Yamaha Motor Corp., USA, has announced $30,000 in funding to All Kids Bike, covering the cost for six programs teaching kids in Georgia and California public schools’ kindergarten Physical Education (PE) classes how to ride bikes. With the grant provided through the Yamaha Outdoor Access Initiative (OAI), Yamaha joins the national movement helping kids transition from digital screens to going outside and learning important life skills, along with building confidence and coordination that feeds into lifelong enthusiasm for outdoor recreation.
“With kids in the U.S. spending an average of seven hours a day on a digital screen, it’s never been more important for companies like Yamaha to invest in the future of outdoor recreation by getting our youth off of the devices and participating in healthy and fun activities to increase their confidence, instill valuable life lessons, and simply enjoy all the outdoors has to offer,” said Steve Nessl, Yamaha’s Motorsports Marketing Manager.
“Research shows approximately seventy-five percent of kids won’t even ride a bicycle one time this year,” said Ryan McFarland, All Kids Bike founder, who helped Yamaha employees deliver bikes to Morris Elementary in Cypress, California, last month. “We believe it’s critical for the future of our kids and our communities to change that stat, so All Kids Bike is on a mission to teach every kid in America how to ride a bike in kindergarten PE class. We share a common goal with the Yamaha Outdoor Access Initiative of getting people outside and enjoying nature. This is a big win for our program, but mostly for the kids at these schools.”
Yamaha Motor Corp., USA, (YMUS) employees from the Marietta, Georgia, and Cypress, California corporate offices, and Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corporation of America (YMMC) personnel, in Newnan, Georgia, recently volunteered their time to build and deliver bikes and helmets to local schools. Full All Kids Bike programs, including 24 balance bikes, pedal conversion kits, helmets, and a teacher’s bike, were delivered to Elm Street Elementary in Newnan, Georgia, A.L. Burruss Elementary School in Marietta, Georgia, and Juliet Morris Elementary School in Cypress, California. Three more schools in Newnan, Marietta, and Cypress are also guaranteed funding through the Yamaha grant and will receive the same program support this year.
“Being able to financially support these efforts is always great but giving Yamaha employees the opportunity to contribute their time to help build and deliver the bikes to schools in the communities where they work is much more meaningful and valuable,” Nessl said. “It’s rewarding to know we’re playing a role in getting more kids outside.”
The All Kids Bike program, developed to be a plug-and-play program for public schools that aligns with SHAPE America National Physical Education Standards, also includes an eight-lesson Kindergarten PE Learn-To-Ride Curriculum, teacher training and certification, and a five-year support plan.
“Yamaha has longstanding, essential ties to the Newnan community. It’s where we live, where we work, and where we play, and we’re excited to help bring this program to the kids at our local elementary schools,” said Bob Brown, Vice President, Finance and Operations Support at YMMC. “These are the first schools in Georgia to receive the All Kids Bike program, and we expect to see a positive ripple effect when more communities start to learn about it and see the outcome of its many wonderful aspects.”
The All Kids Bike program is now in 350 schools in 45 states, with another 50 schools currently in training that will have the program by the end of the year.
“My dad was a Yamaha dealer when I was a kid, so I grew up on Yamaha. The very first Strider Bike I built for my son 15 years ago, I painted it blue and put some Yamaha stickers on it,” said McFarland, who is also the founder and CEO of Strider Sports International, Inc., maker of the Strider Bikes utilized in the All Kids Bike program. “Now that we’ve teamed up with Yamaha’s offices and employees to bring this important program to kids in their communities, we know it will continue to grow from here and we’re already seeing interest from their neighboring schools.”
As the powersports industry’s leading outdoor access program, the Yamaha OAI remains an essential resource to grassroots efforts initiated by riding clubs, land stewardship organizations, educational programs, and public land managers across the country. For more than 12 years, Yamaha has been issuing quarterly grants to non-profit organizations supporting the needs of riding groups, outdoor enthusiasts, land stewardship organizations, and land managers to improve recreational facilities, expand outdoor access, and educate the public on outdoor recreation. Yamaha has contributed more than $4.5 million in aid to nearly 400 projects across the nation over the life of the program.
“Funding for our local schools is integral, and so is helping spread awareness for these national programs that support and activate local efforts where our employees and customers live,” Nessl said. “Yamaha’s Outdoor Access Initiative grant will serve kids at these six schools for years, and we hope the awareness this grant will bring to the broader outdoor recreation community will continue to generate funding for more schools.”
Submission guidelines and applications for Yamaha OAI grants are available at YamahaOAI.com.
About the Yamaha Outdoor Access Initiative
For more than a decade, the Yamaha Outdoor Access Initiative has led the Powersports industry in guaranteeing responsible access to our nation’s land for outdoor enthusiasts. Through this program, Yamaha has directly and indirectly supported thousands of miles of motorized recreation trails, maintained and rehabilitated riding and hunting areas, improved staging areas, supplied agricultural organizations with essential OHV safety education, built bridges over fish-bearing streams and partnered with local outdoor enthusiast communities across the country to improve access to public lands. Updated guidelines, application form, information and news about the Outdoor Access Initiative are available at YamahaOAI.com.
About All Kids Bike
All Kids Bike is a national movement led by the nonprofit Strider Education Foundation to place Kindergarten PE Learn-To-Ride Programs into public schools for free using donations from individuals, businesses and organizations. One of the key goals of the organization is to make riding a bicycle the fourth “R” of elementary education along with reading, writing and arithmetic. The ability to ride improves a life greatly while developing balance, mobility, safety, environmental awareness and facilitating exercise. It instills confidence in the classroom, home and community. For more information, visit allkidsbike.org.
Adventure-touring tires are usually rated in terms of their ratio of intended use on-road and off-road. Many are 90/10 tires, designed for roughly 90% on-road use and 10% off-road use, such as Continental’s ContiTrailAttack 3. They have large tread blocks and look more like sport-touring tires than the aggressive knobbies on tires like Continental’s popular Twinduro TKC80, which is rated 40% road/60% off-road. Road-biased adventure tires are smoother and grippier on pavement and deliver higher mileage than knobbier tires, but knobbies provide more traction off-road.
Between the two options is Continental’s TKC 70, which is rated 80/20 road/off-road. After putting 3,500 miles on the 90/10 Michelin Scorcher Adventure tires that came on my Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special, I wanted something more aggressive for off-road riding. I opted for the TKC 70 front and rear-only TKC 70 Rocks, which is rated 60/40 road/off-road. With a little over 1,000 miles on the Continentals, they fit the bill.
Both tires feature zero-degree steel belt construction, which Continental says improves stability and comfort, and MultiGrip technology, which transitions from a harder, high-mileage center to a softer, grippier shoulder without the abrupt step from hard to soft with multi-compound tires. The TKC 70 front and TKC 70 Rocks rear have large tread lugs in the center that suppress the whirring road noise that can plague knobbier tires, and smaller lugs on the shoulder provide extra grip off-road.
Thanks to its prodigious power, the Pan America accelerates aggressively in sand and on dirt/gravel roads, and the Continentals dug in well, providing good grip in dry, low-traction conditions. Since it’s the dry season where I live in Southern California, I wasn’t able to test them in mud. But when contributor Arden Kysely tackled muddy trails in Colorado with TKC 70s on his BMW F 800 GS, he reported good performance.
On the highway, the TKC 70 and TKC 70 Rocks were quiet and composed with a little tendency to deflect in road grooves. On tight switchbacks and fast sweepers, the road-biased front and more aggressive rear paired well, offering predictable, stable handling all the way to the edge of the tread and minimal squirming on greasy tar snakes. The TKC 70 front felt especially compliant when navigating over sharp-edged features such as curbs and rocks embedded in the road surface. And even though I have pushed these tires hard, they are holding up well with minimal wear.
If you are looking for a solid tire pairing for your large adventure bike, the TKC 70 front and TKC 70 Rocks rear are worth considering. MSRP ranges from $148.50 to $243.50 for the TKC 70 front and from $259.10 to $314.80 for the TKC 70 Rocks rear.
Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. These days we’ve got three billionaires – Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk – trying to one-up each other in the space race. Ever the showman, Branson beat Bezos by a week in their personal quests to become space cowboys. If you want to book a galactic flight, a ticket could set you back a cool $250,000.
What a waste. You can reach hyperspace right here on Earth for less than a tenth as much. Just head down to your local Suzuki dealer and fork over $18,599 for a new Hayabusa. All you have to decide is which color you want your rocket to be.
Our test bike is a gorgeous Metallic Matte Sword Silver with Candy Daring Red accents. The ’Busa also looks sharp in Glass Sparkle Black and Candy Burnt Gold, but you can’t go wrong with Pearl Brilliant White and Metallic Matte Stellar Blue either. Ah, the tyranny of choice!
Yes, the Hayabusa, along with all other street-legal production motorcycles, has its top speed electronically limited to 186 mph (300 kph). But with some ingenuity – and money – you can go faster. Much faster.
Just ask Becci Ellis. Her husband Mike built a turbocharged Hayabusa, and she rode it to a world-record speed of 264.10 mph in 2014.
Or Bill Warner. He’s a tropical fish farmer from Tampa, Florida, who rode a partially streamlined and turbocharged Hayabusa to a record-breaking 272.340 mph in the standing mile at Maxton AFB in 2010.
For mere mortals riding on public roads, the Hayabusa’s speed cap is hardly oppressive. And it’s really no big deal that claimed peak horsepower for the third-gen 2022 model is lower than that of the previous model (188 vs. 194). Peak torque is lower too. What matters is the extra grunt in the midrange, which helps the new Hayabusa accelerate faster than ever.
Here at Rider, we gave up quarter-mile and top-speed testing a long time ago. It was just too logistically challenging, and on a bike like the Hayabusa, it would be dangerous and felonious without renting a drag strip. In thrust we trust, and on Jett Tuning’s rear-wheel dyno the big Suzook spun up the drum to the tune of 173 horsepower at 9,800 rpm and 106 lb-ft of torque at 6,900 rpm.
We specialize in motorcycle travel and adventure, so after Tom Montano’s first ride mostly on the track at Utah Motor-sports Campus, we wanted to find out how well the Hayabusa works out on the road, ridden until the low-fuel light comes on.
We logged nearly 1,700 miles for this test (including three 400-mile days) on city streets, on freeways ranging from wide open to rush-hour crowded, and on some of the best riding roads the Golden State has to offer. We burned nearly 44 gallons of premium fuel and averaged 38 mpg; the Hayabusa has a 5.3-gallon tank, so that works out to just over 201 miles of range. Our fuel economy was as high as 42 mpg on mellower jaunts, but it dropped as low as 31 mpg when we pushed hard in the twisties.
As a 582-pound sportbike, the Hayabusa isn’t what you’d call flickable. It’s well-composed, graceful even, and will go where you point it and hold a line dutifully. But effort is required when transitioning back and forth through a tight series of curves, like those on Highway 1 along the craggy Big Sur coast, on Skyline Boulevard along the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains, or on Highway 58 as it snakes over the Temblor Range. You have to earn it, and the big reward is lighting the wick on a long, arcing corner exit.
With a perfectly balanced 1,340cc inline Four, the Hayabusa is remarkably smooth. In fact, it requires care to avoid slip-ping into triple-digit territory without realizing it. At 100 mph in top gear, the engine is spinning at just 5,200 rpm – or so I’m told (wink wink). It redlines at 11,000 rpm. Do the math.
When straight-lining on the freeway, I often used cruise control to avoid speed creep. The Hayabusa also has an adjustable speed limiter, which can be temporarily overridden to allow a quick pass. Both are part of the comprehensive, IMU-enabled electronics suite that was included in the Suzuki’s overhaul for 2022. There are six ride modes (three are preset and three are customizable) that adjust power, throttle response, engine braking, lean-angle-sensitive traction control, wheelie control, and the quickshifter. There’s also launch control, cornering ABS, front-to-rear linked brakes, rear-lift mitigation, hill-hold control, and Suzuki’s Easy Start and Low RPM Assist systems. The only thing missing is a tire-pressure monitor.
As with state-of-the-art electronics on many motorcycles, they sound more complicated in theory than they are in practice. You can just start the bike and ride it without having to figure anything out, and many of the safety functions operate in the background, called upon only when needed. Changing the ride mode is as simple as pushing a button, and setting and adjusting cruise control is a no-brainer. Customizing the “user” ride modes takes a few extra steps, but even that isn’t difficult. The Hayabusa has a crisp, bright, easy-to-read TFT color display in the center of the dash, and it’s flanked by four analog gauges for road speed, engine speed, fuel level, and engine temperature, the latter two being smaller and having attractive gold bezels.
STRUTTING ITS STUFF
From the gauges to the chrome-plated trailing edge of the fairing, the new Hayabusa is a work of art. Opinions are often mixed regarding its bulbous, aerodynamic shape, but there’s no denying that the bike looks fast even when standing still. A pair of massive ram-air ducts surround the stacked LED headlight. Turnsignals are integrated into the bodywork to reduce drag and visual clutter. Black panels between the bottom of the tank and the massive twin-spar frame are embossed with a pattern inspired by the neck feathers of the Hayabusa’s namesake, the peregrine falcon. That falcon is represented by the large kanji character on the fairing, which is also found atop the headlight shroud and on the TFT at start-up. At sunset, the Metallic Matte Sword Silver paint reflects the light so softly that the bodywork looks airbrushed.
For a long weekend trip up the coast to Sonoma Raceway for the Progressive IMS Outdoors show, I installed Nelson-Rigg’s Commuter tankbag and tailbag. With its stretched-out dimensions and wide, thick seat, the Hayabusa has a reasonably comfortable cockpit. Clip-on handlebars are mounted at the same level as the triple clamp, and after a while the weight on the rider’s wrists becomes tiresome. The bubble-style windscreen projects airflow at chest level, providing some support at speed. Cruise control was a blessing, and a set of bar risers would probably be transformative during long-distance jaunts.
To allow for generous cornering clearance, the Hayabusa has high footpegs. With a seat height of 31.5 inches, legroom is limited. I’m 6 feet tall with a 34-inch inseam, so there was a sharp bend in my middle-aged knees. Stopping often to take photos of the Hayabusa in scenic locations gave me a welcome excuse to stretch my legs.
While the Hayabusa’s ergonomics are not ideal for long days in the saddle, its creamy smooth engine transmits very little vibration to the rider, and its enormous boxy mufflers keep noise to a dull roar. When hard on the gas, the four-piece band plays a lively tune, but otherwise the Suzuki sounds relaxed and understressed.
Big, powerful engines pump out lots of heat, and the Hayabusa’s 1,340cc mill is no exception. Its massive curved radiator was redesigned to reduce air resistance and increase air flow for better cooling efficiency. Below it is a second radiator that cools engine oil. Large exhaust vents between the side fairing panels pull hot air away from the engine and around the rider. Even on triple-digit days, the only time engine heat was noticeable was at a stop or riding in slow traffic.
A robust chassis is necessary to harness enormous power. With architecture inspired by Suzuki’s MotoGP GSX-RR racebikes, the Hayabusa’s twin-spar aluminum frame and swingarm use both cast and extruded sections to optimize strength and tuned flex. The 1.5-pounds-lighter subframe is made of rectangular steel tubing to provide the strength needed to support a rider and passenger.
The ’Busa’s fully adjustable KYB suspension is responsive and compliant, and it can be softened for comfort or stiffened for sport or track riding. Top-spec Brembo Stylema front calipers squeeze 320mm floating discs, and they provide excellent feel at the lever and hold-your-horses power. The combined braking system adds some rear brake when the front lever is pulled, which helps stabilize the chassis. Cast 17-inch wheels are wrapped in grippy Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22 rubber with a neutral profile that helps the Hayabusa turn in smoothly and hold its line.
FAST IS AS FAST DOES
As modern as it is, the Hayabusa feels like a throwback. When you see the latest model parked, you know exactly what it is. It shares an unmistakable family resemblance with the original, paradigm-shifting GSX1300R that debuted more than two decades ago. The top-speed wars are over, brought to an end through diplomacy rather than supremacy (though the Haya-busa was the king when the OEMs laid down their swords).
The Hayabusa is not a sportbike intended for racing homologation. It’s a big, bold sportbike intended for speed and style, however you choose to interpret those terms. Some will lower it, add a turbo, and go drag racing or land-speed racing. Oth-ers will extend the swingarm, fit the fattest rear tire they can find, chrome and polish surfaces, and show it off at bike nights. Hayabusas will find their way to the track. Hayabusas will be pressed into duty for commuting, Sunday morning rides, or, as we did, hypersport-touring.
Like the Honda Grom we recently tested, the Hayabusa is a cult bike that has spawned niches and subcultures, each with its own secret handshake. Nearly 200,000 of them have been sold since it was introduced in 1999. While much of the motorcycle market has become divided into ever smaller specialties and segments, the Hayabusa has remained faithful to its roots rather than chase trends. It evolved over time, and its extensive third-generation redesign brings it up to date without reinventing the wheel.
No more than 10 miles from where I learned to ride a motorcycle is one of our country’s finest set of twists and turns. Prejudiced, you may be thinking, but these are not just my thoughts. They come straight from Car and Driver magazine, which in 2020 published a list of the dozen best driving (and riding!) roads in America. First on their list: Ohio State Route 555, also known as the Triple Nickel.
It’s a throwback, a two-lane highway built in another era, originally a gravel road for farmers and small-town folk to get to the big cities of Zanesville or Belpre, back in the Depression years when you might find a Hudson or Studebaker puttering along its 63 miles, the driver cursing every twist and turn that today make it a destination for car and motorcycle enthusiasts.
Nicholas Wallace introduced his Car and Driver piece by writing about the mystique of the best places to aim your car, or in our case, motorcycle: “Looking for an adventure – even if only in your mind? Let these treks take you away. Maybe it’s the fact that, despite constricting responsibilities and busy schedules, the car still stands as a beacon of freedom in our daily lives. It would take us hundreds of pages to list every great road, so instead we’ve brought you twelve of the best. Twisty, scenic, dangerous, and remote, these routes offer a lifetime’s supply of variety. So pack your stuff and head out – we promise it will be worth it.”
Our motorcycles offer us that same beacon of freedom. Starting just south of Zanesville, I’ve been down our great Ohio highway many times, always on something made for scraping footpegs, not that I still have that kind of nerve. But today was to be different. For this ride I’d be on three wheels, on my brother’s Can-Am Spyder. It was to be my maiden voyage, my first time on his trike, soon to be mine. Chuck had warned me about an adjustment period, the time it would take to get comfortable on a machine so different from the two-wheeled motorcycles that have carried me for over half a million miles.
But my life had changed. Two vertigo attacks within three days had forced me to open my eyes to what might come next. The first bout had been when riding my Beemer on a western Ohio county road. In an instant I simply lost all sense of balance, going left of center and crashing in a farmer’s front yard. Luckily, I was unhurt and there was little damage to my bike. The second attack, when in my car, sealed the deal. For nearly a year since my crash, I’d been without a bike, until today.
The three-wheeled cycle, a 2014 model, had been Chuck’s pride and joy, the best bike he’d ever owned, he told me. Riding it that day was bittersweet. It should have been Chuck out on his Spyder. But his life had taken a turn of its own. For half of his 66 years he’d been plagued with muscular dystrophy, the disease slowly eating away at his ability to get around. It had finally gotten the upper hand, relegating Chuck to a walker and a wheelchair.
But he had not gone quietly into his new solitude. Over the previous several years, Chuck had a single focus: to get his Spyder to 200,000 miles. He’d pushed hard, riding hundreds of miles every day. Only three years earlier he’d ridden over 43,000 miles in 12 months, with every year but the last tallying well over 30,000. But last June, at the height of the riding season, his body told him it was finished. It was done. (You can read more about Chuck’s high-mileage pursuits in “Chuck’s Race”.)
Chuck had put up a valiant fight, but there are some things a human being simply can’t overcome. That last day, when he parked his trike, its odometer was frozen at 188,303 miles. But now, on this day – my day – it was to move again. It had fresh oil and a full tank of gas, so all I had to do was to check the tire pressure. Chuck had kept his Can-Am road-ready all winter, sometimes visiting and sipping a beer or two, reminiscing about the good old days, sometimes firing it up, simply to listen to the Spyder’s engine quietly humming along.
The Spyder had been waiting, patiently, for nearly a year for its next adventure. It had waited long enough. Me too! For his trike, this was to be a new spring with a long summer ahead. There were miles to be ridden, new places to explore, with me holding the grips.
It was to be a careful ride. It was me that had to be broken in. Chuck watched as I rode up and down his rural road, getting my first feel of the Spyder. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through his mind. He knew it would be my goal to get his Spyder’s odometer in motion once again, to get it past 200,000 miles. His trike was not meant to sit as a quiet monument to its past glory. What Chuck knew, in no uncertain terms, was that the road was where his Spyder was meant to be. And maybe, hopefully, this year it would take me along other top-ranked riding roads.
With both Chuck’s and my limitations, this three-wheeled cycle was meant for where I was heading. True, on a road meant for many to be a test of their riding talents, maybe riding the Triple Nickel wasn’t my wisest decision. There would be a learning curve, that I knew. But what better road was there to get the feel for the Spyder, to accelerate that learning curve, than where others went to challenge themselves. And for my Sunday ride, this highway, one of Ohio’s least traveled, was perfect.
“While not the most technical course,” Wallace wrote, “the Triple Nickel’s combination of high-speed sweepers and tight, low-speed corners means there’s something for everyone.” Granted, the other 11 highways in his story may have offered something more unique, a view of the Pacific, or the northern tundra along the Top of the World Highway, or the relentless craziness of the Tail of the Dragon. Of the nine highways on the list I’d ridden, the Triple Nickel, with its twists and turns, may have more closely resembled Mulholland Drive in California. But as I rode on, there was no question that Ohio State Route 555 fit right in.
This ride offered me the solitude I needed. This was a reawakening for me, a bridge from my past to a new future, to again feel the wind and see the road surface blurring beneath me. But respect for the highway was in order. The riding rules had changed. The undulating highway surface beneath me, not my natural sense of balance when on two wheels, set all of the rules. There was an initial element of uncertainty, with me in an unsettled place, somewhere between riding on two wheels and driving a car.
At one of my stops, local resident Tom Collins, who had seen me ride by and knew of this highway’s history all too well, summed up its danger in only one sentence, reminding me that, “For every mile of highway, there are two miles of ditches.” Riding buddy Mac Swinford added, “The 555, especially between Ringgold and Chesterhill, resembles a paved footpath constructed by a drunk who hated people.”
Cannelville, then Deavertown and Portersville, were first in line, three tiny towns forgotten as soon as I rode beyond them, reminded of their names only by looking at my map. Then Chesterhill, a quaint and attractive community, and Bartlett, where you can find lunch if you know where to look. You can get gas just north of Chesterhill on Ohio Route 377, and in Bartlett a half mile to the east on Ohio 550, another great ride by the way, but nowhere else
The highway draws you in, encompassing you in a unique way. Then all too suddenly, once after little Decaturville, then into Fillmore and near Little Hocking, the highway ends. One minute you’re on the highway, and then the next it’s over, finished. There’s not even a sign. Every time I ride this road there’s an immediate sense of disappointment, wishing there was more.
If it hadn’t been for my brother’s Spyder, I doubt I’d ever have ridden again. At 72 years of age, I might have simply allowed myself to leave behind the joy of riding I’ve known from before my adult years. Chuck sensed it too. He wanted me to ride toward a sunset he could no longer enjoy. There are always new highways, singular places we need to find, known and unknown to us. This day I was being introduced to the Spyder that would take me to many of them.
This highway is worthy of its #1 ranking, with its endless array of ups and downs and arounds, where not long ago I might have stretched my limits. But that was not my purpose this first day on the Spyder. By the end of my ride, I knew Chuck’s trike a lot better. I knew after the Triple Nickel’s 63 miles it was something I could get used to. I should know better by the time the odometer rolls over 200,000 miles.
We test the all-new 2022 BMW R 18 B “Bagger” and R 18 Transcontinental, two heavyweight touring cruisers powered by the 1,802cc Big Boxer that cranks out 116 lb-ft of torque at 3,000rpm. Based on the R 18 platform, they have traditional styling inspired by the 1930s-era R 5.
The R18B and R18 Transcontinental (TC) have a handlebar-mounted batwing-style fairing, a Marshall audio system, an infotainment system with a 10.25-inch TFT display, hard saddlebags, and a passenger seat. With its low windshield and slim seat, the R 18 B is suited for solo touring and boulevard cruising with the occasional passenger. Designed for two-up touring, the R 18 TC is equipped with a tall windshield, a wide seat, wind deflectors, driving lights, heated seats, highway bars, a large trunk, and a wrap-around passenger backrest.
We rode both bikes at the press launch in Denver, Colorado, and then we rode 1,500 miles through five states on a R 18 Transcontinental fully loaded with a passenger and gear. See them in action in our video review.
2022 BMW R 18 / R 18 Transcontinental Specs
Base Price: $21,945 / $24,995 Price as Tested: $28,420 / $35,240 Website:bmwmotorcycles.com Engine Type: Air/oil-cooled, longitudinal opposed flat Twin, OHV w/ 4 valves per cyl. Displacement: 1,802cc (110ci) Bore x Stroke: 107.1 x 100.0mm Horsepower: 91 hp @ 4,750 rpm (claimed, at the crank) Torque: 116 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm (claimed, at the crank) Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated single-plate dry slipper clutch Final Drive: Shaft Wheelbase: 66.7 in. Rake/Trail: 27.3 degrees/7.2 in. Seat Height: 28.3 in. / 29.1 in. Wet Weight: 877 lbs. / 941 lbs. (base models) Fuel Capacity: 6.3 gals. Fuel Consumption: 42.5 mpg (R 18 Transcontinental, as tested) Estimated Range: 268 miles (R 18 Transcontinental, as tested)
I was doing a valve adjustment on a vintage BMW at home in southwestern Pennsylvania as my then 13-year-old son Parker looked on. “You know, Park, 20 years ago I rode a bike like this one across the country.” Pause. “Maybe I should take a 20th anniversary ride to the West Coast and back.” Without hesitation, Parker replied, “Make it the 25th anniversary and I’ll go with you!”
The thought of traveling across the country by motorcycle with my son was a fabulous notion. But, while such an adventure with Dad might seem fantastical to a kid, surely new priorities would squeeze out this plan by the time he turned 18. Yet, Parker continued to research the trip, propose routes, and suggest must-see attractions. We pored over maps and travel books. We read Blue Highways – him for the first time and me for the third – about the wonders of traveling America’s two-lane highways. This whimsical idea was evolving from abstract to absolute.
We still had his mother to convince. I reassured her Parker would first get the requisite training and emphasized how this trip would allow the boy to develop his skills while under my constant observation. I would avoid setting firm daily destinations and, instead, we would stop when we got tired. Or sooner. We would send her updates from the road, and she could track our progress through the Spot satellite tracker software. Disapprovingly, she gave her approval.
After years of preparation, the faraway date arrived. Family, friends, and a couple neighbors I don’t think I’d ever met gathered to give us a proper send-off. Parker and I slipped the bikes – him on a Triumph Bonneville Thunderbird and me on a BMW R 1150 R, both heavily laden with luggage – into gear and eased onto the road, leaving family and friends waving in the mirrors. The made-for-TV moment was made a little less dramatic when I had to ride back for my wallet, but it was still pretty cool.
Escaping the familiar landscape of Pittsburgh, we picked up U.S. Route 50 west heading into unknown territories for Parker. After nagging technology issues, we abandoned the bike-to-bike radio comms and went old-school. Although we were traveling just a few bike lengths apart, we would experience the road individually. Later, when we stopped for gas or food, or at the end of the day, we would recall what we saw and thought about. I’d nearly forgotten how special such conversations can be. It was satisfying to see how much Parker was enjoying the experience and connecting with the magic of back roads and small-town America.
A pivotal moment was when we stopped in historic Madison, Indiana, for a bite. As we strolled the sidewalk in search of a coffee shop, an older gentleman approached from the opposite direction. “Good morning!” he said joyfully. It was a standard social exchange except for one thing: instead of continuing to walk on by after the polite acknowledgement, the man stopped. We stopped. And right there, we began an impromptu conversation.
I think the scene threw Parker off for a moment, but he quickly embraced it. The man asked about our journey and listened with interest. He told us about his town and his life there. And, as we paused to engage with each other, strangers became acquaintances. The gentleman undoubtedly went on to tell others the story of the father-and-son two-wheel travelers he’d met, and Parker and I have shared the story of this kind and interesting man as well. This is the small-town friendliness and hospitality I was drawn to as a young solo traveler, and it was wonderful to see Parker discovering it as well.
That brings to mind another encounter. A man on his riding mower waved enthusiastically to Parker and me from his front yard as we rode by. We waved back with matched enthusiasm. About a mile ahead, Parker and I made a U-turn, deciding to circle back to explore an interesting store we’d passed. As we rode back by the mowing man, he was waving just as fervently as before. We waved again. Following our store visit, we traveled past the man and his mower for a third time. Sure enough, his arm was high in the air. That’s when Parker and I realized our new friend was a mannequin that had been placed on the riding mower, its arm propped in a permanent welcoming wave to passersby.
I’d ridden the interstate through Missouri and Kansas in the past and have little to recall – the super slab isolates travelers from the local culture. Parker and I rode into the heartland instead of past it. No rest-stop plazas for us; we visited family-owned restaurants and sampled the local flavors, like lengua (tongue) tacos at El Rancho in Syracuse, Kansas.
Traveling across the endless Great Plains gives one abundant time to think. Or get mischievous. Recognizing it was time to update Parker’s mother, we paused to take photos of each other performing “stunts,” including standing on the seat and riding without hands on the controls. We texted her the pictures with greetings from Kansas. In reality, the bikes were parked securely on their centerstands at the shoulder of the road, but the camera cropped out that little detail. Mom was not as amused as we were.
Eventually, the Rocky Mountains rose before us, and Parker had an opportunity to apply his training as we took to the demanding mountain passes of Colorado. I threw in a favorite 36-mile scenic dirt stretch known as Colorado River Road to show Parker the joys that can be found down a dirt road and to build his confidence riding unpaved surfaces on a loaded streetbike. We went on to conquer Independence Pass and, from there, got every penny out of the Million Dollar Highway, as we negotiated its daunting twists, turns, and drop-offs in the rain.
Just beyond Four Corners (the juncture of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico) an ominous black cloud loomed overhead. Afternoon Western storms can be severe and sometimes move slowly, an d, in this open territory, there is no place to duck for cover. I knew such storms were often isolated and this one appeared to be small, so with just one path available to get us to where we needed to go, we leaned toward the darkness and into an intense, blinding downpour. We emerged just a couple minutes later into sunny skies. I pulled over to make sure Parker was okay and to talk about the experience. He asked if I’d seen the other rider who had pulled over in the downpour to wait it out. With such a slow-moving storm, the guy was likely to get pelted for another hour or more.
Our path took us to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and then over to America’s Mother Road, old U.S. Route 66. We wheeled into Seligman, Arizona, as night fell where an abundance of neon signs and classic American roadside attractions were abuzz. The next day, our kicks continued on Route 66 over to Kingman. Thinking Parker would enjoy seeing Las Vegas, we detoured north.
Unfortunately, my gamble on Vegas was a bust. Bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Strip plus 110-degree heat dealt us a bad hand. With no air movement, the heat inside our riding gear was unbearable. My air-cooled BMW’s valves rattled in protest each time I twisted the throttle. It wanted out, Parker wanted out, and I was more than willing to oblige. Without exploring a single casino, we fought our way back to the desert highway. We had taken a four-hour detour just to sit in Vegas traffic in sweltering heat. That’s when I learned just how much my son dislikes being hot.
It was 114 degrees in the desert. At 70 mph I opened my faceshield to get some relief from the heat inside my helmet only to meet a blast furnace of even hotter air. At a stop, I paid a fortune for two large bottles of water. After drinking a couple swigs of mine, I poured the rest onto my shirt to soak it down for evaporative cooling. Good idea had I not been wearing a moisture-wicking shirt. The water sluiced off the shirt and onto the hot pavement where it evaporated instantly. Parker laughed, and that was all it took to lighten the mood.
In contrast to the open desert highway, we went on to navigate the frenzied L.A. freeways and then we surfed the rad canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu, ultimately winding our way back to U.S. Route 101. A right turn and we were tracing the coastline northward.
One night, with limited lodging options along a remote stretch of Highway 1 and daylight gone, we set up camp in the pitch blackness at a roadside pull-off. We could hear the ocean, so it must have been a prime spot. Come daylight, we found we’d pitched our tent less than 10 feet from the edge of a sheer cliff with a hundred-foot drop to the rocks below. Thankfully, neither of us stepped out to relieve ourselves in the middle of the night.
We stumbled upon Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey and watched vintage sports cars practicing for the weekend’s races. We had the best eggs benedict breakfast ever in Carmel (Katy’s Place), rode on to San Francisco, did the Golden Gate Bridge thing, and then worked our way east away from the hustle and bustle into the serenity of the Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe region. We’d seen countless small towns by this point, but none as small as Kyburz. A sign outside an old hotel read, “Welcome to Kyburz. Now leaving Kyburz.”
From Reno, we ventured onto “The Loneliest Road in America,” the endless stretch of U.S. Route 50 extending forward to the ends of the earth. No traffic. No animals. No gas stations – a disconcerting notion when the fuel light comes on and there is no sign of civilization for miles ahead and at least 120 miles to the rear.
Some 400 miles later, the wide-open nothingness eventually transitioned to the otherworldly landscape of Utah as we rode State Route 24 to Hanksville, where we established camp. A friendly dog warmed up to Parker and followed him everywhere he went, even tailing our bikes for a quarter-mile as we rolled out the next morning toward Moab.
Paralleling Interstate 70 on the more relaxed U.S. Route 6 back through Colorado was our blue highway choice. It’s amazing how different the experience is even a hundred yards off the interstate. We then crossed I-70, took a few more mountain passes to the north, and rose to 12,000 feet at Rocky Mountain National Park, ultimately wrapping the day in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The casual travel and spontaneous side trips made for an unforgettable experience, but the time window of our journey was closing. Somewhere around Ogallala, Nebraska, we shifted from lazy blue highways to the frenzied Interstate 80 for the return stretch across Iowa, Illinois, and points east. Although we logged more than 700 miles one particular day, when asked what he saw throughout that day’s ride, Parker could only list cars, cornfields, and truck stops. A sharp contrast to the sensory-rich secondary roads we’d been enjoying previously.
In one giant protracted real-world riding session, Parker discovered an America unknown to many. An America that is still kind, compassionate, welcoming, and helpful. He also discovered more about himself, his values, and his character. As a traveler, Parker discovered how to handle a wide variety of riding and weather conditions and successfully navigate a traveler’s challenges. The experience made him an infinitely better rider, a more passionate traveler, and a true lover of small-town America.
Over our roughly 9,000-mile ride, we also learned a great deal about each other. We bonded over discovery and adventure. When we weren’t talking about bikes or travel, we talked about life. We discovered new aspects of each other and grew our mutual respect. Motorcycles have a way of bringing people closer – even those who are already quite close.
A month on the road with your dad isn’t what most 18-year-olds have in mind for the gap between high school and adult life, but for me this was like a second graduation. It was the nod from my dad that I was ready to dive into the unknown. It was a sign of trust, but also an invitation to share in a lifelong passion. A welcoming to the club of discovery and the joys of no set plans, time for reflection, and seeing how much diversity this country has to offer while simultaneously learning what ties us all together.
There’s no way I could have known at age 13 that a few weeks after graduating high school was the perfect time for a trip like this. At the intersection of “my house, my rules” and total freedom was an opportunity to force a perspective shift. To reflect on who I wanted to become as an adult. To evolve my relationship with my dad. To put into perspective the sheer scale of this country I’d lived in for 18 years but had yet to experience. And to challenge myself, testing newly learned skills, and building my confidence to move from the passenger seat to the saddle, in more ways than one.
Over the course of this trip, I finished reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a classic book about a father-and-son motorcycle journey. I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to do a trip like this and am grateful that my dad had the gumption to follow through and make it all happen. I had no clue the impact this trip would have on me as a rider, a son, and a person. Fourteen years later, Dad and I could still spend all day talking about the things we experienced together on this trip – leaving enough time, of course, to plan where we will go next. — Parker Trow
Dad’s first sojourn through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia needed to be grand. Dad is a desert dweller from southern Arizona and has never ridden east of Texas. We agreed on a short list of must-haves: Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Tail of the Dragon. Everything else – the fall foliage, the swollen creeks and runs, the rural country roads, the morning fog – would be an added bonus.
There would also be pancakes. Lots of pancakes.
We picked up Dad’s Triumph Tiger Explorer at a motorcycle dealership in northern Virginia, where he had it shipped from Arizona. We rode south and entered the Blue Ridge Parkway west of Lynchburg. The parkway is aptly named, with smooth, graceful curves, well-manicured roadsides, and plenty of parking areas to admire the view. A word to the wise, as I learned as point man: pay attention to mile markers. I missed the country road that the kind ladies at Explore Park said would lead us to Mount Airy, North Carolina, our first stop for the night and the birthplace of actor Andy Griffith.
Dad’s Explorer has heated grips and a larger fairing than my Triumph Sprint GT, so he was better prepared for the chilly 40-degree temperatures during our ride. For most of the morning, we enjoyed relative seclusion, clear skies, autumn colors, and beautiful farm country. In one short span, the view of the valley below on my left was stolen by a patch of trees and granite outcroppings only to be returned over my right shoulder. It was a literal tennis match of competing landscapes – valleys of farm country on one side and ridgelines stretching to the horizon on the other.
Traffic increased the farther south we traveled, and overflowing pullouts often prevented us from stopping, so, we leaned back and enjoyed the ride. We left the parkway at Asheville, having decided on Maggie Valley for our overnight stay.
A steady downpour and tornado warnings nixed riding the second day, so we covered the bikes and took a taxi to Wheels Through Time. While walking through the museum – home to more than 300 interesting and rare motorcycles – Dad shared stories of his older brother’s 1950 Harley Panhead and their shenanigans on it back on the farm in Iowa. One involved the bike, loaded with three riders, being chased by a dog that gave up the hunt after my uncle retarded the spark for a spectacular backfire. Dad hunted the base of many a cylinder barrel, searching for a stamp that would identify the same year as his brother’s, but to no avail.
Tourist traffic in the lush Great Smoky Mountains National Park slowed our progress. We found a place to park the bikes at Newfound Gap, a 5,049-foot pass on U.S. Route 441, allowing us to stretch our legs. Traffic in the park paled in comparison to the carnival of tourism we saw in Gatlinburg, where we found the Little House of Pancakes.
Dad tucked into a stack of blueberry pancakes, and I gorged on sweet-and-spicy apple pancakes. Between bites – and doing our best not to drip syrup on our map – we sketched out an alternate route back to Maggie Valley. We tested our pioneering skills on Tennessee State Route 32 in search of secluded switchbacks. Any concern about traffic was dispelled by a large red diamond-shaped sign that warned “Do Not Enter, Your GPS is Wrong” a few miles into the alternate route.
Littered with wet leaves and twigs from the previous day’s storms, Route 32’s pucker factor was off the scale, especially when I felt the front wheel push over some wet leaves at the apex of a turn. I rarely engaged 3rd gear after that. Pavement turned to hard gravel at Davenport Gap, where we crossed back into North Carolina on Mount Sterling Road. We found blacktop again at Waterville Road along Big Creek, and after a few miles, under cavernous trees and crags, we came upon Interstate 40 and our path back to Maggie Valley.
Compared to Route 32, the Tail of the Dragon’s 318 curves in 11 miles were not as technical, nor as precarious. The roads in this part of Tennessee, which arc around the southern side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, plunge into valleys, rise to bluffs overlooking man-made lakes and hydroelectric dams, and hug the steep sides of tree-blanketed mountains. After a full day of Appalachian curves, we stopped for the night in Middlesboro, Kentucky, just a stone’s throw west of Cumberland Gap.
With our bellies full of pancakes, we rode east on U.S. Route 58 through southwestern Virginia under crisp, blue autumn skies, with ridgelines on our left marking the border with Kentucky. We continued northeast on U.S. Route 19 for our next overnight in Princeton, West Virginia, and we awoke the next morning to find frost on our bikes. Despite the cold, the scenery from Princeton to Elkins on U.S. Route 219 was a moving feast of fields, pastures, valleys, woodland, creeks, rivers, and quaint towns.
A section of U.S. 219 we traveled along is known as Seneca Trail. A pleasant surprise around one bend was Indian Creek Covered Bridge, which was completed in 1903 at a cost of $400. The rest of the morning was spent passing farm after farm, including writer Pearl S. Buck’s birthplace in Hillsboro, West Virginia. For pancakes, we recommend Greenbrier Grille and Lodge, overlooking its namesake river in Marlinton.
Our last day involved riding from valley to ridge to valley. We followed curves along various creeks and branches of the Potomac River that snaked their way through the Appalachians. Eventually we had to leave the winding roads behind and hop on Interstate 66 to complete our multi-day loop. For Dad’s first ride east of the Mississippi, he was proud to see his tripmeter roll over 1,504 memorable miles.
Having bought my first Triumph Bonneville in 1960, I must say that my 2006 version has some notable upgrades. Like the brakes, with single discs on both wheels. Honda did it first with its CB750 in 1969, and then everybody followed suit.
My 2006 Bonnie has fixed brake discs, and when changing tires a couple of months ago, I noticed the pads on the sliding calipers needed replacing. There are fancier (and more complicated) braking systems, but I’m happy with what the Bonnie has.
A call to DP Brakes in Lancaster, New York, got me two new sets in the mail. The packages warned, “Brake pads should be fitted by experienced mechanics,” which leaves me out. I decided that my local technician, Herb, should do the job. Better to have an expert do the job than for me to do it inexpertly. If you really want to know more about your motorcycle’s brakes, I recommend getting a Haynes manual.
Motorcycle brake pads mostly use the sinter (great Scrabble word!) process, which means taking a powdered mix of various metals and compacting it, then using the right amount of heat and pressure to create the pad. Done right, this increases things like tensile strength in the pads. DP says it was the first company to use this sintering method, and OEMs now use sintered pads on virtually all their motorcycles.
Heat is the main problem in braking. Squeeze the front brake lever, or use your foot on the rear pedal, and the fluid pushes the little pistons behind the pads against the spinning disc. If you are going fast down a steep hill and approaching a tight curve, the pads slow the disc and transform kinetic energy into heat. Fortunately, in normal riding, all that heat escapes into the air and the pad compound is quickly good for the next braking event.
There is a break-in period for brake pads, with relatively gentle use advised for the first 150 miles. After that, I took the Bonnie out on a twisty section of local road around here, nicknamed Rossi’s Driveway, and was quite satisfied with the swift, smooth slowing down, providing excellent lever action and sensitive pedal operation, even when pretending there was an emergency with a couple of very fast stops on my non-ABS bike.
There was no chance to try them out in the rain here in drought-stricken California, but since they are manufactured in the United Kingdom, a nation noted for its many rainy days and wet roads, I figure that DP knows what it is doing. MSRP for the front DP118 pads is $48.95, and for the rear DP411 pads is $37.95.
We’ve tested a lot of Olympia apparel over the years, starting with the Sentry Jacket and Ranger Pants back in 2003. And we’ve worn and tested every iteration of the Airglide jacket/pants combo, which is now in its sixth generation. Olympia was founded by the husband-and-wife team of Kevin and Karilea Rhea, both designers and avid riders, and for years it was based in Hendersonville, North Carolina. A few years ago they sold the company, which is now owned by Motovan, a Canadian powersports distributor.
The Airglide jacket and pants are part of Olympia’s Mesh Tech line. That means they have large panels of Ballistic Airflow abrasion-resistant mesh (gee thanks, Captain Obvious!), with 1000D Cordura used in impact areas. Designed for three-season riding, there is a removable thermal layer as well as a windproof rain layer that can be worn under or over the jacket and pants (and a handy carry bag is provided). Removable Powertector Hexa CE Level 2 armor fits into pockets at the shoulders, elbows, back, and knees, and there are removable foam hip pads.
With various fit adjustments and stretch panels, the Airglide jacket and pants are comfortable, with a generous cut that accommodates under-layers (and American midsections). I found the pants in my normal size to be a bit too large to be worn by themselves (they felt more like overpants), and the jacket sleeves were a little short for my long arms. If possible, try on the Airglide 6 before buying. The pants have full-length two-way side zippers and EZ-Hem bottoms so they can be tailored to length.
I’ve personally worn and tested a lot of Olympia gear, and I’ve always been impressed by the quality and attention to detail. For example, the front pockets in the Airglide jacket and pants are lined with soft fleece, so they’ll actually keep your hands warm on a cold day. The jacket also has an inside chest pocket with a pass-thru for earbuds. Grippy rubber zipper pulls are easy to use with gloved hands. Over multiple days of testing the Honda Gold Wing Tour and Suzuki Hayabusa, with temperatures ranging from the low 50s on the coast to well over 100 inland, I appreciated the versatility that the Airglide 6 ensemble provided.
The Airglide 6 jacket is available in men’s sizes S-XL ($379.99) and 2XL-4XL ($399.99), women’s sizes XS-XL ($379.99) and 2XL-3XL ($399.99), and Grey/Red/Black (shown), Black/Hi-Viz Yellow, and Black/Silver. The pants (Black only) are available in men’s sizes 30-38 ($279.99) and 40-44 ($299.99) and in women’s sizes 4-12 ($279.99) and 14-18 ($299.99). Everything is covered by a 1-year warranty.
Sometimes you don’t know where you are, the name of the town or even the state. The place is located by days and miles. It is remembered by highway proximity. And by what kind of terrors gripped you there.
For me, that April night fell on day four. I had already passed through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina, finally stopping in Tennessee. Yes, that’s as far as I must have gotten. Near U.S. Highway 81. Days Inn.
After a little practice, divesting a motorcycle of all its luggage for the night and carrying it into a motel — three trips, including the tool pack with its 10 tons of lock, spare cables, liter of oil, roll of tape, tire tube, rain gear — doesn’t get any more fun. But such a trip, all alone, is about repetition as much as it’s about welcoming the blessedly new. I’ve always stayed at Days Inns or Knights Inns, make of that symmetry whatever you will, because a woman searching for lodgings after dark by herself is looking only for predictability and the guaranteed anonymity these places make it their business to provide.
After three days of telling myself different, the truth was coming through like green oxide on bogus silver: this wasn’t such a gas. My vacation, my proud declaration, my little adventure, was oppressing me as nothing before. I hadn’t suddenly become loquacious the minute I hit the road, the sort who meets locals at every way station and makes them fast friends over a bowl of chili, or gets invitations that start a new trajectory of discovery about the places passed through. I was still myself only more so, saying not much more than was necessary to purchase gas, coffee, a place to sleep, glossy post cards on which “Wish you were here” was written with no little urgency. Night would bring the same: take-out food eaten at the plasticized fake-wood veneered desk; a long bath to leach the cold from the bones; the local news indistinguishable from any local news anywhere; five hours before sleep to kill in the confines of the double-double-bedded room because continuing after nightfall pushed the stakes up a tad too high; a dose or two of Jack because of that.
I was feeling every one of the 975 miles that separated me from home. The most comfort I’d had was talking to my painfully estranged boyfriend, a mechanic, from a hotel room in Waynesboro, Virginia, the first night. Earlier in the day, stopping at a truck plaza after riding through two hours of the most imposing rainstorm I’d ever encountered, I’d noticed the box at the rear axle spewing the 90-weight oil that lubricated the shaft drive. My boyfriend was properly worried on my behalf and told me to seek out a bike shop in town the next day and have it checked out before I started down the Blue Ridge Parkway. The second deepest conversation I’d had in all the intervening time was at that shop, when four mechanics stopped to inspect my bike.
Now, near U.S. Highway 81, I spread the map out on the rigid bed and scanned it for some promise that I might make it all the way home tomorrow, three days before schedule. There didn’t seem much point in drawing it out longer, to look for more motels just like the last. I’d simply had enough of blissful solitude.
However I looked at it, though, the miles would collapse no further. There were at least 15 hours of holding the throttle open at a steady 70 mph etched in those lines, and it couldn’t be done — not by me at least. The force of the wind at that speed, the temperature, the buzzing, the constant watchfulness, the tension that crept up the neck, took it out of you too fast. You got more tired on a bike than you ever thought possible.
The days had grown so elongated that to look back on them seemed to be to glance into history: had it really been this same afternoon that I had ridden up the side of Mount Mitchell, parked, and ascended the lookout tower in the persistent wind that blows up there? Taking in the small exhibit room empty of visitors except for me, I read the placards that described Mitchell’s quest to prove that his mountain was actually higher than Clingman’s Dome, that it was in fact the highest spot in the East. Scrambling around on the desolate peak with his calibrators, he slipped and fell, perhaps dying instantly, perhaps waiting days for death in the cove of rocks. His was a bitter feud with Clingman, and his victory was posthumous. He lay now under the stones there, unable to give up his purchase on faith. At the height of my own futile journey, I realized that he and I were about the only people up here on this cold day, and he was dead.
I had known from my trip down this bucolic byway the previous October, legendary among motorcyclists, that the next stretch would take me farther into the Smokies, and that the higher I went, the lonelier the way. Then, though, I had simply felt alone, not lonely; I was with a man I was beginning to love. At that stage you welcome the height, the wide vista over uninhabited wild. It feels fine to be there and feel small, together. Now, the peculiar lunar landscape at 6,053 feet, the highest point on the Ridge, was crushing. The wind singing over the rocks had an edge of cruelty. I had climbed into the thinner air with my Guzzi’s beating engine without seeing but a car or two hurrying in the other direction, and the groups of riders I’d hoped to fall in with were still home, waiting for the next month and warmer air.
I wouldn’t let it stop me from going through the motions of marking my trip in the customary manner, and I stopped the Moto Guzzi in front of the sign that declared this the highest point in order to take the obligatory photo of proof. As I did so the lone man who had been standing, looking out over the view from the opposite end of the parking lot, came up behind me and told me I could get into the picture, too.
After handing my camera back he engaged me in a conversation that felt somewhat unreal: he told me his destination, his reason for g here in such an unvacationlike month, all the while glancing at my bike. As often happens, he informed me he used to ride, too, and asked me if the road was good for riding. My enthusiasm was a little forced – it certainly was, but I would have hardly known it from this experience. He said he wasn’t sure if he’d ever make such a trip alone, and he kept complimenting me on my bravery, though I wanted to correct his misapprehension so it could bear the more proper label: foolishness, a bid to prove I would have a grand time without anyone else at all.
But I couldn’t say it to this stranger. It took too much explaining, too much time-intensive shading between black lines. The simple version was more appropriate to this meeting, so I let him have it the way he wanted. He insisted on writing his name and address in my notebook, extracting a promise that if I ever passed through Iowa I’d look him up. I put it in my tank bag with an assurance that I would, while the knowledge that I wouldn’t sunk down hollowly inside.
There was nothing else to do but get on the bike and keep going, to the next mark on my map, the end of the Parkway in Cherokee.
On the prior trip, too, I had insisted on stopping in this gewgaw heaven, darting into stores on a restless search for the perfect ridiculous souvenir, tiring out my boyfriend until he cried uncle. He let me go on rushing from shop to shop while he waited outside by the row of glass windows that housed the Drumming Duck and the rattlesnake and the python and the rabbit clown and the other sad creatures on display for the visitors who paused a moment, pointed to the displays for their ice-cream-sticky children, then hurried on to buy their rubber tomahawks and beaded belts.
On this day I went looking again, having never found the perfection in plastic I sought, but after two stores I wandered back to my bike and glanced at the sky. It was getting late, and I needed to make it through the winding ways of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with plenty of light. Besides, I had it in mind to visit Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, before nightfall.
Pressing on. I began seeing monumental billboards, on which a horrific, huge butterfly loomed, for the attraction miles before town, a formerly bereft Hamlet that had been Dolly Parton’s hometown before she made it big and it turned into a theme park of cheap restaurants and Western-wear outlets. I turned into the massive parking lot for the amusement park and saw the sign that informs two bucks is the price for parking; besides thinking that was steep for the few minutes I wanted to spend inside, I always resented paying anything to put such a narrow machine into a corner that couldn’t have been used by anything else anyway. Then I found out the admission was $18, and that clinched it. Who spent that much money to ride a ferris wheel alone? Shady characters in old movies did it, but they had ulterior motives. I could only turn around, another wistful goal having come in sight and revealed itself useless in plain view.
The sky was lower as I headed back out of Pigeon Forge, and I wanted to do it fast. I wanted to find somewhere I could be alone where no one would see me being alone. It was time to find the night’s Days Inn.
I hauled in all the garbage — the saddlebags, tank bag, helmet, tool bag. I went back down the hill to the service station’s convenience store and got some Italian rolls that were too white and too soft and a package of string cheese, thus exhausting their variety of real food. I sat in the bathtub and turned on the orange-red heat lamp so that the timer buzzed judiciously for 20 minutes. I unfurled the map and read it with a side of bourbon, so that some time in the future I might be able to fall asleep in the strangely familiar room. I made my peace as best I could with the discovery that I would have one more night like this, but I could do it. Since I had to, I could.
I turned on the news, and just when I was listening intently to some important-sounding item about the municipal airport of the nearby town I can’t recall the name of, I heard the voice.
It spoke in a stage whisper that reached to the fifth tier and back.
It said, “Tomorrow is the last day you will spend on earth.”
A shaking started in my gut, my feet felt very far away. The words of the anchorperson continued to accumulate in the room like cotton batting being stuffed into a mattress. Behind my eyes a scene was now projected, and I saw a white car of some general make coming at me and my white bike — a horror all dressed in the tones of clouds — but there the movie stopped, although I knew its end.
The utter precipitousness and incongruity of this final pronouncement made me unable to avoid its truth. I had apparently had one of those supermarket-tabloid premonitions: WOMAN FORESEES OWN DEATH.
It seemed just as certain that I couldn’t stay in a Tennessee motel in order to stave off death; the irony of that, I presume, is completely obvious. I reached for the glass of Jack Daniel’s and saw my hand quivering in midair. I spoke to myself sharply: Don’t be ridiculous! It kept on shaking.
It was intolerable, more than merely nettlesome, to be here alone now, and I caught sight of the decorator-almond telephone with its little red siren light sticking off the top. Besides the fact that it was well past midnight, how could I explain to anyone I could rouse from sleep what I’d just experienced? I was beginning to think that most of my friends thought I lived on the border of sanity anyway.
I lay back on the bed with a groan. Say, eight hours isn’t too long to spend lying here in the leaden grip of an absurd fear, until it’s light and you can go out and bravely prove the folly of your fantasies, shaking all the way.
If I couldn’t talk to anyone real, I figured I could make someone up and talk to him on paper; God knows I’ve got enough characters in my brain that one of them must be up and willing at this hour.
In the desk drawer were three sheets of motel stationery. Not enough, but a start. I took them back to the bed and started talking. We discussed why at this particular time I would be feeling afraid, why fear was often my co-pilot on my motorcycle. From the moment I’d bought my first bike three years before, I’d managed to pin most of my previously free-floating anxieties on some aspect of machinery. And wasn’t that why, later, I’d realized I wanted one in the first place, to wage war on this fear in the concrete?
At the bottom of the second page, the TV well into a rerun of “All in the Family,” the writing trailed off. I slipped into sleep and dreamt of nothing.
There is a beginning to this story, of course, far before the beginning. I was boarding at a prep school in Ohio, the town — a miniature replica of a New England hamlet replete with town green, white steeples, stone wall around a campus of gentle slopes and neatly tended playing fields — was midway between Akron, where I am from, and Cleveland. Although I had opted to attend (pleasing my father, who had also gone there) and escape public school for which I was decidedly not cut out, by my third year I was beginning to feel I had chosen another type of prison instead. I was blissfully happy up in the art room, a sun-filled kingdom ruled by the brilliantly eccentric Mr. Moos, but I was not allowed to spend all my time there as I would have wished. I had to do sports (for which I was equally woefully miscast), science, woodshop (which I flunked, for “refusing” to keep my plane sharpened), and, most loathesome of all, math.
No one has ever erred in calling me stubborn. I have a place, like the end of spring, beyond which I can stretch not a millimeter further. I hit that wall one achingly green spring day, on which I was not uncoincidentally expected in math class at 8:30 a.m. — stupefyingly early, to add injury to insult. I looked at the clock when I opened my eyes, saw it was 8:20 and pulled off the covers. I put on my jeans, forbidden in class, a T-shirt, and put my money and keys in my backpack. I wheeled my Raleigh 10-speed out the door, carried my prize possession bought with hard-won summer babysitting funds down the stairs and outdoors. And I rode past the streams of students heading up the brick walks toward school.
The trip took a half hour in the car. I was thankful in more ways than one that the direction was reversed this time. Approaching the quaint crossroads of Peninsula, a half-mile hill shot down into the town. I coasted, let the bike pick up speed. The wheels were flashing now in the sunlight. I couldn’t go fast enough; I shifted into tenth gear and pedalled as hard as I could, pumping, pumping. The wind dried my teeth clean so my lips stuck to them — that was because I smiled.
When I turned up the drive to my house my mother looked up from her gardening. She hardly seemed surprised to see me. Without her asking, I told her that I simply couldn’t take it anymore. She nodded, and we had some lunch. I think she must have called my father at the office, because when he came home he didn’t seem too stunned either. I was relieved, near elated. I could stay — we would work out the credits and whatnot later. We had the usual nice dinner my mother prepared. Then my parents rose from the table and announced it was time to get going.
Now it was my turn not to be surprised. I had achieved at least that much maturity to understand a certain version of reality.
The next day I was summoned into Sherwin Kibbe’s office. The school’s dean was a dead ringer for Norman Mailer, and he looked frighteningly out from under overhanging silver eyebrows and inquired just what I thought I had been doing. I was several pages into my explanation, which combined a bit of Jefferson with a smattering of Kerouac, when he cut me short. “Well, I think you just wanted to take a ride on a nice day.”
My deeply felt protests met with an offer of demerits and probation. Tears of misunderstood frustration coursed down my cheeks after I shut the door. My issues were high – how could he have leveled me with such an insignificant charge? It was contemptuous.
Sixteen years later and I still ask myself the same question. My answer is still stubborn. So why shouldn’t I run away because it’s a nice day? There is never a better reason.
I’d made it as far as the Delaware Water Gap in one day. I’d been riding for 13 hours, and it was now 1 a.m. I was strung out from the numbing consistency of the highways, the same speed, the light, persistent rain that shrouded everything in mist, just like my brain felt. If I could just stay awake and bear down hard enough, I could be home in another two hours.
It was just me and the long-haul trucks now, and nothing broke the dark outside my headlight beam. I didn’t know if I’d been riding for one day or 10. Time had no meaning, except that it was what had exhausted me. I probably could have gone on. Suddenly, though, a thought came into my head, a small distillation of all the biking horror stories I’d ever heard: I was outrunning my headlight’s visibility, and if there were a railroad tie across the lane, I wouldn’t see it till it was too late. I was awake enough to appreciate what that meant.
In a few miles I saw the green Holiday Inn sign rise above the gloom of trees. In the office the woman behind the desk gave me a wide-eyed look as I clomped in in my rainsuit. No, no rooms, all full; there was another place 20 miles away — she’d call. No room in that inn, either, she informed me on putting down the phone. I felt at that moment I was going to collapse.
Actually, she considered, there was one, but the air conditioning had gone out in it. If I didn’t mind….
No, I didn’t. A couple of hay bales would have sufficed. I fell asleep in moments in the sickly, still air.
It was still raining in the morning, and I jerked on the same still-wet clothes and covered them up with the rubber-lined suit. I got an early start.
Two hours later I made the last turn onto my street, and for the first time was forced to slow to a near halt. It had stopped raining. The sun was calling up the hot moisture from the pavement to choke the air. Halfway down the block an earth-mover and police barricades barred the way. Workmen were sweating in their undershirts. I felt the heat rise up from the Guzzi’s cylinders and envelop me. I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, jeans, leather jacket with winter lining, rainsuit on top of that; my hands were encased in rubber gloves with a thick synthetic liner, and the vents on my helmet were closed against the early morning chill that was an incredible memory now.
The men tried to wave me to a stop. Instead I let out the clutch and came toward them, provoking wilder gesticulations. At the last moment, I jumped the curb onto the sidewalk to pull up in front of my garage. Only then did I apply the brake.
I switched off the key, then pulled off my helmet and sat for a second, steam rising around my neck. The bike let out its little clicks and coos, already cooling in the heat.
This is how 2,000 miles ends. I’d made bigger trips, but not alone. There was a certain purity to this one, a perfect insularity. It was as though I had done all that distance without leaving a mark on any atom in the universe. I had slipped quickly and quietly by, and the wind in my wake only a vague memory of disturbance in the grass by the edge of the road. Maybe we were white dream-cars ourselves. Yet now I was home, and that’s all that mattered.