This weekend I had the pleasure of taking a guided motorcycle tour to Mt. Palomar and back courtesy of Kawasaki Motors Corporation. After attending the 2005 model intro I was sent up to Irvine, California where our ride would begin. The ride was organized by www.bikeland.org and my motorcycle and "XL"'s ride were supplied by KMC.
The traffic in SoCal is terrible, and to avoid it I am warned to be prepared for an early morning start. We wake up at the painfully early hour of 4:30am and arrive at KMC at 5:30am to suit up for the day's tour. Today we are going to ride a couple of ZX-6Rs, and the one I'm given happens to be identical to the one I have back at home, except for the colour. The ride is to be a casual one, and is an opportunity for us to meet other members of the website who live and ride in the SoCal area, and to take the Kawasakis on some twisty roads.
We convene at the Irvine Spectrum, a nearby shopping center, and wait to see who will show up. Much to our disappointment the well advertised ride nets only one member, "D". The lack of attendees for this leg of the ride is attributed to the sudden closure of the Ortega Highway, a major part of the original ride route and central to several SoCal Bikeland members.
"D" is riding a very nicely done out Blue ZX-10R, complete with HID headlights. It's amazing how people can instantly be friends after speaking with one another online for so long. It felt like we'd known each other for years.
At 6:45am we depart from Irvine, heading north and then inland. An hour and a half of droning makes me think about the differences in riding where I live and riding here in SoCal. The very thought that you would ride two to three hours to get to the beginning of a good road is unheard of where I come from. Here it's standard fare.
The commuter highway gives way to the rolling roads of smaller state routes as we turn and head south towards our destination, Mt. Palomar. Palomar is SoCal's motorcycling playground and a popular testing field for motorcycle manufacturers.
On the way we stop and take a small detour through the hills. The scenery is stunning. Giant round boulders the size of SUVs litter the desert's countryside. The remnants of brush fires have left the ground scorched and charred black in places.
We get to the backside of Mt. Palomar by mid-morning (the "fast side") and head up the mountain. As I have never been here before, I have a little bit of trouble keeping up with XL on this unfamiliar and twisty road, but I do all right. At the top of Mt. Palomar the local restaurant offers an all-vegetarian fair, and we stop for a while to look at the bikes. Dozens of motorcycles roll in and out of the parking lot as they complete their requisite laps of the "slow side" of the mountain. Palomar's finest show up in an effort to show the bikers that "big brother" is watching... Apparently big brother better not get in any foot chases though!
Waiting in the parking lot of the restaurant we watch for the reaction of the other riders to our Kawasakis. No one even bats an eye. Only the odd person curiously walks by the bikes but never stops to look. In a sea of Ducatis, MV Agustas and even more heavy artillery, the 636s sit there unnoticed. We chuckle. The reality is that not only are there many expensive bikes here, but all the manufacturers test their motorcycles on this road as well. Apparently you have to ride something extremely unique to get noticed here.
"C. Dolan" pulls up on his ZX-10R. This member of Bikeland and Labusas is most noted for his extensive collection of motorcycles, rumored to number more than 200. He also has the fortune of owning a ranch near the base of the "slow side". The absurdity of his collection is compounded when you look inside his garage at the ranch. This two-car garage is chalked so full of only a small sampling of his motorcycles that you can barely walk through it. The Ducatis, MVs, and Moto Guzzis are packed in so tightly that you hardly even notice the Bimota (serial #1) stuffed in the corner! I must be in California!
Dolan takes us for a tour and a warm up run down the slow side. XL and Dolan take off and put their bikes through the paces. I try to keep up, but where I'm from they just don't make roads this twisty. It's amazing, but dangerous. The road is peppered with decreasing radius 15 mph blind corners. I'm a fish out of water. I back way off and am passed with seeming ease by countless sportbike riders, knees fully down and dragging. I feel slow.
The way back up isn't so bad. After my sighting run on the way down I am far more comfortable with the road, and I do all right, or so I think. Even though the pace is faster and I am leaned over edge to edge, (note my rear tire) I am still passed like I am standing still. I do manage to pass several bikes myself, helping bolster my bruised ego, however I am nowhere near the skill level of the riders who frequent this road. It's one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen and every sportbike rider should pay this road a visit at least once in their lives.
We stop at the top of the hill and my 636 overheats, dumping its coolant onto the ground. This gives us a chance to stop, rest and cool down. It's getting hot now, really hot. Eventually my 636's temperature decreases to a safe level, and we turn around and head back down the slow side. As we speed through the corners we ride directly past the photographer from palomarpics.net. I wonder if the Kawasakis will even make it on his website. On this road full of Italian oddities and prototype bikes from manufacturers, the 10Rs and 636s barely approach standard fair. Even a yet to be seen prototype would reek of banality.
At the bottom of the hill we meet "bovinespongiformencephalo". It turns out that this entertaining member of Bikeland is one of the hardcore regulars at Palomar. Even more coincidental is that Dolan, Bovine and XL have all met before, but never knew their equivalent online personas until now. We head to Dolan's ranch for a look at some of his bikes and a drink of some much-needed cold water. After a cool down and my near encounter with a rattlesnake we pack it in for the day and head back towards KMC.
Lane splitting and droning in rush hour traffic on the I5 becomes tedious so we decide to stop by to visit yet another member of Bikeland, "Mustmoto", who owns a pizza restaurant in San Clemente, The San Clemente Pizza Company. Mustmoto sponsors bike nights on Tuesdays at his pizza shop. Mustmoto isn't there, but we eat pizza anyways, and then head back to drop off the bikes.
It was nice, and surprising, to have met so many Bikeland members by the end of the trip. It seems that wherever there are good roads, there are members from Bikeland riding them.
Sitting in the factory I reflect on the ride, of the things that happened and the stories I need to tell. Some things that happen on the road stay on the road. Someone I know said that once.
The bike was nice.
Many thanks to KMC for another great experience.