Roadtripping on a Broken-Down Hog

You're never closer to the road than when riding a motorcycle—especially one that costs $25 and goes only right.

UNTIL A FEW YEARS AGO, I considered myself a connoisseur of grand motorcycle adventures, having knocked off the length of Baja and ripped the oceanside twisties of Highway 1. But it wasn't until 2006 that I truly understood the essence of two-wheeled exploration. Low on dough that summer, I purchased an ailing junk-heap cruiser from a teenager outside a Boulder, Colorado, trailer park. The kid wanted $30 but was easily talked down to $25, since the bike was covered in drippy black spray paint and clearly assembled from chop-shop parts. From then on, I spent roughly every third day riding the same mountain loop clockwise through the Front Range.

These two-hour tours were not my choice. They were the bike's. Thanks to a severely tweaked front fork, the thing pulled right. Whether I aimed for the Laundromat or the coffee shop didn't matter. On our maiden voyage, I headed for the nearby grocery store, felt the handlebars twitching for higher ground, and let the bike lead me up a road I'd driven dozens of times. It shook like a coin-op motel bed at the wide entrance to Boulder Canyon, and thinking that this ride could be my last, I paid special attention. I noticed that a lone crag close to town, the one favored by rock climbers, actually marked a swooping buttonhook in the river. At the beginning of a short straightaway ten miles on was a cliff with one gnarled pine standing sentry, and at the end of the straightaway was a collapsed wooden lean-to. As we approached the town of Nederland, the mountain walls quickly began to recede and it struck me that the whole canyon was shaped like an hourglass, with the narrowest, and deepest, section in the middle. How could I have missed this?

I turned onto the Peak to Peak Highway. As we descended into a shallow valley, the temperature cooled and a mist clung to my leather jacket, as it would only this once, at the beginning of summer. As I roared by on the full power of three, sometimes four, cylinders, aspen leaves fluttered. Later, they would grow pale and brittle and would crackle under my balding tires. Above Jamestown, the horizon widened to reveal the cones of the Rockies, browning like meringue left too long in the oven. I waved goodbye and turned—right, naturally—toward home. Glorious!

A motorcycle road trip isn't about miles covered or epic scenery. It's about forcing yourself to look around. And you can do this, that junker taught me, even on the most familiar route. Right up until your rear tire explodes.

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