Motorcycling Trips to be Remembered: Sonomafest 1995

We attended the AMA Superbike races at Sears Point 13 years ago when we made a week long trip down to Sonoma to catch Sonomafest. If I recall correctly, we decided on this trip after reading the recent Cycle World magazine, which features our favorite automotive and motorcycle journalist, Peter Egan and his account of the trip the previous year. Sitting on the porch (the tiny concrete pad in front of door) of my duplex, we once again let beer decide, and we were going. Unfortunately we didn’t meet Peter that year, but did pull a great motorcycling and camping trip that we haven’t really duplicated since. Recently our motorcycling trip to the Olympic Peninsula was our chance to relive that trip.

Suddenly it seems like an eternity ago (see, there it is again), but years ago our trip began by suiting up for our 2 day trip to the bay area from Corvallis, Oregon. Looking back, I was hardly prepared for such a trip, but that naive and youthful nature is what makes the trip even more special to remember.

{Note: time stamp on photos is incorrect.}

dan and bikes and 145 wagon before roadtrip

posing with the bikes before the trip

When we arrived for Thursday evening practice, tent camping inside the racetrack hadn’t opened yet. We were pointed to another track campground called ’40 acres’. Turns out this was only a mowed field that served as overflow parking for the NASCAR event to accommodate the 100k+ fans that turn out for their biggest weekend of the year at Sears Point. Or in other words, no services, including honey buckets. We were the only fans to show up that early and had the entire field to ourselves in fact. All the other early fans stayed in Sonoma a few minutes away. Needless to say, our budget working pizza jobs didn’t accommodate such luxury. It was actually just us and our tiny tent, and a half rack of Coors Light, whom we later decided had sponsored our camping weekend. Amazing the creativity of 21 year olds with a marker and a stack of beer cans!

sonoma road trip camping 40 acres

katana sonoma loaded up with coors

bikes and tent at sunrise

Best I can recollect, we made the trip in 1995 when Sears Point legend Miguel Duhamel was still the man to beat at that track. Upcoming stars that year included Ben Bostrom, Nicky Haden, and my favorite, Australian Anthony Gobert. Here’s a pic with Doug Polen, Miguel Duhamel, and a very young Nicky Haden. In the very back it might be Eric Bostrom. Either the Superbike or SuperSport class. Hard to know without notes and help from the internet. I tried though. If you can help, please comment below!

sears point camping view

That shot was taken from the campground when campsites were still located in the middle of the track in the carousel complex. You would literally wake to the sound of the street sweeper and then the first run group at 8:00AM every morning. Ready or not, here come 30-50 high strung motorcycles, all screaming around the back of your head. Talk about a wake up call! I distinctly remember wishing I hadn’t smoked so many cigarettes the night before!

Here are some more shots of us that weekend:

setting up the new campsite at the track

fzr and katana at sears point

There are many more memories from that trip, like the massive Cycle World group ride that rode more like a GP race and resulted in Editor Edwards getting a fat ticket! But really it serves as a reminder that sweet road trips have been few and far between since graduating college. I’m going to have to make some changes to tour more often, on two wheels or four. A great memory awaits that won’t be experienced from the couch.

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Introducing the 1993 Ducati 750 SuperSport

I’ve already got a post started about this new aquisition, one I had started to write before I had even purchased the new bike. The title: 1993 Ducati 750 SuperSport: Diagnosis Priapism. A bold title, but I was already in love and I knew the title would be befitting the new steed once in my possession.

And then it happened of course. I sprained my knee within minutes of ownership and I would have to just soak in the lines and construction of the new bike in the confines of the garage as my knee healed. So much anticipation built up, just to have a mishap sideline me into a sentance that would nearly drive me mad!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. [click here to skip my boring trip down memory lane and shopping list, and get on to the long story short]

When Paul’s birthday arrived this past June, his wife decided to surprise him with a motorcycle. Paul and I rode together for about 4 years in college and we both covered nearly every scenic road in Oregon in that time. Fond memories for sure. Here’s a pic of us getting ready for a ride many years ago, Paul’s Katana 750 on the left, my FZR600 on the right [update: As I showed this picture to Shana again, she remarked that she had seen it many times before and that I look upon it more fondly than our wedding pictures. Ouch!]:

fzr-and-katana

After only a few weeks of looking with fresh birthday motorcycle money in hand, Paul decided on a 1997 Honda VFR750. The bike is in fantastic condition and is well spec’d: classic Honda V-4 engine configuration, single sided swingarm, a Two Brothers Racing carbon fiber exhaust, etc… Here’s a pic:

VFR 750

Naturally it was only a few days before I was invited down to take a look up close and try out his new bike. It has been probably 6 years or more since I rode regularly, so I was a bit anxious about dropping his new bike. But sure enough it comes back just like riding a bicycle. And I loved every minute of it. Before I knew it, my 15 minutes was already up. I suspected a bike was back in my future when Paul started shopping, and this just accelerated the search.

As the previous owner of a Yamaha FZR600, I knew I wanted another supersport machine. I started by looking at the latest evolution of the FZR600, the Yahama YZF600-R6 and the Honda CBR600F4i. Both bikes are technologically more advanced than my old machine with features like fuel injection, all aluminum frames, and 16k+ RPM redlines. I made a budget of $7k for the bike and all new gear. This would put me in the market for a 2000-2003 model with about $1k left over for gear.

One of the things to be mindful of when buying a supersport motorcycle is that it’s pretty likely the machine hasn’t seen easy miles. Not to say that every example has been abused, but they are often owned by younger riders who don’t have either the appreciation or means to keep them nice. Luckily they’re also easy to spot. Numerous cosmetic tack-on’s, aftermarket performance parts for a rider with only a few years under his belt, and hardly ever as clean as they should be. So I made my decision early on to look for an older adult owner and as little modifications as possible.

My first encoutner was with a 2005 F4i, 2 years newer than I thought I’d be able to afford. At $5700, all stock, and very low miles, it looked like a sure thing. I went down to check it out with Paul and my first impression was that of the owner who arrived to meet us in shorts, t-shirt and helmet. Not a good start. The bike itself was in fact low miles, but had seen very little maintenance and looked generally unloved with a dry chain and dirt/dust in every crevace. The bike did ride very well but had a disturbing vibration between 4-6k rpm. After walking away that afternoon and doing some internet research, I made this post about the cam chain tensioner that plagues many of these F4i’s. Even as the owner said he would drop the price to $5400, I knew this wasn’t ‘the one’ I was looking for.

Then work got busier and some travel came up, and bike shopping was on hold. But in the meantime, Shana secured financing and accepted that a new bike was really in my future one way or another as it was pretty much the only thing I would talk about for the next few weeks. Shana has long been of theory that my nearly accident free 4 years on a bike in college had spent all of my good fortune and a return to riding would result in a crash. But I’m older now, and things really will be different this time around. Having spent time on a racetrack and witnessed many friends accidents in cars and bikes, I have a greater appriciation for what could happen. And I’m determined to do my best to be a safe and responsible rider.

Having come around on the impending purchase, we were hanging out on one of those Friday nights, unwinding with a few cocktails. Shana remarked that while she thought the Japanese supersports were good choices, wouldn’t I rather have something a bit more special? Something like a Ducati. I had convinced myself that they were too finickey and the nearest dealership was in Salem. But the timing was uncanny as the next morning, I decided to cruise Craigslist for Ducati’s. Sure enough, there was a beauty for sale, right in my own backyard in Corvallis. Here are the pics that were with the ad:

1993 Ducati 750Ducati Desmo

When I met the owner on that Saturday, the bike was exactly what I was looking for: Adult owned, well looked after, low miles, and needed nothing with an ad that stated new tires, battery, and recent maintenance. Furthermore, it had some choice upgrade components: K&N air filter, Staintuned 2-1 header exhaust combo, and the holy grail of racing carbs, Keihin flat slide carbs. BUT, and there had to be a BUT of course, the oil cooler line decided to spring a leak and needed to be replaced. This would also prevent me from getting in a test ride or even hearing the motor run for more than 1 second. But I was already sure, this was the one and it would be worth the wait.

I came back out a few days later and while the new oil cooler line was now in, the ‘new’ battery from last year had never been used or charged and wasn’t holding a charge. So now a new, new battery was in order. But that would need to charge overnight. AGHHH! It was driving me crazy, but I was really getting my first taste of the well documented Italian tempremental nature of Ducati’s.

But then Friday arrived. It was dusk on a beautifully sunny day and when I arrived, the bike was running with no issue. I took my test ride and all was right in the world after a week of incredible anticipation. I handed over the check shook hands and headed to the gas station to fill up the tank and put air in the tires before heading out into the countryside to see the sunset on my new bike.

Long Story Short

Beaming with joy, I hammed it up with the gas station attendant and gloated over my new purchase. After filling up with super, the air pump was behind me, so I’d need to turn around between the pump islands. And this is where my early Christmas day ended terribly early. I had been warned about the steering, but naturally was too caught up in the moment to really hear the words as strongly as I needed to. There is no steering on this bike really and all the turning is done with leaning. So I slipped out the clutch made a little lean to initiate the turn and then turned the bars into my turn. All pretty textbook. EXCEPT, I hit the limit of the steering with nearly no speed accumulated and the bike stopped moving. When the bike isn’t moving, you can’t be leaned over. The bike will fall over and there it goes. I put my right foot out and caught the bike but it was too far over to catch completely. I was able to gently set her down, but then had to jump off and pick the bike back up.

Words cannot describe how embarrassed I was. My pride was reduced to nil in a matter of seconds. After I got the bike upright, I felt an ever so slight pain in my knee and since the carbs were now flooded, I needed to take a timeout anyway. As I waited, the pain in my knee grew. I tried to ignore it, but thought the better of it, and after I filled the tires, I went straight home — where my wife was waiting. Of all things after my first ride, back on a bike after at least 7 years, reporting that I had already tipped it over wasn’t high on my list. So I briefly thought of not mentioning it, but as soon as I pulled in and got off the bike, I couldn’t put my weight on my knee. Nope, no hiding this. DAMN IT ALL!

The good news is that the bike is undamaged. The bad news is that it’s not damaged because my knee took that weight, and is a bit damaged. After two weeks I’m nearly healed. But really, it was my ego that took the biggest beating. And even that is coming around lol.

Here’s the pic that was taken in the garage instead of on top of a mountain peak after a blissful ride:

Sunday-Day-Ducati-750SS-Pic

I have since taken the bike out twice on 25 miles rides and it’s a wonderful. It does need the carbs synced, so riding through town is an exercise in bucking and sputtering (although it does shoot a foot long flame out the back between shifts Paul tells me). But once on an open road with proper revs, it pulls great and only requires the mere thought of turning to initiate the turn. No wonder Ducatisti’s are such passionate people concerning their rides.

I’m planning on getting the carbs rebuilt and sync’d, as well as taking the well reviewed Team Oregon motorcycle training in September to help me get up to speed after being away from the sport for so long.

So things didn’t go exactly as planned, but it’s all going to work out in the end. Paul and I are already planning a long ride to California 🙂 Ed, are you sure there’s no bike in your future this year?!

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