“Wow, that’s a big scooter you’re on. I ride a Honda 1800 Goldwing, myself,” said Captain Rick Turner, pilot of the Ohio River ferry Loni Jo. “See all the motorcycles on here? It’s like this most weekends. Motorcycle riders love a ferry.”
Indeed. Chugging towards the Kentucky shore, the barge’s deck was packed with motorcycles and trikes—plus a single 2013 Suzuki Burgman 650 ABS maxi-scooter.
On a day ride from anywhere near where Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri most closely converge, you can still ferry any of the region’s four mega rivers: the Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio and Cumberland. A three-day weekend is my advice, allowing you the opportunity to play modern day Tom Sawyer and hit them all, while enjoying the region’s roads, historical sites and culinary offerings.
Any motorcycle will do, or a scooter! The revamped 650 Burgman was my choice. (See the December 2013 Scooter Shootout and our online First Ride preview for its full specs.) A faulty parking brake assembly—the only mechanical glitch the scooter would encounter during nearly 6,000 miles of tour testing—had me in Clarksville, Tennessee (45 miles northwest of Nashville), while the local Suzuki dealer overnighted parts to get me back on the road.
Clarksville seemed a good starting point for a triangular “Ferry Discovery” trip. The Mississippi River is about 2½ hours away in Hickman, Kentucky, via two-lanes (U.S. Routes 79 and 641, and Kentucky Route 94). But you may wish to dally at the Fort Donelson Civil War battlefield or test ride a conversion trike or sidecar at Hannigan Motorsports headquarters in Murray, Kentucky, along the way.
My ride began in rain. Maybe a surprise to non-scooteristas, but the big Burgman offers excellent protection from the elements. The electrically adjustable windscreen’s lowest setting (chin level) was nearly perfect for my 6-foot frame. Less wind noise occurs when it’s raised to its upper limit (nose level), and it offers more protection from rain and cold. Fuel mileage improves, too. Heated grips would be nice and are an available option.
The Burgman has a full assortment of switches on both sides of the bars. None are lit and it’s very easy to flip the wrong one in the dark. It’s a scooter, so the left lever works the rear brake; right engages the floating front twin discs. The standard ABS worked extremely well.
Check your fuel before arriving at the Hickman landing as there’s only working farmland on the Missouri side for 30 miles. If the ferry isn’t waiting, alert the crew by a push of the button on the informational signpost.
Motorcyclists crossing the Mississippi pay a $5 toll. That’s a lot less than the largest passenger on my trip…an 18-wheeler hauling over 40,000 pounds of Kentucky oak logs destined to become hardwood flooring at a Missouri mill.
This being midweek, I was the only two-wheeler aboard the 78-foot ferry barge. Pilot Jeremy Newsome said weekends were a different story. “We get a lot of motorcycles on weekends,” he said, “they all seem to be going to Lambert’s Cafe.” That’s the famous home of “throwed rolls,” 38 miles ahead (State Highway’s 102, 80 and 61) in Sikeston, Missouri. Good idea!
Hunger satiated, now on to the Ohio! Plenty of overnight options are available along U.S. Route 60 heading east into Kentucky. Paducah is 65 miles away, or better yet, stop in the quaint town of Marion, about 110 miles away.
Burgmans shine in their underseat carrying capacity. Real word translation of the 650’s 50-liter capacity is: a full backpack, jacket rain liner, mini air compressor and tire repair kit, pair of sneakers, large travel atlas and bottle of water. With its optional rear topbox, this scooter is also a superb weekday grocery hauler.
Don’t let the word “scooter” or its upright riding position fool you. An experienced 650 Burgman rider can hang in the curves with most motorcycles short of sportbikes. The 15-inch front and 14-inch rear Bridgestone Battlax radials provided plenty of grip.
Marion has Kentucky’s largest Amish population, and one of its largest deer populations, so watch for horses, buggies and whitetails on winding State Route 91 as you head 12 miles to the Ohio River ferry landing. Better gas up, too.
The aforementioned Lonnie Jo departs every 15 minutes from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Captain Turner likes motorcycle riders so much he didn’t charge me a thing for the crossing. He won’t charge you either—it’s a free ferry and the best bargain of our trip!
Cave-In-Rock is a quaint little river town you may have visited before—in the movies. The cave was home to river pirates, as depicted by Walter Brennan in How the West Was Won, and in Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. It’s located in the Cave-In-Rock State Park, which also offers lodging and a restaurant as well as great views of the Ohio River.
A 650 Burgman rider can choose to twist-n-go or twist-shift-n-go. Changes to the pre-selected ratios are made via orange “up” and “down” switches on the left bar. The information panel, which includes analog speedo and tachometer to either side, is one of the nicest new features of the redesign.
Now for the finale; a double ferry day! From Marion, it’s about 45 minutes south to the entry point of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Riding the length of the 43-mile Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway will consume 1¼ hours—if you don’t stop for pictures too often.
A scooter should be a light sipper, and the big Burgman is. In the Scooter Shootout, Rider testers achieved 48 and 51 miles per gallon from respective BMW and Honda combatants, and 50.5 mpg on the Suzuki. Maybe my throttle hand was smoother. Over nearly 6,000 miles, my Burgman averaged a respectable 59.2 miles per gallon on 87 octane. Ignoring the flashing warning light took me slightly over 190 miles on a tank; you can probably squeak out 200 without walking. Not bad for a machine that will cruise at a continuous 90 miles per hour and reached an indicated 110 without shimmy or ill effects to my wallet.
The Trace terminates at U.S. Route 79. Then ride 56 miles (via U.S. 79 and Tennessee Routes 69a and 147) where you’ll pass Paris Landing State Park and Paris, Tennessee, to the Faxon-Danville ferry landing.
For 75 cents, a motorcyclist can ferry the 1½ mile-wide Tennessee River, shore to shore, all day long. Captain Mark Chester told me that on weekends it was not unusual to make 100 crossings a day. “We carry lots of motorcycles, too,” he said.
Each ferry had landings with an incline/decline that is slight and smooth enough for any rider to navigate. Those on motorcycles with long-travel suspension will hardly notice the mesh between ferry gate and landing pad. The Burgman managed a “womp” on each occasion, highlighting the most serious shortcoming of the $10,999 scooter—lack of suspension travel. As our First Ride noted, the 4-inch +/- of suspension travel works nicely on perfectly smooth roads. Unfortunately, few roads are perfectly smooth, and on those the rider pays the price in choppiness.
On to Cumberland City and our final ferry! It’s only about 25 miles (along Tennessee Routes 147 and 149) of two-lane to the landing. Getting close, you’ll see the smoke stacks of a TVA power plant. For many years, the little ferry tug that crossed the Cumberland River was named the Lucille. Captain Kevin told me he carried many motorcycles on summer weekends, when 100 crossings a day are routine. A new 80-foot barge and tug named Patience has taken over the Cumberland run since my last visit, but the toll is still 75 cents.
After crossing the Cumberland, the nearest community is Indian Mound. The easiest route back to Clarksville is taking Tennessee Route 46 north to U.S. Route 79 east. If you’re more adventurous, follow State Route 233; both are about 40 miles, the latter one has more twists. Once back in Clarksville you can hit Interstate 24 to return to whither you came—smiling like Tom Sawyer after an adventure on the river.
Throughout my “Ferry Discovery” travel and cross country return to California, Suzuki’s revamped Burgman 650 ABS proved an unexpected joy as a touring mount. It was a frugal, reliable and nimble machine. While $11,000 is upper-tier pricing for a scooter, it is less than half the price of the Honda Goldwing motorcycle it is often compared too. With some suspension improvements, Suzuki might find many more customers ready to twist-n-go.
For more information on Suzuki Burgman’s, visit http://burgmanusa.com.
For more information on ferries operating in the U.S. and Canada, visit howderfamily.com/travel/united_states_ferry_map.html