Showing posts sorted by relevance for query superstition mountains. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query superstition mountains. Sort by date Show all posts

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Very Superstitious: Riding The Superstition Mountains of Arizona

Arizona roads are magical.
I'm getting suspicious as I ride out of Scottsdale into the desert and see signs saying I'm entering Phoenix.  My son and I are riding in December, not something we usually achieve in Canada.  Our rental is a Kawasaki Concours14 from AZride.com.  We pull over into a gas station to pick up some water we needed anyway then turn around and start heading the right way.  I'm dataless and gpsless and we're heading deep into the mountains a couple of days after Christmas.

Soon enough we're out of the urban sprawl of Phoenix and feeling the cool desert breeze as we head north on Highway 87 through scattered saguaro cactus.  I have that realization I often get when I haven't been in the saddle in a while: wow, do I love riding a motorbike!  The vulnerability, the sensory overload and the speed conspire to make a rush of adrenaline that opens you up to this overwhelming experience even more.  I've tried many things, some of them not particularly good for me, but nothing, and I mean nothing, feels better than disappearing down the road on two wheels.

Once clear of traffic lights I immediately get lost in the winding corners and elevation changes of the Bush Highway.  The bike is leaning left and right, feeling weightless under me and eager to spring forward at the twist of the throttle.  My twenty year old Concours at home under a blanket in the garage does a good job with a thousand ccs, this newer fourteen-hundred cc machine is a revelation, even two up.

The Ride:  350+kms through the Superstition Mountains
A couple of weeks after our ride our
route was buried in a foot of snow.
We leave the traffic lights of the city behind and immediately find ourselves amongst ranches and desert aficionados hauling everything from ATVs and Dakar looking off-roaders to boats and bicycles.  It's the end of December but it's still 16°C on the digital dash and people are making use of their time off after Christmas. 

The Bush Highway turns back toward the sprawl, so after crossing Usurer's Pass we drop down to Highway 60 in Apache Junction having bypassed miles of Mesan strip malls.   Highway 60 is empty and arrow straight.  What would you do on a 160 horsepower bike you've never ridden before?  I do it.  In what feels like moments we're leaving the desert floor behind us and climbing into the Superstition Mountains.  I feel like I'm sitting on a Saturn V in a full stage one burn.


The ride into the Superstition
Mountains is elevating.
We're both wearing fleeces and leathers and it was comfortable on the warm desert floor, however the mountains ahead are looking mighty foreboding.  We started our ride in Scottsdale at just over a thousand feet above sea level, but the road to Globe is going to take us up to almost five thousand feet and we can feel the temperature plunging as we climb.

I've wanted to ride this road to Globe since driving it in a miserly Nissan rental car years before.  It's twenty five miles of being on the side of your tires.  You're only upright as you're switching sides.  The temperature drops and snow begins to appear in shady patches on the side of the road.  We surge ever upward in a cocoon of still air.  The Concours' fairing is keeping the worst of it at bay while that mighty engine makes short work of any moving chicanes in front of us.  Would I like to ride this road on a sport bike?  Sure, but the big Kawi makes it easy to enjoy two up with luggage.

As is the way with winding roads I get to the end of them in a trance, and always earlier than I think I should.  By this point we're both cold regardless of what we're wearing and fairings.  The outside temperature in Globe is 4°C.  We jump off the bike at the Copper Bistro and stamp some feeling back into our legs.  Walking into the restaurant we're met with the incredulous stares of the locals.

"Kinda cold to be out on a bike, ain't it?"
"We're Canadian."
"Ahh..."
The old timer at the bar gives us a look like he understands why we're out but still pities us for doing it.  We can't help being what we are.


Do not mess with the Globe popo.
We warm up to a damn fine burgers and fries.  Max likes the splotches of copper made into art on the wall.  Globe is home to one of the biggest copper mines in America and the locals have that toughness that you see in people who don't sit at a desk for a living.  The Globe Police department comes in for lunch, men with no necks who look like they stay in shape by managing the miners on Friday nights.  You wouldn't want to mess with these guys.

Warmed up, we're back on the bike and filling up before ducking out of Globe on the 188 into the Tonto Basin, a two thousand foot drop down from where we had lunch.  In warmer weather the 188 is busy with boat haulers heading to the lake behind the Roosevelt dam, but today the road is ours.


Roosevelt Dam, a nice stop and the beginning of the rather
bananas Apache Trail - an astonishing road but not the sort
of thing
 you'd want to two up on a Concours.
We wind down into the Basin and see the big saguaro cactus return.  The temperature is back into double digits and we're at our ease following the twisties on an empty road.  We meet the odd bundled up motorcyclist coming the other way and get the universal wave, but otherwise it's wonderfully quiet.

We pull into Roosevelt Dam for a stretch and a drink of water before following 188 to its end at Highway 87.  Our animal sighting luck kicks in at this point.  As we're kitting up to leave the dam a bald eagle flies over it and down the Salt River looking a scene out of a movie.



By this point it's mid-afternoon and we're both wind blown, dehydrated and a bit achy from the swings in temperature, and I've got the trickiest part of the ride coming up.  I've driven the 87 in a car and know what's coming.  We pull up to make sure our ATGATT is airtight and for me to get my head on straight for a high speed decent on a fast two lane highway down the side of a mountain range.


Have a stretch and get your head on straight for the ride back
to Phoenix.  The locals don't take this road slowly.
The first time I drove the 87 toward Phoenix from Payson I was astonished to see large trucks towing full sized boats blow past me at better than eighty miles an hour.  This road moves and none of it is straight.  Some of the corners feel like they last forever and they all generally lead straight into another corner.  For a guy from Southern Ontario, home of boring, straight roads, this isn't business as usual.

The Concours surges down the highway and I drop into the flow of traffic.  Leaning into corners for up to thirty seconds at a time has me concentrating on perfect arcs and not being happy with the results.  How often do you get to describe high speed arcs for an hour at a time?  I'm feeling rusty, frustrated and want to find a way to smooth out my mid-corner corrections.  Fortunately I'd been reading Total Control by Lee Parks on Kindle and found his advice about one handed steering to be the solution to my broken corners.


Total Control by Lee Parks - it's exhaustive in its description of motorcycle physics.  I wouldn't call it light reading,
but that one bit on steering input made me a better rider instantly.
Lee's advice is to only push on the inside handlebar when in a corner.  This causes the bike to counter steer deeper into the corner with very little effort and much finer control from the rider.  I wouldn't normally get much of a chance to play with this on Southern Ontario roads but Arizona was made for this sort of thing!  That one piece of advice got me down the 87 with significantly fewer sore muscles.  By the time I was getting to the bottom of the Superstition Mountains I'd had many long corners to test and refine my technique and my arcs were more precise and less meandering as a result.


The Concours is back in the lot next to this ridiculous thing.
I'd take two wheels over anything else any day.
We roll back into Scottsdale afternoon traffic like two cowboys who have just time travelled back from the Old West.  The suddenly onslaught of traffic is a bit overwhelming.  After a last fill up (the gas station attendant has a starry eyed look at the bike) we return the Concours to AZrides and get checked out in a matter of seconds.

The rush hour drive home in the rental SUV is tedious and slow, but that blast in the mountains cleared out the cobwebs.  The ZG1400 made an interesting comparison with my ZG1000.  I found the newer bike a comfortable and agile machine, but the whining of electronics didn't thrill me, and the tightness of the foot controls were awkward.  Because this is someone else's bike they made choices (like ridiculously high risers) that I wouldn't have.  None of these things spoiled the ride, and the biblical power of the ZG1400 motor is something that needs to be felt to be believed.  This taste of ZG1400 makes me wonder how I'd fettle my own.  Thoughts of a ZG1400 swirl in my mind as I roll along with the commuters into the setting sun.


ZG1400s for sale (they aren't $800 like my old ZG1000 was)...
2008 with 100k on it:  $8600 (really?)
2008 with 63k on it:   $7850
2008 with 13k on it:   $8900 
2009 with 72k on it:   $7000
2013 with 8k on it:    $13,000
2015 with <1k on it:   $13,500
new 2016:              $18,000

Photos from the helmet cam.  It was supposed to be video but I didn't set it up right.  I guess I'll have to go back and do it again.  I'm most sorry you can't hear the sound of a ZG1400 engine singing in the tunnel...
The Bush Highway


The tunnel out of Superior - the Concours' engine was a spine tingling howl!


The road to Globe


The never straight 87 back to Scottsdale - 3300 feet down to the desert floor, none of it straight... at 80mph.



Dropping down into the Tonto Basin


188 into the Roosevelt Dam
The Apache Trail a couple of days later in the rental car...
Back of the Roosevelt Dam before tackling the Apache Trail.
Roosevelt Dam
Sunset on the Apache Trail
Maybe on a dual sport or adventure bike?  Not on a Concours.  Apache Trail is a couple of hours of hair raising corners with no crash barriers, washboard gravel  and thousand foot drops.  A brilliant road, if you're brave enough!


Ride Maps

The actual trip:

 
The original plan:

A bit less: the Superstition loop with a jaunt up to the interesting bit of Hwy 60 - though mileage wise this is pretty close to the full monty below. it doesn't include AZride's Bushy bypass...


Getting to the twisty bits (hitting the interesting bit of 60 before coming back):


The full monty: what I would have aimed for solo

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Riding In the Desert On an Iron Horse with No Name... for reals this time

I've been through the desert on a lousy rental car with no name,
now I'll do it properly on two wheels!
I landed a free trip to Arizona a couple of years ago for an educational conference.  I'd never been to the desert before, it was a great trip but the cunning plan to rent a bike fell apart when I discovered they don't rent over the Easter weekend when I was flying in.

Ever since driving a lousy Nissan rental car through the Superstition Mountains, I've wanted to go back and do it properly on two wheels.  My time has come!

We're doing a family trip to Arizona over the Christmas break.  Opportunity never knocks twice, except when it does, like this time.


Eaglerider's selections look all of a kind,
a kind that doesn't really grab me.
Eaglerider has a huge selection of bikes, but AZ Ride has exceptional customer ratings.  I'll end up looking into both and seeing which grabs me.

AZ has the Indian Scout, which tickles a fancy (riding in the desert with an Indian Scout, c'mon!), along with the ZG1400 Concours, which I'm curious about for obvious reasons.  

Eaglerider has a lot of Harleys and a smattering of other very heavy offerings from other manufacturers.  In other locations they offer Triumphs but not in Phoenix.  Scraping floor boards doesn't make me think of spirited riding, it makes me think of a poorly designed motorcycle.  Lugging a massive hunk of iron that can't corner around the desert doesn't strike me as a good time.

Looking at what's on offer, and taking into account the customer ratings on Google, I think I'll be giving AZride a go.  They're both up the right end of Phoenix to get to easily, so location isn't a factor.  I'll be aiming at a Concours if my son wants to come with or the Scout if I'm solo, then it's off into the Superstition Mountains for a day... or is it?



309kms/192 miles, with that many bends should make for a good day of riding


The road to Roosevelt is something else.  I skipped it in the Nissan rental car, but on two wheels it might be reason enough to live in Phoenix.  It's about 80kms of serious switchbacks through breathtaking high desert, except it's a dirt road!  All my day dreaming about riding switchbacks of smooth Arizona tarmac aren't happening unless I go the long way around and stay on paved roads.

Once up on the plateau I'll make a point of stopping at the Tonto National Monument, which is a magical place.  The ride back down the other side offers a couple of nice stops, but also some tedium.  If that road to Roosevelt is as magical as it looks, I might just come back that way.






How do you say no to a road like that?  AZride has a BMW 800GS Adventure, but a ride like this would be the perfect time to try the new Triumph Tiger Explorer - alas, no one rents it.  I've been eyeing the 800XCx as well as the new Explorer, but no one rents 'em.  There is a Triumph dealer in Scottsdale.  Think I could convince them to let me have a 300km test ride along that crazy road?

***
 

In a more perfect world I'd rent bikes I'm curious about owning.  A short list would include:

The new Triumph Bonneville with the Scrambler package (favourite classic) - It'd also look awesome in the desert!

Kawasaki Z1000 (favourite naked bike), though Kawi just came out with a Z800, which I'd also like to have a go on - but I'd be trapped on pavement.



The Kawasaki H2 (because it's bonkers) - but not so good on a dirt road in the high desert...

The Ariel Ace (because it's sooo pretty) - but I suspect it lacks off road chops.








I'm in a conundrum now.  I really want to ride out of Apache Junction on the Apache Trail, but the bikes I want to ride are all pavement specialists while the adventure bikes I'd want to rent aren't available to ride.

Meanwhile Triumph cruelly taunts me with their lovely new machines.












Damn it!

FOLLOW UP

Instead of turning left before Globe,
head on towards Show Low.  The
roads be magic there!
All is not lost.  If we're on pavement for the ride there is a nice triangle that'll make for a fine high-desert ride.  The road north out of Globe into the higher mountains looks like a corker too.  I don't think I'll be suffering too much if I can't ride the Apache Trail.  Either of those would be a blast on a big Connie.

Now to find a day when the weather is cooperating and see if I can make this happen.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Perils of Riding Someone Else's Bike





It was a cold and windy ride through the Superstition Mountains yesterday.  The route we took after taking Gaylen's advice at azride.com gets you out of the city and into the desert quickly and lets you bypass most of the urban sprawl east of Phoenix.

Our trusty mount was a Kawasaki Concours 14.  I thought it would be interesting to compare my 20 year old Concours to a younger one.

After I got myself turned around and rode ten minutes the wrong way into Phoenix, we got moving in the right direction and soon found ourselves on the Bush Highway, a twisty, bumpy highway that doesn't go anywhere - I guess that's why they named it that.


It took me some time to get used to this unfamiliar bike.  The gear shift was very close to and felt lower than the foot peg which made for awkward shifts, and the brakes felt very (dare I say over?) assisted unlike the old-school hydraulic brakes on my classic Concours.  When you applied the front brake you stopped in a hurry causing my pillion to plough into the back of me a number of times until I got really ginger with brake application.  The other off-putting part was that each time I used the front brake it was accompanied by a loud electrical whining noise like a cicada chirping.  Sometimes it would stop when I let go of the brake, sometimes it would keep whining afterwards.

I was unsure if this was a Concours 14 thing (doubtful) or an azride.com maintenance thing.  CoG didn't suggest any known brake electrical noise problems so I suspect this is a maintenance issue.  The azride.com website didn't mention what year the Concours was (unlike other rental sites which tell you it's a 2015 but show you a five year old bike), but based on the body the bike we had was a pre-2011 model.  Maybe it's starting to get cranky in its old age.


Taking a water break on the Bush Highway.  It was about 15°C, comfortable riding weather.
Up in the mountains it was 5°C when we stopped for lunch.
After owning three Kawasakis I have to say, man do they know engines.  Every one I've owned or ridden has had a jewel of an engine and this Concours was no different.  Passing through the tunnel leading out of Superior, the engine sounds echoing off the walls were spine tingling - it sounded like something straight out of MotoGP.

With that big wobbly wind screen up
high you're in a big air bubble, but it
looks ungainly.  Fortunately you can
lower the screen in town to restore
a sportier look.
The engine didn't disappoint in power either.  My Connie does the business with carburators and 300 less ccs, but what this bike does with the monsterous ZX14 1300cc lump is truly ominous.  I've ridden fast bikes before and this is one of the fastest.

On mountain roads this newer Concours felt smaller than my bike though they weigh the same.  The newer bike is much narrower and quite wasp wasted compared to the chunky older model.  That monumental engine that produces sixty more horsepower than my bike probably helps with that feeling of lightness too.

Wind-wise, I was able to ride in jeans all day into single digit Celsius temperatures without a problem.  The heat that pours off my Concours was absent on this one, though it was a cold day so it wasn't something I'd notice anyway.

The windscreen is electrically adjustable and at the top it stopped all but the top of my head getting hit by wind (I'm 6'3" and I had given up on windshields doing anything for me).  My bike gets me squarely in the shoulders and up all the time.  I didn't like how much the windscreen wobbled at speed, it looked flimsy, not to mention goofy in its highest position.  Once I was back in town I lowered it back to a less Jurassic Park look.  Goofy or not though, it made a cold ride through the mountains much more bearable.  A transformable windshield is a piece of magic, though a more solid feeling one with manual adjustment would do the job better.  I'd rather not have the added weight and complexity of the electrical one.
You can see just how ridiculously high the risers
are in this view of the Concours back in the lot.
The big googly-eyed headlights don't do
much for me either.

I've got a 32" leg and find my bike a bit cramped.  The ZG1400 was a bit more relaxed in the legs.  After a couple of hours in the saddle I had no problems.

The ergonomic problems began where azride.com made changes.  The huge risers they installed on this Concours looked like comedy units off a 1970s banana seat bike - huge bull horn things that put the grips right under my nipples, or so it felt.  They pushed me so far back that I was riding more on my tailbone - cruiser style - than I otherwise would have.  The narrow Concours 14 seat wasn't build for this contortion and it became quite uncomfortable.  It makes me wonder how the stock handle bars would have worked.  I have low risers on my old Concours and have a slight forward lean, which I prefer to a bolt upright or reclined stance.




No fancy paint, electrical wind screens or whining
electronics, but it's a solid old thing that does the
business with gusto.  I'm still wishing for the
bike bag to magically whisk my bike along.
All of the electrical noise from the brakes and fuel injection made me cross.  I don't mind electronics (I teach computer engineering), and my Ninja had EFI that was bullet proof, silent and efficient, but when the electronics are whirring away it is intrusive and just reminds you of another expensive thing that will break on you.  I don't feel that this Concours 14 gave me a fair idea of what the breed is capable of.  I'd especially like to try a newer one to get a better sense of the machine.  Maybe Kawasaki will be doing a riding tour again next year and I can try a 2016 model.

That whacky old-guy handle bar riser (and accompanying sore ass) conspired to make me long for my own bike.  It might not have the heat management, or easier reach to the ground (which I don't need anyway), or fancy moving windshield, but my old Concours feels solid, is usually the fastest thing on the road when you twist the throttle and offers a satisfying mechanical simplicity that I missed on this electronically whinny newer machine.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

The Great Escape

This time of year always feels like Groundhog Day - go to  work, go to sleep, wake up, do it again.  It becomes so repetitive that it leaks into your mind, filling your thoughts so there is little room for anything else.  This year it's amplified by the negativity surrounding my work.  All that combined with no riding for dark months on end and it's hard not to get jammed.

If I time it right I can sneak out of Ontario on an above zero, dry road day.  You can still find double digital daily highs in Cincinatti and south.  A plugged in electric kit bonzai ride to Cinci and I'm out of the snowbelt.  From there it's a less ragged ride south to New Orleans.  From Cinci I'd angle over to Memphis and follow the Mississipi down to the Big Easy...





After reading books like Todd Blubaugh's Too Far Gone and watching Austin Vince Mondo Enduro the planet, I've often wondered what it would be like to get lost on the road.  Once out of the snowbelt, I'd be in no rush to be somewhere.  Without that very Western time fixation, I wouldn't have to get wound up over deadlines.

If I'm not fixated on a destination the daily goals might not be that linear.  With local knowledge I'd hope to find things off the beaten path as I meander...





Off the top of my head, I'd leave New Orleans along the Gulf, visit Austin and then ride the Twisted Sisters in Texas Hill Country.  Austin's also the home of the only North American MotoGP race, so if I timed my return with the race, I could be passing back through Austin on the way home in early April and catch Marc and the rest of the aliens doing their thing.  The goal on the way south would be to get familiar with Austin's weirdness for the return stop.

After wandering Texas I'd take a run up to the Very Large Array in New Mexico and do my best Jodi Foster immitation.  New Mexico and Arizona have a pile of strange sites to see, so the wandering would get intense.  Norman Reedus did a Ride episode in New Mexico that does a good job of showing what's on hand out there.

Even that far south the mountains can also catch you out with northern temperatures as we found out a couple of years ago in the Superstition Mountains just outside of Phoenix in early January, so not rushing and timing your rides is important when at altitude.  There are pile of old western towns and ruins in the US South West, along with some astonishing pieces of engineering.  Meandering from photo opportunity to photo opportunity would be a nice way to ease into this slow motion ride.

Tuscon is home of the Aeroplane Boneyard where thousands of retired air force planes sit in the desert.   A wander around there at sunset would be a glorious thing.  I've done the Phoenix area a couple of times and travelled from the north end of Arizona from Las Vegas, but haven't travelled as far south as Tuscon.  From there I'd head across to Yuma, another famous western US location, before diving south into the Baja Penninsula.  A desert riding tour would be a pretty cool way of seeing Baja.

Mexico is a whole other world.  Most riding-the-Americas types blitz through it looking for a fast route south,but Mexico (with a final lunge into Belize) is where I'd wrap up this great escape from the never ending Canadian winter.  Some crystal caves, Mesoamerican pyramids and Belize beaches during the deep freeze and then working my way back up to Austin for early April...


Seeing the Ozarks and the Tail of the Dragon during the weeks after the race would be a nice way to wind up this great escape, getting back to the frozen north just as it's not frozen anymore.