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Turning Toonies into Beemers

My motorcycle experience started like many of us, with my dad. I grew up at the edge of the desert, a small town called Abadeh in central Iran, in a family that never owned a car. My father bought a Talbot once and had it for two weeks and said, “This is not for me.” That was the end of car ownership for him.

He always owned a bike and that was our family vehicle. I remember sitting in front on the gas tank and my brother, who was older, sat behind my dad and off we went to visit the lamb farmers in the mountains. He also loved Vespas, and when he had one I would stand in the front in between his legs and hold onto the handlebar. From an early age I could recognize the sound of bikes and tell you what bike it was without seeing what was coming and if it was him coming home or not.

My friend and next-door neighbour’s dad had a Honda C70 Super Cub, and when his dad would go to work we would occasionally take (steal) it and go for a ride. It had three gears and no clutch. At just 10 or 12 years old, it was too heavy for us to pick up when we dropped it, which got us into big trouble. From sitting behind my dad and listening to the sound of the bike, I always knew when it was the time to upshift or downshift. Later on—but still rarely—my dad would allow me to ride his four-speed Vespa with his supervision. At the age of 13 I started to take his Vespa out behind his back, thinking he wouldn’t know. How stupid was that?

I also spent time on friend’s bikes; I remember a Yamaha GT80, 125cc DT, some 250 and 400cc bikes, riding to the mountains on dirt roads and sometimes following them with my dad’s Vespa. I rode that Vespa as if it was a dual-sport bike, even getting into big trouble once when I broke the rear suspension. By then I was already the black sheep of the family.

Then there was my uncle’s bike. I would beg him to take it out for a ride, sometimes he was kind enough to let me ride it. I had a bad reputation even though if I didn’t do anything bad, all because I crashed his bike once. Even when someone else like my cousins or my brother would do some damage, the blame was always on me. My dad would point to scratches and complain, but no-one believed me when I said I didn’t do it!

Years later when we were all grown up sitting at the dining table, the conversation came up about the scratches and me. My brother—by that time a respected surgeon—admitted he was the one who scratched the bike. My dad looked at him, looked at me, and said, pointing at me, “But he was the crazy one!”

I remember in the 1980s I would sometimes see a European traveler with a fully loaded dual-sport BMW motorcycle who would stop in my hometown for lunch or to rest. They were usually on their way to Pakistan, India or Turkey. I would go and stare at the bikes, dreaming of owning a bike like that one day. I didn’t even know that bike was called a GS.

In 1991 I left Iran without knowing where I would end up, although my goal was Canada. After a couple of months of traveling and difficulties, dealing with human smugglers, crossing many borders with fake passports, even walking across some of the borders, I ended up in Rotterdam, Holland, working as a barber out of my apartment, eventually saving some money for my next adventure to Vancouver with another fake passport.

In October 1994 finally I arrived in Vancouver, Canada, as a refugee, unable to speak English but with US$100 in my pocket. My wife calls those “the good old days!” The very first night I arrived in Canada and after doing all the immigration paperwork, finger printing, etc., I went to stay with my cousin. He had a roommate, a beautiful woman named Shelley. A week later I had my own place and roommate thanks to my cousin and his friend. Being a barber, I found a job in a barber shop after working as a dishwasher in a restaurant for three months. Every time a bike would pass by me I had to turn to look and was amazed how much motorcycles had changed over the years, especially for me, since in the years after the revolution Iran had banned large motorcycles. As a result, I hadn’t ever seen many of these beautiful machines.

In 1996 Canada eliminated the two-dollar bill and replaced it with a coin. Since the one-dollar coin was called a Loonie after the bird on its reverse side, we called the new two-dollar coin a Toonie. I decided to take my tips at the barber shop only in Loonies and Toonies, which bothered my boss because he had to go to the bank and get more coins for the till, but I had a mission. Every night after work, I would go home and put my tips in an empty pickle jar.

Being a person who grew up in the high desert I had always had a thing for enduro motorcycles and a GS was the dream for me. I remember one day in the late ‘90s I was walking home from work and I saw a brand-new BMW R 1100 GS parked on the street. The Telelever front suspension was something different and well-engineered! As my Loonie-Toonie jars got full I would roll the coins and take them to the bank. Once, my bag was so heavy that it broke on the street, but fortunately the Toonies stayed in there.

I also loved football, which of course most people in North America call soccer. One day in late 1999 I went to buy a football magazine in a bookstore and saw a motorcycle magazine on the shelves. The new yellow GS on the cover was out of this world for me. By then my English was good enough to read an article and understand some of it, so I didn’t buy the football magazine, but instead bought my first motorcycle magazine and learned about the R 1150 GS on the cover.

I was in love and kept saving my Toonies. In the summer of 2000 Shelley—who married me by then—and I moved to Oshawa, Ontario to be close to her parents. In Oshawa I couldn’t walk to work anymore, it was just a bit too far. Since I didn’t know how to drive a car and the only vehicle I knew was a motorcycle, I started to look around. I had saved enough Toonies by then, and I went to motorcycle shops, all different brands, but I would always end up looking at that GS. After moving, no-one knew me in the bank yet and one day they laughingly asked where I got all those Toonies. Slowly they got to know me and one day the lady bank teller asked me if I would bring my Toonies in the back and put them in the safe because they were too heavy for her to carry.

In January 2001 I went to my first motorcycle show in Toronto and sat on the R 1150 GS. It instantly felt like home. I learned if I bought last year’s model I could save some money, so in early February I called a BMW dealer in Toronto and asked if they had a 2000 R 1150 GS. They had a black one and I asked them to hold it until the afternoon. That same cold winter day, I hopped on the train to Toronto and purchased the R 1150 GS and side cases with my saved Toonies.

Saving my tips was so crucial to buy that bike, I remember I had made a couple of ham sandwiches for my lunch and ate them on the sidewalk, maybe it was the best lunch ever. I took delivery of the bike in March and had to wait for the snow and ice to melt and make some extra money to insure it. Meanwhile the bike was in my father-in-law’s garage, every time I visited I would go to the garage and look at it, sometimes even touching it, something maybe only a motorcycle person would understand.

One sunny afternoon I brought the bike outside, and started it to let it warm up a bit, I sat on it and asked Shelley to put two eggs under the tires, one egg under each tire as my mom did for all my father’s bikes for good luck. I put it in first gear and took off after ten years of not riding, it felt so natural, like I was home again.

I discovered I had to learn how to ride a big bike and get used to wearing a helmet, which I never did in Iran. Slowly I started to take Shelley for rides on the back of the bike and some short trips in Ontario. June 2001 Shelley and I made a trip to New Jersey to visit my cousin and her family. I was also a MOA member by then. That was the beginning of our long-distance road trips.

Ever since Shelley has found her peaceful place, as she calls it, she loves sitting on the back and taking photos. Some of you have seen her photos in the MOA Facebook group as we find fun roads and nice places to go. In 2003 we moved back to Vancouver and I rode the GS back across Canada. In 2006 we opened our own barber shop and became more comfortable financially as I worked harder than ever.

Since getting that first R 1150 GS, we’ve had a 2005 F 650 GS, a 2004 R 1200 GS, Aprilia, Honda, and a 2015 GSA that was my best bike so far. In the meantime, I started to play with airheads, my first one was a 1987 R 65 and what a beauty that was. Then I bought my 1972 R 75/5 and I was in love all over again with that little bike, it will be the last bike I would ever sell. Then there came the 1975 R 90 S; by then I was running short on space and had to sell the R 65. I always keep a bike on display in my shop!

We’ve ridden to California many times, and Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon; central Oregon reminds me of home. Before the pandemic and the border closing, we would cross into Washington and into the Cascades almost every weekend in the summer.

We have met some amazing people and made great friends over the years. We have our favorite places to stay, eat, and ride, too. Last year I sold the GSA and bought a brand new, fully loaded, beautiful K 1600 GTL for our long trips. I think altogether I have put around 300,000 kilometers on BMWs since I bought the first one in Toronto. By the time you read this, I am hoping to have another GSA in the stable!

6 thoughts on “Turning Toonies into Beemers

  • I have room in my shop to store that beautiful R 90 S! ???

  • Thank you for sharing the story, I felt inspired reading it. Best wishes and many happy miles!

  • Thanks for the great story. I hope you continue to acquire more motorcycles, add more adventures and write more stories!!

  • Thanks for sharing your motorcycle story! There are many inspiring aspects to your journey and I hope you continue to enjoy riding and sharing your experiences. I hope I get the chance to meet you someday…. maybe in Great Falls? Blessings to you all.

    Warm regards,

  • What a great story!! Thanks for sharing. Many happy miles and years to come.

  • Great story! Congratulations on your success in life. Safe riding ahead.

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