Friday, August 1, 2008

Why Pyrates aren't encouraged to attend the Olympics

The bike is my now much-modified BMW K1100RS, which was brand spankin' new back in 1996. The official Atlanta Games sticker that is mentioned in the tale below is that white circle above the headlight. Directly below the Olympic sticker is a sticker for the US Cycling Federation.


I'm enjoying watching the Beijing Olympic Games. From what I have seen the Chinese are taking the challenge 100% seriously and doing a great job. Despite the jokes about their Engrish not being really good (how good is your Mandarin? I know that mine sucks), barring disaster (knocking on wood) this promises to be one of the better Olympic Games.

ol' John is, as many of you know, an old bicycle racer. Before Yours Truly decided to get old and pudgy I held a Category 2 (second highest of five categories) license as an amateur bikie in the first year that I went from being a high school aged kid to being an over 18 year old cyclist. As a friend of mine once said, has beens are a dime a dozen, but it's better to be a has been than a never has been.

With that said, cycling and international bicycle racing has always held a special place in my heart.

In 1984 ol' John was able to obtain a complete pair of "season tickets" to all of the Los Angeles Olympics cycling events. Alas, I changed jobs, and the powers that be at Square D (at the time Lexington, Kentucky's 2nd largest employer) wouldn't allow me to take the time off. Being the Good Corporate Warrior that I was at the time, I conceded and sold my tickets. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight that short gig at Square D turned out to be one of the dullest jobs that I ever worked whereas the LA Olympics were a stunning breakthrough for US cycling as several members of our cycling team medaled. Moral of the story for anyone faced with the choice between a job and doing something that you have your heart set on: corporate jobs are a dime a dozen. Not only was the job at Square D breathtakingly boring and many of the inmates there equally dull, but a few years later a French company bought the company and sent everyone that I had been working with packing.

In 20/20 hindsight I should have jumped ship and set sail for Los Angeles.

So now it's 1996, a dozen years have passed, and I was running my own truckin' business. The Olympics are in and around Atlanta, Georgia. I had a brand new, bright red, K1100RS BMW motorcycle and BMW was sponsoring much of the Olympics, as well as providing a fleet of motorcycles for various purposes. BMW sent me an invitation to a party in downtown Atlanta wherein they would have plenty of autos and bikes on display and I figured "Hey! Don't get much better than this."

I was all set to ride to the games and back. YES!

Well ... some of the games. To be fair I wanted to see the spectacle and experience the atmosphere, but what I really wanted to see was one event. The cycling time trial.

Now, every modern Olympics has bragged about their high level of security. Atlanta was no different. There wasn't any talk of getting Cooter and his huntin' dogs to guard the Atlanta Olympics. Nosiree. They were going high tech and looking out for troublesmakers and terrorists.

Imagine my surprise when I was in a BMW motorcycle dealership in North Carolina and saw what appeared to me to be the official and super-secret Olympics officials stickers plastered all over most of the motorcycles on the showroom floor. How could that be?

I talked to the sales manager and told her that, having worked as a motorcycle marshal for some cycling events that BMW provided bikes for (remember the Tour duPont?), that judging by the construction of the stickers that I was pretty sure that someone had sent her the official stickers by mistake. Very curious! And could I have a sticker or two?

She said that she thought that she had some extras at home. A few weeks later a package arrived at my house - a pair of Olympic motorcycle stickers. I was ready!

So I slapped a sticker on, fired up the red K-bike and headed across North Carolina, down into South Carolina (where I realized that I was riding right by BMW's shiny new-at-the-time Spartanburg assembly plant and museum and that certainly called for a visit), and on down into Georgia to Atlanta.

After a little checking around I was able to find a room at a hotel that was completely full of hard-drinking blue-collar Russians who came to see the games. Not only were those guys hilarious, but at one point I realized that my brand-new helmet was missing and I found it, sitting on top of my motorcycle, right outside the front door to the hotel. What are the odds that you could leave a $500 helmet sitting anywhere else for 4 hours and not have someone nick it? My new Russian pals were taking turns watching it for me.

On to the actual events themselves - I was able to ride right up to the curbside and watch the competitors during the cycling time trial because, with those official stickers, all the cops and corner workers thought that I was some sort of Potentate involved with the cycling events. It was a fantastic experience - I was able to see the great Miguel Indurain win the Gold Medal in the last major race of his long career.

Later that night I was also able to sneak right up to the party and exhibit that BMW had set up at the Hospitality Center in downtown Atlanta. Getting into there required that I ride two blocks going against traffic on one-way streets. When I did get stopped and took off my helmet and so forth the security guys at the BMW Hospitality Center sorta looked at each other, looked at me, checked my ID, and smiled and said that my new bike would look fine sitting there at the entrance. And to enjoy myself.

(I later heard that one reason why I was able to get to the Hospitality Center so easily was that the head of BMW Motorcycles North America was riding around on a new, red, R1100RS. I was there on my new, shiny, red, K1100RS. Supposedly the BMW security folks saw me, blocks away, on their television monitors).

Ah, those were the happy days of a misspent youth. I'd hate to try some of those stunts today, considering how paranoid many folks have gotten over security at events like the Olympics.

Today, the scene would be something like this:

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