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Square Route 1998

Overview

Getting there:

Eric had just gotten back from his ill-fated trip to Arkansas and needed something to do, so instead of slabbing it to Thurmont (not a bad slab, though) I went down 206 through NJ (horrible ride) and we met at his house. After all, his Ducati had no room to carry his sleeping bag, so he needed help with the luggage :)  more bad slabbing as far as Downingtown, then it got nice. Back roads (route courtesy of Earle) and we got to the rally while it was still light. Eric was a bit sore after the day before (1000+ miles on his 916 in about 19 hours) and we just hung out, talking to people, setting up camp, and what not.

Fri. night.

Earle and his friend (on a Honda Superhawk) rode in a bit later after a much faster ride over the same route, and some of the evening was dedicated to plotting a route for the next day's ride. Ted Verrill, who has a lot of miles on WVa roads, offered some suggestions, and we all pored over the maps making a route. I got to bed around eleven or twelve: although Eric and I had planned to use the tent, we ended up taking advantage of some empty bunks in one of the  bunkhouses.

Saturday:

Ride day! Up early (earlier than the rest of the PA crowd..:) ) and I walked around looking at bikes for a while and sipped a cup of coffee. Plenty of hot water for showers!! Unfortunately, the water itself went out for an hour or two due to a fuse or something, but that didn't affect me :) so I just stayed away from everyone else until they had a chance to bathe... The breakfast was no great shakes according to some, but I thought it was acceptable enough, and we finally got everything set for the ride and took off shortly before 9:00.

The ride took the whole day really, and we missed all field events, Ron Ayres' talk, vendors, and dinner. Kinda made us wonder why we bothered paying the rally fee! Saturday night was nice, though...  everyone was in a good mood, beer was flowing, tires were told and lies were kicked (at full volume, to be heard over the band) and it was the typical rally Saturday night. I dozed on the grass, stargazing with some DC-area friends, and finally fell into bed god-knows-how-late.

Sunday:

Up again early! Why is everyone still sleeping! More coffee, and I walked around looking at bikes. On Saturday I had seen two K75S's which looked like a husband/wife team I met last year at Americade, but there was no sign of them now. Not many /5 models, surprisingly.  Lots and lots of Ks, lots of oilheads, plus a lot of /6 and later.  Quite a number of non-BMW. I started packing as everyone else woke up, and we shoved off around 9:30 for a diner in Thurmont, where most of the BMWBMW crowd was. We ate like horses, then commenced to rocket across the countryside, eastbound. Towards the end of the trip I took the Superhawk... WOW!! More power than you can imagine, if you're only used to BMWs. Same power, or more, than the K12 and WAYYYYYY lighter! Earle was on the Ducati for this stretch, and he was shaking his head in amazement for that bike.... When we stopped, after he and I rocketed away from the others on our super twins, he expressed that the two of us would be some serious trouble on these bikes, if we had the chance to get used to them. If you'd seen us the day before, you'd understand!

Pfffftttttt.....

Eric and I then split off and slabbed it back towards Philly. A few miles after getting on the turnpike, I lost him in my mirrors. Stuck in traffic, right? But after a while of not seeing him, I slowed, stopped, and when there was still no tace of him I got on the CB and learned that he was on the side with a flat. New tire, too! Whoops, no, it now had 1000 miles on it, which probably meant it was 20% dead! But a recent tire nontheless. I looped around, stopped, and his repair kit worked like a charm. We were probably back on the road 10 minutes later. Slow trip to his house, and a hot, windy trip home again and the 25th Square Route Rally was history.

The Ride

You have to understand, first off, that Eric was in serious pain for a lot of this day, so we didn't really push too hard or stay out too long..... YEAH, RIGHT!!!!

We set out shortly before 9:00 AM, gassed up, and Earle led the charge westward. I don't know what roads we were on, and didn't even try to pay attention, since he was the expert in this area. I just followed and did my best to keep up. But we moved at a pretty good clip, 80 to 90 on most open areas, with a few blasts higher. I started out towards the back, but moved up as time went on, until I was behind Earle. I think this is because my style is similar to his; in corners I tend to set my speed beforehand and carry speed through, while I found the other riders were approaching the corners a bit quicker, but I'd be running up on them before the exit. After having to brake a few times for this (and seeing the gap in back of Earle opening up) I took the opening to move up whenever I could.

The first part of the ride was comparitively slow, anyway. I was wishing I had a radio! But that was a function of the terrain, and as we got further into VWa the roads got better, and we really started having fun. But as lunchtime drew near, Eric's pain increased... lunch was longer than necessary! And when we started out again, lo and behold, Eric was on the R1100RT! "This is cheating!" he said at the next stop, "This isn't riding, this is gliding!" The Ducati was in good hands elsewhere, so this arrangement went on for a while, until we entered....

THE VALLEY OF RAIN.

We were on 250E in the Monongahela State Forest when the first few drops came down. No big deal... WHOOSH!! Suddenly we could hardly see! After a minute or so I just pulled to the side and ran into the forest where the deluge was not quite as severe. Eric was watching his leathers getting wet, while the rest of us furiously zipped up all of the vents in our Aerostiches. It was quite a downpour. When the worst was gone, we took off (a bit more slowly) and motored through the light drizzle into Bartow, where we took refuge on the porch of a cafe and analyzed our predicament.

There were actually two routes that we were on. One was our actual path (more good roads, twisties, YEAH!) and the other was the route that Eric thought we were on ("Almost home now, Eric! Just another hour!"). Sometimes we just played with his mind. "Eric, we might not even make it back tonight." He'd been on a Ducati for 1600 miles in the last two or three days; if we'd told him that he was at home in bed he'd have curled up and gone to sleep in the parking lot.

Before we left the cafe, we were treated to a great West Virginia sight. Across from the porch we were on, there was a house. In the middle of the thunderstorm which had restarted, we watch in amazement as a man appers on the roof of this dwelling and walks around. Wait, what's that in his hand? An antenna? In front of our eyes, this man walks across the roof (thunder and lightning evident) with this metal antenna... towards the only higher structure around, a steel mast holding a few other antennae. Evidently thinking that his risk was insufficient, he does the only logical thing: with the antenna in one hand, he now CLIMBS THE MAST and starts fastening the antenna to it.  Had it been me up there, I'd be vapor now, but this guy's karma was well-tuned and he spent several very enjoyable minutes adjusting the position and tightening the mounting bolts. To finish the scene, a pickup came rumbling down the street, dragging its muffler, and the occupant parked by the cafe and walked into the house. We were breathlessly awaiting the next bit of local culture, but the weather began to clear and we made our escape.

After this, the gas stops started getting fun. Eric would stagger around, and we'd either tell him that we were almost home or that we were hopelessly far away. He was back on the RT again, after being evicted from it during the rainstorm. We were a solid four hours away from the rally, if we went straight back, so we did the only logical thing.. added a few more good roads to the itinerary. By this point we wouldn't even let Eric see the map. "It's all smudged with rain," Earle told him as he quickly smudged it with rain and stuffed it into the tankbag, "but we're almost home."

The pinnacle of the ride, though, was towards the end of the day. We got onto I-81 to go around Harrisonburg, then got off again at Luray onto 211 and crossed over the Blue Ridge to Sperryville. Two complete ridges, each with an unbelieveable set of switchbacks going up and down. This was my thing! Although I was at a power disadvantage, I have put a LOT of sweeper-miles on this bike, so I powered through in the first few uphill sweepers to be behind THE MAN. Earle is a real treat to watch! From my position I could evaluate his speed and improve on it if needed (improving on it was the only way to even stay close on the uphills) and we gained altitude and did our best to use all of our tread.

A slight slowing at the top, to re-group the line, and we were off again, on the downhill. On the first real sweeper I thought he was going to scrape his hip on the road! Fortunately for me, power wasn't very important on this leg, and the engine could take a breather while I worked the brakes instead. Watch Earle... hard braking, corner looks clear.. OK, off the brakes and turn NOW!!  Gas! BRAKES!!!! The downhill right-handers are the best/worst, as they're really tight and you really drop into them. Mid-corner braking is out of the question; when you transition from braking to turning, you are committed! Down we go, the road levels out, slow and regroup, then it's uphill again, into another set of switchbacks! I haven't charged hard like that in a while... when it was all over, we all converged in a parking lot and walked around the bikes like kids, checking out the scuff levels on the tires and feeling how hot and sticky they were. What a gas! We were all like babbling idiots after that run.

Warrenton was about 20 minutes away, so we cruised up to there to fuel our machines and ourselves. A good meal, and it was dark when we finally left the diner. Eric, in his toasted condition, decided to use the Ducati again, so he suited up and stared at his bike for a minute while we got on. Then he walked over towards the RT and a moment later its owner came back and got onto the Duck. "He said he couldn't even get on it," came the explanation.

I led now, and we blazed through the darkness with 280 Watts of deer-scorching firepower being thrown from my bike and my V1 keeping an ear out for the Men In Blue. Both weapons were used at least once on the trip, and we finally pulled back into the rally site around 11:15. 501 miles through the hills and mountains was certainly a full day.

Bike-Swapping observations

Most of us had the chance to ride different bikes during the weekend. I rode the K12 and the Honda Superhawk.

The K12...

Great power, and as smooth as an electric motor. With the seat at the high position I could still flat-foot, and yes, there is quite a reach to the bars but nothing extreme. Definitely less leverage on the bars, and it was most noticeable in parking lot manoeuvers. On the road, I started out riding it like I'd ride the K75... steering my way through corners. The bike felt like a real pig! What's this, I thought.. this is supposed to be the best! Problem must be me...  So I tried shifting weight around and a few other things, and the simple explanation is that this bike needs to be set up for corners.  Getting into them and steering your way into the proper attitude just doesn't work, especially if you're off the gas; this thing just wants to stand up straight when you try to handle it that way. So towards the end of my stint on it, I was doing a lot better. Lean it over before you turn, give it throttle and all is well! I remember riders having the same experience going from K75s or K100s to K1100RSs.  Fantastic brakes, too! And no engine noise at all! The wind flattened my helmet against my face until I thought my microphone was going to leave a permanent dent in my chin, but that only happened a _few_ times when we got over 100 mph or so... I guess that could be a problem for long-term ownership! :) Comfort-wise, I couldn't say, since ergos don't really show up until you've been out for a few hours, but I didn't have any pains for the 30 or 40 minutes that I was on it.

The Superhawk...

This is Honda's answer to the Ducati challenge. A big V-twin, 996cc I think, and it has at least the power of the K12. Put that into a smallish bike that weighs several hundred pounds less (probably) and you have a real rocket! Where the K12 is a classic Grand Tourer, the SH is just a plain sportbike. This thing accelerates hard enough to stretch your arms, corners with not much fuss (easier for this rookie than the K12 was) and just begs you to loft the front wheel off the ground at each little dip in the road. I never got any air coming out of a corner, but I can predict that with some experience, a rider would have no trouble choosing when the front tire would be on the ground. The feel of the Super Twin engine is different - very distinct power pulses, a bit disconcerting to this K enthusiast, but entertaining nonetheless. And when I got back on my bike, I couldn't believe what a barge it felt like! Soft, smooth, and I felt like I was leaning back, cruiser-style! And what happened to all of the power?!?!

Overall, I'd have to choose the K12 - enough power, smooth, and the heavier handling would be a challenge to master and ultimately use to the best advantage. But the thing that really struck me was how different it is riding a bike with power. I grew up driving low-powered cars, and going fast on back roads meant you needed technique. So it is with my K. With these two, the Superhawk in particular, you just get yourself into the middle of the turn, aim at the exit and gas it. Sure, having good technique will get you more, but the advantage of doing so is less pronounced than on an underpowered bike. Having the chance to refine that technique on either of these bikes, though, would be very rewarding.