Road Test Review
“Whew! That was close….”
As soon as my mind punctuated that thought, the Ducati GT1000 and I were on our sides skidding down the road.
It was Sunday night on Labor Day weekend in the middle of nowhere. I was due to meet Dad the next day at the Bonneville Salt Flats for the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials. Normally I leave dark and early, which would have made it easy to ride 700 scenic miles in two days. But I got a little rowdy Saturday night, woke up late and put off installing saddlebags and a luggage rack on the Ducati until the last minute. Tuttle had warned me about Italian accessories.
“First, drink a couple espressos and some Chianti to get in the right frame of mind,” he told me. “Then set aside plenty of time.” I should have listened.
By the time I hit the road, it was 3 p.m. From Ventura, I took CA 126 to Interstate 5 to CA 14 into Mojave: One-hundred-twenty-five miles on dry, hot freeways full of holiday ramblers. After filling up on gas and 89-cent bean burritos, I continued on to U.S. 395 and was greeted by angry tempests of dust rolling down the eastern face of the Sierras. One particularly nasty gust hit me broadside and nearly sent me into a ditch. I eased my speed, leaned into the wind and coughed my way through.
Dusk was closing in. All the motels in Lone Pine and Big Pine had bright-red neon “No Vacancy” signs. I plotted a route to Beatty, Nevada, 150 miles away on roads that looked straight on the map. As soon as I turned onto CA 168, the road crawled like a king snake up into the hills. I gulped at an ominous sight: an overturned semi truck that had blown a sharp turn.
Just beyond the turn-off for the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (never been…next time), I rode over Westgard Pass (7,313 feet) between the White and Inyo mountains. In the desert, it gets cold and dark quickly. Wary of deer, I slowed down and scanned the road ahead. Down out of the mountains, the road straightened out and I buzzed over a cattle guard and saw an “Open Range” sign. Turning onto CA 266, I got distracted by lights and looked around to get my bearings. When I turned my attention back to the road, my eyes bulged-before me on jet-black asphalt was a wall of black cows camouflaged by the night. I braked and swerved.
I missed the cows, but not the manure.
Luckily I wasn’t going fast when I went down, and I had on full protective gear. In the initial rush of adrenalin, I picked up the bike and made sure I wasn’t hurt. Moments later a pickup truck pulled up and I approached it, dazed and confused. An old man in the passenger seat, mouth agape, pointed past me and stared into the darkness with a wild look in his eyes. With a pay-no-attention-to-Grandpa expression on his face, the driver asked if I was all right.
“I think so, but I’m not sure.”
He got out to help me check things out. The bike started up and everything seemed functional. Ironically, what contributed to my late departure-the saddlebags-saved me and the Ducati from greater damage. The right leather saddlebag took the hit and protected my right leg.
The pickup truck was headed to Big Pine. “Can I follow you? I’m a little shaken up and I don’t want to ride out here alone.”
“Sure. If your headlight snuffs out, we’ll stop and pick you up.”
Back in Big Pine, no rooms were available. Fifteen miles north in Bishop, more “No Vacancy” signs. A motel clerk told me about one room left at another motel, so I rushed over and gladly paid $139 for a dumpy room. I unloaded my gear and assessed the damage. Just minor scrapes on the Ducati, but my mesh riding suit was in bad shape. Better it than me. Lesson learned-no more nighttime exploration of rural roads where the bovine roam and the deer and the antelope play. To decompress, I sat out in front of my room, nursed a beer and read Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.
Bright and early on Labor Day, I got back in the saddle and rode back to Big Pine. Riding the topsy-turvy curves of CA 168 on a clear, cool morning was fun and triumphant. As a Grand Touring bike, the SportClassic GT1000 mixes retro styling with modern performance. The 992cc air-cooled, twin-spark, L-twin motor is lively, with a pleasing rumble. Shifting through the six gears is smooth thanks to a wet, multiplate, hydraulic clutch with an adjustable lever. The neutral riding position and wide, flat saddle encourage you to ride all day. We ordered up a windscreen, a high handlebar and a luggage rack for our 2008 test bike, not knowing that Ducati would release a 2009 Touring model with these accessories pre-installed. The windscreen and bars didn’t arrive in time for my trip, but I put the rack and leather-covered, waterproof, lockable, 10-liter saddlebags ($818.80) to good use. The luggage rack was easy to install, but the saddlebags took a couple of hours because I had trouble lining up the hanger brackets with the bolts and spacers for the rear passenger footpegs.
Base price for the standard 2009 Ducati GT1000 is $11,495, and the Touring model is priced with a $500 premium. Buying the windscreen ($287.50), high handlebar ($195; raises height by 3.5 inches), luggage rack ($223.80) and chrome fenders ($188 front, $372 rear) separately will set you back $1,266.30, not to mention installation time and effort (priceless).
A nonadjustable Marzocchi male-slider fork and preload-adjustable Sachs dual shocks suspend the machine, me and a full load of gear well enough, if a bit harshly on rough pavement. Brembo brakes front and rear provided reassuring, predictable stopping power. Even fully laden, the GT1000 shines brightly on smooth, curved mountain roads, exactly the type of terrain that I covered for hundreds of miles on this trip.
The more I got to know the GT1000, the more I came to appreciate its classic styling, capable performance and sensible design. Not a leader in any particular category and nothing flashy except for chrome and polished aluminum, this dependable jack-of-all-trades has a utilitarian silver-and-gray color scheme (the 2009 T-model comes in any color you want, as long as it’s black).
Traveling with a renewed sense of purpose, this time I stopped at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, home to trees more than 4,000 years old. The thin air above 10,000 feet in the White Mountains was cold and windy, but the views of the snowcapped Sierras across the valley were awesome. I was alive, intact and on top of the world. Not long after I passed the scene of the crash, I entered Nevada, a beautifully desolate state. U.S. 95 north took me through the former mining town of Goldfield, and then to Tonopah, where I picked up U.S. 6. I agree with Clem Salvadori: U.S. 6 is the true loneliest road, not U.S. 50. Five miles outside of town, I passed a sign warning “Next Gas 163 Miles.” With 35 miles on the tripmeter and a four-gallon tank, I’d never make it. I rode back to Tonopah to buy a one-gallon gas can and top off. Out in the middle of nowhere, on a deserted, open road, I rode at a brisk pace. After running out of gas and adding the extra gallon, the low-fuel light came on. With a sigh of relief, I rolled into Preston and put the sidestand down at a lonely gas station.
It was 5:30 p.m. when I arrived in Ely. I topped off my tank and called Dad. He had been in Wendover most of the afternoon and already had our camp set up near the salt flats. With two hours to go, I’d just barely make it there by dark. Rather than wait and worry, Dad drove down U.S. 93 to meet me along the way. As the sun sank low, the mountains cast long shadows on the road. Deer would be active soon. Then I saw Dad’s white Jeep Cherokee coming my way. He waved, I waved, we pulled over.
“Hey son! I’ve got food and water if you want to rest a bit.”
“Thanks, but let’s keep moving and get to the camp.”
“Follow me. I’ll keep it at 55 mph. If something jumps out in the road, I’ll run it over.”
It was dark when we descended into West Wendover, Nevada, brightly lit by the throng of casinos huddled close to the state line. Dad led me across the border into Utah and to our campsite. I dismounted, took off my helmet and gave Dad a big hug. We were both happy that I had arrived safe and sound after my crash the night before. To warm up, I cracked the wax on a bottle of Makers Mark and long-poured into two cups. Dad cooked up steaks and potatoes, and we sat under the stars eating, drinking and catching up.
We bedded down early in Dad’s spacious tent, which was outfitted with sleeping bags on cots, a remote-controlled lantern and a chemical toilet. After a cold night of whisky dreams, hot coffee and oatmeal brought me back to life. Our camp was at the “bend in the road” near the salt flats, and seeing it for the first time in daylight I admired the imposing backdrop of the Silver Mountains. On my last tour test to Utah, I rode a high-tech, three-wheeled 2008 Can-Am Spyder. The GT1000 is a machine my father could more easily relate to since his last motorcycle, which was my introduction to the two-wheeled world, was an early-’70s Honda CB750. Dad is a practical guy who appreciates reliability. Although Italian motorcycles have a reputation for quirkiness, the GT1000 is solid and well-built. It isn’t made of exotic materials, nor does it have unnecessary, exposed parts that will break off should you have the misfortune of dropping the bike (ahem). To round out the retro design, the steel rims have spokes and are shod with Michelin Pilot Classic tube-type tires. Without the accessory centerstand ($315.20), on-the-road tire repairs will be a challenge.
Dad and I spent two days watching motorcycle speed trials at the Bonneville Salt Flats, a strange place. The salt looks like ice and crunches under your feet, but it is warm to the touch. Although the condition of the salt was very good, crosswinds prevented the big streamliners from making world-record attempts. I can only be a spectator for so long. After two days of watching other people ride, I hit my limit and we headed to Dad’s place in Salt Lake City. A FedEx box from Rider was waiting for me with new riding gear.
For the next two days, I rode through northern Utah. With most of my gear left behind, I traveled lighter and pushed the Ducati harder through high-altitude wilderness areas. The GT1000 is a fun bike, plain and simple. After cresting 9,000-foot Monte Cristo Pass on UT 39, I descended into farmland. Passing an “Open Range” sign, I kept my speed down and stayed sharp. Rounding a curve, my eyes bulged (again)-a few dozen cows were stampeding toward me, followed by two barking dogs and a farmer in a pickup truck honking his horn. I quickly pulled over and steadied my nerves as the galloping bovines ran past me.
UT 39 ends at UT 16 in Woodruff, a town of 190 residents that greets visitors with a sign that says “Coldest Temperatures, Warmest Hearts” (in 1982, the mercury fell to -42 degrees). Riding north, I took UT 16 to UT 30, which plunges down a canyon before hugging the western shore of Bear Lake, known as the “Caribbean of the Rockies” because of its turquoise-blue water. U.S. 89, a National Scenic Byway, took me over the Bear River Mountains and down into Logan Canyon. Until about 15,000 B.C., Lake Bonneville filled the canyon and covered 20,000 square miles of western Utah with water more than 1,000 feet deep. Great Salt Lake, which averages 1,700 square miles and 14 feet deep, is all that remains.
After spending a night visiting with family in Logan, I retraced my route back to Woodruff and continued south on UT 16 into Wyoming, where I relaxed with a burger and fries at Mother Mae’s Kitchen in Evanston. The Mirror Lake Scenic Byway (WY/UT 150) took me back to Utah and into the Wasatch National Forest. I stopped to admire the grand peaks of the High Uintas, one of only three east-west mountain ranges in the Western Hemisphere, and the shimmering blue waters of Mirror Lake. I rode over 10,687-foot Bald Mountain Pass and descended alongside Provo River. UT 150 ended in the town of Kamas, which marked my return to civilization. I returned to Salt Lake before dark and visited with family again over pizza and beer.
On Saturday, I rode 40 miles west to Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele to watch AHRMA vintage motorcycle and supermoto racing. Sunday morning, I left early and headed south to Las Vegas for a dealer meeting. When I left Salt Lake it was 50 degrees; by the time I hit St. George, it was over 100 degrees. In Nevada, I turned off Interstate 15 and rode through Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead Recreation Area to Hoover Dam. An impressive sight, though the water level of the lake is nearly 50 percent below capacity. After a 500-mile, 10-hour day in the saddle, much of it in 100-plus-degree heat, I arrived at the Mirage Hotel & Casino worn out and dripping with sweat. It was a shock to my system to go from being a lone traveler in the desert to the crowds, sights and sounds of a big Vegas casino.
Monday was my birthday. I rode through rain and then hot, dry wind on my return to Southern California, where a surprise birthday celebration awaited me. A great way to end my trip and ring in my 35th year. The Ducati GT1000 was an enthusiastic, faithful companion. It never let me down through a wide range of riding conditions. Our crash on the first night was not part of the plan, but we survived and formed a special bond. On our trip, we logged 2,484 miles. The Ducati consumed more than 60 gallons of fuel and averaged 40 mpg. During the nine days, I slept in six different beds. It was good to be home.