I'm going to try my hand at something different for a little while. I'll test the water here at the Vine and see how many of you are interested in the two wheel scene in Southern California, offering my perspective of about 15 years of riding on as many of the twisty paths I can find in and around Los Angeles. First, a little background:
This is, in my honest opinion, one of the finest hooligan bikes ever built...period. If you are uninitiated, this is (as noted in the caption) the Suzuki B-King, non ABS version. Basically, it is a re-tuned Hayabusa 1340cc engine wrapped in a naked frame. Its output is approximately 180 bhp, measured at the crank, with a parasitic loss of around 20 hp before reaching the screaming rear wheel (a 200 cross-section tire at that). There is no real purpose for this machine, save bringing ear to ear smiles every time you grab the twisty stick. I call it a highly effective traffic dissection tool. I'm sure cage drivers (that's a not so nice term for those trapped in four wheel conveyances) can only shake their balled up fists at me as I nominally save 30 to 40 minutes on my daily 37 mile commute. I won't go on about this machine other to say I have no idea why Suzuki only made it for one model year and if needed, I will gladly write a long ride review about this fantastic motorcycle.
INLAND EMPIRE - SOUTHEAST DESERT...IN FEBRUARY
The route I examined today was SR79 south out of Beaumont connecting with SR74 in Hemet, taking that east to SR243 north to Banning. The entire run was approximately 50 miles and an extremely challenging ride, mostly because I enjoy testing my skills and encountered a motorcyclist's worst enemy...ice.
Yesterday Southern California got a bit of weather, mostly characterized by simple rain. However, most of the San Bernardino mountains above 2,500 feet got dusted with the white stuff and higher than 4,000 got more than three feet. I checked the DOT website regarding chain conditions along my planned route and didn't see anything that indicated a problem. Well, I was dead freaking wrong about that one.
My pre-ride had me on a 20 mile run before getting to the first leg of the route. I just got a new rear 30 mile prior to going out so that made nicely for scuff/break-in requirement of 50 miles before hard riding. I checked all the gear before setting out and a super hard rule of any riding is make sure you always ride to crash. I've never gone for a run without all my gear (helmet, gloves, riding pants, jacket + new fangled stuff like bluetooth headset, earplugs, etc). I can't emphasize this more; never go out dressed for anything less. If you can't afford the basics then you simply can't afford the bike. Either that, or get ready for the mess you're going to be in when you go down.
The first leg of the ride starts in downtown Hemet. It's on a surface street (Florida St) and is SR74 while in the town. After clearing out of the strip malls and low budget gas stations you are greeted with stunning Southern California farmland, which I didn't think there was any left. Be prepared for high speed sweepers and excellent road conditions coupled with good visibility and a low frequency of driveways/intersections that all equal safe high speeds (a note to those that are more reserved, I don't advocate or endorse any form of street racing, that's what tracks are for, and everyone on two wheels should know their limits and ride within them). This continues for about 5 miles before moving into the elevated segments.
The second leg began with solid road conditions (very clean, recently repaved asphalt) and snow everywhere:
I stopped briefly to snap this picture and then resumed my ride into some extremely technical road work. Expect very complicated curves of all sorts; decreasing/increasing radius, off camber, no shoulders (unless you have a snowmobile conversion or wings) with frequent straights mixed in between. This makes for sections that demand attention as you can build speed that will exceed what you need for cornering. In addition, the vistas are beautiful and distracting meaning you must watch your entry speed at every turn, bearing in mind that this might be the first in a series. This continues for 40 miles.
Everything was going very well until my right thumb started going numb. I didn't really notice what was going on because I was mostly comfortable. I don't have heated grips or electric gear but did dress for colder climes. After 20 minutes of riding in what looked like slightly above freezing temperatures, my freaking thumb felt like it was going to fall off. So, I stopped again, snapped this picture:
And used my exhaust to warm my hands back up. Road conditions steadily deteriorated from this point. So much that I considered turning around. It didn't make much sense to me as the amount of road ahead was less than what I had already covered at that point. If you are thinking of going on this ride in the next few days, don't. The road turns into an icy, slushy mess for about the last 10 miles requiring Zen-like focus on lean angles, speed, lane placement and braking.
After 25 minutes of this, and freezing hands, I was ready to go home. The back side of the mountain was stunning, giving you a fantastic view of the desert communities of Beaumont and Banning. The cliffs are so steep it looks like you could jump and land on the rooftops of the homes and businesses below. I got stuck behind an older gentleman that didn't want to open up more than 35 mph on the way down but, to my thanks, took the nearest turnout and allowed me to crack it on the way down. Expect a good mix of high and low speed turns, infrequent turnouts, and good road conditions.
The entire ride took me just under two hours to complete including the time it took for me to get to and from the ride start/end. Most of the roads are in great shape with only the deeper mountain passes giving a rough ride due to frost heaves and tar lines. The more difficult sections (the icy, terrifying part) have a lot of grit built up in the center and outside parts of the lane which will probably be there when the weather opens the road up for more, ahem, comfortable riding.
Out of the rides I've gone on this would rank an 8 out of 10 meaning you should go for it once winter is over. Now excuse me, I'm going to wash my bike and get ready for the next outing.