Making a Mistake (and getting away with it)
I take a lot of teasing at work from folks who think I have the best job in the world, or the most fun job, or both. To some extent they are correct, in that my job is probably the best job in the world for me, and significant amounts of it involve activities that are fun.
One area that is never mentioned or contemplated is the need to make very few mistakes.
Most of my time is spent talking about, writing about, or actually riding motorcycles, while representing a company with a few dozen employees. In all three areas, any mistake can have grave consequences.
If I am careless in my speech, and/or let my rather odd sense of humor get carried away (this does happen), I can offend a customer or colleague, or both, and embarrass the company. If I write something that should have been more carefully considered, I run the risk of damaging or destroying a relationship with a customer or (worse) a supplier that may go back many years. Once all the metaphorical blood has been cleaned up and the emotional wounds subside, time will allow me rue such writing, or to conclude that what I wrote was correct and need not be regretted a bit. What it is, is what it is.
The area most fraught with peril, of course, involves riding motorcycles – a lot of them. Usually motorcycles I do not own. I have ridden well over 400 different motorcycles while gainfully employed in the motorsports business, and I have notes of my impressions of all of them for reference. A great deal of effort is spent in trying to understand how each motorcycle of almost any brand is designed to be ridden, and then riding it to the full extent of the designer’s intent – while avoiding crashes. The last time I crashed a street motorcycle at a speed over 2mph was – 1969 – so I have been pretty successful there.
That is one of the reasons I do not enjoy riding dirt bikes as much as I would wish. Off-road enthusiasts speak of the fun of crashing a dirt bike with no damage to rider or motorcycle. Just this morning a colleague told me that in the majority of his dirt bike crashes he was laughing all the way to the ground. For me, even though I was not hurt and the motorcycle was not damaged, putting a motorcycle on the ground is a mental and emotional disaster I do not deal well with at all. It is, what it is.
Not to say my career is mistake free – but that is the intent.
Yesterday – I made a mistake.
The task appeared simple, and one in line with the best and most fun job in the world. I was to ride a brand new BMW R 1200 GS Adventure as many miles as possible to break it in for the customer who had purchased it, while attempting to avoid rain so it would not need a lot of cleaning before delivery.
Pete Chartrand, the manager of Tour USA BMW rentals, accompanied me on a BMW R 1200 RT. His intent was to pause at scenic locales to take promotional pictures for advertising use. All in all, it looked like a great day, with scattered clouds and some sunshine.
I made my mistake before we left, and it was serious. If you are not a motorcycle person, a BMW R 1200 GS Adventure is the humongous dual sport adventure bike used by Ewan McGregor (and many others) for globe trotting expeditions of all sorts. It is the Hummer of motorcycles, and can go pretty much anywhere, romping over and through most any obstacle in its path. It has a lot of ground clearance, a hefty weight, and a tall seat height.
At a scoche under 6’, I am almost tall enough, but my legs are fairly short in relationship to the total. On an Adventure I can barely reach the ground on my tip toes. There is a “low” seat option, and we have one in the dealership, but I was in too much of a hurry to enjoy the day. Serious error.
I wheeled the brand new bike out to the curb, hopped on, and away we went.
Plan A was to cruise up I-5 to Bellingham, and then turn east to see how far up Mt. Baker we could get. My goal was a parking area next to a small lake. The last time I was there the lake was beneath about 20’ of snow – in August. As we cruised by the city of Mt. Vernon a glance to the northeast showed the need for another plan. Mt. Baker was socked in with clouds – at least – and it looked like rain would also play a part. Not good for pictures or for machine cleanliness.
Plan B was to meander to Highway 9, accomplished with a few interesting sidetrack maneuvers which could be described with the word “lost.” Eventually we were heading south on Highway 9, and then a side junket toward Lake Cavenaugh, and then the thought that we could easily traverse west to Camano Island. Camano abounds with good photo ops.
The first realization of my error came when stopping for a photo on a winding road. It was very difficult to park the bike and get on or get off with any confidence that the entire 700 pounds of expensive machinery belonging to someone else would hit the ground, unless the surface was paved and totally flat. In most places that are not right in front of a dealership – it isn’t.
The error made itself known anew at every stop, in different ways. On one occasion Pete wanted to stop for a great picture of the two BMWs with Puget Sound behind them and a large yacht cruising by in the sun for a more picturesque effect. The only problem was he had chosen a spot that was on a VERY steep hill. Getting back on the Adventure, starting it, and getting underway was perilous and definitely not pretty.
The absolute worst was a stop at a roadside pumpkin patch. The ground was a mixture of grass and mud and gravel – not a problem for a GS Adventure for sure, but when I put my foot down there was a rut Only a combination of sheer panic and a burst of adrenaline allowed me to haul the bike upright, and a strained right wrist today reminds me of how close to disaster I came.
At the pumpkin patch a glance at the sky showed us the weather had changed, and there appeared to be a just a narrow sliver of non-rain pointing right at Seattle. We rode back to Ride West as the sliver narrowed but did arrive still dry, with 200 miles on the odometer and no damage to the bike.
It is crucial before any motorcycle ride to spend a minute thinking about the bike you will be riding and where you will be riding it. You need to run a mental or literal checklist to make sure you have all the gear and equipment you will need. In other words – you need to take the time to have a good time.
I did not, and I am very lucky I got away with it.
May you be wiser in all of your rides!