No Sweat - Beating the Heat at Sportbike Northwest

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Michael Pierce

An improved section of Maryhill can be reserved for special events. It packs 25 turns-including eight hairpins-into 3.6 miles. On Friday, it was reserved for runs by rally participants (reservation required). We had passed up our chance to trade paint with Friday's horde of scrabbling squidlings, instead meeting Rolf Vitous of Advanced Training Concepts (www.atcrider.com) at the spot for a private clinic.

Nearly binning my high-ticket Beemer half a dozen times on the sighting lap relaxed me enough to slow down until I could speed up. Our ATC clinic graduated from line-picking exercises to one-gear laps to coasting laps, then to coasting laps without touching the brakes.

A 600-lb. K-bike will schuss brakeless down Maryhill like a toboggan on afterburner, but not without tracing peg lines around the hairpins and shagging its tires to the edge lines. Brakeless coasting on steep twisties is eerily peaceful. Like glider aerobatics, there's no sound beyond whistling wind, grinding teeth and the squeaky squinching of seat vinyl.

Around 2 p.m. we decamped for Mexican food in Wenatchee, then burnt west after lunch, wind turbines on the bluffs as still as alien tripods. I watched the K-puter readout climb steadily from 109 to 114 degrees. Then we dropped into the Klickitat River Valley and it hit 116. All vents open, I yanked bottle after scalding bottle of water out of my tank bag and poured it into my riding suit, bemused. Northwest riders spend most of the year trying to keep water out of our riding clothes!

Back at the fairgrounds, we ambled past dealer pavilions and aftermarket booths where evaporative vests sold like coldcakes, test-rode a couple of KTMs (no wheelies allowed), and eyeballed tables jammed with silent-auction items and raffle prizes. Running up another 400-mile day, we had missed supper but were right on time for dessert. Ride stunning roads all day, then eat ice cream-this is the sport for me!

Because Sportbike NW is part of the Sound RIDER! Rally in the Gorge-a constellation of events including Sport-Touring NW, Dual-Sport NW and (be still, my heart) Maxi-Scoot NW-there's a lot to tie up at the closing ceremonies. We learned that two or possibly three participants had crashed out on Saturday; no one seemed quite sure. Mention was also made of "boo-boos" on the poker run, prompting a woman who'd tipped over to yell, "'Cause ya dit-n't have no sign!" I wondered how one might word a sign advising poker-runners not to belly-flop their bikes.

Sponsors were thanked, attendees exhorted, and Mr. Mehren's contributions exalted. Raffle giveaways featured everything from beer cozies to a BMW Street Guard 2 to instant karma: the same guy who coughed up his KTM-specific prize to a grateful KTM owner won the BMW riding suit about 4 minutes later.

No one begrudged him, but the crowd remained sluggish. After four days riding through convection-oven heat, cold beer and a live band could have brightened up the vibe had someone thought to lay them on. Mehren grabbed the mic to announce that attendance dropped from 550 in '08 to 400 in what participants were by then calling "Sweatbike NW." He blamed the weather and the economy. If global warming doesn't get you, Goldman Sachs will.

Choose you this day whom ye will serve, but as for me and my buddies, we will worship the road. The next Sportbike NW gala is slated for July 29-August 2 at its traditional location. You can sign up online at www.soundrider.com/sbnw, but you won't find us bivouacked there.

Look for us out on a secondary road, happily lost and running on fumes, or arc around a bend to discover motorcycles parked by the creekside. Pull over if you feel like it. You don't need an invitation to stop and talk bikes.

And we don't need a ticket to ride.

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