Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ride Report: Spring gear shakeout to Dana Point, California

Southern California has emerged from the inhospitable wintry days of sub-60 degree temperatures and into Spring, where sunny and 72 climes prevail. In our household, that means it is time to dust off the camping gear and see what fits onto the bikes. I call it a shakeout ride, and this season, it was to Dana Point, California, for a night at Doheny State Beach.

Location: Venice, California to Doheny State Beach, Dana Point, California, and back
Miles: 150
Duration: Two days, one night
Accommodations: Camping

Dana Point, California, is 75 miles south of Venice, making it a good choice for a quick gear check trip, especially since this was also the first time I overnighted on my new-to-me motorcycle, a Ducati Monster 696.

The shakeout trip was born out of a five-minute conversation followed by a decision to pack up and go. That's the best way to stress test a system, to surprise it, right?  My hasty setup was a bungee cargo net and a backpack.
I will never do this again, for a couple of reasons. 

  1. Putting things in a Lululemon reusable tote bag and bungee-ing them down onto the back of a Ducati is probably what Ducati would call "defiling".  
  2. This defilement also ends up making the bike top-heavy, which is an issue for any rider, but for small riders like me, becomes a big issue quickly.
  3. I thought the wind would keep the bungeed mass back off of me, but instead, the shape of the seat brought it forward, into my back, making the ride uncomfortable for the first half of the trip. (For the second half of the trip, I put my stuff on my loving compadre's bike, which is a solution I can only cash in so many times before I start to get the marital glare. You know the one.)
  4. In the back of my mind, I was worried that something was going to come loose or fly off of this bungeed heap. That takes away brain bandwidth that should be spent keeping myself upright and on the road.

We rode the 75 miles down to Dana Point via Highway 1, the PCH, (Pacific Coast Highway) to locals. There are stretches of the PCH that are world-famous for their stunning beauty, like anywhere along the coast between Santa Monica and San Francisco. The stretch from Venice south to about Newport beach is not one of them. That stretch is stunning in a different way. Stunning, the amount of stoplights you can place in one forty-mile section of road. It's also stunning how many people use this corridor as a method of transit. We inched south in LA-heavy traffic at 2pm for about an hour and a half. Once we hit Laguna Beach, the San Diego vibe hit, traffic cleared, and we got up to normal road trip speeds. A note to non-Californians, I'm pretty sure San Diegans are the happiest, most chill group of people alive. Everyone is just happy living the San Diego life in San Diego, which to the casual observer involves a water sport of any variety but probably surfing, pizza, beer, beach bonfires, flip flops and fish tacos. All of that works together to create a "good vibe", that radiates out of the city all the way up to about Dana Point, midway between San Diego and Los Angeles.

Doheny State Beach on Dana Point is RV-heavy but a beautiful, clean site which also accommodates tents. The rangers are chill. The campground host was chill. Everyone seemed cool with the Ducati plus Termignoni exhaust rolling up to campsite #36. For this, I give thanks. (Something I keep forgetting about California State Park campgrounds, they charge you a per-visit $15 "extra vehicle" fee for the second motorcycle. This brings the grand total for one night of camping to $58: $35 campground fee, $8 online booking fee, $15 extra vehicle fee.)

We went ultralight. And it was awesome. Just a tent, our sleeping bags, a stove and a few provisions.

That's it! Minimal.

Awesome, that is, until it was not.
Note to self

I took a page out of the San Diego vibe playbook and rolled with it. You never really know where your boundaries are until you cross them, anyway. The boundary I crossed on this trip was the Too Little Stuff line. But again, one night at a State Beach campground...I could have ridden to an REI and picked up anything I really needed.

Sunset from our campsite, Dana Point, California
A point on Dana Point's shores
For the return trip, we decided to bypass the PCH on the way back and brave the freeway. The loving compadre rode his 1974 Honda CB360 which has a top realistic speed of about 70. That makes freeways not so fun, but the idea of stop-and-go on the PCH was worse. I stayed behind him on the ride back up so I wouldn't accidentally smoke him on the Ducati (sorry, babe). Also, in my short riding history, I have managed to avoid freeways until now. Sometimes I have to remind myself I have been riding for less than a year, so it's good to take it easy. Of note: a Ducati is a bike built for the challenges of street or sport riding. Putting it on the freeway felt...odd, jumpier than usual. In an environment made of straightaways, both the brain and the bike would have smoothed out at about 90mph. Which I didn't actually do, of course.

We made it back without incident, but notice the gear has shifted from one bike to another... namely from my bike to my loving compadre's. Just me and my act of reusable Ducati vandalism.

Another amazing sunset waiting for us at home in Venice.

The purpose of the trip was to find problems to solve before the next trip. There are plenty:

  • I need to figure out a storage system for the Ducati. I've searched the interwebs and have found only a couple viable options, and one, the Ducati Performance saddlebags option, is the most expensive. Everything else is a patchwork of frames, bags and fitments to work around high exhaust pipes. It's difficult to turn down that one slam-dunk option, even if it does amount to $550 for a set of saddlebags. However, I was inspired to try to work around that cost by this Ducati Monster touring report by AmyTracker.
  • I need to devise an actual checklist of things to bring on any camping trip, two-wheeled or two-footed. I don't have my drill down yet, so I keep forgetting little things that end up being big deals, like the multi-tool. I'm almost never without that thing. Not sure how it got left out of the kit this time around.
  • General comfort. I know touring by motorcycle is never going to be 100% comfortable. Only my couch does that, and there's a reason I've chosen a lifestyle that doesn't keep me on it. But...I have a few things I need to modify on the Ducati to make it a little less sporty and a little more tour-y. Changing out the handlebars to a more tour-friendly position will likely be the first modification.
I welcome any of your thoughts and suggestions below!


  1. OOOO!!! New feature: ride report!

    Poor CB can't survive the freeway speeds of the current century. Must be pretty hairy even at 70mph. IIRC though, they were good for ~100mph new?

    First time on the freeway was scary as hell. First time stop and go on freeway is scary as hell (and often when riders DIE). First time splitting was also scary. But first time stop and go was probably the worst.

    Touring on sporty nakeds can be pretty stressful due to riding position, but on a rolling sofa (say, a modern 250cc+ scooter -- Kymco People 300, Piaggio BV350) you can literally go for 200 miles, since the scooters get 70mpg with ~3 gal tanks, at 80mph, without breaking your back.

    I don't have a Duc, but ended up obtaining an entirely new ride after looking at storage options for the Brutale. The top case on the other ride has been indispensable for farmers market rides, beer runs, etc. Then again, a top case on a Duc would turn it into an ugly duckling?

  2. Whoa! Thanks for the mention!...Loving the moto content. If you go for the Ducati bags, I'd be curious to see how you like them. I'm amazed at how the more touring I do, the pickier I get about my gear and how its packed. I used to just bungee net some stuff on and ride. As I get older, and crotchety-er, I seem to want to be more comfortable, and care about things like accessibility of my stuff, weight, load balancing, and waterproofing. Warning, this road leads to becoming a full on gear junkie, with a house full of moto gear and a smaller bank account:)


Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Stay positive!