Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Motorcycling Oregon

At last I have a bike and some plans. I found a Suzuki VStrom DL650 on Craigslist during my last week in Thailand. It was located in Myrtle Creek, about 100 miles south of Eugene. Using Skype I called the seller, gave him a verbal commitment to buy the bike and then, after some hassles with cashier's checks which necessitated two separate trips to Myrtle Creek, I finally managed to pay for the bike, take possession of it, and drive it back to my son Tuli's last Monday. There are two VStrom models made by Suzuki. The DL1000 (1000 cc) and the DL650, dubbed the wee-Strom for it's "diminutive" 650 cc engine. But that 650 cc motor moves the wee-Strom plenty fast enough for my liking. The engine has a 10,500 RPM redline -- in 300 miles of goofing around I've never taken it above 8,000 RPM. With a more daring driver in command it will do 0-60 mph in something like 4 seconds.

The trip back from Myrtle Creek with the bike was spent on I-5 mostly and during the latter part of it, for about an hour, I was driving through a veritable wall-o-rain. Luckily for me the previous owner had offered to sell me his top of the line foul weather riding suit (a First Gear Kilimanjaro jacket and Hypertex pants) for a fraction of what it cost new. I jumped at the chance and was glad I did. With it I stayed warm and dry in a very hard rain. If I had been caught in that storm with only the light weight rain pants and jacket I use for hiking I have no doubt I'd have gotten soaked and frozen stiff in that hour on the super-slab. Best $100 I've spent in a while. During the past week I've dedicated a lot of time and money to preparing the bike and myself for travel; I bought a pair of tough waterproof boots, heavy gloves with gauntlets, lighter weight ones without, a GPS mount for my Garmin 60Cx, chain lube, a few extra tools to supplement the spartan toolkit that came with the bike and a tank bag to hold incidentals like camera, drinking water and cellphone. The bike has three lockable, hard luggage cases that should hold most of my other gear. It also has heated hand grips which will keep the chill out of my hands, I hope.

The weather's been a bit rough here in Eugene compared to Bangkok. It's been chilly and rainy for the most part although a good day has appeared here and there and on one of those I took a short trip southeast to Cottage Grove -- my first real pleasure ride.

On the Territorial Highway south of Eugene

The countryside around Eugene is verdant and green, as it should be considering the amount of rain that falls here during the winter. Daffodils and tulips are out in force and the leaves on the trees are looking fat and ripe -- ready to pop open any day now.

I spotted what looked to be an interesting side road, the Gowdyville Road, and took a left onto it. A sign promised curves ahead. I thought those might be fun and they were, until the road turned to gravel. I'm told that driving on gravel is good training for driving in less than ideal conditions on pavement and I guess I believe that but being as I haven't driven on dirt or gravel in over 30 years, I was less than pleased at the change in the road surface. I proceeded cautiously, gingerly, hoping I wouldn't take a tumble. After a few miles the gravel gave way to good pavement and I ambled into the little town of Cottage Grove. On the return trip I rode the Cottage Grove - Lorane Road NW out of Cottage Grove and enjoyed some really nice twisties and hills. And perfectly smooth pavement.

Wee-Strom on the Gowdyville Road

I have been in contact lately with Donna, an old Homer friend, ex-hairdresser, practicing artist, and now motorcycle maven, who with her husband Gary has done a ton of riding since leaving Homer back in 1996. Somehow I found her on Facebook and because I was interested in buying a motorcycle we had several long conversations about bikes and riding gear last summer. She was the person who first mentioned VStroms as worthy candidates for consideration because they are virtually maintenance free and are great bikes for the money. I had been looking at BMWs from the get-go because in my mind they have always been the ultimate motorcycle. Be that as it may, I quickly learned they're expensive to buy and hideously expensive to maintain. I noticed that many of the Craigslist ads for Bimmers in my price range contained references about how much the owners had spent before putting the bike on the market. A typical ad for a 1998 RT or K-series bike might read, "Nice bike, always garaged, adult owned, in immaculate condition, just spent $2300 on tune up, new front brake pads, rear tire. Ready to travel." Sheesh, I hope so! For another $2300 I bought a bike that is 10 years newer, commensurately more modern and better equipped than any comparably priced Bimmer. I did a lot reading in the various online forums and found that what I was reading was pretty much in agreement with what Donna had told me. VStrom owners love their bikes and one of the things they love most is how trouble free they are over the long haul. With that in mind, I decided on a VStrom. As for the choice between the 1000 cc and the smaller 650, the information provided by Jack Phelps swayed me to choose the DL650. Check out his site. Jack's comparison and the fact that the bike I've spent so much time with in Thailand is a 200 cc machine, downright puny by comparison to either VStrom, finally pushed me firmly into the wee-Strom camp.

Donna and I will team up to make a foray into desert country next week. She drives a Suzuki Bandit, a 1200cc 4-cylinder road warrior. We have a bunch of friends, some mutual others not, scattered here and there throughout California, New Mexico and Arizona. Donna authors a motorcycling blog called Ride Like a Girl at Read it to see what she's been up to in the past few years. She lives in Sacramento, about a 2-day drive from here. I'll stop overnight in Redding, California, to visit my old tennis buddy Kay and husband Bruce. I'll be avoiding I-5, the prominent North-South super-slab, and sticking to secondary roads or "blue highways" whenever possible. The super-slab is mind numbing, and especially so on a motorcycle.

Harper in his motorcycling shirt

My grandson Harper was thrilled to hear the word motorcycle when I was talking about it before the actual fact of its arrival in the garage. Now, he's become uncharacteristically shy when the term pops up in conversation. When I ask him, "Want to go ride the motorcycle?" he very quickly, and in a very small voice, says "no". We laugh out loud every time he responds this way. He'll get over his fears in time I reckon.

So, off I go on another motorcycle adventure, this one in my own country. It will be fun to see the beautiful parks in the southwest; Arches, Bryce Canyon,  Zion, Canyonlands, etc. However, I am definitely not looking forward to having  to eat the horrible food available along the average American highway. After experiencing Thailand's delicious "fast food", this stuff is pretty nasty.
I reckon I'll just have to tough it out!