A Motorcycling Guide for New and Returning Riders


This motorcycling guidebook is written for people in their 40s to their 60s who are interested in riding motorcycles. In recent years, the older rider has become the largest segment of motorcycle riders, and many in this age group see this as a great time to begin riding. Philip Buonpastore has written a book specific to those in this age group, providing advice for both first-time riders, as well as those getting back to riding after years off a motorcycle. The first half of his book builds on the basic steps of taking a motorcycle safety class (required in most states) and getting a motorcycle license, to considerations of style, size and price when purchasing your first motorcycle. Following chapters discuss adding safety accessories as well as comfort conveniences to the bike, purchasing motorcycle-specific (protective) clothing and safety gear, and more. The second half of his book contains stories of the author’s motorcycle tours around the United States, with insights and philosophies acquired from years of motorcycle travel, as well as his photography of the locales and some excellent riding roads around the country.

            Philip Buonpastore

Welcome to the “Shifting Gears at 50″ blog site!


As you know, my name is Philip Buonpastore, and my book “Shifting Gears at 50, A Motorcycling Guide for New and Returning Riders” will be published in February, 2012.  So why is this book different from others about motorcycle riding?  It’s written for the new and returning older rider, who in the majority of cases is going to have different goals and desire different outcomes for two-wheeled travel than a rider in their twenties.

While I had ridden my older brother’s dirtbike and motorcycles owned by friends when I was younger, I did not own my first motorcycle until 1996, when I was 40 years old.  I emphasize this to show that even if you haven’t had the experience of riding a motorcycle in your younger days, it is still an attainable goal.  Having decided to give motorcycling a try, I signed up for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) beginner’s class, thinking it would be the smart move to take the class and make sure I passed it before I made the financial commitment to buy a bike.  After I passed the class, I went looking for a motorcycle. I gave some thought to what I wanted before beginning the search.  The motorcycle I wanted would be small enough and easy enough to handle, but still be of sufficient size and engine displacement to be capable of easily maintaining highway speeds; one that would fit my needs as my experience grew, but wasn’t too much motorcycle for a beginner.  I decided that something around 750cc would be the right size for my requirements.

I had always liked cruiser-styled bikes, and after a week or two looking at various makes and models, I found a 1994 800cc Suzuki Intruder for sale at a reasonable price.  I liked the look of the bike, and just as importantly, it was a very good fit for my Italian 5’6″ stature. The controls of the bike fell comfortably to my hands and feet, and it was fun to ride and easy to handle, making me want to ride as often as possible.  Getting a bike that fits you well is certainly one of the most important considerations when buying a motorcycle, as this not only makes it easier for you to handle and control the bike, it will make you want to ride more, and hence acquire more riding experience.

Trying to "look cool" with my 1994 Suzuki Intruder

Thanks for visiting, and again, welcome to the “Shifting Gears at 50″ blog site.  I will be post updated news items and photos, as well as other information relating to motorcycle rides, and travels of any type, so stop by again.

Drive-By Panhandling – A New Twist on an Old Theme

A few nights ago, I was driving south on Buford Highway in north Atlanta, when I saw a car in the middle land traveling with the emergency flashers on, with the driver making no apparent effort to pull off the road.  At the next traffic light, the car pulls up next to me, and the driver flags me to roll down my window.  I do so, and he asks if I can speak english.  I cautiously say “uh… yes” and he tells me that he is out of gas, and asks if I can I give him a couple of bucks.

So here’s a guy that decided that panhandling on a street corner isn’t profitable enough, and is trying a new tack of driving around town in his car asking people for money.

After politely declining, I got to thinking about how this guy expected to accomplish the transfer of funds – whether those wishing to “donate” would pull over and give him money, or whether they would simply launch quarters through the passenger side window and into his car.

While you have to give the guy points for imagination, he probably needs to work on the finer points of the transaction.

Sixes Road

One day riding and in my travels
I chose a turn then slowed
on a road of asphalt, stone and gravel
the route called Sixes Road

In a roadside ditch a rotted log
holds squirming worm and toad
as wood breaks down to peat and bog
in the damp of Sixes Road

A rusting car and abandoned shack
both steel and stone erode
the lasts of a life from long years back
as I ride on Sixes Road

Miles beyond the road rises to meet me
an old farm and a rooster’s crow
the only voice out here to greet me
as I roll on Sixes Road

The twisted wreck of a flatbed truck
the marks on pavement show
how a tired driver ran out of luck
on the twisting Sixes Road

Returning home I now give voice
to the source of inspiration owed
to an afternoon’s ride and the random choice
of a turn on Sixes Road

© Philip Buonpastore, 1998

The First Perfect Day, May 5th, 2012

In Northwest Washington, late Spring brings the first days of summer-like weather, infrequent and interspersed between days of cool, gray and wet of a winter that hangs on well into mid-year.  When those first days come, I rarely pass on an opportunity to celebrate the beautiful day by taking a ride on the motorcycle.

On a clear day in the Pacific Northwest, you can see forever.

May 5th was just such a day.  A very fine day.  Clear, blue, and sunny, with temperatures in the mid-70s.  Not one to miss when it comes likes a surprise gift.

A bald eagle pair return yearly to their nest north of Alder Dam.

The motorcycle and I found our way to SR7, riding south.  On the left, Mt. Rainier stands alone, a pure white giant in the eastern sky, still without the consistent warmth of July to melt the snow.  The road alternates between easy twists and turns and long straightaways – just enough variation to keep it interesting and fun.  North of Alder Lake and the dam of the same name, a seasonal bald eagle’s nest brings birdwatchers to a roadside pullout.

At the intersection of SR7 and Hwy 12 at the town of Morton, I decide that there is enough time left in the day for a ride up to Mt. St. Helens, and turn west on Highway


12 to ride to the national park’s western entrance.  On the way, I pass the DeGoede Bulb Farm and Gardens, whose fields of tulips are in full bloom, and passing cars stop and the families get out to simply walk through the fields and be surrounded by the beauty.  Of course I stop for photographs.

Continuing on, I stop to ask a man in a gas station about a backroad on the map that I have not ridden before, and he directs me to a southwestern turn at Fuller Road, which, via a short stretch on Jackson Highway, leads into the town of Toledo.  In town, I stop at a local sandwich shop for a hoagie and a bottle of water, and take a few photos of the well-known painted street scene, complete with traffic cop, that announces the town as the “Gateway to Mt. St. Helens.”

As I am leaving Toledo on SR505 west, my trip odometer reads 100 miles, and I use the odometer to keep approximate track of the range left in my tank.  The tank should have enough fuel for 40 to 50 miles before I hit the reserve, so I opt to ride up to the mountain without filling the bike.

As I proceed up the mountain and the miles roll up, I decide that it would be a good idea to  fill the tank after all, but the last gas station I pass riding up the mountain is closed.  Oh well, I am on my own.  I figure that the bike will use more gas ascending the mountain, and less on the way down, so I keep riding, and make a few stops for some good photos of the mountain on the way up.

The Honda Aero at Mt. St. Helens

The Honda Aero at Mt. St. Helens, May 5th 2012.

At the entrance of Mt. St. Helens park, I ride into the parking lot to get a pic of the bike by the park’s sign, just for the “official record.”  I realize that I have been riding almost 30 miles, and I know I am getting low on fuel, but debate with myself about riding further into the park.  Good sense wins out, and I start the ride down the mountain, and within a mile, the fuel runs out in the main tank and I go on reserve.  The ride up the mountain had used more fuel than I had anticipated.  Good thing for good sense.

Mt. St. Helens covered with snow.

I make it back to the town of Toledo, refuel the bike and ride home via the interstate.  Back by 7PM, it is the conclusion the first of what I hope to be many stellar rides in the Pacific Northwest, summer, 2012.

We All Live Near a Yellow Submarine

On an infrequent temperate sunny day in the Pacific Northwest in early March, I took a “maintenance ride” on my Honda Aero with the idea of finding a road or two local to my neighborhood in Renton that I had not ridden before.  I happened to “luck up” on some new rides by taking SE May Valley Road east to Issaquah Hobart Road Southeast, then continuing east at SR18.  Once past SR18 the road name changes in short order from 276th Avenue SE to Issaquah-Ravensdale Road and then to Landsburg Road SE, before dispersing into several local loop roads near the small town of Ravensdale, north of Enumclaw.

As I rode along Landsburg Road SE several miles east of SR18, I rode by something that you would not expect to see in a heavily forested residential area – a “Yellow Submarine” that was “dry docked” on the side of the road.  It appeared to be constructed from metal barrels of different diameters that were welded together, capped by a cone-shaped nose, and was complete with conning tower, a periscope, and even an “aft propellor.”  It was finished in yellow paint (of course), and complete with a period Beatles logo painted on the side.  The folk art submarine put a smile on my face, and I promised myself that I would bring back my camera for a few photographs on my next ride in the area.

Several weeks later, on an early Spring day’s ride, I stopped by again, this time with my camera, and parked my bike on the side of the road near the yellow submarine.  As I was taking some photographs, an older local resident who called himself “Al” stopped by in his pickup truck to see if I was having mechanical problems of any sort (nice folks in the Issaquah area!).  When I told him I was photographing the yellow submarine, he proceeded to tell me something of the history of the whimsical local landmark.

Al told me that the all-metal structure had been built by a local resident, and that as a high school student, it was built as a art project sometime in the late 70s.  Since then it has had its home in several locations in the area, and in the last few years was permanently “moored” here near the builder-artist’s current residence.  It has remained, from what I was told, a landmark in the area for 35 years.

Al also told me that he had been a motorcycle rider, and had owned many Harley Davidsons in his time, but did not ride anymore.  When he asked about my bike, I told him it was a Honda, and as I stepped towards it to show him the bike, he put his hands up, palms out, and said, “No, I ride Harleys, I can’t get near that thing” (…uh, okay).  Well, I appreciated his stopping by to offer assistance, and the wealth of knowledge he had about the yellow submarine landmark, but I just don’t get the (sometimes weird) Harley thing.  Go figure.

Present Tense: A Ride After Sundown

It is a new moon.  I’m on a very dark road, late at night.  I am well over two hours from home, riding the BMW R1150RT back after a long day in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.  I am out much later than intended, owing to a wrong turn that led through Cade’s Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and a one-way scenic loop road that was 11 miles long, with stop and go traffic backed up bumper-to-bumper by a truck pulling a trailer full of kids on a “hayride” for its entire length.  By the time I exit the park, I am two hours behind what I thought would be the schedule for the day.  The sun drops behind the mountains quickly, and a new moon means that the ride back to Cherokee, North Carolina will be 40 miles on a pitch black two-lane mountain road. As I ride in the last light of day, it looks to be a gorgeous mountain highway for an afternoon’s ride, but it is no place to be on a motorcycle after sundown, and it is now long after sundown.

On the way to Cherokee, the mood is tense.  At night, mountain roads and deer are a common combination, and one that does not mix well with motorcycles.  Trying to put the danger behind me, I realized I was hurrying to get out of the mountains as fast as I could, and that the quick pace was only adding more variables to an already worrysome situation.  Once realized, the next thought was that there was simply no point in hurrying.  I was going to be late – very late.  Nothing I could do was going to make it go faster, or get me home earlier.  So I take some deep breaths, and decide to relax and simply let the ride take the time it was going to take.  I stop to put on my riding jacket, and once back on the bike,  I turned on the brights, keep a sharp lookout, and as much as it is possible to do, enjoy the ride.

Once at the town of Cherokee, it’s a stop at a country buffet for dinner, and I am glad to be off of the dark mountain road.  It’s not the best country cuisine I have ever had, but it is a welcome break, knowing the the remainder of the ride home will be a more relaxed four-lane divided highway.  Even here it is still three and a half hours from home.

My “portable music storage device” becomes the source of the late-night soundtrack as I ride 441 south towards Atlanta.  Every song seems to fit the mood or have some connection to the events, seeming to “dovetail” with the experience.  A song comes on that seems to capture the spirit of the night’s ride: it is Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie,” and the lyrics seem to be perfect now -

The wind blows hard against this mountainside
Across the sea, into my soul
It reaches in to where I cannot hide
Setting my feet upon the road

Kyrie Eleison down the road that I must travel
Kyrie Eleison through the darkness of the night
Kyrie Eleison where I’m going will you follow
Kyrie Eleison on a highway in the night

The road is good, and the center line reflectors lock me in like an airport landing strip. I am just “in the zone” – not hurrying, not worrying, not scurrying, just singing lyrics and riding.  The BMW is in its element now, moving as smoothly as a machine can: quiet, reliable, confident.  The bright lights are on, and I can see a quarter mile ahead.  I just smile.

I am home at midnight.  It has been a long day.  My wife has been worrying about me all evening, but she would not have worried if only she would have been there, experiencing the things that I have experienced.  How do you make someone else understand?  Maybe you never can.