Birthday Boy Breaks His Beak

RV broken headlamp

It doesn't give me too much pleasure to be writing this on my 57th birthday. I can do the math. It's not going to be too much longer before I check out. I might still be a teenager at heart, but I'm well on my way to becoming an old man, and then ... ashes in an urn upon the mantle.

Sorry, but that's life, which apparently always ends in death, various theories of the afterlife notwithstanding.

I'm fighting it though, this mortality thing, which is why I continue riding motorcycles. There's something slightly foolish about an old man riding a motorcycle, especially an old man like me, for whom a motorcycle remains the primary mode of transportation.

What are you trying to prove old man? Obviously, that I'm not an old man. I ride, therefore I remain a teenager, if not in body, at least in spirit.

But that's the kind of thinking that can break your beak, trust me.

The “beak” I'm referring to is this long piece of plastic that's attached to the front of my year 2000 BMW 1150GS, the world's heaviest production dirt bike. It's not really a dirt bike at all, it's a so-called adventure bike, and I can attest to the fact that muscling a 550-pound vehicle through the dirt is an adventure. BMW pioneered the adventure bike concept in the 1980s, and added the beak, to emulate Paris to Dakar rally race bikes, in the 1990s. It's become a popular category, and lots of bikes have beaks these days.

So anyway, a couple of weeks before my 57th birthday, there was a break in the monotonous winter weather we've been experiencing, and I decided to take the bike to work. It was freezing cold up here in eastern Shasta County, so I wore my state-of-the-art winter motorcycle gear, including an electric vest and armored hi-viz yellow Aerostich riding suit. I'm a firm believer in wearing protective gear, not just a helmet as required by law.

RV geared up for a ride

As it turned out, it was my lucky day, and I got off work early. The sun was shining and the temperature was in the high 60s. After weeks of rain, sleet and hail, I think I may have been skipping on the way to the parking lot. It was going to be a great ride home.

I slipped into my one-piece Aerostich suit, mounted the Beemer, turned the key and hit the ignition switch. Blast off! The twin boxer engine settled into a low, muffled growl. I snicked the bike into first gear, eased out the clutch and pulled a 180 to get out of the parking lot.

I was feeling good, real good in fact, better than I had in days, and the thought occurred to me, why not pop a little wheelie? I should note the Beemer isn't stock, I've modified the motor with a titanium exhaust system and an aftermarket electronic control unit, so even though it's heavy as a pig, the front wheel readily comes up when you blip the throttle. Which is what I did. I blipped the throttle, the tiniest of blips, which set off a chain reaction of unfortunate events.

The front wheel came up and at the same time I slipped backward in the seat—the Aerostich suit is a lot more slippery than the leathers I usually wear—and my feet came off the foot pegs. As I slipped backward, I inadvertently twisted the throttle open attempting to hang on to the bike. The front end came up, way up, I was looking straight into the noonday sun Icarus-like, the bike and I were about to loop-out, until somehow I managed to get my right foot on the rear brake lever.

The bike and I came crashing down to earth. When the front wheel touched, it washed out, and the Beemer fell mightily on its right side, sliding across the tarmac on its plastic valve cover protector and plastic side case. Like a madman trying to bulldog a buffalo, I was still holding on to the handlebars and the bike was dragging me with it, right toward the rear-end of a white late model Ford pickup.

I remember thinking, as the bike and I zeroed in on the pickup's chrome bumper hitch, this is exactly like all those “redneck fail” videos I delight in watching on YouTube. I pretty much expected to be eating that bumper hitch when the Beemer's beak shattered upon impact and I was thrown underneath the pickup.

It was strange, looking up at the bottom of that pickup all of a sudden like. WTF just happened? was the thought throbbing through my mind. Somehow I knew I wasn't injured. I could hear the bike, lying on its side with the rear wheel off the ground, was still running. I've got to turn it off, I said to myself.

I laughed out loud at the absurdity of it all. I grabbed the bumper and slid myself out from under the pickup. I was sitting on my ass, looking around to see if anybody had actually caught this embarrassing moment, when a female voice startled me from behind.

“Mister, are you OK?!” she said. She was a nursing student, judging by her garb.

“My damned throttle stuck,” I lied. “Yeah, I'm fine.”

I was fine, but only because I was wearing the Aerostich suit. The ballistic pads had absorbed the shock from the right side of my body hitting the tarmac. Without the suit, I probably would have broken my leg or hip or both. Both my right knee and hip were sore, to be truthful, but since I was standing up, I figured they weren't broken.

RV close up damage

But my poor bike! The beak was broken clean off, and the bumper hitch had poked my low beam headlight out and dented the oil cooler. Most people, when they get their beak broken, pretty much fall down in their tracks. That's how I figured the Beemer felt.

The female student helped me pick up the bike, and I'm sure she regretted it, because it's a heavy bastard. In my condition, I couldn't have done it without her.

“I got it now,” I assured her. In retrospect, I realize I didn't really have it. I hit that Ford's tailgate pretty hard. Even though I hadn't hit my helmeted head, I was stunned. Temporary PTSD.

I'm not sure how long I stood in the parking lot, next to the bike, figuring out what to do. Never have I felt so old. All of my 57 years and more, even though my birthday was yet to come.

I checked out the pickup, to see if I'd done any damage. Its bumper had one of those black plastic protectors on it, and I could see a few scratches in the plastic around the trailer hitch. You gotta leave a note, I told myself.

I carry all the tools you might need on any given day with the Beemer, and retrieved a pen and notebook from a side case. I don't remember exactly what I wrote: my name, address, phone number, email. I hit your truck but you can't really tell unless you look real close at the bumper guard. Something like that. I tore the sheet out and tucked the note under the driver's side windshield wiper. The owner has never contacted me.

I was standing next to the bike, still slightly stunned, when the nursing student came back and asked if I was sure I was OK.

I hadn't taken my helmet off. I swung a leg over the Beemer, turned the key, punched the starter button and it fired right up.

“I'm fine,” I told her.

She's gonna go far in life, I can tell.

I was fine for driving, but truth be told, I was suffering from an overwhelming sense of impending doom. You're too ancient for these sort of shenanigans, R.V. You're too old to be riding this big, powerful, heavy bike. Maybe you should just give up riding, period.

Fortunately, the Beemer, which is basically the same age as me in motorcycle years, suffered no such affliction. I found the muted roar of its tenacious boxer engine encouraging, and by the time we blew past Palo Cedro, beakless bike and all, my mind had wandered on to other potential causes of the accident that didn't involve my age and/or acting like a fool.

It must be Trump's fault, I pondered. This is what I get for half-heartedly supporting The Donald in public and private, despite the immense risk to my public reputation and my private relationships. I rode with that thought for a while, the accident being some sort of Karmic retribution for a lukewarm political affiliation, until I was overcome with one of those goose-stepping-across-your-grave moments: President Hillary Clinton.

In case you haven't gathered it by now, I'm a superstitious person. I believe in God, the after-life and the human soul. I also believe crossing a black cat's path is bad luck, which is apparently an American thing, because in Europe, white cats are considered bad luck. Anyway, about two weeks before I broke my beak, I did indeed cross the path of black cat, which I recalled now seeking some sort of explanation, other than my tottering old age, for the accident.

I eventually threw this “reasoning” out because I'd been driving a different vehicle when I crossed the black cat's path (my various superstitions each have their own rule books), although I'm still wondering if that feline had something to do with it.

Whitmore Road is an awesome stretch of pavement, and once you hit the twisties past Millville on a motorcycle, or even in an automobile, the curves take your mind off all your troubles. Troubles like mortality and stupid superstitions.

For its part, the Beemer performed flawlessly sans beak. Beside directing air into the oil cooler, the beak is mostly a cosmetic part and not required for the bike to run, like fins on a late '50s Cadillac. Some owners actually take the beak off because they think it looks funny, but I would never do that.

As soothing as the ride home was, I was still rattled when I parked the bike in the garage and closed the door so no one would notice the damage. Not that we get too many visitors in these parts besides UPS and Federal Express, but nice as they are, who wants those guys knowing your business?

RV broken bike beak

I remained rattled in the coming days as I calculated the cost of the accident. I've crashed in the dirt plenty and laid the bike down in the street numerous times, but I'd never actually broken any major parts. Calling the insurance company was never an option. No way I was going to blemish my mostly perfect driving record. But as the toll added up, I sure gave it some thought.

A new beak, painted “night black” like my bike, was almost $500 according to the parts manual. Same story for the headlight unit, which was damaged beyond repair. Complicating matters, BMW doesn't sell painted beaks for my bike in the United States, because some ingredient in “night black” paint is barred from importation.

Thank God for eBay and the Internet. I found a used headlight unit for a fraction of the retail price. I searched the ads in vain for a beak painted “night black,” until finally relenting and buying an unpainted beak from the BMW dealer in Sacramento. I called around town to see how much it would cost to have it professionally painted, and was somewhat shocked to discover it would cost at least twice as much as I paid for the raw plastic beak.

As it turned out, some enterprising entrepreneur has developed a thriving online business providing spray paint kits for various colors that have been regulated out of business, including BMW's “night black.” The kit comes with everything you need to do it yourself, from fine grain emery paper to primer, paint and clear coat.

So I sanded, primered, painted and clear-coated the beak in the garage, even though it was 40 degrees outside and probably too cold to be spray-painting. Most of the paint stuck pretty well, but on the sides of the beak it congealed because of the low temperature and hardened into a condition that's called orange peal, because it looks like the pores of a politician not wearing makeup on HDTV.

For the next several weeks, I attempted to polish and wax that orange peel out of existence. It's not like I had anything better to do with my spare time. The rain had returned and now that all the sanding and spray-painting was done, my girlfriend let me bring the beak in the house. This led to innumerable conversations between the two of us along these lines:

“What are we going to do this weekend?” she'd ask.

“I guess I'll just polish my beak,” I'd reply.

“So that's what they're calling it these days,” she'd deadpan.

RV front of bike

There came a point in time when the rain went away and I realized I was stalling the inevitable with all the beak polishing. I've never ridden a horse, but I figure a motorcycle is the next closest thing, and I've always held myself to the adage that if you get bucked off, get right back on.

If you thought I'd learned my lesson from this whole ordeal, that a 57-year-old man shouldn't be doing motorcycle stunts in parking lots, well, you're partially right. I won't be doing that anymore. It's not like I did it that much in the first place. Yes, I'm going to ride more cautiously in public.

But even as I bolted the freshly-painted beak on to the bike, I knew that just getting back on and going for a little joyride wasn't going to suffice. It had nothing to do with politics or crossing the path of a black cat or whether or not there's an afterlife. It was all about fear, the terror I'd experienced as the bike nearly flipped and came crashing back down to earth was still with me. There's only one way I know to make that fear go away.

Either I was an old man or I wasn't. I'm not, I can't be, so on my 57th birthday, I went out and practiced my wheelies.

RV popping wheelies

Photos by Kelsey Falle

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas.
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30 Responses

  1. john says:

    Dang R. V. I wish I was 57 again. Don’t let go of the teenager at heart feeling because then you will be an “old man”.

  2. cheyenne says:

    At 74 I don’t ride motorcycles but I refuse to get a handicapped sticker for my car, I’ll leave those spaces for those who really need them.  And RV cheer up, I read that Bernie Sanders and his supporters are back for the midterms.

  3. Happy belated birthday, R.V.  You make 57 look pretty good.

    I’m glad you survived your crash.  Stay safe, and you might want to give up those wheelies.

  4. Beverly Stafford says:

    Like Cheyenne, at 74 I think of 57 as still a kid and would happily be there again.  Since I can’t turn back the clock, I just ignore the number and act as though 74 is the new 45.  Thanks for the entertaining post, and I’m so glad you’re OK to write again another day.

  5. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    …I parked the bike in the garage and closed the door so no one would notice the damage. Not that we get too many visitors in these parts besides UPS and Federal Express, but nice as they are, who wants those guys knowing your business?”

    I loved the irony, especially directly above a photo of the shattered beak.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve owned a motorcycle, but I still behave somewhat like an idiot teenager when I get on a pair of skis. One concession, though: I just cruise really fast.  No more skiing the fall line in mogul fields like my legs and lower back are shock absorbers.  My 58-year-old lumbar region is having none of that.

    Giving up crashing mogul fields is the equivalent of giving up wheelies, R.V.  It’s okay.


    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      Like most clever irony that was totally unintentional and I didn’t notice it until you mentioned it. Several layers of irony there!

      I’ve skied a little, an ex-girlfriend was a semi-pro and used to take me up the hill. One time she stranded me at the top of Mt. Baldy in Sun Valley. It was covered with five feet of artificial snow that was frozen slicker than heck. I made it about 100 feet before the ski patrol had to rescue me. Anyway, I agree, giving up wheelies and moguls is equivalent. Not quite ready to give em up yet, though.

  6. Brian Mcnuelty says:

    Good Story.

  7. Matthew Meyer says:

    nice work

  8. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Loved this piece, R.V., but all this “old man” stuff sure makes it hard to maintain a state of denial when I’m more than a thousand days older than you.

    I sold my motorcycle when I moved to Shasta County in ’94. Lately, I’ve been yearning for one again, maybe an enduro or dual-sport this time instead of a pure street bike. But, after reading this, I may go back to the Dirtbike Camp in Orland, get myself banged up a bit, and put the notion to bed for another few years.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      Hmmm. Maybe I should start counting days instead of years.  I don’t feel so old today and I’m glad I wrote the story to get it out of my system.

      I could totally see you on a GS.

  9. Sally says:

    R.V. I do not know you, but have to thank you for entertaining me this morning!  By the way, 57 is still a kid!  Don’t listen to AARP!!!

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I thought it was pretty cool when I got my first 55 year old discount. Maybe I better start taking more advantage! I’m glad you got a laugh!

  10. name says:

    Great story.  I think that just about everyone who has ridden a motorcycle has pulled that same maneuver at least once, or more likely – a few times!  Glad that ya were not seriously hurt…

  11. Karen C says:

    Yea, 57 is still a kid…but kids have to grow up, so stop doing stunts and ride like a grown-up!  We want to see you all grown up and still riding into your 80’s.  Your guardian angel  was looking after you,  this time.  Great story.

  12. Rod says:

    Proof of the racers’ credo ……..I’d rather be lucky than good!


  13. Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    Wonderful story!  My husband has a big street bike and a street legal dirt bike.   He’s 8 years older than you, but he is weighing the risks of riding a bike to heavy to be picked up by one person once the bike goes down.  And while he used to race motorcycles, I’m sure he’s aware that his response time is different than it was when he was 20.

    So you’re practicing your wheelies?  Good.  When I have a hard time getting out of chair I know it’s time to practice more.  This is not the time to give up on good things in life.  It may only mean that you have to be more intentionally conscious than when you were younger,

    Again, great story.  Thank you R.V.


  14. Robert Scheide says:

    From the time I bought RV his first motorcycle he has had me keeping a death watch on him, and it only got worse as he grew to bigger bikes.  After watching him take a header on his dirt bike I had to quit watching.  To say he was a manic bike rider is to sugar coat his riding.  Damn he was and is good.  I’ve had my incidents on my bike , the last one made me quit riding.  I got hurt bad and didn’t know it till after my quad bypass when two veins in my shoulder ruptured and I almost went away.  I sometimes look at it as payback for all the times he scared me although I think I won that won by scaring him than he ever scared me.   Cheer up son, you know I stayed active till my COPD  slowed me down.  He has always ridden with damn good protective gear and this time it payed off.  Stay safe son.

  15. Steve Murray says:

    Those BMW boxers are beguiling. They suck you in with their shear overwhelming competence. Mine, a 1992 R100r was so good at almost everything I kept her for 25 years. Every time I rode her I’d say to myself ” I’ll never have another bike this good.” Finally yearning for something more “modern” my good sense was overwhelmed by lust and I bought a Triumph Speed Triple.  Can’t say that I’m sorry, but I do think fondly and often of Bertha (her name – you do have a name for yours right RV?) I’m glad you’re acting your age RV, keep the rubber side down!

  16. A. Jacoby says:

    I can recall several pair of boxers that I thought were beguiling . . ..although a couple of them were a little less than  competent.

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