The Triumph Bonneville as
A month ago, I received a
text from my friend Doug, looking for motorcycle escorts for an upcoming
two-day charity bike ride. From Cle Elum
to Leavenworth over Blewitt Pass on Saturday, and back again on Sunday. Each
bike ride would be about 55 miles. I
knew absolutely nothing about motorcycle escort work, but had always been
interested. Doug knew I’d worked in the
motorcycle business for 14 years and figured I’d know people.
Well, I do. I was about to
volunteer myself, as it sounded intriguing, but thought to ask for more info
first. Turns out it included a motel room Friday and Saturday night, breakfast,
lunch and dinner Saturday and breakfast and lunch on Sunday, plus expense
money, plus free beer Saturday evening!
So…did he need anyone besides me?
After some fun telling my
friends I would be spending the weekend working as a paid escort, I installed
the Cortech bags on my 2016 Triumph Bonneville and was off for the 90 or so
freeway miles to Cle Elum.
The Friday night motel was
at Suncadia Resort, although some of the hardier bicyclists camped in town next
to the start. I don’t really care for
high end resorts (see my previous essay), but when the room is provided, I can
In the late afternoon the
other “motos” arrived. Doug on his police spec BMW, Bill, Mitch, and Ian on BMW
1200 GS models, and Rob a bit later on a Kawasaki Concours 14. All of their
bikes looked like moto escorts, and I was a bit concerned at what I might be
asked to subject the Bonneville to. Over
a beer the role was explained. All we were to do was to be a presence – riding
slowly behind or ahead of groups of bicyclists, with the four-way flashers on.
We were not responsible for first aid or mechanical assistance or much of
anything really. Those sorts of things
would be attended to by a squadron of “SAG wagons,” and I asked and learned that
the acronym stood for “Support and Gear.”
These vehicles had bike racks on the back, and the drivers were members
of a ham radio club that had been working this event for a decade or two. There
was also a bicycle mechanic with a pickup truck who would be roaming the
course. I began to relax.
In the evening there was a
fascinating meeting with the SAG wagon crews and the moto riders. Most of the moto fellows had been trained to
do events similar to the Tour De France bicycle race. The company that puts on that
also organizes bike races in California and Utah and other places. A bike race
is an entirely different kettle of stew than a charity bike race, and much more
demanding for the motos. To work those, you need an international license,
which requires training and passing of tests and all that sort of thing. I was awash in ignorance, but at least 3 of
the moto guys had that license and a lot of experience.
The tension in the meeting
with the SAG crews, motos, and the event organizer sizzled with unspoken
tension, and I soon figured out why. The
SAG crews had been doing this for years and were positive their methods were
the right ones. Same for the motos, but their methods were different! Last year there had been disagreements that
had become extremely heated, so the purpose of this meeting was to iron out the
ruffled feathers. If you have even
attempted to iron ruffled feathers, it is difficult. Everyone was polite, and by the end of the
meeting agreement was reached. During the event, it seemed that nothing really
had changed. Each group did what they usually did – they just dropped the
The problem seemed to be
that both groups wanted to ensure the safety of the bike riders, particularly
those at the tail end. The SAG crews all
had communication, but the motos did not.
If you were a moto going back to pick up the tail end Charlies and Charlottes,
you could not be sure how far back to go, because the person you thought was at
the back an half and hour ago might have had a mechanical or simply become too
fatigued and had been picked up by a SAGH wagon and you would not know. This
happened to me on Sunday, but in the end, everything seemed to work well.
Saturday morning we
motored to downtown Cle Elum to the start, where an immense breakfast was laid
out by one of several Rotary clubs that supported the event. Well fed, we lined
up the motos under the inflated arch that served as the start and finish. Eventually we left, riding at a moderate pace
for the first mile or so of the course.
Frequent signage pointing out turns was welcome, since I did not
actually know the route! Eventually we pulled over to a side lot and waited for
the bicycles to begin to come by, and procedures were reviewed – probably for
my benefit. Most of the procedures seemed to come down to “use your best
judgement,” never my strong point. The idea was to troll behind a small group
as they pedaled up a hill. If they
crested the hill and began a long straight or a downhill, you would flip a U-turn
and go back and pick up another group.
There was something like
275 entrants on bicycles, and 6 motos – so ideally, we would be spaced about 50
apart, but there was more of a concept than a reality.
As the bicycles streamed
by, many of them thanking us for being there, we waited until a large group had
passed and one of us would follow. I was
about the 3rd to go – again, using my best judgement.
It was really a lot of
fun, actually, and more mentally involving than I would have thought. If I went back to pick up another group, how
far back should I go. If a group was in
an area that seemed perilous due to the road or traffic, I would stay with
them. Back and forth, and thinking all the time – with no way of knowing if the
thinking was appropriate or utterly daft.
If I saw a bike stopped, I would pull up next to them to ask if all was
OK, and it always was, and then continue.
One interesting aspect of
the first day was a construction zone. By prior arrangement, the bikes would be
herded into groups of 30 to 50 and then led through the construction by a pilot
car. The flag guy engaged me in a fun
conversation which began with him asking me how far along we were. Of course, I had no real idea – probably half
or so – anmd I explained to him my interpretation of what using my best
judgement meant. I would find a small
group of bikes that included an attractive woman and attempt to keep track pf
relative positions by where she was, but I had to admit it was not working all
A few seconds later an
attractive woman rode by to join the group waiting in front of me and I said “Like
He laughed and replied “Yeah,
I got it., but nice example. He then
regaled me with great stories of the adventures and perils of doing flag
work. I was almost sad when I had to
Occasionally there would
be a rest area or lunch break, each one staffed and catered by one or more
Rotary clubs. The bicyclists needed a lot of liquids and food for their
efforts, and so just to fit in…
I also enjoyed great chats
with really interesting people… like the architect who used to ride Triumphs
and also rowed for the University of Washington and was familiar with the book The
Boys in the Boat, and the woman who rode a Triumph 650 years ago (way ahead
of her time!) before earning her pilot’s license and moving on to marriage and
The last part of the ride
was a lovely little crooked jaunt into Leavenworth. I ushered my group almost
all the way to the motel when Bill flagged me down. He yelled that there were still 60 bicyclists
trying to get off the mountain, and that we needed to go back up there. I doubted that, but who am I to question? What followed was an exhilarating ride back
up the mountain on the main highway at what would be highly illegal speeds
under normal circumstances. Turns out
that when you have “Moto” stickers on the bike, an orange safety vest and (most
importantly) your four-way flashers on, you can go 80mph and people in cars
will pull over and wave you by. Great fun.
When we got back to the
last break area, as I suspected, there was pretty much nobody left, so I
ushered a small group back on the twisty back road.
In the evening there was a
sumptuous buffet dinner, some speeches, and then a break followed by a beer
garden. Nice day!
Sunday morning brought
another huge breakfast, and then we gathered the motos in front of the huge
inflated start line arch, and in time motored down the main drag of Leavenworth
to the left turn that led to the twisty back road. I was asked to be the rear guard this time,
as four of the others faced a 170-mile ride home at the end, and if they were
near the front they could get at least and hour or more head start on the ride
home at the end. Doug lives in Seattle,
but he was asked to lead out because he had ridden the route Friday and was
familiar with the tricky sections, of which there were many. He would hold
station at one of the rest areas until I got there and we would take up rear
guard duties together.
The bicyclists were
allowed to start between 8am and 9:30, which seemed excessive to me. I waved at passing groups for about an hour,
trying to make sure all of them spotted the left turn. Some of them ignored me, possibly choosing a
straighter and shorter route up to the mountain pass.
Eventually I rode back to
the start to make sure all had left. There was only one bike left, and no rider
in sight. It was eventually determined that the rider had either slept in or
was abandoning the event, so I took off to catch the riders ahead, which was
not at all difficult.
Out on the main road I
quickly determined who was the last rider, a woman I began to refer to as “good
old 98.” She had been interviewed by some of the SAG folks, and she admitted
she was slow but assured all she would get there. Eventually, after stopping a few times to
inquire of people taking a break and repeatedly riding back to check on old 98,
I reached the turn off for Old Blewitt Pass road, which was the highlight of
the ride for many. I waited for a goodly
amount of time and chatted with two EMTs and their truck, and I think they had
nothing to do for the entire weekend. After old 98 passed I ventured down the ancient
road, and could soon see why it was the highlight. It went up a lot, with tight
turns and a lot of bumps and depressions and jagged holes in the pavement.
Occasionally a concrete trench ran across the pavement at a corner apex, there
to assist in water drainage. Definitely
not a road to play hero on, which was not a problem for me.
Couldn’t help wondering
what it was like on a bicycle. Here you are, struggling up steep hills and
sharp corners. Along comes a moto, which sweeps around you and, with a casual
twist of the wrist, is soon 200 yards ahead.
That would be galling to me.
This road was a tad narrow
for U-turns, with bicycles coming at any moment, so instead I would pull over
at a more or less wide spot and revel in the spectacular views and utter
silence. At the top there was a rest area, with Doug waiting for me, and another splendid
array of liquids and treats, complete with volunteers cheering each arrival. It
was all downhill from here, pretty much literally.
Doug took over tail
position, urging me to ride down to the lunch stop, which featured a buffet of
By now the riders were
spread out by at least two hours, so there was always lots of time to sit and
ponder, take in the day, and smoke my pipe away from the riders so as not to
pollute their pristine lungs.
The rest of the day passed
with more of the same, and no incidents worth mentioning. Back in Cle Elum, Doug and I sat for a bit
and then took off for the onerous trek on I-90 back home. The stretch from Cle
Elum to Snoqualmie Pass is famous for near grid lock in the afternoons. Once
you are close to the pass, suddenly things open up and then everyone cruises at
about 80mph to Issaquah.
To belabor the obvious, if
someone offers you the opportunity to serve as a “moto” for a bicycle event –
take it! Hope I get invited back next
Copyright 2019 David Preston