A long ride on mixed roads in the company of good friends ends with that most predictable of rhetorical questions: “Do I need a newer bike?”
I meet up with the boys at the Blackberry Café in Blaine, Washington for our September Geezer Ride and scarf down my Green Eggs (scrambled with basil pesto) and Ham bagel. That’s when my ignition key goes AWOL.
Jim and Steve wait patiently on their big BMW GS’s while I complete a comprehensive search of the restaurant before finding a small hole in my pants pocket. The key is in the lining … I sheepishly fire up the Elefant.
INTERSTATE FIVE SKIMS THE WESTERN SLOPES OF THE CASCADES where a tangle of county and forest service roads meander around the Cascades’ chain of volcanoes: Baker, Rainier, St Helens, Adams, Hood, Jefferson, Bachelor, the Sisters, Thielsen and Crater Lake. Southeast from Portland, Oregon, the Clackamas “Highway” rambles through dense fir and hemlock forests to Detroit Lake, and between the tall trees, the air is fresh and fragrant.
Next morning we turn back west at Marion Forks and spin up through stands of pine to a narrow ridge where the treetops of the Middle Santiam Wilderness spread out below, glowing in the soft morning light—soft because of smoke drifting in from distant forest fires. Our narrow trail meanders down into the trees before opening to a deliriously bend-swinging two-laner at Green Peter Lake.
Negotiating Eugene’s tangle of beltways, freeways, highways and whateverways eventually fires into quaint Cottage Grove, where Buster Keaton’s silent classic The General was shot in 1926. We aim toward Crater Lake through Umpqua National Forest on crusty, fractured paths before following the crashing Rogue River as it cascades down to Grants Pass.
Next morning, we head southwest to Oregon Caves onto a favourite forest service road that swings through the pine-lined passes of the Siskiyou Mountains to Happy Camp, California. Revisiting some favourite twisties around Yreka, we eventually fetch up on fabled Highway 36.
“Roller-coaster road” has become a cliché, but Hwy. 36 is one of few that truly earns the accolade. For mile after mile, the tarmac swoops down and over the undulating terrain, bucking the Elefant airborne and blindsiding each upcoming succession of turns.
East from the Sacramento Valley, the northern Sierra Nevada is striated with canyons that slice into its western face. This is where the most talented and mischievous of highway engineers at CalTrans weave their magic: not only do the roads rhythmically arc and sway, but their billiard-table tarmac, thoughtful camber and consistent radii tempt riders—me, anyway—to test traction and lean limits. We spend the next three days strafing these blissful corridors: Highways 70 and 49, County Road 120, and the joker in the pack, La Porte Road from Quincy to Oroville.
We fetch up in Susanville after running the crest of the range on- and off-tarmac, and park just by chance outside a brewpub. It’s the end of our day. What’s a guy to do?
The Elefant has behaved impeccably so far: predictable in the bends, nimble on the loose stuff, and—remarkably for a 20-year-old Ducati—solidly reliable. Then comes the sprint back north.
As soon as we hit the slab, Jim and Steve crank the throttles on their Germanic supertankers and sprint into the distance. Though the ‘fant could probably stay with them, I’d need to hold 6,500 rpm, and my mechanical sympathy (plus the very real prospect of catastrophic mechanical failure) won’t let me do that.
BACK IN VANCOUVER, I’M THINKING THAT MAYBE I NEED A newer scoot with equally good off-road chops but better Interstate capability. Not to take anything away from the ‘fant, but its tech belongs to a less frantic time.
I rode the F800GS Beemer at its press intro, and came away mildly unimpressed with its on-highway comfort, and learned first hand about the default-on ABS that can’t be negated on the fly. That’s the ABS you should have remembered to stop and turn off before you headed down that shale slope.
So I book a test ride on a Triumph Tiger 800XC, which feels like a magic carpet by comparison: ample power, smoothly delivered; impeccable highway manners; ergonomics that would be perfect with higher bars.
No chance to ride it off-road, but overall I feel like I’m riding the offspring of a DR-Z and a Street Triple—which in a way I guess I am.
Could this be my new canyon-carver-cum-cross-continental-cruiser?
Dear Bank Manager …