It’s a lightweight electric motorcycle – a Cake Kalk&. The Kalk has silence, instant torque, and handles offroad surfaces like it had tentacles.
All of the tricky stuff – off camber corners, loose, muddy or rutted surfaces – just stand up, open the e-throttle, think it and the Kalk goes there.
After riding lots of heavier bikes, the 175-pound Cake is teaching me lots of dirt riding things that are much harder to master on bigger bikes.
The Kalk is exceedingly firmly suspended. It is communicative. It is uncompromising. It does not have anything – like many dirty bikes – that one could correctly call a saddle.
It’s a straight up amazing, miraculous thing, a triumph of technology and design.
I absolutely love the bike. I’m not so sure my ass is as committed.
The original R80 G/S Paris-Dakar replica featured an orange-upholstered solo bench saddle that BMW – who was prone to such corporately frugal component reuse – had liberated from its first use as a seat on its authority bikes. What the G/S had was a reskinned stylish police saddle.
The BMW-mounted Policemen of the World spend a great deal of time riding motorcycles. A genuinely supportive and comfortable saddle is a requirement, and BMW’s Police Saddle is absolutely fit for purpose.
My /5 scrambler has that police saddle. In a more appropriately police-y black hue, thank you very much.
After several days of slamming on the Kalk, for some reason that saddle was calling to me.
There was, of course, a little more to my desire than a piece of foam wrapped in marine vinyl, but the attraction definitely started at that most fundamental man/machine interface.
I always hate to have a motorcycle sit for very long. A motorcycle that I haven’t ridden in a while eventually becomes a form of desire – a need to reexperience all of the sensations that made my relationship with it so durable.
The /5 had been sitting for far too long.
I knew how to fix that.
In 37 years of riding it, it has never ceased to amaze me that a starter motor that sounds like a sledgehammer swung against steel can successfully convert to angular motion and start a 900 cc twin, but it historically has and once again it does.
That Bosch starter motor, I should mention, is the original factory starter – it has had its end support bushings replaced, but it is still working 50 years on.
The /5’s motor is a little stumbly after a few weeks slumber, but 30 seconds and a few blips of the throttle and the big twin comes up to a smooth 1100 rpm idle.
Sitting there with the cold valves clicking away, the boxer twin gently rocking back and forth as one cylinder fires and then the other, and the smells of fuel-rich exhaust and the unique aroma of the cylinder’s fins near the exhaust warming up underscores the contrast between motorcycling’s past and its future.
The /5, god bless it, is hot, smelly and, from our current perspective, inefficient and polluting. A half century on, I’m confident it leaks far more lubricants than it burns.
What once sounded like some unlikely dystopian distant future, seems to be only a few moments away for machines like this. I can see this scramblered out /5 becoming like Neal Peart’s Red Barchetta – an obsolete, illegal thing not for operation on the road.
But until I have to hide it from The Law under the tarp out back, I can point it down the hill onto Poffenberger Road, gas it hard and feel the big boxer spin up with its little airplane thrum producing a happy, dirty roostertail.
Where the Kalk produces seamless, digital vibration-free power, my /5’s hot rod boxer is all spin and throb – the bike’s sleeved up 900 cc bore, radically lightened flywheel and needle bearing valvetrain conversion makes it spin a great deal easier than most /5s ever did. Stand up and Gas It is what both bikes have in common – the /5’s much greater mass and more compliant suspension provide the rider with some isolation where the Kalk telegraphs every detail of the surface being bashed into submission. There’s a mechanical quality to the /5 that gets wiped from our digital future — one can feel the bike’s torque reaction as the RPMs rise, with the whole frame twisting to the right — the entire structure thrums under power — and good traction and open throttle lifts the front wheel in way the feels thrillingly and genuinely dangerous. The Toaster needs a 70s-style sticker that says ‘Powered by Explosions’, both for style points and because it really is. It doesn’t go to any effort to hide it and the rider can feel each and every one.
I dig our electric moto future. With just silly access to immediate thrust, it’s cool, quiet and clean, and much simpler and cheaper to keep running.
But I dig our hot, noisy, vibrating, gas belching past, too. Internal combustion genius took 120 years to reach its performance peak, but there were practitioners of combustion that created early breakthroughs decades before they were widely adopted. In 1909, for example, Peugeot was building double overhead cam motorcycle racing motors with 4 valve heads.
Our children’s children will likely have utter incomprehension when contemplating the noise and the rush of a Sportster or a Commando or a Ducati 900SS. They’ll be unable to understand how such a brutal, dangerous technology was ever permitted to exist.
I’m glad to have been alive while such machines, while not commonplace, are still out there for the riding. Not all of them are confined to museums where they exist without oil, without fuel or flame. I still have a Commando and a Rapide or Shadow to add to my personal ridebucket list. If my new buddy Matt has anything to say about it, I might need to add a handshift Harley JDH to that list.
Tomorrow I’ll ride silently, whirring toward the future.
I was looking out the office window when the Federal Express tractor trailer pulled up in front of my house.
Two very practiced and professional men grabbled a pallet jack, picked up a very large box, used the tailgate lift to lower it to the ground, and then did a little wind sprint pushing it up the driveway and into the shop.
I spent a few moments removing the packaging, installing the front wheel, and screwing a few things into other things.
After those things were all screwed, I cleaned up the work area, then grabbed my elkskins and Bell 500 and lit up the Kalk&.
The bike is a little razor — impossibly narrow tall and light. Despite the fact that the paperwork and plates won’t show up until tomorrow, I took a little blast around the neighborhood. You can’t cite what you can’t hear.
The Kalk is incredibly precise at low speeds – the motor control is very responsive. Though I was only running Power Mode 2, there is some definite snap on throttle application.
When I first reached out to Cake – the Swedish manufacturer of lightweight electric motorbikes – I really hoped to obtain one of their Kalk motocross machines to test. The Kalk is a 175 pound, Ohlins-suspended offroad weapon. The Kalk is deadly serious stuff – there’s even a racing series for the bike now.
When, after a fairly protracted effort, I finally managed to make solid contact with Cake’s US-based PR team, what was offered reminded me of my favorite phrase from the British Comedy Troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
“…And now for Something Completely Different.”
What Cake’s PR team had in their press pool was what they were characterizing as a ‘lightweight utility vehicle’ – Cake’s Osa+.
I’m a committed and long-term believer in two-wheeled utility, so Cake was speaking my language in my native habitat.
Normally, when I have a bike to test, the evaluation is largely based on handling, acceleration and braking – point to point and endurance performance. This time, though, the mission was very different — to see just how much utility the Osa+ really had in it.
The minute the Cake came out of the back of the truck, it was abundantly clear the Osa+ was a thing unto itself.
The Osa+ is too small and too light – it weighs around 180 pounds – to be a full-fledged, road going motorcycle. The smallest road going Honda sold in the US weighs more than 315. It isn’t a scooter – there’s no CVT transmission because there’s no transmission as all – being direct drive – and there’s no bodywork or weather protection to speak of. There are elements of the Osa that recall an e-bike, but no e-bike or cargo bike was ever this muscular. The Osa’s main structure is a single, arrow-straight forged aluminum beam, and that beam defines the machine and what it can do. Cake designed the beam to support an ingenious modular mounting clamp system, and an entire catalog of things that the clamp can secure to that beam.
Things, you ask?
Yes, Things. Things like driver and pillion saddles. Small, medium and ludicrously huge cargo and flat panel carriers for both the front and rear of the bike. A workbench. Lumber, surfboard/guitar case carriers. A small DC to AC inverter. A trailer hitch with an array of small and large cargo trailers, including one with its own battery and motor. A heat pump equipped hot or cold box – a fridge. The bike’s main motive battery kicks in USB and 12 volt power sockets to allow the bike itself to serve as a power bank for other devices.
With a system like this, there’s a whole world of utility just looking for any excuse to get out.
I look at the weird little thing and realize that it would easily transport a modern bass guitar and single cone amp setup. Something I used to do with a 5000 pound, V8 powered American sled.
I set our Osa+ with a large metal carrier basket out back, and a smaller one out in front of the steering head. Another one of those ingenious clamps – whose mounting shafts are shaped like Cake’s logo, which is a cake with a slice removed – allows the headlamp to be removed and then remounted at the front of the carrier. Configured thusly, the Osa+ gives off definite tiny pickup truck vibes.
Although it had been raining, I couldn’t help but fire up the little feller to take it for a ride. Starting drill is, unsurprisingly, also weird. The battery itself has a mechanical power button that has a blue LED halo when powered up. One then power cycles the small instrument display that lives on the upper triple clamp, and then enters in a 3 or 4 digit unlock code.
We don’t need no stinking key. Hooooow last century.
The Osa’s display allows one to select one of three power modes – with limits of 25, 44 and the bike’s top speed of 56 mph – and two braking modes – 1 for freewheel, and 2 for light regenerative braking. The bike has two brake levers on the bars and no foot controls of any kind.
The first twist of the bike’s bright white throttle brought back the grin of every electric bike I’ve ever ridden. The Cake produces a delightfully Sci-fi whine, and you’ve instantly got everything the motor has to give, software permitting. The bike’s wide, mud and snow rated 14-inch street biased dual sport tires combine with the bike’s inverted forks, linkageless rear monoshock and relatively long swingarm to produce a remarkably compliant, planted and yet somehow agile ride. Moving the Osa back and forth beneath me is snappy – likely because there is not that much of it, what is there is mass that isn’t very far away from the center of rotation.
The brakes appear high spec – all of the calipers are machined billet, the lines are braided steel. The front is a model of good behavior – there’s plenty of power, and it modulates well in a nice linear fashion. You won’t be locking up the front end and having it be a surprise. You will be locking up the rear, though. As I got my first intersection – with mildly wet pavement – I locked up the back brake in a Big Way™, and rode the slide all the way to the stopsign, giggling like a man with about as much grip on his sanity as these mud-and-snows seemed to have on wet pavement.
Honestly, I wish I’d never noticed the fact that the tires were mud and snow rated, but I am a nerd, and I read manuals and labels, especially when they have specifications. Knowing things makes one prone to testing them, and that fact, once planted wasn’t going to just fold tents and disappear over the hill.
Despite being gently rained on, I took the Cake though some of the farm roads close to the house. As long as one could work with Mode 2’s software defined 44 mph speed limit, the little bike turned in well, held its line and exited smartly – both ends were well controlled and exceedingly tidy. On these winding, single laned paths, the Osa was in its element.
Jefferson, these days, is filled with people building more homes in every available remaining patch of dirt. As I headed back to the shelter of the garage, I came upon a new gravel side road, which looked to head toward the center of a nearby field. From the layout of the future building sites and utilities, it looked like there would eventually be a new cul-de-sac with a cluster of half a dozen homes. I was clearly far from the first vehicle that had been down that road – when the left came up I instinctively took it.
On the gravel, the Osa was nailed down and planted. When the gravel ended, though, the fun really started.
Let it suffice to say that it had apparently rained more than I had realized, because once I hit the grass, traction completely evaporated. I hadn’t been carrying any significant speed, but the front wheel broke left, while the back snapped right – a classic cross-up. I do know the Dirt Riders Rule #1, though – when in doubt, throttle out. After an uncomfortable number of milliseconds, and a serious pair of mud roostertails, I got enough drive dialed back in that directional control was regained. I used that control to tack back towards the gravel, again in partnership with the Giggling Madman. Its not like the Osa had been showroom clean – Cake’s PR guy had shared pictures of himself using the bike to move firewood – but for new bike at the start of a new test, this one was now one enormous mudball from stem to stern. The rider was little better, if at all.
It was an auspicious start to my relationship with the Osa.
Getting back to the shop and surveying the muddy carnage confirmed that the bike was either going to require immediate cleaning, or would look like a jungle combat refugee for the rest of its filthy life. Fortunately, I keep a hose cart connected at all times, and after about 10 minutes of being washed down, the Osa looked much restored.
It was only that evening, as I read the entire owner’s manual, that the stern instructions never to wash the bike with a hose were noted.
I was on a roll with this bike, clearly.
Despite the dire warnings, no adverse effects from this unspeakable washing were ever noted. Perhaps Cake’s lawyerly liability team has a greater involvement with the creation of the User Manual than the ones I’ve which written in the past.
Clearly, your mileage may vary.
Having a bike like the Osa does invite other members of the Rolling Physics Problem test team to become involved in the process. Unlike other Original Equipment Manufacturers, whose agreements and releases prohibit, in increasingly dire and inflammatory terms, anyone other than the journalist who signs them from operating the machine, Cake’s PR guy was pretty straightforward –“Let anyone who wants to ride it ride it.”
Sweet Doris from Baltimore – who does hold a Maryland Motorcycle License – and who loves all things environmentally friendly and all things bicycle, didn’t have to be asked twice if she wanted to ride it. We set her up with a Bell 500 open face helmet, fingered the Osa into Power Mode 1, and she disappeared laughing over the hill. A few minutes later she reappeared looking like a Kid at Christmas.
“This thing is a hoot! I love it!”
Friendly and accessible? Check.
Son Finn was also Cake Curious. He, too, is a fan of all things electric, having ridden and raved about several of the Zero test bikes that have come though the shop. His ride of choice, these days, is a OneWheel – an insane amalgam of Segway like self-balancing, skateboarding, a big honking racing Go Cart slick, and a tiny monster of a direct drive motor built into the wheel rim. The OneWheel – at least as Finn sees it – is so compelling his CB500F has been put in the back of the barn. If you’d like to own a really nice one, talk to me.
A day or two later, Finn asked me if he could take the Osa for a ride. Wanting to set a bad example, I said “Sure!”. I walked him through the operation of the controls, got systems active and waved him goodbye.
I went back inside and back to work.
An hour or so later, the front door flung open, and a normally reserved Finn entered with a whoop.
“Man! I had the most spectacular crash ever with that thing!”
This is, of course, exactly what I was hoping to hear.
I should mention here that Finn has never crashed a motorcycle previously (that I know about), and that I’ve seen some of his OneWheel crashes, which ARE spectacular. The two taken together place a very high bar on a crash that he would characterize as ‘spectacular’.
“Man, is the bike OK? Oh, and how are you doin’?
“One of the turn signal stalks looks a little wonky…”
“Actually, the Cake guy called my attention to that…he JB Welded it after a prior shunt. That’s it?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Oh, and it’s a little muddy.”
“So what happened?”
“I was riding it down in the park, and I hit a patch of wet grass while I was turning, and it spat me off – highsided. Fortunately, mud is way soft. It was kind of funny, really”.
Now that he mentioned it, his recently mud-customized gear seemed strangely familiar.
And again, against the advice of counsel, we washed the mud off the Osa, which was indeed, and remained, undamaged.
If you are looking for a lightweight motorcycle that will not be affected by the bumps and knocks of everyday use, Finn and I can both vouch for the Osa+.
As is my wont, I worked to make the Osa the default vehicle for every task. I quickly discovered that highway speed rides to Frederick – about 8 miles of hilly US Highway away – were really at the edge of the bike’s envelope. Make that ride at 35-40 miles an hour, in Mode 2 – take the state highway backroad – and everything was hunky dory. At 55 mph, though, you were snarfing battery like it was Dunkin Donuts Glazeds that just came out of the oven. The Osa+ clearly wasn’t geared for that, and wasn’t designed for that.
What it was designed for was tons of torque from a standing start, pinpoint control at low speeds, and the ability to safely carry more than a pair of rented mules. The specs pointed to the ability to safely carry more than the entire weight of the vehicle, and to tow a pretty large amount as well. The Osa+ power mandate was big oomph on the bottom at the expense of outright speed – a pretty standard engineering tradeoff. Just one look at the rear belt drive pully will drive home the point. Just thinking about it has me envisioning a high and low range engine pinion like some pioneer era motorcycles.
I did load the bike up with anything that presented itself – groceries, mulch, beer, camping gear, anything. No matter how much stuff I asked the bike to carry, it seemed so just shake it off – the handling wasn’t impacted when it was loaded.
If I never left my little town of Jefferson, the Osa was absolutely the right hammer for those nails – zero drama, easy parking, just displacement in space. Every time I took it to the Jefferson Market, though, I’d have ‘Sidecar Syndrome’ cause everyone wanted to talk about it.
Some impacts to transportational efficiency cannot be predicted or controlled.
Despite my initial marginally fulfilling experience with unpaved surfaces, I was not deterred from trying again.
I’m not sure whether that quality is perseverance, or just plain cussedness, but the outcomes are indistinguishable.
Jefferson quickly dissolves into old working farms and the dirt roads that connect them.
Taking the Osa+ out into the bottoms revealed something I hadn’t even suspected. On the gravel roads, it was startlingly well controlled – any gaps in grip were easily managed – the whole experience felt like a miniature dirt bike. I also found myself following the dual tracks down by the creeks, and even broke out into some of the rolling meadows after those tracks ran out. Unlike a heavier motorcycle, the Osa could just float on grassy surfaces without tearing them up – it was a better no-trail explorer than anyone would have had any reason to believe. The Osa got me into places my bigger bikes wouldn’t have gracefully gone, and did it completely stealthily – the only sounds I was hearing was bird song and insects.
Humming through meadows, loaded with camping gear, the Osa+ seemed like the weirdest adventure motorcycle ever.
Operating the bike in town, and out in the bottoms – at lower speeds – battery life was great – 4-5 days short hop use was possible on a charge.
Cake insists the Osa+ is a utility vehicle – and in an urban or rural environment where highway speed isn’t part of the calculation – is absolutely is. It can serve as a delivery vehicle, a handyman’s combo miniscule pickup truck and workbench, or a outdoorsman’s low impact way to get to nearby camping spots or fishing holes – its as good in the woods as it is on city streets.
The Osa+ breaks boundaries, creating a vehicle that does not fit in any existing moto-category, The transportation future, I think, does best when it resists all pressure to look like its past. Nobody needs a Suburban to get to work and the grocery store. Neither does anyone need a heavyweight motorcycle if they’re covering maybe 7 miles on an average day, Creating electric cars and bikes that are unexamined recastings of their internal combustion forms, is genuinely pointless, and shortchanges us all from the potential of new propulsion. With the packaging that electric drivetrains allow – the vehicle can take whatever form makes sense. And the physics tells me that the more lightweight the vehicle becomes, the more efficient these vehicles will get. A bike that uses 40% of its own stored energy to haul its battery around has missed that mark.
Cake’s Osa is a tool for a job. Its beautifully crafted, hell strong for something that only weighs 180 pounds, and seems to be completely impervious to abuse, based on a very small sample size.
Around a city – especially a city of the near future where internal combustion could be prohibited – a rugged baby pickup truck that can be parked in almost no space at all could be the most practical ride of all.
Folks in the more traditional motorcycling universe will grouse about the price – “No way am I putting down Ten Large for that little, scootery thingee… or whatever TF it is….”. Motorcyclists, I have lately come to understand, are largely the most inexplicably conservative subculture with whom I’ve ever come into contact. There’s a sizable percentage of our sport that thinks if its doesn’t look or work like a ’59 Bonnie or a vintage Panhead, and cost about what those did new, then I’m Not Gonna Think About It And You Can’t Make Me.
I spend a fair amount of time looking at human powered machinery, and there are scores of recumbent e-trikes, mountain bikes, velomobiles or true race or triathlon bikes that will set you back that much and sometimes much, much more. Cake’s products are far closer to that kind of high-precision, boutique specialty manufacturing output than the are to that of a Honda Trail 125 coming out of a plant in Thailand. The two don’t compete and Cake just isn’t interested in that fight.
So if you think, like I do, that Cake earns their 10 Large, by producing an artfully crafted, well-engineered, robust little truck bike, then you should try and get a ride on one. I’d have let you crash mine, but Cake’s Guy came and took it back. I’m not sure whether he had somebody queued behind me, or whether he just missed it himself, but I’d understand it if he did. After it went on the truck and disappeared around the corner, I kind of missed it too.
This Arcimoto Fun Utility Vehicle (FUV) appeared at the shop this afternoon.
It’s a dual motor electric tadpole trike. It is reputed to get pretty good range and the get in price is really reasonable, especially considering the rest of the market. It has a pretty substantial weatherproof trunk, and a cockpit that is intended to let the rider laugh at rain.
RPP Labs has a solar array, so ‘gas’ is free.
I rode it home today from Potomac, Maryland to Jefferson … about 38 miles of sweeping country road riding. When you give it the whip, it gallops.
I’ll be testing the Arcimoto over the next few weeks.
Sweet Doris from Baltimore has already taken a shine to the little feller. Shes piloted it and come back grinning. We took an extended cruise around Frederick two up and she was grinning more.
My riding life has fortunately been defined by making pretty good choices.
The less good choices make for better stories, though, and haven’t resulted in incarceration or hospitalization.
Anyway, folks that are regulars here will recall one of my more questionable choices, where Sweet Doris from Baltimore and I had ended up inadvertently Adventure Riding two up on my K1200 LT – well on the way to a whole ton of ‘Uh-Oh!’ riding on street-use-only sport-touring tires. An adventure in anxiety it was, but no hospitalization was required, so all good.
That adventure, though, had left me with a thirst for revenge.
When I acquired my baby GS, Oldtown Orleans Road was nearly the first thing I thought of, and it had been a source of major frustration that it had taken this long to get tired up, tuned and ready for a battle that I could comfortably win.
This time I would at least be bringing a knife – OK, maybe a machete – to the knife fight, in place of the Strategic Bomber we’d had the first time.
It felt like a pretty good choice.
Sweet Doris from Baltimore had arranged a trike-packing trip with her DC-Area Lady Trikers group that would have them out on the C&O Canal Towpath for much of the weekend. Unlike the various flavors of deluge we’d seen for the last several weekends, all forecasts were showing hot, sunny and dry.
It was time to head back to Allegheny County.
After helping Sweet D load her gear and recumbent trike onto the truck, getting the GS packed was decidedly simpler. I loaded up a half gallon of cold water into a stainless-steel insulated growler, grabbed an old BMWBMW Square Route Rally plastic cup, and then tossed a large bag of trail mix and some cheese and cracker packs into a paper lunch bag. I added a boonie hat, and a small mesh bag that holds a small USB power bank and some charging cables. I also grabbed a BMW powerlet to USB converter and a USB-C cable. I’ve had a phone mount mounted on the GS’s tall screen bracket for a few months now, but had never had the opportunity to test it out. I placed my phone into the rubber mount, positioned the phone horizontally – which placed it just below the center of my line of sight, and then wired up the USB cable from the power socket mounted on the top of the bike’s airbox cover to the phone – the whole thing looked factory.
I changed onto some proper riding gear appropriate for the forecast elevated temperatures – an old set of Joe Rocket textile armored cargo pants, and my favorite Vanson Super Moto mesh and perfed leather jacket. Unlike most mesh jackets, which will melt in a slide – potentially causing more damage to one’s outsides – the Super Moto is leather anyplace one might make unplanned pavement contact, which seems like a much better plan. I also donned my set of TCX Clima Surround GTX Boots – which are a great set of warm weather boots, with a trick ventilation system – including vents in the soles. For stinking hot weather, they’re the best boots I’ve ever used – at speed one can literally feel the air moving over one’s feet.
I pulled on my Shoei, cinched down my elkskin gloves, and gave the GS The Finger. When the engine’s rpms stabilized, the instrument cluster finished initializing and the headlights and power outlet came on. My phone – with a test destination up in Little Orleans punched in – started charging, and Google maps started providing navigation guidance. I’ve never had any kind of Nav system on any motorcycle, and though I didn’t anticipate I’d need it today – I already knew exactly where I was going – I wanted to see if the setup would work for the planned Backcountry Discovery Route rides I have coming up. Preliminary results seemed to indicate this was going to work just fine.
Rolling out of Jefferson and up Holter Road – though the very middle of the Middletown Valley – the day seemed nearly perfect for this kind of ride. We’d had more than a few days with minimal rain, the pavement was dry, the humidity was low, and skies were Maryland Blue, with just some light decorative cloud cover. Getting the GS and its Shinkos warmed up, I could feel the warm air flowing over my skin – it was not at all unpleasant. I kept the Rotax spinning and slowly brought my speeds up as my own internal greyware ride controller came fully online.
For a bike that is supposed to be some hairy-chested overlander, its startling how good a twisty road bike an F800 GSA really is. Unlike the sportbikes I’m acquainted with, where the goal is to get one’s upper body as low and forward over the bike as is anatomically possible, the GS takes a completely different approach to getting through the corners. Between the bike’s higher ground clearance, higher saddle and more upright seating position, the rider’s head is at least two full feet higher on the GS than on any sportbike. This perspective translates into a much better view down the road ahead, and more time to position the motorcycle for the next corner. And while the 21 inch front wheel doesn’t translate into lightning fast direction changes, the wide enduro bars allow the rider to get the bike leaned over and carving, with nearly zero chance of touching any hard parts down. Maryland Route 17 – headed north to Myersville and Interstate 70 — is a roller coaster of a road with lots of technical combinations and big grades and elevation changes. Out on 17, it was easy to keep the revs of the Rotax up and on the boil, and even with the bike’s Shinko 705 Trail Master tires, the GS handled like it was on rails – linear effort would get the bike to a desired lean, and it stayed where I put it – no drama and no slip at either end.
The entrance ramp for Interstate 70 West came up far sooner than I would have liked. Off the end of the ramp I stretched each gear out and then short shifted through 5th to 6th, and fell into what was a very relaxed 75 mph cruise, with the twin spinning at just under 5000 rpms. While the GS is no K12LT – which feels utterly unstressed at 4200 rpm and 90 indicated – the GSA cockpit is a perfectly comfortable place to spend some time so long as speeds are kept below warp. The Givi airflow screen gets a lot of credit here – its two level screen is designed to promote perfectly laminar flow – the absolute opposite of the dreaded buffeting – and it works as intended. It’s the only narrow, enduro or rally style screen I’ve ever ridden behind that doesn’t make me want to rip my own head off. At sane highway speeds I was able to cruise with the visor of my full face helmet open, and the air in the cockpit was calm and quiet. I had about 50 miles of highway to cover before getting to Little Orleans, and I wanted to be fresh and unruffled when I finally got to the good stuff.
Just past Hancock the Interstate splits – 70 heads northwest for Breezewood and Western Pennsylvania and Interstate 68 heads dead west for the mountains of Western Maryland. There are not a lot of Interstate Highways that are fun on motorcycles, but I-68 is definitely one of them. Corners are tight, grades are massive, and the views are spectacular. Sadly, what I consider technically challenging and enjoyable riding periodically catches riders out of their skills envelope – every spring there are always several serious motorcycle crashes on this section. My emotional high point is the rock cut at Sideling Hill – where spectacular geology is married up with my memories of a now departed riding friend and mentor. Sideling Hill had been the beginning of his every adventure, and crossing that ridgeline meant the beginning of mine.
Another 12 miles of winding, climbing interstate brought me to Orleans Road, where I exited and pulled into the only gas station within a 20 mile radius – where I’d be going I wanted to make sure I had my tank full – I’d deliberately left it to the beginning of the trail to fill up. The GS took most of its six and a half US gallons of 89 octane, and took its place in the fuel cost hall of shame at just a tick under 30 dollars. I didn’t dwell on the pump shock, but drained about 12 ounces of cold water and then saddled back up and headed towards the river.
Orleans Road – on a cool day – is about as much fun as one can have with a motorcycle on pavement. Orleans is narrow, twisting, and runs a series of technical switchbacks as it follows a creek down towards the Potomac. On a 92-degree day, though, the old tar and chip surface becomes dangerously greasy – as I rolled the bike into the first tight corner I pushed the front tire well before I’d hit my planned maximum lean. We’d be taking our time today, clearly.
After running about 6 miles of treacherous hot tar, I arrived at the cutoff for the C&O Canal’s 17 Mile Campground – which is a left that takes one past the Infamous Bill’s Place – or to the right, which heads for the newly renamed Ridge Riders Campground – formerly known as the Little Orleans Campground. As I started my run into Ridge Riders, I found myself wondering whether the new owners were Adventure Rider types. The lower tenting area seemed filled with dual sport bike riders and their tents – I got lots of appreciative waves as I Braaaped past, and made my turn onto Oldtown Orleans Road.
As the pavement ended, I switched the GS’s mode switch from ‘Road’ to ‘Enduro’ – which makes some strategic changes to power delivery, traction control and ABS settings that provide some additional minding for those of us who are still dirt noobs. ‘Enduro’ mode essentially liberates one’s back wheel – the traction control allows for some controlled drift, while the ABS will allow one to lock the rear wheel – both of which are useful techniques in the dirt.
50 yards past the entrance to the campground, Oldtown Orleans Road is off to the races – the surface is a weird offroad gumbo of loose dirt, crushed limestone, and some delightfully uneven rock outcroppings that appear to be the edges of sandstone layers that come to the road surface edgewise – imagine riding across the edges of a book with very thick pages, and you’ll have a fairly accurate mental picture. If there’s any way to devise a rougher riding surface than that, I don’t know what it is, but I’m confident one of you will enlighten me.
Riding, what for the KLT was an anxiety-marinated chore, was a complete giggle on the 800 GS. The Shinko 705s I have fitted might not be the most gnarly knobs out there, but they worked just fine for this. I wondered about how they’d do in rutted stuff, and I needn’t have. I’m not sure the result would be the same during or right after a cloudburst, but in the dry they were working great. In the rougher stuff it was just stand up, get my weight out as close to the front axle as possible, and not be so concerned about what the back end was doing – if it needed to move around it was free to do so and it sure did.
It was quite clear this road was far from a secret – there were several groups of adventure bike guys that were out here together. And while I was far from fast out here I was sliding around and having a good time – there were more than a few guys riding what looked to be brand new, clean, Big Boxer GSs that were tiptoeing along, looking kinda spooked – looking like they were NOT having fun. The 800 really is the Goldilocks bike – not too little, but not too much.
Oldtown Orleans is a little dirt roller coaster – there is one gentle rise and one gentle fall for eleven miles or so of trail. There really are no tighter corners so its all just keep one’s head up to stay oriented and do all the steering with the throttle. Given how dry the trail was it was easy to keep the tire gently roosting – there was lots of dirt getting airborne and both machine and rider were getting amusingly and quickly filthy. The views while riding though the woods were great – plenty of slopes filled with pine, hunting camps with cabins and primitive camp sites – a driveway, a spot for one’s tent or trailer, and a fire ring. There were nearly a hundred of such sites in the Green Ridge State Forest. It’s the sort of thing one could gleefully do all day if the road would just cooperate and hold out for that long.
Which of course it didn’t.
Coming down one slope though what was looking like someone’s back yard, Oldtown Orleans came back out to pavement. From my prior ride to Oldtown I recognized the spot – I was about a mile and a half north of the center of Oldtown – an old C&O Canal town that is nearly as small as Jefferson. I headchecked the highway in both directions, rolled out into the intersection, did a nice slow and undramatic 180, and then gassed it back up the hill the way I’d come.
It had just been too much fun to not do it again.
Rolling in the other direction is always different. What was the same was the heat, the wheelspin and the dust.
About three miles from the beginning of Oldtown Orleans, is the intersection with Carroll Road – the spur that leads down to the Point Lookout Overlook – a spot with a gazillion dollar view of an entire bend in the Potomac. Again, from my last time here I remember it being not a road but a dual track, but one the GS could clearly handle, so I made my right turn and proceeded slowly until I’d gone past the pull off and parking for the overlook – today there were 5 folks with nearly identical new Ford pickups parked side by side there – it’s always a crowded spot.
Once past the overlook though, the track plunges into deep woods.
Carroll Road works its way down the side of a slope, and lands in the shadow of both the hillside and abundant trees – this is a place where the sun just never penetrates. A stream runs to the left of the road and there are a series of primitive campsites to the right – everything is green and lush and quiet – it seems like the day-to-day world could be a million miles away.
After picking my way around the trail on the bottom of the canyon, I came around a corner and was presented with a pretty dramatic grade – there was no place to stop, and no place to turn around, so I resorted to the dirt biker’s core wisdom – “when in doubt, gas it.”
There are not too many hills I’ve climbed that looked like this one from the bottom – it was rutted, and steep, and looked like it had a stairstep where it levelled out and then headed upward again.
It was probably good that I hadn’t really had enough time to think about it.
So I stood up, moved forward, got the bike up to a speed where I had some momentum, and bounced and tractored up the first hill and then the second one.
I remember choosing and repeating a certain unprintable oath at a fairly regular interval while I was doing so.
Because this is a family friendly show, I’ll pretend I don’t remember which one it was.
At the top of the second hill there was a little level pull off, so I pulled in, shut down, and leaned the bike over on the stand.
I pulled my helmet and gloves off, and opened a case and got some very needed and very cold water. I also tried eating some cheeze and cracker packets, but even after 16 ounces of water, my mouth was still desert dry – I was a mess of crumbs and cheese, and the stuff was just stuck in my seriously cottoned mouth.
I spent a little time considering my options. First was the possibility that this road got more technically challenging the further it went. Such conditions need to be considered in the light that I was out here solo, and that if things went pair-shaped, I’d be dependent on the assistance of others, and down here there seemed to be far less of them about – I’d seen one guy on a small Yamaha dirt bike, and that was it. Second was the understanding that if there’s one thing more hairy than riding motorcycles up steep hills, its riding motorcycles down them. The info available on Google maps on a phone screen was of little use – the road showed just a little red line, and there was little else to go on. There was one section of the road ahead labelled ‘Devil’s Alley’, so if you were desperately seeking some sort of sign, that was the sort of thing that would pass for one.
Resolved, the Devil I knew was better that the one I didn’t – we’d be heading back out the way we’d come.
But I sure as hell would be asking Bike Crazy Uncle Joe – who lived hereabouts and would very likely know – for a scouting report about what lay beyond. It was good to leave something unexplored that would be a challenge for a different day.
The baby GS Adventure is just a goat on such hills – I just made sure to aim the front wheel away from the ruts and gently feathered both brakes to keep speed in control as I came back down the grades. We had plenty of grip, of balance and good braking control. Both wheels stayed hooked up, pointed with nothing the least bit slidy, skiddy or in any way weird. The GS clearly did not feel like napping today.
Back safely off the grade I drank in the other-worldly qualities of the campsites along the canyon bottom – I can definitely see myself pitching a tent here sometime in the future. Tractoring back up out of the canyon I began to appreciate what a good trailbike this GS really was – lots of good suspension travel – 100 lbs. of bike less than the big bore adventures – and enough motor to get the job done in an environment where outright speed was not really part of the picture.
Too soon I was back past the Overlook, back out on Oldtown Orleans, and headed towards home. I took a scenic detour past Bill’s Place, because I am nosy and just wanted to see what was goin’ on. Bill’s parking lot has little barn in the middle of it – I sense during the annual Motorcycle Rally that take place here it serves as an outside draft taphead. As I rolled up on the place, the bikes parked on the right side of the barn were, without exception, all Harley-Davidsons – resplendent in clean, custom paintjobs, dripping in chrome. On the left side of the barn, though, were all Adventure Motorcycles – a herd of various GSes, KTMs and Hondas – all festooned in crash bars, alucases and utter filth. The Tribes were completely segregated out in the parking lot.
I genuinely hope they were doing better inside the bar.
After tiptoeing back up Orleans Road – it was hotter now than it had been earlier – I got back to I-68, headed east and wicked it up – where I’d been cruising at about 72 -75 mpg, we were probably now closer to 80.
Even this hot, the air coming though the perf and vents felt good.
I took a quick pit stop back in Hancock – The Blue Goose Market there makes some banging homemade beef sticks – they’re a treat that I’m allowed to eat, so I stocked up and grabbed a fresh peach flavored cider. I had a stick and drained the 20-ounce cider in the parking lot and swung aboard and gassed it – the Blue Goose’s parking lot is literally on the I-70 onramp.
I made another market stop in Brunswick for some dinner food and then headed home. After 170 miles in the heat it felt good to get back to an air-conditioned inside. I drained off the rest of my half gallon of water from the saddlebags and 2 more pints besides, before I was hydrated enough to get into a much-needed beer. Seems I’d used at least a few new muscles this afternoon, so the beer was, of course, purely for medicinal purposes.
With Sweet D still out in her tent, Finn and I had Man Food that night – a bagged salad and sweet potato fries, and a Hemp’s sirloin I’d had stashed in the freezer. I can set beef on fire with the best of them.
We ate well and slept well that night.
The next day, I actually washed the GS. I’m pretty sure that washing one is some sort of Terminal Violation of the GS Rider’s code, but I’ve never been a joiner, anyway.
The amount of soil that resulted from that Outré GS Washing made an alluvial deposit down the entire length of my driveway, along with a simulated miniature river delta where the drainage pools at the bottom. After three major thunderstorms, its all still there.
I was suitably impressed at how good the GS looks when it had actually been cleaned. I believe that believing that GSs are actually attractive motorcycles will one day be listed as an acknowledged mental illness in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, but until such time, I remain classified as sane despite my obvious affliction.
After I wash any motorcycle, I’ll always run it to get everything warmed though and make sure that no water remains in places where it should not be. Upon starting the GS, it was clearly running better cold than I ever remember it doing – I geared up and took it for a run around the valley, and it was fueling better – taking throttle predicably from low revs and with the temperature down — than it ever has.
My old buddy Paul – the Spirit of Sideling Hill — used to always joke about giving a motorcycle ‘An Italian Tune-up’ – a phase that he only used in combination with the universally understood motorcyclist’s gesture for WFO.
There is clearly more to that than he was letting on.
If there’s one single notable thing about the Internet, it’s that it has provided an immediate direct connection between each and every person who has had their motorcycle break in some sort of seemingly weird, unique and unrepeatable way.
There are probably other notable things, too, but this one sticks out in my mind, for some reason.
One goes to one’s normal search engine, asks a question like ‘WTAF is up with my chirping muffler bearings?’ and discovers that – far from being unique, that there is an entire Internet Forum dedicated to homebrew fixes for exactly that.
That, in short, they all do that.
I’d been hearing a noise coming from the front end of the LT, lately.
It was one of those noises that burrows its way into the exact center of your brain – making you utterly distracted and bugged in almost every way.
Every way, of course, except taking tools in hand and taking things apart until the culprit is found.
This one was a little flaprattle of a thing – hitting a bump was a symphony in something moving that wasn’t supposed to be moving. Had it been a clunkthunky kind of noise – signifying something heavy and thus important – think brake calipers or the telelever ball joint – tools would have been taken in hand. Smart odds were some bit of body panel having come partially unmoored – I’d stew on it now and figure it out later.
The flaprattle had become noticeably flaprattlier, so the stew was ready.
I went out to the garage, and grabbed the front fender in my hands. I tried to move the front edge of the fender, and it moved easily and quite a bit.
“No prob,” I thunk. “Bolts are loose.’
I grabbed a ratchet and a three millimeter allen bit, and went to see if the fasteners needed tightening.
Only they didn’t.
When I moved the fender again, with a strong LED flashlight in my hand, one could see some fine cracks which were allowing most of the front fender to move while everything LT else did not.
It was time to head to the search engine and find my people.
It took all of about 4 seconds.
It seems, that during one period of their design evolution, BMW had a thing for partially shrouded front wheels – think K1. Those partially shrouded front wheels all end up having a visual fold where the front fender would wrap around the front suspension stanchions – whether fork legs, telelever sliders, or duolever girders. And that fold, perhaps unsurprisingly, became a perfect place for stress fractures to start.
Which they did, with a startling degree of regularity.
On my Generation 1 LT – from 1999 to 2003 – according to the BMW Luxury Touring forum, they all did that.
The way we know this is that the fender on the 2004 was redesigned to such a significant degree that the parts don’t interchange, which, by itself is a pretty unusual occurrence for BMW.
The other little bit of data was that if allowed to stew for long enough, one good solid bump would eventually allow the fender to crack completely across its width, allowing it to break in two and become a little aerodynamic freeway missile, which, among a list of other negatives, was likely to make it far more challenging to repair.
The upside of They All Do That Syndrome is that there were many narratives on how to effect a home shop repair – most of which involved commercially available Fiberglass repair kits. Since I have owned BMW fairings and saddlebags for what is apparently a very long time, I am well experienced in the use of such kits.
One trip to the WalMart auto department later, I was ready to Rock and Stop Rattling.
Four allen bolts had the fender in my hand. I washed the underside of the fender thoroughly, and then used some coarse sandpaper to put some tooth on the area that would receive the patch.
I pulled the small bolt of fiberglass cloth and cut four shaped pieces to cover the areas around the side mounting bolt holes and put two layers over the center of the seam on the fender.
I pulled on some surgical gloves, mixed up two ounces of fiberglass resin and hardener, and then went to work with a small throwaway paint brush that was waiting for just such duty.
I brushed some resin around the bolt holes, concentrating on forcing a little into the areas of the existing cracks, and placed the shaped patches into the coat. I used the brush to saturate the cloth and put on a top layer of the resin. I repeated the process twice with the longer pieces that ran across the entire width of the fender’s fatal fold. I ran a final layer of resin across the entire width of the repair – consuming the last of the premixed fiberglass resin.
Total time of repair process – three minutes tops.
Two and a half hours later, the ‘glass had cured out.
The next morning, I bolted the whole fender assembly back up and went for a checkride. Things were rock solid – no flap, no rattle nor thunk. Taking the fender edge in my hand after the ride, the whole assembly felt more rigid than it had been when it was new – understanding that every time the bike needed a front tire or brake service I’d had to remove and replace that fender, so I knew what it felt like.
I was happy to have made such short and effective work of the repair, and happier still not to have gotten whacked in the eye with bifurcated fender bits while hauling ass down some remote country road.
They may all do that, but mine doesn’t any more.
If you have one of these generation bikes though – say 1998 to 2005, including RTs and RSs boxer and brick – you might just want to check your fender bolt holes.
One gets to the point where one craves excitement.
One tires of the mundane, the repetition of the dull.
One needs something unrefined, elemental — loud, low, agile and fast. One needs the sensations of something way over the top, where far too much is exactly perfect.
When I find myself needing to wind the broad throttle wide open and to feel the rush again and again, that is when my R90S comes to the road.
I was ready to spend some time getting low over the front wheel, and feeling it gyro in my hands as time and time again it skimmed above the pavement.
I was craving excitement. And excitement was exactly what I got.
This is one of those dispatches where operational security, good manners and self-preservation all dictate that some non-critical narrative details be omitted.
The key figure in this tale was as mature, rational, considerate and fair to me as I could ever hope for, a quality that seems to have become even rarer in these dangerous days than it used to be.
Smudging over a few of the details to protect both the good and the evil ones here won’t detract from the story a bit.
Skies were the kind of bright unbroken blue North Carolinians tend to wrongly claim for themselves. Maryland, it seemed, was getting its annual one day of spring, and throwing low humidity 72 degrees in the mix to go with it. Conditions were perfect. I was as ready as anybody can be. It was time to do what the big twin roadster was born to do.
It took two stabs at the starter before the big twin – suffering with a slightly flattened battery — caught. Before 15 seconds had gone by, though, the old boxer had cleared its throat and come to an even idle. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one that was ready.
I gently rolled the old girl out of the neighborhood and headed for the highway.
I did a few of the local goat paths – narrow, winding, smack one’s shins off of small, low hanging branches kinds of roads. I worked the S back and forth underneath me – the bike’s Michelins have perfectly rounded profiles, and the bike and suspension were completely agile, linear and responsive underneath me. My body took to the warming conditions as well – shoulders, elbows, knees and back that were sometimes known to object were fully chill and onboard this day – “All conditions nominal, Captain.”
And as the big boxer engine became fully warm, oil thinned out, carbs and venturis heated through — it acquired punch. Riding more modern, emissions restricted motorcycles, real punch is something in short supply. Engines may have good midrange torque, or a nice level output as revs continue to climb, but good, old fashioned, low rpm punch – that pulls the front wheel effortlessly clear of the ground, and makes the whole experience resemble being shot out of a gun – that analog experience is pretty thin on the ground these days.
Once in that zone – blam! – one just wants to stay there, and get shot out of that gun again and again.
So that’s what I did – Blam! Blam! Blam!
I started to seek out more open roadways – straights were longer, speeds continued to climb.
In this quest for more sporting horizons, let us just say that I left my home legal jurisdiction. My home part of the world has 4 states and 8 counties within 10 miles of the shop – which one I found myself in is not material.
It is a road I know very well and that I’ve written about frequently.
It is possible that my willingness to share may have contributed to what happened next.
The entire Mid-Atlantic is peppered with 90/90 combination corners that thread the property lines of old, Colonial era farms. These 90/90 bang bang combos are great fun on a motorcycle – one needs to haul down from speed, set up for a tight bend, power out and then do it again in the other direction.
If one is in the groove, its like Dancing with The Boxer. If one isn’t, it can quickly turn into A Random Corn Sampling expedition or worse, a Combined Dendrology and Metal Sculpture Class.
I was in the groove. Or at least I was, until a tall man in very nice boots stepped directly into my path, and indicated – in a manner that did not appear to brook much conversation – that I should turn into the well-concealed side street in which he’d positioned himself. Or rather, positioned himself and his Harley Davidson Authority Model.
“Please do whatever you need to do to settle yourself, Sir. Then I’ll need your license and registration.”
My sunny day turned immediately emotionally rainy. Sad trombones were heard.
I located a safe place out of the flow of any potential traffic, kill switched the S, dismounted, placed the bike onto its main stand and removed my helmet.
“My documents are located in an internal pocket of my leather jacket Sir. I will unfasten my jacket and remove them.”
I unzipped my Vanson and unzipped the internal document pocket. The ziplock bag where I keep my registrations was not there. I had left the pouch in the same pocket of my ‘Stich after my recent trip to North Carolina.
“My apologies, Sir. I own 5 motorcycles and keep all my registrations together in a document pouch. I left that pouch in a different riding suit.”
“No problem, Sir. What year is this motorcycle?”
“Model is R90S?”
The officer visually validated that my registration stickers were valid. I may have been imagining it, but it appeared he also checked the condition of my rear Michelin, which was so new it still had its manufacturing nubs out at the edge of the tread.
“My radar unit clocked you at 61 mph in a 35 zone. I’ll be back with you in a minute.”
The Officer walked back to his bike to run my records on his tablet unit.
My brain swam in turbulent seas of confusion. I walked back out to the roadside while my records were being pulled. On the far side of the road there was a new speed limit sign where I don’t recall one having been. On the side of the road I had been travelling, I could not see one, but I had to assume there was a new one there.
Upon the officer’s return, I asked, “Did I miss a new speed limit sign? Has the previous limit been recently adjusted?”
“Yes, Sir. We are responding to resident complaints of speeding in this area and have recently reduced the speed limit and are conducting special enforcement operations.”
“OK, sir. In <name of jurisdiction redacted> speeds of more than <amount redacted> over the posted limit are a chargeable criminal offence. Failure to produce your registration is an additional charge. Your driving record has not had any points on it for more than 20 years. I am going to charge you with Failing to Obey a Highway Sign – this fine for this charge can be prepaid without a court appearance, and it is not considered a moving violation that is exported to your home state under our reciprocity agreement, so your operator’s license will not show any moving violation points. Do you have any questions for me?”
“No, Sir. None.”
The Officer completed filling out the summons, and I signed to indicate receipt.
I geared back up, fired the boxer back up, and left the scene of the not-exactly-a-crime at a somewhat more subdued pace.
Consider another one of my favorite corners officially ruined.
I’ll admit that I artificially extended my ride home – it was too pretty a day to have my emotional state blazed by the excess of adrenaline and the bummer of the unplanned expense.
I had all but fully regained my previously chipper and enthusiastic state of mind by the time the S rolled to a stop in front of the shop.
It didn’t stop me from going inside and sitting down at a computer before I had even removed my jacket, though, navigating to the web site of the district court, and throwing down my hundred backs before anyone had the chance to change their mind.
I’d have preferred to receive the Infamous Leg Lamp, but I was completely OK with this in its place.