Something I wrote on Instagram a few days ago. Since my departure from the military, I’ve never had such a passion for something, nor have I been punished so severely for that passion, as I have with motorcycles. The highest highs and the lowest lows, “embrace the suck” is a strange rhyme that I hear a few days after a gnarly mudder and the fever sets in again…
I apologize for my absence here on the blog. Aside from extremely heavy doses of “life”, this season I’m trying to make every round of Kentucky Cross-Country Racing if I can. With that, I’m also helping KXCR publish recap videos for the series. Each round I record footage of the morning races, drone shots of the property, and shoot my afternoon race from the saddle for as long as the battery will last.
I’ve been working toward better and better video content over the last few years, and support KXCR has been a great exercise to help hone those skills. Even if you’re not into motorcycle racing, I’d politely ask that you go over to KXCR’s YouTube channel and take a peek at this year’s teasers. Needless to say, I’d love to hear feedback here and on the channel (note: the round 4 video is my favorite thus far).
So you bought a dirt bike after some nagging from your riding buddies? You’ve noticed photos on Instagram of your friends crossing logs and splashing through the mud with numbers on their helmets. Suddenly you’re feeling more and more curious about this whole racing thing, but you don’t know who to ask or where to start?
Last spring I bought a race bike and spent the year competing in a full season of local cross country races (hare scrambles). I’m obviously not a pro, but here’s a year’s worth of lessons I’ve learned, most of which, the hard way.
What’s a Hare Scramble?
An off-road motorcycle race of varying distance and time where competitors ride laps around a marked course through wooded or other rough natural terrains.
Unlike the wide-open, well-manicured tracks and jumps of motocross, by contrast, Cross-Country races traverse a more rugged track laid out through the woods. Race organizers walk and mark a track with arrows and remove minimal obstacles to make the course as challenging as they see fit for their given series. Courses may be immaculate, sweeping double track through the woods, or tight technical single track through rock gardens, over logs, through muddy creeks, and everything in between.
To start the race, competitors line up in rows based on their skill level. Faster riders start in the front rows, slower riders toward the back. With this setup, racers are directly competing against other racers in their class, but must also navigate traffic from the rest of the competitors on the course at the same time. Most local series have a “trail rider” class for people that want to pay a few bucks to ride the course but don’t want to compete for points.
To start the race, the announcer will give the first row of competitors a 10-second warning, after which the flagman waves the green flag. The officials will repeat this process until all the rows are released onto the track. From there, competitors will complete as many laps around the course as possible until the time has expired or the leader has completed the predetermined number of laps.
Why should I start racing?
I make a lot of jokes, but the cliche rings true, “Dirt bikes. The most fun you’ll ever have hurting yourself”. Racing isn’t for everyone, and despite my jokes, while a possible threat, pain is not a requirement for racing. For those of us with a competitive spirit, or anyone that’s always looking for more opportunities to challenge themselves, racing a dirt bike is tough to beat.
Race weekend is also a family affair. Lots of folks roll in the night before, unpack the RV, start a fire, and camp out. Mom, dad and the kids may all be racing in their own classes. At the same time, as you meet the same people weekend after weekend, you start realizing you’ve also built a racing family. You may be competing against the same people every round, but you’re still fist-bumping your biggest rival at the finish line, even if you don’t finish first.
Here on the east coast, public riding locations are a bit scarce and often mean a long drive to reach. Racing in the local off-road series means getting access to exclusive trails on private property. A given race series may return to the same property each year, but will also cut a new course to keep things interesting and preserve the land.
I will never minimize the value of taking riding classes or getting a coach. With that, I cannot overstate the fact that racing teaches riding skills at an exponential rate. Certainly, you can learn bad habits, however, by watching people that are faster than you, you’ll discover new ways to overcome obstacles. Moreover, as stated elsewhere, the eagerness to conserve energy almost forces you to learn to ride better because you’re simply tired of feeling exhausted.
What do I need to get started?
A mechanically sound off-road motorcycle, reliable bike transportation, some cash in your wallet, and a positive attitude.
You’ll also need to know where to go. Here in southwest Ohio, we have no less than three racing series to choose from (OXCR, IXCR, and KXCR). While not exactly local, there’s also the AMA Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) series here on the east coast (there are rounds in Indiana, West Virginia, and Ohio that I know of). Tapping some friends on the shoulder and some googling will undoubtedly lead you to a local series.
From there, spend some time going over your bike. Spend a few bucks to fix those nagging repairs you’ve been putting off. Get a fresh set of brake pads, and if you haven’t already make sure you have a good skid plate and some handguards. An investment in a good set of knobby tires is also a wise decision. If it’s dry, about any tires will do… if it’s muddy, that extra cash spent may mean the difference between making a hill climb and picking up your bike for the third time.
How do I prepare myself for racing?
I’ll repeat this until I’m blue in the face “The first rule of Zombieland is Cardio”. I started racing after adventure riding for a few years. It’s a diametrically different experience. To me, adventure riding meant riding hard trails, but it was almost always a group affair, and you’ll always end up taking a break somewhere. Racing means giving it everything you have until the clock stops. In my case, that’s riding flat out for 2 hours in Kentucky. You’re tired, and when you crash, you’re even more tired from picking up the bike. Exertion is cumulative, each time you drop the bike, the more tired you’ll be, and the more mistakes you’ll make because you’re exhausted. The more fit you are, the less you’re affected by pushing hard and picking up the bike, and most importantly the fewer mistakes you’ll make later.
That said, this isn’t a requirement. I sat on my butt a lot in 2019. I obviously didn’t finish well because I was tired, but still finished. I don’t recommend signing up for a gym membership before racing, give it a go and see if you like it, and use that as motivation to get in shape if you’re having a good time.
With that, there’s fit and there’s bike fit. Per my previous comments, the body wants to put in the least amount of effort possible. Cardio is good, but not at the expense of seat time. Riding the bike in hard conditions can simulate bike cardio and help teach you the skills necessary to keep the bike upright in bad conditions.
Attitude is Everything
Most of us mortals are highly unlikely to make the podium on day one. Racing is humbling. I thought I knew how to ride when I showed up at my first race. Boy was I wrong… A few turns in, I questioned if I’d finish at all. Riding home, I questioned if I’d ever race again. That evening I questioned if I had fun. After a week or so I realized I had a great time and couldn’t wait to do it again.
For some, staring defeat in the face is a motivator. They feel pushed to keep going, just to finish. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so don’t lose sight of what makes motorcycling “fun” for you. There’s nothing wrong with signing up to “trail ride” a race and just enjoying access to fresh singletrack you’d never get a chance to ride otherwise. Looking back at a few tracks I’ve raced, I wish I could have slowed down to enjoy the view. Most importantly, don’t sacrifice your body or your bike just to cross the finish line. Also, there are course marshalls all along the trail to help keep people moving along the track. I’ve seen course marshalls ride bikes up gnarly hill climbs for trail riders so folks can keep going.
What skills do I need?
This answer is going to vary for everyone. From my perspective, I struggle with starts, sharp turns at high speed, and generally staying on the bike. I find most people struggle with hills, both climbs, and steep descents, and especially what to do when they’re “stuck”. It’s worth your time to find a place to ride locally and practice all of these things. Get stuck on purpose, try obstacles you find intimidating, and work on improving your balance on and off the bike. Doing difficult things slowly will pay dividends later.
It would also behoove of you to know some basic maintenance on your bike. What to mess with when you’re having a hard time getting it started. Knowing how to fix a flat tire would also be a wise skill; not necessary for the first race, but it will likely make it more enjoyable if you get a flat, versus packing up a broken bike and going home. I also recommend you know what basic tools you need to work on your bike so you can bring some with you, including a few small tools while racing. I bent foot pedals, twisted front forks, and knocked handguards askew a lot in early races, that stuff is pretty annoying when you’re already struggling in a race. A set of vice grips, zip ties, and an Allen wrench can often get you out of a pinch.
What gear do I need?
You’ll get varying advice from everyone, but I’m firm on good moto boots, a helmet that fits correctly, a roost guard (chest protector), and shin/knee guards.
Goggles are another must. They come in all shapes and sizes and don’t forget the tear-offs. You’ll also want to practice wearing goggles with tear-offs in some crappy situations. If you’re not used to your goggles fogging, you’ll want to be prepared for that, it’s going to happen on race day.
I personally recommend elbow pads. Maybe I’m old, but I see a lot of racers skipping those. After busting my elbow on hardpack dirt that stung the next day, I’m glad I wore elbow pads.
Gloves is kind of a given, and there are a million to choose from. For typical motocross racing, I see a lot of folks wearing the motorcycle equivalent of Mechanix gloves. I personally pay a bit extra for a heavier set, which also includes a knuckle guard. I beat my hands up pretty good picking the bike up off rocks and whatnot, so it’s one less thing I want to worry about. Your mileage may vary.
I highly recommend you invest in a water bladder of some kind. After years in the desert, I wear a Camelbak religiously, but it really depends on how well you hydrate, fitness, and all that.
Lastly, you may want to bring an action camera. Most of us aren’t going to become professional YouTubers, but sometimes watching the race after the fact will show you where you made mistakes and can improve. The video might help you see better lines and what the faster riders are doing that you’re not. If nothing else, you and your friends can laugh at the carnage.
What’s the first race going to be like?
Here in southwest Ohio, I’m usually a two-hour drive from the closest race. I get up early, load the bike on the Jeep and head out with enough time to get gas, and take at least one break on the way there (be it breakfast or a necessary “pre-game pitstop”). Having been through this process a lot, I usually show up about an hour before the race starts. First go-round, I recommend you allot for as much time as possible (more on that in a second).
When you roll up to the entrance there will be a gate fee. Locally it’s like $10-20 (it may be per person; I’m always solo so I don’t know). I always ask the gate person where the registration booth is, you’ll be headed there first. You’ll likely notice a large number of RVs and Campers in the parking area. I try to find a spot that’s close to registration, or at least somewhere with firm ground and easy to get out of when it’s time to leave (I’ve raced a lot of mudders and seen people get stuck).
You’ll want to take your helmet up to registration as soon as you get parked. For your first race, you’ll pay a registration fee (~$40), and you’ll need to buy your race transponder (~$10). The transponder is a sticker that goes under your visor that keeps track of your laps when you ride through scoring. I also recommend “pre-registering” if you know you’re going to show up “rain or shine”, which lets you skip ahead in line, which may be exceptionally long depending on weather and time of year. Locally, registration will also give you “cheek” numbers for your helmet; these are used as a secondary method to keep track of how many laps you’ve done to make sure electronic scoring is accurate. Lastly, you’ll get a “row sticker” for the back of your helmet; this sticker will tell you where to line up at the start and is based on whatever “Class” you told registration you wanted to compete in.
Once you’re paid up, head back to your bike to get things prepped to ride. I always bleed my forks and check tire pressure before a race. A moto race stand isn’t necessarily required for this, but it sure makes the job easier. I typically start the bike and let it warm up some while I start getting dressed. I make sure my action Camera is working, fill my Camelbak, and packed with a few hand tools, then head over to the starting line.
Depending on how early you arrive, you may have time to watch some of the preceding races. I get kicks out of watching the PeeWees race, every time. A lot of those kids have more talent on a dirt bike than I ever will. You may also want to scope out the food truck, for a pre-race snack or to know where it is for some grub afterward.
As time gets closer, you’ll see other riders headed toward the start in droves, just in case you’re not sure where it is. You’ll see rows marked with big numbers and you line up with the rest of the folks competing in your class. I try to look over my bike one last time, make sure the gas is “on”, etc. I also take this time to stretch a little bit.
Eventually, you’ll hear the announcer talk about the course, some tips, and rules, and then they’ll play the national anthem. And then you wait. This is the worst part of the race for me. You’ll be standing in line, waiting for the race to start, anticipating what’s about to happen. That’s when nerves finally start getting to me. It’s obviously better now after many races, but I’m anxious every single time.
The announcer will say “10 seconds”, and the flagman will wave the green flag for the first row. Starts are typically “dead engine” starts, so you can kick start your engine as the first few rows take off, to make sure it’s still warm. The flagman will wave a red flag for everyone to shut down, and then the process repeats until every row is on the course.
A hot tip from my buddy Jake, “You can’t win the whole race in the first turn, but you can lose it all right there”. Remembering that I have to be at work the next day, I tend to hold back a bit to let the “hard-chargers” get upfront to bang bars and whatnot. Do what you feel comfortable with obviously. For me, hanging back means dealing with more traffic as the course tightens up, but it beats being run into.
From there, you go around the course as many times as you can until time runs out. As you reach scoring, you’ll see a flagman waving yellow “caution” to have everyone ride single file, slowly through the timing gate. They will also wave white and then the checkered flag depending on how many laps you get in (I’ve seen just checkers in the past).
You’ll be tired, you may be miserable, but hopefully smiling. Ideally, you’ll still finish, but even if you don’t, the course marshalls will help you get back to the finish (they have tow straps, tools, ATVs, and whatever it takes to keep riders safe and get them home). Regardless of how you finish, you should feel accomplished, most people stay home on Sunday, but you’re trying something “hard”. From here it’s the long ride home, and ideally… that’s when race fever sets in.
In recent days Harley-Davidson has trickled out more information about their new “Hard Wire” plan. While there is a lot that goes into this, including information consumers aren’t privy to, the plan in general sounds like “cut expenses, maximize margins, and concentrate on core products”.
From most other companies, that might be dabbling in markets outside their main customer base, I would say this strategy makes perfect sense (coming from a guy that’s never run a company). Unfortunately, Harley-Davidson has a very clear track record of NOT drifting away from its core products. Buell was closed, MV Agusta was sold, the V-rod was a one-off project, and I’m sure there are other stories akin to these.
So what’s the problem?
Harley-Davidson shareholders are unhappy with the company’s performance.
Why is this happening?
I’ve written about this before, but there is a myriad of reasons, and I suspect all of them are correct in one way or another. Harley’s are expensive in an age where wages have not kept up with inflation (allegedly). Boomer and Gen-X helicopter parents have given birth to a generation of tech-savvy, risk-averse children. Millennials want to have “experiences” and not accumulate “stuff”. Boats and motorcycles are no longer the status symbol of choice… and the list goes on.
As a guy born on the leading edge of the millennial generation, the son of a Harley owning baby boomer, in my mind there are a couple of obvious reasons this is happening: Harley-Davidson has an image problem and only sells premium cruisers.
Translation: Until recently, Harley-Davidson commanded “premium” status but more recently began to signify the pinnacle of “Keeping up with the Joneses” in the Millennial eye, if not just “the bike my grandpa rode”. One could feasibly buy two new motorcycles for the price of one staple Harley-Davidson, each of which offering a wider range of riding capabilities.
Before I go any further, I want to clarify: I like Harley-Davidson motorcycles. I’ve never owned a Harley, but I have ridden many of them. For folks unfamiliar, my first “motorcycle” was a cruiser. I was a member of a military motorcycle club for a while and like to think I understand that demographic and what many cruiser owners enjoy about motorcycling. Cruisers are not currently high on the list of “how I like to motorcycle”, but I suspect they may be again someday.
I’ve also gone through a phase of “Harley isn’t worth the money”, “I’d never buy a Harley”, “they’re not that good of a motorcycle” and (insert trope here) but have come full circle at this point. Motorcycles are tools, each of them does something different. A day on a motorcycle is better than a day at work, every time. What everyone likes best about motorcycles is very different, and the bikes moreso. This sentiment will mean more in the words that follow.
What do I think Harley-Davidson is doing?
According to the news, they’re cutting expenses, trying to maintain profits, and focusing on what they think they’re good at. This means concentrating on selling bikes with larger margins, eliminating low profit bikes, and most importantly, deliberately trimming the number of units built each year, limiting the supply in an attempt to prop up demand from a shrinking customer base.
All of that to say that I believe what they’re actually doing is trying to appear “profitable” to appease shareholders and strategically position the company for purchase by a larger company that can inject capital into the brand so that it can evolve and survive.
All of this makes me think of when I first started looking at motorcycles. I didn’t want a bike that “everyone else had”, so I looked at Triumph and Indian motorcycles. The latter is of particular interest in this case because, at the time, dealers were scarce, prices were high, and I suspect the number of units sold each year was low.
I bring up the “King’s Mountain” Indian era because that is who I believe Harley-Davidson will become. If Harley-Davidson stays on this road, I believe they will become irrelevant. The Motor Company will become an American boutique brand offering a premium product for a niche market that appreciates that image and can afford to pay for it.
Now, if Harley received the correct injection of capital, perhaps it too could have the Cinderella story that Indian is currently experiencing. That said, while there are lots of Indian motorcycle dealers around the country now (my closest is an hour away), they too are still struggling with their identity. The FTR 1200 is a step in the right direction, but Indian is also a very slow-moving ship, selling primarily heavyweight cruisers, both in kilograms and pounds sterling. If they don’t get it in gear soon, they too will be facing similar financial hurdles.
It doesn’t have to go this way.
Where did Harley go wrong?
Someone sitting behind a desk, looking at financials did what they always do with publicly traded companies, they fired someone recommending they evolve and experience a fundamental change in values. They slashed every project that appeared unprofitable (that’s any research and development project as it by definition hasn’t realized any profits), asked what their best selling products are, who their primary customers are, and said “let’s focus on selling these products to those people”.
Amid the “stick to what we’re good at” conversation, people sitting behind desks missed out on some key strengths.
Have you ever seen anyone with a Honda tattoo? I’m sure they’re out there, but I’ve never seen one. However, I’ve seen dozens of Harley-Davidson tattoos. People love what the Motor Company represents so much they permanently mark their own bodies with a logo. That’s marketing and brand loyalty that most brands would kill for.
Harley-Davidson is a marketing machine, like none other. Jensen Beeler of Asphalt & Rubber has said that HOG (Harley Owners Group) is a major topic of discussion in business school because it’s been so successful in keeping a customer base loyal to a brand. Say whatever you want about their motorcycles, how fast they go and how they sound, like “Kleenex” and “Coke” the word “Harley-Davidson” and “Motorcycle” are interchangeable for a lot of Americans.
The best article I could find suggested that there are over 700 Harley-Davidson dealerships in the US; roughly 2 for every major metropolitan area. I can think of 3 right off hand here in Dayton; 4 more in Cincinnati 45 minutes away.
When shopping for a new bike, I hear many riders lament that they would purchase motorcycle brand “X”, but they don’t have a dealer in town and they worry about having problems with the bike. Aside from having a shop on every street corner, Harley-Davidson is also known for its stocked showrooms, merchandise, and proximity to the interstate. The orange and black showrooms are strategically located to dominate the attention of prospective riders and build a network that sets fear at ease with regards to getting parts and service.
Simplicity and Ease of Ownership
I have a Triumph twin that requires valve clearance checks every 12,000 miles. In the past, that meant I was tearing it apart twice a year. Do you know what would have been less work and cheaper? Buying a Sportster.
Akin to “they leak oil”, I often read comments to the effect of “unreliable” and “1930’s technology” when the latest Harley article is published. For whatever reason, people seem to think that push-rod engines are antiquated technology and shouldn’t be on motorcycles. I assume these comments are made by people that don’t adjust valve clearances every season. Again, engines are tools, for different jobs, and like all things, design features come at a cost. Two-strokes have double the power of four-strokes but also require top-end maintenance twice as often. Inversely two-stroke maintenance is cheap because the system is simpler, so which do you prefer? In the case of Harley-Davidson, their engines don’t spin very fast, are under-square (stroke is longer than bore diameter), and have push-rod valve trains. Straight-fours spin well over ten-thousand RPMs and make 200 horsepower, but have cam chains and manually adjusted “shim-under-bucket” valve tappets. Not to mention the painstaking process of removing the Tupperware and electronic gadgets necessary to get to the engine. Performance comes at a cost, not to mention, most of that performance cannot be realized at legal speeds. Longer stroke means gobs of torque, resistance to stalling, but pushrods limit RPMs and therefore truncate horsepower. However, pushrods with hydraulically adjusted valves means never opening an engine until it’s time for a major overhaul. Different strokes for different folks.
Look, neither studs and leather nor farkles and techno-wiz-bang-ery do much for me. However, that’s absolutely “a thing” for a large portion of the rider population, regardless of riding taste. The Starbucks brigade and the asphalt pirates both enjoy bolting stuff to their bikes and geeking out over it in the parking lot with their buds. More power to them. The selling point here is that if there’s something you want to do with your Harley, someone has tried it before, and someone is ready to sell you the parts to get it done. Want to slam your bagger or scramble your sporty? No problem. Moreover, this circles back to dealer network and market share, it’s less work to find “how-to” walkthroughs for wrenching on your Harley, and as I just said, part sourcing is infinitely easier and is likely right up the road.
So where is Harley now falling short?
First, if reduced supply is what is going to maintain demand and by extension profitability, then I expect dealers to close. That whole spiel about dealer network becomes a moot point. There’s an argument to be made that this was going to happen anyway. That’s certainly a possibility, and we can discuss that further at some point as well, but in the meantime, that’s a business plan with brand wounding potential. To the layman, news of dealers closing sounds just as bad as profit losses.
However, with regard to simplicity and ease of ownership, they may be maintaining that streak by focusing on high-margin touring bikes, but I suspect the new engine platform is radically different. The new revolution max engine appears to be an overhead cam design. This isn’t Harley’s first foray into DOHC architecture, the V-rod was a performance engine, and that’s actually why I’m concerned about this choice.
Under Levatich, “more roads to Harley-Davidson” felt like a branching out approach to bring more riders onto the brand and “100 new bikes” to offer models these new riders were interested in. The MoCo was already heading down that road when someone pulled on the reigns and suggested they trim expenses. These new platforms, like the Pan America, were already too far along to halt production. Harley suddenly seems very tight-lipped about “Bronx” and the host of other new models we expected to see at this point. This new engine platform is likely a radical departure from the push-rod big-bore V-twins that will continue to dominate the showroom. In a culture where folks have said “that’s not a real Harley”, I have a hard time believing the rank and file dealership staff is chomping at the bit to sell this new bike that Harley suddenly seems reluctant to talk about. Meanwhile, crusty Aerostich clad spacemen will suddenly be entering showrooms to see this new Pan America, adding a whole new customer demographic that is typically diametrically divergent from their “core customer base”.
What would I have done differently?
In short, use the marketing machine to promote the simplicity, reliability, and capability of the brand. Branch out into new riding segments, but focus on the strengths of the brand to differentiate, not imitate the motorcycles from the competition. Simultaneously, embrace the millennial mantra that a motorcycle is a vehicle to an experience.
Again, some folks may scoff at “Harley-Davidson reliability”. Initially, those people are not likely to be future customers. That’s okay, not everyone wants a certain type of motorcycle. However, when more and more people start seeing bikes like the Pan America in the wild, they see what the bike can do, and suddenly realize it’s a viable option for the kind of fun they are looking for. That’s the key, people must see it to believe it. People have seen leather and chrome for generations. That’s what Harley was selling, and what the majority of the American motorcycle population was looking for. The Bar & Shield needs to shift the marketing machine’s focus toward what Harley owners have known for a long time; having a Harley means simple maintenance, ease of ownership, and bikes that have character in spades.
I agree Harley-Davidson would be wise to slow down on loud pipes, copious chrome, and slammed suspension. However, I think evolutionary change is a better game plan for the brand than radical swings in product offerings. I fear the Harley faithful are confused by what the brand is doing and the naysayers still shy away from the “new” products they’re selling. However, as I’ve published elsewhere, if the brand embraces a scramblerized and “sportier” Sportster, it’s low effort from the engineering department and incremental change among the customer base. Aside from looming emissions standards, these are changes Harley and be doing now, not waiting on a new model release. With that, a cruiser chassis with an advanced new engine is unlikely to stir interest from non-traditional customers. However, a simple, reliable V-twin in a more neutral chassis could merge into a solid “standard” motorcycle, with the potential to become Harley’s Bonneville. At the same time, I’m not saying Harley shouldn’t evolve into more advanced technology, but as other brands are doing, new engine platforms must go into multiple chassis. I also think it’s important that a brand and its engineers don’t forget where they came from and abandon the entrenched strengths of the brand to reach new customers. Harley-Davidson needs to evolve, but it cannot wake up tomorrow and stop being Harley-Davidson.
While I certainly don’t speak for all Millennials, in general, I find most of my peers are value-focused shoppers. They already have the latest smartphones and televisions and frankly don’t need expensive infotainment and navigation systems. TFT dash and Apple CarPlay might be moves in the right direction, but where the bike is going to take them and who’s going to join them is the real kicker. To Harley’s credit, the marketing machine is already starting to move in this direction. Advertisements now include helmets and fully geared riders, along with a wider demographic.
With that, Adventure and off-road riding is obviously a growing segment, and there’s no reason Harley can’t throw their hat in that ring. Most importantly, you don’t need a $20,000 motorcycle to do it. A Sportster with some knobbies can do as much off-roading as a 1250 GS Adventure (ask me how I know ). Harley is right to get into the premium adventure market, but they would be foolish to abandon the younger crowd; a population that has less money to spend, but the youth to afford “bad decisions” in the name of “it makes for a good story”. Buying a simpler, more affordable Harley means more money for gas and tires, and more beers with their friends around the campfire, and wrenching in the garage because it’s feasible to do so. As folks get older, they shy away from risk but typically have more disposable income. That adventure touring motorcycle starts making a lot more sense, and the creature comforts that come with it.
Harley-Davidson might be wise to maintain its premium status. I won’t debate that, it’s a business decision for people with experience in “business”. Triumph made a hard shift in that direction in 2016 with the new Bonneville platform and subsequent models since. Best as I can tell, it’s working for them. However, selling a premium bike that’s not as expensive as a car, is also an option (again, the Triumph Street Twin).
Moreover, an expensive bike with “new” technology that still weighs a ton is a non-starter. If the bike is affordable, but maintaining the bike implies selling an organ, that reputation is going to get around and become another deal-breaker with a generation of future buyers. (I.e. the Ducati of a not so distant past). It’s essential that Harley-Davidson attract the attention of the Millennial generation now. If they wait until Millennials can afford premium touring machines, they’ll be confronted by the memories of “their dad’s bike”, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. That is why I’m concerned about this “5-year plan” the MoCo is on now, if they wait much longer, I fear the ship has sailed.
I’ve been sitting on this story for a long time. It’s been rolling around in the back of my mind for several years now (like a BB in a boxcar), but I’ve struggled to put pen to paper. After reading one of Chris Cope’s recent blurbs I decided it was time.
After spending two years in the middle east, I returned home for the last time to start a “new” life. Reintegration into civilian life was not a smooth transition. Fortunately, some strange things happened, and unbeknownst to me, the obsession of riding brought about positive change despite shitty conditions. I believe this change is possible for more people. So much so, that I wanted to get this message in front of a larger audience. Today the full story is up on Revzilla; if you would take a few minutes to give it a read and share it with your friends that you think might benefit from it:
New for 2020, Icon has gone back to the drawing board for a full redesign of their Raiden gear. Now in its 3rd generation (arguably 4th), this year Icon has made a host of changes to the venerable Raiden adventure gear, including materials, layout, features, and fitment.
In the interest of transparency, let me cover some official business. A while back, a good buddy over at Tirox linked me up with the marketing folks at Icon. I bought a full set of the Icon DKR kit a few years back. That gear tackled the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway, tropical storm Irma at the Dragon Raid, and the lion’s share of the Ride 365 challenge. After crashing in that gear in February of ’19, it needed replacing. Budget, availability, and exposure to new things led me to try out a different set of replacement gear. However, after some conversations with folks over at Icon, they sent me a set of the new Raiden gear to test out.
For folks already familiar with Icon gear, I’m sure you’re curious about sizing. In my experience, Icon gear (designed in Portland, Oregon) is generally more relaxed than most of the popular European brands.My previous Icon DKR jacket was a size medium, and if I was honest with myself, I probably should have been wearing a small. Based on advice from Icon, after consulting the sizing chart, I actually went with a size large in the new Raiden jacket. The new jacket is more tailored than the previous generation DKR jacket. That said, at 5’10”, 180 pounds, I feel like I’m between sizes. I could probably fit in a size medium, but might be a little cranky when piling on layers for cold weather riding this winter. However, the new Raiden jacket fits comfortably in a size large with the thermal layer installed.
When I ordered my original DKR pants a few years back I went with a size medium but had to ship them back for a size small. Today Icon’s over-pant sizing chart puts me directly in size medium for the new Raiden pants. I want to emphasize “over-pant” sizing, these pants are designed a little more relaxed so you can wear the pants over casual clothes and so on. For summer riding, if you prefer riding commando… you may want to select a size down. In my case, I want to wear these pants with thermals in the winter, so they’re about spot on.
Those familiar with the previous Raiden Patrol and DKR iterations, the new Raiden gear again arrives with a waterproof outer layer, a full suite of D3O armor (including back protector), and abrasion-resistant materials on the joints. The pants again arrive with optional suspenders, or zippered jacket attachment if you so choose. Just like the jacket, pants also come equipped with D3O knee and hip armor as standard features.
The “monkey paw”, magnetic closure, handkerchief waterproof pocket, and hydration system from the DKR series has been removed this year, in favor of a revised ventilation scheme and better hot weather performance. The overall material is a little thinner than the previous generation, including a redesigned mesh “comfort liner”; much different than the loose, baggy comfort liner you’re accustomed to seeing on summer-weight gear from competitive brands (more on that in a minute). Meanwhile, ADV staples like spacious handwarmer pockets, zip-in thermal liner, and rear pouch are all back again with this rendition of the Raiden Jacket.
Airflow and wet weather tolerance were both hallmarks of the previous generation DKR Jacket (the former not so much for the pants, but I’ll circle back to that). With this latest iteration, Icon has shifted and redesigned the chest vents for increased airflow. The vents now have a cord and hook “stay” to hold the chest vents open. Along with removing the “monkey paw”, additional vents have been added to the wrist to facilitate more active venting up the sleeve and out the armpit and rear exhaust vents.
Per my previous comments, the magnetic closure from the DKR series jacket has been replaced with a traditional zipper closure (with rain gutter). In line with the tailoring of the jacket, the collar has been redesigned for a closer fit with optional cinch cord and a new velcro closure, in lieu of the DKR push button. The collar also has 3 different cord and hook “stays” to choose from that hold the collar open for extra airflow on the hot days. Similar to the collar, cord and hook adjusters have been added to the bicep for better fitment and to keep the elbow armor in place. The Elastic waist pulls have been replaced with 4 nylon adjustment straps to snug up the jacket when the temps drop. That before mentioned thermal liner also zips in independently on both sides; meaning it’s also meant to be worn separately from the jacket.
While the evolution of the jacket is noteworthy, the changes to the pants are the most significant. The previous generation DKR pants were thicker than the DKR jacket but lacked the thermal liner. Like its predecessor, the new Raiden pants have heat-resistant materials on the inside of the leg to protect from hot exhaust, weatherproof outer layer, bibs, handwarmer pockets, and full-length zippers to make it easier to put the pants on over boots. The stirrups from the DKR pants have been removed in favor of a 3 button, elastic rain gaiter, along with velcro ankle closure that accommodates larger adventure or motocross boots. The new Raiden pants also come with additional thigh pockets and side exhaust vents.
Beyond the spec sheet, after spending countless hours in the saddle with this new Raiden kit (including Red River Scramble and another Iron Butt), it’s evident that Icon put significant emphasis on improved summer tolerance with this latest generation of all-season adventure gear, while still maintaining the Raiden reputation for exceptional wet-weather performance. The newest rendition feels”lighter” than the previous DKR kit; both in weight, flexibility, and temperature tolerance. Impact zones are lined with 500D Cordura Nylon while the inner “comfort liner” is thinner than the previous version and fits closer to the outside layer which increases airflow inside the garments. Velcro closures, taped seams, and waterproof materials are sometimes abrasive to the skin, so I was initially concerned about removing the traditional, thick, mesh comfort liner. Surprisingly, this new Raiden gear still feels soft to the touch. Similar to the DKR gear, the D3O pockets are again made from soft microfiber that doesn’t rub your knees raw on a long day’s ride. All this combined with the relaxed fit, the Raiden gear is simply comfortable to wear.
My most recent experience with competing adventure gear included an internal waterproof liner (versus external). I admit the interior waterproof liner typically means the hot weather tolerance, sans liner, is much more comfortable (75°F and warmer).However, when it comes to getting stuck in an unplanned rain shower, it’s more of a process to get the rain liner installed on the side of the road, or worse, putting a rain jacket on over the gear; completely defeating the purpose of the “included” rain liner. Not to mention, you now have a soaking wet jacket on top of a rain liner, while still (mostly) functional, it’s inconvenient if nothing else. Somewhere in eastern Virginia a few weeks back, the skies opened up, including a little hail. Needless to say, I was happy to have the versatility of the Raiden gear’s exterior waterproof liner while avoiding the fuss of digging through the pannier for rain gear. I zipped the vents shut and I was ready to brave the elements.
Styling is certainly a matter of taste. Icon’s signature graphics and vivid colors are unquestionably what drew me to the brand years ago. On the flip side, I want to give Icon props for dialing it back a notch with their adventure gear. This is a gross statement and brave assumption on my part, but I think overall the ADV crowd is a bit more conservative than the typical urban street rider (perhaps something to do with age and the cost of entry?), so I think this is a good play on their part. That aside, I am a fan of the copious high-viz yellow details and color combinations offered thus far.
This latest rendition of Raiden gear has blended the best parts of the previous-gen DKR gear with more popular features seen on competing adventure gear. The wrist vents are a welcome addition, with the removal of the DKR’s monkey paw, the new wrist vents get substantially more air through the arms and across the torso than the previous model. Furthermore, while I love the idea of having pockets all over for every contingency (like a former jacket of mine), the reality is that most of my pockets go unused, so I think it wise that Icon skipped the excess clutter in favor of improved chest vents. Originally I thought I would have preferred the chest vents provided direct airflow on the rider, however, I think Icon made the right call to make these passive vents. I say this because front-facing zippers are about guaranteed to leak during heavy rain, so the passive venting in front of the rain liner keeps the rider dry while providing a pocket of cooler air.
If I’ve not mentioned elsewhere, I’m quite comfortable here on the D3O bandwagon. In a world where “back protector sold separately” is the standard verbiage strategically hidden in the item description, it’s nice to see Icon including a full set of D3O armor in both the jacket and pants. These days it seems like manufacturers are skipping the back and hip protectors as a way to trim cost from the gear (and yet not lowering the price), Icon hasn’t taken that shortcut. With that, Icon is still including a removable thermal liner with the Raiden jacket. I’ll accept arguments that a thermal liner is superfluous for the fully electric winter gear crowd. While I also have electrics, I’m still pretty old school most of the time and simply don’t want to fuss with all the extra steps necessary to get riding. I really appreciate that heated gear when I’m crossing state lines in February, but for the daily 20-minute ride to the office, traditional sniffle gear is plenty effective. Moreover, that stand-alone Raiden jacket thermal was a welcome company when I was sleeping on a couch in a hospital room during my wife’s last stay in recent weeks; I’m sure it will be equally welcome next to the fire on an adventure weekend this fall.
Like so many things with the motorcycle community, I do think some folks will struggle with fitment. I know riders that want gear to be form-fitting, with armor exactly in place; with others much more interested in how it looks and keeps them dry than how safe they feel. With images of sliding on asphalt still fresh in my memory, armor positioning and safety are very prevalent in how I review gear. However, it’s not uncommon for my posterior to occupy the saddle from sunup to sundown, and as trendy as skinny jeans may be, I much prefer the relaxed fit of Icon’s gear. Finding the size that splits the difference is key. The new bicep adjustment on the jacket is a welcome addition that adds flexibility to the new Raiden jacket. Personally, I would like to see Icon add a second adjustment on the forearm to really lock that elbow armor in position when I expect riding to get spirited, however, per my comments above, with my puny arms it’s about spot on with a thermal installed. Looking at the preceding DKR pants, options for armor position adjustment were pretty scarce. I used the stirrups on the old gear to keep the cold air and water out, but also to reinforce the knee pad position. The rain gaiters and the adjustable ankle closure are a big improvement for function and fitment on the Raiden pants; combined with the fact there’s now spacious accommodation for hardy dirt-worthy boots and still keep the rain out.
Speaking of which, this iteration of Raiden pants is a big step up from the former DKR variety. The ankle closer and rain gaiter alone are welcome additions, but the thigh pockets, exhaust vents, and material changes are icing on the cake. The conveniently located thigh pockets make it a lot easier to fish out my wallet at the gas pump. As far as materials go, as I mentioned before, the reduction in the comfort liner weight makes the material feel “lighter”, but not just that, the former DKR pants had a sewn-in thermal layer the DKR jacket lacked. That integrated liner made the DKR pants a bit toasty on those summer days, but still not warm enough to combat the sting of the midwestern winter. This generation of Raiden pants has the same outer material thickness as the jacket, along with the addition of exhaust vents. I do wish the pants came with a zip-in thermal liner, however, they are sold as “Over Pants” and I have a closet full of sniffle gear that gets the job done.
As far as cold weather is concerned, we’re just now getting our first frost warnings of fall. Thus, I haven’t had the chance to put this gear through my usual winter abuse. That said, I’ve now punished enough gear through midwestern winters to get a gross feel for what to expect. Due to the spacious neckline and collar closure on my old DKR jacket, I found myself wearing a neck gaiter at much higher temperatures than previous jackets. With the more tailored fit of the Raiden jacket, the collar is more form-fitting, which does a much better job of keeping cold air out when closed completely or holding the collar open for more air on the 90° commutes home from the office in July. At the same time, while I sometimes bemoan velcro because it breaks down over time (I don’t care what they say, a moron designed the Army Combat Uniform). However, I think the change to the velcro closure on the Raiden Jacket was on point considering I struggled to close the DKR button collar one-handed.
While not crash-tested, and hopefully never, I think prospective buyers will appreciate the Icon’s upgrades to the Raiden gear this year. I think most folks struggled with sizing and fitment in the past. To reinforce what I said earlier if you’re going to wear this gear in primarily hot weather, and not as an overgarment, you’ll likely want to go down one size from the size chart. However, if you’re going to wear the Raiden kit as a 3-season winter setup with thermals and so on, I expect folks to appreciate the more tailored fit of this year’s gear per the Icon sizing chart. Either way, I can’t praise Icon enough for evolving the Raiden line based on feedback from the customers; this new gear is virtually everything I would have asked for from Icon after spending years in the DKR gear.
With the mercury hovering in the mid-sixties, my teeth chattered in my helmet as I watched the damp fog rise out of the cornfields and waft onto the highway. The morning sun finally started to emerge above the tree line as I pulled into a Sheetz station just outside of Wheeling to top off. Tap dancing in the parking lot to get the blood flowing, I scarfed down a Shmiscuit in desperation to find warmth. I left Dayton geared up from head to toe but apparently not enough because somehow the morning air was just sapping body heat right out of me. I’d been on the road through almost 200 miles of darkness, and still had a full day of riding to go.
The above tale is how my morning started out last August; a 500-mile ride to Virginia to go test ride a Scrambler 1200 (Big thanks to Triumph of Harrisonburg), just to turn around and immediately ride back home. A 20-hour ordeal full of highs and lows, with more hours in darkness than I’d like to repeat. Having said all that, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: I hate riding on the interstate. The highway is monotonous; chocked full of disinterested traffic, making for otherwise unremarkable, dull experience. If I had to describe my favorite type of (paved) roads, it would probably be a tangled ribbon through a mountain pass or a neglected goat path through Kentucky Amish country. But what if I said, I like to ride the interstate for (almost) an entire day about once a year? Like truly enjoy it, to the point I’ve done it multiple times, with intentions of more.
Shivering in the cold, monkey butt from the long hours on a factory saddle, and soggy feet from failed waterproof boots doesn’t sound like fun to most people. On most days, I’m in complete in agreement; but I can’t deny, I get sick kicks out of doing “hard” things. Like anything else, difficulty is a matter of opinion. In my case, I find riding a motorcycle from sunup to sundown over long distances difficult; more specifically, documenting an Iron Butt Ride.
For some, the prospect of riding 1,000 plus miles in one day is unthinkable; for others, it’s not even seen as a challenge. Tastes in riding are as diverse as the people that do it; in my case, I’m not spending a moment on flat, straight pavement unless the payoff is worth the tedium. Thus, where I’ve discovered the challenge: having the tenacity to endure the boring, repetitive nature of the “all-day” commute. With the right bike, and the right setup for the rider, finding comfort for an Iron Butt ride isn’t nearly as difficult. With the right route and enough entertainment, the scenery, and some good podcasts, staying entertained for 18 plus hours isn’t necessarily difficult. However, riding an ironing board the journalists call a “styling exercise”, having your GPS take a crap, feeling your footpeg coming loose at 80 MPH (allegedly), and riding into a hailstorm make for exciting, if not challenging events.
Certainly, you don’t need to ride a thousand miles in a day to find excuses to have breakdowns and endure the elements, you can do that anytime. I, however, I’ve discovered that I like to use a long-haul ride as a confidence booster for recent maintenance I may have done. The bikes I have parked out back in the “pig pen” tend to hang around for a while, and thus have various “afflictions” that need tending to from time to time. After the slow tedious process of getting the Scrambler back up to speed after it spent years as the breadwinner, I wanted to give it a proper shakedown, which ultimately gave birth to the before-mentioned trip to out to the Shenandoah Valley and back. Do you ever get the feeling like you rode away and forgot something? I get that nagging feeling after I’ve installed a new clutch, adjusted the valves, and so on. The fear that I perhaps forgot to torque a bolt to spec or I didn’t balance a tire correctly. It may nag me for a couple of days when I think I “feel” something on the ride to work and so on. To shake off the “demons” I like to “prove” my craftsmanship by “testing” the machine with an all-day ride. Assuming I don’t ride “shotgun” back home in a tow truck, that usually puts the doubts to rest.
“There has to be a better way”. My wife is so tired of hearing me say that… about everything. You see, I have a sickness, my mind is preoccupied with finding the most efficient method of accomplishing a task. When asked why I would attempt to ride such distances just to come back home the same day, it finally dawned on me, I enjoy the challenge of finding the most efficient method of getting from point A to point B in the least amount of time. I’m a navigation nerd, so I enjoy looking at maps and figuring out which gas stations are conveniently located right off the exits, and ideally, are open 24-hours. Trying to ride a thousand miles in a day means finding the best way to pack the bike with the most important things where you need them; rain gear stored on top of the tools in my pannier and snacks right under my paperwork in the tank bag. I try to make a habit of going over the bike the day before a big trip, that way I can confirm that all the essentials are packed in that before mentioned tool kit. “Smooth is fast” definitely rings true here as well, which means forming habits to scribble notes in your trip log about where you’re stopping and what your odometer says when you roll into a stop; topping off the gas tank and not misplacing your keys or your credit card. Speaking of credit cards, being pressed for time means you learn how to think on your feet when your newfound routine is disrupted as your credit card is shut off for “fraud alert” after stopping at the third filling station in three states. You learn how to stay hydrated while riding and what not to eat to avoid those awkward emergency bathroom breaks. Bad weather and bathroom emergencies also help highlight any issues you may have with your chosen set of riding gear; over pants and adventure boots are all fun and games until that “oh I gotta’ go” thought hits you.
As with taste in roads, the definition of “a good day’s ride” depends on who you ask. I remember being exhausted after the 160-mile trip to grandma’s, but I also know people that don’t stop for breakfast until they’ve emptied the 7-gallon tank on their ST1300. Training, or forcing yourself to tackle a thousand miles in a day shows you what you’re capable of; it demonstrates the destinations you could potentially reach in a day and tells you how much ground you can safely cover in a pinch. With that, like many of you, I have limited vacation time. As much as I would like to spend weeks taking my time and stopping in all the no-name towns around the country, sometimes I need to burn down the highway to get somewhere. Living in the Midwest means I have to commute to the type of roads (and trails) that I prefer to ride, having the experience of a full, non-stop day in the saddle means I can potentially reach destinations in a day instead of two, and still be rested to enjoy the fun riding the next morning. This obviously isn’t for everyone, but I see this as another tool in my toolbox when time is at a premium.
Lastly, I have to be honest, I also find a strange satisfaction out of doing seemingly ridiculous things. There was certainly a time when that passion was fueled by an adolescent “I’ll show them” attitude (i.e. who would ride a Scrambler off-road). Right or wrong, I think that mentality shifted to “I want to prove to myself” that I can accomplish “X” task. At first, it was “will this Scrambler survive 18 hours on the interstate?”, and now I’m asking myself “Will I blow up my 250L if I ride it non-stop to Denver?” I have no doubt a lot of this sounds self-serving, but if done for the right reasons, as with my previous point, it allows you to prove to yourself what you’re really capable of. Again, this isn’t for everyone, but there’s no doubt I enjoy riding motorcycles because it’s not easy. That interest pushed me into racing and continues to motivate me to ride through the night to work up to tackling 1,500 miles in 24 hours or less, and perhaps one day an Iron Butt Rally. For me, off-road racing has been (mostly) a physically demanding endeavor, whereas distance riding has been a mental test; both addicting as it turns out.
For me, what started as a “bucket list” challenge created habits that evolved into modus operandi, and ultimately a passion. What about you, is an Iron Butt ride on your bucket list? If you’ve documented a ride, do you plan on riding another? Or does this all just sound like a terrible way to ruin what makes motorcycling fun?
Savage… If I were to sum up “The Holler” in one word, that’s the word.
Humbled… by mother nature; but also the tenacity of my fellow racers.
Grateful… for the opportunity to learn new things, meet new people, and expand the family of racers.
Do hard things.
The greatest things in life are things that you work for. Beat up with a broke bike sucks, but when you find yourself in that position on the far side of the finish line, the sacrifice is worth the effort. It’s a lot more comfortable on the couch watching Netflix on a rainy day, but the experience gained by doing things previously thought impossible is invaluable. The price paid to learn new skills typically means you won’t be replacing those parts next go-round. On the flip side, that means you can raise the stakes, and again, the reward. For most folks, this is a long way from their definition of fun. Even if slogging it out in the rain in the Kentucky Clay isn’t your cup of tea, I still suggest you push the envelope on what you believe is possible. On or off the motorcycle. Remove “can’t” from your vocabulary. At a minimum, force “can’t” into a shotgun wedding with a semicolon. “I can’t do this; YET.”
Looking at the forecast on Monday, it wasn’t looking good. I was dreading another “mudder” in the bluegrass, especially on a two-stroke machine more prone to wheel spin than her docile stablemate. Saturday night the forecast held a glimmer of hope; hope that storms would pass by Clay City. Saturday has dumped a lot of rain already, and there was no such luck Sunday morning. If you’ve not heard me say this elsewhere, I hate being wet. Sliding around the trail with loaded tires and a wet crotch is an insult to injury. Despite wanting to stay home, a little voice in my head said this was “good training weather” and “an opportunity to succeed.” A little peer pressure didn’t hurt either. My buddy Bill decided he was going to give racing a go. Despite knowing the weather the same as I, he wasn’t backing out.
Placing tear-offs on my goggles, I knew it was going to be bad. What I imagined didn’t remotely prepare me for what lied ahead. Sliding backward back down one of the first hills… I rapidly realized the quagmire I got my buddy into…
KXCR Round 2: “The Holler” was an 8-mile course laid out through the Appalachian foothills in Clay City, Kentucky. The course was spectacular. I can only imagine how fast and yet challenging it would have been if remotely dry (we may see this fall). Stuck in traffic on the hillside of an epic climb, I realized I needed to get out of gridlock fast before it got worse. I push the engine too hard and didn’t go fast enough to keep the Husky cool so it overheated. To my shock, I was only passed by one rider while I caught my breath at the top of the hill. I picked Ellinor out of the clay at least twice on the way up that hill; at which point I told myself the goal was simply to finish. I managed to get some pretty decent footage of the race, but there’s no doubt a lot was lost to mud covering the lens. That lost footage included 3 failed attempts on a hill climb around mile 6. The camera died with a clean lens right before my successful run.
I crossed the finish line with 7 minutes to spare; enough time that I was actually permitted to do a second lap. I thought about it for a moment and realized I barely made it up two of the climbs, especially that last doozy. Wasted, I took my single lap as a “win”, assuming it would mean being towed back to camp if I tried to struggle on. 141 racers lined up in their rows for the start. 76 crossed the finish line. I finished 6th in my class (Vet C 30+). I’m pretty confident there were at least 20 people in my row. I grabbed a sandwich and went back to the finish line to wait for my buddy Bill. Suspecting I may have oversold the whole “racing experience”, I was concerned about how he was managing. His first motorcycle race ever, he also finished 6th his class; with so many DNFs, that also meant he beat half the field (and everyone that stayed home). I don’t know if I’ll manage to drag him back to another race, but I know I’m really proud of my friend; it was a test of my mental fortitude, I can only imagine staring down those conditions as a first-time racer. A true testament to his ability and resolve.
The Husky still needs some tuning. I’m messing around with the suspension to get things where I like them. I’d say a set of radiator braces and probably a fan are in order if I’m going to keep up this mudder madness. I made a joke with the racer organizers that I’m probably going to wear a Hawaiian shirt to the first race that’s not a mudfest, just to celebrate. We all laughed… I hope my bluff gets called. Despite the savage conditions, it was worth every minute. I was punished and totally tapped multiple times. Crossing the finish line never felt so sweet. A couple weeks from now we’ll be lining up again. I can’t wait.
As I’ve said multiple times on the new podcast, we live in strange times. Fortunately, motorcycling at its core is a solo sport. “Social Distancing” on a motorcycle is easy, and for many, the whole point. For the protection of my wife, I spent the early days of the (Ohio) “Stay At Home Order” keeping to myself, meanwhile I stumbled on some local trails that became my saving grace. Flogging Jerri the Tiger Shark for everything she’s worth, I found release, if not serenity along the single-track paths through the dense woods. Between the first round of KXCR prior to “lockdown”, and polishing off-road skills on local dirt, I started to feel the limits of the CRF250L’s capabilities, if not simply the intended purpose of said machine. I mentioned in my long-term 250L review , my eyes had already started shifting to a more suitable machine for a dirt Muppet.
So I bought a new bike
By new, a mean another; in addition to. While I felt Jerri deserved a better life than being thrashed near the redline at the local hare scramble, she certainly still has her place.
For all the points I made about the 250L’s strengths, I told the wife I didn’t want to part with the 250 because it does a job that cannot be replaced by a race bike. To my shock, I’m still living indoors (for now). A day after bringing home the new steed Jerri was already back to work, teaching my sister-in-law how to ride a motorcycle. I expect we’ll still spend a lot of time on the trail, as the new bike will not be suitable for riding endless hours on pavement or carrying luggage and the Kentucky Adventure Tour is high on my priority list this year, especially after NE24 was canceled.
Ellinor the Buzzsaw
I’m pretty thrifty, or well, “cheap” depending on what we’re talking about. As much as I wanted to roll down to the local KTM dealer and pick up a 2020 KTM 300 XC-w TPI, that was simply not in the cards. I rode most of KTM’s off-road line last fall, along with select Sherco models, a friend’s Beta Xtrainer, and an extended test ride on a KTM 350 XCf-w on some of my favorite bluegrass byways. After all that, I felt I had a pretty good grasp on the type of bike I wanted, but it was a matter of finding something in my price range (AKA cheaper than a divorce lawyer). I bookmarked pretty much every 2-stroke woods bike in the Tri-state, along with Yamaha WR250f and Honda CRF250x models nearby. In the end, I wanted another Honda, but I wanted a 2-stroke more. Unfortunately Honda gave up that game a long time ago, and Yamaha’s YZ250x is hard to find for what I was willing to pay. I had a good deal on a used KTM 300 XC-w lined up, but couldn’t pull the trigger in time. Fortunately I had a buddy that was ready to part ways with his Husqvarna TE250 (to buy a KTM 350 XCf-w). When the wife said “go to the bank”, there was a trail of flames for two miles leaving the driveway. The 2015 Husky is essentially a copy of the KTM 250 XC-w, with exception of linkage rear suspension and polymer rear subframe (and other nuances). I’m not crazy about orange, but understand that KTM is (arguably) the leading game in two-stroke enduro motorcycles, so I wanted “made in Austria” stamped on the smoker I brought home if it was possible.
Two is greater than four
Brace yourself, conjecture follows. Unfortunately, I did not grow up riding two-stroke dirt bikes. I now believe that is the “correct” way to teach motorcyclists (as kids, starting on dirt bikes, preferably 2-strokes in early stages, but not necessarily first). But without a long monologue about “learning to ride”, I watch the World Enduro Super Series (WESS), the Cross Training Enduro channel on YouTube, and see the other bikes that I’m racing against at the local hare scrambles. While I don’t think I have a shot at every becoming someone like Graham Jarvis, I do want to get into slower, more technical riding off-road. In that realm, I believe two-strokes dominate, purely because of how they function. I like the way a 2-stroke woods bike transitions left and right faster. The explosive power of the smoker is also intoxicating; while I also like the “ring-da-ding-ding-ding” song the expansion pipe sings. Lastly, as dumb as it sounds, I believe the two-stroke will be cheaper and less work over the life of the bike versus a comparable 4-stroke. I may be eating crow down the road, but that’s where my head is for now. I probably have 5-10 hours on the new steed as of now, so I’m sure there will be a lot more to talk about after the first race coming up later this month. Stay Tuned.
I’ve been working from home going about two months now. In that time I’ve been keeping up with friends on Instagram, messenger, and whatnot, and the same question keeps coming up, “what two-stroke are you looking at buying?” Since I love the sound of my own voice, or typographical monologue as it were, and I love playing this game (as you may recall), along with answering that question, I decided to put a new twist on a common theme: how many motorcycles do you need?
Peter Egan, a far superior author compared to yours truly, once penned an article on this very subject. Peter’s preface was that while most of us mortals insist that N+1 is the correct formula for the number of bikes a given person needs; however, taking into account the necessary maintenance, the minimum amount of miles a given machine needs to move to stay in good running order, and so on, it’s much more practical to have a manageable number of bikes. With that, he also suggested that you should have a bike for a specific purpose or type of riding. If memory serves, Peter suggested that 4 was the magic number; something sporty, a travel bike, something vintage, and something for off-roading. Far be it for me to argue with Mr. Egan… but I’m going to suggest that the magic number is actually 5.
When starting a collection of motorcycles, this is probably the first member of the team. If your goal is five, but you only own one, the only motorcycle you have is obviously the workhorse. This bike is your commuter, your Sunday cruiser, and regardless of model, it’s your do-it-all machine because you have no alternative.
Even after stuffing multiple bikes in the garage, I still think it’s wise to keep a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none machine in the stable. A machine capable of doing many tasks in all weather conditions. Something you’re not afraid to scratch, leave out in the rain or drop in the parking lot. I will also suggest that over time, the emotional connection between man and machine tends to make it hard to part with a given bike. As miles pile on, this bike becomes the go-to machine for various errands when “better” bikes are preserved for specific tasks (or trophy status); reminds me of a Scrambler I know, but more on that in a moment.
Peter Egan and I agree on this one for sure. While not everyone’s cup of tea, for those that are interested in traveling by way of motorcycle, there are creature comforts most of us want for spending long days in the saddle. Most folks would assume a touring bike is something akin to a Gold Wing, Yamaha FJR, or Harley bagger of some variety. Those would certainly fit the bill, but for someone like myself, a larger displacement adventure bike might align more with my taste in riding (rumor is R1200GSAs are starting to dominate the Iron Butt Rally… so I hear anyway). Ultimately I want a machine that makes it easy to ride from sun up to sundown, just to turn around and do it again the next day. Heated grips, luggage, and wind protection are likely high on the list for many riders. With that, I personally want accommodations for navigation, while others will insist on a 200-mile fuel range before setting out on a long trip.
Per my previous comments, I imagine that the average Joe envisions some sort of luggage shod land yacht when they hear “touring”. On the flip side, some folks pack light, don summerwear under a riding suit, and spend most of their travels off-road. That being the case, I see bikes like the Versys 650, the venerable KLR, or even the Triumph Bonneville in this category for the right riders. Grant Johnson from Horizons Unlimited has said on multiple occasions that the bike you own right now is usually the best bike to ride around the world. There are always better bikes for long trips, but any bike can assume that role when needed (which may require small sacrifices elsewhere). This is obviously a common theme for me, using one tool for many jobs, but as far as touring is concerned, I’m most concerned about all-day comfort, reliability, and ease of maintenance considering this machine is likely to rack up miles a lot faster than the rest of the fleet.
A few years back, my buddy, Andy said he needed a new “scratcher”. A born and raised Midwesterner, still new to the motorcycle scene, I had no idea what he meant. Turns out, he was saying that he was itching to get another sporty machine for the paved twisty bits; a bike that might (unfortunately) end up “scratched” by pavement, hence the British slang.
At any rate, wrestling the pig down the likes of The Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway each fall, it became apparent that my “Modern Classic” doesn’t exactly have the most impressive lean angle. It will certainly “do the thing”, mounted with the correct pilot, but for me, “maximum lean angle” is most likely a byproduct of the crash. As such, at some point in this life, I want to have lightweight, sportier steed fitted with dual 17-inch hoops and some aggressive rubber. For street fairing riders, especially here on the east coast, I suspect that most would benefit from skipping the full-faired, clip-on fitted bikes and perusing the growing “sport naked” class of bikes that are available today. Different strokes for different folks obviously (especially if you want to do track days with frequency), but I like the versatility (there’s that word again) of the wide handlebar and upright seating on bikes like the 790 Duke, Yamaha MT-07, or even the Ducati Hypermotard. Certainly “sport” riding may be of no interest to some, but in my case, I’d still like to hustle a motorcycle through a long stretch of bendy tarmac with more precision and a little less effort than my daily rider. Considering the popularization of the before mentioned naked bikes, the sea of 90’s era sportbikes, and the lifespan of supermotos like the DR-Z400, the bike of choice for this job is pretty endless. I personally like really tight, technical roads versus high speeds and long sweepers, so a Supermoto or small-displacement naked would likely be my choice. I suspect the answers to this question will be nearly as diverse as the next battle scared category.
The Dirt Bike
Speaking of scratches, buy a dirt bike… and an extra set of plastics while you’re at it. I presently have two multi-tools parked in the shed, neither of which is exceedingly competent at dirt riding. The CRF250L and I are making our best go at aggressive off-road riding, but there’s no question we’re both carrying too many el-bees around the waistline. Considering most plate-less thumpers tip the scale around 250, that means the Too Fatty is outclassed by the average dirt bike by about 70 pounds. Around a foot of suspension travel with matching ground clearance is pretty standard (the Little Red Pig might have ¾ of that), fitted with hardy spoked rims these machines are unquestionably meant to be crashed and keep riding (and racing) with significantly less drama. Like most things, dedicated dirt bikes come at a premium. That “race-ready” suspension and thoroughbred powerplant pedigree means a few dollars more; but at the same time, the premium bits make for an easier ride when you learn the techniques (much like those sportbikes).
Again, not for everyone, but now that I’ve been exposed to dedicated motorcycle singletrack, I’ve been bitten by the bug for a proper off-road machine. I’m sure I’ll miss the flexibility and street manners of a dual-sport, but if we’re stuffing the garage with two-wheeled toys, most folks would benefit from improving their skills in a low traction environment. Moreover, addiction aside, one of the best parts of riding singletrack in the woods is that you don’t have to be riding that fast to experience the same level of focus you might experience riding at speed on pavement. Which also makes for lesser consequences when you make mistake (but I digress).
As I’m learning every day, dirt bikes also come in infinite flavors, including engine architecture. Do you want a 2-stroke or 4-stroke engine? You want a motocross bike, trials, or an enduro? Meanwhile, a lot of these machines can be purchased with DOT light packages and license plates. They still have a racing thoroughbred but have street-legal equipment to connect trails (a welcome addition for us peasants here on the east coast).
As I said, dirt isn’t for everyone, but I’ve published no less than two articles outlining the advantages of off-road riding. Ultimately I think it’s a safer way to teach new riders how to start riding a motorcycle, it’s a great way to keep your balance and low traction skills sharp; along with serious fitness advantages if you’re so inclined.. That and well, power-slides, wheelies, and hill climbs are just fun.
Motorcycles are different things for different people. For me, it’s a means of travel and adventure. “The road is the destination” is a very real thing for me; albeit, they’re often dirt roads. On the flip-side, I’ve met a few people who like to buy a bike, customize it, ride it for a short bit, then find a new project. They enjoy hours in the garage as much, if not more so than time in the saddle. For these folks or anyone else with an emotional attachment to a machine, they need a project bike.
The project bike is the “just because” addition to the garage. For some, it’s some vintage machine they’ve had some love affair with. They may have become the caretaker of a bike that once belonged to a family member who has since passed. For others, it’s the Ducati Panigale or Harley Fat Bob you just wanted to have, even if you had no justification for owning it based on your “normal” lifestyle.
Considering my own affinity for high-piped British twins, Rosie will likely take up residence in this category at some point. I assume no one would offer me a dime for that machine (considering its history), so I suspect I’ll be nursing that bike into old age where she’ll no longer be the daily rider. However, considering the infinite combinations Bonnevilles come in, she’s the perfect platform for a project, if she’s not that already.
What’s In Your Dream Garage?
A few days ago I caught an Instagram post from @OfficialTriumph asking people to fill out their top 5 Triumphs to put in their dream garage. I’ve been wanting to revisit this topic for some time, but there’s no doubt that post is what spurred inspiration to put words to paper for this article. I’m a nerd and like to have “tools” for certain jobs, so I have “classes” of bikes I want to fill, similar to Mr. Egan. That said, sometimes you just want toys, and those toys are kind of the flavor of the month. I obviously made a list like this one way back when, and at the time the Triumph Tiger 800 was on the top of that list. While it’s still a contender today, tastes change, and it’s probably not the breadwinner here (that new 900 is a solid contender though). If money were no object, and I could walk into dealerships tomorrow, I’ve listed the bikes I’d bring home to fill these categories below.
So, what’s in your dream garage?
My picks as of right this minute: The Workhorse: Yamaha Tenere 700(Runner Up: KTM 790 Adventure R) The Tourer: Moto Guzzi V85TT (RU: Honda Africa Twin) The Scratcher: KTM 500 EXC [2 sets of wheels #SumoIsLife] (RU: Yamaha MT-07) Dirtbike: KTM 300 XC-w (TPI) (RU: KTM 500 EXC) The Project: Triumph Scrambler “Rosie”
(post publishing edit: I stand corrected. Thanks to some homework from my buddy Tom, Peter Egan’s article suggested 5 bikes, A sport bike, a sport touring bike, a dirt bike, a hog of some kind, and an old crock)
Over the last few months, I’ve heard multiple podcasts making mention of “fake people” on social media (in a much more eloquent fashion). While they’re correct, I can’t help but feel the tone of the message was painting social media with a broad brush; ultimately suggesting that as an attention grab, most people are posting pictures of a rosy life of adventure (or supposed affluence), and you shouldn’t waste your time with it. Certainly, those accounts are out there, but you won’t find many of them in my feed. While I admit, I inch closer and closer to parting ways with Facebook with each passing day, I can’t help but mention the incredible relationships I’ve discovered thanks to Instagram (even after what Facebook has done to it). Despite the negative aspects of social media, I’ll argue that if used carefully, it makes for a better community than you might expect.
One of the best parts of the internet is that it’s given people a voice. Unfortunately, it’s also given people a voice… like trolls. Some folks just want to bring other people down to their level of unhappiness. On the flip side, some folks want everyone to believe they live in some sort of fairytale. Personalities on the interwebs are as diverse as the real world, unfortunately, it’s easy to find the negative side of humanity on social media. Some folks are addicted to likes but insecure about their failures. We’ve met those people, they’re rock stars in videos… but stumble and stammer when you meet them in person. I’m not here to bring those people down, I’m purely saying that “everything is not as it seems”. I actually think most of us know when we’ve encountered fake people or trolls. We’re not duped, but we’re pretty turned off by the experience. However, I am saying, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Going on 5 years now, I started Moto Adventurer as a winter outlet. At the time, I thought I rode a lot, so why not talk about what I’ve discovered by doing things the wrong way, or lessons learned from “being cheap”. The other side of that is that I love photography. I’m not going to claim to be good at it, but I love taking photos. I live to be outdoors, so riding the motorcycle in the woods merges three of my passions, riding, nature, and photography. Instagram became a place I could share just my photos without having to proofread a story. I will not deny that I also went through of phase of being “addicted” to likes, as many of us have in some form or another, thus spending more time on Instagram. I surfed photos of other people riding Triumphs and started meeting more people that enjoy riding the same way I do. Shortly after, things started to change.
A few weeks ago I posted my most recent race video on YouTube. Someone mentioned they liked how I included all the crashes and mistakes. My response was that “I’m a mortal on a mortal motorcycle”. That was a big step for me. A few years ago, I think I would’ve had a hard time exposing my less than flattering moments on the internet. No one wants to be that person that trips on the curb walking into the grocery store, unless you’re Chris Farley. Over the last year or two my social media feed has shifted from a collage of pretty pictures to include the funny mishaps in life; more about the calamity of when things go wrong and less about the shining house on the hill. Hindsight is 20/20, but what started out as being “informative” on a blog has grown into “entertainment”. Much to the chagrin of my wife, this often means I make myself the center of attention (consciously or unconsciously); but I like to make people laugh, see the irony of life, and enjoy the journey despite the struggles. After mixing it up with the likes of @Steve_Kamrad, @OverkillAndy, @oneWheelWheatley, and countless others, I realized that if I can’t help folks solve a problem, I at least want to make them laugh.
When this realization of entertainment, failure, and authenticity started to become obvious, I noticed how many genuine people I’ve connected with on Instagram. That said, I’m old enough to remember life before the internet, and old enough to think Internet dating was the craziest thing imaginable. As such, talking with people across the internet always felt guarded. Meeting people from the internet seemed like the fastest way to end up in a trash bag in someone’s trunk. While I certainly practice caution, I don’t fully share those feelings anymore. I’ve had beers with fellow riders I’ve met on social media. Instagram is literally why Red River Scramble takes place every year. I remember grade school pen pals and 90s AOL chat rooms; neither of which do I keep up with. However, today we have the opportunity to keep up virtual relationships with people all across the globe. I bullshit with fellow riders on the west coast every few days. I keep up with former Red River Scramble attendees that are stationed outside the country. While motorcycles are what we have in common, we have all realized we share similar tastes in riding, and have found a “tribe” of genuine personalities through the lens of social media. Folks may only see a snapshot of everyday life, but they realize these are not handpicked, airbrushed, polished and edited images; these are bolt breaking, rim bending, buried axle-deep in the mud, broken leg moments we’ve all shared with one another.
For all the “fakeness” and “keeping up with this Joneses” that we’re all aware of, I want to highlight the better parts of social media. I’ve heard elsewhere, Instagram and blogs are a way for some folks to live vicariously through someone else. I like to think of myself more a “doer” than a “watcher”, but there’s no denying that it’s going to be a long time before I set out on a round-the-world motorcycle journey, if ever. With social media, I have the ability to follow along while folks like Sam Manicom and Henry Crew circumnavigate the globe. While there’s an ongoing argument about how social media has led to the popularization of formerly remote locations, the internet offers people the opportunity to quickly find information about local destinations. Here on the east coast, I’m obviously on the lookout for adventure-bike-friendly public trails, but at the same time, when folks break down in the middle of nowhere, sometimes locals can chime in on social media and help people find the closest, reputable repair shop. I’ll take that a step further, when preparing for a long trip or an upcoming event, you have the opportunity to poll the crowd about advice for prepping your bike, yourself, or perhaps your route. Forums have existed since the early days of the internet, however today you have the ability to vet the supplier of given information because you can actually see photos of their previous experiences. This, like everything else on the internet, is not foolproof, but I will say that this is likely a reason that Facebook marketplace is taking over Craigslist, you can now “see” some background from the potential buyer or seller; information can be treated the same way.
With the constantly evolving nature of Facebook’s social media outlets, YouTube, and the emergence of TikTok, there’s no doubt the landscape of “virtual connections” is continuing to change. Prior to the COVID19 situation, many of my friends and family members had abandoned social media platforms. Per my previous comments, I’ve become fed up with certain “social media norms” (like how unfriending people is apparently offensive), but have fortunately found the silver linings through the minutia. Those virtual connections have obviously become even more valuable now that many of us currently have a very limited range of travel.
What about you? Have social media outlets made life easier or more fulfilling; or is it just filling time?