Formed roughly 480 million years ago, the Appalachians are a chain of mountains that stretch from Newfoundland, Canada, down to central Alabama. Eons of erosion have rounded and softened their edges, and rivers and creeks have cut deep creases within their slopes. The result is a nearly endless variety of roads that follow the contours of the land, attracting motorcyclists from far and wide like moths to a flame.
The Appalachian Trail begins in North Georgia, on Springer Mountain, not far from one of the best riding loops in the Southeast. The three sides of the Georgia Triangle are anything but straight. In fact, the triangular loop made up of U.S. Route 19 and Georgia State Routes 60 and 180 has some of the most challenging curves and best scenery in a region known for both.
The Georgia Triangle is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains just north of the charming, historic mountain town of Dahlonega. The three-road loop is located within the Chattahoochee National Forest, and there’s an abundance of streams, waterfalls, lush forests, and historic sites in the area. Add in numerous tourist attractions, activities, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, campgrounds, and eateries, and you’ve got everything you need for a great day ride or a long weekend of exploration.
Six miles north of Dahlonega, the triangle begins where U.S. 19 meets State Route 60 at Stonepile Gap. Within the junction’s roundabout is a mound of stones that is said to mark the burial spot of Cherokee Princess Trahlyta. According to legend, Trahlyta was a beautiful princess kidnapped by a Cherokee warrior she refused to marry. Her dying wish was to be buried near her home on the mountain, though she probably didn’t imagine her grave would be surrounded by a ring of asphalt.
Riding north on Route 60 toward the town of Suches is the first leg of the triangle. If you have not been practicing your cornering skills, be cautious. These roads are not for the faint of heart. They can either be exhilarating or nerve-wracking, depending on your motorcycle’s cornering clearance and your comfort with tight S-curves and decreasing-radius turns. For the alert, confident rider, these roads offer an unforgettable riding experience, with gorgeous scenery and well-maintained pavement.
About 5 miles up Route 60 is Woody Gap, and a look to the left reveals an expansive valley with Springer Mountain rising on the other side. The Appalachian Trail crosses the road nearby, and other stops on the road have signs and information about Civil War battles, gold mining sites, and hiking trails.
In the small town of Suches is a well-known motorcycle lodge and campground called Two Wheels of Suches, a popular meet-up spot. On weekends the parking lot is filled with bikes of all styles and vintages, and riders from all over. There’s an onsite restaurant that serves burgers, sandwiches, snacks, and drinks on Friday nights and weekends. The main lodge offers rooms for rent, and there are small cabins and campsites with a bathhouse on the property. A single-person campsite is $15/night, cabins are $65/night, and lodge rooms are $75/night.
A stone’s throw from Two Wheels of Suches is the junction with State Route 180, also known as Wolf Pen Gap Road. This segment of the ride is without a doubt the most challenging leg of the triangle, with more tight curves and steep grades per mile than any other paved road in Georgia. The first few miles are a sedate and primarily straight two-lane blacktop leading to Lake Winfield Scott Recreation Area. When the lake’s emerald-green water is calm, it acts as a large reflecting pool for the mountains that surround it. And it is a particularly scenic spot in the fall when the leaves change color.
Once past the lake, the roller-coaster ride begins with a sign that says “Sharp Curves and Grades Next 5 Miles.” Route 180 snakes through the Sosebee Cove Scenic Area with speed limit signs on some curves reading as low as 10 mph, with nary a straight section of road. Stay sharp and heed the caution signs. The great thing about this section of the Georgia Triangle is that it’s only 11 miles long – the same length as the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee – so you can ride it back and forth to your heart’s content.
Just before Route 180 merges with U.S. Route 19, it passes by Lake Trahlyta, which is part of Vogel State Park. You can swim in the lake and stay in the park, which offers tent camping, RV sites, and rental cottages and yurts. Georgia is often hot and humid in the summer, even up in the mountains. I have stopped here on a hot day for a quick change and a swim, so pack your swimsuit.
Riding south on U.S. 19 is the last leg of the triangle. The road here is wider, with passing zones for easily and safely getting around slower traffic. Still, it has magnificent twisting sections of repeating S-curves and turns, great scenery, and worthwhile stops all the way back to the triangle’s starting point.
Continuing to the junction with Route 60 yields total mileage around the triangle of about 36 miles. The travel time for a nonstop ride is about 90 minutes at a reasonable rate of speed, but why hurry? The beautiful forest ride and options for stops make a leisurely pace worthwhile. Or, follow the lead of many motorcyclists and repeat the loop or run it in reverse. You won’t be bored, I promise.
Part of what makes the Georgia Triangle such a target-rich destination is that it’s a hub for other great rides in the area. Route 60 is a joy to ride not just to Suches but beyond, all the way to Route 76. From there, head east to Hiawassee, the scenic town on Lake Chatuge, or west to Route 515, which becomes I-575 and takes you to Atlanta.
If you’re looking to explore further, taking Route 60S (also known as Murphy Highway) northeast at Mineral Bluff into North Carolina will lead you to U.S. Route 74 and the town of Murphy, North Carolina. Continuing east on U.S. Route 64 is a scenic ride through the Hiawassee River and Lake Chatuge areas, and several roads connect back to the Georgia Triangle area.
Continuing north on U.S. 19 past Vogel State Park, Route 180 breaks away again and continues east. A short hop on 180 takes you to State Route 348, also known as the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway, another gem of a road. Or continue east on 180 to Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia (4,784 feet), which on a clear day offers a 360-degree view of four states.
If you are planning a stay in the area, Dahlonega is a charming, historic town known for its history of gold exploration and mining. Legend has it that in the 1540s, Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto searched this area for El Dorado, the legendary lost city of gold. Dahlonega was the site of the second major U.S. gold rush in the early 1800s and still has active mines where visitors can pan for gold and gemstones. For lunch or dinner, I highly recommend the Smith House, which serves fried chicken, ham, sides, and desserts family-style, with platter after platter passed around long tables. Just to the east of Dahlonega is Helen, a quaint alpine-style village. Both towns offer many choices for lodging, dining, and shopping.
If you’re undecided about which road to ride first, throw a dart at the map – chances are wherever it lands, you’ll find a winner. North Georgia offers hundreds of miles of great roads to ride, and the Georgia Triangle is just the beginning.
We conducted our latest podcast interview with a live audience at the Americade rally, held September 20-25, 2021, in Lake George, New York. Rider’s Editor-in-Chief Greg Drevenstedt interviewed the founders Bill and Gini Dutcher, and their son Christian, who is the Director of Americade, the Touratech DirtDaze Adventure Bike Rally, and Rolling Thru America. The first Americade rally, then called Aspencade East, was held in 1983 on the scenic shores of Lake George, nestled in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. The first event was a runaway success, and the event has grown steadily over the years to become the world’s largest touring rally. The Dutcher family talk about what the rally was like in the early days, and why motorcyclists from around the country return to Americade year after year. This is a special episode you don’t want to miss!
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 took a first look at Suzuki’s aggressively redesigned GSX-S1000 naked sportbike back in April, and rumors of a sport-touring variant have been amplifying ever since. Enter the new GSX-S1000GT, successor to the S1000F, with all the performance of the new S1000 on which it is based, and all the comfort and features expected from a long-haul tourer.
As with the new Hayabusa, the new GT model is fitted with Suzuki’s Intelligent Ride System (SIRS), which includes the Suzuki Drive Mode Selector (SDMS), Traction Control, Ride by Wire Electronic Throttle, Bi-Directional Quick Shift, Suzuki Easy Start, and Low RPM Assist systems.
It is powered by a street tuned version of the GSX-R sportbike’s 999cc, in-line four-cylinder engine, which has been updated with a revised intake and exhaust camshafts, cam chain tensioners, valve springs, and redesigned clutch and gearshift components. Suzuki says the enhancements deliver a broader, more consistent torque curve while meeting Euro 5 emissions compliance standards.
The GSX-S1000GT also utilizes the S1000’s twin-spar aluminum frame and aluminum-alloy braced swingarm from the GSX-R1000. Fully adjustable KYB suspension, ABS-equipped radial-mount Brembo monoblock calipers biting 310mm floating rotors. A new trellis-style sub-frame creates secure attachment points for the 36-liter side cases and promises an improved passenger experience.
A new cast-aluminum, rubber-mounted handlebar provides a relaxed body position, coupled with rubber footpeg inserts for long-haul comfort. Rider and passenger seats benefit from a new sporty design maximizing comfort on long rides, and both seats sport a new cover material that balances grip with freedom of movement and integrates well with the new grab-bar design. Equipped with all-around LED lights, the distinctive horizontally arranged headlights match the latest Suzuki styling.
The GSX-S1000GT is equipped with a 6.5-inch, full-color TFT LCD screen set into the inner fairing above the handlebars for enhanced visibility and protection from debris. The brightness-adjustable TFT panel features a scratch-resistant surface and an anti-reflective coating and integrates with the SUZUKI mySPIN smartphone connectivity application. A USB outlet can also be used to connect and charge a smartphone.
The 2022 Suzuki GSX-S1000GT will be available in two color schemes: Metallic Reflective Blue, and Glass Sparkle Black, each set off with distinctive GT logos. Manufacturers suggested pricing for both the GT and GT+ are yet to be announced.
Our guest for Episode 21 of the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast is Peter Starr, who is an international ambassador for motorcycling. He’s an award-winning filmmaker who has made motorcycle documentaries, TV shows, and commercials, and his 1979 film “Take It to the Limit” is a classic documentary about motorcycle racing. Peter has published articles in most major motorcycle magazines, and he’s the author of two books, including “Motorcycle Traveler,” about his experiences riding motorcycles in 12 countries as part of living a purposeful life. Peter also hosts the MotoStarr video podcast series, and he has interviewed legendary motorcycle racers such as Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Kenny Roberts, and many others. Peter has been recognized for his achievements with numerous awards as well as being inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame and Trailblazers Hall of Fame.
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
Our guest on Episode 20 of the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast is Jon DelVecchio, founder of Street Skills and author of “Cornering Confidence: The Formula for 100% Control in Curves.” By applying Jon’s techniques, motorcyclists gain more confidence and enjoyment in the curves. He’s a real-world rider who started riding motorcycles after starting a family and got hooked on sport riding. His need for self-preservation fueled skill development, and he served as an MSF RiderCoach for a decade and studied more advanced riding techniques. Jon shares his experience with fellow riders in his in-person and online Street Skills riding improvement courses and in his book, which is available in paperback and on Kindle. Jon’s Trail Braking Camp solves the mystery of this “secret weapon” technique. For more information, visit CorneringConfidence.com.
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.
Our guest on Episode 19 of the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast is Lauren Trantham, founder of Ride My Road. In 2016, Lauren set out on a 10,000-mile solo motorcycle journey across the United States to photograph American survivors of human trafficking. She founded Ride My Road to reach as many people as possible about the realities of human trafficking in America. The organization has raised over $160,000 for survivor-led organizations, hosted dozens of events across the country, and educated thousands of motorcyclists. Ride My Road hosts F.A.S.T. (Fight Against Sex Trafficking) Ride charity events and the #Survivorbike Series (volunteer builders restore old bikes and donate them for fundraising giveaways), and it recently launched Disruptors University.
Zero Motorcycles has been around for well over a decade now, and it’s no surprise that the evolving EV space has seen a great deal of innovation in that time. Although the key issue of range vs. weight will still give petrol-heads reason to pause, it’s also fair to say that e-motos have become a good deal more practical, and fun. But perhaps the other enduring issue holding back potential buyers is their cost. Case in point, Zero’s fully faired and extremely quick SR/S or naked SR/F will set you back $20,000.
Enter the FXE. New for 2021, Zero has taken the existing frame from the FX and added a redesigned body. The starkly modern, supermoto styling is very similar in appearance to the FXS – tall, slim and sporting a raised front mudguard. However, the FXE is capable of a claimed 100-mile range on a full battery charge and costs $11,795, which can be bought down to around $10,000 depending upon available EV rebates and credits.
The 7.2 kWh battery in the FXE drives a passively air-cooled, brushless, permanent magnet motor, which produces a claimed peak power of 46 horsepower and 78 pound-feet of torque, and with a top speed of 85 mph, the FXE can take to the highway. Unlike the more expensive models, the FXE is not compatible with public charging stations and is designed to be charged via a standard 110-volt household outlet. It takes over nine hours to fully recharge the battery, although this can be reduced to just under two hours with the optional accessory charger. The FXE utilizes Zero’s Cypher II operating system and the new connectivity enabled 5-inch TFT display is compatible with the Zero app, providing access to ride modes, Eco and Sport, and battery status.
A Showa 41 mm inverted fork, and monoshock take care of suspension and are adjustable for preload, compression, and rebound damping. Bosch calipers are fitted with a single disc front and back, and ABS is standard. Zero claims a wet weight of 298 pounds, which promises exciting performance from the 46 horses available and a handy machine for dealing with tight urban spaces. But surprisingly, advantages in accessibility imparted by its lightweight are somewhat undone by the tall seat height, which at 32.8 inches will put some shorter riders off.
Compared to many of its heavier, more expensive competitors the FXE is a lightweight and thrilling runabout, and what it gives up in range it makes up for in accessibility and potential for fun. The FXE makes for a credible commuter bike, capable of taking to the highway but ideal to zip around town on.
Zero FXE Specs
Base Price: $11,795 (excluding electric vehicle rebates and credits) Website: https: zeromotorcycles.com Battery: 7.2 kWh Motor Type: Air-cooled, brushless, permanent magnet motor Transmission: Clutchless direct drive Final Drive: 90T / 18T belt Wheelbase: 56 in. Rake/Trail: 24.4 degrees / 2.8 in. Seat Height: 32.9 in. Wet Weight: 298 lbs. Charging Time: 9.2 hours (via 110-volt household outlet to 95 percent) Fuel Consumption: 373 eMPG (claimed) Maximum Range: 100 miles (claimed)