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

We were heading north on the Pacific Coast Highway when do-gooder Cook kicked his coyote, just getting up to speed on the magnificent section that runs from Cambria to Monterey Bay. It's possibly the most fabled section of road in the world; certainly, it's one of the most photographed. Unfortunately, such beauty breeds lust among tourers of all sizes, and here, there are more RV's and dawdling day-trippers than you can count.

It was a good place to begin testing the bikes' passing abilities. As expected, the Concours is king in that regard. Don't even need to snick down a gear, just crack the throttle a smidge, and go. All of these machines are toting big guns, however, so not a one is a slouch in the passing department.

Right away we're learning there is a huge difference in the road feel between these bikes. In a normal comparison you're jumping from one bike that's—at the least—living in the same universe as the next bike you'll be riding. Not here. Jumping from the BMW, say, to the Kawasaki, or the Harley to the BMW, is like waking up a different sex. It's interesting, but a bit of a rude surprise. The GS came to us with knobbies, a bad choice for a high-mileage road tour, but not a deal-breaker, simply because the bike's attributes seem able to overcome just about any impediment, be it the road surface or the rider. However, it did make for a creepy riding sensation, and was especially enhanced if you'd just gotten off something with high-speed tires, like the Concours with its Bridgestone BT021s.

All the little eccentricities are becoming increasingly obvious as we switch back and forth. The Gold Wing's ergos, with that big engine invading leg space, make you feel like a poodle begging for a biscuit. The GS, with its low pegs and wide handlebars, creates the sensation of rushing headlong, arms-wide-open into the action. The Harley has a nice seat and those kick-back ergos feel pretty relaxing—until you reach about 45 mph and the turbulence coming off the bike's fairing starts jangling your head around. Exhausting! Slipping onto the Concours after a couple of hours on any of these other machines is like slipping in a slick pool of high tech sex. Yum.

Of course ergo-feel is subjective, and depends somewhat on a rider's bodily dimensions, but universal things, like peg-to-bar proportion, seat density and angle, wind protection and adjustability, can really make your ride comfortable. Or not. A windshield like the Street Glide's will tire anyone out, even the Energizer Bunny. All of the other bikes utilize adjustable windshields—a slick feature for any long-haul tourer—with the C14 and Wing winning honors for ease and range of adjustability. The GS shield adjusts manually, which cost it some points, but then again, who wants the potential headaches of an electric windshield when you're bouncing your way through Paraguay?

Alone, At Last
By late afternoon we've finished terrorizing Central California, including a dicey free-for-all through the crowded streets of San Francisco. Now we're getting there. Highway 1 north of San Fran is one of the best riding roads in the world, and you won't find the RV set out here, at least not trundling along in force. You will find a challenging array of corners and surfaces, as the spindly highway clings to a ragged edge of earth that's constantly being clawed by the churning Pacific.

Here is where we could let the bikes fly. For all of us, the handling characteristics of a motorcycle can be something that makes or breaks the package. We're too old to be hooligans, but we like how it feels when our bike becomes a knife, etching perfect lines through the landscape. In the tightly tangled turns of the Northern California Highway 1, where the road surface is often cracked and pitted, the GS is king. Even with those damn knobbies, the bike feels like a mountain goat with a rocket strapped to its ass.

By Jamie Elvidge
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