Wrong Bike, Right Road (Or Vice Versa)

Dec 14, 2013 View Comments by

 Wrong Bike, Right Road (Or Vice Versa)When on RoadRUNNER tours, we occasionally get a route surprise thrown at us, and sometimes the road/bike combination puts us in a bit of a predicament. Before I began writing for the magazine, I assumed that the routes were somehow completely previewed before being ridden for an article. In reality, while a great deal of research goes into ride planning, it’s impossible to know the exact road situations you’ll encounter throughout the entire trip. Once the route is loaded onto the GPS, you’ve got to follow it as is or come up with a detour if road conditions are not acceptable.

I’m pretty much an established sport and adventure type of rider, and a while back I was given a 2012 Honda Gold Wing for a Tennessee trip. The bike was intimidating, to say the least, until I got used to it. My 150 pounds was piloting around 1,300 pounds of bike, gear, and riders, and the thought of having the bike tip over was enough to break me out in a cold sweat. Fortunately, it never happened despite some rough road conditions. The ‘Wing was well behaved and balanced, but one dirt road tested me to the limits.

We were rolling down a nice paved two-lane when the GPS told us to turn onto a dirt road. It was raining, and the road looked like it hadn’t seen fresh gravel for quite a while. Mixing an unknown length of muddy road with a Gold Wing wasn’t high on my priority list, so I hit the detour button on the GPS. I was informed that there wasn’t enough memory left to calculate a detour. I turned to my wife and said, “Well, let’s try it.” She answered “Can we do it on this bike?” I said, “Only one way to find out!”

Luckily, the bike tracked very well over a wet but firm hard packed dirt surface, even when picking through some protruding rocks and shallow erosion ditches. We passed a guy hunting mushrooms in the woods near the road and asked him where we were. He promptly told us we were in the middle of nowhere. I still don’t know how I was able to guide the bike through the extremely narrow line like a dirt bike, but I got lucky, if nothing else, and we made it to the next turn, which put us back on pavement.

In retrospect, that ride proved once and for all that nearly anything can be ridden successfully on a dirt road unless truly severe conditions such as fresh, deep gravel or mud is encountered. To date, my list of unlikely backroad rides includes the Gold Wing, a V-Max, and a Ducati Monster. I didn’t have a single problem with any of them, although throttle control was critical on the fast bikes.

The moral of the story? When you find yourself faced with some unexpected gravel roads on a motorcycle that’s out of its element, you might just be surprised how well the bike performs so long as caution is observed. I’m guessing that several decades of riding on the loose stuff played a role in the outcome of my Gold Wing experience, but I’m anxious to hear how others coped with similar situations and what the outcomes were. It seems we always hear about the mishaps, but never the times when things work out.


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