Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Honda Ascot 500 Single on a 7500-mile ride

     I learned from my first three trips to Alaska that reaching Inuvik in the Northwest Territories in the early 1980s and enjoying the ride was a challenge that required good planning and preparation, a reasonably good dirt-riding ability and the right motorcycle. The bike not only needed to be capable of handling well on loose, rough surfaces, but it also needed to be comfortable enough for my body to tolerate a 10,000-mile trip, especially when 2,000 of it would be on gravel. Modern dual-sport machines were not yet available in the US - at least I didn't know of any - and what might be out there was too expensive to spend on my hobby, so it was a matter of choosing from what was available and affordable to me at the time.
     Soon after returning home from my third trip to Alaska in 1983, I began to look for the right bike for the trip. In early 1984, Honda made available a bunch of leftover 1982 FT500 single-cylinder Ascots at a greatly reduced price. I bought one in spite of recognizing a few shortcomings with it. The first thousand local miles proved that handling on dirt surfaces was adequate but the seat and suspension might be too stiff and uncomfortable on a longer ride. I decided to take it on a shakedown that amounted to a huge figure-8 trip around the US.
     I told my longtime friend and enduro teammate Ralph Spencer in Arizona about the plan and he promptly went out and bought an identical Ascot, paying $300 less than I did in New York. He said he would meet me halfway and ride about 3,000 miles of my planned tour with me. We eventually agreed to meet in Ruston, Louisiana, although Ralph aborted the ride two days later in Dodge City, Kansas, when the discomfort of his seat and suspension became too much for him. I continued on alone and completed total 7,500-miles. It was a great ride, albeit somewhat uncomfortable at times due to the stiffness of the ride. I loved the sound, handling and response of the little single-cylinder bike in spite of its shortcomings, but I eventually decided against taking it to Inuvik - mainly because of the discomfort. The detailed story of the trip is in my book, Motorcycling Stories. I took the photos below while I was on the trip.

This shot was taken in south-central Pennsylvania. I generally traveled across the northern part of the state to Mt Jewett, where I headed due south on US Route 219 for West Virginia

Another picturesque farm scene in southern Pennsylvania

Early morning fog in the valleys south of Johnstown, PA.

Here's a nice farm scene in West Virginia

I came past this old covered bridge in southern West Virginia.

Barn on fire near Loudon, TN

A small fire truck arrived in time to save the house.

Tobacco farm in Tennessee

Sorghum Mill along Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi

I crossed the Mississippi River at Vicksburg

Louisiana bayou

Southeastern Arkansas

Ozark Mountains, Arkansas after meeting Ralph in Ruston, LA

Dogpatch, USA, Ozarks

Southeastern Kansas

Dodge City, Kansas

Western Kansas

Feeder Pen in Nebraska

Estes Park, Colorada - view from my motel window

Near Fall River Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park

Southern Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Grassy Lake Road, heading into Idaho

Several shots in Wasatch-Cache National  Forest, Utah

Near Heber City, Utah

Sky-ride near Provo, Utah

Sevier River overflowed its banks, south of Provo, Utah

Indiana - almost all 18 wheels were still turning when I came upon it.


  1. The Ascot in this story and pictures was my first street bike.....lierally, this Ascot ! I bought it from Piet. I went over his house to buy his Trophy 500 that he had championed so many Enduros with and I think he didn't really want to sell it. He asked me how mechanical I was....."not very " I stated. He talked me into The Ascot instead. When I grew up there was hundreds of miles of single track trails right behind my house. My next door neighbor Ralph Spencer & Piet Boonstra who were my childhood heroes rode and made all those trails and set me on my way to my lifetime of racing and riding, (loving), motorcycles.....especially trail bikes. Thanks fellas for being who you were and a positive role model for me and many others.