Caponord-ing Through Texas Hill Country

December 23, 2009
Neale Bayly
By Neale Bayly
Contributing Editor | Articles | Articles RSS

With 37 years in the saddle, Neale Bayly has ridden motorcycles in 45 different countries around the world. Until it was sold to Fox Sports, Bayly was the motorcycle editor for Speed Channel, where his 2013 reality series "Neale Bayly Rides" made its debut. The series documented a charity ride to a Peruvian orphanage, which his charity, Wellspring International, supports. The British-born Bayly currently lives in Charlotte, NC, and spends his free time with his two sons, Luke and Patrick, hanging out and riding dirt bikes.

The sign for the City of Utopia,  Texas says it best.
Who knew Utopia could be found on the back of the Aprilia Caponord deep in the heart of Texas…

A Quick Ride in the Texas Hill Country…

Jammed into my sardine can seat 30,000 feet above the earth with no leg room, uncomfortably hot, and sandwiched between two strangers, a child’s endless screaming is eating into the fabric of my sanity. Accompanied by the dull, mindless, roar of the jet engines, my mind wanders back to the wide-open Texas Hill Country, asking why anyone would choose airline travel when there are things called motorcycles available.

Reconnecting with the freedom, the roller coaster roads, the multi-colored vistas gliding by, I could almost smell the BBQ that scented the air of the small towns we rode through. In the saddle of a motorcycle creative thoughts flow and ideas germinate like seeds fed on the nutritious water of stimulation. The powerful pull of the big V-twin engine, the twists and turns of the two-lane highway, the animated conversation over coffee at some small café in a country town with a population of 387, all feed this creative process.

Having flown into Austin Texas a few days prior, the mission for this trip was to rack up some miles on Aprilia’s Caponord. An old favorite of mine, the bike takes its name from the northern most part of the Europe, “North Cape” in English, or “Nord Kapp” in Norwegian, depending on your

Our guide Robert  enjoys the chance to test the Caponords water wings.
The Aprilia Caponord works well both on and off-road. A recent trek through Texas and its multiple types of terrain saw the Caponord take it all in stride.

preference. And the bike always conjures up wonderful images of that distant horizon in my mind. I rode the length of Norway to watch the midnight sun there one time on a KLR650.

Futuristically styled, powered by one of the silkiest, smoothest, V-Twin engines to grace the Aprilia line up, and as comfortable as your favorite La-Z-Boy, I have eaten up some serious miles in the broad saddle of Italy’s version of the two-wheel Range Rover. With a fair portion of those miles spent off-road, I am also very familiar with the bikes pleasant manners when the pavement ends. I don’t think it could compete head to head with a BMW R1200GS, and some of the plastic parts look mighty vulnerable, but with a little caution there is much fun to be had on fire trails or country backroads.

A friend of mine, Alice, decided to join us, as she quickly decided the predicted 70-degree temperatures were preferable to scraping ice at her Oregon home. This would give me the chance to see how the beast performed two-up, and most certainly improve the content of the photography. Flying in to Austin, we picked the bikes up at the headquarters of AF1 Racing, the online Aprilia gurus, and blasted out of town in the warm Texas sunshine.

With just a couple of days, we opted to leave the hard luggage off and travel light with the minimum of gear, and we were soon rolling past the Texas State Capitol and exiting the city. With the Caponord feeling like an old friend, I re-

Bandera  Texas is hailed as The Cowboy Capital of the World and offers horseback riding  ranch tours  and every Wednesday  Friday and Saturday nights - Honky Tonks.
The small town of Bandera, Texas is dubbed “The Cowboy Capital of the World.” We arrived on Sunday, but on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, one can experience a good old fashioned Honky Tonk.

familiarized myself with the instrument panel as we ducked and weaved our way through the outskirts of Austin. Hitting I-35 we were soon gliding along at a steady 80 mph when out of nowhere the Interstate turned into parking lot. Bumper to bumper traffic with cars stuffed to the gunnels with toy animals, kids, dogs and Grandparents, kept us idling along for a while before my guide for the trip, Robert Pandya, took us off to some quieter country roads. Later in the day as the setting sun was painting the wide-open Texas skyline burnt orange we pulled into San Antonio for the night. This gave us the opportunity to stroll the river walk and check out the laid-back nightlife over a leisurely dinner at an outside restaurant.

Exiting San Antonio after the mandatory Alamo drive by took time, and by the time we had cleared the brightly colored Latin American community on the edge of town the temperature had warmed to a very comfortable 74. We soon picked up SR-16 north, and settled in to enjoy the scenery on the old, rough two-lane road. There was not much traffic, and the countryside soon opened up to low, worn hills, covered with small tightly packed Texas Red Oaks and an abundance of Ashe Juniper bushes. There was a lot more grass and color than I expected, and the sky was full of mackerel stripe clouds moving along on the stout breeze. At the helm the wind was hitting me squarely in the helmet area, and the big smile in my rearview mirror told me all was well in the passenger area.

Pulling over for a break in the small town of Bandera, we enjoyed a stroll on the old fashioned sidewalks as we peered inside the curiosity shops. There is a neat bike friendly restaurant called the “Old Spanish Trail Restaurant” made famous in Kawasaki adds a few years back, but arriving on a Sunday everything was closed. Back in the saddle we

This flood gauge shows how little water it takes to cause flooding in this area.
In this area of Texas, the water can wreak havoc according to this flood gauge.

meandered onto Ranch road 470 and were soon miles away from civilization. Out among the quiet hills I noticed the odd farmhouse or dwelling and wondered what people must do out there. Learn to be content with less, to look, listen, smell, observe, to appreciate the beauty and space around them, as they pity the poor souls passing overhead at 500 mph hustling their way to the next meeting I guess.

Behind the bars there was no stressing or hustling, other than straightening a few delightful sets of twisties, and right around lunchtime the Frio Canyon Lodge materialized serving a full buffet in the Texas limestone and cedar built restaurant. Surrounded by more dead wildlife mounted on the walls than I have ever seen, owner Kate Ross told us the lodge was built in 1941. As a big destination for motorcyclists, it has ten large rooms available and the tastiest home cooked meal I have eaten in a long while.

Navigating our swollen bellies behind the gas tanks, we left Kate and the small town of Leaky behind, heading to the Lost Maples State Park via a quick stop in Utopia. With the leaves turning brilliant colors against the blue sky, we had without a doubt picked the best time of year to visit. A couple of hours later, rolling along some narrow back roads, we stopped to check out one of the many water crossings we had been passing. These show that the water can rise up to six feet in places; it must be a scary time when it rains here.

The powerful pull of the big V-twin engine is enough for some up on one fun.
The powerful pull of the Aprilia’s big V-twin engine is enough for some “up on one” fun.

Then without warning the road ended and the next adventure began. A road sign said it was possible to get back to Leaky, so we bumped and slithered our way along a gravel and rock road for a few miles. Passing through a few gates, and fording small rivers, it was just the most beautiful part of the ride as we plunged deeper and deeper into the mountains. Enjoying the unspoiled landscape a final gate blocked our way, and the friendliest family you are ever likely to run across in the middle of nowhere.

Hopping off the bikes to do the intro thing, we were soon on our way back to their house for a cold drink, and to watch the Texas white-tailed deer that proliferate this area feeding. Sitting with our hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Moorman, we learned the road went no further. This was not a problem as travel is about spontaneity, so with the sun sinking low behind the steep ridges beside us, we back tracked out to the highway and blasted for the small German town of Fredericksburg to find a hotel.

The following day saw a cold, grim start with a forecast of heavy rains, so we cut our trip somewhat short and headed back toward Austin. Passing through flatter, scrubbier, more open country we ended up crossing the Colorado River at lunchtime, where we stopped for a feed at the famous Blue Bonnet Café in Marble Falls. As the only bridging point for 40 miles, it is a regular destination ride for motorcyclists

The park is most often crowded during the fall because of the multitude of colors that Mother Nature displays.
Lost Maples State Park is a “must see” in the fall months, but be ready for crowds looking at the foliage.

taking a day ride in the area from Austin.

Skirting alongside the Colorado River, the weatherman was making liars out of us as we sweated our way through the afternoon sunshine. The views through the trees were breathtaking, and the tight roads kept the smiles set on full.

With just a few miles left, we lingered over a cold drink at the Oasis Restaurant absorbing the magnificent views across the river not wanting the trip to come to an end. We had sampled a little bit of every type of riding in a very short space of time, with the fascinating backdrop of the Texas Hill Country for company. The only thing that could have made the trip better was if I could have ridden the Caponord home.

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