Picture Intermission – The Long Way Home on a Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+

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Kawasaki hosted a few of us for the launch of the Versys 1000 SE LT+ with a beautiful ride in Arizona that went from Scottsdale to Flagstaff. They also offered us the option to ride a test bike back home instead of hopping on a flight, so I delayed writing up my review and saddled up on the new Versys instead. Here’s a brief picture tour of my 500 mile, 12 hour ride home on Kawasaki’s new VERsatile SYStem.

After the last day of riding, most of the reviewers stayed around for some dinner together. John Burns from Motorcycle.com is a fan of peace.

One of the last things I did on Friday night was grab the luggage off my bike to pack it up. Looks like two other reviewers would be riding back tomorrow, as well.

The condition of my seat confirmed what the weather app on my phone was saying – the temperature was just under freezing. I wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow morning, which was looking even colder at 6am.

Normally I would have taken a full weekend to get back home, but Vy’s birthday was Sunday so I wanted to get back home on Saturday night. If I had more time, I would have checked out Overland Expo as it was happening just minutes away at the same time. The expo is incredibly popular, which is why Flagstaff was full of customized trucks and SUVs like this Ford.

And we’re off!

Though I had plenty of miles to cover, I made sure I spent plenty of time off the freeway.

It’s easy to stereotype Arizona as scorching desert, but the greater Flagstaff area is approximately 7,000 feet of elevation and there’s plenty of gorgeous forest to explore.

The stock tires are Bridgestone Battlax T31s. They’re great overall/wet weather street tires, though I can’t say they’re much fun on surfaces like this. But no points are deducted as they were never claimed to be any good at this. I liked the color the tires became after this sojourn in the dirt.

The “bottle opener” aspect seems very fitting for this product.

I’ve grown to really enjoy the “Quick Release” bags that Kawasaki includes on the H2 SX SE and this Versys, but the white finish is easy to scuff with your boot as you swing your leg over.

As I pulled over for my first gas stop, I was stunned to see this Indian Roadmaster with a rider that was smoking a pipe.

That Indian would set quite a precedent. As I made my way through historic Route 66 from Seligman through Kingman, I counted between 70-80 bikes. All but two were Harleys or Indians – a Yamaha FJR1300 and a Kawasaki Concours. I took this photo just because I was excited to see something different! It was next to something called the Motoporium, and the advertising worked. I had never heard of the Motoporium before but I decided to go inside. There was a surprising amount of vintage machines, enough that I did a separate post on them so that this post doesn’t get longer than it already is

A tourist liked the Versys so much that she had to get a photo with it. Then she wanted a photo with me, and then she tried to get on the bike without asking. I decided it was a good time to leave.

Sometimes you just have to see a train up close.

The average distance between towns on the 66 is approximately 25-30 miles because that’s the distance a rider would typically cover while on horseback centuries ago. Nowadays that just translates to 25 mile stints of straight open road where you’re usually alone. Consider this a successful test of the cruise control.

Always follow the signs.

A lot of Route 66 is just tourist traps that try to capture the good old days. I stopped for the amusingly-named “Giganticus Headicus” hoping that it would be something different. The good news is, it’s something new that isn’t just nostalgia about Route 66. The bad news, it’s just silly. Maybe there’s some deeper meaning of art that I don’t understand.

One of my can’t miss stops if I’m on the 40 near the California/Arizona border is the town of Oatman, Arizona. The road is in a delight on a motorcycle, though bikes like the Versys are better than the Ninja because the road surface isn’t perfect and can occasionally be covered in crap – more on that later. The last time I was here was for a Harley-Davidson touring story for Motorcyclist magazine in 2017. This sign was new to me, which presumably meant there had been an accident or two since.

Just a small sample of what makes the road so special – curves and elevation changes. Don’t mind the traffic.

The crap on the road I referred to earlier isn’t some sort of reference. It’s something you better be paying attention to thanks to the adorable burros of Oatman. This guy was more interested in some food than the Versys…

…while this guy had snuggled up real close to a Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic. I guess H-D wins the burro popularity contest – no wonder everyone on Route 66 seems to be riding them!

Whenever I visit Oatman, my routine is the same: grab a bite and a drink in the “restaurant and salon” of the Oatman Hotel. Today’s choice was a Shiner Bock and “Burro Ears”, which is what the locals call fried chips. The chips are almost never fried well, but I’m a sucker for the sour cream/salsa sauce that accompanies the chips.

Like many local communities, Oatman grew in popularity after prospectors struck gold. The town name comes from Olive Oatman, a woman who was captured and enslaved at the age of 14 as her family headed west. It’s a fascinating story – here’s the short version and here’s the long version if you’re so inclined. Now it’s just a tourist trap with thousands of dollars hung up on the wall.

The bills are the touristy evolution of a tradition that goes back to the days of prospecting. The story is that miners would write their names on a dollar and attach it to the wall when they got paid. In the future, if they needed an extra buck, it’d be waiting there on the wall for them. It was also a way that you could pay it forward with a friend. This couple doesn’t seem to understand how it works:

I ate in the bar, which is much darker than the restaurant. But I think it’s a better place to be as you usually get to interact with locals. At one point, some lady bought ~70 year-old regular a drink. He responded with, “but then I’ll have a drinking problem: 2 hands, 1 mouth!

Back in September of 2012, I left a Baby Jack-inspired dollar bill on the wall in the back corner of the bar. I was pleased to see it was still hanging up!

I finished up and headed out to the bike with the hopes of getting back on the road, but the street was shut down for a gunfight show. Two actors make some jokes and then shoot each other with blanks. Spoiler alert: this kid is mean.

The show took longer than I was hoping for, but Oatman apparently has a way of keeping you in town. These burros didn’t want me to leave.

I hopped on the 40 with the plan of covering about 30 miles before I could get back on Route 66, but then I was greeted by a road closure of a different sort. Turns out that the road utilizes over 120 wooden bridges that are all over 80 years old, and several of them have been deemed unsafe. In July 2017, 24 bridges were damaged due to flash flooding and the road has been closed since.

Another 30 miles on the 40 West allowed me to get back onto The Mother Road.

As I approached the town of Amboy, I found two lion statues off the road in some dirt. There was a guestbook at the bottom, and I thought it’d be interesting to see how far back the entries went.

Turns out it had just been started two days ago! There were 5 entries – one from Chicago, one from Powhatan, Virginia, one from Los Angeles, one from Dorset in England, and one person who just put a smiley face instead of a location. I didn’t add my name to the list.

Roy’s cafe is one of the most famous landmarks on Route 66. The town of Amboy started to decline after Interstate 40 bypassed the community in 1973, but the cafe is still open. The motel lobby seems to be an art installation while the rooms themselves are out of service.

This is a third generation Lincoln Continental (1958-1960). I like this photo because it feels like it could have been taken back in that timeframe, when Amboy was arguably at its peak.

As I headed west towards Los Angeles, the cloud cover got so thick that it completely blocked out the sunset. As it started to get dark, I stopped exploring and simply chewed up miles on the freeway. The headlight casts shadows on the road from splattered bug remains.

Speaking of which, the Versys may have set a personal best for largest bug killed.

I was hit with some unexpected rain and the temperature started to plummet. Luckily I was wearing my Aerostich suit and the Versys has decent heated grips, so I had no problem adding 30 minutes of travel time by going out of my way to get takeout from my favorite restaurant.

Then it was just a matter of getting back home, eating some delicious Indian food, and starting my review of the Versys, which will come soon…hopefully.

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