Friday, October 19, 2012

Motorcycling Biography of Piet Boonstra

Piet Boonstra was born June 10, 1925 in the same house in Buchanan, New York where he lives today. He and his wife Lillian eloped on a motorcycle in 1948 and they enjoyed motorcycling together for 52 years, up until a month before she lost her battle with breast cancer in 1999. They had five children together and he is the grandfather of ten and great-grandfather of two.

Taken around the time of the elopement in May 1948
During WWII, Piet served with the US Navy as a petty officer first class and aviation radioman with active duty in the Northern Solomon Islands and later in Leyte Gulf during the Philippine Liberation. Like many WWII veterans, he bought his first motorcycle soon after being discharged from the service, a new 1947 Harley Davidson 74 OHV. Later the same year, he stripped the bike down and entered his first enduro competition with it. 

At the noon control of the 1948 Yonkers Turkey Run
A year after purchasing his new motorcycle, Piet rode it to the American Motorcycle Association’s annual Gypsy Tour in Laconia, NH and became a member of the orgainization. Soon afterward, he got a group together and founded the Westchester Cavaliers Motorcycle Club, for which he became president and acquired an AMA charter. In 1950, he was awarded the AMA’s Activity Award for participating in many on and off-road competitive events, gypsy tours and other activities sanctioned by the AMA.

Sandwiches for a picnic while on a trip to Smithsonian in  DC in 1948
In 1955, after a 2-year stint in the Air Force during the Cold War where he served as a Tech Sergeant at Earnest Harmon Air Force Base in Newfoundland, Piet embarked on a 25-year electronics career with IBM, first as a technician on the largest scientific computers ever built and later holding various management and staff positions in their manufacturing division. Soon after joining IBM, he reestablished his enduro competition career with a small Harley Davidson 125cc Hummer and won first place at the annual Yonkers Turkey Run with it the same year.

The 125cc Harley Davidson Hummer with rear suspension
After several class wins with the little Hummer, he was upgraded by the AMA to Expert Enduro Rider. Soon afterward he began riding a highly modified 165cc Harley Davidson, which contained the "Puckett Kit" designed by Dick O'Brien of Harley Davidson racing fame. He won the Expert Lightweight Class at the District 5 Championship Enduro in New Jersey with it in 1959.

The well-worn 165cc Harley Davidson with "Puckett Kit" and leading link forks
After several regional wins in the Expert Lightweight Class riding the 165 and a 250cc Villiers-powered DMW, he went on to win First Place in the Expert Lightweight Class at the 150-mile National Championship Enduro in Cayuta, NY,  followed the very next month by winning First Place in the Expert Lightweight Class at the Covered Wagon 200-mile National Championship in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

The 250cc DMW with Villiers engine and leading link front forks
Piet continued to move up in the standings, and with a 500cc Triumph T100C he racked up many “High Point” wins throughout the Northeast where he became known as “The Master of New England Rockery.” He went on to dominate the New England enduro heavyweight class throughout most of the 1960s with his first four Triumphs. As a result, he was awarded the annual New England Heavyweight Enduro Championship in 1965, 1967, 1968 and 1969. In 1966, he was awarded the overall New England Enduro Grand Championship over a huge field of expert riders with much lighter-weight motorcycles, which were generally considered to have an advantage in the New England terrain.

500cc Triumph T100C in the 150-mile national championship at Cayuta, NY
He was also awarded the Woods Class Championship of the NY Metropolitan Sports Committee in 1973, 1974 & 1975, while winning first place in several national championships in the Medium and Heavyweight classes as well as several times in the Senior Class. In 1967 he won the Heavyweight Championship at the 350-Mile Canadian National Corduroy Enduro in Ontario.

List of championships   
   - 1959 - District #5 Championship - First Place Class A Lightweight
   - 1961 - 200-Mile National Championship - First Place Class A Lightweight
   - 1961 - 150-Mile National Championship - First Place Class A Lightweight
   - 1963 - District #5 Championship - First Place Class A Heavyweight
   - 1964 - District #5 Championship - First Place Class A Heavyweight
   - 1965 - Heavyweight Enduro Championship, New England (points)
   - 1966 - Enduro Grand Champion, New England (points)
   - 1966 - 150-Mile National Championship - Senior Class Champion and NYS Champion
   - 1967 - 150-Mile National Championship - Medium Weight Champion
   - 1967 - Heavyweight Enduro Championship, New England (points)
   - 1967 - 350-Mile Canadian National Enduro - Best Opposite Class Champion
   - 1968 - Heavyweight Enduro Championship, New England (points)
   - 1969 - Heavyweight Enduro Championship, New England (points)
   - 1970 - 150-Mile Curly Fern National Enduro - Heavyweight Champion
   - 1970 - 150-Mile Sandy Lane National Enduro - Senior Class Champion
   - 1971 - 150-Mile Curly Fern National Enduro - Senior Class Champion
   - 1971 - 150-Mile Sandy Lane National Enduro - Senior Class Champion
   - 1973 - Metropolitan Sports Committee - Woods Class Champion
   - 1973 - 150-Mile Curly Fern National Enduro - Senior Class Champion
   - 1974 - Metropolitan Sports Committee - Woods Class Champion
   - 1975 - Metropolitan Sports Committee - Woods Class Champion
   - 1980 - 100-Mile Greylock National Enduro - Super Senior Champion *

* In 1980, Piet and his long-time friend and enduro teammate Bud Peck conceived of a ride they called, “Nine Days in August,” where they rode their enduro bikes for 1,040 miles over the New England Trail Rider Association’s trail system in four states to reach the 100-Mile National Championship Enduro in Middlefield, MA. After being on the trails for seven days, they serviced their bikes on the eighth day, which included a tire and oil change and servicing the chain; after which, both men competed in the championship event the following day with the same 500cc Honda motorcycles. Piet won the Super Senior Class Championship that day, while Bud Peck finished second in the same class.

At the 100-mile National Championship in Middlefield, MA
He was known for occasionally riding his competition motorcycle to other events as well, followed by riding the enduro with the same bike and then riding it home. Besides accomplishing it with his very first enduro in 1948 in Yonkers, NY, when he rode his motorcycle 60 miles to and from that event, he also did it in 1968 as far away as Maine - a 600-mile round trip, the Canadian National Corduroy Enduro in central Ontario in 1982 - a 1,000-mile round trip; and at age 70, to the Bee Hive Enduro in southern New Jersey, a 350-mile round trip.

An aging RAMS team, L to R: Bud Peck, Piet Boonstra and Jake Herzog, on the starting line at the Canadian National Corduroy Enduro in Haliburton, Ontario in 1982, after riding more than 500 miles from home on the same motorcycles, accompanied by their "pit crew" Al Eames (shown smiling in the background). Al pulled a trailer behind his road machine that carried fresh knobby tires and a change of clothes for the competitors.
Mr. Boonstra’s positive motorcycling image influenced several IBM management people at his workplace to get involved in the sport. They subsequently bought motorcycles, learned to ride and organized the Cathuds Motorcycle Club, a trail riding and enduro competition club to which Piet became a member and was given the honor of being called their honorary founder.

Piet joined and later became president of the Crotona Motorcycle Club of White Plains, NY, one of the oldest AMA-chartered clubs in the country. He also joined the RAMS Motorcycle Club of New England soon after that dirt-riding club was formed. The RAMS then organized a top enduro team that won several national and Canadian national team trophies and awards. They organized and ran as many as five off-road events per year during the 1960s and 1970s. Piet has been president of the RAMS MC since the mid 1980s. The club has helped to support many qualified New England enduro riders to travel to and compete in the annual International Six Day Enduro around the world.

1968 Team Championship at Berkshire International Trials
RAMS #1 Team - Dave Latham, Bud Peck, Piet Boonstra & Phil Bourdon
 Piet has also won the “High Point” trophy several times at the famed midwinter Crotona Midnight Run, a timed "road enduro" where temperatures often dip below zero during the event, which is held in all types of weather, as long as at least six riders show up to compete. His most recent overall High Point win in the Midnight Run was in 2003, at age 77, against a field of 80 younger competitors.

At the start of the Midnight Run riding a 500cc Triumph
In 1977, at the age of 52, around the time many motorcyclists think about giving up the sport, his enthusiasm was never greater as he turned his primary interests from active competition to a combination of long distance touring and adventure trail riding while continuing to compete in a few of his favorite events. He went on to become one of the pioneers of a new form of motorcycling activity that became known as “dual-sport riding” and “adventure touring.” In 1977, he became the first motorcyclist to travel the then 480-mile Cassiar Highway from Kitwanga Junction, BC, through what is often called "bigfoot country," to its connection with the Alaska Highway near Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory. He accomplished this during his first long solo dual-sport ride to Alaska and back, which was a 13,000-mile adventurous odessey from his home in New York. The Cassiar route was a combination of two-track logging roads, mine haul roads and trails before construction began to make it a vital alternate link to the Yukon Territory and Alaska from the West Coast. Some areas were still under heavy construction when his Suzuki GS750 became the first vehicle of any kind to travel the entire length of the narrow, all-gravel road on its opening day in June 1977, the first full year in public use.

Near Kitwanga Junction, BC on June 9, 1977 at the start of the Cassiar.
During his second long solo dual-sport ride to Alaska in 1981, Boonstra became the first motorcyclist known to have ridden alone from the east coast of the lower 48 states into the Northwest Territories by way of the Dempster Highway, which had recently been completed, but still closed for the winter season. He accomplished this on the same 750cc road motorcycle, traveling more than 300 miles up the Dempster Highway over loose gravel, shale, deep mud, and sometimes blizzard conditions, years before the availability of suitable long-distance dual-sport motorcycles, electric clothing, cell phones or GPS instruments. He became stranded in a blizzard for three days and four nights 12 miles from the Arctic Circle and 231 miles beyond the barrier with the “Road Closed” sign.

Stranded for three days, 231 miles up a closed road.
Soon after a third adventurous tour to Alaska in 1983, this time dual-sporting a Honda Goldwing over almost two thousand miles of mud and gravel to complete the trip, Piet submitted a free-lance article to the American Motorcyclist magazine entitled, “Surviving the Last Frontier”. The article became one of the first long, exciting dual-sport adventure tours to be published by the magazine and read by hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts. That article and several others of his many travel stories later appeared in numerous national magazines, serving as a catalyst for the introduction of more and better special-purpose, long distance dual-sport motorcycles.
Piet was featured in the 40th Anniversary edition of the American Motorcyclist magazine in 1987, in a column entitled, “On the road with…”, which highlighted his riding achievements.

In 1989 he became the first motorcyclist to ride a Honda Gold Wing to the foot of Copper Canyon in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains of western Mexico during another long, solo, dual sport ride from his home in New York. His freelance article of this accomplishment was also featured in the American Motorcyclist magazine.

Copper Canyon
In 1997 he rode a small 225cc Yamaha Serow from his home to Goose Bay, Labrador through northern Quebec, via the Trans-Labrador Highway, which was a two-track gravel road at the time, and had been recently opened for restricted travel. He was awarded the AMA Joe Christian Award for “outstanding freelance writing” after his story, entitled, Passage to Labrador appeared in the magazine.

Labrador Highway
In 1995 he rode an invitational six-day dual sport ride in the Berkshires with six veteran European enduro riders and six past New England Enduro Grand Champions, in which many of the 1973 ISDT trails were used. Riding his vintage 1974 Triumph Trophy Trail, he consistently impressed everyone, including the European experts, with his ability to still go fast over many miles of rocky terrain on a 21-year-old motorcycle at age 70. Of 12 starting riders, the other 11 of whom rode modern dual-sport motorcycles, he was one of only six to complete the entire six-day course.

Six days on a 21-year-old Triumph at age 70.
His legendary competitive career, in which he accumulated more than 200 trophies and awards, has spanned a total of seven decades.

     Piet received the prestigious "2002 AMA Road Rider of the Year" award for a lifetime of road riding achievements.
     He has written and self-published three popular books about motorcycling. The first book, released in 2002, is entitled "Motorcycling Stories - Adventure Touring from the Northwest Territories to the Yucatan Peninsula," in which he writes about thirteen of his many long adventurous trips through 2001. His second book, “The Golden Age of Enduros,” begins with his first motorcycling experience and goes on to describe how he became involved with enduros and went on to win many regional and national championships. His third book, "Keep Going - The Pleasure and Pain of Perseverance" was released in March 2012. In it, he describes some of his more-recent adventurous tours as he continues to ride into his late 80s. In his books, he describes a myriad of inspirational motorcycling experiences.
     Besides magazine articles and thousands of books in print, he has also shared his experiences as a guest speaker for many motorcycle clubs and other interested groups; and in 2003, he was chosen to be the Guest Banquet Speaker at the annual AMA Congress Meeting in Ohio, attended by all AMA district road and off-road representatives, as well as most members of the AMA’s top-management team (photo below).

At the AMA Congress Meeting
In 2009, he was invited to author the Guest Column for the American Motorcyclist magazine to assist AMA management in promoting a more positive perception of its new direction, at a time when there was much confusion in the rank and file about the primary mission of the AMA.

In 2010, at age 85, he still clocked more than 35,000 miles on his motorcycle, as he continued to maintain an average of 34,000 miles per year for the previous 34 consecutive years, since he first turned his interest to adventure touring in 1977, for a grand total of more than 1¼ million miles since buying his first motorcycle in 1947.

In total, he has completed eight trips to Alaska, his latest in 2004 at age 79, a ride that is described in his latest book, Keep Going. During his career, he has also completed two rides deep into Mexico, several to northeastern Canada including Newfoundland, Labrador and Nova Scotia; and many back-road tours around and across the US, visiting small towns from the seacoast of Maine, though the horse and turkey farms of Virginia; the coal country of West Virginia, the backwoods country of Appalachia, the deep south to New Orleans, Native American reservations from North Dakota to Arizona, the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to the Yukon Territory including Beartooth Pass and Loveland Pass several times, Slumgullion Pass and Pike’s Peak; scores of national parks like Glacier, Yellowstone, Zion, Bryce Canyon and dozens more, to the beautiful Pacific coastline and the magnificent giant Redwoods, Ponderosas and Douglas firs from California to Washington State.
Starting soon after the purchase of his first motorcycle, and for the next 66 years, Piet Boonstra has ridden and competed almost exclusively for fun and excitement with a great deal of enthusiasm and sportsmanship; and he has done it all in an extraordinary manner with no commercial interest or intent. He has continually promoted a positive and inspirational image for motorcycling while riding to and from events all over the country - like Daytona Bike Week in March, Vintage Days in Ohio in July and the AMHF Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies in Las Vegas, Nevada, which he did at age 84 in December 2009. At least one of the national magazines described his life as a testimony to the human spirit and an example of what one can accomplish in a lifetime.

Below is an appendix of awards, magazine and newspaper articles authored by or written about Piet Boonstra, his books and his motorcycling activities.

Centerfold of RoadBike Magazine


  1. Only one and a quarter miles? Seems like more to me....are you counting the road trips?
    I met Piet in about 1973 at Reggie Pink's Motorcycle Dealership, He big, strong, and pretty scarey....funny thing...he still is.
    I have worked in Motorcycle shops all of my life (now retired) and have met thousands of riders from all aspects of the hobby, and I can say without reservation, Piet is, hands down, the most impressive rider I ever met.
    PIET....great job on your blog.
    Bob Roper

    1. I remember one time at the Beehive Enduro, Piet well into his '70's showed up riding a XR500 Honda that he had ridden that morning to the event, (a 4-5 hour ride), he finished the Enduro and rode home that night. He is the most impressive rider anyone has ever seen.

  2. Hello Piet, I noticed that you don't yet have a Wikipedia page. I find it hard to believe that with all your accomplishments and published articles that you still don't have one so I'd like to get one started for you and was hoping that I could get permission to use portions of this article to get it started.

    Happy trails,
    G. Kevin Harms

  3. Just discovered your Blogspot thanks to my friend Dave Price. What a wonderful compendium of Enduro and ADV clippings!
    It's interesting to note the number of guys who were pictured in that 1966 Berkshire gold winners' photo who went on to make other names for themselves within the world of motorcycling. There are several, but one which comes to mind is Jess Thomas who became technical editor of Cycle World magazine in the 70s as I recall.
    I know that Garry Nelson continues to ride dirt actively as do I and probably many of the others.
    Thanks for assisting my trip down memory lane, and keep setting a great example for the rest of us as you do, Piet.
    Best, Bill Dutcher