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MailTribune.com
  • Freedom to ride

  • There's something meditative about motorcycle touring, the hours and miles going by, your whole body out there in nature, with the air rushing by at 60 mph — and you're surrounded by your fellow bikers, good pals who josh around with you and do lunch at your destination.
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  • There's something meditative about motorcycle touring, the hours and miles going by, your whole body out there in nature, with the air rushing by at 60 mph — and you're surrounded by your fellow bikers, good pals who josh around with you and do lunch at your destination.
    On a trip from Medford, past Mount McLoughlin and the Klamath marshland to the Kla-mo-ya Casino on Highway 97, half a dozen members of the Star Touring club thunder along, proclaiming that "loud pipes save lives" because people can hear you coming.
    They're a jolly bunch, enjoy playing a few slots, catching some NFL plays on the big screen and discussing politics and the joys of getting out of the house, away from routines and being with the guys. Members of any age and gender are welcome, but it's mainly guys and they're mainly over 50.
    "It's my break from the wife, who is in a wheelchair now," says Floyd McKenney, 73, of White City. "It's my release valve, a relaxing break from the regular routine."
    There are a lot of great motorcycle routes to choose from in southwest Oregon, says retired Medford lawyer Ray Smith, who drives a Yamaha (the favorite make of bikers here) 1300cc. It has 150 horsepower and speeds that reach "well into three figures" on straight, outback highways.
    The favorite destination among this group is the "fish and chips run" to a restaurant on the wharf at Crescent City, says Smith, with lovely winding roads through the redwoods, then the scent of salt air filling your nostrils.
    "We enjoy the freedom of movement, being close to nature, the smell of the new-mown hay and the companionship of these friends we ride with," says Smith, adding that at their enjoyable lunches, there is no drinking.
    Safety is always number one, and they employ a couple dozen hand signals for turns, stops and to point out dead animals in the road or obstacles parked on the shoulder. They ride staggered left and right with two seconds of space from the one in front, giving them reaction time if needed.
    Bikes have very rapid acceleration and, because of high compression, equally rapid deceleration, which add to safety, says Smith.
    Another favorite ride is up to Crater Lake, with lunch at the lodge. McKenney likes any route through the mountains, such as going through Trail and heading north to Seven Feathers Casino, near Canyonville, then using the same route home — never the freeway, if it can be avoided. Going over the Siskiyous from the Illinois Valley to Scotts Valley is good, too — and has less traffic than most routes. They plan long trips, to Montana and Colorado, and will attend national gatherings of Star Touring clubs.
    The road bikers emphasize they are the law-abiding sort, not the "one percent" riding in "outlaw clubs" and doing only that with their lives, says David VanCurler, 55, of Medford.
    "This is our hobby. Everyone has a hobby, whether fishing or building bird houses, and this is our hobby, getting out there with Mother Nature," he says. "It's calming."
    There's a certain amount of risk in road biking, adds VanCurler, noting, "there's two kinds of riders, those who have been down (crashed) and those who are going to go down." When this happens, it tends to be because four-wheeled vehicles don't see bikes and pull out in front of them, as happened to Smith, breaking his leg.
    "You really have to worry about the other drivers," says Dennis Barlesi, 66, of Medford.
    Riders often put on charity events, such as poker runs for Habitat for Humanity, the Star barbecue, which raises money for Scouts, and a Toy Run with up to 700 bikes going through most cities in the valley and that raises money for low-income families for Christmas.
    Age is no barrier to road bikers, as 86-year-old Harry Howard will tell you, with a smile.
    "The power and feeling you have, it's such a two-wheel thrill," says Howard. "Getting in the backcountry among the ranches, farms and forests, that's what I love."
    John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.
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