Many of us with older BMW Airheads already appreciate the slower pace our bikes sometimes demand of our touring. What I mean is, given the choice, I would rather ride a secondary highway instead of a four lane monster like the 401 in Ontario. I’m not implying my Airhead CAN’T keep up with the 130 kph traffic on that road – my bike would happily do, and has done, that speed or higher all day long – I’m saying an Airhead is almost too refined for that kind of speed-for-the-sake-of-speed pace. Maybe it’s also the fact the all of the cars on Highway 401 seem ignorant of everything else around them and riding a motorcycle only makes a person more likely to get killed while out for a leisurely ride. Ontario also has some of the worst drivers in the world, but I digress.
Where I’m going with all of this is, although the 401 and its ilk are fabulous transportation corridors for serving the movement of goods throughout the economy, they don’t make for the most enlightened rides. I once rode my BMW R80 from Kitchener to Ottawa and back in a single day (a total of about 1000 kms) to more or less run an errand. I was forced to use the 401 in order to navigate that huge distance in the shortest amount of time. I can tell you that I remember absolutely nothing about the scenery, the weather, the food I ate, or people I met along the way. This is because, in that same order, there is no scenery at 130 kph, all of my concentration was used to stay alive amongst the cars so I didn’t even notice weather, I ate at various roadside fast food chains, and there was no time for talking to anybody at any time. Measured against another trip of roughly equal distance – or any distance really – where I actually enjoyed the scenery, ate decent non-chain food, stopped at interesting spots for regular rests, and perhaps made conversation with some locals, that trip to Ottawa was a complete waste of time.
A few years ago I finally pledged to ride a bit slower, never eat fast food, and stop whenever I saw something interesting to look at or take a picture of. This methodology is horrible advice of you need to cover a lot of ground fast, but is absolutely the gospel if you want to enjoy the journey you are on. I used to make a big deal of having a destination to ride to, as if that were the purpose of the ride itself. Now I sort of know where I want to go but make a lot of decisions along the way, often taking cues from road signs indicating historic sites or natural wonders or good restaurants.
The picture above is one such example. It was taken on a side road near Paris, Ontario. That’s my son beside the bike. I had ridden to Paris from Kitchener a zillion times and never stopped at this particular side road before. This time, because I was out with my son and riding a bit slower, I noticed a sign for a historic church just before entering the town of Paris. I swung the bike around and set off down the road toward the church. Turns out it was built way back in 1845 in a style and with techniques found only in that area (little tiny, fist-sized rocks in perfect horizontal rows). No longer used (a ‘new’ church was built beside it in 1927) it is now a memorial to the local pioneers.
This quaint little story isn’t a subliminal message from Tourism Ontario, and it’s not sponsored by the Traffic Police in hopes of making you ride your motorcycle more slowly. I still take my bike out for cornering-eating high speed snorts all the time and enjoy the hell out of it. I’m simply trying to relate that there is a lot of merit in enjoying your Airhead for the comfortable, plodding touring machine that it is and making the ride the destination instead of just going somewhere on a motorcycle. Choosing to eat in mom-and-pop restaurants also forces you to stop and absorb the journey a little deeper than you might have otherwise. Also, this helps you not get fat from eating nothing but take out hamburgers all summer long.
Stop and smell the roses this riding season. It’s not easy, but practice will make you better at it. Before you know it, you’ll discover some treasure of a spot only a few kilometers from where you live (I found an abandoned brick yard once!!) and you will be taking your friends back there again and again.