This is a tale of victory, not defeat; but it didn’t start that way. In fact, this story begins with a sobering topic most motorcyclists will confront but few will speak of.
Try as we might, no matter how hard we attempt to halt his progress, there’s no avoiding Father Time. Months turn to years, and almost suddenly our youthful minds share space with reflexes founded on training rather than lightning-fast synapses. The strength we once took for granted has now taken a back seat to aches and pains.
This isn’t to say that passion for two wheels wanes with age, but the realities of age can only be ignored for so long, eventually forcing even the steadiest of hands to compromise. What was once the perfect bike is now a bit too heavy, a tad too tall, and a little too extreme… Now what?
I’d known for some time that my father’s 1992 Honda Gold Wing he’d owned since new—a bike that was part of nearly every childhood memory, whether recounting rides as a young pillion, seeing it in the background of childhood photos, or recalling the familiar sound of it idling with a hint of choke each morning before his early dawn commute—had become too heavy for his 70-year-old frame.
Its heft was both a blessing and a curse, as its 900-pound weight made for heaven on the highway but hell at slow speeds—at what point would the latter overshadow the former?
I’d dropped hints over the past decade about downsizing, but only half-heartedly, and truthfully, his denial was as comforting as it was worrisome—neither of us could admit the hands of time cease for no one.
Then, just after his 72nd birthday, the same conversation from a decade prior took a different direction. Quiet contemplation and visible resignation outed the reality nobody could ignore; he hadn’t ridden but a handful of times in the past few years, but not for obvious reasons. Had his love waned for two wheels? Quite the contrary, he’d stayed away from riding because the Gold Wing was simply too big and too heavy; the fear of dropping it kept him off it.
Was stepping down to a smaller and lighter motorcycle a sign of resignation or a new lease on his two-wheeled life? As it turns out, as hard as the decision was to part with the Gold Wing, in doing so he ended up with a bike better suited to his newfound needs and one that, minus the emotional attachment, makes him happier.
The new normal?
With the Wing safely in the hands of a family friend who’d been looking for an affordable touring bike, the search for his next chariot begun. He considered converting the Gold Wing to a trike, but that wasn’t his cup of tea. And adding electronically controlled landing gear to hold it up at slow speeds wasn’t his style either—so onward we went.
The new bike had to be lightweight, with decent wind protection, friendly ergonomics, and a low center of gravity (CG), but also with a realistic seat height too. ABS and traction control were musts, and if possible, cruise control, heated grips, adjustable suspension, and if at all possible, a shaft or belt drive for less frequent maintenance. This immediately narrowed the field.
The big touring bikes were either too heavy or carried their mass too high. Most decently sized adventure bikes suffered the same fate; cruisers weren’t too comfy, and nakeds, while comfy and lithe, lack wind protection—what about a sport-touring bike?
And like that, after being a lifelong BMW guy who’d jumped on the Honda train for several decades (he’s owned BMWs since the early ’70s), the quest began with an F800GT, which was the right bike on paper.
A quick peruse online found a friendly dealer nearby, BMW Motorcycles of Walnut Creek, and thankfully, sales manager Sam Rivera was more than happy to offer my father an F800GT for an extended test ride.
Shortly before heading out on the GT, an R1200RS across the showroom caught his eye; how could he have missed the RS in his online searches? Maybe because despite wind protection and ergos of a lightweight sport-touring mount, oddly enough, BMW classifies it as a sportbike on its website, so unless you click that tab, you’ll never find it.
Forty miles down on the 800GT and he liked most everything, save for some buzziness above 70 mph and something equally important but a little less tangible—character.
Sam tossed him the keys to the RS, adding that for BMW folks, there’s something special about the legendary boxer motor.
Call it fate, but from the second he left the parking lot, the RS was it. The torque-rich boxer twin and its quintessential flat sound brought him back to the early years aboard his R100S; and the ESA, ride modes, decent wind protection, superior chassis, and strong brakes only furthered the case.
Finding the right bike took some time, but thankfully the purchase process was easy-peasy thanks to Sam and the rest of the BMW of Walnut Creek crew who offered competitive pricing, found him his desired color, and even extended discounts on accessories and gear.
In an act that can best be described as fate, as Sam walked my father through the many ride modes and electronic gizmos on the RS, an R80 came sauntering in for service. The familiar sound took me back to the countless BMW rallies I’d grown up attending—in that moment I realized to call this move to the RS a victory was to sell it short. Rather, it was a coming home. After a decades’ long hiatus from the marque that brought him to the two-wheeled world more than 40 years ago, it was nice to see him back.
2,000 Miles Later
Fast-forward several months, and he’s already spent more time in the saddle this season than the previous five years combined. He gobbled up the 600-mile service interval and continues to pile on the miles. He visits the dealer regularly for new gear and add-ons, like crash protection and an AeroFlow windscreen that creates the perfect still pocket of air at speed, unlike the stock unit.
In the end, selling the Wing was the right decision for so many reasons; it’s gotten him back in the saddle, and most importantly, it’s reignited his love for motorcycles. The stable yet flickable chassis has renewed his love for curvy roads, he can’t get enough of the boxer’s grunt, and the ergonomics are just right—it also doesn’t hurt that he loves the ESA, ride modes, cruise control, and heated grips.
It’s been said you can’t go home again, but I’d beg to differ.