Friday afternoon I tweeted: “Thinking about a ride tomorrow. For pleasure, not to the office this time. Some place with, cows, americana, roadside diners. Need maps.” I did go for the ride, and I got all of the above, and then some.
Saturday I took the V-Strom for a spin through the countryside. Instead of my usual 8 hours+motorcycle=loop through North Georgia Mountains formula bird-in-the-hand route. Dawsonville, Suches, Wolfpen Gap, Cherahola Skyway, and all possible approaches have been beaten to death by me on two wheels, over the years. This was to be a back to basics “look for America” (to quote Paul Simon) ride. Also my first try with GPS. The main attraction was to be Little River Canyon Parkway in Alabama. I stumbled across it on Google Maps, and it looked very motorcycley.
In the maps department, I was frustrated by the scale of the torn out atlas pages I was using. On a whim (weeks in the planning) I ran to REI Friday night and grabbed the cheapest Garmin GPS thay have , using my dividend as “found money” to justify the purchase. After playing around with it, I thought I would be returning it. Route planning is a real pain in the neck, and the interface is annoyingly old school. We have been spoiled by the ease of Google Maps and intuitive iPhone interfaces. Garmin is stuck in 2003 where ABC (not qwerty) keyboards and up/down arrow GUI navigation is still cool. Without the time to connect a cigarette jack to the bike, I charged up the Nuvi 1200 and stuck it in the pocket of my tank bag. As soon as I was on unfamiliar pavement Saturday morning, about two hours in, I pulled out the GPS and keyed in the destination. Suddenly the adventure begins, and I am HOOKED on GPS. It proves that the best roads are not on the map. Any map would have you take the largest road to the next largest intersection, etc. GPS on the other hand, knows the Inside Ell. And the inside ell is a postcard!
With a late start due to last-minute jerry-rigging of untested gear, and weighing the threat of rain, I arrived near Little River Canyon near lunch time. I pushed on to Fort Payne to return to the canyon after lunch. Fort Payne was interesting. Their chief export is socks, apparently. So the place is covered up in divey taquerias. Their point of pride however is that Alabama (the band) hails from there. I discovered this while eating a mediocre hamburger at the diner/antique shop that was apparently home to the original Alabama fan club. I think I should have opted for Mexican.
Little River Canyon disappointed. Perhaps I was just not in the mood. Or maybe I was not feeling confident enough on the new (less sporty, more touring oriented) bike to really push it. It would be a knee-draggers dream, but there is a very prominetly posted 35 MPH speed limit. The road is very narrow and winding, woods on both sides, with no shoulders and mostly blind turns. Lots of gravel this time out, for a high pucker factor. It reminded me of the Natchez Trace – beautifully tended controlled driving enclave, but unable to enjoy it at even “normal” speeds. I didn’t get the impression that it was a sportbike mecca (a la Wolfpen Gap or the Dragon) which is what it looks like on the map. There are plenty of scenic overlooks and I’m betting some nice hiking trails too, but thats not what I was there for.
I plugged another random small town in to the GPS (Rockmart, GA) to see how it would take me there, and again was not disappointed. I ended up passing through Cave Spring, GA. I almost missed it, but noticed a dilapidated Victorian house that prompted me to turn around to get a picture. By the time I found a place to park the bike, I realized the whole town was filled with textbook Carpenter Gothic and A. J. Downing-looking houses. The kind of off-the-map town specializing in antique shops, fudge and meth. I knocked around for a half hour snapping pictures of architectural details.
The rest of the day was not worth mentioning, aside from some spectacular postcard-scenic byways and grungy underbelly of some midsize towns (also thanks to the inside ell). Somewhere along the way I lost the GA half of my map – sucked out of the tank pouch by a gust of negative pressure because I left the pouch open. Then the GPS battery died. I made the mistake of not getting to an interstate soon enough, and became mired in Suburban Hell traffic as I neared the metro area. As a rule, one should be 20-30 minutes at speed OTP before straying off the interstates, or you run this risk. This goes for the return trip as well, and I misjudged it, being mapless in unfamiliar territory.
Also new was the Crampbusters throttle grip. I had given up on it with the SV, even for longer open-road trips. I found it to interfere with the throttle blipping and finer throttle control required of the sportier bike. On the V-Strom I found it very comfortable, and a keeper. I did trim it down, finding the wide version a bit too wide. It seems as if the V-Strom has a stronger or tighter return spring, even though the throttle is less sensitive, which would tire my hand out. The extra leverage feels nice in your hand once you get used to it, and not just for cruise-control situations.
So…thumbs up to the GPS small town connect the dots game. Thumbs up to Crampbusters. Meh-to-neutral on Little River Canyon – I could give it another chance some day, if I’m going that way. Thumbs down to Suburban Traffic Hell.
Full photo gallery HERE.