Sunday, August 26, 2012

2012.08.25 - Another good Colorado day under the belt

Boy, today was another beautiful Colorado Summer day.  I slept in late.  I puttered around the house for a while.  Then I got the itch that only a ride can scratch.  So I jumped on the bike and headed out.  I first turned north along Peak-to-Peak scenic Byway and headed toward Nederland and points north.  When I arrived in Nederland, I was rudely slapped by reality.

I'd forgotten that the hugely successful second edition of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge was running the 5th stage of the race and it was passing through Nederland and heading north on the same road I planned to travel.  No manner of pleading with the wanna-be FBI agent guarding the road would get me past.

So, to the south I went.  A few weeks ago I had done a run up and over Guanella Pass.  On that day, I had intended to putt up to Loveland Pass (11,990'), but the traffic returning east on I-70 turned me off that idea.  I figured maybe today was a good day for that ride.

As usual, I headed up through Black Hawk and Central City and up, then down, Virginia Canyon Road to Idaho Springs.  I stopped to take a few snaps just after leaving Central City.

When I arrived down in Idaho springs I could see that traffic was running smoothly both east and west.  west I went.  as usual, I followed the winding service road that roughly parallels I-70 at the bottom of this narrow mountain valley.  Reaching Georgetown, I am forced to step up and merge onto I-70.

Not usually something to worry about, but riding the Ural up a relentless and steep mountain grade, while doable, is an act of faith.  Faith in the bike?  No.  Faith in the other drivers on the road. 

Georgetown sits at about 8,500'.  My goal is the turn-off for U.S. 6 to Loveland Pass.  This exit is 12 miles and 2,400' higher in elevation.  The speed limit on I-70 in this area is 65mph.  If I'm lucky, I'll be able to hit about 40mph on some stretches.  That's 1 mph for each horsepower the bike can muster.

Luckily for me, lots of cars find this grade difficult also and relative speed of traffic slows more and more as we go higher.  I find a few convenient tractor-trailers to follow.  They're the only ones driving as slowly as me, and people can see the slow moving behemoths much more easily than me.  Regardless, my eyes are glued to the rear view mirrors for the bulk of the trip.

None too soon, my exit appears and I slide off to the right and down the exit ramp.  U.S. 6 used to be the only road that travelled west from Denver and up and over the Continental Divide.  These days, the road is used mostly by gawkers like me, back country skier and boarders, and any tractor-trailers carrying volatile loads.  They're not allowed to driver through the twin tunnels which bore straight under Loveland Pass ski area and out the other side of the divide.

I pull over to the side of the road near the entrance to the ski area.  Forlorn and looking forgotten, the ski area is devoid of people.  In just a few weeks they'll begin to use their snow making equipment to get a jump on on Mother Nature's bounty of white gold.  September is just one week distant and the nights above 10,000' will soon be below freezing.

I relaxed for about 10 minutes, allowing my motor a well deserved rest after straining it in the ride up to the U.S. 6 exit.  Enough time for a quick, cool drink and a look around the wooded area at the base of the mountain.

The distance to Loveland Pass is only 4 miles, but its also a very steep and winding 4 miles.  I remember a time years ago, while returning home late one night from Keystone Ski area, (which is on the other side of the pass), I came across a passenger van which had slid off the roadway. like some cheesy low-budget film, it was sitting with its front wheels off the roadway and hanging in mid-air.  Nothing but a long, long drop into a very dark void below. 

My Ural eats up the long grade.  The speed limit here is only 30 mph, and the Ural has no trouble doing it.  At each hairpin turn, it's a beautiful view back down the mountain valley, or back up to the top of the Continental Divide.

The four miles goes by in about 10 minutes (No one buys a Ural to go fast).  The pass summit is as I expected, lots of tourists like me running around and taking photos.  One of the things I like about the Ural is the attention it garners everywhere it goes.  It seems that people who would never think of looking at you when you're riding a two-wheeled bike, will smile and wave and stop to talk when you're riding a hack.  I think the Ural's vintage looks are somehow disarming.  Actually, sometimes the attention is not wanted.  Today I want to be alone with my thoughts, so I continue past the summit of Loveland Pass and stop a few hunderd meters  down the road at an unused turnout.

It's a beautiful day, in a beautiful spot, and I have a beautiful bike.  I decided that it's time to produce some Ural porn.  I spent the next ten minutes or so snapping pics of the bike.  With the help of a tripod, I manage to stage a few "candid" shots of myself too.  Oh, with the bike in the photo too, of course.


OK, is that too many pics?  Do I have an unnatural relationship with my bike?  If you own a bike, then we both already know the answer to those questions.

Photography session over, I make a u-turn and head back down the serpentine ribbon and merge back onto I-70.  This time the ride back down to Georgetown has a completely different character.  The throttle is barely touched and I glide down the long grade with ease.  The Ural being so much like a farm tractor when ridden at highway speeds, I keep my speed down between 55 and 60 mph.  Cars and trucks are passing me at a good clip as it seems everyone must prove that their vehicle really are fast.

The rest of the ride home is pleasant and uneventful.  I make full use of any and all dirt roads that I can find when I leave the interstate at Idaho Springs.  Too soon I am pulling up the grade and into my driveway.

Another good Colorado day under the belt.

Monday, August 13, 2012

2012.08.13 - What a blow-out!

Don't try this at home friends.  I'm a trained professional. . .

I managed to get every last bit of rubber off the pusher tire that came with my Ural Gear Up.  Of course, I was only about two miles from home this afternoon when the death knell sounded.  Pop!  Wheeze!  And it was down for the count.

OK I thought, I've got a spare.  That's one of the good things about a Ural.  Things aren't too bad.  I remembered that getting the bike on the center stand is not fun.  That's why I used to carry a small bottle jack in the trunk.  Of course, when I sold my old 2003 Patrol a couple of years back, the bottle jack went along with it.  Today it was the center stand and nothing but the center stand.  I thought I was slick when I positioned the bike facing up an incline.  It was still a grunt to roll it back on the center stand, but it was up.

I haven't changed a Ural tire in at least 4 years, so I had my first fit before I remembered that the special oil filter wrench is also the special rear axle nut wrench on the two wheel drive Ural bikes.  It was a struggle to get the cotter pin out too of course.  Then I rediscovered that the center stand is not high enough to be able to roll the tire out from under the fender.  (Note to IMWA, the Ural Oracle, three words: Hinged rear fender.  Come on, BMW did it in the 1930's. . .)  So, unbelievably, the Gear Up's shovel saved me for a second time in the space of two weeks.  I got to work chopping the hard dirt and rocks away from under the rear tire.  If you ever wondered why they call these hills the "Rocky Mountains", I can tell you why.  It took almost 15 minutes of chopping before I was able to squeeze the tire out.  And Bob's your uncle!  I thought. . .
All dug out, nowhere yet to go.  How do you like the fuzzy cell phone camera effects?
Just a couple of minutes more digging allowed me to get the spare tire into the same space that the flat one had been.  Guess all that air in there makes it a bit bigger.  Wheel on.  Axle on.  Axle nut tightened.  No cotter pin, but its only two miles or so to home.  I put all the tools away, put my riding gear back on and kick the bike to life.  She won't move too far with the pusher wheel off the ground, so I cleverly slipped her into two wheel drive.  Unfortunately, the sidecar wheel just didn't have enough grip to get the bike moving back up the incline.  She just spun a little to the left and the sidecar wheel started to dig a hole.

Ah, fun and games.  I spent the next few minutes trying to dig the center stand out in the hopes of popping it up.  I even contemplated leaving the motor running, the bike in gear--in two wheel drive--and pulling on the front fender's grab bar.  I figured that might possibly end nastily.  I reconsidered.  Brute force was obviously the answer, so a few more minutes of bouncing, and pulling, and grunting, basically left me breathless and no closer to home.  Then salvation arrived in the guise of a local bicyclist who happened by and offered to help.  With him pushing and me pulling we got it off the center stand and I was them able to power out of the little trench I had dug.

After a thanks from me, the cyclist went on his way and I pulled out onto the tarmac for those last few miles home.  Holy Cow!  I couldn't believe how the bike was handling.  It became an entirely different beast with the change of the tire.  The bike seemed to have a mind of its own!  It didn't want to steer left, and was scary going right.  I never experienced this on my old Patrol the many times I changed its tires.  I even thought for a second that maybe my spare wheel didn't have any bearings in it and it was wobbling around.  A quick look down showed a cleanly rotating tire.  I checked the tire pressure and adjusted it to 40psi right after I mounted it on the bike.  The old flat pusher was a Duro, the spare tire a Uralshina.  Different cross sections, but I didn't think it would make such a big difference.

I don't know what's going on there.  For this evening, I've had enough bike wrestling.  I'll look at it tomorrow.  I guess my forlorn BMW F650 will get a ride tomorrow.  It's been lonely since I brought the Ural home two weeks ago.

Oh, if only those last few inches of rear fender were somehow removable. . .

Sunday, August 12, 2012

2012.08.12 - Black Hawk - Guanella Pass - Black Hawk Loop

Today was a beautiful day to get out on the new Ural Gear Up. I've only had the bike for about two weeks. I regretted selling my last Ural, the 2003 Patrol, back in late 2010. A few months ago I started thinking about it. Last month I started searching seriously for a good used one. I found it two weeks ago, and I've been riding it nearly everyday since.

Today's Route.  A hair over 100 miles.

There's nothing like a warm Summer day in the high Rockies. My house sits at 9,160'. It's always cool when Denver (Just 25 miles away) is sweltering way down at 5,280'. It was a little breezy today, making the mesh riding jacket I chose not the best choice. You know how it is, you start the ride, feel a little cold and waste brain power trying to decide to keep riding or pull over and add a layer.

I chose to keep ridin'.

The ride down Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway (CO Hwy. 119) is very nice, but as this is one of my commuting roads, I ignore what others might see. It's not until I take the steep climb up out of Black Hawk towards Central City that I start to feel invigorated. At the edge of Central City, I peel-off left as the main stream of traffic heads its way to the right and towards the Central City Parkway. That's the most efficient way to get out of town. But efficiency is not my goal.

I choose Virginia Canyon Road, A.K.A. Oh, my God! Road. This dirt road passes the remnants of a multitude of now defunct gold, silver, and tungsten mines as it first climbs up, then descends down to the south and into the town of Idaho Springs. There are many, many smaller dirt roads shooting off in every direction from Virginia Canyon Road. Seemingly chaotic, but no doubt all following old dreams to some erstwhile mine.

Along the steep drop down towards Idaho Springs, it is easy to understand this road's colloquial moniker of Oh, my God! Road.  One can see straight down a few thousand feet all the way to Interstate 70 and Idaho Springs. The sharp, blind curves always keep you wary for the errant duffer hogging too much of your side of the road. No guard rails here. If you go off, you're going for the ride of your life.  I've been down this road many times, so there are no surprises for me. Down close to Idaho springs, I stopped to take a look at a piece of random road art. Whimsical and practical at the same time, it appears that the creator placed it there to hide the natural gas pipeline and regulator that is behind it.

After dropping down to Idaho Springs, I followed the winding and relaxing service road that more-or-less parallels Interstate 70 as I ride to the west. My original plan was to ride up to the top of lovely Loveland Pass and then loop back down I-70 towards Denver. One look at the eastbound traffic on I-70 changes that plan immediately.

Bumper-to-bumper and 10 miles per hour for as far as the eye can see. As I ride in and out of visual range of the Interstate, I smugly imagine harried travelers growing a smile on their face when they see me puttering nearby on my "antique" sidecar motorcycle. I feel a bit childish as I know I bought this bike in part for its "wow" factor, and I'm enjoying it.

As riding on the interstate holds no joyous prospect, I ponder my options. There are a few different ways I can head off, but I choose to continue on through on the service road and putt through Georgetown. Guanella Pass is the host road for the annual February "Elephant Ride". It's a motorcycle free-for-all that winds its way up the pass road from Grant, Colorado to the south and up to the top of Guanella Pass at about 11,600' above sea level. The last time I did the ride, Guanella Pass was still unpaved and unmaintained in the Winter. It's a fine sight to see a menagerie of motorbikes Slip-sliding on their way as their riders compete to see who can reach the top of the pass through windswept ice patches and choking snow drifts.

But today it is Summer, and I won't have any of those obstacles to overcome. I secretly expect to dislike the ride now that the road is fully paved. I do notice that traffic is higher than it used to be when dodging potholes was the norm. However, I soon come to realize that at my feeble 35 miles per hour, it is a graceful, curving byway. I also notice that it seems some thought was put into the construction as there are numerous turn-outs for slow vehicles and parking. As the road wends its way through National Forest land they've done something that I find quite out of character, they've paved a number of deep pullouts where people can camp nearby along the roadside. Normally, camp grounds are the only option, and roadside camping is less than hospitable. I make a mental note of quite a few good camp spots that I'll have to come back and take advantage of.

Nearing the summit of the pass, there are a few hairpin turns that force me to remember what it is like to pilot a sidecar rig around sharp right-hand curves. Setup your entry wrong and the consequences can be an excursion into oncoming traffic. I inadvertently lift the sidecar wheel midway through one curve and the hair on the back of my neck instantly is up. Piloting a "hack", as we sidecar riders call our rigs, is nothing like riding a motorcycle, nor is it like driving a car. It is a whole 'nother animal. When you get it wrong, it can be scary. When you get it right, not too many things give you more satisfaction.

At the summit of Guanella Pass, I do come to find one of the down-sides to having the road paved. I've never seen so many cars, trucks, and campers parked at the top. This area has always been a popular weekend spot as the pass hosts the trail head for Mt. Bierstadt, one of the coveted "14'ers". At 14,264', it is one of the 54 Colorado mountain tops that is over 14,000' above sea level. Making it especially popular is the fact that it is an easy hike from Guanella Pass to the summit.  Crowded or not, it's still a beautiful spot. I pulled over for a few minutes to snap a few pics.

The view from Guanella Pass towards the southeast.  Mt. Bierstadt is the peak almost visible on the left.  Lower Mt. Sawtooth is the serrated peak near the middle.  Sawtooth is lower, but a more difficult climb.  Been there, done that.
In every direction the view is very nice.

The view to the northwest.  I can't remember the name of the peak in the background.  Beautiful, nonetheless

I continue on after a few minutes of photography and relaxation. The road from the summit of the pass back down to Grant shows it's age and alpine environment. The effects of sun, ice,  and time have taken their toll. Large portions of the road are a complete mosaic of patches, none level with the next. This plays havoc with the small amount of suspension travel offered by the Ural. Piloting a sidecar on such a path induces yawing, lurching, stuttering, and a little bit of handlebar head-shake that have to be modulated by the rider lest they get out of control. As usual, the Ural is happiest at a leisurely speed, and I meander about skirting potholes, frost heaves, and the occasional flattened forest inhabitant at a moderate 35 miles per hour.

Partway down the canyon I once again make note of a few nice camping spots. These little gems will be explored in the future. Past a beautiful roadside waterfall, a side road catches my eye, and I make the effort to stop and turn around so I can check it out.

The stream that caught my eye.

The road leads just a few dozen meters off the side of the road, but it is on the uphill side of the road and thus less visible to the passer-by; pretty much hidden by trees. The roughness of the first few yards up the road leads me to believe that not too many passenger car types venture up this way. The road quickly smooths out and I find a vacant and idyllic camping spot. It has all of the required amenities: It is flat; it is right next to a rushing stream; it is surrounded by trees. Most importantly, whoever arrives here first, wins, as there is only room for one group to camp there. No annoying, noisy neighbors. This one earns a special way point in my GPS. I will be coming back here.

From here, the road soon gave way to a few miles of unpaved gravel. I usually enjoy gravel and dirt more than pavement, especially potholed and patched pavement, but there was no joy today. I suffered the double-whammy. While stopped to take photos, a convoy of caravans slowly drove by. I quickly caught up to them as I continued on.  While choking on their dust cloud I was serenaded by the rhythms of the washboard road.

Luckily, it was only a couple of miles until we once again reached relative civilization. Grant, Colorado has its name on the road map, but can hardly be called a town by most measures. A house or three and a roadside restaurant are all that greet the casual observer. Grant sits on U.S. Highway 285, and it is here that I begin the homeward bound leg of today's ride. Anyone whose ridden this mostly two-lane road road will remember it fondly the very first time. It is scenic and winding and passes through hill and dale and over stream.

Anyone who has been over it many times will curse the traffic and impatient drivers who are hell-bent on approaching Denver as close to warp speed as possible. This makes U.S. 285 a less-than-friendly Ural road, but I am helped out by a tail wind and a mostly downhill trend for the fist 20 miles or so. Any Ural rider knows how joyful it is when you hit that sweet spot in your choice of gear and throttle for any given stretch of road. I was feeling it for a good number of miles before I hit some of the steeper uphill sections.

I generally wish a slow and painful death to all tail-gaiters, but I was spared the worst of it by some thoughtfully placed passing lanes in some of the really steep parts. The remainder of my journey back home, while still a collection of delicious up-and-down hills, left-and-right hand curves is so ingrained in my brain through repetition that I found myself turning off the highway back onto the well-worn dirt road that leads to my house before I even knew it.

Few things are as satisfying to a man of a certain age as a good motorbike and mountainous terrain. Today was one of those days. Let's hope there will be many more.

I don't know art, but I know what I like.  This is just freaky. . .