October 11, 1998
It all started in 1970 when I was drafted into the U.S. Army and was stationed at MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, Florida. MacDill was the home of the U.S. Strike Command. STRIKE stood for “swift retaliation in any known environment” and it focused on preparedness for activity in the Middle East. The Strike Command was redesignated U.S. Readiness Command in 1972. My wife and I lived in an apartment about ten miles from the base. When she got a job as a nurse in the intensive care unit of the Tampa General Hospital we decided we needed a second car. This was not an affordable alternative at the time and so I had the brainstorm one day that a motorcycle would be a good idea. Warm climate, friendly terrain, economical transportation, etc.. Why not? So, I bought a Honda 90cc motorcycle. It was perfect. Or so I thought. Then I enrolled as a graduate student at the University of South Florida. The campus was 25 miles from the apartment via Interstate 75. If you ever rode a 90cc motorcycle on an Interstate highway being sucked along by passing tractor trailers you’ll know why I then upgraded to a Honda 160cc. It was bright orange and I loved it. By the time we moved back North from Tampa I had put over 16,000 miles of motorcycling under my belt. After a short 27 year break I recently decided it was time to get back to riding a bike!
So, what kind of motorcycle to buy? I was predisposed to Honda. My experience with the 90 and the 160 was great. Never a single mechanical problem of any kind. Low maintenance, high quality. I am sure that is still the case. Then I got talking to Carl Conti, a retired executive with a very distinguished career at IBM and also as a consummate motorcyclist. He told me about his Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Yes, plural. I went to the Harley-Davidson website and began to learn about the “cult”. The decision was actually financial. Not the price of the bike but rather a review of Harley-Davidson stock (HDI). When I saw their stellar financial performance in terms of growth, profitability, return on equity, and stock price appreciation I knew there was something to the Harley movement. I also found that Harleys hold their resale value very very well. As final confirmation I went to a Harley-Davidson dealer and saw the crowds of people buying clothing, accessories, and admiring the new bikes on the showroom floor. I knew that this was a company and a product I wanted to be associated with. Seemed a lot like how I hope IBM is perceived; outstanding engineering, quality products, good reputation.
I couldn’t bear ordering a new one and waiting months to take delivery so I bought a 1995 Sportster 1200. It looked brand new! The Sportster has been a great bike for me to re-learn motorcycling on. I have been taking it very seriously from a safety point of view. I took a two day Motorcycle Safety Foundation approved class as part of getting my license. The instructor was outstanding and I learned a lot of things I wish I had known back in 1970! I think about riding much like when I was flying an airplane on instruments; constantly scanning the road ahead, rear view mirrors, speedometer, side traffic, and my GPS III.
Riding has been as enjoyable as I had remembered from 1970. Well, actually more so. Back then it was a way to get to grad school classes. Now I think about it as a way to be out there in the open, explore roads I wouldn’t otherwise travel, meet new people, and enjoy the thrill of the curves.