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 seventeen of the German beasts, including eight of the opposed two-cylinder, air- and oil-cooled R bikes and nine of the in-line four- or six-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 an aircraft 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 R1250RS

BMW R1250R (2020)

The current bike fills the same model niche as my first two-cylinder BMW, the R75/5 in 1974, 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. The "1250" in the model designation is the engine size in cubic centimeters. The first "R" refers to the two-cylinder opposed engine, commonly called a "Boxer" because of the way the push rods of move around each other on the shaft. The final "R" designates an unfaired, open-road motorcycle, rather than a touring machine or an off-road "adventure" bike. This model, like all the current 1250s, has variable valve timing for more power at lower engine speeds. Again, all up-to-date and a vast improvement over the motorcycles of the early 1970s. And being powerful yet light in weight, easy to handle because of the shorter wheelbase and wider handlebars, and nimble on city streets and mountain roads, it really flies.

 

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

K1600GT, 2020-21

Harley-Davidsons

Dyna FXD, 2008-10

V-Rod Muscle, 2011-12

Yamaha

RD350, 1973-74