2013 International Motorcycle Show, San Mateo: Part 4 – The Show


( continued from Part 3 – The Demo Rides )

A Love Affair…And A Rant
I really enjoyed attending and photographing the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in San Mateo this year. However, having enjoyed the show for the past three years, I couldn’t help but notice it seems to have downsized a bit. I remember when there were additional halls of the Expo Center that were full of vintage bikes, a stunt bike exhibition in the front parking lot, and an entire wing of affordable accessories. I was told by an exhibitor that it is difficult to attract as many exhibiting companies as there used to be when the bulk of the accessory business now goes to online retailers. Personally, I wouldn’t blame this on a shift in the retail landscape, I would offer that it is industry leadership that needs to be improved. But ultimately, it will take everyone in the motorcycling community to support these shows if we want them to exist in the future. And that means us, the riders.

The good news is that I photographed a sea of bikes in the parking lot Saturday, and the show even seemed well attended Friday evening. I was also happy to see a large section presented by The Motor Cafe, a local dealer from Sunnyvale. But where was the participation from other Bay Area dealers? Where was GoPro, who is headquartered in San Mateo? Or Kali Protectives, one of the most interesting players in the helmet space, also a local company? And did I miss something, or where was Zero Motorcycles, arguably the most interesting new bike manufacturer, and also a Bay Area company? It’s easy to say that these and other companies just decided not to participate—for budget reasons or other priorities. But I would suggest that the show management should make it a strategic imperative for these companies to attend, because of the incredible business opportunity it represents for their businesses, and for the industry as a whole.

In my humble opinion, it seems that some things could be done to ramp up the show for the good of the industry stakeholders and the motorcycling community at large. Here are a few ideas from someone who is not from within the industry, offered with respect, and for what they’re worth:

Learn to Ride
I would encourage the show to adopt a robust “Learn to Ride” program sponsored by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Why not offer a discount on enrollment to any MSF course by a show attendee that equals the cost of a 3-day show pass? It would be a great way to encourage prospective or even experienced riders to attend the show. Give the MSF or local schools booth space for free in order to make it happen.

Conference Sessions
Offer conference sessions in a separate hall that provide educational opportunities to attendees. I could envision a seminar by an expert from GoPro on how to get the best ride videos, or a talk by Doc Wong on how to get your back in shape for adventure rides, or a talk by Brian or Michael from Destination Highways on the right way to plan a route. It would be a great way for exhibitors to talk to larger groups of attendees and for attendees to get great information. And this needs to be in a separate hall, not on the main stage where it is too loud with too many distractions.

Keith Code’s California Superbike School
With the San Mateo show being only a two-hour ride from Infineon or Laguna Seca race tracks, why don’t you create a partnership with this famous riding academy that gives Keith a booth at the show and, in turn, partner to host a demo day at one of the tracks? The show could draw attendees for the whole weekend with a three-day show pass and one-day track pass to watch, or ride. I bet riders would come from all over the West to attend a full weekend of motorcycle activities if it included the excitement of riding.

Point/Counterpoint Panel Sessions
Remember those wickedly funny Saturday Night Live skits that parodied 60 Minutes’ Point/Counterpoint? The reason they were so infamous was not just because they were funny, it was because people like to observe conflict. I’d like to see a serious panel discussion that had a member of the California Highway Patrol, a 15,000+ mile/year freeway commuter, and a “loud pipes save lives” biker all discussing the merits and best practices of lane splitting. By encouraging discussion about the elephants in the room, the show would drive attendee engagement, and probably raise safety awareness too.

Where is motorcycling’s Warren Miller?
The ski industry has Warren Miller’s films to answer the question, “Why do people love skiing?” Where is motorcycling’s Warren Miller? How about a screening of On Any Sunday, Cycles South, or clips from The Great Escape or The Long Way Round? Looking at YouTube, there are many talented moto-filmmakers out there (and even more that could use some more talent). Why doesn’t the show get GoPro to sponsor a contest with big prize money around the theme, “Why We Ride.” The finalists could be shown at the 12 shows around the country and the attendees could vote onsite for the winner.

You Meet The Nicest People
Especially after the recent episode in New York, motorcycling could use a boost of good will in the local media around the country. Could the show offer a poker ride on Friday before the show in each city to benefit a national charity? If done right, it could be a good story for local news media which would help promote the show while taming motorist angst against our breed.

What The Show Really Needs
But aside from specific ideas for the show, I offer that what attendees are really looking for is…
– To do something
– To learn something
– To enjoy something
– To belong to something
– To share something

You tell me!

Photos from the Show
Okay, okay…so that’s enough of my rant. Here are more photos from this year’s show (roll-over photos for captions or click for full-screen mode):

Final Thoughts from This Industry Outsider
I’m the first to admit, what the Hell do I know about the motorcycle industry? It’s easy to offer ideas from the outside of an industry looking in without knowing the history, business realities and political struggles that are faced by the show organizers. Although the ideas above come from 30+ years as a marketer, they may well have been tried and discarded as failures years ago. To the show management Advanstar, I commend you for putting on a well-run show. And to Progressive, for showing leadership in this category, you deserve your number one spot. But if the intent is for all boats to rise in this industry, I encourage everyone to achieve new levels of leadership. And to consider doing this through even deeper partnerships and increased participation from all industry stakeholders. Carving up the same pie into different sized pieces should not be your goal. Growing the pie for all to benefit from should be your aim. The downsizing of the show does not go unnoticed by the attendees. I heard from more than a few people that the show is suffering from being smaller and with the same features—more or less—year after year. What I am hearing is apathy from the attendees, not for the sport, but for the show. It’s time to consider what the industry impact would be if these shows did not exist, and decide to do something about it before it is too late. To that aim, I wish you all the best. Ride On. ::

A Great Father’s Day Weekend


Starting Out
How’s this for a great Father’s Day weekend: Load up “MyConnie” with camera and camping gear, point the front wheel north, and GO! Just me and MyConnie getting some quality time together since the wife and youngest son are away for a few days. I plan to update this post throughout the trip, so come back often to check it out.

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Rest Stop
Thank God for Starbucks and lane splitting. Sitting still in 88 degree weather on the freeway is not my idea of a good time. Seems like everyone else in the world is escaping to Lake Tahoe. Well, at least a rider can get hydration, caffeine, a healthy snack and WiFi thanks to the Pequod’s chief mate.

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Cooling Off
Possibly the best $29 I have ever spent was on an evaporative cooling vest. After a two minute soak in the bathroom sink at Starbucks (which was immaculately clean) the vest is “charged” with water. You then blot off the inside fabric barrier that stays dry against your shirt, and put it on under your riding jacket. I was then able to ride in complete comfort in 90 degree heat. Amazing.

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Dark Territory
After stocking up on pita, avocado, bananas, water and a salad bowl at the Grass Valley Safeway, I headed north on Hwy 49 towards Downieville. This road is listed in the Destination Highways moto-map book as DH9 and carries a score of 81/100, and it deserves it. It is wonderfully scenic, twisty and empty of traffic. Downieville itself looked very cute, like a preserved gold rush era town. I decided to camp instead of finding a room, but on some future trip, I’m definitely going to stay in Downieville.

I timed my ride so that I could set up camp while it was still light, but only just. I use a great iPhone App named “Sol” that tells you times for sunset, dusk, dawn and sunrise wherever you are. This allowed me to keep riding until I found Chapman Meadows campground around 8:00 P.M.

Getting old is terrible. I remember when hotel rooms were $6.00 at Motel 6, so it makes it painful to pay $21 for one night at an unimproved campground. Well, at least it had “nice” pit toilets. The mosquitoes quickly drove me into my tent where I fell fast asleep straightaway.

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Zero Dark Thirty
The great thing about traveling alone is that you don’t need to cater to anyone else’s schedule. So, at 4:45 A.M., I rousted myself out of my down cocoon, performed my morning ablutions, and started breaking camp. I got on the road a little before six and headed over the Yuba Summit to be treated to a gorgeous sunrise over the Sierra Valley. I left Hwy 49 a little before Sattley and turned north on Hwy 89, headed towards Quincy and Lassen Volcanic National Park beyond. Although I was bundled up in layers, winter gloves, and TurtleFur neck warmer, I was freezing when I arrived at the Express Coffee Shop. Nothing that a spinach omelet and 10 cups of coffee couldn’t cure. Something tells me MyConnie is going to get a few more RPMs now that MY motor is running.

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The Pine Forests
Can you ever overdose on the beautiful conifer forests of the High Sierra? I think not, but you certainly get your fill traveling through the Tahoe and Plumas National Forests. But every once in a while, the trees are interrupted by a glorious body of water like Lake Almanor. I crossed over Canyon Dam and marveled at this man-made interruption to the Feather River. The outlet tower shown behind MyConnie sends the product of this 90 foot deep reservoir to two smaller reservoirs and others downstream to powerhouses capable of creating a total of 360 megawatts of electricity!

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Mount Lassen
I had been to Mount Lassen Volcanic National Park years ago but wanted to experience it’s burbling mudpots and sulphur-spewing springs anew. So I checked my trusty map book and found that the roads to, through, and around Lassen are included in their lists of great motorcycle roads. Without any hesitation I pointed MyConnie north along the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway.

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One of the troubles of blogging “live” from my AT&T iPhone is how poor their rural mobile phone service is. However, after paying my $10 park entrance fee, I noticed this sign and for a fleeting moment hoped that the U.S. Park Service had embraced modern technology by installing WiFi thorough the park. Alas, it was the icon for an amphitheater I mistook for WiFi symbol. D’Oh!

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The Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center shows a great 20 minute documentary film every half hour that explains the history and formation of the park which is the only place on earth with all four types of volcanos.

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A mile north is The Sulphur Works where you can smell noxious fumes and see bubbling mud.

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After that, it seemed that every quarter mile were increasingly beautiful places that beckoned me to stop and take a photo.

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Unfortunately, the walking trails to “Bumpass Hell” which take you right next to all of the bubbling water and mudpots were closed due to safety concerns. But the ride up and over the ridge at around 8,500 feet elevation was spectacular as was the ride down and around to the north end of the park.

The Road Home
At this point, I had enough of solitude and decided to head home. I took a few more “Destination Highways” that were perfect for motorcycles on the way, but most was spent traveling 75 MPH on Hwy 5 in 90 degree heat. Once again, thank God for my evaporative cooling vest and the many rest stops and convenience marts along the way.

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Volcano Ride ‘n Photo Tour
I’m thinking of hosting a “Volcano Ride ‘n Photo Tour” for anyone who might want to join me. If interested, I’d be happy to share some tips on taking photos and “processing” them in the computer, as well. Please leave a comment if you are interested and I’ll start thinking about this for later this year.

As for this trip, I racked up 671 miles from noon Friday to 6:30 P.M. Saturday, a bit over 30 hours. Not bad for my first Father’s Day weekend solo trip. It’s not often I get so much “me” time to think about life without the distractions of other people (no matter how pleasant) or social media (no matter how addictive – then again, I am writing this post!). I might just have to make this an annual pilgrimage.

Note to fellow bloggers and those thinking about blogging: I took all of the photos above and wrote all of the text during the trip itself using the WordPress App for iPhone. This made ‘capturing the moment‘ much more spontaneous and added to my enjoyment of the ride. I went back later on my computer and added the sections below.

Ride Map: Click here for Google map
( Note to riders: map waypoints M through R are how to beat backed up traffic headed to San Francisco like a boss! )

Mount Lassen Ride Map

Ride Report:
– Date: February 14 & 15, 2013
– Roads: Since this trip covered so much territory, I encountered: 20 miles of lane splitting to get around everyone headed for Tahoe, wonderfully engineered and paved roads, nicely paved but less well-engineered roads, and tight curves with limited sight lines on the roads between Shingletown and Dales.
– Scenery: What can I say, I have been living in California my whole life and I am still awestruck in seeing its majesty. If you are from some other state, COME HERE AND RIDE!
– Weather: The weather was absolutely perfect on this Father’s Day weekend, albeit a little warm at times (high 80s) at the lower elevations. The sky was a sapphire blue with those intense puffy white clouds you want to photograph because they are so perfect.
– Challenge: Intermediate throughout with the biggest challenge being not getting run over my a semi-truck on Hwy 5.
– Food: Plenty of choices along this route. I stopped at Safeway in Grass Valley and stocked up on healthy food and snacks this time – what a concept!
– Gas: There were no problems finding gas, but then again, with my 7.5 gallon tank, I could have done the whole thing on way less than three tanks.
– Rating: 5-stars (out of 5) for scenic beauty. with a few most excellent motorcycle roads thrown in along the way.

Destination Highways: 
For you aficionados of Bosworth & Sanders excellent book “Destination Highways of Northern California” this trip included these DHs & TEs:
Destination Highways:
DH9 (81.9/100 rating)
DH3 ALT
DH38 (70.7/100 rating)
Twisted Edges:
TE-A (from DH59)
TE-F (from DH9)

Note: I bought the Destination Highways of Northern California book at the last International Motorcycle Show I attended. It is pretty expensive at $60, but I have to say that it is absolutely worth it. I use it to plan all of my northern california trips to ensure I get the most out of my time on the road. Although it is pricey for a map book, they actually put in the time and effort to bring the value to the rider than exceeds your expectation. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to ride in northern california.
Destination Highways of Northern California

Additional Photos:
The following photos were taken with a d-SLR: Canon EOS Rebel XSi:   

Chapman Creek Campground near Calpine MyConnie on Canyon Dam Lake Almanor June in California Vulcans Eye on Mt Lassen Peak MyConnie at Bumpass Hell Me and MyConnie in Mt Lassen MyConnie fronts Helen Lake and Mt Lassen Peak MyConnie and Vulcans Eye Sulphur Works in Mt Lassen Debris from volcano blast MyConnie fronts Helen Lake and Mt Lassen Peak 2

A Trip to Virginia City, Nevada: Motorcycle Gold — Part One


For the third year in a row, my motorcycle buddies and I planned a trip to the High Sierras over the first weekend in October. We have found that this weekend the traffic is nonexistent, the weather is perfect, and the aspens are all turning gold over the mountain passes. This year, our destination was the old west town of Virginia City and we had something special happen. One of our group entered a raffle and won a brand new motorcycle!

Bocci winning a Triumph

Bocci wins a new bike!
Frequent readers of this blog know that my brother-in-law and frequent riding partner, “Bocci,” rides a Triumph T100 Bonneville that he bought in 2010 as his get-back-into-motorcycling ride. He and I have been all over California and Oregon on my 1,000cc Connie and his 865cc Bonnie. But a while ago, Bocci started to have a wandering eye, making true the sentiment that motorcycling has never really been about monogamy. Bocci was first thinking that a pair of KLR650s would be a nice addition to our stable, allowing us to wander farther afield down forest roads. But I knew that in his heart of hearts, he really has always wanted a Moto Guzzi.

Being a mechanical engineer by trade, Bocci was not afraid of exotic Italian iron and he has talked himself into how the Guzzi’s transverse vee-twin design would make engine maintenance a breeze. So we put the KLR idea on hold and Bocci started lusting after a dual-sport Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX.

Some months later, and without mentioning anything to me, Bocci noticed that the Pro Italia Moto Guzzi dealership in Los Angeles was holding a charity raffle to publicize the opening of their new Triumph franchise. He bought a dozen raffle tickets for $10 each in hopes of winning a brand new Triumph that was a replica of the one Steve McQueen rode in The Great Escape.

As fate would have it, a week before our High Sierra trip, Bocci was washing his Bonnie and missed a phone call. When he noticed the missed call on his mobile phone, he saw that the area code was from Los Angeles. He told me that his hands started to shake a bit before he returned the call, and sure enough, he found out that he had won the replica Triumph, worth $10,000!

The only problem was that it was almost identical to the Triumph he already owned except that it was painted olive drab. Knowing that Pro Italia was also a Guzzi dealership, he asked if he could trade in the Triumph and put the full value towards the Stelvio. Pro Italia was more than accommodating and set him up with the Guzzi of his dreams for a few thousand more.

This hit Bocci like a ton of bricks because now instead of prepping the Bonnie for our annual 600 mile High Sierra tour, he was going to fly to L.A., get a motel room, arrange to be picked up by the dealership, pose for press photos with the replica Triumph, then do the paperwork to buy the Moto Guzzi. He was then going to pack up the Stelvio with his gear for the trip, swing his leg over a new and foreign bike, and head into SoCal traffic towards the back side of the Sierras where we arranged to meet him in Walker, CA the next day. What an adventure!

As for me, I hooked up with my moto-partner in crime, “Ace,” and we headed out to meet Bocci at a Walker barbecue place that we found online. Our fourth rider, Des, was coming south from Jackson and would meet us in Walker, as well.

As we expected for an October trip over the Sonora Pass, Ace and I had great pavement, no traffic, perfect weather and gorgeous scenery. But I got a little surprise when I followed Ace as he pulled off at the unmarked Donnell Lake scenic overlook to stretch. As we dismounted, two other riders joined us in the parking lot, both of whom had BMWs like Ace. So after a bit of Beemer-banter, we took a few photos at the quite spectacular overlook and started to mount up. Just then, another Kawasaki Concours rider rolled in. I stopped my gearing up to be neighborly to a fellow Connie owner when he came up to me and said, “Hello, P Radsliff.” Never having met him before, I was somewhat taken aback, and Ace was positively dumbfounded. As it turned out, the rider was a member of the Concours Owners Group (COG) and he recognized me from the many photos I posted on the COG forum and from my Me and MyConnie blog. Whereas I don’t think this was my 15 minutes of fame, I still rode out of the parking lot sitting a little bit taller in the saddle, lording my “celebrity” over my riding buddies whenever I got the chance in the following days: see video.

Donnell Lake

It was really great meeting “GF-in-CA” (his COG forum ‘handle’), whose posts I have read and whose opinion I have come to respect. I found out that he is a mechanical engineer and knows what he is doing with motorcycle maintenance. It was great seeing him roll in on his Connie and that it had a bunch of “farkles” on it — i.e. a loose acronym for owner modifications that stands for: Fancy Accessory Really Kool Likely Expensive. He was riding with his wife two-up which was also great to see. After more pleasantries and a promise to follow up via the COG forum, Ace and I headed east towards Sonora Pass.

As the road got steeper and twistier, we knew we were getting close to the pass. But before reaching the 9,624 ft. summit, we rode through a small valley with a dense copse of aspen trees that were all shimmering brilliant gold. We’ve seen this valley in its gold plumage in years past but it was no less breathtaking seeing it once again. It’s the kind of experience where you find yourself yelling “Oh my God, this is incredible” out loud inside your helmet just because you have to share it outside of your inner monologue.

Sign on Sonora Pass

In traversing up and over this formidable High Sierra pass, one can’t help but think of the first wagon train that crossed these jagged peaks in 1841. I wonder how different the roads here might have been if these mountains didn’t form a barrier between the gold and silver mines of Nevada to the east, and the international port of San Francisco to the west. All I know is that the many mountain passes that cross the High Sierras make some of the best motorcycle rides in the world, and they are all in my own back yard.

Ace and I continued down the eastern side of the Sierras into climate and country that is very different than the west side of the summit. Out here it’s all high desert scrub, not the verdant evergreen forests we just left behind. An interesting point of interest we encountered before turning north on Hwy 395 was the Marine Corps Mountain Training Warfare Center which is spread out on the left side of Hwy 108 at Pickel Meadow, CA. It’s not uncommon to see lots of military vehicles running around here, and aircraft as well.

Hwy 395 is a U.S. route that starts in Hesperia, CA about 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles, and crosses the Oregon border 557 miles later. It continues through Oregon and Washington all the way to the Canadian border. However, in California, state route 395 crosses through terrain that is arguably the most varied and beautiful in the state. Bocci was making the trek from the Los Angeles area up Hwy 395 so he was able to enjoy the stark but beautiful Mojave desert, followed by the spectacular Owens Valley which is just 60 miles west of famed Death Valley. The Owens Valley is framed by mountain escarpments that include Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States at 14,505 ft. The Owens Valley even features glaciers! Bocci stayed the night in Mammoth Lakes before heading north towards Walker and our rendezvous at Mountain View Barbecue.

We meandered alongside the Walker River which parallels Hwy 395 through deep canyon gorges and wide open high desert plains, eventually coming into the little town of Walker and our new rally point. We were greeted by a parking lot made from two-inch deep pea gravel which always makes for interesting maneuvers on a motorcycle. We saw two bikes parked at the restaurant, an orange Triumph Speed Triple that we knew belonged to Des, and a behemoth of a bike: the Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX: see video.

The Mountain View BBQ parking lot

Approaching the Stelvio from the rear was kind of amazing. With its aluminum panniers, it measures in at 42″ wide—that’s quite a bustle on its hustle! My first thought was that we wouldn’t be lane splitting anytime soon. As I walked around the bike, it was truly a thing of beauty—in a rough and tumble kind of way. Like a HumVee, but as if it were designed by Italians. The Guzzi had interesting angular lines with utilitarian bolt-ons, like the panniers and skid plates. As I walked around the bike, Bocci approached and greeted me by saying, “She’s a stout beast.” No doubt, I thought.

Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX: A Stout Beast

During our excellent BBQ lunch, Bocci regaled Des, Ace and myself with stories of his adventures: doing the winner’s photo shoot, packing the Stevio, and heading off into L.A. traffic. He told us about the Guzzi’s massive low-end torque and how well it handled for such a big bike. He bragged about its massive 8.5 gallon gas tank that gave him almost 350 miles range. I guess I can’t boast about the “measly” 7.5 gallon tank on MyConnie anymore.

Walker Wild Frogs

But Bocci had a few problems, too. A snap-in turn signal cover vibrated loose and fell off somewhere along his ride. And he felt a strange vibration that he couldn’t tell whether it was intermittent, and/or even normal for this bike that was new to him. He also experienced first hand a characteristic that is prevalent with transverse vee-twins: rev the engine while stopped at a light and the bike lurches sideways from the torque. Still, nothing could wipe off the ear-to-ear grin from a guy who had just won the bike of his dreams. Damn! Attaboy, Bocci.

Bocci and his new Stelvio NTX

Ride Map: Click here for Google Map

RIDE MAP: San Mateo to Walker, California

 

Ride Video: Click here for the full 51 minute ride video over Sonora Pass from Donnell Lake to U.S. Route 395

Next Installment: Part Two – Virginia City

International Motorcycle Show: Oppa San Matean Style


International Motorcycle Show sponsored by Progressive Insurance

Not many motorcycle enthusiasts are as lucky as I am in that I live five blocks away from the San Mateo Expo Center, home each November to the Progressive International Motorcycle Show. So each year, my riding buddies and I, pay homage to our favorite pastime by getting together to visit the show and see what’s new in the moto world. This year I make a point of taking a lot of photos of the show so that the readers of Me and MyConnie who weren’t able to make it to one of the shows. Hope you enjoy the photos…

Four Perfect Motorcycle Days


´My first camping trip on MyConnie

Labor Day weekend 2012 will go down in my personal record book as the most epic of motorcycle trips on MyConnie…so far. Four days of motorcycle camping from San Mateo, California to Eugene, Oregon and back, taking the best motorcycle roads in between. This was by far the most ambitious and arduous trip I have made on a bike in my life, racking up 1,455 miles and more than 29 hours in the saddle over four days.

Annotated map of our trip to Eugene, Oregon

This may not sound like a lot to members of the Iron Butt Association, but these weren’t just flat-out highway miles. We went out of our way to choose a route that wrung the best out of our bikes and riding skills. We started by planning the route around four goals: 1) visiting my son in Eugene, Oregon where he is starting freshman year as an University of Oregon “Duck,” 2) going to my Dad’s property in Chiloquin, Oregon near Klamath Falls to put sealant on his roof prior to winter, 3) choosing awesome motorcycle roads that were recommended by Tim Mayhew of Pashnit.com, and 4) ending each day at a campground that had beer.

The third requirement was of particular interest to me because I am an avid reader of Pashnit’s California Motorcycle Roads website where I found that there were wonderful places in the state that I had never visited, all connected by roads that are great for bikes. The fourth and final requirement was at the request of my riding buddies who would go along with the interminably long days in the saddle, but only if they didn’t have to ride somewhere to have a beer and then ride back somewhere else to bed down for the night. SInce I was also trying to experience what motorcycle camping was like and cut down on lodging bills, this meant one thing: KOA Kampgrounds.

KOA at Trinity Lakes, California

What’s not to love about a KOA? They have a store with ice cold beer, nice campsites, food within walking distance, online registration…oh, and did I mention ice cold beer? To top it off, the one we were going to stay at has an espresso machine and a gas pump. What more could three motorcyclists want?

We experienced some amazing motorcycle roads and some still more amazing scenery—learning a bit more about ourselves along the way. Here are the highlights of our adventure:

• Avenue of the Giants – Home of the giant redwoods
We decided to head north taking Highway 101 all the way to Fortuna and then turn east so that we could experience Highway 36 which drew raves on Pashnit.com. As we entered redwood country, we took a side-route called The Avenue of the Giants which parallels Highway 101 and crosses under it in serpentine fashion for about 20 miles or so. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous with massive redwoods trees, the largest living things on earth, lining both sides of the road. Here is a link to a brief video of us riding through the redwoods along The Avenue of the Giants.

Ace and Bocci outside the famous “One Log House”

• Highway 36One of the best motorcycle roads anywhere
250 miles north of San Francisco lies one of the most incredible motorcycle roads anywhere: Highway 36. This 150 mile long road connects the city of Eureka on the coast to Red Bluff in the central valley. Although highway 36 provides a handy connection between Interstate 5 and Highway 101, it doesn’t get much traffic. The lack of cars coupled with its near-new paving and perfectly engineered curves alone would make it one of the best motorcycle road I’ve ever ridden. However, its not just the banking and burning that makes this road THE best in my book, its the scenery along the way. Going from the coastal fog and redwoods, then through a tunnel of fern-like trees, then transitioning to rolling ranch lands, and then mountainous terrain would have been enough in and of itself to claim my top spot. But along the way you are also treated to absolutely idyllic sweeping views of high-country farms and ranches nestled in small valleys that butt up against steeply wooded mountains. The views were indeed breathtaking and highly recommended as a route you should plan to take someday.

One interesting item of note, at one point nearing the junction with Highway 3, we came across a sign that read, “Road Ends 500 Feet.” We thought, “What the heck?!” After riding about an hour and a half just to then find what seemed to be an impenetrable obstacle, we were dumfounded. As it turned out, the road wasn’t impenetrable, just incredibly nerve-wracking. There was road construction going on and for about a quarter mile. The asphalt had been removed and we were faced with what was essentially a gravel road. With no other real options, we sucked up our courage, stood up on our pegs, and let the bikes wiggle crazily beneath us as we drove slowly but confidently over the loose terrain. As it turned out, it was easy-cheesy, but something to remember for sure.

• Highway 3Gateway to the Trinity Alps
75 miles in from the coast Highway 36 connects with Highway 3 which heads north through the Trinity Alps. At the junction of the two roads is an unusually large triangular parking area right in the middle of the road which ended up being a nice place to stop for a brief rest. My buddy “Ace” found some previous hitchhiker’s cardboard sign and mugged for a photo expressing a sentiment that we all shared after seven hours in the saddle.

Abandoned hitchhiker sign found on the roadway

Highway 3 north through the Trinity Alps did not disappoint. Like Highway 36, it was a gorgeous road, both in ride-ability and scenery. It didn’t hurt that we were traveling during the time of day photographers know as “the golden hour” right before sundown. It was a strikingly beautiful day with the golden sun low in the sky at our backs or on our left, illuminating the mountains and small towns along the way. After winding an hour more along Highway 3 we rolled into the Trinity Lakes KOA “Kampground.” It was nice to find extremely pleasant staff, a well-stocked store, beer, ice, firewood and a nice little campsite for our three tents and bikes.

Camping at the Trinity Lakes KOA Kampground

After a well-deserved meal at the adjacent food shack (pizza for me, fish ’n chips for Bocci and Ace), we built a fire and started settling in for the evening. The next morning, I woke before dawn to see if I could get any great photos of Trinity Lakes. It was a short mile walk to the shoreline, and I wasn’t disappointed when I was presented the setting moon over hills lit by morning glow.

The setting moon over Califorina’s Trinity Alps

I sought out a cup of espresso from the Kampground store, after which, we packed up camp, gassed up, and headed north up Highway 3 towards Yreka. We found that rolling through the Trinity Alps provided an entirely different environment than the rolling valleys of Highway 36. After emerging from the mountains, enjoying some wonderful curvy roads with sweeping vistas, we entered a very large flat high-altitude valley dotted with little towns. I had no idea that a mere 30 miles to the west of Highway 5 on the way to Oregon was this idyllic sub-alpine farming area. It was truly breathtaking to roll mile after mile through these valleys surrounded by mountains all around, and such a nice change from the monotonous drone of Highway 5, California’s main north-south route. I highly recommend taking Highway 3 if you are going from the San Francisco Bay Area to points in Oregon and can afford the extra time.

• Roseburg, Oregon – A quaint jewel along the Umpqua river
Nestled alongside Interstate 5 about halfway between the California border and Eugene, Oregon is Roseburg. This city of 21,000 was the waypoint we would use to head to Crater Lake the following day, but after many hours riding in 90 degree heat, we needed to find a watering hole somethin’ fierce. We could not have had better luck than when we stumbled into the B&M Tavern which was celebrating Cowboy Days. The people were friendly, the drinks were cold, and there was a huge spread of free food on the shuffleboard table. We enjoyed the funky cowboy-chic décor and cowboy songs being sung in the street outside for an hour and then saddled up for our last push towards Eugene.

B&M Tavern in Roseburg OR

• Eugene, Oregon – Home of the University of Oregon Ducks
It should not be left unsaid that Trinity Lakes to Eugene is a heck of a long distance—almost 300 miles, in fact. On the heels of a very long ride the day before, we thought that the run to Eugene would be a cake walk. It wasn’t. However, it certainly wasn’t a difficult ride. It was just 5.5 hours long, and 85 degrees hot. When we arrived in Eugene, we were ready to arrive in Eugene. Poor planning for that evening, though, left us in a no-tell motel in two “smoking allowed” rooms (yuck). We didn’t—I guess I should cop to I didn’t—prearrange a hotel room or campsite, and we happened to hit Eugene on a Ducks football game day. We were lucky we didn’t have to sleep in a park.

We had a great visit with my son after he got off of work delivering pizzas and he introduced us to Voodoo Doughnuts, an experience not to be missed. It seems like my 18 year old is settling into college life as a freshman nicely.


Oregon Hwy 138 – The Umpqua River Valley
After a more traditional yet excellent breakfast at Glenwood we got ready for our next destination: Crater Lake via the Umpqua River Valley. After copious goodbyes to my son, we rolled out of Eugene and down Highway 5 back towards Roseburg where we turned east on Highway 138 paralleling the Umpqua River.

I should mention that Oregon is a mecca for gorgeous motorcycle roads and we certainly spent too much time on Highway 5 when we could have been exploring other river valleys and redwood forests. But we only had four days and needed to accomplish certain goals, so we would just have to leave more Oregonian exploration for a later date.

Oregon Highway 138 towards Crater Lake through the Umpqua River Valley is a gorgeous route. There is a long section where the road is low, twisty and adjacent to the river, and other sections where we cut across vast forests at relatively high speed. All of this led us to the north entrance of Crater Lake National Park, but before we could get in, we found ourselves at the back of a long line of cars stopped dead on the highway. We were surprised at this, and decided that this many people must have the right idea, so we inched forward in line for 45 minutes just to pay our entrance fee to get into the park.

Waiting in line to enter Crater Lake

• Crater Lake – Deepest lake in America and possibly the most beautiful
The road to the crater is about ten miles that crosses pretty spectacular terrain. It leads up to the crater which rises above the valley floor and offers many vista points along its rim. We stopped at the first vista, climbed a sand hill, and found this waiting over the edge:

A panorama of Crater Lake in Oregon

What a sight! We took a lot of photos at various points around the rim and then decided to skip the lodge as traffic was a mess. It was well worth the trip and the wait in line, though, for the sheer beauty of the lake. We stopped at the Annie Creek Restaurant and waited FOR-EVER for our food, which was mediocre at best. A much better idea would be to continue on to Highway 97, gas up and eat at the KlaMoYa Casino near Chiloquin.

Our goal in visiting the little village of Chiloquin was because I own property there which previously belonged to my parents, and their roof was in bad need of some sealer prior to winter. We quickly found that our bikes did not like the red rock road that led to the house as the Bimmer and MyConnie got stuck. So we hoofed it with my tools to the house and Ace—a contractor by trade—helped me out by shinnying up onto the roof without the help of a ladder and spread the gooey tar over the offending seam.

MyConnie gets stuck on the red rock road

We finally extracted ourselves from the slippery red rocks by riding out into the meadow, working tenaciously to avoid the holes and cowpies that abounded under shin-high grass. It was already getting late in the afternoon and we had many miles to go to our next campsite, so we decided to leave a visit with the neighbors for my next trip and got back on the road towards Klamath Falls.

• Lava Beds National Monument – California’s overlooked pearl
We had reservations that night at the KOA in Mount Shasta but it was clear that we would arrive there many hours after dark if we stuck to our original route. So we elected to change our camping plans instead. We took Highway 97 down to Klamath Falls and then headed towards Highway 39 which eventually turns into Highway 139. We followed this in the waning light towards Lava Beds National Monument near Tule Lake now across the border in California. This ride would have been more enjoyable if we didn’t find ourselves racing dusk and trying to find the one campground listed in the odd lava beds park. It didn’t help that the visitor’s center and ranger hut were closed so we couldn’t even ask directions.

We accidentally split up for a short time and I found myself riding a causeway through the middle of Tule Lake trying to find the elusive campground. Do you know what you get at dusk next to a large shallow lake? BUGS! I don’t think I’ve ever tucked-in so tightly on MyConnie, trying to shield my helmet from this entomological onslaught.

Tule Lake at Dusk = BUGS!

After regrouping with my fellow riders, they led the way to the campground, but it was now very dark and we had to fumble our way around to find a site and then set up our tents. However, sometimes luck shines on the ill-prepared because we found a campsite that overlooked the lava beds area and were treated to a blood-red full moon, made that way by the smoke from many California wildfires raging in nearby counties. We came to find out from the campground host that this was the only site left, and it was the best of the lot. And although there was no store with cold beer, there was a nice, clean bathroom building and someone kindly left firewood at our site which Bocci quickly lit ablaze with some help from his camp stove gas. We dined on turkey chili, beef jerky and washed it down with hot chocolate—all-in-all, a nice end to a long day.

Our campsite at Lava Beds National Monument

At dawn, the views were amazing. We came to find out that there are over 700 lava tubes in the national monument area, 25 of which are open to the public and have trails leading through them. Two campers on adventure bikes told us of one caves is 1.5 miles long with ice in the bottom! This is an area we definitely want to visit again to do some exploring. Not only to see more of this unique geology, but also to experience the incredible light of dawn over the lava beds one more time.

MyConnie in front of the Lava Beds National Monument dawn

• The Modoc Plateau – California’s upper right corner
After our last night camping, it was time to head home. We split up with Ace leaving shortly after dawn and heading south and west towards the Bay Area via a more-or-less direct route. Bocci and I took our time breaking camp and headed out of the back side of the lava beds towards Highway 139. The road leading out of lava beds monument area is not often used, and although completely paved, has a plethora of potholes and cracks with vegetation growing through. It was no problem at all, but considering we hadn’t done this before, we were worried that we were heading down a rat hole and that we might not easily get out without backtracking. As luck would have it, we connected with Highway 139 and got to see some mule deer and bunnies along the way.

One disappointment was that we didn’t have time to get to Glass Mountain, an entire mountain made of large chunks of obsidian. Not only were we not sure of how to get there, but we knew that the last couple of miles to its over 7,000 foot peak were a dirt and gravel road. So we decided to “punt” on Glass Mountain this time, but affirmed our desire to return there in the not-too-distant future.

Turning south on Highway 139 led us on a high-speed trip through beautiful high country ranch land for quite some distance. We came to a decision point of whether to head west down Highway 299 towards Mount Lassen, or to head east towards Alturas and Highway 395. Bocci’s less-than-bottomless fuel tank on the Triumph made the decision for us as it was only 20 miles to Alturas, so off we went in search of gasoline.

We noticed on Highway 139 and then on the road to Alturas that most of the cars traveling in the opposite direction were all covered with white dust. I noticed this but didn’t think much about it until we reached the gas station. After refueling, I went into the store to buy a map. In walked a very attractive young woman wearing an abbreviated halter and Daisy Dukes. Most notably, she had a foxtail clipped to her backside and was covered with the same white dust that we had seen on the passing traffic. Hmmmmmm…what was going on here?

As I exited the store, we noticed a few other strangely dressed individuals and a large van that had the eastern-Indian greeting “Namasté” emblazoned across the hood. Finally it hit me, these people were all returning from Burning Man! I have heard a lot about this festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert where 50,000 people converge to create a sustainable “city” for one week and then leave without any trace that they had been there. I aspire to attend Burning Map someday, but the exhausted look on the white dust-coated people’s faces may make me rethink that position. My main regret now is that I didn’t have the presence of mind to take photos of these desertified miscreants before we left.

Rather than backtrack towards Lassen, we decided to run directly south on Highway 395 to Susanville and then head south and west first on Highway 36, and then on Highway 32 to Chico which sits astride Highway 99. One thing was sure, we were still a very long way from the Bay Area and needed to let our war ponies run.

The run from Alturas to Susanville leads across the Modoc Plateau, a mile-high expanse of lava flows, cinder cones, juniper flats, pine forests, and seasonal lakes. Highway 395 here is dead straight with only intermittent towns along the way. The flat, straight roads and 90 degree heat led to our decision to make the hundred mile run to Susanville a constant 80 mph. Never having been to this part of California before, I was struck with the immensity of the surrounding land and just how remote it was from where most people traverse the state. I’m sure the Modoc Plateau holds many more treasures that we will explore on future trips.

• The High Sierras – The mountains in my back yard
After reaching Susanville and having a very nice lunch at the Chinese Kitchen, we headed off to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains. We would have liked to have gone through the heart of Lassen National Forest, but different wildfires were still being contained so we consulted the California statewide fire map and devised a route around them because we wanted to avoid any entanglements with fire crews. As it turned out, we found a beautiful route back to the central valley passing by the north shore of Lake Almanor and then down through spectacular pine forests to the town of Chico.

• The “Back Way” Home – Taking roads less travelled
Because this was Labor Day, we were worried about hitting holiday traffic and therefore were seeking any alternate routes we could think of to avoid it. As it turned out, we lucked upon an absolutely great way to get close to the last jump into San Francisco without suffering holiday traffic and while enjoying beautiful scenery along the way. Here’s how: From Chico, take Highway 99 south to Yuba City. Then head west briefly on Highway 20, the Colusa Highway, until you can turn south on Highway 113. Continue all the way on 113 until the city of Davis, then you can hop on Interstate 80 towards San Francisco. You will love the rural beauty of this route which is surprisingly fast.

Bocci and I finally did run into holiday traffic at Vacaville where there was a big traffic jam. We did a little end-around using Google maps and surface streets and eventually got back on track. Our fourth day ended when I arrived home around 9:00 P.M. thoroughly exhausted but exhilarated as well.

Looking back over the previous four days I was just amazed at the different climates and types of geography we traversed. And this from a native Californian who has traveled extensively throughout the state and thought he knew most of its attractions. What I learned is that there is much more to the Golden State than what lies close to major points of interest such as Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and Disneyland. And for those willing to explore on two wheels, there is yet a wide wonderful world to discover within their easy reach while enjoying the journey as much as reaching the destination.

I find myself now less interested in planning for trips to faraway lands and intrigued instead with thoughts of Death Valley, the Salton Sea, Desolation Wilderness, Plumas National Forest, Glass Mountain, Lassen National Park, Big Sur and all points in between. We Californians are truly blessed to enjoy topography this spectacular and year ’round riding weather to keep enjoying it all.

I think I’ll now log in to Pashnit.com and start planning my next adventure.

_____________________________

Trip Stats:
Friday August 31st — Monday September 3rd, 2012
1,455 miles ( day 1 = 424,  day 2 = 293,  day 3 = 289,  day 4 = 449 )
The Bikes:
– 2001 Kawasaki Concours ZG1000
– 2010 Triumph Bonneville T100
– 1998 BMW R1100RT

Ride Maps:
Day One: San Mateo > Trinity Lake KOA Campground = 424 Miles @ 8.5 hours
Click here for Google map

Day Two: Trinity Lake KOA Campground > Eugene, Oregon = 293 Miles @ 5.5 hours
Click here for Google map

Day Three: Eugene, OR > Lava Beds Nat’l Monument = 289 Miles – 6.25 hours
Click here for Google map

Day Four: Lava Beds Nat’l Monument > San Mateo, CA = 449 Miles @ 8.75 hours
Click here for Google map

Additional Trip Photos:

My “Secret” Commute to Silicon Valley – Part Two: Mountain Ridges


In part one of my series on “secret” commutes to Silicon Valley, I focused on taking country roads from San Mateo to Los Altos through Portola Valley. Doing this made me realize that half the fun of going to work really is getting there! So I looked for ways to venture even further away from the freeway in search of the perfect motorcycle commute.

I found it on Highway 35, known locally as Skyline Drive which tops the mountain ridges that separate the San Francisco Bay to the east from the Pacific Ocean to the west. Long fabled as a tremendous weekend motorcycle road, Skyline Drive is also home to the storied “Alice’s Restaurant” in Woodside, California.

You can get anything you want, ’cept’n Alice…

Not the Alice’s Restaurant of the famous Arlo Guthrie song—that one is in Massachusetts— but the one on Skyline Drive has been a local haunt for motorcyclists, writers and poets since the 1960s. Alice’s is not only a great place for coffee or a meal, but it is the juncture of a number of roads that lead off to their own versions of motorcycle nirvana. But for me, since I was just trying to find a new way to get to the office, I kept riding south past Alice’s towards Page Mill Road.

Just before reaching Page Mill, there is a great vista point that looks out over all of Silicon Valley. I love stopping here to think about the cornering technique I just exhibited—both good and bad—while looking down on Stanford University and the rest of the land of startups below. This particular day, it was foggy when I first arrived on Highway 35 and then cleared up into beautiful sunshine atop the ridges. From the vista point, however, I could see that the entire valley was covered in thick, wet fog—waiting for me to descend down into on the way to my office. The fog layer was about 500 feet below the vista point elevation and it looked like I was in a plane flying high above the clouds.

Silicon Valley vista point on Hwy 35

What a difference a day makes: photos from my AM & PM commutes that day.

A Highway 35 vista point overlooking Silicon Valley

It was sunny atop the Highway 35 vista point both morning and afternoon.

I took the same route home that day so that I could compare A.M. and P.M. commute photos from the same vista point. The San Francisco Bay Area is famous for its many microclimates. Layering in mountain elevation into the mix helped me encounter fog, sunshine, drizzle, and high overcast all within a forty mile ride in ninety minutes. Crazy.

Page Mill Road gets very twisty for about nine miles, throwing in a few 15 mph decreasing-radius blind curves just for fun. That’s better than any Starbucks Coffee for getting your heart pumping in the morning! As I headed down into the dense fog, getting into a back-and-forth rhythm to match the turns, I reflected on how great it was to get a ride like this in before starting my work day. It reminded me of how TV’s Flipper would save Bud and Sandy from whatever underwater mishap befell them—and it was always over before school started!

After a while, Page Mill Road’s curves straighten out as I emerged out of the hills and down onto the floor of Silicon Valley in Palo Alto. I decided to go straight down Page Mill to El Camino instead of taking my normal route on Arastradero Road and then through residential streets, just to mix things up. After a quick jaunt down The King’s “Highway”—now festooned with traffic lights every few blocks—I arrived at my office: 41.2 miles and 88 minutes after starting. Considering this “secret” mountain ridge commute to Silicon Valley only took an additional 16.6 miles and 37 minutes than my normal backroads route, it provided  some great morning meditation in preparation for slaying the daily dragons at my workplace. Ask yourself, might you have a “secret” commute that could help you shed stress and arrive at your desk with a smile? Open up Google Maps and check it out. You never know what you might find.

Another Cautionary Note:
These are mountain and backcountry roads and are not ideal for motorcyclists who always feel the need for speed. I’ve seen plenty of CHP on this commute and they take a dim view of knee draggers while they are sipping morning coffee in their cruisers. You can have a great time staying within the posted speed limits while enjoying the back-and-forth rhythms of twisty mountain roads. Since this route adds significantly to your commute time, it fails as the shortest distance between point A and B. But if you are looking to feed your inner chi before having your chai tea, you might just look into adding to your commute instead of splitting lanes to make it shorter.

Ride Map: Click for Google map

Taking the long way home: motorcycle commute nirvana

My “Secret” Commute to Silicon Valley – Part One: Country Lanes



Every day, I ride to work from San Mateo on San Francisco’s peninsula to Los Altos in Silicon Valley around 20 miles away. I’m lucky enough to have multiple ways to get to work, and up to recently, I thought I had tried them all. My primary route uses Interstate 280, known as the world’s most beautiful freeway. It’s a 26 mile jaunt one-way that has rolling hills, lots of gentle curves, wide lanes and beautiful scenery (for a freeway, that is). But when the freeway is flowing, if you’re not going 70+ mph, you’ll get run over. Or, if the traffic is heavy, you’ll spend more time with your feet on the pavement in bumper-to-bumper traffic than with feet on your pegs.

My secondary route uses Interstate 101, 70% of which has motorcycle-friendly HOV lanes (high-occupancy vehicle—a.k.a. carpool—lanes) on my 21 mile commute to the office. It’s an ugly freeway hemmed in by ivy-covered sound walls, narrow lanes, and plenty of highway patrol officers looking for cell phone and carpool lane offenders. On Interstate 101, if you don’t get killed by someone changing lanes, you’ll experience a near-miss from another motorcyclist splitting lanes at 15 mph faster than the flow of traffic. To say it’s a “heads-up” route is an understatement.

The shortest route for me follows highway 82, the venerable El Camino Real (The King’s Highway). At 14 miles door-to-door, it’s the most direct of the three, but by far the slowest and least enjoyable because of its many traffic lights. On the bright side, it has plenty of places to stop for breakfast or coffee, but it is also the route I name most likely to result in a premature death because of someone running a red light or making a left turn without warning.

Now I’m certainly not afraid of the freeway, but being required to exceed the posted speed limit by 10 miles an hour just to stay ahead of traffic pressure is not my idea of a leisurely commute to work. And, lately, the density of the morning commute on I-280 has all-too-often devolved into 25 mph bumper-to-bumper traffic which is definitely not enjoyable. Some motorcyclists enjoy white-line fever, splitting lanes and leaving slower congestion in their wake. I, for one, believe that you decrease your good karma significantly every time you split lanes. I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if the daily motorcycle accidents I hear about on the radio weren’t directly correlated to aggressive lane splitters.

About three months ago, I started wondering if there were options other than Hwy 101 or 280 and started to go exploring. I started carrying my camera rig in one of my saddlebags because the weather was exceedingly beautiful and if I could get some good shots on the way into work, well, so much the better. And although I never anticipated that one of my favorite bicycle roads that paralleled I-280 could be a serious candidate for a new motorcycle commute, it did run alongside a miles-long reservoir and provided very photographic scenery. So without further ado, I hopped onto State Route 92 and turned left onto Cañada Road.

The typical morning view of Crystal Springs Lake from Cañada Road

The typical morning view of Crystal Springs Lake from Cañada Road

On this first day of exploration, I saw that Highway 280 up ahead of me had very heavy traffic, so I was glad to be venturing out onto an alternate route. I had only traveled on Cañada road on my bicycle up to that point because they close the road to cars on Sundays. Along this route is the Pulgas Water Temple, the Filoli Estate and Crystal Springs Lake which is where San Francisco gets its water—pumped all the way from Yosemite’s Hetch Hechy reservoir. Cañada road contains beautiful scenery and a few very nice sweeping 50-mph curves before straightening out. The road crosses under Interstate 280 and then runs parallel to it, so you can see just how bad the traffic is on the Interstate. The final few miles degrade to a 35 mph speed limit with three stop signs terminating on Woodside road. A nice distraction at this junction is either the Woodside Bakery or Buck’s Restaurant, where commonly you can hear an entrepreneur pitching a venture capitalist over breakfast.

The wonderful food and funky decor of Buck's Restaurant of Woodside

The wonderful food and funky decor of Buck’s Restaurant of Woodside

There are a couple of ways to proceed towards Silicon Valley from Woodside. My favorite is to turn left onto Woodside Road and then make a right onto Big Whiskey Hill road after two blocks. Alternately, you can go straight past Roberts Market onto Mountain Home Road which is a picturesque 25 mph road through expensive Woodside estates. I usually opt for the 35 mph Big Whiskey Hill route because it is faster and has more sweeping views of horse farms.

A photo of the Horse Park of Woodside

The Horse Park of Woodside

Two miles later, you turn right onto Sand Hill Road which becomes Portola Road a few hundred yards further on. The speed limit increases to 40 mph and you wind through a nice two-lane country road bordered by ranches, farms, estates and vineyards. After about three miles, you enter the quaint and quite wealthy town of Portola Valley. I say quite wealthy because I looked online and found that in 2009, the aggregated income per household was almost half a million dollars annually. Portola Road tees into Alpine Road where you want to turn left and head back towards the direction of Interstate 280.

The Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto

A walking trail on the Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto

After a few miles, I saw a sign for Arastradero Road which I know crosses El Camino Real near my office, so I took it. What I found was a tremendous road that crosses the Arastradero Preserve. Not only does this road provide enough twisties to be interesting, it dead ends on Page Mill Road which is a major artery into Palo Alto. This is an area where you need to go slow, however, since there are hikers, horses and wildlife. On Page Mill Road I turned left—northeast—and found that Arastradero Road continued off to my right once again just before reaching I–280. I made the right turn back onto Arastradero Road and found that it wound through Los Altos Hills and offered me multiple final routes to my office, either by continuing all the way to El Camino Real, or by turning right onto Foothill Expressway and then winding through residential streets to my office.

On first blush, this was an unlikely commute route. But after taking it a few times, I came to appreciate how it allowed me to…
– traverse a 20+ mile commute without touching an interstate freeway
– avoid inner-city boulevards, stop signs and red lights
– incorporate gorgeous country scenery, sweeping curves and a few interesting twisties
– and only add 10 minutes over the Interstate 280 route when it’s crowded during commute hours

What I also got by taking this “secret” commute to Silicon Valley was less anxiety, more ability to think about my workday ahead, and the incredible smells of country roads including eucalyptus, grass and pine. I heartily advocate seeing if there are back roads like these that could spice up your daily commute. I would have never thought I could have found a plausible alternate commute if I didn’t open my mind to go exploring on a workday. So leave a few minutes early. Don’t schedule any meetings or conference calls for the beginning of your day. Learn how to use your motorcycle to turn an ugly commute into a great ride. The real “secret” is that you get to make this ride every day…twice! Shhhhh…don’t tell your coworkers why you are smiling.

A Cautionary Note:
These are country roads and are not ideal for motorcyclists who always feel the need for speed. I’ve seen plenty of county Sheriffs on my commute and a couple of CHPs, as well. They take a dim view of side-road shenanigans. So if you can stay within the posted speed limits and truly enjoy the beautiful sounds and smells these roads can offer, give them a try. If you are merely looking for a short-cut, stay on the freeway and split lanes like all the other biker banshees.

Ride Map: Click here for Google Map

Here is how I commute from San Mateo to Los Altos in Silicon Valley

Epilogue:
I wrote most of the post above only a few months after I got back into motorcycling. As I reread it prior to finally finishing and posting it I remember how much more anxiety I had back then cruising the freeways during commute hours than I do now. For others of you who are considering getting back into motorcycling after a long hiatus, I can tell you now after a year back in the saddle: it gets better.