Of Green Slime, Old-School Dealerships and The Resilience of BMW Motorcycles

(A story from back in the days when BMW motorcycle dealers were small, often one-man operations, there were no cell phones or GPS navigation systems on motorcycles and we were young enough to camp and still get up off the ground in the morning.)

In the spring of 1987, my brother-in-law, Jay had just come back from service in Germany and was stationed with the Army in Chicago. I left my home in Lexington, Kentucky after work on Friday, camped somewhere in Indiana along the way and on Saturday, Jay, on his BMW R65, and I, on my 1979 BMW R100RT, met on the road in Illinois with the idea of making a week’s trip into the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. We camped that night in southern Illinois. Before dawn the next morning we broke camp in a pouring rain (in other words, normal conditions for us on a bike trip) and headed west.

Picnic table selfie of solo camp on Friday night, the last photo of the uncrashed R100RT

About the time the sun was coming up, we were on a two lane road, still in a light rain, at about 55 mph, when suddenly I felt the bike wobble and then I was down instantly, sliding on my back with the bike on its left side careening in front of me. The slide went on for what seemed like forever, long enough that I could actually think about what was happening and which way the bike and I were headed. I saw the motorcycle going toward a raised triangle of pavement that split an intersection and had a 4×4 post in the center holding a stop sign. I remember thinking, “don’t do it, don’t do it….aww, damn !” Still sledding along on my back, I watched as the bike hit the raised portion, stood up on its wheels just long enough to hit the post with the fairing and crash bar on the left and then flop over on the right side. My human-toboggan impersonation finally ended and I tried to get up but kept slipping, as if actually on ice.

Behind me, Jay had fallen also. He said he saw my bike wobble and as he was thinking, “why is he doing that?” he was down and sliding behind his bike, hoping it wouldn’t hit the same thing mine did (or me). Both of us had a hard time keeping our footing in trying to get the bikes upright because there was some sort of greenish slime all over the road, much like soap on a tile floor. (Years later, on another country road, I saw a big farm tractor bouncing along, holding a huge round translucent tank of what must have been a fertilizer or pesticide on its front loader, splashing greenish stuff out the top, going all over the road with each bounce. Not a problem so much, if it isn’t mixed with a bunch of rainwater, I guess)

Jay and his bike were unharmed, and I was uninjured, though my rainsuit had a tiny hole in one shoulder, a tribute to the extreme slipperiness of the green stuff. My R100RT had sustained some damage, all from the impact with the raised triangle of asphalt and the smacking against the 4×4 post. The left valve cover was leaking oil from a crack caused by the crash bars which were bent back over the cylinder. I put some duct tape over the crack to keep the worst of the leak contained.

It was a Sunday morning, in the “middle of nowhere” as the cliche goes. Using the handy BMWMOA Anonymous book, we found that there was a BMW motorcycle dealer in a town not too far away, but of course it was closed. Hoping for some contact, I called the number in the book from a pay phone (no cells in those days) and the owner of the dealership answered at his home. After hearing our story, he came down to the shop, still wearing his pajama pants, opened up the doors for us to bring my bike inside, made coffee, let us borrow tools (including a sledge hammer I used to bang the crash bars away from the cylinder) and then took a valve cover off a used bike on the showroom floor to replace mine. He even mailed the broken parts back home for me since I would need them for the insurance claim. I don’t think that sort of thing happens any more at modern, mega “Power Sports Centers”.

We went on to finish the trip, including stopping at a roadside market in the Ozarks to get out of a downpour. The proprietor came out to join us on his covered porch and said, “Wow, you guys should have been here earlier. We haven’t had any rain in more than six weeks ! “Yes”, we replied, “we hear that a lot.”

Old BMW motorcycles aren’t really “owned” by any one person. We who love them are just temporary caretakers, keeping them in shape for their future companions. After we got home, the Cincinnati BMW dealer totaled my bike for insurance purposes since so many of the fiberglass fairing panels had been damaged, even though they were still functional and intact on the bike. I sold it to an acquaintance for the difference between what I had received from the insurance company and the book value, a really good deal for him since the bike still ran perfectly. He kept it for many years, even crashed it at least once more, on gravel, and it ended up sitting uncovered outside his house for a few years. The bike later went from that guy to a mutual friend who restored it, then to yet another who took it to Hawaii for 10 years or so (where another minor accident tweaked the forks a bit, but they got fixed, of course), and now it is back in Kentucky, still running, waiting for its next owner to create more stories for it to tell.

About johngrice

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