My Good Day at the 2018 Chicago IMS

IMG_0496There are relatively few things I look forward to doing in the dead of winter. Going to the International Motorcycle Show when it comes to Chicago is one of them. February may seem like the worst possible time to put on a show like this. What were they thinking?

In warm weather states, the IMS features outdoor activities, like demo rides, in addition to the indoor expo. That isn’t very feasible here in the frigid, snowy Midwest—although every year you will find at least one snow-capped motorcycle parked in the remote lot. We do have our diehard riders. For most of us, though, the IMS is as close to riding as we can get in the dead of winter.

IMG_0522Such was certainly the case this year. Thanks to my unemployed/self-employed status (see Ups and Downs – Part 2 of 3), my wife and I were able to attend this year’s show on opening day. The entire area was under a winter storm warning that morning, but that didn’t deter us. I shoveled several inches of snow before we left and off into the storm we went. The drive was slow and visibility poor, but we eventually arrived safely at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. I’m sure the show’s organizers, UK-based UBM, weren’t too choked up about the lighter attendance that afternoon, but Karen and I thoroughly enjoyed the uncrowded aisles and displays.

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I have gone to the IMS every year since 2003 for two reasons. First and foremost, I want to see the new models up close. Sit on a few bikes. Talk to the reps. Dream. Other motorcycle enthusiasts will understand. I am always drawn to “retro” models, that remind me of what motorcycles looked like back when I was a kid, and also new concepts and trends. These days, however, my tastes run heavily toward “full dresser” touring bikes because I enjoy taking road trips on two wheels. Now truly any motorcycle can be utilized for long distance travel. Indeed, people have proven the point by making coast-to-coast journeys on small displacement dual-sport motorcycles, 50cc scooters and even mopeds. Me, I like to travel in comfort, often with a passenger, and do not (intentionally) ride off-road. I like a bike that can be ridden for hours on the interstate, comfortably, but that also handles well on curvy backroads.

I saw a couple of interesting new touring bikes this year, both imports. The all-new Honda Gold Wing Tour packs a lot of technology, power, and comfort into a fairly compact package (relative to the last two iterations of this machine). The unconventional double wishbone front suspension drew a lot of attention, as did all the onboard gadgetry. Compared to the previous GL 1800, which seemed truck-like up front in my eyes, this year’s model looks positively svelte. My greatest concern, apart from the prospect of going back to a Japanese bike from my current American-made mount, is the reduced luggage capacity. The touring model (i.e. with trunk) offers 110 liters total or about 29 gallons of cargo space, 40 liters less than the previous model. That’s a concern for someone like me, who has never been one to pack light.

Yamaha also upped the ante this year with their all-new Star Venture. While no slouch in the technology department, the Venture doesn’t have quite as much high-tech punch as the does the Gold Wing. What it does have is a new air-cooled (!) V-twin powerplant, a comfortably low seat height, and ample luggage capacity—38 gallons, give or take, depending on trim. As with the Honda, I’d have to put this bike through the paces, with and without passenger, before passing any real judgement. But I must say, this bike felt good beneath me. So much so that I went back for one last look before leaving the show that day.

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Ever since I bought my Victory Vision, almost five years and 50,000 miles ago now, I’ve had an ever-growing appreciation for American-made motorcycles. I can say without boasting that my current ride is the biggest, heaviest, sweetest sounding, most comfortable road machine I have yet owned. But following Polaris’ decision last year to cease production of the Victory brand, my domestic choices have been reduced. Although I have never owned or even ridden a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, I have a great deal of respect for the brand as well as for the company behind it. I won’t rule out the possibility of owning one sometime in the future, but I must admit that compared to some other choices, the H-D models feel a bit cramped and just don’t seem to “fit” me well. Then there’s Indian. I’ve never owned one but have ridden their Chief and Chieftain models. Still not as roomy as my Vision (I’m not sure what is), the big Indians have a nice ride and a sweet sound. They are also quite expensive and although the touchscreen display on their Chieftain and Roadmaster models is the largest in the industry, I can’t get over the likeness of that big, boxy dash to a 1950’s television set.

The other reason I enjoy attending the IMS every year is to walk the merchant aisles. This year had a better mix of vendors and promoters than I’d seen in a while. For one thing, there were more “destination” exhibitors—tourism departments, event promoters, etc. I love those because their maps and brochures give me something to look over and ponder while I wait for the snow to melt. The apparel and accessory booths are always fun to browse, too. There is one vendor in particular called Cyphen Sportswear that Karen and I look forward to seeing each year. We have been buying T-shirts from Steve and Ronnie for many, many years now. They watched our children grow up, back when we used to take them along. We’ve gotten to know each other well enough that we no longer just shop, but actually stay at their booth and visit for a while.

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Custom builds have become a big part of the IMS in recent years. I have no mechanical aptitude to speak of—I break things—but I have an eye for aesthetics and a deep appreciation for custom bike builders who know their craft. Of particular note this year was “Porterfield,” a board tracker custom by a group called Motorcycle Missions, “a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Corporation helping individuals who deal with PTS(D) and suicidal ideation find hope and healing through motorcycles.” I am intrigued by this organization, which deserves more attention from the media as well as the public at large. Motorcycle Missions in fact won the J&P Cycles Ultimate Biker Build Off Championship and was declared the 2018 “King of the Builders” at the Chicago show.

And so we drove home with our souvenir bags filled with literature, freebies, and whatever merchandise we’d purchased at the show. The snow had stopped and, presumably due to the storm having kept so many people at home, the roads were wide open at what should have been the height of Chicagoland’s afternoon/evening rush.

I know motorcycling isn’t for everybody, but it’s clearly a thing for me. There is nothing else quite like it. Thanks for hanging with me.

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Our Last Ride of Summer

36867579861_9a7ae99a3e_oWhen a motorcyclist and his pillion passenger of choice live over 100 miles apart in two different states, they tend not to take their outings for granted. Such is the case for my friend Ann and me. While we absolutely have gotten together on the spur of the moment, we usually put some thought into scheduling our rides based on mutual availability, weather outlook, etc. We had both been hoping to go riding together sometime over the 2017 Labor Day holiday weekend; we just weren’t sure which day it would be. After all, we went riding for three days during the 2016 Labor Day weekend. Surely we’d be able to get a simple day ride in this year, right? Well, it almost didn’t happen.

36737811802_a94173bea1_oMy current employment situation might have put any multi-day excursions on ice, had we planned any, but would not have stopped Ann and me from taking a day trip together. When my wife took an unplanned trip to the hospital the weekend prior, however, a visit that turned into an extended stay, everything else in my life became tentative—including my career search activities, scheduled meetings, and leisurely motorcycle excursions. Such has been my practice for decades, so no big surprise there. When I say family first, I mean family first.

Four days later, Karen was back at home with no physical restrictions, life was quickly returning to normal, and everything that had been put on hold was suddenly back in 21389322_10213547112773090_2064896616_oplay. The very next day, I resumed job search activities, had an awesome meeting with a former colleague of mine, and with a favorable weather forecast in place, I reached out to Ann and made firm plans to take her out riding.

The morning of Sunday, September 3 was a cool one in central Wisconsin. Foggy, too. Ann set out some breakfast goodies and two mugs of fresh, hot coffee. We took our sweet time sipping coffee, looking at potential routes on Ann’s map app, and watching out the window as the fog gave way to a beautiful sunny morning. Once that happened, Ann added her gear to mine on the bike and we set out together for what would surely become our last ride of the summer.

It may have been just a simple day trip, but wow, what a ride! We opted to run north and do a simple loop through the Northern Unit of Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest. 21363237_10213547112653087_1549845227_oWe ran north on Wisconsin 67 and then took a few county roads—A to T to G, which rejoins 67 and then departs again—to make a loop within the Northern Unit.

We made three relatively quick stops while touring the Northern Unit that day. Our first stop was at the Ice Age Visitor Center, which we had visited last fall (Rides with Ann: the Autumn Runs, October 26).  As we pulled into 36819817166_b9c3a7fa8a_othe parking area, Ann spotted a small bicycle rack positioned on the sidewalk leading to the Visitor Center. Leaning forward, she murmured into my left ear, “I dare you to pull Miss Scarlett up to that bike rack so I can get a picture of you there.” Naturally, I did what any other red-blooded Italian American man would have done after having received such a dare from a beautiful woman sitting on the back of his motorcycle. I sighed audibly, gunned the bike’s big V-twin engine for emphasis, and then rode in a sweeping circle around the parking lot and up to the bike rack, much to the delight of my conspiring passenger, who hopped off and took the photo as promised.

The purpose of this stop was not so much to reminisce as to finalize our route, set up Ann’s video equipment, and take advantage of the restrooms that we knew were available at the center. We did also venture onto the viewing deck out back and managed to take the selfie that appears at the very beginning of this article. While that photo does display the beautiful blue sky above, it really doesn’t do justice to the beautiful scenery that lay behind us, from the deck rail all the way out to the horizon. Such is the natural beauty of the Kettle Moraine.

16593983853_1dd7937408_oOur next stop was a quick memory maker on our way back down a portion of WI 67 near the shores of Long Lake. On our way up, I had pointed out a place to Ann where a few years earlier—June 1, 2014, to be exact—my son and I had stopped on our way home from a weekend of watching AMA Superbike races at Road America to grab a selfie with the lake behind us. On our way back, as Long Lake came into view, Ann suggested stopping in the same spot FFEE5F27-896C-4B0B-B9D2-3F0382AF329Dto grab a quick photo that I could send to my son, who is currently living in Portland, Oregon, having recently completed his studies at the Portland Actors Conservatory. Having enjoyed Ann’s last suggestion so much, I pulled into the exact same spot and paused while she hopped off the bike, snapped her photos, and hopped back on. This is one of many things I love about my friend Ann. While I am astounded that more than three years later, I was able to stop in nearly the exact same spot that selfie was taken in 2014, I am equally astounded that Ann saw the value in doing so. Plus she set up that shot in seconds and quite frankly, but for the ugly gent in the saddle, I think she took an excellent photo.

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Our last stop was of sentimental value to me alone. There is this little State Forest Headquarters facility that I have stopped at from time to time on my way home from the bike races over the years. The first time was in 2005, traveling alone with my new 2005 Honda ST1300. I’m sure I stopped there with my silver 2007 ST1300 as well, but I have no photographic evidence. On more than one occasion, I have dragged my son to this nondescript place and he still wonders why I like to stop there. It’s hard to explain. There is nothing special about it, but this place is special to me. I wanted Ann to see it and while she understood John’s puzzlement about the place, she also understood how this rather nondescript parking lot in the middle of a state forest could hold meaning for me.

From there we stopped only once more. on our way back from the Northern Unit, we pulled up in front of the Don Ramon Mexican Restaurant in downtown Mayville. Ann had a build-your-own combination and I had tacos al pastor. Both were good and the service was not only warm and friendly, but also lightning fast.

From there we headed back to Ann’s place where, after an unscheduled (but apparently necessary) nap on her living room couch, I bid my dear friend and her son goodbye and headed home to Illinois. The holiday weekend traffic was understandably heavier than usual, especially south of the border, but it never really slowed down. Although I no longer had Ann sitting behind me, I had some terrific memories of our day together to keep me company during my journey home.

Our next trip will be the first of the autumn season. It may be another day trip or perhaps something more epic, depending on my employment situation, but wherever we end up going, I am pretty sure of two things: it will be awesome for us and you will likely be able to read about it here. Thanks for hanging with me.

Rendezvous Run Day 4: End of the Road


And then there were two. Last night after a long day on the road, while we were eating a very late supper and enjoying a few cold beers, our friend Eddie suggested that he might opt to get up early and head for home, leaving my son John and me to take our time and enjoy riding together. John and I were both fine with that suggestion and I was pretty sure the following morning would play out exactly that way. I was quite right. 

When Eddie’s text came in the early hours, confirming that he was indeed on his way, I rolled over and let John know. The kid looked so tired, as if he had still been riding all night, so I suggested we sleep a bit longer. John seemed to like that idea, so we killed our respective cell phone alarms and fell back asleep. I woke up a while later and began my morning ritual— shaving, etc.—periodically checking on my son, who continued to sleep. Only after I emerged from a long, hot shower did my son once again show signs of life. 

“Hey, Pop.”

“Yes, Son?”

“I guess I really needed that sleep!”

” I know.”

We didn’t even make it downstairs in time for the hotel’s complimentary breakfast, but we didn’t care. We ate granola bars and leftovers from the night before right in our room, while we talked and laughed about all manner of things. 

We picked up more sunblock and looked, unsuccessfully, for a set of headlamp bulbs for my bike. Then we hit the road heading east from Lincoln, knowing in advance that with such a late start, I might or might not be able to continue home after John stopped in Rock Island, his final destination for the day. 


Once again there were no touristy stops today, but we hit the jackpot once again when John chose The Corn Crib, in Shelby, Iowa as our lunch stop. Nothing fancy, just a mom-and-pop restaurant with home-style food and a convenience store inside and a BP fuel center outside. Try the hot beef sandwich. You will thank me. 


There is an unwritten (until now) rule of motorcycle touring that whenever two or more bikes are traveling together, the group must pace itself for the least experienced rider, the slowest bike/operator, and the smallest gas tank. My son has ridden more miles than a lot of people who have been riding for many more years, so while I would not call John an expert in proficient motorcycling, inexperience is not a concern. His 750cc motorcycle, however, is on the small side by today’s standards, especially for touring. I had to laugh the other night when John informed me that when fully loaded, his bike is not capable of speeding on the interstate highways of Wyoming. And while my ocean liner of a bike can run between 175 and 225 miles on a tank of gas, John’s gas tank is generally good for 100–130 miles. What does all this mean? We really didn’t exceed today’s 65–75 mph speed limits by very much and we stopped for gas every 100 miles or so. 

We picked up some rush hour congestion when we passed through Des Moines. Traffic was heavy, but moving. Then a little ways east of Des Moines, not the middle of nowhere, but definitely out of the city proper, everything came to a grinding halt. After spending miles and miles in stop-and-go traffic, mostly stopped, with the hot sun beating on us and substantial engine heat rising up from between our respective legs, we came upon an accident clean-up scene involving at least one well-smooshed car and some broken glass and bits of automotive debris strewn across one lane. After that it was smooth sailing, but time-wise, my chances of getting all the way home before dark had been reduced to zero.


And so the Rendezvous Run concluded in Rock Island this evening. I got myself a decent single room near the airport in Moline, sent John off to be with his best friends, who had been anticipating his arrival all week (and with whom he will be living while working for the Mississippi Bend Players this summer), picked up some food and drink to enjoy in my room, cleaned and covered my bike for the night, and settled in to share my day with you.

A few closing thoughts… Some road trips are about the destination(s), others about the journey. In the case of some road trips, the opportunity to travel a specific road can indeed be the destination. The Rendezvous Run wasn’t about destinations, although we truly enjoyed many of our stops along the way, nor was it about spectacular motorcycle roads, though we did manage to take in some very pleasant scenery and even a bit of wildlife. I set up the Rendezvous Run to do one thing. All I wanted to do was meet up (i.e. to rendezvous) with my son John as he rode across the western US from Portland and then ride with him to his destination, Rock Island, Illinois. Based on that sole objective, I’d say we were successful, even though I have not yet gotten home myself. 

It’s been a great run. Thanks for coming along!

Rendezvous Run Day 3: Cheyenne to Lincoln (Again)

This was an odd day for the Rendezvous Run. My son John, coming east from Portland by way of Twin Falls, had pulled into our Cheyenne hotel parking lot rather late the night before. After hugs, greetings, debriefings and assorted conversations, we planned for a delayed start the next morning and then turned in for the night. By morning, though, two of our crew had woken up very early and headed out on their own. So then there were three. 


After gassing up, we headed east across Nebraska. No touristy stops per se today, but we did get off the interstate for a while and rode U.S. 30, also known as the Lincoln Highway, from  Sydney to Ogallala. In Sydney we found a Honda dealer who had been in business 50 years. We had been fueling our bikes when our friend Eddie noticed an interesting but dated Honda mural on the building across the street from us. That was the dealership. 


In Ogallala, we found the neatest place to stop for a late lunch, the Front Street Restaurant and Crystal Palace Saloon. But for the deep, loose gravel lot we had to park on, this is an excellent place, with great food, a museum, a stage for live entertainment, and more. The people were very friendly, too. We had a fun time there. 

After that, we got back onto I-80 and rode… and rode… and rode, stopping only for fuel and bathroom breaks. At one point, John noticed one of my headlights had gone dark. Less than an hour later, the other bulb went out, too. The high beams still work. No night driving until we get those replaced. 

Tomorrow, the final leg of our Rendezvous Run unfolds. More to come!

Rendezvous Run Day 2: To Cheyenne from Lincoln and Twin Falls

Today my group got up early, grabbed a bite of “free” breakfast at the hotel, packed up the bikes and headed west out of Lincoln. Meanwhile my son geared up and headed east from Twin Falls, Idaho. I had the better end of the deal with a little under 500 miles to cover; he had over 600. 


We made one touristy stop at The Archway in Kearney, Nebraska. This arch, which spans across I-80, is a neat museum/monument to the region’s role in the westward expansion. There are interesting exhibits inside and out, a gift shop, and an incredibly friendly and helpful staff. 


Meanwhile, my son John crossed the desert. Every so often, he would Update me on his progress, which always seemed slower than expected. This made me feel guilty about my own group’s progress, because everything seemed to be stacked in our favor. We had fewer miles to cover, we had large, powerful bikes on which to cover them, and there were four of us traveling together. Still, I suspect that John saw his journey as part of a grand adventure that he has been enjoying very much. 


We stopped for lunch at a down-home bar and restaurant called the Rusty Bucket in Chappell, Nebraska. Good food and friendly, outgoing staff are what this family-run establishment has going for it. It was a good lunch stop. 


We dodged some scattered rain/storm cells and pulled into our hotel in Cheyenne safe and dry. The most recent update from John still had him about four hours out. Fortunately it appeared that he would be crossing Wyoming behind the storms and not with them. Dusk came and went. Still we waited. 


Finally, between 9:30 and 9:45 Mountain Time, John pulled into the parking lot at the hotel. I headed toward him, having set up to go live on Facebook with our meet-up, only to see that John had his phone out as well and was doing the exact same thing. And so we had dueling live feeds for a minute or two. Then we went inside. The “rendezvous” part of the Rendezvous Run has now kicked in!

Rendezvous Run Day 1: Morris to Lincoln & Portland to Twin Falls


The Chicagoland contingency departed at 8:15 from the R Place truck stop in Morris, IL today. Two hours later, the Portland contingency, i.e. my son, shoved off at about the same time, but in Pacific Time. 

Our lone touristy stop of the day was the Iowa 80  World’s Largest Truck Stop. It’s a tourist stop unto itself, with many products and services available for truckers as well as non-truckers. 


Lunch was at Montana Mike’s in Newton, IA. As I was preparing to go in, a biker couple was walking out to their trike. I struck up a conversation and learned that the two are regular customers who enjoy the food. It’s a chain with locations in eight states. Good food, nice people, no complaints. 


We rolled through Omaha during rush hour, which wasn’t fun, but wasn’t horrible, either and arrived at our hotel in Lincoln during the five o’clock hour. After freshening up, we walked over to Lucky’s Lounge & Grill for supper, drinks, and philosophizing. Then we walked back to the hotel, put our bikes to bed, kibitzed for a bit and then called it a night. 


When I began writing this, my son was still riding, still hours from his destination for the night, Twin Falls, Idaho. Just before midnight, I got the text I was waiting for: “Landed. Twin Falls, Idaho.” Now we wait to see how day two plays out. 

Why I Choose to Ride in the 2017 Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run

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The Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run is something that has become important to me over the years. In terms of numbers, this is the biggest fundraiser run I do each year, with thousands of bikes, all riding together for a common cause, in support of the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial.

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Whether you ride a motorcycle or not, if you have never visited the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois, I urge you to do so. That wall memorial is most unusual for several reasons. For openers, this memorial was made possible not by any branch of our federal, state, or local government—believe me, if that were the case, we would still be waiting—but by the Illinois motorcycle community. That’s right. As I understand it, the concept was hatched by a couple of bikers named Tony Cutrano and Jerry Kuczera. Made possible by donations of material, labor, and funds, this memorial was dedicated on June 19th, 2004. As the result, the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial became the first of its kind, a memorial honoring our fallen, by name, while a conflict is still ongoing.

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Each year, on the third Saturday in June, members of the motorcycle community gather in numbers—think four figures minimum, sometimes five—to raise funds for the memorial wall, which unfortunately continues to grow as more names are added each year, and to show their support for the fallen as well as for their families, some of whom are also in attendance that day (these are called Gold Star Families).

I want to talk to you about these families for a moment. You’ll notice them as you approach the wall, no matter if it’s during the day of the Freedom Run or any other day. They are usually very quiet and are usually focused on one of the many names now engraved on that wall. As often as not, some are crying while others are consoling—and sometimes they are all doing both at once. You know, it’s one thing to come thundering into Marseilles with a few thousand casual acquaintances, but once the kickstands are down, the closer everyone gets to the site of that memorial, the quieter things get.

And there you are, a badass biker, standing there looking at all those names engraved in the granite. You can see and hear the Illinois River flowing just beyond the memorial site. Then you hear another sound and you look over to see a mother, a father, a wife, a brother or sister, a child… sobbing uncontrollably. You look upon a scene like that and it changes the way you think about the Wall Memorial and the event that has made it possible through the years. It changed me, anyway.

Some years ago, I think it was 2005 or 2006, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the co-founders of the wall memorial, the late Tony “Greaseball” Cutrano. At the time, I had been president of the Illini Free Spirit Riders motorcycle club, and we had arranged to meet Tony at the Wall Memorial and present him with a small donation during the off-season. After we presented the check and took our pictures (I wish I had one to share with you here), we spent some time talking. Of all the things we discussed, there was one thing Tony said that made everything click with regard to the scene I described earlier. He explained that for some families, that Wall Memorial is the closest thing they will ever have to a cemetery because sometimes, there is no body to be recovered. I never felt the same way again about the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run, about the Wall memorial, about the big after party, about any of this gig.

I also have never missed this event in more than ten years.

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This year we will carry on the tradition that began in 2004, but without the “festival” support of the City of Marseilles. I could speculate on the reasons, but to what end? Listen to me: Times change, people change, events change. But our cause has not changed. Get it?

This year the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run returns to its roots by renaming its after-party the Celebration of Freedom. As you will see on the flier, this part of the event will take place at Fat Daddyz in nearby Seneca. It’s a great venue, I am told, but is obviously smaller than the City of Marseilles, so if parking becomes a bit of a hassle, please exercise a bit of patience and cooperation.

IMFR Last Point

Just one last point. I know some riders are gravely disappointed in the City of Marseilles for their decision to discontinue their municipal Freedom Fest this year. Yeah, me, too. But their municipal event was NEVER the focal point of the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run! Sure, some people stayed in town and partied while the solemn ceremony took place at the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial site. Now wouldn’t it be a dirty shame if those brothers and sisters didn’t participate this year because the city wasn’t hosting a party?

Yes, that would be a dirty shame. Do we really want to buckle under a bad decision made by some lame politicians? This year, just like every year before, the Freedom Run itself and the solemn ceremony at the Wall Memorial are still the collective centerpiece of our day and they are still as important and alive and vibrant as they were in 2004. So please, do come out on June 17 and show your continued support for this cause. Come June 17, let’s ride!