NEWPORT - "You’ve got the air hitting you, you’ve got the stereo cranking, and you just hit the country roads and go," says Larry Kiefer.
Sitting astride a luxurious, fat, 2006 Gold Wing Honda, Mr. Kiefer is describing part of the allure of motorcycling for legions of county residents who now are hitting the roads after a winter season that overstayed its welcome.
Indeed, motorcycle ownership is riding a 12-year growth curve, though Mr. Kiefer was way ahead of that curve.
"I got my first bike when I was 16," says the now-59-year-old Detroit Beach resident. "I bought it from Myron Siegel. It was a Honda 90." The late Mr. Siegel ran a Honda motorcycle dealership in Monroe from 1964 to 1990.
He rode until his 20s and there had a long period without a bike until about seven years ago when a 77-year-old uncle up and decided he’d plan a motorcycle trip to Alaska.
Mr. Kiefer, the uncle and two other family members took off in 2001 and traveled through Alaska and the Yukon, logging more than 12,000 miles in six weeks.
His current Honda, in some ways, is more like a car than a motorcycle. In addition to a stereo with four speakers, it’s got a windshield, electric start, a reverse gear, built-in adjustable air shocks, an air temperature gauge ("It let’s me know what it’s like outside," he jokes), turn signals, saddle bags and a trunk. He bought the big bike new last year and paid just under a car-like price of $20,000. It would have topped that, but he passed on the optional CD player.
It has a six-cylinder 1800cc engine that can push it well over 100 mph.
"I get just under 200 miles on a five-gallon tank of gas," he says. That’s comparable to a Honda compact car - worse depending on the model - but Mr. Kiefer acknowledges that he doesn’t ride a motorcycle to save gas. In fact, he burns more gas in his motorcycle because "the car hardly goes out of the driveway in the summertime."
"If I was using my car today, I’d be staying home," he says.
Last year, he took a trip to Tucson, making it there and back in eight days, including three straight days of rain.
Mr. Kiefer is older than the estimated median age of 42 for motorcycle owners. Since 1985, in fact, the age of motorcyclists has been increasing. More than half of all owners now older than 40, more than double the percentage 20 years ago.
Though he travels far and wide, Mr. Kiefer travels carefully. He always wears a helmet. "I’d wear it whether it’s the law or not," he says.
He doesn’t relish driving in cities. Even when with a group of other motorcyclists, he tries to stay at the back of the pack, just so he can keep an eye on where everyone else is.
He can keep only one eye on the group. He lost his other in an unfortunate encounter with a steel rod when he was a youngster.
But his limited vision doesn’t keep him out of the saddle.
He usually rides from early in the spring to at least the end of October, whenever the weather’s nice.
"I usually ride until I get the first snow," he says.
For him, riding the cushy Honda is an easy choice.
"You’re out in the weather and you feel the speed," he says with a grin. "It’s a nice-riding bike. It’s quite comfortable."
Each Monday, Your Neighbors offers a glimpse into the life of a Monroe County area resident. Reporters select their subjects at random.