Mechanical Romance: Motorcycles as Art and the Thrill of Two-Wheeled Travel Cross Our Unprecedented Roads | Culture & Leisure


Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 edition of Local Magazine, but the content is more relevant than ever as temperatures warm up. The 2022 edition should hit newsstands in June.

When James Young talks about vintage BMW motorcycles, stories spring from him like mileage-enriched motor oil. Both are the cornerstone of the machines he so painstakingly – and sometimes obsessively – brings back to their authentic factory state. ” The beginning [BMW motorcycles] look like war vehicles but very elegant, gentlemanly. There’s not a lot of fluff, not a lot of chrome,” said the entrepreneur and seven-year Aspen resident, calling the brand’s German engineering, design and reliability “unmatched.” “You can restore one of these bikes, and it will take you coast to coast.”

Currently, Young is working on two 1930s BMWs. He found the 1937 BMW R17 through an East Coast collector and began restoring the unserviceable machine to its former glory in November 2008, when he still lived in Boulder. “There are maybe 20 left in the world,” said Young, who is known to travel to a swap meet in Germany to stock up on stock nuts and bolts. “It was the most expensive bike of its time and the first with an oil-damped telescopic fork – think RockShox on your bike. Throwing a leg over it and going for a ride is going to be a thrill.

Halfway through reassembling what he believes to be “the only R17 originally imported and sold in the United States,” Young hopes to have it raced to Maroon Bells or Pine Creek Cookhouse by the end of the summer. The getaway will represent 13 years of research, travel, elbow grease, loneliness and reverie.

“DIY takes you to a zone, much like fly fishing, golf, or even meditation,” Young said in his office-workshop-showroom in Aspen.

The motorbike is its own form of moving meditation. “Riding a motorcycle is the closest technological equivalent to being a cowboy,” wrote Robert Edison Fulton Jr. in “One Man Caravan,” a memoir about his trip around the world on a Douglas Twin in 1932.

Travis Fulton with his heirloom 1932 two-cylinder Douglas motorcycle that his father, Robert Fulton, rode around the world from July 1932 to December 1933.

It’s no surprise that Aspen’s dazzling geography, low traffic, and well-maintained roads — nestled in the Rocky Mountains about 40 miles from the nearest highway — attract two-wheeled broncos from around the world.

Dr. Paula Kadison experienced “some of the best riding in the world: Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico,” when she moved from Massachusetts to Aspen (with her 2006 “light enduro” BMW F650 GS) to launch a new intern – medical office in 2010. The medical professional obtained her motorcycle license and bought this first bike in 2006 at the age of 48. Here she traded up to a 1200cc Ducati Multistrada S, to better “follow my friends around the corners”. It’s on the asphalt, she says, that vulnerability meets confidence.

“With the Ducati, I feel a connection,” she said. “Going through McClure Pass, past Paonia Reservoir on those curves, you are absolutely connected. It’s a high-performance machine, so you have to be present and focused. That, to me, is the spirit of motorcycling.

B. Lee Schumacher is also looking for this flow.

“It’s the journey, not necessarily the destination,” said the BMW enthusiast who keeps his collection of vintage motorcycles and cars in a converted barn on Lower River Road in Snowmass. “We have roads here – like here – for anyone who likes to do corners on a motorcycle.”

Smooth and hilly, the “back road” from Aspen to Woody Creek and beyond via Cemetery Lane is a local treasure. Schumacher, a retired lawyer, drove a 1968 “Dover White” BMW R69S with Ural sidecar to his downtown office for nearly 30 years.

“I would go to the lumber yard, then pick up the kids from school,” he says. “Since it’s a motorcycle, you can park for free in Aspen at the end of the block. There is a large and vibrant motorcycling community in the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s a real biker culture.

Will Rutledge is a point guard. For about a decade, he has led guided tours through Ace Motorcycle Tours and organized locals’ favorite rides in Marble, Redstone, Buena Vista and Mesa Verde National Parks, some of which attract up to 15 people. Of course, motorcyclists share an adventurous, often adrenaline-seeking attitude and a love of the great outdoors. In Aspen, they are also often well-educated, independent, unconventional, and passionate about the arts.

Will Rutledge.jpg

Will Rutledge takes his custom 1957 Harley for a spin on Owl Creek Road.

“You’re locked in a car, and your weird flag doesn’t really fly, does it?” said sculptor and artist Travis Fulton, son of Robert, with a smile.

In the East End last May, Fulton fired up his dad’s bike, ‘the Dougie’, which was built before commercial air travel or television existed. The beast with the rebuilt engine woke up roaring from the first kick. Fulton will drive it to and from its home in Old Snowmass – that is, until it moves to an exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

“It’s fun to be in a city where people appreciate the extra effort that goes into making these things work,” said Bob Dillon, owner of Aspen Total Automotive (ATA) and former Chicago finance professional. “You solicit a lot more responses here than in other metropolitan areas. People have a better appreciation [for] maintain style and elegance [of] the past, which was a little less eventful than it is now.

Dillon’s daily driver, a 1965 BMW R69 with a rare Steib S250 sidecar, has room for his fiancée, Sally McPherrin, and Labrador, Sadie. And, he adds, “When the weather is nice and I have to make a call for ATA, I can throw a set of tools in [the sidecar] and will jump a car.


Bob Dillon’s Labrador, Sadie, enjoys the view from his 1965 BMW R69 with Steib S250 sidecar.

Colorado’s notoriously unpredictable weather and abbreviated warm season (May through October or June through September, depending on storm cycles) only heightens the excitement for motorcyclists.

“It’s always surreal to live in a place where it snows and the next day I can get on my bike and be free,” said Eduarda Rutledge, a transplant from Florida who started riding in 2013 after meeting her husband. , Will. (He suggested a motorcycle tour of U.S. Route 101, where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean.) She drives a 2010 BMW R1200 GS for touring, and McClure Pass has her heart.

“The views, the curves, it’s not too steep,” she said. “You can just let go.”

Schumacher’s visits too. Once he traveled from northern Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina, at the southern tip of South America (the “end of the world”) and through Alaska to the Arctic Circle ( 10,200 miles in five weeks) on a BMW R1200 GS. Even walking around town, he feels particularly immersed in his environment.

“On a bicycle you ride in three dimensions and much more environmentally sensitive,” said Schumacher, also the proud owner of a 1955 BMW R27, won in a BMW National Rally draw; a 1948 Indian Roadmaster Chief with an Indian Princess sidecar; and an altitude-sick 1910 Dale that looks like a bicycle with a pedal chain and leather drive belt. “You smell things that you won’t feel if you’re driving past. What amuses me is leaning over and feeling that rhythm of the road. It’s like stealing.

Rutledge cruises his custom 1957 Harley over Independence Pass for that sensory rush—the 1.5-gallon gas tank be damned.

“As you pass Twin Lakes,” he said, “the cold air from the water changes the temperature on the road. You are in. The memories are so vivid.

Never mind that the black hardtail beauty – which features a rear fender handcrafted from a ’50s Chevy automobile and has won titles as a collector’s bike – only produces 40 horsepower (per compared to new models with 90-110 hp) and lack of modern suspension.

“You go as far as you can until your back hurts,” Rutledge said.

It’s a small price to pay for “a work of art that will earn you experience”.


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