The very premise of the BMW motorcycle owners is that they ride. Very few people purchase one of these machines unless they plan to ride many hours and many miles. The machines often emphasize function over form more than most other brands, and can be an acquired taste. The BMW Motorcycle Owners of America is then a simple reflection of their members. They have an annual mileage contest, they feature riders from around the world in the midst of their travels, they wax eloquent about products that have withstood global abuse, and they have a long partnership with the Iron Butt Association (IBA). With some admitted bias, no other motorcycle marque is as synonymous with racking up the miles.
It will come as no surprise then, that the annual BMWMOA Rally is held in places not on the list of major attractions for any given state. Just to list the last few years, the towns include Gillette WY, Johnson City TN, Redmond OR, Bloomsburg PA, and this year, Sedalia MO. Almost everybody has to travel a long way to get to the rally (see Iron Butter). What these places have in common are great riding, ample camping, adequate motel/hotel rooms, and facilities to keep 7000 plus people occupied for 4 days. The default location has most often been a state fairgrounds, and this was true in 2012. A word about camping. With long distance travel, uncertain routes, and uncertain destinations, having your house and bed with you, goes with the territory. A variation on that theme are the motorcycle pop-up trailers and regular trailers carrying makeshift outdoor mansions. It doesn’t hurt that it is inexpensive, but it is usually a choice by people who buy relatively expensive motorcycles and can afford a hotel if they want. It is more philosophy than economy.
To get to Sedalia, I had to slab it. It was over 1000 miles, and the IBA once again had a special deal. I needed to do it in a day anyway, so this was a bonus. I started out in the middle of the night. Temperatures were low (in the 70s) and speeds were high. As daylight was emerging, I was already in OH, and ahead of schedule. The problem is the rest of the route. There is no good way to get to Missouri quickly without 95% interstate. And this interstate, I-70, through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, is mind-numbingly monotonous. Cities like Columbus, and Indianapolis are like oases in the flat desert of corn. There is hardly a curve in hundreds of miles, and I was sure that I could feel my tires being squared off as I traveled along in the 100+ degree heat. Elevation changes maybe 30 feet in 500 miles. Or so it seems. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing endless miles of straight interstate in front of you, and being unable to twist the throttle to the stop. 85 mph just seems far too slow, but law enforcement was out in force, and tends to disagree.
After an eternity and a half, I crossed into Missouri, and the end was in reach. I headed down to Lebanon, and thought I would finally get onto some more interesting road. The highway did have some sweeping curves and elevation, and the geography was much more interesting as it negotiated the northern tip of the ozarks. Lake of the Ozarks was a picturesque area that reminded me a bit of the area around Lake Okeechobe in Florida. Then I turned onto route 135. It was like water to a thirsty desert traveler. The road is only about 12 miles long, but it is a twisty roller coaster of a road. There is some clearing either side of the road with fencing set back 30 to 50 feet. In short, there was little concern about wildlife suddenly prancing across the road. After about a mile or so of reading the road, I fell in behind a Porsche Boxster puttering along. My approach must have awoken the driver, because he put his foot down and took off. I was struggling to keep up with the loaded bike, but it was massive fun trying 😉 This guy could drive. The big dips in the road bottomed his suspension at least twice, and came close to bottoming mine. The tires finally got some wear on the sides as I scraped a boot here and there in the curves. Great stuff. All too soon, he turned off on a gravel (!) road. I took it down a notch, but still enjoyed the remaining 2 miles to a T junction. Route 135 hangs a left and continues, but it becomes a more substantial county road after that. No matter, it had been just what the doctor ordered at the end of a 1000 mile day. I cruised into Sedalia smiling after 15.5 hours.
The next morning I showed up at 6am for volunteer duty. The Rally is possible only because hundreds of volunteers do everything from planning to manning first aid stations. The MOA staff is very small, so volunteers are more than just a nicety, they are essential. A few hours of your time to give back seems like a small price. I was on gate duty this year, and in the early morning hours, my stint was uneventful. It was probably different after the beer tent is open and the bands start 😉 The real stars are the committee members and others that have worked months if not a full year to make the event happen. Nobody gets paid.
The Rally itself is jam packed with training, rides, seminars, entertainment, eating, demo rides, and shopping. Oh, and there are BMW motorcycles as far as the eye can see ! Even 100+ degree heat does not significantly dull the spectacle. I have dubbed this year, the year of the GS. They were everywhere, in every vintage, in every configuration. Plenty of R100 and R1150 variants added to the armada of R1200 machines. And the vendor community has responded by offering a dizzying array of products and enhancements. At least five different seat vendors, multiple lighting vendors, multiple enhanced protection vendors, electronics galore, and the list goes on. And the rider is not forgotten either. High tech clothing that keeps you cool or warm, high viz clothing, helmets that reduce fatigue, gloves that reduce vibration, socks that increase your comfort, etc, etc, etc. Seminars educate on long distance techniques, showcase round-the-world rider/speakers, and show how to rebuild your engine in the outback using only eucalyptus leaves and Kangaroo droppings. If you want to ride longer and further on your BMW, you have come to the right place.
In my camping area, there was a New Yorker, a Floridian, three Canadians, a Nebraskan, and a West Virginian. Everybody had significant miles behind the handlebars. With the aid of adult beverages, an amazing array of issues were discussed, and global problems addressed. There were no unanimous solutions. We did not agree on tents or technology, on healthcare or helmets, on senators or sidecars. The universal need on which we all agreed, was that we would like to be on the road more, learning more, and traveling greater distances to destinations that did not matter. We did agreed that we had the right brand of motorcycle for that challenge.