Far be from me to turn down a test ride on a 135 horsepower $20,000 superbike. I was in the Kansas City area just back from riding the western plains, when the Letko Cycles sign caught my eye. A couple of my riding buddies have been raving about the KTM 1290 Super Adventure. It was time see what they’re so fired up about.
Letko has been in business since 1969 and carries the full KTM line. The salesman mentioned they had an 1190 Adventure in back, ready to ride. When I told him I really wanted to check out the one with cruise, a must-have feature on my next machine- he said “no problem, I’ll just pull this new1290 off the floor.” How’s that for customer service?
The Super Adventure has the features I want in a traveling machine: 7.9 gallon tank, heated grips, tubeless laced wheels, hard bags and the all-important cruise control. I’ve always used a throttle lock and they work well on long straight runs, but throw in some rolling pavement like U.S. 36 in Kansas and my right shoulder/neck area gets tight. A set-it, forget-it electronic wrist should take care of the issue.
After I signed a waiver and was given a rundown of the controls, I was cut loose on a truly impressive motorcycle. The only real restriction was I was asked not to put the mode switch in “Sport.” This would unleash the full 135 horsepower to the rear wheel- something that needs to be worked up to. Fair enough, “Street” mode puts out something like 115 horses- not a slouch in any sense of the word.
The first thing that struck me as I gingerly pulled into traffic was the snarl from the exhaust can- positively intoxicating. There was an idiot grin under my helmet as I blipped the throttle. The seat, heated by the way, something definitely not needed in the 97 degree KC heat was plush. One thing I had been concerned about was engine heat- there was a bit on my left thigh, but nothing excessive. The bars were rotated a bit farther forward than I like, but a series of hash marks indicate they are adjustable. The heated grips, again, not tested, are of a normal diameter rather than the typical oversize aftermarket items. The windshield is large and adjustable. In short, the Austrians have designed a bike to accommodate a variety of riders.
My hour-long test included a brief blast up I-35- lots of fun, but could be hazardous to the drivers license. The balance was on surface streets in stop-and-go conditions where the high ambient temperature didn’t affect the machine in the least- the temp gauge never broke the half-way mark.
The Super Adventure carries a full complement of electronics: lean-sensitive traction control which is mode settable, ABS, again adjustable for road conditions, suspension pre-load and dampening controls, and the aforementioned power settings. The bike has all the bells and whistles. And that is my only concern. I am a bit of a Luddite and while I appreciate modern conveniences, I worry about their service life, particularly ten years down the road when the new-bike smell has worn off. The upside is much of this electronic wizardry is automotive sourced and well-proven in millions of miles of four-wheel applications.
KTM has a growing dealer network, another consideration. Alaska and Canadian provinces sport at least one dealer. But critically, the shops understand that KTM owners buy their machines to ride. Accordingly, they carry consumables like tires and brake pads- parts that can make or break an adventure. With a set of D.O.T. knobbies I can just picture myself ripping up the Canol Road in the Yukon, exhaust bellowing though the wilderness with a fuel supply sufficient to make the 288 mile round trip. Am I ready to pull the trigger and buy? I made it clear that my time-frame is 18 to 24 months out, but this machine sparks my imagination like few others. I’ll be thinking about it a lot.
I avoid taking long rides to hot places in August for obvious reasons. This year though, my goal is to do an article on north central Kansas from the Missouri to Colorado border. Since the Christian Motorcyclists Association state rally was slated for Hutchinson, pretty much in the center of the state, I figured I could meet with some like-mined riders and incorporate it into the story. It just happened to be in August.
To bone up on local lore, I’ve been reading a book, Prairy Erth, by William Least Heat-Moon, one of my favorite travel authors. As only he can do, Heat-Moon constructed a 500 plus page narrative based on one just county in Kansas, Chase. Cool, Chase county lies in the heart of another place I wanted to ride and write about, the Flint Hills. This is process of how I construct my riding stories; connecting bits of random ideas that pop into my head. Hopefully a salable piece emerges at the end.
So, I jumped on the Strom early yesterday morning and headed southwest on U.S. 50/ I-35. Like Heat-Moon, I too eschew the super slab; they’re useful to digest vast chunks of real estate, but lack character. Trouble is, many fine old routes like U.S. 50 are being supplanted by them.
I-35 turns into a toll road at Emporia, another reason to exit. Emporia also marks the entrance into the Flint Hills. I didn’t have an itinerary, but Chase County courthouse where Heat-Moon did much of his research was a must-stop. Other than that I just rode. All told, my loop of the hills covered from Eldorado in the south, to Council Grove in the north. Tally for the day was just under 400 miles, not particularly ambitious, but given it was in the upper nineties, challenging nonetheless.
Coincidentally, the previous evening I read a list of ways to make hot weather riding safer and more enjoyable, ironically on the Rider Magazine website. Of course covering all skin was a no-brainer; my Aerostich Darien suit handles that well, with vents that pass a lot of air for cooling. I also froze a couple of bottles of Gatorade and stashed them next to the camera to remind myself to hydrate. I figured I was good to go. The suggestion I didn’t heed and should have: avoid riding during the hottest part of the day. And if you do feel heat stress coming on, get to a cool place. On a bike, that last one can save you life.
Trouble is many people don’t recognize heat stress. The steel mill where I work constantly hammers away at “shared vigilance,” looking out for your co-worker under hot conditions, something my preferred ride-alone mode doesn’t allow for.
So, when I saw a sign advertising the Hays House in Council Grove, Kansas, an establishment dating from 1857 and located right on the old Sante Fe Trail to boot, I knew I had to check it out. That I wasn’t hungry didn’t enter into my thinking. After I located the place, I stumbled into a cool in more ways than one, throwback to another century. When the server asked what I’d like to drink, I forced out a barely audible “iced tea.” After four or five of them I was revived enough to take a tour of what has served as a restaurant, bar, town hall, church, hotel and host of other functions over the years. General Custer and Billy the Kid were once customers at the bar in the lower level. Lots of story material to work with.
This whole deal has got me thinking about the connection modern motor cycle riders have with horsemen from another era. In my mind’s eye, it’s not hard to see a lone cowboy strung out from a long day on the Sante Fe Trail tying his mount up, maybe to the same hitching post I parked the Strom in front of. I like that image.
For many years I rode a Harley Softail; you might say I was one of the Faithful. When I jumped to the Dark Side in 2002 with the purchase of a new Suzuki Bandit 1200, it was quite a shock to my riding buddies. With the move I begrudgingly admitted what many riders already knew: an import’s power, handling and braking was far superior to that of Milwaukee Iron. My only issue was the Bandit’s forward lean, not bad for a bike marketed as a sport-standard, but different than the relaxed posture of the FXSTC. A simple handlebar riser kit took care of the problem.
That original Bandit was ultimately totaled- another story for another day. Its eventual replacement took the form of two more Suzuki’s, 2007 models also purchased new: a Bandit 1250 and a V-Strom 1000. Those bikes each took me to Alaska in pretty much stock trim. It’s funny, but with a combined 80,000 miles on the clock I recently decided it was time to raise the bars a bit.
Since I’ve had good luck with SW-MOTECH products, I ordered two sets of their risers from Twisted Throttle, one 25mm and the other 30mm. This modest height increase assured there would be no need for longer hoses or cables. This proved to be the case on the Bandit with the installation being a ten-minute deal. I stuck with the shorter version to be on the safe side, but the roughly one inch height increase still makes for a tremendous improvement in comfort.
The V-Strom was a different story. I spent a couple of hours rerouting and adjusting cables and hoses, but in the end it was the clutch-side wiring harness that nixed the deal as it was pulled taught as bowstring at full lock. Not good. Since I’m heading for the plains of Kansas in a couple of weeks I put the stock parts back on.
The manufacturer claims 30mm or less of rise should not require anything more than minor cable/hose/wiring adjustments. But they also offer a caveat that individual machines can vary. The Strom is one of them. Thankfully, the bike was already pretty good comfort wise so I’ll just live with it.
As the Bandit has plenty of cable/wire slack, I’ll eventually swap to the 30mm units when I replace the clutch and brake hoses with longer braided versions. There should be another incremental, but useful increase in comfort with the change. Still, even with all the power, brakes and handling it will never completely replace that Harley.
Well, the semester at PNC is done and it’s time to attend to this long-neglected blog. I figured a good place to start was with a link to my latest Rider article from the May 2016 issue. The story ran pretty much as submitted. They did delete a favorite part about using my Indiana gun permit in lieu of my misplaced driver’s license when I got stopped for speeding. The officer was cool; let me go with a warning to slow down. I followed his advice, but it reminds me of an emerging pattern with my Rider pieces. In three of the articles that referenced interactions with law enforcement, all were either struck or re-worded. Hmmm, maybe the editor is trying to tell me something.
The other thing is the print version had twenty pictures while the web site only carries half as many. This was the case with my previous five stories as well. Kind of weird since paper and ink cost actual dollars and the internet is just code hanging in cyber-space. I won’t lose sleep over it, but I’ve included a few shots that didn’t even make the magazine.
It was a long day of riding and I’m tired, so here’s a short one. Plus, I’m heading for Kansas in the morning via the Pig Trail. My plan was to ride the Magazine Mountain loop, which I did. Magazine Mountain Scenic Byway is often compared to Talimena Drive. It was a stunner, but I still prefer the latter. Magazine Mountain is the highest point in Arkansas. Problem was, above 2000 feet there was so much fog I couldn’t see anything, so no stunning pictures. I did get some good ones on the way up, though.
Mount Nebo State Park was a side trip, one I almost didn’t do, but am glad I did. A Civilian Conservation Corps project from the 1930’s, the access road rises over 1200 feet in 2.5 miles with some 18% grades. Hairpin turns abound. The fog was burning off by the time I got there giving a good view of Lake Dardanelle and the Arkansas One Nuclear Plant. That little 45 minute diversion is going to get a decent amount of ink in my Rider story.
One thing that has struck me on this ride is the profusion of churches and public professions of faith along the way. I feel a kinship with these people. This too I will attempt to convey in my story.
On my way back to camp I became lost in my thoughts and inattentive, net result: I was pulled over for speeding. I followed my time-honored practice of shutting down the bike and removing my helmet, they say it sets the officer at ease. I don’t know, but it generally works for me. Small problem though, I lost my license somewhere in my travels. Turns out an Indiana gun permit has all the pertinent information and will stand in for an Indiana driver’s license. Good thing our states have reciprocity. I was released with a pat on the back and warning to cool it. I shall.
I rode what I’d envisioned would be my favorite loop today, Talimena Scenic National Byway. The Ouachita’s are rather unique as far as North American mountains are concerned as they run east to west rather than the more common north to south orientation. Since the route crosses into Oklahoma, I figured I’d ride it to the end and take in the Winding Staircase region of the Oklahoma Ouachita’s. My only concern was getting a tour of the fire watch tower on Rich Mountain, the road’s highest point at around 2700 feet. I shouldn’t have worried. A helpful ranger lady drove on ahead of me and unlocked the gate. She also let her husband, who works at Mount Magazine State Park know that I’d be showing up tomorrow. I understand the ride there is every bit the equal of what I experienced today.
Since I’m supposed to be doing research, I’ll offer a critique. Arkansas is on the ball as far as promoting their roads and resources, Oklahoma, not so much. Case in point: I need maps for both states to give the Rider map artist something to work off of. I have more than half dozen for the Arkansas side; they were everywhere. Motorcycle specific guide books were plentiful as well. I asked several times in Oklahoma, finally locating a 2010 version. The Department of Agriculture station did have some slick Talimena Drive stickers and patches, so I guess that counts for something. But they need to get with the program; the real estate they manage begs to be promoted to the fullest.
I picked up this morning where I left off yesterday on Arkansas 9, just south of I-40. I had a vague plan that included riding through Hot Springs, which I did. Beyond that, my goal was to get off the beaten path and hit the roads represented by squiggly lines on map. I have to tell you, in west central Arkansas there are a bunch of them! If I had to pick a favorite though, it would be AR 246 that skirts the southern edge of the Ouachita National Forest.
While not as technical in nature as AR 16 from yesterday’s ride, AR 246 has plenty of grin producing fast sweepers bending its red tinted pavement. The other thing is smells. The Ouachita’s, like all national forests is managed by periodic logging. The scent of fresh cut pine and cedar at times was overwhelming. When considering odors though, it is obvious that livestock production is also a major activity in this part of the country. I guess you could say the pine and cedar acts as a type of air freshener.
Tomorrow I plan to ride Talimena National Scenic Byway. It is one of the best runs in the area. The forecast is for rain late in the day, so I need to get an early start as the pictures to make the story into a Rider feature are on that particular loop.
The manager at Iron Mountain told me if the weather turned bad to feel free to move my tent under the canopy. Much appreciated. I think I might spring for one of the camping cabins one night as well. The $35 fee can be chalked up to research.
After a couple of days of heavy rain I was ready to get back in the saddle.
I headed north on Arkansas 5, a route that is rated highly in the official state motorcycling guidebook. The road didn’t disappoint as it presses into the Ozarks with abundant curves and gently rolling hills. At the town of Heber Springs of few of those hills were almost scary.
I was loosely following the Pinnacle Mountain/Greers Ferry Loop, so I cut back west on Arkansas 92, another good run of pavement. At the town of Greers Ferry I picked up Arkansas 16 and all I can say is whoa! For the next 21 miles it was ear-popping elevation changes and challenging curves as I followed a ribbon of freshly laid asphalt. When the route linked up with U.S. 65 in Clinton I seriously considered turning around running it again. The experience was unlike anything in my home of Beautiful Northwest Indiana where we count potholes per yard rather than curves per mile.
South of Clinton, Arkansas 9 looked interesting so I varied from the guidebook, and while not as intense as what I’d just ridden, it was by no means a disappointment. I look forward to picking it up again when I head out for today’s ride into the Ouachitas. If the weather forecast is correct, tonight I’ll be camping under a cloudless sky just east of the Oklahoma border.
Here is the link to my latest Rider Magazine story. It was initially rejected for not having a “motorcycle feel.” Not one to give up, I reworked it using creative nonfiction techniques gleaned in Professor Sarah White’s English classes at Purdue North Central. Education does have its benefits.
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