Winding it up on the Angeles Crest

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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.

Lots of wiggly lines on the map – that’s how you know it’s showing a place you want to visit on a bike. Costa took the red line of #8.

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.

The Honda NC700X looks like it could just keep going straight ahead and ride its own path through those mountains, Trust us – it can’t.

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.

Two big dangers on the Californian canyon roads are squids crossing the centre line into your path, and the constant adjustment between sun and shade.

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.

Just in case this Yamaha R6 owner needs to give more advance notice to the speed police that he’s approaching, he thoughtfully fitted this exhaust.

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.

These are happy slick marks, from peeling out of a turn-off area. Many other slicks on the road tell much sadder stories.

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.)

Bertrand Gahel gives Jacob Black a squeeze at the Long Beach bike show. Don’t worry about that prodding from behind, Jacob – it’s just his keys.

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.

This is the result of “spirited riding” on the Honda Gold Wing. You’ve got to admit it’s impressive.

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.

Costa’s favourite food alternative. At least it’s not Los Pollos Hermanos or it really would be an addiction.

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.

Getting ready to split right between the lanes. And you thought the Angeles Crest was challenging.

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.

Nimble, if somewhat underpowered. The NC700X is a smaller version of the 750 we get in Canada.

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.

A capable bike, a winding road, good friends, warm weather and food along the way – it’s why we ride.

13 thoughts on “Winding it up on the Angeles Crest”

  1. I’m going to be in LA in February and would love to do some riding, but as I’m also going skiing on the same trip and will be taking ski gear (helmet, boots, and all the other stuff), I don’t think taking riding gear with me will be feasible. I’ll probably at least take a drive up that way, though, just to see what it looks like in person. At least my rental will be a “sports” car (a Camaro or Mustang, which is still better than an Impala or something).

    1. Why don’t you check the cost of mailing or couriering your stuff? I mailed a guitar to myself from South Carolina for about $25.00. No import duties if you own it and are sending it back. Ship it to your hotel, contact them to make sure they’ll hold it for you.

      1. Thanks for the ideas, guys. Yes, I have already considered renting a bike. I didn’t know if they would have gear to borrow/rent, too. I’ll have to investigate further. I’d be happy to rent one for just one day to hit a couple of the famous roads in the area.

        1. I think there is an Eagle Rider in almost any town, and I think they usually have gear rental or loan available.

  2. I rode this highway on my then-almost-new 1987 Ninja 750, which crossed 50,000 km on the odometer somewhere in Colorado on the way home.

  3. Hi Costa, what was the group opinion on the VFR 1200? Always seemed an in between bike, not sure of its raison d’etre. But you can get a heck of a deal on a lightly used one for sure.

    1. Unfortunately, after our fistfight that determined which bike we’d each ride, we didn’t swap seats. I believe Mr. Black enjoyed the bike. I think if you can get a great deal on a used one there’s no reason not to go for it.

  4. Hmmm, the cover photo seems to have been taken on Mulholland Highway, not Angeles Crest. Better ‘splain this one to me, Lucy. 🙂

  5. I think the seven hundred is a result of the US’ import tariffs on bikes over 700cc & Honda America’s keeping the list price as low as possible. (North Americans also miss out on the LED headlights, improved front forks and engine immobilizers that the Europeans get.)

    1. That import tariff expired after 5 years so it was done by 1989. As to why Honda decided on a 700cc bike, the answer is…its Honda, they do weird shit. 🙂 PLUS, the original displacement was an actual 680cc. The later versions are 720cc. A bit of sleight of mouth on Honda’s part. Like the original CB750 was an actual 736cc. Going the other way, the 6-cylinder CBX1000 actually displaced 1047cc.

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