Some rides are utilitarian and have the charm of lukewarm tapwater. Others are sublime extensions of oneself that shall remain in our memories until the day we die, and perhaps beyond.
This past weekend was such an experience.
My goal was to take my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750 on an overnight trip of at least 250 miles each way to see if I can physically handle that kind of mileage on a sport bike, as well as test out my luggage and its ability to carry what I needed. The fact that I would be traveling on some of the best roads Oregon has to offer was incidental.
My route took me over Mt. Hood, down to the Deschutes River rafting town of Maupin, through the hamlets of Shaniko and Antelope, along magical highway 218 to Fossil, through the cowboy town of Spray and along the John Day river to the destination town of the same name. It was windy and the pass at Government Camp would be a bit chilly so I started off with my yellow Nelson-Rigg rain jacket on over my AGVSport leathers for extra warmth. When I reached the lone gas station in Maupin to fill up, I was able to shed that outer layer.
The absence of premium 92 octane unleaded is a concern when riding in rural areas. My Gixxer averages 43 mpg when I ride it, and with its 4.5 gallon tank, I have an effective range of about 180 miles before I’m running on vapors. In Maupin, I not only filled my gas tank, but I filled up a 30 oz. fuel bottle that I kept in my tail bag just in case. As the big-bellied station attendant said, “That will save you a 15 mile walk!” Fortunately, it was never needed on this trip.
I left Maupin for Shaniko via Bakeoven Road, a route I highly recommend to any rider, especially those on sport bikes. The first few miles out of the Deschutes River canyon are technical and require top attention. The curves are great but gravel is common and the stakes are high if you leave the pavement. But, through adversity we grow, and each successful run over roads like that makes you a better rider.
East of Antelope highway 218 shines. The road is in fantastic shape, there are great sight lines and very few blind corners, traffic and law enforcement is nearly non-existent, and the weather was perfect. What’s not to love? I really got sideways and the chicken strips on my Shinko 011 Verge tires are now down to 1/4″ wide.
By the time I got to Fossil I was ready for lunch. Unfortunately, the Big Timber restaurant was closed — either for the day or permanently, I’m not sure — and the only other place to eat was crowded with pirates (cruiser folk), so I continued onward. I stopped in Spray and ate a BLT in the back of the small market and gas station combo. From the looks of their few, sparse shelves, first impressions would indicate they’re about to go out of business. Not all first impressions are accurate, however. The two gray-haired gals working the joint rustled up a BLT for me, and 20 minutes later I was back on the road.
From Maupin east, the nearest source of 92 octane unleaded is Dayville on highway 26. It took 3.4 gallons to cover the approximately 145 miles, so the range between fill-ups was adequate. Another hour down the road and I was pulling into the Best Western John Day Inn and unloading my gear into my room.
Things got even better the next day. I left John Day at 8 AM and had the roads to myself. After getting warmed up on the highway 26 leg to the junction with highway 19, I ramped up my pace and really got sideways. Other than a brief snack break in Spray, I maintained a brisk and spirited pace all the way to Maupin. For those who haven’t explored the byways of rural Eastern Oregon, I highly recommend taking the time to do so. The topography and rivers have to be seen to be believed.
I fueled up once again in Maupin, this time only requiring 2.3 gallons — odd — and went home through Wamic, past Rock Creek Reservoir, and then back over Government Camp and into Sandy and home.
My cheeks are still sore from grinning so much.
But back to the original goal of testing the trip-worthiness of the GSX-R, yes, it’s possible. Riding attire is important, and would probably be better served with an Aerostich Roadcrafter or Transit suit rather than racing leathers. Also, luggage space is reduced but with judicious selection of only things that matter, that’s not much of a challenge. Fuel capacity is also an issue, but with the what-if inclusion of extra fuel via my 30 oz. bottle and careful route planning, that also isn’t much of an issue. Riding a sport bike is a much more physical endeavor so fatigue can be somewhat of an issue. Ironically, my butt hurts more when I ride my V-Strom, but my neck and knees hurt a bit more on the Gixxer. It’s a trade off, and frequent rest stops mitigate that adequately.
Having said all that, the V-Strom is more capable for long trips but the Gixxer provides more smiles per mile.