My New Affair
Letter from Lateral G to Roundel, the BMW club magazine.
I used to love my BMW. Don't get me wrong, the beautiful Orient Blue Metallic 330Ci sitting in my garage still makes my heart skip a beat, but much of the spark has vanished from our relationship. Oh, her 5-speed manual, 225 hp, effortless driving, melodious straight-six, and impeccable manners in the mountains still brightens my day, but for the past 16-months I have been having an affair.
Please don't think to badly of me, at least my mistress has a roundel on the side. Except this sexy feline only has 2 wheels. And that's the attraction, not that I now prefer a smaller contact patch and more "body roll", but that the new love of my life lets me do things my poor car just can't anymore. It isn't that she isn't willing; it's just that society isn't quite as acceptant of my "deviant" behavior as it used to be.
At this point you may be wondering what I am talking about. Simply put, the Ultimate Driving Machine doesn't do me a whole lot of good when there is really no place left in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area - and who are we kidding when we call it the "greater" area? - for "ultimate driving". Between law enforcement agencies, lawsuits, urban sprawl, the multitude of untrained and unthinking drivers, and just plain congestion it is difficult if not impossible to find a road to yourself anymore.
This is why my motorcycle has become both my primary means of transportation as well as my weekend toy. My beautiful, if a bit wider in the hips, blue car gets to run to the store occasionally, and every once in a while I still take her dancing in the mountains. But between a year round climate suitable for riding, and the legal ability to lane-split here in California, taking the motorcycle makes more sense most of the time. Okay, and my marital status, or lack thereof, makes it a bit easier to make choosing the bike over the car.
It's this inability to actually use my 330 in the manner for which it was designed that may hold the biggest threat to BMW and the Club's ability to draw in younger members, a subject that has received much attention in this publication in recent months. I do love my car, but I am obsessed with performance and the adrenaline rush that comes with it. The Lotus Elise is the perfect tool for canyon carving and has had me drooling since before they announced it would finally be sold Stateside. But even though it is certainly affordable when I think about the actual enjoyment I would get out of that car versus the loss in practicality from my Bimmer, I just can't convince myself to go through with it. It doesn't matter if you are in a Honda Accord (perfect track car though it may be) or a Ferrari Enzo, when you get stuck behind a line of cars in the mountains or canyons there isn't a lot you can do - at least legally and safely.
Motorcycles, however, give you an entirely new perspective on traffic and congestion. You think letting your 2002 or e30 M3 loose in the mountains is eye opening, try lane splitting the 405 Freeway at 5:30pm on a Friday afternoon. It is arguable which is more dangerous, and they obviously don't provide the same kind of "rush", but one is legal and the other, well, not so much. And living in the heart of LA means that just to get to any decent roads means many long freeway miles. Not only does the motorcycle allow me to get around sightseers and oversized R.V. coaches in the mountains, it lets me get there and back faster than any 4-wheeled conveyance would.
I'm not recommending that all Club members run out and buy a K1200S or an R1200RT (although it would be nice to see more motorcycles and less cars on the freeway). But in order to attract younger Club members like myself, who are fortunate enough to be able to afford a new or late model BMW and would rather drive it than fix it, the Club needs to provide opportunities to get out and drive. Modern cars make it very difficult if not impossible for backyard mechanics to do anything other than change the oil and brake pads. Younger drivers who desire, and can afford, these newer machines as opposed to a 1970's 2002 want to enjoy them in their natural habitat (no I'm not talking about a garage). After all, isn't BMW's slogan "The Ultimate Driving Machine"?
Of course the club provides track days, autocrosses, TSD rallys, and Club racing; and while I support these activities and have participated in a few, more is needed to really draw in younger members. I would love to get in to Club racing, but the time and money needed is not something I can manage at this point in my life. I've also participated in several Autocrosses as well as one track weekend, and although I enjoyed both greatly a few laps around Laguna Seca or some 45-second low speed (comparatively) runs through a parking lot do not compare to a 4-hour non-stop run up the back roads of California's Central valley.
Obviously the Club can't sponsor or organize large groups of vehicles moving at speeds "slightly" over the posted limit all over the country. I understand that tours of the V.D.C. in Oxnard or wine tours in Napa have their place, it is driving events that interest me. I can only assume, and hope, that I am not alone in this desire; for while I may have been seduced by the opportunities provided by 2-wheeled vehicles it is still the euphoria of a perfect morning run down a canyon in my 330 that I crave.
There are several events in Nevada, as well as other parts of the country, that allow participants to enjoy their vehicles at speeds considerably higher that is usually allowed legally. The Silver State Classic (www.silverstateclassic.com) is a perfect example of this; a ninety-mile run at speeds of up to 180mph on a public highway in eastern Nevada. Obviously there is more involved than simply showing up the morning of the event with a vehicle, but this is one example of an event that BMW CCA could sponsor for Club members around the country as alternatives - or in addition - to track days.
In southern California for example, Angeles Crest Highway is closed every season for weather related concerns; closing the road 1-week early or re-opening 1-week late for an event such as this would not greatly inconvenience anyone and would allow BMW CCA members an amazing opportunity to enjoy their ultimate driving machines. Coordinating with other groups such as the Porsche Club of America or Fasttrack Riders (motorcycles) could alleviate the financial considerations and ensure enough interested members would participate.
I've been on "drives" with other young BMW drivers and they were not always respectful of the conditions, the law, or other motorists. On one drive in particular I watched a modified e36 M3 loose control on a twisty downhill mountain road, end up totaled, and blocking traffic. Luckily no one was hurt, but it obviously had an impact to other motorists using that road and could have ended much worse than it did. The owner of the vehicle was driving beyond his capabilities in a place that does not allow for such errors. If this driver had the ability to enjoy the same kinds of roads but with experienced instructors available, this kind of accident could be prevented. Yes the Club provides track days and driving schools, but there is a generation of people out there driving BMW's that are either unaware of the existence of such activities or simply find them too constricting and limited.
In addition to the generational differences between younger BMW owners, there are the changes to the vehicles themselves. BMW's have obviously been getting bigger, heavier, and more luxurious as time passes. Ten years ago who would have forseen a BMW SUV (sorry SAV), let alone two of them with a minivan (sorry, forgot it's alphabet soup name)? Many in the Club have criticized this move, claiming that BMW has "lost its way" and forsaken the past. But the realities of the modern car industry mandate this move.
Unless you can afford a Sunday driver that sits motionless most of the time (as my car now does), it makes sense to own a vehicle that can pamper you in rush hour traffic with automatic climate control, great sound systems, and good sound insulation but still provide those visceral thrills on the few occasions the opportunity presents itself. Until we can make track days as frequent, affordable, and accessible as they are in Europe, or devise new methods of legally driving our cars the way the engineers envisioned, luxury and comfort will continue to take a more dominant role in the design of BMW's.
We all know that traffic, congestion, urban sprawl, and enforcement will only get worse in the future. It will be up to the Club to provide outlets for driving excitement, to make them affordable, accessible, and relatively frequent, and work to "spread the word" to Club members who in the past have dismissed track days as too expensive, time consuming, or simply not for them. Club members buy BMW's, at least in part, because of performance. Anyone solely concerned with luxury or convenience will more likely end up behind the wheel of a Lexus and be quite happy there.
I, however, would not be happy in a Lexus, or even a Honda Accord for that matter. My 4-year old blue baby has very sexy curves and an 11-speaker sound system, and while those virtues aren't lost on me it's her ability to leave my head spinning after an hour-long dance through the mountains that keeps me coming back. Given the traffic conditions in Los Angeles it is doubtful I'll ever give up my 2-wheeled toy, but I really want to have the opportunity to give my first love another chance without fear of moving violations or some mindless driver crossing the double yellow on my favorite mountain road. Perhaps BMW CCA can provide the marriage counseling.