I love going to Los Angeles. In any case, I have to, since my job has taken me there more than a dozen times in the past year alone. Unfortunately, most trips to the City of Angels are short, which isn’t always conducive to exploring the real reason I love LA: the canyon roads threading through the surrounding mountains.
Fortunately, on a recent trip there to witness the static launch of Honda’s new Rebels, which Boss Richardson wrote about here , the cheapest way for our hosts to get us back home was to tack on an extra day.
But, to keep an idle gaggle of moto journos happy (I was also travelling with autoTRADER.ca’s Jacob Black and Le Guide de la Moto’s Bertrand Gahel), it’s well known that they must be fed every hour, and they must be kept entertained. Our insatiable palate notwithstanding, Honda Canada offered the use of some press bikes provided by American Honda. At our disposal were a Gold Wing, a manual-shift VFR1200X, and an NC700X DCT.
After a fistfight among us to determine who’d ride what, Bertrand got the Wing, Jacob got the 1200X, and I had to settle for the 700X, which is the American version of our NC750X but curiously carries a smaller engine displacement.
We planned our ride based on one of the recommended routes found in Mad Maps Central/Southern California Scenic Tours map. Mad Maps are an excellent source of information for the leisure traveller on a tight schedule since they take a lot of the guesswork out of trip planning by providing suggested scenic routes, which include noteworthy waypoints and what to look out for. We chose the 250-kilometre Angeles Crest loop, on which a large portion follows the Angeles Crest highway, a popular destination for weekend riding and driving enthusiasts.
For convenience we chose to ride the route in a counter-clockwise direction, starting at La Cañada Flintridge, about an hour north of LA, and heading northeast on SR2 (Angeles Crest Hwy). This twisty bit of single-lane is absolutely delightful as it winds its way through the San Gabriel Mountains in a series of addictive sweepers. Despite heavier weekend traffic, most people on the Crest ride it for fun, so it’s rare that you’ll be held up by a slow-moving vehicle, and when you do come up on one, most drivers are courteous and use the frequent pull-outs to let you by.
A popular stop along SR2 is Newcomb’s Ranch, where people stop to mingle, grab a bite to eat, or just show off. Spend about an hour at the Ranch and you’re bound to see some rare bikes or exotic cars drive by, their pilots signalling their arrival from a distance with a couple of downshifts and lots of revs, in anticipation of the onlookers in the parking lot.
During our stop the parking lot was full of sport bikes, some all decked out with the latest go-fast goodies, some ratty and unkempt but looking well used. There was an unusual four-wheeler at the ranch, which turned out to be a one-off, 680-hp Ronin RS 211 built from a Lotus Elise, on slick tires no less. A glance at the tires on the bikes in the parking lot reveals they are mostly devoid of chicken strips, with the side rubber frayed from high heat, much like on a racetrack.
Unfortunately, however, skill isn’t always a prominent trait among Angelinos, and the pavement bears the marks of over-enthusiastic corner entries, with black marks sometimes leading into mangled guardrails, or worse yet, off the edge of the road and down a rocky cliff. We saw two cars freshly damaged on the roadside, a Subaru WRX with its lower body moulding ripped off on one side after spinning out onto a gravel turnout, and an abandoned BMW 3-Series sedan with a damaged rear fender and shattered rear wheel, evidence of intimate contact with the nearby bent-up guardrail.
Fortunately, the two-wheeled Crest users fared much better that day, though one leather-clad racer wannabe on a Triumph Daytona 675 got a humbling awakening that style should really follow form. Bertrand led the way out of the parking lot, since our speed would be directly proportional to the cornering clearance on his ’Wing, on which we’d cranked up the rear preload to the maximum. He’s a highly skilled rider with whom I’ve ridden many times, and Jacob has proven his skill on a number of occasions, including this year’s Fundy Rally, so I felt comfortable with my riding mates. (You’re forgetting about this – Ed.)
As soon as the Triumph rider shot past us, tucked in and engine revving, Bertrand filed in a couple of hundred metres behind him. I recognised Bert’s body language, which translated to Game On!
Where the pace before was lively, it now wicked up to a tire-scorching Level 8, despite Bert being behind the controls of a luxury liner. It didn’t take long to catch up to Ricky Racer, who maintained an entertaining pace that required me to keep the NC700X’s throttle pinned.
Sparks flew as Bertrand whittled away at the Triumph rider’s ego, whose body language wavered between “holy shit!” and “what the fuck?” He glanced frequently in his mirrors, probably aghast that they were filled edge-to-edge by a half-tonne, six-cylinder touring behemoth spewing sparks.
The dejected rider eventually pulled over on a straight, and let us by. Challenge completed, Bert slowed down to our previous lively pace, his mirrors reflecting an open-faced, broad-mouthed grin.
The north end of Angeles Crest Highway ends just past Wrightwood, at the intersection of Highway 138, where we turned west towards Palmdale. We stopped there at a Pollo Loco for a long-overdue feeding. When it comes to fast food in California my drug of choice is In-N-Out Burger, but I must say the Crazy Chicken, where the chicken is grilled while you wait, and is Bert’s preferred addiction, is a pretty good methadone.
We altered the Mad Maps route leaving Palmdale, and grabbed the Angeles Forest Highway just outside of town, heading south toward Los Angeles. This tighter single-lane road winds its way through rolling hills in what’s mostly a desert landscape. It joined up with SR2, where we backtracked back to the city.
With daylight dwindling we crisscrossed a number of interstates back to Torrence to deliver the bikes, taking full advantage of California’s tolerance for lane splitting. I love lane splitting, as seemingly does Jacob — Bert, not so much. He admitted earlier to a slight apprehension for the practice (maybe if he wasn’t on a bike as wide as a Civic…), but he nonetheless split lanes expertly, leaving the Gold Wing complete and intact as we returned to the American Honda headquarters.
Well, mostly intact, for as we discovered, our little jaunt chasing down the Daytona 675 extracted a toll on the ’Wing’s lower bodywork, the lower cowling and footpegs scraped rather severely. Hopefully our hosts will forgive our indiscretions.
As for the NC700X, it proved a nimble, if somewhat underpowered Angeles Crest partner, though as I mentioned earlier, us Canucks get a more powerful 745 cc version as opposed to the 670 cc U.S. bike (still don’t get that one).
The DCT, however, proved a source of frustration, as keeping it in Drive mode at a quick pace caused it to short shift, sapping drive out of corners, while Sport mode kept gears too long, the engine revving wildly on the straight bits between turns. I settled on manual mode, but it proved awkward shifting with my thumb and forefinger.
I like DCT gearboxes, and wouldn’t hesitate to buy a bike equipped with one, but I’d modify the bike by adding a foot-operated shifter for the manual gear changes, which would be more intuitive at a sporting pace, at least for me.