Airheads converge on Cedar Key

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By Kellie Parkin

Airheads from all over the state converged on a 45-acre farm located between Cedar Key and Chiefland last weekend for the Second Annual Suwannee River Tech Day and Camp.

The international Airheads Beemer Club is for riders who own specific BMW bikes: those with air-cooled engines. Most anything that happens with an Airhead Beemer can be repaired on the side of the road with the tool kit that BMW provides – with the right knowledge, of course.

That’s why the Airheads motto is “Simple by Choice.”

Tech days, held across the country throughout the year, allow for camaraderie, shared interest and motorcycle repair. At the end of the camp, bikers are energized, having picked up new skills and bits and pieces of new knowledge.

“These weekends are great,” said Florida Airheads Chapter Air Marshal Gator Balough. “Most of these guys wouldn’t know each other if it weren’t for the Airheads - you never know who you’ll find a common interest with and make a lifelong friend.”

The shared interest in air-cooled engine motorcycles brings together a wide variety of people from different backgrounds. Mixed into the group of 30 men at this weekend event were a financial advisor, a custom cabinetry and furniture craftsman, a retired high school math and physics teacher, a banker, a retired museum preparator, a registered nurse, a pharmaceutical salesman, and a couple of general contractors along with participants from many other professions.

They get together to share their BMW knowledge and varying expertise on how to get the job done. Experience level doesn’t matter, though. Enthusiasm is what counts. Sometimes it’s as simple as having an extra hand to assist.

And when all else fails? Get the two-by-four. It’s sure to do the job, said Tom Gaitanis of Dunnellon.

Tom did not, however, take the 2x4 to his twin brother’s bike when helping him. Bob Gaitanis was just adjusting the timing on his 1974 BMW R75/6.

“Well most of it is a ’74,” Bob said with a grin. “It’s a parts bike.”

Tom saved the 2x4 for the donor bike (and maybe one or two others). The donor bike, a 1974 BMW R90/6, made its way to the camp in a trailer from Ft. Lauderdale. Randy Summers, of Gainesville, who cosponsored the Tech Day with Cedar Key resident Greg Lang, bought the Beemer sight unseen on E-bay for $700 as a parts bike for his son, Caleb. One of the other Airhead members drove 350 miles out of his way to pick it up for him and bring it to the Tech Day. “It was not out of my way,” Gator said. “I just traveled 350 miles to help out another Airhead – and he did pay for my gas.”

Fourteen-year-old Caleb is rebuilding a 1973 ½ BMW R60/5, planning to have it ready for his 16th birthday – when he will become the youngest Airheads Beemer Club member. Caleb and his dad, Randy, spent the weekend pulling apart the donor bike with the assistance of others, and sorting out the many parts that matched up. They even sold some parts they didn’t need right there on the spot, such as the battery covers, pistons, cylinders, and the short block. The seat is headed to Texas where it’s being traded for saddlebags – again sight unseen, based on the trust of the Airheads.

And the donor bike’s frame? With the help of three bikers, it’s hanging from the rafters in the barn, where it will most likely stay indefinitely – or until the next Tech Day that someone needs a ‘74 frame.

Bikes aren’t the only thing Airheads take seriously. Food is just as important. In between working on bikes, Airheads enjoyed onsite meals prepared by Greg – homemade venison chili with wild hog, jambalaya and locally made sausages. Randy made his famous Saturday morning pancakes for the whole group. He has made pancakes every Saturday for more than 16 years because it reminds him of going to his grandmother’s house as a child, Randy said.

The Airheads are not an exclusive bunch. As long as you share the common link – the air-cooled Beemer – or the desire to have one, you’re invited. You don’t even have to be an Airhead, Gator said. “We encourage potential Airheads to come and enjoy the camaraderie,” he said. “I’m a strong believer in inclusion, not exclusion, and I think most Airheads would agree.”

That fellowship is what drew 75-year-old Charlie Matthews from Gainesville out to the Levy wilderness. This was his first Suwannee River Tech Day. He doesn’t officially belong to any club, but he likes getting out and meeting others who share similar interests.

Charlie bought his 1984 BMW R80RT brand new and since then has put 249,774 miles on it – that is, before his trip home after the camp. He has ridden his Beemer through all of the lower 48 states, many more than once, and through all of the Canadian provinces. “I took it as far as the paved road went in Red Bay, Labrador,” he said.

Charlie travels light, with a tent that folds to 15 inches so that it fits in the saddlebag with his other gear. “I don’t travel with a duffle – everything goes into the saddle and that way I can get on and off the bike in a normal fashion.”

Charlie’s bike is in pristine condition. Other than valve jobs, the engine has never had any work done on it. “It’s a love affair,” Charlie said.

“And I ride easy, I’m not aggressive.” He taught a Motorcycle Safety course for ten years. “When you teach safety to people it drills it into you as well.”

The Airheads have a book called The dAIRectory that acts as a connection list. They can call on each other for a coffee or beer or for help, Gator said. The book lists each member by state, city, phone and first name, and is small enough to fit under the bike seat. Airheads are known to drop what they’re doing at a moment’s notice to come to the aid of a fellow member. “We’re here for each other,” he said.

On Saturday afternoon 13 riders took a break from their bike work and headed out to Cedar Key for dinner in the courtyard of the historic Island Hotel. The riders enjoyed the beautiful scenic CR 347 through the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge along the way.