The summer of 1998 found me going to several different rallies, including a couple of "longish" trips, so I thought I would relate some of the details of the various rides. I'm also including a few details about the bike itself and the way I set it up. I realize that the distances I have covered so far won't qualify me for the Iron Butt Rally, but for someone who just started motorcycle touring a couple of years ago, and considering that I am a 45-year-old fat guy riding an all out sport bike, I think it's a respectable sum.
To overcome the limited carrying capacity of my 1996 Sport, I fashioned a luggage rack which occupies the passenger seat. It is very simply constructed, using 1/2 inch PVC water pipe. The whole thing cost me less than $25. A piece of wood forms a base, with an old carpet scrap glued on to protect the seat. The rack is secured to the bike with a couple of nylon straps running underneath the passenger seat. For extra stability I ran two struts down to the passenger footpegs. I initially had some trouble with the struts wanting to rub against the body work so I added some short stabilizers in the middle of the struts. I removed the two Allen screws, which hold the tailpiece on and replaced them with hex head bolts inside PVC pipe caps so I could slip the stabilizers into the caps. After I've arrived at my destination, everything comes off the bike without leaving any obtrusive hardware, and the rack goes inside my tent to give me a convenient place to dry my towel after a shower. The 1/2 inch pipe is reasonably strong and just the right size for bungee cord hooks, giving me plenty of places to secure the load. I use a "cargo net" over the massive pile to keep everything together and add a couple of extra bungee cords here and there for the last bit of peace of mind. The "fully loaded" picture includes: a tent; a large waterproof duffel bag containing my sleeping bag, ground pad, usually a couple of towels, and whatever small items I can fit into the nooks and crannies; a protective cover to keep the dew off the bike at night; and on top another small bag containing my rain gear. (We all know that one of the fundamental rules of motorcycling is if you have your rain gear handy, it is much less likely to rain.) The large tank bag holds most of my clothing in the expandable top compartment, with a few extra tools, tire patch kit, etc. in the bottom. It's tall enough that I sometimes lean on it. The tank bag has its own rain cover and attaches with magnets. I use a $5 synthetic chamois made for washing cars under th e tank bag to give a little extra protection for the paint on the gas tank. The bag is very stable, never moving at all, and I have encountered some pretty strong wind gusts on two lane highways from passing semi trucks. I can definitely feel the extra weight with the bike fully loaded, but the handling is still stable and sure. I've never had any problems with the load, but I'm also careful to take it easy and keep the speedometer out of the three digit range.
To overcome the brick-like nature of the stock seat, I had Rich Maund, the saddle man from Chesapeake, Virginia install a gel pad. He was able to modify the foam enough to fit the gel pad under the stock cover so that it still matches the passenger seat. With the gel pad and careful attention to clothing (size and location of seams and hems, and not carrying anything in the back pockets) I have put in several 12 hour plus days with no butt fatigue. I also flipped the stock clip-ons, putting the bars a little higher and at a much more comfortable angle for my wrists. The wind blast from the fairing hits my chest and shoulders, leaving my helmet in undisturbed air so my head isn't constantly being buffeted around.
I have a K&N air filter in the stock airbox, a tubular exhaust crossover, and custom low restriction mufflers which started life as automotive type glasspacks ($15 Cherry Bombs from the local auto parts store). The mufflers are a bit louder than stock but still not obnoxious. On the highway I can't hear the mufflers over the wind noise inside the helmet. The latter is handled quite nicely with earplugs. As a side note, if you still haven't tried using earplugs on long trips, I suggest you give them a try. Using earplugs seems to reduce fatigue, and I can still hear when I get to my destination. I'm still working the kinks out of the carburetor jetting. Everything's not perfect yet, but so far I have found much better midrange response without adversely affecting gas mileage. The last remaining hurdle is the response just off idle up to about 3000 rpm. There is a terrible flat spot there, and it's starting to look as if I will have to change the slides to fix it. Maybe when I finally get everything sorted out I'll write another letter to let you know the setup.
Presently I've accumulated a little over 25,000 miles on the bike, and I was still noticing "break in" improvements at over 15,000. Everything seems to keep working better together, sort of like all of the parts are getting used to one another. The transmission seems to be shifting more smoothly, and I'm down to only two neutrals, one of which is the one with the light attached to it. Plus, the neutral light has almost completely stopped lying to me. The straight cut gear whine even quieted down after I added some moly to the tranny in the same proportion as the final drive. Someone at a rally told me about that one.
The factory tires were replaced after about 7200 miles. On the dealer's recommendation, I put on a set of Michelin Macadams. The new front tire lasted another 9100 miles. Since the back tire was still good and I don't like mixing two different types of tires, I got another Macadam for the front. After another 9000 miles, it looks like the second front one has a couple of thousand miles left on it, and the back tire is going to be due for a change at about the same time. This bike is different from any I've had, as back tires usually wear out first. Now if I can just get a front tire to last as long as the rear Macadam, I'll be happy.
The Maryland/DC Guzzi Club always has an early spring campout, sort of a test run to make sure we still remember how to do it after the long winter. This year it was at Greenbriar State Park, near Frederick. It's only about 75 miles for me, and our state rep Bill Sharp managed to coordinate the date with Virginia Guzzi dealer Winchester Motorcycles' Open House. A group of us rode over to Winchester to look at the new Centauro and V11, enjoy the free food, and talk motorcycles with a sizable crowd. Although it was a short ride, it proved to be a pleasant way to start the season.
Next on the agenda was the West Virginia Big Country Rally, which, as an added bonus, was also this year's National. The rally location was is about 300 miles from my house, the route consisting of a combination of Interstates and back roads. The back-road portion includes US 40 out of Keyser's Ridge, Maryland south of the Pittsburgh area where I pick up Highway 18 to US 22 into Wierton. Parts of 40 are pretty rough, and there are lots of small towns with traffic jams and big trucks going up and down the mountains on two-lane roads at 5 mph. This year I dodged the worst of it by going north on Highway 51 at Unionville. That took me to Interstate 70 which put me back on Highway 18. This route worked a lot better. I was by myself when I explored this route going up, and I even brought a couple of friends back the same way on the trip home.
The first weekend in July found me heading to Parry Sound, Ontario for the Mosquito Festival. This year it was conveniently held at the same time as the 998 Sportbike Rally. The trip up was my longest single day ever, 757 miles. It is actually 665 miles from the rally site to my house, but I encountered a place outside Toronto where north wasn't properly labeled, which added the extra distance to the trip up. I was going along on the Queen Elizabeth Way, a major multilane, controlled access highway, and was looking for the exit I wanted to take. From the map in the top pocket of my tank bag it was obvious that I needed to go north, but when I got to my exit I found much to my dismay, that north was not among the options that were offered. Since my choices were limited to east and west I was frantically looking at the map (at about 80 mph in heavy traffic and 30 feet from the point where the exit ramp split). At that point I decided that west looked like a pretty good bet so west I went, onto the other highway and making good time. By this time I was very tired and not thinking too clearly, so it took me about 45 minutes to realize that the setting sun was directly in my eyes. This, as they say, was a clue that I might not have actually been going north after all. A more thorough check of the map at the next exit revealed that I was now about two towns from where I wanted to be. Phooey! Not to be deterred, I was back on the highway going the other way, and making a mental note that in this part of Canada, north is sometimes labeled east.
The rest of the way was all labeled correctly. About 10:00 P.M. I was near Parry Sound and was keeping myself awake by trying to identify the species of the incoming critters before they impacted the helmet visor. They looked like mosquitoes, and I was not pleased with their density. Sure enough, when I found the campground the air was so thick with mosquitoes that it looked almost like black snow. I set up the tent as quickly as I could by the headlight of the motorcycle, but by the time I got into the tent all of the hungry ones had found their way in, too. I sprayed my body, head to toe, with insect repellent and then sprayed the sleeping bag, inside and out. I was careful not to spray the other side of the tent, to encourage them to go somewhere where I wasn't. It worked okay; I only got a couple dozen bites, and I even got some sleep. There are still some little red smears on the inside of the tent where I swatted mosquitoes. The next day I decided I didn't like the location I had chosen in the dark so I moved the tent. That also gave me the opportunity to chase out the remaining mosquitoes. (That was my Sport 1100 and my tent on the new, improved site in the picture at the top of page 15 in the October issue of the MGNOC Newsletter.) The rest of the weekend was bug free.
On Saturday afternoon I joined about 899 other people who went for a ride on some really fantastic roads. I was on my way back to the rally site when I saw two bikes in my rear view mirrors. They were going about the same speed I was, and it was a toss-up in my mind as to whether to pick up my pace a bit to stay ahead of them or slow down a little and let them pass. I finally decided to let them by, then I resumed my own pace. As I was coming around one corner I expected to see the two bikes going down the road ahead of me, as I had for several turns. What I did see was one bike on the brakes hard, pulling off the road to stop, with no sign of the other bike. I made a quick U-turn, and by the time I got back there were already more bikes stopped to help. The rider was taken to the hospital to be checked out, and luckily had only bruised some ribs. I saw him later that afternoon at the awards ceremony. The bike, a shiny new Honda Fireblade (aka CBR900RR here in the States) had encountered some large boulders in the ditch. The forks folded while the Honda did a couple of end-over-end flips. It turned out that there had been a deer in the road. I didn't think about all the possibilities until later that night, but if I had decided to stay ahead of the other two, it would have been me and the deer in the middle of the road, and quite possibly I would have experienced the endo in the ditch. Not really something you want to be thinking about late at night in a tent a long way from home.
The weekend held a pleasant surprise when I found out my friend and fellow Guzzi owner, Joseph Breczinski from Frederick, Maryland was also at the rally. Neither of us knew the other was going to be there. It was one of those "Hey! I know you!" moments when our paths happened to cross. He had come up in his pickup truck, and he even got a plaque at the awards ceremony (the "Road Towed" Good Guy Award) for rescuing a couple of broken down motorcycles. He also did me a good turn by taking some of my gear back home in his truck. This freedom gave me the opportunity to enjoy the Canadian highways unencumbered.
The national speed limit in Canada is 100 kilometers per hour, a little over 60 mph. That limit is observed at least as strictly as our former Interstate limit of 55 mph was. If you got into the left lane doing anything less than 135 kph, you would very quickly become a hood ornament! The Canadians have another interesting custom that I observed on some of the two-lane highways. The roads had very wide, paved shoulders, and as I came up behind a car, the car would actually pull over and drive along the shoulder to let me pass. This happened several times, and I even saw two cars coming from the other direction do the same thing. Some of the drivers on the Washington, DC beltway could learn a few lessons in courtesy from our good neighbors to the North.
The month of July passed quickly, the end of the month bringing with it the Guzzis in the Blue Ridge Rally at Cruso, North Carolina (near Asheville) about 500 miles from my house. It was cloudy and threatening most of the way down there, but it actually rained for only about 75 miles in Virginia and Tennessee. The sun even came out when I got into North Carolina, so everything was dry by the time I got to the campground. After setting up my tent I cleaned the mud and road grime off the bike, as I planned to take a ride over to the famed Deal's Gap on the Tennessee/North Carolina border the next morning. That proved to be a rather miserable trip. It started raining less than half an hour into the ride. About 7:30 A.M. I pulled into the parking lot of what looked like a closed restaurant to put on the rain suit. As I was hopping around on one foot, I kept having to dodge cars coming into the parking lot. It turned out that the facility was some sort of church retreat, and they were having a function that morning! I don't think the sight of a soggy biker terrorized the gray haired ladies too much, and I was on my way before I had a chance to cause more of a commotion. The rain continued all the way through Deal's Gap and back, even raining on me for about another half hour after I got back to the campground, just for good measure. I got lots of practice cleaning the bike that weekend!
Route 129 through Deal's Gap is an interesting road, and probably would have been even more so had it not been raining. But it is by no means the only good riding in the area. On the way in to Cruso the previous afternoon, I found Route 151 out of Asheville to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It starts out residential, straight and boring but quickly gets very interesting. At one point I was leaning way over in a sharp right hander, and I glanced down over my right shoulder to see the pavement I had just traversed! As far as I am concerned, 151 is at least as challenging as Deal's Gap, admittedly only about half as long, and about 100 miles closer. There are solid walls of rock on one side of this road and vertical drop-offs on the other side, all with no guard rails, so if you go be sure to take it easy and pay attention.
As with most rallies, Sunday morning came much too soon and I had to pack up and head home. North of Asheville I took Route 19 up to Bristol, Tennessee to catch Interstate 81. Most of 19 is a four- lane divided highway, winding through mountain passes, across rivers and through valleys. There was not another vehicle to be seen anywhere, the early morning sun was shinning brilliantly; the scenery was fantastic; and I was having one of the best runs of my life. It seemed as if I was hitting the perfect line through every turn, charging up to 80 mph in places and then backing down for the next curve, using only the throttle, not having to touch the brakes at all. I was reveling in all of the sensations of a Moto Guzzi in its element and wishing this road would never end.
Another month went by, and in late August I thought I would check out the Virginia rally at Sherando Lake. This was another fairly short ride, only about 180 miles down Route 29. I made this trip without my feet touching the ground, as the one-tank-of-gas range on my Sport is just about 185-190 miles. It's a good thing that there's a gas station a mile or two up the road from the campground. Maybe it's a psychological barrier, but I sometimes find myself getting irritated that I can't go at least 200 miles without having to stop for gas. [Ed Note: I know the feeling! -FW] Anyway, it was a great weekend, as it always is at a Guzzi rally. Plenty of good food, a long group ride on back roads, the Blue Ridge Parkway, etc. on Saturday afternoon, and lots of interesting people to talk to about their equally interesting machinery. Winchester Motorcycles even brought some new bikes for everyone to drool over, and Rich Maund was taking people for rides in his Russian Dneper sidecar rig that handles more like an off-road machine with its power driven sidecar wheel. You can never guess what you're going to see at one of these events!
The last rally of the year for me was another local event, the Marytland/D.C. rally in late September. There have already been a couple of reports by myself and our state rep, Bill Sharp in the MGNOC News.
Over the long, cold and ice-filled winter the withdrawal pains can set in. At least when that happens we can remember the rides we have taken and look forward to the ones to come. And maybe, if the mood strikes us just right, we can write some of these thoughts down to share with other ice-bound souls.