Yesterday I rode my Ninja 500 from Rochester, New York to Allentown, Pennsylvania. I lived in Allentown 2013-2014, and wanted to see it again on my way to this weekend’s MotoAmerica action at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey. It was the second ride on my little Ninja 500 loaded down with my full compliment of soft luggage (tank bag, tail bag, and saddlebags). Before the trip I had a new Kenda K-671 Cruiser tire installed on the rear. The previous rear was a Bridgestone Exedra that worn past the wear bars when I got home from Pittsburgh a couple weeks prior. I also had to play with the throttle cables as the throttle had too much play in it. They were still not perfect but I did not have enough time to perfect them before I left. While doing the throttle cable maintenance, I had the seat off and noticed that the Ziploc bags holding my sockets under my seat had been frayed and several of the sockets were missing. Off I went to Harbor Freight Tools to buy a new set of metric sockets before I shoved off.
Since I wanted to avoid some tolls and take a more scenic route, I left Greater Rochester by heading south on I-390. There usually is not much traffic on I-390 and I enjoy its course through the Southern Tier foothills and mountains. I stopped for lunch at the Subway inside the Pilot Travel Center in Kanona, New York before continuing onto I-86 East to Binghamton. When I reached the nearly completely reconstructed “Kamazaie Curve” interchange, I headed south on I-81 to Clark’s Summit, Pennsylvania where I stopped at a Sheetz for lunch. I then took I-476 South (also known as the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike) to U.S. 22 on Allentown’s northwest side, where I got off the Northeast Extension and followed U.S. 22 to my accommodations off of Airport Road.
Overall the weather was relatively cooperative. I hit two patches of light rain. One patch was in and around Corning, New York. The other patch was on I-81 as I was approaching Scranton. Both rain showers were relatively light and short-lived. As I was riding I often saw dark clouds on either side of my route and was fortunate to not hit more of those rain pockets. The temperature remained constantly cool all day. I was glad I was wearing my extra layer, and wish I had not forgotten my second long-sleeve shirt was in my saddlebag’s outside pocket. The higher elevations were noticeably colder and windier than the valleys and plains.
Road conditions were overall good for the entire ride. There is still a good bit on construction in Binghamton on the section east of Kamakazie Curve, as well as the southern portion of I-390. That construction appears to be coming to a close for the season, but also appears poised to resume next season on the oldest section of I-390 (Wayland to Dansville). The section of U.S. 22 that runs through Allentown could use some attention too. The very northern section of I-476/Northeast Extension had just been repaved and was a joy to ride through with some gusto.
Overall it was a positive travel experience. It was great to see some roads that I used to ride a lot for work or to head back to Rochester through the Poconos, as well as ride through another former hometown in Binghamton. The progress on the Kamakazie Curve interchange is impressive and I am looking forward to the day when I-86 extends from north of Erie to Binghamton uninterrupted. The bike did well for what it is, but I still really miss the FJR’s heated grips, more spacious ergos, and better wind protection. They would have made the ride more enjoyable. What this trip and the trip to Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago have shown me is that the Ninja 500 is a very capable sport tourer, but only for shorter trips and with some add-ons. A new seat and heated grips or gloves would make the bike more user-friendly in colder conditions. I also really miss the FJR’s hard luggage. When traveling long distances alone, having to fit all of the heavy tools needed for potential roadside repairs in soft saddlebags is far less than ideal. It is very doable, but not very ideal.