Guide to Sport Touring in the Pacific Northwest - Motorcycle Touring in Washington, Oregon, Idaho

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Guide to Sport Touring in the Pacific Northwest

If you live outside the Pacific Northwest, and you're looking for a fantastic place to ride this summer, you've found it right here. If you live in the Pacific Northwest and think you know your way around pretty well, unless you're a local motorcycle magazine editor and/or ride 10,000 miles a year here, there's probably a lot you can still learn.

Photo: The end of a perfect tour in Astoria, OR. The Astoria Column tells the story of Lewis and Clark from bottom to top.

Keith Thye, owner of Ride West BMW in Seattle, nailed it when he said "Within a 500 mile radius of Seattle are some of the best motorcycling roads in the world." We could not have said it better. But you won't find them on the Interstate, and while some state routes provide some decent moments, it's in everyone's interest to dig deeper because the best roads in the Pacific Northwest don't have numbers, they have names.

Take, for instance, the Columbia River Gorge, located along the Washington/Oregon border. A fair number of riders have ridden there, but why go back? Here's a list of 10 roads in the Gorge. Put a checkmark next to the one's you've ridden and see if you don't need to go back and explore the area in more detail:

  • Interstate 84 (OR)
  • WA State Route 14 (WA)
  • State Route 142 (Klickitat Canyon) (WA)
  • Bickleton Goldendale Highway (WA)
  • BZ/Glenwood Rd (WA)
  • Cooper Spur Road (OR)
  • Cook Underwood Road (WA)
  • Seven Mile Rd (OR)
  • Barlow Trail Rd (OR)
  • Lower Eight Mile Road (OR)

So how'd you score?

  • 1= Accidental tourist. Perhaps you were blasting through on your Iron Butt route.
  • 2-3 = You've just touched the surface. You need to get out more!
  • 4-7 = You've been immersing yourself in the bounty of this fantastic riding area one road at a time. Keep going.
  • 8-10 = You're a seasoned pro. Tell us about 10 more!

Photo: Mt St Helens lets off a little steam near the the Windy Ridge Viewpoint. While it may not be spewing when you ride there, the twisties will have you grinning from ear to ear.

With the exception of I-84 all these roads have some great twisties. But there's a lot more to the Pacific Northwest than that. The three state region is loaded with fantastic land mass geography, a wealth of intriguing man made features, stunning history and the most diverse geographical and geological topography of any other region in the US. One moment you're carving corners, passing volcanoes, when all of the sudden a replica of Stonehenge appears that was built in the early 1900s. Where the heck did that come from? Better go investigate. The next day you're lost in some cherry or apple orchards, God knows where, but you don't seem to mind that you're lost. When you finally get your bearings, you realize you have the choice of no less than five airplane museums to visit, all within 200 miles of each other.

This all makes for some serious and ultra fun sport touring, wouldn't you agree?

And while we may not have the Grand Canyon, land masses come at you from left and right as you ride. Washington's Dry Falls is larger than Niagara. It's just dry today. Big dealmight not be runningbut it's still stunning. Oregon's Cascade Range boasts more than a dozen volcanic features visible from either side, or better yet, as you ride across the range itself. Then there's Idaho's Craters of the Moon, a most interesting spectacle right out in the middle-of-nowhere.

Photo: You'll have to go out of your way to locate Oregon's Smith Rock, but it's well worth the trek. The nearby Palisades is also a stunning land mass.

Man made features? We've got plenty of them. There's so many dams in the Pacific Northwest, our friends Steve and Eric Folkestad have developed a grand tour that takes riders to a gaggle of them each year. Some big, some small. Then there are the monuments such as the previously mentioned Stonehenge replica (in better shape than that broken down one across the pond), The Astoria Column, that crazy Petersen Rock Garden, The Vista House and more gigantic carvings of Sasquatch than you can shake a shotgun at.

Anyone who spends a few thousand miles touring each year surely takes a moment to ponder road construction. Some of the most innovative road construction exists right here in the Pacific Northwest and is tailored to a motorcyclist's riding pleasure. Our forefathers began by converting Native American Indian trails to wagon trails. Then from wagon trails to paved roads. Lucky for you, some of these roads were bypassed with the introduction of state routes and later by Interstates. However, many of these tertiary roads still exist today because they are essential to agriculture and local commerce. You just need to find them.

One of the greatest road builders of his day was Sam Lancaster, who left his mark in numerous places around the area. The stunning twisties along The Historic Columbia River Highway were his design, and that 270 degree ramp leading up to Mt. Ashland is yet another (shown at right).

Many engineers, whose names have long been forgotten, still have their work and artistry immortalized in roads like Oregon's Aufderheide, Washington's Wind River Road and Idaho's Winchester Grade. Ditto for Washington's Rattlesnake Grade, Idaho's Spiral Highway and Oregon's Dead Indian Memorial Road. The list is endless.

Bridges are another stunning feature for sport tourers in the Pacific Northwest. We've got every kind imaginable, from huge expansion bridges (Astoria, Tacoma Narrows) to metallic erector sets (Lyons Ferry, Bridge of the Gods) all the way down to some of the most historic covered bridges west of the Mississippi. You just have to go find them!

Our forefathers weren't always creative when coming up with names for towns. Often they named them using names that already existed elsewhere. Here's a list of 10 towns to seek out. Again, place a checkmark next to each one you've already been to:

  • Amsterdam, ID
  • Austin, OR
  • Brooklyn, WA
  • Cleveland, OR
  • Dallas, OR (not The Dalles mind you)
  • Dayton, WA (there's actually 2)
  • Lincoln, ID
  • Manchester, WA
  • Rochester, WA
  • Stanford, ID

 Same scoring as above applies ...

Photo: The weather station in Brooklyn, WA is way ahead of its time. More advanced than anything Brooklyn, New York may have around.

While our Sport Touring season here may be short, it offers up all kinds of weather possibilities. We don't have the tornadoes or golf ball sized hail storms the mid-west dishes out. We don't have the unbearable 100% humidity, so common on the east coast in the summer, but we do get our share of diverse weather nonetheless. It's always advisable to bring your layers as it's not uncommon to ride through a mountain pass at 40 degrees in the morning and bump into heat in the 90's or 100's when you descend onto to the high desert in the afternoon.

Below you'll find a list of resources, events and where to rent. If you're a member of a club and your rides are getting stale, try joining another club or involve yourself in someone else's rally, tour or grand tour. If you want to visit from out of the area, you can opt to ride your bike here, or rent from a number of various rental agencies that are listed below.

After 15 years of sport touring here in the Northwest, I'm still bumping into new roads, new sights and new friends and I'm planning to do that for at least another 15!

SR!/Spring 2012


Books & Atlases

Motorcycle Journey's Through the Pacific Northwest - This is how you graduate from Accidental Tourist to first level explorer. Mr. Hansen also knows where the best ice cream places are.

Destination Highways Washington - The copyright date is getting a tad dusty, but the general descriptions of each road are still valid. A bit pricey, but it fits in the tank bag nicely.

SR! Guides to Touring the Northwest - Currently the series boasts three road books covering Oregon and parts of Washington, as well as a dual sport book for the Washington Cascades. Optional GPS routes can be had for the series too.

Benchmark Atlases - A must-take item no matter what. Excellent maps that delineate paved from gravel and provides current camping and see and do listings.


Sport Touring Northwest - the Sport Touring module of the American Motorcyclist Associations West Coast Rally in the Gorge. Five days, four nights and TOO MUCH FUN! Held annually in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Cafe to Cafe Grand Tour - Grand Tour featuring 15 restaurants scattered around the Pacific Northwest. Locations change annually.

Dam Tour - Grand Tour featuring numerous dams scattered around the Pacific Northwest. Locations change annually.

Ultimate Road Trip - Five day road tour around the Northwest with a focus on tertiary roads, stunning scenery and good times. Route changes annually. Previous routes are available in tour book and GPS format.

Rose City Rides - Three rides are held annually by the Rose City Motorcycle Club. Membership is not required to join in.

Avid Moto Tours - NW tour outfit. Runs several tours in the Pacific Northwest annually.


TourUSA - Features a stable of primarily BMW sport touring and adventure mounts, but is known to have other options like a Kawasaki KLR or Honda Silverwing Maxi Scooter from time to time. Pickup and drop off in the Seattle, WA area. See website for current offerings.

Northwest Motorcycle Adventures - Has a stable composed of primarily Suzuki V-Stroms. Pickup and drop off in the Portland area. See website for details.

Eastside Harley Davidson Rentals - Plenty of well maintained Harley-Davidson's available for as long as you need one. Pickup and drop off in the Seattle, WA area. See website for details.

High Desert Harley Davidson Rentals - Authorized HD Rentals. Pickup and drop off in the Boise, ID area. See website for details.

Mountain to Sound Motorcycle Adventures - Fleet consist primarily of large cc touring models. Pickup and drop off in the Seattle, WA area. See website for details.

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