Two Mates, Two Bikes,
One Big Adventure
by Guy Pickrell
“You’ve got to enter this!”
That was my friend and touring buddy, Marco, calling to tell me about Moto Guzzi’s Spirit of the Eagle Rideaway competition: Describe your dream tour, anywhere in the USA. Win the use of a V85 TT and a $2,500 travel budget.
I threw down a route. Start in Seattle, ride east to Glacier National Park, then follow the Rocky Mountains south through Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Flaming Gorge, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and finish in Las Vegas. Eight days, seven states, eight national parks and monuments, 2,600 miles. Epic! Also ambitious, but then, it’s not as if I’m going to win - right?
An Unlikely Call
It was mid-August 2020 when I received a call from Piaggio Group’s rep to tell me I had won, leaving limited time to prep and still beat the winter weather into Glacier National Park. It’s a big trip to attempt solo, and I put it out to my touring mates. Kit raised his hand, got the okay from his wife (who had recently given birth to their first son), thank you Taliur, and Moto Guzzi generously offered us a second bike.
The dual-sport market isn’t Guzzi’s typical realm, so when I read that the TT stands for tutto terreno (all-terrain), I figured the least we could do is put them through a genuine off-road test. I immediately blew a significant part of the travel budget on new Michelin, Anakee Wild adventure tires; billed as 50/50 on-/off-road, they have a surprisingly aggressive tread pattern. At 500 pounds, the V85 is no dirt-bike, but if adventure is your goal, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself off the beaten path, and that’s exactly where we planned to be.
My gear, ready for packing.
A Brace of Eagles
We flew to Seattle and headed to Optimum Performance Motorsports, where we first saw our V85 TTs parked outside, gleaming in the evening sun. Their styling was reminiscent of the Paris-Dakar bikes of the ‘60s. I took the Adventure edition, sporty in bright red and white livery, with only a gesture of a windscreen. Kit took the Travel edition; in a sophisticated metallic sand color, with a larger windscreen, auxiliary lights, and heated grips. Both bikes came fitted with excellent panniers, and the Adventure also included a top box, which I removed to allow room for my DrySpec soft bag. After chatting with Alan Kwang, the dealership owner, he handed us the keys and wished us well. It was surreal, riding away on brand new bikes without exchanging anything more than a conversation.
Smoke from the wildfires burning across Washington State
A Dash Across an Apocalyptic Plain
It was nearly noon when we had finally packed everything on the bikes and rode east out of Seattle. U.S. Route 2 climbs into rugged, pine-strewn mountains crossing Stevens Pass (4,061 feet) before descending along the floor of a dramatic, glacial valley. During a late lunch in Leavenworth, the whiff of smoke reminded us of the wildfires still burning across Washington State. After crossing the Columbia River, a steep ascent took us out of the rocky canyon onto a vast, windswept plain. Rolling grassland swept off to the horizon in all directions. Huge areas, scorched black by the recent flames, were yet smoldering. It was like riding through the wake of a recent battle. We raced across the plateau for 140 miles, where the road abruptly descended, leading us into Spokane, and shortly arrived at our hotel in Ponderay, Idaho.
Majestic Glacier National Park and Deer in the Headlights
Still refining the bike-packing process, we began the first of 440 miles much later than planned. Just shy of the Canadian border, Route 2 turns east near Bonners Ferry and into the dense fir and spruce forests of Montana. Entering Glacier National Park, crystal-clear Lake McDonald sweeps up the valley alongside Going-to-the-Sun Road, a narrow strip of asphalt (and an engineering marvel) carved into the side of a mountain range. Logan Pass (6,647 feet) offered grand views of sheer valleys tumbling down to the lakes below and knife-edged arêtes towering above us. The light was fading by the time we got on the deserted forest road to Missoula. Kit spotted a mule deer, her almond eyes reflecting brightly in the Travel’s auxiliary lights. She was the first of many, and it was 10 p.m. when we finally walked into the Missoula Club bar, famous for its burgers and beer.
The Glorious Mountain Roads of Montana
After refueling in Hamilton, we turned east into the Sapphire Mountains on a steep gravel track that climbed to Skalkaho Pass (7,257 feet). It was our first off-road test for the bikes and tires, and we quickly found our confidence on the hard-packed gravel. The V85 TT's abundant torque served us well, especially in 2nd and 3rd gears. By afternoon, the towering canyons had relented to reveal panoramic views of the dramatic scenery. We swept up another pass, riding into Virginia City, a marvelous authentic gold-rush town established in 1863. Following the Madison River south from Ennis, we had a breathtaking sight as the setting sun lit up a colossal rift running along its western bank. Tired and hungry, we eventually made our hotel in the dark, only to discover the nearest restaurant was eight miles away, in West Yellowstone.
Enchanting Yellowstone and Towering Grand Teton
As the sun came up, we brushed the ice off our seats and rode into Wyoming and the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. We rode a clockwise loop, passing steaming geysers, volcanic hot springs that belched scorching, sulfurous gas, and bison grazing on the roadside meadows, eventually coming upon enormous Yellowstone Lake. We made a quick stop at the extraordinary Old Faithful Inn, just as its namesake geyser erupted.
The road exiting Yellowstone’s southern entrance runs along the edge of a sheer canyon, ending at Jackson Lake. On its far shore, the Tetons, a series of three spectacular peaks, soar up from the western bank to over 13,500 feet like giant fossilized teeth. It was late afternoon when we stopped at Alpine to buy supplies. The Guzzis always drew a small crowd with a flurry of questions, and from a local chap, I discovered our next leg, a 95-mile dirt track through Bridger-Teton National Forest, was only graded for the first 40. Undeterred (somewhat), we followed the sandy trail along a winding river valley and soon found an idyllic spot to make camp along its bank.
Scarlet Sockeye and Stunning Beauty of Flaming Gorge
After a chilly, restless night, we rejoined the track running along Greys River, a sparkling ribbon of blue and lush green; framed by rocky bluffs. As predicted, the ungraded section became steep and challenging, but the V85 TTs’ suspension capably soaked up the abuse, as their V-twins churned out torque with a lovely, distinctive rumble. As we rode out of the forested Wasatch Mountains of Wyoming and into the painted, desert canyons of Utah, the stunning scenery more than compensated for the rough night before.
Desolate plateau roads delivered us to a series of tight corners cut into the red rock, descending hundreds of feet into Flaming Gorge. At the bottom, we stopped at Sheep Creek, where the shallow, limpid water was teeming with sockeye salmon. A series of thrilling sweepers and twisties climbed out of the gorge, providing a spectacular view of sheer, banded cliffs of crimson and terracotta strata and the reservoir below. Two more canyons, and countless corners, separate a final climb back to the top of the rolling desert mesa. It is twenty-eight miles of pure motorcycle heaven. The plateau finally ended with a dramatic zig-zagging 3,000-foot descent to the little town of Vernal, Utah. We used every electrical socket in the room to charge the crap out of everything, making the most of our last night in a hotel.
Ridge Riding on Top of the World and A Steer Standoff
After a dash across the vast Uinta Basin, we descended into Scofield (pop. 23), home to a quirky gas station where customers broil their own burgers. With us and the Guzzis refueled, we climbed into the mighty Manti-La Sal Mountains and onto Skyline Drive Scenic Backway, a rough unpaved road that follows a knife-edged ridge at over 10,000 feet, with sheer drops down both sides to the valleys below. I tried to focus on the riding, despite the arresting views at every turn; this was not a place to screw up.
With one eye on the clock, we reluctantly turned off Skyline, riding down into the valley, where we found our route blocked by a herd of belligerent bovine. We had to recruit a passing pick-up truck to clear a path. Stores are scarce in this remote part of Utah, and we had to ride 20 miles past our exit to buy supplies, starting the last leg as the sun began to set — a steep, 18-mile dirt track that provided plenty of butt-clenching moments in the dusk. We pitched our tents on patches of sand among boulders and stunted juniper. There was no moon, and when the last of the firewood burnt out, we could see the Milky Way drifting across an inky ocean of stars, in waves of purple, blue, and red.
Seattle to Las Vegas
Through the Rocky Mountains
We Max Out the V85 TTs
The morning sun blazed across the desert as we tore off down the rocky trail and into Cathedral Valley, where a group of distinctive striped mesas arises from the plain like a village hewn from rock. Capitol Reef National Park is amazingly varied. Terracotta cliffs are the backdrop to white and yellow hoodoos, vivid green yuccas, and gnarly juniper, as well as a formidable mix of sand-and-rubble tracks. Buried boulders in the sandy gulches bottomed out the forks on occasion, nonetheless, our pace had increased, and at times we asked more from the Guzzis than they were designed for, but what a ride! Inevitably, a deep sandy section proved too much of an ask, and I dumped my Adventure — scuza amore.
As we neared its end, the trail entered a dense line of trees and abruptly ended at the Fremont River. I gaped at the opposite bank in disbelief before realizing the track resumed fifty yards upriver. The fast running water was muddy, and Kit was the first to ford with little notion of depth and no idea what lay below.
A breathtaking narrow road perched atop a meandering ridge separated by two yawning canyons delivered us to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Completely exhausted, we began looking for a campsite along Cottonwood Canyon Road. I found a ledge with a panoramic view across the valley. A series of sheer, striped ridges ran across the horizon, and towering above these, the giant mesa we had traversed all afternoon. We toasted our last night as the last of the sun’s rays set alight Escalante’s vivid strata. It had all gone so fast, and yet Seattle seemed like a lifetime ago.
The Reluctant Ride to Vegas
The view from my tent the following morning was a worthy highlight of the trip. We packed our gear for the last time and thundered down a deserted, undulating track running along the floor of Cottonwood Canyon, a dust cloud in our wake and rocks pinging off the sump guards. With the road through Zion National Park closed, we had to take a southern loop through Arizona before starting the last, searing leg down to Las Vegas. At McCarran Airport, we loaded the bikes onto a trailer. Kit flew home, and I hauled the Guzzi’s back to LA, reluctantly handing them back to Piaggio the next day with only dirt, dust, and a dented sump guard to show for their heroic efforts.
The Moto Guzzi V85 TT, È Tutto Terreno?
After riding hundreds of miles on dirt tracks, some seriously challenging, the V85 TT has convinced this skeptic that it will handle anything you can reasonably expect to throw at it. Overall build quality is excellent. Even with its handsomely sculpted 5.6-gallon tank full of gas, the V85’s center of gravity feels surprisingly low, and coupled with the Michelin Anakee Wild tires, inspired the kind of off-road confidence usually associated with lighter bikes. On the road, more midrange power would make fast overtaking maneuvers less of an exercise in physics, but otherwise, the V85 TT was a superb ride.
Both Kit and I are over six feet tall, and I’d figured we’d be folded up like a couple of deckchairs, but with some huge miles undertaken, we were impressed with the excellent ergonomics and supremely comfortable seat. Similar miles on a BMW F800GS would leave your arse so numb you
wouldn’t feel it for a week. The V85 TT has range and comfort, handles well both on- and off-road, and appears dependably durable, making it a credible contender at a competitive price. But the folks at Mandello del Lario deserve extra credit for also making it so very beautiful. The V85 TT has surely earned Moto Guzzi a place in the coveted Dual-Sport club. Benvenuta bella!