MS Breakaway to the Beach Moto Marshals

October 5th, 20122 Comments »

Moto Guzzi California and Suzuli Vstrom at Coker College lunch stop in Breakaway to the BeachFor the third year in a row, I proudly rode my Moto Guzzi California Vintage as a volunteer Motorcycle Marshal in the two-day Bike MS Breakaway to the Beach charity event.  This major bicycling event is an important fundraiser for the Greater Carolinas Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the USA.

The two days on the rural Carolina roads bring everyone a lot of time to breakaway from their suburban routine and have fun doing something good for others.  For me, it is like a trip through time.  I don’t consider myself a city-slicker, but maybe I am.  I loved seeing the cotton fields, the endless farmlands, and the small towns that seem unaffected by time.  We rode through towns that I did not even see the names of, that still had old fashioned downtown drugstores and no signs of the trappings of modern strip malls with the over-commercialization that many of us have unfortunately become accustomed to.

As Motorcycle Marshals, our team patrols the 200 miles of public roads and highways that over a thousand bicyclists ride on for two grueling days of pedaling.  Two 11 hour days in the saddle on a motorcycle can be tiring too, but just watching all the bicycle riders tough it out always makes me forget about how sore my rear end is getting or how tired I may feel.

Our Moto Support team actually rides almost double the distance each day.  We stagger our starts, ride ahead to the next rest stop, then double back to the previous one.  We try to leap-frog our way forward to be sure we provide good overlapping coverage.  With our 4-way flashers on, our safety vests, and our orange flags, we do our best to create increased visibility of the event participants for traffic.  We are not allowed to direct traffic, but we try to provide a buffer between cars and bicycles when needed.

Bike MS Breakaway to Beach Monroe NC start 2012We are on constant lookout for participants that have broken down, are injured or need some kind of assistance.  An important task for us is to scan for potentially dangerous situations where we can warn the riders of any upcoming hazards.  Thankfully, I only saw one case of road-rash this year and just the usual bicycle issues like flat tires and one with a broken chain.  Some of the bicyclists ride so close together while drafting that I always wonder how so few actually crash. I always try to keep plenty of distance from the cyclists, and especially from the drafting groups, as I pass by.

The 2012 “Breakaway to the Beach” started in two different states.  Carolinas Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC and at Central Academy school in Monroe, NC were this year’s starting points.  The final destination was Sunset Beach, NC.  The path to get there brought us through scenic rural Carolina countryside under nearly perfect weather conditions this year, except for some minor wind gusts in a few areas that gave the cyclists a little more challenge.

Francis Marion University starting line Bike MS 2012 on day twoThank goodness there was no rain this year. We’ve had some rain the past two years in a row, and the event continues rain or shine.

The 100 mile destination for day one was Francis Marion University in Florence, SC.  The cyclists take over the campus for the afternoon for a well deserved celebration for completing the first day’s journey.  Now it was time for fun and relaxation!  The DJ did a great job trying his best to squeeze a little more energy out of the participants to get everyone in a party mood.  There was food, lively music, some dancing, some entertainment from volunteers and their children, and lots of socializing among the participating bicycle clubs with their tents set up like a festival.  There were also massages available.  I think if I tried to pedal a bicycle that far, I wouldn’t even be able to feel a massage at the end of the day.  I’ve had a few of the non-hard core cyclists tell me that getting a massage saved their life after a tough days ride and I believe it.

Motorcycle Marshals at Francis Marion University start of day two of Bke MS Breakaway to the BeachOur Motorcycle Marshal crew this year consisted of the same core group as previous years except for a few that could not make it and a few late additions to take their places.  It is an invitation-only deal and we take our task seriously. I was happy that my friend Chris got to join us this year on his Suzuki V-Strom. The Harley-Davidson big twins that most of our group rides are beautiful, but it is good to spice things up a bit with other types of motorcycles too.

It was fun and a little surprising for me to hear some of the bicyclists comment about my Moto Guzzi during the 2 day ride.  A few yelled over “hey, nice Guzzi” as I slowly rode around them on the route.  I also had a few guys also tell me that they “have not seen a Moto Guzzi in years”,  and “wow, a Moto Guzzi, you don’t see one of those everyday”.  I have to admit that I enjoy getting those kinds of comments.  It is nice to know that others are aware of Moto Guzzi motorcycles and also appreciate them.  Quite often people never heard of Moto Guzzi in the US, including other motorcycle riders.  I try to be a good Ambassador for Moto Guzzi (pun intended if you recall the Moto Guzzi Ambassador).

Once again, my Guzzi California performed great for me in this event.  I ran my custom 4 way flashers both days, all day.  Why the California Vintage did not come from the Mandello factory with 4 way flashers, I have no idea, but it should have.

I also ran my auxiliary lights when passing and when traffic became heavier around the bicyclists on certain stretches of highway.  Since much of the Marshal riding is done at very low speeds and relatively low rpm, I decided not burn the extra watts without maintaining decent rpm.  I had switched to 35 watt bulbs long ago to cure the weak battery situation caused by the stock 55 watt bulbs, but being out in the middle of nowhere was not a good place to be testing the limits of the battery.

One of our guys on a Honda woke up to a drained battery at the hotel Sunday morning. He had his battery tender with him and we helped him push his bike next to the soda machines outside where an electrical outlet was available.  He had so many extra lights and electronic gadgets on that motorcycle that I thought it was no wonder, but apparently his GPS is what caused the issue.  One of the big Harleys was hesitant to crank also that morning, but it eventually fired up.

A feature on the California Vintage (and other Moto Guzzi models) that continues to be one of my favorites is the adjustable front suspension.  When the road surface got bumpy on some of the route that had been scraped for resurfacing (I know, poor timing for a bicycle event), I simply turn a few clicks on the compression and /or the rebound knobs on top of my fork tubes and things smooth right out nicely.  Those adjustment knobs are within easy reach while riding and they are great to have.  I feel the rear suspension is adjusted right where I like it.  Even when road conditions change, I don’t ever feel the need to adjust the rear suspension, although I could turn the damping knobs that are within reach under the rear sides of the seat.

John at Sunset Beach Finish 2012 on Moto Guzzi California motorcycle for MS Breakaway to the BeachI’m planning to volunteer again for next year’s Bike MS Breakaway to the Beach, and for that, I will come up with a flag mount to attach to my motorcycle.  Each of us motorcycle marshals carries a bright orange safety flag in case we need to slow the riders down due to a dangerous situation, or other needs like that.  I normally carry mine in my sidecase, but most of the other marshals have them mounted on the backs of their Harleys.

Having the safety flag mounted on the motorcycle in a tube-like holder certainly increases attention to traffic and the bicyclists, so I will make one of those for next time.  For fun, I’m thinking of designing the flag holder in cad and then actually printing it on a 3d printer.  In fact, that’s what I do in my day job, but I rarely take advantage of that for my personal use.  Now that I am thinking of it, consider it done.  Look for my high tech motorcycle flag holder in a future article on this site.  I know pvc pipe works good for a flag holder, but everyone has one of those.  It’s like why ride the same kind of motorcycle as everyone else when you can ride something much more unique for less cost?

One of the things the bicyclists tell us each year is that it is good just seeing us out there with them and knowing we are out there with them if they need us for anything.  That is great to hear!  It is nice that so many express their gratitude for our volunteer service, but they are truly the ones that should be thanked for all their really hard work to raise money for such a worthy cause.

2012 MS Breakaway to the Beach Motorcycle Marshals at Francis Marion University start of day two


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About John Clay

John Clay is the author of MotoGuzziCalifornia.Com. He and his family reside in North Carolina in the United States. A graduate of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Experienced Rider Course, he enjoys riding and maintaining his Moto Guzzi California Vintage.

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  1. John says:

    Hi Paul, thank you for your kind comments! At 6′ with 33″ inseam, I find the California perfectly comfortable. The bike requires some long legs to use the kickstand and has a fairly tall seat height; however, the footboards are high, so your knees are bent in standard riding style and maybe for taller folks could get a little cramped on long hauls. I don’t think you’d have any problem, except for the windshield height. Rifle makes a taller windshield that some prefer over stock. Have you looked at a Moto Guzzi Stelvio? That one is quite tall with adventure style like BMW GS style.

  2. Paul Dulin says:

    John, Thank you for another great written article. Your knowledge and passion about your Moto Guzzi and your adventures on it are of great interest to me.
    I currently ride a BMW F650 which I enjoy riding the back roads of Texas. However I want to get a California Vintage soon. I have a friend who has owned and riden a Guzzi plus you website and articles have fueled my desire for a Guzzi.
    I only have one major concern and that is the low seat hieght. I am 6’4″ with a 34″ inseam. Are you aware of a taller seat option for California.
    Thanks again for everything you do.