I enjoyed the ride yesterday amongst the Sawtooth Mountains. Today is a different adventure. While yesterday was riding a bike I knew, today was a bike I’ve always wanted to ride but never got the opportunity (or courage) to ride the big red beast. It was also on the short list of motorcycles to replace the V-Strom.
The 2006 Honda XR650L is a version of the big thumper single cylinder dirt bike made to be street legal. It’s the linebacker of the dirtbike world with its high seat and 650cc single-cylinder motor. It doesn’t love the freeways but will do it if forced to. As I got closer to the pickup time, I got new rider jitters!
- What if It’s too tall to get on?
- What if it’s only kick start?
- What if I make a fool of myself right out of the gate?
I met the owner just after 9 a.m. He asked all the questions that owners and riders would ask – where am I headed? Are you going to do dirt? (and surprisingly encouraged me to do so), as well as my motorcycle background. Like yesterday, the owner seemed like a good guy who loved riding bikes. I’m 2 for 2 in meeting good people.
I’m a short guy with a 30-inch inseam. My bike is relatively tall but not nearly as tall as this bike. The big Honda is a full 5 inches taller than my GS! Wowzers! When I bought the GS, the salesperson taught me a new trick: put your left foot on the footpeg and swing a leg over the bike, much like a cowboy rides a horse. Now, onto riding the actual bike. With a quick mount and a confident swing of my leg over the saddle that seemed to be halfway to heaven, I sank into the saddle and the big dirt bike’s suspension was forgiving as it settled under my command. I was still on my tippy toes, but this could work.
Payette River Run
I departed the north side of Boise and headed towards Idaho 16. Immediately, I noticed the wind rushing through my gear. With no wind protection, I was significantly colder than just 24 hours ago. I also didn’t have all of the gadgets I was used to like navigation. I had to memorize my route. As I accelerated up the canyon, I could feel the wind’s boot pressing into my chest and shoulders, further cementing that this bike had no wind protection. The BMW GS really has evolved into the ultimate touring machine. The big Honda is decidedly rough around the edges, and this is one of them.
Riding over the pass from Boise to Emmett, I could see beautiful photos all across the horizon. When I came into town yesterday, the smoke robbed the skyline’s view. Today was a bluebird sky day. Emmett felt instantly like home – a narrow valley with dry, exposed mountains on both sides.
Highway 16 soon gave way to Highway 52, heading further into the backcountry. Idaho 52 follows the contours of the Payette River, winding along the open valley with gentle turns and small ups and downs. It’s a great road to learn this bike. I’d not ridden on this bike, and it’s been a long time (ahem, decades) since I’ve been on knobbies. Getting all my travel items in the small top case was a real challenge. Needless to say, it was packed full!
As I was riding along the river, I wanted to drop down from the road into one of the many pullouts. When I pulled off the road, the path down to the river was steep, rocky, and unpaved. Uh-oh. I quickly grabbed the brakes and pushed the beast back up the hill. No way would I attempt that on a bike that’s not mine while on my toes. I promise it’s steeper and narrower than it looks on camera.
West of Banks
When I was riding back to town yesterday, I didn’t see much of Banks, ID. I wanted to explore on the west side of the river to see if there was more town that way. A wide road leads to a narrow road, led to a barley paved road, then onto well-graded dirt. Curiosity got the best of me, and I kept going. This was “well-behaved dirt.”
The bike effortlessly climbed up the hill, and I checked traction every so often with the bike to see how it performs in the dirt. The tires gripped solidly. I made a few stops along the way for photos and didn’t overthink it then, but the starter sound was changing ever so slightly. I realized I was getting out of cell range. I made a U-turn back down the hill and returned to the main highway.
Banks-Lowman, part deux
I loved Banks-Lowman and wanted to feel the sportier side of the big Honda. I was significantly more forward on this bike than any other I’ve ridden – it almost felt like the bars were right in my lap. It was a stark contrast to the GS and the V-Strom, which have considerable distance between the seat and the bars.
When rolling on the throttle, this bike has BRRRRRRRRRAP! You can hear the exhaust roll under the rider’s demand. This motorcycle is unapologetic, and I must admit, it’s kind of nice. While I rode this same road 24 hours ago, this experience was completely different.
And then shit happened. The engine died hard, and a very unpleasant sound came from the bottom of the bike. I quickly pulled in the clutch to relieve the strain from a stopped engine and a moving motorcycle. I coasted over to the shoulder to assess the situation.
The starter let out a few more yelps; from there, it was dead. Just a click and nothing more came from the starter. The giant beast was done. My intuition was correct in the dirt; the battery was dying as I rode the bike, which meant the battery was supplying spark to the engine, not the charging system. UGGGH. The silver lining is that I’ve done this before with the Rivian. I was only 2 miles from where I had lunch yesterday, so my choice was good in landing a broken motorcycle.
So here I was, stranded on the side of the without food or water. I started by calling the owner to see if he had any ideas. Fortunately, he was home, had a truck with a ramp, and was willing to come get me. I didn’t have to call Twisted Road – yet. The owner was about an hour out, so I needed to kill that time on the side of the road.
I was surprised how many cars just passed by. I wondered, have norms changed now that everyone has a cell phone and can directly call for help? Did I look like I was stuck? One guy in a big truck pulled over and offered some water. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you kind soul! In talking about it with some riders back home on BARF, it was clear I needed to do more to look distressed. As the owner was coming up the hill, someone I know from BARF was riding that same road I was on. I flagged him on as help was on the way.
I must give the owner kudos; he was outstanding about everything. Super apologetic and came right to support me. We had a fantastic chat about the art of motorcycle maintenance, as he’s worked on all sorts of bikes in his journey. I learned a TON about carburation!
We talked quite a bit about how to make the situation right. The bike died 86 miles into the ride – about halfway through the rental period. Unlike yesterday, this issue wouldn’t have been caught by a TCLOCKs check. You needed to ride the bike for an extended period to discover the problem. Many years ago in college, I’d rented a Harley, rode it across the state of Georgia, and it died in a similar fashion. Sometimes these things happen.
It seemed wrong to have the owner refund me the whole amount. I declined roadside assistance. Twisted Road likes to advertise a low price and then offer all sorts of additional add-ons like roadside assistance. I get purchasing roadside if I damage the bike (flat tire). However, this wasn’t a rider error. Since the owner came and got me, towing wasn’t a problem.
We both called Twisted Road to ensure we were checked out of the ride properly. We didn’t have any issues there. I didn’t want a refund. In my mind, the owner earned his rental. I pushed them to offer a token “future ride credit” as they often offer sales to entice riders. I feel strongly that sometimes shit happens that’s no one’s fault, and corporate needs to step up. They did with a twisted arm.
Hopefully, I’ll see the owner again on my next trip to Idaho. Good stuff all around.