Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Tribute to My Friend, Colin Barlow

I've been playing around with the Youtube video editor to string together a bunch of videos I have from riding behind my friend, the late Colin Barlow.  I'll tell you more about Colin another time, but for now it's enough to say that every year that I've ridden in the Alps I've ridden at least part of the time with Colin, an amazingly accomplished rider.  Colin lost a three year battle to gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) last November.  He'll be on my mind and in my heart when we're riding the Alps in July.

Not all the roads are goat trails, but I hope you'll forgive that. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What's the "Best" Bike for Riding Goat Trails?

Best?  Sounds like a topic bound to create controversy, doesn't it?  After all, everyone seems to have a different opinion.  

Andy loves riding goat trails on an FJR1300.  Kyle recently bought a new Tiger 800, but before that he was going on goat trail expeditions on a 675 Daytona.  Sara's Hypermotard might be a bit more obvious of a choice, along with Duncan's 1050 Tiger.  Certainly both are more obvious than Steve's choice of an R1100S.  The list can go on and on with a variety of choices.  Which one is best?

The best bike for riding goat trails is the one you have.  Simple.  If not having some ideal bike is keeping you from having fun, so you think you need to wait for the perfect bike, you're missing out.  Aermacchi to Zundapp, run what you got.

Okay, now that we got "best" out of the way, are there characteristics that might make one motorcycle more pleasant/fun on a goat trail than another?  Sure, and here follows a list of some characteristics I favor:
  • A bit more suspension travel - because many goat trails have rough surfaces, anything between 6" and a foot of travel at each end is desirable.  This spans from bikes the Brits call 'tall-rounders' like my Versys, to full-on plated dirtbikes.
  • An upright riding position makes it easier to keep your weight off your hands and keep your eyes scanning the road while skittering down some steep, bumpy goat trail.
  • More than 100 miles of fuel range.  Many of the most enjoyable goat trails are far from any opportunity to re-fuel.  It is a shame to be shut out from riding them because your bike doesn't have enough range.
  • Flexible and manageable power.  There's a lot going on when riding goat trails, and having a motor that can tolerate you being a gear or two too high/low is a blessing when you're trying to take it all in.  Further, power that is easily manageable makes dealing with the sometimes tenuous traction on bad surfaces that much easier.
That's a start of a list of what I think is "ideal".  What's ideal for you?

This post was prompted by events of the recent BARF Spring Rally where I led the goat trail group on my beloved Versys.  During the weekend I began envy Andy and Bud and others with their 100+ horsepower bikes, and the ease with which they could overtake slow moving vehicles, leading to daydreams of a 1200 Multistrada or maybe a big GS.  

While taking a break with my group on Sunday, George who has ridden with me many times in many places offered up this little gem, "I've never seen you ride faster than you did on your KLR."  What's this?!  I'm pining for a big increase in horsepower, and George says I was faster when I had only 36!?  Is big power the answer, or is power that you have the confidence to utilize the answer?  Hmmm, maybe there's more than one right answer to the question of what is "ideal" in a goat trail bike. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Little More Detail On the Definition of Goat Trails

It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so how many is a video worth?  Here are some clips strung together of different goat trails to give you a better, a more experiential idea of what the term means.  These are a combination of roads in California and in the Alps.

As you can see, there's a lot going on when riding these roads; rough surfaces, tight turns, steep hills, cyclists, cars, trucks, sometimes livestock or wildlife.  Lots to keep a rider fully engaged and entertained!  Interestingly though, usually not at terribly high speeds.  No need for a liter bike to have fun.  Even a humble 650 twin will rarely get the throttle open more than halfway.   Additionally, while you do see some traffic on these roads, for the most part you won't see much, and what traffic you do encounter will usually be in your mirrors within moments.  Do you need more reasons?  How about scenery?  Some of the most beautiful views anywhere can be enjoyed from these remote and challenging roads.  

Downsides?  There are a few.  Oftentimes if something goes wrong you will be a long way from help, it may be along time until someone else comes along who can render assistance, and it's not unusual for cell coverage is spotty.  More?  Okay, locals frequently drive as though no one else is one the road because in their experience only rarely do they encounter other road users.  That can mean two pickup trucks stopped in the middle of the road for a chat, or it can mean one of those same pickup trucks rounding a blind corner fully on your side of the road.  How do you deal with that?  It means that you always have to ride as though there is something really scary coming around the next blind turn.  It's a rule to live by.   

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Welcome to my blog!  The main purpose is to blog about motorcycling, and specifically about motorcycling very technical roads, sometimes known as "goat trails".  No guarantee that there won't be posts that go way off topic, but will be the general theme.

What are goat trails, and why blog about riding motorcycles on them?  So glad you asked!   

There can be lots of definitions of goat trails, almost as many as there are riders, but for the most part goat trails have several common characteristics.  First, goat trails are narrow.  Generally too narrow to have a center line painted on the road surface.  The more narrow the more goaty.  Second, while goat trails can be either paved or unpaved, the surface of a goat trail is generally rather bumpy.  Third, goat trails tend to have short sight-lines, which means lots of turns, lots of obstructions beside the road (trees, rocks, etc.), and they have limited straight sections.  There can be other characteristics as well, but usually what it means is that the road is so poor that it is reminiscent of a mountain trail that only a goat would be comfortable using.

The reason to ride a motorcycle on one of these goat trails is that it's fun!  Not everyone agrees with that, but if your technical riding skills are up to snuff, a goat trail can provide a very entertaining challenge.  Plus, goat trails have several benefits that make them particularly attractive.  Because there are usually nicer, straighter, better paved, etc. alternate roads, goat trails don't tend to get much traffic.  Less traffic means less being held up by other road users, and that means more opportunity for fun!  There will also be fewer motorcyclists sharing the road with you - particularly those of the newer, squidlier variety.  Fewer newer, squidlier riders also means less need for the local constabulary to come out to do speed enforcement, which means less opportunity to earn "performance awards".  Sounds like a win win win to me!