Vintage Jim McDermott: Soup's 2009 Ride To Daytona, Part One
FedEx one FZ6R to Virginia, please ...



It's Bike Week in Daytona Florida, and thousands are making the annual March pilgrimage. Silk bowling-shirted stormtroopers invade the DBI Airport, mirrored sunglasses perched on their foreheads as they down two quick beers before leaving the terminal. Pulling trailers laden with their tied-down chrome monstrosities, guys from Scranton PA cross the Florida State line in late model diesel F250's, heated leather seats set to "HI". In Orlando, a local Goldwing rider switches back into jeans, cargo shorts no match for the brisk 69 degree morning air. These are all smart people. Smart because, when considering various options about how to actually get to Daytona, riding a 600cc sportbike thru one of the South's worst winter storms in years did not even cross their minds. Unlike, well, me.

Interstate 95 is simultaneously one of the most boring and intimidating roads in the United States. The speed limit is 70 in most spots, so traffic (much of it tractor trailers) flows at 85. I-95 is a straight shot down into Florida, the quickest way for east coasters to get to Daytona, but it's no fun on a motorcycle. I'm attending the 200 this year, so when Yamaha generously offered their new for 2009 FZ6R to ride down a few weeks ago, I knew I'd be planning an alternate route to Florida. Most of the motorcycle press is based in Southern California; I'm in Charlottesville VA, so the FZ6R would be delivered by truck to a local dealer. First stop on the route I had planned was west of here—Knoxville Tennessee, to visit Soup friend of site Phil Fuson, and a motley crew of young vintage bike riders called The 555. From there, I'd head to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to visit the famous recording studios, and then Tupelo Mississippi, birthplace of Elvis Presley. From Tupelo, I'd hop onto the Natchez Trace south to Mobile Alabama, then east across Florida to Daytona. I figured the trip would take 4 days. I've been a Yankee my whole life, been in Cville since July. Everyone told me that March is very mild in Virginia, compared to New York.

So when the forecast showed that we'd be getting snow and freezing temperatures this weekend, I was surprised. The really bad stuff wouldn't start until Saturday night, and the bike was scheduled to arrive Thursday or Friday morning at the latest. I'd have just enough time to get the fekkoutta dodge before the white stuff blew in. Trouble is, truck drivers don't always synchronize their watches with your expectations. I got a call from James Jarman at Jarman Sportcycles in Charlottesville on Friday afternoon, wondering where the bike was. We talked to Yamaha and found the bike would be arriving late Friday night, after Jarman's closed, so I'd have to retrieve it on Saturday. The temperature on Friday was 57 degrees, on Saturday the high was forecast at 35. The truck showed late Friday evening, and one of the Jarman guys were nice enough to go back to the shop and accept the shipment. My buddy Hardy and I drove over to Jarman's Saturday morning just as the bike was being taken off the shipping palette. As the bike was prepped, Mrs. Jarman came over, offered coffee and told us that they are Virginia's oldest Yamaha dealer, selling the bikes since 1963. "Back then Yamaha customers had to carry a little bottle of oil with them to mix with the fuel when they filled up," she recalled. James has a couple of perfect Bob Hannah-era YZ dirtbikes that he used to race, sitting restored in the shop. He pulled down a photo of he and his mom, taken with Hurricane from a dealer show a few years ago. "I know he's got a reputation of being hard to get along with, but he gave me a bunch of his time and was the nicest guy." Soon the FZ6R was ready, and I rode to Hardy's place to do the last bit of prep for the trip.

Out on the road, the first thing I noticed about the FZ6R was how comfortable it was. I'd be wearing a ton of gear to keep the cold out, and I was worried that I'd be cramped on the bike, but this wasn't the case. The riding position was roomy and fairly upright, a relaxed sport touring crouch. I knew I'd be able to do big miles on the FZ6R in comfort. On the twisty backroads, the bike felt planted and had good midrange, unlike race rep 600's which are tuned for higher rev power delivery. The non-adjustable forks handled bumps surprisingly well, and the 160 section rear tire gave the bike a nimble feel in the turns. This is a really nice road bike, I thought. The bike felt very stable, even during the ride up Hardy's loose gravel driveway. Neither of us were looking forward to working on the bike on a cold garage floor, so we wheeled the FZ6R into his living room (ahh, the perks of bachelordom.....)

I'd be in Daytona for a week and needed to carry all my journo stuff on the bike, so Helmet House shipped over the excellent Cortech Tribag System, which includes two saddlebags, and an optional tail pack. It only took about a half hour to get the bags mounted; when we were done, they looked like they came stock with the bike. I've tried soft luggage systems before and many sit too close to the rear wheel, inducing paranoid visions of gear being sucked into the drivetrain. The Cortech Tribag System has a very cool velcro strap and quick release mounting system which inspires confidence. I was impressed at how much gear the three piece system swallowed - laptop, camera and lenses, and clothes for a week. Plus, the bags included a fitted rain cover, which came in handy (more on that later.)

By the time we got done mounting the bags, packing and heading home to kiss the GF goodbye, the sun was going down. A light drizzle had started, the front edge of a killer storm system which would drop some snow in the area Saturday night. It was going to let up for a bit Sunday morning before absolutely killing us Sunday afternoon thru Monday. All of the Southeast was going to get beat up. I called my buddies in Knoxville, west of Cville, and said I'd be heading out Sunday morning, try to reach them before the bad stuff hit. Trouble was, the front was coming from the west—I went to sleep wondering, am I going to be able to get this FZ6R across the Blue Ridge Mountains tomorrow?
— ends —
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