Friday, April 6, 2007

Thoughts on motorcycling

Wow! T-minus 97 days and counting, according to the timer here. In 98 days I'll be on the road, if all goes according to plan. I've been working like a dog this past week, trying to get things done so that I can be on the road by then. Right now, I'm finishing up a paper that's taken much of the past year to develop. But it's friday afternoon, so I'm going to slack a bit. And think about motorcycles. Which generally means that I'm going to hang out at and read some threads and maybe contribute a post or two.

Today I read one that really struck me: a eulogy for Fred Tausch, who rode his 1970 BMW R60/5 for some 600,000 miles before passing away a couple years ago.

If you click on the image, you can see that it's been edited, probably more than a few times, to update the number of miles it shows!

Anyhow, Fred Tausch sounded like a truly inspiring guy, and his eulogy struck a chord with me, so I'm copying it here for others to read.


Tauschs: Mildred, Karen, Fred Jr., friends, Romans, countrymen.... I'm Jeff Stein, a motorcycling Friend of Fred. For the next minute or two I am going to try to give voice to some thoughts brought here today by so many more of Fred's friends.

In the last few weeks we have lost several people who brightened our lives:

Johnny Carson; the playwright Arthur Miller; Philip Johnson — America's most famous architect; and now Dr. Fred Tausch. All four of these men were entertainers, storytellers, public figures, and they all lived full and interesting lives....

But none of us ever camped with Johnny. And we never rode to breakfast with Arthur Miller, even when he was married to Marilyn Monroe (maybe we shoulda...). We didn't hang out around the coffee pot with Philip Johnson, even though we could have — he did a lot of work in Boston. So, the loss of Fred, someone we shared our days with, is a bit more personal, and frankly a little harder to take.

So my question is this: HOW DID THIS HAPPEN!? And I don't mean, "How did Fred Tausch die?", a perfectly good, 70-year-old Father, Scientist, Student of Foreign Affairs, Conversationalist, Friend, Motorcyclist. What I mean to ask is, "How did all of us, men and women from all over New England, from all walks of life, come together as a community to find ourselves HERE, on a Saturday in February — the day before Fred's 71st Birthday — at a Unitarian Church in Lexington, Massachusetts, celebrating the life of our friend, whom we now miss so much.

The answer is pretty simple really.

Some 30-odd years ago, in 1973, Fred Tausch bought a motorcycle; and re-invented himself in a way that was startling to some and wonderful to us.

That's it, by the way, just outside, that very one, a 1970 BMW R60/5.

The first modern BMW; the first to be made in Berlin; THE one, according to Dr. Helmut Bonsch, who in the 1970's headed the BMW Motorcycle Engineering Department, and a man whom Fred later met — just like everyone else connected to BMW motorcycling, Fred met them all....

According to Bonsch, this model, the R60 600cc, had the most reliable of all BMW engines, the one that had the possibility of lasting longest. Because of the low mass/weight of the pistons, the engine is under-stressed... so it runs really easily. The job of this motorcycle was, and I'm quoting BMW literature here, "to carry people over mixed roads at Maximum efficiency with minimum effort." That was BMW's primary goal, and Fred's too, turns out. And this particular one, the one just outside — Fred's — seems to have done this better than any other. 632,978 miles later, we can say this with certainty.

But I digress.

On Fred's first day on a BMW Motorcycle, that one, he picked it up early in the day from the private seller. (You thought he bought it new? No way!) He climbed aboard, checked out the controls, and rode out of Boston, headed north, up route 1, onto 127, through Gloucester; and then a little further, getting the feel of it now, up through the lower tip of New Hampshire and on into Maine, riding along the coast in the salt air. About sunset, Fred pulled into a little motel on the Maine Coast and called his wife from the front desk.

"Honey? I'm up here in Maine. Yeah. 300 miles. Uh-huh. Mm-hmm. Well, I'm going to be late for dinner...." (How many of us have made that call!?) 300 miles the first day he owned a BMW motorcycle! Fred was hooked! And he was not afraid.

He stayed in Maine that night, and next morning Dr. Fred Tausch did not look back, he did not check his 6 — he woke up with the sun, and he was a motorcyclist, and he saw that that was good!

He went up through the rest of Maine on that first trip on a BMW, and on into Canada, back down through New York, across Pennsylvania. When he finally did arrive home, and return to work — Fred was fully employed at the time — he had put several thousand miles on the bike, and he knew how he was going to live the rest of his life: it was going to be a life lived in perfect balance, beyond the grasp of the ordinary, a life that he alone would direct. That's what he did, too.

Fred never had much to do with cars after that, after 1973. He rode his motorcycle — to work, to the grocery store, to church, in the rain, to public events and family vacations — he even had a sidecar for that, and for riding in snow and ice.

Fred liked to tell a story of a sidecar incident involving his son Fred, when young Fred was around 11 or 12 years old. The two Freds were motorcycling with sidecar up Whiteface Mountain out by Lake Placid, New York. The road winds around hairpins, in and out, and it is quite steep, too. At one point it was too much for the little engine, and the clutch began to slip, someone had to get off the bike.

Fred the father, educated in the ways of Scientific Method, knew at once what had to be done: the kid had to get out and walk! While Fred drove the motorcycle. Even that wasn't good enough, though, and Fred jr. was called back to PUSH.

So there they were, running uphill on an inside hairpin curve, just — if you've ever been there yourself — just around the corner from where visitors to the top park their cars, in full view of those folks, and within earshot, too.

I mention this last to you, because Fred was worried the bike wouldn't make it, so he was yelling at young Fred, "Faster, Faster!" Loud enough to be heard above the engine noise. "Faster, Faster!" echoing across the mountain. They did make it to the parking lot, where a bunch of frowning people were standing around waiting to see just who this evil madman was, making a young boy push him up the mountain.

"Boy did I get a lot of dirty looks!" said Fred.

Fred wasn't an evil guy, though. He wasn't even MEAN. And he never had a bad word for anyone, ever — even if they deserved it!

In the years that most of us have known him, the last decade of his life, it turns out, when Fred was a full-time motorcyclist, criss-crossing the US, attending all the BMW rallies, there was never a time that he had anything but good cheer for anyone that he met. And he met everyone! He counted among his friends University Presidents, groundskeepers, heads of state, truck drivers, German ambassadors, geologists, waiters, booksellers, BMW designers and mechanics, magazine writers and network news correspondents... and all of us in this room. He was often critical of the work these folks did, I must say, but he always had good words for them personally. And he had their respect, too.

My wife, Emilie, understood Fred from the moment they met. "He's an inventor!" she said. And they spent some interesting times together talking about that over the past few years. Fred Tausch invented a life for himself that allowed him balance: travel, a way to constantly meet new people and make new friends. He invented a way out of the materialistic dead-end we have created for ourselves in this culture — he beat the system! — and instead he lived on ideas, thrived on them. His datebook, found after his death last week, where he wrote down where he would be, who he was seeing, what event he was going to next, was filled-up right to today.

A lot of us thought Fred was FRUGAL, to put it mildly. But what he WAS went far beyond that: Fred Tausch was a rebel. He was fully conscious of what he was doing outside the mainstream of American life. He was the embodiment of freedom, a term that I would say has been somewhat devalued of late. He lived his life as an experiment, and each day was a new test to see just how far he could go on brains and heart alone. Not on somebody else's money, not on government largesse, not on the newest thing. He was focused, self-contained, and even though, in the end, his heart let him down, his experiment was a huge success.

I have some notes here, 35 pages of them, comments and pictures posted this past week on the Yankee Beemers' website by some of the people who knew Fred. In these notes are remembrances of first meetings, of Fred talking people through fixing their bikes, how famous Fred was among people all over US, of Fred winning the "Most Free Advice" award a couple years ago at the Charter Oak Rally in Connecticut. There's also a lovely story from the MotoLit site, and the first look at a remembrance of Fred that Victor Cruz has written about "Fred the Storyteller" that will appear later this month in the Yankee Beemers' Boxer Shorts, and in the national BMW Owners magazine. I'd like to give these to Fred's children, now. And just say to them, "Fred was our friend, he was so much fun, thank you for letting us have him all these years."

Long Live Fred Tausch!

Jeff Stein, Yankee Beemers

1 comment:

rocketenterprises said...

I don't know what made me google Fred, but I've had 100's of conversations with him over the 20 years I lived in Boston, which I left 15 years ago.
I saw him one more time on a visit there, but failed to take the time to talk to him again - my loss!
I had not heard of his passing and am sad to learn of it now. We shared a passion for motorcycles and he was always willing to discuss almost any subject and never at a loss for an opinion. I'm sorry I won't ever again be able to converse with Fred, as he was a one of a kind human being that the world surely needs more of.
From reading other entries from my google search, I find his first ride on his famous BMW, was a 300 mile trip to Maine. I don't remember that story, but we may have exchanged trip stories and I just don't remember.
Back in the 70's, I rode a Z1 from Boston to LA, up to Oregon, back to Boston, down to Miami, out to Colorado and back to Boston. That was but one of my many long range trips.
It really takes one to know one, and Fred was most assuredly ONE.

RIP Fred Tausch.