The rustle of autumn leaves and the sight of a golden pumpkin can bring back memories of high school football games, neighborhood battles of Kick-the-Can, and the sweet smell of leaded exhaust from your first bike. This kind of nostalgia can be dangerous, especially if you still own a bike without an electric start, because where will it lead? To a fall tour on a vintage bike, obviously.
After mentioning my trip down memory lane to my wife, Linda, we decide to take two of our oldest cycles — a 1948 Vincent Rapide and a 1975 Honda CB400 Four Super Sport — out for a tour of Wisconsin's North Shore.
With nothing but blue highways selected, Google Maps calculated a total round trip distance of just 453 miles from our starting point of St. Paul, MN, up north to Lake Superior, and back again. Perfect for two vintage riders (sorry, Honey) on two old bikes.
In the upper Midwest, a mid-September tour can be dicey, as snow in September is not unheard of. However, with a promising forecast and a bit of luck, fall tours can be spectacular. Northern Wisconsin is quite literally set ablaze when the hardwoods are changing colors. The red end of the visible spectrum definitely gets a work out. So, with a two-day window of good weather predicted, we pack a few essentials for a lightweight tour to Wisconsin’s northern shore of Lake Superior.
Motorcycles & Gear
1948 Vincent Rapide
1975 Honda CB400 Four Super Sport
The Price of Convenience
With one or two exceptions, I find riding Eisenhower's Interstate system extremely boring on modern bikes and downright nerve-wracking on old iron. Living in an urban environment, our options for “getting out of town” generally come down to concrete, multi-lane, truck infested, road-rage-inducing freeways. Such is the price for convenience. Fortunately, a quick swing around St. Paul’s east side on Interstate 694 brings us to SR 36, which leads to Stillwater, MN.
Stillwater was a boomtown during Minnesota and Wisconsin’s logging era of the late 1800s. Lumber was king, and the St. Croix River was the transportation route of choice. As we pause to stretch our legs, the St. Croix River remains free of old-growth logs this Friday morning – only a modern recreation of an 1860s river boat tied up on the river’s edge.
In addition to the picturesque St. Croix, Stillwater has an interesting business district filled with shops, restaurants, and ice cream parlors. It’s a quintessential riverside town that’s usually calm and quiet. On Fridays, however, throughout the spring, summer, and fall, Stillwater’s historic downtown is busy preparing for the onslaught of weekend tourists, which is a good reminder for us to hit the highway north.
The fact that Minnesota SR 95 follows, but is out of sight from the St. Croix River, is of little consequence. The road surface is glass smooth. The farms are neat and clean in the best Scandinavian tradition, and only wispy clouds interrupt a clear blue sky. A short 11 miles into our ride up SR 95, Linda gives me a sign that she needs another sweater. It was a brisk 49 degrees when we left home, and it hasn’t warmed up much since, so there’s no argument from me. The CB400 Four Super Sport she’s riding lacks a windshield, unlike her Yamaha, and the cool temps are taking their toll on both of us. The lovely-named Marine on St. Croix lies between SR 95 and the river, offering us the opportunity for a hot chocolate and adding more clothing layers.
Taylors Falls is another weekend destination for urbanites wishing to escape the Twin Cities. Canoeing and rafting adventures are its main draw with one important addition for road food junkies, The Drive-In. This throw back to the 50s is located three blocks north of downtown Taylors Falls on SR 95. As much as we would love to stop, they aren’t open for breakfast.
Minnesota SR 8 ferries us across the St. Croix River into Wisconsin, where we pick up SR 35 and continue our northerly journey.