The first leg of our trip was a northward stint along I-5. Ultimately we would head out to the sandy beaches and beautiful lighthouses on the Pacific Coast, but first we had to endure the butt-numbing pavement pounding.
With fuel tanks topped off and our riding jackets zipped tight, we actually managed to hit the road within 15 minutes of our predetermined starting time. I could have written off the entire trip as a success at that point but our quartet still had a four-day expedition filled with blurred scenery, amazing meals and enough bench-racing to fill the pages of a small novel.
As any good road trip invariably does, we had to log a few miles on the freeway in order to connect the more desirable roads and that, unfortunately, was how we were forced to begin our journey. With the wind-blasting, helmet-buffeting, butt-numbing stretch of Interstate 5 between Medford and Oakland, OR staring us down, there was nothing much to look forward to as we cut through the morning chill except a hundred miles of curve-filled freeway. Things were most bleak aboard the Ducati. I had been riding on these bikes back and forth to the office for the past couple weeks, and from the perspective of an urban commuter there isn’t much better than the Multistrada. Lightweight, zippy motor, a reportedly low seat height and the fact that our 1100s model is dripping with sex appeal made this bike the most-often used amongst our stable of touring steeds. However, this isn’t a City Street Shootout, and so I-5 became an instant pain in our ass – literally.
“Now here’s a manufacturer who is clueless when it comes to building (touring) seats,” reports a tenderized Lavine.
The Ducati was punishing on boring interstate riding, but once we hit the curves it was all fun and games with the ultra-nimble Multistrada 1100s.
Not only does the Duc have the least comfortable seat for long-distance travel, but the quick-handling Italian took a little extra getting used to in the twisties compared to the less aggressive remaining trio. Where stability seems to be the predominant term in describing the BMW and Suzuki, agility better describes the Multistrada as well as the Tiger. The Triumph also garnered reviews for its steady demeanor while the quick-turning 1100s, though hardly sketchy, drew the occasional critique – even being labelled twitchy by a couple test riders.
Flicking the Multistrada side to side is a breeze with the slim profile, 458-pound tank-empty weight and 57.6-inch wheelbase adding up to one agile adventure bike. Spec sheets show the Duc has the highest seat height of all the bikes at 33.5 inches, but ask any of our riders and they would say that it feels the lowest. Even our shortest tester had no problems reaching the ground with both feet, and the rider is placed on top of the bike more than any other machine that really lends to the sportbike sensation. It was even described as supermoto-ish compared to the very tour-oriented stature of the remaining machines. An arrangement of 24 degrees of rake and 3.6 inches of trail give the Multistrada the second-sharpest steering geometry in our test behind the 23.2 degrees/3.4 inches of the Tiger. Honestly, we found that a little less nimbleness is actually a positive trait on a touring bike. Still, the Duc offers up the most sporting canyon-carving performance and still manages to offer a decent long-distance platform.
The Tiger takes a bit of the nimble nature of the Duc and adds some extra stability and comfort to the equation. At first it seems like the seat might be overly soft like the Suzuki’s, but the butt pad offers just the right combination of firmness for sporty riding yet is still plush enough to avoid irritating the rhoids lurking within.
“Whether cruising along the highway, carving the canyon roads, or even hitting some gravel or dirt road,” reports Haldane, “the Triumph was second-best in each category, beaten on the highway by the BMW and maybe tied with the Ducati in canyons.”
Even with a set of hard luggage, the Triumph is a very sporty machine. We found the Tiger not only to be steady and comfortabe, but fun in the twisties as well.
We experienced an excellent sample of the bikes’ turn-gobbling potential once we hopped off I-5 and tapped into the twisty Territorial Highway at the Curtin exit. We rode through Lorane and onto Veneta, we hit our first lunch stop at a quaint church turned deli. The food was heavenly. From there we headed westward on Hwy 126 towards Florence and a ride up the beautiful coast along the 101. We spent a leisurely afternoon scouting for photo ops and soaking in the scenery of the Pacific Coast. Passing multiple dune recreation areas along the way we resisted the urge to try our hand at hillclimbing these beasts – but it might have been fun. Eventually we stopped for the night in Newport, a nice little town roughly 13 miles south of our first scheduled photo op at Depoe Bay.
Lavine beat all of us to the punch and was up at the crack of dawn on Day 2, but while he was out strolling the beach, Robin and I took off for Depoe Bay in order to catch up with some of my relatives who had promised to set us up with a killer breakfast. On our way to the diner, we rode right past a sign explaining exactly what’s so special about this town of 1363 residents. Depoe Bay happens to be the world’s smallest harbor with only six acres of moorage available. There isn’t a lot of room for yachts, but there is a small set of docks where a steady trickle of fishermen and watersport enthusiasts tie-off their vessels.
My aunt and uncle made good on their promise and about the time we were finishing our meal Tom and Joe were crossing the Hwy 101 bridge that spans the mouth of the harbor. A quick trip to the dock for visual documentation and we were back on the road for the start of Day 2. After swapping bikes the first time, Haldane stole the Suzuki in order to make use of its large, sturdy luggage rack. It is a perfect platform to capture some rear-facing video. Though it showed up for the test without any storage capacity, the V-Strom easily has the best rack for strapping cargo in place.
Depoe Bay was our first stop on Day 2. The miniscule harbor was our last chance to stretch our legs before heading into the state capitol.
Our first major dilemma of the day came into play later that afternoon. Though we knew Hwy 20 would provide some awesome riding, it would require us to spend even more time on the freeway later in the ride. In order to reach Salem where the Oregon state capitol building is located without trudging through traffic we stayed on 101 North until Lincoln City, where we headed back inland via Hwy 18 before picking up Hwy 22 to the Capitol. We rolled through fertile farm lands and even passed a town called Buell, which made us question whether or not we would catch any flack for excluding the Ulysses. Once we got into Salem we tested the machines’ U-turn capabilities for an hour or two as we tried to navigate ourselves towards our second destination without a GPS or a clue.
Once we did make it there we were happy to get out of the gear and soak in the surroundings. The marble-covered capitol building is beautiful in its own right but it’s crowned by the Oregon Pioneer, a hollow 22-foot-tall statue standing studiously at the peak. Its golden finish reflected the summer sun with a blinding sheen that encouraged Lavine to shoot a gig of static shots before we knew what hit us. As glorious as an 8.5-ton, axe-wielding golden man is, we eventually dragged Tom back to reality, thumbed the starters and took our leave. The dreaded interstate awaited us.