Thunder in the canyon

Yesterday was the day. I wasn’t sure I’d do it when I crawled out of bed. Felt like a truck hit me the night before. I’m still not sure whether the time change earlier in the week, the continued head problems, the St. Patty’s Day revelry or the intense work most of the day Friday did it to me. Maybe it was none of the above. Maybe they all played a roll. Who knows.

Whatever the reason for the tire prints over my forehead, I was almost in a bad enough state of mind and body to skip ridinng completely. After several cups of coffee and a little ham and cheese croissant from East Village Baker, I chased away most of the yuck feeling and suited up for a ride.

The weather was mercifully dry leading up to my Day of Thunder. We’ve had a really wet winter this year with lots of moisture of all types falling from the sky. Plenty of snow in the mountains this year which will hopefully lead to lots fewer stories about how low we are on water.

Heading out to the shop, I wasn’t 100% sure I’d get to ride the Aprilia. I hadn’t started it for a few weeks, though it had been on the good battery conditioner/charger for the last week in the hopes that I’d be able to ride. Once I got the seat reinstalled, I turned the key, waited on the bike to go through its pre-ride checks and hit the magic button. Whammo–the bike roared to life and things got real.

After wheeling the bike out in front of the shop to warm up, I grabbed my helmet and pulled it on, found my gloves and closed up the shop. After throwing a leg over the bike, I realized I was a little nervous. It’d been a while since I’d been on a bike this powerful.

I wasn’t about to back down, nerves or not, though. After three months of sitting in the shop, I was riding the bike one way or another. I’d also been thinking I needed to sell it to pay off the DR650–so this one ride would need to tell me whether the wait had been worth it and whether I’d be CraigsListing again soon.

The bike didn’t want to idle without a bit of the fast-idle dialed in, so I left it there, put the bike in gear and putzed around our gravel drive. Having managed that without falling down immediately, I was encouraged and headed down the half mile dirt road and onto Arnold Market. I was pleansantly surprised by the suspension and fueling as I made my way down that dirt road. No herky-jerky throttle weirdness and the bike soaked up the bumps well enough for a sporting motorcycle. I was afraid it would be like that old MV Agusta I owned for a few minutes…err, months…several years ago.

With all the power in that Rotax motor, I knew I’d be taking it easy as I pulled onto Arnold Market, but was still surprised by the motor’s character and, even though it’s not a 90 degree twin like a Ducati, I do love the sound. There’s truly nothing like the sound of a sporting V-Twin.

Another thing I was pleasantly surprised about as I pulled onto Rickard Road heading east was the ergonomics. My knees fit perfectly into the tank cutouts, allowing me to grip the bike easily. The reach to the handlebar is sporty without being overly aggresive and the distance from the seat to the pegs seemed to put just the right amount of bend in my knees. The seat was even reasonably comfortable.

I slowly worked in more throttle, enjoying the very modern feel of the engine–especially compared to everything I’ve ridden recently: the Ural, DR650 and Guzzi all have motors with LOTS of history. The Rotax motor just feels modern in the way it delivers power and in general just the way it runs.

Everything wasn’t perfect, though. I did expect the fairing up front to divert more air than it does and was a bit surprised by the amount of buffeting when I sat up really straight. The reach to the levers on both sides is also a little more than I’d like–even with the levers set at their closest setting (they’re both 4-way adjustable). Minor stuff really.

The more I rode, the more confident I became. Since I didn’t know how much gas was in the bike I wanted to hit the gas station before going too far. I found some ethanol free gas on the north end of town and a friendly attendant who might’ve hopped on the back of the bike and gone for a ride with me if I’d offered her the chance. Instead I pointed the bike towards the airport and the Powell Butte Hwy. My destination: the four mile twisty road to Pronghorn. The Tuono did not dissapoint.

There’s a pair of long sweeping curves at the north end of the runway and I was amazed at how planted the Aprilia felt through those–so much so that I found myself a few clicks above my normal speeds before I realized it.

Once I hit the Pronghorn road, the Tuono really came alive. While I agree with the saying that it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast, it’s also more work.  Conversely I believe it’s just easier to be fast on a fast bike. While that may seem like a “duh” sort of thing to say, when you have a motor like the Rotax in the Tuono, gear selection is almost irrelevant–which allows you to just focus on picking your lines, setting the throttle and braking as necessary. No clutching and shifting unless you just want to–that’s two fewer appendages to worry about.

The Tuono feels so stable at speed and through corners that I don’t even notice riples and bumps in the road that normally fling me around on other motorcycles like the DR650. I was so amazed by the bike’s stability that I actually took the DR650 back to Pronghorn today. The difference between the two is even greater than I remembered with the Tuono staying comletelty composed through the curves and the DR bending, flexing and deflecting off of every imperfection in the road. I was able to manage similar speeds on the DR and it was exciting but not in the same way.

After the Pronghorn road, I couldn’t help it. I wanted more and the best place to get more wasn’t far away. First, though, I took a left out of Pronghorn and headed towards Prineville. Each of the big sweeping curves on the Powell Butte Hwy offered further proof of the Tuono’s abilities. The best part, though, was heading down into Prineville. The road winds back and forth around swippers and even a hairpin. Just before the descent I’d picked up a tail: a Ducati Diavel. Normally I can’t go around those curves very quickly due to their weird camber, but the Tuono slid around them so easily that soon the Diavel was well behind me and I couldn’t help grinning from ear to ear.

In Prinveille, I stopped at Starbucks for an Americano and a sandwich and sat outside to gaze on the lovely red motorcycle that was quickly working its way into my soul. A car full of tourists stopped and asked if they could take photos with the Tuono. None of my other bikes generate love like this–though the Ural does get attention.

Brain bucket, caffeine and andrenaline  machine

Brain bucket, caffeine and andrenaline machine

I did something at Starbucks this time that I haven’t ever done. I rushed through my coffee and lunch so I could get back on the bike and head up the canyon. I actually passed a couple of cars on the way–something else I don’t do much of. As you can see from the photos, though, I did stop a couple of times. The Red Bike does photograph well. Almost as well as it rides.

Since I hadn’t come down through the canyon on the way to Prineville like normal, I didn’t know the roads were actually in pretty good shape, so I took it pretty easy on the way up. There are a few sections with especially rippled road and the Tuono’s suspension soaked that up without breaking a swat. It was never too harsh, never deflected, just followed the road and let me get on with the business of setting up for the next curve.

After all the fun I felt a little beat by the time I got up to Reservoir Road and started heading back towards home. One thing was certain after that ride. I won’t be selling the bike anytime soon if I can help it.