Progressive International Motorcycle Show: Interview with Tracy Harris

With a press pass in hand, in addition to the show, I got the opportunity to have a little back and forth with the folks behind the scenes at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show. IMS Cleveland Discover The Ride MotoADVRWhile in the past I’ve been mostly preoccupied with the hottest new bike at the show, I admit I’ve seen the exhibition evolve a bit each year, especially in the last two. While we, unfortunately, didn’t get the chance to shake hands and have a longer discussion, I did get the chance to exchange e-mails with Tracy Harris, Senior Vice President with Progressive International Motorcycle Shows. Below you’ll find the transcript from our short exchange, where Tracy, much more eloquently, expands on my comments about Discover the Ride, along with wider details about IMS. 

(In case you missed it, you can also see my write-up on the rest of the show HERE)

Moto Adventurer: Besides manufacturers and new models, what’s new at the International Motorcycle Show for 2020? 

Tracy Harris: This season the tour has stops in eight cities across the U.S., IMS Cleveland Discover The Ride Afar MotoADVRincluding Denver, a market we have not been in for years. As we continue to display the hottest gear and vehicles at each stop, this year we evolved our popular show attractions. Back for the second year, Discover the Ride is now a more complete program both at the shows and beyond, with increased guidance from our NewTo2 hosts and local riding schools. We also introduced new DIY workshops at the Vintage at IMS where attendees can learn from their local garage builders and experts how to restore and build custom bikes. Additionally, the SHIFT area at IMS is also expanding with great new moto lifestyle brands like Revzilla at the show. 

MA: What has average attendance been like for IMS Cleveland the last few years? 

TH: Across the tour, including Cleveland, we’re seeing minor shifts up and down annually in our attendance—but overall the attendance has remained consistent and reflects the state of the industry. While sales have been flat and baby boomers are slowly aging out of the market, there is a shift towards a new audience of younger riders.

MA: A lot of news articles have suggested that new bike sales are down, have you seen any correlation between these types of stories and attendance? 

IMS Cleveland opening crowd MotoADVRTH: The industry is in the midst of a demographic shift. As baby boomers are aging out, millennials and Gen X’ers are entering the market, many of whom are actually entering the industry through the secondary/used market. In fact, we saw a 25% increase of younger attendees (under the age of 35) in the past four years (2014/2015 through 2018/2019 tour) in addition to an increase in female riders.

MA: There’s been a lot of focus on attracting new riders to the sport as of late, what changes or features has IMS added in recent years (or this year) to help attract new riders?

TH: In addition to providing a platform for attendees to connect with their local riding community to share their passion for two-wheels, it is our mission to continue to grow the motorcycle community and ensure those interested in learning and becoming riders are given the opportunity and tools to do so. Discover The Ride Wheelie Simulator MotoADVRLast tour we launched “Discover the Ride,” a first of its kind program in the Powersports industry, specifically designed to introduce riding motorcycles to consumers of all ages through a New Rider Course, educational seminars within New To 2, The Kids Zone, and a dyno and Wheelie Experience. By the end of the season, more than 2,000 potential brand-new riders participated in the Discover the Ride course with more than 6,800 overall participants.

Following Discover the Ride’s successful implementation into the 2018/2019 IMS tour, this year we introduced an extension of the program dubbed “Next Steps.” Next Steps represents an evolution of the program by helping new riders get trained as part of their journey to becoming formally licensed. In alliance with the Academy of Motorcycle Operation (AMO) – an organization that provides quality motorcyclist training in a safe, positive learning environment – AMO has offered IMS-sponsored courses. As Discover the Ride helps riders identify that they want to ride, Next Steps takes the extra step of breaking down more barriers to entry by getting new riders formally licensed.

MA: I’m obviously a big adventure enthusiast, so I’m anxious to check out “Adventure Out!” this year. I also see “Shift” and the “Vintage Garage” sections listed at the show this year, how have these new features been received (Cleveland and elsewhere)?

IMS Cleveland Vintage Garage MotoADVRTH: Motorcyclists are part of a tight-knit community with multiple lifestyle segments depending on what you’re passionate about. SHIFT has been met with a great response from our attendees that enjoy the new modern gear that fits their personal taste, tour-wide. Vintage is always a top-rated attraction at the show. This year, we gave Vintage a tune-up with the addition of restoration and DIY workshops. I highly recommend attendees check out the vintage bikes while at the show and speak to the preservers who are a wealth of knowledge!

MA: What’s your personal favorite part of the show?

TH: We launched IMS in 1982. In our 39th year, we are proud to be the nation’s largest consumer motorcycle tour providing motorcycle enthusiasts access to hundreds of the latest models from top manufacturers and premier aftermarket brands. Cleveland IMS Discover The Ride Zero Parked MotoADVRIn addition to being able to meet and build a relationship with local dealers, IMS is a special place for enthusiasts to connect with their local riding community and share their passion for two-wheels. In recent years, I personally love how the shows have evolved to become truly experiential. No matter your age or skill level, we have something at IMS that helps you grow as a rider and become part of a tight-knit community.

MA: Aside from weather and local vendors, what makes the Cleveland show different than say Chicago or Denver?

TH: The Cleveland riding community is one of the strongest. For most Cleveland attendees, IMS Cleveland serves as a reunion where friends meet and discuss their latest riding adventures—all the while getting to see the latest models from their favorite OEMs.

MA: Are there future plans or changes to the IMS that you can share with us?

TH: Every year we explore how to continue the evolution of IMS, and those discussions are guided by the on-site and post-show research and conversations we have with our exhibitors and attendees. Right now, the research is not finalized but rest assured, the IMS team strives to make the show better and more fun each year.

MA: Has there been any discussion about trying different locations for future shows, like Columbus or Cincinnati?

IMS Cleveland Adventure Out BDR MotoADVRTH: There is a thriving and passionate community of motorcycle enthusiasts in every city we travel to and we’re always striving to reach as many people that love riding and the lifestyle of it as possible. Every year we work with our partners to determine the best markets for that year. We recognize there are passionate communities of motorcyclists across the country; we’re always looking for and considering new opportunities, such as our return to Denver this year.

What sets IMS apart from other motorcycle events?

No-Mar Tire Change MotoADVRTracy: Compared to other events like rallies, IMS is a one-stop-shop for all a rider’s needs. From the latest helmets to stylish jackets, we have it all. Nearly half, 47% of our attendees make purchases at the shows, spending an average of $488. The most popular purchased items are riding gear and parts & accessories. Moreover, 44% of IMS attendees have reported that they are in-market to buy a new or used vehicle, and 75% of those say they plan to do so within the next 12 months.

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Progressive International Motorcycle Show: Cleveland in a New Light

One of the first stories I covered here on Moto Adventurer was the “goings-on” at Progressive International Motorcycle Show (IMS) in Cleveland. Considering typical Ohio weather in late January, it’s nice to fill up an otherwise snowy weekend with a some two-wheeled eye candy. Thus, between Cleveland and Chicago, I’ve attended every IMS each winter since just prior to launching the website.

IMS Cleveland IX Center MotoADVRThis being my seventh show, I have to admit things were starting to feel a bit “familiar”. In prior years, I would typically day trip to Cleveland, ogle over the new bikes I wanted to see, chit chat with a few buddies about the latest and greatest, and then endure the three-hour car ride back home. To shake things up his year I applied for a press pass. With badge in hand, I decided to slow things down this year, stay the night for once, and take a deeper look at what goes on at the show.

Have you brought a non-riding friend to a motorcycle show?

You should. Seriously.
Needless to say, I consume a lot of motorcycle media. I sit in front of a CAD computer for 40+ hours a week, which gives me a chance to listen to a lot of podcasts and keep up with moto-headlines during my lunch break. A while back I caught a podcast about the “Give A Shift” initiative. IMS Cleveland opening crowd MotoADVRIf we believe all of the headlines, motorcyclists are dying breed. Between economics, limitless entertainment outlets competing for your dollars, and a culture that’s becoming more risk-averse by the minute, fewer and fewer riders are entering the fray. When I was a kid we rode bicycles everywhere. While I do live on a busy street, I seldom see a kid on a bicycle anymore (I arguably see more adults on bicycles than kids). If we as riders don’t expose our friends and future generations to the motorcycle world… they won’t find it anywhere else.

What does this have to do with IMS Cleveland?

Funny you should ask, while I missed out on the opportunity to meet him in person, Robert Pandya, the guy who started the Give-A-Shift initiative, was on-site in Cleveland. In conjunction with IMS, Robert helps manage the “Discover The Ride” program, a program designed to give potential motorcyclists a taste of the riding experience in a safe and controlled environment.

Discover The Ride New to 2 MotoADVRFolks that sign-up to for “Discover-The-Ride” get the opportunity to ride a power assist bicycle around an indoor course, offering the first sensation of the motorized, two-wheeled travel while demonstrating they have the balance necessary to ride a full-size bike. From there, attendees are provided with safety gear and get the chance to take a specially programed Zero FXS electric motorcycle around the practice track (this is obviously the abridged version of the program, you can find more details here).

Per my comments, Discover the Ride isn’t just for adults, there’s also a program for the kids. In the Kids Zone, youngsters get a chance to scramble around a dedicated track on Stacyc electric balance bike, with or without power assist based on skill and competence.

Just outside the Discover the Ride area, an entire aisleway was dedicated to approachable current-year models from various manufacturers. Suzuki New on Two Wheels MotoADVRConventional language for these bikes used to be “entry-level” or “learner bikes”, but admit I’m trying to avoid those terms as much as possible these days. While I feel the wind is changing direction, I fear that some new riders in this country still feel judged for riding smaller bikes among their more “experienced” peers. After riding “big bikes” for the better part of a decade, I decided what I really needed was a 250… I recommend more folks give it a try, but that’s a story for another day. At any rate, bikes like the Rebel 300, the Grom, SV650, and the VanVan200 were all lined up just outside the practice track for folks to try on for size. That VanVan with those big beach tires was so popular, I never managed to snag a photo of it by its lonesome. Considering my personal affinity for the TW200, I can see why.

So what else is going on at the show?

Adventure Out Ducati Desert Sled MotoADVRSo you brought a friend and have exposed them to motorcycle fever and want to see what else was is going on. I’m naturally going to nudge you in the direction that leads away from the pavement. In the last couple of year’s IMS launched “Adventure Out”, a section of the exhibit floor dedicated to adventure riding. Inside the Adventure Out area, you can attend a series of presentations geared toward adventure riding and travel.

Adventure Out NEBDR MotoADVRThis year Backcountry Discovery Routes launched a new section in the northeast (hence NEBDR). For those unfamiliar, Backcountry Discovery Routes is a 501c3 non-profit that specializes in creating suitable touring routes that include on and off-road travel through rural America for dual-sport and adventure motorcyclists. Standing in the back of the “picnic area”, I listened to Tim James (Board VP with BDR) and Jocelin Snow discuss the finer parts of adventure riding, some backstory behind the BDR non-profit and their mission, a few notes about the Mid-Atlantic BDR, and a tease of the Northeast BDR.

Bret Tkacs Adventure Out IMS MotoADVRI also got the chance to see Bret Tkacs in the flesh while he discussed best practices when packing for adventure touring. Spoiler: take less stuff. But seriously, Bret got into the finite details about managing luggage and living off the bike during his travels. In a second session that I missed, Bret discussed more “tips and tricks” of long-distance motorcycle travel from his tours of South America, Africa and beyond; from handling border crossings, “bribes”, and things to consider when selecting the right bike for you.

In a side conversation, I chatted with Bret and his wife Christina about Bret’s usual day job as a motorcycle instructor and some of his antics on youtube. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more of Bret “off-script” on the interwebs in the near future.

IMS Cleveland Vintage Garage MotoADVR

For more pavement oriented folks, IMS has beefed up the “Vintage Garage” over the past few years. While I didn’t get the opportunity to sit through one of seminars this year, similar to Adventure Out, Vintage Garage has featured speakers and DIY workshops to help encourage folks to get their hands dirty, or perhaps pick up some expert tips for an upcoming project you’re working on (perhaps that final touch to your submission to Garage Brewed?).

What about the bikes?

Harley Davidson Pan America Glass Case MotoADVRTaking my first steps into the exhibition area, I was immediately greeted by Harley-Davidson’s new Pan America (and Bronx). Akin to the expansion of “Adventure Out”, it’s obvious that the adventure craze has really taken root in today’s motorcycle community. The whole idea of a Harley-Davidson adventure bike would have been preposterous no more than two years ago, and yet there it sat on display for the masses.

Unfortunately, with glass cases protecting both prototypes, photos simply don’t do either machine justice. Harley Pan America Booth MotoADVRI’ve been reluctant to write anything about the Pan America up to this point, considering the number of other articles already covering the topic, but I admit I’m excited to see what Harley-Davidson is going to do in this space. I’ve read a lot of noise in various comment sections about how “heavy” this bike looks (does the R1250GSA look heavy?), and endless remarks about the polarizing aesthetics of the front fairing. I tend to find the adventure “beak” ugly and superfluous… but freely admit that love is very much in the eye of the beholder (agreed, the Pan-Am looks like Bender). As far as the Mo-Co is concerned, I’m much more concerned with what the bike can do than I am about aesthetics.

Harley Davidson Pan America cockpit MotoADVRStanding next to the glass case, the Pan America appeared smaller and more slender than I pictured it based on the press photos. From what I can tell outside of the glass, the bike looks the part; tubeless spoked wheels, Brembo binders, supple suspension travel (for a Harley sitting in a display case), crash bars, V-twin engine, and chain drive. All things I like in an adventure bike.
Harley Davidson Scrambler Concept MotoADVRI admit, with 1250 cc’s of displacement, TFT dash and a bar and shield on the tank, I suspect the Pan America will be out of my price range for a considerable number of years, but I still want to see how this new addition influences the market. Moreover, considering my passion for scramblers and barebones adventure bikes, I’m hopeful there’s a 950 V-twin in the pipeline with less whiz-bang.

And then there’s that other adventure bike on the opposite side of the spectrum. Yamaha has been teasing the new Tenere 700 for literally years now. In Cleveland, I finally got a chance to see it in the flesh (sans the protective glass case). Yamaha Tenere 700 Decal MotoADVRWay back when, I went down to Cincinnati to test ride the (then new) XSR900 at a demo event. A triple with retro styling, I was infatuated from go, but I had to wait to ride that bike for several hours due to the high demand. I consoled myself by taking an FZ-07 for a spin in the interim, a bike I knew nothing about. Despite riding the XSR900 and the FJ-09, at the end of the day it was that peppy 700cc P-twin that really captured my soul. And now Yamaha has put a long set of legs on that bike with a matching set of knobbly shoes. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m unabashedly smitten with this new Yammy. The T7 is probably the first bike I’ve lusted after since bringing home Rosie the Scrambler (that and about any two-stroke these days).

Similar to the Pan America, sitting motionless on the carpet, the Tenere 700 checks all the boxes. Yamaha Tenere 700 RF Qtr MotoADVRAggressive adventure setup with longer travel suspension and 21-inch front hoop with a 18 in the rear, the reputation of the beforementioned 270° crank parallel twin (much like that British mill I love so much), and that oh so slender frame and “rally” style fairing. Those new LED headlights look sick hidden behind the transparent “rally mask”, and to my shock, there are actually designated handholds on the rear subframe so you can get a firm purchase on the bike when you need to pull it out of a hairy situation. I’m happy to say the latest ADV machine from Yamaha comes with everything I want in a motorcycle and nothing I don’t. The new T7 comes with ABS standard and an “ABS off” button on an otherwise vanilla LCD display. No rider modes, no traction control, no TFT Dash, no Netflix or Apple car play. If you’re looking for a no-frills adventure motorcycle, it has arrived; at a dollar less than ten-large to boot (more Tenere 700 photos below).

Good things come in small packages

Honda CRF250f MotoADVRAfter drooling over the latest twin-cylinder dirt cruisers, I found myself captivated by the dual-sport and trail offerings in the Honda and Kawasaki booths. In case you missed it, I covered the CRF250L at great length recently. Walking around the Honda booth I was surprised to find Big Red had dropped the CRF230f (former sister to the 250L’s predecessor) and has brought a new 250 cc air-cooled mill on board for off-road only riders looking for a red bike.

Kawasaki KLX230 MotoADVRDespite my best efforts to keep up with all the latest moto-news, I somehow missed the recent Revzilla article about Kawasaki’s expansion in a similar fashion with a 230cc trail bike and a street-legal sister machine, the KLX230r and KLX230 (respectively). Along with the KLX250, that now gives Kawasaki two flavors of quarter-liter street & trail machines for prospective buyers. At $4600 with fuel injection, the green 230 comes in about 600 greenbacks cheaper than Yamaha’s venerable XT250.

While not street legal, Kawasaki also launched the new KLX300 trail bike. In a world where I feel more off-road offerings edge closer and closer to full-spec race machines, it was refreshing to see the KLX300 boast a stat sheet just short of European specifications at almost half the price. Beyond my recent article about the shifting tides of the dual-sport market, I’m anxious to see where these new trail “play-bikes” are going.

You Meet the Nicest People On Motorcycles

Not pressed for time, it was interesting to sit back and look at IMS in a different light. I’ve spent days combing over photos and scratching notes about how to describe this year’s show. As much as I was hung up on the new dirt worthy machines, I think I was more captivated by the conversations and relationships forged over the weekend.

Zero Motorcycles SR-S MotoADVRStanding in the Zero booth chatting with my buddy Tim Burke, we met Scott and Dan from Motoclectic Magazine. From upstate New York, these guys have been pounding the pavement for the last year or so, working to bring local, image-focused motorcycle stories to the masses with their grassroots magazine. Some folks may say that print is dead, but I’ll argue that when done right, folks will gladly throw down some bills for a magazine that inspires. Dan and Scott both said that they’ve taken inspiration from Iron & Air, but focus on that local feel so readers relate to the characters of the stories.

Circling back around after shooting photos of Discover the Ride, I caught Phil Waters interviewing Tim for an upcoming Cleveland Moto Podcast episode.Zero Motorcycles Cleveland Moto Podcast MotoADVR If you’re a podcast listener, but unfamiliar with Cleveland Moto, I recommend you look them up. At any rate, Phil is incredibly knowledgable about Zero. I gotta tell you, his passion for electric motorcycles is almost infectious. I stood around the booth chatting with Tim long enough to notice that at no point was there not a crowd of 3 or 4 standing around Phil, trying to absorb all the information coming out his mouth (to Tim’s credit, he probably would have experienced the same, had I not been monopolizing his time.).

Per my previous comments, I had similar experiences with Bret and Christina Tkacs, a couple of side comments with Jocelin Snow (including an explanation on why the ladies take selfies holding their phones so high in the air, thanks Jocelin), and lots of conversations and even a few beers with over a dozen friends of mine who also attended the show that weekend. In previous years it was about seeing “all the bikes” and gathering “all the photos”. This year, despite all those paragraphs above, it was definitely about the people. There are a lot of great bikes out there, but there’s also a lot to learn from your fellow motorcyclist, regardless of how, when, and where you ride.

Further Reading: Interview with IMS VP Tracy Harris

 

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Crashing into 2020: Reflections on 2019

Normally about this time of year, I’m sitting on the couch sipping coffee, looking out the window, watching snowflakes fall. Temperatures of have been near record highs the week of Christmas but family commitments and the joys of homeownership have spent most of the time in the driver seat. That said, I still want to “put pen to paper”, not so much to publish stereotypical “resolutions”, so much as to double down on long-standing goals that seem to have been sidelined over the last 12 months.

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”

Working out some sort of outline for this post, I went back to look at what I published this year. Ironically, the first post of 2019 was “What is the Future of Motorcycling?” That post started a trend of projects related to the motorcycle community as a whole that continued throughout the year, including a handful of other ideas that are still simmering on the back burner, anxiously awaiting a day with fewer obligations. Considering the imminent arrival of an adventure bike at local Harley dealerships in 2020; whilst, I’m looking for an affordable two-stroke, “The future of motorcycles” is still as perplexing today as it was a year ago, if not more so.

“Ride a dirt bike; it’s the most fun you’ll ever have hurting yourself”

I saw that meme a few weeks ago. I got some hearty laughs out of that one.

If you’ve been following along YouTube, my epic dismount (ejection) during the John Vincent race has become part of my new intro.20191231_160114.jpg With my knee and shoulder bothering me quite a bit over the couple weeks, it was even more humorous when I realized I spent a fair portion of 2019 looking up at my bike from the ground (including about a dozen times on the most recent recon trip to the Bluegrass). Fortunately, most of the cases have been low-speed and without injury.

That said, there’s no denying the big slide last February has had somewhat of lasting effect on me. While mostly unconscious, I suspect one of the reasons I’ve spent more time in the car as of late, is because I don’t trust the weatherman much these days. It’s really interesting how “once bitten, twice shy” tends to ring true with so many things in life. Moving the bikes out to the “pig pen“, combined with heavy doses of “life” has certainly kept me out of the saddle. However, there’s no denying that when the mercury hovers around the magic temperature as it was in early December, I was pretty gunshy about riding on all those cold, damp mornings.

Video killed the radio star, but the blogger too?

Per my comments above, I’ve been wrestling with a lot of video projects as of late. I spent about two weeks shooting and editing Jerri’s long-term review.CRF250L Shed MotoADVR Obviously, I’m really excited by the reception from dedicated followers, along with the rest of the motorcycle community; but at the same time, I admit I’m concerned about splitting my audience. That and trying to evenly divide my limited “free time”. Video has been a lot of fun over the last year; I’ve put a lot of effort into improving the quality of content I’ve posted here on the website and on YouTube in general. I do however find it interesting how writing and photography still seem to be a much more relaxing pastime.

School of hard knocks

2019 proved to be a year of “learning”, starting with the before mentioned crash. Once my shoulder was ready to ride again, I finally got a chance to adapt to riding a much lighter bike. My eyes were opened, not only to how lightweight motorcycles are awesome but also how weight and power have such a large impact on the pace at which you learn new skills.

That same concept is taking form off-road as well. The 250L is a lightweight adventure bike, but it’s a heavyweight dirt bike.CRF250L Cold Iron Fork Bill Devore Off-road skills are obviously much different than pavement skills, and racing the TooFatty ramped up the learning curve fast. I’ve been working on a story of how off-road skills can transition to pavement skills, but not so much in reverse. Moreover, the skills and techniques learned in the dirt will make you a much more confident street rider. It’s all about managing traction… but more on that later.

Learning at this pace also comes at a price. Like riding every day, more riding means more wrenching. This year I replaced the clutch in the Scrambler, along with a host of other items I covered a while back. The 250L certainly fairs better off-road but racing is still hard on equipment. After my most recent excursion into the Kentucky wilderness, I’m pretty sure I’ll be replacing the Honda’s clutch sooner than later. It’s possible the clutch slipping is just the judder spring, but we’ll talk about that when the day arrives. Turn signals and mirrors have also taken a beating this year. A dedicated dirt bike will (mostly) fix those issues, but until that day arrives, I still need a street-legal machine that can do both.

Fortunately, with the new shed out back and thanks to a propane heater, I finally have an opportunity for “winter projects”.

 

About that Moto Bucket List…

Skunked… Bupkis…
…but it’s funny how things play out. I managed to skip everything on the bucket list this year, but I’m happy with how things landed. Harley Heritage Softail Triumph Scrambler Stecoah MotoADVRMy plan was to spend a week on the Kentucky Adventure Tour in September, but instead, I spent 4 straight days riding with my Dad in some of the best roads in North Carolina (hopefully I’ll finish that story). I didn’t get a team together for NE24, but Jerri and I finished both IXCR events. Commitments and the wife’s health kept me close to home most of the year, so I focused on improving video content and delving more into “motorcycle philosophy”.


The KAT, NE24, and racing in general are my big priorities for 2020. Exploring the finer parts of The Motherland is pretty much a given every year. Given the opportunity, I want to take a trip out west to Colorado, but I’m not sure if vacation time and commitments will allow. From afar, there seems to be a distinct difference between east and west coast riding and I want to experience it for myself to understand.

So far, Red River Scramble is shaping up to be bigger than last year. Route recon and rally prep typically take up most of my spring, but I’m not complaining.Honda CRF250L Clifton Road MotoADVR It simply breaks my heart to go ride new routes for the rally… or checking trail conditions on abandoned roads I love. Yeah, that part is awesome. Paperwork can be a drag, but most of that stuff is baked, and the reward is listening to people talk about their adventures and how much fun they had getting lost. This year I’m hoping to get more photographs of people riding and sharing stories. Either way, it’s tough to have a bad time on a motorcycle down there (assuming you know your limits).

Needless to say, my plans for 2020 are more like concepts than plans really. Not sure if that’s accepting the reality of life’s commitments or just enjoying the journey as it happens. “Letting go” has led fun adventures over the last two years, something I’m embracing with age I suppose.

So what are your riding plans for this year? New bike coming home to the stable? A motorcycle vacation you’ve been wanting to take for a while now? Or more ad-hoc rides with the usual suspects?

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Red River Scramble: Adventure Calls

With less than 140 days to go, I decided to put together a little “promo” video for Red River Scramble. Over the past three years, I’ve not taken nearly as many photos or videos of the event as I’ve wanted to. Fortunately, with the help of some loyal attendees (thanks Bill and Jeff!), I managed to splice together a 2-minute highlight reel of what’s to be expected on some of the “Adventure Loops” at this year’s Scramble.

 

If I can piece together more footage, I also want to cover some of the Dual-Sport and pavement options available. I want to avoid a lengthy video that’s predominantly from my perspective, so I may need to reach out to the community to get a more diverse selection of footage and photos (motoADVR@gmail.com for those interested).

It’s like 50 degrees outside at the moment but I expect winter to settle in any minute now. I’ll be making more reconnaissance runs to the Bluegrass at every opportunity between now and May. We already have a few new (revised) routes published, hopefully, I’ll uncover more in the time allotted; I suspect folks will enjoy blasting down Fixer-Leeco Road regardless.

As always, I love hearing feedback from the community about the kind of riding they’re looking for. If you’ve been to Red River Scramble in the past, hit me with what you’ve enjoyed most about the event so I can continue to provide an entertaining “adventure” for folks that make the journey.

Red River Scramble Registration: https://redriverscramble2020.eventbrite.com/

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Honda CRF250L Long-term Review: Life on the Too Fatty

A few weeks ago James left a comment on YouTube asking about everything I’ve done to the CRF250L since I bought it. In the back of my mind, I’d already been debating doing a long-term review of the 250L; after upgrading some video equipment and software I decided to finally give it a go.


Considering that the average watch time on my YouTube videos is less than two minutes, a lot of content lands on the cutting room floor. For folks that are looking for “the long story” I also wanted to publish a long-form blog for a more in-depth look at life on a CRF250L.

Bike Modifications

First, to answer James’s question, what have I done to the bike versus stock? When I bought the bike it had a little over 2,000 miles on it. The previous owner(s) had installed various items (listed below).

  • Two-Brother’s Exhaust
  • Zeta Hand Guards
  • Seat Concepts Seat
  • Pro Moto Billet Cargo Rack
  • Flying Tiger Graphics

CRF250L Train Trestle MotoADVR

I, unfortunately, did not get the stock seat or the stock exhaust. The Seat Concepts seat is probably 80-90% of what I expect from a seat, especially on a bike like this. I do however wish I had the stock seat so I could use that if I plan on racing, blasting local trails, or just commuting to work, that way I can save the “upgraded” seat for long days in the saddle. The Two-Brothers muffler sounds excellent. That’s, of course, a matter of taste; I like to hear the “Braaap” of the engine when I’m flogging the 250L around the backroads, but that’s not for everyone. Off the street and the race track however, I wish I still had the factory exhaust. There are a number of “trails” on the outskirts of the city I want to explore for photo opportunities, but I want to avoid any “Imperial Entanglements”. The aftermarket “silencer” is anything but.
Modifications I’ve done:

  • GoCruise Throttle Lock
  • Tusk Folding shift lever (Fits CRF150R)
  • Honda steel folding Shift Lever (from CRF250L Rally)
  • Oxford Heaterz (Heated grips)
  • ROX bar risers (2” only use for ADV riding, remove for racing)
  • RAM Mount 1” ball handlebar mounts x2
  • Pro-Taper 7/8” bars (CR High Bend)
  • Flatland Racing Skid Plate
  • Flatland Racing Radiator Guard
  • Double-take mirror (still need a second one)
  • Giant Loop Exhaust Heat Shield
  • Kriega Luggage OS Base (“back-bone”)
  • 13 tooth front sprocket
  • 42 tooth rear sprocket (still use stock chain length)


The 2014 CRF250L came with a traditional steel shift lever. I guess Honda assumed the majority of 250L owners weren’t venturing too deep in the woods, that was mission two after heated grips.

CRF250L Clifton Road MotoADVR

Oxford Heaterz have been game-changers on the Scrambler, so to extend the “dirt season” I bought a second set for the 250L straightaway. Evolving from adventure riding a Scrambler to riding a (more) proper dirt machine took time. At first, I felt like my hands were totally in the wrong place for standing up while riding the 250L, so I installed a set of 2” ROX bar risers. ROX risers add a lot of flexibility, you can bring bars closer or further away from you depending on the bike. After getting more acclimated to the skinnier bike, I found the risers were problematic for riding the bike hard off-road, especially on the hill climbs. Swapping risers out is a cinch, so I remove them to race and put them back on for “adventure” duty. I ran the stock Honda bars until my little mishap back in February. The Honda bars bent like tinfoil in the crash, so I bought a set of Pro-Taper bars at a local store so I could go out and ride that weekend. The Pro-tapers are lighter and a direct bolt-on replacement. That said, they have the crossbar that looks cool, but is somewhat problematic considering the busy “dashboard” I have. I expect I will swap the 7/8 bars for a newer set of 1-1/8” to 7/8” “fat bars” in the future; which unfortunately means the expense of new adapters/risers and so on.

Street Bike Pros

The 250L is only one year newer than my Scrambler, and yet comes with a handful of creature comforts that are not included on a bike almost twice the price:

  • Digital dash
  • Fuel gauge
  • Helmet lock
  • Locking tool compartment
  • Locking gas cap

Service Intervals on the 250L are every 8,000 miles; which is actually longer than the intervals on the Scrambler.

CRF250L broken asphalt MotoADR

The Honda’s quarter-liter mill also sips the gas when you stay off the highway. I’ve not sat down to do the numbers, but I’ve heard high sixties and seventies tossed out on various forums. The stock suspension is also pretty plush for street duty. I cross the heart of the city during my morning commute; while not Detroit, Dayton does a pretty lousy job of patching potholes so that dual-sport suspension makes for a much smoother ride.
I find the steering on the Scrambler to be a bit lazy, whereas the 250L’s 21″ front makes for very “precise” steering through the twisties. Now, this is also a matter of taste, some folks will find the 21″ front wheel “twitchy”, and that “precision” does fade away once you get the bike up to interstate speeds, at which point it wants to “stand up” pretty much all the time.
The 250L’s engine came out of the CBR250R. While I’ve not had the pleasure of riding the CBR, I assume it’s as predictable as the 250L with smooth throttle response and linear power delivery. The 250L has about 18HP (22 on paper), so it’s very forgiving for new and returning riders. In a similar vein, as a dual-sport, the 250L is built to withstand some punishment. Like a dirt bike, it’s expected owners will drop this bike on the trail, so it’s not a big deal if you forget to put the kickstand down in the parking lot or have a low-speed spill at a stop sign.
CRF250L Jackstand MotoADVR

While not exactly built with dirt bike DNA, the 250L is still really easy to work on. The wheels are designed to be changed easily, which would be expected from an off-road race bike, and oil changes are a breeze (despite cartridge oil filters). I usually get services done on the Honda in about half the time I spend working on the Triumph (sans 200 pounds doesn’t hurt either). Parts are also cheap. Brake pads and oil changes are both half what I pay for the Scrambler. Being a Honda, I have access to something like four dealerships within a 50-minute drive, and OEM parts are cheap and easy to get online.

Street Bike Cons

The 250L’s max speed is about 80~85 mph. I have no beef with riding the highway to work through some 65 mph zones, but I don’t feel comfortable with sustained speeds above 70 mph for more than about an hour. I suppose the engine can handle it, but ultimately I just don’t think it’s good to run the bike that high in the rev range for that long.
CRF250L Dayton Commute MotoADVR

I’m ambiguous about the rev range because the 250L doesn’t come with a tachometer. I guess I’m old school, I like dual analog clocks. The digital dash is nice, it’s easy to see how fast I’m going, but I really wish I knew how hard I was pushing the engine. Especially because it’s not uncommon for me to spend an entire day on the bike.
That locking tool compartment is really awesome. You know what would be more awesome? If there was a factory Honda tool kit in it. For every other country on earth, Honda ships the 250L with a tool kit to do basic maintenance tasks. US built 250L’s have a slightly lower MSRP, but no tool kit. I’d really like to have a conversation with the decision-maker over at Honda USA so I could understand what that’s all about.
While I have no qualms about riding the 250L just about anywhere, I admit it could use a little more poke. The 250L is down a few ponies compared to the other bikes in its class, like the WR250. It gets the job done, but I’d give up such long service intervals for just a little more juice.
Speaking of juice, the Honda will sip the gas when you’re putting around the backroads and trails, but if I’m running 60+ from home to Kentucky I need to make sure I find a gas station every 100 miles or less. Admittedly, I’m typically ready to take a break every 100 miles, but there are certainly places in rural America where it’s tough to find a gas station and I wish I had just a little more reserve.

Dirt Bike Pros

At 34.4 inches, the Honda has reasonably low seat height (DR200 and XT250 are lower). Now, some folks are still going to say the 34 inches is still really tall, I’m 5’10” with a 32-inch seat height, once I sit down on the 250L and the suspension settles, I can flat foot the bike no problem.
With an MSRP of $5,200, the 250L is the cheapest bike in its class. While five-grand isn’t exactly cheap, that’s really affordable compared to a dedicated dirt bike.
DCIM100GOPROG0044534.

The 250L is also fuel injected. In the street bike world that’s nothing revolutionary, but off-road, there are still a lot of bikes rocking carburetors. On the same note, I know some folks want the simplicity of carburetors, but I have a hard time complaining about the ease of starting the 250L on cold winter mornings.
Per my comments above, the service manual says to change the oil every 8,000 miles. That’s eons by dirt bike standards, many of which hover around 8 hours. The 250’s sister bike, the 450L requires a lube job every 600 miles.
With the seat concepts seat, the 250L is long-distance comfortable. In the last year, I’ve done multiple 300+ mile days on the saddle, and at least one 500 mile day.

CRF250L Great Miami River MotoADVR
Per my comments about being forgiving, the 250Ls linear power delivery really shines off-road. I love power sliding the rear wheel and riding on-the-pipe as much as the next guy, but there’s something to be said for reliable, predictable power to the ground when there’s no trailer waiting on you back in the parking lot.

Dirt Cons

Tanner from the Attention Deficit calls the CRF250L the “Too Fatty”. That nickname is pretty apt considering the 250L is the heaviest bike in its class at 320 pounds.
The “low” seat height I just mentioned also comes at a price; the 250L has about 10 inches of ground clearance. That’s plenty for dual-sport and adventure riding, but when I’m chasing my buddies with orange bikes around the woods it takes a lot more finesse to get over those logs.
Honda CRF250L Clay Single Track MotoADVR

As just about any other 250L review will tell you, that plush suspension I love on the street starts showing its weaknesses when ridden hard off-road. With 9-inches of travel, thus far the Honda suspenders have been well suited for my flavor adventure riding, but I admit I’ve started to notice their limitations at John Vincent. The stock travel is plenty for recreational riding, but when competing against real dirt bike adjustable forks with 12-inches of travel, the Too Fatty is clearly outgunned.
Speaking of those logs, lofting the front wheel with the stock gearing (14T front, 40T rear) takes more effort than I think it should. That linear power delivery is great, but much like my Scrambler, it’s mid-range power, so the 250L doesn’t have the meaty low-end grunt or outright horsepower to be pulling dank whoolies without a little help.

Living with the CRF250L

Like I said in the video, I wish this bike was lighter. I wish it had an extra gallon of gas. I wish I didn’t have a reservation about riding three hours on the highway (I’ve towed it… then I’m in the car for 3 hours which is worse).

CRF250L Gravel Pit MotoADVR

I wish this bike would loft the front wheel with less effort. And I wish this bike’s suspension spec was a couple notches higher. Unfortunately, that bike really doesn’t exist. You can find a used CRF250L as low as $3500. For that price, you can buy a KLR or a reasonable dirt bike. The KLR, DRZ400, and XR650L all bring a lot to the table, less weight is not one of them. I’ve been eyeballing a few XR400’s on the market, but that does mean I’ll have to live without EFI and the “magic button”. Already owning a Honda, my first thought was upgrading to the 450L. I’ve seen quite a few barely used ones listed for a couple grand under MSRP. That bike would probably do exactly what I want it to do; it’s also about 35 pounds lighter than the 250, but as I mentioned above, I’ll be changing oil every other weekend. That in itself isn’t that big a deal, but what about valve maintenance? I’ve heard a few comments from folks talking about “adventurizing” the KTM 500 EXC (in lieu of the 690 Enduro), which is arguably a competitor to the CRF450L, but in both cases, I’m mostly concerned about the frequency of valve maintenance (I’d love to hear comments about this topic). The trouble is, the 250L is just about smack dab in the middle between adventure, big-bore singles, and 250-pound un-plated dirt bikes. It’s hard to find a bike that dabbles in all of these disciplines that costs less, requires less maintenance, and can still cruise the highway without drawing attention from the constabulary.

WR250R MotoADVR

I will also say the WR250R (at least on paper) is everything the 250L is, and more. However, “better” does come with a price; from the listings I’ve seen, the WR commands about a $1000~1500 premium over a comparable year 250L. I was seriously considering that switch until I finished the Race at John Vincent. $1000 more could get me on a bike with fewer el-bees and a little more poke, but it would still be 45 pounds heavier than a lot of other bikes on the starting line. That combined with the hassle of trying to sell/trade the 250L, I’ve started window shopping for a dedicated dirt bike.

CRF250L Beta Xtrainer Shawnee MotoADVR

Assuming my body will keep putting up with it, I want to keep racing. I really enjoy gnarly woods riding, so I’ve been flirting with the idea of bringing home a 2-stroke as a third bike; assuming I can successfully negotiate with the Minister of War & Finance. If I brought a third bike home, I would then have an “extra” bike so I could take one of my buddies riding in the woods that doesn’t have their own off-road machine. Having the 250L around also means I have a very capable bike that doubles as a teaching tool for friends that want to learn how to ride on or off-road, or buddies that want to sharpen their off-road skills before jumping on their 500-pound adventure bike.

KTM 690 Enduro MotoADVR

If I had a dedicated dirt bike in the shed, I could potentially see trading the 250L for a KTM 690 Enduro or something of that ilk. The new 690 engine (also in the 701) is counterbalanced, so it won’t be as buzzy on the pavement. The 690 only weighs about 20 pounds more, which is a small concession to pay for a bike that’s arguably better in every category except price and weight. Right now the price delta is high enough that I’m not interested in pursuing it; combined with the fact the last thing I need during a race is 20 extra pounds to pick up.

Despite wanting more performance out of the CRF250L, the bike has done everything I’ve asked it to do. Any trouble I’ve had with the bike in the woods up to this point has been my lack of skill and my lack of conditioning. I admit, similar to wrestling and adventure bike in the woods as your first off-road experience, the 250L is probably retarding my learning curve a little bit, but for the most part, both of us are fat and my conditioning as of late is laughable (motocross is the most physically demanding sport, I’m just saying).

For the money, it’s really hard to find a more appropriate bike (for me) to replace the 250L. As I said, it’s a great bike to commute, adventure ride, explore a little deeper in the woods, and teach someone else to ride. The 250L has done 500 mile days without complaint, and I’ve still ridden the next day. If “jack of all trades master of none” is a trait you appreciate in motorcycles, the 250L has you covered… and thus I shamelessly have two swiss army knives parked in the shed.

CRF250L Twin Creek MotoADVR

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What’s Your All-Time Favorite Bike and Why ?

I ran into a couple of friends at the local BMW dealer the other day (they’re kind of a big deal). We started talking shop when Liz hits me with “What’s your all-time favorite bike and why?”
Me, a guy who doesn’t know when to shut up, totally at a loss for words, simply didn’t have a good answer.
I’m sure I’m not the first to say it, but “I’ve never had a bad time on a motorcycle”. Some motorcycles are certainly better than others, but when you’re riding within the intended design of the bike, it’s tough to have a bad time on two wheels, even if it’s not preferred taste.
Sadly, I’ve owned a whopping three motorcycles (and a scooter). Compared to some moto-journos and a lot of “Sunny and 70” riders, that’s not very many. Fortunately, unsuspecting fools continue to hand me keys, despite my reputation20191110_105713

Over the weekend I loaded the 250L on the back of the Jeep and headed down to Kentucky for an Off-road “Poker Run” and Sherco Demo event. That meant I spent 6 hours alone in the jeep; plenty of time to contemplate the answer to this question. After riding 4 new dirt bikes, it occurred to me that I’d ridden over 10 different bikes in the last two months. After which I started making a tally of all the bikes I’ve ridden since getting my endorsement (published HERE if you’re curious).
“All-time favorite”, when you love so many bikes and enjoy virtually every variety of riding, how do you choose a single bike as a favorite? Hence my speechless response to the question. Numb from highway monotony (at least the mountains and exposed cliffs were pretty), I felt the best way to answer this question is to evaluate the bikes I have against the other bikes that I really like. Then, Would I be willing to give up said bike to attain the “better” bike?
The first order of business is to choose a favorite between the two bikes living in my stable. The CRF250L has been a real game-changer for me.

Honda CRF250L Clay Single Track MotoADVR

The “Too Fatty” day trips to my favorite remote parts of the Bluegrass, it races horribly, but it finishes when others do not. But, when push comes to shove, would I keep it over the Scrambler? Probably not. The 250L is by far better in the dirt than the Scrambler, but the thought of spending more than an hour on the expressway is pretty painful. It’s capable, but it’s just not fun. Riding the 250L means “taking the road less traveled”, by definition. I like the flexibility of riding on-road and off, and if needed, burning 6 hours down the interstate to reach superior riding opportunities. Rosie the Scrambler still rules the roost, so now the question is, have I ridden another bike I like better?
On paper, virtually every motorcycle on that list is “better” than a Triumph Scrambler. By now I’d hope most of us understand that stats are a small part of what we love about a given machine (more for some folks than others). In conversations with Andy, I realized I have a taste, and there are certain things that really grab me; “engine character” chiefly among them, but more on that in a minute. When I look at that list, a couple of great bikes really stand out: the Yamaha FZ-07, the Moto Guzzi V85TT, and the KTM 790 Adventure.MotoADVR Yamaha FZ-07 Left

The FZ-07 was a bike that hit me out of nowhere, so much so I wrote about it. I was all about riding the new XSR900 when it came out, but I was totally taken by the Ef-Zed’s peppy twin. Yamaha’s 700 mill is everything the 865 British mill brings to the table, and more. That said, while I suspect the FZ-07 can, and has been modified to Scramble, with a 17” front wheel, I still think the British twin is more up to the task of overlanding. If Rosie were to ever leave the Scrambler farm, she would have to be replaced by a bike that does everything she can, and more.
This spring I ran down to Blue Ash to take a test ride on the new Moto Guzzi V85TT. 853cc V-twin engine with shaft drive, spoked wheels, and over 6 inches of suspension travel, what’s not to like (except perhaps the Ronald McDonald paint)? I like twin-cylinder engines, and the transverse-V on the Guzzi would likely make the valve clearance checks a lot easier. Piling miles on the odometer would probably be a lot less painful with shaft drive, considering how much we all love chain maintenance… The V85TT has that new wiz-bang, programmable TFT display, throttle by wire, and cruise control.

Moto Guzzi V85TT MotoADVR

That 850 V-twin has a lot more juice than the air-cooled Trumpet mill. At a stoplight the bike shook and vibrated like a Harley and twisted laterally when you revved the engine like a BMW boxer; that annoys a lot of people, but I love engines with character, that was one of my favorite parts of the bike. However, when you sped away from a stop, that vibration melted away almost instantly, making for a relaxing tour or sporting ride depending on your mood. The V85TT was probably my favorite middleweight adventure bike after I rode it. It certainly felt capable, made me giggle in my helmet with every twist of the throttle, but it felt heavy at low speeds and ultimately carries a pretty hefty price tag. I would LOVE to have one, but I don’t think I’m ready to trade my high-pipe hipster bike to get one.
In the local adventure rider circle, I suspect I have a reputation for giving KTM (and owners) a hard time. Needless to say, the orange marque has a reputation for a reason, yet I’m helpless from stirring the pot. A few months ago a buddy of mine traded his Tiger 800 XRx (which I had just ridden a few months earlier) for the new KTM 790 Adventure S. I was on the porch wrenching when he stopped by with his new ride and offered me the keys. I accepted the offer but insisted that he ride along on the 250L (to prove the seat height is VERY approachable). The having ridden the 990 (in 2 flavors) and swung a leg over the 1290, the 790 is easily the runt of the litter. No beef with me, I like being “on” the motorcycle, more so than “in” it. Not everyone’s cup of tea, especially in the adventure community (some folks like to be encapsulated), but the 790 is an appropriately sized adventure bike, not a water buffalo. On the street the suspension was spot on, the engine was peppy, but the balance of that bike is easily what stood out to me the most. After no more than 1 mile on the bike,

KTM 790 Adventure MotoADVR

I was completely comfortable standing up on the pegs, letting go of the handlebars, and steering with my feet. The center of gravity on the 790 is literally in the basement; it’s incredible. When we got back from the ride, I was very blatant when I told my buddy, “If you ever decide to sell that bike, I want right of first refusal”. I unabashedly say that 790 is the best “scrambler” on the market. It’s light, feels even lighter, the suspension is spot on (ideally off-road too), it picks up the front wheel with little effort; for the riding I like to do, it’s the best adventure bike I’ve ridden to date. Alas, I don’t find the engine particularly endearing. KTMs LC8 engines have always felt “pingy” to me; like riding around in George Jetson’s space car with a box of wrenches clamoring around in the valve train (and people say the Triumph sewing machine is noisy). KTM’s new parallel twin feels and sounds the exact same way. Don’t get me wrong, this IS NOT an insult to KTM; it’s merely the fact that their twin-cylinder power plants just don’t make my socks go up and down. They make incredible power, they unquestionably “do the thing”, but it was simply not love at first sight for me.

My All-Time Favorite

Triumph Tiger 800 Mini MotoADVR

Sentimental attachment is a crazy thing. Go browse some Craig’s List ads and you’ll see it immediately; someone’s 1996 XR650L is apparently made of solid gold. The V85TT and the 790 Adventure could both replace the Scrambler in every category (except perhaps ease of maintenance… maybe), but there’s still something about the stone ax parked out front that turns my gears. My buddy Rick said motorcycles “are like beer and guns, the next one is my favorite”. Having lusted after the Tiger 800 for so long, I would tend to agree with him. I felt the Scrambler was a stepping stone or a sister bike to the eventual acquisition of a “big boy” adventure bike. On the flip side, I’ve heard a few podcasters say “The best motorcycle is the one you own now”. As of this moment, that’s definitely the case for me.

Triumph Scrambler Anothony Road Sundown MotoADVR

I really love the way the FZ07 and the V85TT make me feel, and I also love the 790 Adventure because I know what I am capable of with a tool like that at my disposal. That said, I’m not (yet) willing to let go of the history I have with my beloved Scrambler. It’s still the best bike for the type of riding I like to do (most of the time).

…and why?

It’s all about the engine. The engine is the soul of the machine. You can swap out shocks, wheels, bars; you can weld a frame, and despite having the ability to “swap” an engine, that engine is the most lifelike appendage of all of the other components that make up a motorcycle. I love mid-range power with a table-top flat torque curve. I love how the scrambler pulls from idle, steady to the red line.

Triumph Scrambler Twin Creek Sundown MotoADVR

I also love its unremarkable nature. With 60 horsepower (on paper), I’m not winning any Grand Prix races. At 500 pounds, I’m certainly not winning and hare scrambles. That unremarkable engine, however, keeps ticking; despite the abuse thrown at it. Certainly not infallible, but that British mill is still damn reliable; and despite dual overhead cams, it’s easy to work on (I mean, if an Army Enlisted Mechanical Engineer can do it…). The engine, the sweet sound of its 270-degree firing order, its vanilla reputation, and its ability to do almost anything makes me love that bike. Getting on about 4 years of ownership, it’s still about smiles per mile; all those digits on the Odometer making up the memories of the places we’ve been and the obstacles we’ve overcome.

What about you?

N+1 is real. I’ve spent the last couple of months doing a lot of homework on acquiring a dedicated dirt machine for racing and trail riding. There’s no doubt my eyes have been on “the next bike”, despite my passion for the ones I have. Is “the next bike” or the “the bike you own” your all-time favorite motorcycle? Or is it a bike you let slip away years ago and wish you could have back today?

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Dragon Raid 2019: Motorcycle Rally Evolution (Part 2)

Monday, September 9th: Have Knobbies, Will Travel

Triumph Scrambler Citico Road MotoADVRLike Sunday, Monday’s weather report called for “hot and dry”; a welcome change from previous year’s Raids. At breakfast, the “Usual Suspects” were debating the best place to grab lunch. As is tradition, they wanted to ride across the Cherohala Skyway and then return across The Dragon while the weather was good and before the weekend squids arrived. That’s typically my formula as well, but with my Dad’s arrival delayed until mid-week, I decided it was time to take advantage of a fresh set of knobby tires (Motoz Tractionator Adventures for those following along at home). 

The boys decided they wanted to stop and see Bald River Falls, and then grab Mexican in Tellico Plains. “Sounds good. I’ll meet you in Tellico. Don’t wait up.” I said, donning my helmet for a solo trip across the mountains.

I figured if I had a twenty-minute head start I could probably get over to Tellico Plains “under” the Skyway. I mentioned a couple of years back, there’s a forest service road that starts just west of Santeetlah Lake at the base of the Skyway. Triumph Scrambler GravelHala Creekside MotoADVR“Dragon Raiders” have often referred to this route at “GravelHala” as it mirrors the Skyway from Robbinsville to Tellico Plains; the official name of the road is National Forest Service Road 81 (NFSR) where it starts in North Carolina. As 81 winds up the mountain, there are several spots to stop, camp, and in my case take photos of boulders and white water. Just short of the Tennesse border, 81 crosses under the Skyway; at this point, you can bail off onto the pavement, or continue on to NFSR 217 (this is also “River Road”).

Sycamore Trail Black Diamond MotoADVRFeeling adventurous and foolishly following my GPS, I turned south off 217 and onto a road I’d not ridden in the past. The gravel narrowed as I crossed a couple of concrete bridges and after a few uphill hairpins I arrived at a sign inscribed “Sycamore Trail”. The two diamonds on the trail marker suggested that Rosie might not finish the journey if we proceded. Considering I was solo, I decided better of it. Looking around I saw the trail continued in the other direction up the mountain. After several bends up the hill and some washed-out gravel, I arrived at Whigg Meadow. Triumph Scrambler Whigg Meadow MotoADVRApparently, Sycamore Trail connects with the Benton MacKaye hiking trail (I had no idea until sitting down to write this). A gravel parking lot at the base of a bald mountaintop was the end of the road. Suspecting a grandiose photo-op, I rode up the grassy double-track to the top of the bald to investigate. The view didn’t disappoint.

Headed back down the mountain, it was more familiar gravel to Bald River Falls. As I neared the falls’ parking area, I spotted my cohorts climbing onto their bikes after snapping some photos. Not bad timing after getting turned around and snapping pictures “for the gram“.

Sitting down for Mexican, my buddy Jon and I discussed other opportunities to ride forest service roads that link back to the Dragon. I’d been eyeballing a string of nearby “featured dirt roads” on REVER for several years, this seemed as good a time as any to figure out what they were all about.

Triumph Scrambler Rafter Road MotoADVRHeaded up Rafter Road, my mind overly focused on how fast my front tire was wearing out, I was anxious to leave the hardball behind. I expected the pavement to turn to gravel at any moment, but it continued to twist up the mountain, dotted by remote farms and narrowing with each mile. Rounding another bend, the gravel finally arrived on a washboard ascent. I stood up, wearing a goofy smile of satisfaction, just in time for a Side-By-Side to rip past me in a cloud of dust.

GravelHala Creek MotoADVRNear the northernmost point of the Skyway, Rafter Road meets Indian Boundary road, if you look at the map closely, you can avoid the pavement and take a short gravel bypass. Indian Boundary road continues north to Citico Creek, where the scenery is very reminiscent of NFSR 81, with more waterfalls and swimming holes.

Somewhere at elevation, I was reminded how much I love off-roading my porky Trumpet. Triumph Scrambler Indian Boundary Road MotoADVRI’d spent much of the summer deep in the woods on the 250, leaving Rosie at home for more traditional pavement duty. The Scrambler’s suspension is less than ideal for serious off-roading, but sans pot-holes, I still love wrestling the pig on forest service roads. That thought was rudely interrupted at the first down-hill, blind turn. An Africa Twin appeared out of no-where, completely in my “lane”, naturally. To my surprise, this particular adventure rider had two other bikes in tow; each of whom also decided to cut the corner in similar fashion. Having just passed a forest service pick-up just moments prior, I was fortunately on the far right side of the road, but no less annoyed. 

Monday Map: https://a.rever.co/embed/rides/768052

 

Tuesday, September 10th: All the Switchbacks

At last year’s Raid, I had big plans to go ride some forest service roads I’d never seen before. Naturally, I had a mixup on the GPS with the massive library I brought along. Fortunately, it still made for a fun, yet paved, backcountry two-lane experience. With another hot and dry day on tap, I set out to rectify my previous mistake, with the help of more tips from my buddy Jon. 

Just west of NC-28, arguably my favorite pavement in these parts, Needmore Road turns into a gravel highway that circumvents the Franklin traffic. Albeit, not too much, I passed quite a few trucks headed the other way; “highway” is definitely an accurate term considering the dirt was packed down harder than asphalt, minus the bike swallowing potholes. 

Triumph Scrambler Tellico Road MotoADVRNeedmore dumped me off on to some remote pavement that was oddly familiar from the previous year’s ride. Shortly after I found myself at the base of a mountain, staring up at miles of power line easement, cross-crossed by endless gravel switchbacks; Tellico Gap. A lot of dust, handfuls of throttle, and power slides were involved. When I finally arrived at the pavement on the far side, my face hurt from smiling.

White Oak Creek Waterfall MotoADVRFrom Tellico Gap, it was Junaluska Road over the mountain into Andrews in search of Tatham Gap. Much like Tellico Gap, Tatham launched an onslaught of up-down switchbacks from the get-go. Tatham proved to be exactly the kind of riding I was looking for at the onset of the day, albeit, I could have done without all the washboard from the routine grading.

Near the summit, I saw a roadsign marked with “Tatham Gap” and a side road that I immediately took in the interest of exploring. This side road made for less maintained gravel and rock, which eventually led to Joanna Bald. “Allegedly”, there was a gate and a cell tower at the summit, so I (allegedly) didn’t hang around long. A shame really because there was apparently a fire tower just out of view. A photo-op I’ll have to revisit. 

With the heat well in the 80s, I stopped at shady a creek in the fork of the mountain for lunch. A bottle of water and a couple of cliff bars is hardly “lunch”, but I live for the solitude and comfort provided by Appalachia. A quiet break in the woods next to running water, the cool mountain air and the sounds of the bird song. That’s exactly what adventure riding is all about. Assuming I’m not eaten by a bear (more on that later).

Tatham Gap NFS Sign

Returning to the fork in the road I stopped to read the sign I barely glanced at on the way up the mountain. “Tatham Gap Road: A Part of the Trail of Tears…”. Naturally, I snapped a photo of the sign and took a mental note to do some reading on the significance of the road. I’d heard the story of “trail of tears” before but didn’t entirely understand how this part of North Carolina played a part (how the American Indians were displaced was typically breezed-over in midwestern schools when I was a kid). While I don’t have any paperwork to prove it (nor would you assume when looking at me), legend has it my Grandmother’s Grandfather was a full-blooded Native American. Needless to say, my interest is typically peaked where my heritage is concerned (even if it’s fictitious). 

Sitting down to write this, I finally caught the backstory of Tatham Gap. Long story short (kind of…), in 1836, General Scott (US Army) hired James Tatham to blaze a trail from Fort Montgomery (Robbinsville, NC) to Fort Delaney (Andrews, NC). Ultimately the US Government displaced the native Cherokee from their homes in these parts, Tatham Gap Road being the first leg of their journey toward Oklahoma (More on that HERE and HERE.)

On the far side of the mountain, I arrived in Robbinsville just after lunch hour. Realizing my proximity to “The Hub“, I couldn’t resist the thought of a grilled cheese sandwich on Texas toast, with bacon and a cup of soup. Second lunch is a thing, and it was glorious.

Sitting at the booth I realized I still had several hours of daylight to burn, so I started poking around the map for more dusty byways. Since the weather was nice, I wanted to get back up to Wayah Bald for a photo. The lightbulb lit up as I recalled a route from my buddy Walter. 

Departing Robbinsville I headed southwest toward the Snowbird mountains. A couple of dual-sport guys I spoke with at breakfast said they were riding out that way, and mentioned they were hitting trails that, while they’ve ridden them on Tigers in the past, didn’t want to wrestle pigs across anymore. With that in mind, I expected to make another hasty u-turn at any moment. After miles and miles of desolate double-track (minus one Subaru), I apparently took a different route as that U-turn never arrived. 

I love switchbacks and hairpins; on-road or off-road, love them both. That said, Porterfield Gap Road took me to about my limit for switchbacks and boney forest service trails. “Pinching” the tank on a Scrambler is much easier said than done with those lovely high-pipe headers. Doing so in adventure pants gets tiresome after about 4 hours; I missed my more motocross friendly gear pretty bad by the time I returned to the tarmac. 

Wayah Bald Smoky Mountains MotoADVROn the far side of Portfield Gap, I again found myself in Andrews, again over Junaluska Road, and finally up to Wayah Bald. Parking the bike I thought I heard the sound of a low roll of thunder, but the view was exactly what I was looking for. Big fluffy clouds to add depth to the Smoky Mountains, and enough shade to escape the humid afternoon. Off in the distance, I did indeed see rain falling in Robbinsville. It was time to going before I had a repeat of last year.

After another trip across Tellico Gap Road (even more wheel spin was involved) and a glorious (alleged) ride down Winding Stairs, I topped off the Scrambler and it was back to the Iron Horse. Wednesday was the long trip back to Dayton to pick up my dad. A full day of pavement would be a big change from two, 200-mile back-to-back days of Appalachian adventure riding.

To Be Continued…

2020 Dragon Raid Part 1

2020 Dragon Raid Part 3

Stecoah Valley Sunset MotoADVR

Tuesday Maps:

https://a.rever.co/embed/rides/1495140

https://a.rever.co/embed/rides/1495525

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White Sulfur OHV Trails: Red River Scramble Prep

Over the last two years, I’ve received numerous messages and e-mails asking if license plates are required for the Red River Scramble. Repeat offenders are aware that many of the local unpaved “roads” are unmaintained and arguably abandoned, but the law still requires street-legal vehicles. I realize that there are numerous off-roaders that have designated Off-Highway Vehicles that are looking to attend the rally and want to try out some of the local trails. With that, I understand families also want to attend and are looking for a place where the kids can ride too. Last year I put White Sulfur OHV up on the Red River Scramble website as an alternative for designated OHV riding opportunities. Last weekend I finally got a chance to ride the trails for myself.

 

White Sulfur sits on the north end of Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) just south of Salt Lick, Kentucky. OHV riding inside DBNF requires a permit, $7 per day or $15 for a 3-day pass ($40 for annual pass). Last weekend I bought my pass from the Valero Station in Salt Lick, but passes are sold in alternate locations around DBNF (locations listed on the DBNF website; I recommend you call first).

 

White Sulfur OHV CRF250L MotoADVRFrom the OHV trailhead, be sure to check the map posted up on the bulletin board (or download on the DBNF website). The OHV trails are on the northwest side of the park, with separate hiking and bridle trails located on the southeast portions of the recreation area. White Sulfur’s trails are well marked with orange diamonds that form a network web covering about 17 miles of trail. The DBNF website suggests that the trails are intended for novice to intermediate skill levels (depending on conditions). Having ridden it myself, I agree with the Forest Service’s assessment. Most of the trails are hardened with a gravel base. That base is somewhat worn in some areas between recent wet seasons and certainly with the DBNF maintenance schedule.

White Sulfur OHV Overlook CRF250L MotoADVRI spent about an hour and a half mapping out most of the trails on Rever (Map HERE). After spending part of the afternoon doing more recon around Frenchburg, I only managed to finish one loop around White Sulfur before the sun started to set behind the mountains. Despite my taste for more rugged trails, I’d gladly spend an afternoon scrambling over the Appalachian Foothills near Cave Run Lake; well worth the $7 entry fee.

More Info:

White Sulfur DBNF website

White Sulfur Map

Where to buy a pass

Red River Scramble

Red River Scramble Registration

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Mark Your Calendars: Red River Scramble 2020

LagoLindas-3325By popular demand, we will be returning to Lago Linda Hideaway next spring. Mark your calendars for Thursday, May 14th through Sunday, May 17th for next edition of Red River Scramble, and get over to the Registration page and get signed up.

 

 

Pumpkin Hollow Triumph Scrambler Bill DevoreOver the last couple of weeks, I’ve done a refresh on RedRiverScramble.com. Most of the details are odds and ends regarding registration, schedule and so on, but the biggest changes are on the “Where to Ride” page. The crowd has become more and more diverse over the last few years, so along with re-baking the “planned” routes, I’ve also separated each “discipline” into its own sub-page so you can “pick your poison” as they say (Pavement, Adventure, and Dual-Sport). Be advised, I have the REVER routes complete, but I’m still revising the GPX files, those will be uploaded soon.

 

10 October

As in past years, admission to Red River Scramble 2020 will be FREE! This has been a grassroots adventure rally from the get-go and thus far I just don’t see a reason to change that. The roads and trails around Red River Gorge are my favorite place to ride, the biggest reward I get out of this is hearing how much fun everyone had at the end of a day’s ride. With that, I still ask that you PLEASE REGISTER, and do so early. Registration numbers help get us cool Event Sponsors (they like to know how many people attend, what they ride, and so on).

 

If you haven’t done so already, join the Facebook event, invite your friends, and post up photos of the great times you’ve had in past years. Also, as I’ve asked at previous rallies, put your photos up on Instagram (especially for #ThrowbackThursday) and tag #RedRiverScramble so folks know what they’re missing out on!

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Dragon Raid 2019: Motorcycle Rally Evolution (Part 1)

Passing through the villages of Behnam and Lynch, I was captivated by rows of antiquated brick buildings; boarded up and abandoned decades ago. Triumph SCrambler Black Mountain Zoom MotoADVRMore accustomed to images northern Appalachian rolling hills, nestled deep in the valley on the very southern edge of the Kentucky border, Benham and Lynch felt foreign. Lynch, a company-owned coal town built by US Steel, was once a borough of 10,000 people in the 40’s. Today fewer than 800 people call the sleepy town of Lynch home. Winding up the mountain on Kentucky 160, the forest swallowed up the last of the old village remnants. Leaning into endless curves as I headed up I dodged a distinct, tar-like substance in the middle of the road. Leaning through half a dozen more curves, a lightbulb lit up. “Dude, that was bear shit!”

 


 

US129 Tail Of The Dragon Triumph Scrambler KillboyAfter battling three tropical storms over the last two years during my annual pilgrimage to Deal’s Gap for the Dragon Raid, I’ve struggled to publish content about the trip that made those journeys unique and entertaining. With that, on the last day of the rally last year, I departed the Iron Horse Lodge in a huff at 4 AM  to escape the ominous arrival of Hurricane Florence. I had already battled tropical storm Gordon just to get to the rally, I go caught multiple downpours that week, and then the Park Service decided to close the North Carolina trail systems well ahead of the storm. I was fed up with being cold and wet and it was time to go.

That feeling was so strong that I had my mind made up before Christmas that I was going to schedule my vacation for that same week, load up the bike with camping gear and just ride wherever I saw sunny skies. If things worked out, I might drop by the rally Saturday night for the party. A true, unplanned, unscheduled, ad-hoc adventure. In an unexpected turn of events, my dad sent me a text early this spring, saying he wanted to go ride The Dragon and attend the Raid. Understanding that time on this earth is limited, I threw the “ad-hoc plan” out the window and made arrangements for us to stay at the Iron Horse for the week. There was simply no way I was going to pass on a motorcycle vacation with my dad (even if he couldn’t get the entire week off work).

 

Sunday, September 8th: “Piqued”

Twisting up Kentucky Highway 160 (that before mentioned mountain road), I couldn’t agree more with previous sentiments about endless twisty pavement. I’m sure I mentioned before, I’m a bit of a nerd about visiting the highest points on various states. Considering the Bluegrass State is the home of my kin and a place I see as my “moto sandbox”, Black Mountain should have been a priority a long time ago. Triumph Scrambler Black Mountain Sign MotoADVRI’m not sure why I hadn’t put in on the Moto Bucket List, I assume because it’s actually part of the Kentucky Adventure Tour, which was my original plan had I not decided to return to the Dragon Raid again this year. 2019 has been all about flexibility… but that’s a story for another time. Passing the big green sign, “elevation 4,145 ft”, I had arrived after 10 miles of some of the best mountain views I’d ever seen in the Bluegrass. I’d even checked my map multiple times to make sure I was still in Kentucky; the peaks of the mountains were far more reminiscent of Tennessee than the typical Appalachian foothills I’m accustomed to in Menifee County.

Triumph Scrambler Black Mountain MotoADVRWhile I was captivated by the rich history and vistas leaving Lynch, Highway 160 unwound epically as I passed over the far side of Black Mountain toward Appalachia, Virginia. I don’t know when I said it, but I know at some point I mentioned my interest in riding more of Virginia’s mountain backroads. I got a small taste of that earlier this summer, in a story I have yet to finish, but these remote Appalachian farms along the western edge of the commonwealth brought a deeper and renewed appreciation for rural Virginia.

I had planned this route weeks in advance, from Black Mountain down through Virginia then on to Iron Horse. At the time, I struggled to find a suitable pass over the mountains. Rever had warned me multiple times that various roads were closed, so I had to fuss with the best path that didn’t go so far out of the way or too close to civilization. As luck would have it, when I arrived at the first pass on VA-70, I found a roadblock. Triumph Scrambler Tree Roadblock MotoADVRNo, not the 3 sets of “Road Closed” signs I (allegedly) went past, an actual tree laying across the road. I’ve said before when the plan goes awry, the adventure begins. With little to no cell service, I had to peck around on my Garmin and try to follow the horribly marked detour. I didn’t want to follow the exact detour, as they are typically meant for tractor-trailers and will take you around the entire county sometimes. At any rate, after a 12-mile “extension”, I made my way over the next pass on VA-66. For the sake of brevity, let’s say that VA-66 wasn’t in much better shape, and as I suspected, the record rainfalls of the spring had caused some serious landslides throughout the area, hence the reason I struggled to find an open mountain pass. Fortunately, Rosie is still “skinny” for a pig, so we were on our way to the next highlight, North Carolina Highway 209.

The Rattler NC209 Triumph Scrambler MotoADVRWhen I realized how far east the route would have to go to reach Black Mountain, I knew it would open endless opportunities to ride new roads. A friend of mine said years ago that I needed to ride NC-209, “The Rattler”. I debated riding it on the way down a couple of years back but balked at the added time to the journey. Flying solo has perks, which usually means I skip sit-down meals and space out bathroom breaks to add another hour of riding. Arriving in Hot Springs, NC, I veered off US-25 to enjoy 25 miles of, mostly, uninterrupted mountain bends. Sunday afternoon traffic was a bit heavier than I’d like, but needless to say, I’ll be back to hit that road again.

Triumph Scrambler Stecoah Valley NC MotoADVRFrom NC-209 is was “The usual” US-74 past Waynesville and on to the Iron Horse Lodge. Pulling in the drive with the sun still overhead, it was nice to arrive in time to get the bike unloaded and still have time to eat a hot dinner (something that has not always happened in the past). Sitting down in the “day room” for chow, I chatted with some of my local buddies about what destinations were on the docket for Monday. Rosie being fitted with a fresh set of Motoz Tractionator Adventure tires… just about anywhere was within reach…

To Be Continued…

2020 Dragon Raid Part 2

2020 Dragon Raid Part 3

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