A sad Thunderbird hiding in the Texas hill country

For as brown and boring as much of southern Texas can be, there are many great motorcycle rides to be had down here. There isn’t anything that rivals the beauty and challenge of the Blue Ridge Parkway (for me, at least), but there is definitely motorcycle fun to be had down here. I took Glodean (my white 2012 Victory Cross Country Tour) out last Sunday to see what I could find. I live near the northern intersection of 281 and 1604 in San Antonio. This was the starting point of my latest Sunday ride (shown in the map below).

tbird

I headed west on 1604 to SH 16. I much prefer two lanes to four so I was anxious to get on 16 (16 does start out from 1604 as having four lanes, but it pretty quickly turns into two lanes). 16 is a nice ride, with minimal traffic most of the time. I rode it into Bandera (near point #2 on the map above), which considers itself the “cowboy capital of Texas.” And, indeed, it doesn’t take much imagination to see this little town the way the cowboys used to. Basically a single intersection town, on any given Sunday its Main Street is lined with motorcycles, sports cars, and the occasional street rod. I didn’t stop very long in Bandera today, but if you are so inclined there are several biker-friendly saloons that offer a variety of cool refreshments.

willysbandera-bikes

ratbob

On today’s trip through Bandera, I saw a sweet Willys Jeep Wagon and a Goldwing bobber rat. I’ve got a 93 Goldwing taking up space in my garage that I think I oughta bob one of these days. I’m thinking rat bobber bagger. We’ll see. Daydreaming about making that bobber I headed north out of Bandera on US 16. About five miles out of Bandera I took FM 470 west through Tarpley and continued heading west to SH 87 (point #3 three on the map). I left my house at about 9:30 AM and it wasn’t too hot yet. With the XM radio broadcasting a Kasey Kasem American Top 40 rebroadcast from 1974 and the comfortable morning air, choogling down 470 on Glodean felt pretty good.

One of the reasons I really like riding is that you can ride for miles and then realize that for the last 20 minutes you haven’t thought about a goddamned thing! Your head empties and you can’t be emailed, texted, called, meeting invited, conferenced in, cajoled for input, or asked to “do” lunch. Kasey’s long distance dedication (“Dear Kasey, I’ve been in Germany in the Army for the last two years and I really miss my girlfriend. Would you please play Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love for her…”) might drift in one ear and out the other, but otherwise you are untouchable. As a card-carrying introvert, I nearly always feel that the quality of the company I am in is inversely proportionate to the number of people around me. Heading west on FM 470, with no one in front of me and no one behind me, the quality of my company on this morning was as good as it gets!

470West

Morehill

Before heading out on FM 470, don’t leave Bandera with a low tank of gas. There is gas to be had in the hill country, but those chances don’t happen very often. Like many of the hill country highways in Texas, FM 470 is refreshingly devoid of any signs of commerce (except for the occasional real estate “for sale” sign). Fast food places, malls, and other civilization lard are no where to be found. You do see the occasional high-dollar gated entrance to what is surely a beautiful home tucked away in the hills, but mostly FM 470 is you, your bike, and the countryside. For what it lacks in challenging twisties and ups and downs, FM 470 makes up for with gently rolling hills and beautiful hill country vistas.

Texas two-lane secondary highways are designated RM or FM, for Ranch-to-Market and Farm-to-Market. Generally RM highways are west of SH (State Highway) 281 and FM highways are east of SH 281. “Generally” is key here because I’ve been on several FM roads west of 281 (FM 470, for example). I’m a corn fed Hoosier and a Texas RM/FM road is what we’d call a good county road in Indiana. The amazing thing about Texan RM/FM roads is that in Indiana, and may other states, this type of highway almost universally has a 55 MPH or so maximum speed limit. Not in Texas. RM/FM roads can have 70+MPH speed limits. I’ve learned, the hard way, that there are two things to watch out for on RM/FM roads: 1) if you see, in the distance, a newer model Ford pickup parked on the opposing side of the road facing you, usually under the shade of a big tree, slow the hell down. It’s a constable and he’ll getcha if you’re speeding (On RM 337, between Medina and Leakey, give Constable Phillip Tobin a wave as  you go by. He’s a nice motorcycle guy); 2) when you are on a 70 MPH RM/FM road, cruising along nicely, as you approach the occasional little town, you also need to watch your speed. The otherwise crazy-ass fast speed limit can change quickly to 40 MPH and invariably there will be a constable lurking.

HIll

As you approach SH 87 heading west on FM 470, the landscape gets a little more hilly and the road gets a few more turns. There isn’t anything breathtaking or technically challenging here, but the fun factor does twist up a notch or two. Once on SH 87, I went north heading towards RM 337–which is also a very good road to ride. I was really torn when I got to RM 337. Going west on it for about 20 minutes would drop me right into Leakey, the anchor town of the Three Twisted Sisters–a legendary Texas hill country ride. I’ve done the Sisters many times and I would have really liked riding them today, but today I just didn’t have that much time. I stopped at the rustic Lost Maples Store (about halfway between points #3 and #4 on the map) for a bottle of water. I also had a quick chat with the grizzly old Texan running the store (who was trying to watching Ice Road Truckers on TV between customers. I continued north heading up to US 39 damned glad I wasn’t in a truck and on ice.

Three miles or so north of the FM 337 intersection on US 187 is the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum. I have been there many times so I motored on past today, but if you’ve never been there you need to go! The owner, Allan Johncock is a little old Australian expatriate and a motorcycle nut of the highest order. Allan’s got more cool old bikes (some exquisitely restored, others proudly wearing the patina of age and use) in his museum than you’re otherwise ever likely to see in one place. The museum also has a little cafe with a pretty average cheeseburger (no beer, though). I have read on a few forums that the cafe may close this fall–check before you count on eating at the museum. (I love Allan’s museum but if you get this close to Leakey and are hungry, get your ass on over to the Bent Rim Grill in Leakey.)

I rode on up SH 187 to SH 39, taking it east towards Kerrville. SH 39 is a pretty average ride until you get about 15 miles east of Kerrville. There 39 hooks up with the Guadalupe River and a few turns and a few hills. That last 15 miles into Kerrville on 39 is a great ride. It was also, for me this morning, the part of the ride with the most traffic. I don’t ride like a crotchrocket hot dog, but I also don’t dawdle along like a nun in a Model T. More than once I got stuck behind three or four really slow-moving Sunday drivers.

I stopped in Kerrville for a couple of bean and cheese chalupas in a nondescript mom and pop restaurant. It wasn’t anything to brag about but it was also only $4.50 for everything. After lunch, I took Highway 27 south out of  Kerrville and took it east back to I10 to Comfort, Texas. At Comfort, I jumped on RM 473 for a nice little ride on over to US 281.

tbird in sisterdale

I really like old cars and am always on the lookout for vintage tin as I ride through the Texas countryside. On this ride, east of I10 on RM 473, I came across this sad, old 58 or 59 Thunderbird. Its license plate was dated 1975, so I’m assuming this poor old Bird has been sitting in the weeds for nearly 40 years. Despite that, its condition made it more likely a project car than a parts car. A determined builder with some mad skillz and enough time on his hands could turn this old weed steed into something very interesting.

For about 30 minutes I had RM 473 and its occasional twists and turns all to myself before being dumped back into civilization on SH 281 with all the Oldsmobiles and Ford F-250 pickups. By now it was mid-afternoon and the comfortable morning had transitioned into a very hot afternoon. It was hovering at about 100 degrees by 2pm. I was still glad that I wasn’t in a truck but a little of that ice would have been welcome about right now. My ride lasted about five and a half hours and took me just under 230 miles. Once again, Glodean took very good care of me. I got a little sun and was hot and thirsty when I got home, but damn, I can’t wait to do it again!

Posted in Motorcycling. Tagged with , , , .

2 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code class="" title="" data-url=""> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> <pre class="" title="" data-url=""> <span class="" title="" data-url="">