Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure


Motorcycle TourMagazine

About Free Wheelin'

Publisher Rathjen weighs in on different things pertaining to motorcycling. Sometimes a bit hard to the point and slightly abrasive, his Free Wheelin’ column is not afraid to make a stand on issues that he feels are of importance to riders and riding.

Name: Brian Rathjen

Current Rides:

Kawasaki KLR 650, BMW R1200GS

Favorite quote:

If you think you can or you think you can't, you're probably right.

- Henry Ford

Common Ground

So you ride a motorcycle. Maybe you play some guitar?

I have found a true common ground for those of us who do both.

If something is under wraps… we need to see it. Be it bike or guitar. You know of what I speak.

Let’s slingshot back 21 years (yee gads!).

We were riding down the coast of South Africa with our friends and neighbors Bruce and Bev Gordon. The man running this tour was a real-life version of Zevon’s Roland, and when Colonel Buks told you something, you best be listening.

It was a stormy day as we approached the town of Durban along the Indian Ocean. Durban is a strange town. Part of the KwaZulu-Natal province, it is known for its African, Indian and colonial influences. It’s a mish mosh. Basically… it’s a pirate town. We like pirate towns.

We had spent the early part of the evening on the docks watching locals haul in all sorts of dinner. This is not a racist statement… but, we stood out like cue balls on a table of eights. It’s just the truth. Some took offense to this. Another friend, Frank – who stands 6 and half feet tall and is easily as broad as me - almost tossed a small African in the brink. Oh, boy. This could get ugly.

Durban is not Oz.

Roland, I mean Colonel Buks, ushered us back into the town’s center and to a small dive-bar. Can it get worse? He promised food… and there was. He promised music… and there was. Big Dick Morton, one of the Colonel’s ‘friends’… something about the Bantu. We didn’t pursue this.

But there he was, Big Dick Morton himself (I am laughing as I write this, but I have a picture to back it up I swear). He was really very good and we enjoyed his set.

Taking a break, he said “I’m gonna get a beer or three and my friend Brian from New Jersey is going to play a great set for you all…”

My eyes got wide as I looked around the tiny, seedy bar. What were the chances of another guy named Brian, from New Jersey, being here and going to play the next set?

Zilch. I looked to my compatriots and they all returned my clueless gaze with devilish smiles. Oh crap…I was up.

Oh, boy. Okay, so now here is the thing. It was May 26, 1998. The next day I would turn 40 - fairly big in my mind.

Big Dick handed me his guitar, a beautiful early Ovation 6-string with a sunburst finish. I hit a D chord, I strummed a G… I slipped into B minor and fell in love. Wow. What a beautiful guitar. Lust is a four-letter word.

There was only one song to play… Jimmy Buffet’s ‘A Pirate Looks at 40.’ I did that and a few other songs… and did not embarrass the United States of America or the state of New Jersey.

Applause is the most addicting drug in the world. But, I am not giving up my day job ever. You’re welcome.

FWSince we can - let’s time travel to 2014. We were having dinner with correspondent Tony Lisanti and his wife Gina. All through dinner I kept looking at the guitar case in the corner.

As great as the meal and conversation was… all I could think about was what was in the case.

Let’s get back to motorcycles. If you come across a motorcycle under a tarp or cover in someone’s garage … do you not feel the irresistible urge to peak? We cannot help it.

For those of us who play guitars it is exactly the same thing. We are unable NOT to look to see what is there. It is a good thing.

This night it was incredibly awesome as Tony had the exact same guitar that Big Dick Morton handed me all those years back. First year Ovation. I wanted it more than anything.

Deals were made. Hands were shaken. The Ovation is now my go-to machine. I am still not giving up my day job… but.

Somewhere, there is someone walking into a barn or garage and seeing a bike under a tarp or cover. Somewhere else there is a guitarist spying a case.

It is all the same. We can’t help ourselves.

Maybe it is someone’s go to machine waiting to happen.