#322 The Long Riders

A chance encounter on an isolated beach is Nancy Irwin’s introduction to a very hardcore group.

Serendipity describes the way bikers find each other in the strangest of places. I met the BMW Motoclub of El Salvador while on an uninhabited island in the Caribbean Sea. What are the chances of that!
I was back on Isla Utila for my winter vacation, and joined a group from Alton’s Dive Shop to celebrate a birthday on Water Caye, a small island with a large shoal that is perfect for a party. You can sit in the sun in warm water drinking cold beer or whatever, in water one foot deep but for the gentle waves. We thought we’d be the only ones there. But when we arrived there was another group, all wearing deep blue shirts.
Eighty of us were there maybe two hours, alternating between water and shade, when I noticed my girlfriend had wandered over to the other group, and was now wearing a new blue shirt. When I saw the shirt up close I was truly surprised. It had three images on the back: a motorcycle with the map of the world in it, a dive flag and a full cocktail glass with the words ‘Ride, Dive, and Party!’
I beelined over, because I wanted that souvenir shirt too! There was a BMW logo on the sleeve, which was my excuse because I actually have a BMW. I’m sure they were surprised to meet two Canadian women who ride big bikes. Two men gave the shirts off their back that day!
The club has 84 members, and one of their rides is to Utila each year for a dive trip. It’s an eight-hour, 550-km ride from San Salvador. They ride BMWs, which is rather impressive when you consider the average income of Latin Americans.
We never did see the bikes though. They were parked at the ferry for this long weekend adventure—the only one where their wives stay home. According to rider Ivan Navarro, whose company provides ground assistance to airlines, rides a 2015 R1200GS and a Harley Sportster 900 Custom, “We spend four nights at Utila, and all we do is dive, relax, party, relax, dive.”
We were staying at dive shops almost next to each other and made plans to meet at a restaurant the next day. We enjoyed dinner with 27 riders who are definitely of the privileged class, well educated and prosperous.
When I rode through Latin America years ago and people asked how much my then-brand new BMW cost, I got looks of horror when I told them. I quickly changed the price to $1,000. Then people smiled and were impressed. I learned that when asked in the street, these guys undervalue their bikes as well.
I found myself sitting across the table from Fernando, a club director and esteemed enduro champion. He started riding a 50cc Honda in 1978 when he was six, but a civil war engulfed El Salvador from 1979-1990 and his parents wouldn’t allow him to compete. I supposed no one wanted to be high profile back then. It was a brutally violent time with death squads and a UN count of 75,000 people ‘disappeared.’
During the two days I spent in El Salvador in 1988 I saw a vacant public beach lined with abandoned luxury houses, their swimming pools dry. And in the market, unlike in other countries, there was stress on all the faces. I remember eating a whole box of delicious strawberries sitting on a bench. No one was smiling.
In 1990 Fernando won his first competition at the local track. In 1994 he competed at Daytona in the Amateur 600 stock category and came in 37th out of 80. Between 1998 and 2013 he won seven national titles and three Latin American championships on Husqvarna bikes. His first street bike was a Triumph Tiger Explorer 800 and last year he changed to a BMW 1200 GS Adventure. Fernando now owns a trucking company.
Another club director Werner started riding in 1976 when he was 16. Since then he has won many moto-rallyes, and served six years as director for a motorcycling federation. He shifted to big bikes in 2010, when he bought his first 1200GS Adventure. Werner quit his cozy job as regional finance manager for Bayer in 2001 and went from being a recreational diver to an industrial one. He’s now a Professional Association of Diving Instructors course director, and that’s a big deal in diving.
His company, Oceanica, provides storage tanks and a discharging process for major petroleum companies in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – and is certified to provide oil spill clean up. It’s nice to have a diver who cares involved in clean up. No surprise he’s the one who organizes the Utila Ride/Dive/Party run.
Club president Ismael started riding in 1976, at age 18. He rode motorcross and enduro for 14 years and was president of both clubs for five terms each. He hosted three Super Cross championships during his tenures. His first big bike was a BMW 1150 GS in 2001, and he currently rides a 2016 1200GS.
What thrilled me to learn is that many of these club members have a solid history in the dirt, which means they’re not like many here, who only ride their ‘adventure’ bikes on the road. I can only imagine how they handle their big GSs off pavement, and what they would be like to ride with!
And then there are endurance riders. Ismael rode 11,000 km from El Salvador to Chihuahua and back in 12 days, and visited the birthplace of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Another time he and club member Ricardo flew and rented 1200GSs in Mendoza, Argentina. In four days they rode 4,000 km to Chile, through the Andes in a cold September without proper gear. The rental company refused to charge them for the kilometres because it was impossible!
Ismael owns one of the largest securities company in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, with a force of more than 900 agents. And he owns a top rated restaurant called Las Brumas Grill, voted No. 1 for tourism in San Salvador. Care to visit?
Mario started riding motocross at age 12. He bought his first big bike, a KTM 990 in 2009. He picked the furthest place he could reach in one week: Pikes Peak in Colorado, 11,000 km in two weeks. (These guys are crazy!) In 2014 he bought a 1200GS Adventure: Deadhorse, Alaska, 12,000 km in three weeks. Mario has a plastics factory, as well as Touratech and Husqvarna dealerships.
Are you now feeling inadequate, or in need of an adventure? We’re all invited to go to the El Salvador BMW Motoclub Convention in February 2017. I am actually considering this, and how to manage it. If you want an adventure that’s not by the books, and not an organized tour, consider going for a winter ride. They’re an impressive bunch. And they could help with logistics if anyone wants to ship a bike down, hit the convention and then ride around. The club’s email is motoclubbmwes@gmail.com. They’ll give you a very warm welcome!