Go North Young Man, Go On a Honda Gold Wing
By Sean Smith
It's Friday night, nearing eleven, and we just pulled up outside Zeitgeist in San Francisco. Three hours earlier we were riding along Highway 1 watching the sun set in Big Sur, and seven hours before that we were packing up the 2012 Honda Goldwing and trying to get the heck out of dodge. Two happy bar-goers cross the street and stop to chat, excited to hear all about the "Honda-bago" we are tumbling off of. If the next 9 days of our near 3,000 mile West coast road trip prove anything, it will be that the Goldwing is more sports touring car and less RV. More race to the next landmark and less leisurely stroll. Quite simply, more fun and less curmudgeonly old timer.
Here's part one of three from Ashlee and Sean.
ashlee goodwin Back in July my best friend from up North snagged tickets for us to see Journey, Foreigner and Night Ranger in a thinly veiled attempt to get us to visit. Sean and I looked at one another with a mischievous eyebrow raised and, without a word, knew this was the perfect excuse for an epic motorcycle adventure. Usually such a touring trek would involve soft bags on the back of Sean's GSX-R, fresh DOT race rubber and a new chain—always less about the destination, and more about spending as much time as possible at maximum lean angle. But 3,000 miles is a hell of a long way. Fast forward three months and we've miraculously managed to convince Honda to give us a Goldwing and finagle 10 days away from work.
sean smith I'm initially a bit hesitant about the Goldwing's ability to keep up with the roads I have in mind—PCH, 101, 128, and a few choice b-roads that don't show up on Google maps. I pick up the 'wing from Honda and it takes me a few minutes to get over the mind-bending acceleration. I'd heard all the warnings about the weight, the difficulty controlling the bike at low speeds and the linked brakes. Yeah, it's heavy, but it's not at all as difficult to muscle around as I was prepped for. I snap the throttle shut at 3000 RPM in first gear, then whack it wide open. I just did a power wheelie on a 938-lb motorcycle, and I'm more optimistic about this trip. I learn that the Goldwing beats an NSX going 0-60 (4.4 seconds vs. 4.5) and at the drag strip, too (12.14 seconds vs. 12.9). My excitement grows. Then I discover the XM radio. Even better.
ag It's 9 a.m. on the morning we're set to depart, and now it's time to pack (if you've ever wanted to know the true meaning of spontaneity, go on a trip with the two of us.) Plan A is to take camping gear and camp out along the way. Have you ever tried to pack a Goldwing? Touring sports cars come with custom fitted luggage to fit the strange nooks and crannies of the cars' interiors—the Goldwing comes with luggage that's mostly made up of strange nooks and crannies. We quickly discard Plan A in favor of seedy, Yelp-rated motels.
ss Our first attempt at packing the bike, even without camping gear, leaves a giant pile of clothes, electronics, shoes and other junk on the floor of the garage that simply won't fit and doesn't make the cut. Luckily Ashlee is damn good at Tetris. She quickly discovers that we can forget about stuffing our medium-sized, already packed bags in the attached sidebags and topcase, and that the limited packing room grows exponentially if we take everything out of bags and squeeze it in piece by piece.
ag The left sidebag ends up with our clothes (each piece tightly rolled and stacked) and a draw-string helmet bag tossed in so we can take out and easily carry whatever we need each evening. The right sidebag holds Sean's Overlord jacket, a pair of shoes for each of us (stuffed with rolled scarves and socks), our electronics cords and chargers (each rolled in their own small nylon bags), and a few small toiletry bags. The top case has room for our iPad and iPhones, extra cold weather layers, trail mix, a water bottle, magazines and camera equipment. Thankfully the top box ends up being a bit like Mary Poppin's bag or Hermione's enchanted purse; no matter how full it seems, we are always able to cram more in there. But travel any distance on a Goldwing, and you'll be traveling light.
ss Finally packed, we're ready to head out. But we have to stop at the motorcycle shop around the corner because Ashlee really wants a tinted shield for her new Scorpion EXO-1100. Unfortunately they don't have one in stock, but luckily the clear shield is UV coated and the drop down integrated sun shades work pretty well (full articles on both of our gear setups to come).
ag Now we are actually leaving. It's after noon and we're both anxious to get the hell out of town. It's a great feeling when, for the next 9 days, there are only two things to do: make it to Portland by 8 o'clock Wednesday night where we'll watch an epic live performance of Sister Christian, and make it back in front of our computers by 9 a.m. Monday morning, 10 days from now, when we'll be wondering if what we've returned to is even real life.
ss Once we get through Malibu and up to Point Dume, I get my first real taste of what this bike can do. PCH tightens up just a little bit before heading inland and the corners there are quite fun when taken at speed. I feel like I'm driving a well-setup sports car. I'm sitting behind a windshield in a comfortable upright seat. Body position is largely irrelevant, and all control inputs are being made using my arms and legs. At 80 MPH in full lean, foot pegs skitter across the pavement and helpful feedback comes through the handle bars. This is going to be a fun trip.
ag We're as far as Oxnard (a whole 61.8 miles from our front door) before we're off the bike again, trolling for sandwiches, trail mix, juice and apples at Trader Joe's and having a parking lot picnic while we revel in our "we're off on an awesome adventure" giddyness. We don't know it yet, but it turns out the rest of the trip will feel just like this—a small chunk of miles spent zipping along on this comfy bike followed by a leisurely stop (either at a run down gas station or at a breathtaking viewpoint, never in between) where we poke around taking gear off, doing mundane things, not having to do anything, and putting gear back on.
ss We make our way up the Southern California coast, which we've done often on pilgrimages to Laguna Seca and the Bay Area, and we stop along the way to see the usual sites (like elephant seals that are faster than you think). As we go North of Cambria, the road gets higher and beaches give way to cliffs. The good part of PCH begins here. I ride the Goldwing at 90% of its limit for a couple hours with only slightly more effort than it would take to play Grand Tourismo.
ag We ride, watching the sky change from brilliant hue to brilliant hue, and pull off just before Big Sur as the sun sinks all the way and it's time for warmer clothes. I put on a sweatshirt and a scarf and also zip the insulting liners into my Scorpion Fury jacket and pants. Sean adds a jacket under his Roadcrafter and switches to cold weather gloves. I'm excited to use the seat heater—which I end up just leaving on for the rest of the trip. So toasty and awesome.
ss After dark our M.O. is pretty much "Get to San Francisco as fast as possible." The Goldwing's headlights work well in a straight line, but don't provide nearly enough coverage for cornering. This is probably why most owners add auxiliary lights. If I owned this bike, I'd have at least four HIDs on the front of it. On most bikes, traveling from Big Sur to San Francisco after dark would be pretty brutal, but closing up the adjustable vent on the windscreen and dialing in the boot, seat and grip heaters made for a surprisingly comfortable jaunt.
ag It's late and we grab beers with HFL reader Mark D. We finish up at the bar, and as we dig our gear out from under a table a nice fellow gives us a recommendation for a trustworthy Motel 6 a few blocks away that should have parking too. There's a pizza place across the street, so we decide it's time to eat. Now it's 12:30 a.m., and it's spontaneity do-or-die time: we need somewhere to sleep. The recommended motel is booked. So is every other motel in the city. We ride through neighborhoods that are, frankly, seedier than any I've ever seen in L.A. Thanks to my iPhone, I find the master suite is available at the Days Inn all the way back by SFO, so we backtrack the 15 or so miles. The room is comically huge and mostly wasted empty space, but we're both too tired to care. This bike is comfortable, but it's still been a long day. I'm kind of doubting the "figure it out along the way" method at this point, but tomorrow's another day.
ss I love San Francisco because it's a town that's obviously inhabited by motorcyclists, but I've already told you all about that. This time I found out that riding the Goldwing in traffic is not a lot of fun. It's just not meant for that. You can't get through narrow lanes, or really split lanes all that effectively at all. This bike is just too big. I'm really happy to get across the Golden Gate Bridge and back on open road.
ag We stop at a little winery town and I buy chapstick at the general store. Juan is a migrant worker hanging out in the parking lot waiting for a ride and we have a nice chat. He has a motorcycle back at his house in Oklahoma, where it's cheaper to live. Juan likes the Goldwing and says it looks fast. We get a nice surprise when Sean's dad calls and tells us he's booked a room at a little B in Mendocino for us that night, and that he hopes we're having a great trip. Looks like this non-planning thing is working out better today.
ss We get to Mendocino by way of Highway 128—one of those magical roads in the middle of nowhere that not many people ride because it doesn't start anywhere notable nor does it go anywhere notable. It is, however, a really, really, really nice road. It's a bit frustrating because there are a lot of blind corners and gentle curves, so it becomes hard to make a safe pass. I figure out that when I zoom in all the way on the Goldwing's integrated GPS, it shows the next 1,000 feet of road and I can better anticipate fun corners and good passing zones. There's a great mix of low, medium and high speed corners, tons of elevation change, rolling hills and rednecks. The sun sets as we hit PCH, and we ride the last few miles to Mendocino in the dark. After checking in we head back into town in search of food.
ag Mendocino is beyond beautiful. But it's also the kind of place you take a girl to propose. Or buy her shoes. Or both. Seeing as the boy and I live a bit beyond the bounds of the Prince-Charming charade, we get pizza and beer and then stop at the local market where he buys Rodder's Journal and I pick out high-end chocolate. It's nighttime and a couple high schoolers are roaming town sporting dreadlocks, spawned from enlightened hippie parents who set up camp in this gray, misty enclave along the California coast. Sean decides they're awesome and this is an ideal place to raise children. At this point unpacking and packing the bike is starting to get its own rhythm, and I'm really digging the zen qualities of this ongoing motorcycle trek.
ss The next morning I listen to sports bikes and BMWs zip by on PCH right behind our cottage. Today is redwood day, and I'm excited to get going, but not before partaking in the delicious breakfast spread at the Sea Rock Inn. PCH North of Mendocino is special. Like Highway 128 the day before, this is a road that starts and ends in the middle of nowhere. Lightly trafficked, mostly shaded and humid year-round, you have to watch for moss in the center of the lanes. Still, I feel confident riding the Goldwing just about as fast as it will go. It is on this road that I perfect my low-speed Goldwing cornering style: the trick to smooth, consistent full-lean cornering is to let the pegs touch down then pick my inside foot up and stick it out in front of me motocross style. The peg bounces harmlessly along the ground, and if I roll on the throttle at exactly the right time I find that it's possible to exit corners in a leaned over wheelie. I know I'm not actually going that fast, but it's more fun than a touring bike has any right to be.
ag I'm resisting the urge to punch Sean hard. In the kidneys. We're riding through the smaller redwoods on PCH, and, far from harmlessly sliding foot pegs on the ground, I hear a fierce scraping noise. I'm comfortable with pretty extreme lean angles when riding pillion, but give me a break. I settle for a tap on the shoulder.
"I don't like that noise."
"That's just the foot peg."
"No, the swooshing noise is the foot peg."
"Riding this road fast is the entire reason I wanted to go on this trip."
Indignant silence on my part. I let him ride the road fast. I punch every time the non-footpeg scrape happens.
ss I've always felt that it's important as a man to not be a pussy. Sometimes that means having the balls to keep the front end off the ground even as you feel Wes sliding off the back of a Speed Triple. Sometimes it means pushing as hard as you want to because you rode 800 miles to get to this road, and this is your only chance. If that means taking the occasional punch in the kidneys, so be it.
ag We make it to redwood proper, and stop at the drive through tree in Leggett. I'm fairly certain that beyond being a tourist trap, it's more like a time vortex. We're there for hours.
ss I make friends with a foolish German man who'd flown all the way to Washington to purchase a VW bus. His plan was to drive back to Los Angeles, down the West coast, where he would put it in a container and have it shipped back to Germany. The problem with this is that, like most VW vans, the one he purchased is kind of a piece of shit. He seems to be having a pretty good time though.
ag Avenue of the Giants is next, and we haven't been pulled off the highway and hiking through the forest for more than a few minutes before Sean is hatching plans to drop off the grid and move to Humboldt County. It's pretty indescribable, and I think the Goldwing feels at home here, too. We've spent most of our daylight hours in the redwoods by this point, and have to get moving.
ss After the sun sets in Eureka, fog rolls in and there's not much to do besides listen to music and do my best to make good time. Visibility for the next couple hours is terrible, and, like a pilot in bad weather, I fly IFR using the GPS. I'm pretty sure there's a paragraph somewhere in the manual that says specifically not to do this, but it works amazingly well. The vehicle pointer is accurate on the GPS screen to within a few feet almost all the time. After an hour of cold, wet fog, I realize I'm neither cold nor wet and it's amazing that good gear works this well.
ag We cruise on through the Southern part of Oregon on a long, straight stretch of PCH with rolling hills. Eventually the fog clears revealing a crystal clear view of the Milky Way. There's no one else around; just Sean and myself shuttling past at a speedy clip, trees on either side and so many stars that I just tip my head back against the top case and stare, making myself dizzy for miles. Every now and then Sean stands on the foot pegs, piloting the motorbike a little like a jet ski.
ss We roll through Gold Beach, Oregon, optimistic to push it further this night, but then double back as we reach the North end of town and decide to find a room. $48 dollars later we have a spic and span room with wood panel walls and a bathtub fit for bubble baths or gutting fish. If you're ever in Gold Beach, the Wild Chinook Inn is your best bet. After a quick morning walk and coffee the next day, it's clear there are better things to do than hang around town.
ag We cross the mouth of the Rogue River, and only make it bit farther north before we run into Port Orford and one of the most beautiful coastal tableaus I've seen in a long while. We hike up a huge rock that juts out into the ocean, and I decide wearing motorcycle gear to climb, scramble up rocks, and basically keep up with a fearless boy is pretty much the shit. Knee armor, grippy boot soles, and leather gloves serve double duty.
ss At some point I decide that we should get a move on, seeing as how Ashlee's family was hoping we'd be in Portland by dinnertime. In retrospect, we probably should have spent all day in Port Orford, sitting on that rock waiting for the sun to set, and leaving at dark to speed up the coast. Oregon drivers are slow, and not just by my standards. With lane splitting illegal, artificially low speed limits and drivers afraid to go even that fast, I'm in for a frustrating, slow, and long ride.
ag We slowly snake our way through the Oregon coastal towns I grew up visiting. For a large part, PCH turns inland and the views aren't that spectacular, but it juts out to follow the ocean again once you get North of Florence, and the vistas turn amazing. Having fixed our sight on a destination so early in the day has made this the longest yet.
ss We head East on Highway 18 through Oregon wine country, stopping only to ogle the Spruce Goose (which makes the 747 sitting close by look like a scale model). We finally make it to Portland, and in the days to follow we'll hang out in the Rose City where we'll see Journey, visit SeeSee Motorcycle's new shop and check out Moto Corsa before we head back South via Shasta, Tahoe and Yosemite.
You'll be able to find complete Goldwing tour coverage here, over the next week or two.