Touring on a 1983 BMW R100RS

Reader Contribution by Dennis Wymore
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The Wymore’s 1983 BMW R100RS and trailer at Monarch Pass in Colorado.

Salmon against the stream: One classic airhead, one trailer, one wife, many destinations:
Who tours on old – read Classic – bikes these days? I may be a salmon swimming against the motorcycling stream, as my wife, Mary, and I ride a 28-year-old 1983 BMW R100RS. We bought the bike as newlyweds, kept it when the kids were growing up, and have just kept riding it as it is now a member of the family. Admittedly it is fairly well cared for, and has somewhat low miles at around 88,000. We still like it, so we’ve kept it, maintained it, and ride it! Fact of the matter is, it’s only been in the last four years that we have ventured over 300 miles from home. We are making up for lost time!

On our most recent trip, some 3,150 miles, I crossed paths with three “older” cycles out there. Just three! And I can’t be sure that they were not “locals” … who knows? In fact on our trip, which took place on the week just after the festivities at Sturgis, roughly eight out of 10 bikes seemed to be late model Harleys, and my guess is that 80 percent of those were “baggers.” And I saw way too many touring bikes on trailers … what can they be thinking? Call it the Sturgis effect, I guess.

Which raises the question; are the older, shall we say classic bikes in such condition that they are not roadworthy? Have the owners pushed them to the back of the garage while riding a newer model? Or, have they succumbed to the belief that a classic bike is not capable of being pressed into touring service because all that they see out touring are the big luxo touring bikes. A belief that Classic bikes can’t be ridden that far. There is no doubt that modern touring bikes are more comfortable compared to some of the “elder statesmen” of the biking world, however I believe that the classics can still be, and should be put to use. And I back up that belief by getting out and going the distance! They, older machines, are most likely going to ride and handle as good or as badly as they did when new, OK, time does have its way with shocks and springs, bearings and bushings, and let’s not forget electrical systems. But an older bike’s comfort and handling can be improved with modern suspension upgrades to shocks and forks. There have been several articles written on the subject. Often a new touring seat is also worth considering, and often not. Let your wallet and your needs be your guide!

There are mechanical issues that need to be dealt with when your tour on any motorcycle either late model or the classic. Most can be satisfied with either an appointment at a service shop with some cash changing hands, or opening up a repair manual for some quality wrench time. Any mechanical issue that can be dealt with before you leave is best, no, an absolute must. Remember … the mechanic who works on Fords and Buicks in the middle of Nebraska will likely just turn away any motorcycle problem you bring his way!

Making Preparations
Heeding my own advice, I spent a couple of weeks in the evenings prepping our bike for the tour we were planning. My bike’s preparation is a complete change of fluids, a tune up, and a trip to my dealer for new tires, where the wheel bearings were checked out (one needed replacing!). I am as confident in the bike getting us to our destination and back as I can make it. Next add fuel and it is ready to go.

The Wymore’s BMW R100RS and trailer at home prior to their trip.

The destination
Our first destination is three days in Durango in Southwestern Colorado, and then off to Estes Park North of Denver for two days. For us, it is nearly a three-day ride from our home in Iowa to Durango at the pace we ride. Early the first day of our journey we packed our clothing, touring gear, and camping gear in the trailer. Yes trailer; solo I might get by with a tank bag and the bike’s bags. Add wife, camping gear and gear to deal with riding in variable mountain temperatures … add trailer. I tow a Bushtec. There are many great trailers out there; this one is light, doesn’t bounce, tows well, and hauls all we need. It suits me and the bike I tow it with.

Although I prefer to ride two lane roads, as there is more to see and at a more unhurried pace, we took advantage of I80’s ability to swallow up distance in minimal time. After leaving Cedar Rapids, our first day’s destination (around 430 miles) was Alma Nebraska, which is on US183 40 miles south of I80. On the way, afternoon temperatures soared to the mid 90s and required us to make frequent stops to keep hydrated. For this trip we added a new element of riding gear that make the heat of the day more bearable: Evaporative cooling vests. We wear them under mesh jackets and for the conditions we experienced this day … dry hot air … these things work! When the day was done we may have been tired, but we were not totally wasted from heat. The Howard State park near Alma offered up a spacious camp site, and $14 camp rates make for a camping bargain.

Honey, that’s “big twins”
The next morning we awoke to a rumbling. At first I joked, “Big Twins” in the camp ground; my wife didn’t buy it! Upon arising we could see dark cloud in the distance. Skip showers and breakfast, tear down the tent, and hit the road. But in the end, no dice, the rain caught us. Good thing we put on our rain gear as a precaution, we needed it! But in less than an hour we rode out of the rain into blue skies! We ran Highway 183 till it intersected with Highway US383 in Kansas, which we then followed to I70. Taking the interstate west to Burlington, Colorado, we headed south on US385. Eastern Colorado has little to offer up in the way of scenery: It is flat with much of it in crops of different sorts, and cattle operations. And in August it did give a big dose of heat. In hindsight this may not have been the best choice of roads for comfort or views. Next time! US385 intersects US 0 in Granada, where we head west on what is marked as a scenic road to La Junta. My wife and I joked that she was not sure what the scenery was. It looked similar to the non-scenic road we just turned off of. But it was flat and strait, marked for 65mph travel and we could make good time! Here we hoped to take State 10 to Walsenburg Colorado, but found it to be closed due to construction, and US50 was our best option West to Pueblo. This was to be our destination for day two. After a second day of riding in the heat, a motel was needed as we were not up to camping. Can you say Air-conditioning and a bed?

Putting the bike to the test
The next morning, short ride on I25 got us to Walsenburg where we headed west on US160. La Veta pass was our ride’s first mountain test (this year anyway) which we made with no issues. The old airhead RS never missed a beat! Just find a gear that put the bike and trailer at around 4,200rpm, (which was luckily around the speed limit) a comfortable engine speed in the meat of the torque curve, and wait for the summit and enjoy the views. Upon reaching the summit click it into a gear that would keep the speed in check to save the brakes for the ride to the bottom, and then repeat. Starting at Pueblo we were first treated to mountain views and by Monte Vista we were being treated to full mountain panorama. The infamous Wolf Creek Pass was another notch in the belt that was met with the above rpm/gear formula. Traveling any faster would have negated the enjoyment of the Mountain sightseeing anyway! We pulled into Durango around 4:00 p.m. and got unloaded at the resort, and settled in for the evening.

Mary and Dennis Wymore taking a break from their ride.

The Lure of Steam Power
We awoke the next morning and started to finalize our plans for the three days we would spend in Durango. Although we planned to take the Narrow gauge Steam Train that runs from Durango to Silverton during our stay, we now had the idea of making the trip in an hour if we could make it, and if tickets were available. A quick phone call verified tickets were available, and we hustled to make the station which was thankfully, only two blocks away. This section of railroad is a destination all to itself. Breathtaking mountain views with its roadbed perched at times at the brink of 400-foot cliffs overlooking the Animas River. Other times you would have to settle for mere outstanding mountain scenes. An hour and a half layover in Silverton gives you just enough time to grab a quick lunch and time to visit some of the tourist shops in the downtown area. This time allows the train’s crew to turn the train around for the return ride back to Durango. You can opt for a bus ride back to Durango (at extra cost) but what fun would that be?

The Loop
On day four, we spent the day riding on one Colorado’s premiere riding loops. Leaving the trailer behind, we rode to Dolores to the west on US160 intersecting with State 184. From Dolores North on State 145 you are treated to picturesque mountain scenery and an enjoyable road connecting the many small towns of Stoner, Rico, past the Telluride Ski resort, and Sawpit. At Placerville State 145 intersects State 62 which you follow to Ridgway where you take US550 South to Ouray. Here you will see some of the finest (IMHO) mountain scenes that this world has to offer, and to use a worn out word, breathtaking, with mountains so large they do not fit in the viewfinder of most cameras. You must go there! Here the road is known as the “Million Dollar Highway.” I am curious as we travel the road if the dollar figure refers to the cost per mile of the roadway’s production, total cost for the entire road from Silverton t o Ouray, or the intrinsic value of the scenes that frankly a camera cannot begin to capture. Note that in this area you will want to exercise extra care in riding as there are huge drop offs mere inches from the edge of the roadway on one side of the road and often dynamite hewn rock walls on the other. Ride your pace and enjoy what nature unfolds before you. And remember to breathe! You will cross Red Mountain Pass (11,008 feet) on your way to Silverton which is the Northern most stop of the Steam train ride we experienced the day before. We stopped at one local T-shirt emporium and picked up a pair of “I survived the Million Dollar Highway” shirts to commemorate the event! Then returned to Durango enjoying a highway with different views than what the train had to offer the previous day.
Gravity works!

Day five found us Zip lining (a new experience and great fun!) and taking in the guided tour at Chimney Rock, which is east of Durango on Highway 160. This geologic feature’s history is part of the region’s Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon sites where ancient Native Americans lived up until some 700 years ago, and then mysteriously disappeared. Fascinating history; so much to see and so little time!

Moving day
Wednesday, day six, was a moving day for us as we were en-route to Estes Park with an overnight in Leadville. We retraced our route (heading north this time) back up the Million Dollar Highway, Highway 550, to Montrose. Backtracking on this road was one of our best decisions as each direction offers up different views. We then took US50 east to US24 North for our evening campsite in Leadville. We camped there at the Sugarloafin’ campground. Arriving at 6:30 p.m., we enjoyed bottomless bowls of ice cream for $1.50 each before we set up camp. Our tent site was a reasonably spacious campsite, and in the morning we rose early to temperatures in the mid-40s, warmed up by taking showers in the well maintained shower building, and broke camp.

The path to Rocky Mountain National Park
We then headed off toward Rocky Mountain National Park on State 91 North intersecting I70 East for a short ride up to State 9 North. In Kremmling we took US40, marked as scenic, east to Granby where US34 East crosses Rocky Mountain National Park. We spent the balance of the day crossing the park and marveling at all nature provides. We enjoyed short stays at the many pull offs and stopped at he Alpine Visitor Center to marvel at the absolute size of the mountainscape. At first glance it is just another mountain view, at least up to the point where you notice that what looked like Christmas tree sized trees on the far valley floor are 50- 100 foot pine trees. We make our way to Estes Park and settle in for our two-night stay.

On Trail Ridge Road

Searching for wildlife
We rise early the next morning and head back into the park hoping to see some of the area’s wild life. But hopefully they will be in the distance and not to close! On the way we discover that the morning light has given the mountains an eerie and urethral look and marveled at the mountain’s views in a much different light. Eventually we come upon a group of people standing on the roadway, and I cut the engine and coast up and join them as we watch a heard of Elk wonder cross the road. It is apparent that they feel that this is their land and we are just interlopers. Later we learn of a Moose sighting, we head off for a look…but no luck, as it is long gone when we arrive. We return to our lodging for a quick lunch, and decide to explore another riding loop South toward Boulder. More great roads and mountain riding, but unfortunately a rain storm, and getting lost on confusingly marked roads took much of the shine off this part of the trip. But any day on a motorcycle beats a day at work! We were happy to make it back to our lodging for a dry, quiet and warm evening of packing for our Morning departure for home.

Wildlife finds us
The day before we had gotten up early to search out wildlife in the park, and Saturday morning the wildlife came to us. My wife discovered an Elk munching on a bush in the parking lot while carrying a load to load the trailer. The Elk seemed to be at home, and felt we were not a threat and just kept on eating. I kept a moderate distance with a vehicle between myself and the animal, and snapped a few photos.

The Return
After packing up we began our journey home with the final hurrah of traveling thru Big Thompson Canyon. Its near vertical rock walls make for an interesting ride. I reminisced (over the intercom) about this stretch of road with my wife, of this being the road traveled on one of my many vacation adventures as a youngster with my parents and siblings. Sadly, as we exited the canyon, the flatness of the plains laid out in front of us, and the adventures of the past few days would now be stored in our memory until we return. We made our way to I80 via I76 under clear skies and moderate temperatures for a pleasant yet uneventful two-day trip back to the fields of Iowa.

We had a great experience exploring Colorado’s many natural wonders, great roads, and friendly people. And the experience was magnified by experiencing them on a motorcycle — a 28-year-old motorcycle at that! It made the trip with no issues, so get out there on that classic bike, it can take whatever you can throw at it with a little preparation! The road beckons! Heed its call!

Dennis Wymore is a classic bike enthusiast from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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