photography by Greg Drevenstedt and Mark Kincart
[Firstgear Colorado Motorcycle Ride: 2,252 miles from CA to CO was originally published in the April 2009 issue of Rider magazine]
As a 15-year-old mountain biker living in Georgia, I dreamed of riding in two places: The slickrock trails of Moab, Utah, and the Rocky Mountain trails near Crested Butte, Colorado. Since those dreams never materialized, I didn’t hesitate when Mark Kincart, Apparel Specialist for Firstgear, invited me on a Colorado Motorcycle Ride: “Dude! I’m soooo there!”
After a tête-à-tête with His Editorness, we agreed that a Suzuki V-Strom 650 would be ideal for long-distance touring and light-duty off-roading. Suzuki loaned me a 2008 ABS model with Givi side cases and top case (see sidebar, below), and we mounted Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires .
As much as I prefer scenic, meandering routes, my time was limited. The route from Ventura, California, to Mesquite, Nevada, via freeways was a necessity rather than a “favorite ride.”
When traveling on Interstate 15, Mesquite is my oasis in the desert. I don’t gamble, but I stay at the Oasis Casino & Resort for the $29.99/night no-frills room that includes a free breakfast at Denny’s. Throw in free Internet access, pool and hot tub and a sports bar with cheap wings and beer and you’ve got one happy noncamper.
The 29-mile stretch of I-15 through the northwest corner of Arizona reminds me of a saying: A hippo doesn’t have many teeth, but the teeth it has are impressive. It’s one of the most expensive sections of interstate ever built, and for 14 miles it snakes through the Virgin River Gorge with towering sandstone and limestone walls. As the road climbs, the canyon opens up and I-15 enters southern Utah.
Climbing up and over 6,000-foot mountains kept things interesting during the 110-mile ride north to Interstate 70 at Cove Fort, its western terminus. Heading east, I-70 enters the Fishlake National Forest and passes through Clear Creek Canyon. To further dramatize the beautiful scenery, dark, menacing clouds began to drop rain. With a large windscreen and waterproof gear, I didn’t break my stride. I passed through the San Rafael Swell, an enormous dome of sandstone, shale and limestone pushed up millions of years ago and since eroded into a stunning network of canyons, gorges, mesas and buttes. If most interstate highways were half as scenic as I-70 through southern Utah, folks wouldn’t whine about having to take the “superslab.”
With a 230-mile range on the gas-sipping Wee Strom, the 108-mile stretch of I-70 with no gas or services was a breeze. After 232 miles through Utah, I-70 crosses into Colorado. Although I-70 continues eastward to Denver and ultimately to Baltimore, I exited at Grand Junction and picked up U.S. 50. At Montrose, U.S. 50 doglegs to the east and acquires green scenic route dots on the map as it converges with the Gunnison River and enters the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Just as the sun went down and I began to worry about deer, I arrived in Gunnison (elevation 7,703 feet) and pulled into Mark Kincart’s driveway. After a long, wind-whipped day in the saddle, cold beer and grilled steaks were manna from heaven.
On Saturday morning, we loaded our bikes–Mark’s BMW R1150GS Adventure, Dave Funk’s (a salesman for Tucker Rocky, which owns Firstgear) Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and my Wee Strom–with camping gear and suited up in Firstgear apparel. I wore a Kilimanjaro jacket and pants and a Shark Evo modular helmet. With morning temps in the 30s, I kept warm with a Firstgear heated liner and gloves. In a mountain town like Gunnison, days begin with a lumberjack breakfast at The W Caf… before heading off to hunt, fish, ski, mountain bike or, in our case, adventure tour.
We rode north on CO 135 and picked up Ohio Pass Road (CR 730), a smooth gravel road through the Ohio Creek Valley that climbs up through aspens into the West Elk Mountains to Ohio Pass (10,101 feet) and Kebler Pass (10,007 feet). Closed half the year due to snow, it was perfect in mid-September: refreshingly cool and clear with cottony clouds decorating an azure sky. On days like this in places like this, imaginations run wild and everyone takes great photographs, even me.
After exploring mountain roads, we descended into Crested Butte (8,885 feet). Incorporated in 1880 and designated a National Historic District, Crested Butte is a small, charming town that is popular among mountain bikers, winter sports enthusiasts, tourists, hippies, artists and romantics. Elk Avenue, the main drag, is lined with old store fronts now occupied by cozy restaurants and shops. We parked our bikes along the curb and saddled up to a patio table at Pitas in Paradise for lunch.
Following lunch, we took CO 135 out of town to Cement Creek Road, which turned to gravel and led to a national forest campground tucked into a scenic canyon. As we pitched our tents, storm clouds darkened the horizon. It rained as we rode into town for dinner, but Firstgear’s TPG Teton jacket and Escape pants kept me cozy and dry.
Being in the company of enthusiastic, knowledgeable locals greatly enriches the traveling experience. Mark took us to his favorite pizza place, The Secret Stash, and ordered for us: an appetizer of Bombay Nan with marinated vegetables and an extra-large K.G.B. (Killer Greens & Bacon) pizza, with chipotle sauce, bacon, tomato, mixed greens and feta and blue cheeses. Outstanding! With distended bellies, we wandered around and watched townsfolk celebrate Vinotok–Crested Butte’s harvest festival. The Vinotok Mumming Troupe, masquerading in medieval attire and playing instruments, danced and drank their way through restaurants and pubs to introduce characters in the evening’s street performance: Sir Hapless, the Earth Dragon, Harvest Mother and Green Man.
Early to bed, early to rise…just make sure coffee is handy. After breaking camp, we rode CO 135 back to Gunnison for another hearty diner breakfast. We then rode west on U.S. 50 to CO 92, which goes over the Blue Mesa Reservoir dam and follows the contours of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Stunning views and dreamland riding. We returned to Gunnison for a snack–iced tea and Rocky Mountain oysters–before taking CO 135 up to Almont. We turned right onto FR 742 and rode on pavement and then gravel along the Taylor River. After a full day of riding, we returned to Gunnison for a hungry man dinner at the Ol’ Miner Steakhouse.
I fell in love with Colorado and didn’t want to leave. Mark said his door is always open, and I’m already excited about the 2009 Firstgear Colorado ride. By the time I returned to Ventura, I had ridden 2,252 miles and finally fulfilled one of my dreams.
About the Motorcycle: 2008 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS
Suzuki’s adventure-touring V-Strom platform, in both 1000 and 650 versions, has a reputation for versatility. And at $6,699 for the base 650 model ($6,999 in 2009), it is a great deal. Although it is more street-oriented, the V-Strom has the durability and suspension travel for moderate off-road riding. When I threw a leg over the 2008 V-Strom 650 ABS and left the parking lot, it was love at first ride. The Wee Strom felt like a familiar old friend: balanced, intuitive and comfortable.
Equipped with optional ABS ($500) and accessory handguards ($49.95), side cases ($649.90 with mounts) and top case ($299.90 with mount), it was ready to travel. Unfortunately, the ABS system cannot be turned off, which limits the bike’s off-road capabilities, but it works well. The Givi luggage looks great and holds plenty of gear: Forty-eight liters in the top case and 35 liters in each side case.
Even after successive 500-mile days, the stock seat was comfortable. The adjustable windscreen and handguards provided plenty of wind protection. Riding uphill in stiff headwinds on freeways I wished for the 1000’s power, but otherwise I found the SV650-based motor to be peppy and user-friendly. During my 2,600 miles on the Wee Strom, it averaged 39.6 mpg (high 48.3/low 30.3). With a 5.8-gallon tank, the range is 230 miles–reassuring when touring through desolate areas like the 108-mile stretch of I-70 with no services.
Like Colorado, my love affair with the V-Strom 650 was all too brief. Suzuki, please put me on the list for a 2009 model for a long-term test!