It takes most people five or six hours to ride from Los Angeles to Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey. We, as most of you have already figured, are not most people. Deadline stress and the first motorcycle Grand Prix on U.S. tarmac since 1994 dictated something more therapeutic than 325 miles of freeway. Besides, with some 80,000-plus fans converging on California's postcard-perfect Monterey Peninsula from every direction, our regular routes would be choked with motorcycling humanity along with the California Highway Patrol. Just as we learned the Primedia corporate jet was in for an oil change, the phone rang.
Cue Plan B, as in Joey B., aka Joe Bonnello, notorious Franco-Italian motorcycle photographer, raconteur, bon vivant and connoisseur of good food, great roads and jokes you can't tell your mother. After wandering California's vast midsection for months, Joe had come up with a loose itinerary that would take us from L.A. to Laguna on roads only cattle ranchers and Caltrans had ever heard of. Covering upward of 800 miles door to door, our route wasn't exactly direct. But we weren't about to pass up three days' worth of deliciously twisty roads, especially with the Red Bull United States Grand Prix for dessert.
It was also plausible provocation for a week out of the office to investigate this whole touring thing. OK, so motorcycle touring--in the overstuffed American idiom, anyway--conjures all the romance of the Rock Paper Scissors International World Championships (www.rpschamps.com in case you thought we made that up). No thanks.
From an overloaded '49 Electra Glide to a new 999R with a cell phone and an American Express Platinum card, there are as many ways to go touring as there are places to aim your bike. It all depends on your velocity-to-luxury ratio. For us, it's all about reeling in twisty lines on the map six, eight or 18 zip codes from home in reasonable comfort with more amenities than a toothbrush and clean underwear.
To wit, we packed up the once and future king of long-distance opulence--Honda's Gold Wing--along with a pair of smaller, more agile transcontinental alternatives. On the sporty end, Triumph's '05 Sprint ST wraps Hinckley's latest 1050cc triple in a svelte new package. Alongside, BMW's all-new R1200RT splits the difference between the Wing's sheer magnificence and the Sprint's athleticism. Charles `Tuna' Everitt would take the GL, his 51-year-old bones needing the most coddling on a trip like this. C. Timothy Carrithers and newly hired Brian Catterson would go the sportier route, Timmy on the Beemer and Brian on the Trumpet.
After 1200 miles on some of the best and worst pavement in California, we discovered less about winners and losers than the curative power of the road. If you haven't been on anything more ambitious than a Saturday-morning breakfast ride, pull out the maps and aim your front wheel at a fresh destination. Short on ideas? The '06 Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix returns to Laguna next July 21-23. Judging from this year's crowd, you can't be too early.