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Ride Along the Riverside: Sport Touring in Western New England

“Ride Along the Riverside: Sport Touring in Western New England” first appeared in the June 2020 issue of Rider Magazine.

Riding Along the Riverside: Sport Touring in Western New England
Story and photography by: Scott A. Williams.

Roads that curve along a river are among my favorites to explore on two wheels, and western New England has them in abundance. The hilly terrain and seasonal climate promote the formation of rivers, and for millennia people have used rivers and land along their banks to get from place to place. River roads, particularly the smaller and less traveled ones, often follow the same basic path they did before motorized travel, and the best ones are a roller-coaster ride for motorcyclists.

If you like to move right along and keep stops brief, this 300-mile route through western Massachusetts and southern Vermont delivers a full day of curvy two-lane entertainment. If you prefer a moderate pace and relaxing along the way, there are ample opportunities to enjoy views, savor local cuisine and visit small New England towns. One of southern Vermont’s ski towns will have amenities you need for an enjoyable night on the road.

Riding Along the Riverside: Sport Touring in Western New England

This route begins and ends in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. I roll north onto State Route 116, one of the Bay State’s official scenic byways, and within a couple miles it curves to follow the Mill River and then the South River. The tar is fresh so my grin stretches even wider than the last time I motored through here. Just as my mirrors reveal the sun peeking above the hills, I come upon a pasture of Holstein cows whose interest is piqued by the approaching pulse of my BMW’s boxer twin. I pull over briefly to bid the bovine ladies good morning.

Not eager to meet early-rising constabulary, I roll off the throttle coming down the hill into the center of Conway. These days this quaint village is known for the annual Festival of the Hills, but once it was a thriving mill town. In 1767, Caleb Sharp’s Gristmill was Conway’s first waterpowered mill. A series of dams managed water from the South River to power mills that ground corn and flax, sawed lumber, spun cotton and fulled wool. The unreliable nature of waterpower was compounded by cycles of drought and flood, so mill owners gradually upgraded from waterpower to coal-fueled steam power as the 1800s progressed.

After another snaking stretch of Route 116 to Ashfield, a right on Baptist Corner Road leads me to a pair of grazing horses that catch my attention for their brightly colored fly masks. I don’t want to spook them so I slow down. The curious chestnut mare nickers my way and shakes. Farther along I pass a hillside farm where row upon row of neatly shaped evergreens await a Christmas yet-to-come.

Riding Along the Riverside: Sport Touring in Western New England
The center of Conway is no metropolis, but it does have fuel and eats at Baker’s Country Store.

It adds a few miles, but it’s fun crossing the Deerfield River on Bardwell’s Ferry Bridge, just to hear the clomp of rubber tires on the wooden deck. At Shelburne Falls I point north on State Route 112 and follow the North River, then at Adamsville Road I turn left to follow the North River’s West Branch. Many rivers in these parts break into two or even three branches that converge again downstream. At State Route 8A, I hang a left and savor another great winding road. It soon parallels Mill Brook and carries me across the Bissel Covered Bridge to the village of Charlemont.

Heading west, the Mohawk Trail (State Route 2) follows the Deerfield River and then the Cold River. Originally, the Mohawk Trail was a Native American footpath that connected the Connecticut and Hudson River Valleys. This section through the Mohawk Trail State Forest to the town of Florida includes some of the state’s most beautiful river scenery. The road gains elevation as it carves along the cliffside, but a right turn on Whitcomb Hill Road quickly gives it all back, heading steeply down toward the Deerfield River.

The route turns left onto River Road and hugs the Deerfield. Just upstream, this river once was a source of cooling water for the Yankee Rowe Atomic Electricity Company. The nuclear plant, hidden from view in the woods, closed in 1992 and was decommissioned. Now on warm weather weekends, the river is frequently packed with tubers, canoeists and rafters enjoying the current, which is helped along by scheduled dam releases upstream.

Riding Along the Riverside: Sport Touring in Western New England
The Conway Covered Bridge spans the South River in the village of Burkeville, Massachusetts. Built in 1871 and restored in 2005, it’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

River Road becomes Readsboro Road and at the Vermont border it becomes Tunnel Street. Such renaming of a continuing stretch of asphalt is not uncommon in New England, especially on back roads. In Readsboro, I go left on Vermont State Route 100 South, which, in this stretch, actually points northwest. This heading keeps me on the Deerfield River’s West Branch to the junction with State Route 8, where a right puts me on another curvy gem to Searsburg.

Turning right on State Route 9 offers sweepers to Wilmington where I reconnect with Route 100. Here 100 is sign-posted north and actually goes that way. It’s one of Vermont’s best-known scenic roads, curving with the Deerfield River’s North Branch to Dover and then Blue Brook, past the Mount Snow ski resort and through the Green Mountains National Forest. This road can get crowded in summer and during fall foliage season, but today, in early September, it’s practically empty. At a lay-by along slow-flowing Blue Brook, I enjoy the sandwich I packed.

Riding Along the Riverside: Sport Touring in Western New England
Row upon row of evergreens line this hillside at Cranston’s Christmas Tree Farm in Ashfield, Massachusetts.

Route 100 winds its way north through Jamaica and Rawsonville to South Londonderry. There I turn sharply right onto Main Street, then left on Thompsonburg Road along a stream, up toward Magic Mountain ski area. A right on State Route 11 takes me over to State Route 121, which meanders with the Saxtons River. In Grafton I turn right onto Townshend Road, which becomes Grafton Road in Townshend. This asphalt ribbon runs along the Saxtons River’s South Branch.

Now a right onto State Route 35 has me running south. The tree cover is so dense I can’t see the Mill Brook that my GPS assures me is flowing just to my left. At Townshend I make my way to State Route 30. Scores of cars, pickups and SUVs parked on the shoulders are evidence of the West River’s popularity as a warm weather recreation destination.

Riding Along the Riverside: Sport Touring in Western New England
Hay windrows dry in the early morning sun in this field in Conway, Massachusetts.

Beyond Townshend Dam I stop for a break in the quintessential Vermont village of Newfane, which has opportunities to experience Vermont’s interesting history and often-curious culture.

On West Street I roll up to the celebrated Four Columns Inn, where a classic car is frequently displayed on the front lawn. Today it’s a 1955 Nash Rambler Greenbrier two-door station wagon in two-tone green. Nash was arguably the first American manufacturer of the post-war era to make compact cars, bucking the bigger-is-better trend, so this beautifully preserved albeit humble antique is a significant automobile.

Riding Along the Riverside: Sport Touring in Western New England
West of Charlemont, Massachusetts, the Deerfield River flows along the Mohawk Trail. Originally, the Mohawk Trail was a Native American footpath that connected the Connecticut and Hudson River Valleys.

Only a few steps to the south, and continuing Vermont’s characteristic white-clapboard architecture, are the First Congregational Church and the Union Hall. Originally built as a church in 1832, the Union Hall in 1872 became a site for community events including plays, dances, movies and that time-honored method of democratic local government, the town meeting.

After this brief and worthwhile respite, I continue south on 30. Just before Williamsville, I lean west toward Dover along the Rock River down to Route 100 south and all the way to Jacksonville. There, I bear left onto State Route 112, which runs south along the North River back into Massachusetts, through Colrain and Shattuckville to the Mohawk Trail.

Riding Along the Riverside: Sport Touring in Western New England
Union Hall, First Congregational Church and Four Columns Inn, on the Village Green in Newfane, Vermont.

Again, I find myself heading west along Massachusetts Route 2 and the Deerfield River, back to Charlemont. This time I turn south on 8A, cross the Deerfield River, and then follow the Chickley River through Hawley to State Route 116. There I turn right (north) and in a few miles cut hard left onto River Road, which parallels the Westfield River along the edge of Windsor State Forest.

At State Route 9, I turn right and then left onto Worthington Road, which becomes Cole Street and then East Windsor Road. By cutting right onto State Route 143, another River Road soon emerges, this one curving with the Westfield River’s Middle Branch all the way to Skyline Trail in Chester. Continuing to Huntington, a left onto State Route 112 north follows the Westfield River then the Little River to Worthington. A ways on Route 112 makes a hard right turn at an intersection with Trouble Road. (I haven’t been looking for trouble, but I find it anyway.)

Riding Along the Riverside: Sport Touring in Western New England
Union Hall, First Congregational Church and Four Columns Inn, on the Village Green in Newfane, Vermont.

In Cummington, 112 overlaps 9, the Berkshire Trail, which closely follows Meadow Brook and the Swift River, then past Goshen and the Mill River’s West Branch. I roll off approaching the village of Williamsburg. In the center, I turn left onto North Road, which becomes Ashfield Williamsburg Valley Road, then Ashfield Road, then South Ashfield Road, and then Williamsburg Road (because…New England) along the Mill River’s East Branch. South of Ashfield, this pleasantly winding road with so many names ends at Route 116. This is the same stretch of 116 that started my ride. Bonus—it’s a hoot in both directions!

Of course there are other New England river roads that aren’t part of this route but definitely worth your time (see sidebar). Wherever you find such roads, take a ride along the riverside. 

More favorite river roads in New England:

  • VT 102 curves with the Connecticut River from Canaan to Guild Hall, Vermont.
  • NH 16 follows the Androscoggin River and then Bear Brook from Berlin to Errol, New Hampshire.
  • NH 13 snakes along the Piscataquoag River’s South Branch from Goffstown to New Boston, New Hampshire.
  • U.S. 5 gently winds along scenic stretches of the Connecticut River, especially between Barnet and Norwich, Vermont, and again between Ascutney and Rockingham, Vermont.
  • MA 8 twists alongside the Farmington River’s West Branch from New Boston to West Becket, Massachusetts.
  • U.S. 7 hugs the banks of the Housatonic River between Falls Village and New Milford, Connecticut.
Riding Along the Riverside: Sport Touring in Western New England
East River Road in North Chester, Massachusetts, closely follows the Westfield River’s Middle Branch.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

2020 Yamaha WR250F vs WR250R | Comparison Test

2020 Yamaha WR250F vs WR250R Comparison Test
Dirt bikes like Yamaha’s 2020 WR250F (left) are light, fast and incredibly nimble off-road, but with no license plate to appease the authorities, first you have to get it there somehow. A good alternative is a lightweight dual-sport like the Yamaha WR250R (right), which harnesses much of the F’s ability in a less-expensive package…and it’s street legal.

Life is so simple when you’re young. As teens and 20-somethings we thought nothing of loading up our dirt bikes, gas cans, firewood, chili, beer, chips and more beer in the ol’ pickup truck and heading out to ride in the desert and OHV parks, sometimes for days. Sleep usually came in a camp chair by the dwindling fire, or in the back of the truck. It was all about the riding, and après riding, so all of the effort and time involved just getting there went unnoticed.

Dirt bike riding and ownership is definitely more complicated than living with a street-legal bike, however, and that complication creates inertia that can be hard to overcome when you get older and busier and are dealing with, say, kids, a job and a mortgage. Off-road riding is fun, exciting, challenging and helps build skills you can use on the street, but since the bike can only be ridden off-road in designated areas, first you have to get it there. That requires a truck or tow vehicle and trailer of some sort, ramps to load the bike in the truck, tie-downs to secure it and the skill and ability to do all of that in the first place. Add to that loading up all of your riding gear, water, food, sunblock and first aid kit and you’re good to go…after about an hour’s worth of effort.

2020 Yamaha WR250F vs WR250R Comparison Test
The extra weight on the typical dual-sport versus a dirt bike comes from the addition of DOT-approved lighting, wheels, tires, emissions equipment and more, but the weight difference has been narrowing in recent years.

Once you arrive at the riding area—from my house the closest is about an hour’s drive—then it’s time to unload everything, gear up and go riding. Which is heaven! Once you acquire some basic off-road riding skills, either on your own, by riding with friends or at a training school, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of exploring single-track trails, conquering hill climbs, sand washes and desert moguls or dark forest paths between trees. Dirt bikes are light and have big power-to-weight ratios, so just twisting the throttle on one and shooting down a dirt road is a major rush. And once you learn how, many of the hooligan antics—wheelies, sliding, burnouts, etc.—that would land you in jail on the street are par for the course off-road.

Tired and had enough riding for the day? OK, load it all up once again, and unload one more time when you get home. Wash the bike, drain its carburetor if it has one (and the bike will sit for a while until the next ride), get cleaned up and collapse on the couch. Sound fun? It really is, particularly if the type of off-road riding you do and your skill level really warrant a non-street-legal dirt bike. The 2020 Yamaha WR250F we sampled for this story, for example, weighs just 255 pounds gassed up and has fully adjustable suspension with more than 12 inches of travel at each end. Its liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, DOHC 4-valve, 4-stroke single revs briskly and makes whopping torque and top end power, fed through a wide-ratio (hence the WR) transmission that’s good for slow technical trails, flat-out flying and everything in between. Lights and an electric starter round out a mission-critical package that can tackle just about anything off-road.

2020 Yamaha WR250F vs WR250R Comparison Test
Dirt bikes can still eat a dual-sport for lunch off-road, except when it comes to the amount of time, effort and expense getting there.

But what if you just want to do some off-road exploring, perhaps at a mellower pace, and have no interest in all of the additional expense and logistical hassle of getting you and a dirt bike out to a riding area? Adventure bikes are all the rage these days and can handle some off-road riding, but they’re expensive and most of us don’t have the skills to pilot a 500-plus-pound behemoth down much more than a dirt fire road. Even the smaller KTM 390 Adventure tested in this issue weighs 387 pounds wet—that’s like adding a passenger to the weight of the typical dirt bike.

If your off-road forays are not too far away—or even if they are and you’re OK taking frequent breaks along the way—a good alternative to truck ownership or big ADV machines is a light single-cylinder dual-sport bike. For the least weight and most performance, the European makers like KTM and Husqvarna offer some very serious (and expensive) lightweight dual-sports. But all of the Japanese manufacturers also sell less expensive models in displacements from 200 to 650cc. The 250s run from just 296 to about 321 pounds and still make enough power for riders (who aren’t exceptionally large) to not only tackle a lot of the same terrain dirt bikes can—at a slower pace—but they can also be ridden to the trailhead from home, skipping the whole load/unload/repeat process. More dirt is open to a dual-sport as well, since unlike a dirt bike it has a license plate and is legal on the thousands of miles of unpaved public roads that connect, for example, ghost towns in Nevada and the national forests in Tennessee.

2020 Yamaha WR250F vs WR250R Comparison Test
The uniform for dirt riding is generally a little lighter-weight and cooler on the outside due to the extra exertion involved, but I’m protected underneath with an armored shirt, shorts and Fly Racing Pivot knee guards. Goggles keep out dust better than a face shield.

The 2020 Yamaha WR250R we sampled for this story shares much of its WR250F sibling’s DNA, but has far fewer unobtanium bits for racing so it costs $1,900 less. Yet at 296 pounds gassed up, it’s still the lightest of the affordable Japanese 200/250 dual-sports. The WR250R’s liquid-cooled single is based on the F’s 250cc race-ready enduro motor and shares the same bore and stroke, but among other changes has lower compression and mellower cam profiles for more street tractability. Seat height is still quite tall at 36.6 inches, but that’s an inch lower than the F’s, and the R still soaks up the bumps with 10.6 inches of fully adjustable suspension travel at each end. And it averages 61 mpg!

The WR-R’s design can’t take the pounding that its tougher enduro-inspired sibling can, but unlike many dual-sports it was built more for off-road than road, so you can tackle some pretty gnarly single-track terrain, ruts, rocks and jumps if it’s not too heavily loaded. The trade-off, of course, is its lower level of on-road comfort. Though it’s surprisingly smooth at highway speed and cruises right along at 65-70 mph without the engine feeling like it’s going to blow up, the seat is tall, narrow and hard, and the bike can get blown around in high winds. I have no problem riding it on the highway for a couple hours at a stretch before I need a break, though, and the aftermarket offers more comfortable seats, soft luggage (see the review on page 62) and suspension lowering kits as well as lots of bolt-ons to upgrade its off-road chops. Gearing can be easily raised or lowered depending upon how much off-road riding you actually end up doing, and the suspension beefed up as needed.

2020 Yamaha WR250F vs WR250R
The uniform for dirt riding is generally a little lighter-weight and cooler on the outside due to the extra exertion involved, but I’m protected underneath with an armored shirt, shorts and Fly Racing Pivot knee guards. Goggles keep out dust better than a face shield.

Thirty years ago, I would have chosen a dirt bike every time for any kind of off-road riding. Today convenience and cost are more important than speed and ultimate capability, which makes a bike like the WR250R dual-sport the obvious choice. 

2020 Yamaha WR250F vs WR250R Comparison Test
From their appearances alone it’s easy to see why the WR250F (right) is the superior machine for off-road riding. But the WR250R can follow it nearly anywhere at a slower pace, and keep going when the road requires a license plate.

Mark’s Gear (WR250F):
Helmet: Fly Racing Formula Vector
Goggles: Fly Racing Zone Pro
Jersey: Fly Racing Kinetic K120
Pants: Fly Racing Evolution
Boots: Fly Racing FR5

Greg’s Gear (WR250R):
Helmet: Shoei Hornet x2
Jacket: Scorpion Yosemite
Pants: Scorpion Yosemite
Boots: Alpinestars Corozal

2020 Yamaha WR250R/WR250F Specs:

Website: Yamaha
Base Price: $6,699/$8,599
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled single, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 77.0 x 53.6mm
Displacement: 250cc
Fuel Delivery: EFI
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 55.9/58.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 26.7/27.2 degrees; 4.4/4.6 in.
Seat Height: 36.6/37.6 in.
Wet Weight: 296/255 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 2.0/2.2 gals
MPG: 91 AKI min (avg): 61.0/NA

Source: RiderMagazine.com

2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Comparison Test

2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
Ready for some fun riding? The Yamaha Tracer 900 GT and BMW F 900 XR combine the useful power of table-flat torque curves with mostly upright, comfortable seating and good wind protection, suspension, brakes and handling. Photo Credit: Kevin Wing.

The 2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Comparison Test was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Rider Magazine.

Motorcycles that start out as naked or standard models often inspire their manufacturers to build a complementary touring, sport-touring or sport-adventure version before very long. The Honda Gold Wing’s lineage is probably the most familiar example, but I could cite countless others from the mid-1970s to the present day. Attracting more and new customers is the objective of every motorcycle design, so whether going the touring route with a standard bike is to aim a not-so-successful model in a potentially better direction, or it’s to simply expand the fan base for a successful bike to include long-distance riders, the goal is the same.

Such is the case with the two motorcycles we’re comparing here, the new BMW F 900 XR and recently updated Yamaha Tracer 900 GT. Both are based on naked bikes, one also new—the BMW F 900 R—and one that has been a top seller in Yamaha’s lineup since 2013, the MT-09, formerly known as the FZ-09. Although BMW calls the F 900 XR a sport-adventure machine and Yamaha parks the Tracer 900 GT in its sport-touring category, their prices, displacements, semi-fairings, windscreens and mostly upright seating positions make these two bikes quite comparable. In fact, BMW considers the Tracer 900 base model a core competitor for its F 900 XR; we’re pitting it against the fully equipped 2020 Tracer 900 GT because the Tracer 900 hasn’t yet returned as a 2020 model.

2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Specs
Although the base model F 900 XR is priced well below the Tracer 900 GT, much of the Yamaha’s standard equipment—heated grips, centerstand, saddlebags and more—is optional on the BMW.

You can find in-depth tech details on both the BMW and Yamaha in their individual road tests—the Tracer 900 GT was revamped for 2019, and there’s a full review of it in the October 2019 issue and on our website. You can also find my review of the new F 900 R and XR online and in the May 2020 issue. Like their F 800 R predecessor, these new 900s fill the need for lower-cost twins in the BMW lineup, now with more power from a larger transverse, parallel cylinder 895cc engine and better feel and sound thanks to a new 90-degree offset crank, 270/450-degree firing interval and more effective counterbalancer. The $8,995 F 900 R is the naked/sport roadster, and for an additional $2,700 the F 900 XR adds a semi-fairing with a windscreen and lowers, a taller, wider handlebar, more suspension travel and ground clearance, and lower footpegs. It also has more fuel capacity than the R for sport-adventure riding. Traction control, ABS and two ride modes—Road and Rain—are standard, and you can plug in an optional Ride Modes Pro dongle that enables two more as well as cornering ABS, Dynamic Traction Control and more.

Introduced for 2015 as the FJ-09, the Yamaha Tracer brought sport-touring amenities to the bare-knuckled FZ-09, such as a more upright seating position, a more comfortable, adjustable seat, a semi-fairing with adjustable windscreen and hand guards. Its transverse, in-line 847cc Crossplane triple (CP3) has been a ripper from the start, with a 120-degree crank and counterbalancer that tames much of the vibes. As on the BMW, throttle-by-wire enables electronic features like three riding modes and dual-mode traction control, and the Yamaha’s TBW has been refined several times over the years to smoothen throttle response. For an extra $2,300 over the $10,699 (2019) Tracer 900, the 2020 Tracer 900 GT adds hard locking saddlebags, cruise control, a quickshifter for upshifts, heated grips and a full-color TFT display. The GT received an extensive makeover for 2019, including new bodywork, upgraded suspension, a taller windscreen, comfier seats and a longer swingarm.

2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Price
Extra-long footpeg feelers on the Yamaha touch down in corners well before any hard parts like the centerstand or exhaust.

Aft of their functional semi-fairings and adjustable windscreens, the BMW twin and Yamaha triple also share 17-inch cast wheel and tire sizes, triple disc brakes with opposed 4-piston radial-mount calipers up front, chain final drive and 6-speed transmissions with slipper clutches (the Yamaha’s also has an assist function). Both have full-color TFT instrument displays, and even though navigating the BMW’s is harder to figure out, it’s much larger and is like watching 4K TV compared to the Yamaha’s small blocky screen. While the F 900 XR is priced substantially lower than the Tracer 900 GT, many of the Yamaha’s standard features like saddlebags, cruise control, heated grips, centerstand and more are optional on the BMW.

Although both bikes have relatively upright seating positions that are comfortable for extended hours in the saddle, the BMW’s wide handlebar is lower and its footpegs higher than the Yamaha’s, cramping the rider a bit more, particularly if you’re taller. The shape of the BMW’s non-adjustable seat also locks you into one position rather than letting you move around, and therefore feels higher than the Yamaha’s in its low position, despite their claimed seat heights. We installed the optional taller windscreen on the F 900 XR to even it up with the Tracer 900 GT, and as a result wind protection is pretty good on both due to their effective screens and fairing lowers. While the F 900 XR feels sportier and more aggressive, overall the Tracer 900 GT is the more comfortable of the two for sport touring, with roomier seating, a taller handlebar and more comfortable seat. Passengers also liked it better for two-up riding, since the seat is softer and roomier than the BMW’s and its grab rails are an easier reach.

2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Price
Swooping bodywork and swingarm, longish suspension travel and 17-inch wheels give the Tracer 900 GT a beautifully aggressive look that belies its sport-touring comfort.

The BMW earns the adventure part of its sport-adventure description because it has nearly 7 inches of suspension travel front and rear and ample ground clearance, but with 17-inch wheels at each end I’d keep it well away from the dirt and just enjoy the extra travel on bumpy roads. Its additional ground clearance comes in handy when riding over ruts, low curbs and such, where we bashed the Yamaha’s low-slung underbelly more than once. Good suspension calibration on both bikes matches them up quite closely in corners. The BMW’s non-adjustable 43mm USD fork is stouter overall and more stiffly sprung compared to the Yamaha’s 41mm unit, though the latter is fully adjustable and can be stiffened up for sport riding quite well if that’s your preference. Remote spring preload and rebound damping adjustment are common to both in back, and aside from the BMW’s remote knob being difficult to use, rear suspension is comparably good. Although the Yamaha’s brakes are more than up to the task, its front brake lever needs more bite, while the BMW has good linear feel and a solid bite at the lever combined with an easily modulated pedal. Its stock Michelin Road 5 tires also offer better feel overall than the Dunlop Sportmax D222 OE
rubber on the Tracer 900 GT, which we would replace right out of the gate with Dunlop’s premium Roadsmart IIIs.

2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
Both bikes have top-notch suspension that helps them dance through bumpy corners, including USD forks and single shocks with adjustable rebound damping and remote preload adjusters.

On the dynamometer the Tracer 900 GT’s triple bests the F 900 XR’s twin in horsepower output, and the XR’s 20-pound weight advantage isn’t enough to give it an edge in a top-speed contest. But the two bikes are pretty closely matched in the torque department where it really matters for day-in, day-out sport touring and commuting. Both offer impressive grunt for slicing through corners without much shifting, accelerating hard from a stop or picking off a slow-moving car or truck with a quick pass. The BMW twin-cylinder’s rumble and the Yamaha triple’s velvet growl give each plenty of character and great sound, though neither has completely tamed some high-frequency vibration that buzzes through the grips enough to be noticeable much of the time, particularly on the Yamaha. Both require premium fuel and return similar fuel economy, though the Yamaha has more range thanks to its larger 4.8-gallon tank versus the BMW’s 4.1. Given their similarity elsewhere we’d pick the Yamaha’s engine simply for its extra power and longer valve inspection intervals.

Once you start bolting accessories onto the BMW that are standard on the Yamaha, the F 900 XR’s price and weight advantage quickly melts away, which leaves us with the Tracer 900 GT as the winner of this comparo. In addition to offering more power, comfort, fuel capacity and lower maintenance costs, with the exception of its tiny TFT display the Yamaha is the better bike and value for sport riding, touring and everything in between. 

2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
Both of these bikes are terrific sport-touring and sport-adventure machines. If you don’t need the additional touring amenities on the Tracer 900 GT, the F 900 XR is cheaper, lighter and handles well. If you do want bags, heated grips, a centerstand, etc., the Yamaha is a better value and handles just as well.

Jenny’s Gear:
Helmet: Xlite X-803 Ultra Carbon
Jacket: AGV Sport Helen
Pants: Joe Rocket Alter Ego 2.0
Boots: Sidi Gavia Gore-Tex

2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
The BMW’s additional suspension travel contributes to its greater ground clearance, which helps prevent the undercarriage from scraping on low curbs, ruts, pavement edges, etc.

Mark’s Gear:
Helmet: HJC i70
Jacket: Scorpion Yosemite
Pants: Olympia X-Moto 2
Boots: Sidi Performer Gore

2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
Extra-long footpeg feelers on the Yamaha touch down in corners well before any hard parts like the centerstand or exhaust.

2020 BMW F 900 XR Specs

Base Price: $11,695
Price as Tested: $11,945 (color)
Warranty: 3 yrs., 36,000 miles
Website: BMW Motorrad

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin
Displacement: 895cc
Bore x Stroke: 86.0 x 77.0mm
Compression Ratio: 13.1:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Adj. Interval: 12,000 miles
Fuel Delivery: BMS-M EFI
Lubrication System: Dry sump, 3.2-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet slipper clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Ignition: BMS-M
Charging Output: 416 watts max.
Battery: 12V 12AH

Frame: Steel bridge monocoque, load-bearing engine, cast-aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 59.9
Rake/Trail: 29.5 degrees/4.1 in.
Seat Height: 32.5 in.
Suspension, Front: 43mm USD telescopic, no adj., 
6.7-in. travel
Rear: Single shock w/ adj. spring preload (remote) & rebound damping, 6.8-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 320mm floating discs w/ opposed 4-piston radial calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 264mm disc w/ 1-piston floating caliper 
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.50 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Rear: 180/55-ZR17
Wet Weight: 486 lbs.
Load Capacity: 479 lbs.
GVWR: 965 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 4.1 gals, last 1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON Min (low/avg/high) 43.1/45.2/48.7
Estimated Range: 185 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 3,500

2020 Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Specs

Base Price: $12,999
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Website: Yamaha Motorsports

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line triple
Displacement: 847cc
Bore x Stroke: 78.0 x 59.1mm
Compression Ratio: 11.5:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 26,600 miles
Fuel Delivery: EFI w/ YCC-T & 41mm throttle bodies x 3
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.85-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet assist-and-slipper clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Ignition: TCI/32-bit ECU
Charging Output: 415 watts max.
Battery: 12V 8.6AH

Frame: Aluminum controlled-fill die-cast perimeter w/ tubular-steel subframe & cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 59.1 in.
Rake/Trail: 24 degrees/3.9 in.
Seat Height: 33.5/34.1 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm USD fork, fully adj., 5.4-in. travel
Rear: Linked shock, adj. for rebound damping & spring preload (remote), 5.6-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 298mm discs w/ opposed 4-piston radial calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 245mm disc w/ 1-piston pin-slide 
caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.50 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Rear: 180/55-ZR17
Wet Weight: 506 lbs.
Load Capacity: 363 lbs.
GVWR: 869 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 4.8 gals., last 0.7 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (low/avg/high) 41.8/44.0/46.3
Estimated Range: 211 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,000

2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Comparison Test Gallery:

2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
Ready for some fun riding? The Yamaha Tracer 900 GT and BMW F 900 XR combine the useful power of table-flat torque curves with mostly upright, comfortable seating and good wind protection, suspension, brakes and handling.
2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Review
2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
LED headlights and taillights give both bikes excellent conspicuity and nighttime vision. Surmise all you want as to why the Yamaha’s low beam is on the left and the BMW’s is on the right….
2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
Both of these bikes are terrific sport-touring and sport-adventure machines. If you don’t need the additional touring amenities on the Tracer 900 GT, the F 900 XR is cheaper, lighter and handles well. If you do want bags, heated grips, a centerstand, etc., the Yamaha is a better value and handles just as well.
2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
Both bikes have top-notch suspension that helps them dance through bumpy corners, including USD forks and single shocks with adjustable rebound damping and remote preload adjusters.
2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
Extra-long footpeg feelers on the Yamaha touch down in corners well before any hard parts like the centerstand or exhaust.
2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
The BMW’s additional suspension travel contributes to its greater ground clearance, which helps prevent the undercarriage from scraping on low curbs, ruts, pavement edges, etc.
2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Comparison Test
2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Specs
Although the base model F 900 XR is priced well below the Tracer 900 GT, much of the Yamaha’s standard equipment—heated grips, centerstand, saddlebags and more—is optional on the BMW.
2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Price
Long-travel suspension and 17-inch wheels front and rear contribute to the BMW F 900 XR’s sport-adventure look, but we’d keep it firmly on the road.
2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 Price
Swooping bodywork and swingarm, longish suspension travel and 17-inch wheels give the Tracer 900 GT a beautifully aggressive look that belies its sport-touring comfort.
2020 BMW F 900 XR Dash
BMW’s large TFT display is clear and bright and is controlled with a menu button and Multi-Controller wheel by the left grip.
2020 Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Dash
Yamaha’s TFT display is smallish but still fairly easy to read.
2020 Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Triple Cylinder Engine
Yamaha’s CP3 Crossplane triple make more horsepower but roughly the same amount of torque as the BMW
2020 BMW F 900 XR Engine
Based on the F 850 GS mill, the F 900 XR’s new twin has a lumpier firing interval and more functional counterbalancer.
2020 Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Dyno Run
2020 Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Dyno Run
2020 BMW F 900 XR Dyno Run
2020 BMW F 900 XR Dyno Run

Source: RiderMagazine.com

How to Plug and Repair a Tubeless Motorcycle Tire

plug repair a motorcycle tire
Sacre bleu! The discovery we all dread, usually right before a ride. Don’t attempt to repair a severe gash or cut, or a puncture in the sidewall of the tire. Once you get the hole plugged, it’s off to your dealer for a new tire.

Considering how bulletproof the rest of our motorcycles have become, it’s ironic that it only takes a little 1 ½-inch box nail in a tire to bring the whole show to a halt. We’re fortunate today that tubeless tire technology prevents intrusions by nails, screws and other foreign objects from becoming catastrophic blowouts. The object usually stays in the hole, the only place from which the tire can lose air, so it deflates more slowly than a puncture in a tire with a tube on an unsealed spoked wheel (which can lose air through all of the spoke nipples and even the tire bead). But even if that pointy thing does stay put and flush with the tread surface, as it flexes back and forth in the carcass the tire will eventually deflate enough to become a problem. Hopefully you will have noticed its presence or even received a low tire-pressure warning before that happens.

Of course, if it doesn’t stay put or is large enough to stick out of the tire (like a 6-inch gutter nail — don’t ask), the tire will probably deflate rapidly enough to strand you by the roadside. Unless you’re lucky enough to be next to a motorcycle shop at the time, you’re going to need either a good roadside assistance plan or a tubeless tire repair kit. (We’ll cover tube-type tire roadside repairs in another installment).

plug repair a motorcycle tire
Once you’re sure your glue isn’t dried out and you have a way to re-inflate the tire, pull the offending object out. You may need pliers if it’s really in there.
plug repair a motorcycle tire
Use the reamer in the kit to enlarge and clean the hole—this is where large T-handles make the job a lot easier. Take some extra time if the tire has steel belts.
plug repair a motorcycle tire
Install a worm on the insertion tool — note that its tapered tip is split to allow the tool to pull free of the string once it’s well inside the hole.
plug repair a motorcycle tire
Put some rubber cement on the worm and a blob on the hole, too, and slowly insert the string in the hole about two-thirds of the way. If it falls inside the tire, just start over with a new string. Gently pull the insertion tool free, leaving the worm in the tire. Again, T-handles make this much easier.
plug repair a motorcycle tire
Use the knife in the plug kit or any sharp blade to cut the plug flush with the tread surface. Give it a few minutes to set up, inflate the tire and then spray some water or a soapy solution on the plug to make sure it’s holding air.

Here at Rider we’ve fixed enough tubeless punctures to appreciate that the most dependable tire repair kit you can carry uses rubber strings or “worms” for the plug that gets inserted into the tire, preferably the large red ones like those in the T-Handle Tubeless Tire Repair Kit from Stop & Go. There are more convenient plug types, but the strings rarely let us down. If you’ve had good luck with liquid sealers, installed either pre- or post-puncture, more power to you — we often carry Slime for tube-type tires on bikes that have tubes in the hope of avoiding a roadside tire dismount. But we change bikes too often to make using the pre-installed sealers practical, and prefer to avoid irritating the mechanic who has to change a tubeless tire on a wheel full of messy sealer.

Repair kits that use string plugs often come with rubber cement, which — depending on the string type — may not be necessary to complete the repair, but at a minimum it acts as a lubricant to ease inserting the plug, and seems to help vulcanize the plug to the tire. It’s important to keep your glue supply fresh (preferably unopened), or you may find that it has dried out when you need it.

plug repair a motorcycle tire
Stop & Go’s T-Handle Kit has everything you need to affect a solid repair. Just add pliers and something with which to inflate the tire (CO2 cartridges or a compressor).
plug repair a motorcycle tire
Stop & Go also offers a plugging kit that uses special mushroom-shaped plugs that don’t require glue, and the pocket version doesn’t take up any more space than the T-Handle Kit, so we often carry both.
plug repair a motorcycle tire
A portable mini compressor beats the heck out of CO2 cartridges if you have the space. Stop & Go’s is small, inexpensive and has a built-in gauge.

No matter what sort you use, any plug inserted from the outside should be considered a very temporary repair used to get you and your bike to the nearest replacement tire. Limit your speed per the plug kit instructions, and replace the tire as soon as possible. Special patch plugs inserted from the inside of a tubeless tire are certainly safer, but even if you can find someone who will install one for you, every tire manufacturer (and even those who sell patch plugs) recommend replacing the tire instead since it has to come off anyway.

The photos in this article cover the basic plugging process with rubber strings. Depending on the size of the hole, you may need more than one — I once used three in an ATV tire and it got me back to camp.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

List of U.S. Motorcycle Tour Operators 2020

EagleRider motorcycle tour
Photo courtesy EagleRider.

With international travel in 2020 looking less certain by the week (and possibly risky, not just health-wise but also with the possibility of becoming stranded or quarantined outside the U.S.), this might be a great time to explore this beautiful country.

While you could certainly peruse back issues of Rider (or do some research here on our website) in search of ride ideas throughout the country, you’ll still be on the hook for logistical planning, hotel reservations and knowing whether or not the gas station in that tiny desert town is still open…not to mention handling the “what-ifs” of mechanical issues or a crash. Or you could let a tour company handle all of it, leaving you free to enjoy the ride.

All the companies on this list run scheduled, guided motorcycle tours in the United States using rental motorcycles — either their own fleet or rented from a local source — but you should obviously check with them right off the bat to make sure they’re still running tours this year.

Most have a chase vehicle to carry your luggage and gear and to deal with mechanical issues that may occur en route. Some companies will allow you to ride your own bike, but check for any restrictions. The information here is provided by the companies, and not guaranteed by Rider.

Ayres Adventures 

Tours Include: Alaska/Yukon Adventure, Prudhoe Bay Excursion
Accommodations: Upscale hotels
Length of Tours: 9-13 days
Rental Options: BMW GS models
Equipment: Support vehicle
Dates: July-August
Typical Cost: 9-day Prudhoe Bay Excursion starting at $5,950 including bike rental
Age/Experience Requirements: Motorcycle license and touring experience required; for off-road adventures, off-road experience or training required
Tel: (877) 275-8238 or (972) 635-5210
Website: ayresadventures.com

Ayres Adventures prides itself in providing a premium tour experience, so if you want to ride Alaska this is a great way to do it. You’ll ride late-model BMWs equipped with chunky Continental TKC80 tires for the ultimate Alaska experience.

Bike Week Motorcycle Tours

Tours Include: All the major Bike Weeks, including Daytona, Laughlin, Myrtle Beach, Laconia, Hollister, Sturgis and Bikes, Blues & BBQ
Accommodations: RVs, private homes and carefully selected hotels/motels
Length of Tours: 12-14 days
Rental Options: Late model Harley-Davidson and Indian models
Equipment: Support vehicle with spare motorcycle
Dates: March-October
Typical Cost: $7,950, includes single room and motorcycle rental
Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, min. one-year experience on heavyweight motorcycles 
Tel: (619) 746-1066
Website: bikeweekmotorcycletours.com

Get the ultimate Bike Week experience, as you travel some of America’s most scenic roads on your way to one of nine legendary Bike Weeks. Let the party begin!

California Sunriders

Tours Include: Blue Ridge Parkway, California Dreaming, Route 66, Sturgis, DreamCatcher, The Mighty 6, Yellowstone
Accommodations: Selected 3- and 4-star hotels
Length of Tours: 11-13 days
Rental Options: Harley-Davidson, select other makes/models
Equipment: Support vehicle with spare motorcycle
Dates: May-October
Typical Cost: 13-day Route 66 tour starting at $8,972, single occupancy, includes rental motorcycle
Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21
Tel: (310) 359-2353
Website: california-sunriders.com

California Sunriders wants to show you the best of the west — plus some fun roads back east too. You’ll explore California, the Rockies, the famous Blue Ridge Parkway and, of course, the legendary Route 66. 


Tours Include: Wild West I, II and III, Route 66, Triple B, Coast to Coast, Sturgis Bike Week, Florida Keys, Southwest Canyon Country
Accommodations: Hotels & motels
Length of Tours: 6-17 days
Rental Options: Varies by tour; fleet includes BMW, Harley-Davidson and Indian cruisers, tourers and trikes
Equipment: Support van with spare motorcycle
Dates: Year-round
Typical Cost: 15-day Route 66 tour starting at $7,179, single occupancy, includes rental motorcycle
Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, experience riding a touring motorcycle at highway speeds
Tel: (877) 557-3541
Website: eaglerider.com

Eaglerider is the largest and arguably most well-known motorcycle rental and tour company in the U.S. With 45 different domestic tours to choose from, you’re sure to find something to suit your tastes!

Blue Ridge Parkway motorcycles
Photo by Scott A. Williams

Edelweiss Bike Travel

Tours Include: Alaska-Yukon Adventure, American Dream, California Extreme
Accommodations: Comfortable hotels and motels
Length of Tours: 8-13 days
Rental Options: Select BMW, Harley-Davidson and Suzuki models
Equipment: Support vehicle
Dates: May-October
Typical Cost: 7-day American Dream tour starting at $5,660 for a solo rider, including rental bike
Age/Experience Requirements: Age limits vary by tour; 5,000 miles riding experience required
Tel: 011 43 5264 5690
Website: edelweissbike.com

Tour the warm and beautiful Southwest or the wilds of Alaska with Edelweiss Bike Travel. Edelweiss has been operating guided motorcycle tours since 1980, and now offers 2,350 tours in 180 destinations worldwide.


Tour: North America
Accommodations: 3- to 4-star hotels
Length of Tour: 34 days
Rental Option: Triumph Tiger 800
Equipment: Support vehicle
Dates: July 23-August 27, 2020
Cost: $20,531 for a solo rider, double occupancy, including Tiger 800 rental bike
Age/Experience Requirements:No age requirement, recommended for experienced riders only, comfortable riding on unpaved/gravel roads
Tel: 011 44 (0)3452 30 40 15
Website: globebusters.com

This is an ultimate motorcycle tour of North America, showing you some of the very best riding from Anchorage, Alaska, north to Prudhoe Bay and then south all the way to the Mexican border.

Great American Touring

Tours Include: Pacific Coast North and South, Sturgis Bike Week, Canadian Rockies, Best of the West
Accommodations: Hotels
Length of Tours: 7-14 riding days
Rental Options: Harley-Davidson, select other makes/models
Equipment: Support vehicle
Dates: July-Sept
Typical Cost: 14-day Best of the West starting at $8,995, solo occupancy, includes rental bike
Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21 to rent motorcycle, no limit for own bike
Tel: (800) 727-3390
Website: greatamericantouring.com

How does Great American stand out? When it says “eight day tour,” that’s eight riding days. Other companies’ eight-day tours may be only six, or even just five riding days. It makes a difference.

Hertz Ride

Tours Include: Best of California, California, Miami & Deep South and Route 66
Accommodations: Minimum 4-star hotels
Length of Tours: 9-16 days
Rental Options: BMW models
Equipment: Support vehicle
Dates: July-Sept
Typical Cost: 14-day Best of California starting at $6,995, single occupancy, includes rental bike
Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 25, at least three years’ riding experience
Tel: 011 351 210 413 334
Website: hertzride.com

Car rental giant Hertz has entered the motorcycle tour market, and it offers four guided tours in the U.S. Hop onto one of its late-model BMWs and take a ride in California, along Route 66 or through the Southeast.

Leod Motorcycle Escapes

Tours Include: High Sierra Escape, California Curves to Laguna Seca, California Curvin’
Accommodations: 3- to 4-star hotels with a local flavor
Length of Tours: 3-9 days
Rental Options: Selected BMW and Ducati models
Equipment: Support vehicle
Dates: June-Oct
Typical Cost: 9-day California Curves to Laguna Seca starting at $6,900, includes rental bike and two days’ track instruction at Laguna Seca with California Superbike School
Age/Experience Requirements: Intermediate riding level for track time tours
Tel: (866) 562-6126
Website: leodescapes.com

Although Leod Escapes offers guided and self-guided sport-touring rides out of its San Francisco headquarters, it specializes in combining a tour with track time on some of the most famous tracks worldwide — including legendary Laguna Seca in California.


Tours Include: Heart of Colorado ADV, Moab Adventure Training, Heart of Idaho ADV
Accommodations: Quality accommodations
Length of Tours: 7-9 days
Rental Options: Select BMW, KTM and Suzuki ADV and dual-sport bikes
Equipment: Support vehicle
Dates: June-September
Typical Cost: 8-day Heart of Colorado ADV tour starting at $4,895 including rental bike
Age/Experience Requirements: Off-road riding experience required; training is available and included in some tours
Tel: (800) 233-0564
Website: motodiscovery.com

If you’re looking for adventure, this is the place. MotoDiscovery will lead you on bucket list rides to some beautiful and remote locations that can only be accessed via unpaved roads and trails. Off-road rider training is included in some tours. 


Tours Include: Wonders of the West, American Southwest, Pacific Coast Highway, North to Alaska, Trail of Lewis and Clark, Alaska Women’s Tour
Accommodations: Lodges, hotels
Length of Tours: 4-13 days
Rental Options: BMW, Suzuki V-Strom 650, Harley-Davidson, Honda Africa Twin
Equipment: Support vehicle
Dates: Year-round
Typical Cost: 12-day Trail of Lewis and Clark tour starting at $6,450, includes Suzuki V-Strom 650
Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21
Tel: (800) 756-1990 or (907) 272-2777 or (562) 997-7368
Website: motoquest.com

MotoQuest offers a number of tours of the last frontier, Alaska, during its short riding season. At other times of the year, tours are offered in the American West and Southwest, including Baja, out of its San Francisco, Portland and Long Beach locations.

Route 66 motorcycle
Photo by Mark Tuttle

Northeastern Motorcycle Tours

Tours: New England Fall Foliage, Gaspe Maritime Extended
Accommodations: Inns, hotels and resorts
Length of Tours: 6-12 days
Rental Options: Various models available from local rental agencies
Equipment: None
Dates: August-October
Typical Cost: 6-day New England Fall Foliage tour starting at $2,395, excluding bike rental
Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 18, touring experience recommended
Tel: (802) 463-9853
Website: motorcycletours.com

Northeastern Motorcycle Tours is a small company that specializes in an extraordinarily beautiful and varied region of North America. The routes, hotels and dining used on the tours are regularly researched to always meet very high standards.

Pashnit Motorcycle Tours

Tours: El Dorado, Delta Bodega, Parkfield, Mosquito Ridge, Coast Range, North Pass, Mile High Xtravaganza, Santa Barbara
Accommodations: Hotels, motels
Length of Tours: 3-4 days
Rental Options: Various models available from local rental agencies
Equipment: None
Dates: March-October
Typical Cost: Most 3-day tours cost $425, excludes motorcycle rental, food, gas, accommodations and incidentals
Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, at least 5 years of riding experience is recommended
Tel: (530) 391-1356
Website: pashnittours.com

Pashnit Motorcycle Tours (“pashnit” = passionate, get it?) started out as a “best roads” list and now offers a full menu of California-based tours, many of which are held on long weekends. 

RawHyde Adventures

Tours Include: Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain Adventure Ride, Mid-Winter Adventure, California Adventure, Best of the West
Accommodations: Hotels and camping
Length of Tours: 5-10 days
Rental Options: BMW GS models
Equipment: Support vehicle, chuck wagon on camping tours
Dates: Year-round
Typical Cost: 5-day Mid-Winter Adventure tour starts at $3,495 including rental bike
Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, off-road riding experience required for ADV tours (training is available)
Tel: (661) 993-9942
Website: rawhyde-offroad.com

RawHyde Adventures is an official BMW off-road training center, and its tours offer you the chance to hit the dirt and see some of the most remote and beautiful parts of America. On-road tours, such as California Adventure, are also available.

Ride Free Motorcycle Tours

Tours Include: Route 66, Sturgis-Chicago to Las Vegas, Northern California, Wild West, American History Washington DC Battlefields, California Wine, Blue Ridge Parkway, American Music
Accommodations: Hotels and motels with local flair
Length of Tours: 4-14 days
Rental Options: Harley-Davidson models
Equipment: Support vehicle
Dates: Year-round
Typical Cost: Extremely flexible pricing and tour duration; example: 13-day American Music tour $6,789 including bike rental
Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21, competent rider
Tel: (310) 978-9558
Website: ridefree.com

Classic routes with classy motorcycles (and classic cars) is what Ride Free specializes in. Based in Los Angeles, the company offers tours throughout the country.

Reuthers Tours

Tours Include: Route 66 Dream, Florida Sunshine, Wild West, Highway 1, Bluegrass Wonders and Pony Express
Accommodations: Midrange and top-class hotels
Length of Tours: 6-15 days
Rental Options: BMW, Harley-Davidson
Equipment: Support vehicle
Dates: Year-round
Typical Cost: 11-day Bluegrass Wonders tour starts at $4,795, double occupancy, including bike rental
Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 21
Tel: (414) 455-4384
Website: reuthers.com

Reuthers is a worldwide entertainment, travel and leisure company with headquarters in Germany and a U.S. office in Milwaukee. With its touring expertise you’re guaranteed to be well cared for. 

Twisted Trailz Motorcycle Tours

Tours Include: Cowboy Country, Grand Canyon & Red Rocks, Unique Utah, Canyons & National Parks, Awesome Arizona, Monuments & Million $ Highways
Accommodations: Unique or historical hotels and lodges
Length of Tours: 3-7 days
Rental Options: Harley-Davidson
Equipment: Support vehicle on tours 5 days and more
Dates: February-November
Typical Cost: 7-day Monuments & Million $ Highways tour starts at $4,395 including bike rental
Age/Experience Requirements: Min. age 25, experience riding heavyweight motorcycles
Tel: (602) 795-8888
Website: twistedtrailz.com

All of Twisted Trailz’s motorcycle tours are planned and structured with the rider in mind. It encourages participants to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Southwest on one of its once-in-a-lifetime tours. 

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Gold Country Highs: Pass Bagging in Nevada and California

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
My Silver Fox Honda ST1300A and my honey’s Flying Purple People Eater BMW R1150 RT-P impatiently await our return so they can resume their romp down California’s Sonora Pass.

Late spring is a great time to do some pass bagging in the Nevada and California gold country. The passes are usually open by mid-May, and there is a beautiful mix of greenery, wildflowers and snowcaps in the high elevations. Today’s ride also contains a bit of adventure, as my honey and I are boldly moving into the 21st century with a pair of new helmets that have integrated headsets for bike-to-bike communication. I soon learn that it can be refreshing having voices in my head other than my own.

“I’m rolling,” I say into the microphone as we simultaneously turn northeast out of Virginia City onto Nevada State Route 341. We experience our first pass of the day within minutes as we reach 6,789-foot Geiger Summit and follow its winding path down into south Reno. Crossing U.S. Route 395, we stay on the same road, but it magically changes numbers to 431 and takes us to our second pass, Mount Rose.

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

State Route 431 begins with a straight climb through the foothills, but soon changes into 20 mph curves, which are a bit tighter than the sweeping 45 mph curves on 341. We begin to see some patches of snow before reaching the 8,911-foot summit, and upon crossing it are rewarded with our first peeks at Lake Tahoe. The lake will dominate our view for many miles and we are able to take brief looks at it because the tight curves have widened out to 50 mph top-gear corners, which we follow down to State Route 28.

As we follow the roundabout left on 28, an emphatic, “I’m hungry,” booms from my headset speakers.

“Good timing,” I reply. “We’re almost to Incline Village and can stop at T’s Mesquite Rotisserie for a burrito.”

T’s is a little hole-in-the-wall place on Route 28 crammed between the Incline Village Cinema and 7-Eleven, but its lunchtime crowd shows it is a locals’ favorite. We are thoroughly satisfied sharing a tri-tip burrito and leaving their rotisserie specialties for the next time we’re in town.

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
Even the author, pictured in his typical sedentary position, can’t detract (much) from the beauty of Lake Tahoe.

Heading south on Route 28 again, we continue to steal glimpses of Lake Tahoe on the right as we ride along its shoreline. When 28 dead-ends, we turn right onto U.S. Route 50 and savor our last miles of Tahoe views as we head toward South Lake Tahoe.

Entering South Lake Tahoe, we avoid the worst of its traffic by taking Pioneer Trail as we cross into California. We turn left to rejoin U.S. 50 but only stay on it for a few miles because our next left onto California State Route 89 takes us to 7,740-foot Luther Pass.

Luther Pass is really only a connector road, but it is a beautiful one with granite cliffs rising on both sides and valley views to the east. Continuing on 89, we go through Markleeville and follow it alongside winding creeks as its name changes to State Route 4.

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
Originally part of the 1860 Pony Express route across the Sierra Nevada, Luther Pass is now frequented by somewhat shinier steeds.

Route 4 continues following creeks upstream into the Sierra and soon the centerline disappears, making it a one-and-a-half-lane road. That’s where the fun really begins. The next several miles up to the Ebbetts Pass summit of 8,730 feet are full of first-gear switchbacks with extreme road cambers. Give any vehicles in front of you lots of space. If they choose to stop for any reason and leave you stranded in the middle of a highly cambered curve, it will lead to some truly exciting moments. There are also incredible views in all directions if you can ever spare a second to take your eyes off the road.

Soon after the summit, I hear in my headset, “Some doofus just passed me on the one-lane road and now he’s heading up your tailpipe.” I check my mirror and find said doofus right behind me. As I hug the right side of the lane to let him by, I think about how much I like our new intercom helmets.

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
This playground called the Sierra Nevada runs 400 miles north to south and 70 miles east to west. The incredible views are owed to formations of granite that have been exposed by erosion and glaciers over millions of years.

The ride down Route 4 is much like the ride up, but it soon becomes two lanes again and mellows out. We then begin looking for our next left turn onto Parrotts Ferry Road, past the town of Murphys. This road has more enjoyable curves and takes us to our night’s destination of Columbia, California.

Columbia is a state park set up as an Old West mining town complete with museums, people demonstrating skills of the period and stagecoaches running through town. Contrastingly, Columbia’s airport was hosting a canard aircraft show during our stay, so we also had to check that out.

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
Columbia, California, offers the best of both worlds! A 10-minute walk can take you from the Wild West experience of a stagecoach ride to the wild blue yonder with a visit to Canards West, the annual canard aircraft festival, typically held the first weekend of June at the Columbia airport.

After our tourist day, we continued on Parrotts Ferry Road and merged briefly onto State Route 49 south through the town of Sonora. We then turned left onto State Route 108 east, Sonora Pass Road, which was another highlight of our trip.

At 9,624 feet, Sonora Pass is slightly more civilized than Ebbettts Pass, with two lanes for its entire length. It has its share of first-gear switchbacks and my favorite views of the trip. The descent back into the valley is steep, and it quickly drops us off at an intersection with U.S. 395.

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
Watch out! It’s a long way down! Riders should pull off the road to ogle the Sierra Nevada views. Sonora and Ebbetts passes have many curves and few guardrails.

We blast north on 395 with our pass bagging nearly complete. A right turn onto U.S. 50 in Carson City and then a left onto Nevada State Route 341 several miles later takes us to our last pass of the trip. Approaching Silver City, we turn right and follow the Truck Route signs to Virginia City. This takes us up Occidental Grade with its 20 mph curves, offering a fine completion to our ride.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1999-2002 Buell X1 Lightning

1999 Buell X1 Lightning
1999 Buell X1 Lightning. Owner: Jason Len, Arroyo Grande, California.

In addition to the weather phenomenon, the word lightning means fast, as in the speed of light or 186,000 miles per second. This motorcycle is not quite that fast; its speedo only goes to 140 miles per hour. But the X1 does get up there in an earthbound way, with a top speed close to that 140 mph, and a quarter-mile time in the 11s. Not bad for a bike powered by Harley’s 1,203cc Sportster engine.

Erik Buell, a longtime chassis engineer at Harley-Davidson and a serious racer, decided to go off on his own in the mid-1980s. His last accomplishment at Harley was the frame in the FXR series, which was greeted with great enthusiasm when introduced in 1982. Eric was a dyed-in-the-leather Harley enthusiast, having talked his way into a job in Milwaukee after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh.

In 1987 he began producing the RR1000 Battle Twin, building a drastically new frame holding leftover XR1000 engines, which had been used in those sporty Sportsters that did not sell well. When that XR supply ran out he moved to the 1,200cc engine, and did quite well with the Battle Twin line. Harley was so excited by this turn of events that in 1993 it bought 49 percent of the Buell Motorcycle Company, which gave Eric financial comfort.

In 1996 he came up with the S1 Lightning, a return to his basic concept of a “fundamental” sportbike — a bit too fundamental for many riders. He built 5,000 of these and had to listen to praise and damnation concerning its performance and appearance. Late in 1998 he elected to make it a little more pleasant to ride and change the look slightly, hence the X1.

1999 Buell X1 Lightning

The chassis is the most interesting aspect of the bike. The frame, a bit stiffer than that on the S1, was made of tubular steel in the form of a trellis, with sections coming down on both sides of the cylinders. A backbone connected to one of the most notable aspects of the bike, a subframe that was perhaps the largest aluminum casting seen on a bike. And it carried a modestly improved seat that held two riders without too many complaints. Beneath the seat a large rectangular aluminum swingarm helped the belt final drive get to the rear axle.

Buells had often been criticized for their limited turning radius, and on the X1 the steering head was moved forward slightly, giving an extra four degrees in steering lock. Still tight, but better…says the photographer who had to turn this bike around. A 41mm upside-down Showa fork with a rake of 23 degrees gave 4.7 inches of travel — and trail of 3.5 inches. It was fully adjustable, with spring preload along with compression and rebound damping.

1999 Buell X1 Lightning dash

The rear end used a single Showa shock absorber, which wasn’t really at the rear but was laying flat under the engine. There wasn’t room for the shock anywhere else, as the bike had a rather short wheelbase of 55 inches, five inches less than on the stock Sportster. Most shocks rely on compression as their standard, but this one used tension, pulling apart in response to a bump rather than pushing down. It had full adjustability, including ride height, with adjustments being best left to experts.

Cast wheels were 17 inches in diameter, with Nissin calipers, 6-piston in front and 1-piston out back, squeezing single discs. Because the Showa fork was already drilled for it, this bike’s owner added a second front brake disc and caliper.

And the engine? A mildly modified Sportster, an air-cooled four-stroke 45-degree V-twin displacing 1,203cc with an 88.9 x 96.8mm bore and stroke, and, yes, hydraulically adjusted valves, two per cylinder. The trick here was Eric’s Isoplanar rubber mounting system for this shaker. A standard Sportster shook like Hades when even mildly revved, and none of this was felt on the Buell machines. The engine was actually part of the chassis, with all the vibes going into a single longitudinal plane, and apparently this increased frame rigidity. Which requires understanding beyond the limits of this scribe.

1999 Buell X1 Lightning engine

Buell had developed his Thunderstorm cylinders and pistons for the S1, with better porting and 10:1 compression. A dynamometer rated the rear-wheel output at 85 horses at 6,500 rpm, an engine speed no rider on a stock Sportster would ever want to attain. For the X1 Eric tossed the 38mm Keihin carb and bolted on a 45mm Walbro throttle body using a VDO injection-control computer, labeled Dynamic Digital Fuel Injection. There was no increase in power; the system just made the engine run more smoothly. A triple-row primary ran power back to a 5-speed transmission and belt final drive.

The look was pretty sporty, beginning with the abbreviated front fender and a very small wind deflector over the headlight. When this bike came out of the factory it had big black boxes on both sides of the 4.2-gallon gas tank, the right one feeding the airbox and fuel injection, the left intended to keep the rear cylinder cool enough to not roast the rider’s leg. Underneath the engine was a spoiler intended to protect the shock and conceal the huge muffler. However, the owner of this X1 prefers the “fundamental” look and removed the black boxes and spoiler. He is careful about jumping curbs, as there are only five inches of ground clearance.

1999 Buell X1 Lightning shifter

Dry weight is 440 pounds, 50 pounds less than the stock Sportster. People still complained about the seat, the vibration and a number of other things, but they were just pansies. The bike was intended for seriously sporty riders who didn’t mind a little discomfort as they kicked butt with an old-fashioned engine in a new-fashioned chassis. In 1999 the X1 and the Ducati 900 Supersport cost about the same; take your pick. 

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Mystical Morocco: Edelweiss Bike Travel’s Morocco Tour

Ducati Morocco ride
Fast, comfortable and oh-so red, a Ducati Multistrada 950 from Edelweiss’ rental fleet was an ideal choice for the Morocco Tour. Behind it is the Ounila River valley and Aït-Ben-Haddou, a 17th century “ksar” (fortified village) on the old trading route between Marrakesh and the Sahara Desert. Considered an outstanding example of southern Moroccan mud-brick architecture, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and a filming location for many TV shows and movies such as “Game of Thrones,” “Gladiator” and “The Mummy.”

Morocco is one of those places that seems both familiar and unfamiliar. We’ve heard of cities like Fez and Marrakesh, and most of us can imagine their crowded, maze-like bazaars full of merchants hawking rugs and spices. Perhaps we’ve eaten couscous or tagine in a Moroccan restaurant or watched “Casablanca” a few times. But, unless we’ve been there, what we know is just bits and pieces of a rich and varied country full of hidden delights.

Located along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of northwest Africa — and separated from Spain by just nine miles at the Strait of Gibraltar — Morocco has incredibly diverse topography, scenery and culture, with a mix of Berber, Arab, African and European influences. Inhabited for tens of thousands of years, Morocco has been occupied by Phoenicians, Berbers, Romans, Muslims and, during the first half of the 20th century, the French and Spanish. Independent since 1956, the Kingdom of Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament, Islam is its predominant religion and, by regional standards, it is politically stable and economically prosperous.

Morocco street signs
Some signs in Morocco are in three commonly spoken languages: Arabic (top), Berber (middle) and French (bottom).

The Atlas and Rif mountain ranges dominate much of Morocco, with the Atlas forming an east-west barrier that separates the temperate Mediterranean climate to the north from the arid desert climate to the south. During Edelweiss Bike Travel’s 13-day Morocco Tour, we rode along craggy coastlines, up and over rugged mountains, through deep, narrow river gorges and across desolate desert valleys. We wandered the medinas (old quarters) of Fez and Marrakesh, explored the blue-painted alleys of Chefchaouen, visited the largest mosque in Africa and rode camels across sand dunes for a night of camping in the Sahara Desert, visiting several UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the way. I’ve been on a dozen overseas motorcycle tours on five continents, and Morocco offered the best variety of roads, scenery, food and experiences of them all. 

First, we had to get there.

Edelweiss motorcycle tour Morocco
A map of the tour route.

The tour starts and ends in Málaga, on Spain’s southern coast. After the first night’s welcome briefing, bike hand-over and dinner, we geared up and made our way southeast along the Costa Del Sol, scrubbing the sides of our tires on the winding road up to Ronda, one of Spain’s best motorcycling roads. We spent the afternoon in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, enjoying views from its massive, 1,400-foot limestone promontory and snapping photos of its tourist-friendly population of monkeys. A ferry ride across the strait took us to Cueta, an autonomous Spanish city on the northeast tip of Morocco.

Gibraltar monkey
Monkeying around on the Rock of Gibraltar.

Our second day started with a hurry-up-and-wait crossing of the high-traffic border, a process handled with aplomb by our multilingual guide Angela, who has led more than 20 tours in Morocco. After several miles on a manicured boulevard lined with resorts and shopping malls, we hugged the coast on a dramatic road high above the Mediterranean. After a seafood lunch overlooking the sea, we turned inland, twisting through the Laou River canyon that forms a deep rift in the Rif Mountains.

The richness of Morocco was on full display in Chefchaouen, a 15th-century town perched on a mountainside with many of its buildings painted various shades of blue. As we explored the narrow, winding alleyways of the “souk” (marketplace) in the medina, artwork, rugs, clothing, spices and trinkets spilled onto the cobblestone walkways and steep stairs, some corridors barely wide enough for two people to pass. At dusk we heard “adhan,” the Islamic call to prayer recited five times a day by muezzins via loudspeakers atop mosque minarets. With mosques scattered throughout Chefchaouen, adhan creates a loud Arabic chorus that can be heard citywide. The next morning I was awoken by the call to prayer well before sunrise, followed by howls from dozens of dogs.

Ducati Morocco ride
The blue buildings and alleys of Chefchaouen.

Our itinerary included two nights in Chefchaouen at two different hotels, one at the beginning of the tour and another 10 days later after making a counterclockwise loop around Morocco. From Chefchaouen we rode southwest, out of the Rif Mountains and across fertile plains to Mohammedia on the Atlantic coast. Our group was large, with 17 participants, three guides, 16 motorcycles and one support van. After each morning’s ride briefing, we split into two groups and left about 30 minutes apart, meeting up at coffee and lunch stops. From Mohammedia, one group rode into Casablanca to tour the massive Hassan II Mosque, which has a 690-foot minaret that looms over the city’s waterfront. The rest of us rode farther down the coast to El Jadida, a port city that includes the walled village of Mazagan, a fortified supply depot built by the Portuguese in the 16th century.

For our rest days in Marrakesh and Fez, Edelweiss hired a local guide who gave us a walking tour of each city’s medina. With its dark, narrow corridors full of stalls displaying produce and meat, leather goods, metalwork, ceramics, rugs, jewelry, artwork, clothing, you name it — each one with a vendor enticing you inside (“Hello my friend, you buy something?”) or haggling with a patron — the medina in Marrakesh is a high-calorie feast for the senses. Our guide Ahmed knew the complex warren like the back of his hand, leading us to a museum of carpet weaving and artisans’ workshops. We returned that night to find the medina’s wide-open plaza brightly lit and full of people, food vendors and performers.

The souk in Marrakesh.
The souk in Marrakesh. Photo by Dieter Arnoth.
A snake charmer and cobra in Marrakesh.
A snake charmer and cobra in Marrakesh. Photo by Dieter Arnoth.
Marrakesh medina souk
The medinas in Marrakesh and Fez are a sensual feast any time of day, but they’re especially vibrant at night, a true kaleidoscope of sights, sounds and smells.

The riding experience kicked into high gear as we left Marrakesh, climbing into the High Atlas, summiting a 7,415-foot pass called Tizi n’Tichka and barreling down the Ounila River valley, its corridor of green surrounded by multicolored canyon walls. We spent the night in a small village at Riad Ksar Ighnda, built in the traditional “riad” style with mud-brick walls surrounding a large inner courtyard, this one catering to tourists with lush gardens, a heated saltwater pool and a bar stocked with ice-cold Casablanca beer. Accommodations on this tour are comfortable, mid-to-high-end hotels catering to English-speaking tourists (the most common languages in Morocco are Arabic and French). Nearly all serve alcohol and have swimming pools, both welcome indulgences at the end of full riding days. The tour includes breakfast and dinner buffets at the hotels, while lunches are at local spots along the route that offer more interesting cuisine.

Throughout the 1,800-mile tour we traveled on paved roads, though in some rural or mountainous areas they were of poor quality or under construction. Outside of cities traffic was light, but sharing the road with horse-drawn carts, mopeds, tuk-tuks, dogs, donkeys or camels was common. Big motorcycles are rare in Morocco; whenever we rode through villages my left arm got tired from waving back to everyone, especially kids, who waved to us.

Edelweiss motorcycle tour Morocco
Our tour guide Angela delighted a group of girls with her bright red Ducati.

The most dramatic scenery was through the Dadès and Todras gorges that cut into the Atlas Mountains. After winding our way through villages along the edge of the Dadès River valley, we enjoyed a picnic lunch hosted by our guides. Then the real fun started. We burrowed deeper into the gorge, its walls closing in and looming higher until we climbed a famous set of switchbacks that took us to the upper gorge. Continuing on, the gorge squeezed down to a single-lane slot before opening up again. The best part was turning around and riding back out the way we came! After a night in a luxurious hotel perched on a hill above Boulmane Dadès, we rode farther east and into and back out of the Todras Gorge.

Edelweiss motorcycle tour Morocco
Our tour guides hosted two picnic lunches in scenic locations. This one was in the Dadès Gorge, and the sandstone in the background is the remnant of an ancient coral reef when the area was under the sea millions of years ago.
Dadès Gorge switchbacks Morocco
The switchbacks that climb their way up through the Dadès Gorge is perhaps the most famous section of pavement in Morocco.

Although the area of Morocco south of the Atlas Mountains has a desert climate, only a narrow sliver of the country near the Algerian border is technically part of the Sahara. We rode into the world’s largest desert on our eighth day, with most of our group riding north to Erfoud for a rest day by the pool at the Hotel Kasbah, and eight of us going to Merzouga for a two-hour camel ride through Erg Chebbi dunes and night in a Berber-style camp.

Riding camels through the Erg Chebbi dunes on our way to a Berber camp in the Sahara.
Riding camels through the Erg Chebbi dunes on our way to a Berber camp in the Sahara.
Erg Chebbi dunes
The glow from the Berber camp where we spent the night on the edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes. Photo by Dieter Arnoth.

During our late fall tour we enjoyed day after day of sunny skies and pleasantly warm temperatures. As our route turned north, we rode through the Ziz River canyon, up and over the High Atlas and across a wide plain. The cool, sunny morning turned into a cold, foggy, rainy day as we traversed the Middle Atlas, over 7,145-foot Col du Zad, through cedar forested national parks and past ski resorts.

We dried out during our final rest day in Fez, where Ahmed led us on a tour of a ceramics cooperative, the foul-smelling leather dying district and other parts of the medina. That night several of us had camel burgers for dinner! Our route back to Chefchaouen took us back into the Rif Mountains on a road that could easily be mistaken for one in the Alps, and before we knew it we were crossing the border, ferrying across the strait and putting our kickstands down back in Málaga, our hearts and minds overflowing with new experiences, memories and stories. If you’re the curious sort who’s ready for an exotic adventure, put Morocco on your list. 

Edelweiss Bike Travel’s Morocco Tour normally runs March/April and October/November. Visit edelweissbike.com for details.

Edelweiss motorcycle tour Morocco
Jürg and Beatrice are followed by Freddy and Monika, two couples from Switzerland winding their way through the scenic Ounila River valley.
Edelweiss motorcycle tour Morocco
Our group of three guides and 17 participants was a friendly group of folks from Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the United States.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Arkansas Odyssey: Circling the Northwest Quarter of The Natural State

Arkansas motorcycle ride
The headwaters of the 153-mile-long Buffalo National River begin here as Big Buffalo Creek, becoming the river near Boxley. Photos by the author and Max Jacobs.

I love the Ozarks. I really should have been born in them. Instead, after riding in the Ozarks 15 years ago, I fell so much in love that I moved here. To this day I ride through northwest Arkansas on roads carved rudely through the landscape. Table rocks, great sheets of stone laying one atop the other for hundreds of miles,
circulate ground water in subterranean rivers and rivulets cascade over and out of the dynamite-exposed roadside cliffs to become known as “Roche a Cri” — Rocks that Cry. In winter’s depth the fluid turns to ice, making faerie castles out of ordinary highway construction just for our enjoyment.

If Walt Disney had made a theme park for motorcyclists he’d have called it Arkansas. The state is six separate chunks of paradise: the Northwest, North Central, Upper Delta, Southwest, Central and Lower Delta. Each has its own magic. We chose to make our home near the Northwest, with the most fabled motorcycle roads and, now, an array of attractions that bring international visitors to what remains otherwise a largely uncluttered, rural thrill ride for us brothers and sisters of the wind.

Arkansas motorcycle ride
From Berryville the ride to Eureka Springs on two-lane U.S. Route 62 sets the stage for the tilt-a-whirl roads that make up much of northwest Arkansas. This is a “highway.” The byways are even better.

As fall began coloring the woods and the air turned crisp as apple cider, my good wife Max and I decided to fly our new Can-Am Spyder F3 Limited on a circle tour of just the northwest quarter.

The big thrill to riding the Ozarks is that roads here are rollercoasters. The lines go ’round and ’round across mountain ridges and valleys called “hollers.” On two wheels you lean and lean. On three, you hear shouts and squeals of laughter from the back seat.

Arkansas motorcycle ride
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

We started from home on Missouri Route 13 south, running in loop-dee-loops around Table Rock Lake through green hills spotted with small towns, and across the lake on Route 86 into Arkansas, down Arkansas Highway 221 and the fairytale village of Berryville. Charged up on sunshine, cerulean skies and twists and turns we rumbled into the town square, the kind you remember from old movies and stories told at Thanksgiving, if you listened.

Arkansas motorcycle ride
Summer Newberry’s Hometown Scoop on the Berryville town square is as unlike a chain fast-food joint as they come: a fresh bakery and really good conversation with welcoming townsfolk.

We never eat at franchise burger joints. On the square in the Norman Rockwell painting called Berryville, we found a café on the corner right out of idyllic Main Street. Lunch was more than tasty, it was fun. “Arkies” are the friendliest folks around, and always helpful and interested in motorcyclists. Summer Newberry, owner of the Hometown Scoop, made us welcome with a panini, hot berry cobbler and coffee. And she straightened us out on the best way to our destination for the night, over the mountain pass on twisty two-lane U.S. Route 62 to the first of our international hotspots, the enchanted village of Eureka Springs. On the ride over, while grinning at sweepers and a twisty or two, we waved at bison herds and riders coming the other way.

Arkansas motorcycle ride
Eureka Springs gained a reputation for its healing waters during the Civil War, where Dr. Johnson brought wounded troops…the sign above tells the rest of the story.

Eureka Springs drops you back in time, as the Victorian houses, hotels, restaurants and dozens of quaint shops appear just as they did in the 1890s, when the healing waters of the 60 springs drew the wealthy in for relief from the debauchery of their rich diets and drinking. Streets go up, down and around the rocky hillsides into which they are chiseled. Half the fun is just trying to figure out in which direction the sun will set, along with finding a place to park your ride.

Stay in one of the old world hotels here, rich in flavor as a steaming mug of early morning coffee…with a slug of brandy. We chose the New Orleans Hotel with a Creole-feeling suite on the ground floor that dropped off in the back three stories from the rear terrace to the parking lot. Be careful where you walk! The Crescent Hotel, way up on the top tier of the village, dates from 1886. Known as “America’s Most Haunted Hotel,” it’s worth your time to take the nightly Ghost Tour.

Arkansas motorcycle ride
Eureka Springs is a throwback to the Victorian Era. Charm abounds on every street and the altitude changes step by step. Bring walking shoes if you plan to stay.

Morning light incarnadines the forest spanning both sides of U.S. 62, curling with delight along the ridge, swooping with more laughs from the backseat down and around happy twisties across our old friend Table Rock Lake, up to Pea Ridge National Military Park, the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, through Little Flock (not to be confused with Rock) and into the next international draw, Bentonville.

You’re in Walmart land! On the perfect town square you might see Jimmy Stewart dashing home in Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Here is the original five-and-dime store started by Sam Walton in May 1950. Twelve years later Walmart opened in nearby Rogers, and the revolution in commerce was on. The biggest retailer in the world began right here. A million or so visitors each year find out more at the Walmart Museum next door, and Walton’s daughter Alice left for us an amazing gift in Bentonville, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It is a magnet for art lovers, and it’s free.

Arkansas motorcycle ride
Sam Walton’s memory commands the town square in Bentonville. At this very store his Walmart retailing empire began.

Heading south we passed neighboring Fayetteville, famed for its annual weekend fall festival, Bikes, Blues & BBQ. If you’re into crowds this is the South’s Sturgis. Last year more than 315,000 revelers rode into this self-described “family friendly” rally.

Four-lane Interstate 49 runs down to our next destination for the night, Fort Smith. Take that if you must, but we chose the rural two lanes. Highway 265 winds past Hogeye and Strickler (don’t blink) through pristine trees with so little traffic it feels like they paved it just for us. Join Highway 170 into a unique, unfettered virgin forest and Devil’s Den State Park. Arbor tunnels of green and gold have those yellow diamond shaped signs with curved arrows reading 15 mph. If you’re on a café racer or have done the Isle of Man — be wary. Anything else…go slow! “Arkie” highway engineers follow old Indian paths and hard rock ridges. One switchback warned, “10 mph.” A downhill giant paperclip twist, it made me stop dead in the middle and laugh!

Arkansas motorcycle ride
The warm fall sun drops away on that iconic Highway 7 as we head north toward Harrison and the Arkansas/Missouri border. Poetry in motion and memories as warm as that sunset.

Devil’s Den, like all state parks, is a refuge from the grind of city life. Deep in the forest, campgrounds and rental cabins are clean and close to the park store where rangers are friendly and eager to help. A river runs through and there is swimming and fishing. We plan to return here for a week in the spring.

Take Highway 220 out of the park and enjoy the dipsy-doodle ride in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest past hamlets called Lee Creek, Cedarville and Figure Five, and then merge onto Highway 59 through Van Buren across the Arkansas River to rest for the night in Fort Smith. You’ll need a good night’s sleep.

Our last “international interest” spot for the northwest, Fort Smith is history buff candy. The National Park Service maintains the site of the fort where the Poteau River joins the Arkansas. It traces three episodes of our expansion, the details of which are all on display at no cost in the barracks visitor center, the commissary, gallows, Trail of Tears overlook and more. Check out #fortsmitharkansas and prepare to spend a day where the “New South meets the Old West.”

Arkansas motorcycle ride
Old Fort Smith is a history buff’s delight. Rangers tell tales of the place where the “New South meets the Old West.” We had the place to ourselves on this weekday.

Eastward on Highway 22, the bottom line of our circle traces the course of the Arkansas River across flatter land for farms and livestock ranches. From Highway 22 we took Highway 109 at Midway straight north across the big river again to Clarksville and the start of the best ride of our lives. Scenic Highway 7 gets a lot of press for thrill-seeking riders.

This time we chose Highway 21 through the national forest. This is a heart-starter through Johnson and Newton counties, rivaling curve for curve its Carolina cousin, the Tail of the Dragon. I mentioned rollercoasters — this is the longest one I’ve seen!

Arkansas motorcycle ride
Scenic Highway 7 is justifiably famous. Some locals prefer the equally thrilling Highway 21 from Clarksville to Ponca. The pavement is immaculate, the foliage lush and the traffic minimal. Wind it out.
Arkansas motorcycle ride
Here’s an authentic relic from the times when Fort Smith was a real fort. The building in back was the commissary and storehouse.

Cross the headwaters of the Buffalo River and stop at Boxley. The 16-mile-long grassy valley is home to the protected herd of elk found lolling about in tall grass and a river so clean you want to drink it. The Elk Education Center up the road in Ponca will surprise you with animal tales and directions to viewing areas. There’s a café for needed refreshments, too.

We picked a new place to spend our last night on the road, following the buffalo along Highway 74 to Jasper. “Wowser” is the word for the first couple of miles of heavy forest and sidewinder switchbacks and twisties. Sport riders will drag knees here and make scraping noises and sparks. Max and I enjoyed the view on three wheels at a slower, yet fun clip. In Jasper we found scenic Highway 7 again and turned briefly five miles south and uphill all the way, sensing something wonderful off to the left. 

Arkansas motorcycle ride
From Jasper it’s a short ride south on scenic Highway 7 to our B&B overlooking the Grand Canyon of Arkansas.

Our stopover is a grandiose but cozy B&B called the Overlook. The “over” which it looks, is the stunning Arkansas Grand Canyon. Somebody said, “The Ozark Mountains are not so high but the valleys are so deep.” Here you can experience the full impact of that. Magnificent vistas from the deck of our room warm hearts and soften souls. On our way to dinner that evening we met two couples on Harleys — they too were “overlooking” the canyon. They’d ridden in snow from home in Minnesota and came down to ride just a little longer this year.

Arkansas motorcycle ride
On Highway 7 overlooking the Grand Canyon of Arkansas, we take a break with two couples on Harleys from Minnesota. Michelle Thomas tries my Spyder. Husband Mark clutches his bagger. Missus Max and I just share the joy of another day on the road.

Next morning our odyssey ride took us back up Highway 7 with a final jolt of adrenaline and joy into Harrison and up U.S. Route 65 through Branson and Springfield to our own Ozark home. These hills and hollers with well-paved inspiring blacktop roads can only be dreamt about in the big city. The Ozarks are a wondrous mystery to be lived. 

Arkansas motorcycle ride
A final hint that Arkansas has so many scenic roads, yet so little time! Just try to ride them all.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

To Ride, or Not to Ride? That is the Question….

Africa Twin desert
The decision to ride or not ride a motorcycle in these troubled times is a highly personal one. Photo by Kevin Wing.

As I write this in early April 2020, the effect of the novel coronavirus on the planet is evolving daily. Currently entire countries are on lockdown and shelter-in-place orders are in effect in more than 40 U.S. states in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19 and “flatten the curve.” The toll on human life and the global economy has been heartbreaking, shocking and downright scary, and unlike anything most of us have experienced.

The concept of “social distancing” is strangely new and difficult to fathom by a species for which socializing is so vital to our health and well-being. Yet physically distancing ourselves from one another or just staying home has become the second most important weapon in our defense, after our brave, selfless and heroic first responders and healthcare workers, who soldier on despite a lack of basic supplies and the risk of infection. God bless every last one. Being an optimistic type, I believe we will get past this eventually, and that life will return to something like normal — perhaps even better than normal having learned a lot about ourselves from the experience (hoarding toilet paper, really?). 

One topic of discussion that’s come up regularly, both within and beyond the friendly confines of the Rider office, is whether or not we should still be getting on our bikes and riding. Like any difficult question, the answer lies in a gray area; it’s not as clear-cut as many believe or would like it to be. I will say that here at Rider, we are still swinging legs over saddles and hitting the road, but only in the name of photo shoots and actual bike testing (perhaps at a slower pace than normal), so that we can continue to bring you the content we hope will help see us all through the coming weeks (months?). Touring is pretty much off the table, but fortunately we’ve got plenty of stories in the bank from our contributors around the country to see us through. 

But to answer your question: to ride, or not to ride…I won’t tell you outright that you should defy an order to stay home — we’re all in this race against the virus together and can’t afford to let our guard down. We certainly can’t get together to kick tires or bench race at rallies or races right now, or even just hang out at the usual gathering spots, a major sacrifice for those of us for whom the group social experience is the ride. But riding a motorcycle can be the very definition of social distancing, and the soul-cleansing joy of a ride is needed by all of us now more than ever. It’s certainly much more rewarding than binge-watching Netflix!

While there are a lot fewer vehicles on the road, it’s important that if you choose to ride, you do so with extra caution to avoid placing an additional burden on the healthcare system. Weigh the risks and make an informed, careful, personal decision about where, how and with whom. In areas where it’s still permissible to visit public parks and go walking, running and bicycling, it seems to me that motorcycle riding adheres to the spirit if not the letter of a stay-at-home order and provides an equally and adequately social-distant venue for recreation, provided that extra caution is observed. Consider your skill level and the local healthcare situation, and do or don’t accordingly.

Curious about how you, our readers, are handling the riding question, we sent out a survey to our eNews subscribers (you may have seen it, and hopefully you participated). While nearly 85% of you are currently under a “safer at home” order, 58% of you are still riding — but you’re doing it alone. Only 10% still meet up with their friends for a ride.

If you decide a motorcycle ride is out of the question for now, fortunately there is still plenty you can do to stay involved in our favorite activity/lifestyle/passion. At this writing the industry is just beginning to generate some special promotions and contests to give us something to do while we shelter in place. Roland Sands Design has kicked off a bike build-off contest open to anyone, for example, with some very cool prizes for the winner — a deadline for entry has not been set so check out rolandsands.com.

Although some dealers are closed and only doing business online, it’s vitally important that we support local motorcycle businesses any way we can, even if it’s just ordering up some parts and doing those basic maintenance chores you’ve been putting off. My 1982 Yamaha Seca is finally going to get the carburetor rebuild it needs, and maybe I’ll pull the exhaust system off and polish it up as well (the wife is taking bets).

Of course one of the most hopeful things you can do at home that will help keep your two-wheel dreams alive is to start planning some rides! Order up a highlighter and some maps and paper the walls of your living room with them — no one’s coming over anyway, right? Search the touring features and Favorite Rides on this website by region or keyword to research the best roads in the area, the things you should see along the way and great places to eat. In the meantime we’ll keep finding and writing about new places for you to ride when we are released from this nightmare. 

Speaking for the entire team at Rider and our contributors around the country, we hope that you and yours are safe and well and that you stay that way. For ourselves, the staff is taking the necessary precautions recommended or mandated by local government, but will continue to bring you Motorcycling at its Best somehow, some way. Motorcycling isn’t unique in that its enthusiasts have always nurtured and been part of a tight-knit community, but I like to think that we are exceptional in the strength of that bond, and in the universal understanding by our community’s members that for many of us motorcycle riding isn’t just a sport or a pastime — it’s a necessity, like breathing or eating. Stay safe and thanks for reading Rider.

Source: RiderMagazine.com