I have been riding motorcycles since 1995 when I bought a used 1984 Honda Nighthawk. My wife at the time and I rode that bike with lame soft bags, t-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes all the way to Florida from Kentucky primarily for the economy of it. Needless to say I was unaware then of the concept of ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time). Years and many bikes passed by including a 82' Honda Silverwing, 97' BMW R1100RT, and a 00' BMW R1200RS, 09' BMW R1150RT. No accidents other than a dump drop here and there. Little to no damage. Nothing I would consider "OH MY GOD, these things are dangerous" type accident.
In 2014 I watched a TV series that changed many lives called "The Long Way Round" by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman and the idea of traveling off road and buying a BMW R1200GSA was born. What better bike than one that claims to be capable off road but still have comforts of long road riding. The concept of off road motorcycling captivated my imagination as a kid and I remember my Dad and I going to the Honda shop and collecting brochures of dirt bikes, for years. Dad never owned a dirt bike. Dad was always fiscally responsible and so dirt bikes just never made the list. Ok, to be fair, Mom probably played a role. Like a "not on your life" type role lol.. His dream never died and neither did mine. It wasn't 6 months after I bought that Nighthawk that Dad bought a bike, too. Ultimately he ended up with a Goldwing and now at 83 he still has his Goldwing but polishes it and thinks about it more than rides it. He started late living his dream. I swore I wouldn't wait to live mine.
My dream of travel was first realized in 2015 on the GSA where I took a 5000 mile trip off/on road west, then north then back home camping most of the way. It changed me from then on and I knew my desire to learn and experience would only grow from there. Motorcycling, I have discovered, is the outward expression of an inward desire to experience life.
There is something unique about a motorcycle. The openness, the freedom, the fluidity it creates in travel. Want to stop and take a picture? Its a 30 sec stop if you want. You smell the flowers, the fields, the streams, you are part of the environment rather than watching it on a TV screen (known as a windshield). Everything that happens in the environment you feel, smell, even taste (for better or worse). People who ride get it.. Those who don't, can't. For some it is a matter of overcoming fear. For others it is mastering a skill that sets them apart from most. For others it is simply a way to belong. Oddly, motorcycling is considered a solo sport because no matter how many people are with you, you are still alone with yourself in your head. That was at least true until the proliferation of wireless communications. For me I enjoy both, although solo is still my favorite. It allows me to center, to find ME again. When its been a while since I've ridden I can feel it - that need to just watch some miles go by.
That's part of what made this year difficult for me. Over all the years of motorcycling, through all the bikes and well over 150k miles, I never had a wreck outside of tumbles off road (which are kind of expected). And then this year happened. I had just upgraded from my beloved 2014 BMW GSA to the BMW Triple Black 2018 R1200GSA. What a beauty. Bought it in late Oct 2017 and had a couple thousand miles on it when a friend and I were riding off-road in January and I was following him. Between a taillight covered in mud, a missed turn recognized late and stopping to turn back, combined with sun blazing at my 10 o'clock, the year of accidents began. How could this happen? Literally it was seconds and poof, I'm flying and bike is going one way and me the other. How could I be so stupid to actually hit him?
Fast forward, bike is fixed, good as new, friend's bike is fixed as well and we are back in business little to no injury thank goodness for either of us. I take the repaired bike out west for the Overland Expo West event putting the accident mentally behind me as one of those crazy things that can happen to anyone but that certainly won't happen again. At least not soon and not in that way. Always assume the person in front of you is stopping.. Lesson learned. Heading back from Arizona through New Mexico I'm stunned at the scenery and dying to take some pictures of the landscape, so I'm consciously looking left to see any legal road, dirt or otherwise, that would lead me up into the desert for some quality images. Finally. A dirt county road heading up to a crest of a nice size hill that should give a great view both ways for different shot options. Perfect. I traveled about 2 miles up the dirt road after crossing at least one cattle gate and coming to another expecting it to be the same. Cattle gates are everywhere and expected. I assume this gate will be like the others. I goose the bike a bit to take the load off the front wheel due to some wash out in front of the gate. Suddenly I'm flying through the air and landing in front of the bike. Wait.. What? How could this happen? What did I even hit? I'm alone for God's sake. How could I be so stupid? Wait a second.. This wasn't on me this time. It turns out a rancher, unhappy with the reality that a county road went through his land, decided to place a guide wire across the cattle gate and lock it to a post on the other side. No signage, No warning. No nothing. Thankfully the wire caught my front forks rather than higher which could have decapitated me. It body slammed my 25mph 700+ lb motorcycle picking the rear end up and slamming it in front of the bike while at the same time ripping the post out of the ground and whipping it around over my head to the other side of the bike. Yeah, it could have been worse.
I'm getting up off the ground and seeing parts of the bike laying around me and an internal rage began to flow. But then a second reality. No cell service. But no injuries. Well, can't use the SOS button. Just embrace the suck. Then reality sets in.. yeah, the bike had issues but, could it be ok? Sure enough. Still works. This is why I ultimately bought another one. These things can take a beating and keep on ticking. After taking lots of pictures I righted the bike and rode the bike out. Found an officer, filed a report in hopes the rancher could be charged. The fence was illegal by county ordinance. In short, because of no injuries, insurance didn't pursue further.
Rode the bike all the way home only to find the damage sustained totaled the bike. Wow, 2 accidents and one bike down. Surely this is the end of my bad luck streak, right? This is when the loving non-motorcycle riding friends started to say... "Um.. perhaps you should take up a less dangerous sport?" I get it. I love you too, but it doesn't work that way for me. Let's just get another bike, shall we?
Enter 2018 BMW Triple Black GSA #2. 200 miles on the clock and I'm loving the new bike I'm feeling confident again (having to ride the GSA 1 1600 miles home did a lot of curbing the "nervous feelings" of throwing a leg over after an accident). My wife Holly and I plan a trip to a cabin a few hundred miles away as a belated anniversary get away combined with a work trip and as a break-in for her getting to ride on the new bike. 30 minutes from arrival at the cabin and a blue truck waiting to turning left across my path whom I made eye contact with, yet he decided to make a go of it anyway. Traveling about 45 mph I slammed on the brakes and just before slamming into the side of the truck told Holly in a probably too calm of voice, "We're going to hit". She had already slammed into me from my braking, so upon impact we both went simultaneously off the bike and toward the truck. I hit the side of the truck and she bounced off of me and back onto the ground. Thankfully, I learned a few lessons from the years ago "shorts, short sleeves, carefree riding style" on the Nighthawk. All three accidents this year I was dawning top level Klim gear and Adventure boots and Holly equally equipped with BMW gear. We both sustained injuries but compared to what it could have been we were fortunate.
8 weeks of therapy (Kudos to Dr. Corey Idrogo at Centerpointe Health and Wellness) and healing from a knee injury and Holly with bruised ribs and other bruises gave us some time to think. Do we get another bike? Are we mitigating risk as much as possible? Is it worth it? What about our 15 yr old son? Is it selfish to do this activity knowing that at any point something like this could happen and have long lasting results?
And then I thought, what would I teach him by giving it up? Yes, I love it but, better not do it because there is risk? What in life can you do and not have risk? Can you really eliminate all risk, and if you could, would you want to? Isn't the risk part of what drives us forward? To press ahead aware of the possible negative outcome but hopeful for the prize? Overcome the challenge?
The motorcycle industry has been shrinking over the years and all the manufacturers are still scratching their heads trying to figure out exactly why. The adventure market is the only segment that has remained steady and you are seeing manufacturers such as Harley Davidson enter the market in hopes of reviving their own market share and take on the younger generation of riders. Many look at stagnant wages, job uncertainty, or perhaps the reality of far more distracted drivers on the road today (hello cell phones) as being the culprit. While all of these certainly are factors I believe there is a fundamental shift that is happening in the US and perhaps the world that I see to be far more devastating not only to motorcycling but life in general. We, as a people, are losing the ability to dream. To shoot for the stars. To do something not because it makes a buck but because you just need to do it. In the world of warning labels on everything from straws to vehicles we are programmed by the media to fear everything. I still believe all things are possible and I believe that everything has risk and I would rather do what I love and mitigate the risk as much as possible than to live to a ripe old age thinking about all the things I chose not to do because I was scared of what "might" happen. Fear is a matter of perspective. The same thing that gives a person sweaty palms, fast heart-rate, dilated pupils and is explained as terrified is the same physical response described by a person who is excited and ready to take on the next challenge.
So which is it for you? What do you want to do? How do you want to live? Do you choose the stars or are you satisfied with setting your sights lower. I choose the stars.. I also chose to get 2018 BMW R1200GSA 3. I may miss the stars but if I do it will be a beautiful view on the way down. This life isn't a practice session. It's the real deal. You either make it what you want or you don't. Choose wisely!
Adventurist at heart, David Mays looks to inspire others to live their life with focus and purpose. Experience and expansion is why we are here.