Gone Racing: The CRF250L Tackles IXCR Whiskey River

If not evident from my previous comments, the 2019 riding season has been very “dynamic”, to say the least. As usual, over the winter I spoke in great detail about my riding goals for this year. CRF250L IXCR Whiskey River MotoADVRWhile the bike maintenance struggles have, thus far, not put up any major roadblocks to riding, in recent months I’ve shifted priorities with more focus on family.

That said, “On Any Sunday”, there’s a race going on somewhere. With limited time and wanting to stay a little closer to home, I’ve still been anxious to raise the bar. Working toward the goal of hitting the Northeast 24-Hour Endurance Race, I signed up to race in the local IXCR series. Indiana Cross Country Racing (IXCR) holds races across Indiana from March until November, but after crashing back in February, my shoulder wasn’t ready to ride hard until at least May. Finally back to full range of motion, I spooned a set of non-DOT knobbies on the CRF250L and headed to a brand new IXCR track in Milton, Kentucky for my first ever motorcycle race.

 

 

82190187-SMP_0440Having wrestled the 250L over a number of trees earlier this spring, I knew this race was going to be the most demanding thing I’ve ever done on two wheels. Not two minutes into the woods, I remembered “Zomebieland Rule #1: Cardio”. Temperatures were cresting 90°F very rapidly, and I’m a far cry from my former Army fighting weight. Having never navigated hare scramble traffic and sadly in a poor state of cardiovascular fitness, I took a serious whipping. That said, my goal was to finish, and ideally not finish last. Somehow, just barely, I managed to reach those goals, and I’m already looking at the remaining race dates for this season.

The CRF250L was heavily outclassed by virtually every other bike on the starting line; the extra 75 pounds of heft makes picking the bike up a real drag. IXCR Whiskey River Sticker MotoADVRThat said, that street engine has the low-end torque and the extra el-bees do contribute to better rear-wheel traction. While I too was stuck in the mud, the 250L had grip when a lot of other novice riders were holding the throttle open and just spinning the wheel (and subsequently polishing the clay for me). I put a really good beating on the clutch to finish that last hill climb; so much so that I suspect I will, at a minimum, replace the friction plates before getting back on the grid. I ran the bike 1-tooth down on the front sprocket, and before racing again, I suspect I will add 2 teeth to the back sprocket. With better fitness, I suspect I have the skills to hit the hills standing on the pegs, assuming I can get around traffic, but as a backup plan, I’m hoping that having the extra teeth on back sprocket will mean for less stress on the engine and clutch if things don’t go “as planned”.

I also want to thank the boys on the Lemmy and the boys on the Highside/Lowside Podcast, Jensen & Shahin of Brap Talk, and Steve Kamrad for encouraging folks to race. When people picture motorcycle racing, I assume they picture the speed and crashes of MotoGP or the high flying action of Pro Arena-cross. The truth is, you’d be surprised by how low-key and family-oriented the local off-road racing scene is. Before heading out to the starting line, I watched the kids from the youth and pee-wee divisions run around the course. Furthermore, while not shown in the video, spectators lined the course near the hardest obstacles. Those folks would point you in the right direction, and even help you pick your bike up after a crash. Some of the competitors may be in a big hurry to finish first, but for the most part, the riders to your left and right are trying to beat Mother Nature, just like you are. In the end, it was $50 well spent to compete in my first IXCR event, and I can’t wait until I can do it again.

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Ride Your Motorcycle Everyday: The Aftermath

“Ultimately, you end up with a plaque and a busted bike”

Broken Fork Bolt MotoADVR

Immortal words spoken by a close friend, a rider I respect and look up to. He told me that in response to my eagerness to ride more miles than anyone else I knew.

After snapping the head off the second cap screw, while replacing the fork oil in the Scrambler, those “immortal words” ran through my mind. With the arrival of the 250L, I’ve spent that last few months catching up on some neglected Scrambler maintenance; especially that pesky fork oil service. On Instagram, I’ve made the joke that “Rust is Mother Nature’s Loctite”; serious gallows humor there, as I’m presently paying the piper for winning the battle against old man winter.

 

The year of Rebuilding

Late in 2018, I fixed a broken spoke; one of the first signs of harsh winter corrosion, and the effects thereof. It took me a few weeks to get that sorted out, and despite its replacement, that front wheel is still a bit shy of “true”. Welded Exhaust Hanger MotoADVRJerri (the CRF250L) took up residence on the porch shortly after getting that spoke fixed, and the “year of rebuilding” began as I felt I finally had the means to keep riding while taking care of the details on my beloved Scrambler. While getting the bike cleaned up one day, I noticed a hairline crack in the exhaust hanger. I worked out a deal with a buddy at work to tig weld the rear frame support brace, along with that crack in the exhaust hanger. With a tool kit strapped to the back seat, that failure in the subframe brace was almost certainly a victim of Rosie’s exploits on Fincastle Road and the “boney” trails of the Keystone State.

This winter was pretty unkind here in the Midwest; certainly not the worst we’ve had, by long shot, but with long spells of deep cold, if not unending rain. Rosie spent several weeks parked on the porch; after the cold soak, I realized the rear brake caliper had nearly seized. Corrosion buildup on the pistons was significant, and the caliper was not floating properly on its guide pins. When the weather finally turned, I pulled the caliper and gave it a good deep-clean and lubed up all the critical bits to get her back on the road.

About that same timeframe, I noticed the telltale sign of yet another charging issue; cheers to Oxford Products for that handy little warning light on the heated grips, Scrambler Re-wire MotoADVRindicating the grips being left on when the bike isn’t running. In this case, the bike was certainly running, but apparently not charging the battery. I’d had enough. I bought some heavy gauge wire, a new soldering iron, and an inline fuse. I removed the connector from the main bundle and the rectifier and soldiered the rectifier connections directly to a set of leads that ran independently back to the battery. The main wiring bundle may have future issues, but at least the battery will always have power.

With sunnier days in the forecast, I geared up to take Rosie on a good tear through my favorite local twisties. Once outside of Dayton, I laid into throttle around the open bends. Right about that time I noticed the RPMs spike just above five-grand. I shook my head, assuming I must have had my hand on the clutch unknowingly; off-road habits creeping into my street riding. Triumph Scrambler Clutch Pack MotoADVRI dove into a few more curves and suddenly realized that the engine was again spinning up on hard acceleration. That clutch replacement I hoped to avoid by finally having a dedicated dirt machine had arrived after all. No sooner had I seen light at the end of the tunnel, Rosie was going back up on the jack, this time for the most invasive work I’d ever done. Long story short, Barnett makes phenomenal clutch parts but scraping paper gaskets sucks.

Faulty Wheek Bearing MotoADVRWith Red River Scramble complete, and a new clutch pack installed, I was ready to go rip the Kentucky backroads on my favorite “touring” machine; just a matter of installing some more pavement friendly (and rain worthy) rubber. Naturally, while spooning on a new Anakee 3 rear tire, I found a questionable wheel bearing. Turning the sprocket carrier in my hand, I felt the unmistakable “gritty” sensation of a bearing on the verge of throwing in the towel. Back on the jack stand she went.

With the new wheel bearing installed, and after another lengthy southern excursion, I decided it was time to change out that aging oil that had absorbed six years of abuse inside those front forks. Broken Bolt Extractor MotoADVRHaving recently rebuilt the CRF250L’s front forks, a fork oil change on the traditional scrambler stanchions would be a breeze. Famous last words, as I successfully twisted the heads off of both of the top yoke pinch bolts… and then subsequently broke off a bolt extractor inside one of the bolts. This, the latest in a series of corroded and stripped bolts I’ve already replaced, not included in the preceding stories. No thanks to the Ohio salt, I’ve successfully stripped all four brake pad retaining pins, along with removing various ancillary parts to shot blast and paint to remove the beautiful rust brown patina and restore them to their previous satin black facade. Among other casualties…

As of this writing, all attempts have failed to extract the fork yoke pinch bolts; a new top yoke is inbound thanks to eBay. Fork Top Yoke MotoADVRWhich leads me to the list of other outstanding items that are in need of remedy; the rear brake line got pinched in the shock spring after, like an idiot, I changed a tire in the dark and didn’t realize the brake line wasn’t positioned correctly. The rear shocks have now endured over 50,000 miles of ridiculous conditions and are, somehow, still doing a halfway decent job. That said, they look like something out of Mad Max; there’s nothing fake about that “earthly tarnish”. The steering head bearing has a convenient little “notch” at the twelve o’clock position, signaling its eventual demise. With a new top yoke on order, I’m presently debating the replacement of that aging bearing.

 

“Good judgment depends mostly on experience and experience usually comes from poor judgment”

Rusty Fork Brace MotoADVRMany of the before mentioned parts were victims of my eccentric taste in riding, whose failure was mostly accelerated by the extreme conditions of riding every day through the winter. That said, copious amounts of road salt, followed by sitting out in record rainfall unquestionably led to the seizure of various fasteners and the abundant oxidation found on the machine. Needless to say, in the time I’ve spent waiting on replacement parts, I’ve arrived at various conclusions about how to do things better in the future.

 

Anti-Seize

They sell these cool little packets of anti-seize in front of the check-out counter at the auto parts store; they’re great for when you pick up a new set of spark plugs. Those packets have just enough to smear on those steel plug threads before you seat them in that aluminum engine head. I went ahead and invested in one of those nice big jugs of anti-seize; it comes with a brush attached to the lid an everything. By definition, this stuff is exactly what should’ve been on those “stainless” steel bolts that are presently seized in that aluminum triple-tree yoke.

 

Use small wrenches

I’ve heard this advice before… and somehow have failed to listen to it in my haste. The Scrambler is covered in 8mm bolts. I have an appropriately sized 8mm open-end wrench in my tool kit; that way I can’t apply more than the specified 9 newton-meters of torque on the pint-sized fasteners. Having broken no less than two of these 8mm bolts on the Speedmaster, these mini-wrenches also go hand and hand with some other rules: use the smallest wrench possible, never use two hands to tighten, and put the head of your ratchet in the palm of your hand when torquing down fasteners. Using small hand tools on small fasteners keeps you from over-torquing, and in my case, breaking bolts. Again, had I not ham-fisted those vice-grips on that easy-out, I probably wouldn’t be writing this story. Oh, and always follow up with a good torque wrench…

 

PB Blaster is your friend

Knowing full well the spokes were seized on that front rim, I soaked it in penetrating oil for a whole day. PB Blaster Penetrating OilWhen the job of tightening the spokes was about done; with the tire remounted, I noticed one spoke was just a bit off, so I torqued it. Then I torqued it a bit more. That’s when it snapped. That BP Blaster had done its job, yet I got impatient and kept pushing. That impatience cost me a lot of time and some money while I waited on replacement parts and then had to disassemble several spokes to insert the replacement. Lesson learned, I hosed down the front suspension of my car the day before I tackled replacing the front shocks this week. Penetrating oil isn’t foolproof, but it’s likely to save you from extracting a broken bolt, or at least busting your knuckles and rounding off a nut you’re going to need later for reassembly.

 

Anti-corrosion spray

While this is conjecture, I’m debating on investing in a few cans of ACF-50 spray. I’ve heard rumors elsewhere on the interwebs that some motorcyclists spray down their steed before winter riding, that way less rust and corrosion set up shop when the bike is parked in the cold damp garage (or porch). Seems reasonable that I would be the perfect person to test this theory…

 

Painting Myself into a Corner

If it’s not already obvious, I’ve struggled to produce new material for the website over the past few months. Red River Scramble is mostly fun and games for me, I love doing it, and plan on continuing with the tradition as long as people are having fun. Rosie Triumph Scrambler Kentucky 11 Rain MotoADVRWhat I didn’t realize is how much mental capacity I had dedicated to the preparation for the rally. With the rally over, looking at a “busted” bike, I didn’t realize what a “low spot” I found myself in. Years ago the wife was giving me a hard time about getting fussy about broken bolts and so on. There are a million memes on the internet about dudes acting funny about a broken bike, but it’s very much “a thing”. Nothing bugs me more than a machine that I can’t fix. Part of it is impatience, and part of it is being “beaten” by the machine. I think it was Lemmy that told me I should “open another beer and contemplate the problem”. Its good advice, and yet another lesson I should apply more liberally.

 

This emotional “funk” about the broke bike is also coupled with the fall-out surrounding the unconscious evolution of my riding taste. With a retro-standard-sport-touring-adventure motorcycle parked next to a 250 dual-sport, I have a lot of options when looking for somewhere to ride. In both cases, it typically means spending the whole day in the saddle, in search of remote roads, paved or otherwise. Mostly to my enjoyment, but sometimes mental detriment, that often means I’m riding solo. Germantown Twin Creek CRF250L MotoADVRWhile more and more I find it refreshing to explore by my lonesome, I also like showing people new places and sharing the adventure with like-minded riders. The arrival of the lightweight machine has exacerbated my appreciation for the most rugged and isolated locations; places I’ve found few aspire to visit. As a guy with limited free time, I can understand that constraint, but it seems like more often it’s still a matter taste; which seems to have enhanced that feeling of isolation in the motorcycle community. This may just be all in my head, but it seems my eccentricity has left me mostly alone in my local circle of motorcyclists. Hopefully, I’m mistaken.

While looking for bolt extraction methods and shopping for replacement parts, I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over my feelings for the Scrambler. Looking at the estimated delivery date for the replacement top yoke, it dawned on me that I should have the Scrambler all fixed-up almost one year to the day from when I finished the 365-day challenge. Triumph Scrambler Tail Of The Dragon Away 129PhotosThe irony, not lost on me. Riding every day carried on well into November, but the gravity of the milestone is still very much felt in late July. I’ve been working on dotting i’s and crossing t’s, but at the same time, restoring the luster on my Hinkley twin. As much as I want to scrub away that engine grime and polish out all of that rust, I’m surprised how I still appreciate many of those blemishes that will never buff out. Each scratch tells a story, most of which are tales about a machine doing things that it likely should not, going places others will never go. Why we personify the constructions of oil and metal I don’t know, but there’s no question I still love that overweight, underrated motorcycle, even in her heavily weathered state.

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Should We Share Adventure Destinations?

A few weeks ago I “liked” a photo of a waterfall on Instagram. Considering who it was, I suspected it was near Red River Gorge. The photo didn’t have any hashtags indicating the location, so I asked where it was in a comment. Later that day, the user sent me a private message with the location.

While that was the first time that’s happened to me, Clifton Road Waterfall MotoADVRI’ve noticed a similar trend on Instagram (and elsewhere); various users have posted photos of sites near the gorge that I know well, but there are no hints or captions indicating the location. Mind you, many of these people simply don’t want to take the time to #Hashtag #AllTheHashtags, but I have a suspicion a number of them intentionally leave the photos ambiguous, perhaps to avoid having these destinations overrun with #InstaFamous tourists. This thought was reinforced by a recent Adventure Rider Radio RAW Podcast I listened to on a similar topic.

With regard to tourists “ruining” travel destinations, Tail of the Dragon Triumph Scrambler 129PhotosThe Tail of the Dragon comes to mind. While I only recently started riding to that part of Tennessee, long-term motorcyclists tell me that US-129 was a hidden gem up until the 90s. Today “The Dragon” can be downright congested on a Saturday afternoon; packed full of squids, baggers, passenger cars, and the occasional (illegal) eighteen-wheeler, the road is probably far less dangerous than the traffic created by exposure. I suppose one could say that I’m also “that tourist”; every fall, I make the pilgrimage to “The Gap”, and undoubtedly share a photo of the notorious road at some point that week.

On a similar note, the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway has also received similar “attention” in recent years. Launched publicly in 2016, the trail conditions on “the Byway” are a far cry from what they were 3 years ago. Spaas Creek Crossing One 4I managed to finish the DBBB last fall on the Scrambler; a feat that would be significantly more difficult today considering the evolution of the terrain. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, 2018 was the wettest year on record in Kentucky; that situation played a significant role in the damage to the trail. However, I question the “tread-lightly” message from the off-road community when folks are rolling 30 Jeeps deep on a Saturday, but we’ll talk more about that another day.

Part of me gets it. Bennett’s Publical is my local watering hole of choice; with an eclectic menu, PBR for $3, and several rotating craft beer taps, it’s a place you should never go. I say that because I’m selfish and love the fact that the owner knows me by name and while it’s crowded on Friday and Saturday nights,Bennetts Publical Dirtster Scrambler MotoADVR it seldom gets so busy I can’t find a seat. Let’s not be ridiculous, you should absolutely go there (tell them I sent you). As much as I want my favorite pub to remain the hidden gem of South Dayton, that’s a pipe dream. Folks should enjoy a place in its heyday and appreciate it at its best instead of lamenting about what it was or what they wanted it to be.

I should probably apply that logic to my go-to routes in the Bluegrass State. While Fincastle Road now pushes the limits of what I feel comfortable doing on the Scrambler,Big Sinking Creek CRF250L MZ660 MotoADVR I brought home a 250 Dual-Sport for a reason. Ultimately that’s kind of how I feel about the sharing of information with regard to trails and sightseeing. While I don’t necessarily agree, I can understand an argument for a destination that’s hidden in plain sight that becomes overrun or closed because of disrespectful tourists. However, on the other hand, when destinations like Big Sinking Creek are revealed to the masses, I suspect few are willing to make the journey, let alone traverse the challenges necessary to see the majestic view.

Leatherwood Cliffs MotoADVR

Obviously, private property is a different story. On a few occasions, I’ve commented on photos to discover that a given location is on private property. That’s understandable, I don’t want strangers wandering around the “family farm” in Kentucky without expressed permission either. However, if something is already public on Google Maps and so on, I don’t have a lot of heartburn about sharing information with like-minded adventurers. Hence, the Red River Scramble routes are still public (they are of course public roads).

 

What do you think, should we in the “adventure” community be more private about our favorite destinations, or are they places people will discover on their own anyway?

 

 

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Red River Scramble 2019: News and Updates

 

That last few weeks have been an amazing blend of work and fun. Needless to say, I love hosting this rally; it’s great seeing the looks on people faces as they roll in from a ride on some of my favorite roads. The next best thing is spending the weeks prior pre-riding those routes to see what kind of condition the roads are in; which is how I’ve spent the last three of four weekends. For the next couple weeks, it’s mostly paperwork, marketing, and e-mail blasts, so “keep your ears on”, and without further ado, I’ve got news!

Sponsors!

We have some really awesome stuff to give away at this year’s rally! Red River Scramble has been a grassroots effort, so I can’t thank our sponsors enough for making it such a great event! Please go over to the Sponsors page, take a look at their websites, follow them on social media, and obviously support their businesses so we can keep their support for future rallies!

 

Return of the Bluegrass Scavenger Hunt

With 26 days to go until this year’s Red River Scramble, I’m excited to announce that thanks to REVER, the Bluegrass Scavenger Hunt is back again for 2019. This year, rally attendees will have two full days to find the best hidden gems scattered across Kentucky. Oxford Products has set us up to give away some really awesome prizes for the top three winners, including luggage, heated grips, and a Montreal 3.0 riding jacket for the grand prize winner! Head over to REVER and join the event challenge (HERE). For full details on the Scavenger Hunt, check out the details on the rally event page HERE.

 

Event Schedule

I’ve also posted the tentative event schedule up on RedRiverScramble.com. Per tradition, I will ride down Thursday morning to meet folks at Miguel’s Pizza for lunch. Check-in at Lago Linda Hideaway is not until 2 PM so I’ll probably ride around a bit before dropping my stuff off at the campground. As dinner time comes around, I’ll be setting up a booth at the pavilion at Lago Linda for registration.

A couple things of note, Lago Linda’s office is open from 8 AM to 5 PM, so folks arriving late will want to call the office and make arrangements for late check-in. With that, I will close down registration at around 8 PM to hold a riders meeting. For folks that can’t make it into camp Thursday evening before 8, I will do late registration Friday morning and Friday evening. If folks know they’re going to have a tough time making time frame, drop me an e-mail or a message on Facebook or Instagram, and I’ll get you sorted out. Check out all the details on the schedule page HERE.

 

Maps & Navigation

As soon as I finish pre-riding the last two paved routes from Beattyville, all of the “recommended” routes will be finished, and I will update the “Where to Ride” page on RedRiverScramble.com. As of this moment, the ADV loops are done and updated on the GPX library, and the paper maps are complete. That’s right, “by popular demand”, I have created paper maps for download. I plan on printing a limited number for the event; while I would love to provide a map for everyone, 17” x 22” paper is not exactly cheap… For folks looking for more twisty pavement options this year, stay tuned to the “Where to Ride” page as I expect to add three new loops; for the adventure crowd, download the paper maps and GPX files and get ready to ride!

Paper Maps
GPX Library
REVER Group

 

Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway

Speaking of adventure riding; I’ve added quite a few adventure routes to the library this year. Considering the wide range in difficulty on the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway (DBBB), I have re-baked the route in several flavors, that way riders of varying experience can enjoy sections of the trail based on their skill level. There are several ways to skin this cat, for folks that decide they just want to ride a loop that fits their skill level you’ll find the full “DBBB” loop, the “DBBB Intermediate Loop”, and the “DBBB Novice Loop” in the GPX library and on REVER. Be sure to check out the write-up on evaluating your adventure riding skills HERE.

However, if folks are feeling adventurous and/or are still not quite sure where they fall on the skill level scale, I’ve created the “DBBB with Options” Loop. Coinciding with my numbered description of each of the DBBB’s off-road section (HERE), I’ve dissected the DBBB to create “off-road options”. While not perfect, the idea is that each “option” increases in difficulty as you ride counter-clockwise around the loop. There is also a “DBBB Bypass” included in that GPX file (separate route on REVER), so riders can skip a given section and pick up the DBBB at the next option, or just enjoy the twisty pavement (and short gravel sections) as the bypass loop takes them back to Slade. (Note: You will need a GPS unit for this route)

 

The countdown has begun…

We’re inside of four weeks to go now, so I’m working hard on finalizing details, getting waivers and welcome letters printed, gathering prizes and trying to get all of this information published. I’ll be ordering the event “swag” here shortly, so if folks plan on attending, this is “last call” to get registered if you want to get an event sticker and so on! If you’ve got a buddy that’s been on the fence about attending, get them over to the registration page, and get them signed up. As always, stay tuned to the blog, and keep your eyes on your email, I have a few special things coming specifically for registered Red River Scramble attendees…

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14 Reasons to Start Adventure Riding

I’ve recently welcomed another rider into the “adventure” world. To his credit, he rode dirt bikes “back in the day”, but has been dedicated to street riding for many years now. After seeing all the crazy photos here on the website and social media feeds, he decided to once again venture off-road. Apparently, I’ve unconsciously been trying to excite folks into taking their motorcycle on a woods adventure, but today, I’m making that a conscious effort. Needless to say, I’m enamored with adventure riding, but beyond “because it’s fun”, here are 14 reasons why you can and should give adventure riding a shot.

 

Go anywhere

Back in 2016, I published “Putting more Adventure into Moto Adventurer“, after I brought home new (to me) Triumph Scrambler. Long-term followers of the site are no doubt familiar with Rosie’s accolades, but I bring up that story because it marked a clear transition from asphalt to dirt. Even today, there’s little I enjoy more than a lonely stretch of Appalachian twisties, but with the right attitude, when that pavement ends, I think you should keep riding. I’ll go further by saying that, with the right bike, you can arguably ride anywhere. This, of course, is a matter of taste, comfort, budget, and perhaps the right tires, but there are many ways to skin this cat, and this is easily why I enjoy adventure riding so much. There have been countless times when I’ve been out in the boonies and I spot a great photo opportunity, which frequently means leaving the safety of the tarmac; something that is now seldom a second thought. “Anywhere” again depends on those before mentioned factors, but it goes without saying, once you’ve left the asphalt, your riding opportunities essentially double.

 

Experience nature

I really enjoy a good hike, among other outdoor activities. Unfortunately, prime hiking weather is often prime motorcycling weather; adventure riding means I have the opportunity to do both. While I don’t often ride and then hike, it’s happened before. More than anything else, it’s nice to disappear into the woods, find a nice scenic spot next to a creek, shut down the engine, and just listen the birds singing. With that, a typical jaunt through my beloved Bluegrass means I have run-ins with deer, wild turkeys, guinea hens, and occasionally snakes crossing the trail. Considering gas stations and restaurants are seldom near the prime off-road locations, packing a sandwich and having a picnic on the trail is often standard operating procedure. With a good hammock, it’s even easier to turn this whole experience into an overnight affair.

 

The best scenery is seldom on a paved road

Here on the east coast, the powers that be have put a lot of effort into paving more roads as a convenience to tourists; but like I said about an impromptu creekside lunch, some of the best views are still found at the end of a dirt road. In many cases, the “road” itself is the view. While riding the Triple-Nickel last spring, my GPS led me astray which turned into an off-road adventure. That adventure led to a random covered bridge hidden in the forest. Last week while scouting routes for Red River Scramble, we encountered a waterfall over a rock shelter that was literally part of the trail. Aside from the likes of the Blue Ridge Parkway, paved roads seldom reveal such gems.

 

Riding off-road improves your street skills

As a guy who learned to ride on the pavement first, the sensation of the rear end of the motorcycle sliding out of line with the front wheel was especially unnerving. However, once you realize it’s all part of the process, and get comfortable with the rear wheel doing its thing, you suddenly have a new appreciation for a motorcycle’s capabilities on asphalt. You rapidly find yourself far less intimidated by limited traction conditions. “Sliding” is often a tactic used off-road to get the motorcycle into position for the next obstacle; worst case it’s something that happens and you learn how to manage it without incident (more on that in a moment). Again, once you’ve mastered that experience, you now know what to do in a bad situation on the tarmac. Most importantly, riding off-road will teach you how to look where you want to go, with a quickness; a critical street skill that at times, still evades veteran street riders.

 

Dirt is more forgiving

Beyond mastering traction by riding off-road, dirt is also far more forgiving (I should know). Riding dirt usually means that speeds are lower, so the penalties for mishaps are typically less severe. While not always the case, if you crash off-road, the landing is typically softer. Pavement is anything but soft but it’s also lined with a lot of fixed objects that are likely to inflict even more damage at speed. There are, of course, trees in the woods (by definition), but again, the speeds are typically lower, especially in situations where you’re pushing the limits of your riding capabilities, like creek crossings, rocks, and mud. I’ve been “tossed” far more off-road than I have on the pavement, most of the time while waddling through mud or tractoring up a hill. The tip-overs in the mud are far less eventful than a drop in the parking lot, typically with less damage to the bike to boot.

 

You never ride the same road twice

I have an equal appreciation for riding my favorite “go-to” roads, just like I enjoy spending entire days looking for new places to ride. Some folks get bored with the same old stuff and want to ride someplace new most of the time. That’s the beauty of off-road riding; the route doesn’t need to change, because mother nature changes the character of the riding surface with each passing day. I take a few trips to Shawnee State Forest every year, I’ve never seen the route the same way twice, often no more than two weeks apart. One week I’ll find mud on the trail in a spot I’ve never seen it before; the next trip I’ll find a gnarly rut from the previous day’s thunderstorm, you just never know.

 

“…avoid any Imperial entanglements.”

Everyone appreciates something different about motorcycling, for me, it’s often the closest I’ll ever get to being a fighter pilot. As such, that occasionally means my taste for “spirited” riding is at odds with the local constabulary… Fortunately, riding off-road typically means that posted speed limits are well… not posted, as few would attempt to ride at such speeds that would necessitate a “limit”. My off-road skills certainly fall into that category, as I seldom find myself exceeding my ability to apply the brakes on a loose surface. However, off-road riding can be the hooligan’s paradise as there’s typically no peace officer to be found; or anyone else for that matter. Needless to say, urbanites frown upon wheelies on the boulevard, but when riding off-road, the ability to lift the front wheel is praised, furthermore, it’s a necessary part of tackling certain obstacles; a skill one should master if they plan on diving deeper into the backwoods. Or at least, that’s what I’m going to tell myself… I’m obviously not condoning hooning around forest service roads and creating problems with the local park rangers. However, if you’re out on the trail in the middle of nowhere, the consequences are between you, mother nature, and perhaps your insurance company.

 

There’s no such thing as a boring dirt road

While ripping along the sweeping paved roads, at some point, backed up traffic, the risk of injury, or the threat of legal altercation typically trumps your interest in high-speed maneuvers. Thus, you finally accept the inevitable and settle into following some beat-up pickup around your favorite set of twisties. When riding off-road, you’re nearly always the fastest vehicle on the trail (if not the only vehicle), and most folks will wave you by. Related to my previous point about traffic laws, I can’t think of a single time I’ve found myself bored on the trail. More excitement can always be found at the twist of a throttle. If you get bored putting around the trail, just wick it up a few more notches. That boredom can rapidly transform into stark terror at the next bend (if not sooner).

 

Solitude

Which brings me to my next point, solitude on the rural backwater roads is what I love most about long rides through Appalachia. When you leave the pavement, those roads are even more remote, and often, a lot closer to home than such sparsely traveled paved roads. On a different note, folks concerned about the dangers that other drivers pose to motorcyclists, those complications are minimized the moment you leave the pavement, as few people have any interest in traveling on dirt roads. This perspective is obviously not for everyone, being alone and “off grid” without the ability to get help is not appealing to some. However, if you’re looking to turn off all the “noise” of urban life, see the “wild” and connect with nature, off-road riding again combines two of your passions at once.

 

Self-reliance

When discussing the best tool kit, many have suggested that the less kinesthetically inclined simply carry a cell phone and a credit card. Here on the east coast, that’s a pretty solid plan most of the time. Paved roads (typically) lead to somewhere, so someone will be along eventually, even if you can’t make a phone call. Off-road, however, that’s not always the case. Where I ride in Kentucky isn’t particularly remote, however many of those trails are places where only a 4-wheel drive could potentially retrieve a disabled, 500-pound motorcycle, and I doubt many tow truck drivers are interested in attempting it. That’s one of the reasons the kitchen sink is often packed on the back of the Scrambler; if I get a flat, break a lever, or have some other mechanical issue, I need to manage on my own until I can limp the bike back to some form of civilization. Again, this concept is not for everyone; certainly many among us have no interest in riding that far into the bush, but for the select few, the knowledge that you are your only safety net is part of the allure. For those that find themselves in the middle, I certainly recommend the buddy system; being stuck out in the woods with your closest friend is slightly less intimidating than negotiating with the local black bear all by your lonesome (this way you just need to be faster than your buddy). If nothing else, your buddy can usually help push the bike out of the mud, and in the best of circumstances, you can now split a tool kit between two bikes instead of hauling all the heavy stuff solo.

 

It doesn’t have to be as rugged as the internet would have you believe

Despite all these stories about being down in the holler, knee deep in the Kentucky clay, adventure riding doesn’t have to be the stuff you see on the internet. In the Instagram age, everyone is posting photos of ridiculously over-weight machinery traversing the gnarliest off-road trails. Most of us, however, are simply enjoying a scenic detour along the forest service roads. Shawnee State Forest is another classic example of this; most of the trails inside the forest are immaculate gravel roads that I would take a Harley down, no different than my CRF250L (albeit slower). I’ll always tell people, “don’t get hung up on finding the RIGHT bike, as the internet would have you believe” because you don’t have to take your motorcycle down rugged single track to enjoy an off-road adventure. I’ve certainly taken my Scrambler to places few others will go, but that had a lot to do with the fact it was the only bike I had, but mostly a testament to my own stubbornness. Most folks will have a lot more fun just enjoying the scenery at their local state parks and on unimproved county roads.

 

You don’t need a $20,000 bike to try it

Speaking of the Scrambler, it’s far cry from a BMW R1200GSA or KTM1090. If you ask three people what kind of bike you need for a given adventure, you’ll get four opinions and I about guarantee, one of them will be the “premium everything” option. Something of note, most street bikes have more suspension travel than my Scrambler, and it goes without saying that didn’t stop it. You should also know, that despite wanting the best adventure bike, or the most dirt-worthy thumper, a KLR 650 is arguably THE cheapest option for an “adventure” machine; but even then, any bike can do the job. There will always be more comfortable and more capable machines, not to mention limitless farkles to spend your money on. Find a bike that’s in your budget and go have an adventure. In time you’ll discover the limits of your comfort zone with respect to where you like to ride and the comfort and capabilities of your machine. Once you’ve figured that out, you can make choices about changing your given mount (don’t forget, two is better than one).

 

It doesn’t have to be for weeks at a time

I don’t know about you, but I have bills and therefore a job I have to be at five days a week. With obligations and limited vacation time, it’s tough to take a month off work and circumnavigate the country. Believe me, I want to, I just don’t have the means… yet. I imagine most of us are in the same boat, so don’t be discouraged from taking an “adventure” because you don’t have time to trailer out to Colorado and get lost in the woods. You might be surprised by how many gravel roads are scattered around your state, not to mention, most adventure rallies here on the east coast are within a day’s ride and are typically held over a weekend (I can think of at least one).

…or thousands of miles away

Charlie and Ewan’s “Long Way Round” was an epic adventure. Many of us would love to take months off work and tear off on a motorcycle adventure. Unfortunately… most of us have some hefty obligations, so that’s easier said than done. While I don’t necessarily think this keeps folks from picking up adventure riding, I want to reiterate that there are often remote and obscure trails to be found a lot closer to home than you might realize. Long-time Moto Adventurer subscribers are familiar with my endless adventure tales from eastern Kentucky; the vast majority of these rides are only day trips.

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Where Do You Park Your Cell Phone?

I count myself to be one of the lucky ones. I’m also a bit superstitious, an odd trait for an engineer I’ll grant you, but true nonetheless. I tend to believe there is no such thing as luck, good or bad, but as one of my old friends from West Virginia had a habit of saying “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all..’ Now, although I considered the man a friend during the time we worked together, he was actually the Journeyman under whom I completed the majority of my apprenticeship in the sheet metal business.

I came to the US from England to learn a trade after I’d earned my BEng. (Bachelor of Engineering) in Civil Engineering. I’d had a conversation with an uncle on my American side of the family a few years previously who ran a reasonably sized duct shop for a local union contractor. We figured if I got my degree and then finished an apprenticeship the timing aligned well enough to put me in a good place to take over from him when he retired in a decade and a half, the rest is history, as they say.

As it turned out the economy went south right after the 9-11 attack, and things went in a slightly different direction. Regardless, what had been indirectly reinforced when working with my sheet metal buddy, was that old-school planning was worth every minute of the time it took, and to be sure to be thorough when doing so. Also, always have a Plan ‘B’, expend as much energy and effort and prepare as carefully as Plan ‘A’, and work in a reasonable level of ‘fluff’ to allow some improvisation if needed. To be clear, I’m not in any way recommending you overthink a situation – just be sure you cover all the obvious bases, and see what pops up during planning and reviews, and don’t forget that another pair of eyes can provide very valuable insight. Dick (- for that was not his given name. Tom was the owner, and Harry was the state of his chin, but Dick) wasn’t the best planner, and so if it wasn’t for bad luck…You get the picture by now.

During my early riding years I’d been as all young riders are, brash and carefree. I’d had a couple of semi-serious wrecks over four or five years, which with undue pressure from the other half forced me to go seek some training, however, my biggie was not until my thirties, and it happened while I was driving a car. It involved a pretty nasty head injury necessitating a helicopter ride, a lot of second-hand blood, a week in and out of consciousness, and initially took three or four years to regain a marginal share of the mental dexterity I’d enjoyed previous to the wreck. With the advantage of hindsight and almost two decades, I’m relatively confident it actually took a good twelve years to fully recover the majority of my finer capabilities, and not have regular or semi-infrequent headaches as a symptom of the trauma.

I can draw a parallel to watching my son grow, not the headache part, but the development part. He has these growth spurts every few months, and seemingly on a different development path he has these jumps in ability, specifically related to gains in language and pronunciation. He’ll wake up one day and speak with a clarity way beyond what he had the day before. He’ll burst out with a whole new cluster of words all at once. It’s quite remarkable to see, and what’s even better than experiencing it is knowing that he is none the wiser for it, I’m pretty sure he thinks he’s always been that way. It was almost the same for me except that I could feel the difference. I likened it to looking through a slightly misty window, it all looks ok, but when the mist burns off, it’s so much clearer. That kept happening during the first decade after my wreck. I’d wake up every few months and know there had just been a busy night in my head – lots of connections had been reestablished, and as strange as it sounds I felt so much better because of it. As seasons went by the time between those episodes became longer and longer, and by the time I write this I don’t experience the same kind of events anymore, but like everyone (I hope!!) I just have those little epiphanies after a particular rough or stressful time that remind you it’s not worth sweating the small stuff. – Keep on keeping on, they say or to repeat an overused English expression, ‘Keep calm, and carry on.’ I prefer the later, it is more in keeping with my intent of not inducing anything other than confidence, through being completely un-phased by anything that’s contrary to my ideal.

Oh. My. God. – I’ve just used 750 words to set the tone for the next 400. Oh well, such as it is, we’ll just have to persevere, and make the best of it.

The point of all these forewords is to bring up the subject of cell phone holders on motorcycles. I see similar posts on forums all the time, and they generally take the form of these two following questions. –

“What’s the best type?” and “Where should I mount it?”.

Well, here’s my considered opinion – Keep your cell phone in an inside pocket close to your heart.

“Why?”

Well, let’s break it down.

  1. You don’t have to go looking for it if you are in a minor wreck.
  2. You have it on your body if you are in a more serious wreck and you are separated from the bike or are not able to get to the bike in case of obstacle or injury.
  3. You can call for help even if you are trapped.
  4. Because that’s the first place anyone will look if you are unresponsive, or can’t remember your name (this happens a lot with head injuries).
  5. If things are really bad, you can leave a recorded message for loved ones.
  6. Some jackets even have a specific waterproof document pocket with a different colored zipper to let the EMS know where to look.

That’s why.

I know if it wasn’t for the cop who was in the right place at the right time to call for the Care Flight after my accident I’d be in a much worse place than I am now.

I do not want anybody to be in a position where they cannot get help as quickly as is humanly possible when they are involved in a bad situation. So, doing what you can to aid in that goal is a top priority for me. I’ll ask you if it is for you too?

Now, I know people like the convenience provided by the GPS apps on the smartphone and like to be able to see the screen in front of them rather than just listen to the voice, I know I do on occasion, and I certainly like to use the music apps like Pandora, or iTunes to stream music through my headset. This can have the effect of reducing battery life quickly, and I am fully conversant with the argument of cost vs the cost of a Garmin or Tom-Tom, and/or the time saved by not having to plan a ride on a PC/Mac and then upload it to your chosen GPS. That’s why I’m kind of conflicted when I see the newer motorcycle specific apps that are appearing such as Rever, or CaliMoto that have the added functionality of planning routes on your computer in a web browser and being able to sync it to your phone automatically through the app or text message over wi-fi or 3/4G. I like the convenience and user-friendliness of it all, but I still believe it’s worth the peace of mind to keep that phone on my person at all times. In my view, it’s just another part of my ever expanding ATTGAT routine. Ride Safe friends.

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Harley Dirtster Project: Stage 1

For folks that made it to the Dragon Raid last fall, or the Garage Brewed Moto Show in January, you got a chance to see the Dirtster project in the flesh. As with Rosie the Scrambler and Andy’s Bonbler Project, I originally intended to document the Dirtster build months ago. Naturally, life happened, and the blog took the back seat for a few months there. Well, despite what Punxsutawney Phil says, it’s very much still winter here in Ohio, so here I am, finally circling back to “Ripley the Dirtster”.

Not long before penning the “planning” edition of this series, Jeff struck a deal on a 2003 Sportster XL883 he’d been keeping tabs on. If you’ve been following along on Instagram, we decided to pull the trigger on the Hugo Moto kit to land the key components for the build. There was a lot of beer involved, some pizza, and a few choice expletives, but in the two nights leading up to March Moto Madness, we successfully scrambled a Sportster.

The Hugo Moto World Tour Kit

Per comments above, if Jeff and I were going to scramble this Harley, we wanted a dirt machine that was more capable than my scrambler, while still “simple” in comparison to his KTM 990. Surfing the web, we studied multiple Sportster builds, the Carducci Sportster on ADV Rider, Burly Brand’s “Dirty Work“, and Biltwell’s “Frijole 883” to name a few. While there’s a vast sea of aftermarket parts available for the Sportster, it’s a little harder to find long-travel suspension and true “mid controls”. With that in mind, the bolt-on kit from Hugo Moto already included the critical components which made thier kit the easiest route to dirt-fairing adventure machine for the former “bar hopper”.

So what’s in the kit? Jeff and I wanted the “Full Monty” from Hugo Moto, which included a suspension package with 7-inches of travel. Up front that meant a set of Andreani 39mm fork cartridges to drop into the stock Harley-Davidson fork tubes. There was a little grinding that had to happen to remove the stock fork innards, but that was pretty much the toughest part of the job to beef up the front end with fully adjustable front forks. On the back end, the “slammed” shocks were binned in lieu of a set of beefy EMC Twin Alu 2 Tri Tube 17.5-inch”rear shock absorbers. Again fully adjustable suspenders with 7-inches of travel, installation of the EMC bits was an easy bolt-on experience.

I think belt drive is still totally acceptable for most Scrambling duties, but when facing off against the finer parts of the Kentucky backcountry, the Hugo Chain Conversion kit was a must. To maintain the same gearing ratio as the stock belt/pulley system, Hugo’s conversion kit comes with a 22-tooth countershaft sprocket, a 520 chain, chain slider, and 51-tooth rear sprocket. Chains and sprockets obviously need wheels to turn, in the first generation Hugo Moto Kit, that was a set of Excel Takasago 18 and 21-inch Rims laced to Talon hubs. The new wheel set came with an adapter to attach the stock brake rotors and interface with the stock wheel spacers.

The foundation to the Hugo kit is actually their Peg Relocation Kit (PRK). While many refer to Sportster foot controls as “mids”, they’re still pretty far forward for aggressive off-road riding. The Hugo PRK puts your footing between the stock “mid” position and alternative Sportster rear-set options. The PRK comes with a shifter arm and all the linkage necessary to operate the shift lever from the rearward position. On the right side, the PRK relocates the rear brake reservoir assembly and re-uses the stock brake pedal. Once you have the PRK brackets bolted on to the case/frame, it’s just a matter of fitting the skid plate.

I often joke that a scrambler isn’t a scrambler without high pipes. Hugo Moto obviously shares my opinion, as they provide shotgun headers with hanger and heat shield with the kit. Our high-pipes were designed to use the stock Harley slip-ons. True to form, the Hugo kit also comes with fork boots, and a set of Biltwell 1-inch Tracker High handlebars to give the rider better leverage for off-road riding and complete the scrambler “look”.

 

More On Hugo Moto

When Jeff and I reached out to Hugo Moto, they were still very much in their infancy. It turns out we actually received the first kit that was shipped to a public. Like any small business, Hugo Moto has grown a lot over the past year; they’ve done a lot of market research, and have made various evolutions in their kits to better suit what customers are asking for. We bought the premium level “World Tour” kit last spring. Today Hugo Moto offers an a la carte menu for scrambling your Sportster. With exception of wheels, the parts listed above (or equivalent) are still available for your scrambler build (They also provide links to various wheel sources if you still want to upgrade your rims to more dirt friendly sizes). They now offer several different suspension options, along with accessories like luggage racks, high fender mounts, and seat risers. If you’re looking for a kit on par with the World Tour kit I described above, I suggest you take a peek at their HD2 Enduro kit; which was actually based on their 1200 Sporty that won the 2018 March Moto Madness hill climb. If you’re wanting to build your scrambler a piece at a time, or just make your bike a bit more gravel friendly, check out the different trim levels (stages) they offer for their “Scrambler Kit”.

 

Additional Bits

The Hugo Kit is a solid foundation; you can easily go from the parking lot of creek bed after a long day in the shop. That said, there are some stock Harley parts that would be better served elsewhere. The stock headlight on the 2003 Sporty is another anemic 5-3/4″ bowl akin to the feeble beam on my Triumph. That was rectified post-haste with an easy “drop-in” J.W. Speaker 8690 LED 5 headlight. I also hated the stock handgrips from go; I’m all about the stock H-D rubber grips for touring on the interstate, but on the trail, we needed something with “texture”. After checking out the grips on Andy’s Bonbler, we also picked up a set of black Renegade Grips from Biltwell. Considering the nature of woods riding, a set of Bark Busters was about a given; after some recent spills, it’s also nice to find your levers still intact after a crash landing. Keeping with that theme, the 883 doesn’t have quite the same punch as the plus size sporty, so we decided to beef up the low-end grunt with a few extra teeth on the rear sprocket.

 

How Does It Ride

Freshly minted, Friday morning at March Moto Madness I took “Ripley” up the hill for the first time. I was immediately amazed by the difference a 21-inch front wheel makes when carving through the dirt. The old carburated Harley mill is also content to lug around tight switchbacks and obstacles without protest. Having scrambled up the same hill on my Trumpet, there’s no denying that the extra 3-inches of suspension travel makes for a more comfortable ride.

Per my comments above, Ripley also followed her (half) sister Rosie down Deal’s Gap for the Dragon Raid last fall. Tropical Storm Gordon and Hurricane Florence dampened the riding opportunities, but we still managed to scramble the mountain byways and a few of the local forest roads. On the asphalt, a scrambled Sporty starts to live up to its name; with the extra ground clearance, I had blast throwing the bars down in the corners and riding The Tail of the Dragon on a beefy Harley super-moto. When the pavement ended, the big twin was still right at home hustling around the gravel roads between Robbinsville and Tellico Plains.

I’ve obviously hustled my portly Triumph through some trails where it has no business. The Harley is a much different beast than the otherwise low-slung Triumph. With the long travel suspension, the Harley is taller, and with that, I admit the weight “feels” higher. In reality, the Sportster weight just over 460 pounds in running order; a good 40 pounds lighter than the Scrambler. The Harley, however, is narrower, and unquestionably more forgiving when crossing rocks, ledges, and pot-hole riddled fire roads.

Future Plans

Despite having the bike in running order for almost a year now, Jeff and I have unfortunately been tied up with a lot of extenuating circumstances. We had enough seat time to decide we needed a little more “punch” to handle the mud and steep grades of the DBBB, but haven’t had enough time to sit down and really hammer out the suspension settings to get things as plush as we want them. That gearing situation might be unnecessary if the 883 had a little carb work, or potentially an upgrade to a 1200 big bore kit; time will tell.

Along with considering the upgrade to 1200 cc’s, we’ve discussed the possibility of installing a Rekluse clutch. I took a short ride on the HD2 Enduro at MMM, There’s no denying it’s a lot easier to handle a big bike off-road when there’s less concern about stalling the bike, just as there’s no denying that the 1200 Sporty has more “oomph”. A Rekluse clutch is slick kit, but it’s not cheap, and in the end, might not be necessary for the riding we plan to do. Fuel is also a problem for the older 883, with the stock peanut tank, 100 miles is about max range. We could hunt down the larger sporty tank from the Super Low, but we’re still daydreaming about possibly figuring out how to mount an IMS, Safari, or Acerbis aftermarket tank to the Sporty frame. I’ve caught a few odd photos of that setup on Advrider, but I’ve yet to find any firm details on what fits.

Suspension and “propulsion” are obviously the big tickets items, but we have a few other odds and ends on our to-do list. I have considered taking Ripley to Conserve The Ride this spring; unless I suddenly decide to rent a trailer, that means we need to get a luggage mounting system sorted out. Stock Harley levers are also meant for more hamfisted inputs, something I don’t recommend when riding off-road; thus we’re shopping for the best lever alternatives without having to switch out the stock Harley switchgear. We obviously love the high-pipes, and the Hugo headers are tucked in pretty well compared to the British alternative. However, after seeing the HD2 Enduro in the flesh, we’re both pretty enamored with the idea of a 2-into-1 SuperTrapp replacing the traditional Harley slip-ons.

Assuming we aren’t bathed with another year of record-setting rainfall, and pending any more family emergencies, I’m hoping to spend more time getting the Dirtster dialed in this summer. I’ve been toying with the idea of shooting a DBBB “promo” bit for the MotoADVR YouTube channel, certainly, a mud-slathered Sportster will raise a few eyebrows. Stay tuned…

 

Posted in Harley Dirtster Project | 8 Comments

Mother Nature is Unforgiving: The Ride

Do you ever have those dreams where you’re falling? It’s a horrifying sensation. Right as that twilight feeling sets in, you suddenly feel like you’re slipping away; right then you’re jolted awake, wide-eyed and gasping for air. Since I was a kid, instead of falling, that dream was reliving a bicycle crash I had in the 7th grade. As an adult, that dream has transitioned into taking a spill on a motorcycle. For some reason, the front end of the bike just lets loose from the pavement. I try to steer out of the crash, to no avail, the bike is tipping and going down. I hit the ground, which in itself would be a dramatic event, but I’m still sliding. I think I’m about to stop, so I try to stand up, not knowing how fast I’m still moving. As my boots grip the pavement, I’m tossed onto my stomach, momentum still carrying me down the roadway. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a bright orange glow. As I look up, I see sparks like fireflies trailing the bike as the two of us slide for what seems like an eternity. In just that moment, the fear lets loose for just an instant, I’m captivated by the stream of yellow and orange, like sparklers on independence day. That feeling fades as fast as it arrived, realizing I’m watching my motorcycle skid down the street as I finally started to slow.

Normally that initial feeling of weightlessness is right about where you start to wake up. Certainly, that impending impact with the ground is that point where your eyelids snap open. That didn’t happen, because this was real. Headed to work, like any other day, the front wheel let loose, and down I went.

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

06:30 AM

That relentless sound of a blaring alarm clock rings in my ears as I slap the snooze button for the fifth time. Blurry eyed, the child in me finally agrees I need to get to work, so I grab my phone and turn off the alarm. I check the weather, 36°F and no significant chance of rain. Excellent, I need a good ride, and even the mundane commute to the office is a reward at this point in winter.

 

7:05 AM

Showered and lunch packed, I pull on a polo shirt I should have binned months ago, and then pile on the gear to get ready to ride.

 

7:15 AM

I put my lunch and dress pants in the pannier, pull on my winter gloves, boot up Rever, and push the bike out into the driveway. I look down, noticing the puddle in the driveway doesn’t have any ice on the surface.

 

7:16 AM

I pull out on to my street. Passing a car at the next intersection that looked like he was going to pull out behind and follow me. I watch in my mirror, he’s still sitting at the stop sign.

 

7:18 AM

I cross over the Dayton city line. The flooding is as bad as I’ve seen it before; my street has had standing water on or next to it for almost two straight years at this point.

 

7:19 AM

I slow down to go throw a particularly large puddle. Know how damp the edges will be, I take my time crossing to make sure the bike doesn’t slip on ice I can’t see. The tires have lots of grip, so I cross the puddle and speed up.

 

7:20 AM

After crossing another wet section of wet tarmac, I get ready to pick up the pace. That’s when it happens. The front starts to slip. I feel the slightest slip and then grip, for just a split second. Before I realize what’s happening, the front wheel is tipped beyond correction. I’m going down. Black ice.

 

7:24 AM

I survived the slide. I pick myself up of the ground again, this time without being thrown back down. I don’t remember any sounds of my helmet hitting touching the ground. I look over my gear; it’s tattered, but not that bad. My elbow hurts a little, but I need to make sure I’m not struck by a car coming around the bend.

 

7:25 AM

Checking myself out, I see the headlights in the distance. I flag down the car so he slows down. He rolls down the window to check on me; I tell him thanks, I’m good, have a phone and I’m only a short ride back home. When he passes I pick the bike up, pushing off to the side of the road. Watching for oncoming traffic, I pull my arm out of my jacket, seeing blood from a gash that apparently happened in the “scuffle”. I let out a deep sigh.

 

7:26 AM

I kick up the kickstand and thumb the starter button; Jerri the Warhawk fires to life. I ride back to the house, realizing I’m going to need to have my arm looked at. Worse, I need to tell the wife I just took a ride down the asphalt… on my backside… That’s probably going to be the most painful part of this whole experience… hopefully.

 

7:33 AM

I start pulling my gear off, inspecting my helmet, jacket, pants, and boots for holes and scratches. The hole in my right sleeve explains the gash in my elbow and the cold breeze I felt on the way back home. That freezing air sure left me with an eerie feeling, concerning that blood was pooling in my sleeve; fortunately, that was not the case. My pants have lost a couple zipper pulls and look really beat up, they were overdue for replacement anyway I suppose. The new TCX boots, however, are rock stars. The buckles have some serious road rash but the leather looks mostly unscathed.

 

10:34 AM

The nurse practitioner at Urgent Care sprays a little lidocaine on my elbow and starts plucking out a few small chips of asphalt and cuts away a few bits of dead skin. He cleans up the wound and tells me they don’t think stitches will be necessary; it’s just a deep gash. They take an X-ray; thankfully, nothing is broken.

 


When I was in the sandbox back in 2007, my buddy Sam would always say “If you’re gonna be dumb, you better be tough.” I can’t help laughing thinking about it. Falling hurts… sliding also hurts. My phone said 36 degrees at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base; well above freezing. I assumed I would be fine, especially since I didn’t see any ice forming on water anywhere else. I live right on the river, where the humidity and temperatures are drastically different than elsewhere in the city. Worse, I knew full well my street through downtown is a scene out of Mad Max (“witness me!”)… and yet I went that way anyway; simply because I didn’t want to deal with traffic lights and other drivers. Stupid Hurts.

My gear saved my hide. Those Firstgear TPG Escape pants I wrote about so long ago held together, despite the fact I’ve been mending them from pipe-burns and off-road hooliganism for the better part of two years now. The Icon Raiden jacket was also solid. I was sliding on my back and obviously had no idea how fast I was going because I was on the D3O armored back pad. My elbow took the spill because I was too stubborn to exchange my jacket a second time for a size smaller. Had the jacket fit as it was intended, that D3O pad would have been in place, and prevented my boney extremity from kissing the tarmac. My Scorpion Exo-AT950 appears unscathed, how I don’t know, but needless to say, this event is the exact reason I put this crap on every morning.

And there it is, all of the statistics folks talk about. I was on my street, less than a mile from home, and I had an “off”. Also, like nearly half of all motorcycle accidents, this event was purely my own fault, “riding too fast for the conditions”. I’ve seen ice on my street under these conditions before but figured everything would be fine. So now, the next order of business will be to take care of me; let the adrenaline wear off and make sure there are no other hidden injuries. Thanks to a set of Zeta hand guards and a Giant Loop exhaust guard, with the exception of a bent set of handlebars and rashed pegs, Jerri is otherwise unharmed (mechanically). Those sparks would have been pretty… had it not been my new toy making them.

Having “Ride 365” under my belt, a few days ago I was asking myself, what’s the next challenge. The universe provides; and sometimes not in the way you want it to. I’ve had a low-speed slide in the past, needless to say, this was much more climactic. I’m arguably in better shape than I was following the first “off”, but I suspect this event will have a much deeper psychological impact than the first. I rode the bike back home, and I want to get back on the bike as soon as possible. I’m a firm believer you need to climb back on the horse and keep the demons at bay before they rise out of those dark places in your mind and wreak havoc with your resolve. Either way, it will be a matter of “learning to ride all over again”, rebuilding confidence, recognizing mistakes, moving on, and sharing the experience in the hopes I save others the pain.

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The Garage Brewed Moto Show 2019

January, that cold grey month that blankets Ohio in frost and snow. The Christmas lights have been taken down, and for most folks, the motorcycle is tucked away in the garage, waiting for the spring melt. For those that do ride, it’s a brutal month of layering up and enduring the weather and the cursed road salt. Fortunately, there is a shining moment in one of the last weekends of January, the Garage Brewed Moto Show in Cincinnati.

What is Garage Brewed?

Hosted by Cincinnati Café Racer (CCR), Garage Brewed is a free public motorcycle show hosted at Rhinegiest Brewery. Bikes featured are the work of builders from small towns and big cities, from true backyard builders to professional customs. Garage Brewed is an invitation-only show, however, anyone can nominate a bike that they feel deserves to be showcased at Rhinegeist. This winter, volunteers from CCR pored over a hundred and thirty rare, vintage, and custom motorcycle nominations to put together a collection of sixty-three exceptional bikes for the viewing pleasure of event attendees. Each year, a unique crop of motorcycles is selected; thus providing visitors a different experience each January.

Rhinegeist Brewery

At 1910 Elm Street in Over The Rhine, Rhinegeist Brewery was born out of a dream to build a craft brewery, coincidentally on the former site of one of the largest breweries in Cincinnati history before it was closed under prohibition. In 2017, Rhinegeist became the second largest independent craft brewery in Ohio (by sales volume). During this year’s Garage Brewed, Rhinegeist had over twenty-five of their own draft beers on tap for visitors, as they let the Moto Show take over the majority of the brewery’s 250,000 square foot taproom.

The Show You Don’t Want to Miss

This year marked my second visit to Garage Brewed. As I’ve told many others, it’s a truly eclectic collection of motorcycles from across the country. I also have a great appreciation for the fact that many entrants are from right here in Cincinnati, including many vintage survivors that have been polished in the garage, but also a collection of one-of-a-kind custom machines. One of the best parts of the show is meeting new people that have traveled across states to show off their talent, while also catching up with old friends; all the while sharing a pint of some of Cincinnati’s finest craft beer.

Beyond the bikes, CCR puts on an incredible exhibition. Motorcycles are not simply lined up and roped off, they’re presented as members of the crowd. The bikes are up on kegs, hanging from pillars, and on platforms and the main stage for your perusal; often with the builder standing nearby if you have questions or to simply complement their work.

Ripley the Dirtster

If you keep up with the Moto Adventurer Events Calendar, I planned on attending Garage Brewed a long time ago. That said, this year was even more significant as Ripley, the Harley Dirtster Project, was also selected for this year’s show.

I’ve been sitting on a draft of “Stage 1” of the dirtster project for quite a while now, I’m actually hoping to turn that into a video this spring, so stay tuned. In the interim, the short story is, Jeff and I did indeed partner up with Hugo Moto to put together one of the first Sportster “Scrambler” kits. Ripley is the first public Hugo kit to leave the factory. That said, beyond wheels, pegs, and suspension, Jeff and I still did quite a bit more tinkering in the garage to get Ripley in the off-road ready condition she is today, but more on that later…

 

The Winners

Per my previous comments, each year a given selection of motorcycles are invited to a show, and will not be invited a second time. In keeping with the same mantra, each year a different set of judges are chosen to select the best bikes in each category.

Garage Custom

Pro Custom

Classic

Race Bike

Moped/Mini/Scooter

CCR member Garage Brewed Class

People’s Choice Award


This year I spent twelve straight hours standing in a brewery talking motorcycles with friends and strangers alike. Standing for twelve hours is a long time, but in reality, talking motorcycles with a top-notch craft brew in my hand is pretty close to heaven on earth in the snow-covered Midwestern winter. I also managed to convince a few non-riding family members to make the trip down to Cincinnati; despite not being motorcycle enthusiasts, they too had a great time exploring the brewery and enjoying the “artwork” littered throughout. I encourage everyone, motorcyclist of otherwise, to “keep your ears up” for the next year’s dates, and mark your calendars for Garage Brewed 2020.

*Big thanks to Bill DeVore and Jeff Pierce for sharing their photos of this year’s event!

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How to Measure Adventure Riding Skills

As the temperatures have dropped and the joy riding has slowed, I’ve spent the last few months consuming a lot of “adventure” riding media. I’ve also dedicated a lot of thought to reviewing “best practices” from various motorcycle events I’ve attended, both in preparation for Red River Scramble, while also in the hopes of helping other motorcyclists (including myself) improve their riding skills. Not all that different from road riding, I find that riding off-road with folks of comparable skill level (or those willing to ride at your level), plays a part in what makes a group ride enjoyable. There’s obviously a lot more to this, and a group doesn’t necessarily need to be composed of uniform skill levels, but it’s a good starting point when putting together a handful of strangers. My biggest concern being, novice riders are sometimes “sucked in” to riding beyond their abilities when following more advanced riders, potentially causing an injury, and in some cases, advanced riders get frustrated when waiting on “slower”, less experienced riders. As far as pavement is concerned, Lemmy over at Revzilla has covered the topic of group riding in great detail, and I recommend taking a few minutes and checking out that article. As far as adventure riding is concerned, for this year’s Red River Scramble I wanted to publish a guide for evaluating your skill level, along with highlighting trail difficulty. This also ties in with how I’ve graded the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway, and other trails around that area of Kentucky, but more on that in a moment.

Evaluating Your Skills

I caught a podcast on Adventure Rider Radio a few months ago that ultimately led to this blog post. Bret Tkacs from Puget Sound Safety Off-Road (PSSOR) put together this rating system based on his experience as an instructor. To properly evaluate your skill level, you need to look at the terrain features on a given route, and match that against how well you can safely navigate a given obstacle. Skill levels aren’t necessarily uniform grades, but more of a collection of skills for progressively more difficult trail conditions. For example, some riders might be very comfortable with water crossings, but tense up when riding thought sand or mud, and so on. PSSOR has a matrix that describes your skill competence on a given terrain feature:

Please note: This system is targeted at 600-1200cc Adventure bikes carrying light loads, riders on lighter dual-sport bikes can also use this as a guide, but these tasks are generally easier on smaller, more dirt-oriented bikes.

Riding within your Skill level means:

  • Not falling or having near misses
  • You don’t expect damage to the motorcycle because of terrain
  • Riding the given terrain is not tiring
  • Breaks are only needed for food, water, so on, not for resting
  • You’re capable of multi-tasking while riding (i.e. reading GPS, talking, etc.)

You’re transitioning into higher skill level if:

  • Tip overs, falls and near misses are infrequent
  • You don’t expect damage to the motorcycle because of terrain
  • You need modest breaks between obstacles but are not exhausted
  • You can multi-task if needed

You’re significantly outside your skill level if:

  • Falls and near misses are frequent
  • You crash or have frequent near crashes
  • You have or expect damage
  • You’re exhausted from riding
  • You’re unable to multi-task

Evaluating the Route

PSSOR rates a given route based on terrain features and inherent difficulty. If a stretch of the route contains two or more of these obstacles, it is given that rating.

Novice

  • Typically old or poorly-maintained paved roads and maintained dirt/gravel roads
  • Water crossings less than 2 inches deep
  • Sticks of small tree limbs
  • Modest inclines or declines (road-like grades)

Basic

  • Full lane or two-track
  • Graded dirt/gravel roads
  • Wide and shallow ruts and washboard
  • Packed sand
  • Minor water bars (weather ruts)
  • Slow-moving water crossings less than 4-inches deep
  • Obstacles/Ledges less than 4-inches high
  • Loose rock or gravel less than 3 inches deep
  • Patches of soft gravel, shallow sand, or surface mud

Intermediate

  • Dry, narrow single-track ruts
  • Shallow mud
  • Soft gravel deeper than 2-inches
  • Short sections of soft sand (less than 100 ft. long)
  • Water hazards with mud base or loose rocks
  • Water crossings up to 6-inches deep
  • Obstacles up to 6-inches

Advanced

  • Snow
  • Narrow Two-track switchbacks
  • Sections of loose rocks larger than 5-inches
  • Long sections of soft sand (beyond 100 feet)
  • Narrow, wet, single track ruts
  • Water crossings with loose base or rocks
  • Fast flowing water crossings greater than 7-inches
  • Modest flowing water crossings deeper than 9-inches
  • Deep soft gravel
  • Mud/sand requires checking to proceed
  • Mud that may need momentum to cross
  • Hill climbs with mud or loose rocks larger than 6-inches
  • Ledges/obstacles over 6-inches tall

Expert

  • Dirt bike like trails
  • Single-track with switchback sections
  • May be impassible unless ideal conditions
  • May need mechanical assistance (winch)
  • Narrow, off-camber sections
  • Fast moving water crossings
  • Water crossings deeper than 12 inches
  • Obstacles or ledges taller than the front axle
  • Deep soft sand
  • Sticky mud
  • Vertical drop offs or inclines

This guide is not about who’s better than who, it’s about having a “standard” for conversation purposes. That way folks know what to expect when they’ve been given a recommendation for a trail or perhaps when they’re trying to figure out how to put together a group. This is also the “abridged” version of the PSSOR guide, I highly recommend that you check out their page, and study the guide more closely. Moreover, I recommend you listen the Adventure Rider Radio Podcast for a better, in-depth description on how to best evaluate the terrain and how it compares to your comfort level when riding off-road.

How this translates to Red River Scramble

Beyond meeting new people, riding with old friends, and sampling some of the best Pizza in Kentucky, Red River Scramble is also about discovering the Bluegrass Backcountry, which at times is un-paved. While not required, I encourage adventurous riders to take their first excursion off the pavement and down the gravel roads of the Daniel Boone National Forest to see some of the best views of Red River Gorge while they’re in Kentucky. I obviously want to make people as comfortable as I possibly can in taking that first step, so I’m publishing this guide, and promoting PSSOR’s work.

Next, I’ve also taken the time to “rate” each unpaved section of the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway based on the obstacles you’ll encounter. Admittedly, I’ve combined PSSOR’s “Novice” and “Basic” terrain features into “Easy” for the sake of brevity. If you look at the map posted on the DBBB Guide I published a few months ago, you’ll find each section numbered and color coded based on difficulty, along with photographs or videos of each section. I plan on providing an abridged, text only, file for download and potentially paper copies for reference at the event in May, just to keep folks from wading in too deep by accident.

As always, these are recommended guidelines and considering weather, trail conditions can evolve by the hour. I also ask folks to leave comments below if they have additional pointers with regard to group riding, measuring your riding skills, or any recommendations on how to make group riding more enjoyable for everyone, be it on or off road.

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