The time had come to once again follow a stage of the Tour of California on my motorcycle. I have done this once before: Stage 6 of the 2010 Tour, following the tour from Palmdale to Big Bear CA. I will put up a retro blog about that soon.
When I say “follow”, I don’t mean that I would be riding along just behind the race, and I am certainly not a motorcycle support rider. I mean that I go for a ride parallel to the route and meet up with it during my ride. This time the stage started in Mountain High ski area in Wrightwood CA and wound its way over the San Gabriel mountains into Pasadena. The route would allow me to ride the serpentine Angeles Crest Highway between the start and finish, giving me getting a chance to wring out my new moto steed: a 2016 BMW S1000XR.
I got an early start taking the not so direct Ortega Highway to get to the start line, which means I was leaning the XR over as the sun was coming up. There is so much that has been written about the BMW S1000 series motorcycles that it is hard to add more to it. My own experience is that the performance levels of a bike like this, while far beyond my own skills, are still great fun. Modern electronics protect riders like me who are not experienced with this much power. Why bother with a 600cc sportbike anymore?
My route took me up the I-15 freeway using a route I had created using my favorite “ridwithgps” website and uploaded onto the BMW Navigator V GPS. I wasn’t planing to get a GPS for the bike, but BMWs Navigators are so integrated into the bike it would be a shame not to get one. BMW introduced the Navigator VI not long ago, so Nav Vs can be had for a good deal. I struggled a bit with the Navigator on my loop route, but I of expected a small learning curve. I later sorted out all of my issues by Googling and emailing Garmin, who were very helpful, BTW. I am all set for my next long ride.
The reason I bring this up is that I stumbled on a very nice new extension to Route 66 through the Cajon Pass. It means you can swap a big unfriendly bit of freeway for a scenic, relaxed stretch of road. I will leave you to fill in the details using your favorite map site, but you can ride between Duncan Canyon Road and Cajon/Cleghorn Road off the freeway via a nice alternate route. It ended with a short leg of the 15 freeway and I was off again at the Highway 138 exit, which is always a good place to take a break if you are riding through the area. There is no Starbucks there, but that fits in with the rugged terrain. Make due with some McDonald’s coffee and embrace the setting.
I like taking Lone Pine Canyon Road into Wrightwood. It is shorter but much more rugged than the main highway. I think a lot of GPS units guide people down that road who would be better off on the main highway, meaning some drivers are timid and slow on the rough narrow road. But the XRs huge supply of torque and long travel made quick work of slower vehicles. Wrightwood was as quaint as ever and the weather was perfect: clear, cool, and pine scented.
Arriving a little on the early side, I was able to look around and watch some of the team buses arrive. When you are watching race coverage on TV all the teams look like they have similar budgets. They all have the best bikes, custom riding gear, etc. But when you look at the team cars and buses, you see that their levels of sponsorship probably vary dramatically.
I talked to a few of the support riders, meaning the motorcyclists who ride close support of the race, weaving their way among the racers. Most of them are current or former law enforcement riders who get loads of motorcycle skill training and would be well qualified for something like this. As for me, I was happy paralleling the event, riding at speeds that are more fun, and saving my clutch from riding at bicycle speeds. Although the cyclists do maintain a pretty impressive pace, and in some downhill situations they are actually faster than the motorcycles.
I decided not to watch at the start line, but rather watch from a short distance down the road. It is hard to explain, but that way I would be able to leave immediately after the Tour went by and not have to wait for the road to open again. Law enforcement officials close the roads down well before the ride gets there and even for a while after it has passed through.
After parting ways with the race temporarily I focused on the endless series of apexes that is Highway 2. It was my first serious session on a super sport bike. My previous bikes were all in the dual sport category and had dirt bike handling traits. You can counter lean bikes like that (i.e. lean the opposite way of the bike in a corner, or keep your body upright as the bike leans in) up to moderate speeds and they will corner well. The XR can be counter leaned, of course, but it demands that you lean into corners (i.e. lean the same way as the bike) nearly all the time. It must be a combination of wheelbase, steering geometry, tires, who knows? Shift my weight side to side in corners was fun and rewarding. It is the beginning of the technique that leads to knee dragging, something I have no particular aspiration to do. Even if I did I would require a track to learn it well.
Eventually I dropped down from the mountain and into Pasadena like the racers would do behind me in an hour or two.
The finish line was a huge festival atmosphere as I had hoped. The road was already lined with spectators waiting for the peloton to arrive. I grabbed some lunch (Doh! No pic!) and checked in at many of the booths.
The final leg of the ride from Pasadena to home was the hardest, and I knew it would be. It was hot, the traffic was terrible and much of it was stop and go surface streets getting out of Pasadena. But that is how trips out and back usually are. The trip out is full of energy, discovery and getting away. The last leg is done when you are tired and you are familiar with the route. But it is a small price to pay for such a great experience.