News & Politics

Senator Angus King Bought His First Motorcycle in 1966 for $90—Then Rode It on the Autobahn in the Rain

“Sometimes you have to weigh the odds, take a risk, and make your call.”

Somewhere in Hungary, August 1966. Photograph courtesy of Senator Angus king

“I had ridden motorbikes in high school and college, but my first real motorcycle was a 1951 German army surplus BMW 250 that I bought in Munich in the summer of 1966 for $90. I went down to the used-motorcycle store, and it was exactly what I was looking for. My first day on the bike was to ride from Munich to Salzburg, Austria, on the Autobahn in the rain, which was crazy. I’d have significant trepidation making that trip today. But I was 22 and immortal and didn’t know any better.

“A friend and I spent the next six or seven weeks mostly behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Hungary on motorcycles. I remember one incident in Budapest where my headlight went out and I strapped a flashlight to the front. This cop with a machine gun waved me down, and I had to make an instant decision: Is this a good idea to spend a couple days in a Hungarian jail, or drive without a headlight? He was on foot, and I made a flash decision to keep going. I look back on that and wonder, but sometimes you have to weigh the odds, take a risk, and make your call.

“I always said, ‘If this bike gets me to England, that’s all I ask for $90.’ Lo and behold, we went across on the ferry, got to London, stopped at a red light, and the bike died and never started again. I got off, picked up my saddlebag, and that was it. Far as I know, it’s still sitting there.

“I think [a motorcycle] is a good thing for a politician because you can’t carry a phone with you. You don’t have someone riding on the back unless it’s your [spouse]. You can’t avoid being with people.

“You’re close to the environment, so you can smell fresh-cut grass, you have the wind, and there’s just a feeling of freedom. It’s a wonderful feeling—although my friend said, ‘Angus, no matter what, you’ll always be a rider, never a biker.’ I had the leather jacket, boots, chaps, all that, [but] I figured I’d never make that status. Maybe it’s something about the tattoos, I don’t know.”