Update – apologies for the small photo thumbnails. The site was in the old blogger format at the time I wrote this, I will update older posts as time permits but until then you can click on any photo to see larger version.
I have had a wonderful time touring North America, the roads were superb and the riding exceeded my expectations by a long margin.
I started in San Francisco, renting a BMW R1200RT from Eagle Rider. The rental process was smooth and having stayed nearby I simply walked to the shop signed the papers and loaded my gear onto bike and was riding away about 15 minutes later. I left my suitcase with Eagle Rider and had booked a pickup with UPS to take it to the shop where I was dropping the rental off but UPS turned out to be a bad choice – more on this later.
I wanted to start the tour with a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge but alas the fog that blankets the bay and shore line all day was ever present so it was not to be but you can navigate the city easy by motorcycle and there is many guides on the net so I will stick to talking about the tour.
Riding south along the highway one which has a number of names and numbers the fog persisted with small windows where the Pacific ocean was revealed. Following morning the fog was again in force but I managed to take in some nice vistas from time to time while riding highway one. This road is rated by many as their favourite and it is a very enjoyable ride offering a bit of everything. After originally thinking to ride just to Nacimiento Fergussen road then go inland I rode on to Cambria and was so glad I did as this later part was by far the best.
Above and below Pacific coast, California.
The change in temperatures that exist in the US western states caught me by surprise. From a cool 16 degrees (Celsius) on the coast the temperature rose sharply after I had lunch in Cambria. A steep narrow climb on a back road to ascend the mountains that hug the coast had me changing to summer gloves and unzipping vents on jacket then riding down the other side the heat soared and it was like riding into a oven as the temperature hit 44 degrees! It was a dry heat not like the humid tropical heat of my home which would have been unbearable but none the less uncomfortable to ride in and needing me to rest and rehydrate every hour.
My GPS was taking me on some real backroads which at one point turned to unsealed loose gravel on the final mountain climb and I wondered if I had managed to take the wrong way but anyway the R1200 rode on the dirt ok once I stood up on the pegs and when I crested the road became a narrow winding descent with some amazing views.
Riding more backroads in mostly farming area made for easy miles to cover and this helped me in the heat which started to ease a touch. By mid afternoon I was exhausted and finding a motorcycle dealer at Madera I purchased a open mesh jacket from the nice people at Madera Honda Suzuki. From there the road weaved it’s way through some stark sun bleached countryside not dissimilar to some of northern NSW tablelands districts. Mostly good road with plenty of curves, I stopped to have a drink and when the wind blew the yellow fields of grass I was reminded of those mesmerising scenes in the movie Once upon a time in Anatolia.
Entering Yosemite National Park the scenery changed quite dramatically. I was on the road early to avoid the heat and this also turned out to be a good move for avoiding the heavy traffic tourist places there attract. Unlike a hot summer day in the tropics where you will raise a sweat at 7.00am just standing still, here I still had to don my leather jacket all zipped up and mid weight gloves in the morning then slowly transform to vented then change to mesh gear later such is the change in temperatures.
Riding Yosemite was like a dream, amazing views and a surface so smooth you could have played billiards on it and with so much grip the motorcycle was like magnetised to the road. Truly one of the most amazing rides I have ever had.
Above and below Yosemite National park, California.
While mostly the tour focused on riding I did do a couple of tourist things, one of which was visit Bodie Ghost town. On the day I arrived it was packed being the friends of Bodie day when people dress up in period costumes which was great.
Above and below, Bodie Ghost town, California.
The road to Bodie has some gravel so only two motorcycles in the car park but it was not so hard to ride, just dusty and the rest of the road there was superb hotmix that twisted it’s way through some scenic rocky outcrops.
I got caught in a storm after leaving Bodie, I saw it brewing and so left and tried to out run it which to some extent I succeeded. Leaving the beautiful valley to the north I encountered just the edge of it with some heavy rain and small hail stones while climbing another excellent mountain road and had about 15 minutes of slippery wet roads before I descending the other side where I returned to riding excellent sweeping curve roads the remainder of afternoon. That was going to be the only wet weather I encountered the whole tour.
Leaving the Tahoe National forest I was riding next the Lassen National forest however there was a forest fire and the park was closed. I had another couple of routes for this day but I unfortunately had the wrong one in my GPS so ended up going further north before riding west to try get away from the fires. The roads were still excellent, lovely sweepers in the forest, some straight stuff but not boring. I ended up cutting across to Trinity National forest by days end, I had a bit of a head cold today and was feeling poor so did not take so many photos as well the traffic was heavy in places being a Sunday and I would in future make Sunday a rest day as really every national park scenic area was clogged with day trippers.
Still in California heading north I rode the Six Rivers national forest and Klamath forest. Some superb riding on beautiful surveyed roads but in the middle the road all but disappeared to a narrow track.
Amazing thing, I stopped in the middle of nowhere to have a drink and take a few photos of the gorge below the road (which did not come out well) and as I looked down I saw what appeared to be a US $20 bill in the grass but I thought it must be something else but anyway after I had rest decided to go and pick it up and yes it was a $20 bill just sitting there next to motorcycle (in photo above)
After a great week of riding I left California but not before encountering another serious forest fire. At one point the visibility was reduced to a very short distance and every 2nd vehicle seemed to be an emergency services truck and I was wondering if the road may get closed but I was able to exit the area and enter Oregon to enjoy some more roads with great curves to Klamath Falls.
Weird scene of 10’s of thousands of small moths in vertical spirals?
Just to talk about a couple of non motorcycle observations for a mid post break. Outside of the capital cities the US reminded me a bit of rural Japan with businesses abandoned. There was so much of this on my travels which really stood out to me.
And after another hotel ’continental breakfast’ offering of inedible crap in cellophane bags I lowered my hotel breakfast expectations to zero. It’s peculiar how some countries have superb breakfasts included with hotel stay, Germany and Japan offer a full buffet, yet other places offer nothing much yet the room prices in USA, Australia and New Zealand are twice the price.
I moved to buying some things from the supermarket night before to have for breakfast so I need not have to waste time looking for a diner and then reluctantly eating fatty fried food and that drip filter (“brewed”) coffee. I guess it is all what you are accustomed to. If you only know that then it is all good but being used to European and Asian food I could not adapt.
Anyway back to the ride, I zig-zagged from Klamath Falls to Baker City and was not expecting the days riding to throw a lot of curves at me however yet again the riding ended up being better than I expected. First was some straight stuff but quite dramatic landscapes that were never boring and in the afternoon some superb twisty roads in a mountain range south of Baker city.
From Baker city I rode Hells Canyon and this was a real highlight with just superb roads, the sort you could ride all day and not get bored. I wish I had allowed more time for it as I met some riders who explained the canyon was deeper than the more famous Grand Canyon and they were going to ride to the end and go by jet boat along the river which sounded great but my draft plan was to move on that day so I continued to Lewiston riding some very dramatic canyon roads.
Above is descent to valley floor of what I think is called Joseph canyon. Below is after ascent on other side looking back to where I took first photo.
Heading north east next to Missoula I rode through Clearwater national forest on highway 12 which is a beautiful two lane road that sweeps it’s way along following the banks of the river and natural curves of the valley. My flu had finally lifted so I was feeling in great spirits today.
Riding next on the roads in Montana near Flathead lake to Columbia Falls it was very scenic with some gentle curves and bit of traffic in places but still quite enjoyable.
The next day was a major focus of the tour riding the Going to the Sun road and I was one again greeted with fine weather – so lucky. Another dramatic change in temperatures lay in store for me starting with 4 degrees in the shade at 8.30am on the Going to the sun road and warming to mid 30’s later in the day elsewhere. Good thing I was on the road early as I had a mostly good ride up and over. There was road works with one lane and the delay there on my way up was only 10 minutes and I had only needed to pass a few cars to have a good run. By the time I returned from other side the traffic had grown to gridlock proportions and it was a huge wait to come down followed by slow ride out as the oncoming traffic was so much there was not a single moment to pass the slower cars. Beautiful scenery but not a riders road as such.
Above and below Going to the Sun road, Montana.
And it got it’s name from …
After visiting Glacier National park I went on some backroads via Yaak River to Bonners Ferry. Had a couple of scares with Deer on the road or crossing the road which really spooked me for rest of the day until I got out of the wilderness and back onto main roads. In Australia the kangaroos rest during the day and you can ride until dusk without much risk but that seems not the case with Deer.
Plenty of wildlife.
I crossed over in Canada with total ease. Rode up to totally empty border check point presented my passport and was stamped and on my way within 30 seconds, never had to even remove my helmet.
A modest state motto… (click to enlarge)
The roads along the shore of the Kooteney lake were more beautiful riding. I was having such a good time I arrived at the ferry to Balfour forgetting I had no Canadian money on me. Fortunately it is free but I could have done with a coffee as I had over an hour to wait having just missed one departure but no means to buy one. On the other side I tried an ATM and it rejected all 3 types of cards I had but the shop keeper took pity on me and ran a purchase through as a cash out on his till so I could buy some lunch and something to drink. I need not have worried riding north to Kaslo I found a bank where the ATM worked fine and should have held off to just have lunch there but all good. The road again followed the lake and offered some grand vistas and nice sweeping curves.
Above and below Kooteney lake, British Columbia.
Very different feeling to the riding with some scenes reminding me a lot of my European riding along the lakes in the Italian alps border region.
I stumbled on what must be the local sports bike motorcycle road when leaving Kaslo and riding to Nelson, the road was thick with bikes and none were following the sign…
The riding continued to be both scenic and enjoyable all day with some straight sections but also plenty of curves as I rode over to Vernon via another ferry crossing.
From Vernon I rode to Lillooet via Merritt. Still plenty of curves to enjoy but some very different scenery riding through Indian reserves where the rivers were busy carving canyons into the barren landscape.
For some reason I love the detail on that sign.
Today I managed to do what I had wanted for many days and that was have a picnic lunch by the road – it was great!
Next I was able to ride a road I had wanted to revisit for many years having driven highway 99 Lillooet to Whistler 10 years ago I had always thought about one day returning on a motorcycle. I stopped to take a photo at Duffey lake the same location I had stopped a decade before and thinking then I would love to ride this road and it felt great to have achieved this dream.
Above and below highway 99 Lillooet to Whistler
Riding the Sea to Sky highway from Squamish to Vancouver the weather turned a bit dull and I was not able to capture much of the beauty but fortunately it did not rain and I had a blast on this superb road not having to concern myself with the 80kph speed limit that seems to blanket British Columbia.
Getting back into the USA took some time, I was in the traffic queue for 40 minutes and but the check point itself was speedy.
Next on my list was to ride Mt Baker in Washington state. The weather looked damp as I approached but yet again I was lucky having missed some rain and was able to ride at a decent pace up the mostly dry road. Mt Baker turned out to be a real suprise package the roads offered a bit of everything, sweepers and more technical corners and even a few very tight switchbacks with sheer drops at the very top. I was not able to see the full views but it was rather good all the same and yet another dramatic temperature change for me.
Above and below Mt Baker, Washington.
I was planning to ride all back roads to Seattle and indeed started out on state route 9 with a bunch of other bikers which confirmed I had chosen well however there was a lot of road works and I was wanting to get the bike to the rental shop that afternoon and not ride in the afternoon peak hour traffic so after a bit I jumped on the interstate for the last miles. Even this was slow going with terrible traffic jams despite 12 lanes and still pre peak hour! As someone who works in rail industry all I can say is you simply can never build enough roads if you do not have mass transit rail.
The guys from Eagle rider Seattle looked after me and took me to my hotel and I would not hesitate to rent from them again as was a smooth no hassle experience.
The BMW R1200RT was very good. Electronic cruise control was bliss and made doing the tour so much easier, in fact those 3 days I had the flu were tiring but without cruise would have been near impossible. Same for the electric windscreen, this allowed me to control heat or cold and noise and buffeting, just superb. The 3 way electronic suspension really did work well, you could feel the difference considerably between comfort, normal and sport – the latter when chosen allowed me to push the bike through tight corners far quicker than a machine of this size and weight should rightly be ridden. Very impressive stuff. The engine perhaps could have lost some horsepower and gained more toque. I have ridden the older boxer engine in the R1150R in Japan and this newer bike seemed to have had it’s power moved up the rev range a bit too far for this type of bike – but that’s just me. The BMW luggage is so heavy compared to Givi cases but no doubt it is quality stuff. Fuel range is huge, over 500km, I could ride all day not needing to refuel and this was handy as some roads did not have fuel and if I had been on my CB I would have probably run out a couple of times. Not sure I would own one but great motorcycle for this type of thing.
Remember UPS who I paid to pick up my suitcase in San Francisco and deliver it to Seattle? Well they did not pick it up because something with the label was not to their liking despite many calls and being told yes we have picked up your bag. Then at the last moment they email to say my bag was not picked up and now it is too late to get it to Seattle unless I pay express rate which is far more than the suitcase is worth and no refund for services not rendered. So I went to the mall near Seattle airport (which is a Westfield mall <from Australia>) and purchased a new one. UPS are the worst customer service I have experienced in some time.
Overall I can sum up that this tour exceeded my riding expectations every day. The roads were superb, wonderful consistent surveying, smooth excellent surfaces – the roads that were being resurfaced in California were already better quality than any of our roads in Australia. Naturally the corners are always a strong focus and these were just great. Not a lot of tight technical stuff but nice sweepers where you can enjoy leaning the bike and feeing the hang time – I loved it. In many ways it is a ride that anyone could do with ease. Nothing more challenging to overcome than remembering that unique to North America practice called tipping. To me, coming from outside North America where most people see tipping as offensive and demeaning naturally I struggled at times. It seems a sad social injustice but people there have grown up knowing nothing else. I had a app on my phone and used it to tell me what to add to bills and tried view it all as a sales tax that had to be applied to each bill.
I will return again to North America to ride some more, maybe next year or one after.
Read more about planning this ride here
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