5:07am Lebanon, TN. I am standing in darkness that has a tinge of the coming dawn. It is a cool if not slightly chilly 63 degrees farenheit. Dew covers the grass and every other surface that resists moisture. A droplet hangs from a leaf, while another sits content in the valley between a few blades of grass. In a slow 360 degree sweep i see no other human being. I smile. What i do see is a subdued multi-colored sea of tents and motorcycles. Hundreds of them. It is as if some strange infestation has beset the normally green meadows. They are all uniformly blanketed in dew. And it is silent, but for a few birds who are trying to explain this strange phenomenon in song. It helps that the entire serene landscape belies the day to come, and the very reason for the invasion.
Regular readers will know that the BMW MOA Rally is an annual pilgrimage to a different part of the USA for the gathering of blue propeller devotees (see 2018 coverage or even 2009 coverage). It is three or four days of seminars, rides, shopping, music, beer, and general comraderie. For our part, we got a Rox handlebar riser installed on the GS (free installation rally special), and got another Sena speakerless mount. We attended interesting sessions on Airhead restoration and on travelling South America. Three riders who we met randomly walking around, joined us on a great unplanned ride in the area. There was also a surprisingly good stunt show due to the use of a stock BMW 310 ! Suffice it to say that rider skills are highly underrated. We spent a few days camped beside guys from Massachusetts and Connecticut on the one side, and Alabama on the other. More importantly, a new F850GSA, an R1150R, and an K1600GT. With the diversity in personalities, machines, and storytelling, the entertainment probably surpassed that onstage. It helps that riders tend to travel with samples of their favorite social lubricant.
The vintage display is a rally staple, and always a favorite. Since the rally moves around the country, you get to see the best examples within striking distance of a given area. This year allowed for some great examples from the southeast. The lobby of the main exhibit hall provided a nice setting. With the majority of vintage BMW models (pre 1970) being black with white pinstripe, models of any other color tend to standout. This year that was more evident in the mix of machines. Dover white machines always look good and there was a very nice /2. Even more unusual was a red /2 US. Our favorite however was an ultra rare grey /2. An overall people’s choice favorite for the entire event though was a metallic blue /2 with matching Stein sidecar which was parked just outside the exhibit hall. Back inside, two even older machines stole the vintage show for us. The first was a 1938 R61 in red and black post office livery and equipped with sidecar. It is a reminder, that these were ultimately practical machines used for work and transport at the time. The second, was Craig Vechorik’s 1921 Victoria. Before producing its own machines in 1923, BMW produced engines for others.. Victoria was one of them and this model sported a horizontally opposed engine mounted longitudinally in the grey Victoria frame. It helps that this is a museum quality restoration.
Beyond the vintage display, there are thousands of bikes in attendance. 99% are BMWs, but there are probably no two alike. Such is the culture of this event that it is no accomplishment to turn up on a new machine having ridden 1000 miles to get there. Showing up after 1000 miles on an airhead or a /2, however, gets you major cred. Showing up on a machine not initially designed for long distance touring also gets you some cred. The guy with the Hayabusa equipped with large metal panniers (true attendee) gets some cred….and a go-fund-me for pain relief. The BMWMOA has made two key changes designed to improve the national rally and respond to repeated member feedback. First, they moved the Rally to June from July. Weather is a bit cooler for most of the USA, as was in evidence this year. Father’s Day weekend was not the best choice, so next year it moves a week later. They also just adopted a process for national rally locations which divides the country vertically into thirds. It is an attempt to provide equal opportunity for all members to attend if they do not have the time or the interest to cross the country. This year was the eastern zone. Next year is in the west in Great Falls, Montana. However, for a marque that prides itself on riding long distances, the rally location is just an excuse for a good long round trip. True for us once again. It helps that there is a big well-organized family reunion at the halfway point.