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“Head For The Hills”
By Tom Neel – Halcyon #568
North Carolina beaches are, of course, at sea level. They are also some six plus hours and over 400 miles away from Brown Mountain Overlook, elevation 2760’. Located in the western High Country of the state, just a handful of miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, Brown Mountain is part of the Pisqah National Forest. While the overlook has a great view, it’s an unassuming target and a proper bullseye for my little experiment of heading for the hills!
Goshen, Indiana, home of the Halcyon, sits at an elevation of 801 feet. Not so different than where I live near Charlotte, NC with Halcyon #568 and my old riding buddy Shane Chalke with #385 live. The difference is Goshen’s surrounding area and region are mostly flat, whereas Charlotte is considered to be in the Piedmont (foothills) of North Carolina. Go east and the elevation goes down. Go west and you can find the highest peak east of the rockies, which is Mt. Mitchell at 6,684’. I can drive to the summit in about two hours, a big part of which is driving the very twisty Blue Ridge Parkway. So the area is anything but flat.
The Halcyon’s 14 ponies seem well at home on level ground, but I’ve also noticed on local hills and rolling roads that it holds its own. So much so that it had me wondering what would happen if I threw a mountain at it. Many 250s subjected to ascents such as this die of exhaustion, slowly running out of steam as you watch the speedometer retreat to lower numbers. But the Halcyon’s 250 has led me to believe it may just have the cajones to keep up.
I enlisted Shane to join me on this venture for good reason. Besides the fun of riding together for the last decade plus, Shane has had a home in the High Country and knows the area well. He also represents a closer to average height and weight at 5’-10” / 170 lbs., compared to me at 5’- 6” and 145. Also, Shane is running a 47 tooth rear sprocket vs my 45 tooth. (Stock is 45T). So I felt I would have more bases covered.
We meet in Stanley, NC, elevation 863’, on a glorious morning with temps in the high 60s. The first part of our trip was to head northwest to the city of Morganton, elevation 1,161’. That hour run lifts us almost 300 feet. It’s effortless for both Halcyons, which happily take it in stride. I should note that a portion of this run is done on Route 18 north, a less than interesting two lane stretch which requires a good bit of time just sitting at 55mph or above. This happened to be less than desirable for Shane, and I only point this out because his Garmin indicates paralleling this newer 18 is the Old NC18. I’ll just leave you with this little tease for the end… the trip home was amazing!
So we make our way through the city of Morganton where my experiment would begin on Route 181. We were at 1,160’, give or take. Our Brown Mountain Overlook destination is again at 2,760’, a difference of 1,600’, which will be covered in just 20 twisty miles! Only 16 miles as the crow flies. Route 181 is mostly one lane up and one down, with a few 1/2 mile dual lane passing zones to overtake the timid. This is a motorcycle road. Motorcycles of all kinds venture here, be it cruisers, adventure bikes, or what I’m sure the locals call crotch rockets, which consume tarmac here at blinding speeds like a swarm of angry bees.
While the elevation change is happening under you, and the turns come at you one after another, many of which are the 180 degree variety, cars try finding their pace among motorcycles. Shane would later point out that the 45mph speed limit signs are new this year. Before this, there were none, which automatically means 55mph in North Carolina. The whole point of my experiment is to hopefully prove the Halcyon is capable of holding at least 55mph on the steep grade, as opposed to deflating like a balloon as it runs out of energy. A limit of 45mph proves very little unless that’s all the engine will do.
Fortunately, everyone has yet to accept the new speed limit signs and the free-for-all begins. We are not alone as the sole two wheelers and stuck behind cars in places, keeping us at speeds between 40 and 50, but just as I expected, I could feel there was more. Those passing zones then allowed us to hit speeds above 55. Shane later tells me he had the throttle completely pinned and I had noticed him glued to the tank at times in a full tuck position trying to find every mile per hour. I was in tow as I wanted to see his results as well as mine, and though I passed him on the last passing zone, it wasn’t as though I blew by him. At the overlook, I think Shane was pleasantly surprised with the results. I had said, I think the Halcyons will hold their own and they did a spanking job of it. If the road had been vacant we both agreed you could take this quite steep hill of turns at 55 or above the whole way up. Truly miles of smiles, and if those grins weren’t enough, there was always the hoot of a ride back down with displays of handling bliss!
Back through Morganton, it was time to find and discover Old North Carolina 18. There have been many famous roads which have earned names like Back of the Dragon or the Dragon’s Tail, and other such mystifying titles of amusement. Thankfully this road has no such name, meaning only locals would know it, thus we were largely left alone to enjoy it. This road, similar in length to our test road of Route 181, in my eyes was perfect. I personally don’t favor turns for turning sake, or ones that throw the surprising pinched corner at you. I like undulation roads with rhythm and flow. I want the road to almost flow out of me and the bike I’m on. As if rider, road, and motorcycle are one. This is that kind of road. Quite simply, this road was Halcyon Heaven. If Janus had test bikes at one end and new bikes for sale at the other, trust you’d be taking delivery of your new Janus on the spot! If nothing else, seek these roads whenever you can.
For me the day netted a total of 167 miles ridden, bringing my three and a half month old Janus to 2515 miles. It’s a motorcycle that has proven to be unique, especially for a 250, and now which I know is capable of toying with some serious elevation. We also got plenty of enthusiastic inquiries wherever we stopped. Just point at the tank and say Janus!
I will say that I do believe the Halcyon 450 will garner the same attention. It will as well, if one feels they need it, put a little bit more meat on their plate and offer a new level of power for those great ascents. But I feel the Halcyon 250 maintains its solid position in the Janus model mix. We weren’t a bit sore from its lack of rear suspension either, and a lot has to be said for feather-weight. There’s simply nothing like it. Time to head for the hills!