California Central Coast
At this juncture in my life I have had the privilege of riding motorcycles in Italy, the UK, extensively through Spain, and equally good measure in South Africa-not to mention a good number of the States here in America. And I have to say, I traveled thousands of miles, endured hours of flights and logistics, just to discover how beautiful my own backyard is. Of course isn’t that how so many mantras go in life? We go looking for things only to discover they were right in front of us.
Although the Central Coast isn’t exactly out my back door, it’s within an easy few hours ride. For this go round I would be aboard the new BMW K 1300 GT, the German marque’s muscle bound sport touring machine. Beneath the plastic, hiding under the saddlebags, cradled in the aluminum spar frame is the horsepower laden K motor, giving the classy looking tourer 160 horses. That figure is nice, but what’s impressive (and practical) is that the engine comes on strong low in the revs and pulls through the entire reach of the tachometer. So even when you’re lugging the motor a gear or two too high, there’s still ample power at the ready, brought to life with a simple twist of the wrist. This is a great temperament for a sport touring machine, allowing for either all out blasting or sightseeing cruising, and all points in between.
I’ve done the coast trek dozens of times and it still enthralls. I have learned to avoid the twisting turns of route 1 during weekends and during the typically tourist crowded summer months. The GT has enough grunt to dispatch long strings of slow-going rental cars with out-of-towners clogging up the road. The GT’s engine has an appropriate growl that snaps them out of their doldrums as it screams past.
My route generally begins near LA, detouring off the main thoroughfares through the back roads to Ojai for a coffee and refueling. Highway 33 then takes me up and over the mountains into the central valley where a less than appealing ride through the oil fields of Taft leads to the mouth of Highway 58. This beautifully paved, meandering jewel of a road is generally pretty sparse with vehicles and threads over the mountains and out across open plains, taking the rider all the way to Templeton and the 101.
The GT is surprising agile in these tight switchbacks, even loaded down for the weekend. The ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) allows the rider to adjust suspension on the fly, with choices of: comfortable, normal, or sport setting to suit the road and the attitude. In addition the adjustment provides further settings for rider (with and without bags), and also with a passenger (with and without bags), covering the entire range of possibilities.
My back road ride is spoiled only momentarily with a few short miles on the 101 before heading over 46 to pick up the coast road. The little town of Harmony is where the anticipation of the road ahead usually kicks in. Then it’s onto San Simeon, where William Randolph Hearst built his castle.
San Simeon is really where the beauty and majesty of the coast route comes into its own. This 80-odd mile stretch of two-lane pavement certainly, if not the zenith of motorcycle routes, is pretty close to the top. On this particular outing the temperature was unusually balmy, which only heightened the smell of kelp and pine in the air. The sun was shining and the sea lions were basking in the warmth.
After an hour or two-depending on speed and number of stops-you’ll cross Bixby Bridge, star of a thousand car commercials, both here and around the world. This is where the shutterbugs are usually out in force. A good tempo will have you in Big Sur in fairly short order, but not before experiencing the pinnacle of what motorcycle riding is all about. Up past the Point Sur lighthouse and into Carmel. This is the place that poet Robinson Jeffers called "The most dramatic meeting of land and sea on earth." I have to agree. I never get tired of this place, of this road, of this ride. It’s one of those enviable rides that make you realize how beautiful life and nature are. It brings out the sentiment in even the most cynical of people.
A few years ago I wasn’t very much interested in touring bikes with bags. I perceived them as being more for the pipe and slippers brigade. But as the bikes have evolved technologically, I have found myself genuinely excited about the prospects of a good sport touring machine and pulling overnighters any chance I get. In this regard, the K 1300 GT represents a machine capable of the long haul with superlative comfort, but possessing enough spirit to keep pace with the best of sport bikes out there. The difference is, when you arrive at your destination, when you step off the GT you won’t be kinked over in a fixed position of pain.
The BMW K 1300 GT is the perfect machine for taking in this stretch of road, which has been the source of poetry, paintings, movies, photography, and general life affirming travel over decades since it was first hacked out of the cliffs. All with good reason, there are few places that embody the beauty, the peace, the solitude and the grandeur of Big Sur.
Personally, I would have to put the coast ride at the top of my favorites list. I just returned from Carmel not three days ago and have already made a vague appointment in two weeks time in Carmel Valley simply to justify another flog up the coast. Better check the tire pressure on the GT. Travel safe my friends.