~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Stolen Dreams

I checked in over at The Johnstown Company blog today as I regularly do. Dylan and MotorMilt seem to lead more interesting lives than I do at the moment so it's always fun to see what adventures they are having on their new Ducati 749’s. I used to live in their general area and they ride a lot of roads I've ridden in bygone days. I had my turn at being a studly California canyon carver thirty years ago and now reading about their rides on the brilliant 749's is a chance to refresh some happy memories.

Unhappily, I read today that some person or persons worthy only of being used for dog food stole both Ducatis while the guys were out of town on business. To whomever stole the bikes, to whomever knowingly buys parts from those bikes, I wish you nothing but bad luck next time you get into a turn a little too fast.

As always, motorcycles stories good or bad get me to thinking about bikes and rides of days gone by. Motorcycles are about feeling and passion and creating memories that last a lifetime; about people and places and fear and anger, joy and exhileration. They are small machines that create huge memories that do not fade much with time.

I've never owned a Ducati although I have I've ridden a couple over the years. I wonder how many bikes of different types I've actually ridden? I've owned something over thirty machines but like most enthusiasts have snagged rides on countless machines offered by trusting friends and hopeful dealers. In the days when bike shops were still bike shops and not motorcycle lifestyle boutiques, it was always easy to wangle a demo ride on something interesting.

I was at Ambassador Motors in SoCal when they received their first Ducati 750S. As best as I can remember the bike was yellow with some black trim and looked a bit rough here and there. The bike was uncrated, set up, and taken for a test spin by the mechanic. When the mechanic came back, the shop owner turned to me and asked if I'd like to take the yellow Ducati for a ride. Oh baby, O baby, come to daddy... I hopped on the bike and resisted the temptation to head for Angeles Crest Highway and never return. My GMC van would have been a fair trade, I think. Being a decent sort and not wanting to wear out my welcome I settled for a quick spin around the neighborhood. Sweet. The Ducati was stiff, quick, and I imagined, a wondrous machine for blasting through canyon roads like Agostini. The body parts were Italian cobby and round and the v-twin engine noisy and bright... everything a motorcycle engine should be.

Some time later when I decided to plunk down some serious money for what I decided would be my ultimate bike, the choices running through my head were the Ducati 750S, Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, and BMW R90S. I was riding a Suzuki 550 triple at the time so it was definitely going to be a BIG step up. In the end I decided that the Ducati was going to be too sporty, maybe too Italian to suit my growing interest in travel by motorcycle. I was dreaming of a ride to Canada and the 750S didn't seem like the best choice.

The Moto Guzzi V7 Sport was a wonderfully beautiful machine, prettier than the Ducati but it was a Moto Guzzi and I had my doubts about traveling on one. I have my talents but I'm not much of a mechanic. I have to admit that I still semi-regret not buying the V7 Sport and I still have a soft spot for Moto Guzzi's sporting models. Maybe one day I'll make up for the Italian road not taken.

In the end, the BMW R90S was a choice fueled by both passion and logic. The bike was a wonder, a glorious piece of German design and engineering wrapped in a silver smoke paint job and hand painted gold pinstripping. The bike was fast, gorgeous, comfortable, and handled as well or better than I could ride. BMW only built a thousand of the 1974 R90S models and less than five hundred were brought to the US. Cycle Magazine had tested the bike and found it to be superior to everything around but the new Ducati 750SS. The Beemer's main drawback, as Cycle editor Cook Neilson saw it, was the formidable $3440 retail price. Was the world really ready for such a machine such high price?

Pete Joseph, the Yamaha-BMW dealer in Santa Monica got in two of the 90S's. I bought one and Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers comedy team bought the other. Tommy Smothers I'm sure could afford his but I was in hock up to my eyeballs. You're only young once though and there I was: 22 years old, riding one of the best, most beautiful, and expensive motorcycles in the world home from Santa Monica, west down the Ventura Freeway, and out to my condo in Thousand Oaks. Mulholland Highway was just over the hill and Canada was waiting too. Dreams sometimes do come true if you are passionate enough, have good enough credit, and no common sense.

What does all this have to do with Dylan and MotorMilt's stolen Ducatis? Not much except that I loved the R90S like no bike I've ever owned since so I can relate to Dylan's passion for the Ducati and guess at how he and Milt feel at having their pride and joy taken by dirt bags unknown. Also, you see, my BMW was almost stolen once.

In the early '70s I lived in a nice fourplex development and the parking for each unit was a two bay, open garage downstairs. I kept the Beemer down there, locked, alarmed, and covered with an old army blanket. It worked just fine for several months. One day I came home from work and the old maintenance man for the homeowners association walked into the garage as I got out of the car. "Mr. Klassen, some fellas came for that motorcycle of yours today but I wouldn't let 'em take it." WHAT??????? He recounted how he'd come around the corner of the building and there was a pick up truck with a loading ramp out and two scruffy guys just reaching for the blanket over the BMW. "I tol' them that they couldn't take unless you was around to ok it so they hopped in their truck and left." I was stunned. I'd come within a few minutes of losing my beloved bike, my one of only a 1,000 German wonder machines. The chance arrival of an old maintenance man with the gumption to speak up had saved it.

Now maybe the bike alarm would have scared them off or maybe the locked forks and huge chain and padlock would have slowed them up until they gave up. Speculation. All I knew was that I couldn't leave the BMW in the garage anymore. There was no doubt that whomever had been there once would be back. It was too flashy to not be noticed, it was too valuable a prize to ignore.

After I'd caught my breath and thanked the old man several times I double checked the locks and alarm on the bike and hopped back in the car. Next stop was the u-store-it place up the road a couple of miles. A small space was secured at $25 a month and the Beemer transferred to it's new home before the day was done. The bike would be safe at least but I could no longer just walk downstairs, hop on the my German road missile and disappear into the canyon roads of the Santa Monica mountains. Going for a ride, returning from a ride, had lost it's spontaneity and ease. Frustration mounted along with the expenses of keeping the bike.

In time I came to the realization that I was in fact in over my head financially on the BMW. The payments were $125 a month and on top of that was the insurance and the storage costs. It was a fair chunk of change every month in 1974, especially for a guy who's employment was shaky. After about 20,000 miles including one trip to Canada, the BMW had to go.

An ad was placed in the L.A. Times and it didn't take long for someone to show up with the money. Watching my pride and joy roll down the road under it's new owner was a real low point, one of those times when you say to yourself "I screwed up, I should have found a way..." Sometimes when I've sold a bike I was glad to see it go, other times I merely regretted it, but with the 1974 BMW R90S, watching it disappear down the street was painful, like I'd sold a part of me.

I've had another R90S since then, a 1975 model I bought in the late 80s, and my brother bought a beautifully restored '74 several years ago and I got a chance to ride that one. I saw an immaculately restored R90S offered for sale a few months back on the web page for Blue Moon Cycles and I have to say I was sorely tempted. $9,000 now for the bike. Still worth every penny as far as I'm concerned.


Dylan said...

Hey Doug, as usualy you've posted a fantastic read... I greatly enjoyed it...

Ride On!

Anonymous said...

Doug - I was 28 and a starving Beemer mechanic when I bought my 1976 R90S. Kept it about 12 years then one day had a serious lapse in judgement and decided to leave my toys behind, find a good woman, have some kids, and settle down. The women are all distant memories, but I've never gotten the R90S out of my mind. Last week I located it and bought it back. It's rough but all there - even my Hannigan fairing, Koni shocks and Lester mags. Now the healing begins! Jerry in NW Rural MO

Broozer's Wife said...

When my husband and I first got together about 25 years ago he had sold his bike and couldn't afford to get one and boy the ONLY thing we used to fight about way back then was about him needing to get a bike. I remember telling my mum that and she said to me GOD if that's all you fight about then let him get one and she gave him a loan to buy one and he's been riding again ever since... (mind you we have since found other things to fight about!!!) All he ever wanted was an r90s so he tracked one down at a wrecking yard in Sydney somewhere. It had been painted blue (yuk) and when he rode it out of the yard to bring back to the coast he said that it had no brakes and there were leaks and all sorts of things wrong with it. I didn't get it at all why he would want to waste money on what I thought was such a crap bike... but he was in love - he'd waited a lot of years to get the bike of his dreams even if it did look like a bad joke!! He patched it up and rode it for a few years - even rode down to Phillip Island (about 1000 kms from home) with a friend who at the time was riding a pretty hot looking Ducati. When he was at Phillip Island some guy from South Australia put a business card on the windshield and left a note to get in touch with him when he was going to do it up. He had authentic moulds for the leather on the seats for the r90s. I couldn't believe that he would even consider wasting money on the stupid thing... but a few years later he decided it was time to rebuild and he literally stripped it right down, he had a little shed and in the middle was the bike frame and at the side one million pieces all in some kind of order that only a guy would understand. He found these two spraypainters in Sydney who painted the original grey/black colours even hand painted gold pin stripe (the story goes that they worked at the BMW factory in Germany in the 70's). He sent the seat off to the guy in Sth Australia and got back a brilliant upholstered seat with authentic finish. I can't remember if he got a new exhaust system or had the other one recoated (I'm a little ignorant about all this stuff) and then he sent the taco up to Brisbane to be rebuilt. Need I say that his daggy little bike looks spectacular in all its original glory! Hmmm now I get it!

Doug Klassen said...

Broozer's Wife,

Thanks for the story of your husband's R90S. On behalf of slightly daft, motorcycle loving husbands everywhere I salute you!


Bill said...

I thought the R90S cost $3430 dollars. That's what my receipt for 4950351 says. Wish I still had that bike.

Doug Klassen said...

First Starter,

You've got a cool Dachshund, that's almost as good as an R90S. My wife would say better than a 90S.


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