2011 Last Ride of the Year

Looking at the weather yesterday afternoon, I decided that Saturday would be a great day to ride and put a call out for anyone that wanted to join me last minute. Mark Silva was up for it, so we met this morning at the Livermore Starbucks at 7:30 to ride Mines Road.

You have to love the micro-climates here in Northern California. When I left the house it was 45F. It was 38F in Livermore, and by the time we were halfway down Mines it had dropped to 27! (The heated grips came in handy.)

A spirited ride out to the 130 where we stopped at the Crossroads and offered up our traditional burnt offerings in the form of two Graycliffs, reflected on the year, and shared some hopes and goals for 2012.

As typical on this trip, we enjoyed it enough to reverse course on our way back to other obligations. We split up again at Livermore and I took the back way home. Here are a few shots from the route:


Looking back over the hills I just climbed near Morgan Territory Regional Reserve…

It was a good way to end 2011! Happy New Year!

My Route: ~125 Miles


Concours 14: Can You Feel The Heat?!

Concours 14: Can You Feel The Heat?!

In a word, Yes! And it’s accurate any way you want to relate to it.

I had the good fortune to spend my day with “Connie,” and man, is she hot. Well, at least the 2008 model is. Since I wanted to get a feel for her in several different environments, I set aside a day and mapped out a ride that would include superslab, sweepers, twisties, heavy city traffic, and heavy highway traffic. And given where I live, that is no simple feat: there are just so many options!

Having been a cruiser rider from day one, I wanted to check out my chemistry with Connie to see if there was any potential in this relationship.

I left around 9 AM this morning looping over Kirker Pass Road to CA- 4 with the intention of catching I-680 to I-80. First issue to surface was the size of the grips. These things were not built for my hands. I’ve clearly adapted to the larger, more supple ISO grips on the cruiser. My throttle hand was cramping 5 minutes into the ride, so I stayed on 4 out to Hercules and stopped at California Sports Touring to pick up a Throttle Rocker.

Luckly, CST opens at 9, so $11 and 10 minutes later (had to look around you know), I was out the door and back on the road with my right hand gratefully relieved.

Once on I-80, my attention turned to the bike – or rather the speed of the bike. It just didn’t seem to want to run anything under 85. And, the longer I rode the faster it wanted to go. No doubt about it, this engine is hot. Roll-on was quite impressive in all the upper gears and the faster I went, the more stable Connie felt. I reached my upper limits long before she did.

A friend of mine, Matt Zuckman, once commented after riding my cruiser that he’d “never ridden a couch before.” And despite the relatively upright ergonomics, I was about to decide I was actually riding a sports bike for the first time. I found more pressure on my wrists than expected which leads me to the windshield.

The ’08 Connie has an adjustable windshield and I found that at normal highway speeds (i.e. the speed limit & just above), I preferred to have the windshield at its lowest setting to help release the pressure on my arms. At higher speeds, I found the windshield helpful, but at its highest setting, it did produce quite a lot of chop around my helmet in addition to increasing noise in a noticeable way.

Just past Vacaville, as I jumped off on I-505, I started to feel the heat on the right side and noticed that I was swinging my right knee out to avoid it. This was a major complaint of all the reviewers of the ’08 model and has reportedly been fixed for a couple of years.

A very quick run up to CA-128 left me confident that had I been out with Meehan or Silva I could have at least kept up in the straightaways.

CA-128 is mostly 20 to 40 MPH curves with a few rolling hills in the short runs. It was immediately obvious that I need some track time to take full advantage of this machine. Even with the windshield at its lowest setting, diving into corners tended to put too much pressure on an old injury in my right wrist. I’m thinking a set of risers would be one of the first changes I would make.

By the time I reached the Crossroads store at 128 & 121, the sun was out and with the temp north of 60 it was time to peel off some layers and grab a cold drink.

The next noticeable issue is the stock seat. It never got good reviews, but I can usually last till the first fill-up before I start noticing a seat. Not this one. It started pinging my consciousness at about 100 miles into the ride, which didn’t bode well for the remainder of the day.

A right on Berryessa Knoxville Road, took just past Spanish Flat on Lake Berryessa for a brief stop to stretch.

I have to say, the more I look at that Givi top box, the less I like it on this bike. It just doesn’t match the lines (with or without the saddlebags). It’s a nice enough box and was way more room than I needed for today’s trip, but it just doesn’t look right to me. This one rattled too. I solved it by wedging four paper towels in between the box and the rack, but that’s not a permanent solution.

I took a little longer coming back out to CA-128 as on the way in I was reminded that deer don’t always wait till dusk to cross the road.

The road from here, also known as Sage Canyon Rd, is well paved and has a lot of 15 & 20 MPH curves. A better rider could have done a much better job of justifying Connie, but I managed to enjoy myself nonetheless. And, although Connie weighs in at just under 700 lbs, she never felt heavy or out of control to me. Several reviews credit her with heavy steering and all I could think about is that they must be comparing her to sports bikes and not cruisers.

Just past Lake Hennessey, one has the option of staying on 128 to Rutherford, or turning onto Silverado Trail for the run up Napa Valley. Silverado is the road less traveled, so that was an easy decision. With not a lot of traffic on the road, I got a chance to see how well Connie passes. Wow! Can’t do this on a cruiser.

The way leads past the east side of St. Helena via winding sweepers and picturesque views of vineyards to the Lake County Hwy which drops you into Calistoga. The fuel indicator was low, so I rolled all the way through town to one of the two gas stations on 128.

Getting the bike up on the center stand is not for the light of weight. Unlike the BMW 1150 that has a handle specifically for this exercise, on the Connie, you have to use the passenger grab handle, which doesn’t actually provide much in the way of leverage. Luckily for me, I got it up without a tip-over (apparently one of the most common causes of tip-overs on the forums), but it required all my weight to do so.

I toyed with the idea of lunch in Calistoga, but with one of my favorite restaurants only a half hour and a lovely road away, I rolled her off the stand and a few miles north on 128 turned left onto Petrified Forest Rd.

Take a look at this road on a map and you’ll see why by the time I turned onto Calistoga Rd to drop down into Santa Rosa, my legs were cramping from holding my weight up off my wrists. This bike disguises exercise as riding.

Next stop is lunch at Betty’s Fish & Chips. If you like super thick beer batter on your fish that tastes more like the oil than the fish, this is not your place. They have a unique way of prepping the fish that leaves just the slightest amount of crisp breading on it. It doesn’t come out greasy, you can taste the fish, and they are generous with their portions.

Full, happy, and with a chance for my rear end to forget what setting on that saddle feet like, it was only a spirited romp down CA-12/Bodega Hwy to CA-1 on the coast. Did I mention how well she passes?

I stopped somewhere along Tomales Bay at the same place Billy Bartles and I stopped for a photoshoot of the Triumph last year.

It would be nice to drop all the way down Hwy 1, but the sun is low in the sky this time of year and I needed to be back in the East Bay before 5:30. Suiting back up with the warmer gear and turning east on Marshall-Petaluma Rd, I immediately found a handy use for the special lockbox above the gas tank. When the low sun and heavy foliage turn the road to dusk-like conditions, you can take off your sunglasses and store them without having to pull over.

And as the temps fell I found my right knee back on the bike and welcoming the heat coming off of her.

I wanted to ride in traffic, and I got it. Not only on this road (with few places to pass), but it dumps you out onto Sir Francis Drake Blvd into San Rafael. It would have been quicker to have stayed on Hwy 1. But alas, I got to test Connie in the traffic. She is well balanced and much thinner than the cruiser. It never felt top-heavy or uncontrollable even at slow speeds splitting stopped traffic.

The rest of the trip was highway traffic at rush hour and again Connie shows her colors. Easy passing, plenty of power to get around the cage drivers texting, and a free pass for the HOV lane got me back on time to drop off the bike.

At the end of the day, to say I’m impressed with this bike would be an understatement. It is a fun ride. It’s an ’08, and most reports have the heat on the right side issues as fixed in the newer models. At the same time, the “hot” of it’s performance is still intact. My biggest concern personally is if the standard riser kit, dropping the pegs, and replacing the seat would be enough to make it a comfortable ride for multiple long days. I certainly wouldn’t want to take it out for a 7500 miler without those upgrades.

All in all, she’s got a lot of potential, but the research continues…

Note: For the record of others reading this review I’m just over 6′, 205 lb, and have 34″ inseam.

Today’s Test Route: 274 Miles


Day 3: Yosemite National Park to Concord, CA

A little after daylight I hear stirring in camp and roll out to find Silva dressed for a jog. Which, much to my surprise, (I mean I go on these trips to get away from normal), he actually had on the agenda. So while he sweated it out I caught up on some reading and started to pack up.

Evergreen Lodge was about 4 miles up the road and when Mark got back he allowed as how it was open and had a great menu.

Decision made.

We worked our way back out around the boulders (see below) and 4 miles later Mark rebalanced the day’s calorie exchange while I just tilted the scales in the wrong direction.

If you are in the Yosemite area, you owe it to yourself to get over to the Evergreen and check out the menu. Something for everyone and as this was my second time here, the food so far has been consistently great.

With a upcoming trip to NY for business tomorrow on my plate, I reluctantly parted ways with Mark at CA-120 and made a fast two and a half hour trip home.

Mark headed off to the east to run another set of summits and meet up with our mutual friend Doug DeCarlo for a few more days on the road.

Good luck guys, wish I could make the rest of the trip with you. Shiny side up!

Today’s route: 161 Miles

Passes: Altamont Pass & Chinese Camp

Day 2: Union Valley Resevoir to Yosemite National Park

A shot of Mark just after braking camp.

Had last night’s dinner been a steak, I’m sure we wouldn’t have been up quite so early, but breakfast was calling loudly and after dropping off the spare 6-pack of Blue Moon by the camp of our benefactors, we were well down the road and wrapping ourselves around eggs, bacon, hash browns, biscuits & gravy by 9:30. (Yet another reason it’s great to get out on the road.) Realizing that Mark isn’t as prone to stopping every couple of hours for a “ceegar,” as some of my other riding companions are want to do, I took the opportunity to strap the camera around my neck for some “from the road” shots.

Over breakfast we looked at the map and decided that Yosemite  via Sonora Pass would be our destination for the evening. Of course, it turned out to be everyone else’s destination as well. “Who’d a thunk it?”

After charging the phones and catching up with the families, we set out for Sonoma Pass. US-50 didn’t have much going for it except the great condition of the road and the scenery. But it was a short trip to turn south on CA-89 again – and we did get another pass in: Echo Summit.

CA-89 put us back in the twisties, which continued as we turned South-East on CA-88.

Despite the several streaches of road construction, it proved to be an enjoyable ride.

Mark following a Concours down toward CA-395.

We even found a nice place or two to set up for a photoshoot.

Yes, as a matter of fact, we are having fun. Thanks for asking.

And yes, that small spot in the far curve is Mark. The cruiser just couldn’t keep up with the sports tourer.

Mark even gave the BBSMJ* left-handed camera technique a try – with darn good results.

Approaching US-395 felt like roaring into a blast furnace. The temp probably went up 30 degrees to somewhere north of >110F on the valley floor. We stopped and downed a quart or so of Gateraid and stood in front of an air conditioner for 15 minutes. Higher is cooler, so next stop? Ca-108 and Sonora Pass.

It was cooler – there is still snow up here!

This kind of road is too precious to waste, so I waved Mark on ahead to make the most of it. I think I need a sports tourer.

What a wonderful road!

Somewhere along the way I caught up with Mark, stowed the camera so I could make better time, and we sought out a little used cut-through from East Sonora to Big Oak Flat/Groveland. Ward’s Ferry Road was hard to find, and even more difficult to navigate. I’m pretty sure we didn’t save any time, but we sure enjoyed the ride.

This was the only spot on the route that I felt safe enough to stop and take a phone picture…

The width, condition and angle of decent sharply deteriorated from here.

In an attempt to forestall a repeat of the night before, we stopped in Groveland at the first spot we saw to pick up groceries for the evening and checked out a next-door historical establishment: The Iron Door Saloon. It looked like a great place to stop for a couple of brews, but as we didn’t quite know we we would be staying, we chose not to linger. With the bikes piled high with boxes of wood, and plastic bags of groceries strapped all around, we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies on bikes. I wish I had thought to get a photo.

Of course, some 30 miles later at the entrance to the park we were informed that the entire park was full – not a campground or hotel room to be had. Oh yeah, it is Labor Day weekend. Shocker.

While we discussing whether or not to fall back on plan c, (which is roll into a campsite of other motorcyclists with beer and food  to share and offer to reimburse them for the site if they’ll let us camp with them), the ranger told of us of a free spot where camping is allowed if you have a fire permit. Getting a fire permit required another hour’s worth of riding, the required lecture about fire safety, and I’m pretty sure Mark had to put his house up for collateral.

We found the free camping area and wrestled our bikes passed the boulders there to block the cars. By the time the tents were pitched, the salmon on the fire and the beer in hand, all the trouble seemed worth it.

By the time the butter-dill-lemon salmon and baked potato with butter and cheese  came off the fire, we knew it was. Afterall, it always is. That’s why we do this.

We didn’t stay up near as late tonight – just late enough to make sure the fire was out!


Today’s route: 248 miles

Echo Summit
Sonora Pass

* Billy Bartles School of Motor Journalism

Day 1: Concord to Union Valley Resevoir

Ever since I put a moratorium on working weekends, I generally look forward to Mondays and today was no exception. Albeit for a different reason than normal.

Mark Silva pinged me early last week to see if I would be available for a ride. After reviewing the work schedule, I decided that I could afford to take a couple of days off to enjoy our sunny California weather.

Every ride needs at least a direction if not a destination and a theme. Mark suggested a “summits” theme where in we would try to fit in as many Northern California passes as possible in 2 days.

The biggest concentration of those passes are concentrated in the Sierras, so we mapped out the following route with an eye to balancing the number of passes with our desire not to make an Iron Butt out of the trip.

Mark was just kicking a cold, so we met at the same Livermore Starbucks we meet at for our Mines Road rides at the pleasantly reasonable hour of 9 AM.

A quick breakfast and coffee later, we superslabed it over to the CA-4 exit with Ebbits Gap as our first destination.

As you work your way east on CA-4, it is flat farmland and orchards interspersed with rolling hills and, this time of the year, some very hot weather. buy the time we reached Arnold, the (slightly) cooler temps and twisty roads were welcome.

Mark’s BMW 1150 RT is a little more aggressive than my cruiser, so of course he beat me up the pass. He was experiencing a zen moment when I arrived at Lake Alpine just short  of the actual pass.

The origional plan was South Lake Tahoe for a late lunch, but we were running behind schedule (which I almost never keep on a ride anyway) and getting hungry, so we stopped in Markleeville at Wolf Creek, a roadhouse that looked promising.

The Alpine Hotel started out as the Fiske House when it was built in Silver Mountain City in 1862. Four years later it was disassembled, moved to it’s present location, and reassembled board by board as the Hot Springs Hotel. It was renamed the Alpine Hotel in 1900. There was no information on when they renamed it Wolf Creek, but it doesn’t seem to lack for history. The decor is, as you would expect, rustic and worthy of it’s historic status with ubiquitous gear and old black and white photos of the hotel and town lining the walls.

Our server pointed out the ribs as worthy of our attention – and they were everything we expected. Clearly smoked (and not parboiled), they were as good a cut of meat as I have had in ages. They had a great smoked flavor and the sauce didn’t overpower the meat. We both give it a high recommend on the meat. The sides were nothing to write home about (canned beans and some strange mustard/mayonnaise mixture potato salad whose calories I was happy to leave on the plate.)

Happy and full, we dropped down the hill and turned north on CA-88/89. I’m not sure if we were dozing in the saddle or if we were just enjoying the road so much, but it took us an hour to realize that we had missed the turn when 88 & 89 diverged.

Not ones to be long dissuaded, and with Carson Pass right in front of us, we decided to reroute and find some place to stay near Jackson.

Besides being a great road for motorcycling (lots of twisties, well paved most of the way, and mostly well banked), CA-88 runs from Stockton to the Nevada border. It’s highest pass has a long and storied history beginning with it’s name. Somewhere along near the pass Kit Carson carved his name in a tree back in the mid 1800’s, but we were still enjoying the road too much to bother stopping to see it.

We landed just after 5 PM and the temp was still in triple digits. Neither of us wanted to be camping out in that kind of heat, so we decided to hit Hwy 50 and double back towards the Union Valley Resevoir to find a place to stay.

About 12 miles off the highway, we found a campsite, but everything around was closed. I was thinking that it was a toss up between a dry camp with no dinner or just pushing on into South Lake Tahoe and finding a cheap hotel and a not so cheap steakhouse. The camp hosts allowed that those were about our only two options and offered us a couple of Blue Moons to help ease the disappointment.

It only took Mark about 5 minutes to decide that Blue Moon just wasn’t going to get the job done. Already dusk, he offered to go back to the last gas station and obtain the necessary provisions if I would set up camp.

An hour and 20 minutes and a 40 mile round trip later (seeing a deer after dark does tend to slow one down in the twisties), he returned with two bundles of firewood, a six-pack of IPA, a six-pack of Blue Moon (since no good deed should go unpunished) and dinner: two cold case white bread sandwiches. One ham & cheese and one turkey & cheese. They were so bad they were good.

We caught up on changes in the industry, former coworkers and friends. And we ran out of wood, beer, and words just shy of 2 AM.

Today’s route: 356 miles

Altomomt pass
Ebbit’s Pass
Carson Pass