Riding Through the Land of Waterfalls in North & South Carolina

Here in the Upstate of South Carolina and Western North Carolina, we are fortunate to have numerous beautiful waterfalls as well as breathtaking vistas, thanks to the Blue Ridge Escarpment and the Smoky Mountains. Not to mention (but I will), the best motorcycling roads east of the Mississippi River. But the focus of these words is not about the riding, but about the absolutely beautiful natural surroundings we were riding through.

A few Sundays ago, 30 or so motorbikes showed up at our local meet-up to ride the much anticipated Waterfall Tour. After the pre-ride briefing, we broke up into four manageable groups and headed out on the route, two groups clockwise and two counter clockwise (or anti-clockwise for those across the pond). The group I was in with seven other bikes were making our first stop at Twin Falls, here in South Carolina. The ride through the South Carolina countryside was beautiful. My NC700XD rode flawlessly as we made our way to Twin Falls, a waterfall I had yet to see in my twenty years living here.

Our group on the trail to Twin Falls

After traveling on gravel and dirt roads for about a mile, which I (a street only guy) and my NC did with aplomb, I might add, we parked our bikes and took a short hike to the falls overlook. It was a stunning sight!

Twin Falls

These falls are off the beaten path. There are no signs, so unless someone told you about them or you read about them somewhere, you would never find them. A true back country find if you were hiking!

Mounting up, we rolled back down gravel and dirt and headed north to cross the state line into North Carolina. Looking Glass Falls sits on the main drag on US276, connecting Greenville, South Carolina with Waynesville, North Carolina. As such, these popular falls become very crowded. Visiting as early as possible is one’s best bet to be in the tranquil setting of nature. We did not, and were not. Beautiful just the same.

Looking Glass Falls

By now it was getting near lunchtime. Leaving Looking Glass Falls, we turned southbound to Brevard, North Carolina, riding through the beautiful Pisgah National Forest. Our lunch venue this day is Hawg Wild BBQ, right at the entrance to the Pisgah.

Hawg Wild

A very popular place, especially with motorcyclists. Bar-B-Que is the name of the game here, but they also serve up non-BBQ for those that don’t want to eat what used to be this:

Lunch!

Part of our group

The food here is very good, highly recommended if traveling in this area. Good food, good conversation (i.e. no religion or politics), new friends made with a great bunch of men and women with the common passion of motorcycling. We pushed away from the table, suited up, and off we went down the hill towards South Carolina. A more obscure waterfall was on the docket next; Connestee Falls.

Connestee Falls

Finished with the waterfall sightings, now it was time to look out over the beautiful and stunning vistas that South Carolina has to offer atop the Blue Ridge Escarpment. An escarpment is a geological upheaval of the earths crust. Unlike the formation of a mountains gentle slope, an escarpment, almost literally, juts vertically toward the sky. Riding through the escarpment from South Carolina to North Carolina is a motorcyclists dream. The roads are laid out in multiple, steep switchbacks to accommodate the vertical gain of the escarpment. Going up is fun. Coming back down is Mr. Toads Wild Ride!

Perched atop the Blue Ridge Escarpment is Caesars Head State Park, our next destination. The views from the observation deck are just stunning and absolutely gorgeous.

Caesars Head State Park

The View

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It is a very weird feeling standing on the deck and looking down to see hawks flying below you, above the treeline! Whew!

Still heading southbound, now in South Carolina, we pull over and park to take in the view from another popular place. Graffiti Rock.

Actually, it’s real name is Jumping Off Rock. This huge rock formation is called a bald; a rock outcropping in a mountainside.

Rumor has it that there have been a few non-bungy jumps off the end of Jumping Off Rock. Not sure how true that is, but I have seen a few automobiles that have crash landed at the bottom of the bald. Jumps not withstanding, the view is beautiful.

One final scenic stop before rolling back into the city awaits us. A small waterfall and a popular swimming hole, right by the side of the road:

Wildcat Wayside

After a rain, the small waterfall turns into a torrent of raging water, but not for us today. Still beautiful, and a great place to cool off after a long day in the saddle.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The riding was great, the group was wonderful, and the natural beauty of our corner of the world was the main event.

 

Posted in Motorcycle Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A 300 Mile Test for the NC700XD

The big test day for the NC had us turning 300 miles round trip with heat, then very cool temps, rain, then cold rain, dry tarmac, then tarmac flooded over.

Our group of 12 bikes left Greenville, South Carolina, for the mountains of North Carolina, amid a beautiful, sunny morning. Temps were up, but we knew heading into the mountains, things would cool down quickly. Our first destination: Mt. Mitchell State Park, home of Mt. Mitchell, the highest mountain peak east of the Big Muddy (Mississippi River) at 6684 feet.

No rain was in the forecast along our entire route according to Weather Underground. So rain gear stayed home. The ride up was awesome! Comfortably fast paced, no Ricky Racer antics by anyone, with the ride leader doing a good job of keeping everyone together. Lunch was at the Mt. Mitchell restaurant, and having eaten there many times, I must say this time the meal was truly forgettable.

Leaving town in traffic, I kept the NC in automatic, Sport mode 2 (out of 3). This was also a good setting for the sweeping curves we encountered on the ride north. Our approach road to the Blue Ridge Parkway was NC226A, a.k.a. The Diamondback Motorcycle & Sports Car Route.

For this super twisty and super fun section of road, I switched the NC from auto, to manual, on the fly. No drama. Whatever gear the automatic mode tranny is in, the same gear is selected by computer for manual mode. Now I was in full control of gear selection. Upshifts and downshifts with the buttons on the left handlebar were fast and smooth as we negotiated the tight curves and switchbacks of 226A. I know I am now becoming one with this motorbike as I only grabbed for a non-existent clutch lever once, and wiggled my left foot for a downshift only once!

Once on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I switched back to automatic mode, but this time in Sport Mode 3. This was perfect for the continuous curves on the BRP.

The stock tires on this bike are great. She is shod with Bridgestone Battlewings, a 90 percent road, 10 percent off-road (????), ok, hard fire road, tire. So far, since getting the NC, I have only tested them in dry conditions, and they are excellent! They grip like nobody’s business, and give really good feedback from the road. Unbeknownst to me, I would get the chance to test their wet road worthiness big time, in a few hours.

At one of our rest stops, we came upon a hopped up Polaris Slingshot in a parking space. For those of you unfamiliar with the Slingshot, it is a three wheeled  (two front, one rear), open cockpit, steering wheel vehicle. Supposedly, it has a pretty powerful power plant right out of the box.

Polaris Slingshot

I have heard it been said by those not enamored with this vehicle, that it has all the inconvenience of a convertible, and none of the fun of a motorcycle. So why? Not sayin’, I’m just sayin’…………….

The afternoon was getting on, and as it was , my ETA home was going to be around 6:30 – 6:45. Beady little eyes will start wandering about in these here mountains looking for supper along the roadside soon, so I split from the group and headed down the hill. Then the skies opened up.

Big time rain! No where to pull over, mostly because I couldn’t see! Thankfully, the bucket drenching only lasted a couple of minutes, then reduced itself to a steady shower. But at least visibility was good now, and, a perfect real world wet test for the Bridgestone Battlewings!

The roads were soaking wet, so I slowed my speed and significantly reduced my lean angles; no Moto GP rain tire leanings going on here! The Battlewings performed admirably. Coming out of curves while rolling on the throttle produced a steady grip of rubber to road as the bike straightened up. No sphincter puckering slippage at all.

Some sections of road were flooded over, not deeply, but enough to see a small current running through the water. Plowing through, there was not the slightest hint of hydroplaning! I was duly impressed with these Battlewings! Now, the only thing to ascertain is their durability through this year. I’ve had them from mile 0, so we’ll see what number rolls up on the odo at the end of the year and what the tread wear looks like.

Not all is peaches and cream with the NC, however. My biggest complaint, and a major one, is the seat. Up to 150 miles or so, it is ok. Beyond that, it gets very uncomfortable. For some reason, Honda developed this seat with a forward slope, which pushes you into the frunk. About 125 miles out, you begin to lack feeling in your nether regions. No bueno! Fortunately, the ergos of handlebar and foot pegs on the NC are similar to the Africa Twin, which allows me to stand up and steer comfortably, and get blood moving again!

I had this problem with my ST1300 as well, but solved it with Beadrider seat beads. Can’t do that with the NC though. The NC’s seat height at 32.7 inches already puts me on the forefoot/balls of my feet. Beadrider adds about another half inch of height, which would put me on tip toes. No, no, no. So, a new seat is on the list of add ons, sooner than later.

I was very happy with this motorbike prior to this road test. Now I am truly in love with this machine. She performed flawlessly throughout the varied conditions of this test. Once the seat is changed out, she will be the perfect bike for me at this stage of my riding career. The adventure continues!

 

 

Posted in Motorcycle Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ancient Bikes In An Ancient City – A Concours d’Elegance Part 2

 A beautiful day in northeast Florida greeted us as we made our way to our favorite coffee house on the island; Amelia Island Coffee. Enjoying a cappuccino as we look out over the harbor, we are excited about spending the day at the Riding Into History Concours d’Elegance in St. Augustine.

History Lesson: St. Augustine, FL

St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European established settlement within the Continental U.S. With the established presence of Spanish explorers claiming Florida for Spain, St. Augustine was then founded in 1565. Over the centuries, St. Augustine saw as many as six different flags flying over Fort Matanzas: Spain, Britain, Spain again, United States, Confederate States of America (Civil War period), and finally and permanently, United States.

This weekend, many flags are flying over St. Augustine, but this time denoting the country of origin of the many beautiful vintage bikes on display at the World Golf Village and Hall of Fame.

This venue is absolutely beautiful. A large lake sits in the middle of the property with a concrete boardwalk around the perimeter. Upon this boardwalk are hundreds of vintage motorcycles lined up by class, year and marque. The walk around the lake is approximately one mile. That’s one mile of tightly packed vintage bikes! Awesome!

Vintage motorbikes line the entire perimeter of this lake

Arriving at the World Golf Village, we were astounded by the sheer number of motorcycles. It was mind bending. So, we started our perusement of the moto eye candy right in front of the Caddyshack  Grill (a great place for lunch-highly recommended) and started snapping away.

NORTON COMMANDO AD

SOME BADGES

 ROLL CAMERA!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

THE ITALIANS

 MORE BADGES!

By now we were hungry and thirsty, and still had only walked half the boardwalk! Lunch at the Caddyshack Grill was exceptional. Beautiful ambience: dark wood interior, golf theme decor, both current and historical, nicely done. Service was wonderful considering the number of bikers invading, the food was very good and the beer refreshing. It was a pretty warm day. Satiated and satisfied, we ventured outside for round two of Riding into History.

SCOOTERS & MINIBIKES 

(And yes. those minibikes are way cool!)

THE ROYAL TRIUMPH

RACER’S ROW- MV AUGUSTA

HONDA HAD A HUGE PRESENCE

You know there’s nothing new under the sun, right? I know that too. But, here I am one month after buying my NC700XD automatic/manual transmission bike, thinking I’m the cat’s meow with new tranny technology, when this comes into view:

NOTICE ANYTHING MISSING? RIGHT. NO CLUTCH LEVER.

I THOUGHT THIS WAS ONLY ON HONDA CARS OF THE ERA………….

THE ENTIRE BIKE- 1983 HONDA 750 FOUR AUTOMATIC

Nothing new under the sun.

GOT A FLAT TIRE? NO WORRIES. THROW ON THE SPARE!

Many years ago I was an avid bicyclist and decent club racer. I had an insatiable appetite for bicycles both modern and vintage, just as I do with motorcycles and automobiles today. Many motorcyclists are also bicyclists, and if that describes you, here is a section of interest:

VINTAGE BICYCLES

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you live in the South, as we do, college football is king. Roo and I, and apparently the gentleman who owns this bike, are Florida Gator fans/alum. However, we don’t go to such extremes…………….. Go Gators!

FLORIDA GATOR BIKE

Now that’s a BMW I can live with! But, this Ducati in Gator colors would look great in the garage:

I GUESS YOU CAN TELL I LIKE TANK BADGES………….

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A BEAUTIFULLY RESTORED AND RARE EXCELSIOR HENDERSON

 THE PERFECT FLORIDA BIKE: AQUA BLUE AND A SEAHORSE. VERY COOL!

And so, after a few hours and having circled the perimeter (me twice, faster the second time around), it was time to head back to Amelia Island to meet up with a friend, a couple of beers, and dinner.

This was an exceptional show, held the third weekend each May. Do see it if you can. You won’t be disappointed.

ISLAND TIME

Posted in Motorcycle Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ancient Bikes in an Ancient City – A Concours d’Elegance Part 1

RIDING INTO HISTORY

St. Augustine, Florida

Roo and I have been wanting to go to this Concours for a few years now, and this year we made it a priority. It did not disappoint. Every vintage marque was here: Harley, Honda, Vincent, Velocette, Merkle, BSA, Ariel, Moto Guzzi, and so many more. Our heads were spinning with all the eye candy surrounding us at such a beautiful venue, The World Golf Village & Hall of Fame in America’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Our home base for the long weekend is not St. Augustine, but Amelia Island, about a one hour drive north of St. Aug and a stones throw to the Georgia state line. Roo & I have been visiting here for going on seventeen years, and are close to deciding if this is where we will spend our “retirement” years.

The city of Fernandina Beach is on the north end of Amelia, and is a beautiful, quaint and very historic walkable city. Fernandina has been a former pirate stronghold (a real one!), was the only Florida city where a major Revolutionary War battle was fought (the battle for East Florida), and boasts the first Cross-Florida rail line built to Cedar Key in the 1880’s. Amelia Island, compared to the rest of coastal Florida, is quiet and laid back. Island Time is the rule here, and Amelia definitely has a Key West vibe to it.

The Beaches

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The Boats

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The City

 

The Architecture

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

“Don’t mess with me bike, matey”

An evening of chillin’ out at a local hangout with live music and cold beer, has us feeling mellow and slipping into Island Time. Tomorrow we head to St. Augustine to spend the day among legendary motorcycle marques and the legends of golf.

Next post: Riding Into History

 

Posted in Motorcycle Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The New Concept: Everymans & Womans Automatic

As you all know by now, I am enamored with my new moto purchase. My reasons for buying Honda’s NC700XD were many, but basically the decision came down to four criteria: I wanted to downsize from my ST1300, I wanted updated technology, I wanted to re-introduce fun into my riding, and I wanted a unique motorcycle. Unique you ask? It looks like any other adventure/enduro bike out there. Ah, but the uniqueness is in the technology, not what the eye can behold.

Honda built this bike to appeal to a new generation of riders, while also appealing to experienced motorcyclists. The NC in the designation alludes to the name New Concept, where Honda has introduced a few new concepts to the motorcycling community. Let’s look at a few:

Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT)

This is the heart and soul of the NC. The DCT is an automatic transmission with a drive mode and three sport modes. In drive mode, the transmission upshifts quickly, getting into 6th gear by 40 MPH.This is ECO mode, where the best fuel economy is generated. I have been getting about 65-70 MPG in this mode. Switching to Sport modes 1,2 &3 causes the transmission to upshift later, holding the revs higher before shifting. Sport 3 in the twisties shifts spot on for me.This is not a scooter Constant Velocity Transmission. This is a computer controlled double clutch system, similar to what is found in some of Honda’s automobiles. If the engineer in you would like a techno-geek description of the DCT, find it here.

 Neutral, Drive, Sport: Right handlebar array

For enticing new riders to the sport, this is a godsend. For experienced riders, speaking from my experience, not having a clutch lever and foot shifter to deal with has actually enhanced my brains ability to focus more on situational awareness while riding! This can be a huge safety factor!

Look Ma, no clutch lever!

Behind the right handlebar is a trigger, which allows you to move from automatic mode to manual mode and back again. Once in manual mode, you are in full control of gear selection. The trigger and push button for shifting in manual are on the left handlebar array:

Trigger with index finger to upshift on front of left handlebar (note +)

Push button with thumb to downshift on back of left handlebar (note – )

Paddle shifting in manual is a blast, and super fast! There is no need to roll off the throttle to match gearing with engine speed, as the computer does this for you. Not having to disengage, foot shift, and engage the clutch has made my riding in the mountains here more fun, more relaxed, and safer, allowing my brain to focus on setting up for each curve. Only thing that moves while shifting is my index finger and thumb. Fantastic!

Some naysayers may say, “Nah! A real motorcycle has a clutch lever and foot shifter. I wouldn’t be caught dead on one of those scooter things.” Whatever. 

This is Honda’s third generation of the DCT. So sure of it’s performance is Honda, they have even put it on their groundbreaking ADV bike, the Africa Twin. Reviews from dirt enthusiasts (not me), have been overwhelmingly positive about the DCT’s performance off road. Both the NC and Africa Twin are also available with the standard clutch lever and foot shifter. For me, I don’t miss traditional shifting at all, except when I find myself “ghost” shifting my left hand and foot! But that too, shall pass.

Africa Twin CRF1000L

The Frunk. Can you do the frunky thing?

No, it’s not a Cool & the Gang song. The frunk, according to the NC 700X community, is a term used to describe the front trunk. That piece of motorbike that sits in front of the rider is not what it seems. Where the traditional gas tank would be is a huge storage bin; a front trunk or frunk.

This thing is cavernous, having 22 liters of storage space that can hold a full face helmet. After putting everything that was kept permanently on the ST; air compressor, tire gauge, sunglasses, tire repair kit, tools, assorted sundry, there was still more than half the capacity available for more stuff! Who needs a tank bag!

Easy battery access is also through the frunk. I have a SAE lead and USB lead attached directly to the battery that stay concealed in the frunk. When I need them for GPS or battery charging/heated gear I just lay the leads over the side and close the frunk lid. Convenient and clean. Frunky, huh?

The gas tank is under seat with the filler neck under the lockable pillion seat. This may be the only minor, and I mean very minor, fueling inconvenience when traveling with a drybag on the pillion. I tried it with a loaded drybag, tent, and camp chair Rockstrapped to the pillion seat. Simply loosen the Rockstraps, slide the bag, tent, chair as a unit onto the driver seat, open pillion seat, fuel, close pillion, slide gear back and tighten down straps. Easy, peasy. With a 200+ mile range between fill ups, it’s no big deal.

This motorcycle has re-kindled the FUN factor in my riding. Weighing in at 200 lbs. less than my ST, with a super low center of gravity, handling this machine is a breeze. She is quick, stable, nimble in the tight twisties, and instills tremendous confidence in my riding ability. Even if you would never dream of throwing a leg over a Honda, just for giggles & grins, test ride one of their DCT models. You may become a believer!

Posted in Motorcycle Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments