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Midwinter Ride


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It had been a long while since Guido (all names have been changed to protect the guilty, and besides, that's what we call his Ducati ridin' self, anyway) and I had managed to get out in the twisties together, and a short ride on Sunday, terminated prematurely by sunset, was just a teaser, so we made plans to play hooky from work today and go for a ride. There were a series of roads in the East Bay that we had attempted to ride before, but we had been fogged out. To add to the fun, we were both on hooligan bikes this time, instead of me on my big fat BMW K bike. This time, I was on my gorgious blue Triumph Speed Triple, and ready to get out in the twisties on it for the first time since I bought it back from my local dealer after trading it to get the Beamer in the first place.

Just before I opened the throttle on my way up the freeway onramp to meet Guido, I happened to glance over at the clock/thermometer at the local carwash, just as it changed to display a balmy 81 degrees farenheit for our afternoon ride... In mid January. 'Tis good to be Californian. Actually, I suspect the thermometer was a bit optimistic due to its location in direct sun, but still... A brief jaunt down the freeway to Milpitas had me meeting up with Guido at the foot of Calaveras Rd no more than 30 minutes later. Why does this state bother with speed limits? Either traffic is so bad that you are hardly moving, or everyone on the freeway is hurtling along at 90mph. I'm not complaining about the speed, since I was nearly 15 minutes late, anyway.

Guido warned me that our first road of the day (Calaveras) had nearly inspired him to go home and get his dirt bike. Apparently, he had ridden it quite some time ago, and had not exactly been impressed with the road surface, to put it mildly. Well, it was too late to back out now, so off we went. A mile or two into it, and it was clear that Guido's previous experience was not going to be repeated. This road is a two way road, but not much wider than a single lane, with no lane markers down the middle. To top it off, there is no guardrail, and most of the turns have anywhere from a 20 foot drop to several hundred off the side. On the other hand, the road was in perfect condition, freshly repaved and totally dry, with very few leaves on the surface. I've been on racetracks with worse surfaces (are you listeniing Streets of Willow?).

We were flying along as quickly as prudence would allow, throwing the bikes into one corner after another, accelerating out, shift up and get on the gas. Hard on the brakes, downshift, here comes another 1st gear turn. Throw the bike down, feel it arc through the corner, upshift and do it again. Over and over again, for 30+ miles. And this was only the first of 5 roads rumoured to be like this that we were planning to ride today.

The views were gorgeous, when we had time to look... Lush, rolling hills, intensely green from all of our recent rain. The trees still retained some of their leaves, and the sky was a perfect shade of blue, with wisps of cloud floating above as though they had been placed there solely to enhance a photograph. And me without a camera!

At the Alameda county line, the road texture changed, but the quality was scarcely decreased. The underlying surface seemed to undulate quite a bit more, which was definitely challenging the suspension on my bike, which had FAR too much rebound damping dialed in, but it wasn't so bad as to necessitate a stop (which was good, since I have no idea if i was carrying a screwdriver). Who needs rear wheel traction anyway, right? Eventually, the road straightened up a little, leading to greatly increased speeds. At one point, I looked down to see that we were travelling at 3 TIMES the speed limit. In all of our time on the single lane section of twisties, we met only a single oncoming car (who promptly target fixated right into me and narrowly missed, despite having at least 5 feet on his other side. I'll be digging my seat back out later!) and two cows, who seemed disinterested and were mostly not in the way.

As we approached the 680 at the other end of Calaveras, we started to see much more traffic coming towards us, apparently commuters trying to avoid the traffic, and once we crossed the freeway and were heading up Niles Canyon Rd. toward our next intended ribbon of twisted asphault, we were flying past a long line of stopped cages, breathing each others axhaust, waiting for their turn to get on the freeway and inch their way home. Someone remind to play hooky like this more often!

We swung right on Palomeras Rd. just behind a slightly sporty hatchback. A Nissan or something. It became rapidly apparent that this guy was determined to show that he could drive as fast through the twisties as a couple of lightweight high power hooligan bikes. Fat Chance! Too bad the road wasn't wide enough to get around him. Fortunately, he was driving a pretty decent pace, and it was kind of fun to frustrate him by riding along behind at his pace, occassionally taking a hand off the bars in mid corner just to drive the point home. He finally got stuck behind a couple of slower cars, and at the next stretch of straight road, we both managed to fly past. We opened the throttle just that little bit further, and flew down the remainder of the road into the Castro Valley.

10 minutes of riding in heavily trafficed surface streets got us to our next twisted piece of heaven, although we only managed one or two drag races from stoplights on the way ;-)

Redwood Rd up out of the Castro Valley to Skyline Blvd has to be seen to be believed. Here we are in the middle of a major metropolitan area, and we are flying through totally unpopulated, and more importantly, unfrequented, twisty roads with a perfect paving surface. Corner after corner, we are flying along in perfect synchronization. I can tell that Guido would like me to pick up the pace a little, but my lack of recent familiarity with this bike forces me to keep the pace somewhat reasonable, although it is definitely improving from earlier. We fly up past yet another reservoir, trying to take the time to enjoy yet more spectacular views of rolling countryside. This road is our first opportunity to really use 3rd gear in the corners. Everything up until now has been supertight 1st and second gear corners, and my grin is growing even wider. When I finally pull into Pinehurst Rd (and a VERY gravelly turn off it is, too), we stop to exchange a couple of brief words. Guido rolls up next to me (Desmo valves clicking and clacking at their usual deafening level), with an obvious grin beaming right through the chinbar of his full face helmet. My own laughs of pure enjoyment echo inside my helmet. A couple of moments to collect our thoughts and we are off yet again.

Pinehurst Rd. is just a short piece of twistiness that drops from Skyline down to Redwood Rd. Cutting through the tiny town of Canyon buried up in the East Bay hills. Gravelly, super tight, loaded with 180 degree steep switchbacks, both down and up, this is the road that we should have been riding dirtbikes on. As we passed through the town of Canyon, rolling at a fairly sedate pace past their tiny school, I threw the bike over a little too hard into a bend while I got on the gas on some wet pavement, and the backend broke free and came around at least 2 feet. If I hadn't already swallowed all of my seat with that first incident, this once finished it off. Anyone out there got a line on a Corbin seat for a Triumph T5?

Shortly after that, we climbed our way past several more switchbacks and made it up to Skyline Blvd. We were well and truly into rush hour now, and there were a fair number of cages on this well travelled, and highly inhabited, road. We were seeing lots more motorcycles on the road now, which kept the drivers on their toes. Apparently, the nice weather had caused the normally suicidally aggressive bay area drivers to delve deep into their hardened hearts, and we had no problems finding room to pass every cage we came up behind.

We turned off Skyline onto Grizzly Peak, yet another piece of nearly perfect pavement, this one high atop the Berkeley hills, with gorgeous views overlooking the Bay and SF Skyline during a beautiful sunset on one side, and the now familiar, deep green, rolling hills into the East Bay on the other. This is the road that I took a good friend and mentor on, in what turned out to be our last ride together. We had climbed up from Berkeley at about 9pm in a fruitless attempt to ride some twisties, but all we discovered was pea soup fog. We made it about 10 corners before we had to acknowledge that we could go no further. Even so, my friend was raving when we got down, comparing Grizzly Peak to the roads that he had to ride several hours from his Boston area home to ride. I promised him a fair weather ride at a later date, but I never got the opportunity. He was murdered by terrorists on 9/11. When that very thought occured to me today, I got a lump in my throat as happier memories of him flooded through my mind, but clearly, riding this road on such a glorious day is as affective a tribute as any other I could come up with, and I recovered my smile and carried on with even higher spirits than before. A couple more miles of luxurious twisties and we reluctantly turned down Claremont for the final trek into Berkeley.

We made our way over to Telegraph avenue, the Bohemian heart of this lovely university town, parked the bikes (how nice it is to see two gorgeous pieces of European moto-machinery parked next to each other on the street, even if Guido does think my bike looks bug-eyed. My only complaint is the thin layer of spaghetti sauce that covers my bike from the brief period in which I ran behind his Italian moto, and I told him as much!) and walked our way up Telegraph Ave. Let me tell you, there is no better way to attract the hordes of impressionable young college girls that populate the streets of Berkeley than to amble up the street in an ill-fitting, bright red Aerostich two-piece suit. We were fighting them off, I tell you. Anyway, a quick stop into Rasputin records to pick up a long sought after CD for Guido, and then some superb Mexican food, that turned out to have been voted 'best in Berkeley' 4 years running, provided a perfect end to a spectacular, and unexpected, midwinter ride in the SF Bay Area.

[This message has been edited by sgendler (edited 01-10-2002).]

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Sam, I enjoyed that! I didn't have time to read it on-line, so I printed it out and read it last night on the couch with my feet up. I felt like I was in a huge Russell seat living vicariously. I almost put my gear on, but my wife doesn't need any more evidence to keep me on that medication.


David C. Baker

2000 R1100RT


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