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Running on Fumes

Memorable Ride: Ortega Highway

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Late last week I returned from a six-day trek down to our So-Cal office in Irvine, California. It’s a long trip on I-5 and often slow going, depending on the weather down through the Siskiyou Mountains. And LA traffic doesn’t exactly speed things up either… However, I enjoy testing bikes down south. It's easy to see why Southern California supports such a large riding community as the temperate climate supports year-round riding and some of the nation’s best roads are well within a tank of gas. One such road is the Ortega Highway.
Suzuki-B-King-22.jpg
Our first taste of the Ortega Highway came aboard the Suzuki B-King and a barren road thanks to Superbowl Sunday.

Also known as California State Route 74, the Ortega Highway connects the seaside town of San Juan Capistrano with the Inland Empire and Riverside County’s Lake Elsinore. The middle section of the road, climbing up through the Cleveland National Forest, is particularly windy and pleasing aboard a motorcycle.

A main thoroughfare from Orange to Riverside County, the route isn’t without its drawbacks and can often be congested – at least by motorcycle play ride standards. Yet, I’ve had uncanny luck getting wide open runs on Ortega, which has made the route stand out all the more in my mind.

The first lucky occurrence happened two years back during my first-ever taste of SR 74. Testing the Yamaha V-MAX vs. the Suzuki B-King our day proved eventful as myself and fellow MCUSA test riders attempted to unleash the performance capabilities of those hulking street bikes. We managed to keep our licenses intact, somehow, benefitting from nearly empty traffic during that Sunday ride. The road was so quiet and surface so pristine, I broke off for a couple extra laps up and down a particularly curvy stretch while my comrades booked it back to HQ. The B-King and I were carving without a care in the half-light of approaching dusk. There were literally no cars in sight to impede our whims – the outside world had shut down temporarily to watch the Super Bowl. Trust me, next year DVR the big game on Super Sunday and take a quick spin instead!

This most recent trip proved just as lucky, but it took me a while to figure it out. I made multiple trips on the Ortega as part of a testing loop for Motorcycle USA’s soon to be released 234 Middleweight Streetfighter Comparison. The first pass was aboard the BMW F800R. The familiarity of hitting one of my favorite stretches of asphalt turned to disappointment when road construction seemingly got in the way. Traffic had bunched up behind a one-way detour, which required waiting 5-10 minutes for cars to ferry back and forth behind a pilot car as road crews removed debris. I patiently endured the wait before my blockheaded brain recalled California’s unique lane-sharing rules.

The following trips up and down Ortega weren’t so dull! The road work delay was welcomed, as I greedily butted my way up to the front of the stopped traffic queue via lane-splitting. I was beaming under helmet when the pilot car arrived, more than happy to wait my turn as once he gave way the road ahead was cleared for miles and miles.

The delay worked out perfectly, with me and other riders hip to the lane splitting benefit, enjoying traffic free road right up to the summit. After that a stellar view of Lake Elsinore from the eastern side is accompanied by another epic stretch of winding asphalt on the decent, including a near 360-degree 25-mph corner on which riders can really crank over the bike.


Check out more details of the Ortega Highway in MCUSA's Motorcycle Ride Guide.
Having descended, it was time to turn around and do the whole thing all over again. And again. And again… Though I did fortunately back off the pace right before a 20-plus contingent of Honda ST1300-mounted County Sherriff passed by in the opposite direction, presumably on a training ride (the subject of a future blog…).

It wasn’t until Caltrans road crews punched out and left at 3 p.m. in anticipation of the afternoon commute that our SR 74 motorcycle hack was spoiled. Oh that there were more traffic delays on the Oretga Highway!

The Ortega Highway is just one of the many rides featured in Motorcycle USA’s Motorcycle Ride Guide. Readers can research potential riding areas, contribute comments and tips on existing entries and even suggest their own favorite routes. Tell us, what’s your memorable road?

Post Tags: Ortega Highway, SR 74
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Comments
iliketoys March 2, 2011 02:57 PM
I love this route. I'm lucky enough to live right near it. It can be crowded at times, but if you can wake up a little earlier on the weekend, you can usually get some good runs before everyone else starts to crowd the road.