RR80: Tail of the Dragon

In April 2022, the kids were off from school for Spring Break and we decided to take a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We had never been to North Carolina or Tennessee before and we really enjoyed the vacation there. The roads in and around the park are truly spectacular and I can see why it is such a motorcycle riding hot spot. On the final day of our trip, I rented a 2014 Honda Valkyrie from Wolf Creek Rentals in Townsend, NC.

I picked up the bike from the rental place in the morning while it was still pretty cold. They rented me a jacket, gloves and a helmet. I took some awesome roads there – Foothills Pkwy over to Happy Valley Rd and then finally US 129 “Tail of the Dragon”.

The dragon itself is a decent road, but not very different from Hwy 9 or the local roads in the Bay Area. The turns are relatively tight and the riding is pretty slow. I rode with Anushka behind me for about half of it, and then switched with Valmik for the rest of the dragon. They both enjoyed the ride tremendously, which was a little spirited for them.

I took a brief stop at the Dragon Resort, looked around the Tree of Shame, took a few pics and moved on. There wasn’t much of a crowd, it was still early in the morning and relatively cool. From there we rode down to the Historic Tapoco Lodge Resort and had lunch.

Shruti and the kids were tired with the winding roads there, so I decided to ride on towards Cherohala Skyway. I took Joyce Kilmer Road to Cherohala, stopped there for a few pics and chatted with a couple of riders from Ohio. I then road a few miles out on Cherohala and back tracked my way to the restaurant. I enjoyed Cherohala Skyway the most – it’s a great free flowing road with nice high speed sweepers. There were gradual elevation changes, excellent pavement and superb views – what more could one ask for? I was tailing a few ZX14 riders on the Skyway and it was a lot of fun. I could ride there for days on end.

I loved the Honda Valkyrie. I’ve been interested in a Valkyrie for a while now, ridden the older one many times. It has a lot of power – the goldwing engine makes more torque than a Busa. With five gears only, the last gear is a true overdrive. The bike has a super smooth engine with no buzz or vibrations anywhere. It also handles great, for being a cruiser. It’ll scrape pegs if you ride aggressively but for the most part it turns very well. It hides it’s 700lbs weight very well, while not being tiring to ride at all. It was definitely comfortable for the 400 miles I put that day.

The only issue for me really was that I think it needs a slipper clutch. It’s easy to skid the rear wheel when downshifting, and that can get scary on such a big bike. Obviously, the looks are a bit… polarizing… to put it mildly. Used prices are high – compared to a Ducati diavel or Triumph Rocket. Otherwise a fantastic bike, Honda reliability, awesome fit and finish, and best of all – 32,000 mile valve check intervals, only oil changes needed for a long time.

RR79: Tassajara & Chew’s Ridge

On March 25th 2022, Mahesh (Ducati Scrambler 1100 Sport) and me (Kawasaki Versys-X 300) rode into the mountains of Carmel Valley towards the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and Chew’s Ridge.

We started the day by meeting for coffee at Sue’s Gallery Cafe in Saratoga.

We rode up Hwy 9 through the SC mountains all the way down to Santa Cruz. It was quite cold through the mountains and by the time we got to Santa Cruz my fingers were frozen. We stopped for gas near Moss Landing and I swapped bikes with Mahesh till Carmel Valley.

We then started the ride towards Tassajara – the road was mostly hard packed dirt with a few ruts here and there. Nothing very difficult and we made it up to Chew’s ridge quickly.

The gate to the lookout was locked, so we did not ride our bikes up there, but walked the last quarter of a mile. The views from the lookout were amazing. The weather was perfect, and the visibility was great.

From there we rode a few miles towards the Zen center and stopped by a picnic bench for a beer and a sandwich. It was a very peaceful camping spot. We met a forest service ranger there who was laying irrigation lines for the service mules. We had a nice long chat with him.

From there we decided to turn around and head back to the Bay Area. Riding noisy motorcycles down to the Zen meditation center seemed like a bad idea, lol.

We rode on Carmel Valley Road, and then up Hwy 101 through Salinas and it was incredibly windy. The long freeway ride was tiring, but all in all it was fun.

RR78: Carrizo Plain

On Feb 11th and 12th 2022, I went on a ride over the Carrizo Plain. There were 6 riders in all: Andy (Honda Africa Twin), Anil (Honda Africa Twin), Ayon (Honda CRF250L Rally), Gokul (KTM 690 Enduro), Mahesh (Kawasaki KLX230) and me (Kawasaki Versys-X 300). 

We left on a Friday afternoon with Andy, Anil and me riding down. We rode through Uvas Reservoir and Hwy 25 over to Hwy 198 and then on to Parkfield Grade. It was an easy ride, although it was getting a bit hot. Ayon, Mahesh and Gokul got their bikes down in their trucks.

We gassed up in Tres Pinos. Gas prices were high, but nowhere near the highs they became a few months later, after the Russia Ukraine war.

At the end of Hwy 25, Andy briefly lost his balance and dropped his Africa Twin.

 Some nice views climbing Parkfield grade.

Easy off road down the grade to the cafe.

We had a beer each at the cafe, some light food and were on our way to the hotel in Taft, CA. 

This was in the month of February and it got dark pretty soon as we left the cafe. We gassed up at the James Dean themed gas station “Blackwells Corner” at the intersection of Hwy 33 and Hwy 46.

From there it was a straight shot to our hotel in Taft. We reached around 7PM, which gave us ample time to shower and get dinner at the Mexican restaurant, Mi Casita, right next to the hotel.

The ride to Carrizo Plain began the next day, Saturday Feb 12th. We unloaded bikes from Gokuls and Ayons trucks, gassed up and were on our way at about 9AM. The highlight for Gokul was his new Rivian R1T truck that hauled Mahesh’s and his bikes down.

We entered Carrizo through Crocker Springs Road and Hurricane Road. The dirt was hard packed, the temperatures were mild and the ride was perfect.

The descent down Hurricane road was probably the only tough part of the ride, and that was pretty mild too.

We then road Elkhorn Road towards the north which was a very peaceful and meditative ride. The dirt was relatively easy with no challenging obstacles. We were able to maintain a smooth speed through the turns and whoops and we then took a break at the Wallace Creek Trailhead. Here we walked over to the San Andreas fault and took some pictures. 

From there we continued on to San Diego Creek Road and eventually came to Soda Lake.

It was getting hot by now, so we decide to visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument visitor center. We took a break there and had a beer. The visitor center was under construction but it still had some impressive stuff.

We decided to continue on with the ride from here. Andy had to go home early, so he left the group and started his ride home. Just a mile from the visitor center, Anil picked up a huge screw in his rear tire. The screw tore through his tire and tube and left him with a huge flat.

We removed the wheel. I had tire irons and with much effort, we removed the tire and the tube. The tube had a huge hole in it and we tried to patch it with a kit that Gokul had. Impressively none of us has a spare tube!

The patch would not hold air, which was sort of obvious to us all from the beginning. Anyway, at this point we gave up, disappointed, and Ayon called AAA to come rescue the bike. We had spent over 2.5 hours trying to fix the bike and everyone was exhausted. I decided at this point to make it back home instead of continuing with the ride. I was the only “rider” in the group left, the rest were going to haul their bikes back. Mahesh, Gokul and Ayon rode Soda Lake road down south and back to the hotel, I started riding north and took the freeway back home.

The ride back home was easy, but extremely boring. I had lunch at a McDonald’s on the way and made it back home around 7PM, exhausted. Anil was able to get the AAA truck to rescue his bike and drop it off at the hotel. He got a ride with Gokul and Mahesh in the Rivian as they came back to the Bay Area. Anil went down back to Taft the next day with a trailer to retrieve the bike. 

Interestingly Mahesh, Ayon and Gokul went back over the same route that evening in the Rivian and got some excellent pictures. 

This trip did not go as planned, mainly because none of us had spare tubes with us. Andy did have some spare tubes, but he left before the incident. Lesson learnt, I guess, for next time – always carry spare tubes. This trip also demonstrated how people react under pressure and why riding longer trips is a two sided coin – it’s all fun and games when the going is good, but it sucks when there is a snag. 

 

RR77: Bartlett Springs Road

On Jan 17th, 2022, Akshay (KTM 1290 Super Adventure), Gokul (KTM 690 Enduro), Mahesh (Ducati Scrambler 1100) and me (Kawasaki Versys-X 300) rode around the Bartlett Springs, Clear Lake area in the North Bay. The original idea for the route came from this thread on Advrider, and we did the exact same route charting 48 miles off road.

We left Fremont early in the morning and took the freeway to the Starbucks in Fairfield. After a quick coffee, we started riding. Suisun Valley Road and Wooden Valley Road took us to Hwy 121, from where we rode Hwy 128 all the way to Winters. We took the by-roads parallel to 505, over to Hwy 16. We stopped for gas at the Cache Creek Casino, my first time there. Hwy 16 was good fun – nice twisties along the Bear creek. What a unique name for a creek in California.

At Hwy 20, we started our dirt ride, on Bear Valley road, splendid name again. This was a very mild dirt road, almost as easy as riding on the street.

Some nice pics of yours truly, thanks to Gokul.

Mahesh’s Ducati was sporting some bald tires, but he made it through the whole ride without incident.

We turned left from Bear Valley on to Brim road. The road slowly climbs a few hills before it meets Bartlett Springs Road. At the start of this climb, Gokul came in a bit hot from a side trail and crashed him KTM into the mountain side. Thankfully he was OK and the damage to the bike was minimal.

We met Bartlett Springs Road at the top and made our way down to Indian Valley.

The reservoir at Indian Valley was completely dry. We could not see the water line from the road. We took a few breaks along the way and continued the ride down to Clear Lake.

As the road descends into the Clear Lake area, there are some beautiful views to be had.

We had a late lunch, about 4PM, at Romi’s Brew and BBQ. It was by far the worst place I’ve ever eaten at in recent memory, a solid 0 on 5 stars.

The ride back home was uneventful, about 130 miles on the freeway – 101, 580 and 880.

The Versys-X 300 did very well. It inspires a lot of confidence in the dirt, much more so than my KTM 990. It may not have the suspension chops of the Dakar oriented KTM racebike, but it putts along just fine in every terrain without overwhelming the rider with excess weight or power. The nimble handling of the bike in dirt makes it easy to ride smoothly and confidently and ultimately allows me to relax and enjoy the ride. At the same time it works very well in the twisties, and it comfortably stays at 85mph on the freeway. What more can I want? I think we have a winna.

RR76: O’Shaughnessy dam

On the 19th of November 2021, Ayon (BMW R1200GS), Mahesh (BMW S1000XR) and me (Kawasaki W650) rode to the O’Shaughnessy dam in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite is only about 3 hour from the Bay Area and we’ve been there every year since 2001. We truly enjoy that park every time we go and have visited almost all parts of the park – the Valley, the Tuolumne meadows, Tioga pass, Glacier Point, etc. One place I had never visited was the O’Shaughnessy dam.

The road to the dam is a separate route off the main roads that lead to the park. We left the Bay Area early in the morning. I met Ayon at the Shell gas station in Fremont, and Mahesh caught up with us in Escalon.

We first stopped at the entrance sign to the park and took a few pictures

From there, the ride to the dam was fairly straightforward. The road is incredibly scenic and the late Fall weather made it even more beautiful.

The dam itself and the surrounding area is incredibly beautiful!

We hiked through the tunnel on the far side of the dam.

On our way back we took Cherry Lake Road back to Hwy 120. It was a short and sweet ride, we made it back before it got too dark. I actually came off so impressed with this area that I went back there a few days later with the kids to hike to the Wapama Falls. Simply beautiful!

 

 

RR75: Skaggs Road

On October 3rd, 2021, Akshay (KTM 1290 Super Adventure), Ayon (KTM 1290 SuperDuke) and me (Kawasaki W650) rode some of the roads in the North Bay, including Stewarts Point-Skaggs Springs Rd and Hwy 128. This was my first long ride on the W650 and I was apprehensive of mechanical breakdowns and problems.

We left Fremont early Sunday morning (after a hour delay by Ayon) and our first gas stop was at the Chevron in San Rafael. We exited Hwy 101 on Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg and rode over to Skaggs. The first part of Skaggs was amazing, superbly banked curves, great tarmac quality and no real traffic. About 10 miles in, Skaggs turns into a single lane bumpy, goaty, road. This was fun too, but not as much as those nice sweepers. There was a short section of construction along the way where the road turned to dirt, and the W handled it with ease. After the bridge, we stopped and took some pictures.

Skaggs ends in Hwy 1, and from there we rode up to Gualala. We got gas, and had lunch at Trinks Cafe. The (veggie) burger was very average but I was happy to sip on some Boont Amber Ale.

From there we rode up Hwy 1 and then took Hwy 128 back to 101. The Pacific side of Hwy 128 is definitely one of my favorite roads – I first rode it in 2014, RR34.

We gassed up again in Booneville and made the long freeway struggle back home. It was very hot and the long freeway drone made me tired. Anyway, the W650 did very well. Not a hiccup there and I loved how easy and comfortable it is to ride. It has enough power to be entertaining, and I ran it to 105 mph on a long flat top-speed run. Overall it did the twisties and the freeways just fine. The only limitation on that bike is the tank range. The bike “comes on reserve” at 100-115 miles and I probably have another 30 miles after that. So a conservative tank range of 140 miles, is really the only limiting factor.

Ten year anniversary

July 12th 2021 marks ten years since I bought my first motorcycle in the US, my trusty old DR650. So this blog is now 10 years old, has over 100 posts and gets about 1500 unique visitors (and 5000 views) per year. I started this blog because I wanted to document my journey through motorcycles and have this diary of motorcycling experiences that I can look back on when I’m older. So far these motorcycles have offered a fun, exciting and satisfying journey and I consider myself lucky to be able to enjoy this sport.

I’ve had 9 motos over the last 10 years, sold 7 and still have 2.

    • 2005 Suzuki DR650SE
    • 2002 Suzuki SV650
    • 2003 Kawasaki ZZR1200
    • 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 1000
    • 2004 Kawasaki ZRX1200R
    • 2011 Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa
    • 2015 KTM 1290 Super Duke R
    • 2008 KTM 990 Adventure S
    • 2007 Ducati SportClassic 1000S

I made many great friends through motorcycling, some old and some young. I probably logged about 60,000 miles over these 10 years. I started out riding slow and became faster as I gained confidence. As I crossed the age of 40, I have started slowing down now, riding more for the experience rather than the thrill of speed. I rode street, track and adv, but did not enjoy the track… Enjoyed adv & dirt tremendously.

Favorite bike (street)? The Hayabusa

Favorite bike (adv)? The KTM 990 Adv S

Best looking bike? The Ducati SportClassic

Best sounding bike? Tie between the Super Duke and the SportClassic

Fastest bike? The Super Duke

Slowest bike? The DR650

Least favorite bike? The Ninja 1000, lol

Favorite brand? KTM

Favorite piece of gear? The Aerostich Roadcrafter suit

Favorite ride (street)? The 2011 trip to Nevada

Favorite ride (adv)? The Lost Coast Adventure

Favorite road? Just too many to choose from, but if I had to pick only one: Wentworth Springs Road. Followed closely by Quincy La Porte, Hwy 49, Mosquito Ridge Road, Hwy 26, Hwy 108 and Hwy 36

Favorite beer? Pliny the Elder, any time I ride in the North Bay

Motorcycling also developed my skills as a amatuer mechanic. Between a dozen or so oil changes, several fork rebuilds, carb rebuilds, many valve adjustments and brake jobs, and helping my buddies with their motorcycle maintenance, I became a decent mechanic.

I crashed on the street once, on Ayon’s VMax on Calaveras Rd, where I braked too hard, the rear wheel locked up and the bike slid. As the bike came to a stop, it tipped over. Thankfully both the bike and me came out without a scratch. In the dirt, I did crash a couple of times on the DR650 and KTM 990, but both were again slow speed falls in soft dirt, and thankfully no damage to me or the bikes.

I’ve also had several close calls. On Day 1 of the 2014 annual trip, I almost lost the front end on my SV650 on Hwy 1. The road between Rockport and Leggett is excellent, and I was pushing the bike hard. At the mountain ridge the road crests and takes a sharp left. I came in too hot there and braked hard almost losing the front end. I was able to recover, but rode the rest of the ride with caution. On the 2021 Sierra Passes ride, I got into a pickle trying to pass a long line of slow cars, as one guy in a car didn’t notice me and jumped into the passing lane almost taking me out. I was able to avoid him, though narrowly by only a few feet. Surprisingly he didn’t back off even after he noticed me, he just kept going as if nothing happened. I’ve tried to learn as much as I can from these close calls, never coming in too hot into a turn, let alone a blind turn, passing other cars and bikes with extreme caution, and in general, passing cars only when truly necessary.

So what’s next? The thirst for speed is gone. I only ride to meet friends, get some fresh air or explore a new place. I’m in no hurry now and I have no motivation to “take the corner” as fast as possible. I much enjoy a relaxed paced. Also the quest for a different bike every year is gone. I like the 990 and I’m enjoying the adventure riding experience. I will keep it for a long time as long as it’s running.

Onwards and upwards then, to more rides and more experiences. I’m grateful for everything.

 

 

 

RR71: Ride down to King City and Lonoak

This ride was a repeat of RR21 from 2012 and RR56 from 2020. I was riding the Sport Classic and met up with Akshay (Moto Guzzi Griso), Anil (BMW S1000XR) and Mahesh (BMW S1000XR) and we rode down Uvas to Hwy 25 down to King City.

We had lunch at El Lugarcito Restaurant (a very mediocre fare, similar to 2019) and rode back to Hwy 25 on Lonoak Rd. I loved the desolate landscape there and it was great to visit after almost a decade.

While we were stopping for pictures along Lonoak Rd, Akshay hit a patch of gravel and tipped over his Griso. The damage is minor and we rode on.I was impressed how fast the Sport Classic can go in a straight line. I easily saw an indicated 130 mph on Hwy 25, with more room to go. The air cooled engine is grunty, torquey and surprisingly good at long smooth twisty rides.

 

RR70: Death Valley 2021

I have been to Death Valley several times now, at least four times over the last 20 years, but never on a motorcycle. My first trip was in 2001, in a rental Nissan Sentra. And the latest trip was with the family in 2018, in our FJ Cruiser.

Death Valley National Park is home to the longest network of off-road trails in California, easily accessible from the main paved roads. I had been mentally planning this trip for many years and it was finally coming to happen. 

Many friends got involved and joined in. Many invited friends of their own and it became a big group quickly. A lot of preparation went into the trip. My friend Shobhit from Seattle even bought a motorcycle specifically for this trip (2015 VStrom 650)! Akshay bought his KTM 990 a few weeks before the trip, Gokul bought an XT250. Edit: Actually Gokul bought a KTM 690 early in 2021, but it had engine issues, so in the last minute he bought another XT250 to make the ride!

After buying motorcycles, people bought gear, accessories, fuel containers, gps units and more. We single handedly bumped up the GDP of California for DV2021. I changed the oil, adjusted the valves and flushed the coolant on my 990. I even rode it about 500 miles after the service to make sure everything was working ok – and it was – until it wasn’t. 

The final rider count was 11 – Akshay, Ayon, Bobby, Gokul-small, Gokul-big, Mahesh, Sandeep, Shahab, Shobhit, Sujit and Vijay.

Day 1: March 19th, 2021.

Seven of us: Akshay (KTM 990), Bobby (Ducati Scrambler), Shobhit (Suzuki VStrom 650), Sandeep (Honda Africa Twin), Ayon (BMW R1200GS), Mahesh (Honda NC700X) and me (KTM 990) left the Bay Area riding south for Death Valley. The winter of 2020 was one of the driest on record and it had not rained in about 2 months. But as luck would have it, on March 19th 2021, it started raining as we rode down on the first day.

Vijay trailered his Honda Monkey to Death Valley and brought along his brother Vikram, cousin Ravi and neighbor Salmaan. These were the “Sherpas” who carried a whole bunch of gear, a cooking stove and other supplies. They cooked some fabulous meals, including a goat curry. The sherpas, enroute in Salmaan’s Jeep:

Sandeep’s friend Shahab got his KTM 500EXC in his Honda Ridgeline truck. Gokul-big brought his Honda CRF450L in his Ford Ranger while Gokul-small got his Yamaha XT250 in a Jeep Gladiator. 

Our first stop for the day was in Hollister, where we gassed up and decided to ride down Highway 25.

As we started down Highway 25, about 10 miles in, Shobhit pulls over in an emergency maneuver. It turns out that he lost his shifter linkage. He had adjusted the linkage the night before, raising up the shifter to accommodate his large MX boots. He probably did not tighten it down enough, so the linkage fell off and the bike could not be ridden easily. At first we tried looking for the linkage on the road, but quickly realized that a small piece of metal, probably 6mm in diameter is going to be very hard to find. Shobhit called all the Suzuki dealers nearby, none of them had one in stock. So we decided to head back into Hollister and “make” a shifter linkage using an M6 bolt. As Shobhit rode his bike back to Hollister, he had to “ride the clutch” as he was not shifting. He was running the bike in 6th gear, from a start.

Anyway, we get to Hollister, it is raining and Bobby is getting impatient and restless because he has work call he needs to get on. He is also wearing mostly mesh gear and has gotten soaking wet. In what appeared to be his frustration, he decides to part ways with us, and head back home. That was the first of many casualties on this trip. Seven Down To Six

With the rain coming down on us, we worked outside the Ace Hardware in Hollister, trying to fix the bike. They folks at the hardware store cut the bolts to various lengths to make it fit, and we JB welded the other end. 

We got some nice hot lunch from Wong’s Chinese Restaurant next to the Ace and with the bike apparently fixed, we decided to press on.

In about a mile from there, Shobhit realized that his clutch was slipping – badly. He could basically put the bike in gear while it was not moving and let the clutch out without the engine cutting out. Revving the bike was getting only about 10% of the power to the wheels, so the clutch was definitely fried. Second casualty of the day – Six Down To Five.

At this point we were discussing what possible next steps would be. One idea was to head back to San Jose and Shobhit would ride Ayon’s CRF250L Rally. Somehow Ayon was not in favor of that – tensions were running high and patience was low. In the end I suggested Shobhit rent a car from Enterprise in Hollister and drive down to Death Valley. The only car they had was a minivan, but at least they had something that Shobhit could use. He drove the rest of the way down to Death Valley.

The remaining 5 of us, started to make our way to DV. It was already pretty late and we’d probably wasted 6 hours on this breakdown. We rode down I-5 to get there as quickly as possible.

Somewhere along the way Mahesh broke off from the rest of us – but coincidentally, he met us back at the Shell gas station in California City. At this point it was late at night and dark. The roads out there in the desert are even darker and rest of the ride was a bit scary. I spoke to Vijay over the phone and he mentioned that the winds were blowing strong there with a lot of sand in the air. 

The two Gokuls rode up to Trona Pinnacles on their way in. They took some great pictures. 

From California City, we took Redrock Randsburg Road to Hwy 395 and Searles Station Cutoff to Hwy 178. Both roads are completely desolate with no signs of life anywhere nearby. As I was riding Redrock Randsburg Road, my KTM 990 started to act up. The electricals started to fluctuate erratically. The tachometer was bouncing all over the place and the speedometer was going crazy, fluctuating between 0 and 140mph. 

The bike itself was running fine. I had turned on my heated grips and was using my much needed fog lights. The fog lights worked well and guided us on this desolate piece of road at night. While the engine was running fine, I was in a desperate mode of panic. I didn’t want to be stranded in the middle of the desert with a non-running bike. I could feel the bike was cutting out at low rpms, so I was giving it a good rev every now and then. I was also keeping it revved up, clutch in, on all turns and sharp corners. The cross-winds were strong and a lot of sand was getting blown around. 

Anyway, by a stroke of luck, and the grace of God, we made it to Stovepipe Wells 🙂

We came in right at midnight, having started at about 8am that day. Right as we were turning into the hotel, I didn’t rev the bike very much and it died right there, 50 feet from my hotel room. Yes, some things worked out better than others, now Five Down To Four. The bike never cranked again, it was totally dead electrically. But I was relieved. I had made it over the dark and dangerous roads to our safe hotel – where we had several folks to help us fix the bike. 

We had some pizza that night, a little bit of scotch and called it a night.  Shobhit had made it to the hotel about 30 minutes ahead of us. It was quite an adventurous day. 

Day 2: March 20th, 2021.

I got up relatively early on Day-2 and immediately went to look at the bike. I dropped the skid plate and looked at the battery. I was hoping that one of the terminals had come loose, but the connections were good. I borrowed a voltmeter from a guy on a KLR and the battery read 0V. Strange, how could the battery be completely dead? It should still read a few volts, I thought. Next another guy came out to help me – it turns out this guy is a mechanic and runs an auto-shop in Fremont, what a small world! Anyway, he brings along a battery pack and we try to start the bike, but it only cranks weakly. He calls his brother, gets another battery pack and connects them in parallel. That was sufficient juice to start the bike and it runs! It idles nicely but when we measured the voltage at the battery it was under 12V. We then concluded that the alternator was probably bust and was not charging the battery. I was disappointed at that point – thinking I could drive out of the park and pick up a replacement battery – but that would be of no use if the alternator was not charging the battery. Game over, really.

With Shobhit and I not able to ride, we decided to rent a Jeep at Farabee’s Jeep Rental and Tours. This meant we could at least stay with the larger group as we explored DV off-road. So we drove out to Furnace Creek in the morning and rented this tricked out Jeep Wrangler.

 

The first (and only) off-road trip of the day was through Titus Canyon. We assembled at the start of the Nevada-side entrance to the canyon and the Jeep was trailing behind the 7 bikes. Vijay had decided to go ahead and meet up with other folks and ride Titus separately. 

I had driven Titus Canyon in my FJ Cruiser earlier, so this was not really new. Shobhit and I served as the “sweep” vehicle for the 26 mile trip, picking up bikes as they dropped. First was Mahesh, he had a small tip over in deep gravel, then Sandeep had a spill in the rocky terrain descending Red Pass, and finally Ayon had a fall on the gravel deep inside Titus canyon. Thankfully all the incidents were minor and nobody got hurt. Corralling such a large group turned out to be difficult and we stopped numerous times for pictures and breaks. 

Gokul/big took some great pictures.

A lot of funny business.

Anyway, we exited Titus Canyon after about 4 hours there and it was already mid afternoon. Some of decided to go out to Ubehebe crater, where we drove a little off-road. Gokul-small decided to head home, we helped him load his bike into his truck. Gokul-big and Shahab rode out to Teakettle, but they didn’t ride all the way.

Vijay was the only one who actually made it to the Teakettle Junction on his Honda Monkey. After all this, turns out the smallest 125cc bike was the one that made it the furthest. 

Shortly thereafter Shobhit and I returned the Jeep and made it back to the hotel. We all gathered for some much needed beer and food. Here is a picture of all us at the dinner that night:

While we were drinking that night, a group or Brazilian riders came by our table. Among them was the same guy who had tried to help me get my bike started in the morning. It turns out that one of the riders in their group had had an accident and they were looking for someone to ride his VStrom 650 from Death Valley back to the Bay Area. This worked out well for them and for me, as I took them up on their offer. The injured rider would drive back with Shobhit in the minivan.

Day 3: March 21st, 2021.

The ride back from DV to the Bay Area was mostly uneventful. I was riding the VStrom 650 which I enjoyed. I was amazed that the bike could easily touch 100mph and sustain that speed for a long time. Ayon and Akshay broke off at Tehachapi. They retraced their route so that they could ride Hwy 178. Having ridden that highway a few times before, I was not interested, and I was generally frustrated with the whole situation. I pressed on, and rode Hwy 33 to 198 to 25 – which made it a little interesting. I got home, solo, in good time, while Vijay was gracious enough to trailer my broken bike back. I picked up the bike from him in a few days. 

The Brazilian group and Shobhit stopped by the Enterprise in Hollister and brought his bike back in a truck. Eventually we all got back home in one piece, all 11 of us, so things did work out well. A few broken bikes and some lingering resentment, but that wore off pretty quickly. As Valmik’s teacher says, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset”.

A few days after getting back my bike, I bought a new Yuasa battery, put it in and the bike fired right up. Maybe the battery was old (probably 5+ years) or faulty, but it left me a little nervous about the bike. So that concludes this ride report, my first “failed” ride of the last decade. Not bad a record I guess, but made for good memories. 

Maybe I will go back to Death Valley again next year! 

RR69: Ride along the Sacramento Delta

In February 2021, I did a gentle, mild ride along the Sacramento Delta to Freeport Bar & Grill Restaurant. This was an enjoyable ride at a gentle pace, alongside the Sacramento river on mildly twisty roads. Hwy 160 goes through some interesting towns like Isleton, which I had never been to before. We had a decent beer at the restaurant.