Saturday, June 30, 2007

Van Riper State Park, MI

Day 1

At 3AM, after many hours of continuous driving North we arrived in Champion, MI and located the Van Riper State Park on the Michigamme Lake where we had a camp site reserved for us for the next few days. Only problem was, our reservation wasn’t for another 7 hours and we were tired and needed to get some shut-eye.

We had no where else to go so we entered the State Park, parked the truck, pulled out the pillows and attempted to get some sleep in the truck, but since the truck was loaded up to the gills with stuff, we couldn’t even recline the seats and therefore, couldn’t get any good sleep.

Two hours later the sun was already coming up, Mike decided to go sleep outside the truck where he could stretch out on the grass, he didn’t want to fill up the air mattress, it would take too long to fill up and would be too loud using the pump. So he kind of partially assembled the tent, just enough that it was kind of standing upright, then he crawled inside a sleeping bag to get some sleep. I stayed inside the truck, I was just too tired to move, and almost comfy tucked underneath my sleeping bag. It was only in the mid 40’s outside. About an hour later the sky opened up and it started to rain heavily. The rain didn't last very long.

By 9AM we up to sunshine and went driving over to campsite #114, which we reserved, and after making some coffee and cereal for breakfast, we started to set up our home away from home.

Round and round we go, where this road ends, nobody knows

Around noon, when everything was unpacked, we geared up and took off to explore the area. The weather was just perfect, sunny and mild. This was going to be a short ride and we didn’t want to waste any more time preparing sandwiches to eat later, we were not hungry right now either, we just figured we could stop in for a late lunch somewhere along the way. As an after thought, I grabbed the remainder of the Combos snacks we were eating in the truck last night, in case we needed a snack before we found a lunch place. We had plenty of water in our Camelbaks.

Peshekee Grade (paved section) curves along the river

Peshekee Grade is a winding road, with many curves, but its also narrow and one of the bumpiest roads that I've been on in a while

We got on the bikes and took off heading North from the campsite. First we rode the trail that was made when the old railroad tracks were removed, the railroad track grade. That went on for miles and miles, all straight, all dirt, but it didn’t go in the direction we wanted to go. We wanted to head out to Craig Lake State Park, so we turned around and headed in the other direction, ended up trespassing on someone’s property by mistake, thinking it was some cool road, didn’t see any “private property” signs posted although I’m sure they were there, the guy came around the corner giving us dirty looks. We’ll have to be more careful around here.

A really cool bridge off Peshekee Grade at IDA Road

The railroad track grade, straight and well maintained

Many bridges like this on railroad track grade

Lilies on a lake

Bridge going to Peshekee Grade at IDA Road, going back the other way

We arrived at Peshekee Grade again and headed north just for a bit, turning left at the first interesting dirt road. This dirt road twisted through forest and meadows, from there we took another road since this one was ending, but this road ended as well, so we back tracked to another fork in the road but the other road got tighter and tighter, at times you could barely make it out as a trail at all and it also ended. We had no choice but to go back to another fork in the road and try another road, this one went for a while but didn’t look like it was going the way we needed to go, so back we went traveling another road hoping that this one would get us to where we wanted to go.

Turning off to investigate a dirt road off Peshekee Grade

Sometimes the road would just start to disappear on us

Nice trails through the woods

This went on for hours and some roads required more technical type of riding, which I wasn’t used to doing, being new to this dirt riding. Climbing and descending big rocky hills and crossing rivers, I was now so very tired, not having enough sleep last night to begin with. I was also very hungry since we had no lunch and already finished all the Combos snacks. The idea of turning around and going back the way we came was not possible at this point either since it would take us hours to ride those roads back, we needed a quick way to get us back. We knew that one of those roads would be the one to do it, but which one? We didn’t have the time to try them all and the GPS’s couldn’t be trusted, both of us have Garmin, Mike is running older topography maps on his and I’m running current street maps on mine and more times then not, the two GPS’s were not in agreement on what roads we were on and where they went.

Another roads ends

As the sun got lower on the horizon, we were starting to become concerned that we might just end up getting stranded out here after dark with no food and no shelter. If the sun went down, we wouldn’t be able to ride until the sun came back up, tomorrow morning.

Trail full of big, flat rocks

The scenery around us was amazing, the air was clean

We chose another fork in the road and we were very hopeful this road would get us out until we pulled up to a locked metal gate. Both of our GPS’s were telling us there was a larger road beyond the gate and this time the GPS was right. We rode around the gate and came to a bigger road that finally took us to the road that we made a left on from Peshekee Road. A big sigh of relief for me when my front tire touched pavement. I really didn’t want to be stuck in the woods all nigh, especially since tonight the temperature is going to drop in to the upper 30‘s… yikes!

Cross this river? Me?

Note that I'm not riding my bike accross this river, I was just too tired at the end

A locked gate on the road, like that's going to stop us

We needed gas, so we rode to the town of Champion to get it and figuring we were already in town and starved, we inquired where one might eat and we were told of a place to try. Francois was a decent place, with decent food. On the way back to the camp I spotted a sign that said “camp wood $2” which was three times cheaper than the wood they were selling at the state park, so we grabbed a bundle to take with us.

Francois Restuarant on 41 and 95

Cheese curds

Burger for Mike and a chicken sandwitch for me

Today the high temperature was 70 degrees, now the temperature was dropping quickly as the sun was starting to set. One of the benefits of riding up here in the summer are the longer daylight hours, the sun was setting at around 9:50PM local time (Eastern time zone) which was 10:50PM for us. By the time we crawled in to the tent underneath the electric blanket the temperatures have dropped to mid 40’s and the low for the night was supposed to be in the upper 30’s. Upper 30’s in July? That’s just wrong!

Sunset at the Van Riper State Park

The sun hiding behind Michigamme Lake

Where we went today

Friday, June 29, 2007

Heading up to Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Instead of driving north, at 8:00PM we were still at Wal-mart picking up some last minute things for our trip. This was already the third trip to Wal-mart in the last two days, but I was pretty confident this was our last one.

Last minute stop at Wal-mart, before heading up to Michigan

Half an hour later we were on the road, grabbing dinner at the Burger King drive-thru and heading to the UP.

Yoopers (residents of the Upper Peninsula) call the UP - Yooperland, land of snow, mosquitoes, pasties, smelt, and Bosch beer and many, many dirt roads, so I’ve heard.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Day 2: Flat 4 Tour - Preston, MN

Outside our window this morning there was a lot of fog and my headache was still not all the way gone, but getting there. We delayed our departure, knowing that if we left later the fog would be gone plus it was only a two hour ride to the lunch spot utilizing more short cuts to the original F4T route.

Country Trails Inn rooms are kind of overpriced, doubles start at $92 before tax, than they tack on $6 for each person staying in the room. So I expected a lot of food at the free breakfast. It was pretty good and there was a lot of variety. Although the coffee was horrible, coffee always seems to be bad at motels and they usually give you powder creamer and not the real stuff. No worries, since Mike and I brought some Red Bulls, mine was chilling on the bike in my hard side cases all night. My free breakfast consisted of Trix yogurt, orange juice, raisin bran and two mini blue berry muffins.

At 10AM we were on our way, the fog all the way gone, some morning chill still in the air and clouds scattered overhead. 16 from Preston to Rushford has a few tight turns and then all sweepers and really nice views since the road travels next to a river. At times I though I was in the mountains.

Really nice sweepers and some tighter stuff on 16 in MN

After crossing the Mississippi in to Wisconsin, the plan was to take 14 to 33 east, but 33 was detoured and the detour signs instructed us to take 14 to 162 North to 33. 14 had a lot of traffic and was kind of straight but 162 was curvy with smooth sparkling black pavement, a few elevation changes, just a nice road to ride.

162 in WI, between Coon Valley and Middle Ridge, was a really nice road

Mike and I arrived in Rockton, WI at the BBQ joint, Stephen was behind us, but Leanore was nowhere to be found. We were not worried since she was having problems passing cars this whole trip, he bike just doesn’t accelerate like ours, so she was sometimes a bit behind. Stephen watched from the corner and Mike and I parked the bikes and joined the rest of the group for lunch. The others had finished their lunch and still no Stephen and Leanore, as we thought what might had happened to them, Stephen showed up and told us that Leanore hadn’t showed up so he went back to find her. She had crashed and an ambulance had taken her 20 miles to the nearest Hospital.

Lunch in Rockton, WI at the BBQ Bar and Grill

Mike and I rode with Stephen to the hospital, Stephen was pretty shook up over his mom’s crash. Leanore was OK, and would be discharged later that day with cuts and scrapes, her gear saved her for sure. The bike was totaled when it hit the guardrail. Stephen stayed behind at the hospital and Mike and I continued home arriving just before sunset. We did about 750 miles this weekend and he really likes the Tiger.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Day 1: Flat 4 Tour - Preston, MN

Rain! That’s the last thing you want to see the morning before heading out
on a long ride through a few states. The weather channel was reporting rain from Chicago all the way to the Iowa border.

This weekend Mike and I were riding the Flat 4 Tour by ourselves since he was breaking in the new bike. I even shortened the route to Preston, MN so he could make it to the dealership with less than 900 miles for the break in service.

First stop - PB gas station in Starks, IL

The rain was light and by the time we arrived at the gas station where everyone was meeting up this morning, we were already an hour late. I expected no one to be there but yet there were two bikes there. It was Leanore and her son Stephen. It took them longer to get to the meeting place because of the rain this morning.

The four of us headed westward. It stopped raining about an hour before we hit the Iowa state line, but the temperatures remained cool, in the upper 60’s, and it was still very cloudy when we pulled over for lunch in Dubuque, IA at the Culver’s restaurant.

As we were getting ready to leave Culver’s s, we ran in to three other riders
doing the Flat 4 Tour. The seven of us continued to Guttenberg together, but split up after the first gas stop. I had a killer headache today that just kept getting worst as the day progressed. I took two Excedrin in the morning, but by the second gas stop I was buying a package of Tylenol sinus extra strength, I took two pills and continued toward Minnesota, hoping that it would take the headache away. It didn’t, although it did dull the pain some.

Gas stop in Gutenberg, IA

I thought only Harley riders polished their bikes mid ride? :)

Past McGregor, IA I implemented the “short cut” to save some miles and we got to try some new roads, the two I really liked were parts of 76 though and A16 in Iowa.

New roads to try out

Leanore and Stephen

Taking a break on empty A16 in Iowa


The Tiger and the Duc

We arrived in the town of Preston located in the heart of bluff country in Southeastern Minnesota around 6PM. The group was staying at the Country Trails Inn, there were already many bikes parked out front. We checked in, the place was nice.

Preston, MN at the Country Trails Inn

My Tylenol must have worn off because my headache got really bad again and I had to lie down. Unfortunately there were no restaurants near by to walk to, so Leanore, Stephen, Mike and I decided to order some pizza and have it delivered to our room. After a slice and a half I had to lie down again and didn’t get up until the next day. All I can say is that riding with a bad headache is a horrible experience. Mike and Stephen went outside to socialize a bit before calling it a night.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Picking up a new bike today

Last week Mike bought a Triumph Tiger. The dealership didn’t have it in stock, so he had to wait for it to come in.

After work today we drove up to Wisconsin to pick it up. He got it from Shoreline in Racine, it was the best price around, a bit of a drive but worth it, funny since we live walking distance from a Triumph dealer.

After he got the bike, we grabbed some dinner in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Dinner at the Star

Cheese curds

Mike had a brat and I had gyros

Mike getting ready to ride home after dinner

That's a really nice looking bike

Mike following my car

Captured a Tiger

Picked up the Tiger today. It was purchased from Shoreline Motorsports in Racine, WI. I have to say that so far they have been great to deal with. The reason I bought the bike there is because I talked to a guy who just bought his Tiger there and he told me they we good. Word of mouth is the most effective advertising.

We have a ride this weekend of about 700+ miles. I'll have a report on the Tiger next week.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Touring Bike Showdown

This is my first post here so it's fitting that it would be about buying my first touring bike. It was quite a process but it led me to the "perfect" bike (at least the most perfect bike for me).

The contenders:
Ducati ST3
Suzuki VStrom 1000
Triumph Tiger
Yamaha FZ1

Here they are in the order that they were ridden...

Ducati ST3

This was the first bike of the four that I test rode. I logged about 600 miles on this bike over two weekends. The riding position is the only thing that doesn’t work for me. I really like the motor, the gearing, the look, etc. I think it is probably the ideal sport-touring bike. My neck injury just won’t allow for that style of bike. After 150+ miles I am hurting. Of course, this bike is set up for a shorter rider. Not sure how much difference that made. I need to be able to ride 500+. It is a fun bike and I enjoyed riding it.

Yamaha FZ1

Next bike was the Yamaha FZ1. This is a nice looking bike. The riding position is similar to the Ducati. The first thing I noticed is the tank. It feels like you are straddling one of those inflatable exercise balls. It’s very wide. The motor was smooth but the transmission doesn’t fit my riding style. It’s a pure sport bike tranny. Shifts are back to back to back to back unless you really wind it up. I don’t ride like that. I want smooth “tourqey” power across a wide range.

Suzuki VStrom 1000

When I first started eyeballing bikes for touring I thought this was the one. A big bike with touring and mild off road capability. I read so many posts and reviews from people who absolutely love this bike. They said it was the perfect ride for the tall guy. I was sold. Then I went to a dealer and sat on one. It felt like…um, nothing. It felt like blah. Like a big blob of a bike. I felt like I was sitting IN it. A cross between a bike and a car. I was lucky enough to be able to ride one a couple of weeks later. My impressions were confirmed. It just didn’t feel right. I felt separated from the surroundings. Probably a decent bike, just not for me.

Triumph Tiger

Triumph? Not even on my radar screen. Why would I buy a Triumph? First, I know nothing about them. My impression (totally without evidence) is that they are fussy, high maintenance, unreliable, euro bikes. I have never seen a Triumph that I thought I would like to have. But someone kept telling me to check it out. Give it a chance. So I looked at the Tiger on the Triumph website. Ok, it passes the looks test, which is important. It’s a sharp looking bike.

Stage 2: I met a guy who just bought a Tiger. He let me sit on it. It happens that we are both about 6’3” and basically the same build. The first thing he says to me is “I feel like they built this bike just for me.” This guy has been around a few years and owned many bikes. He was excited just talking about how well it fit him. He spoke about it like he was in love. You can’t pay for that kind of endorsement. At that point I knew I had to give it my full attention. I had also ruled out every other bike.

All of my hopes for a bike with upright riding position, touring friendly transmission, smooth power, and good looks rested on this bike. I wasn’t pessimistic, but definitely had a wait and see attitude. It would have to prove itself to me. I was a bit concerned that there would be something about it that I didn’t like and then I would have to settle for one of the others.

I set up a test ride with a local dealer. Before I even got on the bike, which had 250 miles on it, he had the seat off and was fooling with some wiring. The fuel gauge wasn’t working. Nice. Just what I expected. I was about to test ride a money pit. How many other things would break in the first year? How many trips to drop it off and pick it up at the shop? How many times stranded on the roadside? I wouldn’t have to worry about that with a Honda.

Ok, no big deal. I’m here to test ride it so I mount up. Yeah, it’s nice. Very upright. Comfortable. I don’t think I would need to do anything to the bars, pegs, or seat. That’s unusual for being tall. My first few hundred dollars in modifications are always to accommodate my height.

Fire it up. Hello. That sounds nice. It’s purring, but with a hint of jet turbine. Very quick revving. Did I mention the sound? Nice. So I hit the road. All right, it’s not a sport bike transmission. That would have been a deal breaker. So now we have: Ideal riding position, great motor, street oriented transmission, and good looks. And it felt like a bike that wants to be ridden, not a bike to sit in and direct it. At that point I was pretty much sold. No other bike had all of those things. Do you have a black one? It’s on order? When will it be in? End of the week? Can I put a deposit? Great, see you Friday to pick it up. Done deal.

The nitty-gritty:

This bike is not perfect. One of the first things I noticed was a knocking feel and sound from the transmission when cruising a steady speed. It was extremely noticeable and annoying. It felt and sounded like ½” ball bearings being thrown around inside the case. It actually reminded me of my XR650 when I get the RPMs down too low and the transmission starts back lashing. I looked into this on a Tiger forum and found many posts about this. One of the explanations has to do with the fuel mapping. This “theory” is that due to emissions standards they drop the fuel supply when running at steady throttle to produce better results. This creates misses in the firing and therefore backlashes. I realize that this is something I am going to have to deal with. I just hope it doesn’t cause any mechanical failure.

The transmission was also very clunky and hard to shift at times. There were a few times a just could not get it to go into neutral. Is this a break-in issue or a permanent problem? It seems that the transmission may be a weak spot with this bike from all of the other posts I read about the same difficult shifting.

The front suspension was pretty soft and tended to dive a bit under braking. I'm sure that some of this will adjust out. Of course springs can be changed and the forks can be re-valved so I’m not worried about this at all. I might even just get used to it.

Those were the only negatives I could find in my short time on the bike. The suspension is not that big a deal. The transmission may or may not be. But after riding and ruling out the other offerings I think this bike is worth taking a chance on.

Bonus Ride !!!

Ducati 900 SS - Sweet bike. I could probably ride it for 20 or 30 minutes before I needed a morphine injection.