Monday 9 December 2013

OddBike USA Tour 2013 Travelogue

Now that the OddBike USA Tour Travelogue is finished, I've collected all the instalments of the ride report here for easy perusal. Enjoy.

It's a 916. With luggage. Deal with it.


Incredulity, followed by a comment on the size and metallic composition of my testicles. That is usually the immediate reaction I receive when I tell people I use a Ducati 916 for touring duty. I’ve never seen it as that exceptional. Sure, 916s have earned a reputation for being cantankerous and uncomfortable mounts that are certainly ill suited to cross-country adventures. But reputation and reality are two different things.

Actually I’m lying: the reputation is well earned and quite accurate. I’m not a Ducati apologist who sugar coats the truth in favour of rosy nostalgia or blind brand worship. Riding a 916 any great distance is an exercise in zen-like concentration and meditative pain control, always haunted by the remote but present possibility of mechanical disaster. Spend any time on a Ducati forum and the stories of horror, and the photos of shattered alloy that were once engines, will instill an irrational but justifiable fear into the heart of any Ducati owner.
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Ducati 916 Fall in New England

Setting Out

I have a strange relationship with motorcycle riding. I have an absolute, unmitigated passion for the sport and I’ve been riding since I was 17, but I still get pangs of apprehension every morning before I hit the road. You would think I should be accustomed to it by now, and yet each journey is preceded by intense bouts of anxiety. It’s not the danger or the risk, which has never factored into it for me. I simply don’t worry about such things. It’s something else, like an intense excitement that builds into this climax of fretfulness and physical discomfort. When I learned that Formula 1 legend James Hunt would often throw up right before a race, I immediately understood. Contrary to what you might think, it wasn't because he was scared, though he had a healthy appreciation for the danger involved in his sport. It was the energy and intensity of the coming event building up inside him to a literal bursting point.

Once I am on the bike, this unease and discomfort immediately melts away and I become part of the machine. My mind settles and my body relaxes. The act of riding becomes soothing, in spite of the fury of the machine and the heightened awareness necessary to pilot it. It’s an addictive routine – your body vibrating with anticipation, followed by a wave of intense calm and serenity washing over you.
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Private race track.


I wake up at dawn the next day to clear skies and mild temperatures, a marked improvement from the previous day's conditions. It gave me the opportunity to wander the property in silence and take some better photos of the track and the estate. I adhered to the Lone Canuck stereotype, rising early and quietly taking in the beauty of the natural surroundings in the morning light while everyone else slept. Nobody needs to know that I was also checking my emails. I'll just let you imagine me silently gliding across a mist covered lake in a birch bark canoe, nobly surveying my surroundings.

Alan's property is situated on rolling hills surrounded by picturesque farmland and modest houses. While his buildings are far from ostentatious, his setup is a significant step above the nearby homes (even without the track). There certainly must have been a bit of jealousy involved when the local community took him to court to block his plans to build a race track, citing noise, safety, and zoning concerns. He eventually won after a lengthy legal battle, but the point was made that the neighbours were not impressed. The nearby Interstate makes far more racket than activity on the track ever would, so as far as I'm concerned the noise argument is a moot point. In any case they maintain a 7 pm curfew on track activity.

Ducati 916 Morning Fog

North Carolina

My sleep in Claytor Lake State Park is fitful and uncomfortable. The gravel base of the campsite pokes through my thin sleeping bag, so I resort to wearing my armored gear to pad me against the sharp underlay. I wake up an hour before dawn to a foggy, humid cold, the sort I dread whenever I go camping. It reminded me of camping in the Bay of Fundy one May when it would reach 25 degrees during the day and fall to low single digits at night - a despicable contrast that lures you into comfort during the day before cruelly taking it away every night. It's the kind of wet cold that chills you far more than the actual temperature would suggest, and leaves a thick coating of ice-cold condensation on everything left in the open. That included my boots, which I had put outside the tent to avoid fumigating my tiny quarters with my pungent road foot odour. I had thought that by the time I passed Pennsylvania I would have encountered warmer temperatures, but neglected to note that at night it still gets damned cold in the mountains along the Appalachian Trail.

Ducati in Maggie Valley North Carolina


Thursday morning is sunny and cool, but appreciably warmer than it had been in Virginia. We are finally making progress in terms of temperature, the one element I hoped to escape quickly once I had started riding south. I wake at sunrise and walk around the Wheels Through Time property, taking photos of the beautiful surroundings as the light of dawn creeps into the valley.

I pack up my tent and gear, but I'm in no hurry today. Up until this point I had been hitting the road just after sunrise and arriving at my destination in the early afternoon. Today I want to take my time. I wander around the museum again, taking in some more of the endless details that I had missed on my whirlwind approach the previous day. I meet Jack, one of the museum employees, when I'm raiding the coffee pot and planning a route to Birmingham. I had originally thought about going east through the Smoky Mountains, then south through Tennessee, but he suggests a quicker route through Georgia. Later on I would discover his advice was quite sound, given how technical my original route proved to be.

Barber Motorsports Park Leeds Alabama Race Track


I wake up early and Winslow and I head straight to the Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, a short drive outside of Birmingham. The facility is located in a secluded wooded area, surrounded by pleasant little twisty roads. If you are in the area and looking for some interesting riding roads, the routes around Barber would be a good place to start.

We arrive early enough to beat the traffic and nab parking near the front gate, but despite our early arrival it is clear that this is going to be a huge event. Visitors are streaming in steadily, and venues are spread out over miles of property surrounding the track and museum. I head over to the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club stand located next to the entrance to locate David Morales, builder of the 50 Magnum I featured on Pipeburn. Sure enough Dave is there, with the Magnum on display alongside a very cool CT70 he had built previously. I introduce myself and meet his wife, Jennifer, before I wander off to take in the festivities.

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum Leeds Alabama

"It's the NPR of motorcycle journalism." JT pats me on the shoulder. I think it's the first time I've seen him this evening without a beer in hand. He has just coined the new unofficial motto of OddBike. Alan glances at my card and flashes a polite smile. He promises to have a look at my site.

This is the close of one of the most intense and incredible days I've ever experienced, the absolute highlight of the OddBike USA Tour. I am exhausted and barely able to process what has happened to me today. This is the moment when I realize that embarking on this journey was one of the best decisions I've ever made, and this day was the beginning of the turning point in OddBike's future I was hoping for.     

Ducati 916 motorcycle in Louisiana palm trees

Sunday morning is another beautiful day in Birmingham. Attendees of the Vintage Festival were blessed with three perfect days of weather: 80-90 degree temperatures with blue skies and low humidity. Barring our spark-plug-fouling gridlock adventure on Saturday morning I was never uncomfortable. The dread of riding north into cooler weather was starting to dawn on me.

I wake up early to do my laundry and scribble down some notes for the previous two days. Saturday had been such an intense, whirlwind day that I never had the opportunity to stop and (literally) collect my thoughts, so I took the time to put my experiences on paper while they were still fresh in my mind. It still felt unreal and scarcely believable that I met so many interesting people and experienced so much in the course of a single day. I truly believe it will remain one of the most memorable days of my life. But I sincerely hope it isn't - better things await in the future. It's a line of thought that will become important over the next few days.

French Quarter New Orleans

I wake up Monday morning to the sound of a skittering creature in the shop. That would be JT's dog, Rivet, who was dropped off that morning. A tiny mongrel Chihuahua of some sort, Rivet is a hyperactive bug-eyed muppet who adds some life to Bienville Studios.

"What breed is he?" I ask JT while the snorting little gremlin is dancing around in front of me, scarcely able to contain his excitement at the prospect of a new human in the shop he can annoy.

"Namibian bat terrier."

"... Really?"

"No, I just made that up."   

Ducati 916 Motorcycle Louisiana Coast

Tuesday morning I get up early and take the Bandit to the USPS office in downtown New Orleans to grab the coolant sensor. I cut through the morning traffic and narrowly avoid getting T-boned by an asshole in a hulking SUV who has apparently decided that right of way is determined in inverse proportion to penis size. Here is where the Bandit is at home - it's a bit big to call it a city bike, but it does the job admirably considering it's an oil-cooled 1152cc stump puller. Rough roads are absorbed well by the slightly squishy suspension. The wide bars give lots of leverage and the steering it surprisingly quick. The brakes are strong once you get past the mushy lever. Having had a set of six-piston Tokicos on my Suzuki SV650, I'll say that with a set of sintered pads, stainless lines, and DOT 5.1 fluid they can work damned well.

Ducati 916 motorcycle in the fog of the Great Smoky Mountains

After my miserable afternoon of dodging homicidal family haulers in the Smokies and dumping my bike in the parking lot of a shitty motel, I was looking forward to a new day to refresh my outlook and get some proper riding done. Something that would make up for all those hours on the Interstate. Today I ride the Blue Ridge Parkway. A run through the gnarliest, twistiest roads on the map this side of the Tail of the Dragon.

I could have easily headed for that infamous North Carolina hotspot but I generally prefer to avoid the "must ride" routes that everyone and their grandma know about. Most of the time they are either disappointing or loaded with traffic. You can bet that any popular riding road will be overpopulated by squids going too fast, cruiser/touring barges going too slow, and law enforcement pissing everyone off. To paraphrase George Thorogood "When I ride alone I prefer to be by myself." Everything I'd heard about Deals Gap suggested it was a great place to see and do once, but if you wanted to ride some nice roads without risking your ass and dodging douchebags on Yamondazukawas there were plenty of other alternatives in the Appalachians. I decide I'll stick to the Smokies and the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Tennessee border, which looks plenty technical on the map. 

Rural Virginia


I take the opportunity to sleep in today, one of the only instances where I didn't wake up at dawn and hit the road before the morning chill dissipated. Also odd considering the digs at the Super 8 were the least luxurious accommodations I have had so far, camping excepted. Clean though it seemed, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't checked the bed thoroughly for... things.

The clerk asks me if I'm the one with the motorcycle from Quebec. She is incredulous that I have ridden so far, even more so when I tell her that I had been to New Orleans. She is apprehensive about motorcycles, noting that she would be terrified of the heavy truck traffic. Really I would think I'd be intimidated by those lumbering, omnipresent brutes in any vehicle, not motorcycles exclusively. At least on a bike I can get out of my own way, quickly.

Morning in Upstate New York

I wake early on Sunday. It is a sunny, cool, crisp morning, the sort of perfect fall day that compliments the colour scheme of the landscape. The air smells fresh and clean. The scene is, thankfully, still vibrant here in upstate New York, a contrast to the dead hues and barren trees I had encountered in Pennsylvania and New Jersey the previous day.

While everyone else sleeps in I take the opportunity to once again walk the property and enjoy the sunrise. I'm treated to a spectacular sight as the sun's rays warm the surface of the lake and produces a thin layer of mist across the glassy-smooth water. As soon as it appears it is gone - a fleeting moment of beauty that disappears within the span of a few minutes. I don't envy the guests who are sleeping in late.


Now that the OddBike USA Tour has been completed, I want to extend my thanks to everyone who contributed and supported the idea. I couldn't have done this without your help. 

Contributors to the campaign:
Luc Allain
Dr. Jeff Buchanan-Dorrance
Jeanne and Dennis Cormier
Alexander Cusick
Alicia Elfving - MotoLady
"Dr. John"
Niklas Klinte
Andrew and Adrienne McIntosh
Dennis Matson
James McBride -
David and Jennifer Morales
Andrew Olson

And five other contributors who preferred to remain anonymous. Whoever you are, a profound thanks.

Special thanks goes out to a few folks who were kind enough to offer their help and support along the way:

Lee Conn and Brian Case - Motus Motorcycles
Denis and Chuck - Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
JT Nesbitt - Bienville Studios
The guys at Baker's Garage in Lacey Springs, Virginia
Scott -
Winslow Taft
Michael Walshaw - Kriega USA 
Dale Walksler and the rest of the folks at the Wheels Through Time Museum
Alan Wilzig and the gang at WRM

Thanks again to everyone who made this happen!

1 comment:

  1. Well, as a (not too) soon-to-be graduate in the years of a recession, I'll try to remember the last part of your story as clearly as I can, since it's an incredible example of how easier than thought sometimes can be changing your life, or generally not letting it slide in boredom and numbness.
    Of course, having been also a mechanic and owning a internationally known page like this, you've quite more to say in your curriculum than I do, but... In Italy we say "la speranza è l'ultima a morire", which sounds like "hope it's the toughest to kill".

    Hope you the best with your new adventure, Jason!