I got the message, and it wasnâ€™t subtle. My phone vibrated with authority as my riding buddy Steve wanted to know if I was free on Sunday. The 10th Annual British & European Classic Motorcycle event was being held down in Clarksburg, Maryland. Was I up for the ride? I quickly checked the forecast. (Not that it mattered.) Why, yes I was.
He swung by my place on Sunday morning, the thrum of his Multistrada announcing his arrival. There is something about an uncorked Italian twin that makes everything in the world right. Like the first chirp of a robin in early spring–only deeper and louder, with a desmodromic clatter. The next 15 minutes I spent puttering around the property (like an old man in a garage of his rancher), and once geared up I fired up the Futura, climbed aboard, and we were off.
We took the back roads to the convenience store where we were to meet up with the local Ducati Owners Group for the duration of the journey. This would be the first time that either of us was to ride with them and I, having an Aprilia and not a Ducati, wasnâ€™t sure if I would be spat on upon arrival. It turns out that they were a cordial group, with Scott being the leader of them. They seemed like normal guys. Iâ€™m not sure what I was expecting, perhaps everyone to have a clove of garlic pinched between the cheek & gum? We fueled up & hit the road. Again.
I wasnâ€™t the only non-Ducati rider. Our group consisted mainly of Ducs, but with an older Yamaha FZR, an ancient Moto Guzzi, and a new(ish) BMW R1200. I also wasnâ€™t the only Aprilia owner either, as a Mille had joined our group. We were a sight to behold (and behear) as we made our way, the free-flowing Ducs booming their way south with my yet-uncorked Aprilia sounding like an angry sewing machine in comparison. We traveled two-lane highways through northern Maryland since interstates are strictly forbidden on two wheels when perfectly good twisty roads are available, arriving at the show only 2-1/2 hours after we left. We also arrived 2-1/2 hours after the event began. Apparently when riding an Italian bike you are required to be not only fashionable, but fashionably late as well. We parked in a soggy beach volleyball court (not sure who was to blame for that one), but some wise men decided to pull out onto the grassy mud instead. Once safely on the grass, I could watch the kickstand of my Priller sink deep into the mud. I fashioned a flotation plate for my kickstand out of a piece of armor from my jacket, and it seemed stable enough for me to walk away without fear of hearing the moistened thud of plastic meeting sod.
We took in all kinds of sights and sounds from the rows of rolling machines lining the grassy knoll. There were BMWs, Ducatis, Bultacos, all sorts of Triumphs, and a handful of BSAs. Matchless was represented, as were Ariel and MV Augusta. There was also the occasional Laverda, more than a few Nortons and two crown jewels of Vincents (well, black jewels). The featured marque was Moto Guzzi and as I surveyed that flock of Gooses nesting on the hillside, it gave me the opportunity to observe their owners. I suddenly realized just how diverse and cherished the Moto Guzzi model history is. They cover the full spectrum of motorcyclingâ€”from standards, to cruisers, to touring, to (almost) sportbikes. There is a Goose for everyone, no matter their need. I also came to a conclusion about their owners. To own a Moto Guzzi, youâ€™ve got to be a little off. They have a certain look to them, and they march to the beat of a different drummer (though that drummerâ€™s cadence sounds an awful lot like the rhythm of a Ducati): the look of many miles spent in the saddle and many Benson & Hedges pursed between their lips. They sport a slightly haggard roughness to them that Honda owners would instinctively steer clear from. If BMW riders are infamous for their beards, then Guzzi riders are equally guilty of sporting the ever-present moustache. (And usually a bushy one at that.) They also tend to look slightly lost at any given time, not a panicked sort of look, but one of complacent aimlessness. A look that says, â€œWell, Iâ€™m hereâ€¦..I guess.â€ The Guzzi riders in our group had that look: non-threatening (if not friendly), but not over-joyed either. Their bike was entered into the show, and it sat at the end of the row with the tankbag still attached and an old blanket still protecting the tankâ€™s paint from damage. You just wouldnâ€™t see that on a BMW.
As we walked the grounds, I shared my thought of the day (I always like to have at least one at some point during any given day) with Steve. â€œYou know, I think out of any group of riders out thereâ€”whether it be Metric bikers or Harley guysâ€”this group knows what motorcycling is about more than anyone else.â€ Steve stared blankly, so I continued to develop my thought. Motorcycling isnâ€™t about belonging to a group. Itâ€™s about getting out there and riding, putting on miles for the sake of escape. This group will ride through any weather and take it in stride. You could get wet, so get used to it. You might get cold, so dress warmly. You might go down, so dress appropriately. There is no guarantee that you will ever arrive, much less on time. The destination, while important, isnâ€™t the end goal. Motorcycling awakens the senses. When was the last time you smelled the sweet bliss of honeysuckle through your carâ€™s vents? Motorcycling sharpens the wit. You are riding a paradox of physics that will fall over once stopped, so be aware of your surroundings and plan accordingly.
Motorcycling is about freedom, adventure, and simply enjoying yourself. (If you own a Norton it is often about problem-solving, too.) It isnâ€™t about raw speed or hustling through turns. Itâ€™s about rhythm and oneness with the road: the momentary bonding of rubber and asphalt. Rarely is it anything less than a moving, magical experience. So find yourself a Duc or a Goose, and get out there & ride.
Jansen Herr lives in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with his loving Norwegian Elkhound, Mika. When not writing, he occupies his time attempting to save old European rolling stock from the jaws of the crusher, as well as from himself. If not ruining fine machinery, he is likely found in the saddle of an obscure motorcycle. He also attempts to play bass, cook, and is usually successful staring at walls.