I had been planning a motorcycle camping adventure for most of this year, hoping to leave in the late spring or early summer, but work and writing projects kept getting in the way, all of them taking longer than planned as is often the case. The biggest of these, of course, was the writing and final editing my latest book, Refuge. For a writer, there’s always a next book no matter how many are finished, and I spent much of August working on the beginnings of two new novels. But I knew I still needed a break to clear my head, and the best kind would be a complete change of scenery.
The opportunity to hit the road for a couple weeks came at last in September, so I pulled up Google Maps and did some calculating to see how far I could reasonably get in the time available. Earlier in the summer I had hoped to get away for three to four weeks and with that amount of time, the Pacific Northwest and Nova Scotia were both on the radar. But I’ve also been wanting to revisit some of my favorite desert and mountain places in the Southwest, and decided September was a perfect time to do so. The distance would be reasonable for a two week road trip with time to explore, so now all I had to do was decide which bike I would take.
After many years of leaving them alone while pursuing other interests like sailing and boatbuilding, I came back to motorcycles in 2010 with the purchase of a Kawasaki KLR 650, the kind of dual-sport adventure bike you can ride both on road and off while carrying enough gear to camp in remote places along the way. The KLR was good bike to reignite my interest in two-wheeled travel, as it can do a bit of everything okay, if not anything really great. I put over 10,000 miles on that bike the first year I owned it, many more of those miles on pavement than off. The problem is that here in the Deep South, gravel and dirt roads have become much more scarce than they were when I was growing up. I have to ride the highways an hour or more to get to national forest lands in my part of the state, and even there the dirt road opportunities are limited. On the highway, the tall, lightweight KLR is not the greatest ride, especially around the turbulence created by big trucks. But I kept it two years and wouldn’t rule out having another one someday.
In 2012, I sold the KLR and bought a Suzuki Vstrom 650. While a bit heavier and not quite as capable off road as the KLR, the Vstrom, with its V-twin, fuel-injected engine is a lot better at eating up the miles on the highway. And set up with a skid plate, engine guards and rugged aluminum panniers from Jesse Luggage, it can handle most gravel and dirt roads and even some rougher two-track. I racked up another 10,000 miles on it just exploring close to home, despite having more than one bike around most of the time I’ve owned it.
Then, earlier this year, I was tempted by an ’07 Harley Davidson Road King that my brother was selling, and having read about some impressive adventures on this improbable bike on the ADV (Adventure Rider) Forums, I decided to give this one a chance. Modern Harleys are among the simplest and most reliable motorcycles on the road, and this one was in practically new condition with low miles:
The Road King was not the first Harley I’d owned. I also racked up a few thousand miles on a Sportster 1200 Custom during the same time I owned the KLR. The Sportster was a fun bike to ride with great handling and lots of power. It always felt a little cramped with my height though, so I never did any real touring on it.
I took a short shake-down trip to the Arkansas Ozarks on the Road King in June, and enjoyed the ride for the most part, but everywhere I looked while winding through the Ozark and Ouachita National Forests, I had to pass right by the tempting rough gravel tracks leading off the beaten path. The KLR would have been even better for that, but I knew if I was on my Vstrom I could explore at least some of them. The question though, was how would the Vstrom compare to the Road King on a much longer trip entailing thousands of miles of highway riding, a good percentage of it on interstates?
As I was packing for my trip out West last month, I was planning to go on the Road King up until the last minute. I put a new rear tire on it and changed the oil. I was looking at more than 1100 miles just get to the beginning of the good riding in New Mexico and beyond. It seemed like the Road King would be better for that long slog across Texas, but then I kept thinking about the kinds of places I wanted to visit, and how I planned to camp every night, and away from other people as much as possible. I rearranged my gear and repacked for the Vstrom. Although I knew my chain was getting close to the end of its life, I figured I could get another 4,000 miles out of it. I changed the oil and left on a Sunday afternoon. Two days later, I was in a whole other world at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, near Amarillo, Texas:
The Vstrom was doing great and so far I had no regrets in choosing it over the Road King for the journey. From Palo Duro Canyon my route took me next to the Sangre De Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico and beyond. I have a lot more photos and more to say about this trip in posts to follow soon.