Faith

 

Not all of my bikes have named themselves, but a few have:

1973 CB500 – Lucille
1992 Seca II – Cricket
1992 K100RS – Cicada
1997 K1100RS – Grak
2012 Super Glide Custom – Dahlia

Whether a bike has a name is not related to whether I especially like it; take, for example, the 1997 1200 Bandit – one of my most favorite bikes ever, but it never chose a name. See also the damnable K100RS. That bike and I fought tooth and nail from Day One, but she named herself almost immediately.  It is still a mystery to me how I completed my Bun Burner Gold astride it. I suppose I should chalk that success up to the Russell Day Long Saddle and call it good.

My beloved FZ1 never chose a name and had some gender identity issues. The FJ09, same.

The FJ and I had a bumpy start in large part due to the absolute crap stock tires. Many times now, I’ve said those tires were like having sex with 4 condoms on: You know something is going on down there, but you’ve got no real idea what. I couldn’t stick securely to the pavement, let alone feel what road conditions were like.

Having spent quite a few years on the phenomenal Pilot Road and Pilot Power series, this was extremely unsettling and I didn’t trust the grip. That, coupled with the extremely sensitive fly-by-wire throttle, coupled further with the almost-too-tall saddle height, and it was a recipe for unease. The upright seating position was super weird for me, too, and even the bars and grips fought me – both hands became very numb after about 15-20 minutes for the first several weeks I rode. The saddle is like a plank, but it’s comfortable for a good 4-5 hours before my behind really starts getting antsy.

It was not, shall we say, “love at first sight.” However, I’d done my research, and I sensed its potential, so I signed the papers a few days before Chuck, Lorraine, and I left for our Gerlach, NV trip. Do I regret that decision now? Maybe. However, finances aside, the FJ did a great job prepping me for the GS – had I leapt directly from the FZ to the GS, I might have been wholly unprepared.

Still a damn fine platform.

Eventually, the FJ and I reached a state of reasonable detente: I loved its performance, but disliked a small but significant number of items. Then, about 10,000 miles in, I replaced the stock Sportmax tires with my preferred PR 4’s, and holy wow, what a difference. The whole way home from the dealership after having them mounted, I was wondering, “what the hell is that feeling?” Most of the way home, I realized, “Oh – that’s The Road, the thing I’ve been missing for 10k miles.”

My confidence soared, my cornering improved, and I was able to keep up with some of my favorite riding partners. Finally. It was like remembering how to ride after having been in a six-month haze.

Despite this much-improved situation, the FJ was (and is) limited to the pavement for all intents and purposes. She does not much care for dirt, much less gravel or mud or large bumps. My eye began to wander, and my BMW Owners Club of San Diego cohorts were only too happy to begin selling me on a BMW R1200GS as The Perfect Mount.

I’d estimate 80% of this club rides a GS. I don’t like “fitting in” and doing what all the cool kids are doing, so I wasn’t initially at all interested in saddling up to look like everyone else. However. Years ago, I learned that sometimes, when something is really popular, it’s not just trendy – sometimes, it’s actually an amazing product.

I resisted, and hard. The last (and only) time I rode a GS was back in 1999, and I found it far too tall, too heavy, and entirely “meh.” I was a sport-touring rider – I wanted a sportbike, and the GS was most definitely not that. Not then. My K1100RS and I were perfectly happy together.

When I began riding with this club, there was a guy on a red Ducati for the first few rides. I remember thinking, “this guy is kind of slow, maybe next time I’ll pop in front of him in line.”

On the next ride, Red Ducati Guy (whose actual name is Phil, now one of my most favorite people around) showed up on his R1200GS and absolutely killed it. I couldn’t have kept up with him if I tried. My mind was blown – what in the actual hell? The GS was bigger, heavier, had ADV tires on it, and seemed an unlikely candidate for that kind of performance.

Boy howdy, was I ever misinformed.

Damn near everyone in this club who is at the front of the pack rides a GS, and there are several metric honkloads of reasons why, all of which can be summed up thusly: They’re fucking amazing. In every way.

They are also, of course, somewhat spendy for the newer models. I still wasn’t ready to entertain it as a bike for me.

Fast-forward several months, during which time my friends were exceptionally… “helpful”… in guiding me toward a GS. Phil was especially relentless – it seemed like not 10 minutes went by without a reminder.

All this talking got me to the point where I was willing to at least give one a test ride. Our former club President, Edward, conveniently works at the local BMW shop. I went in looking for a lowered GS, thinking that would probably be the only model I could conceivably keep afloat. Edward, a master salesman, calmly helped me to realize that a standard GS with the seat in the low position would probably be workable.

And it was.

Off I went on a test ride – standard GS, low seat position. After about 45 minutes in rush-hour traffic, I headed back to the barn: Everyone was right. The GS is a superlative platform, and I was pretty comfortable on the standard version. Edward, bless his soul, gets a fair share of the credit for winning me over.

The bike that started it all: The first modern-era GS I’d ridden. Standard height, low saddle.

That price tag, though. It was north of $15k, which was about $5k more than I ideally wanted to spend. I told him I’d have to think on it and do some math.

The following weekend, Phil & Mike Mc. helpfully escorted me up to the other local-ish BMW shop in Escondido, where they had not one, not two, but four lowered GS’s on the premises. I immediately found the one I liked best – a 2016 Triple Black with 5500 miles, crash bars, heated grips, and other assorted fineries. Phil led me on a supremely fun test ride that lasted perhaps a half hour. My feet look flat-footed when I’m on this bike, but in truth they’re not quite all the way down. My boot soles may be fully on the ground, by my heel inside the boot is about a half-inch off the insole. Still, I am reasonably stable.

This bike had so many enticing features in addition to the above: Cruise control, spoked wheels, dark smoke screen, newer ADV-type tires, hard bags (which will soon be swapped out with my existing Givis,)

That was the bike. That was the one. It was also $18k – no way. Rudy, the excellent sales guy I was working with, ran some numbers on financing with me, and they just weren’t appealing at all. I told him I had to pass, waved goodbye to that bike (which would surely be snapped up immediately after I left,) and went on about my life.

Mostly.

Visions of that bike literally kept me awake at night. It haunted me. I couldn’t fall asleep. If I woke up in the middle of the night, my brain immediately latched right back onto it. NO, I kept telling myself – you’re in enough financial hot water as it stands, missy, let’s not compound matters. Ok? Ok.

Phil seized upon this bike almost as much as I did. When I got home, this was waiting for me:

He was relentless, spamming me with memes of his dogs (truly, the lowest of the low:)

Greg was also an enthusiastic contributor, dropping helpful links on my Facebook wall for me to consider.

A week went by, and the bike had not sold. I remained resolute – it just wasn’t meant to be.

I received a very nice tax return that would’ve covered half the bike. NOPE, pay down credit cards. Ok, pay down the cards and buy some farkles for the FJ.

Shortly thereafter, I got a modest raise at work that would cover the payment almost exactly. Shit. Nope, nope, nope – pay down the credit cards!

I would check the website daily… maybe a few times daily… to see if it had sold. Nope, still there.

Then, last Saturday morning, I woke up and they had dropped the price by $1,000. It was a fairly miserable, rainy day and no one in the club wanted to ride after breakfast save David. He was amenable to riding up to the dealership via back roads to see what was up with the bike.

Up we went. I don’t like riding in the rain, especially out here where the roads don’t get rained on very often. The oil and other build-up on the pavement is treacherous, not to mention all the detritus on the road from the adjacent landscape: Sand, mud, rocks, you name it.

We arrived, and there she was. I said hello and looked her over before going to find Rudy. “If you can do $16k out the door, I’ll buy it right now,” was my initial offer. He chuckled a bit and started working numbers.

Soon thereafter, Phil wandered in, an expectant grin on his face. He was there to get an intercom system installed on his wife’s helmet, but he was pretty excited about this new bike prospect, too.

Rudy was able to drop the price down to $16,250 – nice. However, that left a nasty sales tax and registration fee to deal with. Out the door, about $17,600. Whuff.

I had to think long and hard about this.

As I was contemplating, Scott R. showed up. Then Tony C. I felt like the club was crawling out of the woodwork to bear witness.

After talking with my bank, getting Rudy to match their interest rate, and a lot of hand-wringing… I took the leap.

I signed the papers.

I now own a drop-dead gorgeous, practically new, factory-lowered 2016 R1200GS Triple Black.

Phil might have been almost as thrilled about this as I am – that grin lit up the surrounding six counties. Pictured below, a trace of that grin as he looks upon his GS, my GS, and Gary A.’s GS, all in a pretty row at Cameron Corners.

Putting a grin on Phil’s face was almost as much fun as getting the bike.

After receiving many high-fives and congratulations, I mounted up and Dave led me home. I had asked him to take it easy, given the solid rain going on. As it turns out, that wasn’t even remotely necessary – the bike didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary and just stuck smoothly to the road. Two-thirds of the way back, I told Dave I didn’t want to stop riding.

Here’s the email I wrote when I got home:

The end of one era, the beginning of another
erin darling
Mar 10 
to BMW Chatter

A girl can only hold out for so long when the universe jumps up and down trying to get her attention.

That I lasted as long as I did is a minor miracle, but as of about noon today, I capitulated and bought the triple black GS, much to the delight of all parties present. It started out with only Dave and me, but then out of the woodwork there suddenly was Phil. And then Scott R. And then Tony C.

Many grins, many high-fives. Phil now has to find something else to torment me with – I am confident it will take him about 8 nanoseconds to come up with something utterly demonic.

This bike, though.

She.

Is.

So.

Fucking.

PERFECT.

I didn’t want to go home, despite the persistent and often enthusiastic rain: I’m not sure the bike even realized the roads were wet. A kazillion raindrops needling into my face couldn’t put a dent in my grin.

Today, Derek rode the FZ1 to Gio’s and I handed over the last of the paperwork – she’s gone. Goodbye, dearest heart – you were loved desperately. That era is over for me.

Tomorrow, as we say goodbye to Gio’s and close out yet another chapter, I’ll introduce you to my hot new bride as we embark on our honeymoon. It’ll be a long ride day for me – I’ll start with you guys, do that up, and then head out for whatever distant destination beckons (company welcome, of course.)

Thanks for all the advice, encouragement, and even the harassment – my stubborn side doesn’t let peer pressure get to me, but I couldn’t stand all the arrows pointing more and more brightly to this bike.

When I inevitably drop it and can’t pick it up, I will perhaps have a moment’s regret, but then in a bit I’ll be underway and grinning again (unbroken body parts allowing.)

The next morning, I was One of Us. Below, Tony C., with Edward (who is still speaking to me, even) in the background.

It’s a little uncomfortable, frankly, to be riding the same bike most other people are also riding, but I Get It Now. It’s silly to avoid something amazing just to avoid being one of the herd. Some things (oxygen, water, and GS’s) are worth a little herd-hanging.

Phil has already found his next thing to torment me with:

That is Phil’s Ducati. There is an approximately 0% chance of me buying one anytime soon, if ever. NO, REALLY.

Sunday’s ride involved a lot of still-damp pavement, but the bike did not notice or care. I’m not used to ADV-type tires that are designed for on- and off-road use. The tires currently mounted are not aggressive dirt tires at all, but they’re less sporty than I’m accustomed to, and I was initially quite concerned about that.

As we set out, I kept thinking, “I can’t really feel the road,” and the bike kept saying, “let me worry about the road – you just settle in and enjoy the ride. Get used to the shift assist, take in the scenery. I’ve got this.” And so she did.

It is an exercise in trust for us both: She says, “I’m trusting you to use the clutch sometimes, and also not to wrap us around a tree. You can trust me to do the rest. I promise.”

“I’m going to tip you over at some point, you realize… I’m… I’m sorry in advance.”
“Tipping over is okay – let’s just make sure that’s the worst that happens.”

My lack of concern about the lack of pavement sensation was in itself disconcerting, but I quickly got used to it. There is a very noticeable pull toward the outside of the curve at speed – I can definitely feel the low center of gravity pulling down and outside. However, it feels like something that will be easily predictable once I get used to it – it seems like a constant increase in pull related to speed and weight, not a variable one based on whatever.

There was only one vanishingly brief moment on the ride where I felt a little concern – on a road I’d not been on previously, I went into a turn that was sharper than it initially appeared to be and the pavement was seriously uneven. I heeled over, hit a few bumps, felt the rear end slip juuuuust a touch, and then everything was fine and smooth again. A non-event. On the FJ, that might have been Much Badness due to the wallowing after hitting a bump mid-curve.

Those western bits on Highland Valley Road where there are Significant Pavement Anomalies mid-curve? The ones I was always astounded no one seemed to care about? The ones that nearly threw me off the road? Non-issues.

The bike has a feature I initially held in a bit of contempt: “Shift Assist Pro.” This essentially renders the clutch irrelevant for 80-90% of all shifts, and a lot of the club members rave about it. I’ve been using clutches on vehicles since 1985 – “Oh no,” I thought, “having to pull a lever once in awhile – how terrible.” The thing is, though, being able to be lazy (which isn’t all bad in this case) isn’t the only perk; it’s also safer with the assistance. Upshifting takes a fraction of a second and makes acceleration smoother and faster. The real glory, however, is downshifting – especially in a curve, if necessary. Granted, with shift assist downshifting, the throttle should ideally be fully closed, which isn’t where one typically wants to be in a curve (if you’ve got the throttle closed and you’re still going too fast, you’ve made a mistake in judgment of speed and gear selection,) but even with the throttle mostly closed, it’s a really fast, buttery-smooth event that doesn’t fuck with one’s line very much. No wallowing.

I was not ready to be done when the group was, so I hit the 15 and headed back up north to meet with a friend who had recently picked up a bike himself. We cruised over to Borrego Springs at a leisurely pace, enjoying the views along Montezuma. At one point, I had to pull over to the side to let my friend catch up, and in so doing, allllmost dropped it to the right. I caught enough traction and strength to keep her from going over at the last possible second. There is most definitely a lean-angle “Rubicon” point on this machine, and I’m sure I’ll find it sooner rather than later. Thank goodness for the crash bars.

This is the nicest, best-appointed bike I have ever owned. Yesterday, Thursday, I took a couple-few-hour trip around our usual routes. Temperatures varied from 64 down to 49, and on other bikes, numbers south of 62 tend to get me pretty chilled without warm gloves and a down liner in my jacket.

As I was getting a tiny bit chilly, I had a Matrix/”I know kung-fu” moment:

Only it’s:

The upper forties required neither my super-warm-even-when-not-plugged-in Widder gloves nor my down liner. It was glorious. On the freeway home, another epiphany:

So this is what having a modern bike is like! Bells! Whistles!! Hand relief! TECHNOLOGY!!

In short, I am bonding with this bike really well. There are moments when I feel like a modern-day cowboy with a beloved horse. I liken Ducatis to Arabian stallions: They are high-strung, expensive, twitchy, and will buck you off if you’re not paying attention. The FJ was nowhere near that level of finicky, but I’d place her at maybe half-Arabian gelding when in “standard” mode. “Standard” is performance-with-manners-oriented. In “aggressive” mode, which I seldom use, it might get bumped up to full-Arabian gelding. Mode A is “holy-shit-hold-on-and-hope.”

The GS? Thoroughbred. Pure elegance, exquisite smoothness underway, a bit on the large side, but capable of doing pretty much anything. It is not a barrel racer, but it is insanely fast and agile for its size and weight. It is not a carriage-pulling Draft Horse, but it has significant low-end power. I’ll keep her in “rain” mode for a bit to get used to all the things, and then we’ll start having some real fun.

What I lack in height I also lack in upper-body strength: I learned yesterday that I cannot get her up on the centerstand, or at least haven’t yet figured out how – even with the suspension on HARD, it’s a non-starter with my lousy back. Given I don’t have a chain to lube (WOOOOO!!) that won’t be a frequent problem, per se, but I would like to be able to throw her up there as needed. I’ll figure it out, likely by putting it onto “two-up with luggage” mode.

Further, what I lack in self-restraint I also lack in common sense: I am not known for my good financial decisions (case in point, this one right here.) I’m a “leap now, look later” sort of person. I have faith things will somehow, some way, work out and that I’ll be ok.

Buying this bike is a leap of faith that I’ll land on my feet. It’s a leap that I’ll develop the skills to keep it upright under emergency conditions if I don’t already have them. It’s a leap, much like entering a blind curve – we trust it’ll be fine, and if it’s not, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Ah, yes – A kazillion words later, I’ve remembered my original point: Names. We’ve tried a few names on for size, bandying them back and forth between us (I know I’m insane, no need to point it out.) She suggested “Sue” at one point, to which I immediately issued a peremptory challenge. No thank you, please.

There are two strong contenders – one more meaningful than the other (but also far less interesting.) Both are very appropriate. We’ll see which she chooses soon.

 

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