When riders gather to discuss “essential” motorcycle rides, doing New England motorcycle tour in the fall is always in the conversation.
Fall tours are my favourite. The weather is usually decent, the colours can be spectacular, and the bugs are gone, as are the RVs, minivans and tourists that can clog up the best roads. And, when the leaves are off the trees, everything opens up. What were just blurs of green in summer are now flashes of glimmering water, previously unseen cottages and distant hills. The plan my friend Larry and I had was to zip down to Springfield, Massachusetts and then spend a few days exploring some of the finest twisties New England has to offer. With Moto Guzzi’s adventure touring Stelvio NTX and BMW’s long-distance cruise missile K1600GT as our mounts we hit the superslab. Ten hours would get us to Springfield and the next morning, we’d visit the Indian Motorcycle Museum, which was said to be located on the site of the original Indian factory that had closed its doors in 1953.
The forecast was for cool and dry and everything was fine until Albany, New York where the rain started and continued to build until we got to Springfield in a raging downpour.
After the first full day on the road, the K1600GT had cemented its reputation as a top of the line, super-refined, luxury tourer with a turbine-smooth six cylinder engine, all the comforts of home and the handling of a motorcycle 100 kilograms lighter.
The 1200cc V-Twin Stelvio is also a sporty, comfortable, long distance touring mount that displays a three-ringed circus of Italian quirks—lovingly overlooked by owners as “character.” And where the BMW’s bags are easy on and easy off, the Guzzi’s top-loading hard bags have no handles, so you can’t just carry them into the motel. You either haul the contents separately, or tuck the bags under your arm. Nor do they lock onto the bike, so someone can help himself to your bags if the bike’s parked overnight. But the bags of both bikes proved waterproof and easily swallowed the necessities for a trip of several days. Over the course of our upcoming 1,500-km trip, it would be surprising to us how two very different motorcycles can be both enjoyable and competent in their own ways, right down to the fuel consumption which averaged 5.1 to 5.4L/100 km.
THE NEXT MORNING STARTED OUT bright and sunny though our mood darkened when the girl at the hotel told us the Indian museum had closed. “But the website shows it as open,” we whined. She phoned around and confirmed the museum was now gone, the collection disbanded and scattered among several other museums, the largest of which had maybe 10 motorcycles.
We decided to visit the site of the Indian Motorcycle factory while we were in Springfield to at least see what, if anything is still there. Sadly, there are no logos, signs or any indication of the rich history that took place behind those fading brick walls. We took a couple of pictures then headed north to New Hampshire where we rode around the central part of America’s fifth smallest state for most of the day, enjoying decent roads with nice scenery. Finally, we ended up in Laconia, a town with a rich motorcycling history that hosts a nine-day Bike Week every June. The first Laconia event was an informal gathering of about 150 riders in nearby Weirs Beach back in 1916. The following year, the Federation of American Motorcyclists sanctioned the first official Gypsy Tour—so called because riders would travel long distances while camping out along the way—to “provide a good time for riders and favourable publicity for their sport.” The event grew in popularity until, inevitably, a 1965 clash between local police and the shadier side of motorcycling led to a riot and a severe curtailing of motorcycle activity that lasted several years.
Motorcycle racing was also popular at nearby Bryar Motorsports Park, about 14 miles south of Laconia. The AMA sanctioned a national roadrace there until the property was bought in 1993 and converted into a NASCAR type super speedway. I won a few regional races at Bryar in the 1970s and riding past the site, it brought back memories of one of the best “pure” roadracing circuits I’ve ever been on.
The next morning was still sunny and even warmer; the temperature gauges on the bikes indicating low 20s Celsius. We had a ball exploring a number of two-lane backroads on the way to the scenic Kancamagus Highway, a 36-mile twisty ribbon of asphalt between Conway and Lincoln, New Hampshire. The Kancamagus transects the White Mountains, the northern part of the Appalachian chain which is home to 48 peaks of over 1,219 metres and is a rare gem in that there are no gas stations, restaurants or hotels along its length. The highest peak in the range is Mount Washington at 1,916m, where the strongest winds in the northern hemisphere were recorded in 1934—an amazing 371 kilometres per hour.
The only problem was that Canadian Thanksgiving coincides with Columbus Day in the US and thousands of tourists had arrived here to enjoy the fall colours, reputed to be among the best in the US northeast. On a good day though, motorcyclists touring this area can expect wonderful roads, great scenery and traditional New England charm and hospitality. Seems like every small town is a picture postcard of what everyone thinks New England should look like—Cape Cod style houses, old mills on the banks of trout streams and traditional cafes, restaurants and antique shops.
By the time we reached Lincoln, New Hampshire, it was cloudy and the wind had picked up. An hour later, it was pouring rain and the temperature had dropped to 12C. We headed west toward Vermont under deteriorating conditions where there wasn’t much traffic but the road was covered with wet leaves or “Nature’s Ball Bearings” as one friend refers to them.
Treading carefully we pressed on. Both motorcycles have excellent wind and weather protection but the BMW was better equipped for cool conditions with its heated grips and seat. The Stelvio, for reasons that make sense only to an Italian engineer, has the switch, wiring and the dash icon for heated grips but not the heated grips themselves! However, it DOES have standard auxiliary spotlights, but they’re about as useful as a cement mixer full of owls.
When we arrived in Killington, it was foggy, the rain hadn’t let up a bit and the temperature had plunged to 4C. It was time to call it a night. We were lucky to find a motel nestled at the base of a huge rock cliff with an excellent Irish pub on the premises.
The room was pricier than we’d planned but it included a full dinner and full breakfast for two, plus a gas fireplace that was invaluable for drying out everything we owned. While enjoying Irish shepherd’s pie with Colcannon potatoes (mashed potatoes combined with spinach and onions), we hoisted a couple pints of Kilkenny’s Irish cream ale and toasted our good fortune that the traditional motel chains in town said they couldn’t accommodate two soggy motorcyclists.
After a hearty breakfast the next day, and with frost on the bike seats and zero degrees showing on the gauge, I told Larry that if he wanted to cut the trip short I wouldn’t object. He said he was definitely on the same page and was going to bring it up at the first coffee stop.
Crossing into New York State was like entering a different world. The traffic was non-existent, the roads were better, the fall colour scenery was spectacular and the temperature had even warmed up. One final thing on the trip’s “to do” list was the Adirondack Museum near the hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake, New York. It’s a fine place to learn about the rich history of the area as well as ogle over 70,000 archival photos. The museum’s exhibits include the second largest collection of inland watercraft in the US, a luxurious private Pullman rail car from the early 1900s and several Evinrude outboard motors dating back to 1907.
Finally, we steered the ships for home, and crossed the border at Ivy Lea, east of Kingston. Larry peeled off at Napanee, leaving me with a 90-minute ride home to Oshawa.
Before I got home though, the skies opened up once again, the temperature bottomed out at 2C and the Stelvio’s frost warning icon reminded me I was about to get cold and miserable if I carried on much longer. In a way, it was a fitting end to what had not been an epic fall tour. Still, without winter, you don’t appreciate spring and without the occasional bad experience, you don’t rejoice in the good.
By Steve Bond