19 Aug 2012

Bikes and stuff on the road in California and Oregon

Having just spent a couple of weeks on the road (in a car, admittedly) in Northern California and Oregon, here are a few observations and images related to my favourite mode of transport: the motorcycle.

1). I dearly wish that I had done these roads, and this trip, on a bike. Most of the roads I drove on, up and down the coast and through the redwood forests, between San Francisco and Portland, would have been even more enjoyable on a motorcycle. For the most part these roads are well signaled, sometimes with superb surfaces (although variable) and with great scenery. I would add that the vast majority of car drivers here are attentive, and that bikers seem welcome in most places.

2). With roads like this (I mean the twisty ones along which I have been driving for most of the time), I am surprised that about 80% of the bikes that I have seen on the road have been Harleys, and usually big ones with lots of heavy baggage added on, and sometimes even trailers. I am not a great fan of HD's, as they seem like noisy 2-wheeled tractors to me, although naturally any bike is better than none. But here I am just thinking about suitability to the roads. They just seem far too heavy and unwieldy for the job of riding roads like the superb Highway 1 and many sections of 101, as well as the crossroads that link them. I think that the American fascination with the Harley goes hand-in-hand with addiction to other big heavy things like SUV's and monstrous 4-wheel drive pick-ups.

3). Most of the other bikes seen along the highways have been BMWs of various descriptions, mostly recent GS's, well laden too. But also the occasional classic and modified variety, like this 750, seen parked in Healdsburg.

BMW's are far better for these roads for sure, but I saw very few sports bikes (where are the Ducatis?). I did see the occasional KTM, like this one, parked outside a cinema in a place called Point Arena.

4). Talking about Point Arena, which is on the coastline along Highway 1, just south of the much smarter Mendocino, I woke up there one morning, wondering where were all the motorcycle shops, and stumbled upon this sign:

And, a couple of doors down the street, I found this place:

Which opened a little later to reval this lovely Ducati SS, amongst others nice things (a beautiful touring Ducati S3, a Triumph Tiger 500, and other goodies).

The Zen House, which naturally practices the art of motorcycle maintenance on all 2-wheelers but with a preference for older European machines, belongs to David Harris, a former architect and also Ducati dealer in San Diego. Not only does he practise what Robert Pirsig preached (oh dear, I can see God creeping in here and I didn't mean that!), he clearly also epitomises what Robert Crawford laid out in his excellent and more recent book that I once enthusiastically reviewed here.

Harris has his own website, which is: www.TheZenHouse.net

Because of places like this, I would liked to have spent more time in and around Point Arena, which appears somewhat run-down, is totally unpretentious, and yet has facilities that many much larger places do not have, such is the cinema below that shows current release movies and using, for the moment, an old-style projector

5).In a country with a fairly recent history, anything over about 30 years old tends to get dubbed "historical". If it has survived that long, it often gets carefully restored, and sometimes creatively modified, like this beautiful low-rider car on what must be a 1940's coupé base (don't know enough about cars to identify it further). It looks like something out of a strip-cartoon. The detail work is equally impressive and, on the whole, sober.

6). And bikers? Well, I didn't really get the opportunity to talk to many, apart from this very friendly guy who stayed in the next-door room in a motel in Grants Pass. He said that he liked his big 6-cylinder Triumph and had been running it for 6 years. His lady friend was on a Can-Am 3-wheeler, of which I saw a few.