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.


  1. If you think the back roads and by ways of the US are littered with H-D's and H-D's only take a trip or two on the freeways and Interstates . Which is to say your observations are correct . But ! We do in the US buy Ducati's Aprilla's Pocket Rockets etc . The trouble is the majority that do either leave them in the garage as some sort of shrine to their egos .... or ride them insanely on some of he few roads the sport bike crowd rides on .... to be seen of course . Like exotic and sports cars though .. here in the US using your above is not for most done .

    As to comparing SUV's and H-D's though I'd take issue with you . SUV's depending on where you live in the US as well as your lifestyle do for many make a lot of sense . Whereas with H-D's there is no logic or reasoning to buy one other than to shore up your self image/ pretense of being a bady . This from a man of a certain age who's had H-D's in his family since 1926 ....... but not in my garage !

  2. I did all three types of road in my little rental Nissan, plus some dirt tracks. Like 1, 101, 5 and many crassroads like 128, 116, 120 etc.
    I did see the odd Ducati, but mainly in SF. Touring bikes were massively HD's and sometimes BMWs Maybe there is a shade os explanation on the amount of camping gear you can carry, given the season.

    I take your point about SUV's, but this follows, maybe, the camping trail as well. If you live in the country and down a dirt track, they make some sense too.

    I have owned a couple of HD's back in my early biking days. A WLA750 with hand gears (3-speed) and foot clutch that took me (slowly) all over Europe, and an early model Sportster that I never got to run properly

    This trip was wonderful and I long to return, this time on 2 wheels!

  3. Next time if you still have to rent a car grab a Mustang Convertible from Hertz. Or better yet if the budget will allow ... the ZHZ6 . But yes ..... a bike would be better . Assuming you remember that in the US you are in fact a rolling target for the Red Neck crowd if you're on anything other than an H-D , Victory or at least a Honda Goldwing . Not trying to dissuade you mind you . Just giving you the heads up on the state of M/C riding here .

    1. Thanks for the warning GS. BMW's seem to make it through the redneck flak.

  4. David, having a « tête de veau” on a terrace in Cajarc not later than yesterday – no, I wasn’t eating a re-routed “Parisien” – I spotted your very KTM (orange frame and all) in front of the restaurant. But the owner, a rather heavy customer, didn’t look inspiring and my camera was left behind in the car, some distance away, which seemed too far to be bridged in that hot Quercyan weather. So, no snapshot to offer you.
    The dish was excellent and the waitress – very short pair of ... shorts showing more than thighs of a very white skin, with silky-looking blonde “duvet”, nice face with blue eyes, a V-necked T-shirt showing .... more than a cleavage of pear-shaped and soft-looking tiny tits – was very friendly.
    You see, I deliver a lot of information in just the space of a few lines.
    Instead of silky-looking duvet and soft-looking boobs, I wish I could have given you more “hands-on” details, but Christine was around .... Moreover, I begin to feel the age and my testosterone level follows paths opposite to those of the Sky-team cyclists. Zen attitude.

  5. Will be going through Cajarc today as it happens. What's the name of the restaurant?

  6. Le Président
    Place du Foirail
    The « tête de veau » was alright, and the helping generous, with veg and lettuce etc ...
    Only, the ravigote came from a ready-made pot.
    The “salads” are huge, even the ones just considered an “entrée”.
    If I’m not too late ....

  7. It’s nice to know that your favorite mode of transportation is a motorcycle. If you will ask some people about their favorite mode of transpo, they would probably answer a 4-wheel vehicle. I find this topic interesting because I’m also a motorcycle enthusiast, and I mostly ride my Harley rather than drive my car.

  8. I cenrtainly saw a lot of Harleys on the road during my trip through Northern California and Oregon, Usually in full dress, with a lot of baggage. On the twisties that I drove most of the time I think that I would prefer something lighter to ride, but of course if you are going camping with your lady then you do need the gear as well.