Chapter 3: Gelände Straße



It’s no secret that I’m a motorcycle monogamist.  In 20 years of motorcycling, I’ve only owned two bikes: a 2001 Kawasaki Vulcan 750 and a 2003 Suzuki V-Strom 1000.

After about 15,000 miles I had a low side on the Vulcan while coming down Highway 9.  The bike never ran well after that low side and after stranding me on the freeway in 30-degree weather a few months later I decided to sell it.

The V-Strom is still running well after 118,000 miles.  There aren’t any major issues with it other than it’s got 118,000 on the clock.  I’m well beyond the “maintenance schedule.”  Random popping up suggesting maintenance doesn’t really worry me.  It’s unexpected things that might need maintenance far from home that demand an immediate fix that worry me.  I love that bike and I’m planning on keeping it for a while still.  But I’m thinking it’s time for a new long-distance bike.

But what next?  I still love the bike I have.  I drafted a list of things that thought was a good starting point.

The criterion for a new bike:

  • A touring bike – Touring is the primary use for the bike.
  • Well established accessories – I got burned with the V-Strom as it was a new bike and 2 years after introduction Suzuki made changes to the bike that made new accessories incompatible with my bike.
  • Yellow color – I just love it.
  • Shaft drive – I’m tired of cleaning chains!
  • A top case that fits a MacBook Pro – See #1 and 2
  • The random smile factor every time I look at the bike – You’ve got to have that smile saying “that’s my bike”.

After a bunch of research, I came to a small set of bikes that would fit the bill:

Yes, that’s a list!  The V-Strom was a solid contender.  I know the bike well and loved the unabashedly yellow which this bike has not seen since mine.  The 2019 GS was also a solid contender.  It checked all the boxes, sans yellow. The Honda VFR seemed to be a bike that was looking for a place to call home with all it’s recent aggressive design changes. The NC700 seemed too new for the accessory ecosystem.  The Speed Triple and XR650L are bucket list bikes, but neither are great tourers but I hope to own each of them one day.

Boiling it down between the V-Strom and the GS, I went GS.  The GS is the bike that defined the adventure motorcycling category.  It had way more creature comforts than the V-Strom and while I loved my V-Strom, I wanted something a new saddle to sink into.

Randy and I headed up to South Lake Tahoe to visit our friends Tad and Curtis. Tad had always been a big believer of the GS as my next bike. Fortunately, Curtis road one. Much like the Volt, tad suggested I ride Curtis’s GS Adventure around the Sierras. We took a good part of the afternoon riding a few passes giving me a good feel for the bike. Curtis rides a 2015 BMW GS Adventure. The bike was fun to ride! Even with 20,000 miles on the odometer, there was a level of polish on the BMW I could feel was missing from the V-Strom.

However, the Adventure has an 8 gallon tank which makes for significantly more motorcycle to handle. It’s harder to lift from the side stand when you have short legs. Your hips are pushed wider to accommodate the additional girth in the tank. The bike was higher off the ground which made getting my 30 inch inseam back to pavement harder. After that ride, I knew I wanted a GS – just not an Adventure (and a low suspension model at that!)

I took delivery of my new motorcycle in June 2019. Part of it was exciting to ride a new motorcycle. A lot of it was intimidating knowing I had a fair amount of motorcycle to grow into. I quickly learned that the cult of BMW had a lot of similarities to Harley-Davidson. After the sale came the clothing, the various owner’s groups, roadside assistance, etc. being a German bike, all of my metric tools wouldn’t fit. The BMW requires Torx!

What instantly impressed me with the BMW was the refinement in the motorcycle. There were a number of things that jumped out right from the start:

  • A gearshift indicator – I like glancing down to know which gear I’m running.
  • A temperature gauge – I appreciate knowing how rapidly the temperature is changing with elevation and weather.
  • The BMW GPS – while it gives terrible directions, it’s great to have a second screen giving detailed information about the operation of the motorcycle, elevation, and freeing up my iPhone to run my diabetes applications.
  • TPMS – knowing the tire pressure keeps me honest in making sure the tires are in top shape.
  • Electronic suspension – I like being able to adjust the height and feel of the motorcycle on the fly. Different riding conditions require different outputs from the engine to maximize the operation of the motorcycle.
  • Shift Assist Pro – clutchless shifting is outstanding
  • Overall smoothness – a new bike is just smoother from head to toe. The engine purrs. The clutch is buttery smooth. The new tires allow the motorcycle to just fall into turns.
  • Keyless start – I’m still getting used to this one but I think it’s nice to just keep my keys in my jacket.

I had a lovely ride to the top of Mount Diablo. I’m not sure which was better – riding the motorcycle up the mountain or taking pictures of it once at the top!

A little while later I had a hankering to go out to the coast on a weekday afternoon. Crossing the entire bay area at rush hour is no small feat but once in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I was back in heaven!

The BMW was not without its challenges. The V-Strom had every detail finely tuned over 15 years of riding. I wasn’t going to get to that level of individual refinement in the first month. Many of my accessories still needed to come in. Working with the dealer had been really problematic (and that’s a separate conversation). The engine through a major fault code just over 400 miles on the odometer which turned out to be benign. That being said, it’s all part of the process of adopting a new motorcycle! Randy reminded me: “Dan – you’ve not bought a motorcycle in 15 years. Welcome to the club!”

Welcome home Gelände Straße!


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