Tuesday, June 23, 2015


For a while, I owned a Kawasaki KLR 650.  Knobby tires, high seat, raised pipe, large fuel tank: the Kawi would go for days on back-country gravel roads, seemingly never needing to stop for gas.  A “second bike” for me, she parked next to a sophisticated BMW RT model built for making horizons seem not so far away.  In contrast, the KLR, though it never broke, seemed loose and rattley as if manufacture tolerances were approximate.  The dash vibrated, as did the mirrors and the front fender never seemed quite aligned with the 21 inch front tire.

Still, I explored mile upon mile of gold country and Sierra back roads, enjoying every bump and turn.   

Early in our relationship, outside of Foresthill, California, at about dusk, I gingerly rounded a gravelly bend on my way up the hill to Michigan Bluff, when a she-bear ambled across the road in front of me, pausing, as if to ask, “What the hell are you doing up here this time of night?”  Another adventure found me on a road that, after a tricky fording of an icy stream, turned to a bouldery run up a volcanic hillside.  “If I get cut off and have to go back down that,” I said to myself, waiting for my heart rate to normalize, “I’m screwed.”

I liked the KLR’s ability to take on unsurfaced roads so much that the Beemer began to develop a fine layer of dust as it sat in the garage.  So I decided to merge the two.  Trading both in, I purchased a BMW GSA, then touted by GQ magazine – not that I actually read GQ – to be the best motorcycle in the world.

In the 48,000 miles I’ve put on the GSA, I’ve toured the Pacific coast, driven to Canada, and explored the vast Basin and Range country from Modoc County to the Rockies and beyond.  I’ve driven it on interstates when necessary, but the bike excels on winding or twisty paved roads and generally tackles graveled or rutted routes with relative ease.  But, the BMW is no KLR.  Fun to ride, but too expensive to drop...

Six years into the ownership of the magnificent BMW, I am bitten by that bug that says, “Isn’t it time to try something new?”  I look at Honda’s Goldwing, a well designed tourer for a guy my age, the Triumph Rocket III, you won’t see one of those coming at you every day of the week, and the Moto Guzzi California Touring, a sculpted work of Italian art that happens to ride on two wheels.  Each of these is designed to go the distance, but when up and running, their weight, I’ve read, melts away and they consume those beloved narrow back roads nicely.

“So what do I do?” I’ve been asking myself. 

Yesterday, I mounted my big BMW and headed out for a long-awaited loop from our new digs in northern Sonoma County to the coast.  My ride took me to Hopland for breakfast at the delightful Bluebird Café, through Ukiah to Orr Springs Road, then west toward Comptche, the village whose consonant to vowel ratio is outside the norm, and off to the coast at Mendocino. 

The pavement west of Ukiah is scantly maintained, but the route rising over ridges and plunging into cool forested valleys is absolutely enchanting.   

Enlarge this shot by clicking on it.
The GSA handled each pothole with grace.  The Michelin tires begged me to take the next turn with just a bit more throttle.  Catching a glimpse of the road five miles away on the next ridge top urged me on.  And the palette of aromas where the road traced a stream course was both floral and delicious.

Pausing at Montgomery Woods State Reserve, just west of Orr Springs, I visited the old growth redwood cathedral to contemplate many things: tragedies in the recent news, how much I love my dog, getting older, the glories of an early summer ride, and what motorcycle might I rather be riding. 

Suddenly, remembrances of that great old KLR came to mind.  In the forest’s deep silence, one broken only by the occasional caw of a raven, a voice gently spoke to me asking:  Are you sure you want to let the one you have become another one that got away?


Today’s Route:  From Santa Rosa: north on US 101 through Cloverdale, Hopland (breakfast!) to Ukiah, exit North State Street.  Right.  About 1 mile north, left on Orr Springs Road to Orr Springs, Montgomery Reserve, Comptche and the Mendocino Coast.  South on CA 1 through Little River, Albion, Elk, Manchester to Point Arena.  (Lunch at the Chowder House on the pier.)   

Return:  North on CA 1 three miles; right on Mountain View Road to Boonville.  East on CA 128 through Yorkville to Cloverdale and 101.

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. Nicely written. Many of us understand exactly what you're saying. I've let some bikes go that I regretted immediately.

    Along with a big KTM adventure bike, I own the Triumph Rocket III and a KLR.

    And always looking for that "next bike."