Boys and their Toys
"Riding in the car is like watching TV, but on a motorcycle,
you're right out in the air, with the wind in your face, the
smells of flowers, woods, hay, fresh-cut grass. You may ride
through bad weather but you have the right gear and know how
to do it."
- Al Maurine of Tucson, AZ.
After hearing so many stories about motorcycles and rallies,
I recently tagged along with Al Maurine at the international
rally of the BMW-MOA (Motorcycles of America) Club in West
Bend, Wis. Around 7,684 people came from all over the U. S.
and Canada - and 26 other countries - to attend.
Motorcyclists were on the road, passing cornfields, an
ethanol plant and a horse-drawn wagon driven by a young man
with a beard, as we approached the Washington County
Fairgrounds in West Bend in my car. There I saw the tent
city that Al described as a field of wildflowers of all
"You have to understand that motorcyclists are less
risk-averse than some people. Life without a little risk is
boring," said registration co-chair Marc Souliere from
In the registration tent, a few people fresh off their
motorcycles were dressed in brightly colored pants and
jackets reminiscent of ski resorts. Leather is less popular
nowadays, and breathable synthetic suits with body armor are
the trend, Souliere said.
"The rally is like a big family gathering," added Ray
Zimmerman, of St. Louis, MO., executive director of the
club. "You can buy the accessories you can't live without,
visit friends, attend seminars, travel around the area or
fix up your bike. It's the people that make it great -
everyone is very helpful. And there's entertainment almost
around the clock."
Sam Piccalo, age 67, has been riding since he was 14 and
puts on 10,000 to 12,000 miles a year. He spent four days on
the road camping from Chino Valley, Ariz., to the rally. His
wife, 64, no longer rides with him.
"I just love getting out on my motorcycle and riding - I'll
use any excuse," he said. "I feel safer on my cycle than in
a car. It's second nature to me ... I think about avoiding
accidents, and I pay more attention."
Liz and Fred Bosan from Plymouth, Minn., both 54, rode
separate cycles to the rally, which they've attended all
over the country every year since 1992.
"Fred never took me on enough rides, so I had to get my own
cycle. I love it, and I feel safe, " Liz said, adding that
she even has a carrier for taking her dog on short trips.
She rides defensively and always leaves herself space in
case she encounters a problem on the road.
Gordon Thompson, 65, rode up from Texas over four days. He
averages rides 12,000 to 14,000 miles a year and has half a
million lifetime miles of biking.
Kathy Bastian, a "rally virgin" (first-timer) rode up alone
from Chicago on her first trip over 100 miles. A secretary
in a law firm, she said she was over 40 - well, closer to 50
- and needed a new challenge, so she bought her cycle a year
ago from a friend.
"I've always liked adventure and I enjoy learning and having
new experiences," she said. "I feel a sense of family here
(at the rally). It's a great experience and it puts a smile
on my face."
Take an empty holster
All sorts of seminars are offered at the rally, including
apparently a necessary one on the effects of aging on
motorcycle riding, said Ray Zimmerman, of St. Louis, MO.,
executive director of BMW-MOA. It covers vision and hearing
loss, use of legal drugs and changes in strength.
"Twenty percent of people over 55 have some hearing
impairment, Zimmerman said. "The more educated you are about
safety and your abilities, the better off you'll be."
At a standing-room-only seminar on motorcycle tours in New
Zealand, I watched a catchy video of motorcyclists riding
among mountains, glaciers, fjords, rain forest and lakes,
and we were almost ready to sign up. The tour groups are
small, and accommodations and dining are first class. You
can rent everything except boots. We were ready to sign up.
At another seminar, a presenter who calls herself Helen
Twowheels (Hell on Two Wheels) talked about traveling alone.
Tall, blond and tough with one-half million miles of
motorcycling under her belt but with her ankle and wrist in
casts after a semi recently ran her off the road, Twowheels
generally travels solo and camps out much of the time. She
does not carry a gun. She does, however, take an empty gun
holster to make strangers cautious, wondering where her gun
is. She recommended words and common sense to diffuse
potentially dangerous situations rather than guns.
"Don't stare and confront. Walk firmly but look down," she
said, adding that the biker stereotype works to her
The BMW image
The BMW crowd is a much tamer, laid-back crowd with more
older and professional people compared to Harley riders in
Sturgis, Al said. BMW riders don't drink and drive, wear
helmets and follow the rules.
The average age of BMW-MOA members is 53 but of all bikers,
it's 41. Six percent of members are women. The average club
member rides 10,000 miles a year, has a bachelor's degree
plus, an average annual income of $85,000, and 77 percent
are married, Zimmerman said. Of those attending the rally,
19 percent were women. The oldest was probably 84 and the
youngest rider was 16.
I noticed a lot of men with gray hair and beards and round
stomachs, but I did talk to a couple of college-age guys who
were looking for some younger bikers.
BMW is trying to attract younger riders with a new, less
expensive model - the F800, starting at $9,000, and some
off-road bikes, Zimmerman said.
To tent or not
The Bosans camped out and said there wasn't a lot of snoring
in their area of the fairgrounds. But I had heard stories of
hundreds of snorers, late-night socializing and long shower
lines, so like half of those attending the rally, I opted
for the Heidel House Resort in Green Lake, one of
Wisconsin's premier resorts.
Walking along the lake and sitting on a dock watching the
ducks and boats go by was relaxing and quiet after milling
around with thousands of bikers.
I watched a father and son fishing off the dock, jet skiers
sending up plumes of water, sailboats going by, families
playing in the pool, and the Heidel House 60-foot lake
cruiser preparing to take out a dinner group.
It was a different crowd from the motorcycle rally, but
as Al pointed out, take off the motorcycle shirts and you
might not know the difference. I wasn't sure I agreed.
The next day we was back at the rally, eating ice cream and
roasted ears of corn dripping with butter, looking at more
motorcycles, including a few converted at a rather large
expense to four wheels so older riders can still enjoy the
open road. I listened to more stories and to plans for the
rally next year in Gillette, Wyoming. I was beginning to
understand why men are motorcycle fanatics.
But when I overheard one woman commenting to another about
"boys and their toys," I chuckled to myself.