Tour Test Review
Here at Rider, we have an unofficial motto: “Ride to eat, eat to ride.” And I contend that the perfect road food is the taco. So I set out to find the perfect taco on a 2018 Triumph Bonneville Speedmaster.
That’s right, the lowly taco, eaten by indigenous peoples in what is now Mexico since long before the Spanish arrived, bastardized (and popularized by Taco Bell) into the hard-to-eat, crunchy, ground beef-, iceberg lettuce- and yellow cheese-filled version most Americans are familiar with.
What I’m after, however, is authentic Mexican street food: variations on a theme of meat, onions and cilantro served on a soft corn tortilla. Street tacos are small enough to stave off hunger without making you feel stuffed or sleepy, and you can grab one quickly and eat standing next to your bike. The best part is they’re packed with flavor—much more satisfying than a dry granola bar or greasy cheeseburger.
California, as you might expect, is replete with good Mexican food, and you’ll find taco stands and taco trucks everywhere from urban street corners to the side of a random farm road. (Helpful hint No. 1: where there’s agriculture, there are good tacos.)
We happened to have a 2018 Triumph Speedmaster fitted with the optional “Highway” accessories in the Rider garage, ideal for a two-night road trip up California’s Central Coast—what better opportunity to seek out the perfect example of the perfect road food?
The Speedmaster (read the First Ride Review here) is all new for 2018. Based on the Bonneville Bobber platform, it borrows the best of both Bobber versions and then dresses up in classically beautiful 1950s style, complete with swept-back beach bar, streamlined headlight nacelle and, in the case of our loaner bike, two-tone cream and black paint accented with hand-painted gold and black coach lines.
It shares the Bobbers’ hardtail-look frame with a hidden shock, High Torque 1,200cc parallel twin and throttle-by-wire with Road and Rain ride modes and switchable traction control. It borrows the standard Bobber’s 41mm, 3.5-inch travel Kayaba fork, but with cartridge damping like the Bobber Black and a stiffer spring for two-up riding, and its rear shock is fitted with a stepped preload adjuster.
Adequate stopping power is provided by twin 310mm front discs with floating two-piston Brembo calipers and a single 255mm rear disc with single-piston Nissin caliper, and ABS is standard. It rolls on the Bobber Black’s 16-inch spoked wheels, with chunky front and rear tires. Best of all is the larger 3.2-gallon gas tank, which we found good for at least 150 miles.
In stock form the Speedmaster is a classic cruiser, but Triumph’s Highway Inspiration Build ($2,250) transforms it into a weekend road warrior, with waxed cotton and leather saddlebags, a three-position windshield, comfort rider and pillion seats, a chrome passenger backrest/luggage rack and engine bars and a polished oil filler cap. Riders can mix and match the accessories from this or other Inspiration Builds to suit their specific needs.
The first night on my Taco Trail ride was up in Santa Cruz County, south of the San Francisco Bay Area, so I hightailed it up four-lane U.S. Route 101, covering 312 of my 850 miles in one fell swoop.
I ducked off at San Miguel for gas and my first taco at Taco Mafia, where I chose carnitas, which literally means “little meats,” a tender pulled pork style that originates from the western Mexican state of Michoacán. Farther north, the landscape opened up into the wide, flat, agricultural Salinas Valley, and the breeze off the ocean cooled me down after the warm inland temperatures.
Castroville bills itself as “The Artichoke Center of the World,” but it’s also the home of a must-stop tacqueria, Deliciosos Tacos. Wedged into a decrepit strip center next to an equally questionable-looking Chinese restaurant, this is the kind of place where all the signs are in Spanish and only cash is accepted. I opted for a taco al pastor.
Al pastor, which means “shepherd style,” has interesting origins. It developed in Central Mexico, based on the shawarma-style grilling technique brought by Lebanese immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pork is marinated in chiles, spices and pineapple, then layered vertically on a rotating spit and once cooked is sliced off with a knife—the same technique used for Greek gyros.
Back on the bike, after nearly 300 miles of four-lane highway, the Speedmaster in Highway guise was proving to be a capable and friendly companion. Smooth and powerful, the 1,200cc parallel twin rumbled pleasantly from its two slash-cut mufflers and delivered plenty of grunt through the wide-ratio gearbox.
Sixth gear is almost an overdrive, and once engaged around 75 mph the dual-counterbalanced engine settled into a silky smooth lope that was all-day comfortable. The windshield, in the middle of three positions, was effective and non-obtrusive, producing just some light buffeting. Like most feet-forward cruisers, my rear was complaining from being locked into position, but the comfort seat helped on the long drone north.
Fortunately, I would soon be leaving the superslab and heading for tarmac that twists and turns among the giant coast redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains. State Route 9 is one of many such roads that crisscross the area, but as a major route between the Bay Area and Santa Cruz, it carries quite a bit of traffic.
At Boulder Creek I hung a left on State Route 236 into Big Basin Redwoods State Park. If you’ve got the time, it’s well worth a stop to hike off your tacos and get up close and personal with the mighty redwoods.
Back on Route 9, it was time to meander toward my first night’s stop at Flipjack Ranch, a working organic farm-turned-bed-and-breakfast owned by two motorcycle enthusiasts. They sell homemade wine and fruit preserves too, which made me glad I brought a tail bag; the Speedmaster’s small saddlebags are only good for a bare-bones weekend, even riding solo.
Flipjack would make a fantastic base for exploring the area, but time was short so I headed out the following morning and aimed my front wheel south. It was bittersweet—as much as I would’ve liked to explore more, I was excited to revisit Big Sur, which I hadn’t ridden since the winter 2016 landslides closed Highway 1 in two places.
I was blessed with a perfect morning of clear skies, blue waters and light traffic before detouring off Highway 1 at its southern closure, clawing my way up the coastal mountains on Nacimiento-Fergusson Road—not a road for the faint of heart! Its tight turns and switchbacks were taking a toll on my wrists, especially after the many curves along Big Sur.
The Speedmaster’s beach bar is perfect for cruising, but after nearly two days my right wrist and forearm were aching from twisting the throttle at an awkward angle; the standard cruise control helped, but only on straight sections. Swapping to a more traditional handlebar would solve the problem.
Other than the awkward bar and a tendency to scrape footpegs, the Speedmaster is a nimble and confident mount on challenging roads, and is at its best on smooth, sweeping curves.
Back in the golden inland hills, I looped through Fort Hunter Liggett and into Paso Robles wine country, rejoining Highway 1 in the village of Cambria. Nestled in the hills among coastal pine and cypress trees, Cambria is an ideal southern base for a Central Coast ride.
The next morning, after a freshly roasted cuppa joe at the Cambria Coffee Roasting Company, I meandered inland on the rolling, curving State Route 46 to Atascadero—out of my way, yes, but I couldn’t ride within 20 miles of Garcia’s and not stop.
We discovered Garcia’s on our “Monkey Butt 500” ride, and the tacos de adobada (a variation on al pastor with a heavier Middle Eastern influence) were good enough to be crave-inducing: cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice warming the mild chile spices.
Then it was back to the coast on pastoral State Route 41, and one last taco, an important style to California in particular: the fish taco. Originating in Baja, they’re filled with either grilled or fried fish, and are usually topped with lettuce or shredded cabbage, pico de gallo and sour cream or a citrus/mayo sauce. Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucos, a favorite of EIC Tuttle, serves up its own unique variation: smoked fish. Very unique, and quite tasty!
As I wound my way home on Highway 1, I reflected on how lucky I am to live in a place with such diverse and delicious food, ideal weather, spectacular scenery and entertaining roads. Not to mention my ability to take bikes like the 2018 Speedmaster on weekend road trips. It all makes my lifelong search for the perfect taco that much more enjoyable.