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Alone: Onward Through the Fog

Alone Onward Through the Fog Melissa Holbrook Pierson Rider September 1992
This essay was originally published in the September 1992 issue of Rider. (Illustration by Roland Roy)

Sometimes you don’t know where you are, the name of the town or even the state. The place is located by days and miles. It is remembered by highway proximity. And by what kind of terrors gripped you there.

For me, that April night fell on day four. I had already passed through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina, finally stopping in Tennessee. Yes, that’s as far as I must have gotten. Near U.S. Highway 81. Days Inn.

After a little practice, divesting a motorcycle of all its luggage for the night and carrying it into a motel — three trips, including the tool pack with its 10 tons of lock, spare cables, liter of oil, roll of tape, tire tube, rain gear — doesn’t get any more fun. But such a trip, all alone, is about repetition as much as it’s about welcoming the blessedly new. I’ve always stayed at Days Inns or Knights Inns, make of that symmetry whatever you will, because a woman searching for lodgings after dark by herself is looking only for predictability and the guaranteed anonymity these places make it their business to provide.

After three days of telling myself different, the truth was coming through like green oxide on bogus silver: this wasn’t such a gas. My vacation, my proud declaration, my little adventure, was oppressing me as nothing before. I hadn’t suddenly become loquacious the minute I hit the road, the sort who meets locals at every way station and makes them fast friends over a bowl of chili, or gets invitations that start a new trajectory of discovery about the places passed through. I was still myself only more so, saying not much more than was necessary to purchase gas, coffee, a place to sleep, glossy post cards on which “Wish you were here” was written with no little urgency. Night would bring the same: take-out food eaten at the plasticized fake-wood veneered desk; a long bath to leach the cold from the bones; the local news indistinguishable from any local news anywhere; five hours before sleep to kill in the confines of the double-double-bedded room because continuing after nightfall pushed the stakes up a tad too high; a dose or two of Jack because of that.

I was feeling every one of the 975 miles that separated me from home. The most comfort I’d had was talking to my painfully estranged boyfriend, a mechanic, from a hotel room in Waynesboro, Virginia, the first night. Earlier in the day, stopping at a truck plaza after riding through two hours of the most imposing rainstorm I’d ever encountered, I’d noticed the box at the rear axle spewing the 90-weight oil that lubricated the shaft drive. My boyfriend was properly worried on my behalf and told me to seek out a bike shop in town the next day and have it checked out before I started down the Blue Ridge Parkway. The second deepest conversation I’d had in all the intervening time was at that shop, when four mechanics stopped to inspect my bike.

Now, near U.S. Highway 81, I spread the map out on the rigid bed and scanned it for some promise that I might make it all the way home tomorrow, three days before schedule. There didn’t seem much point in drawing it out longer, to look for more motels just like the last. I’d simply had enough of blissful solitude.

However I looked at it, though, the miles would collapse no further. There were at least 15 hours of holding the throttle open at a steady 70 mph etched in those lines, and it couldn’t be done — not by me at least. The force of the wind at that speed, the temperature, the buzzing, the constant watchfulness, the tension that crept up the neck, took it out of you too fast. You got more tired on a bike than you ever thought possible.

The days had grown so elongated that to look back on them seemed to be to glance into history: had it really been this same afternoon that I had ridden up the side of Mount Mitchell, parked, and ascended the lookout tower in the persistent wind that blows up there? Taking in the small exhibit room empty of visitors except for me, I read the placards that described Mitchell’s quest to prove that his mountain was actually higher than Clingman’s Dome, that it was in fact the highest spot in the East. Scrambling around on the desolate peak with his calibrators, he slipped and fell, perhaps dying instantly, perhaps waiting days for death in the cove of rocks. His was a bitter feud with Clingman, and his victory was posthumous. He lay now under the stones there, unable to give up his purchase on faith. At the height of my own futile journey, I realized that he and I were about the only people up here on this cold day, and he was dead.

I had known from my trip down this bucolic byway the previous October, legendary among motorcyclists, that the next stretch would take me farther into the Smokies, and that the higher I went, the lonelier the way. Then, though, I had simply felt alone, not lonely; I was with a man I was beginning to love. At that stage you welcome the height, the wide vista over uninhabited wild. It feels fine to be there and feel small, together. Now, the peculiar lunar landscape at 6,053 feet, the highest point on the Ridge, was crushing. The wind singing over the rocks had an edge of cruelty. I had climbed into the thinner air with my Guzzi’s beating engine without seeing but a car or two hurrying in the other direction, and the groups of riders I’d hoped to fall in with were still home, waiting for the next month and warmer air.

I wouldn’t let it stop me from going through the motions of marking my trip in the customary manner, and I stopped the Moto Guzzi in front of the sign that declared this the highest point in order to take the obligatory photo of proof. As I did so the lone man who had been standing, looking out over the view from the opposite end of the parking lot, came up behind me and told me I could get into the picture, too.

After handing my camera back he engaged me in a conversation that felt somewhat unreal: he told me his destination, his reason for g here in such an unvacationlike month, all the while glancing at my bike. As often happens, he informed me he used to ride, too, and asked me if the road was good for riding. My enthusiasm was a little forced – it certainly was, but I would have hardly known it from this experience. He said he wasn’t sure if he’d ever make such a trip alone, and he kept complimenting me on my bravery, though I wanted to correct his misapprehension so it could bear the more proper label: foolishness, a bid to prove I would have a grand time without anyone else at all.

But I couldn’t say it to this stranger. It took too much explaining, too much time-intensive shading between black lines. The simple version was more appropriate to this meeting, so I let him have it the way he wanted. He insisted on writing his name and address in my notebook, extracting a promise that if I ever passed through Iowa I’d look him up. I put it in my tank bag with an assurance that I would, while the knowledge that I wouldn’t sunk down hollowly inside.

There was nothing else to do but get on the bike and keep going, to the next mark on my map, the end of the Parkway in Cherokee.

On the prior trip, too, I had insisted on stopping in this gewgaw heaven, darting into stores on a restless search for the perfect ridiculous souvenir, tiring out my boyfriend until he cried uncle. He let me go on rushing from shop to shop while he waited outside by the row of glass windows that housed the Drumming Duck and the rattlesnake and the python and the rabbit clown and the other sad creatures on display for the visitors who paused a moment, pointed to the displays for their ice-cream-sticky children, then hurried on to buy their rubber tomahawks and beaded belts.

On this day I went looking again, having never found the perfection in plastic I sought, but after two stores I wandered back to my bike and glanced at the sky. It was getting late, and I needed to make it through the winding ways of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with plenty of light. Besides, I had it in mind to visit Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, before nightfall.

Pressing on. I began seeing monumental billboards, on which a horrific, huge butterfly loomed, for the attraction miles before town, a formerly bereft Hamlet that had been Dolly Parton’s hometown before she made it big and it turned into a theme park of cheap restaurants and Western-wear outlets. I turned into the massive parking lot for the amusement park and saw the sign that informs two bucks is the price for parking; besides thinking that was steep for the few minutes I wanted to spend inside, I always resented paying anything to put such a narrow machine into a corner that couldn’t have been used by anything else anyway. Then I found out the admission was $18, and that clinched it. Who spent that much money to ride a ferris wheel alone? Shady characters in old movies did it, but they had ulterior motives. I could only turn around, another wistful goal having come in sight and revealed itself useless in plain view.

The sky was lower as I headed back out of Pigeon Forge, and I wanted to do it fast. I wanted to find somewhere I could be alone where no one would see me being alone. It was time to find the night’s Days Inn.

I hauled in all the garbage — the saddlebags, tank bag, helmet, tool bag. I went back down the hill to the service station’s convenience store and got some Italian rolls that were too white and too soft and a package of string cheese, thus exhausting their variety of real food. I sat in the bathtub and turned on the orange-red heat lamp so that the timer buzzed judiciously for 20 minutes. I unfurled the map and read it with a side of bourbon, so that some time in the future I might be able to fall asleep in the strangely familiar room. I made my peace as best I could with the discovery that I would have one more night like this, but I could do it. Since I had to, I could.

I turned on the news, and just when I was listening intently to some important-sounding item about the municipal airport of the nearby town I can’t recall the name of, I heard the voice.

It spoke in a stage whisper that reached to the fifth tier and back.

It said, “Tomorrow is the last day you will spend on earth.”

A shaking started in my gut, my feet felt very far away. The words of the anchorperson continued to accumulate in the room like cotton batting being stuffed into a mattress. Behind my eyes a scene was now projected, and I saw a white car of some general make coming at me and my white bike — a horror all dressed in the tones of clouds — but there the movie stopped, although I knew its end.

The utter precipitousness and incongruity of this final pronouncement made me unable to avoid its truth. I had apparently had one of those supermarket-tabloid premonitions: WOMAN FORESEES OWN DEATH.

It seemed just as certain that I couldn’t stay in a Tennessee motel in order to stave off death; the irony of that, I presume, is completely obvious. I reached for the glass of Jack Daniel’s and saw my hand quivering in midair. I spoke to myself sharply: Don’t be ridiculous! It kept on shaking.

It was intolerable, more than merely nettlesome, to be here alone now, and I caught sight of the decorator-almond telephone with its little red siren light sticking off the top. Besides the fact that it was well past midnight, how could I explain to anyone I could rouse from sleep what I’d just experienced? I was beginning to think that most of my friends thought I lived on the border of sanity anyway.

I lay back on the bed with a groan. Say, eight hours isn’t too long to spend lying here in the leaden grip of an absurd fear, until it’s light and you can go out and bravely prove the folly of your fantasies, shaking all the way.

If I couldn’t talk to anyone real, I figured I could make someone up and talk to him on paper; God knows I’ve got enough characters in my brain that one of them must be up and willing at this hour.

In the desk drawer were three sheets of motel stationery. Not enough, but a start. I took them back to the bed and started talking. We discussed why at this particular time I would be feeling afraid, why fear was often my co-pilot on my motorcycle. From the moment I’d bought my first bike three years before, I’d managed to pin most of my previously free-floating anxieties on some aspect of machinery. And wasn’t that why, later, I’d realized I wanted one in the first place, to wage war on this fear in the concrete?

At the bottom of the second page, the TV well into a rerun of “All in the Family,” the writing trailed off. I slipped into sleep and dreamt of nothing.

II

There is a beginning to this story, of course, far before the beginning. I was boarding at a prep school in Ohio, the town — a miniature replica of a New England hamlet replete with town green, white steeples, stone wall around a campus of gentle slopes and neatly tended playing fields — was midway between Akron, where I am from, and Cleveland. Although I had opted to attend (pleasing my father, who had also gone there) and escape public school for which I was decidedly not cut out, by my third year I was beginning to feel I had chosen another type of prison instead. I was blissfully happy up in the art room, a sun-filled kingdom ruled by the brilliantly eccentric Mr. Moos, but I was not allowed to spend all my time there as I would have wished. I had to do sports (for which I was equally woefully miscast), science, woodshop (which I flunked, for “refusing” to keep my plane sharpened), and, most loathesome of all, math.

No one has ever erred in calling me stubborn. I have a place, like the end of spring, beyond which I can stretch not a millimeter further. I hit that wall one achingly green spring day, on which I was not uncoincidentally expected in math class at 8:30 a.m. — stupefyingly early, to add injury to insult. I looked at the clock when I opened my eyes, saw it was 8:20 and pulled off the covers. I put on my jeans, forbidden in class, a T-shirt, and put my money and keys in my backpack. I wheeled my Raleigh 10-speed out the door, carried my prize possession bought with hard-won summer babysitting funds down the stairs and outdoors. And I rode past the streams of students heading up the brick walks toward school.

The trip took a half hour in the car. I was thankful in more ways than one that the direction was reversed this time. Approaching the quaint crossroads of Peninsula, a half-mile hill shot down into the town. I coasted, let the bike pick up speed. The wheels were flashing now in the sunlight. I couldn’t go fast enough; I shifted into tenth gear and pedalled as hard as I could, pumping, pumping. The wind dried my teeth clean so my lips stuck to them — that was because I smiled.

When I turned up the drive to my house my mother looked up from her gardening. She hardly seemed surprised to see me. Without her asking, I told her that I simply couldn’t take it anymore. She nodded, and we had some lunch. I think she must have called my father at the office, because when he came home he didn’t seem too stunned either. I was relieved, near elated. I could stay — we would work out the credits and whatnot later. We had the usual nice dinner my mother prepared. Then my parents rose from the table and announced it was time to get going.

Now it was my turn not to be surprised. I had achieved at least that much maturity to understand a certain version of reality.

The next day I was summoned into Sherwin Kibbe’s office. The school’s dean was a dead ringer for Norman Mailer, and he looked frighteningly out from under overhanging silver eyebrows and inquired just what I thought I had been doing. I was several pages into my explanation, which combined a bit of Jefferson with a smattering of Kerouac, when he cut me short. “Well, I think you just wanted to take a ride on a nice day.”

My deeply felt protests met with an offer of demerits and probation. Tears of misunderstood frustration coursed down my cheeks after I shut the door. My issues were high – how could he have leveled me with such an insignificant charge? It was contemptuous.

Sixteen years later and I still ask myself the same question. My answer is still stubborn. So why shouldn’t I run away because it’s a nice day? There is never a better reason.

III

I’d made it as far as the Delaware Water Gap in one day. I’d been riding for 13 hours, and it was now 1 a.m. I was strung out from the numbing consistency of the highways, the same speed, the light, persistent rain that shrouded everything in mist, just like my brain felt. If I could just stay awake and bear down hard enough, I could be home in another two hours.

It was just me and the long-haul trucks now, and nothing broke the dark outside my headlight beam. I didn’t know if I’d been riding for one day or 10. Time had no meaning, except that it was what had exhausted me. I probably could have gone on. Suddenly, though, a thought came into my head, a small distillation of all the biking horror stories I’d ever heard: I was outrunning my headlight’s visibility, and if there were a railroad tie across the lane, I wouldn’t see it till it was too late. I was awake enough to appreciate what that meant.

In a few miles I saw the green Holiday Inn sign rise above the gloom of trees. In the office the woman behind the desk gave me a wide-eyed look as I clomped in in my rainsuit. No, no rooms, all full; there was another place 20 miles away — she’d call. No room in that inn, either, she informed me on putting down the phone. I felt at that moment I was going to collapse.

Actually, she considered, there was one, but the air conditioning had gone out in it. If I didn’t mind….

No, I didn’t. A couple of hay bales would have sufficed. I fell asleep in moments in the sickly, still air.

It was still raining in the morning, and I jerked on the same still-wet clothes and covered them up with the rubber-lined suit. I got an early start.

Two hours later I made the last turn onto my street, and for the first time was forced to slow to a near halt. It had stopped raining. The sun was calling up the hot moisture from the pavement to choke the air. Halfway down the block an earth-mover and police barricades barred the way. Workmen were sweating in their undershirts. I felt the heat rise up from the Guzzi’s cylinders and envelop me. I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, jeans, leather jacket with winter lining, rainsuit on top of that; my hands were encased in rubber gloves with a thick synthetic liner, and the vents on my helmet were closed against the early morning chill that was an incredible memory now.

The men tried to wave me to a stop. Instead I let out the clutch and came toward them, provoking wilder gesticulations. At the last moment, I jumped the curb onto the sidewalk to pull up in front of my garage. Only then did I apply the brake.

I switched off the key, then pulled off my helmet and sat for a second, steam rising around my neck. The bike let out its little clicks and coos, already cooling in the heat.

This is how 2,000 miles ends. I’d made bigger trips, but not alone. There was a certain purity to this one, a perfect insularity. It was as though I had done all that distance without leaving a mark on any atom in the universe. I had slipped quickly and quietly by, and the wind in my wake only a vague memory of disturbance in the grass by the edge of the road. Maybe we were white dream-cars ourselves. Yet now I was home, and that’s all that mattered.

* * *

For more from Melissa Holbrook Pierson, visit her website. You can also listen to our interview with Pierson on the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast.

The post Alone: Onward Through the Fog first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Workhorse Speed Shop to Reveal Two New Custom Indian FTR Builds

Workhorse Speed Shop to Reveal Two New Custom Indian FTR Builds
An inside look at the latest builds from Workhorse Speed Shop.

Brice Hennebert, owner of Workhorse Speed Shop, in Belgium, has been busy during lockdown. After creating Appaloosa V1.0 in 2019 for the Sultans of Sprint then re-working the Indian Scout build into Appaloosa V2.0 for the Baikal Mile Ice Festival, Brice has focussed his attention on building two special dream bikes based on the Indian FTR 1200

Rider Magazine: Indian FTR 1200 S | First Ride Review

The first build, Black Swan, is a 90’s sports bike concept utilizing the latest parts and materials to make it extremely sporty. The build extensively uses carbon fibre to minimize weight, Ohlins suspension, Beringer brakes, and modern additions such as a quickshifter. The second build, FTR AMA, is based on the 80s era AMA SBK race bikes and Rally cars, inspiring an angular design and will be finished in the classic Martini Racing livery

Workhorse Speed Shop to Reveal Two New Custom Indian FTR Builds
Adjustable Öhlins suspension and Beringer brakes are some of the premium parts making up the builds.

Black Swan and FTR AMA Build – Q&A with Brice Hennebert 

We caught up with Brice to get an insight into his latest projects, both of which are shaping up to be remarkably interesting, but quite different builds – just as we have come to expect from Workhorse. 

It’s been a long time since you came back from Russia after taking Appaloosa V2.0 to the Baikal Mile Ice Speed Festival – that must feel like a dream now, are the memories still strong? 

Yes, the memories are really strong. With the lockdown, it was some time after coming back from Russia that I saw many of my friends. Every time I reconnect with a friend they always ask about the trip. So, I get to relive the memories regularly and so they are still strongly alive.  

And when Appaloosa finally got back to Belgium after the Russian borders reopened, unpacking the bike and reassembling it meant I got to relive the memories all over again. 

Obviously, lockdown has changed the way we all work, but you have still been busy with brand-new builds based on the FTR. What are the concepts behind each project?  

The concept for the first build, Black Swan, came a few years ago when I was racing at Wheels & Waves against the Miracle Mike Scout built by The Young Guns. During that time, I had the vision to build a sports bike for road use. But, really sporty, built like a GP bike. It’s deeply inspired by 90’s sports bikes, all made from carbon fibre. That’s what happens when I have total freedom from the commissioners of a project. And I’m even thinking about doing a small series of this bike for sale. It’s pretty unique! 

Workhorse Speed Shop to Reveal Two New Custom Indian FTR Builds
Black Swan Build: building out the clay model.

The second FTR project is based on the 80s era AMA SBK race bikes and Rally cars. Black Swan and the FTR AMA project are for two brothers. The brother that commissioned Black Swan asked me to design a second build for his brother. Something colourful but sharp like a war tank. The only restriction was that it should have a Martini Racing livery. 

After a little research and brainstorming, the main influence became the Lancia Delta HF. I’ve mixed this with a bit of the early Bol d’Or race bikes and some muscle bike flavour keeping an upright riding position, close to the original FTR which works so well.  

With the Appaloosa v1.0 and v2.0 builds, you had some great partners providing advice, components, fabrication, and tuning skills. Who has stepped up for these FTR builds? 

All of them and even more. I went to the Akrapovič factory a few days after the Baikal Mile to work on the Black Swan exhaust. I crossed the border to go home for a few hours and they decided to close the border. That was tight. 

Öhlins have shipped me a full set of custom components for Black Swan, quite impressive I have to say. Beringer Brakes is also in the game on both bikes with their new 4+ system. Super light, super nice. 

I’m also working with Vinco Racing in Holland, Tim is taking care of all the CNC parts around both bikes. And there’s many of them. 

My buddy Robert Colyns from 13.8 Composite is taking care of the carbon fibre fabrication.  

On Black Swan, we will be fitting Rotobox carbon fibre wheels, they really are pieces of art! Liteblox Germany have made a bespoke carbon fibre battery for the bike, Cerakote Nl did all the black ceramic treatment. Jeroen from Silver Machine the seat works. Christophe from Forame design did all the 3D modelling from the Clay scan. 

Workhorse Speed Shop to Reveal Two New Custom Indian FTR Builds
Black Swan Build: Clay model ready for CAD scan.

The FTR AMA wheel set is a total eye catcher. I collaborated with Fabio from JoNich Wheels in Italy. The design is based on his Rush wheels but without carbon flanges. They are machined from billet aluminium. And the design made me think about the turbo fans wheels used on the racing Lancia, so that was a perfect choice. They are completed by a Dunlop GP tyre set with this mad 200 section rear tyre. 

So, as you can see, I’m not alone on this bike.    

We can’t reveal too much at this stage, but from the pictures from the builds so far, designing the bodywork seems to be a fairly intensive process. Can you walk us through the steps, from visualisation and sketches through to a finished piece of the bodywork?  

Yes, it’s quite a long journey, here’s roughly the stages for Black Swan: 

First, preliminary sketches and a compilation of reference pictures for the details. At this stage I’m drawing the main lines of the bike, the mood. 

Then I sent everything to Benny at Axesent in Japan to make proper renders in several versions, with realistic lighting and some livery ideas.  

When I was happy at this point, I started 3D modelling. I modelled the bike at full scale in clay directly on the FTR, but only on one side of the bike. This step took about 6 weeks, between the clay structure and perfecting the final shape.   

Then I scanned the bike in 3D to start the CAD modelling stage. The scan was used as a starting point to be sure of the proportions, but there was always freedom for new ideas. In the meantime, I worked on the symmetry, details, articulated parts, and assembly systems between the different elements. All told, another 2 months of work. 

The next step went to 13.8 Composites. Firstly, they 3D printed all the bodywork from the CAD models. These prints were used as a master for moulding and creating the die that the carbon fibre was laid into. 

Once done, adjustments were made between all the parts to be sure that it all fit together and looked perfect.  

With the FTR AMA build, rather than start with the clay, here I used direct CAD design based on a 3D scan of the FTR chassis. Then all the body parts were 3D printed and reinforced with carbon fibre. 

Workhorse Speed Shop to Reveal Two New Custom Indian FTR Builds
FTR AMA Build: Modified tail to accommodate twin shocks.

Is this a process that you have used before? You seem really keen, on every project, to try something new and expand your skill set.  

This was something totally new to me, at least at this scale. I have done clay shaping before, but not on something so complex. 

Workhorse Speed Shop to Reveal Two New Custom Indian FTR Builds
FTR AMA Build: “The wheel set is a total eye catcher.”
Workhorse Speed Shop to Reveal Two New Custom Indian FTR Builds

The bodywork is bound to be the main focal point when people first see the bikes, but what else can you reveal about the builds at this stage? 

The body of Black Swan is just 1.8 kg for the entire bike. I’ve also decided to fit a few accessories such as a quick shifter and Power Commander. The idea is to initially test the bike with the standard performance in the racing configuration (position, bodywork etc.) 123 hp is enough for road use today in Europe. And if the owner of the bike needs more power then we will go into the engine. 

On the FTR AMA, there are two aluminum fuel cells to reach a total capacity of 3.7 gallons with one of the tanks under the seat. Plus, the intake has been redesigned and 3D printed to work with DNA performance air filters. On the chassis side, the tail section has been modified to fit a twin shocks system powered by Öhlins. 

Plans are progressing on when and how the bikes will be revealed, but they will certainly make an impact. 

Yes, with the events calendar being difficult to predict over the last few months, we’ve had to come up with several plans. I really can’t wait to see the response to these two bikes. 

Workhorse Speed Shop to Reveal Two New Custom Indian FTR Builds
FTR AMA Build: Custom Exhaust

The post Workhorse Speed Shop to Reveal Two New Custom Indian FTR Builds first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Valerie Thompson: Ep. 17 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

Episode 17 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast Valerie Thompson

Our guest for Episode 17 of the Rider Magazine Insider podcast is Valerie Thompson, a professional drag racer and land-speed racer who holds the title of “World’s Fastest Female Motorcycle Racer.” She holds eight land-speed records and is a member of the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame, seven 200 MPH clubs and one 300 MPH club. In 2018, she piloted the BUB 7 Streamliner to a record speed of 328.467 mph and is the only female rider featured on the “World’s Top 10 Fastest Motorcycle Riders” list. At the 2021 Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials in August she will attempt to break the motorcycle land speed record of 376.363 mph. Valerie’s quest to become the world’s fastest motorcycle racer is the subject of the upcoming film documentary, “Rockets and Titans.” Learn more about Thompson at ValerieThompsonRacing.com.

You can listen to Episode 17 on iTunes, Spotify, and SoundCloud, or via the Rider Magazine Insider webpage. Please subscribe, leave us a 5-star rating, and tell your friends!

Check out previous episodes:

The post Valerie Thompson: Ep. 17 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Striking Vikings: How Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart

How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
This 1970 Husqvarna 250 Cross belonged to Bruce Brown and appeared in On Any Sunday. It is now part of the Petersen Automotive Museum’s collection. Photos by TED7 / Courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum.

For a while there, 50 years ago, Husqvarna was perhaps the best-known and most desirable dirtbike in the world. They were good enough bikes — I owned and tested them in the day — but fame earned in the hands of Baja racer and ISDT gold medalist Malcolm Smith, and their use by actor Steve McQueen, exposed and validated the bikes to more people through the movie On Any Sunday than probably any amount of advertising or editorial coverage could accomplish. Whereas magazine tests and race results reached readers hungry for the latest news about the latest products, such impressions often vaporize when the next generation of products arrives. And from the mid-1960s onward until the modern 4-stroke dirtbike era, those changes were relentless. 

What the movie actually did for the Scandinavian machines was far deeper, what scientists would define as “imprinting.” In 1935, Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz noticed that goslings (newly hatched geese) would memorably imprint on the first living animal they saw, whether that was Mother Goose or a person. This imprint became lifelong, the same powerful imprint that Husqvarna’s heroic and emotional appearances in On Any Sunday created for kids and young adults at the time. And so, all these years later, the effect Husqvarna — particularly the twin-shock, chrome-sided tank models with the aluminum fenders — has on legions of middle-aged men is real, bordering on mental. 

How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart

With its hand-stenciled number plate, scuffed finishes, and weathered patina, Bruce Brown’s 250 Cross tells a story of competition and heavy use, and it helped make Husqvarna famous in America. Its air-cooled 2-stroke single and bolt-together frame were simple but durable. Brown replaced the original metal fenders with lighter, flexible plastic fenders made by Preston Petty Products. 

How did Husqvarna of far-flung Sweden — the land of reindeer and icy fjords — find itself in the right place at the right time? Maybe it was serendipity, since in 1953 the company produced its first purpose-built enduro, the Silver Arrow, featuring an upswept exhaust and high-mounted fenders to idealize the bike for trail use. Presciently, Husky likewise pioneered a 500cc 4-stroke for FIM motocross competition in 1958, but that model had a short lifespan. 

How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
Featuring lights, a horn, a speedometer, and a California green sticker, this 1967 250 Commando (VIN 167038) dual-sport was the first Husqvarna owned by Steve McQueen. Like Brown’s 250 Cross, it has been preserved in its original, unrestored condition, with a battered red-and-silver tank, a rusty exhaust pipe and a taped-up seat.

From there, a few more years of development finally produced a 2-stroke production motocross bike fit for America. Motocross had just come here by way of California in 1965, thanks to West Coast roadracer Wes Cooley, Sr., who discovered the fledgling sport while in Europe. After returning home, he organized the first known sanctioned MX event in this country, an invitational at Castaic near Los Angeles. 

“When Wes called to announce the race, most of us said, ‘What?’” laughed AMA Hall of Fame member Mary McGee. “Even so, 45 of us, mostly desert riders, showed up.” McGee rode that event, although on a Triumph twin desert sled and not a Husky, making her America’s first female motocross racer. Then Cooley repeated in 1966. 

“This was the first U.S. motocross race for Husqvarna, and also the first U.S. race for Torsten Hallman,” McGee added. Hallman would ultimately win six 250cc world titles for Husky and was atop his game in ’66. “Now there were close to 60 riders, but everyone had their eyes on Torsten. He and the Husky together made a huge impact. Mostly because Torsten was so bloody fast, but also because the Husky was a proper motocross bike — it was so beautiful compared to looking at a big, huge Triumph, Matchless, or AJS. That reverberated fast through the manufacturers.” 

How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart

The other factor in the serendipity equation was Edison Dye, who obtained Husqvarna distribution rights in America and had brought Hallman here. Aboard the newfangled Husqvarna, Torsten simply blew the competition away, establishing a benchmark for the new sport of motocross that was totally European — Swedish, actually — from the bikes’ weirdly named Trelleborg knobby tires on up. 

Prior to this time, Malcolm Smith rode a heavy 4-stroke Matchless G80CS, and then hopped over to a 2-stroke Greeves before trying a Husqvarna in a desert shakedown. “In 1966, Edison came to my repair shop and wanted me to race one of the two Husqvarnas he had imported,” Smith recalled. “I said no because I was racing a Greeves for Nick Nicholson. But he had one in his pickup and said, ‘At least try it.’ So, I rode it around the track we had built in the hills and came back and told him I would race it. It was so much better feeling than anything I had ridden before — light, powerful, and agile. I won many races on it and kept on racing Husqvarnas until they were sold to the Italians.” 

How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
The 1971 Husqvarna 400 Cross is one of two donated to the Petersen Automotive Museum by Mark and Randy Zimmerman. Steve McQueen had it done up in chrome before giving it to his friend and fellow actor, James Coburn.

I asked Malcolm to recall his favorite and least-favorite Huskys. “The best Husqvarna I had was a 400WR 6-speed,” he said. “Very smooth, even power, and no vibration. It was only produced one year before they made it a 430.” 

And the worst? “The worst bike Husqvarna ever made was the air-cooled Desert Master 450,” he revealed. “They used the ‘boat anchor’ motor, as we called it. Big, heavy, slow, and unreliable.” 

With good business smarts even as a young man, Smith obtained a dealership franchise as he started racing Husqvarnas. Over the years that franchise grew into the Malcolm Smith Motorsports dealership in Riverside, California, and the Malcolm Smith Racing (now MSR) product line that have made Smith wealthy as well as famous for his on-track and on-screen accomplishments. As is typical though, instead of mentioning this, Malcolm credited Husqvarna rep Gunnar Lindstrom, a talented engineer as well as racer, with helping the brand grow in the States. 

The story thus far may appear to start Husqvarna’s clock in the mid-1960s. While that’s true in the U.S., the brand’s history runs much deeper. Husqvarna began as a gun manufacturer in 1689, produced bicycles in the late 1800s, and in 1903 began manufacturing motorcycles. Starting in the 1910s, Husqvarna produced V-twin road bikes, and for a time in the 1930s, 350cc and 500cc V-twin racing models that won several Grands Prix, although most of the precious team bikes were lost in a truck fire. 

How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
Steve McQueen’s Husqvarna 400 Cross has the original aluminum fenders, with a rubber mud flap on the front that would bend and flop around at speed.

The basic engine that powered the famous Husqvarna 250 Cross and 400 Cross bikes in Bruce Brown’s historic 1971 film first took shape in the mid-1950s Silver Arrow enduro model. Studying the egg-shaped engine cases and the organic shape of the air-cooled piston-port cylinder and head reveals how a postwar engineering draftsman’s board produced forms that, decades later, were drawn by innumerable school kids on their schoolbook covers. 

The ode of these early purebred dirtbikes, from the mid-1950s through the mid-1980s and the end of the line for the “original” Husqvarna motorcycles, was defined by engineering principles of simplicity, strength, performance, and light weight. Inside those first egg-shaped cases were a straightforward pressed-together crankshaft supported by ball bearings and using a roller-bearing connecting-rod big end. Up top was an iron cylinder liner press-fit into an aluminum cylinder, topped by an aluminum head. A simple magneto provided spark and, for enduro versions, lighting. 

How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart

Power flowed from the crank to the early 4-speed dog-type gearbox via a gear primary drive and a multi-plate wet clutch. This type of architecture was widely found among European dirtbikes such as Bultaco and CZ. A tuned upswept expansion chamber maximized power in the desired portion of the rev range, and complemented, as did the gearbox ratios, the intended use of the model. 

Noted motocross bike restorer Bill Masho has rebuilt numerous Huskys to museum standards and knows them from their crankshafts up. “They are logical but not over-engineered, and robust enough with regular maintenance,” he noted. “Early (1966-67) oval-case 4-speeds were exceedingly good, displacing 2-stroke Greeves and other early ’smokers. The 1970-71 400 Cross was probably the best model of the series — no major faults. The first 5-speeds (starting in 1972) were heavy and slower, and didn’t handle as well. But the later ones — particularly the GP of 1975-76 — were very effective.” Masho should know. As this was written he was in Unadilla racing a post-vintage national. 

How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
This 1971 400 Cross (VIN MI4666) was registered to Solar Productions, Steve McQueen’s production company. It’s the same model Husky on which he did a shirtless wheelie for the August 23, 1971, cover of Sports Illustrated (“Steve McQueen Escapes on Wheels”). This one was modified with a Ceriani fork and Koni shocks, and it underwent a full restoration in 2012.

Highly desirable today are the early “bolt together” frame models, and naturally the iconic On Any Sunday models with the rounded, chrome-sided tanks and that peculiar mud flap hanging off the front fender like the floppy ear of a mutt. Honda copied it on the first Elsinore models, a shameless mimicry some thought. 

How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart

Husqvarna was on the world stage in motocross from the get-go, and it soon enough got there in America too, thanks to Hallman, Smith, and notable U.S. riders including Mark Blackwell, Kent Howerton, Brad Lackey, and Chuck Sun. And in the desert, J.N. Roberts and Whitey Martino — and John McCown with his dog Kookie riding on the gas tank! — excelled. Remarkably, given the brand’s strong reputation, in 1976 Howerton claimed Husqvarna’s first and only U.S. national motocross championship in the 500cc class. It would be over 40 years before Zach Osborne repeated the feat aboard the modern KTM-bred 250cc and 450cc 4-strokes. Dick Burleson and Malcolm Smith flew the Husqvarna flag in enduros, and Smith won the Baja 1000 twice on Husqvarnas, first with Roberts and later with Gunnar Nilsson.

 

The Japanese companies got on the pipe big time in the 1980s, reshaping the technology battlefield with liquid cooling, long-travel suspension, and single-shock, rising-rate rear suspension systems in a stampede of progress. Husqvarna was late to follow, and eventually fell out of favor with the hard chargers. Even so, with its antiquated air-cooled engines and twin shocks, the brand soldiered on into the mid-1980s in the U.S. And then the party — at least here — ended, as the forward-looking ’83 TE 510 4-stroke enduro was a decade ahead of the industry. Ownership of Husqvarna traded hands several times — Cagiva in 1987, BMW in 2007, and finally KTM in 2013. 

Today the “new” Husqvarna is active in motocross, cross country, and enduro, and offers a line of 2-stroke and 4-stroke bikes paralleling KTM’s meteoric line. Husky is now also back on the street with the 701 Supermoto, 701 Enduro dual-sport, the avant-garde Svartpilen and Vitpilen naked bikes, and the upcoming Norden 901 adventure bike. 

How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart
How Sweden’s Scrappy Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart

It’s been 50 years since On Any Sunday charmed audiences across the country, and even longer since those first wraithlike silver-and-red Husqvarnas lined up to race in the hills of Southern California. A kid who got an eyeful that day would nearly be a senior citizen now, but he would still remember the unmuffled shout of 2-stroke racing engines and the flash of the Huskys’ chrome-sided tanks, polished fenders, and maybe even that floppy mud flap swept back in the wind. 

And that, my friends, is what you call an imprint. 

The Husqvarnas shown in the accompanying photos were donated to the Petersen Automotive Museum by Mark and Randy Zimmerman. The Petersen’s permanent collection includes hundreds of automobiles and motorcycles. Located in Los Angeles, the museum regularly features motorcycle exhibits in the Richard Varner Family Gallery — “ADV:Overland,” curated by Paul d’Orléans, opened in July 2021. For more information, visit petersen.org. 

The post Striking Vikings: How Husqvarna Captured America’s Heart first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Wayne Rainey: Ep. 16 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

Rider Magazine Insider Podcast Episode 16 Wayne Rainey MotoAmerica

Our guest for Episode 16 of the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast is Wayne Rainey, president of MotoAmerica and a motorcycle racing legend. Rainey is a 2-time AMA Superbike champion (1983, 1987) and 3-time Grand Prix World Champion (1990-1992) in the premier 500cc class. In 1999 he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, and in 2000 FIM named Rainey a Grand Prix Legend. Rainey is the president of MotoAmerica, which has managed and promoted the AMA Superbike series since 2015. We discuss Rainey’s racing career, MotoAmerica’s efforts to grow U.S. motorcycle racing, and MotoAmerica’s different classes, including Honos Superbike and Mission King of the Baggers. The GEICO MotoAmerica Superbike Speedfest will be July 9-11 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. Tickets are available online, and racing coverage can be streamed on MotoAmerica Live+ or watched on Fox Sports FS2 and MAVTV. Check out the MotoAmerica website for details.

You can listen to Episode 16 on iTunes, Spotify, and SoundCloud, or via the Rider Magazine Insider webpage. Please subscribe, leave us a 5-star rating, and tell your friends!

Check out previous episodes:

The post Wayne Rainey: Ep. 16 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Back to California Superbike School

The School of Speed
Back to school on a BMW S 1000 RR. (Photos by Etechphoto.com)

A couple of friends – sportbike riders and track-day regulars – recently invited me on their Sunday morning canyon ride. I showed up on our Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RS test bike. It was early, the road was empty, and we tore away. I say “we,” but I lost sight of them after the first mile and soon resigned myself to not keeping up, doing no justice to the Triumph. 

Decades of riding experience have given me the required confidence in physics and tires to throw a motorcycle into a turn, but that confidence faded once our speed picked up. If I was going to truly test bikes like the Speed Triple, I needed to hone my skills. My friends, it turned out, were both graduates of California Superbike School, and over a weekend in June I signed up for two days of training (Levels I and II) at Streets of Willow Springs, a 1.6-mile track in Rosamond, California, about an hour north of Los Angeles.

The School of Speed
California Superbike School has a fleet of 40 high-tech BMW S 1000 RR sportbikes.

In the 1970s, Keith Code enjoyed some success club racing for the “Pops” Yoshimura team, but he also discovered he had an aptitude for analyzing and communicating the techniques required to carry speed through a corner. Under Code’s instruction, many a young racer shaved seconds off their lap times, demonstrating that speed wasn’t just a matter of innate talent but teachable skills. In 1980, he established a school to offer his unique step-by-step advanced rider training to anyone with a motorcycle license. Four decades later, California Superbike School has become synonymous with sportbike training, with schools in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia.

The School of Speed
One of several female riders who attended California Superbike School.

There is something childishly exciting about driving through the gates of a racetrack, especially true when it’s you destined to be on the track, which creates some apprehension. I haven’t so much as sat on a bike with clip-on bars since selling my Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R years ago. I drew some comfort from the fact that at least half of the 54 people joining me for instruction looked just as nervous as I was. The rest ambled around like they owned the place, posting up in the breakfast buffet and chatting with the staff. I soon found out these were returning students, here for Levels III and IV, and, it seemed, part of the family now. It was encouraging to see half a dozen women in attendance, including Kristina Teskera, a German ex-pat who had been riding for only eight months. 

Day-to-day management of CSS is now handled by Keith Code’s son, Dylan. But Keith was there, too, sauntering about and happy to share advice or an anecdote as the operation hummed along around him. Students were separated into manageable groups, alternating between the classroom lessons, on-track drills, debriefing sessions, and breaks.

The School of Speed
Dylan Code delivers a classroom lesson before every track session, enabling students to practice new techniques and build confidence.

After Dylan delivered our first lesson on throttle control, we filed out into the paddock. The Streets of Willow track, a black ribbon rising and falling with the hilly terrain, formed the backdrop to a line of black BMW S 1000 RR sportbikes gleaming in the morning sun. I suspect even the coolest among us had their hearts in their mouths as we headed to our designated machines.

Lined up in pit lane, I heard Trevor Pennington, the course controller, holler above the resounding throb of engines, “First drill?!” No one gets on track unless they can repeat the name of the drill. This helps us stay focused and allows Trevor to spot students who may be fatigued or dehydrated. I shouted, “Throttle control, fourth gear only, no brakes!” and Trevor yelled, “Go!”

The School of Speed
Under the watchful eye of his coach, Road Test Editor Guy Pickrell hones his street-riding skills with two days of intensive track training.

The no-brakes drill focused our minds on gentle throttle inputs. The RRs were set to rain mode and throttle response was forgiving, but I couldn’t find a good position on the bike, had no idea where the heck I was going, I was entering turns too early and then correcting, all the while trying to stay off the levers.

It took a few laps to get acquainted with the track and the BMW. My assigned track coach arced in front of me, tapped his taillight – follow my line – and I started hitting some apexes. After a lap, he pulled off the racing line and waved me on. My turn to lead. A smile found its way to my face as I carried more speed through the Bowl Turn, a 20-degree banked carousel, which was quickly wiped off when I entered the final turn of the session too hot and trail braked well wide of the apex.

The School of Speed
Coach Mike Pesicka shares feedback during the debrief after a track drill.

Immediately after each track session, students met their coaches for debriefing, where circuit maps taped to each table provide context for feedback and guidance. My coach, Mike Pesicka, validated some of my good throttle control before digging into the errors. An issue he immediately spotted was my tendency to level the horizon as I lean into a turn. Tilting my head up closes my shoulders and limits my ability to lean.

He then turned his attention to Doug Ramey, who’d trailered his Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special from Carson City, Nevada, to use at CSS. Students can bring their own motorcycles as long as they are safe for track use. Watching Doug fearlessly muscle his 800-pound beast around the tight, technical track was a spectacle, and a little depressing when he blasted past me in the first three sessions.

The School of Speed
You can bring your own motorcycle to CSS, like Doug Ramey did with his Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special.

By the last session of Level I, the combination of physical and mental exertion, desert heat, and adrenaline highs and lows had us all fairly exhausted, and I had to ask the guy lined up next to me in the pit lane to remind me what the drill was before Trevor came striding up. The five lessons had focused on rider inputs and improving our turning technique. Turn-in points had been taped to each corner, vastly improving our odds of hitting an apex.

Nonetheless, as my average speed increased, my braking points changed, leading to maddening mid-turn corrections. Mike reported an improvement in head position, but mostly on left turns. He led me over to the Body Position Bike, a static simulator composed of the rider touchpoints – bars, tank, seat, and pegs – affixed to a frame that tilts 45 degrees to each side to mimic on-track motion.

The School of Speed
A student receives instruction on the Body Position Bike, a static simulator that allows coaches to give direct instruction on body positioning in corners.

The next day, I was back for Level II training, and Dylan’s first lesson focused on vision. I took it easy during the first track session, and after getting Mike’s input, I headed for the Lean Bike. Each level includes one supplementary practical lesson, and I met CSS coach Johnny Haynes out on the skidpad. He stood next to a sportbike modified with spring-loaded outriggers, each tipped with a caster wheel, making it crash-proof.

Johnny immediately corrected my position on the seat, which he attributed to slippery leathers. A quick call on the radio brought the sticky butt spray, and after receiving a liberal coating, we resumed the lesson. Johnny had me using my outside knee to grip the tank, helping keep my weight off the bars, while pointing my inside knee toward the corner.

The School of Speed
The outrigger-equipped Lean Bike, one of Keith Code’s innovations in use at CSS, was a revelation.

Now that I was moving around on the bike and digging my knees into the tank, track sessions had become increasingly demanding and by the last, my legs were like jelly. I took the final lesson on trail braking as an invitation to add speed, and when Mike arced in front of me for the last time, he seemed noticeably quicker. I fell in line behind him, the rush of tarmac closer than I’ve ever dared.

As we rolled out of the bowl, Mike’s penultimate debrief fresh in my mind, I wound on the throttle the moment I touched the apex, releasing the BMW’s ballistic power and forcing me to the outer curb. I sat up at the kink just as the tach hit 10,000 rpm, adrenaline coursing through me, and saw Mike glance in his mirror and nod. I was right on his tail, and nothing could have pleased him more.

The School of Speed
By the last run of the second day I was comfortably carrying speed into corners that would have been well outside my comfort zone only 48 hours earlier. But more importantly, I have applied those skills to ride more safely and confidently on the street.

On a racetrack, to be fast around a corner is everything. But more importantly, for most of us, the skills CSS teaches make for better, safer road riding. As I would discover only a week later, applying effective vision, measured control inputs, and braking techniques can make the difference between walking away from disaster or not. Advances in technology have far outpaced human evolution. Motorcycles are faster and, thanks to ABS, traction control, and IMU sensors, are safer than ever, whereas motorcyclists are the same Homo sapiens they were 100,000 years ago. CSS is a potent upgrade to the most critical safety feature, the rider.

I’ve attended many driving and enduro schools, and the program content, quality of equipment, and the professionalism of the staff at California Superbike School are a model for how training should be done. I look forward to going back for Level III. I’ll stride in, grab a Danish, and shoot the breeze with Mike and Johnny.

California Superbike School holds training from February through November at tracks throughout the U.S. Single-day schools cost $725 per day using a CSS bike or $525 per day if you ride your own. The fee includes classroom training, track sessions, coaching, food, and drinks, and CSS has a well-stocked supply of suits, boots, gloves, and helmets for students to borrow. If you want more track time and more personalized coaching, you can sign up for a 2-Day Camp. For more info, visit superbikeschool.com. 

The School of Speed

The post Back to California Superbike School first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

2021 Yamaha MT-07 | Road Test Review

2021 Yamaha MT-07 | Road Test Review
The MT-07, Yamaha’s Budget Blaster. Photos by Kevin Wing.

Since its debut in 2015, Yamaha’s MT-07 has been a popular choice thanks to its punchy parallel-twin, aggressive naked styling, and lightweight accessibility. It has proven to be just as adept as a first bike, a commuter, a track bike, a play bike — heck, throw luggage on it and it can be a sport-tourer.

Rider did a comparison test of the Kawasaki Ninja 650, Suzuki SV650, and Yamaha FZ-07 (the MT-07’s original moniker) back in 2016. The three bikes share the same defining attributes — simple, fun, and inexpensive. The FZ-07 came out on top, proving to be edgier and nimbler than its rivals, providing immediate response to throttle inputs and exceptionally agile handling. 

2021 Yamaha MT-07 | Road Test Review
The MT-07’s aggressive styling belies a neutral riding position and a comfortable seat at an accessible height. Yamaha has done a bang-up job on this budget blaster.

To stay ahead of the competition, Yamaha tweaked the mix, focusing on styling and rider engagement while maintaining the core character at the heart of the model’s appeal. A key part of that appeal has always been its value for money, and in its class, only the Suzuki SV650 can match its price. Perhaps not surprisingly then, most of the updates for the 2021 model are subtle. 

2021 Yamaha MT-07 | Road Test Review
The middleweight MT-07 is versatile and can fill many practical roles. It really shines on winding mountain roads, where opportunities to get the most out of its punchy parallel-twin and grippy dual-compound tires bring out its lively character. Simple, nimble, friendly, and a whole lot of fun!

The most striking change is in the new headlight cluster. Yamaha has standardized the styling across the MT range, and just like the MT-09 we tested recently, the MT-07 is fitted with full LED lights arranged in what Yamaha calls a “signature Y-shape icon,” which I found to be insect-like and split the opinion of the Rider staff. The “Y” motif is carried over to the rear LED also. Overall, the MT-07 is a great-looking bike. The stance looks more aggressive than it feels, and the new bodywork provides just enough edge without being silly.

2021 Yamaha MT-07 | Road Test Review
A new LED headlight cluster and LED turn signals are in line with the rest of the MT lineup.

New flared intakes add some muscle to the look, while sleek LED turnsignals bring a touch of class and are a vast improvement over the old lollipop design. Aesthetics aside, the new light cluster is a practical improvement. At night, the low beam provides a good spread of useable light. The high beam is bright and well defined but lacked width when the road became windy. There is no TFT for the new model, but the revised LCD dash is now color inverted. The dark screen with white characters is stylish and easy to read in bright daylight and at night, and Yamaha has fixed the mounting angle issues from previous models. 

2021 Yamaha MT-07 | Road Test Review
A new white-on-black LCD meter has a bar-style tach and a large, easy-to-read font.

The newly tapered handlebars are over an inch wider and positioned slightly higher than before, which opens up the ergonomics slightly. The wide bars, which work flawlessly at low speeds, felt slightly cumbersome when carving through my favorite canyon. The new setup takes nothing away from the MT-07’s exceptional agility and responsiveness, allowing for precisely picked lines through corners and a tight turning radius. The low seat height and curb weight, which at 31.7 inches and just over 400 pounds respectively, are among the lowest in class, make for a thoroughly approachable motorcycle, especially for shorter riders. 

2021 Yamaha MT-07 | Rider Test
The middleweight MT-07 is versatile and can fill many practical roles. It really shines on winding mountain roads, where opportunities to get the most out of its punchy parallel-twin and grippy dual-compound tires bring out its lively character. Simple, nimble, friendly, and a whole lot of fun!

There is a narrow stretch of winding road not far from my home that is so good that I often stop and re-ride it a few times. On the MT-07 it was a blast, and I was impressed with how easy it was to get a U-turn done. My brother, who lives in the U.K., is taking his motorcycle test on a restricted MT-07. It’s a favorite with schools offering the A2 test, and no doubt its low-speed maneuverability and forgiving nature are key factors behind that. 

I’m 6 feet, 2 inches tall, and when I took our MT-07 for a full day’s ride, spending a solid eight hours in the saddle, I found it had a comfortable and commanding riding position, with room to slide back on the seat just a little and get into a more aggressive attitude in the twisties. The pegs are high enough to make it a plausible carver but require considerable knee bend for taller riders like me, which felt cramped after a while. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t change much. The pegs give enough clearance to really take advantage of the strong performance offered by that punchy twin. 

2021 Yamaha MT-07 | Rider Test
An empty sweeping road is the perfect environment to take advantage of the MT-07’s punchy parallel twin.

The MT’s 689cc parallel-twin has been tweaked to be Euro 5 compliant without compromising performance. We took it down to Jett Tuning for dyno testing, and output remains similar to the outgoing model: 68 horsepower and 46.5 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel. Part of what makes the MT-07 so much fun is its bias towards maximizing instantaneous torque. The motor provides all the thrill the combustion forces working below can exert but with none of the hairiness. Throttle response is strong without being too snappy. A new air-intake duct ensures smooth fueling and acceleration when rolling on and off the power, and the engine’s 270-degree firing cadence generates a nice strum when you get the revs over 5,000. It also has a little bit of crackle and pop as you come off the gas, always a crowd pleaser. 

2021 Yamaha MT-07 | Road Test Review
Revisions to the engine’s intake, exhaust, and fuel injection help the MT-07 meet Euro 5 regulations and dyno testing revealed output remains similar to the outgoing model.

Riding the MT-07 up my favorite canyon, 25 glorious miles, few of which are straight, gave me an opportunity to get the new Michelin Road 5 tires warmed up and carry some speed into the corners. The characteristics of these tires suit the bike well. Designed as an all-rounder, the Road 5 has four-season credentials in its center tread, where deep grooves dissipate water, but at the tire’s shoulder, only called into use when riding spiritedly in the dry, a softer compound of sticky rubber without tread sipes provides additional grip. 

In this environment, the MT-07’s twin is happiest in the 5,000-7,000 rpm range, optimizing throttle response and engine braking. Thanks to the short wheelbase and low weight, flicking it from side to side is effortless, and the handling intuitive. After only a few miles it felt like I’d been riding this thing for years and I found myself in that wonderful riding zone, where your inputs are entirely in tune with the motorcycle and the feedback you get through the bars, pegs, and seat is clear and predictable. All that remains is the asphalt, the braking points, the exits, and the exhilarating forces working through your body, now a part of the bike. I didn’t want to stop, fearing even a brief pause might break the magic. 

2021 Yamaha MT-07 | Road Test Review
Michelin Road 5 dual-compound tires complement the MT-07’s versatility.

One of the key reasons behind the MT-07’s popularity as an all-rounder is its ability to be just as forgiving to new riders as it is thrilling for riders with years of experience. The gearbox is somewhat notchy and requires more effort than some of its class rivals, but the clutch has a wide take-up zone and takes all the sweat out of pulling away from stops. The strong low-end torque even allows you to pull off in 2nd gear without embarrassing yourself with a stall. 

ABS is standard and Yamaha has made the front brake discs 14mm larger, which provided adequate stopping power but with a softer lever than premium brakes. The 41mm nonadjustable KYB fork remains unchanged, and the rear monoshock is adjustable for preload and rebound. The MT-07 was fighting above its weight when I took my wife on a pillion ride through the canyons. Handling and braking were up to the task, but the narrow rear seat and lack of grab rails ensure this will not be the first choice for riders looking for a good two-up bike. 

2021 Yamaha MT-07 | Rider Test
The MT-07’s styling sets it apart from competitors in its class.

The MT-07’s past success has been dependent upon its nearly universal accessibility. The magic lies in maintaining these aspects while still being exciting, practical, comfortable, and visually appealing. Riders familiar with the older models will not be disappointed. Nothing has been compromised where it matters. The updated styling represents a bold modern design and visually sets it apart from its rivals. 

What hasn’t changed is the MT-07’s ability to repeatedly take you back to that feeling you had the very first time you stepped off a bike with pedals and pulled away on a bike with pegs, when exertion was replaced with effortless thrust. It makes me grin just thinking about it. The MT-07 remains an excellent value while still offering riders of all skills, sizes, and needs the most important thing of all — pure, unadulterated fun. 

2021 Yamaha MT-07 | Road Test Review
Thanks to the MT-07’s agility and responsiveness, pitching it from turn to turn feels almost effortless. It’s a great bike for building and maintaining confidence, and it delivers plenty of excitement at a reasonable price.

2021 Yamaha MT-07 Specs

Base Price: $7,699
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles 
Website: yamahamotorsports.com 

Engine

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel-twin, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl. 
Displacement: 689cc 
Bore x Stroke: 80.0 x 68.6mm 
Compression Ratio: 11.5:1 
Valve Insp. Interval: 26,000 miles 
Fuel Delivery: DFI w/ 38mm throttle bodies x 2 
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.75 qt. cap. 
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch 
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Chassis

Frame: Tubular-steel perimeter w/ engine as stressed member, steel swingarm
Wheelbase: 55.1 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.5 degrees/3.5 in.
Seat Height: 31.7 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm stanchions, no adj., 5.1 in. travel
Rear: Single link-type shock, adj. preload and rebound, 5.1 in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 298mm discs w/ opposed 4-piston calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 245mm hydraulic disc w/ 1-piston caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast aluminum, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast aluminum, 5.50 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Rear: 180/55-ZR17
Wet Weight: 406 lbs.
Load Capacity: 377 lbs.
GVWR: 783 lbs. 

Performance

Horsepower: 67.9 hp @ 8,600 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)
Torque: 46.5 lb-ft @ 6,400 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gals.
Fuel Consumption: 45 mpg
Estimated Range: 165 miles 

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Farewell to a Two-Wheeled Friend

Farewell to a Two-Wheeled Friend
Phil with his trusty Honda Aero 1100 near the St. Johns River in Florida, not long before he had to say goodbye.

On April 8, 2021, at 8:47 p.m. near Sarasota, Florida, my 2001 Honda Aero 1100, a trusted traveling companion for the last 14 years, met its unceremonious end when the driver of a car ran a red left-turn arrow and crossed my lane of travel.

I bought my Aero in 2007, and ended up owning it longer than I’ve owned any other motorcycle. To say that it was a great bike is a major understatement. The Aero was steadfast, reliable and enjoyable for many magnificent motorcycle tours. Recently I had the thought that it might be the last motorcycle I’d ever own. Drawn to its classic styling, even after a decade and a half owning the bike, I would still smile when I looked at it parked in the garage.

Farewell to a Two-Wheeled Friend
On the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2008

Yeah, okay, so I loved the bike.

When I bought the Aero in 2007, it already had a windshield, auxiliary lights and highway bars, and within a short time I added a Corbin seat, Champion hard saddlebags and a throttle lock. Once outfitted, the bike was completely comfortable and suited for long-distance travel. I rode many 12-hour-plus days without complaint. Together, we logged nearly 100,000 miles from coast to coast.

Some of the best of these rides have been documented in the pages of Rider. Riding the Aero the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway culminated in my first article published in the magazine, “A Ride on the Ridge,” in the July 2009 issue. Living in the Atlanta area for many years, we explored well-known roads, like Tail of the Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway, and hidden gems throughout the Southeast.

When I moved to Seattle, Washington, in 2010, I rode the Aero through the Ozarks, on Route 66 west of Flagstaff, over the Hoover Dam and through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. While living in the Pacific Northwest, new routes up and around Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and the Cascades, as well as east into the high desert around Yakima took us through some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. More unforgettable memories and and more features in Rider, such as “Olympic Peninsula, Motorcycle Heaven in the Northwest” (May 2012) and “The Cascade Loop” (January 2014).

Farewell to a Two-Wheeled Friend
Mount St. Helens, Washington, in 2011

One of my most memorable rides was taking the Aero the “back way” to Idaho on the Brownlee-Oxbow Highway, along the Snake River and into Hells Canyon. On all these rides, through hundreds of hours and countless miles through some of the most deserted roads in America, I never doubted that the Honda would get me there and back. Many times I patted its tank like a cowboy pats his horse.

In 2016, at a career dead end and financially tapped out, I moved to southwest Florida, where my extended family lived. With no income, hustling to find a job and get back on my feet, the logical thing to do was sell the bike. Sadly I did, but I told the buyer, “When you buy your Harley” — everyone rides them here — “I want first call on buying it back.” Fourteen months later, my Aero came back home.

Farewell to a Two-Wheeled Friend
Near Harmony, Washington, in 2012

Our last tour was just a few weeks ago, a whirlwind five-day, 1,000-mile ride around northern Florida, with overnight stays in Cedar Key, Apalachicola, Jacksonville and Crescent Beach. A lovely ride.

But now it’s gone. Due to a split-second error by an impatient driver, the Aero suffered terminal front-end damage. It’s never easy to say goodbye to those we love. My Aero will be missed, but I’ll always have great memories of our years and miles together.

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Two Buddies Tour the Rocky Mountains

A Dream Come True - Two Buddies Tour the Rocky Mountains Moto Guzzi Spirit of the Eagle Rideaway V85 TT
Kit (on left), Guy, and the Moto Guzzi V85 TTs in Kanisku National Forest, ready to take on the resplendent Rocky Mountains. (Photos by Guy Pickrell)

“You’ve got to enter this!” said my touring mate, Marco, when he called me about Moto Guzzi’s Spirit of the Eagle Rideaway competition.

Describe your dream tour, anywhere in the USA. Win the use of a V85 TT adventure bike for 14 days and a $2,500 travel budget.

I threw down a route. Start in Seattle, ride east to Glacier National Park, then follow the Rocky Mountains south through Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Flaming Gorge, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and finish in Las Vegas. Eight days, seven states, six national parks and monuments, 2,600 miles. Epic!

Click here for the REVER route shown above

When the Piaggio Group called me last August to tell me I had won, it didn’t leave much time to prep and hit the road to beat the cold weather in Glacier National Park. My buddy Kit agreed to join me, and Moto Guzzi generously offered us a second bike. The adventure/dual-sport market isn’t Guzzi’s typical realm, so when I read that the TT stands for tutto terreno (all-terrain), I figured the least we could do is put them through a genuine off-road test. Part of the budget went toward Michelin Anakee Wild tires; billed as 50/50 on-/off-road, they have a surprisingly aggressive tread pattern. At 500-plus pounds, the V85 TT is no dirt bike, but if adventure is your goal, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself off the beaten path, and that’s exactly where we planned to be.

Our Chariots Await

We flew to Seattle and first saw our V85 TTs parked outside at Optimum Performance Motorsports. Their styling reminded me of old Paris-Dakar bikes. I took the Adventure edition, sporty in bright red and white livery, with only a gesture of a windscreen. Kit took the Travel edition, with a sophisticated metallic sand color and a larger windscreen, auxiliary lights and heated grips. Both bikes were fitted with excellent panniers, and the Adventure also included a top box, which I removed to allow more room for my DrySpec soft bags. After a chat with Alan Kwang, the dealership owner, he handed us the keys and wished us well. It was surreal riding away on brand new bikes without having exchanged anything more than a conversation.

A Dash Across an Apocalyptic Plain

It was nearly noon by the time we packed everything on the bikes and rode east out of Seattle. U.S. Route 2 climbs into rugged, pine-strewn mountains and goes over Stevens Pass (4,061 feet) before descending along the floor of a dramatic, glacial valley. During a late lunch in Leavenworth, the smell of smoke reminded us there were wildfires still burning across Washington State. After crossing the Columbia River, a steep ascent took us out of the rocky canyon onto a vast, windswept plain. Rolling grassland swept off to the horizon in all directions. Huge areas, scorched black by the recent flames, were still smoldering. It was like riding through the wake of a recent battle. We raced across the plateau for 140 miles, and then descended into Spokane and made quick time to our hotel in Ponderay, Idaho.

Two Buddies, Two Bikes, One Big Adventure
Going-to-the-Sun Road provides panoramic views of the dramatic arêtes, cascading valleys and ribbon lakes that make up Glacier National Park.

Majestic Glacier National Park and Deer in the Headlights

Still refining the bike-packing process, we began the first of 440 miles much later than planned. Just shy of the Canadian border, Route 2 turns east near Bonners Ferry, into the dense fir and spruce forests of Montana. Entering Glacier National Park, crystal-clear Lake McDonald sweeps up the valley alongside Going-to-the-Sun Road, a narrow strip of asphalt (and an engineering marvel) carved into the side of a mountain range. Logan Pass (6,647 feet) offered awesome views, as sheer valleys tumbled down to the lakes below and knife-edged arêtes towered above us. The light was fading by the time we got on the deserted forest road to Missoula. Kit spotted a mule deer, her almond eyes reflecting brightly in the Travel’s auxiliary lights. She was the first of many, and it was 10 p.m. when we finally walked into the Missoula Club bar, famous for its burgers and beer.

The Glorious Mountain Roads of Montana

After refueling in Hamilton, we turned east into the Sapphire Mountains on a steep gravel track and climbed up to Skalkaho Pass (7,257 feet). It was our first off-road test for the bikes and tires, and we quickly found our confidence on the hard-packed gravel. Abundant torque served us well, especially in 2nd and 3rd gears. By afternoon, the towering canyons had relented to reveal panoramic views of the dramatic scenery. We swept up another pass, riding into Virginia City, a marvelous authentic gold-rush town established in 1863. Following the Madison River south from Ennis, we had a breathtaking sight as the setting sun lit up a colossal rift running along the western bank. Eventually, we made it to our hotel in the dark, tired and hungry, only to discover the nearest restaurant was eight miles away, in West Yellowstone.

Two Buddies, Two Bikes, One Big Adventure
Clouds of sulphur-smelling steam billow up from boiling pools along the road through Yellowstone.

Enchanting Yellowstone and Towering Grand Teton

As the sun came up, we brushed the ice off our seats and rode into Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. We rode a clockwise loop around the park, passing steaming geysers, volcanic hot springs that belched scorching, sulfurous gas, and bison that grazed the roadside meadows, eventually coming upon enormous Yellowstone Lake. We made a quick stop at the amazing Old Faithful Inn, just as its namesake geyser erupted.

Two Buddies, Two Bikes, One Big Adventure
The Tetons looming over Jackson Lake

The road exiting Yellowstone’s southern entrance runs along the edge of a sheer canyon, ending at Jackson Lake, where the Tetons, a series of three spectacular peaks, soar up from the western bank to over 13,500 feet like giant fossilized teeth. It was late afternoon when we stopped at Alpine to buy supplies. The Guzzis always drew a small crowd and a flurry of questions. I discovered our next leg, a 95-mile dirt track through Bridger-Teton National Forest, was only graded for the first 40. Undeterred (somewhat), we proceeded anyway and soon found an idyllic spot to make camp by the river.

Scarlet Sockeye and the Stunning Beauty of Flaming Gorge

After a chilly, restless night, we rejoined the track running along Greys River, a ribbon of blue and lush green framed by rocky bluffs. As predicted, the track became steep and challenging, but the V85 TTs’ suspension capably soaked up the abuse, while their V-twins churned out torque with a lovely, distinctive rumble. We savored awesome view after awesome view as our fifth day’s route took us out of Wyoming’s forested mountains and into the painted desert canyons of Utah.

Two Buddies, Two Bikes, One Big Adventure
Steaming in the early chill, bucolic Madison River flows into Yellowstone National Park

Desolate plateau roads delivered us to a series of tight corners cut into the red rock, descending hundreds of feet into Flaming Gorge. At the bottom, we stopped at Sheep Creek, where the shallow, limpid water was teeming with sockeye salmon. A series of thrilling sweepers and twisties climbed out of the gorge, providing a spectacular view of the sheer, banded cliffs of crimson and terracotta strata and the reservoir below. The plateau finally ended with a dramatic zig-zagging 3,000-foot descent to the town of Vernal, Utah. We used every electrical socket in the room to charge the crap out of everything — cameras, phones, drone — making the most of our last night in a hotel.

Ridge Riding on Top of the World and A Steer Standoff

After a dash across the vast Uinta Basin, we descended into Scofield (pop. 23), home to Snack & Pack, a quirky gas station where customers broil their own burgers. With us and the Guzzis refueled, we climbed into the mighty Manti-La Sal Mountains and onto Skyline Drive Scenic Backway, a rough unpaved road that follows a knife-edged ridge at over 10,000 feet, with sheer drops down both sides to the valleys below. I tried to focus on the riding, despite the arresting views at every turn. This was not a good place to screw up.

Two Buddies, Two Bikes, One Big Adventure
Skyline Drive can test the nerves, but at 10,000 feet the views are worth the effort

With one eye on the clock, we reluctantly turned off Skyline, riding down into the valley, where we found our route blocked by a herd of belligerent bovine. Stores are scarce in this remote part of Utah, and we were forced to ride 20 miles past our exit to buy supplies, starting the last leg as the sun began to set — a steep, 18-mile dirt track that provided plenty of butt-clenching moments in the dusk. We pitched our tents on patches of sand among boulders and stunted juniper. There was no moon, and when the last of the firewood burnt out, we could see the Milky Way painted across the night sky, with shades of purple, blue and red in an ocean of stars.

We Max Out the V85 TTs and Reluctantly Ride to Vegas

The morning sun blazed across the desert as we tore off down the rocky trail and into Cathedral Valley, where a group of distinctive striped mesas rise up from the plain like a village hewn from rock. Capitol Reef National Park is amazingly varied. Terracotta cliffs are the backdrop to white and yellow hoodoos, vivid green yuccas and gnarly juniper, as well as a formidable mix of sand-and-rubble tracks. Our pace had increased, and at times we asked more from the Guzzis than they were designed for, but what a ride! Inevitably, a deep sandy section proved too much of an ask, and I dumped my Adventure — scuza amore.

Two Buddies, Two Bikes, One Big Adventure
The Milky Way, spanning the sky on a moonless night at our camp in Capitol Reef National Park’s Cathedral Valley

As we neared its end, the trail entered a dense line of trees and abruptly ended at the Fremont River. The fast running water was muddy, and Kit was the first to ford with little notion of depth and no idea what lay below. A breathtaking narrow road perched atop a meandering ridge separated by two yawning canyons delivered us to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Completely exhausted, we began looking for a campsite along Cottonwood Canyon Road. I found a ledge with a panoramic view across the valley. A series of sheer, striped ridges ran across the horizon, and towering above these, the giant mesa we had traversed all afternoon. We toasted our last night as the last of the sun’s rays set alight Escalante’s vivid strata. It had all gone so fast, and yet Seattle seemed like a lifetime ago. The view from my tent the following morning was worthy of its own trip.

Two Buddies, Two Bikes, One Big Adventure
Our last campsite, overlooking a majestic valley in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, was in itself worthy of riding 2,600 miles

On our final day, we thundered down a deserted, undulating track running along the floor of Cottonwood Canyon, a dust cloud in our wake and rocks pinging off the sump guards. With the road through Zion National Park closed, we had to take a southern loop through Arizona before starting the last, searing leg down to Las Vegas.

The Moto Guzzi V85 TT, È Tutto Terreno?

After riding hundreds of miles on dirt tracks, some seriously challenging, the V85 TT has convinced this skeptic that it will handle anything you can reasonably expect to throw at it. Overall build quality is excellent. Even with its handsomely sculpted 5.6-gallon tank full of gas, the V85’s center of gravity feels surprisingly low, and coupled with the Michelin Anakee Wild tires, inspired the kind of off-road confidence usually associated with lighter bikes. On the road, more midrange power would make fast overtaking maneuvers less of an exercise in physics, but otherwise, the V85 TT was a superb ride.

Two Buddies, Two Bikes, One Big Adventure
A new day in Cathedral Valley, and the most challenging terrain yet

Both Kit and I are over six feet tall, and I’d figured we’d be folded up like a couple of deckchairs, but with some huge miles undertaken, we appreciated the excellent ergonomics and supremely comfortable seat. In terms of range, comfort, durability and handling on- and off-road, the V85 TT is a credible contender at a competitive price, and the folks in Mandello del Lario deserve credit for also making it so very beautiful. We were reluctant to hand back the keys. Arrivederci bellissima! Thanks for the good times!

Two Buddies, Two Bikes, One Big Adventure
Thundering down the deserted Cottonwood Canyon Road in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

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Romania to Istanbul Adventure

Romania to Istanbul Adventure with Adriatic Moto Tours
Riding the Transalpina Road in the Carpathian Mountains. There were many roads like this on the Romania to Istanbul Adventure with Adriatic Moto Tours. (Photos courtesy of Adriatic Moto Tours)

Trying to summarize a 14-day motorcycle tour through Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, with all of the roads and meals and people and historic sites that it entailed, in about 1,000 words is like trying to stuff 10 pounds of rice into a 5-pound sack. Adriatic Moto Tours’ Romania to Istanbul Adventure tour lived up to its name, providing a dozen of us — four Australians and eight Americans — with a rich experience in a very interesting and beautiful part of the world.

Our tour began in Bucharest, Romania, and followed a counterclockwise loop with overnight stops in charming towns and rest days in Sibiu, Romania, and Istanbul, Turkey.

Romania to Istanbul Adventure with Adriatic Moto Tours
Our tour route started and ended in Bucharest. You meet the nicest people in Transylvania. And ride some of the best roads. Enjoying a late afternoon ride along the Danube River.

Before our trip, Adriatic Moto Tours (AMT) sent us a detailed tour guide book and a map, and they made our hotel arrangements in Bucharest and picked us up at the airport. All my wife Becky and I had to do was pack our gear and make sure we made our flight. Orientation, bike assignments and everything was stress-free, and after our first dinner together our group was acquainted, bonded and ready to ride.

RELATED: Adriatic Moto Tours’ Intriguing Southeast Europe Tour

Rok was our motorcycle guide and Primož was our support van driver and evening host. From Burcharest we made our way to Târgovişte, where we enjoyed coffee and fresh pastries at a café adjacent to an imposing 15th century fortress. Vlad Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler and the inspiration for the vampire Dracula, fought bloody battles here. Primož told us that Vlad once invited hundreds of guests to a banquet, then had them all killed and impaled.

Romania to Istanbul Adventure with Adriatic Moto Tours
Meeting Count Dracula in Târgovişte, Romania

On that cheery note, we rode north toward Câmpulung into delightful mountains, with rocky peaks in the background and gorgeous green pastoral scenery below. This stretch was winding and curvy but smooth and pleasant. There are many beautiful places in the world, all different, but there aren’t many that are more beautiful than this section of Romania’s Carpathian Mountains. We visited Bran Castle, which was built in the 13th century and inspired Bram Stoker’s description of the vampire’s castle in “Dracula.” On the way to dinner that night, Primož led us on a walking tour of the old city in Braşov. Each night we walked to a wonderful restaurant, and the guides shared their wealth of knowledge about the culture and history of the area. Dinners were family-style, with Rok and Primož ordering a variety of platters so we could sample a little bit of everything.

Romania to Istanbul Adventure with Adriatic Moto Tours
Enjoying a late afternoon ride along the Danube River.

Our route continued through Transylvania on smooth roads through rolling hills, the terrain and scenery constantly changing. We had lunch in Sighişoara, a walled 12th century town that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. For our “rest” day in Sibiu, we did what riders do — we got up early and headed out on a ride, in this case to the renowned Transfăgărăşan road over the Făgărăş range. At the base of the mountain, Rok gave the signal and the group broke apart with everyone riding their own pace up the steep twisty switchbacks to the pass at 6,699 feet. The next day, after finding out that a rockslide had closed the highly anticipated Transalpina Road, we assuaged our disappointment with another run on the Transfăgărăşan.

Romania to Istanbul Adventure with Adriatic Moto Tours
The legendary Transfăgărăşan road in Romania is so good, we rode it twice.

We crossed the Friendship Bridge into Bulgaria and made our way to Veliko Tarnovo, where we spent the night in the Tsarevets Fortress. We visited the Shipka Monument at a 3,900-foot mountain pass that was the site of battles during the Russo-Turkish War in the late 1800s. And we descended into Rose Valley, where much of the world’s rose oil for perfumes comes from, and passed sunflower fields that stretched as far as the eye could see.

After a night in Plovdiv, which has Roman ruins in the center of town, we rode through the Rhodope Mountains into Greece. Most of the road had excellent pavement, smooth curves and gorgeous mountain terrain that gave way to Mediterranean seaside scenery at Alexandroupoli. The next day we crossed into Turkey, and a perfect arc of roadway around the Gulf of Saros took us to tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula, where we visited WWI memorials.

Romania to Istanbul Adventure with Adriatic Moto Tours
Balea Lac at the top of the pass on the Transfăgărăşan road through the Făgărăş Mountains.

Istanbul is beyond words. As the crossroads of the East and West, it has a rich, varied history and a unique mix of cultures. Three nights and two rest days in Istanbul allowed plenty of time to explore and see famous sites like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Hippodrome of Constantinople. People on the streets and in shops were warm and friendly, and the variety of foods was endless and always delicious. Our hotel provided easy access to historic areas, and its rooftop restaurant and bar overlooked the Bosphorus Strait, which is the boundary between Europe and Asia. Just indescribable — you really should experience it for yourself.

After the sensory overload of Istanbul, we followed Rok northwest to our lunch stop at Saray. The roads zigged and zagged, and the surface was somewhat rough due to years of being patched. We crossed the border back into Bulgaria, and at the checkpoint there were several luxury vehicles shot full of hundreds of holes. If that was meant as a warning, it worked. Nessebar, situated on a rocky peninsula jutting into the Black Sea, was our stop for the night. It’s one of the oldest towns in Europe, and as we walked to dinner we saw monuments and ruins dating back to the 5th century. The atmosphere in the twilight was breathtaking, another step back in time.

Romania to Istanbul Adventure with Adriatic Moto Tours
One of the endless fields of sunflowers in Bulgaria.

The terrain and scenery changed yet again as we rode north along the Bulgarian coast, which is a popular vacation destination with dramatic cliffs, pristine beaches and resort hotels. After a night in Kavarna, where we stayed in a modern condo overlooking the Black Sea, we rode through fertile grain-producing agricultural areas. We crossed back into Romania on a ferry over the mighty Danube River and made our way back to Bucharest, where Primož greeted us with champagne at the hotel. After celebrating, we emptied the bikes and got cleaned up for the farewell dinner. I don’t remember much about that final night. Our heads were spinning with memories, laughter and a few adult beverages.

This tour was everything we could have imagined, multiplied by a factor of 10. Both guides worked tirelessly to accommodate us every day for 14 long days. The riding was great, the scenery ever-changing, the history and culture beyond what we could absorb in a lifetime, and Adriatic Moto Tours earned our highest regards for everything from the booking to the final hoorah. Maybe we can go again someday?

Romania to Istanbul Adventure with Adriatic Moto Tours
Our group of intrepid adventurers.

AMT’s Istanbul to Romania Adventure tour runs several times a year from August to October. For dates, pricing and details, visit adriaticmototours.com.

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