“You’ve got to enter this!” said my touring mate, Marco, when he called me about Moto Guzzi’s Spirit of the Eagle Rideaway competition.
Describe your dream tour, anywhere in the USA. Win the use of a V85 TT adventure bike for 14 days and a $2,500 travel budget.
I threw down a route. Start in Seattle, ride east to Glacier National Park, then follow the Rocky Mountains south through Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Flaming Gorge, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and finish in Las Vegas. Eight days, seven states, six national parks and monuments, 2,600 miles. Epic!
When the Piaggio Group called me last August to tell me I had won, it didn’t leave much time to prep and hit the road to beat the cold weather in Glacier National Park. My buddy Kit agreed to join me, and Moto Guzzi generously offered us a second bike. The adventure/dual-sport market isn’t Guzzi’s typical realm, so when I read that the TT stands for tutto terreno (all-terrain), I figured the least we could do is put them through a genuine off-road test. Part of the budget went toward Michelin Anakee Wild tires; billed as 50/50 on-/off-road, they have a surprisingly aggressive tread pattern. At 500-plus pounds, the V85 TT is no dirt bike, but if adventure is your goal, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself off the beaten path, and that’s exactly where we planned to be.
Our Chariots Await
We flew to Seattle and first saw our V85 TTs parked outside at Optimum Performance Motorsports. Their styling reminded me of old Paris-Dakar bikes. I took the Adventure edition, sporty in bright red and white livery, with only a gesture of a windscreen. Kit took the Travel edition, with a sophisticated metallic sand color and a larger windscreen, auxiliary lights and heated grips. Both bikes were fitted with excellent panniers, and the Adventure also included a top box, which I removed to allow more room for my DrySpec soft bags. After a chat with Alan Kwang, the dealership owner, he handed us the keys and wished us well. It was surreal riding away on brand new bikes without having exchanged anything more than a conversation.
A Dash Across an Apocalyptic Plain
It was nearly noon by the time we packed everything on the bikes and rode east out of Seattle. U.S. Route 2 climbs into rugged, pine-strewn mountains and goes over Stevens Pass (4,061 feet) before descending along the floor of a dramatic, glacial valley. During a late lunch in Leavenworth, the smell of smoke reminded us there were wildfires still burning across Washington State. After crossing the Columbia River, a steep ascent took us out of the rocky canyon onto a vast, windswept plain. Rolling grassland swept off to the horizon in all directions. Huge areas, scorched black by the recent flames, were still smoldering. It was like riding through the wake of a recent battle. We raced across the plateau for 140 miles, and then descended into Spokane and made quick time to our hotel in Ponderay, Idaho.
Majestic Glacier National Park and Deer in the Headlights
Still refining the bike-packing process, we began the first of 440 miles much later than planned. Just shy of the Canadian border, Route 2 turns east near Bonners Ferry, into the dense fir and spruce forests of Montana. Entering Glacier National Park, crystal-clear Lake McDonald sweeps up the valley alongside Going-to-the-Sun Road, a narrow strip of asphalt (and an engineering marvel) carved into the side of a mountain range. Logan Pass (6,647 feet) offered awesome views, as sheer valleys tumbled down to the lakes below and knife-edged arêtes towered above us. The light was fading by the time we got on the deserted forest road to Missoula. Kit spotted a mule deer, her almond eyes reflecting brightly in the Travel’s auxiliary lights. She was the first of many, and it was 10 p.m. when we finally walked into the Missoula Club bar, famous for its burgers and beer.
The Glorious Mountain Roads of Montana
After refueling in Hamilton, we turned east into the Sapphire Mountains on a steep gravel track and climbed up to Skalkaho Pass (7,257 feet). It was our first off-road test for the bikes and tires, and we quickly found our confidence on the hard-packed gravel. Abundant torque served us well, especially in 2nd and 3rd gears. By afternoon, the towering canyons had relented to reveal panoramic views of the dramatic scenery. We swept up another pass, riding into Virginia City, a marvelous authentic gold-rush town established in 1863. Following the Madison River south from Ennis, we had a breathtaking sight as the setting sun lit up a colossal rift running along the western bank. Eventually, we made it to our hotel in the dark, tired and hungry, only to discover the nearest restaurant was eight miles away, in West Yellowstone.
Enchanting Yellowstone and Towering Grand Teton
As the sun came up, we brushed the ice off our seats and rode into Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. We rode a clockwise loop around the park, passing steaming geysers, volcanic hot springs that belched scorching, sulfurous gas, and bison that grazed the roadside meadows, eventually coming upon enormous Yellowstone Lake. We made a quick stop at the amazing Old Faithful Inn, just as its namesake geyser erupted.
The road exiting Yellowstone’s southern entrance runs along the edge of a sheer canyon, ending at Jackson Lake, where the Tetons, a series of three spectacular peaks, soar up from the western bank to over 13,500 feet like giant fossilized teeth. It was late afternoon when we stopped at Alpine to buy supplies. The Guzzis always drew a small crowd and a flurry of questions. I discovered our next leg, a 95-mile dirt track through Bridger-Teton National Forest, was only graded for the first 40. Undeterred (somewhat), we proceeded anyway and soon found an idyllic spot to make camp by the river.
Scarlet Sockeye and the Stunning Beauty of Flaming Gorge
After a chilly, restless night, we rejoined the track running along Greys River, a ribbon of blue and lush green framed by rocky bluffs. As predicted, the track became steep and challenging, but the V85 TTs’ suspension capably soaked up the abuse, while their V-twins churned out torque with a lovely, distinctive rumble. We savored awesome view after awesome view as our fifth day’s route took us out of Wyoming’s forested mountains and into the painted desert canyons of Utah.
Desolate plateau roads delivered us to a series of tight corners cut into the red rock, descending hundreds of feet into Flaming Gorge. At the bottom, we stopped at Sheep Creek, where the shallow, limpid water was teeming with sockeye salmon. A series of thrilling sweepers and twisties climbed out of the gorge, providing a spectacular view of the sheer, banded cliffs of crimson and terracotta strata and the reservoir below. The plateau finally ended with a dramatic zig-zagging 3,000-foot descent to the town of Vernal, Utah. We used every electrical socket in the room to charge the crap out of everything — cameras, phones, drone — making the most of our last night in a hotel.
Ridge Riding on Top of the World and A Steer Standoff
After a dash across the vast Uinta Basin, we descended into Scofield (pop. 23), home to Snack & Pack, a quirky gas station where customers broil their own burgers. With us and the Guzzis refueled, we climbed into the mighty Manti-La Sal Mountains and onto Skyline Drive Scenic Backway, a rough unpaved road that follows a knife-edged ridge at over 10,000 feet, with sheer drops down both sides to the valleys below. I tried to focus on the riding, despite the arresting views at every turn. This was not a good place to screw up.
With one eye on the clock, we reluctantly turned off Skyline, riding down into the valley, where we found our route blocked by a herd of belligerent bovine. Stores are scarce in this remote part of Utah, and we were forced to ride 20 miles past our exit to buy supplies, starting the last leg as the sun began to set — a steep, 18-mile dirt track that provided plenty of butt-clenching moments in the dusk. We pitched our tents on patches of sand among boulders and stunted juniper. There was no moon, and when the last of the firewood burnt out, we could see the Milky Way painted across the night sky, with shades of purple, blue and red in an ocean of stars.
We Max Out the V85 TTs and Reluctantly Ride to Vegas
The morning sun blazed across the desert as we tore off down the rocky trail and into Cathedral Valley, where a group of distinctive striped mesas rise up from the plain like a village hewn from rock. Capitol Reef National Park is amazingly varied. Terracotta cliffs are the backdrop to white and yellow hoodoos, vivid green yuccas and gnarly juniper, as well as a formidable mix of sand-and-rubble tracks. Our pace had increased, and at times we asked more from the Guzzis than they were designed for, but what a ride! Inevitably, a deep sandy section proved too much of an ask, and I dumped my Adventure — scuza amore.
As we neared its end, the trail entered a dense line of trees and abruptly ended at the Fremont River. The fast running water was muddy, and Kit was the first to ford with little notion of depth and no idea what lay below. A breathtaking narrow road perched atop a meandering ridge separated by two yawning canyons delivered us to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Completely exhausted, we began looking for a campsite along Cottonwood Canyon Road. I found a ledge with a panoramic view across the valley. A series of sheer, striped ridges ran across the horizon, and towering above these, the giant mesa we had traversed all afternoon. We toasted our last night as the last of the sun’s rays set alight Escalante’s vivid strata. It had all gone so fast, and yet Seattle seemed like a lifetime ago. The view from my tent the following morning was worthy of its own trip.
On our final day, we thundered down a deserted, undulating track running along the floor of Cottonwood Canyon, a dust cloud in our wake and rocks pinging off the sump guards. With the road through Zion National Park closed, we had to take a southern loop through Arizona before starting the last, searing leg down to Las Vegas.
The Moto Guzzi V85 TT, È Tutto Terreno?
After riding hundreds of miles on dirt tracks, some seriously challenging, the V85 TT has convinced this skeptic that it will handle anything you can reasonably expect to throw at it. Overall build quality is excellent. Even with its handsomely sculpted 5.6-gallon tank full of gas, the V85’s center of gravity feels surprisingly low, and coupled with the Michelin Anakee Wild tires, inspired the kind of off-road confidence usually associated with lighter bikes. On the road, more midrange power would make fast overtaking maneuvers less of an exercise in physics, but otherwise, the V85 TT was a superb ride.
Both Kit and I are over six feet tall, and I’d figured we’d be folded up like a couple of deckchairs, but with some huge miles undertaken, we appreciated the excellent ergonomics and supremely comfortable seat. In terms of range, comfort, durability and handling on- and off-road, the V85 TT is a credible contender at a competitive price, and the folks in Mandello del Lario deserve credit for also making it so very beautiful. We were reluctant to hand back the keys. Arrivederci bellissima! Thanks for the good times!