Motorcycles: Desert Delight

At first, the mileage and route seemed daunting. The Internet BMW Riders list (www.ibmwr.org), a worldwide consortium of BMW motorcycle owners, had planned a ride through Death Valley for January that I wanted to attend. But I live 3,000 miles away in Florida, and I had never attempted a cross-country ride in the middle of winter.  

The promise of motoring coast to coast and barreling through Death Valley, a renowned rider’s paradise, was too good to decline, however, especially since once I arrived in California, I would test-drive a BMW K 1200 LT, the company’s signature touring bike. I would also meet some longtime Internet friends for the first time. The IBMWR serves as a virtual campfire where, when we aren’t riding, we write about motorcycles, rides, and reasons to plan the next trip.  

Before leaving home, I posted a question to the members asking for directions. They overwhelmingly suggested that I should approach Death Valley from the northwest, where the roads are twisty, scenic, and long.  

After four days on Interstate 10, riding through arid air in the Arizona desert and snow sprinkles in New Mexico, I reached Ontario, Calif., where I dropped off my 1993 BMW R 100 R and picked up the silver K 1200 LT. At first, as I aimed the bike toward Death Valley, I was intimidated by the girth of the 834-pound motorcycle, especially since my bike weighs 500 pounds. But the LT’s 4-cylinder, 100-hp, 1,200cc engine quickly brought the bike up to speed, and the motorcycle’s aerodynamics and suspension pushed the speedometer to 135 mph.  


The motorcycle’s radio and six-disc CD player stayed off. The sound of the sage-scented wind rushing past my helmet was all the music I needed. As I approached the edge of Death Valley, the temperature dipped into the 40s, but I turned on the heat in the seat and handlegrips and plugged my electric vest into the sockets on the bike’s fairing. I marveled at the landscape of twisted Joshua trees and the shimmering pools of water on the distant road ahead—mirages that vanished as I sped closer. I stopped the LT at one point to take pictures at Painter’s Palette, a site in Death Valley where the rocks exhibit a rich spectrum of natural colors, ranging from green to blue and pink.  

Even the spectacles of Death Valley could not eclipse my awe at the LT’s touring performance, however, and I was eager to discover how it would handle on higher hills and tighter turns. After meeting many of the IBMWR members, I joined five local riders for a 300-mile romp, and we spent all day flying across the valley floor, scrap-ing pegs on twisty canyon roads, and accelerating up steep grades on the LT where the road rose 5,000 feet in 15 miles of tight switchbacks.  

That night, we gathered around real campfires with the other IBMWR members, met old friends and made new ones, and told exaggerated road stories. At home, when I’m sitting in front of a computer monitor, writing across the country to my fellow BMW enthusiasts, the world seems small. Monitors, however, aren’t campfires, and desk chairs aren’t motorcycles. Behind the handlebars of the K 1200 LT, touring places like Death Valley, I realize just how vast and beautiful, yet accessible, the world really is.  

BMW Motorcycles, www.bmwmotorcycles.com

Photo by Oli Tennent
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