We thought the rain was pretty bad so we ducked beneath an underpass for a brief respite. About the time we began to make a run for the off-ramp, we were bombarded with a hailstorm that turned into snow.
Well, it almost worked out that way. We were enveloped by monsoon-like rain almost immediately after hitting Interstate 40. We were soaked within seconds so we stopped beneath an underpass to don our raingear. Semi-trailers were raising spray into impenetrable walls of water, so we decided to seek shelter at a nearby gas station. Desperate to get out of this mess, we rode through the downpour the wrong way up an entrance ramp. At the same time the rain turned to hail, and the little white balls bouncing off our helmets supplied bemusement and fear in equal doses. The hail thankfully stopped shortly thereafter, but the precipitation now turned to snow, making the next quarter-mile a dicey, icy trek.
Happy to get out of the storm alive, we pondered our fate while shivering under the gas station's leaky canopy. The tempest mercifully blew through soon after we dried up and fueled the bikes.
Back on the road and even further behind schedule, we hightailed it down I-40 before branching off onto a section of historic Route 66. Unfortunately, this wasn't the fun, twisty part of the famous road that I was expecting, so this little sidetrack set us further back.
Neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail shall deter us from finishing our test. Plus, we didn't really have a choice, as these bikes were our only ticket home.
However, our quintet of bikes continued to coddle and entertain us. Now that the Caponord had flown the coop, each remaining bike had its own distinct personality. The GS is tough like a Jeep but comfier. The Multistrada is sporty and lithe. The Ulysses is grunty and surprisingly plush. The V-Strom is also plush but more powerful. The KTM has agreeable ergos despite its brick-like seat. "You might just as well have been sitting on a rock as that seat," Lavine weighs in.
Fuel stops bring out some niggles on a couple of bikes. The Buell's gas cap must be removed while filling, which is an inconvenience in a world of pivoting filler caps. Also, the KTM's dual tanks that straddle the sides of its engine necessitate filling two tanks. To avoid potential engine damage when filling the bike on its sidestand, the right side must
be filled before the left. The other problem with the lanky orange beast is that it inexplicably doesn't come with a fuel gauge! In lieu of a gauge, the Adventure has a countdown fuel tripmeter, similar to those seen on Yamahas for several years. On the plus side, its 5.81-gallon capacity is second only to the Caponord's vast 6.6-gallon tank and about equal with the V-Strom's 5.80 gallons.
As for fuel consumption, the Buell averaged a class-high 42.1 mpg, which somewhat offsets its smallest-of-the-group 4.4-gallon capacity. The BMW and Suzuki were close behind with 41-and-change mpg, while the remaining three bikes averaged consumption in the 39-mpg zone. Regarding the Multistrada, we were shocked when its low-fuel light consistently lit around 120-130 miles; then we found out the Duc's 5.3-gallon tank has a huge 1.7 gallon reserve! Notably, the MTS tank is slightly bigger (0.1 gallon) than the GS's.
The long journey of Day 4 ended in Laughlin, Nevada, where our testers enjoyed the lack of snow and hail.
Our chase of the setting sun landed us in Laughlin, Nevada, for our last night on the road. Meanwhile, Roderick was pounding out the miles on the Aprilia. He would later tell us that the Capo was a cooperative touring platform for the open road, making his personal 12-hour interstate adventure a comfy one with little to complain about.
Our final day on the road would consist mostly of piling up miles on multi-lane highways, so we thought it best to start the day off with some twisty roads to confirm our impressions of the group's handling qualities. So we headed back into Arizona to hook up with the sinuous part of Route 66.
Again, the Ducati is the steed to be on when it's time to unravel winding roads, offering sure-footed stability, the best street brakes of the bunch, and its willing Desmo powerplant. Choosing the next most preferable bike in this environment was a close call, with the Beemer's solid chassis and anti-dive Telelever fork matching the solidity of the Buell's sporty and willing platform. The KTM and V-Strom are fine at an average pace, but their softish long-travel suspenders don't offer the pitch and wheel control of the above-mentioned bikes. The Caponord was rated last for its wimpy suspension, imprecise feel and laboring engine. For the safety-conscious among you, the Aprilia is the only one with standard anti-lock brakes. Our GS was fitted with BMW's optional ABS system. Both systems can be switched off for dirt work, though the button-pushing machinations required to switch them off proved to be puzzling for some of us.
The Multistrada proved its mastery of the pavement once things returned to asphalt, as Ducatis often do.
Our cowboy delusions from Bar 10 Ranch were revisited at our lunch stop in Oatman, Arizona, an authentic Wild West town replete with swinging-door saloons, an unpaved Main Street and free-roaming burros. To further replicate the old west experience, locals put on a humorous dispute in the center of town that erupts in a mock gunfight. If you're ever in the area, don't miss out on Oatman and its nearby exciting roads.
With time as our omnipresent enemy, we hightailed it west out of Oatman via Route 66 to Interstate 40. From here on out, speeds rarely dipped under 75 mph until we hit L.A.'s insufferable freeway traffic.
For high-speed touring, the KTM Adventure S was usually the last bike picked. It has less vibration damping through its thin handgrips and lofty rigid seat, the latter making low-speed maneuvers a challenge when a foot needs to find the ground 36 inches below. Following our tour, we got a chance to test the standard Adventure with its different seat, and it proved to be much more comfortable - less sloped forward and cushier, not to mention 1.4 inches lower. (That bike was also fitted with a super-handy tail trunk that looks remarkably to that on our Ulysses test bike, well worth the $200 extra cost.)