THE DEVIL IN PENNSYLVANIA
Living in Toronto has its good and bad points. The good is that feeling of being in the middle of it all - there's lots to do and see. The bad side is, well, that you're in the middle of it all. That means lots of traffic, general chaos and ( this is the biggest problem for me), once you finally do escape the city limits, you've got another couple of hours riding before you hit any twisty stuff. Even then it's pretty pathetic.
Imagine my surprise when within 250 Km of the city centre, I found myself scraping pegs and cutting through awe-inspiring scenery on some of the best maintained roads I've had the pleasure of experiencing. Unfortunately, this Utopia could only be found to the south, in Pennsylvania.
It was the middle of October, we were getting one last gasp of summer and I had the blessed choice of either riding a Yamaha FZ1 or Kawasaki ZRX1200. Two bikes that not only tickle my fancy, but cut my 'jib' and positively grope my 'generals' (something that important surely cannot be considered mere Privates).
The trip was a three day affair. The guest CMG pilot for the other bike was Art Kernaghan, and the bulk of the group that we were latching onto consisted mainly of the Yids On Wheels club.
Once we'd got past the humdrum of the QEW, the post-Sept 11th custom checks and the bleakness of Buffalo (sorry Buffaloeons, but your city's 'orrible), we were quickly accompanied by rising hills and ... the local police. Apparently, 120 Km/h in a 55 mph limit is frowned upon. Thankfully, having a respectable looking Seymour Trachimovsky leading the group saw us on our way with a warning rather than 20 tickets.
After brunch, we hit Allegheny State Forest and things started to get really interesting. Hitting Hwy 321, Art and myself left the sensibility of the group and put the bikes through their paces on a gloriously well paved, 25 Km gnarly stretch of asphalt. Sweeping curves punctuated by short straights, proved ideal for both bikes, which handled the road better than the pilots.
A short rest-bite at saner speeds enabled us to take in some of the beauty that we were surrounded by... until we found the 666. I can't help but think that a motorcyclist was responsible for the planning and naming of the roads in this area of Pennsylvania. 3 ... 2 ... 1... GO and now the Devil's own highway!
And how aptly named it was.
Beelzebubian bends, Luciferian loops, Satanic switchbacks and Demonic drop-offs make the 666 a scary but enthralling ride. It's quite bumpy, but since the crests are progressive and well spaced, they're not jarring, rather more just a series of launch pads from which to grab some air.
However, as the name implies, there's not much room for error and I would not recommend speeds topping 135 km/h, unless you were an experienced rider on a bike that can handle the stresses and demands that such a road commands. Besides, the posted limit is 35 mph, so it would be illegal too - and nobody wants to break the law.
Actually, the Devil did get some payment in the form of one of the group's BMW that took a lowside and lost useful parts, like the gear shifter. The rider seemed relatively unscathed, but opted to head back to T.O. , hopefully managing to get it beyond first gear by the time the QEW came around.
The end of the day's ride was a small and friendly motel in the town of Ridgeway. Okay, it wasn't a Four Seasons, but food was available on site and draft beer was only a buck. After dinner, the rest of the evening became a bit of a blur.
The next day promised and supplied more of the same excitement. Leaving the Allegheny area meant that the roads became more sweeping (and forgiving) as we hopped from one valley to the next, bathed in a gloriously warm October sunshine.
A road that typified this was the 555 (named after the number of post-run high fives?), which had been freshly resurfaced to the smooth standards of a croquet lawn. Honestly, how can a State afford to do this to their roads when there seems to be no-one else using them and no cops (off the main highways at least) to catch fun-loving criminals and get them to pay for it all?
The day ended with a stopover in a large hotel in Williamsport, which didn't serve food or cheap beer (or any kind of beer for that matter). Actually it worked out well, as a short stroll up the street brought us to the local jail. Okay, it was the local jail but it's now a bar/restaurant. The setting was quite apt for some, as the waitress played the group like a prisoners, with a least one $20 bill getting exchanged for a 10 cent pen that just so happened to be encapsulated by some ample cleavage.
And then it snowed!
Well, not quite, but October finally hit with a vengeance the next day, making the ride back a shortened, with the better faired FZ1 being the bike of choice. The glorious indirect twisties of the previous two days were bypassed in favour of a somewhat more direct route to the Canadian border.
By the time we'd exited the U.S. and hit the QEW it was dark and cold. We were too close to give up, too far to finish without pain. Although I don't look forward to these uniquely biking moments, I never cease to amaze myself at just how, with this grim realisation, you can switch the mind into autopilot, tuck in and just go for it.
As we progressively wound the bikes up, in a strange kind of way it all started to become fun. Numb from the cold and tired from a long ride, I tucked in, wound it up to 140 and practically glided home. Maybe not the sweetest way to end an enthralling trip, but certainly a suitable one.
Ironically, after three days of chaos, the bikes had returned unscathed. It wasn't until we were back in Toronto on a photo shoot that I managed to fool Mr. Seck into thinking that I was about to set off, resulting in him rear ending me. The impact was sudden and fierce, causing me to let go of the bars. The ZRX lurched from beneath me and then flopped onto its side.
There was nothing broken, but there was enough scuffing to cause the Kawasaki reps to lay on a thick guilt trip upon its return. Oh the irony of it all.
BIKE VIEW - By Art Kernaghan
The Kawasaki, my sentimental favourite, begged to be ridden hard. I found it to be more compact and tightly suspended than the Yamaha and very "flickable", with sportier, yet touring capable ergonomics and great (soft) luggage carrying capability.
It is a little less settled than the Yamaha at high speed scratching, but carved up the tight mountain roads of Central/Western Pennsylvania with great agility. The bike seems to drive much lighter than it actually weighs.
I love the Kawasaki's "ELR", early eighties styling, of my teenage motorcycle-lust years and the midrange (especially 6000-7000 rpm) is where this bike ROCKS! Just leave it in 3rd or 4th gear and point and shoot the twisties at will. Hooligan heaven! Impromptu roll-ons at this rev range with the Yamaha showed it to always walk, but not run away from the FZ1. That is until the FZ1 spooled up it's own lovely, albeit revvier and ultimately more powerful motor.
Fair weather wind protection of the bikini fairing is adequate until you reach Insanesville on the speedo. Then, it is just a matter of tucking in and hanging on until you have reached the lovely little village of Holy-shit-that-was-stupid,-slow-down-and-don't-piss-off-the-editor-ville!
Hmmm. Not the classic lines of the Kawasaki. When I first saw this highly anticipated/hyped machine at the Toronto International Motorcycle Show, I struggled to define my feelings about its cutting-edge looks.
Conclusion: not integrated. The lines from the front end to the rear seem a bit disengaged and need to be cleaned up somehow. I'm not a fan of the new angular trends in body design and this critique shows but hey, to coin a cliché, beauty is more than skin deep.
It's a very competent motorcycle and has an edge on the Kawasaki as a better allrounder Thanks to (in no particular order):
I would rate the Yamaha's front brakes as excellent, just slightly stronger than the Kawasaki's, while the Kawasaki has a stronger and non-spongy rear brake.
On the road, the Yamaha feels top-heavy compared to the ZRX, but it definitely has the edge in high speed riding due to its greater stability and effective wind protection from the smallish, alien, earth-eating, insect monster inspired fairing.
Pleasantly surprising though, was how well it "got the freak on" in the crazy-wonderful tight stuff that we found in our three days/1800 Kms of riding in Penn. State.
Although I'm sure that the very gracious Editor 'arris spotted me some slack those times that the said "freak" got seriously "on", I found that I could keep up well enough to him, whichever bike I was on.
The midrange hot spot on the Yamaha, engine performance-wise, is between 7000-8000 rpm and pulls wonderfully strongly all the way to its redline (or as close as I ever came to it). Although on occasion I ran out of throttle on the Kawasaki in the same riding conditions, I never found myself maxing out the potential of the Yamaha.
By no means do I pretend to be a fast rider, but my thoughts are that this motor is all and more than is necessary for street riding. Not overkill, just very quick and very fun.Kawasaki - great all-rounder, errs more on the hooligan side of things, absolute blast to ride.
Yamaha - greater all-rounder, more refined and touring capable. However, due to these pluses it doesn't elicit quite the same over-all, seat-of-the-pants thrill as the ZRX while in sport mode.
Well that's all we have time for this week. Next week Editor 'arris wades in with his thoughts on the each bike and how they compare to each other.