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Scotland on a Triumph Sprint ST
Edinburgh's Royal Mile was a non-stop barrage of stimulation as I sat drinking a cappuccino with my nephew Robin last summer. Surrounded by stunning Georgian and Victorian architecture, a never-ending flow of tourists, locals, fire juggling street performers, double-decker buses, and even the occasional man in a kilt, the piece de resistance was the magical view through the buildings to the shimmering Firth of Forth at the bottom of town. Riding a motorcycle in Scotland for the first time in quarter of a century, I was enjoying a day in the saddle of the new Triumph Sprint ST with Robin and a chance to relax in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
I was in Scotland to take a Highland tour with my good friend Dennis Gage and his son Sam. With the addition of my "wee" 220-pound nephew along for a day, a good opportunity to check out the Sprint under load, so to speak, presented itself.
For this mission I dialed in extra pre-load in the rear, threw him on the back with the camera gear and took off. The rear end still felt a little vague on the tight, twisty Scottish back roads, but once we hit the motorway this was forgotten. Getting up to speed (as in 80 mph-ish), I was most impressed by the way the bike would pull our combined weight, without really needing to drop a gear when overtaking. For our trip I had installed Corbin seats, and even with my six foot four passenger in place, I didn't feel too cramped on the journey. Wind protection was more than adequate on the often-gusty trip and we arrived in Edinburgh a couple of hours later feeling refreshed.
A couple of days later Dennis, Sam and I started our trip, but with school still in session, unfortunately Robin wasn't able to join us. As part of our mission in Scotland was to film a television documentary about our experiences, we didn't have to load the bikes down with luggage thanks to the support vehicle. We did make sure we were fully equipped in Motophoria's latest adventure touring gear though, as the weather in Scotland can turn harsh and cruel at a moment's notice. This turned out to be a wise move, because leaving the west coast basking in 80 degree sunshine we had no way of knowing how cold and damp it would get later on the Isle of Skye
[Hmmm? I wonder if the islanders like Skyy Vodka?--Ed. Only if they want to be burned for heresy! They drink delicious Talisker Scotch! - The Other Ed.]
With only a few days to travel, we planned a loop that would take us over the River Clyde and north up along the west coast where we would pick up a ferry to the Skye. Then we would cut back to Loch Ness, up to Inverness and return home by one of many routes, depending on how much time we had. Traveling on the small country roads of my spotty youth, I became immediately impressed with an attribute of the Sprint that testing in America hadn't really revealed. Trundling along between the high hedgerows, and rolling across metal cattle grids and patches of loose gravel, the first part of our journey was spent in low gears at very low rpm. Here the Sprint just totally impressed me, by how precise the low rpm fueling was, and how easy it was to modulate the throttle to deal with the different riding situations. Over the next few days, we would do a lot of turning for the camera, often in the tight narrow Scottish streets, and the nimble Sprint just handled it with aplomb.
We had crossed the River Clyde and cleared the seaside resort of Dunnoon before we had any chance to open the bikes up. Roaring along the A 83 at a steady 65-75mph in the afternoon sun, with the big three cylinder humming beneath me, I was having one of those perfect motorcycle moments. The view along Loch Fyne was of sparkling water, a gentle mountain range sparsely dotted with trees framing out the picture. The challenging two-lane roads were lightly trafficked, and lined with fir trees that sailed by in our peripheral vision. Topped by a light blue sky and clouds so white they could have come out of a laundry detergent commercial -- it could not have been more perfect.
Dennis had adapted to the Scottish life in moments, and every time we stopped he would busily engage some friendly local in conversation as we learned the history of the area we were traveling through. Scotland just keeps getting more rural as your travel further north, and leaving the modern world far behind we rode on in the warm sunshine, heading to a place where manners and customs still mean something. The landscape got harsher and more rugged; as did the people, and pausing to gaze across the Sound of Shuna we pulled our cameras out at the sight of Castle Stalker. Built by the Stewarts of Appin in the 16th century, it sits on a small islet at the edge of Loch Laich. A basic-looking three-story rectangular building, it was abandoned in 1780 and is only reachable on foot when the tide is out. Making for some picture postcard perfect photos we learned the current owner has been restoring it since 1960.
Having hiked and camped all through this area with my high school sweetheart many moons ago, I picked Fort William as a destination for the night and we motored on. With the picturesque town built on the edge of Loch Linnhe, and overshadowed by Scotland's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, it was a decision welcomed by the gang. The tight narrow high street, with quaint curiosity shops and pubs is most charming and Ft. William is a must if you are visiting this area.
Our start the following morning was slow and leisurely as we debated a couple of options to cross to the Isle of Skye. Electing to take the more direct route, we stopped for a photo opportunity at the top of Loch Shiel. Staring up at the massive viaduct made famous in the Harry Potter movies, and gazing at a huge statue of a kilted highlander in memory of Bonnie Prince Charlie, it was one of those moments when you have to pinch yourself to see if you are dreaming it was just so magical. Roaring off into a tunnel of trees along the twisting, winding two-lane road, we positively flew up to the lonely port town of Mailag where we would pick up our ferry.
Waiting our turn, we made pleasant conversation with a German couple riding their own bikes on a two-week tour and once onboard did some filming and interviews, much to the amusement of our fellow passengers. Even during the summer months a stiff breeze blew in across the bow, and the dark, murky waters looked cold and foreboding as we made our way across the Sound of Sleat and our next adventure with a Highland Bagpiper in the town of Armadale. Taking the time to chat, we got a quick life history in between his wonderful Scottish reels and hymns.
The Isle of Skye took a whole day for us to circumnavigate, and gave us some wild weather as we toured this fascinating island. Primed by the tourist board's headline, "500 million years of history whispers across the inlets, cliffs, mountains and glens of Skye, the Island and Lochalsh," we marveled at the jagged peaks of the Cuillin Mountains, stood in awe at Dunvegan Castle and froze our arses off crossing to the quaint fishing village of Portree. Battling strong winds and occasional slashes of ice-cold rain across my face shield, I ducked down behind the Sprint's fairing and weathered the storm.
Once in Portree it was time to warm up and indulge in a 5,000-calorie deep-fried meal of fish and chips as we enjoyed the brightly colored houses that ran alongside the harbor. Thawing nicely as fishing boats and pleasure vessels bobbed calmly on the light swell of the incoming tide, we sat awhile to watch the world go by in the largest town on Skye. Later that night, sitting comfortably in the well-appointed living room at the Toravaig House we discussed a most interesting day over a pint of good Scottish ale. Dennis was highly animated about the Sprint's abilities, Sam had no complaints from the passenger perspective other than sitting up a little high in the cold air, and my only negative comment was that the weather protection isn't as complete as the earlier model.
Leaving the Isle of Skye, we rode over the long bridge at the Kyle of Lochalsh and enjoyed a pleasant visit at Scotland's most visited and photographed castle, Eilean Donan. Providing Kodak moment number 322, we had to literally force ourselves back on the road. Had we known what was next, we would probably have saddled up sooner as we chased each other through the stunning steep-sided Glen Shiel. Offering the perfect sport-touring scenario of fast flowing, lightly trafficked roads, the stunning mountain scenery to our sides was highlighted by an aqua blue sky. The gearbox was dancing, and the three-cylinder engine rising and falling musically up and down the rev range as we blasted into corners, before using the strong mid-range to accelerate away on the other side. Shedding the touring part of their moniker, it was all sport as we made our way back down to sea level and a scheduled stop to see if we could find the Loch Ness Monster. This proved about as futile as me trying to get a date, so we sped off and enjoyed the majestic views across Loch Ness. Spinning through patches of sunlight piercing the overhanging trees, the names of the Scottish towns kept a near permanent smile on my face: Drumnadrochit being my favorite. Picking the skiing town of Aviemore for the night, we again opted for one of the many Bed and Breakfast Inns available, and took off to find a wee pint of ale and some sustenance before bed.
Riding in midsummer, the sun comes up early and our last day on the road saw us enjoying a variety of incredible activities again. The misty, magical castle grounds at Rothiemurchus; a fast-paced race to the top of the Cairngorm mountains for the uninterrupted views that stretched for miles in front of us, and some of the tightest, narrowest single track roads of the journey. Ending with a spectacular ride across the Erskine bridge that crosses the River Clyde, we had come full circle as we made our way back to my sister's house in the small town of Houston. It had not been a journey of epic mileage, but that had never been our mission. We came to enjoy this sparsely-populated country that is steeped with fascinating history and blessed with its own uniquely beautiful landscape.
Throw in top-quality roads, first-class company and a motorcycle that must surely be a contender for Sport Tourer of the year, and as any good Scotsman will tell you, "you canny whack it."