Sunday, September 22, 2013

Skyuka Mountain Road

A while back, I heard that retired local professional cyclist George Hincapie and lots of other bicyclists like to ride a certain road up near Columbus North Carolina, about 55 miles from home.  Its name is a bit unusual, as you may already have noticed above -- Skyuka Mountain Road.

From SKYUKA.ORG website: "The name Skyuka is used to identify the mountain ridge rising to the north of Tryon, NC, consisting of Warrior, Round, and Miller Mountain to the west, Tryon Peak, and White Oak Mountain to the east. One or more of these mountains were named for the Cherokee chief Skyuka who signed a treaty with the British in 1767 defining this mountain ridge as the line of demarcation between Cherokee and British territory."

Now you know.

I Googled the road and gazed at its tortured path.  Since it wasn't far away, I mapped out a route to see this wonder of roadbuilding expertise.  I have been to Columbus, Tryon, and some other towns nearby before on the bike, so off I went on this route.  The roads of interest are around Pushpins D through G:

View Larger Map

From home in Easley South Carolina, the route starts out easy on SC-135, SC-186, then SC-414 to Pushpin B on the map.  From there it is a few miles on US-25 to Old US-25, heading to Saluda North Carolina at Pushpin C. 

I have been to Saluda many times.  The road going there is steadily uphill, and mildly twisty.  My friend Ryan showed me the way one day back in March of 2008, about six months after I started riding.  Unfortunately, the road surface is not very good, with lots of bumps and one or two heaves that threaten to throw a rider off his bike if he doesn't happen to be holding on very well.

I turn right in Saluda onto NC-176.  If I were to follow this road for a few miles it goes down the Saluda Grade to a place called Melrose.  This section of road is much more fun going the other way -- up the grade.  It is wide in many places with slow vehicle lanes, and the surface is good enough to promote some spirited riding.  Be careful, though, there are some pavement defects that can step your tires sideways, and give you more of a thrill than you expected. 

Today, I elect not to take 176, and, instead, turn right onto Pearson Falls Road.  It immediately becomes well-groomed gravel that is easy to ride on almost any bike.  There is little traffic, and it winds its way through a forested area roughly parallel to the railroad track that is the steepest in the United States.  I've been through here before, so I know what is ahead.  There is an interesting tunnel under the tracks that is also a bridge carrying a creek beneath its roadway.
2009 photo
Another direction I could have gone from Saluda is on the most contorted road I have ever been on, Green River Cove Road.   My then new friend Ryan lead a group ride about three weeks after my first trip to Saluda with him that included Green River Cove Road -- and he took us downhill on it! I recall forcing myself to look almost backward around the hairpin bends.  I wobbled down with a death grip on the bars, but finally made it to the bottom, and onto a much easier stretch.  Oh.  In addition to Ryan, the other riders in the group included a fellow, Don, who was 74 years young at the time.  He was quite a good rider on his standard bike. 

Back to today's ride.

Pearson Falls Road passes Pearson Falls, a little private park with a nice waterfall, then connects again to NC-176, and I head east toward Tryon.  This stretch of road has pavement heaves every few hundred feet, so it is not a pleasure to ride it.  Soon enough, though, I reach NC-108, and the start of Skyuka Road, which connects me to Skyuka Mountain Road in about a mile, just after crossing over I-26/US-74.  Skyuka Mountain Road begins with a steep upgrade, and the switchbacks start almost immediately.  This one is just after Pushpin D on the map: 

Click on the link beneath the map to enlarge it so you can see how twisty the road really is. 

Here is a video done by Golden Carper in July of 2010, going the same way I went. 

I reach the top, and this wonderful panorama unfolds before me:
Click the pic to see it larger.
These views are at Pushpin E, where Skyuka Mountain Road ends and White Oak Mountain Road begins.  Somewhere down there is Holbert Cove Road, where I've ridden before.  


I stay a few minutes to take in God's creation below me.  Right next to this little gravel pulloff, there is a large house...
...with this sign:

I understand, even with the poor grammar.  ...and I don't plan to stay the night anyway.  

I continue on a short way, and find another great view, across the road from a large group of condominiums. The view:
Click the pic to see it larger. 
That is Columbus North Carolina down there.  I again stop and drink in the scenery.  Wow!  This is at Pushpin F.  

The condos:

There are a lot of other roads up here, but most of them have gates across them to keep the likes of bikers out.

Before the houses and condos were built was the thirty-two room Skyuka Hotel.
Photo from GoUpstate article by
It was built in the 1880s and torn down in the 1940s. 

On its foundation, a Dining and Recreation Hall was built for the later YMCA Camp Skyuka.   The camp opened in 1954, but closed in the mid-1980s. 

A few of the buildings that were part of the camp have been converted into houses and to other uses, including the Skyuka Mountain Lodge.  The former Dining and Recreation Hall mentioned above is currently for sale -- $579,000 -- if you are interested. 

The location of the lodge is right here:

View Larger Map

A history of the area may be found in an article on the website for the homeowners association of what is now called Camp Skyuka. 

Back to the ride, the trip down. 

The road from Pushpin F, White Oak Mountain Road, is not as long or as twisty as Skyuka Mountain Road, but it is just as scenic, maybe more. One neat thing is a large waterfall, right next to the road. 

This is Shunkewauken Falls, which drops 500 feet down the mountain.
Photo by Zarrendragon on Photobucket
That is a much better picture of the falls than I took because the trees obscured the view, but there was much more water when I was there because of recent heavy rains.   Be careful if you stop to look, as there are few places to park safely. The spot where the photo was taken is at the sharp turn to the right and below Pushpin F, below. 

View Larger Map

By the way, there is a short stretch of one-lane road to the left of Pushpin F.  Apparently there was not enough room to make it two lanes wide. 

I couldn't find a video showing the route down, but here is a video from LetsRideClyde (Terry Taylor), going up, the opposite of the direction I rode.  For reference, the waterfall is at 7:05, the one-lane section is at 8:29, and the condos are at 8:53. 

I make it down and travel on my way toward home.  The views from on high are still fresh in my memory.

The roads back are pretty easy, and I am enjoying them, too.  You can grab and move around on the map below to see other points of interest.  If you have time, don't miss Poinsett Bridge and Pleasant Ridge County Park along the way. 

Recap Map:

View Larger Map and Scroll Around

I only rode 129 miles today, but I saw some great sights.  Come along next time for more interesting roads and sights in the Upstate of South Carolina, and in western North Carolina. 

Other Riders' Rides Up and Down

  • Golden Carper rode up White Oak Mountain Road in 2010, opposite of my route.  (He misnames it, in his title.)  The one-lane section is at 4:48, and the crest is at 5:26. 
  • kalafroski rode up White Oak Mountain Road in 2010 on his supermotard, the reverse of my route.  The waterfall is at 4:10, the one-lane section is at 5:28, the summit is at 6:28.  
  • Terry Taylor of LetsRideClyde rode down Skyuka Mountain Road, opposite of the way I came, starting from Pushpin F.  The previous overlook, the one with the ungrammatical sign, is at 2:03 in his video.  
  • Terry Taylor's website, LetsRideClyde, has GPS overlays that show good motorcycle routes and Points of Interest [POI].   There are also ride videos on roads in North Carolina.  



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

We Must Never Forget

We must never forget what Islamist terrorists did to us in 2001.  

They are growing stronger and our political leadership is studiously ignoring and denying the danger. 

We must stand strong against them forever and always, lest the freedom of this greatest country on earth be lost forever. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sprockets on the Docket

A while back, you may recall that I installed a new chain on my 2006 Kawasaki Ninja 650R.  The symptoms back then almost felt like the engine was missing, especially in the lower gears under hard acceleration, but try as I might, I could not find evidence of that. 

As it turned out, after some 25,000 miles, the original chain had stretched more in some places than in others, so the effective drive ratio was changing a few times with every circuit the chain made around the sprockets.  The new chain solved the problem of the unevenness I was feeling. 

I didn't change the sprockets at the time, because they did not appear to be worn enough to justify it.  Most advice says to change the sprockets at the second chain replacement.  Of course, the front sprocket was worn more than the rear because it is smaller and each tooth contacts the chain more often -- about three times more often than the rear sprocket since there are about three times the number of teeth -- 46 -- on the rear vs. the front -- 15. 

With the new chain, the drive was smooth again, so I had not thought any more about it until a few weeks ago.  The unevenness had come back. 

Now what could be wrong?  Has my "new" chain already worn out?  It is only 14,000 miles old.  Have the old sprockets damaged the new chain? 

I check the chain for stretch at several positions along its length.  That doesn't seem to be an issue. 

What next? 

The front sprocket shows some hooking of the teeth, the rear less so.  Well, the likely culprit is the front sprocket, but I decide to change both in case the rear has worn just enough to be a contributor to the problem. 

To the Internet, then, to do some shopping! 

I search ebay and Amazon, and a few of the on-line bike parts sources, but find the best prices for OEM sprockets at Ron Ayers.  You can buy aftermarket sprockets, certainly, but the front original has a rubber cushion built in for noise and harshness reduction.  I want to maintain that feature that most aftermarket sprockets do not provide.  As long as I am buying the front, I go ahead and buy the rear and the countershaft-locking washer too. 

I press the magic computer buttons, and the order is placed. 

A few days later, the parts arrive, and I commence with the surgery. 

First comes removal of the sensor that counts countershaft revolutions so the fuel injection computer knows what is going on, and so the speedometer and odometer register properly -- albeit the speedo has always been about 5 MPH optimistic at 60, though the odometer is correct. 

That was easy.  On to the next step. 

The front sprocket has that lock washer that prevents the nut on the countershaft from loosening.  It does that by your bending its edge against one of the flats on the nut.  I straighten out the washer, and get out the air impact tool I bought when the Tractor Supply store opened here and the 27mm impact socket I bought at O'Reilly Auto Parts.  (Don't try to use a 12-point conventional socket; it will round over the corners of the nut.)  I fire up the air compressor, ask my wife to help me put the bike on the rear stand, and to hold the rear brake while I apply the impact tool to the nut.  I remember to put the transmission in neutral so the engine doesn't turn while this is going on, because it could cause damage. 

The impact tool sounds like a giant angry woodpecker, clacking away, but this woodpecker has no discernable effect whatsoever on removing the nut; it remains firmly in place.  I guess that is good -- it certainly wouldn't have come off accidentally. 

I examine the visible threads inside the nut and use my engineering logic to conclude that this is, indeed, a right hand thread, and that I am not trying to tighten it instead of loosen it.  It is. 

I try the impact tool again.  And again.  My wife is getting tired of holding the rear brake, and she lets me know that. 

Finally, I hear the familiar "brrruuup" of an impact tool unzipping a fastener, and the nut comes off of the shaft. 

The locking washer and the stubborn nut, free at last: 

Whew!  I had had visions of having to take the bike to a shop just to get that nut loose...and the mechanic taunting me like I am a 98-pound weakling for not being able to get it off. 

I thank my wife for her help with a smooch and a hug (I hope I am not too greasy), then get back to the task at hand.  I loosen the rear wheel to put some slack in the chain, and the front sprocket comes off easily. 

There is a large amount of accumulated chain lube around the sprocket, so I clean that out. 

I remove the rear wheel, and use the impact tool and the appropriate impact socket to remove the six sprocket retaining nuts.  A little cleaning up of chain lube from around that area, and I am ready to start reassembly. 

I carefully examine the service manual for the correct torques, and get out my trusty torque wrench. 

The rear sprocket goes on easily.  I apply molybdenum disulfide/oil assembly lube to the new front sprocket splines and to the face of the nut, then loop the chain around and install the sprocket and washer.  I snug the nut, but I have to wait for the rear wheel and chain to be installed before I can torque it because I need the rear brake applied to keep the shaft from rotating as before.  (For that, I have to go get my wife again.) 

I position the chain around the rear sprocket, and reinstall the rear wheel.  I tension the chain by tightening the nuts on the two tension studs, making sure the alignment markings display the same, side to side. 

I tighten the rear axle nut and recheck the chain tension, because sometimes tightening the axle causes the chain tension to change a bit.  It hasn't this time. 

I also remember to check the chain tension at its tightest point.  You do this by rotating the rear wheel and feeling when the chain has the least amount of droop on the bottom, or return, side.  If you don't do this, there is a chance that the chain will be too tight when the suspension is deflected while riding.  This could cause expensive damage to the countershaft and its bearings. 

I call for my wife to come out again.  She drops what she is doing, and appears, wondering how long it is going to take this time.  I assure her that this will only be a short tenure this time (I hope).  She holds the brake pedal as I tighten the countershaft nut to the 95 ft-lb spec.  I use the impact socket on the torque wrench for the same reason as when removing the nut -- to keep from rounding off the corners of the nut. 

I again check chain tension and everything is good.  I bend over the edge of the countershaft lock washer so it is against a flat on the nut.  Don't want that coming off, now do we. 

Everything looks OK, so I put the RPM sensor and the front sprocket cover back on.  I install the cotter pin in the rear axle nut, and tighten the chain tension stud jamb nuts.

An application of lube to the chain is next.  
I slip a sheet of corrugated behind the chain to keep from squirting the tire.  I'd rather not see what the effect of that might be. 

Ready for a test ride. 

I suit up, and take it for a little spin.  I try some quick accelerations and pay attention to the feel, and whether the problem still exists.  The unevenness is greatly reduced. 

I think this may have fixed it.  The only thing better would be to have replaced the chain again, but I am not made of money, so that will have to wait a while.  

Lesson learned: At least replace the front sprocket when replacing the chain.  Here is a picture of the old next to the new front sprocket.
What do you think?  Was it time for a replacement? 

Resource to help investigate final drive sprocket ratio changes: Gearing Commander