Donny's Road to The One Show
By Donny Little - 23 Feb 19
When someone says .. “do you fancy riding from LA to Portland, then try the new Indian FTR1200 flat tracker on the fastest indoor course in the USA” you say yes! However, it’s never quite as simple as that... I’d given myself four days. That’s plenty of time, in my mind, to cover the 1200 miles. Or so I thought. It started going wrong when I realised I had to travel 80 miles in the wrong direction just to collect the bike. 2.5 hours in an Uber through LA gridlock was no fun. Torrential rain had hit the west coast and Californian’s have no clue how to drive in the wet. To be fair, it doesn’t happen often. After multiple pileups and 45 extra minutes sitting on the freeway, I finally got to a warehouse full of Polaris’ big boy toys! Everything from snowmobiles to weird off road thingys that can crawl anywhere. (Polaris own Indian Motorcycles, if you didn't know). I pick up the Indian Scout Bobber and liked it immediately, it’s a great looking machine. I’m not a huge fan of this style of bike as a rule but the look hangs together well. A set of short and loud pipes would really set it off. The tiny seat, tiny fenders and zero wind protection though do not fill me with confidence about the 1200 miles ahead. Despite this, once on the road , I’m feeling good. I’m actually feeling like a bit of a badass due to the hunched over, foot forward SOA stance... It’s got the poke too. Low rev grunt is right there just off idle but chase the revs and the Bobber delivers a surprising burst of speed which comes in handy as I battle my way through the LA traffic back to my digs in Venice. A few minutes strapping on my luggage later and I’m off. I’m not going far though. My buddy Butch Walker has a studio up the road. He’s about to start producing the new Green Day record and I’m keen to have a nosey around his studio/bike garage. The ride back into town is cold and wet and I’m beginning to realize that I have seriously underestimated my wardrobe requirements. By the time I get to Ruby studios I am cold and wet, swiftly remedied by a stiff Irish coffee. Butch has always had the coolest toys. Be it guitars, old analog desks, cars or indeed motorcycles. The garage is part of the studio and I have a quick look around. An old R90 has been updated into an urban assault vehicle, his ‘46 Panhead leaks oil in the corner and a Roland Sands fettled Dyna looks like a Harley I’d happily ride. I spend far too long chatting music and bikes forgetting that time is short and I have a long way to go. I get going and make a quick stop at my favorite Malibu eatery, Dukes. By happy coincidence I get chatting to a typically loud, annoyingly handsome lad called Greg. Turns out he was the pioneer behind Red Bull's Ski-Cross, flies helicopters, base jumps, has competed in MX and dabbles in road racing. I suddenly feel inadequate. Ah well. Back on the bike and up the PCH. The sun is setting, it’s unseasonably cold, but I don’t want to be anywhere else. By the time I find a Motel, get dried off and figure out how to upload media on the anorexic bandwidth, it’s getting on for midnight. I’m in need of a beer so I set off for the nearest bar on the bobber. It’s built for exactly this kind of thing. O’Learys looks like the kind of place you should avoid. Flickering neon signs in a deserted parking lot and a cluster of bar flys direct from central casting standing outside smoking and arguing. One Jamie and a Stella later I’m playing pool with the locals for 5 bucks a game. Living in Philadelphia has sharpened my game, so I hold my own.
I hear a loud twin pull in and look up to see the (slightly inebriated) rider walk in. He spots me and wants to chat. His 1200 H-D sporty has reworked heads, a full system and NoS. I call BS on the nitrous which leads to the inevitable challenge. A light to light drag race. I laugh it off and tell him he’s got this one but he is adamant. I really don’t want to watch him throw his bike into the back of a parked car but after 20mins of poking me I relent.
My first night on the road and I find myself lined up at a red light doing big smokey burnouts next to a pissed-up, patched-up Harley rider. I’m not sure Indian's insurance is going to cover this.The light goes green and I dump the clutch. The Bobber kicks sideways on the wet asphalt for a second then girdles her loins and fires up the street at a respectable rate. An 1/8th of a mile later and my new mate is nowhere. We do it another 3 times just to be sure. He throws $20 at me and bitches that his nitrous wasn’t working. I use it to buy a round for the remaining patrons of the bar and then it gets weird.
A pissed up guy at the bar has been eyeballing a group of 21st birthday revelers which leads to the inevitable ‘What you looking at?” Promptly followed by a ‘I’m going to kick your ass!’ At this point I can’t suppress a smile as I notice the guy is on crutches and has one leg. You can’t make this shit up. After a shouting match and a bit of pushing and shoving the bar tender escorts them to the door. I try to be helpful by holding it open but I’m met with a barrage of abuse from Crutches and his girlfriend who, unbelievably, has one arm. She pokes me furiously in the chest and shouts in my face. I have no frame of reference for such a confrontation but telling them “just because you have a limb missing does not entitle you to be an arsehole” was probably not the best recourse. Told you it was weird....
The next morning I’m aware I’ve done basically no miles and I’ve got deadlines to meet and a fair distance to cover. I made the discovery that every long distance chopper/bobber/cruiser rider already knows. Strap luggage to the bars and suddenly you have a makeshift fairing. It raises the comfortable cruising speed from 65 to 85. Even 100 plus is bareable for short periods. It feels delightful but the short travel suspension makes my arse feel like I fell asleep at Julian Clarey's house party.
Time to get the miles in. I get in a freight train with a loaded up GS and an FXR with lane-splitting bars which is fun as we carve through the early morning traffic. Splitting lanes is legal here and even the CHP bike cops wave you past at illegal speeds. GS man is all signals and biding his time. Serious and skilled he picks good lines through the meleè while FXR blasts the open stretches and wobbles through the tight bits with his impossibly narrow bars. I get fed up and nip across to lane one to get past, then keep it flat out for a few miles. The Bobber is rock solid on the straights but gets an alarming weave on through the 100mph plus sweepers. The pegs are touching down and upsetting the tyres while it runs out of suspension travel and kicks me out the seat. It’s not designed for this nonsense but I’m having a blast. It’s a 3 or 4 hour freeway journey but I take the road less travelled because I can. It turns out the reason it’s less travelled is because the road is washed out just north of Cambria. I’m forced to turn around and cut across to the 101. By the time I get near Monterey I’m seriously cold and have no time to worry about the finer niceties of lane splitting. I’m doing my old despatch rider trick of riding one handed whilst warming the other on the engine cases, switching hands on the throttle to keep my delicate digits toasty. Unfortunately I overcook the left hand and have to bash it off the tank to extinguish the flames covering the brand new paint in melted rubber. By the time I pull into a gas station to sort myself out I have attracted the attention of Monterey’s sheriff's department.
I come out the gas station to be confronted with the line “Is this your motorcycle sir?" I'm standing in riding kit and holding my lid... “Would it help if I said no?" Apparently splitting lanes at ninety whilst desperately battling a flaming glove is grounds for a ticket here. Who knew?
I get away with it once more, probably due to the Scottish accent and a Sheriff who knows how it feels to be cold and damp on a bike. With my glove temporarily repaired with gaffa tape I get back on the road. Salinas is my next stop and the glowing lights of a Super 8 motel are a welcome sight. I stop by the nearest bar that has bikes outside. It’s the local hangout for the ‘Original Kings MC’ who either can’t read or are deliberately ignoring the large sign on the door demanding ‘No Cuts! No Colors’
A nice enough bunch but they decline to let me photograph anyone. Bright and early the next morning I’m back in the saddle (which curiously feels more comfortable now or perhaps it’s just gone numb) I decide to double back down the PCH to get pics of Bixby bridge and enjoy the spectacular scenery. It’s a truly stunning ride and as the road is closed further down its mercifully quiet although I am very aware the Pacific is on the wrong side now.
After my detour it’s a flat out sprint to San Francisco and I realise I’ll have to stay on the 101 to make up time. I lived here for a short time in ‘02 and it feels good to be back riding across the imposing Golden Gate Bridge again. Time is my enemy though and I’m mindful that freezing temperatures are forecast for the evening. I’m hoping to make it to Eureka for no other reason than I like the name. I don’t make it. It’s only 160 miles but the winding 101 starts to freeze as the sun goes down. the road is slippy and I can’t feel my fingers. I roll into Laytonville which is the last stop before the Redwood Forest begins in earnest. I check into the world's grimiest motel and head off to find a bar.
Laytonville is a weird little place. It reeks of weed and is populated by people who seem stranded there by circumstance. Perhaps they all just got too stoned and forgot to leave. A lad at the bar tells me he has 10 acres of grass. I’m impressed (I think).
The next morning I’m a little fuzzy and walk outside to be greeted with a thick frost. It’s -2 and the unsalted roads look lethal for a two-wheeler. I smoke a half pack of cigarettes waiting for the sun to burn through the cloud and defrost the frigid asphalt, but it doesn’t happen. My riding attire is not up to this weather. As is the norm for me I am woefully unprepared. I’m wearing jeans, a hoodie and a Bike Shed coach jacket that is doing an admirable task of keeping me dry, but not warm. Nothing for it but to get on the road.
Nearly 500 miles of twisting road lay ahead. Normally this would fill me with glee but the slippery roads and freezing temperatures are dampening my ardour. The Redwood Forest is a stunning ride in an Endor kind of a way and I’m tempted to detour through the forest drive whereupon you can ride through the centre of a giant tree but my numerous stops to warm up are killing my average speed. I manage to find a relatively dry section of road and fire up the GoPro to get some footage. Alas the resulting video of me tiptoeing through the Forrest is far from riveting viewing.
I’ve not seen a gas station in a hundred miles and the panic light has started winking at me. Great. I have visions of being stuck with the Ewoks forever. I praise the Gods of reserve tanks and roll over the state line to O’Brien, Oregon. Aspirations of getting to Eureka are dashed as the sun sets and the freezing dark falls. I’m wearing everything in my bag and I’ve taken to riding 4 feet off the back of semis to counter the wind chill. A laser like focus on the brake lights make the miles fly by and I eventually pull in to Roseburg, bitterly cold and mentally exhausted. I reckon it’s a 2 hour ride to Salem in the morning so I dive into a delightful Travel Lodge. The landlady, Jess, treats the place like it’s her home and it’s the best motel I’ve ever been in. It even had a proper bath to chase away the biting cold that I’ve been struggling with for hours.
I reluctantly leave early the following morning or rather I would have left early if the bobber had not refused to start - charging all the camera gear must have killed the battery. Bump starting the bike on frosty ground quickly builds up a sweat and I’m regretting my tobacco habit, not for the first time. Eventually running, I’m reluctant to shut it off so I get moving without gassing up. My drafting truck trick keeps the journey bareable but time is ticking away. I’m supposed to be on the new FTR1200 in an hour and a half.
I grit my teeth, sing loudly into my lid and nail the last hour despite the driving snow over the Sierras. I don’t recall ever being so cold. By the time I pull up at the track I can barely hold my phone to do my wee piece to camera. SuperHoolign racer Jordan Graham is warming up my FTR as I suck down a cigarette and get ready for my first flat track experience
This will be interesting...
Donny will be following this with a review of the Scout Bobber and a tall tale about his time at The One Motorcycle Show.
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