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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Rattler, North Carolina

It was a nice sunny Sunday in North Carolina (June 2014) and we had enjoyed a morning at the Wheels Through Time Museum and a satisfying lunch in Maggie Valley now it was time to ride.  I had planned a route which included a lot of curves, but I did not realize at the time NC 209 was also know as "The Rattler."

Nine of us on seven bikes jumped on NC 209 just north of Waynesville, NC at the intersection of NC 209 and US 23.  After 4 miles we rode under I-40.  The Rattler started off with 8 miles of easy long sweepers without a lot of curves.
Photo opportunity under the canopy near a river on The Rattler
Without much warning the road got really interesting and twisty!  The next 24 miles of NC 209 earned its name.  Fun tight turns with a few stretches of straights and a sweeping curve or two all under the canopy of the big trees and at times tracing Spring Creek made for some great riding.
My son, Richard, on his 2009 ZX6R Ninja
This was a great opportunity to get time on some Smoky Mountains roads before riding The Dragon (US 129) the next day.  This was my son's first summer trip on his new ride and on mountain roads like this.

We shifted a cheek and dropped a knee into the corners enjoying every mile.  The scenery was great and the shade nice, but going from shade to sunlight and back made for intense concentration due to the change in visibility.
https://www.dropbox.com/s/8o8tolv9uf6jyux/Screenshot%202015-05-05%2013.06.44.png?dl=0
Another factor adding to the fun and pleasure of the ride was the lack of traffic.  I am not sure we saw over 6 cars/trucks on the 33 mile ride.  We were able to ride at a nice pace and not be concerned about traffic.

The Rattle had a good amount of elevation change.  There were some uphill grades at 15.5% and down at -10%. Here is a website with more detailed information.
 Old country barn on NC 209
My only regret is not turning around at Hot Springs, NC and riding The Rattler back to I-40.  It is a great road and I will make sure to hit it the next time I am in that area.  I highly recommend it.









Tuesday, April 21, 2015

MotoGP at Circuit of the Americas, Austin, TX

Please overlook my tardiness with this post.  It should have been out last week.
Cota day 1, waiting for practice sessions to start
April 10-12, 2015 was the 3rd year for MotoGP at COTA in Austin, Texas.  I attended the first MotoGP in 2013 as a spectator.  This year my son and I attended the races as volunteer track workers.  Wow! what an experience.  There was the added bonus of MotoAmerica's SuperSport and Superbike/Superstock classes also racing that weekend.  A total of 5 classes to enjoy.
Richard and I ready for action
Not only did we get to see the world's best sportbike riders, we got to see them up close both on the track and in the paddock.  No crowds to disrupt the view of the races, plenty of space to move and be comfortable and drinks and meals delivered to our location.
 The sound and the speed is amazing - first practices of day 1
We asked to work together and to be track marshals.  Our duties included track inspection each morning and between races/practices and assist riders that go down or have mechanical problems in our assigned area.  Otherwise, watch and enjoy the races.  We saw several riders go down, but only one slid to a stop in our area for us to help.  Most of our work was removing rocks and debris from the track.  The rider we helped sure was young, not sure he had started shaving!  He was on a Moto3 (250cc) bike.
Day 2 - helping Moto3 rider after a high side on our corner
Volunteering was a full 3 day commitment with morning check-in between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m.  Breakfast and drinks were furnished each morning.  Parking was free and transportation to and from our track station was provided.  Each station had a cooler with water and soft drinks.  At various times the drink wagon (a side by side ATV) would stop by and make sure we had drinks and/or ice.  A box lunch from Jason's Deli was delivered at lunch time and on Friday and Saturday after the races a dinner was provided at the volunteers tent.
Amazing lean angles
Friday a track parade lap for volunteers and certain other groups was an option.  Due to other commitments we did not participate, but will next year.  We heard is was great and riders hit speeds close to 70 mph!

Saturday there were more practice sessions and the qualifying sessions.  The MotoGP qualifying session saw Marc Marquez display his competitiveness with a remarkable sprint back to his garage to his 2nd bike, after 1st bike mechanical problems, and then set a COTA track record as he qualified for the pole position.
video

For the Sunday races we were moved to corner 2.  We could see the big hill immediately after the start and the tough corner #1 before the riders headed down the hill to corner 2.  What a great view! The races on Sunday had some longer breaks in action which allowed us to visit the pits.  With our stylish (ha ha) track volunteer outfits we were able to walk though the pits (where spectators were not allowed). 
Walking the pits Sunday morning
We were able to take photos of the bikes and even saw a few of the riders including Marquez.  We got really close and watched as crews finalized the bikes for the races.
 #99 Jorge Lorenzo's Yamaha Movistar bike getting ready to race
 Looking up the hill to turn 1 Sunday morning and waiting for the fog to lift
 Rider and bike waiting for the fog to lift and the races to begin
 Rossi's bike getting final touches
 Grandstands beginning to fill
Marquez's #93 ready to roll













  #46 ,Rossi, has both bikes ready to go, one with racing slicks one with rain tires
 Nice bike and someone pointed out there were umbrella girls in the background - coincidence I am sure
 Nicky Hayden's bike - the lone American
The MotoGP race concluded with Marquez (Honda) winning his 3rd consectutive COTA race (there have only been 3) with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) taking 2nd and Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) finishing 3rd.  After the checkered flag while the riders were taking a final lap Dovizioso ran out of fuel and coasted to our turn, stopping so we could push his bike off the track and he could catch a ride back to the podium.  Pretty cool to see his bike up close.  They are so light due to the carbon fiber and other advancements on racing bikes.
2nd place Dovizioso's bike waiting pickup after the final race
We are looking forward to volunteering again next year.  The days were long, the vantage point was awesome, we were well taken care of and we got in without a ticket!  If you enjoy motorcycle racing I would recommend volunteering at least once.  You get a new perspective.
 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Honda VFR 1200 Review - 11,000 miles

March 23, 2014
On May 31, 2014 I bought my first Honda motorcycle.  A new 2012 VFR 1200 with less than 5 miles on it, even after Mac and I took test rides on it.  For reasons unknown to me the VFR 1200 does not sell that well here in the USA, so this brand new two year old bike was mine at a great price.

I wasn't looking at the VFR originally, but a friend and R1 rider at the time (now he has a 2014 VFR) suggested I consider it (Thanks Sergey).  After some research on my own I decided I should at least sit on a VFR. 

I had a Yamaha FJR 1300 for almost 4 years (60,000+ miles) and was considering another one along with the Aprilla Copone and VFR.  After sitting on all three, looking at options, features, maintenance, insurance and overall "gut" reaction I decided the VFR was for me.  (The price was a big "plus" along with the fact insurance priced it as a two year old bike.)
June 2014 ride to Nocona, Texas
The fit and finish is top of the line.  The sleek lines and curves gives the impression the bike is "fast" and the looks are not deceiving.  The 1237cc V4 produces smooth consistent power.  The stock seat is plenty comfortable for me.

I was not confident with the stock tires, but once I mounted the Michelin Pilot Road 2, and later the PR 3's, confidence in the curves increased greatly.

I ordered the saddlebags for the bike, they do not come stock. The only customization included Zero Gravity windshield, Two Brothers slip-on exhaust, T-Rex Racing sliders and Grip Buddies
Zero Gravity tinted windshield is about 2 inches taller than stock and works great.
The exhaust exchanged reduced the weight approx. 15 lbs and improved the look and sound of the bike (compare 2nd photo and last photo).  The Zero Gravity windshield reduced buffeting considerably and added to the eye appeal.  The Grip Buddies were added because I like the comfort of the bigger grip and the vibration reducing neoprene.
 June 2014 on US129 a.k.a The Tail of the Dragon - photo by Killboy.com
I have commuted, ridden back roads with twisties, ridden in Dallas traffic, taken weekend trips and extended trips.  The VFR has taken me on the windy roads in the Smokey Mountains, including the Tail of the Dragon, and over many mountain passes of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and New Mexico.  I have ridden a few miles in a day up to 650 miles in a day.  I have travel without saddlebags, with saddlebags and even fully loaded for camping.  I have put the bike to the test and I have found myself always smiling.

Loaded for camping in Colorado
This the first bike I have owned with traction control and/or a slipper clutch.  I like the both features; however, the first time the traction control engaged was a little surprising and at the same time comforting.  I was glad to feel it work so much quicker than I could react.  The slipper clutch works great and makes downshifting smooth.  The single-side swingarm not only looks sharp it makes changing the tire very convenient.  I love that feature!
Enjoy the view from the Pikes Peak Veterans Memorial outside of Cripple Creek, CO
The seating position is slightly more aggressive than the FJR which took a little getting use to.  I like the lighter weight (589 lbs - wet - although I know that is heavy compared to some bikes) when it comes to backing up or moving around in the garage.  The detachable saddlebags are a great feature requiring just unlock the bag and lift the handle - very convenient.  I have not added the trunk, but a friend who has it on his VFR is a big fan.
Very easy to remove saddlebags
The VFR's handling is solid and breeds confidence in the twisties.  There is plenty of ground clearance for leaning hard.  The levers are adjustable and operate smoothly.  Breaking is the best I have had (6 bikes so far).

I love the bike.  I can not stop smiling when riding (except when a distracted cager makes a bad move).  It is more "sport" than "tourer".  MPG for me has been consistently 39.5 with a mixture of city and hwy. 

If I were to retire and tour for weeks at a time year round I have to admit I would go back with the FJR due to comfort, storage, fuel economy (40mpg vs 44mpg) and sitting position.  But, for now I am loving every mile on the VFR!
Enjoying US 129 a.k.a The Dragon



Tuesday, March 17, 2015

49 Miles of great New Mexico highway

 In November 2012 I rated some roads I had ridden (Scenic Roads #6-#10 and Scenic Roads #1-#5) and found especially scenic.  Since then I have had the opportunity to ride many other great roads and one in particular has become a "favorite" road.

Northeast New Mexico is a favorite destination for many of us in Texas.  The Enchanted Circle which includes Angel Fire, Eagles Nest, Questa, Red River and Taos is a well known Scenic Byway and is a great place to ride.

However, I have decided the 49 mile stretch of US 64 between Tres Piedras (intersection of US 64 and US 285 northwest of  Taos, NM) and Tierra Amarilla (south of Chama, NM) is a fun, scenic must ride for motorcyclists.    Link to map
https://www.google.com/maps/dir/Tres+Piedras,+NM/Tierra+Amarilla,+NM+87551/@36.6860176,-106.5563251,10z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x8717a4ad062abcc9:0xf1ce24e7761909fb!2m2!1d-105.9672384!2d36.6469626!1m5!1m1!1s0x8717d7fe066b4d35:0xb6b5dcdd97d941e!2m2!1d-106.5497566!2d36.7002922!3e0
Screenshot of map on Google Maps
What does this road have to offer?  Sweeping curves, hairpin turns, elevation change, scenic views and solitude (traffic is minimal).  US 64 cuts through the Carson National Forest so riders need to be aware of the potential for wildlife.  With a total of 5 passes over this road I have seen a bunch of suicidal ground squirrels (they will dart out right in front of you) and a few deer, but never very close to the road.

Spirited riding is almost mandatory.  The sweepers on the eastern portion allows for consistent throttle and very little downshifting. The middle portion has nice elevation changes with some straight sections where some riders (not that I would :) ) could test bike velocity. On the western end there are some tight turns allowing the outer portion of tires to get some usage. 
Great view from US 64
Great views abound and the road reaches an elevation of 10,507 feet at Brazos Summit (second highest point on any NM highway), so the temperature can dip even in the summer.  Like all mountain areas, rain is always a possibility.  Two of the five times I have ridden the road I have experience brief light rain showers.
 View from overlook before descent to Tierra Amarilla
The combination of various radius curves, elevation change, minimal traffic and great destinations at each end makes this a road worth the fuel to experience and enjoy.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Poker Alice - Pizza in Lake City, Colorado

Earlier I posted about one of my favorite pizza places in the Rocky Mountains - Beau Jo's in Idaho Springs, Colorado.  Now I want to tell you about another great pizza restaurant in Southwestern Colorado.
Photo from Lakecity.com

Poker Alice sits on the southern end of the main road through Lake City, Colorado (CO 149 a.k.a. Silver Thread) which is the opposite end of town from the awesome Lake City Bakery.  

Poker Alice has both indoor and outdoor seating.  I prefer sitting outdoor and enjoying the view of the surrounding mountains.  The restaurant is named after Alice Ivers Tubbs, known as Poker Alice, the well known Wild West female poker player.
Poker Alice welcomes visitors - photo from Poker Alice Facebook
The eatery has an array of beverages to choose from including soft drinks, coffee, hot chocolate, espresso, chai tea , tea, shakes, smoothies, beer and wine.  A breakfast buffet is available each morning until 11:00 a.m., but be aware they are closed on Sundays.

Lunch and dinner options are plentiful.  Sandwiches, salads, pizza by the slice, soup, hamburger, pasta dishes, calzones, wraps, pizza pies and more are on the menu.
How about some pepperoni and bacon?!
Fresh pizza is the specialty of the house. Fresh ingredients and great timing make for hot satisfying pizza and other great dishes.  My sister and her family eat at Poker Alice's each time they are in Lake City (and they aren't the type to go back to a bad place).

When riding the Silver Thread and you get ready to eat squeeze the brake and stop at Poker Alice Pizza, you will be glad you did.  If you happen to be there for lunch on June 25, 2015 you might catch me there!