Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

  • There has been a growing amount of talk in the motorcycle magazines and on the net for the past five years or so about a class of motorcycles generally referred to as “Adventure Tourers”. The boundaries of what make up one of these bikes are pretty vague, running the gambit from things slightly too large to be a full on dirt bike (like the KLR, XR-L and DR-650) to strange long suspension touring bikes (the BMW GS, KTM Adventure, Tiger) and some others that defy even these classifications (V-Strom, Multistrada). While the characteristics are unclear, one thing definitely is clear…these are all very, very fun motorcycles. !@(afimages/Blog/2005/8/July05-sunset.jpg:R200 popimg: “Beemer with a Colorado sunset”) By way of illustration, let me describe my ride this past Saturday. My buddy Kreig just bought a used BMW R1100GS and I thought I’d put together a short morning ride that would should him the versatility of the bike. My buddy Todd Unpronounceable was supposed to be out test riding a new R1200GS but a slow leak in the front tire of his DR650 kept him closer to home, so he decided to join us. We met up in Boulder and then headed up into the mountains on Flagstaff road. This road is just a long series of switchbacks which start at 5600 ft, crests 7700 ft high Flagstaff Peak and then drops down to 7500 ft at Gross Reservoir. We rode this at a “spirited” pace. I’ve owned by GS for four years now and have, on occasion, managed to touch down a footpeg but this ride was the first time I’ve ever tapped a saddle bag (this feat being aided by a rear shock that is about 5k miles past replacement!). The wide handlebars, upright seating position and low-end grunt of the GSes really shine on this stuff. Todd’s DR lacked the gumption in the engine department but its light weight and incredible handling more than made up for it. From there we took a 4×4 road that connects Lake Shore Park with Magnolia Road. This wasn’t serious dirt biking but was challenging enough to discourage your average street bike into taking the long way around. Todd, both being a great dirt rider and riding the light DR flat disappeared in this stuff. While muscling a 600 lb bike over rocks isn’t easy, at least compared to doing it on something like my DRZ, the bike is still capable of going places normally reserved for Jeeps. My GS did pick up a few new scratches on the bash plate in this section… Next was a 10 mile jaunt on some of the local gravel roads, including Magnolia Road. The last couple of miles of Magnolia is a beautiful set of tight, paved switchbacks which drop about 1500 ft down to Boulder Canyon. Then it was 15 miles up CO-119 to Nederland. While Flagstaff is tight and twisty, Boulder Canyon is faster and more flowing so the emphasis switches from side-to-side transition to stability while leaned over and mid-range power. This is perhaps where the GS is most at home with the engine right in the fat of its torque curve in fourth gear and the bike arcing through wide sweeping corners effortlessly. The DR, in contrast, didn’t stand a chance. Uphill climbs in top gear combined with sudden bursts of acceleration simply aren’t its forte. Once up at 8500 ft in Ned, we took Ridge Rd to Cold Springs and then back out to CO-119 going north. Here the road is even more open than in Boulder Canyon so the bikes can really stretch their legs. I swapped with Todd at this point, so he could at least ride my R1150GS in place of the R12 he had intended to test. I rode his DR650 and can safely say that the bike is a freakin’ hoot to ride Supermotard style. Hold the throttle wide open and just shift your weight from side to side so the bike is kept relatively upright. The front end on the DR is surprisingly confidence inspiring, much more so than on my DRZ. Had I been willing to close my eyes at the speeds I was going, I could easily have imagined I was flying down a Supermoto track. We turned off Peak-to-Peak highway (aka CO-119) at Jamestown Road and started back down into James Canyon. Again, the first bit is a gravel road which then becomes paved. The town of Jamestown recently had a mud-slide due to the instability of the surrounding hillsides after a big forest fire two years ago. The main street through town was covered in silty sand…no problem thanks to the enduro tires on these three bikes. The canyon below Jamestown is another tight, twisty road so the wide handle bars again showed their value flipping and flopping from side to side. At Left Hand Canyon, we split up. Todd taking the DR home for a puff of air in the front tire while I lead Kreig back up towards the town of Ward. Just before Ward, we turned south onto Lickskillet road which climbs about a 1,000 ft in elevation in just one mile to reach the town of Gold Hill. Lickskillet is a maintained gravel road but it always rutted, thanks to rain rivulets criss-crossing across the road. The torque of the GS will keep the rear tire constantly spinning up as it tries to get power down to the ground while bouncing up and down over these bumps. This was especially true on my bike, thanks to the stock shock which failed to punch in on the time clock today. Still, the fuel injection is smooth enough, the tires good enough and the engine linear enough that careful throttle application will slowly build up speed while making the climb. At Gold Hill, we turned and headed down Sunshine Canyon. The first half is thick gravel which means the front tire is constantly sliding over the small, ball-bearing sized rocks. The road has a few different sets of switchbacks, so learning to trust the front tire despite the vague feel is important. The ABS really comes in handy in this stuff too as its easy to lock up a wheel when braking. I didn’t turn off the ABS on my GS but could still get the rear tire to kick out going around tight switchbacks just by stomping the rear brake pedal. This really helps square off the turns without having to lean the bike too much. The lower bit of Sunshine Canyon is like James Canyon…beautiful asphalt, steep switchbacks and a constant loss of elevation before returning to Boulder. The final show of how flexible these bikes are is that we then rode down US-36, a four lane divided highway with speeds well over the 75mph posted limit to a co-worker’s party. I was carrying a change of clothes in my saddle back and could stow all my gear (Aerostich riding suit, gloves, boots and tank bag) in the Jesse bags. I then locked my helmet on the bike and walked into the party with no one a bit the wiser that I’d shown up on a motorcycle. It was really a great example of what makes motorcycling in general, and this class of bikes in particular, so amazing. A few hours of riding that went from scraping pegs to scraping bash plates in just a few minutes. A morning of hanging out with friends and sharing the laughs that go along with riding motorcycles. Then a quiet ride home enjoying the sunset. I know that I could ride Peak-to-peak faster on my GSXR. I know I could ride the 4×4 road better on my DRZ-400. I could probably even drive to a party better in my Jeep. But the fact that I can do all of those on the same vehicle, and do it while grinning till my cheeks hurt, is why I love my big adventurer tourer. [image from my photo collection.] (0)