This short article describes my preface to touring on my Nighthawk 750 -- my "shakedown cruise."

Shakedown Cruise--To Front Royal and Back!

Sunday, 27 January 2002

Bike pre-trip

The day dawned much colder than I had expected, with 6 a.m. temperatures in the mid-20s. Hmmmm, since the high for the day was to be in the mid-60s (hence the reason for picking today for the ride!), I expected warmer early-morning temperatures and had planned my 8 a.m. departure time with that in mind. Deciding to hold off until the temperature reached 40 degrees, I went about preparing for this inaugural shakedown ride on my new-to-me 1999 Honda Nighthawk 750.

My plan for today? Just a simple little roundtrip ride from my home in Woodbridge, VA to Front Royal, VA, the Northern entrance point to the Skyline Drive portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Nothing exotic, but rather just a cruise over and back. Since my purchase of the Nighthawk last October, I had only used her to commute back-and-forth 25 miles each way to my job in Washington, DC. However, when warm weather arrives later this year, I plan to do a lot of exploring in the mountainous areas of Virginia (and surrounding states). This run to Front Royal served to "dip my toes in the water" of touring on my Nighthawk. Plus, how often does one get a sunny, 60 degree day in January, in this part of the country at least? I decided, upon hearing the forecast, that I simply had to take advantage of the wonderful weather!

I decided to travel light--just my EclipseTM tankbag with rain gear (yes, yes, I know--the forecast called for sun!), a cell phone, some $$$, other odds-and-ends that I always carry, and my digital camera. I didn't really expect to take many pictures since I wouldn't be riding on too many scenic routes, but I did want to take a picture of something in Front Royal as proof of my visit.

By 10:45 a.m. the temperature had climbed to 40 degrees, so I suited up in my TourmasterTM Cortech pants and jacket, grabbed my helmet, and headed out to my bike. I clicked the above picture of her sitting there (as proof for my brother that I really had purchased a motorcycle) waiting for our journey to begin. My trip planning software calculated a distance of 138.8 miles given my choice of roads, which is exactly what my odometer showed after the trip! She fired with a touch of the starter button and warmed up while I put on my helmet and gloves. I pulled out of the driveway at 11:05 a.m. for my first "long" ride.

The Route My plan was to ride over to Front Royal via I-66 (mainly), then trek back along smaller "secondary" roads. My daily commute involves about 40 miles of highly-congested interstate riding each day, so this little trip provided me the opportunity to experience some less crowded interstate riding, as well as enjoy some back roads riding. While being able to commute on a bike is nice (even with the heavy traffic), it doesn't hold a candle to being able to take her out onto the open road!

The ride over on I-66 was pretty uneventful. Travelling on the interstates isn't bad, especially when there are no "cagers" around. However, they're really just a means to an end, in this case to get to Front Royal quickly. The real pleasure would be taking the back roads home. There were many, many other motorcyclists out taking advantage of the wonderful weather. As I neared Front Royal, I-66 became more hilly and had some nice sweeping curves (at least for an interstate highway). In what seemed like no time I was exiting onto Rt. 55 West, the John Marshall Highway.

The John Marshall Highway is a two lane (55 m.p.h.) highway that follows the terrain all the way to Front Royal. In other words, it curves around hills, or flows up one side and down the other--a fun road for bikers! Unfortunately, I got stuck behind a pickup that was behind a small car moving at less than 40 m.p.h. for the 5 miles or so to Front Royal. Oh well, no matter! I had just started the lower speed, fun part of my little journey.

Front Royal Welcome Sign Front Royal is bigger than I expected (population 32,000), given that it is out in the middle of the Northern part of the Shenandoah Valley. It is the county seat of Warren County, VA. Of course, where I entered town I encountered a haven for fast-food junkies and shoppers, what with multiple eating establishments and strip malls. There also were signs pointing to all the attractions in the area, primarily Luray Caverns (which bills itself as the largest caverns on the East Coast) and Skyline Drive. Someday I'll have to come back to tour the caverns, as I've always been interested in such things. Today, however, I rode on, searching for Rt. 522 South.

My left turn onto Rt. 522 quickly took me out of the urban sprawl and into rural Virginia. Another two lane strip of blacktop, Rt. 522 meanders through the Virginia countryside. While the segment I rode contained no "knee scrapers" (at least not at the posted speed limit of 55 m.p.h.), there were plenty of sweeping corners and elevation changes to keep my attention. It was especially nice since there were very few other vehicles on the road, meaning I could travel at my own pace and take in the sights. Once warm weather arrives and fills the trees with leaves, I will have to revisit this road, as there will be many portions that will have a canopy of leaves blocking out the sun--pretty!

About 80 miles into the trip (and nearly 130 miles into the tank of gas), I decided to take advantage of an open gas station in Flint Hill, VA (about 2/3 of the way through my Rt. 522 segment). Besides being a good time to stretch my legs (not used to rides longer than about 25 miles), I didn't really know when I'd run across another open gas station out in rural Virginia. Turns out that I needn't have worried, but my philosophy is better safe than sorry! I probably scared the cashier half-to-death as I went in to pay (no pay-at-the-pump) with all my riding gear, including my helmet, still in place. Oh well, it probably gave her something to talk to her neighbors about that evening.

A few miles out of Flint Hill, I turned East from Rt. 522 onto Rt. 211. I was surprised by the fact that it is a four lane highway (though not limited access) for the segment I travelled--must have missed that fact in the trip-planning software I used. Despite looking like a major thoroughfare (for rural Virginia), there was very little traffic for an early Sunday afternoon. As I rode towards Warrenton, I observed many vineyards on both sides of Rt. 211, many of which had signs offering tours and wine tastings...guess I'll have to come back sometime to check some of them out. Virginia has a thriving "wine country" and I must have been in the middle of it.

Warrenton is the county seat of Fauquier County, VA and its largest town with about 6,700 residents. It lies at the intersection of Rt. 211, Rt. 29, Rt. 15, and Rt. 17, all of which can be confusing unless one pays very close attention to the large road sign displays with arrows pointing every which direction. I also found myself in fast-food and strip mall heaven again--must be something about taking the "big" roads through these towns. With beginner's luck, I found my way through without needing to stop to consult maps or without needing to back track, and continued my journey on Rt. 15/Rt. 29 Northeast towards Manassas, VA.

Several miles Northeast of Warrenton, Rt. 15 splits off from Rt. 29 and curves to the North, while Rt. 29 continues to the Northeast and intersects with I-66 just to the West of Manassas. I hopped back onto I-66 East for about 2 miles, then turned South onto Rt. 234 and took the "Manassas Bypass" to Rt. 28 and followed that around to the Prince William County Parkway. A short 11 parkway miles later I pulled back into my driveway and shut her down, 3 hours and 139 miles after I began. Was it the best "tour" ever? No. However, it was a great way to spend 3 hours on a beautiful January Sunday, and that is what motorcycling is all about!

Copyright 2002 by Kelvin U.

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