Trip Report: British Columbia 2018

I recently completed a 5-day motorcycle trip from my home in Oregon through Washington and up into British Columbia. This was my third motorcycle trip to B.C., all completed on The Grey Mule, my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom DL650. The trip total was 1,594 miles in 5 days of riding.

Day 1 Thursday – Sandy, Oregon to Leavenworth, Washington

290 miles

I left the house at 7:45 AM and got gas at the Sandy Chevron. There were small droplets of mist on my face shield and by the time I got to the top of Cherryville I had to pull over and put on my waterproof Aerostich Triple Digit over-gloves. And suddenly the precipitation stopped. I’ll have to remember that technique the next time it rains. I had blue skies by the time I got to Government Camp, so I pulled over and removed the over-gloves.

My next stop was Hood River where I changed into my warm weather gloves and opened the sleeve vents on my Aerostich Darien jacket. I paid $1 at the toll booth and I was riding across that scary, narrow metal bridge across the Columbia River. I wouldn’t be back into Oregon until Monday afternoon.

There was a moderately strong wind blowing through the Gorge, fortunately it was from the west, at my back. Now on the Washington side of the river, I turned north on highway 142 at Lyle and followed the Klickitat River and then east to Goldendale where I stopped and got gas and a snack. The temperature was warming up.

That west wind was now at my left side as I headed north on highway 97. It wasn’t too bad when I rode over Satus Pass. The scars from previous wildfires in that area were dramatic. The temperature continued to climb and got even warmer when I passed through the town of Toppenish.

I used my Garmin Zumo 200 GPS to guide me to Selah, in search of route 821 along the Yakima River, but I got a little misdirected and had to navigate on my own down a side road until I got to 823 and then 821.

Yakima Canyon (route 821) is listed at 45 mph but could easily be 60 mph. The ride through that stretch is well worth the detour.

I stopped at a boat ramp to use the pit toilet outhouse they had there and saw something funny written on the bathroom wall. “FOOK DA MAYWETTAS” it said. I’m not sure what that means but it seems a Scotsman has a strong opinion about what I presume are Mayweathers.

The wind was getting stronger the closer I got to Ellensburg. I gassed up at the Chevron there and ate lunch at the busy McDonalds a few doors down. It was good to get inside out of the heat. By the time I left, the wind was whipping really hard and blew me around rather aggressively.

My GPS guided me onto I-90 for a few miles and then back onto highway 97 north. A few turns and junctions later, I was on my way over Blewett Pass. That’s where I got a speeding ticket (for going 62 mph in a 60 mph zone) back in the summer of 2007, my only ticket on a bike and only the second in my entire driving career; the first was shortly after I turned 16.

Traffic on 97 north to Leavenworth was rather thick and I got stuck behind some trains of cars led by slow pokes who completely ignored the frequent “let them pass” signs and turn-outs for slow drivers.

Leavenworth itself was predictably busy with summer pedestrian traffic. I got into town at 2:40 PM, which was good riding for the day.

I stopped at the 76 station on the west end of town and bought three things: a one liter bottle of water, a 22 ounce bottle of Dru Bru Kolsch beer, and a bag of cookies for a snack later on. Icicle Road was next to the gas station, so it was easy to find with no GPS directions necessary. It follows the Wenatchee River, which is very rugged and filled with many dramatic looking boulders.

There had been a burn recently so the canyon walls were scarred and black.

Eight Mile Campground is the first one I came to. I rode through the whole site once to scope out my spot, which was right next to the camp host and also near the pit toilets. I set up my tent and then walked down to the entrance self-pay station and put $22 in the envelope. That’s a steep price when you consider the only amenities are pit toilets and a drinking fountain that only works when the sun is shining (it’s solar powered for some reason).

My dinner that night was freeze dried beef stroganoff. It wasn’t bad. The book for my reading pleasure was Hiero’s Journey by Sterling E. Lanier.

Day 2 Friday – Leavenworth, Washington to Hope, British Columbia

334 miles

It was very windy but the temperature was pleasant at my campsite. My new air mattress, the Therma-Rest MondoKing 3D, worked well and is the best comfort sleeping on the ground I’ve ever experienced.

I was awake at 4:30 AM and out of bed by 5:10 AM. There was just enough light for me to break camp without requiring my head lamp. Once my bike was loaded up, I rolled out onto the road at 6:10 AM and headed into Leavenworth looking for a restaurant for breakfast. McDonalds was the only place open, so that sufficed.

My route was southeast back the way I came until I caught highway 97 northbound. The wind was calm and the temperature was mild; a nice morning ride.

At Twisp, I headed west on highway 20, a new road to me. There were several more dramatic burn areas along the way – a frequent theme on this trip.

The town of Winthrop, Washington was very quaint and fun. It reminded me of Leavenworth, but instead of adopting a Bavarian theme, they chose a western theme instead. I also saw lots of people bicycling in the area.

And then scenery cranked up several notches. Highway 20 is amazing as it crosses the northern Washington Cascades mountain range in a east-west direction. The mountains are rugged and dramatic.

I stopped at the Lone Fir campground for a lunch break, just shy of the pass. I ate one of my freeze dried breakfast meals of egg, sausage and hash browns. There were a few mosquitos around, several of which bit me on my head. It made for some itchy times under my helmet later on.

After my meal break, shortly up the road the mountains became much more close, steep and immediate. Very cool!

The road down the west side of the pass was in great shape and had many nice sweeping curves. I relied on my GPS to help me navigate to Sedro-Woolley and then north where I stopped at a Chevron in the community of Nooksak. I had cell service so I called my partner back home and her and I chatted for a bit.

I crossed the border into Canada at Sumas, and was only asked a few questions by the border agent. One was, “Do you have any firearms?” When I said no, the agent then asked, “How long has it been since you had a firearm?” I felt that was rather presumptuous. After answering that question, I was given permission to enter their beautiful country.

Once through the border, I was amazed at the line of cars waiting to get into the U.S. The line was at least a half mile long.

I got onto Canada Highway 1 and headed east. Traffic on 1 was thick, almost like rush hour, and I rode for maybe 10 kilometers [do you see what I did there?] before I could get into upper gears.

The run to the town of Hope was fast, with a 110 km per hour speed limit. I had to use my GPS to find the Coquihalla campground where I intended to stay. It was the only one in the area that has showers. Unfortunately, they were full.

I decided to get a room instead of staying in my tent out in the woods somewhere nearby. The first hotel I stopped at didn’t seem to have a lobby or entrance; I walked all the way around it and couldn’t find the door. The next one looked utterly scary, the kind of place my Dad would describe as “not a good idea to walk across the room barefoot.” The third hotel seemed okay, the Skagit Motel, and fortunately they had a room available. It turned out to be a nice place to stay.

My shower felt good, as there wasn’t any available back at the Eight Mile campground near Leavenworth. It had been a warm ride, and nothing makes you look forward to a cleansing shower more than riding a motorcycle in hot weather. I even washed some of my clothes in the sink and hung them to dry in the bathroom [tip: ExOfficio underwear. Get some.]

I walked three blocks to the 293 Restaurant for dinner. The food was good.

So far on the trip, other than the bit of mist as I was leaving Sandy, it hadn’t rained, although the forecast looked tumultuous. It was also supposed to get hot on the east side of the mountains.

Day 3 Saturday – Hope, BC to Pemberton, BC

269 km / 167 miles

Today was the best ride of the trip so far. The road north from Hope to Lytton, highway 1, is very nice, especially on the southern end. The hills are nice and the road is in great shape.

The scenery dried out by the time I got to Lytton, with small pines and sage brush dominating the area as the road follows the mighty Fraser River. The last time I came that way I was traveling from north to south and the river was swollen and the color of chocolate milk. This time the river was low on its banks but still impressive.

Fortunately, traffic was light. There were some slow drivers but there were many passing lanes available.

I stopped in Lillooet and got gas, then used my GPS to find a Subway restaurant for lunch. A guy on a BMW 1200GS was in the parking lot putting his helmet on when I pulled in. By his accent as we chatted, I would have guessed he was from Australia or maybe New Zealand.

This was my first time riding highway 99 from east (Lillooet) to west (Pemberton). I recall saying, “Holy shit!” out loud inside my helmet. The road climbs an 11% grade into a narrow canyon between high mountains on either side and gets better with every mile.

The mountains were almost violent in their closeness and severity. When I had ridden 99 before, it was from west to east and it was raining, so the bulk of the scenery during that trip was shrouded and hidden by clouds. I can say this highway rivals Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park, and the road itself is much more fun to ride and a lot faster. In fact, I think highway 99 might be my favorite motorcycling road of all time.

The only really slow RV that refused to pull over and let others pass had a Washington license plate. Boo!

My day started by waking up at 6 AM, which was a late wake-up for me. I subconsciously knew I had a short ride ahead of me so I wasn’t in a hurry to leave. I got dressed and walked four blocks to the Blue Moose coffee shop, but despite Google claiming they were open at 6 AM, their sign and gated entrance declared they wouldn’t open until 7 AM.

I walked back to my motel room and hung out until 7 AM, then made the trip again. The place was busy but I had no trouble getting a table to eat my bacon, egg and cheese scone and drink my decaf mocha.

An older gentleman sat by himself enjoying his beverage in silence. When he got up to leave, he began speaking in a very loud and angry voice, “That’s my f%cking garbage!” He repeated this a few times as he walked toward the door, and kept saying it once outside. He walked straight across the street without looking either way and continued across the park on the other side, repeating his loud comment. I got the impression he does this on a regular basis, because when he began his verbal tirade, none of the staff looked up or acknowledged it was happening.

The clothes I washed the night before weren’t quite dry yet so I used the hair dryer to finish the job. I took my time packing and loading the bike.

Let’s jump ahead in the story to when I arrived in Pemberton just before 1 PM. I rode into the very busy Husky gas station and topped off my tank, then continued further west down highway 99 to the Nairn Falls campground. It was full!

Back in Pemberton proper, I found my way to the Pemberton Hotel where I had stayed a few years ago back during my first visit to the area. I got the last room available, but unfortunately it was directly above the pub downstairs. I figured it would be better than sleeping in a hot tent outdoors (it was fairly warm in Pemberton) so I accepted the room.

Also unfortunately, they wouldn’t allow me to check in until 4 PM, so I had to find somewhere to kill several hours of time, preferably in the shade.

I rode back to the same gas station and hung out in the attached McDonalds. Their air conditioning was excellent, but it was a very busy place and I didn’t want to occupy my booth for too long, freeing it up for other customers.

Back on the bike, I wandered around town a little bit until I remembered a large covered barn-like park structure near my hotel. I parked the bike outside and went into the shade with my book and sat at a picnic table.

The “Downtown Community Barn” as it was called sat directly opposite a busy liquor store. Although many customers bought beer, none seemed to buy it in bottles. Everyone came out carrying cases or flats of beer in the can. Lots of beer, in fact!

I eventually got on my bike and swung around the back side of the barn and parked it in the shade next to my picnic table. I doubt it was legal or appropriate, but no one seemed to mind and it certainly wasn’t in the way.

At 4 PM, I checked into my room. It took four trips to get everything off my bike and carried up to my second-floor interior room. Thankfully the unit had both air conditioning and a shower. The room I stayed in a few years prior had neither.

Dinner was at The Pony, “across the railroad tracks and through the gap in the fence” as the front desk clerk described the restaurant situated about 100 meters away. My beer was great as was the Caesar salad and bison meatballs on pasta.

As I enjoyed my meal, I noticed the various languages I heard spoken by other diners around me. I heard what sounded like Portuguese, French, German, and what I think was likely Swedish or Norwegian as well as yet another European-sounding language I couldn’t identify. I mentally remarked that it was an experience very unlikely to occur within my United States, at least not without a lot of jeers and negative looks from closed-minded xenophobic locals.

Thinking ahead to the next day’s destination, I phoned the Super 8 hotel in Osoyoos, BC and reserved what the clerk said was their last room available. The Best Western I called just prior to that had no vacancy at all. Again, the ‘last room available’ was the repeated theme of my trip so far.

Day 4 Sunday – Pemberton, BC to Osoyoos, BC

463 km / 287 miles

I didn’t sleep very well, but I had better conditions than I would have had in a tent. I had air conditioning and a shower and Wifi, which were nice.

The pub downstairs did indeed make some noise, with the repetitive thump-thump of music heard from 9 PM right until they closed at 2 AM. Ear plugs really didn’t help much, but most of the noise I dealt with was actually from my air conditioner.

Breakfast ended up being at McDonalds, the same place where I ate lunch the day before. One restaurant next to my hotel was closed for the entire day and the coffee shop and bakery next to the railroad tracks wasn’t open until 8 AM.

I pulled out of town at 6:40 AM. There was dew on my bike seat so I used a hotel washrag to dry it off before loading up the Grey Mule.

It was an absolutely beautiful morning to depart. The sun was hitting the mountain tops and mist was floating through the willows of the valley floor. Visibility was an issue when the rising sun peeked into the valley and hit me straight on. I took things slow for that reason, and because of the risk of deer or bear in the road.

The air warmed up as I ascended the steep (13% grade!) road east bound. The views all the way to Lillooet on highway 99 did not disappoint. I trailed behind a van with Alberta plates for several miles but eventually overtook it, having the rest of that amazing road to myself.

I did not stop in Lillooet, choosing to continue south to the small town of Lytton before I stopped for gas. Other than to put directions into my GPS, I didn’t stop again until I broke for lunch at the Dairy Queen in Princeton.

The Chevron in Princeton was very busy, with a dozen bikes or more there and half that many cars. I chatted with another rider, maybe my age, riding a nineties-era Honda 600 sport bike. He recommended I explore a road leading up to the viewpoint just to the east of Osoyoos.

The road leading to Princeton (highway 5A) passes through some beautiful aspen groves and bogs that would make for excellent moose sightings. Alas, I saw none (I still haven’t seen a moose in the wild, or even at the mall for that matter). The highway also passes by a series of lakes in a line at the bottom of a forested valley. Numerous paddle-boarders were seen on the water, along with many expensive-looking homes on the water’s edge.

As I rode through the fertile wine and orchard valley of Keremeos, I saw firsthand the wildfires burning on the hills on the western side of the valley. Several helicopters picked up huge canvas buckets of water from the river below and rose up to dump them on the hillside. Seeing them rise and fall and fly around reminded me of wasps building a nest or bees flying around their hive.

Fortunately my route wasn’t affected by the fires and there wasn’t much smoke to contend with, either, as I rode through.

The warming remainder of my ride into Osoyoos went without incident or note. I gassed up at the Shell station in town, and pulled into the Super 8 just a few hundred meters away. Fortunately I was able to check in even though I arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon. After having a nice chat with the desk clerk, I parked around back and unloaded my bike.

The air conditioning in my room never felt so good, as it was already 32 degrees outside (that’s 92 degrees to us ‘Mericans). My nap was nice, too. The temperature peaked at 93 hazy degrees by the time I walked across the busy street to get dinner at the A&W. At this point of the trip I was feeling rather tired of fast food.

My shower after dinner was nice, and the lack of cleanliness is one of the biggest drawbacks to camping on a trip like this. It’s hard to reset and recharge your batteries when you’ve sweated all day and never get a respite from it.

The forecast showed heat in the low to mid 90’s the next day. I knew I’d need to rely on all of my hot weather riding tricks to get through it.

Day 5 Monday – Osoyoos, BC to Sandy, Oregon

440 miles

The last day of my trip is what could be referred to as a “porno ride”: hot, long and hard. Forgive the juvenile humor, but the description fits.

I was on the bike at 5:50 AM and had no problems crossing the border back into the U.S.

Once again, I didn’t get much sleep. The air conditioning was one of those units that’s quiet for several minutes and then kicks on in a noisy fashion. This pattern of noise and silence keeps you from falling asleep very easily, and often prevents you from getting that deep regenerative sleep you need.

I was out of bed at 4:52 AM. My initial breakfast to get me going was a Clif Bar that I ate while I finished packing and loaded up my bike. My proper breakfast was at Shannon’s Café in Tonasket. I had eaten lunch there during a previous trip and enjoyed the food. Several local farmers where having breakfast there as well. I stood out like a sore thumb but fortunately I didn’t get any judgmental stares. The service and food were nice.

My ‘fastest’ route by GPS took me on SR17 past the Chief Joseph Dam, through the middle of nowhere, and into the center of nowhere town of Ephrata, where I stopped for gas.

After using the restroom, I was outside putting my helmet on when a couple pulled up in a Toyota FJ Cruiser. A toothless man got out of the passenger side and eyed my bike for several seconds before saying, “I sure wish I could go with you.” He went inside and after coming back out, pressed his thumb on this forehead and jokingly taunted, “I hope a bug hits you right here!” I smiled and said, “Many already have.”

I mounted my bike and began to back it out when I noticed the man back in his truck saluting me several times with a big smile on his face. I saluted back, then rode away.

I didn’t stop again until the Chevron in Goldendale, Washington. By this point, I was very hot and feeling quite knackered. I had a headache and my brain felt like it was vibrating. I was also getting hungry. I snacked inside the air conditioned mini-mart on a corn dog and chocolate milk.

The Columbia River was calm when I crossed at Biggs Junction, and for the first time I could actually smell the water.

To escape the heat of I-84, I turned south on highway 35 at Hood River and gained elevation to get into some cooler air. I rode up and around Government Camp rather than the faster route of 84 into Troutdale and then backtracking to Sandy.

I got home at 2:25 PM, and had been on the road almost continuously since 5:50 that morning. The ride was very hot and long and I was utterly spent.

Final Notes

I apologize for not posting any pictures from this trip. I carried my phone in a waterproof case and the lens over the camera made all my pictures come out very dark and blurry — basically unusable. I also have a bad habit of riding through the scenery enjoying the ride, rather than stopping and photographing it.

The highlight of the trip had to be highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet, BC. The scenery and road condition make it a riding experience above anything else I’ve ever experienced.

The low point of the trip was that very long, hot last day of the ride. It was a lot of straight, fast riding with little to look at. The smells of the agricultural communities I passed through were interesting, however, often changing by the second.

Finally, I intended to camp every night of this trip under the pretense of saving money, but in hindsight I am glad it didn’t work out that way. Because of the heat and lack of showers — everywhere I stayed was experiencing very warm conditions — sleep would have been elusive and my ability to recover and renew my endurance for the following day’s ride would have been compromised. Thinking about this, it is my view that we can endure crappy conditions based on the inverse of our ability to recover from the experience. Maybe I’m just getting too old for sleeping under the stars, at least more than one or two nights in a row.

Bike Camping in Eastern Oregon

I recently took an overnight trip on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom (DL650) to eastern Oregon. Although the premise of the trip was to meet some friends at a remote hot springs, I was also using it as a shake-out trip to sort out gear and methods for bike camping. The former didn’t happen, and the latter proved to be very informative.

To start, my route from Gresham to Tygh Valley was uneventful, taking familiar paths of highways 26 and 35, to NF48 through Wamic. Once in Tygh Valley, I took highway 216 past Sherars Bridge over the Deschutes River, and up the dramatic east side road to Grass Valley. The climb out of the river canyon on 216 is twisted and dangerous, with no guard rails and zero room for error. Survive it, however, and you’ll have great memories of the experience. Riding a motorcycle is like that.

From Grass Valley up highway 97 to Wasco, then southeast on 206 to Condon, I rode through some incredibly beautiful scenery. It is almost exclusively wheat fields and wind turbines, with views that include Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood in Oregon and Mt. Adams and Rainer in Washington. The road surface is in fantastic shape, and follows the rolling contours of the land as if Vivaldi composed it himself.

Lunch spot

I gassed up in Condon–which sells ethanol-free premium unleaded–and continued south on highway 19 to Bear Hollow county campground south of Fossil. There I parked the bike, busted out my MSR Pocket Rocket stove, and made lunch from freeze-dried Mountain House beef stew. There were a few house flies bothering me, but otherwise it was a pleasant stop.

Whenever the road dropped in elevation, the temperature rose. By the time I stopped at the Thomas Condon Interpretive Center near the junction of highways 19 and 26, it was downright hot. I filled up my water bottles, merged onto highway 26, and rode east to Mt. Vernon for gas at the Chevron station.

By this time, it was nearing 4 PM and I had somewhere to be. My goal was Ritter Hot Springs, which was north of Long Creek off of highway 395, just across the middle fork of the John Day River. The stretch of 395 north of Mt. Vernon has some incredible high prairie views that make you say, “Wow!” inside your helmet.

I found Ritter Road and took my time following its tight curves ten miles west from 395 to the hot springs. The road is in rough shape and matches the contours of the middle fork of the John Day. When I arrived at the hot springs the first sign I saw said, “No alcohol on the premises.” I had purchased a six pack in Mt. Vernon to share with my friends. Sorry, not allowed. I pulled into the hot springs parking lot and was disappointed at how run-down the place was.

The buildings were constructed in the 1800’s, and looked as if they haven’t been upgraded or repaired since then. I used the restroom and had to tell some very large spiders to get out of the way. Walking around the main building and the pool, I checked out the grass tent area. It was crowded asses-to-elbows with tents, and the only space remaining was on a steep slope. My tent would have been within arm’s length of another. I walked back to my bike and noticed a sign on the pool fence, “Pool closed until 8:45 PM Saturday.” I recalled reading that the hot springs were owned by devout Seventh Day Adventists. It made me wonder if the Creator of the Universe and Lord of Hosts would smite me if I dipped my toe in the water at 8:44 PM.

Shaking the proverbial dust off my sandals, I suited back up and rode away. My friends hadn’t arrived yet, I would not be allowed to enjoy a cold, well-deserved beer, and I couldn’t enjoy the pool until after dark. Plus, the crowded camping situation had me longing for solitude. I headed south on 395 back toward Mt. Vernon.

My campsite

Somewhere between Long Creek and Mt. Vernon, I found a gravel road and headed up the hill into the Malheur National Forest. After riding about two miles up to the 4,200 foot elevation mark, I found a flat spot in the grass, parked the bike, and made camp. I had the woods all to myself.

I was glad to be at higher elevation. The temperature was much cooler than it was at the hot springs, although it was still warm enough to be in short sleeves. There was no rain in the forecast so I didn’t worry about putting a tarp over my Eureka Backcountry tent.

After dinner and cleaning up, I gave myself a sponge bath with a couple of baby wipes. I felt somewhat foolish standing in the middle of the woods stark naked, running moist towelettes over my arm pits and nether regions, but after the sweaty ride getting there, it was the best I could do. There were no creeks or lakes nearby. Once that was done, I changed into fresh clothes and laid down in my tent to read on my iPad. Prior to departure I loaded up a few new books. The iPad is great because you don’t need a flashlight to read. That helps if night comes and you’re still not tired enough to sleep. It had been a long day, I was tired, and I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Alas, that was not to be. Although I don’t know why, I didn’t fall asleep until sometime after 3 AM. My sleeping bag was comfortable and I was never cold. My air mattress was comfortable. My pillows were comfortable. I think my brain just didn’t want to shut up. Once I fell asleep, I slept well, but it wasn’t nearly enough. I was awake by 5:30 AM. At some point during the night, I got up to relieve myself and was amazed at how many stars were visible. The Milky Way was brilliant. I also heard a lone coyote yipping and yowling about 100 yards away during the night.

Despite my lack of sleep, I felt happy when I got up and made breakfast. I started with a cup of hot coffee (Starbucks singles). Then I followed it with Mountain House blueberry granola. You only add a half-cup of cold water and stir, no heating required. It was surprisingly good. Once that was done, I cleaned up camp and loaded everything on my bike. Other than my lack of sleep–which was the fault of my brain and not my gear–it was a fantastic camping experience. The solitude was especially nice.

I left a few minutes after 7 AM and rode down the gravel road, out of the forest, and onto highway 395. I got to Mt. Vernon and filled up my gas tank, then got a proper breakfast at the Silver Spur Cafe. After I ate, an older gentleman from the area chatted me up outside as I suited up. We talked for about 20 minutes and had a great conversation.

The wind between Fossil and Condon and Grass Valley was intense, but the scenery going in the opposite direction was more than worth it. Any good road should be ridden in both directions to get the full experience.

By the time I got home, the round trip had been 700 miles. My gear worked perfectly, the weather was great, and I saw some amazing scenery. Eastern Oregon has some wonderful motorcycling roads and a lot of beautiful country to explore.

Thinking about my trip, I had a realization about loneliness. Although I spent the night alone in the woods, without any sign of people or civilization, I never felt lonely. In fact, I quite enjoyed the experience. The only time I feel lonely is when I’m by myself around groups of people I don’t know. If I had stayed in a campground surrounded by strangers, I would have felt lonely indeed. It’s odd, but I don’t feel lonely when I’m alone, only when I’m around other people [that I don’t know].

Latest rides, and a new book

Recently the weather has been cooperative enough for me to get both bikes ridden, my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 and my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750. I try to ride each bike at least once every other week, rather than winterizing them and letting them sit. They only get non-ethanol fuel as well, and I think this keeps them in better shape.

On the V-Strom, I went up highway 224 to Ripplebrook. They are working on a hillside prone to landslides, so there are some construction delays to contend with. This is between milepost 31 to 37. At the Ripplebrook ranger station, I kept heading south on NF46 toward Detroit. We’ve had a lot of low-elevation snow this winter so I didn’t expect to get far, but I wanted to see how things were looking. The road has a few new potholes but is in otherwise good shape.

I had to turn back just past where NF42 heads east toward highway 26. Despite this, it was a fantastic ride and it felt good to stretch the V-Strom’s legs a bit.

Available for Kindle on Amazon.com

In other news, I have published my third novel. It is titled Paragon’s Call and is the culmination of The Taesian Chronicles trilogy. It is available for Kindle on Amazon.com, and is free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

The sunset of an old hero
The dawn of a new foe

Paragon’s Call is the third and final book in The Taesian Chronicles trilogy. In this exciting and fast-paced conclusion, we pick up the story a year after the Battle of Eeron from book two, Ohlen’s Bane. Ohlen and his comrades, Therran and Ahmahn, discover the novaari, dangerous beasts that are half man, half animal. Ohlen is conscripted by Emperor Percy Saltos to lead a ragtag group of criminal misfits called Paragons, who are charged with seeking out these monsters and destroying them. But not everyone wants them to succeed.

2016 and I’m off to a slow start

I haven’t been riding much in the last quarter of 2015, and the new year isn’t shaping up to be any different. I try to get both the V-Strom and Gixxer ridden at least once every other week, rather than winterize them and let them sit.

The pattern is to find a dry weekend, even if it’s just an hour of opportunity between rain storms, and ride each bike for at least 30 minutes. This helps clear the exhaust of moisture and charge the battery. I keep my bikes in a storage unit and there’s no electricity, so that eliminates the possibility of putting the batteries on a tender/charger.

With El Nino, the weather has been rather uncooperative. It’s been raining like mad, and on the rare dry days, it’s bitterly cold and blowing wind. I also have to avoid most side roads because they often still have icy patches or gravel from previous freezes.

As a result, I have no interesting blog posts to write. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some interesting rides in as the weather improves with spring.

Rebuilt V-Strom suspension from Adventure Power Sports

During a recent trip to northwest California for a group ride, I came to realize how inadequate the stock suspension really is on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. The bike has 62,000 miles on it and the suspension is completely stock without modification or adjustment. Over time, suspension components soften and wear out and need to be replaced. Because this degradation had taken place over tens of thousands of miles, I didn’t notice the change.

The first evening of our group event, a presenter and fellow rider by the name of Jay Jobes of Adventure Power Sports, out of Eagle, Idaho, talked about suspension on V-Stroms in particular and adventure bikes in general. Jay, who goes by the nickname “Sasquatch”, discussed the mechanics of front forks and rear shocks, how they work, and what they’re designed to accomplish. Jay also talked about what happens when suspension isn’t up to the task, either through weak design or pure age.

During the day, our group had taken a 180 mile loop ride on the finest back roads California has to offer. This can best be described the way the locals put it, “If you go off the pavement and the ride gets smoother, you know you’re in California.” The route went from asphalt with more bumps than a teenager’s face to washboard gravel with gnarly potholes. It was rough, and my bike let me feel every bump in full detail.

I noticed several characteristics of how my bike behaved on those challenging roads. On abrupt bumps, I’d feel a ‘chunk’ in the front suspension. This was a result of the forks not being able to handle the impact and slamming at full compression. Other sections of pavement had numerous, small bumps like riding across invisible corduroy, that dislodged the bike and left the tires airborne for fractions of a second instead of remaining in contact with the ground. This created a slight stopping effect that felt similar to the way ABS pumps your brakes several times a second. When this occurs repeatedly and in rapid fire, I was actually pushed forward slightly. Finally, when cornering, because the bike’s tires were becoming airborne in tiny but rapid intervals, it became nearly impossible to go around a bumpy curve with any kind of stability or sense of safety.

That night, Jay talked about suspension and described its dual roles: to efficiently absorb bumps in a way that conducts the least amount of shock to the rider, while immediately after pushing the tire back down as quickly as possible to maintain constant contact with the road surface. I asked a few questions and, with Jay’s well structured and informative answers, I quickly realized just how inadequate my suspension had become.

A rebuild or replacement of my stock suspension components was long, long overdue.

Jay has developed a technique for rebuilding the stock V-Strom suspension. This is significant because it was designed from the factory to be a throw-away component. It’s not built to be rebuilt. Jay’s technique provides riders like me a cost-effective way to get better-than-factory suspension without having to buy after-market third-party components. He takes the suspension apart, replaces the internals with higher quality after-market components, and puts it all back together. Even more, Jay interviews the customer to determine their weight, height, riding style, and frequent luggage load to make sure he chooses the right internals and makes the proper settings for their particular needs. It is custom suspension at lower cost than off-the-shelf after-market parts.

A week after the trip, I contacted Jay and gave him the details he needed. I took my bike to my local dealer and had them remove the front forks and rear shock, then store the bike in the back of their shop. I shipped the components to Jay at his location in Eagle, Idaho. He made sure he had the new parts ordered and on-hand in anticipation of the job.

Jay did the work and had my parts on a big brown truck headed back to my dealer within 24 hours. Once back at my dealer, they put the rebuilt forks and rear shock back on the bike. The total cost was $1280, and that included $200 in shop labor and $160 in shipping (there and back). I could have spent $1,600 for just an after-market rear shock and still had to pay for installation (or done it myself, which isn’t feasible where I currently live) — and that wouldn’t even include the front forks!

When I picked up the bike from the dealer, I took it for a short ride on a nearby semi-bumpy road for comparison. I had ridden the same road the day before I had the suspension removed, in anticipation of doing an A-B comparison. I didn’t feel much of a difference. The road wasn’t bumpy enough to make an adequate comparison.

The following weekend I took the bike for a 265 mile ride around Mt. Hood on a mix of gravel roads and bumpy Forest Service paved routes with lots of bumps.

The following Monday I called Jay to discuss my observations. Initially I was disappointed with the results. I hit several hard bumps and felt them similar to before. I went over washboard roads and they still felt like washboard roads. Other riders at the group ride had told me, “The difference is night and day.” My experience wasn’t anywhere close to that. More on that in a minute.

During my phone call with Jay, we talked about the specifics of how my bike was acting with the rebuilt suspension. Being an expert on the subject, Jay knew what to ask and how to describe the different aspects of the ride. I realized that the difference was there, the improvement was there, I just had unrealistic expectations.

My cornering seemed to be improved. Most of the route I took was very familiar to me, much of it memorized, so I was used to how fast I could go around numerous curves. I noticed I could go around the same corners at greater speed and with increased confidence and stability. Under hard braking, the bike seemed to stay level to the pavement, and felt as if both tires were providing equal grip to slow it down with greater efficiency. Before, the bike would dive forward like the forks were saying, “We give up!”

When hitting harsher bumps, I still felt them, but gone was the ‘chunk’ sound and sensation of the forks being overtaxed.

Rather than attempting to be an ace motorcycle mechanic, I needed to focus on how the bike behaved instead of how it functioned. In the end, it became clear to me that the bike was allowing me to ride at a higher level of performance and confidence with a lot less stress than before.

In the end, I have reached several conclusions. Above all, I was impressed with Jay’s knowledge and willingness to patiently explain a complex mechanical apparatus to a complete novice. He spent quite a bit of time describing how I can adjust the settings and do comparison rides until I get it dialed in exactly the way I want it. He met his commitments, was prompt, returned calls in a timely manner, and was well organized, having my parts on hand before my components arrived, got them rebuilt, and shipped back in very short order.

I also concluded that my bike’s suspension has become something I don’t have to think about anymore. I can now focus on the ride and other aspects of the experience instead of worrying that I might bounce out of a curve or lose hard parts from hitting big bumps.

Although I wouldn’t describe the before and after comparison as “night and day,” I would give it my highest endorsement of any expense for a bike: it is worth more than the cost, and to me, that is the best definition of a good value.