LAUDERDALE, FL – ONTARIO, CANADA
MAY – 14 AUGUST 2002
The Bike: 2002 Black VTX 1800C with ca. 4000 mi.
Modifications: Honda backrest and luggage rack; Memphis Shades 19” windshield; Champion Sidecar “Patriot” hard bags.
Other equipment and clothing: T-Bag pack on luggage rack. Pro Sport brand raingear.
Tires/Oil: Stock Dunlops for the first 4500 miles, followed by Metzler 130/70HB-18; 180/70H-16; Honda 20W50 oil, changed in Toronto.
Participants: myself and the beauteous Suzanne, riding pillion.
Total miles: 8115. Total miles in point-to-point travel: 5655. Total time of point-to-point travel: ca. 4 ˝ weeks.
Itinerary: Fort Lauderdale > Valdosta, GA > Athens, GA > Bryson City, NC > Pittsboro, NC > Hillsboro, NC > Lexington, VA > State College, PA > Niagara Falls, ON > Manitoulin Island, ON > Sault Ste Marie, ON > Marathon, ON > Grand Marais, MN > Wausau, WI > Madison, WI > Bloomington, IN > Huntington, WVA > Lexington, KY > Lenoir City, TN > Athens, GA > Gainesville, FL > Fort Lauderdale, FL
This was a fabulous trip. Bike remained upright throughout the trip. Stopped by the cops once for 65 in a 45; no ticket. The bike ran smoothly at highway speeds (80 mph), rain and shine. Most days were 6-8 hours on the bike, and while we experienced normal fatigue, the seats themselves were quite comfortable. Suzanne found the 2002 pillion seat (modified on the 2003 models) comfortable. The windshield, mounted according to instructions, created some helmet buffeting between 45 and 60 mph. I had experimented with reversing the lower clamps before leaving town, but that didn’t seem to correct the problem noted by other Memphis Shades owners. The gas tank light came on regularly at 102-103 mi., and I generally drove until 120 mi. (the longest distance between refuels was 130 mi.). But, as others have noted, the bike was seldom down to .8 gal capacity when the light came on. At 120 mi. I generally put 3.5 to 3.7 gallons into the tank.
(1) The NC mountains are, of course, perfect motorcycling roads, especially 129 and 28. Deals Gap lived up to expectations, although we encountered a road crew in one direction. However, the entire area is excellent for riding. Our one mistake was crossing over to Gatlinburg, TN, through the Great Smoky Mountains national park. The traffic was severe, and, unless you’re a 12-year-old or a Dolly Parton fan, you’ll probably find Gatlinburg to be a tourist trap nightmare.
(2) Lexington, VA is a beautiful small town, home to Washington and Lee University. There are few decent places to eat, but the roads are quite rewarding, especially the circuit through Goshen (hwy 39), Warm Springs, Monterey (hwy 220), McDowell, Churchville (hwy 220), and return.
(3) Many people go through this area to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway. In my experience, while it’s beautiful, the BRP is not much fun on a bike, given the 45 mph speed limit and the traffic. The smaller roads surrounding the Parkway are equally fun.
(4) State College, PA is surrounded by beautiful roads. We took 522 to 26 and found the rural areas peaceful. Between State College and points on Lake Erie, one should consider 36 through the Allegheny National Forest. Once there, there are several options, including 948 and 6.
(5) For family reasons, we spent a good deal of time in Toronto and the environs. While Toronto itself is an absolute nightmare to drive around, the areas to the northeast and northwest are pleasantly rural. Highway 18 out of Wasaga Beach, that turns into 7 as it nears Toronto, is delightful. About an hour to the east is Mosport, a motorcycle racing track for amateurs and professionals. If you’re in the area, check to see if any racing is happening. The absolute best meals we had on the entire trip were at the Terra Cotta Inn and Restaurant (905-873-2223), about 45 minutes northwest of Toronto in the middle of a pleasant set of rural roads. Take the 407W to 10N to 9E. In the summer there is a sport bike rally at Parry Sound a couple of hours north of Toronto on the Trans-Canada Highway.
(6) The most beautiful stretch of highway on the entire trip was the Trans-Canada (17) between Sault Ste Marie and Nipigon. Spectacular. Also enjoyable was the triangle from 17 up 108 to Elliot Lake, to 639, to 546. 546 is designated as a “deer” road, so take care (we saw two at midday); but it’s worth it.
(7) Another road of note is in Wisconsin, Highway 13, which goes from the Bad River Indian Reservation on Lake Superior south to the Wisconsin Dells. Beautiful farm country.
(8) On the TN side of the Appalachians, try 129 out of Maryville to 68 to 60. Lots of curves in the middle of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Comments on equipment:
The stock Dunlops were replaced at 8500 mi., with the front tire down to the wear line and cupping on the rear. I had the rear at 41 psi to avoid cupping, but the guy who replaced the tires told me over inflation could lead to cupping as well as under inflation. The Metzlers, while expensive, are performing excellently. Too soon to tell how many miles I’ll get out of them.
No problems with backrest or luggage rack. The luggage rack routinely supported a heavy pack with no problems, despite the “nothing over 10 pounds” sticker that adorns it when new.
As noted above, the windshield was fine, except for the buffeting. If I had it to do over, I might change the windshield, but I’m not sure I want to double the price by going Honda.
The Champion Sidecar Patriot bags are, I think, the largest available for the VTX, and also the most expensive by a factor of at least two. They were a nightmare to install, given the presence of the Honda luggage rack and backrest. Calls to Champion for help went unreturned. On the second morning of the trip, while tightening a loose bracket screw, the lid snapped right off the bracket. The sockets for the bracket screws are metal, glued somehow to the fiberglass. Serious supergluing put the sockets back in place. The job lasted until a few days before our return, when they blew out again, and were glued again. Given the problems, I still like the bags. What I don’t like is the indifference of the Champion people, who are happy to take your money and equally happy to ignore you once they’ve got it.
We were quite fortunate with rain, spending only maybe three days in extended showers. With the Metzlers, I could maintain highway speeds during the rain without any anticipation of hydroplaning. The Pro Sport raingear, bought for cheap during Bike Week in Daytona, performed beautifully. The only dampness we experienced was on the left rear leg of our jeans, something we attributed not to the gear, but to the placement of the tailpipe on the right, and the tremendous amount of moisture stirred up from the pavement on the left by passing vehicles.
I had purchased a Back-a-Line back support device before the trip, and then carefully stored it in a drawer, not realizing I left it until we were well down the road. However, I experienced no back problems, other than normal fatigue.
Having something to put under the kickstand is essential for this heavy, heavy bike, as we found it sinking into pavement in moderate temperatures. When in doubt, slip something underneath the kickstand.
We packed the bikes using the “Space Saver” bags, which are basically large zip lock baggies with a one-way air vent (produced by several manufacturers, including Coleman and spacebag.com, among others; available also at Costco). These worked wonderfully well, and I would recommend them to anyone with a motorcycle.
Most remarkable aspect of the voyage: I returned with the same sunglasses I left with.