Back when BMW’s R nineT motorcycle had just been released in the U.S., I got to take one for a test ride. The iconic Boxer motor, nicely sorted chassis, and fabulous brakes impressed me through some sweet curves along Scantic Road and Crystal Lake Road in north-central Connecticut. The bike’s crisp neo-retro style caught the attention of pedestrians when I stopped to take pictures. But two guys in a highly modded Honda Civic were most impressed.
Waiting on their left at a traffic light, I noticed they were laughing quite hysterically. The driver pointed at the bike and called over to me. “Where’d you get the BMW logos?” His question was punctuated by more laughter.
“They must have put them on at the factory in Germany,” I said.
“Yeah, like BMW makes motorcycles.” “Right, since before they made cars.”
They were still laughing when the light turned green.
There’s anecdotal evidence that many people aren’t aware BMW makes motorcycles. I was shopping in my hometown grocery store, and as is often the case, I was wearing a baseball hat. This one featured a BMW roundel with “BMW Motorcycles” embroidered underneath. In one particular aisle, I had stopped to compare items on the shelves when I heard quiet laughter. I looked around to see what I was missing.
“That’s funny,” said the only other shopper there.
“Excuse me, what’s funny?”
“What’s funny about my hat?”
“BMW doesn’t make motorcycles.”
“Actually, BMW has been making motorcycles longer than cars.”
“They make sportbikes, touring bikes, adventure bikes, cruisers, you name it.”
On my phone I pulled up a picture of my R 1200 RT. “Here’s mine,” I said, zooming in on the BMW roundel on the side panel. “See?”
“Oh, my god, you’re serious! I can’t wait to tell my husband. He isn’t going to believe this!”
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Then there was the brief conversation I had a few years ago with a teenager doing his best to look cool while pumping gas into a minivan. His parents and siblings were in the van, a potentially embarrassing situation for a teen, but he took control of the situation by calling over to the motorcycle guy.
“Hey, man, nice bike!”
“Thanks,” I replied as everyone in the van turned to see.
“What kind is it?”
“A Honda ST1300.”
“Wow…really? I never knew Honda made motorcycles. Pretty cool.” He hung up the nozzle, gave me the slightest nod of acknowledgement, and hopped in the van.
My motorcycle brand philosophy is “Two wheels good,” but I’m more than happy to return a little shade thrown my way. While stopped on my ST1300 and waiting to turn right, a Harley-Davidson Ultra pulled up next to me in the left turn lane. The bike had gleaming two-tone paint and acres of spotless chrome. The couple on board sported matching leather jackets with flowing fringe. The rider looked over at me and shook his head. “Nice scooter,” he laughed, with obvious satisfaction. Witty guy.
I raised my visor to reply. “Thanks, man. Nice tractor.” His passenger laughed so hard I thought she’d fall off the bike. Slack-jawed, the guy turned his gaze away and waited for his opportunity to turn left.
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At that same intersection one sizzling summer day, a young woman in a doors-off Jeep Wrangler pulled up on my left. She looked over at me, dressed as I always am in an armored, all-weather riding suit, and announced, “You sure look hot in that suit.”
“Thanks a lot!” I replied with a thumbs up. She seemed confused at first by my response, then laughed, looking a little embarrassed at her unintended double entendre.
Sometimes it’s the motorcycle passengers who initiate a conversation. While I waited in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, to board the ferry to Maine, the cold gray sky poured a drenching rain. A ferry terminal worker directed a group of bikes to the staging lane at my right. I exchanged waves with the riders and passengers. Despite the wet conditions, the only “raingear” I could see was on a couple of passengers who had cut out head and arm holes in large plastic garbage bags to fashion rain vests. One of the passengers called over to me, “Are you dry in that suit?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “Warm too.”
She thwacked her rider on the back of his helmet and commenced a tirade of I-told-you-so’s.
On a much drier day, I approached the old (and structurally deficient) Lake Champlain Bridge between Chimney Point, Vermont, and Crown Point, New York, and an official-looking woman wearing a uniform and high-viz vest signaled for me to stop. “Good morning, sir,” she began, “I’m conducting a survey for the DOT that will inform the design of a new bridge at this location. Can I ask where you are going today?”
“Calabogie,” I replied.
“Calabogie, Ontario, Canada.” I said it was located on a lake west of Ottawa and, pointing to my GPS, explained that my planned route would take me through the Adirondacks and into Canada via the ferry from Cape Vincent.
“Calabogie,” she said, making a note on her clipboard. “That is going to be an outlier. Enjoy your ride!”
I do enjoy my rides, sometimes made more memorable by the things people say to the motorcycle guy.
This column from longtime contributor Scott A. Williams originally appeared in the September issue of Rider.
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If you’re not into motorcycles I find most people are totally ignorant about them.
I’ve found that some people who ARE into motorcycles are still pretty ignorant about them.
I stopped in Maine this summer and some guy riding as a passenger in a car put down his window to energetically tell me how dangerous motorcycle helmets are. He was going on about personal liberties, not at all acknowledging that I exercised my personal liberty in choosing to put my helmet on. If I wanted a less dangerous hobby, dude in Maine, I’d stay home and knit instead of solo trail-riding a 560 pound Africa Twin in the desert in Arizona.
I ride a 1978 CB750 Honda with old school Vetter fairing, bags and trunk. I get a lot of comments by other riders about I used to have one of those. Get a few compliments from non riders about how nice my bike looks.
Hey John . I am now almost 67 , your post caught my eye immediately with”Honda 750 / Vetter fairing ! I have been riding for 50 + years, and some of my very best memories are from my 1976 750 . Thanks for jogging my memory. Ride on !
I’m on a 97 honda magna. Sold my 2020 triumph rocket 3 and no regrets . Also had 2 vrods and a fatbob special ( just to name a few) My 4 into 4 magna gets 45 mpg and strolls along at 6 grand on the rever , redlining at 10 . What more could you want . ?? Oh , and a custom corbin seat for my old butt . 😆
A man and woman pulled up next to me at a Kentucky service station. The man, through what appeared to be a huge wad of chew, slurred, “Hey, Ah’ll trade ya.” I looked at his truly beat-to-death car, and replied, “ Nah, I already got a car.” He all of a sudden looked serious and said, looking at his wife, “Ah warn’t talkin’ ‘bout the car.” His wife burst into laughter and exclaimed, “Your loss buddy, I make a mean rhubarb pie!” He agreed and waved as they drove off hooting like maniacs.
Days funny 😁
I like my Ride make my Life. I am a proud owner of BMW F900 XR .
I always remember the opening of “Then came Bronson”, where Michael Parks tells the guy in the car asking where he’s going, “Wherever I end up, I guess.”
I’m pretty sure that show gave me inspiration to ride.
While riding my black, 2014 Honda CB1100A, I’m often complimented on how nice it looks for being about 50 years old. I don’t argue a bit!
1. Hey man, nice bike
2. I used to ride but had a crash, got married, had kids…had to quit.
3. My best friend died in a motorcycle crash
4. Have you ridden Tail of the Dragon or some other variant thereof
5. You know it’s gonna rain.
As I’m standing under an awning, drinking my small coffee, waiting for the downpour to stop in Wisconsin – “How are the windshield wipers working on that thing (motioning towards my motorcycle)? My answer – “OK I guess – haven’t tried to turn them on.”
Those comments pretty much sums it up. I get those all the time.
Ah- America! We don’t get the same conversation in Europe… everyone knows Honda makes bikes, and there are a LOT of BMWs around. Not so many Harleys, ‘cos we are more performance engine inclined…..
A CB400SS rider from Kyiv, Ukraine here. Quite a few people commented on me “putting Honda decals on a Soviet bike” … Go figure.
My heavily modded PC 800 is 26 years old.
It may not be show quality but every time I climb on it feels like I am strapping on an
F-18. The Rhino is not the fastest nor is it the deadliest, but I’ll be jiggered if it a F/N blast. Go NAVY
I like and have owned a few BMW adventure bikes and currently have a 1250 GSA. Used to have a little Kawasaki 500 in college. Anybody that throws their leg over something with 2 wheels are my buddies. But I have to admit one time I was halted at a construction site, first in line, road all tore up, until the Follow-Me truck came, turn-around, and was ready for our group. 2 Harleys had come up behind me and basically ignored me when I nodded to say Hi. It was so satisfying to stand-up on my pegs and leave them behind as they had to go slow, holding up cars behind them. Never saw them again. I think my heavy-laden 137 HP would have blown away their 107 HP if we’d been on the pavement.
Remember fueling up years ago when a Harley rider pulled in. He saw me getting some things out of my tank bag and was asking questions. I proceeded to demonstrate how I could remove my magnetic tank bag and easily put it back on. He was fascinated and thought it was the coolest thing in the world and wondered where he could get one.😁😉🙃🤣😅😂
I’ve removed all the badges and changed the seat on my Kawasaki C-14. This is in Arizona. About once a month someone will ask me, “is that the new BMW prototype?”
I’ll say, “it’s a Kawasaki C-14. Removed the badges to clean it up.”
The reaction always is, “I understand you aren’t allowed to say. The bike looks good.”
It seems that the author did not know that “scooter” is not disparaging. It’s a slang term for a motorcycle. People call their own motorcycle a “scoot” or a “scooter.” It’s biker slang.
Tim, I have heard “scooter” used to mean “motorcycle,” however if had you been there, it would have been obvious that the intent of the term was disparaging. No harm done, though, and I gladly returned the sentiment.
That is SO insulting! Mr. Williams is a long-time rider and tremendous writer whose delightful works have appeared in Rider for many years. I read his response, which is remarkably kind. I salute him.
Perhaps I can buy him a Moonburger at the Moonshine Store someday. I will be there on my scooter.
Scooter is a term for motorcycle, but the tractor deception was spot on LOL
Tink, I had an ’89 PC800, got lots of looks and comments on that bike. Curious, did you ever use the trunk as a beer cooler? I did at a campsite on a lake in Vermont. Guys in the next site, who had been ribbing my group about our Japanese, Italian and German bikes, were speechless when we came back from town with provisions and I raised the trunk lid, exposing beers on ice, and my buddies all grabbed a cold one.
One guy walked over. “Did I just see what I think I saw?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “what do you think you saw?” Raising the trunk lid again I said, “Want a cold beer?” He said nothing and walked back to his campsite.
Next morning, when the ice had melted, I pulled the trunk’s drain plugs to return the trunk to normal duty.
As others have pointed out, “Scooter” is biker slang for Motorcycle. By saying “Nice Scooter” he was complimenting your bike and in return you called his a tractor. He probably thought you were an elitist BMW snob. Which.. if you were actually an elitist BMW snob, you would have known that it’s BMW that has been collaborating with John Deere for years on tractor design and that thier partnership has won industry awards for innovation and design. I would have thought that someone who writes for a major motorcycle periodical would know this.
For what it’s worth, I was on a Honda ST1300 at the time and had you been there…oh nevermind.
It is odd that somebody who was not there to witness the scorn and derision expressed by the Harley rider would consider commenting to attempt to “correct” the author. I recommend conducting an Internet search of Scott A. Williams and reading as many articles as you can from this excellent writer.
Made in THAILAND
I thought knowing BMW made motorcycles was common knowledge. Not knowing that seems just as ridiculous as not knowing Honda makes lawn mowers.
I used to challenge Harley riders to a race from Toronto to Vancouver and return. Only rule you carried your own spare parts. Never had a taker. My 78 Gold Wing was the perfect size.
I rode a BMW motorcycle from my home in the SF Bay Area to Memphis Tennessee where I took off the worn out rear tire and carried it into a Cycle Gear store for a new tire. The store clerk says, “I didn’t know BMW make motorcycles!”
I’m originally from Connecticut. Been motorcycling since my father could teach me to hold on to the handle bars while sitting on the tank of his Indian Scout. Motorcycles are the normal to me from the earliest memories of my life. Relating to this article is so natural, it’s like breathing air.
My personal experience with the public in general including some notable times varies while being on a motorcycle. I come from a deeply rooted belief instilled in me by my father that there’s so many different ways to enjoy a bike that it’s pointless to say anything about a bike other than its engineering purpose. Sport, Touring, Cruiser, Enduro, Adventure and any mixture of those that Engineers can think of. Two wheels, wind and a means to experience it is all that matters. It matters not what is being ridden but if it can be enjoyed. That’s what my dad showed me through a lifetime of riding together.
And yes, I do remember busting into a room filled with his riding friends when I was a kid and saying “Dad! Dad!.. Did you know that both BMW and Suzuki make cars!?!”
always get something along the lines of: *insert tragic accident story of a friend of a friend here*
One of my fellow members of our local Norton club was at a gas station filling up his Commando when someone looked at the tank and asked him why he named his bike “Norton”.
Just thought I’d comment about the boxer engine utilization. The were used for aircraft engines before the bikes and eventually building cars. Having owned 4, 1 with sidecar, I really enjoyed the quality of construction and ride. Now I’m relegated to a tractor motor, one of 10 I’ve owned, because of my short legs. Having owned 21 bikes in over 51 years of riding I’ve enjoyed every minute in the saddle. But any bike that carries one down the road is still the best under one’s own butt. Keep on, keepin on! Ride safe.
BMW Motorrad has a sense of humor. They sold a t-shirt a while back that said “I didn’t know BMW made cars, until I passed one.” My boss at the time drove a three series BMW, and wasn’t amused by it, though…
When an uninsured truck backed into my parked 1990 BMW K75RT, it was knocked off the center stand. Filing a claim with my insurance company, the voice on the other end wanted to know how a car could fall over. I told her it was not a car but a motorcycle. She responded with “I didn’t know BMW made motorcycles”.
Did the guy telling the story not realize people call motorcycles scooters?
Did the guy writing the comment not realize that some haughty riders use the term scooter as a term of derision?
I lost my comment by accident. I can’t find it to finish it. Can you help me please? I commented on “What People Say To The Motorcycle Guy”
on Saturday 09-21-22. My finger brushed the keyboard and my comment just disappeared. Are you able to locate it somehow?
Sincerely, Sunnie Murphy
Sunnie, unfortunately our system doesn’t save comments if they were accidentally deleted, but we’ve really enjoyed the responses of our readers to this column, so hopefully you will be able to re-create what you wrote and submit it again.
Back in the ’70s I was riding my Triumph 650 from California to the east coast. A gas station guy in the Midwest, seeing my license plate, said “You rode that thing all the way from California?” I said “Yes, and I’m riding it back, too.” His response: “You’ve got more guts than brains!” A few years later I was admitted to MIT… I still remember his comment as one of the nicest compliments I’ve received!
While “scooter” is a term used by (mostly older) bikers to mean “motorcycle”, today the term is frequently used as an insult, meaning the same thing as “moped” or other “lesser” bike.