Reader’s Stories: Short but Sweet

INTRO – Editor ‘arris

It was a sad day when Mr. Tate opted to get out of the full-time motorcycle journalistic industry in favour of a more reliable (and less stressful) job at Tony’s Cycle in Kingston, Ontario. However, he still keeps his hand in with the occasional piece for Inside Motorcycles, which led to him being invited down to the recent Triumph do in sunny California. Coming up is his account on the one day condensed tour he had on the TT600 and new Bonnie.

Note to CMG-RC members – Larry’s write up on the TT600 and the new Bonnie will be posted on the Rider’s Club section on Friday 6th April.

By Larry Tate

Snow in California? Yes, when you’re 5000 feet up Mt. Palomar.

I wouldn’t recommend a “tour” like the one I did in February to anyone (12 hours of airplanes and airports on Friday, ride Saturday, 12 hours of airplanes and airports on Sunday). I went to L.A. to sample Triumph’s revised TT600, and while a day does not a great tour make, more or less flat out in top gear for several hours does let you see a lot of country in a very short period of time. So, I can definitely recommend the areas we screamed through at warp speed on Saturday.

We flew into the Southeast corner of the City of Angels (John Wayne airport – really) and stayed in nearby Brea at a pleasant Embassy Suites hotel with lousy security (the bikes were vandalised overnight). There were several excellent restaurants within walking distance, so I could overlook the cosmetic damage I wasn’t paying for. By the way, I highly recommend a Japanese eatery called Ichiban, which specialises in sushi. I’d kill to go back there for another round of their teriyaki salmon.

Great views but large drop-offs!

We got our test bikes from Southern California Triumph (nice people, great shop, worth a visit if you’re in L.A.), and had a quick familiarisation run (winter, right? None of us had been on a bike for months), before parking at the hotel and leaving the bikes for the overnight vandals. Sigh.

Saturday morning we hopped the 405 freeway south for a few miles to San Juan Capistrano to get out of L.A. proper as quickly as possible, and then turned left on 74. Better known as the famous Ortega Highway, 74 climbs up and over a range of mountains that is in large part protected as the Cleveland National Forest (although to an eastern Canadian’s eyes it looks more like the Cleveland National Desert in most places), and is a motorcyclist’s wet dream brought to reality courtesy of the California Highways department. The road is spectacular both for scenery and for riding, but it’s also bloody unforgiving; local cops hate it due to constantly scraping people off rock faces.

The Lookout Road house offers spectacular views and expensive bikes.

The freeway ride to get there was something else in itself; traffic on this 8-12 lane road was moving mostly at an easy 90 MILES an hour (that’s about 145 in Canadian-speak) and we upped the ante a bit to more than 100/160 most of the way, particularly easy since there are almost-empty High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on which bikes are welcome. Gotta love it.

At San Juan a few miles of gradual change from town to country brings you to the mountains. Even though it’s been at least a decade since I’ve been on the Ortega Highway, I felt like I was having a visit home to mother within a few kilometres. We rode at what I’d call a brisk pace, quickly enough to have fun but slowly enough to be able to also (occasionally) enjoy the remarkable mountain vistas of canyon and peaks. You definitely have to reserve attention for the road.

This Bandit 600 street fighter was one of the many wonderful/weird bikes to be found in the Lookout’s parking lot.

Just past the crest (and a crashed Harley with a very sad-looking owner talking into his cell phone) is The Lookout, a favourite rider hangout. However, there were only about 30 bikes there including our three on this gorgeous sunny Saturday morning; we asked and were told that it was far too cold for most riders to come out (it was only about 70 Fahrenheit, after all). Wimps.

After a wonderfully satisfying cholesterol-laden breakfast of fried everything imaginable (eggs and unspecified “meat” is the special), we continued on down the precipitous drop into the town of Elsinore. The scenery is amazing, but again, caution is the order of the day. The road is faster but less open than it looks most of the way on this side of the mountain, and it’s a very long way down if you make a mistake.

We decided to head for Mt. Palomar, another famous and wildly popular sport bike destination much hated by the constabulary, and again with good reason. Hopping on the Corona Freeway (I-15) we had another 100 mph-plus hop down to Temecula (home of Mac exhausts and several other famous aftermarket names), then slid Southeast out of town on state route 79.

Mr Tate’s reputation precedes him.

Now, as much as I enjoy riding tight twisties in the mountains, my heart really overflows with joy on fast, open roads through open rolling country, and 79 is a fantastic example of that. It slides and slithers through a broad valley, with lots of hills and dales and curves and shallow ravines to keep things interesting, and is wildly fast (and safe to travel fast) thanks to the lack of traffic, cross-roads, or farm and ranch driveways. We probably spent half an hour with the TT600s bouncing off the rev limiters in fifth and sixth, 200 km/h-plus the entire way. Yow! (by the way, here’s a plug, and yes I do work for a Triumph [and Suzuki and Kawasaki] dealer, but I believe that the TT600 is a seriously under-rated bike for stuff like this).

Eventually catching our breath at a place called Moretti’s Junction – really, nothing more than a T-junction in the highway – we turned back toward Palomar on Route 76, having nearly circumnavigated another big chunk of the Cleveland Forest.

The Hideout.

Just a couple of kilometres up the road is another wonderful roadside tavern called The Hideout where we stopped for a coffee and a stretch. I’d last been there a couple of years earlier on a Yamaha introduction, and was amused to see that the Royal Star emblem that my colleague Bertrand Gahel had created via an exquisite series of burnouts was still clearly etched into the parking lot pavement.

Lots of bikes there, mostly Harleys but lots of sport bikes as well, everyone getting along famously despite the differing riding cultures. Nice to see, it was; great place. Tearing farther north just past Lake Henshaw is the cut-off for S7, the road that climbs the south side of Mt. Palomar itself. It’s easy to miss, but the junction is also a good test of your brakes (ahem).

The ride up S7, also called the East Grade Road (south side of the mountain, go figure), provides an unending series of spectacular lookouts back over Lake Henshaw and the valley we’d just blitzed through on 79. Things began chilling down as we climbed (it WAS mid-February, even in SoCal), and we were nervously becoming aware that we seemed to be getting very close to level with the snowline visible on the adjacent peaks. A sign indicating “snow plows in operation” didn’t help.

Even the roads were clear at the top of Mt. Palomar, near freezing meltwater could appear across the road round the next blind corner.

Then as suddenly as turning a corner there was deep snow. The road itself was clear, but damp lines and puddles of near-freezing melt from the snowpack on the road side clearly indicated caution. The drifts were several feet deep in the woods at the top of the mountain, so we eschewed a visit to the observatory (don’t miss it if you have the chance; almost religious, it is) and headed straight back down the South Grade Road (which is actually on the west and north faces; go figure, again), a wickedly tight and twisting sport bike mecca in drier and warmer weather; something of a sphincter-tightening experience given the snow, ice, and melt-water the day we were there. Below the 4,000 foot mark the snow suddenly vanished, the temperature rose, and we picked up the pace again as the road slowly opened out, eventually intersecting 76 again, also called Pala Road in this area.

From there west 76 is much like 79, if not as open and rather busier. Still, it’s possible to seriously rip here, and we proceeded to do so, flogging the bikes at something less than a track pace but well above any “normal” road speed. GREAT fun. Suddenly 76 dumps you into a flat bit and you’re at I-15 again – and for us the day was over, save another 100 mph dash back north to Brea to return the bikes to SoCal Triumph.

L to R. Chris Ellis (Triumph Canada), Dave Booth (National Post) and Larry (Inside Motorcycles/CMG online).

Owner Tom Hicks suggested dinner at The Claim Jumper, a typically huge American-style beef and steak house that apparently prides itself on volume as much as quality. The smallest cut of prime rib I could order, for example, was 26 ounces … Tom and his staff all joined us, and we had a riotous evening (the six a.m. call for the airport taxi came far, far, far too early).

If you do head down to that vicinity, more suggestions: the country is much emptier the farther Southeast you go from L.A., And particularly, farther east from where we had to turn back. In particular, 78 east through Santa Ysabel and Julian (where there’s a wonderfully weird motorcycle museum/junk shop/restaurant), then north through any of the minor roads that border and enter the Anza Borrego Desert, will reward you with riding memories you’ll never forget. I remember S22 as particularly spectacular, and if we hadn’t had Palomar in mind I’d have cut off 79 where they join and headed farther east to Borrego Springs, a truly incredible ride to a very bizarre place indeed.

I could spend a month down there; contributions for next February gratefully accepted. I’ll issue tax receipts, but can’t guarantee the acceptance of Canada Customs and Excise, or whatever the hell those bastards call themselves this month. But I CAN guarantee that I’ll have a great time down there.

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