I've long believed that Southern California is the mecca for motorcycle riding, and I affirmed that belief yesterday with a ride to Big Bear and back, along the famed "Rim of the World Scenic Byway".
The byway is nearly 100 miles of some of the best riding in SoCal, taking you to about 9,000ft in some places, with a full plate of switchbacks and sweepers to sharpen your skills. Much of the road runs along steep mountain sides that provide breathtaking views of the entire Southland.
It actually runs along three different highways, starting out as highway 138 at Cajon Junction, and I-15. Then it switches on to highway 18 until you get out of Big Bear City, where it switches to highway 38.
To end the ride on a high note, take the time to go to Oak Glen, and have yourself some apple pie a la mode. Oak Glen is known for its apple orchards, and provides some really nice twisties along Oak Glen Road.
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I remember when I first rode my Yamaha Road Star along the Rim of the World Scenic Byway, I was quite humbled by the tight twisties and found myself nervously slowing down at each curve, hoping not to lose control. I remember that time coming up to an accident scene with several bikers huddled around another biker who had lost control of their motorcycle and slammed into a boulder. That scene always comes back to me when I ride the Byway.
But yesterday, I took the Road Star again, but this time found myself anxiously wanting every curve that it could throw at me. Feeling the pull of the centrifugal forces had become a high that I longed for. Riding a cruiser, you sit "in" the motorcycle, rather than perched atop, and this connection to the bike makes me feel like the motorcycle itself.
The motorcycle gods must have been smiling on us that day, because we encountered some of lightest traffic we ever saw along the Byway. Riding up Highway 138, which offers the tighest switchbacks of them all, we encountered only a few cars in front of us, and they all pulled over to let us by. Cool!
When we got past Crestline, the traffic picked up as we merged onto Highway 18, and found ourselves behind many slower moving vehicles. But much to our amazement, they all either turned on to other roads, or moved over to let us by. Damn!
After lunch in Big Bear Lake, we continued on Highway 38 to make the descent down from the mountains, and encountered only one car along the entire distance, about 45 miles, and blew past him easily. Fuck!
Never before have I ever been able to enjoy this stretch of road and being able to ride at whatever speed I wanted to go. Better yet, I found no sand or debris on the road, which you'll often find along the 38.
We started the ride with six of us, there was myself, Tom, and Mike, from our riding club, and three others joining us from the Meetup group that I run. We hadn't ridden with those three before, and leading the group I kept grappling over the question of maintaining a slow enough pace to keep the group together, or if I should open it up and capitalize on this unique riding opportunity. I decided to capitalize.
Tom was riding behind me, followed the by the three others, and then Mike in the back. Heading up Highway 138, into the tighest part of the twisties, I accelerated as fast I as I could take the Road Star and Tom was right there behind all the way. Meanwhile, we lost sight of the others. When we reached Crestline, we pulled over and waited for them.
I kinda felt guilty about leaving them behind, and so from Crestline all the way to Big Bear Lake, I maintained a more moderate pace, accelerating into some of the curves, and then slowing down a bit to let the rest catch up. I could sense Tom's anxiousness to ride faster, but I held steady with the pace.
Where else did we have lunch in Big Bear Lake but at B's Backyard BBQ? It's gotta be one of the top BBQ joints in all of SoCal. The pulled pork sandwich and the beef brisket sandwich are mouth watering.
The three from the Meetup group decided to not to continue on with the ride, electing to stay in Big Bear, because one of them had a cabin there and wanted to get some work done on it.
So myself, Tom and Mike continued on highway 38. This time I opened the throttle back up. About the first 20 miles of this part consists of easy riding, mostly straight road and wide sweepers. It's not until you get to Jenks Lake that highway 38 tightens up and the real fun begins.
Tom and Mike were keeping pace with me, and the three of us were grinding a few more millimeters of steel off our bikes as we made skrishhhhhhhhhh sounds around the radius of nearly every curve, leaning our bikes as far as we could lean 'em, and riding them as fast as we could ride 'em. Today was our day. The motorcycle gods opened up this road just for us, and we took advantage of it. It was giving me the sense that the three of us had jelled as part of our "riding club", a club that exists for none other than the thrill of riding motorcycles, sharing the same riding philosophy, and sharing a certain understanding.
For a moment I imagined myself standing on the side of the road, watching these three riders ride by, except in slow motion, and without any sound. I could see the look of concentration on their faces, their bodies leaning over with the bikes, the wheels spinning in slow motion, and the sparks flying from the floorboards.
Then the sounds comes back, the motion speeds back up, and the entire scene whizzes by in a blur.
We ended the day at the Ponderosa Bar in Sun City, and over some beers we relished the ride we just enjoyed together, and talked about how perfect it was.