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Yearning for a Solo Road Trip

2/7/2013 1:34:35 PM

Tags: March/April 2013, Richard Backus, Black Side Down

As much as I appreciate winter’s forced downtime, embracing it as an opportunity to commit to motorcycle maintenance projects I put off during the riding season, I’ll admit that the single biggest problem with winter is, well, you can’t ride.

My daily 60-mile round trip commute is a lot more fun on a bike than in a car, and lately I’ve found myself droning along with the horde of metal boxes thinking wistfully about getting out on the road and putting on some serious miles.

I didn’t get in a lot of road time in 2012. In fact, I didn’t get in a single good solo road trip. It’s not that I didn’t get in any riding. I did, for instance, make the excellent RetroTours Redneck Giro, a three-day, almost 800-mile romp through West Virginia with a sextet of vintage Italian bikes. I got in a few other great day rides, but I never got out alone, which for me represents the essence of riding. Since my first solo motorcycle tour in college I’ve loved the solitude of the road, just me, myself and I, discovering new routes, new towns and new faces. Today, more than ever, it’s unique to be alone, cell phone off, no e-mail, no radio, no TV, just you, your bike, and the road.

So I want to get in a good tour this year, but that brings up the question of where to? Recently, I’ve been finding myself oddly drawn to the notion of riding in South America. I say oddly because in the past I’ve been dismissive of riders heading below the equator, an army of middle-aged white guys on huge BMW GS’s trying desperately to get in that last “big adventure” before middle age turns north and the body suddenly becomes unwilling to suffer the ravages of long-distance travel.

But reality won’t let me tickle that emerging fancy just yet, so I’m left pondering the when, what and where, with the where decidedly limited to someplace in North America. I could head south to Mexico, I suppose, but if I’m not going to go all the way to South America, I’m thinking points north.

I’ve never ridden the famed Alcan Highway, a fact riding buddy Ken loves to remind me of. We were supposed to ride it together years ago on our Nortons. Ken made the ride, but I didn’t, instead following a girl to San Francisco, where Ken looped through months later on his way home; he was definitely having more fun than I was.

I’ve also never made the run to Newfoundland in Canada, an area that’s intrigued me for years. Beautiful, desolate and lonely, it’s the kind of destination I think of when I think about a long ride. Plus, it has the total thumbs up of a great ferry ride from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, to Argentia, Newfoundland. Any time you can mix two wheels with a ferry ride is a great day in my book.

Then there’s the issue of what to ride. I love putting in long days on the Laverda, but I’m not sure a ride to Newfoundland would show the best side of the big RGS. It’s a long way from the Midwest to Newfoundland, and hauling a lot of gear is not the Laverda’s strong suit. My BMW K100RS would swallow up whatever I need to bring, but it seems almost too big. That has me thinking of something like a mid-Seventies Honda CB500 or CB550 Four. They’re good on gas and reliable, and properly set up they’re surprisingly capable bikes. Stick on a whacking huge old Wixom fairing (I just happen to have one) and a big tail rack (got that, too) and you have a vintage touring bike made for the kind of run I’m thinking about.

The only problem now is the when — and of course the niggling issue of finding that old Honda. But that’s just a detail. See you on the road — I hope. — Richard Backus 

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