Saturday, January 14, 2006

Reporting live (sort of) from the west coast

Before you read whats about to be written, understand that I'm not much of a traveller and aside for business will probably fly somewhere around two or three times a year.


It seems since this blog was started I've flown four times in the last four months and that doesn't include the numerous times business has taken me to Atlanta every month. The upside is that I get to see these places, most of which I've visited before, through the new eyes of a rider. Checking out the roads, terrain, weather and most importantly the other bikers and what they're riding. The obvious downside is that the travel takes me away from my bike and consequently riding.

So here I am in Sunny California. Okay it's cold and a few patches of fog, but still the land of dreams. Flew into LAX late on thursday, jumped into the car and drove up to Oxnard to stay with the girlfriends friends. Just a word from those in the know, LAX is the code for Los Angeles airport used by the airline industry and for us seasoned travellers (sarcasm).

Driving along Pacific Coast Highway you realise that this state is truly a motorcyclists paradise. Sure you have to avoid the city centers and many suburban jungles, but once you hit the open road and winding highways the only thing holding you back is how much gas you have in the tank. The highways are three lanes and once you get out of Malibu, traffic lights are few and far between. Even if a rider doesn't want to deal with the congestion of PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), the view of the coast can be traded for a ride through the farm lands and groves taking the 101 north out of Los Angeles which also comes with the benefit of no traffic lights. The two roads meet at Ventura and become one anyway.

We took the latter arriving at Oxnard at around 11.30 pm local time, but 2.30 am according to our body clocks. There wasn't much conversation with our gracious hosts before it was time for bed. After a quick breakfast Friday morning we again jumped in the car and headed up to Atescadaro to meet the girlfriends family. Staying on the 101 I could only imagine the thrill of riding these highways on my Deuce. The roads wound their way through the cut mountians taking you back and forth and occasionally over the landscape, all the while the Pacific ocean dominated the view to the left. The 1o1 highway follows the coastline which means although you're heading in a generally north direction at some points the road takes you due west and as I drove I could imagine the sun being allowed to warm various parts of your body as you rode. The warming sun is important since cool weather and cloudless skies leaves the temperature working hard to make it into the lower sixties. Being California you start and end off a lot cooler than your high, and wind chill really weighing in.

Didn't take these photos...but they're perfect examples of what you'll find on the 101.

Amazingly I saw no motorcycles on the road, this seemed a real waste of highway especially when we hit Gaviota where large hills pushed higher to become mountains and the road cut through accordingly. The bends became sweeping and gradients majestic, making this part of the world a riders heaven regardless of what you ride. There aren't many places to stop so traffic flows at a steady pace but none of the traffic exceeded eighty miles per hour. Dotted all along 101 are green old-fashioned lamposts with brown shades and sign "El Camino Real", which is supposed to symbolize Santa Barbara County. Between the drive yesterday and today, I'd seen three Harley dealerships with the last one at the off ramp as we arrived in Atescadero. Our tight travelling schedule wouldn't allow us to stop off at any of the dealerships so far, but that was about to hopefully change.

We met the girlfriends brother in Atescadero for lunch and over some good Californian Mexican food he showed us where he made a ATV/Dirt riding magazine. It's such a popular sport in this part of the country that they have huge races which come with purses of $25,000. Although being the oldest and the only smoker, he surprise all of his group of riders by beating all of them to come on sixth overall. Good, but not only no cigar but no cash winnings. Even though this is the third time meeting her family, they've all been flying visits and her brother was surprised to learn that not only did I ride but owned a motorcycle. His preference was off-road and Japanese bikes on top of that, but when two riders get together theres never a shortage of conversation. It was at the end of lunch the girlfriend worked out we had a twenty minute window to stop by the local Harley Davidson dealership.

Yes, I'm the sucker that Harley Davidson and their growing army of dealerships can thank for the prosperous growth and enjoyable bottom line. Like other HD riders I try to stop at local dealerships whenever travelling and buy a few T-shirts (really don't have much need for the long sleeve stuff in Florida) for the apparel collection. At $26 a pop and with a majority of riders doing the same thing, its easy to see why the dealerships are making more money off of the clothes than the motorcycles. Heck there are some stores that only carry the clothes!

So there I was at Gary Bang Harley Davidson, plastic in hand and credit limit available looking for both myself and my riding buddy. Nothing. Couldn't find anything that really caught the eye except a heavy duty, weathered and patched leather for $470. Worth it I'm sure, but a little more than I wanted to spend especially for something that would be taken out of the closet maybe twice a year.

We picked up her niece and nephews, some food for the barbeque and headed over to the parents house in Morro Bay, a seaside town with a large and notable chunk of rock sitting the towns bay. If you were to imagine a northern seaside town with all the quaintness Hollywood could muster, you'd know Morro Bay. Hearst Castle is billed as being right next door but is really an hour north.

What really caught my imagination was the ride from Atescadero to Morro Bay. We rode along Highway 41, a two lane road which curves up and down the mountains giving some spectacular views and what I could only think would be fun-filled riding. Since both her brothers and father are motorcycle enthusiasts I asked about the road and they said if you started at Morro Bay and stayed on Hwy 41 past Atascadero it would take you on a beautiful route into the mountains with a few places to stop to take it all in. Wow.

Barbequed tritips, chit chat and an hours worth of hide and seek with the kids and it was time to head back to Oxnard. Driving up I continuously wished to be on a motorcycle, but coming back in the pitch black it was nice being safely in the rented Camry. With no street lights and a hidden moon the curving dark roads weren't as attractive.

So here I sit about to jump in the shower and do the good-boyfriend thing of going to a baby-shower, feet cold to the bone. The upsides to today: Guys watching football in another part of the bar while the ladies ohh and ahh at the baby presents and the girlfriends friend from Los Angelos riding up her brand new Sportbike.

Just up the winding road.
Funnily enough I just happen to be in the State that has a little controversy in the motorcycle world. I'm not talking about Governor Schwarzenegger taking flak from his little Harley mishap which drew a stinging editorial from the Mercury News this morning.

The police explained that they didn't actually witness Schwarzenegger's accident -- and that they couldn't go back and cite him later.

By this thinking, a cop who comes across a drunk who confesses to hitting a grandmother in a crosswalk would have trouble taking him off to jail -- because, after all, the cop didn't witness the crash.

The explanation offered by the California Highway Patrol and the DMV achieved even greater heights of silliness. Because Schwarzenegger's motorcycle had a sidecar for his son, they claimed, nothing forbade the governor from operating the vehicle with just his standard driver's license. Even though you need a special license to operate a motorcycle without a sidecar.

No, its far less widespread but certainly something that deserves equal attention. Friday morning some northern californian deejays on 105.3 decided they were upset with the legal practice of lane-splitting. For those not in the know, because it's not legal in all states, this is when a motorcycle rides along the white lines in between vehicles during a stopped traffic flow (or traffic jam to you and I). Bearing in mind I didn't hear this with my own ears, here is a transcript offered by some upset riders that did.

Woody: Nothing would make me happier than to watch somebody, and I actually seen this one time, somebody open a door and take you out as you're trying to squeeze through people who have been sitting in traffic for 45 minutes.

Tony: If it didn't rip my door off I'd probably do it.

Woody: Now I don't want to see anybody get hurt, honestly, but I mean you just get so mad so frustrated that you're like you know what I hope you... It's kind of like those guys that haul "O Ring" past you on the freeway... going like 160 mph on their crotch rocket, and I'm like, you know what, I hope you crash.

Raify: It's like, I look forward to seeing you up ahead...

Woody: Splattered

Raify: Splattered

Woody: Just for being an A-hole, right?

The DJ's tried to downplay after some annoyed calls came in from bikers but not enough to get the forum boards cooking. Both TMW Motorcycle Forums and Bay Area Riders Forum had a lot posts and complaints.

The sad thing is by keeping this alive you give these 'shock-jock' types exactly what they want, free publicity. On the other hand its so hard not to see the obvious want to scream "What freakin' idiots!"

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