August 2007: Denver Outpost
This report should be titled: Eric rides to Colorado in One day stayed three days and rode back in a day! Yes crazy stuff, but I convinced myself that it was the thing to do since I had done it once before but only one way. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I’ve owned the ZZR, a bike built for high speed, all day touring. I figured it could finally ride the bike the way its designers had intended. Little did I know, that while the bike might be designed high-speed 15-hour-a-day travel, I was not.
I gassed up the night before to ensure that I left at my desired time of 6:00am. While I was ready at 6am, however, the bike was not. On my last walk around of the bike I noticed one of my headlights was out. “Not a good omen” I thought, but I quickly changed it and put it out of my mind. I left Chicago 8/2 at 6:15am. Getting out of town was uneventful as managed to miss rush hour traffic on I-290 and I-88.
I was determined not to stop until the Iowa border, so my first stop was in Davenport. My tank was uncomfortably low, so I got off at the first exit on I-80. Unfortunately not a lot of gas-up choices and no large comfortable super-stations, just a small BP station, where two Harleys and a VTX1800 already parked and conversing. I’m usually leery of dusty looking cruiser guys with no helmets and no riding clothes other than bandanas and jeans, but I was friendly to them. Turns out the guy on the VTX, Ben, was also traveling to Denver and asked me how far it was? I told him 800 or so mile and he seemed shocked. We talked and decided to take the trip together since we both wanted to get there that day. Nothing like an unexpected but welcomed riding partner. The best news was he was a Motorcycle cop from New Jersey and he was carrying his badge, speed limits be damned!!!!
It is my first Long trip on the ZZR even though I’ve had it for two and a half years. The last time I made this trip I was on the Vulcan Mean Streak. The return trip on that bike with its lack of range and comfort enlighten me to the reason for sport touring bikes. Traveling through Iowa was uneventful except for the few short pockets of light rain. There were a lot of bikes on the road, mostly Harleys on the way to Sturgis. We were cruising along, about 80 passing most of the traffic but staying in a line of quick cars. I had decided not really open the bike up until I got to Nebraska and I did not want to dust my new riding partner so early.
The ZZR was comfortable but not outstandingly so, even with the stops for gas and lunch. My legs needed periodic stretching and my wrists were starting to get sore. Still I was not alarmed. I just figured it would be a slightly more stressful trip than I had imagined. I had pre-wired the bike for tunes. I bought a closeout Autocom unit with helmet speakers and an Aquabox 2 Ram case for the bars and spent a few hours running the iPods music and power cables out of it. I also installed a cigarette plug in the dash, looks very “factory” if I say so myself! It all worked fine except the iPod keep inexplicably stopping. It finally dawned on me halfway through Iowa that the bar buzz, which sometimes annoyed me and put my hands to sleep, was really annoying the iPod. Note: if you’re going to mount an iPod on the bars of your i-line4 powered Sport-tourer, make sure it’s a Nano (no hard drive in those). On the next stop I took the iPod and the wires out of the Aquabox and put the iPod into the clear top of my tank bag. After that it worked great. Anyone need a lightly used Aquabox 2?
Last gas stop in Iowa was 50 miles from Councils Buff. It was a longer stop cause we got food. Crossing into Nebraska the bike felt great: lots of power and purpose. Once outside of Omaha, I knew the ZZR was definitely in its element, and this was confirmed as we cursed between 90-100mph to Lincoln and most of the way though Nebraska. I had couple a two or three mile stretches where I was doing 100-130, totally effortless speed and acceleration. The faster I traveled, the more comfortable the bike seemed, and it was running like a locomotive. Fortunately I had warned my riding partner that I might disappear for stretches but I’ll find him.
Halfway through Nebraska, after 750+ miles, my discomfort was taking its toll. My wrists and palms were complaining, my butt was sore and my legs hurt. It was not until the first gas stop in Colorado that I realized that my palms are really bruised. Obviously I had not picked the right gloves for the trip. Not sure if I would have faired better on a more comfortable sport-tourer or whether it was just the many miles.
The heat was also really bad, probably one of the hottest weekends so far. I was worried about getting dehydrated. Fortunately I had the foresight to bring two bottles of a natural thirst drink and on our stops I cooled off by pouring water in my hair and on my face neck and arms. It seems to do the trick. Still it the heat was intense and I’m sure that added to my discomfort. The good news was that after the small pockets of rain in Iowa, Nebraska was beautiful, sunny, and partly cloudy, with very blue skies.
Rolling into Colorado from I-80 onto barren I-76, it was obvious that my goal of leaving early enough to avoid riding through the open range in the dark was not going to pan out, and It was nearly dusk and I knew the last few hours or so would be in darkness. Unfortunately riding with the Ben on the VTX meant more frequent gas stops, as his range was only about 150 miles. None-the-less we were still hauling ass at about 90mph. Making matters worse, it began to see lightning in the distance. We stopped for gas and put on rainwear just in case and pressed on. Five miles after our stop, we were in darkness, in a thunderstorm only 90 miles outside of Denver. Under any other circumstance we would have stopped and took cover, but there was no place to stop. We were in the open range, no overpasses and not another exit for 20 miles or so. We had no choice but to press on in the rain and wind.
Soon the rain died off and while the roads were wet, it seemed like nirvana compared to the storm. Ben got off right before the Denver City limits to head to his friends house in Thornton, CO. We had said our uncomfortable goodbyes and good lucks on our last stop, not really friends but definitely not strangers. I arrived safely in Denver, actually Littleton at 10:20pm mountain time, in light rain and traffic. By the time I pulled up in front of my friends house the rain had stopped. I sat on my bike for a good five minutes, savoring the victory and the experience, looking at the sky and the mountains and contemplating the trip back and what not to do again. I found my phone and called my wife who was traveling three hours in the car. Ironically she had hit the storm and stopped and got a hotel room. Smart woman.
In any case, those “old man bikes” like the FJR or the new Concours 14 are looking better after all. There was a point in Nevada that I was so uncomfortable that if I had seen a Kawasaki dealership I would have traded it in right there. While I was in Denver, I did go to the Kawasaki dealer and looked again at the Concours14. Riding position is better, but at 9 grand with my bike as trade its not going to happen. I did buy some better touring gloves for the return trip.
For some reason my wrist and palms faired better on the return trip, probably because I decided to relax and try to make the best of the ride. My butt was more uncomfortable and the last 500 miles than it had been going out. It was awful that last 200 miles but I was determined I was going to sleep in my own bed. While I did see lightening in the distance on I-88 in Illinois, we hit no rain; only wet roads from Oakbrook to my house. The god must have been with me.
All in all, I liked the ride and I still love the bike. I got complements and question whenever I stopped. I don’t think I could or would want to, ride that distance again in one day. Well…maybe if I could go 100+ the whole way.