California Adventure Tour | Coyote Ugly

Putting an unlikely quartet of traveling bikes through the wringer on a high-mileage adventure tour of California

By Jamie Elvidge, Photography by Kevin Wing

Now, you've probably never seen a rotting coyote carcass come to life and lunge toward you as you're rolling up a highway at sixty-five, but I have. And it didn't look pretty. Or smell nice.

And this wasn't a case where you can just say, "oh, well, sh*t happens when you're on a tour," because your friends don't just swerve across their lane, stick out a boot and kick up massive road kill every other day of the week.

Then again, everything about this touring test seems a bit off. Let's start with the bikes. Here we are comparing an iconic luxury tourer, Honda's Gold Wing, the sporty Kawasaki Concours 14, BMW's venerable enduro, the R 1200 GS, and a prototypical touring cruiser, Harley's bad-ass Street Glide. The riders testing this unlikely assortment of bikes are just as divergent. Editor Andy Cherney would be smiling just as big if he were on a 1968 Vespa—the guy will tour on anything, as long as it has two wheels, a motor and a seat. Me? I'm the picky one. The best touring bike not only needs to get me there, it needs to get me there fast and comfortably and with the greatest amount of panache available. Dave Russell retired in his early 50's, following 20 prosperous years at Apple Computer. He's now a hard-working connoisseur of high-end sport bikes, sailboats...and tequila. Our fourth, Marc Cook, is a kind of hands-on rocket scientist. A super strain of the MacGyver breed, and one of the smartest guys I know. At least so I thought, until I watched him punt a dead coyote at freeway speed.

From his seat on a grassy berm alongside famed Highway 1 in Central California—where he's rocking to-and-fro, clutching a torqued ankle and nearly exploded knee—Cook explains the situation like this:
"I was just trying to point it out..."

Um. Well, you did a nice job. We all saw the coyote. It was especially visible when it was about three feet in the air, spinning like a big furry Frisbee, spraying bits of rotting flesh toward the rest of us.

We all have a good laugh over this, of course, there in the best place in the world to be: on the side of the road, with friends, bikes and miles and miles left to go.

The Players
How did we choose such an odd, yet intriguing assortment of motorcycles? Well, we wanted a comparison where we not only put hardware through the wringer, we explored the very essence of the bikes we were testing. Not so much to see which of them was the "best," and so on, but to see, perhaps, which touring approach makes the most sense. Is one method of touring more efficient than another? More conducive to enjoying the fruits of the open road?

With that in mind we spooned through the crème of each touring class and came away with four highly capable mounts. The BMW R 1200 GS is a bike designed to take you to Timbuktu. Literally. First introduced in 1980 with an air-cooled 800cc parallel twin, the GS line has had over 30 years to evolve, including shifts from Monolever to Paralever suspension, chain to shaft drive, air-cooling to oil. After numerous variations, the "big" GS became a 1200 in 2006.

BMW has hardly let its GS line rest for a single model year, constantly implementing and refining the machines in its intent to produce the world's best adventure tourers. To this day the large-displacement GS models have no real competitors, even after the recent release of Ducati's much-anticipated 1200 Multistrada, which has proven to be more of a star on the street than as a dual sport do-it-all. The beauty of the GS is its ability to do a lot of everything, and do it extremely well. For 2011 the GS power plant receives the DOHC engine treatment of its race-bred sibling, the HP2, giving it a little more punch.

By Jamie Elvidge
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