output and powerband of a European motorcycle. But the Harleys have been more of a flirtation than a love affair. My heart still belongs to the blau-mit-weiss roundel.

2020 BMW K1600GT

BMW K1600GT (2020)

I had an earlier version of this model and sold it in the emotional turmoil following my wife's death. I’ve always regretted that decision and this year decided to go back to the K bikes. This one is virtually identical, except for some cosmetic touches and two big advantages: reverse assist, which lets you guide this heavy machine backward out of tight spots; and hill start assist, which locks the rear brake on an incline and keeps it from rolling backward. Both are needed improvements over the earlier model. But, like that one, this motorcycle moves with the speed of thought and accelerates and rides like a starship.

2020 BMW R1250RS

BMW R1250R (2020)

As noted above, sometimes I own two bikes at once, usually a mix of two cylinders and four or in this case six. Each bike has its own riding style and effects, making it a different riding experience. To pair with the big K, which is an ultra-smooth touring bike, I have chosen this R1250R, which is from the same model year. This bike has the Shift Cam engine, which I experienced and found impressive on the recent RS model—much more eager and powerful than the previous version. This bike fills the same niche as my first two-cylinder BMW, the R75/5, except that every bit of technology has been improved and brought up to date. You can go home again, except that the place has been completely remodeled with all modern conveniences.

Honor Roll

BMWs

R75/5, 1974-76

R100, 1981-84

K100RS, 1984-85

K100, 1987-95

R100GS, 1989-90

K1200RS, 2002-04

K1200R, 2006-07

K1200GT, 2007-08

K1200S, 2008-13

R1100S, 2008-09

R1200R, 2013-16

K1300S, 2014-16

K1600GT, 2016-17

R1200Rwc, 2018-19

R1250RS, 2019-20

Harley-Davidsons

Dyna FXD, 2008-10

V-Rod Muscle, 2011-12

Yamaha

RD350, 1973-74