Warning: longwinded post!!
OK, these 20 & 50km rides are fine for mid-winter but seeing as I cannot do a decent ride I am left with reminiscing...
Who said sportbikes are not suitable for touring?
To be clear from the start: I am no longer a youngster. Haven’t been one for quite a few years actually.
OK, to be blunt: I am over 50.
Having gotten that out of the way:
I have been riding bikes since I was 15. Started off with a 50cc single, then a 350 twin (Suzuki T350-II), then a 550 triple (Suzuki GT550), then a 900 four (Honda CB900F), then an 1100 four (Honda CB1100F: still think I should have gone for the Honda CBX at that time: there has never been a better sounding bike, EVER.).
After being bikeless for some years I then bought a K4 GSX-R750. What a delight! For those of you that have not been riding for as many years as I have: you would not believe how dramatically better current sportbikes are compared to the days of yore. But that is a topic for another day…
Over the last 30+ years my wife has been riding with me as passenger on all our bikes, starting with the 350. Late in 2005 we decided that we should try getting something a bit more comfortable than the GSX-R for two up and longer rides: up to that point rides of up to 400km a day was not unknown for us, this for two older, bigger folks (both of us are just an inch or so shy of 6 feet). So we sold the K4 with the intention of looking at the options at the 2006 Vancouver bike show and then getting something somewhat more comfortable.
Initial favourites were the BMW K1200S and the new FZ1. Note that, while I was (reluctantly!) prepared to move somewhat away from pure sportbikes, I was not prepared to compromise too much: once a sportbike person, probably always a sportbike person….
In the end the BMW was just too much money: a lovely bike that fit us well, but just too much. And at the end of the day, as good and as versatile a bike that it is, the FZ1 just did not do it for me. Not sure why or how, but just not it. As I have gotten older I have come to accept: with something as irrational as a motorcycle, don’t buy something just because logic (I am an engineer after all!) or someone else’s opinion dictates it is right. Along with meeting your requirements, for the final clincher go with your gut and get what feels right for you.
For the rest: we were considering all of the 1000cc sportbikes except the Suzuki as all of them (excluding the Suzuki) had “hidden” exhausts that allowed the possibility of lowering and moving the rear footrests forward & down to make it more comfortable for my wife. Note that I wanted something bigger than a 600: for two bigger people you need more torque than a 600 can provide.
Sat on the CBR100RR and it felt very, very good indeed: it was definitely very high on the short list. The R1 just did not fit us, nor did the ZX10. Really looked at the K6 GSX-R750 (in the flesh as opposed to the photographs up to that point) and that was it: sold!
So we got our black/maroon model in May: probably one of the first K6 750’s in the Vancouver area. Frank at North Shore Suzuki did a great job to have aluminium spacers made up and mounted on the back pegs: dropped them around ½” and moved them forward 1”: you would be surprised how much of a difference it makes! Pic of the spacer attached.
On top of that: the K6’s ergonomics suited my proportions amazingly well: just that much more comfortable than the K4 for me. This brought home the importance of sitting on a bike before buying: what fits and is comfortable for one person can be hideously uncomfortable for another.
Since that time we have covered over 6,500km (including a break of around 5 weeks while I had to heal a broken collarbone and 8 rib fractures from basically falling off my bike onto soft soil at probably 30km/h. Also a story for another day: really stupid and my first fall since 1970. Seems we get really brittle as we get older!)
Anyway: my longest one day ride on this bike was an 800km trip from Vancouver to Cache Creek and back on the Duffey Lake road. While enjoyable I believe there are better roads in our area: due to the bumpy nature of the road you have to work (and concentrate!) really, really hard to ride at a (what I consider to be!) decent rate.
And then this past Labour Day weekend: rode to the Kootenays via highway 3 and back via route 20 West in Washington state. 1,700km in four days and what an absolute joy and delight! Due to circumstances my wife could only join me for about 500km of the distance on Saturday and Sunday so most of it was solo riding, but under normal circumstances this would have been two up.
The ride included the two top ranked routes in BC and Washington state as described in Brian Bosworth and Michael Sanders’ “Destination Highways” books. Did the Kootenay Bay-Creston leg with my wife on the back. This is a tremendously twisty stretch: what an absolute pleasure to have someone on the back that becomes “invisible/unnoticeable” even when you go through a 1,000 bends at decent speeds! The advantage of having ridden together for tens of thousands of km I suppose. And yes: when you have a passenger you have to work at maintaining momentum and riding smoothly, but it sure pays dividends and I believe that it does not make you that much slower. You do not go up to huge speeds but the consistency sure pays off and both of you can enjoy the ride.
And just in case you think we were loafing around: I attach a picture of the back tire taken when I got home. Yes, there are still a millimetre or two of chicken strips, but not too bad for an “old fogy”!
A tip for those of you wanting to do this trip: stay overnight in Kootenay Bay and start out just before the ferry comes in from Balfour at around 08:40-ish in the morning: that way you are essentially guaranteed to have absolutely no 30km/h traffic to contend with ahead of you as there is nowhere else for cars to come from other than the ferry!
And then my idea of the absolute nirvana of sport biking: the route from Winthrop to Marblemount in Washington! I have ridden many miles in many places but nothing I have done comes close to this: beautifully engineered road, perfect surface (coarse enough for good grip but without bumps), unparalleled natural beauty. I will be back!
Fuel consumption: varied from around 18km/l (two up, twisties) to over 21km/l (alone, long drone). Longest stretch on one tank: 309km. The fuel warning light came on steady just before I stopped, but when I filled up I could only fit in 14.6 litres: 2 litres short of what the manual says! That means either i) the manual is wrong, ii) I do not fill my bike anywhere near properly or ii) I was sweating bullets unnecessarily on the last 50km or so heading into Republic as I still had lost of gas left!! I suppose I should take a bit of gas with me one day & then ride it ‘til the gas runs out & fill it to the brim to see how much it really takes.
Luggage: we travel really light: just a small backpack as we normally stay over in B&B’s. If you pack right it is no inconvenience whatsoever. Four days is a stretch but this time round I packed for the night/next day, picked up my wife (with some fresh clothes) at Castelgar airport on Saturday morning, consolidated just enough stuff in the backpack for the two of us for the next day and stored the rest. On Sunday late afternoon my wife took all the dirty/surplus stuff back on the plane and I just took enough for Monday. So over four days I/we never had to schlep around more than one day’s stuff. Simple.
I covered almost identical distances on two of the days: 580km on both Friday and Sunday. Yes, your butt hurts at the end of a day like that, but not unbearably. I found that regular stops and walking around does wonders for both your butt and your concentration. For more comfort I tried biking shorts with chamois padding but it did not do much for me.
One drawback of an early departure (06:00 in the morning) out of Vancouver in early September: I am not sure what the temperature was in the Manning Park area (only around 4,500ft altitude, but plenty high enough to cool down!), but my bike’s coolant temperature slowly but surely dropped from a more normal touring 75ºC down to 62ºC as I went up the mountain! BTW: my K6 runs noticeably cooler than my K4 used to: typical steady speed highway at average ambient temps gives a coolant temp of 75-ish compared to a very consistent 82 that the K4 ran at.
How does one feel after a 1,700km ride on a “crotch rocket”? Perhaps the most telling comment I could make was that I was ready to go riding again later Monday evening. Does that mean I am going to suggest to my friend that he sells his BMW R1150RT and get a GSX-R750 to do his touring? Of course not: I am not saying my bike would ever be equal to a real tourer for touring. What I am saying is that you can cover lots of miles on your Gixxer and have a blast doing it!
I love my bike!