What to do after several stressful but rewarding weeks? Unwind with a cruise up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. While sipping my morning coffee I plotted out a route that would take me to Galax, VA, but the prospect of fighting winds around Fancy Gap convinced me otherwise. So, I gassed up, headed up 421 N, with a detour to see the newly renovated Wilkesboro Speedway, then joined the BRP just outside of Boone. From there, I rode north, stopping at almost every scenic overlook.
At highway 16, I turned south to North Wilkesboro, stopped along 421 for an iced coffee, then blasted home in time to go grocery shopping.
Saturday I headed north to Virginia, away from the worst of the thunderstorms that were developing. The weather app suggested that if I could stay clear of storms by 11 am, I’d be in the clear for the next couple of days. I brought along a change of clothes in case I roamed too far from home and wanted to turn my day trip into a two-day trip.
The ride to Fancy Gap, VA was a breeze. All highways and Interstate, no rain. When I jumped on the Blue Ridge Parkway it looked like I had mostly clear skies ahead. It wasn’t until I got to Groundhog Hill that I noticed a storm chasing me. I’d stopped to take a few photos then felt a drop. And another. And many more. I scooted away, continuing north, until I outran the rain for a while before passing under another cell that left me a little damp.
I got off the BRP at Floyd, VA, thinking I’d look for lunch. The crowds in the center of town convinced me to keep going, so I turned onto 221 N with the idea I’d continue on to Roanoke and find a place to stay. Going out town, this place caught my eye and I stopped for a biscuit and superb latte. If you’re in Floyd, visit. You won’t regret it.
The break gave me a chance to look for rooms in the Roanoke area. Dammit, it was graduation weekend. After looking at a string of overpriced hotel rooms, my mind was made up — I turned south on Hwy 8 and headed home.
That choice had its benefits. The route is lovely and I got to check on one of the few remaining covered bridges in Virginia.
All in all, not a bad day on the bike.
Blame the pandemic. With my usual travel out the window I started thinking about ways to satisfy my wanderlust without hopping on a plane. More cycling? I was getting burned out after decades on a bike and needed a break. Flying? Recent time in the left seat of a Cessna made that an appealing prospect, but then there’s the massive bureaucratic headache and expense of obtaining a private ticket. My mind wandered to motorcycles. Years ago, I owned a BMW R100/7 that had carried me on a wet, windy journey from Michigan to Tennessee and back. Maybe that was it….
I hadn’t been on a bike in years so I spent a fun weekend at the BMW Rider Academy reminding myself of how perishable riding skills are, survived it, then started thinking about the kind of motorcycle that would make sense for me.
I loved my R100. It was easy to ride, not powerful enough to scare me, and simple to maintain. I poked around on Cycle Trader for a last generation R100, and some of its contemporaries including the BMW K75s. But I had this niggling thought: Those are interesting and fun bikes, but as my time on a BMW G310 showed me, motorcycles have come a long way. ABS, traction control and selectable ride modes aren’t exotic stuff. They’re the norm these days.
I’ll leave details of my shopping for another time, but I kept coming back to the idea of an adventure bike. Something road focused, but with the ability to tackle gravel roads if I got the urge. Size was the intimidating thing. Have you ever stood next to a BMW GS? Those are huge, man. But they have their advantages: Wind protection, comfort, and versatility. A friend pointed me toward a Suzuki V-Strom. Intriguing, but it didn’t grab me. I read about the new Triumph Trident 660 and started thinking again about a standard bike. That led to a trip to Select Cycle in Greensboro, which had one for a millisecond before it flew out the door.
One look told me the Trident was way too small for me. I walked around a Tiger 850 Sport. Right size (comfortable but not gigantic). Great specs. A good value.
I scheduled a test ride.
I hadn’t been on this powerful a bike since riding a BMW R1100RS in the mid-’90s. I felt a bit of trepidation. I shouldn’t have. It was surprisingly easy to ride. I was sold, and put down a deposit that afternoon.
After 1,300 miles on the Triumph Tiger 850 Sport, here’s what I’ve learned:
- It rides like a much lighter motorcycle. The Tiger weighs in at 478 pounds, but the weight distribution makes it feel far more nimble and manageable than I expected. This is particularly noticeable at low speeds. In traffic I can idle along at 2-3 mph without putting a foot down. Tight turns make me feel like I’m riding a bike that’s 100 pounds lighter. A light press on the handlebars or weighting the footpegs is enough to quickly change direction.
- The Tiger 850 has a brilliant engine. It’s the same 888cc motor from a Triumph Tiger 900, but tuned to deliver more usable torque in most situations. I’m still breaking it in so I haven’t approached the redline, but for most riding that’s not a problem. From about 2,500 RPM the engine pulls strongly, even if you’re poking along in fourth or fifth gear.
- The transmission is similarly great, though my impressions may be biased by the quick shifter option. I’ll never own a bike without one. Flicking through gears without using the clutch is a game changer. It makes riding simpler and safer, without taking away any of the fun of picking your own gear.
- The drive by wire throttle is a mixed bag. I like the anti-stall feature—that slight increase in revs that automatically accompanies releasing the clutch—but the throttle itself can be a bit touchy. I’m planning to install a Kaoko throttle stabilizer to introduce more friction and give my right hand a rest during long highway stretches.
- Comfort is what I expected. There’s plenty of room to stretch out and I’ve never felt cramped, whether I’m in the city, on backroads, or Interstates. Long miles won’t be a problem. And those optional heated grips put out some serious warmth.
- The brakes are serious stoppers. But then, they’re the same Brembos used on high end sport bikes.
- Wind protection is good for my 6’2″ frame, but not perfect. A set of Puig deflectors should improve things.
- The TFT display has configurable options for showing revs, speed and other data, and automatically changes brightness in response to ambient light. It works, but the odd batwing shaped tachometer isn’t easily readable. My default is a display with numerical tach, numerical speed, oil temp, fuel level and gear indicator. It’s simple and it works.
- One bit of weirdness: The stock Michelin Anakee tires generate some disturbing harmonics when cornering. I kept asking, “What’s that sound?” then noticed online comments that echoed mine. It took a while but I’ve tuned out the noise.