Monday, June 13, 2011


BRINGING A BABY HOME to where a sibling has rule of the roost, or arriving one day with that adorable puppy when Fido was formerly number one, brings to mind questions of second-class citizenship for those we love.

Please click on any photo to enlarge.
One day, almost by accident, I found myself enraptured. Seen first in a showroom and later fawned over on the Internet, late at night, then during working hours. Damned Internet! Damn all of its temptation!

“It will be mine. It must be mine,” were words unspoken.

Then spoken. From every angle, the 2007 Moto Guzzi 1100 “Breva” is a visual masterpiece.

In profile, it is easy to see that she drips with Italian design. Fluid. Curvaceous. Perhaps slightly understated. Her exhaust note? Like an Aria.

Riding partner Sam suggests the name and it sticks. Aria will be a wonderful addition to the family.

Not all my children seem to think so. The venerable and stout BMW GSA – who’d just eclipsed 18,000 miles near the second anniversary of her purchase, eyed Aria with a great deal of suspicion.

Perhaps it was Aria's slim overallness. Interesting, to me, how designers took that "Vee" concept and mirrored it throughout the bike from this vantage point.

Perhaps it was the smooth, firm nature of her… well… on BMWs they call these “jugs.” I guess I can understand some slight pangs of jealousy.

However, the GSA doesn’t look bad himself. He is rugged, dependable, sure-footed and loyal. Swiss Army knives should be so versatile. I decide that if one bike is to have a name, so shall the other. Hereinafter this shall be “the Horse.” Maybe that will help.

Aria (r) and "the Horse." Yes, this family photo was posed. It took several shots to get both to behave.  "Quit horsing around, Horse," I had to say more than once as the light faded.  But Horse didn't know his new name yet.

This more candid shoe-top view shows that they have many similarities. Perhaps their relationship will grow.


My interest in Italian iron was kindled a couple of years back when I had the opportunity to ride my daughter’s S2R Ducati from the repair shop in San Rafael to her home in Healdsburg. Rather than taking the direct route, I opted for State Route 1, stopping for a photo op just above Jenner.

I determined I would take that same route on the Beemer to again enjoy one of the world’s greatest highways and to mentally compare Italian style with German precision.

One can only imagine what might be on the short to-do list for Aria.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


PISSED OFF AT THE GOVERNMENT are we? Angry about government spending? Concerned that life would be okay if the government would just get out of the way?

Well here’s a news flash. A whole bunch of Americans are happy to be Americans, no matter how severely the current cyclical circumstance may affect them. They work hard, they play, and they worship and interact knowing at least two things:
  1. Most Americans know that good times can become bad and the reciprocal is true; and
  2. Most Americans know that they are in the center but acknowledge that they are not “the center.”

TO BE MORE SPECIFIC: We are the government. We elect the officials who are positioned to make the tough calls. We are the ones who need to pay attention to the calls made by those folks and we need to take responsible action at the next election if we want to change course. Paying attention means much more than listening to talking heads who’s step one is to convince the audience that they, the head, is the fountain of all truth. They do this by turning words like liberal, conservative, progressive, and socialize (or socialism) into pejorative terms. Paying attention means reading a newspaper or a newsmagazine knowing that the content therein passes editorial scrutiny for reliability and factualness.

Government spending in most cases is money that goes from the government into the hands of people – citizens like you and me – who may be divided into at least three categories:
  1. Those who work for private industries which perform services for or provide product for the government;
  2. Those who work directly for the government providing necessary services like police and fire protection, education and national security to the rest of us; and
  3. Those who receive support from the government in times of need, like the countless GM factory workers who would be unemployed had the government not offered loans – now about to be fully paid back with interest – to their employer.
The money these folks get is used to pay for goods and services, which, in turn, provides work for others in the country.

When the government “gets out of the way,” bad things can happen. Unregulated bankers make questionable loans that artificially prop up the housing market. When the market collapses, people lose their homes. Not because of what government did, but because of what government didn’t do. Unregulated industries, which extract mineral wealth, can cause both human tragedy and environmental ruin. Look at the coal mining disasters of just the past three years or so. And the results of shoddy oversight of deep water drilling. These headline grabbing events occurred not because of what government did, but because of what government didn’t do.

Folks who believe government is the problem – up to and including Saint Reagan – may be those who lay the groundwork for government to be the problem. By underfunding local, state and federal governments, government works less well, providing adequate fodder to those who say “Look what a bad job they’re doing…” in Oroville, Sacramento or DC. In education, tests designed to measure fairly unimportant stuff show that schools fail to teach fairly unimportant stuff, so logically we should cut money to all those lousy public schools. This lack of resource limits schools’ ability to teach the really important stuff like literature, fine arts, history, humanities – and yes, even math and science. The same thing is happening in parks, aide for infants and the elderly, the court system, roads – the list goes on and on.

We cut the resource for the service and then complain that the service isn’t any good. This is akin to taking bread away from a hungry man and then chastising him for starving. Those who wish to “starve the government” could gain a lot of credibility, in my estimation, if they, themselves went a week without eating.

THE MAJORITY OF AMERICANS “get this.” They understand that government has a role to play in providing security, education, economic stability, and infrastructure. The boisterous few have found the means to thwart the will of the majority and short circuit the common good. We see “no new taxes” pledges at the exact time when tax infused stimulus could – and actually has – help pull us out of the dive.

How do we right the ship? The first thing is to know that while I can’t change you, I can continue to change myself for the better. How?

  1. I can turn down the media volume.
  2. I can educate myself more fully in a general sense, and on the important issues specifically.
  3. I can garner information from reliable sources – those passing editorial scrutiny.
  4. I can question the motives of those reliable sources.
  5. I can listen to my neighbor at least twice as much as I talk to my neighbor.
  6. I can admit that I am not the smartest person on the planet, or even in the room.
  7. I can criticize my government without tearing down my government.
  8. I can vote.
  9. I can proudly display my flag, but if I don’t…
  10. …I can still be a patriot.

Living in America is a burdensome thing. But with the burdens of citizenship come great rewards. We must continue to pay our share and work together to fashion and refine our great nation. Not act like ignorant buffoons and tear the place apart.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, June 10, 2011


I-80, state routes 174 & 49

ONCE, WHILE WALKING A NARROW STREET IN LUCCA, during a tour of village Italy, a young-to-middle-aged woman approached from the other direction on a bicycle. Dressed nicely, sitting erect, an early morning loaf of bread protruded from a wicker basket affixed to the handlebars. Something about this completely normal circumstance said “elegant.”

Such is the Breva. The thing is softly, understatedly elegant. Fluid. Balanced. Artful. The question before the house became not “Is she beautiful?” but “How does she work?” Having spent some time on both roadsters and dual sports, I figured I had a pretty good amount of two-wheeled experience, and thus, more than enough comparison data.

THE INITIAL TEST RUN (after I purchased her) would include a 30 mile blast east up Interstate 80, followed by a 26 mile sojourn from Colfax to Grass Valley on State Route 174. From there I would hit State Route 49 and head the 40-plus miles home. No time for pictures. This would be a “business” trip.

My first thought was, “Damn! The pegs are too close to the seat.” I’d had a similar concern with my R1100R prompting me to have to dismount within the hour and work out kinks in my hips. Not so with the Breva. Something about how the seat is engineered allows for more space or more movement while in the saddle. And no crampy hips. I did the whole nearly-100 mile loop in one sitting.

I don’t like riding the slab. I-80 from west of my home is like a NASCAR race with untrained drivers. Between road construction, road needing construction and idiots in cages, avoiding I-80 west is a matter of survival. I-80 east is a bit different story. Up the hill from Auburn, the air cools, the route goes from four lanes to three, to two and most folks chill out. Perhaps they are enjoying how the rolling hills give way to deep views of the American River followed by thick thick green forests of the Sierra's western slope. Such changes may well restoreth thine soul. I know they do mine.

The B-1100 clips along nicely at 65, 70 and 75, in keeping with the speed of the travel. Truck traffic prompts some over-use of the left lane and often times – heh heh – drivers fall victim to one of the world’s great speed traps. Such was the case today. More black and white on the side of the road than field yellow or forest green. I dampered things down a bit wondering:
  1. When might one ever need to use 6th gear in this baby? and
  2. Might the gentlepeople of the CHP give me a courteous hand-down motion as a blast by – like they do when I’m on the BMW – or might they just pull me over and write me up?
In any event, the Breva does the slab well.

STATE ROUTE 174 winds through Placer County and into Nevada County. It crosses the Bear River just below Rollins Lake. Climbing out of the canyon, the road heads toward a bucolic region of fruit orchards and grazing land known as Chicago Park. From there, it moves through Ponderosa Pines, past meadows and small ranchettes, eventually connecting with 49 in the historic gold rush town of Grass Valley.

A bit timid on this new ride, I enter the curves with more reserve than I might on my GSA. I note that the bike seems to want to stay upright and I come up with the term "gyroscopic" to explain how it feels. I can push just a little bit to force the bike into the curve, but I’m not sure I have the hang of it – at least initially. I know this is a characteristic I’ll need to master.

With all of the bikes I’ve owned, there comes an epiphany where, for some reason, I feel one with the machine. For the R1100, it was a few months in. For the RT, a bit sooner. With the GSA, somewhere between Eureka, Nevada and Ely on US 50. For the little Breva: on this first loop. At some point, I quit worrying about the gyroscope and just began to be one with the ride. Not sure why. I note that, in and out of curves, the transmission operates like silk. No missed shifts what-so-ever. The 1051 cc V-twin wants to pull me through the backside of sweepers with a sophisticated urgency. And the non-ABS brakes prove to be all business when the blue-haired woman in the Buick Century didn’t pick up my presence on her radar as she exited the lot from the Safeway at Brunswick east of Grass Valley.

THE LAST LEG carried me down state route 49 from Nevada County into Auburn. Traffic was somewhere between moderate and heavy with some driving way too fast and others holding up the show. Toward Auburn, a series of stoplights control everything except for the inpatient driver’s angst. The lights are where I am reminded of the tallness of the Breva’s first gear. Unlike the granny-esque low on the GSA, it takes a bit more hand-hand coordination to twist the throttle and slip the clutch for a smooth departure. Not much practice however.

At one light, a fat dude under a screw-the-cops helmet and wearing a sleeveless jacket and tats roars up on a Harley. The ground shook. My first thought was that the rapture had arrived three weeks late. The fat boy on the Fat Boy braps the throttle and looks over at me. After a moment, he pulls his dark glasses down his nose, checks out the Guzzi, and lifts his hand from the twist-grip. He winks and raises a thumb.

AS THE LIGHT CHANGES, I feel even better about the purchase. The Breva 1100 proves to be comfortable, capable, sporty – and as the dude on the Harley confirmed – elegant. Certainly no Italian fanciulla in bicicletta, but perhaps, the one of those next best things.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


First Ride on the Guzzi B-1100

“IF YOU TALK ABOUT IT ENOUGH, pretty soon you’re going to have to do something about it or shut up.” Those, or, at least that sentiment would be echoed by many friends and loved ones since the bug to obtain a “roadster” style bike bit a while back. A roadster is sometimes called a “standard” or a “naked” motorcycle, having no fairing to deflect wind, bugs, ice crystals and whatever else the road might afford. Some folks will put a windshield on a naked bike to modify airflow and to protect from such detritus matter.

I’d been smitten with the Ducati GT 1000 since I rode a Ducati with a similar engine up the coast from the Golden Gate to Jenner a year or so back. The bike handled the two-lanes of Highway 1 with both vigor and grace. Its exhaust system bore a musical roar that seemed both symphonic and powerful. I enjoyed the ride.

Thus, the GT 1000, with a more mature seating position - a little less cramped in the legs - seemed like a nice supplement to my heroic BMW Adventure model. But just as I got the courage and figured I could part with the cash, Ducati discontinued this popular model (why?) and used ones were not coming on the market.

My next affliction was attached to the traditionally styled Triumph Bonneville T-100. Reminiscent of Triumph's flagship of the 1960s, when a model came out with a cream over chocolate paint livery, it was all I could do to not write a check and mail it off to England. One of my riding partners, Sam, has a similar model. Under him, it tackles roads in a nice rhythmic manner with its motor providing a soft staccato background. Hard to imagine a better way to spend an afternoon.

I went to the local Triumph dealer and sitting on the floor was a Moto Guzzi Breva with just less than 10,000 miles on it. The asking ticket would be far less than either the Duc or the Bonne and the thing looked brand new. I’d driven a similar model a month before and was impressed by Guzzi’s ability to build character and personality into something that was simply a collection of metals, plastics and rubber. It sounded Italian, like an aria. It handled as well as my BMW, but its bucketed seating made the ride seem more intimate. Somehow.

THERE ARE NOW TWO EUROPEAN MOTORCYCLES sitting in my garage right now: the Beemer and the Goose. Yesterday’s first ride on the Breva took me on area roads I know well roads but that seemed different as I huddled over the pulsing V-shaped twin. The wind whispered past my helmet and air-conditioned the ventilated summer jacket I wore this day. Having come to me with fresh Metzler tires, the machine seemed to invite sweeping curves, and had I been more fluent in Italian, I would have understood her pleas that I not take I-80 home from up the hill. As I raced down the interstate, I could tell that such doings were not this machine’s forte. But then, they’re not mine either. Good fit.

Night fell. I took out the garbage and detoured past the black beauty to sit on her for a spell. I also did so between innings. And before retiring for the evening.

IT IS HARD TO EXPLAIN - but also unnecessary (bordering on the ridiculous - because "Who cares?") -  to explain why having two or three or a collection of motorcycles is something people do. Each bike, like each person we meet, has its own personality and character. They all go down the road on two wheels, but they all do so with nuanced differences that justify (make that “rationalize”) the urge to have another one sitting there.

I can’t wait for my next multi-day tour on the BMW. But I know that, while out of town, I’ll be looking forward to a quick sprint through the foothills on the Guzzi when I return.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, June 5, 2011


I CAN’T RESIST a maple bar.

With grease that clings more ardently
to my lips and mouth and throat
than last Saturday’s cigar;
And a sugar-high hangover
that commits Bourbon or rye
to mere child’s play.

Wrapped in stained wax paper,
slipped inside a streaked brown bag;
Consumed while driving,
with one in the break room,
one in the top drawer,
and willing suppliers on oft-frequented corners.

Two a day, minimum,
maybe three.
Perhaps more.
Who counts?

WHEN LUCID, I recall:
Thirty-five cents once bought a hit,
now it’s a buck and a quarter
though cheaper by the dozen.

- my teeth prompt envious glances from local derelicts
huddled in doorways -
as does my doctor,
and my tailor.
Though I don’t know they know,
or if they know, how they know.

An off-handed sweep brushes icing off my Chinos.
A private rinse in the public fountain down the hall:
Careful, always careful, to cloister, to hide.

Innards in knots at times,
wind has been breached in meetings I’ve chaired –
once emptying a small room of colleagues.

But my work is never affected.

NOW, what was step two?

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, June 2, 2011



Unseasonable rain is not uncommon this time of year.
Me, attempting to make small talk 
with seat mate Jennifer Lopez 
on a flight from Sacramento to LAX
May 2004

I’M ON RATTLESNAKE BAR ROAD approaching a southeastern arm of Folsom Lake and outside of the pleasant temperature, the pavement tunneling under a canopy of blue oaks, a perfect cloudscape, and the breeze rushing past my helmet, I wonder if there really is a Rattlesnake Bar. And if there is, suppose I went in there parched but didn’t know what to order? Would the rattlesnake bartender grin and then hiss, “Pick your poison?”

BUT I DIGRESS. Today’s mission would be two-fold. Job one: to put a few more miles on the GSA prior to my 18,000-mile service scheduled for tomorrow. Job two: after cleaning it and stripping away some of the touring accoutrements, see if my BMW’s sporting characteristics would steer me away from test riding both a Triumph Bonneville, a traditional British two-wheeler, and...

...a Moto Guzzi Breva, a sophisticated Italian beauty with lines that invite all kinds of passion. Both of these candidates offer traditional, old world, back when we wuz kids, wind-in-the-face riding and both currently sit on the showroom floor of A&S Power Sports where my beloved BMW regularly receives its physical.

After its bath, I lowered the GSA’s windscreen to deflect airflow on to me instead of over me. I removed the ponderous looking Jesse luggage and stood back. These modifications changed the world-circling nature of the big adventure touring bike, but not into some sort of a sport tourer. No, without these appendages, the do-anything machine looked a bit ungainly, rather like a big, red preying mantis on two wheels. But proof of the pudding is in the ride, so I set off for one of the Sacramento area’s riding Meccas: Salmon Falls Road east of Folsom.

SALMON FALLS ROAD starts in the bedroom community of El Dorado Hills and twists eastward past Folsom Lake joining state route 49 just north of Lotus. Its pavement is nicely maintained, sweeping curves well engineered and, with the crest of each hill, views enticing. This is a road sport bike riders like to blast through testing the limits of their equipment - particularly their tires - and their own mettle. On any Saturday, bikes with exotic exhaust systems scream by, sounding so much like angry wasps. A series of one, two, three crosses affixed to a rather stout guardrail suggest that not all the wasps survive. I make my pace leisurely.

Although the second of June when average temperatures range in the low 90s and rainfall is measured in wisps, a horrendous storm had blown through yesterday. Today, fair-weather clouds drift across an azure sky looking like a piece of Hallmark stationery one might select for use on a holiday letter or party announcement. The thermometer stretched to reach 70. Deer, who normally would be much higher in the hills, literally hang out in the roadway. I hope aggressive sport bike riders would remain aware.

ACHIEVING ROUTE 49, the “other end” of Rattlesnake Bar Road beaconed. Rattlesnake Bar Road used to connect the Newcastle area of Placer County with the Pilot Hill area of El Dorado. The construction of Folsom Dam inundated the old road. Now, it lays like two ends of an untied shoelace providing boat ramp access to the reservoir. While I frequent the Placer County side, I’d never tackled the nine miles in El Dorado.

On a really good day, one discovers a new road, and I had. Rattlesnake Bar is narrow and windy. The pavement does not receive regular maintenance. In many places, traffic, if there is any, needs to slow in order to safely pass. Oaks drape their stiff arms over the roadway in some sections. Brooks trace the edges here and there. Occasionally, the road tops a little hill offering stunning springtime views over the lake, across the valley, past the Sutter Buttes and off to the distant Coast Range. The hillsides are dotted with an odd mix of dwellings. Interspersed among old-time ranches replete with hay barns, fenced pastures and no trespassing signs are Tuscan style mansions with sweeping lawns and covered RV storage.

The full Folsom Lake makes a nice stopping point for note taking and the ten-dollar fare is reasonable given the financial straits our park system finds itself in.

I’D LOWERED THE WINDSCREEN on the GSA to experiment with where I might be hit by the blast when at speed. I thought that, perhaps, if the wind wasn’t directed at my helmet, and if my aging ears weren’t further deafened by the roar, I might avoid choosing between the Bonneville and the Breva as a second bike for simple Sunday tiddling. My little experiment involved riding at speeds up to 65 miles per hour as well as standing on the pegs to assess the wind-rush if I knew it was hitting my chest rather than the head. It is two hours later and my ears are still ringing.

Tomorrow while I wait, I’ll ride.


A&S Power Sports is one of the premier BMW dealers in the nation.  In the past two years they have added Ducati and Vespa.  Quite recently, they rounded out their Euro collection by obtaining the franchise for Triumph Motorcycles.  Genial.  Knowledgeable.  Dedicated.  Well-staffed.  Their tag-line suggests "It's about the ride."  Indeed it is.  They may be contacted at

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press