Tag Archives: Touring

A Scenic (and History-Laden) Southern Utah and Arizona Loop | Favorite Ride

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop Zion National Park BMW R 1600 GTL Grand America
There are several hairpins just west of the 1.1‑­mile Zion‑­Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which separates distinctly different parts of Zion National Park in southern Utah.

Living at 6,000 feet in Cedar City, Utah, most of my winter riding involves heading south, which offers a quick drop in elevation and less chance of the falling white stuff. So that’s what I did a week before Christmas, giving myself a gift of a one‑­day ride through some southern Utah and Arizona history.

See all of Rider‘s West U.S. Motorcycle Rides here.

The day promised unseasonably warm temperatures…eventually. Just after the sun peeked over the mountains, the ambient temperature was in the upper 20s, but doing 80 mph on the interstate meant I was closer to single digits. Thankfully, the BMW R 1600 GTL Grand America I was riding offers great wind protection, and with my California Heat heated apparel (see California Heat gear review here), I didn’t need to use the bike’s seat or grip warmers.

Utah is one of the few states where even interstate riding offers great views. Descending the Black Ridge south of Cedar City, the mountain terrain changes from gray and sage green and reveals distant red rock mesas. Exiting Interstate 15, I took State Route 17 to Hurricane and connected with State Route 59.

After a quick climb out of Hurricane, SR‑­59 flattens out and heads south. Just a few miles outside of town, jagged peaks painted in rust, deeper reds, and oranges rise in the distance. Much of this area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and numerous dirt roads meander from the highway.

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop Zion National Park BMW R 1600 GTL Grand America
If you keep your eyes open on the east side of Zion National Park, you’re likely to see a mountain goat…and much less tourist traffic. Plus, the curvy road is open to motorcycles all year.

Within an hour, the temperature had risen nearly 20 degrees as I rolled into the small twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, an area locally known as Short Creek. Much has already been written about this area that is both the last U.S. stronghold of the FLDS church (read: polygamists) and the non‑­FLDS members struggling against that stigma, so I’ll just say they have a beautiful place to live.

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop REVER map

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

Continuing on, the road isn’t especially exciting, but the scenery remains impressive. Crossing into the Kaibab Indian Reservation, the road heads east, paralleling red cliffs to the north. To the south, on a clear day, you can see as far as 60 miles into the Arizona Strip – a wedge of that state between the north side of the Grand Canyon and the Utah border – without any signs of humanity. The desolation makes it easy to imagine life a couple centuries ago. However, not far onto the reservation is a sign for Pipe Spring National Monument, an oasis in the desert where Mormon pioneers erected a fort in 1872 for protection against some of the very people whose land they had settled on. Located a half mile off the highway, the museum and fort are worth a visit.

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop Pipe Spring National Monument
The fort at Pipe Spring National Monument was built as both a ranch house and protection for settlers during the Black Hawk War. It later served as a refuge for polygamist wives.

Farther east, I picked up U.S. Route 89 in Fredonia, and 7 miles later, I rode into Kanab, Utah, known as “Little Hollywood” for its filmmaking history, particularly old Westerns. My family likes to come here in February for the annual Balloons & Tunes Roundup hot air balloon festival. The historic Parry Lodge is a fun place to stay, and there’s a good mix of dining options.

Outside of town, the road cuts into the red rock, climbing and then dropping again into Mt. Carmel Junction, with the landscape colors changing from red to white to yellow. 

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop Kanab Utah BMW R 1600 GTL Grand America
The only thing missing from this photo taken in Kanab, Utah, (aka “Little Hollywood”) is a locomotive.

Taking State Route 9, this diversity of landscape continues with almost every twist and turn, both in tones and textures, leading to the east entrance of Zion National Park. For most of the year, you can only get up the road into Zion’s main canyon via shuttle, but as spectacular as the towering cliffs in the main canyon are, I much prefer riding on the east side, which is always open. It’s like an alien landscape, and with the slower speeds, you get to enjoy both the views and the numerous curves.

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop Zion National Park BMW R 1600 GTL Grand America
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to personal vehicles most of the year.

On the west side of Zion is Springdale, a typical national park gateway community with lots of lodging and dining options (depending on the season), as well as art galleries and novelty shops. Just a few miles past Springdale is Rockville, where you can detour on Bridge Road to cross over the Virgin River on the last surviving Parker‑­through‑­truss bridge in Utah. Continuing 3.5 miles on this road, which turns to dirt about halfway, takes you to Grafton Ghost Town, where parts of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were filmed.

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop Rockville Bridge
The Rockville Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1924, it enabled the first direct link from the Grand Canyon North Rim to Zion National Park.

Staying on SR‑­9, it’s about 16 miles from Rockville to close the loop at SR‑­17 in La Verkin, where I made my way north and back home. Like the places I’ve ridden through, this Favorite Ride is now in the history books.

Southern Utah and Arizona Loop Resources

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Edelweiss Bike Travel ‘Southern Italy Delights and Twisties’ Tour Review

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour Gran Sasso Corno Grande
The Edelweiss Bike Travel “Southern Italy Delights and Twisties” tour took us through Gran Sasso (Big Rock) with Corno Grande, the Appenines’ tallest mountain, stealing the show.

Lying in bed in our darkened hotel room in Morano Calabro, I could hear the loud laughter and music outside. Beneath my open window on the ancient cobblestone walkway of Villa San Domenico, Robin, Shiva, and my wife, Amy, were laughing, singing, and dancing together. Total strangers just a few days earlier, they were now living it up well into the night, despite spending a long day on motorcycles. I had retreated to the room earlier in the evening to jot down my day’s notes and sneak in some much‑­needed rest. But instead, I was laying there smiling, soaking in the joy these people had found in each other’s company. I suppose the multiple rounds of Aperol spritz helped a bit too. 

We were approaching the final days of the Edelweiss Bike Travel “Unknown Italy: Secrets of the Appenines” tour, a new 10‑­day expedition added to the company’s portfolio (starting in 2024, the name of the tour has been changed to “Southern Italy Delights & Twisties”). Starting in Florence in the exquisite Tuscany region, the route traced the Appenines (Appa‑­NEENS), the mountainous spine of Italy stretching more than 800 miles down the center of the country. The tour introduced us to the largely unfamiliar mountainous areas situated between the country’s better known eastern and western shores and cities, revealing secrets of the interior regions, which have been there since the beginning of human civilization yet are still largely unknown to tourists. 

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour

Related: Edelweiss Bike Travel Releases 2024/25 Tour Brochure

Some of these secrets included wonderfully diverse landscapes that transitioned from rugged stone mountains to soft rolling hills and vast plateaus. We experienced deliciously nuanced foods, each homemade and unique to a region’s own crops, creatures, catches, and culture, and we met delightfully distinct people who welcomed us and were genuinely interested in hearing our stories as well as sharing their own (since these aren’t big tourist areas, the residents were eager to engage, even when language was a barrier). 

Although there is a wide socioeconomic range throughout the country, when it comes to beauty, character, history, fascinating people, and utterly amazing food, Italy is rich in every region (we rode through seven out of 20 of them). And while each is impressive on its own, the differences make the entirety even more interesting, more appealing, and infinitely sensational. 

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour
Delicious curves (and food!) are endless on this tour.

Our tour participants were equally diverse and sensational, with folks converging from Turkey, South Africa, Colombia, and all over the U.S. The tour was led by Edelweiss’s energetic and tremendously knowledgeable Domenico, a native Italian and proud son of the city of Naples. He was eager for this fresh opportunity to share the cultural riches and splendid roads of his beloved country, with support from his equally upbeat and capable guides, Michael and Nicolas (aka “Nico”). At one point during a casual group gathering, I stepped back and just listened to the unusual blend of Italian, German, Turkish, Spanish, and a mix of South African and American English dialects as these foreign individuals found common ground and began to seamlessly meld into one harmonious group. 

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour
Yours Trowly, Dane, Domenico, and Graham yuk it up in Amalfi.

Out on the road, we were all moved by what we saw and awestruck by the continually evolving experience as we rode higher and higher into the remotest parts of the Appenine mountains, away from the bustling cities and out to where cows, horses, sheep, and dogs outnumber residents. With so few restaurant options in these isolated parts, the Edelweiss Bike Travel team even assembled an impromptu open‑­air picnic lunch one day amidst the remote hills. 

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour
Italy’s history has deep roots, and photo ops are endless throughout the Appenines.

At one point, we saddled up for a spectacular ride into “spaghetti Western” movie country (any Bud Spencer fans out there?) and on through the hills to the Grand Sasso, the jagged “big rock” that marks the highest point of the Appenines. 

The diversity continued to unfold as more secrets of the Appenines were revealed, one turn after another. We rode deeper into the wilds of the Abruzzo National Park, tracing the meandering contours of the mountains. The scenery evolved dramatically from craggy rock faces to rolling mountain hills to wide open valleys (think Yellowstone) and then into thick, mature pine forests that are home to deer, bear, fox, and other wildlife. A ride along the shores of several tranquil rivers and lakes was thrown in for good measure. 

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour
It seemed every kilometer presented an entirely new and different landscape.

Eventually, as we turned westward, tall mushroom‑­shaped evergreens known as “umbrella pines” indicated we were getting closer to the coast. Sure enough, after countless delicious turns through the hills, the scene opened to reveal the vast Tyrrhenian Sea. 

Related: Edelweiss Bike Travel Best of Greece Tour Review

The Alps were millions of years old before the Apennines rose from the sea. But when they did, they did so with gusto, jutting straight out of the water. Along these coastlines, you won’t find long sweeping sand beaches. Instead, the rock face of the mountain shoots nearly straight for the heavens. And a heavenly sight it is. A plaque at the gateway to Amalfi reads something to the effect of: “When you go to heaven, you will have already been there.” 

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour Polignano a Mare
Built upon the cliffs, the city of Polignano a Mare provides breathtaking views of the crystal blue waters of the Adriatic, drawing sunbathers, swimmers, divers, and motorcyclists to the area.

Contrasting with the quiet, empty backroads was the autostrada to Naples and the mad downtown traffic of a city of 3 million people. Cars, bikes, scooters, and buses battled for the same piece of roadway, each insisting on advancing as quickly as possible, while chic passengers of scooterists nonchalantly perused their smartphones amidst all the chaos and seemingly endless near‑­misses. In motorcycling’s version of a rude shove into the deep end of the pool, riding in this environment can initially be quite shocking. Eventually, it becomes somewhat normalized and manageable, although certainly out of the ordinary for most American riders. The Turkish contingent on this particular Edelweiss Bike Travel tour thought nothing of it – in fact, it may have even been a bit milder than what they were accustomed to back home. 

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour Sulmona
We stopped for lunch in Sulmona, birthplace of Roman poet Ovid.

Just as we became adept at dodging and passing other vehicles in tight spaces, it was back into the open country, where we moved from the Tyrrhenian Sea at the instep of Italy’s boot, tickled the arch at the Ionian Sea, and worked eastward through farm country toward the Adriatic Sea at the boot’s heel. 

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour Apulio
Riding through the agricultural Apulio region.

Our lodging and dining experiences were every bit as diverse, with no two days the same. 

We settled into a spectacularly restored 15th century castle, now a first‑­class hotel with a beautiful view overlooking its gardens and the city of Perugia. The views would be inspiration even for the Masters’ canvases.  

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour Castello di Monterone
Castello di Monterone in Perugia is a 15th century castle restored as a premium hotel. Its accommodations and grounds make visitors feel like royalty.

In sharp contrast to the luxurious castle in Perugia, we stayed two nights in the tiny remote medieval village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio. Once an abandoned 15th century hill town left largely in ruins, it has been brought back to life as a distinctive retreat. The village’s buildings and former residences now form the highly unique Sextantio, an “extended hotel.” With the lodging modernized just enough for comfort and convenience, the space preserves much of the original medieval ambiance. It’s an incomparable experience.  

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour Morano Calabro
We stayed at the beautiful Villa San Domenico in Morano Calabro.

We also maneuvered the bikes up narrow, winding mountain roads to a point high above the Amalfi coast, where we stayed in a luxury hotel built on the edge of the rock face, hundreds of feet above the rocky coast. The view from the balcony of our room was spectacular, and a touch terrifying. 

Later in our journey, we enjoyed 4‑­star modern accommodations and delightful sea‑­sourced cuisine in the ancient city of Matera, where the modern civilities and businesses are mixed in among Roman Empire‑­era structures dating back to 250 B.C. that were, in turn, built upon the remains of cave dwellings that have been there since the dawn of man’s first colonization (and amazingly, were occupied until the 1950s). 

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour Matera
The ancient city of Matera is perhaps the oldest formal settlement in the world.

The thing that strikes me most as I consider the secrets of the Appenines and the unknowns of Italy is that it is a land of great contrasts. It’s the contrast of terrain transitioning from rolling hills to rocky cliffs and from farmlands to dense forests and then on to crystal blue seas. It’s the solitude of riding through the untouched rural hill country and then hurtling through frenzied traffic on the autostrada. It’s dodging buses, trucks, cars, and scooters on dense city streets and then dodging goats and working dogs in farmland. It’s the pure, undisturbed silence of a night in the medieval village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio juxtaposed with the roaring high tide of coastal tourists along the Amalfi coast. It’s the paradox of a thoroughly modern 4‑­star hotel and restaurant built upon a meager ancient cave city. And it’s also the riddle of 18 people from different parts of the world laughing at the same silly “dad joke,” a brand of humor that transcends international borders, as does the deep, eye‑­rolling groan in response. 

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour Lake Trasimeno
After riding to Arezzo and Cortona, where scenes from the film Under the Tuscan Sun were shot, we embarked on a breathtaking ride around Lake Trasimeno. Dane and Vicky pause to enjoy the amazing view.

Back in the Villa San Domenico in Morano Calabro, I eventually drifted off to sleep, strangely lulled by the laughter and singing of dear Amy, Robin, and Shiva in the courtyard below my window. Clearly, I slept soundly because I awoke to Amy sleeping peacefully beside me. I smiled as I thought about all the incredible things we’d already seen and experienced, and I marveled at the dynamics of this diverse group of people. With so much global unrest dominating news headlines, it has been almost surreal to find such peace on this ride. Somehow, amidst a troubled and often unfriendly world, this international group immediately restored my long‑­held but recently wavering belief that people are, by and large, good and kind. And I was reminded that although we are from disparate lands with strange native languages, we are much more alike than we are different. Perhaps that was the biggest secret revealed in the Appenines.

Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights and Twisties Tour
During our tour, strangers from around the world became a tight-knit group of friends.

The Edelweiss Bike Travel Southern Italy Delights & Twisties tour is scheduled to run four times in 2024: May 12‑­23, June 3‑­14, Sept. 28‑­Oct. 10, and Oct. 10‑­13. Prices start at $6,360 per person. For more information, visit the Edelweiss Bike Travel website.

See all of Rider‘s international touring stories here.

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Source: RiderMagazine.com

Small Town Tennessee Motorcycle Loop | Favorite Ride

Small Town Tennessee Motorcycle Loop Honda Rebel 1100T DCT Trace through Land Between the Lakes
The Trace through Land Between the Lakes offers scenic picnic areas for a mid-ride break.

These days, I’ve become so enthralled by all the great motorcycle roads around the world and on my bucket list that I forget about the ones close to home. For this ride, I retraced steps from my early riding days with a 140‑­mile Tennessee motorcycle loop around my hometown of Dover, which is located on the Cumberland River about 30 miles west of Clarksville and, as the crow flies, a little over 60 miles northwest of Nashville.

Small Town Tennessee Motorcycle Loop

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

I was joined by my husband, Jake, on his Can‑­Am Ryker Rally, and I was aboard a Honda Rebel 1100T DCT test bike.


We started out at the Dyers Creek boat ramp, just across the river from downtown Dover. Then we rode across U.S. Route 79 and onto Bumpus Mills Road. This road has some of the best curves of the loop – the perfect way to get our blood pumping at the beginning of the ride.

When we got to the end of the road at the junction with State Route 120, we turned north and stopped at the family‑­owned Bumpus Meals Diner. We had hoped to pop in for a bite of their handmade desserts and a cup of coffee, but the diner was closed that day as the family and staff were enjoying the Thanksgiving weekend.

Small Town Tennessee Motorcycle Loop Can-Am Ryker
My husband, Jake, and I revisited many of the roads we explored as high schoolers with fresh driving licenses.

Oh well, onwards we went. The next stretch of the ride took us into Kentucky on State Route 139. It can be tempting to pick up the speed on this road, but we knew we couldn’t get too carried away. Much of this land is farmed by Amish communities, and you never know when you’ll run up behind a horse‑­drawn buggy just over the next hill.

An optional spur is to take a right on State Route 164 and visit the Oak Ridge Country Store. We love their homemade cheeses, deli sandwiches, and local canned and pickled foods. There are other stops along the road where you can purchase smoked meats, honey, fresh produce, and other goods.

We continued our Tennessee motorcycle loop north until we came to U.S. Route 68, where we turned west for 15 miles and rode over the Cumberland River and into Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. We turned south at the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway, also known as The Trace (not to be confused with the Natchez Trace Parkway, which runs between Nashville and Natchez, Mississippi).

Small Town Tennessee Motorcycle Loop Honda Rebel 1100T DCT
State Route 232 has nice sweepers and little traffic, allowing us to ride at our own pace without having to worry much about other drivers.

The Trace is a beautiful road that runs right through the center of LBL. Along the way are the Golden Pond Visitors Center and Planetarium, picnic areas, a bison range, campgrounds, the Turkey Bay OHV Area, and the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and Living History Museum.

We continued through LBL and back toward Dover. At the end of The Trace, we turned west on U.S. Route 79 and popped in at Brien Dill’s Piggly Wiggly. I worked at this grocery store throughout high school and college and still enjoy stopping by to visit with past coworkers and the owner, Brien, who rides a BMW R 1250 GS Adventure and loves chatting about motorcycles.

Small Town Tennessee Motorcycle Loop
My first employer, Brien Dill, always has a smile and loves chatting about bikes.

Down the highway about 6 miles, we turned south onto State Route 232, also known as the “Baby Dragon.” Unlike the famous 11‑­mile road in East Tennessee with a similar name, the Baby Dragon doesn’t have tight, technical curves, but it has plenty of long sweepers with good visibility. By the time we got to the end of the Baby Dragon, we were getting hungry, so we stopped at Southernaire Motel & Restaurant for a meatloaf plate with turnip greens and black‑­eyed peas.

Small Town Tennessee Motorcycle Loop Honda Rebel 1100T DCT Baby Dragon
Cruising down the “Baby Dragon.”

After a tasty lunch, we continued east through the towns of Stewart, Tennessee Ridge, and Erin until we got to Cumberland City, where candy‑­striped steam stacks from the TVA power plant stretch up into the sky. We rode down to the ferry, paid 75 cents (tickets are $1 for out‑­of‑­state motorcycles), and hopped over the river.

Small Town Tennessee Motorcycle Loop
Southernaire has an extensive menu, but you can’t go wrong with the meatloaf plate.

The last leg of this route goes through Indian Mound, the part of Stewart County where I grew up. Maybe I’m biased, but this is my favorite portion of this favorite ride. The roads through the Mound rise up over ridges and snake down along creeks and past fields of cattle. The last road is Old Highway 79, the curviest road of the loop.

Small Town Tennessee Motorcycle Loop Can-Am Ryker
The TVA power plant employs many local residents, including my dad, and the ferry just south of the plant offers a quick jump across the river.

At the end of Old Highway 79, you’ll find yourself back on U.S. Route 79 and just a stone’s throw away from the boat ramp where we began this route. Revisiting these roads and stops that have always been a part of my life gave me a renewed appreciation for my community and town. Sure, there are places in the world with more dramatic views and more exciting roads, but at the end of the day, these are the roads I’ll always come back to.

Tennessee Motorcycle Loop Resources

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Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding South Dakota’s Black Hills BDR-X

Black Hills BDR-X
On the Black Hills BDR-X, Daniel was thrilled with the 411cc Royal Enfield Himalayan. “It’s the way to go for me as I continue to master my off-road riding skills!” (See Shad TR40 Terra Adventure saddlebags review here.)

If you’re looking for a golden adventure riding opportunity, the Black Hills BDR-X marks the spot. Backcountry Discovery Routes are adventure/dual‑­sport routes that typically cover entire states and take about a week to complete, with GPS tracks and helpful info provided for free by the nonprofit BDR organization. In addition to its main routes, BDR has mapped out several shorter BDR-­X loop routes that can be completed in a few days.

Black Hills BDR-X

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

Located in western South Dakota, the Black Hills area is known for its scenic beauty, curvy roads, and historic sites like Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. When most motorcyclists think of the Black Hills, they think of the Sturgis rally, which brings upwards of 500,000 people to the region every August.

The Black Hills BDR-X is a 355‑­mile mostly off‑­road loop that starts and ends in Keystone, just a few miles east of Mount Rushmore, and is divided into three sections. Backcountry Discovery Routes recommends riding the Black Hills BDR-­X counterclockwise, but since it’s a loop, you can start and finish anywhere along the route and run it in either direction.

Black Hills BDR-X Mount Rushmore
The presidents at Mount Rushmore represent key aspects of U.S. history: Washington symbolizes the country’s birth, Jefferson represents expansion, Lincoln signifies development, and Roosevelt signifies preservation.

What makes the Black Hills BDR-X such a perfect adventure route is its variety. The landscape includes rugged mountains, dense forests, and wide‑­open prairies. The route passes through historic towns like Deadwood, Mystic, and Hill City, as well as public lands such as Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park.

Black Hills BDR-X
We rode into Deadwood covered in Black Hills dust just like they did 150 years ago.

There are great campgrounds or more luxurious lodging available. You’re never far from civilization, so you can get away from it all yet still have access to gas stations, stores, restaurants, and hotels. The BDR-X route includes flowing gravel and dirt roads, challenging two‑­track, and some of the area’s best paved roads, including Spearfish Canyon Road, Needles Highway, and Iron Mountain Road.

Black Hills BDR-X Spearfish Canyon
Spearfish Canyon was the filming location of the final scene in “Dances With Wolves.”

Setting the Hook

Last July, I joined three of my CFMOTO USA colleagues – Reid Strait, Daniel Dégallier, and Bill Baker – at Get On ADV Fest, a four‑­day adventure‑­bike rally in the Black Hills where we introduced the Ibex 800 T adventure bike. There was plenty of off‑­road riding involved, and REVER provided excellent tracks for the event.

Related: 2023 CFMOTO Ibex 800 T | Road Test Review 

Black Hills BDR-X
The Black Hills BDR-X is a best-of-class route. Gorgeous canyon roads. Superb gravel. Epic two-track. Majestic scenery. Native American and U.S. history. Clean, easy camping. Great food. Yup, there’s golden riding in them thar Black Hills.

The riding was so good, we were inspired to return in September and be among the first to ride the new Black Hills BDR-­X. The stars aligned when we learned that Rally for Rangers, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to support park rangers, would be hosting an event in the Black Hills at the same time (see sidebar below). CFMOTO USA provided Ibex 800 Ts for the guides to use during the event, along with a Papio minibike for cruising around the campground.  

Black Hills BDR-X Hitchrail Bar
The Hitch Rail Bar and Restaurant in Pringle is a great lunch stop.

After we delivered the bikes to the event, we spent the next few days riding the Black Hills BDR-­X to do some team bonding. Reid rode an Ibex 800 T, but the rest of us rode our personal bikes: Bill on a KTM 690 Enduro R, Daniel on a Royal Enfield Himalayan, and me on a Kawasaki KLX 300.

Black Hills BDR-X Pactola Reservoir
There’s an old mining town at the bottom of Pactola Reservoir, which was completed in 1956.

Black Hills BDR-X: 4 Riders, 4 Bikes, 4 Days

We may have different tastes in bikes, but we all agree on one thing: The Black Hills BDR-X is fantastic. It’s 355 miles of adventure motorcycling bliss. In terms of difficulty, I’d rate it 4 or 5 on a scale of 1‑­10. (I’ve also ridden the Mid Atlantic BDR, which I’d rate an easy 2 or 3.) Every day of the BDR-­X was filled with moments of euphoria, which crystallized into memories that we’ll share around the campfire for years to come.

Related: Backcountry Discovery Routes Announces Economic Impact of BDR Routes

Black Hills BDR-X Kawasaki KLX
Brad’s Kawasaki KLX after the BDR-X.

During one part of the ride, the sun overhead was radiant, casting a warm, autumn glow. The steady, gentle crunch of gravel under my tires never got old, nor did the scenery. Towering cliffs with rough textures contrasted with the vivid foliage below. The curves and bends unfurled before me, each one as breathtaking as the last. It was a sensory feast, as if Mother Nature took out her paintbrush, mixed up an impossibly diverse palette of rich colors, and painted a masterpiece. At higher elevations, the hills were ablaze in scarlet, amber, and gold, while it was a verdant wonderland down below. I was tempted to ride faster, but I slowed down, smelled the pines, and savored the experience.

Black Hills BDR-X
Campfire quote of the night: “Motorcycles are like beer. The best one is the one in your hand.”

Black Hills Gold

If you love off‑­road adventure riding, you’ll love the Black Hills BDR-X, which was like discovering a vein of gold. There’s gravel, rocky two‑­track, mud, and epic pavement. There’s majestic scenery, wildlife, and history. You can’t see and do it all in one trip, so like the four of us, you’ll want to come back. It’s fun but by no means a stroll in the park, and it’s the difficult stuff that sticks with you for a lifetime.

Black Hills BDR-X
Get the best zip ties money can buy; you’ll be glad you spent the extra quarter.

On Day 3, it was raining, and we opted to do the optional hard section over Bear Mountain. The route was rutted, rocky, steep two‑­track. The slick mud packed up on our tires, turning them into Teflon‑­coated slicks. Bill christened this spur route “Axle Grease Alley.” On the final bit, I chose my line and went for it, twisting the throttle to the stop, desperate for the tires to hook up, every muscle in my body fighting to keep me and the Kawasaki upright. After I made it to the top, Reid gave me a thumbs‑­up and said, “Brad, you looked like a flailing Kool‑­Aid man. Next time keep your feet on the pegs!”

Black Hills BDR-X
Climbing Bear Mountain in the rain took its toll on the KTM’s 17,000-mile clutch, which gave up the ghost short of the top. Bill had just enough bite left to make it to camp.

Happily, we all made it through the toughest sections in one piece. Despite the struggle and the chaos, even with our bikes and bodies caked in mud, we were grinning from ear to ear. Daniel’s quick thinking led us to a car wash in Custer, where we pressure‑­washed our bikes and could again recognize which was which. Cost? A few quarters. Memories? Priceless.

Black Hills BDR-X Bear Mountain lookout tower
BDR-X Section 3: If the trails are muddy, there are two ways to reach the Bear Mountain lookout tower: the “Hard Way” and the “Not Today” way. If it’s dry as July and the dust is flying, no problem.

Rally for Rangers Sidebar

The mission of Rally for Rangers is “to protect the world’s special places by empowering rangers around the world with new motorcycles and equipment.” It has provided more than 160 motorcycles and equipment for rangers in parks in distant places like Mongolia, Argentina, Nepal, Bhutan, Peru, and Namibia.

The first Rally for Rangers USA event took place last September in South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest and Pine Ridge Reservation. Fifteen adventure riders raised nearly $40,000 before convening in Custer State Park for a weekend of camping, riding, visiting tribal park rangers, and donating equipment and funds to protect parks and forests.

Traditional Rally for Rangers events are two‑­week international journeys, but the USA rallies are held over a long weekend. The Black Hills event donated night vision optics for tribal rangers of the Oglala Sioux Parks to conduct nighttime anti‑­poaching patrols. A donation was also made to the Forest Service motorized trails program to support motorcycle‑­only trails in the Black Hills National Forest.

Black Hills BDR-X Rally for Rangers
On our third day, we met up with Rally for Rangers. It was a night to remember that included amazing food, a meet-and-greet with the Oglala Sioux rangers, and ideal camping conditions in Custer State Park.

Riders in this inaugural event hailed from all over the U.S., with some trailering their bikes and others renting from Rogue Moto or using demo bikes provided by CFMOTO. The weekend included off‑­road training by Heavy Enduro as well as on- and off‑­road riding on Needles Highway, portions of the Black Hills BDR‑­X, and otherwise inaccessible trails on the Pine Ridge Reservation hosted by the Oglala Sioux rangers.

The Black Hills Rally for Rangers event takes place again in September 2024 to support Oglala Sioux and Northern Cheyenne tribal rangers. For more information, visit the Rally For Rangers website or listen to our interview with Rally for Rangers co‑­founder Tom Medema on the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast.

Black Hills BDR-X

Black Hills BDR-X Resources:

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Sonoma Motorcycle Rides, On My Own and With Family | Favorite Ride

Sonoma Motorcycle Rides Lake Berryessa
Lake Hennessy and Lake Berryessa highlight the northern arc of this spectacular loop ride through Sonoma’s hill and wine country.

This is a tale of two amazing rides. One threads its way through some of Northern California’s beautiful wine, lake, and hill country. The other winds its way through my very being to the center of my heart. 

Recently, my wife and I traveled to California’s Sonoma wine country to attend a ceremony in which our son‑­in‑­law, Lt. Col. Joffre Lander, assumed command of a squadron at Travis Air Force Base. Since I don’t like to be far from a motorcycle when traveling, I took my BMW G 650 X‑­Country along for the trip. 

Sonoma Motorcycle Rides backroads
Sonoma’s backroads trace beautiful paths through rolling hills.

A Wine Country Loop

During a lull in the military and familial activities, I snuck the BMW out for a loop ride through the golden hills and grapevine‑­lined terrain in the Sonoma region. I rolled out of Vacaville on Interstate 80 to reach the sweeping corners of narrow, scenic Wooden Valley Road, which is lined by trees and passes through rolling grasslands and vineyards. 

The turn onto State Route 121 provided even more varied terrain as rock outcroppings added texture to the ride. Various wineries staked their claims with stone archways and beckoning signage. As SR-121 morphed into State Route 12 on my approach to the town of Sonoma, the density of wineries increased.

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

When I threw down my kickstand at Sonoma Plaza, I had no idea of the historical significance of the town of just over 10,000 souls. Across the street from the beautiful centerpiece park rests the Sonoma State Historic Park, which is a cluster of historic sites. It’s an open and easy stroll through locations like the Mission San Francisco Solano, Sonoma Barracks, Toscano Hotel & Kitchen, and other fascinating buildings. 

After walking back to the vibrant green shade of the 8‑­acre Sonoma Plaza, I stood in the shadow of the impressive Bear Flag Monument, which commemorates the spot where the Bear Flag Party raised the Bear Flag and declared California free from Mexican rule in 1846. After a walk around Sonoma City Hall in the center of the plaza, I continued my clockwise loop ride. 

Sonoma Motorcycle Rides Bear Flag Monument
The Bear Flag Monument honors a significant moment in California history.

See all of Rider‘s California U.S. tour stories here.

SR‑­12 led me to Trinity Road and other narrow, winding byways that are thoroughly entertaining, curvaceous rolls beneath trees, beside cliffs, and over hills, often with panoramic views. 

After passing through Oakville and Rutherford, I headed farther east on State Route 128. This stretch was arguably the most beautiful part of an already spectacular ride. I rolled past Lake Hennessy, Lake Berryessa, and several family wineries. Finally, I headed south back to Vacaville and to my daughter’s home. Would this be the end of my tale? Hardly.

Sonoma Motorcycle Rides Sonoma City Hall
Sonoma City Hall is the centerpiece of Sonoma Plaza.

A First Long Ride

In 2011, I welcomed my first granddaughter into this world. I vividly remember the overwhelming love I felt when I held little Skya for the first time. The tiny black‑­haired treasure in my arms was so perfect and so lovely that I was instantly and indelibly smitten. 

Over the dozen years since she was born, I have taken Skya on many short motorcycle rides around the yard or the block with her planted securely in front of me on the saddle. She has grown from a fragile cherub to a vibrant, smart, lovely pre‑­teen, and motorcycle rides have been a vital part of our deep and loving connection. 

Sonoma Motorcycle Rides
The author’s granddaughter captured his heart from the first moment he held her.

On this occasion, Skya was waiting when I rolled into my daughter’s garage. As we sat and talked, it became clear she was ready for her first longer motorcycle ride. Parental permission was secured, and I fitted Skya in my wife’s riding gear. We discussed what it takes to be a safe and secure passenger on the back of a motorcycle.

With a wave to her mother and grandmother, Skya and I headed north for a loop ride. Almost instantly, she found the groove and became a settled “sack of potatoes” on the back of the BMW. The repeated portion of my earlier route took on a new significance as I could feel the wonder Skya was experiencing. She would occasionally tap me to point things out, and as we flipped up our faceshields to talk, I could see the joy in her green eyes. 

Sonoma Motorcycle Rides
Full-face helmets can’t hide the joy on those two faces. A “favorite ride” indeed!

We stopped often to decide on routes, take in views, and just chat. At one stop, I pointed out the smooth, pale hills on the horizon. I mentioned that they reminded me of Hills Like White Elephants, a short story by Ernest Hemingway, and I recommended that she read it someday. Back on the motorcycle, Skya chose the routes, including a long road to a dead end that gave us both a laugh. 

I have ridden thousands of miles in my lifetime, and the miles that Skya and I shared that day are some of the most significant. We agreed that when she gets a few more years under her belt, we will reconvene for an extended ride. We can’t wait.

Sonoma Motorcycle Rides
The nimble BMW G 650 X-Country was the perfect mount for the curvy sections of the route.

See all of Rider‘s touring stories here.

Sonoma Motorcycle Rides Resources

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Source: RiderMagazine.com

Touring on a Sportbike

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
The author and her Kawasaki Ninja 400 with Kriega bags on a motorcycle tour.

When you travel by motorcycle, people like to tell you about how they could never tour or camp on a bike. From non-motorcyclists, I typically hear that their fears or lack of confidence would prevent them from ever touring. 

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
The Ninja can hold more luggage than many riders expect, proving you don’t need a touring bike to tour.

For motorcyclists, those worries don’t come up as often – motorcycle riding tends to require (and breed) a sense of fearlessness and confidence in and of itself. What I hear from fellow motorcyclists is that their equipment holds them back from touring or moto camping. In other words, because they don’t have the “right” bike!  

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
A shorter trip requires less gear, and it helps if you stay in a hotel instead of camping.

Unlike their adventure brethren with high-towering suspensions and readily available luggage racks or touring motorcycles with plenty of space and smooth highway capability, sportbikes and other types of motorcycles are unfit for motorcycle travel – or so it may seem.  

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
With the right luggage, even a Kawasaki Ninja 400 can serve as a grocery getter.

As someone who got her touring start on a Kawasaki Ninja 400, I can attest that it is not only possible to travel longer distances on a small-displacement sportbike but even enjoyable. The biggest issue is luggage space, and there are solutions.  

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
Tankbags and even fanny packs can provide additional storage on a space-limited sportbike.

Why Is Space an Issue? 

Sportbikes are inherently shorter and squatter than adventure bikes, dual-sports, or enduros, with a shorter wheelbase and lower center of gravity. This means less physical space for luggage to sit. Add to that the lack of stock panniers, saddlebags, or even luggage racks – not to mention luggage manufacturers’ propensity to leave sportbikes off the list of aftermarket racks – and you’re left scratching your head as to where to put your gear.  

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
Ripping the Ninja – complete with saddlebags – on the Tail of the Dragon. (Photo courtesy Killboy)

The solution is twofold. Find the best luggage you can attach to your bike with ingenuity, while making your gear as small as possible.  

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
Don’t let the excuse of not having a touring or ADV bike keep you from exploring.

Best Luggage Possible 

For my first motorcycle tour, I stayed at a friend’s house near the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. I had equal parts enthusiasm and cluelessness, but I knew I needed a way to transport my belongings.  

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
The author’s Kawasaki Ninja 400 loaded with 30L and 10L Kriega drybags.

After asking around, I found a friend willing to loan me their 30L Kriega Drypack. My husband had a 10L of the same brand, and I was able to easily attach the larger pack to the included straps under my seat and the smaller one to the other pack.  

See all of Rider‘s luggage reviews here.

I learned my first motorcycle packing lesson that trip – it’s always harder to repack on the way home, especially if you bought a few too many souvenirs. On that Tennessee trip, my bags were bursting at the seams to begin with, so I don’t know what I was thinking when I purchased additional items. I ended up asking my friend to mail those items to my house!   

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
This collection of Kriega bags and a tank bag has served the author well on moto touring trips.

Having loved my experience with my friend’s Kriega, I purchased two of my own Drypacks – a 40L and a 30L. I stacked them up the same way I had the 30L and 10L but not with the same result. My center of gravity was off, and the ride, especially at low speeds, was uncomfortable.  

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
Who needs a hotel when you can find a cozy campground?

This high center of gravity was alleviated with the addition of some Sedici universal saddlebags. My first attempt at using them was less than ideal, as they sagged and touched my Ninja 400’s exhaust, burning a hole and melting my toiletries. Some adjustments helped stop the sagging, and they tended to be easier to ride with than the leaning tower of Kriega I had before.  

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
Another benefit of having a set-up with multiple bags is that you can take some off for shorter day trips.

Smallest Gear Possible 

If you think you’re going to fit a full kit of car camping gear on your motorcycle, you might be disappointed with the result. It’s important to purchase gear fit for the occasion. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many motorcycle-specific camping gear options for sale, especially in brick-and-mortar shops. What to do? 

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
Another camping trip on the Ninja, this one to Cumberland Falls in Kentucky.

Luckily for us, a different group of adventurers also require packing compactly – backpackers. Given that their body is the vehicle for their kit, backpackers have an eye for getting the lightest, smallest, most packable gear possible. What fits on a person’s back may very well fit on your motorcycle just as well. Shop at outdoor and camping stores like REI and Sportsman’s Warehouse for backpacking essentials.  

See more by the author here.

Saving space wherever possible is the name of the game, which is made easier with the ability to compress. Clothing or other soft items can be shrunk down to a fraction of their size using packing cubes. These zippered contraptions allow you to squeeze out all the air, saving you precious space. Compression sacks are another useful tool for squishy items like sleeping bags.  

Some riders use cargo nets to secure their gear, but I won’t use one again. On my first moto camping trip, I used a cargo net to hold my sleeping bag (compressed in a stuff sack) onto one of my Kriega Drypacks. On the curvy backroads in Kentucky, it shifted back and forth with every turn.  

Touring on a Sportbike Luggage Solutions Carly Becker
Many riders use cargo nets, but Carly found using a net less than ideal for storage.

A fellow motorcyclist whom I met on the road suggested Rok Straps, and I had ordered four on my phone before our conversation ended. These ingenious straps, which combine a wide bungee strap with a non-stretchable adjustable nylon strap with a quick-release buckle and webbed loops on each end, allow you to tie anything down securely. They can be used to tighten down soft luggage or to secure items to racks or pillion seats. I rarely ride without them, even when I’m not on a trip. You never know when you might need to buy something that doesn’t fit in your tank bag.  

Related: Precious Cargo: The Art of Carrying Stuff on a Motorcycle 

ROK Straps
This is a ROK Strap, a useful tool that Carly brings with her whenever she rides.

Touring or moto camping can be an exciting and even life-changing experience, regardless of what type of motorcycle you own. No one should let the myth that only certain types of motorcycles are capable of touring stop them from experiencing the thrill of a moto trip. I’m the case in point that it’s possible.  

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Rolling to the January Jam in Rocky Point, Mexico | Favorite Ride

January Jam Rocky Point Mexico
The U.S./Mexico border is a place of transitional beauty, with various types of international boundary barriers inter-secting the stunning Southwestern landscape. The January Jam was a great excuse to experience it.

January can be a cruel month for motorcyclists. Even in sunny southern climates, chilly temperatures can make extended rides an exercise in discomfort. That’s why I make an annual winter sojourn south to the land of tequila and tacos for some riding and music at the January Jam in Puerto Peñasco – or Rocky Point – Mexico.

After topping off my tank at the lone American border gas station in Lukeville, Arizona, pleasant ambient temperatures mixed comfortably with radiating heat from the cylinders of my BMW GS as I idled in the slow parade at the border crossing. Rumble strips, remote cameras, armed agents, and concrete barriers marked the intimidating border security protocol.

January Jam Rocky Point Mexico

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

My anxiety was tempered by the knowledge that I had my ducks in a row. I had purchased my three-day Mexican motorcycle insurance, and I had my passport, registration, and license handy. The camouflaged border agent motioned for me to lift my tinted faceshield and then waved me through. Just like that, I was in hustling, bustling Sonoyta. Men rushed at cars with squeegees, women held up packages of tortillas for sale, and traffic was frenetic. 

I knew what to do in this dusty border town. I kept my head on a swivel and rode below the posted speed limit. Local police cluster by the border and on the southern fringe of town with eagle eyes for tourists who drive like they are still in the U.S. It is not a cheap ticket if you get stopped.

January Jam Rocky Point Mexico
Puerto Peñasco is full of small motorcycles and big murals.

Sonoyta has the colorful, informal vibe of most Mexican towns, but I kept riding south. While the temperature back home in Arizona was hovering in the 40s, I smiled as the reading on my dash indicated 72. Yep, just what the doctor ordered.

Related: Baja Enlightenment: Riding Mexico’s Lower California Peninsula

On Highway 8 toward Puerto Peñasco, I passed dozens of descansos (“resting places” in Spanish), memorials that are intriguing, sobering, and often quite beautiful. They range from miniature concrete shrines to thematic collages. One honored a Dallas Cowboys fan.

January Jam Rocky Point Mexico
Creative descansos line the route to Puerto Peñasco.

I also passed a sign that read “Hassle Free Vehicle Zone.” Uninformed tourists often mistake these signs to mean relaxed traffic and speed rules. Not true, my friends. They just mean fewer paperwork regulations for tourist travel.  

The road from the border to Puerto Peñasco is straight and barren, but there is something to be said for an open-throttle roll through the warm desert in the dead of winter.

January Jam Rocky Point Mexico BMW GS
My BMW GS is perfect for exploring the thriving desert environment.

At the end of this 70-mile stretch, I came upon a group of Mexican sportbikers who were chatting along the dusty roadside. The half dozen crotch-rocketeers waved and saluted as I approached. They were more than happy to pose for a photo for a lone gringo moto-tourist before pulling a group U-turn and roaring back toward the coast. 

Just as Puerto Peñasco/Rocky Point goes by both Mexican and English names, it has two distinct personalities. There is the old town itself, teeming with street vendors, rusted vehicles, and colorful buildings, exuding the character of a traditional fishing village. Street taco stands waft aromatic clouds, and small motorcycles mounted with massive transport containers serve as delivery vehicles. 

January Jam Rocky Point Mexico
A group of Mexican sportbike riders pose for the gringo tourist.

Then there is the new, mostly American-owned resort community in Sandy Beach north of town. Upscale resorts line the blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. What Sandy Beach lacks in traditional character, it replaces with comfort and safety for international tourists. 

January Jam Rocky Point Mexico Sonoran Sea Resort
The Sonoran Sea is one of the beautiful resorts on Sandy Beach.

Both locations served as staging points for my weekend’s activities during the January Jam, which is the brainchild of Roger Clyne, the charismatic front man for Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. Clyne is an entertainer with a voluminous catalog of great songs and an enthusiastic following in the Southwest and beyond. 

For the jam, Clyne assembles a lineup of accomplished musicians and invites fans to congregate in Puerto Peñasco for three days of music, golf, and general reverie. Music fills the sea air, and tequila flows, especially Clyne’s own premium spirit, Canción, fittingly named after the Spanish word for “song.” 

January Jam Rocky Point Mexico
Fantastic musical acts fill the nights during the lively January Jam festival.

There are daily and nightly concerts at Clyne’s watering hole, Banditos, as well as performances at other venues in Sandy Beach and Rocky Point. We enjoyed the familiar tunes of Clyne’s band as well as David Lowery of Cracker, the Mexican-influenced sounds of The Jons from Tucson, and the lively rock blend of Miles Neilson and the Rusted Heart.

After a weekend of sampling traditional Mexican food, listening to great music, and riding to nearby fishing villages, the time came to head back north. It was over too soon.

January Jam Favorite Ride Resources

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Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding From Gunnison, Colorado, to Hovenweep National Monument

C. Jane Taylor’s moto memoir Spirit Traffic was published in 2022. That summer, she and her husband embarked on a 97‑­day cross‑­country book tour on their BMW F 650s. She said her book tour was characterized by deeply rewarding and completely exhausting work. It also featured great roads. During her vacation from what some might already consider a vacation, she enjoyed many memorable rides. The leg from Gunnison, Colorado, to Hovenweep National Monument in Utah was a favorite. –Ed.

C. Jane Taylor Gunnison Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument Wolf Creek Pass
My husband, John, and I rode for 97 days – from Maine to California and back to Vermont – on a national book tour in the summer of 2022. We snapped this selfie at 10,856-foot Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado.

West of Gunnison, Colorodo, U.S. Route 50 was closed. We’d seen signs about the closure for at least 100 miles. Those signs were for other people, right? We’d planned to stay on the famous Colorado byway through the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests as long as we could. But as we approached Gunnison, our shoulders slumped with the reality that the signs were for us. We’d have to rethink our whole route. And the weather was starting to look iffy.

C. Jane Taylor Gunnison Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

At the Gunnison County Chamber of Commerce, a note taped to the door underscored the closure. We went inside, paper roadmap in hand. At the desk, the clerk proffered her own map, opening it in front of us. She and John pored over it like kids seeking clues to lost treasure.

She confirmed that U.S. 50 was closed and suggested State Route 149 instead. It had less traffic and was more beautiful, she assured us. We compared her map to the Butler map for the region. (Butler Motorcycle Maps highlight the best roads, rating them on twisties, traffic, road surface, etc.) SR‑­149 was G1 (gold), Butler’s highest rating – perfect!

After filling our water bottles, we headed to the gas station. SR‑­149 is quite rural, so we wanted to be prepared. As John filled our tanks and I surveyed the darkening skies, a bolt of lightning ripped through the clouds. Thunder crackled. A guy next to us gassing up his pickup was watching too.

“Hope you’re not going that way,” he said, nodding toward the storm.

“Not anymore,” I said.

We paid for our gas as the storm clouds gathered closer and closer. Thunder rumbled, and lightning struck from cloud to ground in the near distance. We sped back to the park next to the Chamber and ran for the cover of a gazebo. Just as we stepped under, buckets of rain dumped from the sky, and lightning dashed all around us. The thunder was so loud that we ducked our heads each time it clapped.

C. Jane Taylor Gunnison Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument
John snaps another selfie on SR-149 along the Lake Fork River. As two cross-country-and-back trips have taught us, body temperature management in variable conditions demands a good rainsuit – and a good attitude.

Celebrating our excellent timing, we stretched out to nap on top of the picnic tables just as two vans arrived and disgorged two dozen kids. It was the local mountain‑­biking camp escaping the weather. We were instantly surrounded by kids eating popsicles and playing a raucous game of tag. Now each thunderclap was accompanied by the ear‑­piercing screams of prepubescent mountain bikers. One of the camp counselors checked in on our welfare, asked about the bikes, and offered popsicles, which we accepted.

The lightning eventually abated, though the rain drizzled on. The camp counselors packed their charges and drove away. We wrestled into rainsuits and got back on the road.

Related: C. Jane Taylor | Ep. 45 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

SR‑­149 was as wonderful as described: a narrow, almost abandoned two‑­lane road snaking seductively through the San Juan Mountains and the Rio Grande National Forest. The weather was cold and drizzling, but the road was curvy, and the air smelled like earth and springtime in New England. We were in motorcycle heaven.

Ten miles down the road, oncoming cars flashed their headlights, gesturing to slow down. Thinking they were trying to warn us about a cop, I laughed. It had taken me five years to get up to the speed limit. We continued with caution until a mudslide stopped us in our tracks. If we hadn’t been wearing helmets, we would have scratched our heads in a “Now what?” gesture. Like U.S. 50, it seemed SR‑­149 would soon be closed too, but we gingerly traversed the shallow edge of the slide at the far‑­left side of the road. Alert to the changes in road surface and rambunctious streams in the gullies flanking the road, we pushed forward like children anticipating candy at Halloween.

C. Jane Taylor Gunnison Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument Powderhorn
SR-149 near Powderhorn, Colorado.

Instead of candy, we sought groceries as we rolled into Lake City and its tiny country store whose proprietors seemed to be a badly mismatched couple. The woman in long braids glared at us as if we’d tracked mud onto her freshly mopped floor, while the man – handsome in a Willie Nelson kind of way, if Willie Nelson could be considered handsome – happily greeted us, teasing about our florescent green rainsuits. “We are not men, we are Devo,” he joked in a robotic voice referencing the ’70s New Wave band famous for their quirky spaceman costumes. We bought vegetables, tortillas, and cheese for quesadillas we would cook once we found a campsite for the night.

Lake City is an eye‑­blink of an old mining town with the down‑­at‑­heel aspect of a climate-change ski resort in shoulder season. The cold, damp weather did not bring any charm to the Grizzly Adams cabins lining the road.

I attributed the town’s creepiness to its horror‑­movie sepia tones and bad weather, but I later learned that Lake City gained notoriety in 1875 when Alferd Packer, the “Colorado Cannibal,” was charged with killing and eating the prospectors he’d been hired to guide through the San Juan Mountains after the group had become snowbound. In the spring, five bodies with human teeth marks were found at the foot of Slumgullion Pass. Lake City’s Hinsdale County Museum has an extensive collection of Packer memorabilia, including a skull fragment from one of his victims and several buttons from the clothes of the five men he ate. The area where the bodies were discovered is now known as Cannibal Plateau. Odder still, the area hosts an annual Alferd Packer Jeep Tour and Barbecue.

C. Jane Taylor Gunnison Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument Slumgullion Pass
As we approached the peak of Slumgullion Pass near Lake City, Colorado, the rain abated, and the skies cleared.

My unease was supplanted by the fear and exhilaration of climbing out of town along steep, wet switchbacks to Windy Point Observation Site and Slumgullion Pass. As we climbed, I chimed into the headset, “Don’t look right, Johnny.” The narrow two‑­lane highway had no guardrail, and the drop-off induced a vertigo that made me tighten my grip on my handlebar and tank. At Windy Point, we stopped to look back at the long narrow valley thousands of feet below us.

Evening was approaching, and we were still in the middle of a sheer climb on our way to North Clear Creek Campground, a destination we were not sure even existed, but the sky finally opened, and the tight switchbacks loosened as we topped 11,530‑­foot Slumgullion Pass.

The map we consulted – and re‑­consulted – showed the campground within 50 miles. Trying to keep from being swept up in the National Geographic beauty of the broadening landscape, I kept my eyes peeled for a Forest Service campground sign. We were hungry and cold, and it was getting late. We’d passed so little traffic, I was game to pitch the tent at the side of the road, but John persisted.

C. Jane Taylor Gunnison Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument Rio Grande National Forest
North Clear Creek Campground in Colorado’s Rio Grande National Forest was our home for the night after an eventful ride.

We finally turned off SR‑­149 and crossed a cattle guard onto Forest Road 510, which fell away to vertiginous Class‑­IV switchbacks. I groaned but also laughed. It was the “dropping hour.” We have a joke that on extended motorcycle trips, we often face the most challenging miles of the day right before arriving at our destination exhausted and hungry. The road toyed with us. I inched down its sharp gravel turns, determined but cautious given the hour. As I eased down one hill, a young woman on a dirtbike blasted up it. Encouraged that there might be an actual campground ahead and inspired by another woman on a bike, I sped all the way up to 2nd gear!

C. Jane Taylor Gunnison Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument
Pink sunglasses reflect the expansive valley near Creede.

After almost missing the 70‑­degree turn into the campground at the bottom of the hill and duck‑­walking the bikes back over sandy gravel ruts, we casually rolled into the nearly vacant campground and found a suitable spot with a picnic table, breathtaking panoramic views, and a glorious sunset reflected off the peaks of the Rio Grande National Forest.

The next morning was cold and clear. With visions of coffee and pastries dancing in our helmets, we headed toward Creede, home to an underground mining museum, the Mineral County Landfill, a cemetery, a chapel, and an excellent little food truck/coffee shop that appeared to be set up during the pandemic like a one‑­way street, with one entrance and one exit. The pastry case was filled with buttery French confections, the air with the scent of espresso. Bon appétit! We took our pastries to a table outside where we lounged, sipping cappuccinos in the sun.

C. Jane Taylor Gunnison Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument Creede
The population of Creede, Colorado, swells from 300 to 10,000 on July 4th. After a cold, wet, challenging ride the day before, it was an oasis. We found a mobile coffee shop where we enjoyed the company of locals, pain au chocolat, and cappuccinos in the sun.

The road along the Rio Grande – which far downstream serves as the border between Texas and Mexico – was as good as the croissants. At South Fork, we headed south on U.S. Route 160 and climbed to 10,856‑­foot Wolf Creek Pass. It was cold at elevation, and we encountered traffic and threatening weather, but the road was smooth, wide, and curvy through Pagosa Springs and Chimney Rock. We lunched in Durango after a torrential downpour trapped us under a busy highway underpass.

U.S. 160 through the mountains near Hesperus Ski Area was fabulous despite the cold and wet. Things got warmer as we descended out of the mountains, and by the time we got to Mancos, we were sweltering in the heat of the desert. We took off as much as we could and poured cold water down the backs of our armored jackets. Body temperature management was a challenge we had improved at over time.

C. Jane Taylor Gunnison Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument Rio Grande
South of Creede, the Rio Grande snakes along SR-149 on the way to South Fork.

In the blazing heat, we headed west on State Route 184 toward Dolores, then north on U.S. Route 491 past Yellow Jacket and into Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, administered by the Bureau of Land Management and inhabited almost solely by spirits. The road narrowed and then narrowed again. There is something gritty and fundamental about these small roads, something secret and unspoken like the second indents of an outline of one’s life or the dark side of the moon.

The heat kept building. As we crossed into Utah, the landscape gave way to a barren, flat emptiness without trees or buildings. We traveled in silent awe, feeling exposed in the heat but excited about the ruins of Hovenweep National Monument.

C. Jane Taylor Gunnison Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument
Our day took us from cold rain and high passes to sweltering heat and desert valleys. The sunset at Hovenweep was a just reward.

Known for six groups of Ancestral Puebloan villages, Hovenweep contains evidence of occupation by hunter‑­gatherers from 8,000 B.C. until AD 200. We were finally going to visit the spirits we’d been sensing on this hot road.

We turned into what seemed the middle of nowhere, but John assured me this was the way. I saw only shrubs, grasses, and sage until I glimpsed a sign the size of a sheet of paper with an arrow proving him right: Hovenweep National Monument. We traversed a lunar landscape of sand, craters, dead volcanoes, and lava flows until we happened upon a herd of wild horses in the middle of the road. We stopped to gape. Shy and beautiful, they paused in their grazing to examine us. Though I wanted to join these beasts on a romanticized journey out of a dream, we had to keep moving. Standing still in the late afternoon heat was a torture neither of us wanted to endure – magical, wild horses notwithstanding.

C. Jane Taylor Gunnison Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument
Sunset on the ruins at Hovenweep National Monument in Utah.

Reminiscent of Death Valley with its lethal sun, long straightaways, and distant bluffs, Hovenweep Road also reminded me of the song by America “A Horse with No Name.” I started to understand the line “In the desert, you can’t remember your name.” In the heat and arid sameness of the landscape, time seemed to stop. I could tell we were moving, if only for the visual cue of the scenery receding in my mirror. I became flooded with the eerie sensation of being watched. It felt as if the ghosts of millennia were hovering just above the heat waves upwelling from the macadam.

“Hovenweep” is a Paiute/Ute word meaning “deserted valley.” As we rode into the scorched campground, I sensed that the ancestors were still there. A clan of attentive ravens seemed to be protectors – or just eager to see what food they could liberate from us.

C. Jane Taylor Gunnison Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument
Hovenweep is a special place, and we had the distinct feeling that the ancestors were still there.

After pouring rationed water onto our heads and down our backs, we hiked off to see the ruins, following a faint path between rock walls leading to a dry creek bed. Walking fast to beat the setting sun, we climbed down into the creek bed then up the other side until we saw what looked like a crumbling brick silo. Hovenweep at last! As we gazed in silence at the majestic ruins of a once‑­lively community, a rainbow broke through distant storm clouds. Back at our campsite, we cooked dinner in the waning light as a million stars began to wink.

See all of Rider‘s touring stories here.

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IMTBike Essence of Northern Spain Tour Review

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain
Riding the ridge near Mirador de la Cardosa, Cantabria, on the IMTBike Essence of Northern Spain Tour.

The landscape of northern Spain erupted with jagged peaks and rolled along lush green hillsides. Farms folded across every nook, and waves pounded the Atlantic coast. Mile after mile of smooth, tight curves were waiting to be savored. The evidence was all around: Northern Spain is a rider’s paradise. 

This past September, I joined IMTBike’s Essence of Northern Spain Tour. Leaving the planning to the pros at IMTBike, I simply arrived with my gear in Bilbao up north in the País Vasco (Basque Country) and enjoyed the ride. Over eight days, I explored new places with new friends, and fabulous riding connected every experience. This tour strung together curvy backroads through vast open spaces, rural pastoral lands, dense forests, and stunning coasts.

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain
The tour frequently visits Spain’s Atlantic Coast, like here in Colunga, Asturias.

“Essence” tours like this one are new weeklong versions of longer IMTBike tours. Riders who can only get a week off from work can now enjoy full‑­on tours of northern Spain, southern Spain, Portugal, or Morocco with a shorter time commitment.

IMTBike has been perfecting the art and science of motorcycle tours for 27 years. Initially, the focus was the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Today, it also offers tours of Morocco, France, Italy, and the Alps; exclusive MotoGP tours in Catalunya, Jerez, and Valencia; global tours in Turkey, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and New Zealand; and self‑­guided and custom‑­designed tours.

Related: IMTBike Sardinia and Corsica Motorcycle Tour Review

My fellow tour members came to northern Spain from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Japan, the Netherlands, and the U.S. We all love travel, adventure, and motorcycling – that’s what brought us together – and as always, I enjoyed the experience of meeting and riding with people from countries other than my own.

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain

Juanan Martin, our tour guide, has graduate degrees in history and travel journalism – perfect credentials for his role. Paulo Murteira, who drove the IMTBike support van, loves off‑­road endurance riding and was a laugh a minute! Both were excellent sources of information, assistance, and insight.

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain
During a coffee break, our tour guide Juanan reviewed the next section of the day’s ride.

From IMTBike’s garage in Bilbao, Juanan led us to the Cantabrian Mountains and strings of hairpin turns. At Collados del Asón Natural Park, we paused to take in a spectacular panoramic mountain vista. That first day, we traversed five mountain passes en route to Santillana del Mar.

Our night’s lodging was a parador located on a magnificently preserved medieval town square. Paradors are historic, architecturally significant buildings such as former castles, monasteries, and manor homes. Owned by the Spanish government and operated as luxury hotels, paradors preserve these treasured buildings and keep them relevant. We stayed in three of them on this tour.

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain
This parador in Asturias was formerly the Monastery of San Pedro de Villanueva.

We also grew accustomed to dinner served on Spanish time: 8 p.m. at the earliest and frequently later. Your humble scribe is a big fan of seafood, and our daily menus included locally sourced fish and other delicacies from the North Atlantic, as well as delicious meat dishes, fresh fruits and veggies, and a variety of decadent desserts. No one went hungry.

Related: Iberian Escape | IMTBike Southern Spain Andalusia Tour Review

By the second day, tour members had organically clustered into three groups of four bikes each according to their preferred pace. This unofficial order enabled everyone to ride their own ride. Juanan told me that every tour is its own living entity, with distinct personalities and group dynamics, individual rider skills, weather and seasonal factors, and more. Everyone wanted something different from their tour experience, and Juanan and Paulo were focused on delivering for us all.

Later, we had our first of numerous encounters with livestock in the road. Flat, open expanses of pastureland are uncommon in northern Spain, so cows (and occasionally horses and goats) nibble on grass wherever they find it. They seemed accustomed to the passing vehicles, so I rolled off the throttle a bit and bellowed “Moo!” before motoring past.

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain
We experienced endless curves through the Cantabrian Mountains.

Spain has the highest average elevation of all western European countries except Switzerland, and the mountains we rode around, over, and sometimes through were highpoints for me. Topping my list for beauty was Picos de Europa National Park. Founded in 1918, it was Spain’s first national park. Today it’s a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and its natural beauty was wondrous to experience while carving great roads on a motorcycle.

While the mountains reminded me of the Alps, the Costa Verde (Green Coast) felt like Ireland. Okay, maybe not the palm trees. Herds of Asturian Valley cattle, the ubiquitous orange‑­colored breed raised in northern Spain, grazed on grassy hills overlooking the ocean. What a completely different scene from the brown plains of central Spain. As cows chewed greenery, surfers in wetsuits carried their boards down to the sandy beach below. Some of Europe’s most popular surfing destinations are here on Spain’s northern coast. I wondered if this convergence of cattle and surfers gave rise to the expression “Cowabunga!”

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain
Love mountains? This view of Riaño, León, helps one appreciate that Spain has western Europe’s second highest average elevation.

From cliffs overlooking the coast, we headed inland, where entertaining secondary roads wound us through agrarian landscapes past the hilly farms of Asturias. The most common crop appeared to be manzanas (apples), and most homes, even those that weren’t farmhouses, had a lemon tree in the yard. I admired the resilience of farmers here: There was hardly any land you’d call flat, yet orchards were abundant, tucked into every conceivable space. Livestock grazed along the roads here too.

Though the weather in northern Spain was mostly clear, warm, and dry, we rode through a late‑­day rain shower near Oviedo, the bustling capital city of Asturias. On the last stretch to our hotel, it was useful having a guide with local knowledge and a solid plan to lead the group though wet, busy streets to the tight quarters of a downtown hotel parking garage. ¡Bien hecho, Juanan! Well done!

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain
The capital of Asturias is Oviedo, a beautiful city where we enjoyed a rest day.

That evening in Oviedo, we had dinner in a sidrería (cidery), a pub‑­like establishment where locals gather to drink cider, eat, and socialize. We enjoyed multiple courses of Asturian fare, washed down with sangría de sidra (cider sangria) made from the same variety of manzanas we saw growing on trees. It was an Asturian holiday, and patrons were joyously singing, their enthusiasm enhanced by pitchers of sangria. You don’t have to visit a museum to experience culture.

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain
An evening walk through Oviedo was a great way to end a riding day. I’ve never visited a prettier city.

IMTBike scheduled a rest day halfway through this tour, but there was an optional lunch run to the seaside fishing village of Cudillero. Juanan led an exhilarating backroads jaunt through dense forest with little evidence of humans. Cudillero is built into rocky cliffs overlooking the Bay of Biscay. The ascending rows of colorful houses reminded me of similar towns I’d seen in Italy. At the edge of town, waves hitting the rocky shore presented spectacular views.

That evening, I decided to explore more of Oviedo on my own while speaking only Spanish. It had been decades since I studied Spanish in school, but after a few days in Spain, the fundamentals were coming back. I managed to buy a gift for my wife and order a fish dinner, celebrating these minor triumphs with una cerveza. ¡Salud!

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain
The optional ride on the rest day followed narrow roads through deep forests.

Next morning, tour members huddled for our daily riders briefing with Juanan. He emphasized the need to depart the hotel as an organized group – and stay together as we left the city. A major bicycle race called La Vuelta, Spain’s version of the Tour de France, was passing through the area that morning. Juanan explained that the racecourse overlapped our route, and unless we rode through before race organizers closed the road, we’d have to wait. Thanks to this helpful attention to detail from our tour guide, our well­organized group passed by the busy staging area for La Vuelta that morning on a still-­open road.

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain
Our group enjoyed a break at Puerto de Pandetrave in León.

After coffee, our route cut through Trubia River Gorge, where steep rock cliffs reached up on either side of us. Eventually we gained elevation, riding through the clouds until we poked above them into sunshine. I love when that happens. We crossed Alto de la Corbetoria Pass and then descended in tight curves to the Lena River to enjoy a stretch of easy sweepers to La Llama. The continuous flow of a curvy river road is always special on a motorcycle, and this tour included several of them.

Returning to the Picos de Europa, we relished technical curves and climbed in elevation before a lunch stop at Puerto de San Isidro, an alpine ski resort. At midday in late summer, skiers were notably absent. As our group prepared to move on, I let Juanan know I was going to ride alone for the afternoon. In this rugged and remote region of León, I stopped whenever I wanted to marvel at views of the mountains and lakes against a crystal blue sky. Since I opted for a GPS with routes pre‑­loaded, it was no problem arriving on my own schedule (and well before dinnertime) at that night’s parador lodgings.

To build roads through northern Spain’s mountainous terrain, engineers have designed some impressive solutions. After a mid‑­morning break in Potes, we reached Collada de Carmona Pass, where our mountain descent abruptly came into view. The road went through a hole cut through the cliff. Above the road, multilayer nets of steel mesh were moored onto the cliffside to catch falling rocks and held many they had snared. Then the road twisted down the mountainside, switchback after switchback, to the valley below. The smooth tar continued, snaking through positive camber curves along a meandering river for miles as the next mountain pass grew gradually closer. Up, over, and down again, the grin never left my face. At the next stop, our group of elated riders dismounted and exchanged high‑­fives. What a run!

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain
Camaleño in Cantabria provided many enjoyable sweepers.

While winding roads with dramatic views earned my top score on this tour, architecture was a notable runner‑­up. The ultra modern Guggenheim museum in Bilbao is a marvel of design, encased in a skin of titanium. In stark contrast, the Sanctuary of Loyola in Azpeitia was a grand example of Spanish baroque architecture. And with its classical civic buildings, elegant parkside homes, and captivating old town edifices, Oviedo was as pretty as any city I’ve visited.

By design, this tour put us on mostly empty roads. But on a warm, sunny afternoon in late summer, it was no surprise to encounter beach traffic along a scenic coastal route. The view of the seaside below was splendid from a gently curving road cut into the cliffside, and the tang of salt air scented every breath I took. A slower pace was fine for a bit.

IMTBike Essence on Northern Spain
Rest stops present an opportunity for riders, each riding at their own pace, to regroup. We did that here at Puerto de Pandetrave in León.

Then we found ourselves riding into the unexpected. An altered traffic pattern sent us into a congested cobblestone pedestrian zone where some kind of celebration was underway. Clearly, this wasn’t the plan. Folks were stunned by the arrival of a dozen motorcycles, but Juanan quickly calmed any concerns. The first few riders managed tight, bumpy U‑­turns, but those farther back were squeezed into an alley. Juanan pivoted several of those bikes 180 degrees on the sidestand – first time I’d seen that technique used on cobblestones – and in short order, we rode off as folks smiled and waved.

Carving more curves through the Basque Country and down the steep hills into Bilbao, our tour came to an end where it began: IMTBike’s garage. We parked our bikes one last time as Juanan poured us a cava toast. Later, over our final dinner as a group, we relived favorite moments of this exciting tour and started planning more adventures.

In 2024, the Essence of Northern Spain tour runs June 29‑­July 7 and Sept. 7‑­15. Prices start at 3,845 euros (about $4,100 USD) for a single rider on a BMW G 310 R and sharing a double room. Larger motorcycles and private rooms are optional. Not included in the tour price are air tickets, lunches, gasoline, drinks, tolls, GPS, personal spending, and tips. Learn more at the IMTBike website

See all of Rider‘s international touring stories here.

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An India Motorcycle Trip from Head to Toe

India Motorcycle Trip
Ullu rests at 14,482-foot Saach Pass in Himalayan Pir Panjal range.

It came to me in the middle of the night, as most great ideas do: I would take an India motorcycle trip, crossing from north to south. My route would take me from the mountains of Ladakh to the valleys of Kashmir, into bustling Rajasthan, over the Western Ghats, and through the wet jungles of the South – a total distance of more than 4,500 miles. I would ride “Ullu,” my 2009 Royal Enfield Machismo 350 with an ongoing tappet issue, and my budget would be only 30,000 rupees (about $360).

See all of Rider‘s Royal Enfield coverage here.

The Northern Portion of My India Motorcycle Trip:

Manali – Leh – Jammu and Kashmir – Dharamshala

The path to Ladakh is a playground of natural beauty. It is also vast, with no mechanics or petrol stations en route.

I waded through rivers that reached my waist in Nubra Valley and coasted down the 21‑­hairpin Gata Loops at breathtaking speed. I reached the moonscape‑­like peak of Wari La Pass, was snowed on at Khardung La, and raced a herd of wild horses as they thundered down More Plains. I rode through a canyon with a sparkling river running through the center and tackled the treacherous 17,586‑­foot Chang La Pass. Ladakh was a dreamscape, and the surroundings changed drastically from fresh landslides to icy lakes to the legendary dunes of Pang. As far as an India motorcycle trip was concerned, I was in paradise.

India Motorcycle Trip
In Ladakh, white-washed monasteries are perched high in the Himalayas.

The dirt road connecting Koksar to Kaza in Spiti Valley was a constant game of temporary fixes for Ullu: shoelaces through the wheel guard, a bungee cord around the exhaust pipe, and a snapped clutch lever repaired with duct tape. The terrain was a bone‑­shaking challenge from start to end, and vehicles littered the boulder‑­strewn paths in various states of breakdown.

India Motorcycle Trip
Smooth, winding tarmac on the Manali Leh highway through Ladakh’s Nubra Valley. (Photo by Haven Lane Photography – @Havensway on Instagram)

Near the border of Pakistan, I steeled myself for two dangerous passes on National Highway 26 from Kashmir between Killar, Khajjiar, and Kishtwar. Both were closing soon due to forecasted snow, and I was determined to cross them off my list. The Cliffhanger was a tricky and dramatic ride on a road carved into a sheer cliff that’s 2,000 feet above the Chenab River.

Related Story from Ellie Cooper: Himalayan Cliffhanger | Riding India’s Death Road

Saach Pass, an endurance ride through deep forest to an ice‑­slicked desolate mesa, was a mix of endless clutch control and precise handling on the downhills. With such tantalizing terrain to explore, it was difficult to leave the North, but the rest of India beckoned me.

India Motorcycle Trip
Between Killar and Kishtwar is the dreaded Cliffhanger, India’s “death road,” which is carved into the rockface 2,000 feet above the Chenab River. (Photo by John Gaisford)


Dharamshala – Amritsar – Pushkar – Jaisalmer – Jodhpur – Udaipur 

I detoured into Pushkar to learn how to build a motorbike from scratch at my friend Mukesh’s garage. I spent a week drinking chai with a team of mechanics by the roadside, sharing communal meals on the garage floor, and learning how to replace clutch plates.

Every road from Punjab to Rajasthan was long and uneventful, but I was not so lucky when I started the next leg of my India motorcycle trip.

India Motorcycle Trip
The team of mechanics at Mukesh’s (not shown) garage in Pushkar, where I spent a week learning how to build a motorbike from spare parts.

National Highway 11 toward Jaisalmer was a road of death, and the smell of various animals decomposing in the midday heat carried on the breeze. I saw mirages of great lakes that vanished as quickly as they appeared, and burnt‑­out vehicles lay overturned in the sand. The desert can be a strange place.

India Motorcycle Trip
On the bustling streets of Amritsar, Punjab, a vendor sells panipuri: deep-fried balls of dough filled with potatoes, onions, and spices.

The winter winds on the highway toyed with everyone on the road. I fought against a side wind that buffeted me back and forth with such velocity that I gasped for air under my helmet. Six high‑­speed lorries – massive trucks in formation across two lanes – were inches away from my tires. On that road, it was suicidal to be so close to the edge with pushy trucks and a bullying wind, but I had no choice. I slowed my speed but started to be sucked under the gap between their wheels as my handlebar toggled ferociously with the pressure. I clipped the edge of the sand at 30 mph and went down.

I crawled on my hands and knees toward the bike a few meters from where I had landed on the concrete and hit the kill switch. Ullu received only a broken horn and a buckled wheel. My riding gear saved me from a worse fate, but I still had a dollop of whiplash and a mild concussion.

Jaisalmer was a beautiful place to recover. Determined to see deep desert, I rode out to catch the sunset, going until my wheels sank into endless sand. Later, as I lay back on Ullu’s seat and watched billions of stars in the inky‑­black sky, I reflected on how India is not an easy place to ride, but it was worth every near‑­miss.

India Motorcycle Trip
In Jaisalmer, Ullu and a fellow beast of burden enjoy a late-day respite.

Hoping for a bit of good fortune for the remainder of my India motorcycle trip, I sought out the Bullet Baba shrine on National Highway 65. It is one of 33 million Hindu deities and represents the legend of a local man who crashed into a tree and died and whose motorcycle found its way back to the crash site alone without keys or petrol. Locals flock to the site to ask for safe passage across India’s roads and offer whiskey in return. I visited the holy bike with a bottle stuffed into my backpack.

India Motorcycle Trip
The Bullet Baba shrine in Rajasthan.

The final stop on my Rajasthan tour was Udaipur. I lazily wound through the undulating Aravalli hills of Kumbhalgarh in afternoon light and rode around the famous Rani Road at sunrise to see Rajasthan’s shining lakes. India was changing her look every few hundred miles, and I could not wait to see what the Western Ghats had to offer.

India Motorcycle Trip
Surrounding a small lake is Pushkar, one of the holiest cities in India and a pilgrimage site for many Hindus and Sikhs. This priest is on his way to a Puja ceremony, a blessing that honors gods and deceased loved ones.

Udaipur – Mumbai – Pune – Goa – Ooty – Erivikulam – Munnar 

I entered Mumbai in Western India like a child pretending to be a racer. I was in a tide of hundreds of motorcycles at rush hour, all revving their engines impatiently. Without any warning, signaling, or light change, true to their name, the Bullets sped forward, each one racing the next. On wash day, the air smelled like a bucket of soap suds, and the whole city was brightly decorated.

I headed immediately for Mahabaleshwar, a hill station with luxurious views of the stunning Sahyadri range. With less than 2 liters of petrol after the hills, I bounced along the descent on badly broken road surfaces, glad that I had reduced the air in my tires. I sputtered into Goa on Christmas Day through a blanket of freezing sea mist. My present to my trusty steed was a full service and a week off.

India Motorcycle Trip
Playing in the snow at Khardung La, a 17,582-foot pass.

The roads into Munnar are on every Indian traveler’s bucket list. I chose to ride through five national parks, relishing the gorgeous blue Nilgiri hills on all sides. In beautiful Ooty, I raced down 36 consecutive hairpins on the addictive downhills of the accident‑­prone Kalhatty Road. At one time, tourists were not permitted to ride it due to the complexity and danger of the epic turns.

I reached Munnar, where the oscillating route was full of seemingly endless tight corners and fast bends. It was some of the most perfect motorcycle riding I had ever experienced. Tea leaves were draped over the hills in a lime green patchwork quilt, knitted with care by whichever gods had imagined such a place.

Related: Ellie Cooper | Ep. 67 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

The Western Ghats:

Munnar – Idukki – Kanyakumari

I dawdled through the coconut plantations of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, fingering the meager rupees left in my pocket and wondering if I would make it to the end. I was almost there, and it was probably because of the heat and fatigue at this point that I began to make mistakes. 

I took a wrong turn and had to explain to a very confused ranger why I was riding illegally in a tiger reserve. Ullu’s ignition cable suddenly came loose in the middle of the jungle, but again I was fortunate; a local reattached it with his teeth for free. Another time, I stopped to admire the view and carelessly knocked my bike keys into a pile of rubbish many feet down, and the whole village came running to help. Eventually, a tiny man with a hooked stick five times as long as he was tall came running to the rescue, grinning from ear to ear.

India Motorcycle Trip
Near the end of the journey, Ellie and Ullu rode through coconut plantations in Tamil Nadu, the southernmost state in India.

It hit me hard when I got to Kerala and saw the sign for Kanyakumari – the city at the southernmost tip of India – that my journey would soon end. Little moments of the trip replayed in my mind, from the icy dreamland of the Himalayas to brightly decorated Rajasthan to the sublime colors of the South. 

At the end of my India motorcycle trip, I sat atop Ullu and patted her tank, watching the sight I had been waiting for: the sun setting into the Arabian Sea. The next morning, sitting at the same spot, I watched the sun rise over the Bay of Bengal to the east.

India Motorcycle Trip
The author and “Ullu,” her Royal Enfield, at Kanyakumari on the southern tip of mainland India, where the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, and Indian Ocean meet.

Indian roads are a complex machine that operates on courage and trust, and I now understand the absurdity of them in their confusion and chaos. I learned that every breakdown is a chance for a new connection with a stranger; that many bike issues can be fixed with tin cans, rubber bands, or a mouthful of petrol; and that no matter how long the journey might take, there is always time for another chai.

See all of Rider‘s International Touring stories here.

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Source: RiderMagazine.com