Highway 166 and Runaway Throttle Syndrome

Cuyama ValleyDo you have a problem with RTS (Runaway Throttle Syndrome)? You know, the tendency of that little right-hand grip to accelerate “all on its own” leaving you smiling past the scenery at triple digit speeds. I hate that! (I particularly hate it when it’s called to my attention by well-meaning peace officers).

If you have this problem, and/or are only recently graduated from RTS Rehab, you should avoid California Highway 166. Especially, the 80-mile run from Route 101, near Santa Maria, to Maricopa. It’s a piece of rural roadway in Central California that has some inexplicable throttle-winding properties that continue to bewitch that right handgrip into the high-amusement zone regardless of the rider’s best intentions.

It’s one of those roads that I’ve ridden so many times I’m sometimes afraid I’ll kill the thrill. Regardless, I keep trying to bear enough discipline on that throttle to keep it from getting too independent. Alas, it only seems to get more difficult with greater road familiarity.

Fortunately, the route is periodically patrolled by the good guys who give out hand-written prescriptions to RTS, although I’ve found their intended remedy is mostly short lived. More significantly, a side effect of such a prescription is the requirement of a deduction from your bank account.

So why is RTS so pervasive on this road?

I don’t know for sure. Perhaps some kind of space alien influence? I can only conjecture that there is something very funny about this valley that so victimizes otherwise responsible motorcyclists. Sure, it could be argued that it looks pretty innocent. The roadway meanders enchantingly by way of a number of long sweepers and a series of equally fine twisties that keep the smile factor mode in full application.

In fact, not surprisingly, most of this route has earned the California Scenic Highway badge represented by the colorful “poppy” signage. No doubt due to the Los Padres Padres National Forest and its Sierra Madres Mountains along the south that watch over Route 166. As well, the Caliente Range, Carrizo Plain National Monument, and the San Adreas Fault all hang out north of Highway 166, adding their own bit of magic to the mix.

Route 166 is also known as the Cuyama Highway: rightfully so, as it winds along the Cuyama River through the Cuyama Valley. And if that’s not enough “Cuyama” for you, there are also the towns of Cuyama and New Cuyama, the latter existing as the primary source of food and gas in this area. New Cuyama could just as well be called Instant Cuyama, since even with the throttle under severe disciplinary restraint, you will fly by that fast.

And by the way, what the heck does “Cuyama” mean?

Would you believe it’s a Chumash Indian word for “clam”?

Hard to imagine a clam could ever find its way into this serene valley surrounded by mountain crests, rolling hills, and dry grasses. It seems the Cuyama namesake is derived from millions of petrified prehistoric clamshells spread out in the surrounding areas. Hmmmm, perhaps now we are getting at something important. Could it be that these are some kind of space-alien-transported-shells that account for the unique source of magnetic agitation to Runaway Throttle Syndrome? Alert the media!

Regardless, if you are prone to RTS, Highway 166 is definitely a road to avoid (at least until all these shells are located and removed).

66 thoughts on “Highway 166 and Runaway Throttle Syndrome

  • Ah yes! Day 1 of 6 on my road trip to Montana and back… 2600 miles in all. Just me on the Hayabusa and buddy on his Blackbird….. just above Susanville, CA on HWY139 after if winds it’s way upward and then down to a very scenic valley… the road straightens out and I think….. here we go!!! That right hand went into autopilot and propelled me into those triple digits (well into!) then…. I noted that very little black SUV (getting bigger quickly)… no!!! Yes! As the lights start flashing and the dopplered siren wales I pass the CHP:( Actually, he was very cool about it as he clocked my trailing friend and only estimated my speed…. yes I got a ticket but for a much lower value….. then went on our relieved way…. that runaway throttle still has its way with me… oh, day 6 started on Bonnieville salt….. then I intentionally ran away with it:)
    BC Castro Valley, CA

  • RTS comes as standard equipment on my Vulcan 1500fi. My first bike was 1951 Dual Gluide, I was a 13 year old farm boy. I’m now 70 and have found that RTS is uncurable!

  • I resided in Santa Maria from1968 until 2008 and have traveled highway 166 between Santa Maria and Bakersfield more times than I can count. One segment is named the “CHP Officers Irvine and Stovall Memorial Highway”. California Highway Patrol Officers Britt T. Irvine and Rick B. Stovall died on the early morning of February 24, 1998 when their patrol unit plunged off the eastbound lane of Route 166 which had been washed out by heavy rains. My son attended Santa Maria High School with officer Stovall, who was also our neighbor. I have lost several friends, work associates and a flight student (a Deputy Sheriff) on 166 from not only vehicle accidents but impacting cows at night that were out of pasture. There is an airport on the south side of New Cuyama which hosts frequent fly-ins just to walk over to the restaurant for a Buffalo Burger. Next time you ride through there, take time to have one, they are really, really tasty. Highway 166 was one of my favorite motorcycle rides. I have a photo of my then scoot, a 1978 Yamaha XS11, in front of the New Cuyama restaurant buried somewhere in my stored photos. I really miss that area…..and yes, I suffered from the RTS syndrome, as well.

  • Hi, my name is Tang and I have RTS. I’m 67 and been afflicted with RTS shortly after I started to ride at 22. The harsh consequenses of a triple speed ticket have been mostly keeping control of my affliction.

  • I loved it the night I was already coming out of my closed garage, removing my helmet, when the officer stepped from his cruiser at the end of my driveway……and exclaimed, “Do you realize how long I’ve been trying to catch up to you?!?”

    That was on my good old KZ900.

    Can’t imagine what would happen on any of the “newer”, fast bikes….like maybe a Hyabusa.

    Perhaps I’d be in bed before he got to my place…..or maybe behind bars. Guess I’ll never know. 🙂

  • It’s the long stretches of highway way out of any city limits which at times I can hear that small demonic voice in my ear whispering, “No cops, come on….let’s get on it a little!!”

    ’09 Honda VTX 1300 , a quick short 100 mph and immediately shut it down…….I’m thinking…exhilarating but illegal! I enjoy he scenery and the ride but can’t when really moving down the road. On long trips, speeding for long stretches is more stressful. I found that driving sensibly adds to the enjoyment more, less stress and seems to shorten the time between long hauls in one day……example Houston to Amarillo…600 miles. Did 3k miles in 10 days camping in Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Arches, Palo Duro Canyon. 64 yrs old. Don’t speed on curves and they have a funny way of sneaking up on ya! RTS will git ya!

  • One time 147 mph 1982 Honda CBX Adirondack Noethway NY
    Lost my license foe two years, bought a 1984 Honda Goldwing at the age of 27 I’ve never sped again, I’m 52 now, no point or tickets since

  • c’mon jimbo,, i’m an old fart,, getting close to 60,, gasp,, and still suffer RTS. I’ve never had a extreme high speed ticket,, my highest was 71 in a 60,, yet I have spent A LOT of time at triple digit speeds! you see,, your stereotyping that all RTS addicts are careless and don’t think of others rights etc is just that,, a stereotype! My RTS only afflicts me when there are no other drivers on the road!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The moment I see another vehicle,, or headlights at night,, I regain control of my RTS. And,, I do go to tracks as well,, and have never humbled by real riders as you put it,, because I am always amongst them while learning and exploring the limits. I know 5 current Indycar drivers and they have all had multiple triple digit tickets!! And I seriously doubt that when they” take it to the track” that any “real” drivers humble them in any way.
    stop the stereotypes brother! the biker culture suffers enough from that already!!!

  • I struggled mightily with RTS, even as an old fart.
    I came to the realization a year ago that I needed to change my approach to riding. With heavy heart I sold the serious sport bikes — the type that every time you look down you are doing 100 mph and didn’t even know it, and that begged you to put a knee down on every corner. I’ve bought an adv tourer, and frankly it has helped. I’m taking time to watch the scenery a bit more and not just looking for the next apex.

  • I remember vividly the draw of this particular road. Taking the “long way round” from L.A. up to Monterey for the Laguna Seca races in the mid ’90s, I was on an oh-so-innocent Kwack Zed-Ex 11 D, you know, the one with double ram air scoops and 176mph top?

    Much to my amusement, said bike in a crosswind with me inexplicably twisting the starboard side tube saw an indicated 139mph before crosswinds put paid to this little demo.

    Fortunately, none of the Chippers were around that afternoon… =)

  • I as well, am an RTS addict. Fortunatly, the eastern plains of Colorado are at my beck an call. Its super convient to get my fix. And if I want my rocky mountain putt fix. I can get there pretty quick via the eastern plains.

  • RTS for an Australian is probably as big a problem. Given that it is such a big continent with only 30 Million residents (I believe the USA is 300 Million +) there is that wide mega expanse where, if you had an accident, the authorities would need to put up a compass march (at least) or a search plane (at best) to find you – and that is if, of course, you let the destination town know you were coming down their road. Actually, it is not that bad but RTS does still have a danger where the “speed creep” is gradual and with the ride really enjoyable, it is hard to notice. What does present a problem are wild the life that may cross the road while you are achieving upper realms of RTS. Coming originally from Africa I used to travel up into Rhodesia (now sadly known as Zimbabwe) quite often where similar wildlife issues existed. I was witness to one such incident where a fellow biker on a Kwaka (Kawasaki) 900 hit a Warthog that was crossing the road, its tail in the erect position (transmitting to heaven that it was en route). I believe the bike skeleton is still there. The rider was OK (Lots to be said about leather riding gear). I believe that RTS is a combination of over compensating on the return force of the throttle cables exerted on the throttle grip and the pleasure zone of the brain feeding off the adrenaline that is produced as part of the biking experience. Some might say that it has something to do with the travel drowsiness that one experiences on long forced trips. The jury is still out on that one because I have heard of car drivers falling asleep at the wheel. I have never heard of a bike rider falling asleep at the help though.
    Anyway – conciously, every rider needs to invoke a level of self-limitation based on resposibility and knownledge (at least geographical) of the terrain.

  • New Mexico has a lot of highway milage where a rider may experience periodic bouts of RTS. I decline to accept treatment, as for me it is a self-limiting syndrome ; )

  • When packing a passenger (Fender Lizard) ;- ) I ride in a profound manner of respect for the unwilling victim behind me! When riding alone, yeah the RTS does sometimes rear its ugly head! But luckily so far, not that often! RIDE SAFE but RIDE!

  • RTS, Hmmm. Something that affects seemingly sane people when they get in or on a motorized method of transportation. They metaorphis into fiends, periodically out of control of their own emothions and good sense, filled with invinceability and disdain for for the rights of others with which they share the road. The cure, take it to a track where you can let it all hang out and most likely be humbled by “real” riders who know the limits of their environment.
    If that doesn’t make it inside your helmet, if you do wear a helmet, think about the child riding behind you or the one at home. Can they really make due with one parent? Stop fooling yourself, there are old riders and bold riders but no old-bold riders.

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