Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Highlands Hammock, Sebring, Florida

We spent the weekend camping and hiking in the Sebring area.  For the ride down from south Orlando, I take the Orange Blossom Trail.  The road has a great name and no doubt it once travelled through many orange groves, but now you ride through traffic until you get past Kissimmee.  The Orange Blossom Trail passes through Davenport Florida, a town that began as Fort Cummings.  Fort Cummings was a military fort built in the 1800s and its' reason for being built, in what was then the middle of nowhere, was to establish a base to communicate with the Seminole Indians as the second Seminole war came to a close.  Today it is a sleepy little town with a strong country feel.  Many old buildings still exist and as so often happens with time, the roads have widened a bit so the buildings all seem very close to the road.

Just south of Davenport, we turn off the Orange Blossom Trail at Haines City and continue south on Hwy 17.  Hwy 17 doesn't get a lot of traffic and it takes you through many orange groves and a few small towns.  One of those small towns is Dundee. The area that is now Dundee was developed by speculators that saw the potential for citrus crops .  One of those that came to the area with citrus dreams was William Shepard of Minneapolis.  Shepard purchased about 14,000 acres of land . He developed not only the citrus groves, but when the railroad came through, he began developing and selling housing lots. Shepard was a visionary, as the area grow to become a major citrus producer.

South of Dundee, Fort Clinch once stood.  Fort Clinch was abandoned after only a few months, but by the mid 1800s it was resettled by its' first permanent settlers.  The settlers were attracted to the area by the plentiful game and fishing.  By the time William Shepard was developing Dundee, the name of the Fort Clinch area was changed to Frostproof.  Although the area is not exactly frost proof, frosts are rare.  With the catchy name and good soil, grove owners moved into the area.  Now the stretch from Dundee all the way to Sebring is packed full of groves.  This time of year the scent is almost unbelievably good!

It must have taken a tremendous amount of work to clear the land for the groves.  As you can see from the photos, the vegetation in the area without groves is very thick and often swampy.  I think, if left alone, the land would reclaim itself and you'd find very little signs of human habitation in just a few years. 
This is a foot path through a section of the Highlands Hammock State Park.  Something that cannot be seen from the pictures and that few non Floridians would know is that Florida is a state with hidden dangers.  The ocean is full of fish and sharks that can and do bite, there are salt water crocs, and swamp living alligators, venomous snakes and spiders.  It seems every type of palm has thorns or leaves can stab and cut.  There is a fantastic beauty about it all, but it had to take hardy men and women to settle the land.

Seconds after I snapped this picture an alligator that I hadn't seen slid quietly into the water just beyond the tree that is to the left of center.  

The swamp has a beauty of its' own and is nearly silent in the day.  It comes alive in the evening with the sounds of frogs and night birds.  
One of the neatest sounding night birds is the Limpkin.  It has a cry that sounds like it should have come from the deepest jungle.  In fact, their call was used in the Tarzan movies that were filmed in the area years ago.


More Swamp

Still more swamp

1000 year old tree

This tree is approximately 1000 years old.  Much of the old growth is gone now, but some still stands.

Road through the hammock

This road and the two below cut through the state park.  There are always campers in the park, but the trails and roads get little use.

The deer flies were bad in a few places and I mentioned to my riding buddy, best friend, and wife, Kim that I'd been shooing one away from my head for the last few minutes and that it had bit me and left a red mark.  She didn't show much sympathy.  Then later in the day as we walked the path below, she stepped on a snake and was bitten.  She is so competitive and always has to show me up...
Anyway, it was a fantastic weekend with plenty of solitude and beauty.

Snake bite alley

The Snake Bite

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Review


Kawasaki Vulcan 900

It can be difficult to write a review on a bike you have researched and finally committed to purchasing. Seems the review is bound to have a bit of bias in it. So with no apologies, here is my view and comments on the Vulcan 900.

I could never have been called a cruiser fan, I like simple bikes, fast bikes, and I like soft core trail riding. Cruisers were just not in my sights. Then one day my Dad bought a cruiser and rode it out to the farm to show it off. I wondered what had ever made him decide to buy a cruiser. I had (still have) a Kawasaki Concours and didn't see the attraction of the cruiser. I think he saw that in my eyes, because he just smiled and offered me his bike. It was sooo nice and sooo easy. (He did that to me with scooters too. Thanks Dad for opening my eyes to so many things)

That nice and easy stayed in my head long after that ride and several years later, with the encouragement of my best friend, riding buddy, and wife we purchased the Vulcan. Now after riding it for 12,000 plus miles, I have to say I like it better with each mile I ride it. Just as no bike is the perfect bike, this one gives and takes in different areas, so read on and we'll talk about the good and the bad of this very nice machine. Is there any bad after 12,000 miles? Not really, but there are things we can talk about so you are better informed if you should be in the market for a cruiser.

When reading magazine reports on the Vulcan 900, you hear them call this bike a middleweight or sometimes even a light cruiser. Let me tell you that a 660 pound 900cc bike is not light. It may be middle weight, but only because middle weight is a relative term. Just the same the weight is very low and because of this, the bike is easy to move around the garage and it is almost laughably easy to maneuver at walking speeds. It gets moved around less in the wind than my Connie and TU 250 and those wide handlebars make it super easy to roll into and out of the curves.

The fit and finish is quite good, the paint is flawless and the chrome is very pretty. I like plastic and am happy the bike has plastic fenders - no rust - but chrome plastic engine parts strike me as odd. Just the same, Kawasaki has pulled this off very well and the chrome is very nice. It has a belt drive and, again, I was not sure I'd like that feature, but I have become a convert. There is nothing to worry about with a street bike and belt drive, and it never needs oiling and seldom (none so far) needs adjusting. The final little thing that I'd change if I were King, or wealthy enough to buy aftermarket, is the spoke wheels. Not the spokes really as they are pretty and they compliment this type bike. They do run tube type tires though. I prefer the ease of patching a tubeless tire to a tube type.

There is no other bad for me and all these minor things are just that, minor. The windshield does a great job of splitting the wind, in fact it is the best bike I have owned for weather protection. The engine has fantastic torque and chugs up and down the road as easy two up as solo. It makes easy work of the eastern US mountains. This bike is at it's absolute best cruising through the countryside showing off the sights and smells of our rural areas. It is like riding a big old lawn chair. The seating position encourages you to look around and enjoy the world we so often just blast through when we are trying to "get somewhere". The Vulcan is happy at 45 mph and it is happy at highway speeds. I think the big windshield starts to drag a little as speeds climb above 70-75 mph. The bike can travel at these speeds and higher without any problem, but you do see the gas mileage begin to suffer.  The mileage on the open highway is 45 MPG but on last summers' ride to Tennessee and North Carolina the mileage ranged from 48 to 54+ MPG.  The bike has a 5.3 gallon fuel tank.  I run about 190 miles between fillups when riding back and forth to work (mostly turnpike travel)and will usually go 215+ when I get to ride it on the back roads I enjoy most.  When the fuel warning light illuminates, there is still a gallon of fuel in the tank. 

An interesting thing I have noticed with the Vulcan as well as the Concours is that they just keep getting better.  It is as if it takes them 30,000 miles or so to fully break in.  They get smoother and quicker with miles.  With the Vulcan, the mileage has continued to improve with age and even though I have always felt the engine was smooth, it also seems to keep running freer and smoother.  There is very little vibration from the Vulcan. The floorboards and handlebars remain steady all the way up to 70-75 MPH.

My father in-law and I rode to Tennessee and North Carolina last summer and we had intended to trade bikes now and then to give us sore spots in different place than we'd get if we stayed on just one bike. Turned out my father in-law enjoyed the Connie so much and I enjoyed the Vulcan so much that we did not trade at all. After a full week of steady riding neither of us was sore or tired.

It'll never be confused for a dual sport bike, but we have taken the Vulcan down a number of gravel roads as well as paved roads. I think the combination of wide tires and steering geometry make this an easy ride. There is no need to worry as it remains stable in both hard pack dirt and gravel.

I think the Vulcan 900 will be in Kawasaki's lineup for a long time. It doesn't try to be macho, it doesn't try to be a hotrod, it doesn't try to be anything other than a very pleasant to live with bike. The Vulcan will stay in my stable for a long time, it is just sooo easy and sooo nice!

Video Links you might enjoy:
Klausenpass - Teil 1
Klausenpass - Teil 2
Klausenpass - Teil 3


Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Ghost Town Ride


The orange trees are in blossom.  The fragrance is one the most fantastic smells anywhere.  You just want to draw a deep breath, keep breathing in and never let it out.  To ride through central Florida in the spring time is made even more special because of the orange blossoms.

Today’s ride was a real treat.  My idea was to take the ghost town ride I had planned for a few weeks ago.  The cumulus clouds had built until they formed a near overcast, yet there seemed to be plenty of thermal lift. At almost any time you could see countless hawks, turkey vultures, black vultures and an occasional eagle.  There are many other birds in this area as well and I saw turkeys, cranes, herons, storks, and swallow tail kites too.  As I stopped to take pictures in Kenansville, a couple of tiger butterflies floated by bobbing in the slight breeze and disappeared behind the remains of the old post office.
Kenansville Post Office

Kenansville may best be considered a near ghost town.  It was a late 1800s cattle town on a section of railroad that Henry Flagler built.  When the railroad pulled out, the town struggled to survive.  Today, there is still an abandoned bank and school house.  The school had 100 students in 1920, 29 in 1922, but in 1962 its’ doors closed for 30 years.  It reopened in 1992 but finally closed for good in 2003. 
School House

Elvis Presley made several trips to central Florida and Kenansville has a lasting bit of notoriety because of those trips.  Kenansville is the home to the Heartbreak Hotel.  It is said that the name of the hotel was the inspiration to the Elvis song, Heartbreak Hotel.

From the Heartbreak Hotel, it is about a 25 mile ride to Yeehaw Junction, a town with another stop over made famous, or infamous, from its’ past.  Yeehaw Junctions’ last remaining establishment is the Desert Inn and Motel.  The Desert Inn and Motel was once the local brothel but now houses a restaurant and motel.  This is a place to stop by and enjoy a cool drink while you take in the unique decorations and history.  On this last visit, there were luncheon tables set outside as well as an outdoor pool table that was getting a workout from the locals.  In the past I have seen chickens scratching around outside, but they were not seen this time.  There is always a steady flow of customers in and out of the Desert Inn.  It is worthy of a stop if you are in the area and one you will remember for quite some time.

After leaving Yeehaw Junction, I chugged my way north to see if I could find Lokosee.  Lokosee was a turpentine producing town along the railway and has been abandoned since the railroad closed.  The old town is now grown over but lives on at least in name as the Lokosee ranch.  From Lokosee I continued north looking for Nittaw.
Nittaw Residents


Roadside Table
I found an old road sign for Nittaw Ln but that is about all that is left of this former saw mill town.  There were a few cattle where the town once stood, so I guess Nittaw is not really a ghost town, its’ inhabitants have just changed.  Further up the road is Illiahaw.  Illiahaw (derived from the Indian word for orange) was another stop on a railway and the last building still standing is the railway substation.  Illiahaw was also a turpentine town, but when the trees were gone, the town went as well.  Today, the railway substation stands on the edge of an orange orchard.  There is also one of the last remaining roadside tables nearby.  For those not old enough to remember them, roadside tables were placed along roads at various intervals to provide travelers a place to rest and picnic.  All this was before interstates and our modern day version of the roadside table, the rest stop.
Illiahaw Railroad Substation


The last ghost town stop for the day was Holopaw.  Holopaw was essentially a company owned town for a large sawmill operation.  The town once had 2000 residents but it is mostly gone now.  The railroad pulled out at about the same time the trees played out and now the town is but a few houses and abandoned buildings.  One bright spot for motorcyclists is Holopaw Corvette.  Don’t let the name fool you.  Holopaw Corvette is home to the local URAL and Royal Enfield dealer.  I have to tell you that there could not be a more fitting dealer location for these bikes.  Stop in and check this shop out.

Well that is it, the smell of orange blossoms, and the sight of so many birds and cattle, six central Florida ghost towns, and perfect weather.  What a wonderful day on the bike.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


I have been asked about the Suzuki TU 250 a number of times since we bought it and thought it is time to write a review on this machine.  The Suzuki TU250 is a great bike.  I didn’t call it a great small bike or a great beginner bike or use any other qualifier.  Taken on its’ own, it is a worthy bike and that may explain why it is popular with riders of varying skill and experience.  Let’s take a look at it.
A bike that makes you smile

The TU250 doesn’t try to be a sport bike, a cruiser, or a touring bike.  Instead, it tries to be a bike that can carry its’ rider nearly anywhere and do it with grace and dignity.  Where this bike excels is in taking the rider down our secondary and back roads.  It is as if the bike wants you to become a part of the world you are traveling through.  It wants you to experience the smells, to feel the wind and the temperature of the air.  It wants you to look around and enjoy the scenery.  The seat is comfortable and the riding position puts no strain on your neck, back, arms or legs and it keeps your head and eyes up where they belong.

I don’t know the top speed of most of the bikes I have owned, and that includes this one.  It does seem most comfortable cruising in the 45 to 60 MPH range.  At 60 and beyond the wind begins to be too much for my comfort as well, so the bike is comfortable at speeds that match the speeds I most enjoy when riding without a windscreen.  Acceleration and top speed are not the strengths of this bike.  If top speed and acceleration are very important to you, there are better choices in bikes.  The TU250 does have enough acceleration and speed to flow with traffic on the roads it was made to travel.

The TU is so very light and agile that you need only think where you want it to go and you are there.  It is as if it is an extension of your thoughts and wishes.  Curving roads are a blast, yet when the pavement gives way to gravel or dirt, this bike continues on completely at ease with the new surface.  If the going gets bumpy or sandy you can stand on the pegs to keep the bike stable and the ride smooth.  The light weight (326 pounds fully fueled) that makes it so nice to ride also make it a breeze to move around the garage or ride at parking lot speeds.

My wife and I are 5’4” and 5’8” tall and the bike fits us perfectly.  I have read reports of taller riders fitting fine as well.  So the bike is a comfortable and enjoyable travel companion and explorer.  It is also a very good looking bike, at least to most people’s eyes.  It has no beak and it doesn’t where clothing that makes it look like a caricature of a motorcycle.  It is designed on the style that was once known as a “standard” bike, but is now rather rare.  Park the bike and people will walk up to it for a closer look and if you happen to be nearby you can expect them to quiz you about its’ age and if you restored it.  How nice is that!  A bike that can introduce you to the joys of back road riding and also introduce you to new friends!

The TU250 gets great gas mileage.  Ours usually tops 90 MPG and has had a low of 84 MPG.  That coupled with a 3.2 gallon fuel tank and you can expect a 250 mile range with good reserves.

Over the years motorcycles have become specialized.  We can purchase what are essentially street legal race bikes, enormous and comfortable touring bikes, street legal dirt bikes with 10 inches of suspension travel and gigantic cruisers that weigh in excess of 800 pounds.  All these bikes are fantastic at what they were designed to do, but they give much away at the far side of their particular specialty.  Everyone can look at this Suzuki and name a specialty bike that does something better that it can, but there are very few that can deliver as much fun and enjoyment as this bike can.

I have owned many bikes, yet this one is one of my all-time favorites.  Maybe even THE all-time favorite.

Links you might like.
TU250X Review
TU250X Mountain Climb
TU250X Ride
TU 250 in Bryson City, NC video
Yamaha SR400/SR500 Review