My Maine Ride

The plan involved riding the F650 from Lake Winnipesaukee, NH to Millinocket, Maine, and then into the woods to the family-owned cabin near Mount Katahdin. Sleeping the night and then returning the following day. A total round trip of 585 paved miles and 40 on gravel, as it turned out.

I traveled light, but I wanted a little more luggage than the top box, so I used a zip-top, water repellent camp bag strapped on with bungee cords. It worked well enough and cost nothing.

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Leaving for Maine at 7:20 AM

It’s a great feeling heading out in the cool of early morning for a multi-day adventure. You, your gear and your bike. Rolling down the road, sort of self sufficient, taking a break from your normal routine.

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In MapQuest, I selected the “Avoid Highways” option and got the route shown. Google Maps gave me a slightly different route but I liked this one better. You don’t use any  interstates in either case. The route was good although I ran into some serious road construction between Fryeburg, ME and Bridgeton, ME. Now in hindsight, I see the Google Maps route avoided that bad stretch. Oops!

I roughly knew where I was going and I looked at the names of towns I would be passing through, and headed for them via the road signs I encountered along the way. This worked quite well with an occasional look at the map.

If you are navigating using the “towns” method, be aware of three kinds of towns. Towns you are passing through, towns you are turning at, and towns you are turning at just before actually entering the town center. I should have turned towards Skowhegan just before Farmington, but wound up riding straight through Farmington and had to jog over to get back on track quite a bit north of Skowhegan. Didn’t add much mileage but the roads weren’t as good.

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Just kidding. I encountered this mud hole deep in the woods a few hundred feet from the cabin. It was worse than it looks because the ruts were maybe 8 inches deep and there was no shoulder to get around it. It was a bit slick, but not soupy. I couldn’t ride down in the rut because my foot pegs would have dragged, so I rode the highest, widest flat part but if I had to put my feet down, they were over ruts, so I would have tipped over. I was tired and had a cloud of deer flies on me. I should have stopped and studied it more and cleared some sticks off it, because running it straightaway was risky and I was deep in the woods alone.

I made it.

I lashed the bike to a tree for the night, worried that a bear might tip it over trying to get at some crumbs, letting fuel and oil drain out onto the ground while I slept. But the night was uneventful.

Coming out was easier. I was rested and the deer flies weren’t around. I started the bike about 6:45 AM. Noticed fresh moose tracks in the gravel as I got going. Later, saw a young moose disappearing around a bend ahead.

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Mount Katahdin in the distance, northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail

By the way, I got less than 30 mpg in the woods. Carried an extra 1.5 gallons just in case.

This bridge was pretty decayed. Can’t ride the middle in any case. And no side rails. You have to know what the bike is going to do, same as you would if you were walking across it, because if you lurch toward the edge, you can only hope you wind up dumping onto the bridge and not over the side.

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The bridges are designed to handle large flooding during spring runoff, so in the summer you are going to fall a long way before you hit something. Hopefully water and not rock. This was taken from the bridge.

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The 30 mile stretch from Millinocket to Milo is through forest. No buildings or services of any kind. I was zipping along when all of a sudden a deer appeared on the shoulder ahead to my right. Very noticeable velvet rack. He started running parallel to my travel and I eventually went by him. Thankfully he didn’t dart out in front of me. Then I noticed another deer a few hundred feet ahead on the same side of the road. I thought, “Pay attention!” I hadn’t even considered deer at 9 AM.

Going south I missed my “turn” at Turner, ME. Duh. Wound up in Auburn and meandered home via Sebago Lake, Cornish, and Ossipee, NH and Wolfeboro. This latter route was actually an alternate proposed by Google, so it was fine. However, the “towns” method of navigating failed me this time. Too many little towns and a cobweb of little roads.

I just bought an $11 on-board charger so I can navigate with the iPhone next time.

Well, the bike now has 12,850 miles on it. Had 3600 when I got it two years ago.

I can’t really explain why someone would want to ride a motorcycle all day long, but I am already itching to get going on the next big adventure.

 

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The Himalayan

On the day we bought the 1997 BMW F650 two years ago, my wife and I had looked at two bikes.  The second was the F650. The first was a fairly new Royal Enfield Chrome Classic 500. The RE was less motorcycle, more expensive, and had some surface rust on the fasteners from being stored under a tarp in a damp place. Still, I was drawn to it.

I can’t help myself.  There’s a place in my brain that is sort of owned by Royal Enfield motorcycles, probably in the same neighborhood as apple pie and Walter Cronkite.

So I was intrigued to learn that RE has a new bike just now appearing on the scene in India. It’s called the Himalayan, a reference to the expeditions RE riders take up into the Himalayas, and to the fact that the bike has many of the enhancements often found on those expedition-modified machines. And some new features as well.

A Royal Enfield with a counterbalanced engine? With a rear mono-shock suspension? Overhead cam? Take a look.

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Royal Enfield Himalayan

The bike weighs about 400 lbs with 4 gallons of fuel, giving it a range that approaches 300 miles. 21 inch front wheel with 8 inches of fork travel, 17 rear with over 7 inches of travel for the mono-shock suspension, and disc brakes front and rear. Plenty of ground clearance. Engine is a counterbalanced, air/oil cooled, 411 cc, two-valve, carburetor single. The smoothest RE engine ever built. And yet it still has that signature long stroke for good low-rpm torque.

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The Himalayan is different, simple, visceral, bordering on crude. I like it.

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Hopefully, a version of this bike will show up in the USA. Reports indicate 55 mph to be an ideal cruising speed, so you could ride it all day long on the secondary roads of New England, for example. It’s not going to be too happy on the interstate.

Nonetheless, with attachments for various bits of luggage, good range, comfortable seat, smooth engine and good fuel economy, it’s a legitimate medium-speed adventure touring machine. Not to mention just hauling stuff locally.

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In the USA, we bought about 2.5 million new pickup trucks in 2015 alone. Mostly, they just haul the occasional tube of caulking from Lowes. Even a Himalayan is overkill for that.

The bike is more off-road than street, which aligns it with the $6500 DR650S here. The DR is lighter, faster, more powerful, and proven. You can get a new leftover model for $5500. But it doesn’t have the character and “approachability” of the Himalayan.

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DR650S

 

With the same single-cylinder engine displacement, we have the streetier $5000 KTM Duke 390, which is smaller, lighter, liquid-cooled, fuel injected, faster and more powerful. It has the upright riding position of a dual sport, but also the 17-inch wheels and shorter wheelbase of a sport bike. A thoroughly modern design. Not as good a comparison as the DR, but it shows what you can buy for $5K.

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KTM Duke 390

At $4300 -$4500, the Himalayan would fit nicely into the market here, and not in a small way. At a higher price, you move into the space occupied by the classic RE bikes. Not competitive technically, but oozing character. If I bought a Himalayan today, I can imagine still owning it in 10 years. I can’t say the same for the other two.

In the USA, you can buy a new fuel injected RE Bullet 500 for $5K, and it’s possible the Himalayan could work in that price range also if it had good build quality, fuel injection, and maybe slightly more power.

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A few days from now, I’ll be riding 250 curvy blacktop miles up into the North Maine Woods, followed by another 20 miles of dirt into the “back of beyond”, hoping the log cabin is still there.

Which is probably why that part of my brain is chanting, “Himalayan. Himalayan. Himalayan.”