Mini-Gypsy Tour 1/2014 Photoblog

If I can afford it, there’ll be another motorcycle tour this year, hence the “1” in the title. Mini-Gypsy Tour 2/2014 will involve either Sturgis or Four Corners; haven’t decided yet. The first tour of 2014 was a more modest affair, a six-day round-robin from Tucson to Flagstaff, Las Vegas, Zion National Park, and back.

Actually, I’ve got some nerve even calling this a mini-Gypsy tour. A real Gypsy would ride 400 to 600 miles every day. None of my daily rides topped 400 miles, and there were a couple of days I didn’t ride at all, relaxing instead with my son Gregory and his family in Las Vegas.

A quick summary:

  • Day 1: Tucson to Flagstaff via back roads through the Mogollon Rim country
  • Day 2: Flagstaff to Las Vegas via I-40 and US 95
  • Day 3: Family time in Las Vegas, test-riding new motorcycles
  • Day 4: Three-state ride to Zion National Park with my son
  • Day 5: Family time in Las Vegas
  • Day 6: Las Vegas to Tucson via US 95, I-40, US 93, I-17, I-10

The first day’s ride to Flagstaff was gorgeous, but the closer I got the colder it got. One forgets Flagstaff sits 7,000 feet above sea level. I actually stopped about 40 miles out to put on warmer clothing and a face mask; as soon as I reached the outskirts I started seeing bicyclists in shorts and jerseys and felt like a huge pussy.

The second day looked like it was going to be beautiful as well, but since early-morning temps were in the high 30s I decided to wait a while before leaving, hoping it would get a little warmer. Bridges and overpasses get icy, and I didn’t want to risk that on two wheels. I killed time until 9 AM, but to no avail … by then it had clouded over and the wind was picking up. Nor had it warmed up any. I’d wanted to get off I-40 and ride as much of what remains of Route 66 as possible between Flagstaff and Kingman, but it was so damn cold and windy I decided to stay on the interstate and get the ride over with as quickly as possible. I rode most of the distance between Flag and Kingman leaned over in a 30 to 40-degree left bank, struggling to keep the motorcycle going straight and in my own lane in a strong crosswind. The only thing I had to look forward to was the long road from Kingman to Las Vegas, since the wind from my left would then be a tailwind. Inexplicably the wind kept coming from my left once I turned north toward Vegas, and I rode that leg leaning left as well. It was no fun.

On the third day Gregory and I went to a local dealership in Las Vegas to test-ride some new bikes. I rode a new Indian Chieftain and Gregory rode a Victory Cross-Country.* Later we went to lunch at the oldest Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas, a picturesque little hole-in-the-wall right off Fremont Street, where we met Carolyn Goodman, the mayor. Late in the afternoon we visited the BMW dealership, where Gregory picked up a demo bike for our ride to Zion National Park the next day. Interestingly, the bike he borrowed was a K 1600 GLT, the same model I rode and reviewed in November 2011.

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Gregory and the demo Victory Cross-Country (photo: Paul Woodford)
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Posing with the Indian Chieftain I took for a test ride
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Gregory with Mayor Goodman

The fourth day was a long one. I’d forgotten how far it is from Las Vegas to Zion. Just getting from one side of Las Vegas to the other now takes almost an hour; add the distance to Zion and back, plus puttering around the park itself, and it’s a 400-mile ride. We had the whole day, and it’s a good thing we did: we left at 9 AM and didn’t get home until about 5:30 PM. Along the way we stopped at a Harley dealer just outside St. George in Utah. They were offering factory demo rides on a big selection of 2014 models trucked in from Milwaukee and we could have taken rides on new Harleys as well, but we skipped the opportunity in our haste to get to the park. I’ll get to the photos in a minute.

On day five I stayed home with the kids and went to one of my grandson Quentin’s fast pitch games. Sadly his team lost, but later in the day Q and I built a cool digital camera from a kit.

Quentin with the digital camera we assembled (photo: Paul Woodford)

Day six was the ride home, and it was as windy as day two, if not more so. It isn’t fun battling strong crosswinds on a motorcycle. You have to work hard to keep going in a straight line, and making constant small and large corrections during gusts requires all your concentration. Fortunately once I was south of Kingman and on my way to Wickenburg, Phoenix, and Tucson I was finally riding into a headwind. That’s not a lot of fun either, but at least I didn’t have to lean into the wind and struggle to keep the bike on the road. I left at 8:30 AM and got home about 4:30 PM. As with the windy ride from Flagstaff to Las Vegas, I was exhausted when it was over.

Lesson learned: bring a compact point & shoot camera in addition to a big digital SLR. I took only the big camera on this trip and wound up passing on a lot of good photo opportunities because it would have been too much of a hassle to stop and fish the SLR out of the saddlebag just for a quick shot or two. On previous tours I took many more photos, probably because my small Canon G9 was in my pocket, close to hand. Still, though, I managed to take a few photos, several with the tripod and wireless shutter release I brought along. Like these shots from Zion:

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Court of the Patriarchs, Zion National Park (photo: Paul Woodford)
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With Gregory in Zion National Park (photo: Paul Woodford)
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With Gregory in Zion National Park (photo: Paul Woodford)

Thanks, Gregory and Beth, for putting up with me in Las Vegas. It was fun seeing you and Quentin again, and having some time to be with you in between motorcycle rides. Thanks for all the great food too!

* Now, about those test rides:

I’ve been thinking about getting a new motorcycle to replace the Goldwing, but with no particular sense of urgency. The Wing has less than 84,000 miles on it and is in top shape, so it’s more a matter of wanting something new & different than needing it. Still, I had looked forward to testing the new Indians, and I must say I was very impressed. The new Indians are solid motorcycles with strong power plants and quality construction … they’re head-turners to boot. Most important, they can’t be mistaken for Harleys. They’re Indians, and the only way you can get a more genuine one is to restore an antique.

The generation of Indians that preceded this one never fooled anyone. They were Harley clones made with aftermarket parts and engines. The only thing Indian about them was the name and skirted fenders. The newest Indian, made by Polaris, is designed and built from the ground up with not a single after-market Harley part on it. It’s a complete, integrated package with all the modern bells & whistles: the Chieftain model I rode has ABS, cruise control and stereo, a six-speed transmission, even an electrically-positioned windscreen. And unlike the last company to try to revive the Indian brand, it’s not like Polaris came to the job cold … they’ve been building Victory motorcycles since 1998.

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Well, it turned MY head (photo: Paul Woodford)

But to make a long story short, the Indian, as much as I loved it, is not the bike for me. It sits too low, and it’s too long a reach to the foot controls and hand grips (keep in mind that at 6’4″, I’m not exactly a short rider). My first question to the dealer was whether anyone makes a higher, police-style saddle for the bike. His answer was no.

The Victory Gregory rode is a better fit ergonomically: the saddle’s higher and the reach not nearly as long. I took a long look at the Victory Vision last year and decided against it because the integrated saddlebags were more for looks than for storage, but the Cross-Country series has roomy bags and you can get a trunk as well, putting it in the same league with the Goldwing. Now my only hesitation is that Victory engines, like those on the Indian, still rely on air cooling. With tighter emissions and economy standards, I don’t know how much longer air-cooled twins are going to remain viable.

When I rode the BMW K 1600 GLT in 2011, the same model Gregory rode to Zion with me last week, I thought it was the bike for me. I liked everything about it except the foot pegs, which were positioned too high and aft for my old knees. Since then I’ve had one knee replaced, and it would be a struggle for me to ride the BMW in comfort unless I made modifications to the foot peg position (which can be done, I’ve learned, but of course repositioning them forward and down, even by an inch or two, would come at the expense of cornering). And with new models selling for $30,000, I fear the BMW will be forever out of my reach … unless I can find a deal on a used one.

I’m riding what is arguably the best long-distance tourer in the world, the Honda Goldwing, and the one I have is paid for and still in top condition, barely broken in. Even though mine is a 2001, it’s the same model they’re still selling today, thirteen years later. In fact, a lot of Goldwing owners are anticipating Honda coming out with a new design in 2015 or 2016. If they do, that might turn out to be the best choice for me. So I’ll wait a while longer. No need to do anything rash, like spending a ton of money on a new ride I might regret buying in a year or two.

© 2014, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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