Meet a Reader – Steve Gross

In Interview by Abhi2 Comments

I first met Steve Gross when he left a comment on a BSA Victor I featured – he noticed that it was being offered by a famous seller. A few emails later, it was clear he had some great stories and was very entertaining – the story about the bedliner R1200GS never fails to make me laugh. I thought you guys would love some of his stories, so here you go…

How did you get started with motorcycles – how did you learn, and what was your first bike?
I was a teenage car and bike flipper. Maybe some of your readers remember classified ads—this is what we had in the dark ages before Craigslist and eBay. In my hometown of Bay City, Michigan, the local newspaper ran “the Freebies”—a special classified ad section where you could list anything without paying for the ad, as long as the asking price was less than $100. My dad noticed that people were selling cars and motorcycles in the Freebies. We lived on a very busy street, so this gave us an idea—buy a car or bike on Sunday morning, clean it up on Sunday afternoon, and put it on the front lawn for $200. Due to the traffic in front of our house, we normally turned over our weekend haul by Wednesday.

Over time, we came up with a whole Sunday morning ritual, including eating breakfast at 4AM in the Texan restaurant (where I learned to love coffee at age 14), and using a Polk reverse-lookup phone directory to find the seller’s address based on the telephone number in the ad. We would drive around at dawn looking at the cars, which were invariably parked at the end of the driveway—bikes were harder to scout though since they were typically in the garage or backyard. We would have the best one picked out by 6:30 or 7:00, and call the owner from a nearby payphone. Two minutes later, we would be at the guy’s front door and have him come out in his pajamas to start the car. If it ran, we would hand over $100 and be on our way. My dad would drive the newly-acquired vehicle, using an “extra” license plate that we always carried. I would follow in the family car, figuring that since I didn’t have a drivers license I should at least be driving a more-or-less legal vehicle. My mom and the neighbors didn’t like it so much, but I made a lot of money for college thanks to my dad and the Freebies.

Sometimes, I wouldn’t sell a bike right away. The first one I kept for a while was a Solex moped of completely indeterminate vintage, that I paid $25 for.

Solex Moped - it's worth googling to learn more about that friction drum on the front wheel.

Solex Moped – it’s worth googling to learn more about that friction drum on the front wheel.

I never got it to run right but sold it after picking up a 1960-something Sears Allstate Compact scooter. This was really a rebadged Puch 60cc machine, that looked very much like a Vespa but had a 3-speed transmission like a “real” motorcycle. When I finally got my driver’s license in 1983, I replaced the Allstate with my first proper bike, a 1968 Suzuki X6 Hustler—the scrambler version with high pipes. From there I went to a 1972 Yamaha RT3 enduro.

Picture from SuperHunky

Picture from SuperHunky

After busting my shin on the Yamaha’s kickstarter one too many times I flipped that for something else. I barely remember all the bikes I had in high school, but I really wish I had the Allstate and X6 back today. Those stuck with me for whatever reason—probably because they were the start of a long obsession with motorcycles.

What bikes do you currently own?
I’m pretty much a twin-cylinder guy–mainly into Ducati since the 90s. One cylinder isn’t enough–if that cylinder quits you’re done. Four is too many–no character, and if one cylinder quits you can just keep going! Two is just right–if one quits you can have a bit of an adventure trying to figure out the problem, but in the end you can limp home on one pot if necessary. Never tried triples–maybe I’m missing something there.

I got interested in Ducatis through the Ducati Owner’s Club of Canada (DOCC). I found out about them through Larry Klein at GT Motors in Lansing, MI – I used to hang out at his shop and he roped me into helping him sell books and other memorabilia at DOCC’s annual rally at Grattan raceway. I had such a great time at that event that I went back for a few years even though I didn’t own a Ducati at the time. I was in grad school and didn’t have any money! I finally bought my first Duc—a 1988 750 F1–from Dick Greenway (a fellow DOCC member) with the signing bonus from my first private-sector job. At the time, it was pretty much just a used bike – now they have found collector value.

3 Ducati F1s at Grattan

I rode the F1 on the street and at DOCC track rallies for a few years–but once I got a little faster and the collector value of the F1 started increasing I started worrying about crashing it on the track and wrecking the original bodywork. So I bought a ’93 Ducati 900SS track bike–oddly enough also from Dick.

Photo Credit Nick Devinck

Photo Credit Nick Devinck

After that, my wife wouldn’t let me visit him anymore unless she verified that I wasn’t carrying the checkbook. I immediately crashed that bike–proving to her that it was a smart purchase after all, because it meant I didn’t crash the F1. I put it together again and rode it on the track for several more years. But when DOCC quit doing the Grattan rally, I drifted away from doing track days, and just recently sold the 900. I still ride the F1 on the street.

Credit Torben Photography

Credit Torben Photography

I have a ’98 Ducati ST2 which I ride with the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association (MSTA). Even though Michigan has terrible roads (flat, straight, and full of potholes), the Michigan squadron of the MSTA is the biggest squadron in the country. Mainly this is because we do a lot of out-of-state riding events. At a minimum, I spend a week in the southeast (NC/TN/SC/GA), and a long weekend in WV with the MSTA every year. Usually I take my son on the WV ride. The ST2 is a great bike, but it’s a little boring for a Ducati. Still, if I could keep only one of my bikes, that would be it.

The best of times...

The best of times…

I bought the ST2 thinking I would ride to and from the out-of-state MSTA events, but due to the time constraints of having a family (the afore-mentioned wife, and 3 teenage children) I end up trailering the ST2 a lot more than I want to. Plus, a lot of the MSTA folks in Michigan lean closer to “sport” than “touring”, and the ST2 was a bit of a laggard when I rode with the sportbikes. I figured, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, and bought a 2000 Honda CBR929RR from another MSTA member.

A Honda CBR929RR - photo from

A Honda CBR929RR – photo from

Yes, it’s a soulless Japanese 4-banger–but it’s reliable, powerful, and handles great. My Ducatis miss on 2 of those 3 characteristics! Sometimes, you don’t want to diagnose yet another electrical problem by the side of the road…as I had to do twice this year with the ST2.

Steve Gross - Ducati ST2 - Electrical Problem

The worst of times…

Steve Gross - Ducati ST2 - Less Severe Problem

At least this time there’s a pretty background.

Finally, I have a ’97 Ural sidecar rig. That’s my winter ride, and looks it. Since it has a sidecar, it doesn’t fall down so I can ride it in the snow and ice. And, since it has Russian drum brakes and tires that might as well be made from Bakelite, it stops just as poorly on glare ice as on bone-dry pavement.

Assume for a moment that money is no object, and importation laws aren’t a problem. What’s the next bike you’d buy, and what would you do with it?

I should probably say Ducati Desmosedici or Supermono, but your relaxation of importation laws makes me think of the Aprilia Moto 6.5, designed by Philippe Starck, which was never brought to the USA. I’m usually a proponent of function over form, so I don’t know why I’m so interested in the Moto 6.5. I don’t think it’s a particularly good motorcycle, but it sure is neat-looking. It would probably just sit in my garage unused. On second thought, I’ll take Mike Hailwood’s 1978 Isle of Man TT winning bike instead!

What’s the most memorable motorcycle trip you’ve ever taken?

I did Peter Egan’s Slimey Crud Café Racer Run in 2007, on my 1988 Ducati 750 F1.

Steve's F1 on the Slimey Crud Run.

Steve’s F1 on the Slimey Crud Run.

That was a fantastic trip, that I did with my friend Derek Pelowski riding his 1978 Ducati 900SS. Before the event, we rode from Stoughton WI over to Rochester MN (Derek’s hometown) to visit Wheels Unlimited. If you are a vintage Ducati guy (or gal!) but have never been to Wheels Unlimited, you really should go there before the Frutiger brothers retire. The first thing you see when you walk in is a hand-lettered sign: Welcome to Wheels Unlimited, please turn your clocks back 30 years! No website, no credit cards, but nobody knows more about 1960s through 1980s Ducatis than Tim and Tom Frutiger. They have an unbelievable quantity of NOS parts in the basement, all cataloged on index cards. They rebuilt my F1 engine a couple years ago, after the transmission input shaft bearing failed. Check out some photos of the shop here and here.

Derek’s bike would only run properly on race gas, which was hard to find in rural WI and MN. At one point, after filling his tank he also filled up a couple of Gatorade bottles with race gas. 

Impromptu jerry cans.

Impromptu jerry cans.

He shoved one in his jacket (no luggage on our vintage bikes) and handed one to me. I politely declined to carry a Molotov cocktail in my jacket, pointing out that one of us needed to not be on fire in order to call 911 when the other one did ignite. Later, when he put a gas-filled bottle on a tabletop at lunchtime I was half-certain he would forget it wasn’t Gatorade and take a swig, especially since the gas was dyed blue!

Race Gas Gatorade - Restaurant

On the way back from Rochester, an old friend of Derek’s joined us on his BMW R1200GS. This guy’s whole bike was painted with pickup truck bedliner. I asked Derek what was up with that, and his response was “you’ll see…and by the way don’t follow him too closely”. Sure enough, within the first hour, his buddy overcooked a corner and lowsided. Apparently this was a frequent-enough occurrence that he long-ago gave up trying to keep the bodywork looking nice, and just put on another coat of Herculiner after every incident.

Both of us were running open reverse megaphones on our bikes for this trip. Very antisocial, but very sonically pleasing—to us at least! Somehow, we guessed where Peter Egan lives (I have since forgotten, so please don’t ask me for his address) and stopped in his driveway to get a photo of our bikes in front of his mailbox. As we were getting our snapshots, Peter came strolling down the driveway.

Peter Egan Driveway

2 beautiful Ducatis with Peter Egan.

He had heard us coming from miles away. Rather than telling us to get off his lawn, he invited us up to his pole barn for a chat. Just a super-nice guy and absolutely unpretentious.

Do you listen to music while riding? If no, why not? If yes, what are some of your favorite tunes when you’re on your bike?

If I’m in the twisties, no music can beat the sound of my bike—especially if I’m riding my F1. If I’m on the slab, I find that music helps pass the time. Some of my favorite bands to listen to while riding are the Black Keys, Apples in Stereo, Stars, Erin McKeown, and The High Strung.

[Editor’s Note: While it’s not my favorite Black Keys song, here’s my favorite Black Keys music video:]

What’s your favorite piece of gear?
I really don’t want to sound like an ad for high-priced riding gear. But, I have to say it’s between my Aerostich Roadcrafter suit and my Schuberth C3 helmet. They are both highly functional as well as very protective. I don’t believe that expensive automatically equals good, but in these cases I do think you get what you pay for.



I can put the Aerostich on in 30 seconds over my street clothes—not quite the 10 seconds advertised on their site, but still pretty fast. It eliminates any excuse to not be fully geared up on every ride (ATGATT—all the gear, all the time), because it is so easy to put on. I resisted getting an Aerostich for years, buying a succession of cheaper jackets and pants—none of which really satisfied me. Once I added up how much I had spent on inferior gear, I realized I should have bought an Aerostich in the first place! Only downside of the suit is that the blue color doesn’t match my new-to-me Honda CBR929RR.



I don’t like talking to people through a helmet—it makes me feel like an alien. Now that I have the C3 I don’t have to take my helmet off at every gas stop. Plus the internal sun visor is very convenient, especially since I wear glasses. To top it off, it is fairly light, and very quiet.

You have $25,000 to spend on anything in the world of motorcycles – 1 new bike, several old bikes, track days, a trip, you name it. How do you spend it?

The last thing I need is more motorcycles to maintain! I would earmark $5000 for a couple weekends with Keith Code’s California Superbike School, and go for a tour in Europe until the rest of the money was gone!



Riding in the Alps is definitely on my bucket list. I work for a German company, and every time I go to headquarters in Munich I gaze longingly out the window at the mountains, when I should be paying attention to meetings instead. I have gone so far as to check with the Ducati dealership in Munich about bike rental pricing, but so far I haven’t managed to take the trip.

If you can describe it in words, what is it about Ducatis that makes them appeal to you so much?
I guess my experience with the Ducati Owner’s Club of Canada, and later the US Desmo and Ducs Unlimited clubs, is a big part. I made a lot of friends through those clubs.

Maybe it’s also that Ducati ownership keeps my electrical troubleshooting skills sharp—handy in my day job as an application engineer for an automotive electronics company!

What do you expect from the future of motorcycling, good or bad?
Modern bikes are so good, I think the next step has to be revolutionary rather than evolutionary. Zero and Brammo are already showing us what can be done with electric bikes—I think we’ll see more in this direction. I am a big fan of electrification in vehicles (my car is a Chevy Volt, and I love the flatness of the torque curve—almost as good as a Ducati), but of course the main issues are range and battery weight.



But the flip side of technology is a bit frightening for us motorcyclists. As autonomous vehicles and other related technologies edge closer to reality, I see a big risk of motorcycles being pushed off the streets—much like horses today. We don’t have the same influence in government as the automakers or Google, so we can’t drive regulation like they do. The AMA is in Washington fighting for us, but it feels like we have brought a pen-knife to an artillery battle. Membership numbers and money both matter in getting the attention of lawmakers. Even if you don’t agree with everything the AMA is doing (and I sure don’t), please consider joining if you aren’t already a member. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Thanks for the chance to tell a bit of my story as a “regular Joe” motorcyclist to your readers. I hope I haven’t bored them too much, compared to some of the other more illustrious folks you have interviewed.

Cover photo from Torben Photography