Monday, 11 April 2016
OddBike USA Tour 2015: Part IX - Don't Buy the Hype
It's a beautiful Sunday morning in LA and it's time to go riding.
My first stop is just down the street a few miles, the Deus Ex Machina shop. Actually it's less of a shop and more of a café with a clothing store attached. Regardless, Deus has become the model for the snobby hipster builder joint, the prototype for commercialization of the custom scene beyond recognition.
If you want to buy meticulously prepared espressos or overpriced t-shirts and surfboards in an environment littered with pretentious magazines, Deus is your place.
If you want to buy motorcycles or anything motorcycle related beyond a motif on a T-shirt, you'll want to go elsewhere.
Strolling through the shop, Deus' connection to motorcycling appears tenuous at best. It's limited to placing a few machines in the showroom as a bit of eye candy to advertise: hey, we happen to build exorbitantly expensive customs for well-heeled clients too. But mostly we sell beard wax and metalflake lids because that's where the profit margin is.
They are the classic sellout, the motorcycle shop that has capitalized on branding and the sale of overpriced ancillary bullshit while they knock out dull and derivative machines loaded with off-the-shelf bolt-on parts. Their bluster and ignorance in the media is cringeworthy. They exploit the image of the noble blue-collar builder eking out an honest craft to fleece the idle rich who don't know any better.
Contrary to what you might glean from my previous works spouting vitriol about the hipster moto scene, I don't entirely dislike customs/café racers/bobbers/choppers/brats/scramblers/whatever people are hacking Triumph Bonnevilles and Moto Guzzi V7s into this week. I even liked some of Deus' early work, particularly the American, which I think is about the most perfectly proportioned Sportster ever built. What I dislike and rally against is the inauthentic bullshit concocted to sell crap. It is pure marketing used to fluff up substandard and overpriced machines sold as lifestyle accessories while overshadowing the real guys tinkering in their garages producing honest and innovative designs, or the boutique brands producing genuinely amazing bikes.
You want to drop 50,000$ plus on a unique bike? Get a Ronin, or a Confederate, or a Bimota. Or learn how to build something yourself. Or get it done by a local back alley shop with dirty floors where you can see the mechanics working from the front desk. I can't fathom why you'd aspire to own an old crock some douchebag bought off Craigslist and reworked into an overwrought café poser which is then sold in a clothing store, while said douchebag whines about how he doesn't make any money on the bike when he is charging two or three times what anyone would for the same hunk of shit.
I'm glad I visited, if only to confirm my extreme prejudice against Deus and their ilk. I even wore my Confederate shirt for the occasion.
Maybe that act of silent defiance was a bit ironic given my anti-commercial stance. If I'm going to support any company that is fleecing the idle rich, it's going to be the one that produces legitimately cool, unique and innovative stuff that is put together in spectacular fashion. Whatever you think of Confederate, if you have a look at one up close you can't deny they are staggeringly well built; they are as far away from weird pastiches of off-the-shelf parts sold alongside flannel and pomade to dorky beardos as you can get.
Screw this, it's time to ride.
On Abhi's suggestion I head north and take a blast up Latigo Canyon road. It proves to be a fantastic route, and is entirely devoid of traffic. It is tight, technical, and perfectly surfaced, winding up a hill overlooking Malibu that is capped with a small residential community. The sharp first and second gear corners are taxing the bike's suspension and my abilities; it's hard to find a balance with the cheap, undersprung and underdamped bits fitted to the base Tuono. You are either wallowing and bobbing with softer settings, or topping out and chattering if you firm things up. It is maddening as you feel that you can never get things dialed in quite right. On a road like this, I'd much rather have the Factory with its Ohlins bits.
The shitty Continental ContiMotion sport touring tires I have fitted aren't helping. They are as vague as they are awful in the wet, the worst modern tires I've ever suffered in the rain. They will get swapped out for some proper sport tires as soon as they are toast.
I feel inadequate as a rider here, picking my way through blind switchbacks and squirting from corner to corner on the midrange. I'm trying to maintain a slow in, fast out pace - necessary with all the decreasing radius corners I'm encountering. This really is the best place in the world to test a bike. You'll soon find the limits of your skills and your machine's abilities even at a moderate pace. Which makes it all the more puzzling why the current crop of Socal-based moto journalists still can't write a review worth a damn.
The fuel light flicks on with 60 miles showing on the trip meter. A new record. Tuonos are heavy drinkers when you are the least bit aggressive on the throttle. It gets worse mileage than my car in city riding. Not that I care in the slightest.
I reach the top of the hill and stop at a T junction. The road sign reveals I've reached the infamous Mulholland Highway.
Time to see what all the fuss is about.
One of the first corners I reach is the internet favourite The Snake. I knew where I was immediately, because there were about 50 people lining the road with cameras at the ready and a CHP officer parked on the shoulder keeping an eye on the proceedings. I tip toe around the corner followed by a wave of camera shutters. I'm not going to fuck around here and risk ending up on a Youtube fail compilation by this afternoon. I'm instantly creeped out by this crowd of onlookers, who are more than likely waiting for a crash as much as a parade of showoffs.
Going down the hill reveals a rough road flanked by a rocky ditch butting against a rock wall on one side and a steep dropoff on the other. The conditions are markedly worse than what I just experienced on Latigo Canyon, with lumpy, cracked pavement and far less margin for error. Some road this is.
Then I encounter the Sunday crowd.
Groups of riders hugging the centreline trying to put their knees down, bunched together with barely a bike length between them. Cruiser riders dragging chrome. The occasional sports car trying to dice with the sport riders.
People are treating this road like a goddamned race track, riding at their limits around blind corners and narrowly slicing past oncoming traffic. I can't stress this enough: it is absolute fucknuts madness. I do not want to be in this mess, lest some macho dumbass lowsides into my corner and takes me out with him. I'm trying to concentrate on my own riding while I'm being buzzed by oncoming lunatics riding far too hard and far too close for comfort.
This is not fun.
It's not long before I reach the Rock Store and stop to escape the road race. While it's an iconic hangout populated by lots of keen folks, the Store itself is a disappointment. I've been warned not to buy the food, and other than that it's just a dingy little gift shop staffed by a surly woman who tries to charge me for a photocopy of a hand-drawn map just so I can figure out the quickest way to get the hell off of this road.
I spend some time cooling off and checking out the scene, chatting with riders and perusing the selection of bikes. The only redeeming features of this spot are the people who stop to hang out here.
I take off and make a beeline for the interstate back into the city. There's no way I'm tempting fate by going back the way I came.
If you are in LA I'd recommend you ride Mulholland once just to say you have done it - but it is not, by any stretch, the best road in the area. It's not even the best road on that hill. The fact that it is so heavily trafficked and hyped up baffles me when there are much better, perfectly groomed roads surrounding it - roads that will likely be free of dolts and camera-wielding witnesses, even on a Sunday.
I meet up with Abhi and some friends to ride out for dim sum, a nice way to round out my stay in LA. After considering it for a few days, I've decided to skip riding to Bonneville. With Speed Week cancelled I have no real reason to visit. I see no point in heading well out of my way just to look at the empty Salt Flats when I know that the PCH is spectacular from top to bottom. I'm itching to retrace my route along the coast and head back through the Redwoods. I've decided that I'm going to ride home the way I came.
It's a shame because I was really looking forward to visiting the Flats. I had the bones of the story already written in my head: the grassroots nature of land speed trials, the last vestige of the shed-built racer and wrung-watcha-brung classes open to anything and everything that can pass a tech inspection, out on the same course as million-dollar operations. The Salt as a great equalizer and eliminator of bullshit. Pure speed without pretence.
All of it a bust. My hopes for what could have been a great piece of gonzo journalism out the window.
I guess I'll just have to wait until next year. Provided the salt is replenished enough for there to be a next year.