The beauty of the Ozarks and its quiet, pristine roads invite this group of motorcyclists to leave home far behind
Story by Ron Keys
Photos by Ron Keys, Kentucky Tourism, Ohio Tourism
More than 50 metres below, the Niagara River’s deep blue torrent roils around the concrete piers of the Peace Bridge, and as we approach U.S. Customs, I do a balancing act on my new Yamaha Venture as the traffic stops and starts. I can see the log booms holding back the remains of Lake Erie’s winter cloak of ice as Tom and Dianne, Jeff and Debbie, and Tina and I begin our trek southward to milder biking climes.
With Ontario’s smog far behind, we ride through the hills of beautiful Cattaraugus County on NY 219. A light rain falls as we proceed gingerly down the exit at Boston, NY, where Tom and Dianne pick up a piece of metal and flatten their rear tire. My little lifesaver bag of tools proves its worth, and after a three-hour stop, and some help from the boys at Hamburg Honda, we’re on our way again – except Jeff’s battery is now dead from powering my little tire pump, but a boost from another battery is all that’s needed to get underway.
The rain shows off the Allegheny Mountains’ exposing a multitude of greens. The morning mist-filled air inflates us with the fresh scents of spring. In Ellicottville, we park the bikes in front of the Ellicottville Brewery and Restaurant for lunch. Seated among huge copper vats, we have our senses teased by the malty smells of fermenting brews during a delectable lunch.
We leave Ellicottville on NY 242 west over the hills. Winding through New York’s ski country to Little Valley, NY 62 runs south into Pennsylvania. With the steep Allegheny Mountains on our left, we relax and cruise along in this utopia of bends and curves following the lazy Allegheny River. At Franklin, PA 8 takes us south to our hotel just north of Pittsburgh.
The next morning dawns sunny and we head to Wheeling, West Virginia, and points south on SR 7. Hugging the curves along the banks of the Ohio River, we cast cautious glances at the huge tugboats churning up the muddy water as they push gangs of barges northward against the current. At Clarington, Ohio, we find Highway 78, a great winding road with little traffic that takes us west to Woodsfield, where Ohio 26, snakes its way south through Wayne National Forest. I catch glimpses here and there of some of Ohio’s more than 125 covered bridges as we whiz by on this pleasantly crooked road.
Old Habits Die Hard
As I’m not getting any younger, the thought recently occurred to me that it might be time to own a cruiser style of motorcycle. So, with Tina and me aboard our new-to-us Yamaha cruiser, with the trailer behind, we’re ready for all the curves and demands that Ohio 26 has to offer. However, as I enter a left-hander, and being a bit overzealous, the left floorboard grounds hard, then the kickstand. I can’t lean any farther, so I straighten up a bit and look for an avenue of escape. With less than a metre between the pavement and a shallow grassy ditch, I strike a line up the gravel shoulder. All is well, until the trailer whips sideways and slides into the ditch, pulling the bike farther onto the shoulder. Forward momentum then brings the bike back onto the asphalt, sideways, back tire howling with displeasure. Immediately, my old racing experience comes to the forefront and I put my foot down, countersteer with the slide, and grab a handful of throttle, hoping for the best. The bike and trailer fishtail back and forth a couple of times, then straighten up under acceleration, and we continue on as if nothing happened.
It turns out cruisers ground out at a lean angle of approximately 24 degrees. My previous mount of many years, a Gold Wing, grounds out at about 45 degrees. Even though there’s snow on the mountain, I guess there’s still some fire in my furnace.
A few kilometres later, rollicking along on the south side of the Ohio River, we stop in Lesage, West Virginia, for lunch at the renowned Hillbilly Hot Dogs. The joint is packed with bikers and cagers alike, and the menu is absolutely everything hot dogs. We opt for dining outside, even though a couple of old school buses and assorted buildings offer out-of-the-weather eating spots. This is a quirky place to stop for lunch, and we spend a few hours just reading all the signage and trying to see everything. Years ago, owners Sonny and Sharie had met in Hollywood, California. Not being happy with the “weenie huts” of the Golden State, they arrived back in Sonny’s home state, West Virginia, and with more hot dog selections than anywhere else, Hillbilly Hot Dogs was born.
A Little Further Yet
On I-64, the tires hum and the engines purr as we super slab it west to Lexington, Kentucky. Following the Athens Boonsboro Road that circles the perimeter of Lexington, we mosey along past spreading green oaks, manicured lawns and mortar-less stone fences that border the road and divide pristine horse farms. The roads in northern Kentucky’s horse country are phenomenal for…