RR Ride Report - a 2 day tour of West Virginia.
About a month ago, when my local band of hooligans planned a two-day romp through the heart of West Virginia, I was pretty well set on taking my trusty K1600GT on the ride. It had served me extremely well in it's nearly magical way of eating up a couple hundred miles of slab with total comfort and then transforming into a precision apex strafing missile. And, two of the three buds on the ride would be on their K16GTs (the other on a 20 year old Honda 900RR with 150,000 miles on it). The more the miles rolled up on my new S1000RR, the more my thoughts kept coming back to the question that I've been asking myself for the last couple of years - can I still do a multi-day ride on what is essentially a purpose built track bike? This is something I'd do all the time in my 20's (about 30 years ago) when I'd throw a tank bag on my trick Suzuki track bike. As the day neared to leave on the ride, I felt like the only proper thing to do was to go for it - 350 to 400 miles a day for two days - a real ride but nothing too epic. It's about 130 miles each way from home to the hills on interstate, and thus one of the reasons why I own a sport/touring bike. Before this trip, the longest day I'd spent on the RR was less than 200 miles. Here's the route we took:
And here's the bike, configured for the deed:
With about 1,300 miles on the clock, I felt like the primary long distance problem for me was going to be the seat - it's a rock - and sitting forward on it like I do when I'm not in a racing crouch it just plain hurts after a few hours. The AirHawk R was pressed into service and with barely a puff of air in it was exactly what the butt doctor ordered. I packed light in the BMW tail bag and the tank bag holds a couple of power bars, video cameras, etc. We set off Friday morning from Annapolis to meet up with another guy in Strasburg Va, 120 miles of interstate away. Let me add that the other trick to making the bike a freeway glider was that I set all the dampening numbers on "2" - nice and soft. I half expected that I'd get to Strasburg and feel like I'd really effed up bringing the wrong weapon but something totally unexpected happened - I pulled in to the gas stop where our bud was waiting and felt as fresh as when I first started. Surely it must be the siren call of the wild switch-back bowls deep in the Appalachian hills clouding my judgement.
From Strasburg, we jumped on 55 which is a nice rolling sweeper rich road west until it becomes one of Senator Byrd's gifts to his constituent road construction folks - one of the several immaculate divided highways to nowhere in West Virginia - and the perfect place to answer the question every hooligan has asked, "How fast do it go?" Well, I still don't know because it was a bit breezy and my nerve was found wanting but I know one of my GT buds latched a big number on his GPS and I was walking off and leaving him - big tail bag and all. There's a speed where a double wide expressway looks narrow and that's all I'll say about that.
The slab to nowhere ended up there at which point we turned off on 220 south. And then, right on queue, the rain and thunderstorms hit us as if the question needed to be answered about what kind of foul weather tourer is an S1000RR?
I've never had it in rain mode but figured, what the heck, let's see if it works. Rain suits on and the romp went on through one of the more technical selection of roads on the ride, Rt 33 and Rt66 from Cass over to Snowshoe. Even though the road was wet and there was sheet flow water in the road in spots, we set a pretty quick pace and now I can say first hand that I think I know what the engineers were thinking when they chose to include rain mode as an option. But it's not magic as evidenced by some poor technique on my part. Traction control only works as a safety net when you're on the gas. When my survival reaction kicks in mid-corner and a let off happens, it doesn't stop the front from losing traction. Apropos, I had Molly Hatchet's "Flirtin with Disaster" playing on the iTunes for this leg of the tour but even so, it all ended up at Snowshoe with everyone wearing a big grin and the sun starting to peek back out.
There was some kind of really nasty fine sand that remained on the roads. It didn't cause much excitement for traction but it left the bikes about as nasty as I've gotten a street bike:
From there we plotted a course down to Marlinton and out another well liked road, Rt 39 to Rt 220 to Hot Springs. These roads are a fine mix of rolling terrain, sweepers, and the occasional 20 mph turn to keep you on your toes. Hot Springs VA is the home of one of the worlds most storied 4-star resorts, The Homestead, opened in 1766. Our plan had been to find a cheap place to flop for the night, grab a pizza nearby and maybe walk around the resort in the evening and sit by the fire with a beer. We rolled up in front of The Homestead looking like complete and utter scooter trash from riding in the rain all afternoon and parked the four bikes in the Rock Star parking spot right in front. A nicely proper bell person came trotting over asking if we were checking in to which I replied, "We'll let you know in a few minutes, we don't have a reservation." This was a Friday evening and there was a brisk bustle of activity of people arriving for what I found out later was 4 weddings and two conferences all happening that weekend and that the hotel was nearly full. 15 minutes later after a conversation with the front desk manager, we had 4 premium rooms with a view, $400/night rooms, for $159 per room. This is a thing my lovely wife has taught me over the years, "The answer is always no if you don't ask."
After dinner and beers at Sam Snead's, we wondered the halls for a while and called it a night ending what was just shy of a 400 mile day of slab, top-end speed runs, rolling sweepers, and technical twisties in the rain. And better yet, I didn't feel in the slightest that I needed any of the Homestead's famous spa services to fix my creaky body - Advil is a miracle drug isn't it?
The next day we got up to a beautiful crisp clear spring morning where everything looked and smelled like the proverbial Appalachian Spring which inspired Aaron Copeland's symphony. Here's me kicked back on the expansive front porch with my caramel latte waiting on my buds to wander out:
Saturday was a convergence of the perfect weather, place, and bike for one of the most memorable rides I've ever had. This was why I wanted to bring the RR to the hills and what was going to make it worth all the effort to get it there. We rolled out of Hot Springs going north on 220 through the rolling pasture land that lays in the valleys parallel to the ridge lines up to the little town of Monterey - about 35 miles that went by in a real blur. We stopped on the side of the road here so that I could get my cameras set up and I clicked the suspension dampening up to 6 all around - stiffer but still compliant for the inevitable rough patches in the turns - a total guess on my part but it seemed to work well and made the bike handle the transitions feeling much more flickable, yet planted.
This was the start of what has become my favorite road in the state, Rt 250 between Rt220 and Rt 219. It's 45 miles of road that runs from speedy sweepers to technical bowl shaped switchbacks galore with just enough lazy connectors to let you catch your breath before the action gets amped up again. I've only just had time to dump down and post up a bit of the video but here's a couple of links to a few minutes of the fun:
The rear facing camera:
The RR - thejonaks
The GoPro hat cam (I'm not that pleased with the perspective of the camera sitting a foot above my eye level - it really doesn't capture the view I see):
The RR - thejonaks
We wound our way up 250 to 219 and up to Elkins for an early lunch. From there, it was all pretty much about the ride home. We went down 33 from Elkins, a road we hadn't been on before, and it turned out to be a slightly less impressive road than the reviews had led us to believe. We ended up back on 55 were I learned that when the wind gets really gusty, it's probably not a good idea to chase big numbers on the speedo. My bud on the 900RR Honda blew by me and when I tried to run him down I swear it felt like the front of the bike came completely off the ground at a stupidly high speed. After a moment of prayer and adjustment of underpants, we rolled on in to Strasburg at a more responsible pace and said our goodbys to our friend on the K16GT Sport. We then beat it on back home passing Summit Point, Harper's Ferry and on back down I-70 to home.
After two days, about 750 miles, some of it in challenging weather, I've officially ended my dating period with the S1000RR and feel like it's a committed relationship now. It was somewhere Saturday afternoon on a lazy stretch that came up right after a few miles of some 20 mph posted switch backs that I realized that I wasn't thinking about the bike anymore and that it had all clicked into place as a natural place to be. When I bought the bike, I had this fantasy that kept rolling through my mind of being out in the hills and rolling up straight out of a steeply banked switch back, noticing a few 100 yards of straight, and pinning it - the front end lofts and sits back down in time to brake for the next switch back - rinse and repeat. That might have happened. I'm not ready to part ways with my GT just yet but I'll be thinking about it now a little differently given that I know I can jump off for several hundred miles on the RR. This trip had me headed back home after the first night on the road. Maybe there's a trip ahead where I'm headed farther from home on it after the first couple of nights. I'm thinking maybe a trip from Annapolis down to my old romping ground in N. Georgia, Western NC, and Tennessee - a round trip of about 1,500 miles? Giddy up!