Dual-sportsman-like conduct

Time to finally put the DR350 to good use
Published February 28, 2010

Thumper’s home. After waiting two months while the bike sat sadly in a local shop garage, I got the call early on Saturday morning to pick up my 1992 Suzuki DR350S. The sky threatened to open up, so I didn’t plan to do anything more than ride the DR back to my apartment. But the fiancee suggested I do more, and I obliged. Late in the afternoon and short on time to plan, I kept it simple, to Alice’s and back.

Fedor Emelianenko couldn’t have knocked the grin off my face. Two months away from a bike is enough to make it feel freshly foreign again. My awkwardness on the stilted dual sport motorcycle, the still-messy roads from the previous day’s storm, and the mechanic’s advice to take it easy on the practically-new motor limited the ride to a sane pace. An utter joy, but not quite fully satisfying.

A dual sport motorcycle demands more than damp highways, so this morning I went out again, intent to reacquaint myself with the roads I couldn’t fully enjoy on the Ninja. First up, Tunitas Creek Road.

A wild blast of rapid gear changes, blind corners, and fistfuls of throttle

I’d only ridden Tunitas Creek once before–aboard the mighty 250–and remembered it for its darkly-covered, one-lane-narrow and lumpy asphalt. Not the best of conditions for budget sport bike suspension and weighted wrists, but just the sort of stuff that inspired me to buy the DR late last year. Attacking Tunitas with miles of fork travel and sit-up-and-beg posture was nothing short of a revelation. The event transformed Tunitas Creek from quirky novelty to one of my absolute favorite stretches of road, a wild blast of rapid gear changes, sharp bends, blind corners, waving bicyclists, and fistfuls of throttle.

I got carried away reveling in my dual sport’s strengths and for a second forgot its biggest weakness. Compared with the Ninja 250, the DR has crap for brakes. When Tunitas abruptly dumped me onto Skyline, I squeezed hard, locked the rear over a thin layer of mud, fish tailed and gave a crowd of bicyclists something to giggle at. But hey, no foot down!

After an obligatory lunch stop at Alice’s and an hour spent ogling the turnout’s motorcycle herd, I made for Alpine Road to the south. Alpine is less goaty than Tunitas Creek, but it’s still a place where the DR shines. Despite a painted divider line, Alpine is too narrow for two cars side-by-side. It’s surface is smooth in comparison to Tunitas’s whoops, but it’s a coarse pavement that falls across steep, tight hills. It’s enough to keep away most all automobiles, which is likely why the secluded area sees so much bicycle traffic.

Semi-goat trails are great, but it wouldn’t be a real dual sport outing without a bit of dirt. On the advice of one of this blog’s readers, I charged toward Reservoir Road in Pescadero. It’s a legit road on the map, with road signs and mailing addresses, but it’s unpaved. And after last week’s torrential storm, Reservoir Road is vaguely muddy. My first jaunt over a dirt path on the DR was uneventful, but satisfying. I wanted to dip into the throttle, throw a roost and stick my leg out while powering through turns, but I wasn’t prepared to be muddy or fall off the bike and both would’ve surely happened. The pleasure of Reservoir lasted all of five minutes, but at least I can say I’ve taken the bike off road. Sort of. I’ve got spattered boots to prove it.

A visit to Pescadero would be wasted without a taste of Stage Road. And like everything I’d done today, Stage is best savored with the Suzuki DR. Beautiful as always (though the skeleton is gone), and the perfect end to a dual sport loop I’ll no doubt repeat in the future.