I would imagine that most of the Soup Army thinks of Monterey as that town on the California Coast that jacks up its hotel prices whenever the MotoGP circus comes to town.
These days, I'm lucky enough to live in Monterey, and I've come to learn that there's a lot more to it than high hotel prices, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and bikes taking over Cannery Row on MotoGP weekend. Monterey was founded in 1770 by the Spanish, specifically Don Gasper de Portola and Father Junipero Serra. The original mission building that was built circa 1770 still stands today as the Royal Presidio Chapel, and it's a short walk from downtown, on Monterey's "path-of-history" walking tour.
West of downtown is what is technically known as New Monterey and became the home of the sardine canneries made famous through the writings of John Steinbeck, whose novels Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday are set in Monterey, and specifically on Ocean View Avenue (later renamed Cannery Row, after the novel).
So, what has this got to do with motorcycling? Well, the whole Soup Army knows that Laguna Seca is a scant 20 minutes away on Highway 68, but more than that, Monterey is smack-dab in the middle of some of this country's best motorcycling roads.
I recently got to explore some of these roads on a 2008 Ducati Hypermotard. Not just any Hypermotard, but an 1100 'S' model, complete with a performance kit — its dry clutch spinning in the breeze and its two-into-one exhaust system nice and loud, but not too loud (I only set one car alarm off in around 800 miles of riding). It also came with Ducati's Data Acquisition (DDA) system, allowing me to record the bike's data as I rode and then download it to my computer and analyze it later.
So, how are those roads, and how is the Hyper on those roads? The easy answer is that I had a grin on my face that rivals the Cheshire Cat's since the Hyper arrived, and I only lost that grin when the bike went back to Ducati.
I got to ride the Hyper in a variety of conditions during my time with the bike — from some freeway (which kind of misses the point), lots of twisty roads (whenever possible) and some city commuting (not as bad as you might think).
The upright riding position does have its downside, though, and that's most evident on freeways. The comfortable cruising speed on a freeway is highly dependent on the direction and velocity of the wind. In a strong headwind, you feel like you have to hold on to the bike at speeds as low as 65mph. With no wind, 80mph is a comfortable cruising speed. I also noticed that, when you're behind certain vehicles, particularly those brick-like SUV's, there's a fair amount of turbulence that directly hits your body.
Freeways and city riding are really missing the point with this bike, though. Give it a nice, twisty, empty road, and it's cheesy grin time. I got to take the bike on a variety of fun roads during my time with it, but one ride in particular sums up what this bike, and what the roads around Monterey, are really all about.
Follow Along At Home
Want to follow along as you read? I had a mobile GPS system with me on "the ride" and it recorded the route of the ride. There are two options for viewing the recording; Google Maps or Google Earth. Google Earth is more fun as you can tilt the view to see the topography, but it does require that you have the Google Earth application installed.
If you don't have Google Earth but want it, it's freely available from Google by clicking here.
The route I followed took in three main varieties of road. First, there is the fairly twisty, fairly bumpy kind of road. Second, there is the straight, yet still fairly bumpy road. And finally, there's the very twisty, one-and-half lane road that's very bumpy and features the occasional gravel-strewn hairpin. As you'll see later, the only time you seem to find smooth roads these days is when they are under federal jurisdiction.
One thing that the bumpy roads showed me was that, before I played with it, the front-end of the bike was rather harsh. Most bumps that I encountered tried to jerk the handlebars right out of my hands. After getting out the owners manual and using a screwdriver to set both the compression and rebound damping to softer than standard (they were harder than standard originally), the bike behaved a lot better over the bumps, at the slight expense of some vagueness in the faster, smoother corners. I'll take compliance over the bumps every time, and it was nice to note that twiddling with the suspension had a real-world effect that even I — about as far from a factory racer as there is — could actually appreciate. As a side note, the back-end was perfectly planted the whole time, so I left well-enough alone. However, the Ohlins remote-reservoir rear shock is just as adjustable as the Marzocchi 50mm front-end.
I had a spirited ride up and down that road, where there are lots of corners and lots of short straights. I wasn't trying to go as fast as absolutely possible — after all, this is the street not a track — but I wasn't hanging around, either. I was riding at a spirited pace. The few car-bound locals on the road typically heard me coming and, as the very polite locals are prone to do up there, they get out of the way of bikes (hit this road on the weekend and you have tourists going half as slow as the locals and have no idea what a turnout is). I wasn't really gunning it down the short straights, but I was having a lot of fun in the corners, and it was one of the quickest runs I'd ever made up or down that road. I had the DDA running, and it was both humbling and enlightening to see afterwards that I never opened the throttle more than 50% the whole way up and down the road. It also became apparent that I relied on the massive torque of the engine rather than revving the nuts off it to punch me out of a corner — a theme that became standard modus operandi during the test.
Anyway, back to "the ride". The first part of the ride is one that many of you are already familiar with — leaving Monterey and heading towards Laguna Seca down 68 — a very unremarkable road and a very unremarkable ride, too, though it did include my first gas stop. After passing Laguna, I took the next right and headed over Laureles Grade — a road that climbs about 1000 feet in altitude and has quite a few turns in it and its share of bumps, too.
On Laureles, that anti-social instinct translates into not being able to go slowly through the turns up and over the summit and down the other side into Carmel Valley. There's one turn in particular on the way down into the valley that has a massive bump in it. I did aim for it a few times during my time with the bike to see how well the suspension responded to hitting such a bump while leaned over. Initially, I was taking it easy as I wasn't sure how the bike would respond, but after a few runs and playing with the suspension, I felt comfortable hitting it at pace and letting the bars waggle in my hands before the bike composed itself and headed off to the next turn.
Once I got to the end of Laureles, I turned left and hit Carmel Valley Road. The first few miles are not very exciting — trawl through the fancy village of Carmel Valley and head out the other side through some of the local vineyards, all under the control of a fairly heavily enforced speed limit. After a few miles, the road gets quieter and narrower, yet remains bumpy. This is where the Hyper shines: gun it out of the corners, let the impressive engine braking do most of the slowing down for the next corner, be careful through the corners as there's often debris in the road combined with the occasional pick up truck in the middle of the road, and then head off in search of the next corner, which is nearby.
The three or four times that I rode Carmel Valley Road on the Hyper, towards the south end, I encountered a few road hazards. The first is a common one — deer — although they heard me coming (thanks to the performance kit) and were totally wary of me. The second one didn't seem to care at all. I encountered a flock (assuming that is the right collective) of wild turkeys wandering down the road. A few engine revs and a gentle approach saw them disperse enough to allow me through. I'm not sure if the final road hazard I encountered could really be considered a hazard, but given the number I saw (two during "the ride" and two others on other occasions) and their size (leg to leg about 8 inches), I'd have to say they were somewhat of a hazard: tarantulas. I had visions of me running over one and it getting flicked up and then consumed by the open dry clutch. I began to wonder what tarantula fried on clutch plates would smell like. Thankfully I never found out.
After a few miles of straight roads through fields full of crops (mainly grapes and lettuce in this particular area), I ended up in King City. It was time to fill up again, not because the fuel light was on, but because the combination of limited range and limited opportunities to fuel up on "the ride" mean you need to make sure the fuel light doesn't come on when you're in the middle of nowhere.
After that, I headed southwest towards Jolon on a few more miles of straight roads through fields of crops. Thankfully, what wind there was formed a tailwind, so aversion to speeding tickets rather than trying to hold on was the limiting factor on speed.
The Mission, restored in 50's, contains a museum that illustrates the history of the California Missions
A statue of Father Junipero Serra can't resist a quick peek at the Hyper
After leaving the mission, and taking a wrong turn before consulting the map (FHL could cope with a few more road signs), I headed out towards the coast on Nacimiento Fergusson road through FHL. Again, the roads were of pristine quality, but the ever-present threat of a federal speeding ticket caused me to acquiesce to the speed limit despite the Hyper's taunting. Given the threat of a ticket, I took it easy and enjoyed the view, which is awesome — golden dry grass and sparsely populate oak trees in a valley with mountains on either side. After a few miles, I reached the edge of FHL, passed through its western security check, and immediately the nature of the road changes.
It gets narrower and bumpier and follows a stream for a few miles, and then it gets really interesting. I was soon on a road that's barely one and half SUV's wide, that clings to the side of a mountain and is full of slow curves, hairpin bends, and steep drops. I didn't get out of second gear for miles at a time and, thanks to the road clinging to the side of the mountain, I had to take it easy through most of the corners as the mountain obscures what's around that corner. The Hyper laps up this kind of riding. The fuel injection is nice and smooth and gets the power back on through gravel-infested hairpins without incident and the impressive engine braking in the slower corners typically obviating the need to actually use the brakes.
From high atop Nacimiento Fergusson you can see Highway 1 below clinging to the cliffs as it heads north towards Big Sur
Big Creek Bridge is the first scenic bridge you come to as you head north
As a side note, October is the time of year to do this road. The central California coast suffers from the same issues that San Francisco is well-known for: namely, summer fog. From June through the middle of September, this road is likely encased in fog as it approaches the ocean. But, during this time of the year, you're more than likely to have a totally clear view, like I did on this day.
The road drops from a high altitude of around 4000 feet right down to just above the ocean in a few short miles as the road joins the well-known Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1, typically known as PCH.
PCH is a tourist haven, so it's not a road to be enjoyed from a riding point of view as much as it is from a scenic point of view. PCH clings to the cliffs as it heads north towards Monterey. At this time of the year, the traffic is fairly light, so the ride became a mixture of having fun in the relatively smooth twists and turns when there's no traffic combined with sitting back and enjoying the views when traffic slows me down.
I was fortunate on this ride, both because there wasn't even a hint of fog in the air, but also because I caught up to a Ferrari 360 that was stuck in some tourist traffic. After we both escaped the traffic, we had some fun in the twisties. During my three weeks with the bike, it was the first car I encountered whose exhaust note I could actually appreciate above the Ducati's mellifluous tones — I suspect mainly due to its high timbre contrasting with the Ducati's low rumble.
After a spirited blast north to Big Sur, I had to bail at a gas station since I wasn't confident that the bike could get me back to Monterey on the gas left in the tank. One thing to note here are the tires. The Hyper comes with super-sticky Pirelli Diablo Corsa III tires that inspire total confidence even leaned over and with the bike hitting potholes — all at the inevitable expense of tire life.
I filled up in Big Sur and headed north to Monterey, into a headwind that, combined with the longer straights, reminded me of one of the downsides of the upright riding position. Soon enough, I was back home retrieving the DDA module (you need an allen key to remove the seat in order to get to where the DDA plugs into the wiring harness) and, all the while, I still had the same Cheshire-Cat-like grin on my face.
After a fair bit of thought, I have two conclusions to share:
1. If you're going to come to the races at Laguna Seca — either the MotoGP in July or the AMA finale in September — spend some extra time and enjoy both Monterey and the surrounding area. For riding, the better time is the AMA finale as it falls during the best weather of the year here in Monterey. But, either way, enjoy the town and, if you get here with a bike, the surrounding roads, as well.
2. After many years of solely having a motorcycle as my only form of transport, these days it's more of a luxury, fun-time item. In that context, it's hard to imagine a more fun bike to own than the Hyper. It's not an all-around, do-everything motorcycle, but that's the whole point. If you already own a car and don't spend every third weekend at a track day or riding a few hundred miles at a time, you need to check out the Hyper. It's a real bike and it's real fun.
Ducati Data Acquisition
The Ducati Data Acquisition (DDA) system is a lot of fun. It appears to be a piece of plastic with a Corse logo on it, but obviously there's some electronics inside. One end plugs into the wiring harness and the other plugs into the USB port on your PC. After it's plugged into the harness, it starts recording when you start the onboard lap timer and starts new "laps" when you start a new lap - both of these start functions are achieved by flashing the headlight.
One side effect of the lap timer is that the dash display is designed to cope with laps of ten minutes or less, even though the DDA records the correct lap time even if it lasts more than ten minutes. If you're recording laps around the track, you won't even notice the issue (unless you're at the Nurburgring and are not that close to the lap record).
Once you plug the DDA unit into your computer, it downloads the data to your hard drive and then gives you the option to delete what's on the unit (it can record 3.5 hours of data at a time) with a dialog box that implores you to go out and get more data!
When you analyze the data, you get to see various channels, some actually recorded and some derived by combinations of other actually recorded channels. The channels you get to choose from are 'TEMP' (engine temp), 'SPEED', 'RPM', 'GEAR" (which never seemed accurate during my time with the bike), 'GAS' (throttle position) and 'DIST' (distance based on the odometer).
There are various options in the software that allow you to narrow the channels you view and zoom in on particular sections of particular laps.
I have a feeling that the effect of analyzing the data from the DDA is similar to that of wearing a heart rate monitor when you exercise. The first few days or weeks of use you learn a whole tonne of interesting, cool and geeky things. After that you get a feel for what's going on and don't really need the geeky data back up to prove you're right. If you're searching for that extra tenth or two around a real race track then the DDA is an excellent tool, if you're out having fun on the road, then its appeal is limited, but it is a lot of fun initially.