Shamrock Tour® - Gainesville, Florida

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers, Richard Rothermel

It's a long, slow process squaring off a touring motorcycle's tire. As the wheels rotate, asphalt constantly gnaws at the radial's vulnerable contact patch. Like legions of amoebic strip miners, this aggregation of incisors attacks my ebony hoops - digging, grinding, and belching away a microscopic vapor of polymer that settles unseen upon the grasses swayed by the passing Triumph.

With the mean elevation of the Sunshine State a mere 100 feet above sea level, precious little geography exists to challenge a road builder's imagination. Motorcyclists simply looking for tempting twists are bound to be disappointed, but Florida manages to stand out as a rider's destination in other regards, such as the pleasant year-round riding weather.

As I'm guiding the Triumph Sprint ST into Alachua County and Gainesville, the hub of this Shamrock Tour, the number of bikes and scooters on the road increases. Two-wheel transport is undoubtedly in vogue here. A steady, spring shower has accompanied me for the past hour or so, but now I'm far from being the only one around who believes "a little rain never hurt anyone."

Horses and Keys

Yesterday's showers have marched on, and the sun is making quick work of the few droplets still clinging to the Sprint's gas tank and top case. A fresh, dry breeze like the one stirring the leaves of the nearby oak trees always gets my touring juices flowing. On13th Street, an impressive number of motorcycles and especially scooters are heading north toward the University of Florida, a sure indication that it must be getting close to class time. At the apartment community across the way, a stream of college kids are hustling toward the roadside as a campus-bound city bus lumbers to a stop. School was often fun, but I'll take riding any day.

Running through the gears, I'm heading south on Route 441 toward Ocala. Not far outside of town, the oaks and palms suddenly give way to a vast clearing that stretches out of sight. The Payne Prairie Preserve State Park is a massive 22,000-acre parcel once described by 18th-century naturalist William Bartram as the "Great Alachua Savannah." It is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife, ranging from alligators to bison and over 270 bird species.
As I close in on Ocala, the large trees again take a back seat to open country - only this time the demarcations are the perfect lines of elegant fences. Home to 1978's Triple Crown winner Affirmed, Marion County is one of the world's great equine centers. Far from the road, sprawling dreamlike estates seem to float on the great swards of green. Behind their ornate gates, narrow shaded drives are lined with huge oaks bearded in Spanish moss, and all around magnificent stallions frolic and graze as the mares watch over their knobby-kneed foals. I stop several times to get a closer view of these majestic beasts, but true to their regal, skittish natures, they only acknowledge me with indignant snorts, veering retreats, and distant stare-downs. Another exercise in futility is my wonderment over precisely how many millions of dollars have sprung from these very blades of grass.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the July/August 2008 back issue.