By Jack Riepe #116117
The 1995 K75 gleamed in that sinister way peculiar to BMW motorcycles whose reputations transcend their “librarian-in-chains” look. It had been an ordeal to get it in this state of detailed perfection; but now the engine casings shimmered with an ebony-satin glow of hell, against the deep blood red luster of the tank and tail.
The sun had been up for an hour and my destination was 18 miles away. The jackals would be assembling even as I pressed the starter button. The K75 snarled as I snicked it into gear. There was a three-block stretch before I encountered the first busy intersection. That gave me a quarter mile to become one with the machine after a weeklong separation. The bike responded to a few simple swerve inputs and shot forward with a twist of the throttle. I was pushing 40 mph as I closed on the “stop” sign. With 100 feet left to go, I reined in the clutch and hit the brakes.
I have heard it said that the best rides are those on which nothing happens. By that measure, this ride was going to be perfect. Because I hit the brakes and nothing happened.
Nestled on Route 100, just north of Exton, is a diner that becomes the scene of culinary carnage every third Sunday of the month. This is the scheduled breakfast of the Mac-Pac, the premier chartered BMW riding club serving southeast Pennsylvania. Depending upon the weather, 70– 90 motorcycles will choke the back lot, which offers private access (through a back door) to the back room, where a corresponding number of riders will sit with their backs to the wall. Signs throughout the diner read, “Danger... Do not throw food scraps or talk to the people in the back room.” The wait staff follows these instructions to the letter.
The group’s eclectic collection of motorcycles includes new and vintage BMW K bikes, a few dozen armored GS machines and the iconic steam-powered R bikes in different configurations. There will be a number of F650s and F800s represented, too. On occasion, chattering Ducatis, constipated Urals, a 1954 Harley-Davidson (with factory standard red and blue spoke lights) and a 1952 Vincent Black Shadow will also appear.
All of these motorcycles have one thing in common: they are spotlessly clean. (It makes me absolutely crazy when maniacal GS riders like Ken Bruce or Gary Christman say, “I haven’t washed my bike since I rode it up to Hatchet Head,” which is a beer stand on a manure pile at the end of an 1,800-mile moose trail in Manitoba.) Their bikes are always among the cleanest.
On this occasion, I pulled up and tucked my bike between a GS and some ancient R bike (that had made its debut at the battle of Gettysburg). I was barely out of the saddle when Rick Sorensen, another long distance aficionado, said, “Damn, that is one clean motorcycle. Do you ever ride it?” He then stuck his finger into the triple trees and withdrew it without a spec of dust or grease. “What is your secret to keeping this so clean?”
I had two secrets. The first was that I always had this bike detailed the day before these breakfasts, so there was never more than 18 miles on the rig from the time the polish set. The second secret was Fiona.
Fiona was 20 years old and had a personality like champagne bubbles or those spring-loaded fake snakes that jump out of joke containers. She majored in marketing at a prestigious college in Philly and had a work ethic rare for her age. Fiona held three part-time jobs and detailed my motorcycle for extra cash. I paid her $100 for the five hours it took to make “Fireballs” glow like fresh magma.
After pushing the bike out into the sun, Fiona laid out the solvents and polishes, the chamois and the rags, the soapy bucket and the rinse bucket and the Q-tips and the toothbrush. She’d tune the radio to a classic rock station, adjust her headphones and rub suntan lotion into her skin. The gentle reader would think me remiss if I failed to point out that Fiona is a stunning beauty. She turns heads in a gallery of statues.
Fiona soaked the bugs off the windscreen and fairing with hot towels. She worked around bolt heads with Q-tips. She used the toothbrush to remove grunge and oil smudges from the even hard-to-see places. The wheels were grime free and factory clean when she got through.
This was the perfect arrangement for both of us, especially because I really stink at detail work. I’d create two new big smudges getting rid of one tiny one. No matter how fast I worked, soap scum would dry on the paint. I always missed a spot, or 50. Fiona got it perfect every time. Was it worth $100 to have the Mac-Pac do a double take when I pulled in? And how! I remember telling Ken Bruce I hadn’t washed my bike since I did that last run to Hot Dog Johnny’s.
“That’s almost 24 miles each way, isn’t it?” asked Ken.
“Mostly paved,” I replied.
The sad day came when Fiona took a job in a distant city and the chore of detailing the bike went unfulfilled. It was then I made the acquaintance of “Beth.” She was older than Fiona—by 38 years. She wore a leather biker’s jacket and jeans that hinted of the chrome and straight-pipe crowd. She had the classic lines of the women I used to chase in bars, when I was 19. It was evident there were a lot of miles on her clock and most of them had been over railroad ties. But who was I to judge? Most women regard me as 10 pounds of natural fertilizer in a two-pound bag.
Beth told me that she had detailed “hundreds of Harleys” and was once known as “The Hot Wax Babe.” (I didn’t doubt that part at all.) She confided in me that she’d had 167 careers in the past 40 years, including lion tamer, assistant to a nurse’s assistant, bar tender, life coach (on death row) and a balloonist. She usually lost these jobs when her bosses found out she could do them better than they could.
I have the heart of an Irish labor leader and couldn’t possibly have offered her a dollar less than I gave Fiona to do the same job. For one thing, I’d forever be haunted by the thought that I did so because Beth was older, not nearly as pretty and 10 times more desperate. I was also sure my dead grandfather would get out of his grave and kick my butt up and down the driveway. The look in her eyes when I told her the fee was $100 to detail one diminutive motorcycle — without an inch of chrome on it — was pure disbelief.
She uncoiled the hose and nearly skipped to the bike.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “This bike never gets sprayed with a hose.” I explained the sponge bath system and the hot towels. Beth was incredulous. She claimed the job was done an hour later, and I disagreed, pointing out the smears on the rims.
“They don’t come off,” she said.
I handed her the toothbrush. If looks could have killed, I would have been vaporized.
Forty-five minutes after that, she again announced victory. I ran a Q-tip around a bolt head and it came up dirty. I showed her the triple trees. I found crud on the headers.
“It takes a full five hours to do this right. And you have to use all this stuff,” I said gesturing to the chemicals. I thought she was about to become a flesh-eating zombie. When four hours and 45 minutes had evolved, she again declared the job complete. This time, it seemed so. Everything on the bike shined. She took her $100, flipped me the state bird of New Jersey and left.
The STOP sign marked an intersection buzzing with Sunday morning church traffic. I squeezed the brakes as hard as I could and discovered this bike had no front or rear brakes. I leaned on the horn and dropped two gears. I also leaned into a hard right turn, managing to squeeze between a passing car and the raised edge of the road. An inspection of all three brake rotors revealed that Beth had buffed them with chrome polish. I had an uphill mile to the next traffic light, which I covered with the flashers on, while riding the brakes. The polish smelled like French fry oil as it cooked. The brakes were sticky as the traffic light went red in my face. The front binders grabbed with a vengeance.
It was then I discovered Beth had used Armor All on the seat. I slid forward, slamming my man-gear into the gas tank. Do you know how many colors it is possible to see under these circumstances? I saw them all. The rest of the brief run was almost uneventful. There is a beautiful stretch of twisties just before the diner. It was here I discovered that Beth had used Armor All on the sidewalls of the tires, too. Wherever Beth was that day, she could truthfully add one more career to her ever-growing list. Or subtract it.
Jack Riepe disappeared on a recent attempt to ride a K75 across the Atlantic. Tire tracks led from his garage to the water, where his specially equipped bike sank like a stone. He reappeared months later, denying a generation of children born on a remote island will look like him. He is the author of the moto blog “Twisted Roads,” which can be found at http://jackriepe.blogspot.com . Autographed copies of his new book — Conversations With A Motorcycle — can be ordered from his blog. Communicate with the author directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org