The Real Rolling Thunder

By: Jeff Hughes



Itís a spectacularly-beautiful day.  On the cusp of Summer, with all that entails, and weíre not a handful of miles outside of Germantown when it strikes me that here is the real deal.  There are lots of elevation changes on this route and, especially on the hilly ascents where the dozen-odd Italian twins Iím riding with go deep into their throttles, the booming cacophony which they leave trailing behind them, like sparkling aural jewels, is profoundly stirring.  One feels part of the pantheon, at speed and with prejudice, coursing through the land.  No disrespect to that other-named Rolling Thunder, the one that memorializes some really important things.  But this one includes rather more of the rolling part, to go with the thunder.
 
The temperature still hasnít broken 60 when I leave Warrenton at 7am.  The GSX-R1000 doesnít leave much room for storage and as I ride my freezing ass north on rt. 15 Iím thinking the K1200RS might have been a better choice.  Ah, for those heated grips and saddlebags Ė with the warm layers they might contain.  BMWís will spoil you. 
 
But by the time I stop an hour later at Point of Rocks itís turning really nice.  Like I knew it would.  And by the time I finish the couple of donuts I had stored in my tail pack Iím feeling warm again.  The rest of the day will bring nothing but pleasantness.
 
Back in the saddle, the sun-dappled farm country exudes promise.  Past the little hamlets of Tuscaroa, Dickerson, Beallsville, and Barnesville.  This is a perfect morning, through beautiful country.  And to enjoy it all on a fast motorcycle seems like the best thing in the world.
 
Iíve never been to Germantown before, but finding the Starbucks is not hard.  Iím here to ride with MAD Ė The Mid-Atlantic Ducati Owners' Club.  The promise of riding some new roads Iíve not seen before is the draw.  Iíve not ridden much in Maryland and I figured that if anyone has sorted the good roads there it would be the Ducati boys.  Mike Wheeler, the club president, has kindly extended an invitation to ride with them.  That, despite the fact that Iím one of those unwashed heathens, riding a Suzuki.
 
As I expected, this is a serious crowd, with serious hardware.  Mostly Ducatis, with a lone Aprilia, a Kawasaki, and an Italian cousin to the Ducati Ė a Cagiva.  Mike Cecchini, whom I recognize from his article on the MAD web site describing his ride with Doug Polen,  rolls up on an old R90S Ė the first BMW that I was ever smitten with.  Jeez, was it really that long ago?  And El Presidente, in a gesture Iím sure intended to make my Gixxer feel welcome, rolls in on another Suzuki Ė a GS500, no less.  Hell, Mike, you didnít have to do that!
 
The thing Iíve always found compelling about Ducati is the way they so seamlessly combine form and function.  The one follows the other in a graceful symmetry which is less and less seen anymore.  In a world increasingly devoid of substance, where the flash of how something looks seems to take precedence over everything else, Ducati still engineer their products with an emphasis on doing a single, serious thing really well.  The fact that they are able to do that and still incorporate such enchanting lines must be something uniquely and mystically Italian.  Almost like if your crusty old math teacher had looked like Brittany Spears.
 
I think they require a different mind set than most other bikes.  More involvement.  Less judgement.  Like that high-maintenance mistress that seems like such a pain in the ass, but then who, right when youíve decided to bag the whole thing, does something which reminds you why you ever bothered in the first place.  Reminds you that youíre alive.
 
[Note to wife:  The preceding paragraph is, ahem, a bit of journalistic license, probably ill-advised, and has no basis in fact.  Really.]
 
My favorite is Chadís (?) Dark Duck, an ebony 916 with chrome wheels.  Partly because I have a thing for the 4-valvers.  I still think the series which began with the 916 are the most beautiful motorcycles ever built.  You would think that after all these years the look would become tiresome or jaded, but somehow it doesnít.  Partly because he had this big ole balled-up patch running the circumference of the right side of his rear tire.  Me thinks Dark Duck has been on a racetrack sometime recently, one with a lot of hard rights.  And I like racetracks.
 
Leaving Germantown, we lose no time in getting up to speed.  Iím quickly laughing to myself and wondering how weíll not get a ticket Ė or get thrown in jail.  Iíve slotted myself mid-pack and figure the guys up ahead know where weíre going and what the deal is.  This is their road.  And this group rocks! 
 
Iím always a little apprehensive about riding with a group of strangers.  Either the pace is boringly tepid.  Or, worse, people are riding over their heads trying to keep up with a buddy, or trying to match some mythical notion of performance.  The sometimes-resulting carnage can quickly turn what should be a favored time into a dark and depressing event.  But there are no such problems here.  These guys are talented riders and our spirited pace through the countryside is well-tempered with good judgement.
 
Excepting the western portion, Iíve never much though of Maryland as having really great riding roads.  Boy was I wrong!  Other than that we end up in Thurmont, and hence are running a somewhat northwestwardly course, I havenít a clue as to where we are.  We make turn after turn and, Iím guessing, must be riding a host of different routes.  Flying across much open countryside, swiftly dispatching the traffic we encounter, then buzzing quickly through many little towns, we make rapid progress across the state.
 
The many turns and elevation changes sometimes give an Isle of Mann kind of feel, with the rapidly-developing corners requiring a deft touch on the bars.  Iím glad to be following riders who know this course.  I can only imagine how long it must take to learn it.  Very much like those 37 miles on that Irish Isle.
 
My favorite road is a long downhill section, somewhere near Thurmont.  As per standard practice, our freight train is flowing smoothly around any traffic we encounter.  Double-yellow passes are de rigueur.  This particular road seems little more than a series of asphalt whoop-de-doos.  Even at constant throttle one would be hard-pressed to keep oneís bike on the road.  All those little bounces seem determined to send us airborne.  As we pull out to make our pass Iím obviously using a little extra throttle to gain some acceleration, but am having to modulate it really carefully because the Gixxer feels like itís going to launch.  Iím laughing all the way down the hill. 
 
Soon we stop for a long, leisurely lunch.  A good time to kick back and relax.  Afterwards our group breaks up, with folks choosing different routes back to their desired destinations.  I decide to cruise back south on rt. 15, which gets me back to Virginia in short order.  Time enough to spin a quick detour over through Thornton Gap before heading on home for that cold one.
 
Thanks guys.  I appreciate your letting me tag along.  It was a great ride!