Touring Utah on a 1980 Honda CB900 Custom

Destination: 2010 Bonneville Vintage GP

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Steve Solko stopped to take a picture of a his 1980 Honda CB900 Custom at the Utah/Colorado state line on his way to the 2010 Bonneville Vintage GP at Miller Motorsports Part in Tooele, Utah.

Photo by Steve Solko

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After reading about the 2009 Bonneville GP in Motorcycle Classics, I said to myself “Next year I’m going.” Invitations were issued to siblings and friends to come along, even offering to drive instead of ride-but no takers. Undaunted, I said to myself, “I’m still going.”

During the cold of winter, solace was gained from reviewing map routes, looking for a new rear trunk, checking out the event website and daydreaming of a warm ride across the eastern Utah desert from my home in Grand Junction, CO. Then finally, the day of departure arrived.

On the road 
The trusty steed for the journey is my 1980 Honda CB900 Custom purchased a year ago from my younger brother. He needed to thin his herd after picking up a 2005 Triumph Black. Sporting a new rear trunk, all fluids are topped off, side bags & rear trunk are packed and away we go. Since Grand Junction is situated on the western edge of Colorado, it is only 30 miles west on I-70 to the Utah border and the obligatory stop for the “Welcome to Utah” picture with the Honda prominently featured. This portion of the trip is both desolate and beautiful. I shudder to think about having to hoof it out here for any distance. I’m sure the pioneers thought the same thing as they traveled west. This is no place to have your horse give out on you.

Ninety seven blistering miles later I pull into the little oasis of Green River, UT. Gas at every stop is not a necessity with a petrol tank that holds over four gallons, but I top off anyways. I once ran out of gas near the Colorado/Nebraska border and I ended up pushing my Yamaha 650 Maxim over 3 miles. That experience is not one I intend to repeat. Ever.

Drinking water while riding has presented itself to be a challenge so every stop is a major hydration event. I lament the discovery that I neglected to bring my iPod. I resign myself to the fact that, audibly, the trip will consist of listening to the motor scream and the wind howl.

With both rider and ride refreshed, I start off on I-70 but only for a few miles before turning off onto Highway 6 towards Price. Nothing like the excitement of turning onto a road you’ve never taken before. I’m happy that the rest of the trip is split into sections of sixty five miles or so.

After an hour in the saddle I’m about ready to get off and stretch. I make a mental note to have more respect for those riders who participate in those Iron Butt Classics. I grin with pleasure as the first of many B-52 bugs splatters itself across my once pristine wind screen. I think to myself “we’re officially on the road.” I truly love the waves you get and give as you see other riders on the road. When your in the city the waves are a bit more subtle. I like to call it a “side five.” Just a discreet hand out to the side. When you’re on the open road however, it becomes an out and out hand over the head wave to your fellow rider as you pass.

Cruising along next to the Bookcliff Mountains, I make it to Price. Again, I hydrate and gas up then move on towards Spanish Fork. This portion of the ride ends up being the most pleasant going both directions. It takes me up from the desert floor through some beautiful mountains on winding roads. Right after Spanish Fork, the road dumps onto I-15 which nearly proves to be my doom. Hindsight allows me to tell myself I should have left earlier, so as not to put myself into rush hour/construction zone traffic in Provo on a Friday afternoon on Labor Day weekend in searing hot weather. I’m thankful for my newly acquired Shark Evoline helmet that allows me to flip up my full face into an open face. After six or seven miles of bumper to bumper, stop & go, debating whether to head for an exit and shade to cool down or keep going, the bike makes my choice for me. I notice smoke starting to rise from the sweltering engine area and decide to get out of this before the motor seizes. Traffic loosens nicely before I get to the nearest exit and I roll the dice and decide to stay on the highway. By the time I reach La Quinta in Salt Lake City both the bike and I are cooked. I definitely underestimated the fatigue factor that comes with riding 5 or 6 hours in the heat.

Bike and rider arrive safely 
The next morning I take I-80 & Highway 138 for the short twenty five mile ride to the Tooele/Grantsville area where Miller Motor Sports Park is located. I’m there in time to hear the National Anthem and watch the Lemans’ style running start to the Honda CB160 race. Very cool! With a smaller crowd than I had envisioned, getting a good view at any of the spectator areas is not an issue. It’s great fun to listen to and identify the different motors as they scream by. Those Kawasaki two stroke triples are unmistakable. I’ve never been at a race with such diversity. During the course of the day I make it over to the Concours D’ Elegance tent where the show bikes are rubbing handlebars. With such beautiful craftsmanship and style, it’s really hard to pick a favorite to vote for.

This is the first time I have seen a Vincent or an Ariel in person. Same for a few of the BSA’s. You can tell that some of those older bikes took a real man to muscle around. I stopped to chat with Richard Backus, renew my subscription, score a cool t-shirt and let him know what a fine publication he helms. Again, in the tent as on the track, there is such diversity. BSA’s next to Norton’s next BMW’s next to Honda’s and on and on. A walk through the paddock area tells the same story.  Everyone’s got a favorite and there is something for everybody. It’s amazing that the paddock area is open for everyone to roam around. As I keep a respectful distance and ask before taking pictures, I’m in heaven being amidst all these cool bikes and people that carry the same enthusiasm for vintage bikes as I have. After my second day in the baking hot sun I’m ready to hit the pool back at the motel.

Heading home
As I check out of the motel the following morning I know I’ve got a long day ahead of me. On the way to the track I make a very short side trip to see the south shore of the Great Salt Lake. The second day of racing was just as fun as the first but knowing I had a long ride home at the end of the day instead of a comfy motel room diminished the pleasure somewhat. Happily, the traffic encountered in Provo on the way to the races was non-existent going home. I once again get to enjoy the beauty of this stretch of Highway 6. As you leave Spanish Fork the highway runs right alongside several huge wind turbines which are quite a sight.  They look cool from a distance and as you draw nearer, the highway runs you right up next to them. Up close they are really impressive. Highway 6 is a nice, winding road with great hillsides and scenic vistas.

As I drop back down to the desert floor traveling from Price to Green River, I witness a spectacular sunset, intensified by a fire burning somewhere in the distance. The smoke from the fire made for a stunning sunset but also reduced visibility substantially. As the image of the sunset disappears from my rearview mirrors, the blackness of being far from the city swallows me up and I’m left with the dim incandescence of aged gauge lights and a glow from the fairing running lights reflected in the edge of my mirrors. I was hoping by traveling at night the temperatures would be cooler but it seems just as warm at 8 in the evening as it did at noon. The heat seems inescapable. I long for a place to put my feet that is not near the engine. I make a vow that by the next trip I will have installed some highway pegs.

As I pull into my driveway with a triumphant smile, I have no complaints to make. I just completed a trip of over 700 miles without a drop of rain to be seen. My 30 year old bike ran flawlessly. Other than a near miss in traffic due to my inattentiveness, mishaps were nil. I’m already planning and looking forward to next year.