Tag Archives: Nevada Motorcycle Rides

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

Tour Test Review | 2019 Indian Scout

Nipton California Indian Scout
Exploring the tiny community of Nipton, California, will uncover quirky secrets, like this old Chevy-turned-art installation. Photos by the author.

I knew I’d stumbled onto someplace…different…when I pulled into the packed dirt parking lot of the Nipton Trading Post, and it wasn’t just the huge glass octopus sculpture wriggling next to the highway. I rolled to a stop next to the five-room adobe hotel, which was built in 1910, almost startled by the silence after switching off the rumbling Indian Scout.

I could smell the hot, dusty leather of my saddlebags, and was very much aware of the crunching of sand and rock beneath my boots as I stood and swung a leg, stiff from hours of slogging across the desert, over my luggage roll and backrest. My skin tingled – someone was watching me.

For a few fleeting moments I was in another time, a wandering cowgirl who just rode into an unfamiliar – and dangerously quiet – town. A tumbleweed staggered across the empty dirt street to the theme from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”…OK, maybe that last bit was just in my head. I doffed my hat – er, helmet – squinting in the harsh desert light, and turned to see that I was far from alone, and yes, I had definitely attracted some attention.

Old West map Nevada
Nipton sits just over the border from the Nevada, on the edge of the Mojave National Preserve, making it a convenient launch point for Las Vegas, Lake Mead and other desert attractions.

Two middle-aged guys got out of a fire engine red ’65 Mustang convertible and were walking toward me, clearly curious about my equally iconic motorcycle. Past them, clustered around the railroad tracks, was a team – posse? – of photographers and assistants, all focused on a blonde woman in a gauzy dress, prancing up and down on the tracks. Based on the tour bus parked in the shade I deduced this was an album cover photo shoot.

I stood for a moment, taking in the rest of the tiny settlement of Nipton: the aforementioned hotel, a restaurant called the Whistle Stop Café, a trading post, a historical marker and a few houses. Farther out in the scrubby desert, past the hotel, I glimpsed a scattering of white teepees, along with a brightly painted old car and what appeared to be metal sculptures. Yep, this is the place.

Trading Post in Nipton
The Trading Post in Nipton offers basic groceries and assorted Southwestern-themed art and jewelry.

Nipton, California, current population somewhere between 15 and 20 souls, was founded in 1905 as a stop on the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad, which merged with the Union Pacific Railroad in 1910. It feels very much in the middle of nowhere, despite being just 12 miles southeast of the bright casinos of Primm, Nevada, but positioned as it is on a lonely two-lane state highway in the Mojave Desert, it’s definitely off the beaten path.

I was heading to Las Vegas for a karate tournament on a 2019 Indian Scout that we’d outfitted with some touring accessories, and rather than just slab it the whole way I’d booked a night in Nipton. This put me in an ideal position for a nice ride up to the Hoover Dam and then north into Valley of Fire State Park, before dropping into Sin City to get my butt kicked at the tournament.

Nipton California metal sculptures
Metal sculptures are scattered throughout Nipton. This one does double-duty with a swinging chair suspended beneath.

Nipton’s location is convenient for a journey into the desert, be it the nearby Mojave National Preserve, Lake Mead or Lake Havasu, or the motorcycle destination of Laughlin. And its quirkiness appealed: accommodations include the old hotel, little “ecocabins” or, my choice, teepees. The ecocabins and teepees are solar-powered, just enough to run the interior lights and to charge your phone, but there are no TVs. The cabins are heated in the winter with woodstoves and the teepees have little propane heaters, but the weather during my visit in late April was warm enough that the provided blankets were plenty comfortable.

Nipton California teepee
I chose to stay in one of Nipton’s teepees, which are nicely furnished with a comfortable bed, LED lighting, chairs/tables and a small propane heater for chilly desert nights.

I was up with the sun the next morning, wanting to get to Boulder City, the gateway to Lake Mead and the awe-inspiring Hoover Dam, for breakfast. I’d already put 263 mostly freeway miles behind me the day before, and was settling into familiarity with the Scout, which we accessorized with Indian’s 19-inch Quick Release Windshield, sumptuous Desert Tan leather saddlebags and a matching rider backrest. My karate gear took up one whole saddlebag, my street clothes and toiletries the other, so I strapped a duffel across the back to hold my camera gear.

Indian’s Scout (read our full review here) is a Goldilocks weekend tourer for someone my size traveling one-up, with an easy-to-handle wet weight of 591 lbs. (as tested), plenty of cruising and passing power, adjustable ergonomics for reduced or extended reach and a smoothly loping cadence from the liquid-cooled 69ci (1,133cc) 60-degree V-twin that produced little in the way of nuisance vibration.

2019 Indian Scout
We added Indian’s accessory Desert Tan saddlebags and backrest to our 2019 Scout, making it a nice lightweight touring machine.
Indian Scout engine
Liquid-cooled 69ci (1,133cc) 60-degree V-twin is smooth and powerful with no annoying vibes.
Indian Scout Desert Tan saddlebags
Sumptuous Desert Lan saddlebags are genuine leather, with a hard plastic inner liner to help them keep their shape. They’re rather small inside, so I strapped a duffel across the back.

That is, as long as you don’t mind stopping often for fuel; I averaged 46.6 mpg from the 3.3-gallon tank, meaning 154 miles was my limit. In the lonely desert, that translates to “fill up whenever you can,” especially since the analog/LCD instrument lacks both a fuel gauge and fuel consumption data. Otherwise, the windshield causes the fat front tire to wander a bit at times, progressing from a minor annoyance to more a disconcerting experience in a stiff crosswind, but overall I was enjoying my ride on the Scout.

It’s also undeniably pretty, especially in the Indian Red/Thunder Black livery with gold pinstriping and feathered headdress Indian graphics that accentuate the Desert Tan seat, backrest and saddlebags. As I snapped roadside photos at the Hoover Dam, the new Mike O’Callaghan/Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge arcing overhead, many a passing driver’s head swiveled at the bike in appreciation. Completed in 1936, the dam still produces power for California, Nevada and Arizona, although falling water levels in Lake Mead have affected how much it can output. 

Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam provides power to parts of California, Nevada and Arizona. It’s still possible to drive across, after paying a fee and proceeding through a security checkpoint.

From there I cruised north through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and then into Valley of Fire State Park. Valley of Fire, as its name suggests, is full of interesting and beautiful red rock formations, and there are plenty of pullouts with picnic tables and hiking trails where you can stop and stretch your legs. I turned north at the Visitor Center for a ride into the heart of the park, the road dipping, climbing and weaving through a Technicolor landscape of eroded sandstone that’s more than 150 million years old.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
The road through Lake Mead National Recreation Area is smooth and flowing, with vistas ranging from wide-open desert to red rock cliffs to low mountains.
Valley of Fire State Park Indian Scout
Red rock formations in Valley of Fire State Park are an impressive backdrop for the red, black and gold Indian.

Tourist traffic can be heavy, especially through this section, and there are several blind, off-camber turns that can catch you off-guard, so I was happy to putt along and enjoy the scenery, my dance with the Scout a gentle sway. At 5 feet, 9 inches, I found the standard riding position to be comfortably feet-forward; shorter and taller riders may opt for the reduced or extended reach ergo kits to tailor the bike to their needs.

In fact, I was enjoying myself so much that when Scout and I returned to I-15 on the west side of the park, for a moment I wished I could turn north and continue exploring the desert’s hidden secrets, perhaps discovering more gems like Nipton. But I had made a commitment, so south to Las Vegas it was. Still, there are more roads and more secrets to uncover…where should I point my front wheel next?

Nipton UFO
More Nipton discoveries: a grounded “UFO” flies a tattered Stars and Stripes. The sculpture in the background is made of old shopping carts.

2019 Indian Scout Specs

Base Price: $11,999
Price as Tested: $15,804 (paint, windshield, backrest and saddlebags)
Website: indianmotorcycle.com
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 60-degree V-twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Displacement: 69 ci (1,133cc)
Bore x Stroke: 99.0 x 73.6mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Belt
Wheelbase: 61.5 in.
Rake/Trail: 29 degrees/4.7 in.
Seat Height: 26.5 in.
Wet Weight: 591 lbs. (as tested)
Fuel Capacity: 3.3 gals., last 0.5 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 AKI min. (low/avg/high) 41.4/46.6/54.4

Source: RiderMagazine.com