Whenever I've perused road maps in the past, I've usually bypassed the legend in the lower corner that converts miles to inches. I'm also accustomed to ignoring the little numerals that designate the number of miles between each town on the map; if I'm droning along some interstate highway, I don't want to know how much farther it is to the next stop (the roadside signs that constantly remind you of the distance to the nearest civilization do just fine, thank you). Road maps simply tell me that there is a highway that goes from here to there.
This year's SR staff tour, however, taught me to pay much closer attention to all of those tiny black numbers that dot all of the highways--no matter how crooked--on a modern road map.
We'd been trying to come up with a destination for a staff tour, but time constraints at the office precluded us from venturing very far. Then, I received a call back in February from Andy Holobinko, who runs a sportbike rental service out of Golden, Colorado, called Motoranch (303/748-1862; www.motoranch.com). "You guys could fly into Denver, then we could go out and ride dozens of great back roads out here in Colorado," he enthused. It sounded like a great idea, but we had to wait a few months for the spring thaw to get most of the snowmelt (and gravel used for tire traction during icy conditions) off the pavement. Both of us agreed to talk again in May.
When that time came, however, some new developments had arisen. "We'll be traveling to the AMA/WSB races at Laguna Seca in July, and Aprilia is interested in supplying bikes. What if we all rode to Monterey and back?" suggested Holobinko. "Too much time out of the office," was my lackluster reply. More imaginative thinking from Holobinko: "What about a one-way tour? We could take a week or less, and ride either to or from Laguna." That idea sounded much more palatable; we could ride from Monterey to Colorado, then just fly home.
Holobinko seemed confident that the trip could be accomplished in three days. And Aprilia sweetened the pot by offering up two of its new RST1000 Futuras for the tour. Excellent--the perfect opportunity for us to really hammer on the new Italian sport-touring machine in its true element. This was looking better by the minute.
Lacking any experience in the areas we were going to ride through, I left the tour logistics to Holobinko. He handled the route planning, hotel reservations and even arranged for a chase vehicle to follow us in case of an emergency. This allowed us the luxury of not having to haul some soft luggage on our flight out to Monterey (although the Futuras come standard with hard bags); we could stow all our bags in the chase truck, which would then meet us at the hotel. Just what we needed: a real turnkey operation.
There were four riders total on this tour, with three representing SR: Yours truly, associate editor Andrew Trevitt and Steve Mikolas (experienced SR guest tester and Pridmore STAR School instructor). Mikolas and I would be astride the Futuras, while Trevitt was slated to ride a Yamaha FZ1. Holobinko would alternate piloting an Aprilia SL1000 Falco and the chase truck with his friend Jeremy Bronson. We liked the small group; it would allow us to cover a lot of ground without waiting for the tail end to catch up.
All of us finally got together on Sunday at Laguna Seca to discuss the tour's planned route. The trip didn't look overly ambitious when initially examined on the map. The first day's ride would take us inland from Monterey through the upper portion of Yosemite, then down into the town of Hawthorne just inside the Nevada border for the night. The next leg seemed the longest; we'd cross the entire state of Nevada, then rumble into the southern section of Utah through Bryce Canyon and bivouac in the town of Torrey at the end of Highway 12. From there, it looked to be a nice, twisty route into Colorado, ending up in Golden, where Motoranch is based. So in three days, we'd go from Monterey, California, to Golden, Colorado; it didn't seem like that much of a stretch, especially since none of the SR staff had planned a trip of this magnitude before. We would soon find out otherwise.After eventually getting things together and
taking care of some Speedvision activities for Motorcyclist TV on Monday morning following the races, we left "Mazda Raceway" (as Laguna Seca is now called) at noon. Not exactly what we'd call an "on-time departure," to use the parlance of pilot Holobinko, who flies Boeing 737s for US Airways when not handling Motoranch.
Since summer was in full swing, the temperature as we headed inland was, um...a bit toasty, especially in our full suits. It wasn't unbearable, however, and once we encountered a few twisty roads out of Hollister, all weather complaints were nearly forgotten. Route 140 climbing out of the Catheys Valley was nice, especially around Mariposa, with some tight canyon stuff interspersed with long flowing sweepers. Discovering that both the Futuras and FZ1 were in need of some suspension adjustments, we stopped on Route 49 out of Mariposa, in 95-degree heat, to acquire second-degree burns attempting to adjust the rebound damping on the rear shocks.
Amazingly, Mariposa was the only point in the whole tour where we had any real contact with law enforcement (you'll discover why I use the term "amazingly" later). While we were stopped at the local Happy Burger for a quick bite, several of the California Highway Patrol's finest dropped in for some pleasant conversation. No, seriously--they even pointed out the best route to take through Yosemite to avoid RV hell (which we had already planned to do).
We skirted across the top of Yosemite Valley on Route 120, enjoying the cooler climes and lush forest scenery. Thankfully, we'd just missed a summer storm that had briefly moved in, and the cruise through beautiful Tuolumne Meadows was nice. We were rapidly running out of daylight as we dipped south past Mono Lake, however, so we turned up the wick on Route 359 into Nevada in order to get into Hawthorne at a decent hour.
As our tired group wandered into the hotel around 9:00 p.m., I wasn't that concerned about the longer journey that lay ahead of us the next day. We basically had to cross the state of Nevada and make it through Bryce Canyon in Utah by nightfall--yeah, no problem. Despite the fatigue, Mikolas couldn't stay away from the slots, and wandered off into the casino after dinner to hit his humongous $4 jackpot.
Leaving Hawthorne the next morning, we were stunned to see a huge array of underground bunkers covering the valley, like a scene out of The X-Files. Apparently, Hawthorne is home to the U.S. Army's Hawthorne Ammunition Plant. Not the town I'd want to be near during an enemy missile attack.
Our route took us up to Highway 50, where we immediately set our cruise control at 110-plus mph. This incredibly long, desolate stretch of asphalt is known as "The Loneliest Road in America," and they aren't kidding. I doubt if we saw more than five cars during our 270 miles of hyper-touring, and thankfully, none were of the law-enforcement variety. It became somewhat depressing; you'd get to the end of a long, straight, boring stretch of road and think you were done with it as you ran through a few twisties in the hills, only to encounter another valley with a long, straight ribbon of pavement on the other side.
When we finally made it to Utah and stopped for gas in Milford, we noticed that the Falco's rear tire had an alarming flat spot in its profile, as if it had been rubbing on the swingarm. After some careful mechanical checks, we deduced the real reason: our sustained high speed in a straight line (several hour-plus stints at 110 mph) was creating so much heat in the center portion of the tread that it was wearing abnormally fast. We had hastily mounted up some Metzeler Rennsport DOT race tires on the Falco at Laguna to replace the worn stockers, and the tires' soft compound and construction aren't made for extended straight-line running at speed.
Our group continued on a southeastern course to Route 12, which leads through Bryce Canyon National Park. The scenery here was truly spectacular, with majestic red bluffs surrounding you at every turn as the road slithers through a deep canyon in the landscape, then climbs toward the Grand Staircase, where wind-carved cliffs dazzle the eye. The road is just as dazzling, however, as it swoops through the mountainous terrain; there are several sections where the pavement snakes atop a ridge, with steep 500-foot drop-offs on each side.
Not much time to savor the view, though, as we were once again racing the sun. We averaged 80 to 90 mph through much of the park, yet still ended up getting caught in the darkness as we entered the last 15 or so miles of Route 12. Unfortunately, this last section not only has free-range cattle wandering about, but also consists of thick forest--prime deer habitat.
Those last 15 miles of road before we reached the hotel resembled some sort of crazed video game. It seemed like every deer in the Dixie National Forest was jumping out of the darkness to greet us, and I narrowly avoided colliding with a very large buck at speed. Our pace slowed to a crawl, which only prolonged the agony; not only were we exhausted from the day's ride (about 550 hard-ridden miles), but also our senses were on edge due to the kamikaze deer. When we finally rolled into the hotel in Torrey, we shoveled down some food at the restaurant and collapsed into our rooms. I had nightmares of being attacked by Bambi due to sleeping on a full stomach.
The next morning, Bronson asked us if we'd seen the sheriff's trucks while blazing along through Bryce Canyon the day before. "No," we replied. The only trucks I remembered seeing were some pickups hauling trailers full of ATVs that we blitzed by during our "spirited" run. Bronson continued, "Yeah, there were two of them [sheriff's pickups] hauling some trailers with ATVs...."
Before embarking on the last leg of the ride, I realized we were going to have to take a closer look at the day's route and keep the mileage down to more acceptable levels. (I was beginning to think that Holobinko's regular job as a pilot influenced his ambitious schedule.) The first half had us slated to head down through Moab, into La Sal Junction, then up along Route 141 as it winds along the Dolores River Canyon. We agreed to make an assessment of time when we reached the end of 141, and if necessary, we would simply jump on Interstate 70 to get to Golden.
The ride along Route 141 was fantastic, but even traveling at an average speed of 85 mph on a road that would normally be taken at 40 mph wasn't enough to keep us from using the Interstate in order to make Golden before nightfall. Nonetheless, Interstate 70 is the twistiest main highway we've ever ridden (especially as it winds toward the Eisenhower tunnel), and traffic was averaging 85 mph anyway. I figured the adventures were over as we neared the city. But the tour had one last curve to throw our way.
We could see a storm brewing in the distance, but nothing prepared us for the incredible downpour that drenched us as we entered the outskirts of Golden. The raindrops were large enough to be painful, and there were numerous lightning strikes less than a quarter-mile away. Not having the desire to be washed away like roadside detritus, taken out by a wayward auto or getting defibrillated by a 50,000-volt zap from above, we took action. Our highway sojourn quickly degraded into a banzai run through traffic at 80 mph in monsoon conditions, in order to get to the hotel now. Don't try this at home, folks.
And yet the following day was an antithesis to the rest of the tour. We had a leisurely breakfast, rode out to the Loveland Pass (11,995 feet) to film with the Speedvision crew, and even visited quaint little Georgetown, whose mayor is a former Playboy Playmate. Considering the rapidity of the first few days, we welcomed the relaxed pace, and a chance to savor Colorado. Needless to say, our next visit to the roads around the Rockies will begin from a more central location.
And we thought this sport-touring stuff was for slowing down.
Aprilia tosses its cappello into the sport-tour ring
Talk about your trial by fire. If there was ever an ambush of a sport-touring rig, this trip was it. Average speeds of 100 mph, searing heat, wet weather, loads of both twisty and straight-line mileage, all crammed into essentially 36 hours of riding--the SR "Colorado Rapid" tour had it all. Aprilia probably had no idea what was in store for the two RST1000 Futuras the company graciously provided for use on this trip, but the manufacturer need not have worried. Its first foray into the sport-touring category astounded us with the Futuras' overall competency.
The Futura isn't the lightest bike on the planet at 535 pounds topped off with gas. Yet the V-twin carries its weight well, with a nice, neutral feel to its handling manners. While the steering isn't as light as a Honda VFR800, the Futura nonetheless requires little effort to initiate a turn or midcourse correction. Suspension action overall was excellent, absorbing all manner of bumps and potholes without worry while keeping the chassis well-balanced. We did have to stiffen things up considerably, running near max preload on both front (two to three lines showing) and rear (two lines showing). Incidentally, the Futura comes equipped with a hydraulic preload adjuster just underneath the seat for quick and easy spring adjustments to carry a passenger, etc. We ran rebound damping at three-quarter turn out from full stiff both front and rear, giving a nice compromise between chassis control and smooth ride.
The premium stock tires aided the Futura's superb handling. My RST was shod with Metzeler MEZ3s, while Mikolas' Aprilia sported Michelin Pilot Sport rubber; both will be available on U.S.-bound Futuras. Neither of us had any complaints about grip whatsoever during the trip, although when pushed hard at triple-digit speeds, a slight weave could be detected from the rear on both bikes; nothing to worry about really, and most riders will never subject their bike/tires to that level of punishment. Both tires handled the 1650-mile trip with little wear to show for it.
Forward propulsion from the 997.6cc, V-twin motor was very good, with crisp fuel delivery from the fuel injection contributing to a nice low-to-midrange powerband that made for serious fun in the tighter canyons. Power flattens out a bit up above 8000 rpm, but then again, a race-replica the Futura is not. Both bikes delivered great fuel mileage, with figures hovering in the upper 35 to 40 mpg average range until we began averaging 100 mph, where they dropped precipitously (especially Mikolas' bike, no doubt due to his over-eager throttle hand).
Braking power from the new-spec Brembos was outstanding, allowing one-finger application in all but the harshest situations, with very good feel and modulation. Ground clearance was never an issue, although Mikolas touched the centerstand (which required more muscle than most to lift the bike onto) a few times, due to his heavier weight.One area of the Aprilia that greatly impressed us was its overall comfort. The seat is among the best I've tried on a touring bike, bar none; where most bikes have me squirming around after 40 minutes or so, I had no such problems on the RST. Great support, with plenty of room to move about. The windscreen provides great protection, with very little buffeting on both the rider's helmet and shoulders. Overall ergonomics were spot-on for me, with decent legroom and enough of a sporting cant to the torso for good control without excessive pressure on my wrists. A few vibes make their way through the footpegs at 70 mph, but the bars remain relatively smooth.
Our only gripes centered on the oil tank filler and the fuel tank opening. The dry sump's oil tank filler is a long way from the tank itself, so you must wait a few minutes after adding oil (after warming up the bike for at least a few minutes) for it to show on the oil-level indicator to ensure you won't overfill the reservoir. You must take care when topping off the gas tank as well, as the small receptacle beneath the cap can cause fuel to spray everywhere. For a first attempt in the sport-touring category, the Aprilia RST1000 Futura is one fantastic motorcycle. The competition had better worry when Aprilia gets some time to refine it further.
TOUR RIDING GEAR
Our choices for the SR staff tour
Since we were embarking on this tour at the onset of summer, we figured on running into temperatures ranging from 60 to 90-plus degrees Fahrenheit. And we were right, although not quite in the areas we expected. The weather was actually pretty mild in the middle of the Nevada desert, while it ranged from 85 to 95 degrees F in Utah and Colorado. Nevertheless, the majority of our gear was chosen well and performed admirably.
Both Trevitt and Kunitsugu chose the ubiquitous Aerostich (800/222-1994, www.aerostich.com) Roadcrafter one-piece suit, while Mikolas wore a Tour Master Cortech (800/455-2552, www.tourmaster.com) three-quarter jacket and pants. While the overall protection and quality from the Roadcrafter is unparalleled for a textile suit, Mikolas felt the Tour Master jacket and pants' venting was superior to his own Aerostich apparel, while the Cortech jacket's zip-out liner provided good warmth. During the sudden rainstorms, both Aerostich suits stayed dry up to a point, whereupon some leakage occurred. Mikolas avoided the downpour by getting lost and taking the wrong exit off the highway.
Kunitsugu and Mikolas wore Arais (800/656-2425, www.araiamericas.com), a Quantum/f for the former, Signet for the latter; both reveled in the comfort, and Kunitsugu felt the Quantum's venting was excellent. Trevitt wore a Shoei (714/730-0941, www.shoei-helmets.com) X-tec lid, which took awhile to break in, but was very comfy once it did. Venting, however, left something to be desired.
Mikolas wore Held (via Helimot European Accessories 408/298-9608) 2265 gloves the entire trip, and raved about them. Kunitsugu wore Spidi Carbo-Vents during the hottest portions of the ride, while Trevitt was adorned in Joe Rocket (800/635-6103, www.joerocket.com) Speedmaster gloves; both staffers felt the venting worked well. In the milder climes, both chose RS Taichi (310/542-4974, www.rs-taichi.com) gloves: Kunitsugu used the GP Kevlar models, while Trevitt wore GP MAX units. Comfort from both gloves was rated excellent.
For footwear, Mikolas wore a well-worn set of Z Custom Leathers (714/890-5721, www.zcustom.com) boots, while Kunitsugu used Sidi's (877/789-4940, www.motonation.com) Strada model and Trevitt used--ironically--Gaerne's Strada Pro. All had little to no complaints about comfort, with Trevitt regretting the lack of vents in the hotter climes, only to rejoice during the Denver monsoon.
This article was originally published in the December 2001 issue of Sport Rider.