The Nuclear Tourist: Day 3
Best day yet!
Finally, motorcycle roads! I knew, when I was planning the trip, that Day 3 would be the most fun because I would spend hours riding on roads that motorcyclists live for. I wasn’t disappointed.
The morning started with a visit to the Very Large Array. If you’re at all fascinated by space, seeing the 27 antenna towers spread out over the ancient dry lake bed is an amazing sight. Get closer, and the massive 82-foot diameter dishes atop the towers dwarf everything around them. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get to see the towers change their focus, all of them panning their dishes in unison. The array is shaped like a Y, with each length stretching out 13 miles. The layout of the VLA’s dishes varies several times a year in order to accommodate the various kinds of scans the array is capable of doing. In order to move the towers, a special rail car rolls under them, jacks them up off their stands, and then moves them at a maximum speed of 5 mph along the tracks that make up the Y. All this technology and scientific brain power directed at answering the most basic of questions: How were our universe and solar system made? Fascinating stuff. Watch this video for more information about the VLA.
After the VLA visit, it was time to ride, and from the moment I got off the main highway, I could tell I was in for a treat. The high point of the ride was Highway 78 from New Mexico into Arizona. The road was narrow and twisty and full of entertaining surprises.
As I said in a previous update, the 2018 Honda Gold Wing Tour’s suspension floats over road irregularities – which is great on interstates and other mostly straight highways. However, after the first few tight sections of road, I pulled over to set the suspension to “two riders with luggage,” the stiffest setting. At the softer setting, a single bump in a corner wasn’t too bad, but hit more than one or rippling bumps in a sweeper upset the chassis, making me painfully aware of how much mass I was hustling through the corners. Once I had the firmer suspension setting, I was able to approach a sport-touring pace.
The Gold Wing is a big motorcycle, and consequently, it requires a measured hand to get it into corners. For much of this trip, I’ve wondered how well the double-wishbone front suspension would work because it kept me so isolated from the road surface. My concern was that the isolation that kept me comfortable over long days in the saddle would translate into numbness in the twisties. I needn’t have worried. Yes, the sensations of the front tire in corners is muted, but at the pace that I was going I got the information I needed. The Wing went everywhere I told it to, and before long, I wasn’t worried about how the new suspension was behaving. I was just riding.
I tried several different ways of using the DCT. First, I put it in Sport mode and used the paddle to downshift to the correct gear. I quickly learned to maintain a positive roll-on of the throttle throughout the corner. If I stopped the roll-on, the transmission would upshift. It never upset the bike, but it did mute the acceleration out of the corners. In the tighter sections of corners, I found that the DCT frequently chose the correct gear for me if I would brake late and hard as I approached the corner entrance. I was able to get away with this on the big Gold Wing because the chassis pitch under braking is minimal. As much as the DCT has improved, I’ll have to admit that I missed a good old manual transmission on the more technical sections of road. The rest of this trip, the DCT has been a joy to use. (This just in: EB phoned from the road to report he’s found the Manual Mode on the DCT, which in fact makes it a manual trans you shift with thumb and forefinger. –Ed.)
I finished up my ride well after dark, and the Gold Wing’s headlight is more than up to the task. The low beam is broad and illuminates the road ahead quite well. The high beam just extends the view with no noticeable bright or dark spots, just an even swath of light. I’ve had no qualms about riding after dark for the past two evenings.
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