As we get closer to the first snow falling and the end of the 2016 riding season, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what has been one of my most memorable riding years to date. Despite not going on the western states adventure I had hoped to, I rode more, saw more, and learned more than I had in any previous year. 2016 was also a year of firsts. It was the first time I got to try some new farkles for my 2003 Yamaha FJR1300 (named Fiona), and the first time I visited some places that I had been wanting to visit for years. Even though I did not accomplish everything I had planned to, I had an absolute blast accomplishing everything that I did.
2016 was a year of milestones for me. The first of these milestones was how much I rode. In 2015, my first year with the FJR, I logged 13,900 miles. That was a personal record that I hoped to break in 2016. Instead of breaking my record, I shattered it. While being employed full time for the vast majority of the riding season, I clocked over 18,000 miles this year. For someone who is neither retired nor rich, that is a lot of asphalt to cover in the course of eight months. Another milestone was the number of trips I took. The only weekends I was home lounging around during the summer were holiday weekends. Between adventures, rallies, and motorsports events, I was on the road nearly every weekend from April to August. In total, I spent around a month out of this year living in hotel rooms.
Two things that made my riding season such a personal success were some of the upgrades I equipped my bike with, as well as how I learned to be a more organized long-distance motorcycle rider. The most important of those upgrades was the seat. In March, I purchased a Sargent World Sport front seat. I had had Sargent re-do the seat on my old Suzuki Bandit 1200, which had made long-distance riding much more enjoyable. The seat for the FJR, on the other hand, was a brand new seat that used a wider base pan and more of Sargent’s specialized foam. The result was a seat that was even more comfortable than my old Bandit’s seat. That comfort allowed me to double how long I could ride the FJR before I needed to give my rear end a break.
Another upgrade was the addition of Spiegler braided steel brakes lines and clutch line. Not only do braided steel lines never need to be replaced, but the bike’s braking performance and feel were noticeably better. Another change I made was converting from charging my phone directly off the motorcycle’s battery to using $10 power banks from Amazon.com. This allowed me to feel safer by keeping my phone inside my riding jacket without being tethered to the motorcycle’s battery by a charging cable.
In terms of being a more organized rider, I built on last year’s acquisition of hard luggage with the FJR to optimize packing and touring. I went through the tool kit I had assembled for my bike and found ways to carry fewer tools while still being able to make nearly any roadside repair. I also put some of the tools underneath the seat where the stock tool kit would be to better distribute weight. I also revised my standardized packing list. I made the saddlebags more balanced in terms of weight, as well as bought a few items so that I would not need to take toiletries, tools or anything else from the apartment when getting ready for a trip. I effectively reduced my pre-trip packing to, “add clothes and go.”
Among my favorite memories from the 2016 riding campaign are my two big trips. The first of these was in early April and was my first non-solo trip. Fellow motorcycle enthusiast and distance riding noobie “Speedy” Dan Zosky and I battled cold, wind, downpours, and a packed Circuit of the Americas to attend the MotoGP weekend in Austin, Texas. Except for a small stability problem at high speeds with Speedy Dan’s borrowed ST1300, we had a cold to warm two days of riding down to Austin. Along the way we stopped at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We had a blast both checking out the old Corvettes, as well as seeing the sinkhole the opened up below part of the museum a few years ago.
Once we got to Austin, Speedy Dan and I headed over to a custom bike show in downtown Austin. The setting and atmosphere for the show were matched by its great turnout. I will cover my experience at CotA in another article about my first year as a motojournalist. Needless to say, Turn 1 at CotA is even steeper than TV can ever really show, and it was great to see so many fellow riders attending the event. On the way back north, Speedy Dan and I stopped in Longview, Texas (hometown of three-time AMA Superbike Champion and 2009 World Superbike Champion Ben Spies) for lunch.
We also stopped at the Barksdale Global Power Museum at Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, Louisiana to check out the old U.S. Air Force fighters and bombers on display there. I never thought I would get that close to an SR-71 Blackbird in my life. Our stop at the museum delayed us just long enough to hit a massive lightning storm. We spent two hours unsuccessfully trying to dry out at a gas station while the lightning kept stopping and starting. When we could finally get going again, we realized we were not going to make our planned overnight stop in Memphis and had to stop in Little Rock instead. The next day was 12+ hours on the road but we made it home safely. It was Speedy Dan’s first ride of more than two hours, and I doubt it will be his last long-distance ride (despite what he says now).
My other favorite trip of 2016 was what I call my “Down South Trip.” I took six days to go visit several museums and twisty roads that had been on my list to visit since I started getting into motorcycling. The first day took me from Columbus to Nashville, and included stops at the Motorcycle Superstore Outlet and Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville, and the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville. Day two took me further south to one of American motorcycling’s most hallowed sites: The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. The five-story, 144,000 square foot museum, which is currently being enlarged by another 85,000 square feet, was absolutely stunning. No narrative can do the museum justice. Suffice it to say that the 4 hours I spent there were not nearly enough to fully enjoy it.
I finished the day by riding to my hotel outside Atlanta. The next day I went to an Atlanta Braves game. It was the Braves’ last season at Turner Field, which was originally constructed as the Olympic Stadium for the 1996 Summer Games. The future is uncertain for the facility, and I wanted to get there at least one time before the Braves move to a less iconic home. I also tried to visit Underground Atlanta while I was there, but found it to be akin to a dead mall.
The next day I began to trek back north. I stopped at the International Tow Truck Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While I had planned to visit the Wheels Thru Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, a traffic delay kept me from making it there before it closed for the day. So I continued on my way to my accommodations for the next two nights: The Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge in Stecoah, North Carolina. The setting and atmosphere of Iron Horse exceeded my expectations. The food was also great, and it is conveniently located within a short ride to the area’s many attractions.
After enjoying my first of two nights in the Iron Horse bunk house (that I ended up having all to myself), I spent the next day riding two roads I had been impatiently waiting to ride for several years: The Tail of the Dragon, and the Cherohala Skyway. After riding NC Route 28, which turned out to be my favorite road of them all, and stopping to admire the “Tree of Shame,” I began my ride along the 11-miles and 318 turns of US 129. While the Dragon can be dangerous due to oncoming traffic, there was little traffic on it and I was able to have the road mostly to myself. It was easily the most technical road I have ever ridden.
After getting a workout riding the Dragon, I stopped for lunch at Tellico Grains Bakery and later began my ride along the Cherohala Skyway. With changes in elevation from roughly 1,500 feet to 5,000 feet above sea level, the Cherohala offers great views and less technical, sweeping curves for riders of all skill levels. Although part of my ride was ruined by a repaving project, I found the Cherohala to be as good as expected. After spending my last night at Iron Horse, I began my ride back to Columbus. I took US 441 over the Great Smoky Mountains and then took the Gatlinburg Bypass. What a zoo city Gatlinburg turns into during tourist season. After suffering through traffic jams getting through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg’s other tourism colonies, I had a smooth ride back to Columbus.
A number of my other trips were related to my gig with iHeart Media’s Two Wheel Power Hour Motorcycle Show (TWPH). I had the privilege of representing the TWPH at the MotoGP/MotoAmerica event in Austin, Texas, as well as standalone MotoAmerica events at New Jersey Motorsports Park (twice), Road America, and Virginia International Raceway. I also traveled to cover AMA Pro Racing Flat Track events at Austin, Texas, Lima, Ohio, and Springfield, Illinois. One thing that was sorely missed this year was the MotoGP event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Even though I got to see a MotoGP race last year at Austin, it just was not the same. That event, and the former AMA Superbike event at Mid-Ohio, had become such staples in my summer calendar for the previous half-decade. It felt weird this summer sitting home watching MotoGP race in Austria on TV rather than sitting on the top row of Grandstand H at Indy Motor Speedway.
This summer also marked the beginning of my Johnny Cash initiative. I was able to collect pictures or shot glasses from 14 places mentioned in the song, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” It is not a grand start, but it is a start nonetheless. Hopefully I will get to double that total by this time next year. I also did not have time to re-attempt my 1,000 miles in 24 hours ride. I will be looking to do both the 1,000 in 24 hours, as well as the 1,500 miles in 24 hours rides next year.
The season did have a couple downs. I have never been stuck in as many traffic jams as I was this year. On my Down South trip, I got stuck in four traffic jams of at least 30 minutes in 90-degree or higher heat and high humidity. Southern heat is a different kind of heat. I also had the FJR experience a major electrical snafu. The key cylinder wiring shorted out on an afternoon ride on Ohio State Route 83. I MacGuyvered the bike into working again and barely got it home. However, the story ended on a high note as I was able to fix the problem for under $20.
Despite the downs this past riding season, the peaks definitely outweighed the valleys. I met so many amazing people on my trips this year, got to learn so much more about American history, and birthed a second career in motorsports journalism. It is still not uncommon for people to question me about the risks of motorcycling. The risks are very real indeed. But when you look at how little it takes to protect yourself and how much one can allow motorcycling to open their minds to new knowledge, experiences, and people, the benefits definitely outweigh the risks.