Father And Son Seek Adventure On Two Air-Cooled Thumpers

Riding a Suzuki DR650S and Honda XR650L in the Sierra Nevadas.

Fire-red skies and gray ash fill Yosemite National Park as we trek from the South
Entrance to monumental Half Dome.
Fire-red skies and gray ash fill Yosemite National Park as we trek from the South Entrance to monumental Half Dome.Jeff Allen

As the seasons change from summer to autumn, and autumn to winter, crowds full of different demographics with different lives in different towns find themselves in similar places for what many refer to as “riding season.” The sweltering dog days of summer have passed and the desert now offers cool temperatures during the day while becoming frigid at night, inviting for big bonfires around campsites filled with tents, motorhomes, trailers, and of course motorcycles.

Although the Suzuki DR650S has been relatively unchanged throughout most of its existence, it provides a great platform for dual sport riding.
Although the Suzuki DR650S has been relatively unchanged throughout most of its existence, it provides a great platform for dual sport riding.Jeff Allen

In an era when it is so much easier to turn on the television and stay entertained for hours or go watch football at the neighbor’s house on both Saturday and Sunday while the kids play the newest video game upstairs, we have slowly lost what once brought so many Americans together and fueled spirits with adventure—exploration on two wheels.

The iconic Honda XR650L is sure to impress all riders with its rich heritage and unmistakable aesthetics.
The iconic Honda XR650L is sure to impress all riders with its rich heritage and unmistakable aesthetics.Jeff Allen

I think most of us can remember a time when your parents picked you up from school on Friday with the camper loaded down with motorcycles, bicycles, firewood, and coolers for a weekend in the desert. Then proceeding to drive for a few hours out to an OHV area where you would see similar families doing the same thing—getting outdoors and enjoying what this beautiful country and motorcycles have to offer.

Well balanced and predictable, the DR650S proved to be extremely confidence-inspiring in the conditions we rode in.
Well balanced and predictable, the DR650S proved to be extremely confidence-inspiring in the conditions we rode in.Jeff Allen

Looking back at it now, I am more than grateful for the experiences I was able to share with my family for two days and two nights under the desert sky. Even more so, I realize the amount of work necessary to achieve such a weekend; it sure would have been a lot easier for my parents to turn on the Saturday morning cartoons, give me a bowl of cereal, and let me rot away while they could enjoy their downtime, but they made the effort.

Having plenty of ground clearance, the XR650L has no problem going airborne.
Having plenty of ground clearance, the XR650L has no problem going airborne.Jeff Allen

In the spirit of riding season, “making it happen,” and “for old times sake,” I loaded up the van with a Suzuki DR650S, a Honda XR650L, a cooler full of snacks and drinks, and an old man I refer to as “Dad,” and headed north out of Orange County with no particular place to be. Knowing we wanted to go somewhere new and exciting, we just kept driving, discussing riding areas off freeways and highways we could connect to. One monumental milestone that I admittingly had never been to, let alone ride a motorcycle at, was Yosemite. With no debate, we both agreed it would be the place for our riding getaway. Now with a destination in mind, we charged full steam ahead for the town of Oakhurst, California, where we opted out for a comfy bed and warm hotel room for the night. Just a short ride away from the South Entrance of Yosemite, we traveled a fun, paved, twisty road to enter the park.

With plenty of low-end grunt, it’s easy to get the front end light on the DR650S.
With plenty of low-end grunt, it’s easy to get the front end light on the DR650S.Jeff Allen

Greeted by a nice, young lady working the gate, we forked up the $30 per bike to get in. A bit surprised by the $5 savings compared to a car at $35, it didn’t take long to realize that $60 total was a small price to pay for such an amazing father-and-son experience. Now a couple of short miles into our ride, our senses and surroundings drastically changed. With a hazing sight and smoky smell, the beautiful park now looked like a scene from an Armageddon movie. A spectrum of dark grays and vibrant reds filled the sky as a raging fire north of Mariposa had polluted the air. Heavy in spirit, we continued on. Making our way through the winding roads of the park, we eventually found ourselves at what would naturally be the central place for tourism—a vast valley that miraculously displays Half Dome standing tall at 8,842 feet as well as the Royal Arches, North Dome, and the towering Mount Hoffman at an elevation of 10,856 feet.

With plenty of low-end grunt, it’s easy to get the front end light on the DR650S.
With plenty of low-end grunt, it’s easy to get the front end light on the DR650S.Jeff Allen

Our time was well spent however, with an understandable low-speed limit through the park and no off-road trail system, we headed back to Oakhurst for dinner and a beer before a good night’s rest.

Jump-starting our day before dawn we loaded up the van and headed back south toward one of our favorite riding areas near scenic Huntington Lake. A place full of beautiful roads, trails, and giant granite slabs, I recommend every motorcyclist to come see what this part of the Sierra National Forest has to offer. However, plan on coming back because you can spend a month here and not ride the same section twice.

The large granite slabs of Bald Mountain provide perfect traction for this air-cooled thumper to perform at its best.
The large granite slabs of Bald Mountain provide perfect traction for this air-cooled thumper to perform at its best.Jeff Allen

An area favorable for a dual sport, we spent our time carving up freshly paved mountain roads, challenging gravel twisties, sandy trails, and of course the always-encouraging granite slabs. Sitting in any one of the area’s local diners discussing motorcycles, the guy beside you will intervene and say, “You have to go to Bald Mountain.” A ride full of nearly every terrain the Sierras has to offer, Bald Mountain will remind you why you started riding in the first place.

The supple suspension on the DR650S provided a comfortable ride through the rocky terrain.
The supple suspension on the DR650S provided a comfortable ride through the rocky terrain.Jeff Allen

You will surely be out of breath once you crest the peak, as below sits a magnificent view of Shaver Lake, while Huntington Lake is just out of view and above stands a tall and mighty steel lookout tower that assures you’ve made it to the top. A perfect place to eat a sandwich and reflect on your ride, the silence of the land will put peace in your heart.

The XR650L’s low-end power encourages the rider to wander off the beaten path.
The XR650L’s low-end power encourages the rider to wander off the beaten path.Jeff Allen

With the ability to sit up there as long as you want, you may never come down. As I sat there with my dad, the man who gave me the gift of motorcycles, nothing needed to be said, just a look at each other and we both knew this is where man was meant to be. At the highest point of a mountain or the lowest point of a valley is where the human spirit was, is, and always will be made.

Both the DR650S and the XR650L proved themselves worthy as they conquered the twisty pavement, sandy washes, and rocky uphills that stand between Shaver Lake and the Bald Mountain lookout tower.
Both the DR650S and the XR650L proved themselves worthy as they conquered the twisty pavement, sandy washes, and rocky uphills that stand between Shaver Lake and the Bald Mountain lookout tower.Jeff Allen