Around the offices here at Motorcycle Classics, it often seems the simplest ideas we have are the best ones.
When we learned we had a 2007 Triumph Scrambler test bike coming our way, we quickly wrote up a list of things to do with it. We wanted to take it on a short tour, commute on it, get in some dirt-road riding and, yes, someone even suggested we try to replicate Bud Ekins’ stunt-doubling for Steve McQueen in The Great Escape by finding a good barb-wire fence and jumping it. Let’s just say that’s the one test we didn’t quite get around to.
The idea we were sold on, however, was simply getting it out on the road. And since the Scrambler is the spiritual successor to the Triumph Trophy of yore, we decided our last project bike, a 1971 Triumph TR6C Trophy, would make the perfect traveling companion to the Scrambler and give us a chance to see how far Triumph has come in the last 35-plus years.
Hitting the road We decided the German settlement town of Hermann, Mo., sited on the banks of the Missouri River about 90 miles west and south of St. Louis, sounded like a great destination for a short tour. At a bit more than 250 miles away, it was both close enough to be accessible and far enough away to get in some real road time. It would also get us into the hillier parts of Missouri.
We left from editor Backus’ place (which he fondly calls "Appalachia West" in honor of the numerous automotive carcasses he’s collected) in Lawrence, Kan., on a Monday in late April. Heading out around noon, we aimed east on state Route K10 for a few miles, then turned and headed south and then east on county roads until we hit state Route K33. B-road riding was the goal of the trip, and as the Trophy is happiest at around 60mph we kept off major roads as much as possible. An hour or so of these mostly straight two-lane routes ran us into state Route K68, where we hung a left and headed east. K68 took us all the way to the Missouri border, where it turns into Missouri state Route 2. Ahhh, success, we’d made it past our first mental barrier, the state line. Almost on cue, the Trophy shook loose a rear signal assembly, but it was nothing Backus, a few tools and five minutes couldn’t fix. And yes, we’d brought along a good selection of wrenches. Call it insurance. Remarkably, it would be the only real mechanical failure we’d experience on the entire trip.
Getting more comfortable on the bikes, we continued on, following Route 2’s zigzag pattern as it heads east and through the farm towns of Harrisonville, Chilhowee and Leeton, where we stopped for gas and inquired about finding a café for some lunch. We’d have to proceed on to the next town, Windsor, we were told, as the local greasy spoon wasn’t open on Mondays. Go figure. It was for the best, though, as Windsor is the home of a great little hole-in-the-wall called Nita’s Place. Nita’s is about the size of a drive-thru burrito joint, yet at three in the afternoon there were four cars outside, which seemed busy for the time of day. A good sign for sure. Not five minutes after sitting down, the local sheriff walked in: You know you’re in the right place for good, small-town home-cookin’ when you’re where the locals go. Backus’ open-faced roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy proved the point.
At Windsor, Route 2 becomes Route 52. Still heading east, we rode on through Cole Camp, past Versailles and on to Eldon, where we jumped onto four-lane U.S. Highway 54 and headed northeast for about 15 miles before exiting. We didn’t know it yet, but this is where the fun would really begin.
Hitting the twisties
On our map, county Route E looked like it would skirt Missouri’s capital, Jefferson City, which was fast coming up on us. We knew we needed another B-road to make our escape, but little did we know it would also be the best road we’d ride all day. Heading up Route E the turns came sooner and more often, and Backus and the old Trophy came alive and quickly disappeared. The two-lane’s we’d been on so far were fine, but now we were really running some Grade A twisties. When we hit our first stop sign eight miles later, we both smiled and said the same thing: If we had time to spare, we’d turn around and run those eight miles a few more times! But with the end of the day coming fast, we had to move on.
After another 20 or so beautiful miles Route E led us to Taos, where we jumped on U.S. Highway 50 and headed east for Linn. There, we filled up again and discovered it was 6:30 p.m. We were supposed to be at our lodging for the night by 8 p.m. No problem, we figured.
From Linn we headed north on state Route 100 and into the hills, gaining elevation and getting ever-nearer to Hermann. Until we came across a "Bridge Closed Ahead" sign, that is. Rather than turn around and follow the marked detour (which we guessed would run us some 30 miles out of the way) we kept right on going. Hell, there’s gotta be another way, we figured, and besides, maybe the bridge wasn’t really closed. Sure enough, the bridge was closed. A dirt road running off across a nearby field looked as though it might lead us in the right direction, so we decided to see if it did. It did, and not only did we get to watch the sun begin its glorious descent over the hills as we worked our way across the river and back to Route 100 again, but we got to ride in the dirt just a bit. About 20 miles later we rolled into Hermann, just as it was getting good and dark. The Vinchester Inn was our home for the night. The small hotel was perfectly located, had off-street parking for the bikes, and at $69 for two queen-sized beds was nicely affordable compared to the many bed and breakfasts in town.
Bikes unpacked, we wandered down to a great little place called Sharp’s Corner Tavern for dinner and libations before heading back and calling it a night.
Tuesday morning greeted us with rain. And thunder. And, naturally, we hadn’t packed rain suits, as the weather forecast didn’t suggest even a chance of the wet stuff. Luckily, by the time we wandered downtown, found some breakfast and returned to the Vinchester, the rain had not only stopped but the skies had cleared and the sun was out and shining.
Taking advantage of the change, we loaded up and rolled down to the edge of the Mighty Mo for some photos. An hour later, photos done and the day warming up, it was time to hit the road. We crossed the river, gassed up (and added a quart of oil to the Trophy) and headed west on state Route 94. Not five miles down the road we saw a great little gravel road running between fields covered with purple heather and couldn’t resist another round of photos. From there we set our pace at about 60mph and rolled on, rambling along the north side of the Missouri River toward Jefferson City, occasionally flirting with a few curves in the bluffs but otherwise running flat and true in the river valley. The twisties, it was clear, were behind us.
Once we hit Jefferson City another hour on we jumped on U.S. Highway 54 south just long enough to get us back over the river and onto U.S. Highway 50, where we again headed west. Eighty miles later we were in Warrensburg, Mo., where we turned south on state Route F, then west again on state Route 58 just a few miles later. At this point Backus was leading and had the map, but a mistake in reading it found us in the sprawling, suburban expanse of south Kansas City at 5 p.m., where we plodded along through stop-and-go traffic for nearly an hour before making it through the city and across the border to Kansas, and back onto state Route K10. One last detour on a county road and we were back in Lawrence, Kan., and at the end of our journey.
At a bit more than 600 miles in two days, we certainly hadn’t run an Iron Butt. But we had spent enough time on the road to allow us to focus on the bikes at hand, appreciating them for what they are — and aren’t — and experiencing them in a different light. Which, after all, was that simple goal we were aiming to accomplish from the start. MC