From the early 70’s through 1980, I had transitioned from a “dual sport” rider to a strictly Observed Trials competition rider, devoting all of my two-wheeled energy to the esoteric sport of beating a perfectly good motorcycle and its rider against large rocks, trees, deep boulder-strewn creeks and mud. Then in 1980, I developed the first of many auto-immune nerve problems, leaving my right arm extremely weak, nearly paralyzed, and therefore pretty useless for trials riding. Eventually I got some of the strength back in most of the arm, but not enough for serious trials riding and I began to think about returning to the street. “Not riding motorcycles” just wasn’t an option I wanted to consider. I purchased a somewhat derelict 1975 Suzuki 500 Titan two stroke twin and after some restoration, began exploring pavement again. While it was serviceable for the task, it left something to be desired for long distance two-up touring. A friend in Huntington, West Va owned this 1975 BMW painted Nurburg Green (or as a friend later came to call it, “Look At Me Green”) with just 10,000 miles on it. He loaned it to Brenda and me one afternoon for a test ride and when he later offered it for sale, Brenda was quick to take him up on it. Better seat, better shocks, almost no vibration and, perhaps most important, no chain lube stripe up the back of her clothes.

I bought the bike in the spring of 1981, as best I recall, and proceeded to ride it everywhere I went. To work, on evening “hamburger runs” with my son (we lived in Frankfort, Kentucky then and the burger of choice was in Madison, Indiana) and weekend trips. The gentle thrum of the boxer engine just suited me, fit some receptor in my body that made everything seem complete. Sometime that summer, I stopped in the motorcycle shop on Industry Road to pick up my copy of Classic Bike magazine and ran into a guy with another BMW, a Lexington firefighter and one of the early members of what would later become the Bluegrass Beemers. He told me about this group of motorcyclists, mostly BMW riders, who met for breakfast at Frisch’s on Harrodsburg Road every Saturday morning. I showed up one bright morning and met the group of riders with whom I would have breakfast once a week for the next several decades.

By fall of that year, I had decided that a career change was in order and I took the LSAT exam for entry into law school. Of course I rode the green bike to the test that morning and parked it across the street from the test center. When I stuck the key in the fork lock, it snapped off inside. Not exactly the stress free beginning I had in mind for the test.

When school started in the fall of 1982, I rode the green bike to Lexington from Frankfort almost every day, barring ice or deep snow. There was a long covered porch across the front of the law school building where I parked the bike each day. I think some of the professors didn’t like it, but no one ever told me to move it. The ride to and from school each day on scenic Old Frankfort Pike made a pleasant break from the pressures of learning a new profession. Since I was there, either in class or studying, 6 or 7 days per week, at 50 miles per day round trip, the miles began piling up.

Between my first and second years in school, I got a summer job with the Lexington office of of a Louisville law firm, the senior partner of which was Tom Cruise’s grandfather. On one occasion when the senior was in the library with us clerks, I heard him talking about his young grandson who was beginning to make a career in films. “I just wish he’d settle down and make something of himself and give up this actor foolishness” was the gist of the comment. My job included running real estate titles, mostly in surrounding counties, the perfect job for a motorcyclist. Brenda bought me an Eclipse motorcycle briefcase that clipped on to the same three point harness as my tank bag and off I went each day to remote county courthouses all around central Kentucky.

By this time, Brenda’s brother Jay had moved to Georgia with the beginnings of his military career and the green bike made a few trips to visit him there. On one of these, his wife Marimac gave me a large slice of chocolate cake for the trip home, which I placed in the top box. Later when I stopped to enjoy the treat, I found that the oscillation of the top box had disintegrated the cake into its individual component molecules inside. Still good, nonetheless and a lesson in proper packing procedure.

By my second year, my class standing had been high enough to qualify attending a job fair in Atlanta where students could get summer clerkships with firms all around the nation. I settled upon one in Albuquerque NM. In May of 1984, I loaded the bike in the back of my tiny, rusting, Chevy LUV truck and headed west for a two and a half month job. Once there, I found a one room “studio” apartment with a pull out couch for a bed, across the road from the office, and set about figuring out how to maximize motorcycle time while getting my work done.

Law clerks are “interns” who are expected to work all the hours in the day and half the night to get done the tasks assigned, which are basically the things the lawyers don’t want to do. Reading lengthy contracts looking for problem language, researching the law on various issues and writing memos, etc. Weekend work often is expected to get the volume done. I decided that since I was alone out there in the west, I could devote all of my time, except for eating and sleeping, to those tasks 5 days per week and spend my weekends, starting Friday night, traveling as far as I could on the bike, getting home on Sunday night in time for sleep. I had my son’s “backyard” tent and my old Boy Scout sleeping bag for camping. The green bike covered a lot of New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado that summer, spending a fair amount of time on dirt and gravel roads as well as pavement. Over the 4th of July holiday long weekend, Brenda flew out to join me and we toured the southwest for four days, camping in the desert, listening to the coyotes howl in the distance.

Back home, I continued riding to and from school until graduation in 1985. The bike made a post-bar exam trip into the eastern US, and down the Blue Ridge while I tried to get back to some semblance of normal thinking after the long summer of study for the test. There were a couple of trips to visit my parents in Florida. Jay and I continued our habit of one long trip every year, often without a destination selected until the morning we left. On one such trip, we took the Blue Ridge from bottom to top, then, not having anything better in view, turned around and did it again the other way. Once we visited Atlantic City on a wandering trip in the northeast, and left our bikes at the end of the pier in the care of some young boys who promised, for a small fee, to watch out for them while we went off to win our fortune at the casinos. They did their part of that assignment, we didn’t.

A couple of years later I bought another bike and the green one went into semi-retirement for a while. After the infamous “ slime” wreck in Illinois, a few years later, the new one was totaled (for insurance purposes…it lived on, passing through two more members of the breakfast group including a stint in Hawaii ) and the green machine returned to full time duty for a while.

It got a set of tubeless Lester Mag wheels after an incident when Brenda and I, at about 60 mph, picked up a large nail in the rear tire. The resulting sudden deflation caused the tire to come off both sides of the stock spoked rim, leaving me trying to control the bike with the back end now skating inside the no longer attached tire. I used up both lanes of the thankfully empty back road and a bit of the shoulder bringing the thing to a halt still upright. Though I carried a patch kit in those days, the tube was completely shredded requiring us to wait until a friend could bring me a spare tube. I vowed to go with tubeless forevermore.

Other BMW’s came and went over the years, including one of each iteration of the GS series from the R80 to the “camhead”, (except, for some reason, the 1150), several other airheads and now even a sidecar rig. Through it all, the green one has been a constant.

The odometer quit several times, as was common for instruments back in the day. I took it apart and fixed it two or three times, but finally it was beyond help at about 89,000 miles sometime in 1989 or 90. Since then the bike has seen enough use that I’m confident that it has well over 100,000 miles on it. I sent off the instruments for professional repair and now they work and look like new.

In all those miles, it has been extraordinarily reliable, never leaving me stranded anywhere. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t had its quirks and required some maintenance and a few minor roadside fixes. Regular services and my own curiosity about how things work and could possibly be improved, meant that over the years the engine has been out of the frame, the heads and pistons removed and cleaned several times, and nearly every part of the frame and suspension have been disassembled, poked and prodded by my own inexpert hands. The timing chain and rings have been replaced once, not because of any failure, but out of guilt for the long miles. The transmission was replaced after I found a metal chunk stuck to the magnetic drain plug, that proved to be a shift dog that had broken off the central gear shaft. I’d never experienced any shifting problems, but would have if I’d left it alone. Other than those things, it is pretty much as it came to me in 1981. Now a sedate and settled middle age, in it’s early 40’s, has gone through several phases of “finding itself”. It has been a tourer with large Luftmeister fairing, Krauser bags and a top box, it’s been a naked bike and a sort of cafe racer on several occasions, even for a while having “S” bars, rearset pegs and controls. For now it is established with a sporty but practical look, lower bars but not really “cafe”, no fairing and just the saddlebags for touring cred. I was told by my son and grandsons that I cannot part with it, an unnecessary admonition given my long history with the bike, and that it would be passed down among them and their progeny.

Now it has been passed along to my grandsons, 20 and 22 years of age, who have taken up street riding after starting dirt bikes at age three. Their uncle Jay has given them his 1983 R100RT, so we are starting another generation of airhead BMW riders to keep the baton moving forward. I hope it is for them, another long term relationship.

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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