(Original article at:www.bmwmoa.org/about/membersprofiles/bobmutchler.htm)
Given the 2005 Iron Butt Rally’s difficulty, on its 11th day, most people would have quit or at least run the shortest route to the finish in Denver when faced with the certain knowledge that the clutch was slipping in both 5th and 4th gears and 3rd gear was not far behind. But that wouldn’t be Bob Mutchler’s style. There were more points to gather and a little bit of time left , so Bob did what he’s always done. He dug deep and rode past Denver to Las Vegas, collected those additional points and then returned to Denver to finish—what many are calling the toughest Iron Butt Rally ever run.
In the motorcycle world, Bob is noted for riding difficult challenges. He can lay claim to having visited 48 state capitals in one month. To have ridden to all of the California CHP divisions and headquarters. To have ridden to all of the Canadian provinces. To have ridden the perimeter of the United States. To have ridden a state capital ride once more that included visiting all 50 state capitals. To have completed three Iron Butt Rallies and to be planning for a fourth in 2007. To have ridden a Hawaiian tour. And Australia, too.
Passions are what drive people. And a passion for motorcycles, music and medicine are what drives BMW MOA member, Bob Mutchler. To paint a really thorough picture of this unique man only a book length article could do justice. Or maybe it would take a three-volume set.
Bob is married to Patti, has two children and lives in Folsom, California. Bob is also an accomplished musician. When contacted for this interview, he was “messing around” with his trumpet. He had just started relearning it after 20 years. His main instrument has been the oboe, though he also plays the keyboard, a sax and “most all of the other instruments.” He just sold his Irish Troubadour harp. In his sparse spare time he plays keyboard, guitar and vocals with a rock-and-roll band named “Have Mercy” (all of the members of the band are affiliated with Mercy Hospital). He’s currently president of the Rotary Club of North Sacramento and he’s having the time of his life with that, he says, really enjoying it. He’s been in Rotary since 1970. He’s involved in community affairs, charities and, by vocation, Bob is a fourth-generation piano tuner/technician. People ship pianos to him from all over the world for restoration work. He’s an accomplished public speaker and when he asks for support, people just can’t say no.
But, what is his motivation? Well, if Bob was writing the story, it would include little about the “rides” he has done. We’d just hear about PolioPlus, Rotary International’s immensely important program to eradicate polio from the world. He speaks with a passion unmatched when this subject arises. We wouldn’t hear anything about the pain that comes with his riding. He’d just dismiss it as signs of growing older that happen to everybody. But it doesn’t happen to every one.
Twenty years ago, doctors told Bob he had maybe two years of productive life left . So he did what few would do. He went out and bought a motorcycle. That wasn’t the first time he’d ridden. When he was just three days old, he took his first ride on a brand new ’47 Harley sitting in front of his dad. And then when he was 10 or 11, his father, who already owned a music store, opened up a Honda motorcycle shop in Auburn, California. At age 13, his dad gave him a Honda 50 with a sidecar—a prototype—which he still has. Over the next five years, he went through about 20 top ends on that bike. He could tear it down and put it back together in less than 15 minutes, even alongside the road. He got really good at that and at assembling the motorcycles in the shop when they came in from Japan. Bob rode that Honda 50 everywhere he went. He didn’t have a car until he was 18. He’s had Triumphs, Harleys, Yamahas and claims to have ridden about every brand made to date. He’s always had a love of them. He learned to kick start with his arm using upper body strength.
Unfortunately, one dark day he was run o the road into a blackberry patch, and as he pushed the bike home, he promised himself that until motorcycles got safer he wouldn’t ride. Brakes got better and there were other improvements along the way but motorcycles continued to seem a dangerous way to live—until his divorce and that two year prognosis.
Then it took him a week to find a Gold Wing with a sidecar. It seemed easy for him to ride thousand mile days. He was in better shape than he had been 20 years earlier. And the thought occurred to him, why not ride for a purpose—polio eradication! When word got out, the President of BMW of Australia, the Public Relations Manager for BMW of North America and eventually, Tony Felice of A&S Cycles in Roseville, California, got interested.
Tony gave him a BMW R1100RT. Bob called Dave and Ruth Ann Hannigan of Hannigan Sidecars and they created a sidecar for his new bike. That fall, Bob shared his riding experiences with Mike Kneebone of the Iron Butt Association and eventually he earned a Bronze Medal in his very first Iron Butt competition in 1999. He’d lost an alternator belt but Peake BMW in Kenner, Louisiana, cannibalized a bike and donated time and parts to get him back on the road aft er servicing his rig overnight. More than just the ride, he found collecting bonuses to be great fun.
Bob is very grateful to his parents, Bob and Alice Mutchler. He was diagnosed with polio at nine months of age and was in and out of an iron lung until he was four. He says he didn’t know what his parents looked like then since he never saw anyone without a mask in all that time. Once he was home, he developed enough diaphragm strength to play a variety of musical instruments. His mother encouraged him to work out on a swing to build his stomach muscles. She was incredibly encouraging and wanted him to be able to do everything he was capable of doing. His mother taught him how to read when he was four—not nursery primers but rather newspapers, textbooks and the classics. By the time he graduated he had read most of the library texts at Placer High School.
It wasn’t until he grew up that Bob realized how understanding his father had been. Now he appreciates the way his father used “tough love” to make him responsible for his actions. His father let Bob work on mechanical things until he figured them out, no matter how frustrating it became for either of them. While his mother worked with him to show him how things could be done, his father gave him the freedom to figure things out for himself. Bob is convinced that this made him a better mechanic while on the road and a better piano technician in his business. Of his father, Bob says, “The legacy he gave me is one that has been a major factor in my success throughout my entire life.”
As a result, Bob learned to do most everything anyone else his age did. He didn’t feel he had any limitations. He learned to modify and adapt the world to his needs. He credits his parents for giving him an incredible artistic and mechanical legacy and for encouraging the positive attitude that he brings to each day.
Bob tells stories that are inspiring and heart wrenching and illustrate that one person can make a difference in the lives of many. In 2000, he went to Ghana. It was a time when everything physical was falling apart for him. But there was a little boy who kept pulling on his pants leg to get his attention. The boy was obviously a polio survivor. He wanted Bob to know he was eternally thankful that what Bob was doing was saving his little sister from a similar fate. How could he not continue to ride for the cause of PolioPlus?
Once Bob stayed in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, with a couple who had adopted six Inuit children. The oldest, Carly, had multiple sclerosis. She had always wanted to sit on a motorcycle and was so happy when Bob gave her the opportunity. But at the time, it made little impression on Bob who had other things on his mind. Three years later, he found out that Carly had died. The photo they used for her memorial service was of her on his motorcycle and the note said this had been the happiest moment of her life. Bob felt he’d missed it because he wasn’t paying attention. Fate gave him another chance when he had the privilege of granting another child her dream. He took her for a 45-mile ride in his sidecar—and this time he was really paying attention. “I’m the man!”, she’d say over and over. Bob could only smile.
In 2003, he led a caravan of riders around the perimeter of Australia for two months. As they rode the great Ocean Highway, the Outback and into Tasmania, people would stop them and hand them money to go to PolioPlus.
As of July, Bob has ridden 1.2 million motorcycle miles, which includes 280,000 BMW miles. Details of some of his motorcycle exploits can be found at www.polioplusride.org. He’s had lots of support from the great BMW dealer network. A&S Cycles gave him a replacement bike, an RT-P, two years ago and they have also donated thousands of dollars in maintenance over the past six years. He has continued to have remarkable support from many other BMW dealers along the way including BMW Motorcycles in Little Rock, Arkansas; Miller BMW in Bellingham, Washington; and Engle Motors in Kansas City, Missouri. Pat Widder gave him a complete set of heated gear. Michelin donated all of his tires in 2005 and Rick Mayer custom-made his riding seat. And the list goes on.
At the inevitable risk of missing someone, Bob shared that he is particularly grateful to many wonderful individuals from the long distance riding community that have assisted him over the years, like Joe Zulaski, Ron Smith, Mike Kneebone, Lisa Landry, Brian and Karen Burdette, Dennis Cunningham, Bill Thweat, Norm and Linda Babcock, John and Karen Bolin, Carol (Skert) Youorski, Rick Mayer, Brian Daniel, Jim Buntin and Voni and Paul Glaves.
Bob claims he doesn’t even care where he’s going when he’s riding. “It’s a joy to get on the bike and go further; I’m not answerable to anyone. It feels like flying.” He has found something that keeps him healthy and happy, and allows him to further a cause that he knows he will see completed in his lifetime. With PolioPlus, every 50-cent donation immunizes a child. There are no administrative costs; all is volunteer-driven. Money is invested for three years and the interest pays for any overhead costs. All time is donated. For more information go to www.rotary.org/foundation/polioplus.
And he’s outlived all the doctors who thought his diagnosis of post polio syndrome would limit his life. Bob Mutchler has so many other things he does but PolioPlus is his major passion. That and music and motorcycles. And he absolutely believes in children.
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