Common Tread

Celebrating 60: A ride to MotoGP

May 26, 2017

I had seen a few photos. Bruce, leaned over with his knee near the ground on some kind of mid-80s Kawasaki sport bike. Or jockeying for position during a Twin 50 qualifying round with an assortment of other TRON-like characters and their vintage racing leathers and old-school lids.

1987 Daytona 200 qualifier
Bruce Behal (202) in one of the two qualifying races at the 1987 Daytona 200. Photo by Larry Lawrence/The Rider Files.

There was Bruce Behal, #202, at the Daytona 200 in 1987, banging elbows with the best, trying to put his Kawasaki ZX750 on the podium. Or at least bring it across the finish line in one piece.

My mother had made mention of Bruce’s past exploits in passing, years earlier, when they first met.

“You know Bruce used to race motorcycles?” she once said.

What kind and when? I would ask. A sheepish head shake told me that my mother, bless her, knew only the basics.

Bruce Behal
Bruce Behal racing in 1987. Photo by Larry Lawrence/The Rider Files.

So, when Bruce I and finally got to know one another — you know, get good and drunk and stay up all night talking about bikes — I ascertained that not only had he “raced motorcycles,” but that he was a former AMA Pro from the 1980s who gave up a dream like so many do and moved on to other things. In his case? Offshore powerboat racing. Seriously.

But this story is not about Bruce 1987. We’re talking about Bruce 2017, who celebrated his 60th birthday on April 1 this year (just a few weeks before the Moto GP race in Austin, Texas, I might add). And Bruce 2017 is still bad ass. He currently rides a Yamaha FZ-09 religiously to work and back every day, rain or shine, and manages to talk my mom onto the back for extended weekend trips. He’s fast, not for his age, but generally. He’s also a reserved, quiet and content individual off the bike.

When I suggested that we not only attend the MotoGP race in Austin — our collective first, by the way — but also show up a week early, borrow a pair of bikes from Ducati and hit Texas Hill Country, full speed, he smiled and quietly said, “Sure.”

motorcycle ride in Texas Hill Country
On the road in Texas Hill Country. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

And that brings us to Texas Hill Country

I was running third, about two car-lengths behind Behal and Butters. The latter, our wild-eyed and red-bearded friend from the Austin area was riding a KTM 690 Enduro and, as the kids say, was “fully sending it” — throwing his bike from side to side, rapping out the throttle and sliding the back end through precarious corners.

riding in Texas
A mix of machines on a backroads ride. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

Bruce, sandwiched between us, was behind the handlebar of a 2017 Ducati Monster 1200 S, in a glorious concrete grey color, making those wonderful noises that only a large-capacity V-twin can make, especially when rolling through the rpms. We were in the heart of “Hill Country,” Texas’ version of Valhalla, where the two-lane roads bob and weave and undulate, sweeping through lush green landscapes that had me proclaiming, many times, how much it looked like Africa.

A two-day ride with time to stop and enjoy. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

Bruce Behal
A happy birthday celebration. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
Butler Maps’ Texas edition guided our trajectory, aiming at a small, Bavarian-themed town where Kyra, my mother, a rental house and cold Lone Stars awaited us. But before the beers and rocking-chair-on-the-porch chats could commence, we — er, I — had to survive this ride.

Luckenbach, Texas
Let's go to Luckenbach, Texas... Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
Two days of "spirited sport bike riding," as Bruce declared it. We worked our way from Bavarian village to small Texas town, ate pie, then rode on to Willie Nelson’s surrogate home — Luckenbach, Texas — before wrapping things up with BBQ and cold beers at the Salt Lick. Speeds were… let’s say upwards of appropriate. Yet the bikes, with myself aboard a Ducati Multistrada 1200 S, handled everything Hill Country could throw at us with an assertive calm and collectiveness, leaving us to wonder what those roads would have been like on something less, uhm, spectacular.

Circuit of the Americas
Overlooking Circuit of the Americas. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

After the ride

When the green flag waves at a Moto GP race, your heart beats just a little bit faster. Maybe you’re flying the VR46 flag or perhaps you’re a non-denominational fan, but either way the sound and accompanying excitement that follows that green flag are indescribable at best — assuming you’re the sporting type. From our perch, with our eyes set on the big screens and Turn 19 at our doorstep, we watched Marc Márquez get his fifth win at COTA.

Circuit of the Americas
Bruce enjoys the view at the Circuit of the Americas. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

In all, our weekend at the Circuit of the Americas was just as I anticipated: full of emotion. Bruce and I wandered from corner to corner, snuck our way into grandstands we weren’t supposed to be seated in, took full advantage of our Media badges, snapped a silly cellphone photo of Jorge Lorenzo, toured Ducati’s garage (thanks, Nathon) and otherwise enjoyed ourselves.

So, what’s the takeaway? A lesson learned, or theory affirmed? Nope, none. Just good times with a former AMA Pro motorcycle racer who just so happens to be married to my mom. A weekend spent board beautiful, noisy, fast motorcycles that sent us (pun?) through a part of the country I urge everyone to visit.

Circuit of the Americas
Taking in everything there is to enjoy at a MotoGP round. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
We ate BBQ, drank local beers, stayed in small towns and awed at what’s happening to ATX (hip, so damn hip), then forgot everything when we tapped that little red button and went about making glorious noises through America’s own “Green Hills of Africa.”

Wait, I take that back… The lesson, if there is one, is to pull the trigger on plans you constantly postpone. Like going to a Grand Prix, or riding with your stepfather, clicking “Buy It Now” on that eBay barn bike, etc. Because the only thing I know is that you never know.