No Sweat - Beating the Heat at Sportbike Northwest

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Michael Pierce

The geeky goodness of BMW's Electronic Suspension Adjustment let me toggle over to the Comfort setting until I finished belching 200 miles later. The K may not have Black Betty's everyway-adjustable (and shiny!) Öhlins dampers, but really, aren't wrenches for the underclass? Sport mode tightens the chassis right up to let you steer the rear without fear, but the real fun lurks in its electronic quick-shifter.

Inhumanly smooth and quicker than any hand can fan the clutch, the quick-shifter works best when you're hard on the gas. It also works better the higher you rev it, which can lead to naughty behavior. Whoop-burp-whoo-OOM-burp-WHOOOM! Damn thing's a gateway bike...

On Friday afternoon, the mercury finally dropped to a frosty 91 at the pass junction where we decided against pushing our rocket sows over 50 miles of gravel to Berry Field. Instead, we plunged our steaming feet into Rush Creek, a fast-flowing trout stream of run-off water cold enough to seize up toes. We suffered a few gnat bites but wreaked bloody vengeance on their tribe later with our Headlights of Death.

A couple of miles above Wind River Road, practicing trail-braking into downhill sweepers, I gazed off into the treeline for a moment and kissed the gravel-frosted fog line. I don't mind Death tapping me on the shoulder occasionally, but I wish he wouldn't distract me when I'm searching for my mislaid front-tire traction.

"Pin and grin," I reminded myself, "not pin it and bin it."

Just as I was re-establishing the kind of sweet rhythm that loosens up my lower back, we cranked around a right-hander to see a car yanked over and a tall woman waving us down.

In a ditch to the right sat a narrow fella in his early 40s, unzipped and perched disconsolately on his pretty, red, capsized bike. I pulled up my visor.

"Y'alright?"

"Yeah. Collarbone."

"Got ibuprofen and water if you need some."

"Nah, I'm okay."

With EMS summoned and the site secured, we eased on down the road meeting a fire truck, an aid car, a deputy, a two-ton aid truck, another deputy and an ambulance on the way up. The helicopters must have been deployed to an ankle-sprain site.

Inevitably, our brunch-enabled morning laziness was punished. Alongside host Kermit, Michael and I rolled out at 0415 on Saturday for our fourth day of road-burning. Bleary and blinking, we had a sunrise date with Stonehenge Memorial.

Their names inscribed on small bronze tablets, spirits of soldiers past greeted the warm dawn breeze as did our three-man patrol of former soldier, sailor and airman-quietly. The dated plaques divulge no history, only stories' ends: boys by their ages, men by their deeds.

Three middle-aged men, grateful for another day's chance to improve, bowed our heads, walked slowly out and rode into the future on our once-unimaginable toys.

Few experiences are finer than strong, swift bikes on good roads in the company of skilled friends. Motorcycles aren't actually better than women but they are, as Secretary Rumsfeld once said of American soldiers, fungible. Swapping mounts reminded us that all men may be created equal, but all liter-bikes are not.

If Ferrari built a tractor, it would sound like Kermit's IBR-farkled Tuono R. While the big orange K-bike scratches that occasional itch to revisit 175 mph, the Aprilia is a KTM for grown-ups, with build quality that makes the Super Duke look like a high-school shop project.

Michael's Yamaha FJR1300 did everything the Big Beemer did, dragging its saddlebags for 20 percent less money. When Michael sits straight up in the saddle you may as well be following a school bus for all you can see, but the big bugger is too sneaky-fast to get around, even with Ride West buying me tires.

Delicious road days call for exquisitely crafted desserts, and Maryhill Loops Road is as rich and refined as a Napoleon Torte. Maryhill was Washington's first paved road and remains a peerless playground, so tight and steep and sweetly cambered you could shred the wheels off a skateboard.

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