this is my GS. there are many others like it, but this one is mine

IMG_0319This is my GS. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My GS is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my GS is useless. Without my GS, I am useless. I must ride my GS true. I must ride straighter than my enemy, who is trying to kill me. I must avoid him before he runs over me. I will…

My GS and I know that what counts on the road is not the miles we ride, the noise of our exhausts, nor the dust we kick up. We know that it is avoiding the hits that count. We will avoid…

My GS is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its parts, its accessories, its controls and its engine. I will keep my GS clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will…

(Quite blatantly adapted from the USMC Rifleman’s Creed – with apologies to the Corps.)

I spent the day with my bike – a 2005 BMW R 1200 GS – and three of my friends. For the first part of my day, I worked on the bike. I…

  • changed the engine oil & oil filter (4 qts synthetic 15W50 & a Mann filter)
  • changed the final drive oil (Mobil1 75W140 – exactly 180 ml), which requires dropping the final drive to vertical & reconnecting it; one of my friends showed me a great way to more easily get the drive shaft re-engaged
  • changed the transmission oil (same 75W140 – most of the rest of the bottle)
  • made a huge mess when the hot engine oil splashed off the bottom of the catch pan
  • cleaned up said huge mess
  • cleaned spilled final drive oil off the rear brake disc

It doesn’t seem like much, but between doing the actual work, talking to people, lollygagging, drinking a soda, eating a donut, and all the other things you do when a bunch of folks are working on bikes, it took about 2 hours to get all this done.

What I meant to do but didn’t because I didn’t want to delay the rest of the day:

  • change the air filter (requires removing body panels & I just didn’t want to mess with that)
  • change the spark plugs
  • adjust the valve clearances
  • replace the rear brake pads (also I didn’t want to buy them where I was as I know I have to get the aftermarket pads I prefer elsewhere)

After the work was done, I verified nothing was leaking out of my bike, and I cleaned up my mess & loaded up my bike, I headed out to lunch at the Waffle House with my buddies. From there we went to a very nice (rustic) rural private gun club site and did some shooting.  Mostly handguns, but I got to shoot a lever-action rifle for the first time ever, and a shotgun as well.  I did not enjoy firing the shotgun and I’m sure my friends got a little chuckle at a) how inept I was with it and b) that it left me with a very sore right shoulder.

Motorcycle riders don’t have to talk to each other to have a good time. Yes, we did talk to each other throughout the day, from the morning through brunch & at the shooting range – but I knew we’d have been just as pleased with the day if we’d met up at the crack of dawn, ridden until lunch, wolfed down some food, and ridden again until the sun started to smear in the sky.

I greatly admire the friends I spent the day with. Each has strengths and weaknesses, but they always seem to make the most of their strengths and find ways to minimized their faults. I’ve never known any of them to speak or act grossly inappropriately – except, of course, when the time for shenanigans presented itself.

The four of us are from different backgrounds and have pursued different paths.  As you know, I am a professor and a news writer/editor.  My friends are a public servant (and veteran), a financial advisor and a computer programmer/software developer.  We’re all in that vaguely 40-to-50ish age group, married, and with kids or dogs (or both).  We’re from New Jersey (the good part), Virginia, New York City, and everywhere (I’m a military brat).  We practice different religions, have some widely varying political & social ideas, enjoy different types of entertainment, and are in most ways quite different from each other. Except for that we’re all four of us white guys, you couldn’t probably randomly pick a more diverse group.


I realized as I started the ride home that all four of us ride the exact same motorcycle. Mine is a 2005, 2 of them have 2009 models, and the last is a 2011. The seemingly ubiquitous R 1200 GS is the bike in question, and in the two-wheeled world, it is quite literally a giant.

In 1980, BMW produced the first large-bore “dual sport” motorcycle – the R80G/S. G stood for “Gelände” – terrain/ground as in off-road – and S stood for “Straße” – street. Off-road/on-road.  Dual sport.

(Yes, I know the eszett (ß) is now rarely used in written German, but when I learned German, it was still quite common. They (the Germans) revised their written language a bit in 1996, which was long after I had left that fine nation. Because it is an iconic … er, icon for me, I will continue to use it both appropriately and inappropriately. Deal with it.)

BMW didn’t realize they were initiating an archetype in 1980, but that’s exactly what they did – they created the adventure motorcycle genre that is now simply littered with bikes. The R 1200 GS remains the premier example, the pinnacle of the genre, but there are excellent adventure bikes being put out by KTM, Triumph, Yamaha, Ducati, and other manufacturers.

Yet it’s the big GS that draws the four of us together. Some people call the GS the SUV of motorcycles – I call it an urban assault motorcycle. Mine has straight street tires on it, but one of us has knobbies on his, another usually does as well, and another goes with the stock 90/10 tires (meaning 90% of the time on road, 10% of the time off road – usually with blocky, but pavement-appropriate, tread). We each have aftermarket luggage on our bikes as well – aluminum panniers (side cases) that, despite their trendy nature, are incredibly sturdy and unimaginably practical.

As we rode through some just beautiful winding roads in Stafford County, even at one point having to get on the brakes to avoid clipping a deer running across the road, I thought a terrible thought.

A horrible, terrible, very bad, no good thought.

Maybe we’re no different from the Harley guys.

Perhaps that’s just a fleeting thought, though, I thought as I quickly tried to brush it aside. We – and by “we” here I mean BMW riders – tend to look down on cruiser (not just Harley) riders because of their stereotypical reticence to engage in the widespread and regular use of protective gear. When we see a cruiser rider out wearing jeans, vest, t-shirt & one of those “brain bucket” helmets, we kind of laugh at him and disparage his “uniform.”  When we see a sport bike rider out wearing shorts, t-shirt, sneakers & a brightly-patterned full-face helmet, we kind of laugh at him and disparage his “uniform.”

It made me wonder if the cruiser riders or sport bike riders look at us, laugh a bit and disparage our “uniform” – weatherproof jacket & riding pants, gloves, boots, and a flip-front helmet. (We’ll leave it out that I use a full-face helmet and was wearing chaps today.) It struck me that they laugh at us just as we laugh at them – and for the same reason.

“Look at those assholes, wearing their uniforms and riding their adventure bikes. Don’t they ever act like individuals?”

I mean … seriously … the four of us (even though one wasn’t riding his GS today) even own the same brand of helmet. How ridiculous is that? It’s no different than the Harley guys that wear the totally unprotective brain bucket helmets – “skid lids” I’ve heard them  called – except that, you know, our high-tech, German-made helmets are far more likely to save our lives and preserve our rugged good looks (or at least our jawlines) if our heads come into contact with something hard in case of a crash.

It’s really no different conceptually, though it is quite different functionally. My three-season jacket that is both waterproof and vented – and comes with a fancy quilted zip-in warm-your-body-right-up liner – is, from an identification-with-a-group standpoint, absolutely no different than a leather vest covered with patches that say things like “Sergeant-At-Arms” and “DILLIGAF” and “Loud Pipes Save Lives.”

Having that thought really got my attention, and not in a good way.

I suppose, however, if I’m going to buy into a motorcycling trend, I could do a lot worse than one that include bikes that can go anywhere and do just about anything as well as a “uniform” that involves probably excessive levels of protection from the terrible things that can happen to a rider in a crash or collision.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.


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