Why I Bought Four Silver Gray Motorcycles In Four Years

Two street Guzzis and a touring Beemer welcome a new dirt buddy to the family

moto guzzi motorcycles
My silver gray Moto Guzzis and BMW needed a knobby-tire companion.Photo: Gaz Boulanger

As a former collegiate soccer player, I find it hard to sit on the sidelines of life while others get to play. This is metaphorically speaking, of course, and in this case I’m referring to riding motorcycles off road, something I’ve never done in my 51 years of outdooring.

Last week I interviewed a former bicycle industry peer from Trek Bicycles, and halfway through our phone call it dawned on me that Joe was enjoying his off-road riding life way too much for me to not participate. It certainly helped that the night before my son Henri and I watched On Any Sunday in homage to the late filmmaker Bruce Brown, who passed away the day before.

So four days later I bought a custom 2004 Suzuki DR650SE on Craigslist from a physical therapist named Ryan in nearby San Mateo in NorCal's Silicon Valley.

We're fortunate to have ample space in our two-stall garage, which until late 2013 housed 32 bicycles, all neatly hung like prized fowl on Christmas Eve in a Charles Dickens story. Once the silver gray 2004 Moto Guzzi California Stone entered the picture on December 30 of that year, everything changed.

A year and a half later, Henri and I were looking to sell his 1982 Suzuki GS650G and get a replacement, which turned out to be a gray 2004 Moto Guzzi V11 Sport Ballabio. We rode down California's Highway 1 to visit Virgil Elings' Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum, enjoying our 1,100cc Italian machines on one of the most iconic roads on the planet.

2004 moto guzzi sport ballabio
This one got me at “braaap” when the Fast by Ferracci pipes fired up.Photo: Sang, the previous owner

My wife Jean and I began touring around California on the Stone, but its minimal passenger seat and backrest prompted another addition to the family on January 2, 2016, a gray 2003 BMW R1150RT, a favorite of several current and former Cycle World staffers. And while the plan was to sell the Stone, a few weeks after buying the RT the clutch slave cylinder decided to retire without warning, reminding me that a true family of riders has at least two operating motorcycles at the ready at all times. Plus, the Stone has a certain je ne sais quoi that reminds me of why I got back into motorcycling in the first place. And it's gray.

2003 bmw r1150rt
This Bavarian beauty carried me nearly 6,000 miles to and from Wisconsin last spring.Photo: Gaz Boulanger

The Beemer took me to Wisconsin and back this past spring, proving its worth and value with every passing day. It continues to be my nearly daily rider, and Jean enjoys the comfort and view from the back. In less than two years we’ve racked up nearly 30,000 trouble-free miles on it.

So how did I get away with buying another gray bike?

2004 Suzuki DR650SE
The stock tank and spare swingarm are sitting in my workshop next to a large aftermarket tank and a pile of oil filters.Photo: Ryan, the previous owner

The lure of dirt is hard to withstand here in northern California, where thousands of inviting miles lie in all directions from Silicon Valley. Distracted driving continues to be an issue, and I miss riding a mountain bike. The gray Suzuki came with an aftermarket gas tank for longer trips (hello Hollister!), so I purchased a stock seat off eBay to retrofit when the lure of long-distance brap calls this winter.

So who’s to blame for me having four gray bikes in my garage in four years? It’s more like who to thank, starting with Steve McQueen, Peter Egan, Bruce Brown, Mert Lawwill, Malcolm Smith, Mark Hoyer, Guy Martin, Valentino Rossi, and Mama Jean.

Think I’m pushing my luck by asking her about this 1966 BSA Lightning at Flying Tiger in St. Louis? I could always make room from another silver gray bike…

1966 BSA Lightning
I’ve always wanted a bike made in my birth year, and not only is this 1966 BSA Lightning a fine piece of machinery, it’s owned by a former Guns N’ Roses band member.Photo: Flying Tiger Motorcycles