Memories of Marty

There are many kinds of friendships. Not sure how unique my experience is, I see and view old friends or people I grew up with in a totally different light than those I’ve met in adulthood. And while both are cherished, it's ironic that people in the second group understand me a lot better. Maturity offers more wisdom than energy. Using that mindset I will attempt to write about one such friend, but the words are not coming easily...(continued)

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Memories of Marty

Remembered best for founding Iron Horse Motorcycles in Tucson Arizona, the number of people who met and did business with Marty Cohen run parallel with stories of his deeply caring nature. By the mid-90s Iron Horse had outgrown its original location and into a large, custom built facility just a few blocks away. Greatly increasing what were already high standards of service, by the time Marty hung up his wrenches in 2004, he and his staff had grown Iron Horse into one of the USA’s most respected BMW dealerships, routinely leading the region in sales while gaining numerous service and customer satisfaction awards. Like the founder, the Iron Horse name became synonymous with excellence.             

It was oldest brother Neil who first met Marty, spotted lying on the floor of the old Grant Road workshop tending to a customer’s R90/6. Encouraged to have a look by that very impressed sibling, my next trip to Tucson and the resulting visit left me with the same favorable conclusion. Tossing out the idea of swapping my CB1100F for either an R100RS or an 850 Le Mans, I followed Marty through a catacomb maze of shelved parts (both old and new) until we came upon the RS (^upper left) glowing resplendently under a single hanging florescent. Reasonably clean and sold new by Marty in 1982, the bike was a recent trade that came with lots of accessories. Sealing the deal, we agreed to swap most of those extras for specific stuff I wanted, and I happily took the Beemer home. Stopping by a couple weeks later to fetch my new goodies, some words were exchanged. Flushed with humiliation, I mumbled an apology and left, certain I’d never return. Fitting the parts to my now-beautiful RS in dark silence, I thought to sell the BMW for something else but that plan was revised a few days later when Marty called. What was said pales when compared to what wasn’t, but I’m rambling because the conclusion is obvious.           

The Euro bike scene was hopping in Tucson during the late 80 and into the 90s, and most riders used either Iron Horse or Steve Spreter’s Renaissance Motorcycles as a base. Offering the Italian brands, Spreter competed directly with Marty for business but many, like myself, owned and visited both often. I wasn’t surprised to learn the pair had been friends before they entered the industry, and remained friends after Marty retired. I wonder if Marty checked out the new Guzzis when no one was looking?   

“I’m responsible for getting Marty into BMWs” says Balfour Walker, perhaps Marty’s oldest and dearest friend. “We were both attending college and Marty worked on bikes at his parent’s house for extra money. He was a big fan of the English brands, but after I traded my Bonneville for a used R50/2 I found parked on the street for sale, things changed a bit. I was going to be out of town for a couple weeks and didn’t want to leave my bike outside unattended, so I rode to Marty’s (^above in 1981) hoping I could store it there. “I don’t work on those” he told me, but after hearing my explanation I was allowed to park it “out of the way” in a far corner of the yard. When I returned, I was surprised to find that Marty had been studying the Beemer since I’d left. “They’ve fixed all the stuff that’s wrong with everything else” he explained, and it wasn’t long before he bought his own BMW. The rest, as far as Marty Cohan is concerned, is history.” Now an acclaimed photographer, I spent hours with Marty at his home viewing Balfour’s striking images, all kept in large binders and labeled with Marty’s carefully written captions.

The real magic of our relationship appeared after Moto-Euro magazine was launched. I use the term relationship because we were not equals; Marty mostly talked, and I very wisely, mostly listened. Taking an interest, Marty had reacted to my earlier freelance work with careful consideration, followed by tons of suggested reading. When he (correctly) assumed his suggestions were not being followed Marty began collecting the material himself –along with pages and pages of footnotes- and placed them in my hand. Thanks to him, I drew tremendous inspiration from the works of Willoughby, Anyton, Minton and others, but gained even more from Marty’s belief I was capable of reaching that level of professionalism. Discovering it’s impossible to reach high goals if not grounded, I’d show Marty a photograph or something I was particularly proud of, only to be returned indifference. “You don’t expect them to publish crap, do you?” A hard stance, Marty expected excellence and patiently tolerated my gloating. He didn’t care what I rode in on (except the time I showed up on a German-made MZ1000S test bike) as we had more important things to do. “I have material in my office for you” he’d often say when I popped for something. “Don’t leave before seeing me.” Marty wasn’t a friend in the traditional sense. He was my mentor. A gifted teacher from whom I took much more than I gave.   

I look around my office and see reminders of Marty (<Left, with daughter Holly) everywhere. I read of his passing on the internet, which caused strong feelings of anger and guilt. I didn’t even know he was sick. If by chance this memorandum reads with any degree of literacy, then perhaps Marty’s investment was not in vain. It’s been extraordinarily hard to write. Because of the personal things he did share, I’m sure he’d want me to say that daughter Holly and her mother Karen were never far off in his mind. He loved accomplishment. He cherished his friends and family. Owning a wide circle of admirers, I’m not grieving his loss alone so I console myself by having the honor of counsel from a true craftsman. I couldn’t tell him so I’ll write it. Goodbye Marty. I will never forget you. Nolan Woodbury

**Special thanks to Karen Cohen and Balfour Walker.

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