"Reprinted with permision from Lillie Suburban Newspapers, North St.
Paul, MN.   This article was first published Aug. 6, 2007."

Boys and their Toys

Pam O'Meara
staff writer

"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 different colors.

"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 Ottawa, Canada.

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."

'Like family'
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 advantage.

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.


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