It’s official. Pigs can fly.

2019 Honda CRF450L

…and Honda has them flying in formation, too: they’ve finally made a real dual purpose motorcycle!

It’s light, it’s powerful, and it’s built from the parts bin for the CRF450R motocross racer. Throw in a six-speed transmission, address the vibration issues, build it with the Honda reputation for reliability…make it street legal….


Just announced: the 2019 CRF450L

  • At 131 kilograms (289 pounds) wet, it’s about 40 pounds less than the KTM 690 Adventure; it’s even lighter than the Yamaha WR250R!
  • No power specs yet, but it’s based on the CRF450R which makes in the neighbourhood of 60 hp. A horsepower figure of 25 is floating around the Web, but we’re certain to see that misprint disappear soon.
  • Wide-ratio six-speed transmission
  • Fuel injected
  • Keyed ignition
  • Digital instrument cluster
  • Cush-drive rear hub
  • LED lighting with an upgraded generator for extra electrification
  • High capacity radiators with thermostat-controlled fan
  • Compression and rebound adjustability at both ends
  • Aluminum frame
  • Engine oil capacity looks like about 1.8 litres
  • Fuel capacity 2 US gallons
  • Electric start
  • Rubber-mounted handlebars
  • Engine counterbalancer

It’s the real deal — on paper, at least, which is the only place normal humans will see it until models hit the showroom this autumn.

Honda CRF450L

I’ve been waiting a long time for the new pigs

When Honda killed off the Big Red Pig (the XR650R), last seen in the wilds in 2007, all that was left for frustrated adventure and dual-sport riders was the Jurassic-era XR650L.

The big-H engineers eventually picked up on the angry drumming from the jungle ’round about 2013, and gave us the CRF250L — a 146 kg (322 pound) machine generating a ground-pounding 23 horsepower. (Sorry: I can’t find the “irony” emoji, so you’re going to have to trust me when I say the jungle was underwhelmed….)

Round three: the return of the 2016 CRF1000L Africa Twin

A new pig started prowling the forests in 2016; it added about 70 horsepower, so there were no snide comments about the new Africa Twin’s power. I rode it, and it’s fun.

It’s also north of 225 kg (500 pounds).

How about enough power to make serious miles — and enough anti-gravity to ride some serious terrain?

That’s what we’ve all been asking, isn’t it?

The big adventure bikes handle the big miles, and the KTMs and BMWs are notable for handling the big terrain, too. But even the Japanese bikes have been on the butter-cream diet, and all these adventure tankers seem to get more bloated every year.

The Yamaha WR250R, at 134 kg (295 pounds), has become the go-to bike for many disaffected dual sport riders looking for something more svelte. However, the price of entry for this one is repeated ear-piercing redline runs every time you hit the pavement.

The Husqvarna 701 Enduro claims a dry weight about 30 pounds more than the Honda’s wet weight — though it does offer a bunch more punch.

Then there’s the rumoured Yamaha Tenere 700 and KTM’s new 790. Neither has landed yet, so I can’t tell you if those particular pigs are going to fly or not….

I’m just going for a quick ride. And then I need to change my oil. And filter. And clean my air filter. And…

At the lighter end of the adventure spectrum lie some sweet, slim rides. I’ve had a high-strung Husqvarna (TE 510), lusted after the KTM EXCs, eyed the Husabergs and the Betas.

But maintenance intervals are a deal-breaker when your itinerary includes multi-day rides with no access to WalMart’s automotive aisle.

I’d like you to meet an old friend

The Suzuki DR650 and DRZ400 and the Kawasaki KLR650 have a deservedly loyal following — but even loyalty can be tested by designs that remain the same decade after decade.

Enter the CRF450L

There’s not much missing with Honda’s new offering. It promises the light weight performance of the exotics, the reliability of Mr. Honda and the throttle roll-on gut punch of the motocross CRF450R.



Obviously, range will be an issue, and the nifty asymmetrical titanium tank and fuel injection aren’t going to make it any easier or cheaper for aftermarket manufacturers to create a bigger version of the tank. A fuel bladder, bottles or RotopaX may be in your future. Then again, I think the aftermarket is going to be all over this bike; it has that kind of potential.

Wind protection can be easily added, as can soft luggage options offered by brands like Giant Loop, Wolfman, Mosko Moto and others. Racks are sure to hit the market before long.

The only other thought I have is to add an oil cooler to increase the 1.8 litre oil capacity and further reduce service intervals.

And then you can fly in formation with the legions of other adventure riders on the bike we’ve all been waiting for!

Read more:


Lost in the Mojave Desert

adventure motorcycle lost mojave desert

I say “lost,” you say “abandoned” — but let’s not quibble over details….

Obviously, leaving my girlfriend alone in the Mojave Desert wasn’t a good idea.

At least she had enough water.

Well…she had some water.

Not a dating decision Dear Abby would have endorsed.

But at this point, I didn’t have any choice….

This story was featured in Overland Magazine (Spring 2017) and Canadian Biker Magazine (June 2017). I mentioned it last year in a Ride Guide post.

girl in mojave desert


We had ridden north from Primm, Nevada. Bright with reflected sunlight, a solar electricity generating tower concentrated the rays of the afternoon sun as we bounced past, winding up a rocky path into the parched hills.

solar electricity generation

And Yvonne wasn’t happy.

It’s not my fault, I explained – again. Road conditions don’t show on maps, or the GPS, either. And it wasn’t like I had promised her a smooth, hard-packed surface when we set out that afternoon.

Then again, I also hadn’t mentioned the possibility of melon-sized rocks and deep sand. And therein was the source of our problem.

Or, depending on how you looked at it, I was the source of our problem.

That was definitely the way she was looking at it.

When I was informed we were riding no farther that day – a message Yvonne soon delivered by stepping off her Yamaha XT225 and throwing herself on her back – I began setting up camp.

exhausted adventure rider

We shrugged out of our riding gear and into something more comfortable. Actually, anything was more comfortable than armored jackets and pants in the heat of the desert.

While Yvonne reclined in her folding camp chair, plotting revenge, I cooked my trademark unexceptional dinner and looked over the bikes, her XT and my Husqvarna TE510. Loose bolts, soft tires, luggage attachments, chain lube: I attended to the usual suspects, declaring we were ready for another day of riding.

That statement earned me a dark look from the other side of the cooking pot.

Slowly, the sun settled over the broad valley, burnishing the scattered Joshua Trees with desert light, stretching long shadows from bushes of creosote and sage.

desert campsite

The rabbit

Dawn repeated the show, this time advancing right to left as we ate breakfast and packed our gear onto the bikes.

The riding was more relaxed, and less rocky, winding across the high valley floor toward the rangy peaks on the northern horizon. We finally crested a ridge and found ourselves at the top of a rocky downhill.

Descending into a wide canyon, the road deteriorated into a trail, and the trail soon degenerated into a dry river-bottom, called a “wash” in the desert. It’s the place that would be submerged in water – if there ever was any water – but the rest of the time is knee-deep in sand and silt and gravel. And rocks. Usually, big rocks.

Waiting for Yvonne to finish picking her way through the technical descent behind me, I scouted for a hard-packed route through the canyon. I rode to the end of the wash, about 750 metres away, and back. There was no hard-packed route – and my riding partner has a congenital aversion to riding in sand. Butterflies, or a fidgety little squirrel or rabbit or something began weakly kicking at my stomach.

Then I heard the XT’s burbling exhaust note and turned to see Yvonne arriving at the wash, triumphant, but noticeably tiring.

The rabbit really started going at it. This did not look promising.

Normally, when we encounter a fiendishly difficult bit of trail, I might ride one bike through and walk back to pilot the second one while Yvonne strolls the offending route. But it was hot. And she did not want to walk.

adventure rider entering canyon

adventure rider woman

motorcycle desert riding

rough going in the desert

So – well, let’s just say things quickly got hotter…and it had nothing to do with global warming. And let’s just leave it at that.

As we eventually ascended from that canyon and into the low mountains that had darkened the northern skyline all morning, we slowly regained our composure and the ability to speak civilly to each other. Aside from a brake pedal that looked like a steel pretzel tacked to the side of the XT’s little engine, no harm done. No lasting harm anyways.

adventure rider

Able once again to focus on the road ahead, I realized that the topographical map on my GPS seemed only marginally correlated to the maze of trails and roads we began intersecting. Once again, as the sun crept past its zenith overhead, I rode off to scout the way ahead.

adventure rider gps

And then the Husky stopped.

I know that’s kind of vague – “stopped” – but that’s how it was. Vague, I mean. The bike just stopped. No tell-tale cough of fuel starvation, no revealing billow of smoke from the exhaust. Stopped.

I thumbed the starter fruitlessly a few times. Then, concerned that I would drain the battery, I flipped out the kick starter, stood on the pegs, and threw my weight into it….

Ah, there’s the problem: compression. As in, the bike didn’t have any.


motorcycle breakdown desert

This Husky doesn’t run

Employing all my extensive experience and diagnostic acumen, I rapidly and definitively determined that the Husky was no longer working.

Yvonne looked at me. I looked at Yvonne. We both looked at the empty desert around us.


I’m proud to say we swiftly discarded our exasperation as unproductive and switched into our practiced problem-solving mode: we pulled out our mobile phones.

And were rewarded with another mute, shared look. No signal. Zero bars. I was actually surprised my phone didn’t have an icon reading, “Oh-oh.”

A plan was in order.

Scrolling the topo map loaded on my GPS, I located a grid pattern of roads, perhaps 20 kilometres north of our position. Unfolding the paper maps we also carried, we determined that forlorn arrangement of roads must be the town of Sandy Valley.

So one of us had to ride there, find a friendly local with a four-wheel drive pickup, and arrange, well, a pick-up. Simple.

We unloaded the camping and cooking gear – and our meagre water supply – from the bikes.

alone in the mojave desert

With only a rudimentary idea what direction to go should she need to walk out of the desert, no way to communicate with me (or anyone else), and only enough water for a single day, Yvonne coolly volunteered to remain with the broken Husky and set up camp. I wrote down our map coordinates and pointed to a nearby hill. If I didn’t return, she could climb up and phone 911 with her position – assuming the cell signal was stronger on top of that modest rise in the desert floor.

That word…assume…you know about that word, right?

I secured the GPS to the handlebars of the XT225. That rabbit was kicking at my stomach again, and, this time, I really didn’t like how it felt. But Yvonne was calm – probably looking forward to a mid-holiday vacation from me. Aware of the situation in which I was placing her, I couldn’t say I was surprised.

Obviously, leaving my girlfriend alone in the Mojave Desert wasn’t a good idea.

But at this point, I didn’t have any choice.

Sandy Valley, Nevada

Tangled trails and dirt tracks tripped me up several times as I rode north. A good sign, in a way: the density and confusion of roads suggested a town must be nearby.

And it was. Sandy Valley: population about the same as a really big Chinese buffet restaurant.

My first entreaty of a friendly truck-owning local was rebuffed. But he directed me to the “Idle Spurs.” Every fading small town has a bar, nucleus and repository of community culture, history and lore…actually, Sandy Valley also had a library…but, as Mark Twain once said, I digress.

There were half a dozen patrons in the Idle Spurs on this sweltering weekday afternoon.

Sensitive to the urgency of my mission, I made sure to order my cold beer with efficiency. I then commenced feeling guilty about Yvonne and her reserve of disagreeably warm drinking water. With that stage of the plan firmly in hand, I proceeded to the next phase: telling my tale of woe to the Idle drinkers. And well they deserved that title: not one of them was willing to leave the cool dimness of the bar to help me. Or even a damsel in distress.

(Don’t tell Yvonne I called her a damsel.)

rider in the mojave

I caught the eye of the bartender, my worry mounting. She shrugged, not unkindly, but it was clear she had no solution to offer.

Sitting at the bar, trying to regain that trouble-solving frame of mind, I pictured the damsel growing increasingly concerned as the afternoon passed.

“Hi’ve godda trut.”

I turned to see a man who could put children through college working as a Willie Nelson impersonator, leaning on the bar and peering at me over the rim of his glass.

“Led’s go.”

Parsing his curious intonation, it dawned on me that he owned a truck and was offering to drive me into the desert to recover my bike. Oh, and Yvonne, of course.

No dawning was necessary, however, to recognize that this friendly old-timer was also speaking with some apparent difficulty. In a bar. In the middle of a weekday. Offering me a ride in his motor vehicle….

Again, I caught the bartender’s eye, sending her a mute question.

She leaned over the bar and whispered to me, “Don’t worry: he’s not drunk. Ferrel never even finishes a drink. He just talks like that. If he’s willing to help, you should take him up on it. He’s probably the most honest guy in town.”

Well, that’s settled then: we’re on our way to Ferrel’s double-wide to get his 4×4.

I’ve got a truck

old truck in the desert

The faded blue Chevrolet truck was listing like a schooner floundering on the rocks. Both right-side tires were flat and the signal lights were dangling from their wires like fish on the line. But Ferrel unearthed an air compressor from the flotsam in the yard and made quick work of the tires.

glass shower doors in a pickup truck

And we were on our way – the passenger-side door handle lying in my lap, where it had fallen when I pulled the door shut.

We drove about 10 metres before we stopped again. “Huh. Fergot sumthin’,” Ferrel muttered, opening his door.

Well, at least I was getting the hang of his unique conversational style.

He returned with a six-pack of beer and settled into the driver’s seat, twisting the cap off a bottle of Miller. Now we were on our way.

Ferrel knew the terrain and had no interest in the GPS I kept waving at him: he was navigating by my brief description of the little gulley where I had, um…deserted Yvonne.

When we hit the first rut in the dirt road, the glove compartment separated from the dashboard and landed in my lap.

“Don’ worry ‘bout dat,” Ferrel said, as he lobbed his nearly full bottle of beer out the window and opened another one. The bartender certainly knew her patrons: over the next 24 hours, Ferrel would have many opportunities to finish a drink. He never did. But I sure could have used one.

We talked as he piloted the wheezing Chevy one-handed through rocky gullies and sandy drifts, and I began to understand how genuine this man was. A story he was relating had him declaring fervently, “I don’t get mad ‘bout much – but you hurt my dog, I’m gonna beat you….”

I relaxed. My fate was safely in the hands of a man whose values I could appreciate.

And then I heard the tire blow.

flat tire in the desert

When the rubber doesn’t meet the road

A whistle of escaping air was clearly discernible, and, hanging out the window, I could see the right front was visibly flattening. I sank back into my seat and looked at Ferrel. He shook his head. “Ain’ got no spare. Gotta jus’ keep goin’.”

So we did. The shrilling of the tire’s death knell diminished, then stopped. We bumped onwards for a time, the jarring of the truck’s cab growing increasingly more violent.

Then began the tortured grinding of metal on rock. I set the glove compartment on the floor and leaned out the window again. The tire was gone. Nothing but a ragged fringe of rubber remained, like a post-pubescent beard ringing the wheel’s chin.

Our pace slowed until we were creeping slowly south towards the spot where I had left Yvonne that afternoon. Ferrel began to look worried. Flinging a half-drained Miller out the window, he looked at me.

“Gettin’ dark. Truck’s got no lights.”


He pulled out his cell phone and held it up to the windshield; stretched his arm out his window and waggled his hand around. Frowning, he returned the mobile to his pocket. I didn’t need to ask if there was any signal.

We drove on, the rim shrieking each time the 4×4 clambered up and over rocks. Finally, at the ridgeline of a small hill, I pointed eagerly: our tent!

motorcycle desert camp

And then I noticed…

Yvonne had set up camp in a sheltered hollow and was settling in as twilight claimed the Mojave. Her peaceful evening was shattered by what the uncharitable might call panicked bellowing. “Hurry! Pack up the camp!” I shouted. “We have to get out of here before dark!”

I struggled to push the broken Husqvarna up a slight rise while Yvonne collapsed tent poles and Ferrel backed his truck towards me. Together, we rolled the bike into the bed of the Chevy; he pointed to a snarled knot of desiccated old ropes, and I secured the Husky the best I could manage.

As I hopped down from the truck, I cringed at the state of the front wheel. The rim was ravaged, noticeably shrunken in diameter.

Oh…and the rear tire was flat….

We threw the camping gear into the truck, Yvonne slid in beside Ferrel, and, clutching my bike as we lurched forward, I crouched in the back. Right beside the glass shower doors.

Did I mention there were glass shower doors in the truck box? Right beside me? While we heaved and pitched down a rugged 4×4 road?

motorcycle rescued from desert

Ferrel was racing the darkness – at about 15 kilometres per hour – while the Husqvarna hopped up and down like a massive frog leashed to the truck with scraps of tattered rope.

A beer bottle soared out the driver’s window. I felt improbably comforted.

I never finish my drinks

We eventually wobbled into Ferrel’s yard just ahead of full darkness. The truck’s front wheel was no more than an undersized disc of tattered metal; his six-pack of Miller was depleted.

destroyed truck wheel

damaged wheel

So our next step was clearly a return visit to the Idle Spurs.

Piling into Ferrel’s car, along with his wife, Marsha, we retreated to the local oasis and set up a round of drinks on the bar. We talked and toasted our rescuer and laughed and Marsha taught us how to use the video blackjack terminals.

And Ferrel didn’t finish his Red Eye – that’s beer with tomato juice, just so you know.

“Ferrel,” I said, “Do you mind if I ask why you don’t finish your drinks?”

He fixed me with a measuring glare. “Yeah, I’ll tell ya. I got a lot o’ friends who’re a lot thirstier than me,” he growled, “And most of ‘em are dead!”

It’s true: Ferrel was likely the most honest guy in town. And certainly one of the most decent, too.

sandy valley utah

We camped outside their mobile home – choosing dirt, instead of the carpeted section of the dusty yard – and returned again to the Idle Spurs for breakfast together. Over cellophane-packaged Danish, at our repeated urging, Ferrel finally ceded that we might give him some money for repairs to his truck. “But,” he insisted, “$20 is ‘nuff.”

Yvonne and I looked at each other in disbelief.

After breakfast, I rode her trustworthy XT to Overton, Nevada to retrieve our car and the motorcycle trailer. We loaded up the Husky and stuffed all the cash we had into an envelope. It wasn’t enough – but without a doubt it was more than Ferrel would have agreed to.

We hugged our rescuer, and handed him the sealed envelope.

And that was the best motorcycle breakdown we’ve ever had.

Ferrel to the rescue

972 New Best Friends — the whole story

touratech adventure rally

Touratech USA Adventure Rally

You might have seen my teaser post about the largest adventure motorcycle rally in North America, 972 New Best Friends, first published in Canadian Biker magazine, August 2017.

Well, here’s the whole story of field repair magic, endless summer riding, and a guy named Jimmy Lewis. You might have heard of him.

Winter’s over. Let’s ride!

Winter 2017 stubbornly relented in British Columbia sometime around late May, so the last weekend of June marked my first camping trip of the season.

With the heat blooming and the snow finally melting from the high elevations, it was time to explore the peaks of the Pacific Northwest — just me, my Husqvarna TE610 and 972 friends.

husqvarna te610 touratech rally

No, I’m not that popular. But the folks at Touratech USA have no problem assembling an enthusiastic crowd at their annual Touratech Adventure Rally. They’ve hosted this event for seven years in the northwest – the last four in Plain, Washington – staging seminars, demonstrations, lighthearted competition and serious instruction over the three-day event.

Held on the final weekend of June each year, this edition of North America’s largest adventure rally drew riders from as far away as Florida, Montana, Texas and Alberta; there was a tight-knit bunch of transplanted Argentinians, living in Los Angeles, and hankering for an adventure. (Apparently, Argentinians want to ride here, while we want to ride there. I think that’s the irony they call “life”….)

Riders trickled into the event site throughout Thursday afternoon on their GS Adventures, their KTMs, Africa Twins, trusty KLRs and V-Stroms and DR650s. It was a marque-agnostic gathering of men and women, veterans and neophytes, all united in their love for motorcycles, adventure, and the top-drawer quality of people who are drawn to both.

new friends

Rally participants set up tents and pull up RVs in a valley dividing the snow-capped peaks of the eastern reaches of the Coast Mountains from the more subtle contours of the interior plateau. Plain is the perfect convergence of rain shadow, accessible terrain and grand panoramas: the off-road riding opportunities are dry, scenic and virtually unlimited.

There’s plenty of space at the rally site’s grassy field for participants’ and vendors’ tents, and fuel, groceries and a restaurant are situated right across the street. Accommodating local landowners and proprietors open their arms to the legions of two-wheeled weekend warriors, providing service with a smile to the outsized waves of customers rarely seen in this tiny hamlet.

Oh, and there’s riding. Almost 1,100 kilometres of riding.

In preparation for the rally each year, a team of volunteer pathfinders, riders and GPS wranglers, coordinated by Touratech staffer Iain Glynn, start scouting the area as the snow melts. They devote more than a month to verifying road conditions, uncovering new trails, collecting GPS data and designing safe, enjoyable routes

This year’s menu offered up 11 rides, ranging from 45 to 185 kilometres in length, blending over 1,000 kilometres of pavement, logging roads and sections of single-track. That’s a pretty impressive number – but over the last seven years, staff and volunteers have recorded an astounding 80,000 kilometres of GPS tracks in the area! It’s a titanic effort, requiring coordination with the changing priorities of local forest service managers and navigation of a winter’s worth of erosion, mud and downed trees.

adventure ride leader


adventure motorcycle rider infinity loop
Infinity Loop

Rally participants have the option of navigating the resulting GPS tracks on their own, or of signing up for some of the dozens of organized group rides. The two I joined were seamlessly shepherded by Glynn’s well-prepared ride leaders and sweeps, allowing rally participants to focus on the trail, meet new friends, and leave the planning and safety management to the expert volunteers.

ridge runner trail
Ridge Runner

Tracks like “Ridge Runner” and “Dry Creek” ascended the crests of rolling mountains, topping out at over 1,800 metres, high enough that the snow had only recently cleared the extensive network of logging roads. “Infinity” challenged riders to negotiate kilometres of snaking single-track – and at least one rider on the somewhat ponderous V-Strom 1000 was up to the challenge! Easier options abounded, as well, tracing local pavement and graded dirt tracks through Wenatchee National Forest, following roads with improbable names like “Chumstick” and “Chiwawa.”

dry creek adventure ride
Dry Creek

Tired…and absurdly dusty

Back at the rally, tired and absurdly dusty, riders parked their KTM Adventures next to WR250s before braving the cold-water showers and raising a complimentary pint of some of Washington’s finest craft breweries.

Touratech USA’s Marketing and Events Director, Matt Lewis, is responsible for orchestrating most of what happens back at the event site. With the growth in the adventure riding segment, the rally has expanded yearly, so Matt now finds himself beginning work each September on the next June’s event. In fact, most of Touratech’s staff is involved in some fashion, and there are about 100 volunteers who play a critical role as well.

adventure rally vendors tents

It takes a team that large to put on thousands of kilometres of organized rides, and then to stage more than 30 seminars and presentations from Thursday evening to Saturday night.

In his “Emergency and Field Repair Clinic,” Alex Guth, owner and master mechanic at AlyxMoto, confirmed my conviction that cable ties, duct tape and baling wire are magical. Louise Powers, A Girl On A Motorbike off-road coach, shared the tale of how an engagement ring led to her planned departure for a ride to Patagonia this coming August. The Backcountry Iron Chef Competition inspired questionable genius, and plenty of audience laughter, in the form of sautéed shallots…with Cocoa Puffs.

field repair clinic
Alex Guth

There were seminars on motorcycle recovery using mechanical-advantage systems; cultivating a deeper perspective on life through riding; converting your cable clutch to an hydraulic set-up; and adventure stories set in Alaska, South America and Nevada – and most places in between.

In between seminars and rides and trips to the burger stand, riders rekindled friendships and made new acquaintances, discussing adventure bikes and the great people you meet when you’re riding.

Honda and KTM are some of the more keen corporate observers of this adventure bike community, and they served up a full roster of bikes for demo rides. The Africa Twin DCT and KTM’s off-road focussed 1090 Adventure R, not surprisingly, drew riders like teenagers to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Honda’s bikes were yours for an independent half-hour romp; KTM followed the same route through the surrounding hills – but you had to follow their ride leader and stay in the group.

ktm demo ride
KTM guided demo ride
africa twin demo ride
Africa Twin demo ride

(Read my Africa Twin ride review, Riding the Time Machine.)

Level up with Jimmy Lewis

For those looking to level up their riding skills to make better use of that new KTM – or to shake bad habits consolidated over decades of riding an old dirt bike – training courses were offered from Wednesday to Saturday. Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School, Dirt First Off-Road Training and PSSOR ADV Training each offered professional instruction in the techniques every dirty rider should know.

Then, each evening, Jimmy Lewis – Dakar podium finisher, multi-ISDE gold medalist, Baja 1000 overall winner – put everything in perspective with his riding demonstrations and instruction. The only thing more remarkable than Jimmy’s bike control is his humble attitude and down-to-earth delivery…as he effortlessly pilots a giant adventure motorcycle over a pyramid of logs.

jimmy lewis riding skills demonstration
Jimmy Lewis, in his office.
watching jimmy lewis
Watching Jimmy.

Nursing a beer and a newfound excitement for adventure riding, rally participants dispersed after Jimmy’s demonstrations and wandered through more than 30 vendor tents. Protective gear, suspension tuners, off-road motorcycle trailers, aftermarket saddles, luggage  – there were farkles aplenty to peruse.

If your credit card was already showing dangerous signs of fatigue, there were the friendly but tough Skills Challenge and Slow Race events to participate in, or simply observe. Lots of well-deserved trophies found a home in overstuffed panniers.

Tickets and event information

Touratech USA’s Adventure Rally West will return to Plain, WA on June 21-24, 2018. Check for ticket and event information. Early bird tickets for 2017 were the bargain of the year at $100! Training courses are extra, and begin prior to the rally dates.

Sleep like a baby. A grumpy, whining baby.


What’s the worst that could happen?

On an adventure ride, apparently it’s going to bed.

If a daily sprint between small-town motels isn’t your style – or isn’t your MasterCard’s style – you’re going to be bedding down in a tent.

And, honestly, that keeps a lot of riders at home.

I’ve heard the lament about sore backs and kinked necks since my first memories of family camping trips. Back then, my Dad was lamenting; since then, I’ve done some lamenting myself. And you likely have too.

So how can you get a comfortable sleep in the backcountry? Instead of sleeping like a grumpy, whining baby?

Big bike, big bags, happy baby.

One common strategy for getting a cozy night’s sleep might be behind the proliferation of big bikes with bigger bags: thick, wide inflatable mattresses paired with half-scale pillows and plush, voluminous sleeping bags. It’s a good solution, no doubt, if you don’t mind the beefy and bulky thing. And, if you do, more power to you. Stop reading and go get a great night’s sleep.

Compact little babies can sleep like a champ!

Thing is, a lot of us hanker after a solution that packs up small and light. No fold-up camp cots for us; no cotton-lined sleeping duvets.

But there are excellent solutions for the fast and light crowd. Just know that your MasterCard is still going to take a hit on this – although not as much as it would subsidizing a decked-out R1200GS with 130 litres of hard luggage capacity….

Before we jump in, you should know that I don’t receive any money for endorsing camping or motorcycling products.

camping gear
My “sleep like a happy baby” system: MEC Talon sleeping bag, Cocoon Air Core inflatable pillow, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite pad. Total weight about 1.25 kg. Keys for size reference. And for driving a car.

Your friend, Paddy o’ Mattress.

First, the foundation. Sleeping pads have come a long way since the days of racking out on a limp scrap of blue foam that did little more than blunt the edges of the sharpest rocks under your spine.

Therm-a-Rest is the original manufacturer of self-inflating foam mattresses, but now shares the market with numerous others. There are endless variations in size, shape, R-value, colour, Zodiac sign….

These camping mattresses have evolved and improved, keeping pace with innovations in technology and materials. I use the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. It’s thick and cushy enough to keep my shoulders and hips off the ground, a vast improvement over blue foam, and double the thickness of the more recent self-inflating mattress options, like the familiar burnt-orange Therm-a-Rest.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. Seriously, the name is ridiculously over complicated…but it is comfy.

I use the short length, since there’s really no need to carry extra bulk to cushion and insulate my legs in the moderate temperatures experienced by typical three-season campers and adventure motorcyclists.

To add some cush for my legs, I fold my riding pants and place them below the pad, which ends at about mid-thigh. Then there’s stuff sacks, jackets, towels, even backpacks and soft luggage – whatever you’ve got – to supplement the cushioning and insulation of your lower extremities.

With this system, you’re packing only 230 grams into a bag a little bigger than a pop can. About $130.00 USD.

One economy I beg you not to engage: don’t toss the tiny patch kit included when you buy your XLite, as this type of mattress provides exactly as much support and insulation as a wet paper towel when you puncture it. That said, I haven’t punctured mine yet.

Roll your own.

I also use clothing, rolled up or formed into wedges, under the sleeping pad to level uneven surfaces. Even on the flattest desert playa (like Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, up there at the top of this post), I place clothing under both sides of my pad to form the mattress into a bit of a U-shaped cradle. Sleep like a baby, I do.

If I have any damp clothing like gloves, socks or insulating layers, I spread them on the top of the sleeping pad before laying out my sleeping bag. They’ll be warm and dry by morning, and the moisture isn’t noticeable inside my bag, nor does it compromise the down insulation. Of course, I’m not doing this with sodden, dripping gear – but since I use almost exclusively synthetics, I can wring out wet items and hang them outside for the evening if it’s dry, or in the tent if not, before using this technique.

If you dislike the clammy feeling you get swaddled inside your synthetic-lined sleeping bag in damp conditions, try wearing a full-length set of lightweight silk underwear as pyjamas. Or get a silk or cotton sleeping bag liner; they reduce the humid embrace – although they can get a bit twisted up. And, if you carry one, you have less room in your panniers for single-malt Scotch, so there’s that….

Pillow talk.

Inflating pillows are fairly new on the scene, and I give them my qualified support — just as they give me theirs. I don’t think they’re perfected yet.

Since they’re basically a balloon for your noggin, you could be rightly concerned about settling back on one. I find they work well if they have some internal baffling, rather than simply being a bag of air; in addition, I like an external surface treatment that feels like cotton or fleece against my downy cheeks. I use the Coccoon Air Core Hood/Camp Pillow, 108 grams. $27 USD at REI.

Cocoon Air Core Hood/Camp Pillow. Again with the names….

Most important, however, is knowing how to deploy an inflating pillow. If you blow it up tight like a belly stretched after Thanksgiving dinner, it’s admirably stable and unmoving under your head.

And it’s also about as comfortable as a frozen turkey.

On the other hand, if you partially inflate your pillow, it’s nicely squishy but still supportive….

And every time you move the air sloshes around like water in a water balloon, and your face slides off the flattened edge, while a bulging tumescence pushes up behind your head. (Okay: now that I read that, it’s proper disgusting. Sorry.)

Here’s my secret to a satisfying pillow situation. I start by laying my riding jacket down, just above the top of my Therm-a-Rest. Then I moderately inflate the pillow and place it inside the hood of my sleeping bag, in a hollow formed by encircling it in the sleeves of my riding jacket. The elbow pads create a ring that holds things in place even when I turn and thrash in my sleep, dreaming that I’m riding a disintegrating Chinese knockoff motorcycle across a simmering Sahara Desert.

Somebody call the UN: this could get ugly.

Sleeping bags are obviously a topic worthy of protracted states of siege between nations. You probably think I’m kidding.  I am not. They’re that contentious.

Here’s my take on the central debate: down. Or, alternatively, down. If you wish, change it up and try, oh, I don’t know…maybe down?

Yes: synthetic bags are far better insulators when wet. That’s why you stuff your down bag into a waterproof stuff sack or compression sack.

Synthetic bags are cheaper. That’s why manufacturers load them up with bells and whistles and doodads to increase their profit margins. And their bags’ weight.

I’m trying to be unbiased here. But, truth is, I’m not. I’ve used down bags in temperatures as low as – 47 C in northern Canada and as high as 40 C in deserts around the world; in dry conditions, wet conditions — in conditions entirely lacking conditions. And I haven’t found a synthetic bag that compresses smaller, breathes better, or more thoroughly warms the cockles of my heart.

The only disadvantages of down are that you must keep it dry, and that you must pay your MasterCard bill when it arrives – although many quality synthetic bags are equally expensive.

If you’re sleeping in a decent tent — rather than in your indecent tent, on the forest floor, or in a bivy sack — you don’t need water resistant or water proof coatings or fabric layers in your down bag, so skip them and keep the cost down. (Pun thing there, I know.)

I’ve used numerous long-forgotten models, as well as enjoying a long term relationship with the North Face Blue Kazoo. 

But then this happened to it.

One rivet. That’s all it took: one rivet missing from the exhaust pipe, sending a tiny jet of hot KLR pollution through the stuff sack and into my nice sleeping bag. Crying happened.

I switched to an MEC Talon, which isn’t as warm as the Blue Kazoo, but smaller and lighter.

There are a million down bags out there. Get one that’s made by a reputable manufacturer, is stuffed with at least 650 fill down (and not feathers!), and fits tightly around your uniquely massive or dainty frame, as the case may be.

Published temperature ratings are pretty subjective; your best guarantee of performance is staying with a reputable brand or retailer such as REI or MEC. Most riders in most riding seasons will be happy with a three-season bag, rated to around -5 C.

Expect to spend from $250 USD upwards for a bag fitting these criteria and weighing around 1 kg.

Don’t get too caught up in comparing specs: that’s time better spent on the road, sleeping like a contented baby – and avoiding the arrival of your monthly credit card bill.

Sleep well!

Flat — again!

guy in a canyon

You got a minute? I just want to state the obvious.

If you read my recent post, Flat Out of Luck, you know I’m a reluctant changer-of-tire.

Oh, I can do it. I have done it.

But I don’t want to do it. Any more than absolutely, can’t possibly avoid it, necessary.

I’m not the only one right? Right? (You know, if you leave me stewing in this deafening silence, my self-image is going to take a hit.)

Anyway, back to stating the obvious.

The debate I mentioned in Flat Out of Luck is whether rubber patches, either the vulcanizing or adhesive-backed kind, will stick to heavy-duty inner tubes. Some say no; some say yes. My experience, and my photos, sided with the “Yes” camp.

Debate resolved? Sure looks like it’s adhering to that heavy-duty tube.

But when he woke up the very next day…

That is, until the next day, when I attempted to roll the bike out of the stable. And the rear was flat like road kill. Again.

Hello, “No” camp.

So I repeated the re and re process (well, I did admit I need the practice so…) and discovered this:

Failed inner tube patch
Peeling patch

Slime Skab patch failed

Seems the patch deformed and peeled off due to the heat and flexing of the 100 kilometres that took me out of the bush and back to the garage.

Debate resolved

Okay, now the debate is resolved: patches do adhere to heavy-duty tubes. And they do it as long as you don’t actually ride on them.

Everybody was right. Yeah, everybody!

Except for me. No “Yeah, Kevin!” for me. Instead there is just the stating the obvious part for which you have been so patiently waiting.

This whole dolorous tale of misery began with me hammering through sharp-edged rock as fast my mediocre skill allows a 150 kilogram bike to be piloted; and since my traction-loving self runs tires aired-down to a lovely squishiness, it was consequently obvious that I had flatted as a consequence of pinching the tube.

Consequently, I didn’t employ the old feel-around-inside-the-tire before-you-reinstall-a-punctured-tube maneuver.

Ready for the obvious yet?

Big frickin’ brad nail.

brad nail tire puncture
I don’t remember inviting Brad to come along on my ride….

Still there, still in the same relative position to the inner tube it had punctured…still chewing away at the patch I had installed without checking for foreign bodies inside the tire. (I say “foreign bodies” because I’m otherwise likely to employ alternate words that begin with the letter “f”.)

The patch had, in fact, adhered quite nicely to the heavy-duty tube. The patch had, indeed, valiantly maintained a pressurized state in its new BFF (heavy-duty tube) as long as it could, while its new nemesis (bone-headed rider) overlooked the obvious.

This is the obvious, and I’m going to state it: always check inside the tire for foreign bodies when you repair a puncture!


Oh, and also, F^@#!

Flat Out of Luck

She never had a name.

But she did have a tall, sweeping sissy-bar. A banana seat. Swept back handlebars.

And those sweet, sweet coaster brakes you stomped on to skid the rear wheel, sliding around in a smooth arc to stop right in front of that pretty girl from Ms. Putnam’s Grade Five class.


Pavement, gravel, dirt – it didn’t matter where I was riding that bicycle: I was jamming on those pedals as hard as I could, going forward or sliding sideways in a tire-shredding skid.

All of which simply goes to say that I know just what a tire should sound like when I slide to a stop on an unpaved road…

And my tire didn’t sound like that right now.

So I twisted around, leaned over, and peered at the meaty Kenda Big Block mounted on the rear of my motorcycle.

Flat as a world map in the Middle Ages.


Alone in the wilds

Every time I have to fix a flat in the wilds (makes it sound more interesting, don’t you think?) I feel like a kid again. Not because of the bicycle thing, but because I’m convinced I won’t pass the test I didn’t study for.

Oh, I have all the tools, all the knowledge. I’m prepared. But I’m not out in the back yard changing tires and tubes just for the hell of it. I’ll do it when I need new rubber; but I’ll avoid it when I can.

So, on this Saturday afternoon, 25 kilometres up the old logging road leading from Squamish, BC to the head of the ocean inlet called Indian Arm another 20 kilometres away, I feel a stirring of anxiety in my gut.

I can do this; I’ve done it before – numerous times – but I’m never quite sure I’m going to pass the test. And, as usual, I’m riding solo.


It’s not a unicycle

A dual-sport motorcycle tipping the scales at 150 kilograms makes for a pretty tippy unicycle.

So the first thing I needed was a way to support the bike while I removed the rear wheel.

A bit of grunting levered Frank – my Husqvarna, unlike that old bicycle, does have a name – onto a rock at the trail side, balancing precariously on the skid-plate. A couple of branches, collected before the start of all the grunting and sweating, jammed into the ground and gave the bike a bit more stability.


Larger adventure bikes, of course, frequently have a centre stand. Riders of integrity, of course, remove these as quickly as possible, in order to truly test themselves at times like this.

Before removing the wheel, I marked the location of the axle adjusting blocks so I could later reinstall the wheel without needing to gauge and adjust drive chain tension.

Wheel off, tools out, I loosened the blocks, pulled the axle and rolled the wheel out of the swing arm.


Are you ready for the pop quiz?

I don’t know if you’re more disciplined than me; maybe you’ve been studying for this test. But every situation is different – tire brand, temperature of the rubber, type of tire levers, alignment of the planets – so this test invariably has the feeling of a pop quiz.

I laid the wheel sprocket-side down in a rock-free area of grass, keeping an eagle eye on wheel spacers that always seem to make a break for freedom, and keeping the brake disc side out of the rough stuff.

The bead was already broken, so I removed the valve core and dug in with my levers, prying one side of the heavy 140/80 tire free from the 18 inch rim. I had no water or soap available for lubricant, so instead I used a few drops of chain lube from the bottle I carry with me.


Big pain in the ass

I’ve found the Kenda Big Block tire to be a big pain in the ass, frankly; it has the stiffest, most stubborn sidewall of any rear tire I’ve used (Dunlop D606, Continental TKC 80, Pirelli MT21, Metzler Karoo T, Michelin T63, Motoz something-or-other, one of the innumerable iterations of the Bridgestone Trail Wings…I’m forgetting some…).

Finally, when the echoes of my colourful language faded, and the forest returned to peaceful serenity, the tire was off and I was ready to extract the tube.

My choice at this point was either to patch or replace. I carry a single 21 inch front tube, ascribing to the theory that in a pinch (yes, pun intended – and quite proud of that one, too), a 21” tube in an 18” tire gets you back home.

I’ve still never tested that theory: most of my punctures are front tires, which the 21 was designed for; most of my rear punctures have been fixed with a patch. Since I was quickly able to find the puncture this time, I decided to again try patching first.

Sticky situation

Now, being of a theoretical and experimental bent developed, I’m sure, in the era of my early tire-destroying research, I tested another theory.

Word is, patches don’t work on heavy-duty tubes, and the doughnut I pulled out of my tire was an extra-heavy tube installed for my frequent rides in areas of sharp-edged desert rock.

I had both traditional patches and glue, and the self-adhering type – in this case, Slime Skabs. Obviously, I tried the simplest solution first.

And let me tell you: they worked a charm. Worked the charm? What the hell is that idiom, anyways?

Okay: they worked great. After using the abrasive disc, I peeled and stuck, then applied pressure by rolling over the area with the spark plug socket from my tool kit.


It was apparent that the patch was adhering well, since it assumed the contours of molding lines in the tube.


Pumped it up and I’m a happy camper.

Reinstallation, as they say in those handy repair manuals, is simply the reverse of removal.

Yeah, right.

You need one of these

If you don’t have one of these, run, don’t walk to your…computer, I guess, and order one.

I don’t know what it’s called, although I’ve seen the euphonious appellation, “Cable tire inner tube valve stem fishing tool.”


Don’t worry about the name; just get one.

Because unless you’ve got the perfumed hands of a Donald Trump, you’re not fitting a motorcycle rim, an inner tube, and your clumsy fingers inside that tire – not at the same time, anyways.

After threading the tool through the rim and into the valve stem, I stuffed the deflated tube into the tire and pulled the stem through the hole in the rim.



Remove the tool, install the valve core, inflate to a few PSI, and now…

Bigger pain in the ass

Like I say, I’ve passed this test before: I’ve spooned many a tire back onto a rim.

You know, like I know, that the secret to getting those last 10 centimetres of tire bead slipped over the rim and into place is ensuring that the bead on the opposite side of the rim is pressed down and into the deep channel running around the centre of the rim. This orientation gives you just enough clearance to pry the final bit of tire onto the rim.

So, would you please tell that to the Kenda Big Block?

See that wheel spacer trying to sneak away?

I had real trouble getting this tire installed in the first place, and I reprised that graceless and inelegant wrestling match on the dirt road to Indian Arm.

Eventually, with the help of some more chain lube and my size 11 boots, I beat the Big Block into submission and heard that gratifying “Pop!” as the bead seated.

Now to tighten up the rim lock and get some air in that tube.

I always carry both a mini bicycle pump and a CO2 inflator with a couple 25 gram cartridges. I keep the latter for “plan B” situations, and the former worked just fine today.

Seems like I passed the test.

The point is…

So the point of this story is simple: don’t let anybody convince you that you need to practice to pass a test.

Oh, wait – that’s not the point.

The point is this: make sure you’re prepared for the inevitable flat tire out on the trail. Get the tools and supplies, take them along on every ride, and know how to use them. Practicing is optional – if you’re a risk taker.

My tire repair kit

  • Tire levers, 8 inch (3)
  • 21 inch inner tube
  • Fishing rod valve puller valve core remover thingy (The cheapest one Google found for me was here. Make sure you don’t get the type that threads over the outside of the valve stem; this one screws inside the stem, into the threads where the valve core normally seats.)
  • Patches: self-adhering and vulcanizing rubber, various sizes
  • Glue (which evaporates as soon as you put it in your tool kit – no, actually, it evaporates before you get it home from the store. I think.)
  • Air pump (if you use a bicycle pump, ensure it works with Schrader valves, not just Presta; look it up)
  • CO2 inflator head
  • 25 gram CO2 cartridges (2)
  • Water, soap or other lubricant
  • Tool kit with the correct sizes to remove your wheels and loosen rim locks. *Remember to check the size of the nuts on your rim locks. Mine are 13 mm, a size used nowhere else on my bike. Since I don’t want to carry a full-sized wrench for a single application, my solution is a cut-off open end wrench and, once again, that handy spark plug socket: it slips over the short wrench and replaces the leverage I just sawed off. I also drill a hole in my spark plug sockets so that I can turn them with a 6 mm Allen key, doubling the uses of that tool as well. It is called “dual” sport, after all.
Professionally lightened 13 mm open end wrench; artisanal drilled spark plug socket; 6 mm Allen key.

Now, get back on the trail! No, wait — take a selfie. Then get back on the trail!


972 New Best Friends


Feature article in Canadian Biker Magazine (August 2017)

Naw: I’m not that popular….

But this summer I attended the Touratech USA Adventure Rally West — along with 971 other dirty riders.

North America’s largest annual rally for adventure motorcyclists serves up three days of seminars, vendors and demonstrations in the friendly little hamlet of Plain, Washington.

It also serves up some complimentary regional craft beer. But I’m getting distracted…

Oh: there’s riding. Nearly 1,100 kilometres of it. Epic views; sweet trails; blazing-fast forestry roads.

My report on the rally is featured in the August edition of Canadian Biker magazine. If you like what you read, join us next summer.

I can be your 972nd new best friend.

Packing for Off-road Adventures: the LIST.

packing your adventure motorcycle

Please: think before you pack. He didn’t.

Here’s the thing: writing about adventure motorcycling means that packing lists most assuredly figure in my fate.

So, that makes this the day to trot out the clichés:

You can’t fight fate.

Time waits for no one.

Man does not control his own fate; the women in his life do that for him.

Oh, that last one isn’t really what I’m getting at — it might be true, but not what I’m getting at….

Packing lists are the first thing many people ask me about; they’re the last thing most riders agree on. And that means I’m going to ruffle some feathers.

Rustler. Ruffler. Whatever…

But I’m not really a ruffler. So let me approach my first kick at the can this way. I’m not going to push my opinions or make any judgements. I’ll simply tell you what I pack.

But first you need a couple details.

The gear I take on any overnight adventure bike trip is always the same, whether for one night or 30. The only variable items are food.

Here’s how it works. I roll into some little town with my bike loaded up, find the local greasy spoon, and use GPS and maps to plan a route through the desert or forest to the next town. Then I provision with food to last me two to three days, top up my fuel tank and water bladders and get riding. When I reach the town I’ve targeted…well…lather rinse and repeat.

The problem’s between your legs.

The limiting factor to how far I ride in two to three days is sloshing around between my legs. The gas tank of my TE610, combined with the two litres of supplemental fuel I carry, gives me close to 300 kilometres’ range. It doesn’t seem like much distance for a three-day ride – especially if you’re used to road riding – but the terrain is often challenging, so the riding pace is slow. And I stop to take lots of photos.

Oh, and I’ve a got a problem with mornings, so I usually start riding long after the early bird has not only found but digested his worm and is looking for a copy of Reader’s Digest to peruse in the bathroom….

45 litres of luggage

Okay, that was my first long-winded explanation before I give you the list. Here’s the second: I fit all my gear in approximately 45 litres of luggage space, plus a tool tube mounted to the front of the skid plate.

adventure bike luggage
Packed and ready to ride — 3 days or 30.

My luggage breaks down like this:

  • Outdoor Research Drycomp compression backpack – 30 litres *strapped to the seat with Roc Straps; my camp chair folds around the pack.
  • Wolfman Enduro saddlebags (pair) – 11 litres total  *discontinued, but similar to the Wolfman Daytripper bags
  • Tankbags (pair) – 4 litres total  *homemade, using two old fanny packs
  • Tooltube – 2 litres total  *homemade (yes, this is a theme with me) from 4″ ABS piping

47 litres is enough volume for all my gear, 7 litres of water, food, tools and spares. 

I also have two litres of gas in bottles flanking my rear fender.

extra fuel bottles

To put that in perspective, many soft saddlebag sets fall in the 60 to 80 litre range; riders usually add a tail bag as well, and these frequently offer about a 30 to 40 litre capacity. So I’m toting no more than half the 90 to 120 litre volume I see on most adventure bikes.

So that’s…50% smaller, right?

Yes: I’m doing the math and blowing my own horn. And finally – drum roll please (how many of these can I shoehorn in here?) – here’s my packing list.

General equipment

  • Wallet (water resistant):
    • Passport, credit card, debit card, license, health card, auto club (CAA or AAA) card, travel health insurance card, cash, bike insurance, spare motorcycle key
  • Electronics:
    • Cell phone
    • Batteries (4 x AA), USB 12V DC battery charger, 6″ USB cables (1 each, mini and micro USB)
    • Camera
    • GPS (x 2: Lowrance iFinder; Garmin Oregon 600)
    • Flash drive with motorcycle information
    • Kobo reader (mini)  *Remember: I mostly ride solo. I take this because I spend lots of time reading in the evening and don’t want to rely on my phone in a rough, dirty environment — although I do also load books onto it.
GPS and maps
Those are pulleys for my Z-drag recovery kit mounted on the left mirror stalk. You can see my pair of GPS units and paper maps and AA battery charger on the handlebars.
  • First aid kit  *detailed list of contents in an upcoming post
first aid kit
As a solo rider, I carry a substantial first aid kit prioritizing two functions: bandaging and pain relief.
  • Journal and pen
  • Compass
  • Lighter
  • Knife
  • Headlamp
  • Sunglasses, cloth case
  • Eye drops, TUMS, Lip balm (in small Ziploc bag)
  • Repair tape (Tenacious)
  • 2 carabiners and z-drag (mechanical advantage) recovery kit
  • Flares (x2) and launcher
  • Tire gauge
adventure bike accessories
Note high-tech reference scale in photographs, courtesy of Honda Civic.

adventure accessories packed

Camping gear

  • Camp chair  *rolled around the backpack in the bike photo above
  • Ground sheet
  • Sleeping mattress (Thermarest NeoAir XLite, short)  *take a repair patch
  • Tent (REI Passage 1)
  • Sleeping bag (down fill)
  • Pillow (Cocoon ultralight inflatable)

camping gear

adventure camping equipment
Camp chair, with tent and poles. And really fancy high-tech reference scale phone-thingey.

Cooking and kitchen

camping kitchen

camping kitchen kit


*all clothing items except t-shirts are synthetic; I wear cotton T-shirts because I generally ride in hot, dry weather and don’t require the wicking properties of synthetics. Plus they feel better. For cooler weather and nighttime, I change into my synthetic base-layer top.

  • Baseball cap
  • Toque
  • Shorts, usable for swimming
  • Underwear (x 2 pairs)
  • Socks (x 2 pairs thin, 1 pair thicker)
  • Long-sleeved fleece top
  • Long-sleeved base-layer top
  • T-shirts (x 2, cotton)
  • Pants (1 pair)
  • Waterproof stuff sack to hold it all
  • Flip flops (in plastic bag)
  • Jacket (synthetic PrimaLoft insulation) in compression stuff sack
camping clothing
Heavy socks and fleece sweater are not included in this image. Forgot em.

camp clothes

Riding gear

  • Boots
  • Gloves
  • Helmet with goggles
  • Mesh jacket
  • Mesh pants
  • Ear plugs

Bathroom kit

  • Pack towel, mini
  • Toothpaste, toothbrush
  • Glasses (in cloth bag)
  • Contact lens solution
  • Contact lens case  *I’ve cut mine in half; since my prescription is the same in both eyes, I can drop both lenses into one cup and not worry about mixing them up.
  • Contact lenses  *on my eyeballs
  • Contact lenses, spare pair
  • Baby powder
  • Sunscreen
  • Soap
  • Dental floss
  • Prescription meds if you got ’em
  • Stuff sack to hold all these items

*I pack toilet paper separately, in a Ziploc bag.

bathroom kit for adventure motorcycling

bathroom kit packed



camping gear for adventure motorcycle
That’s pretty much everything…

adventure bike camping gear

On the bike

  • Saddlebags (11 litres)
  • Backpack (30 litres) *my old Summit Sack holds a bit more than the new 27 litre model
  • Roc Straps
  • Tool tube (2 litres)  *look for upcoming posts on my tool kit. In the meantime…
  • Fuel bottles (2 x 1 Litre)
  • GPS mounting brackets (x 2)
  • 12VDC to USB adapter for charging batteries
  • Paper maps

As I am a true gourmet, you’re likely desperate to know what kind of food I might take. So the following list fits under the “Don’t blame me; you asked for it” kind of maxim.

Food — or, as Yvonne calls it, “Seriously? I’m not eating that.”

  • Milk powder
  • Granola
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Pasta and sauce prepared meals
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Ramen instant noodles
  • Power bars

What’s on your list?

Let me know if I missed something, or if you want details about specific items. And hang around for future posts: I’ll fill in some gaps about camping gear, first aid kits, tools and luggage.

Lee’s KLR. And Serge’s Slug.

Kawasaki KLR650 motorcycle

I don’t have 972 friends — not even on Facebook.

A few weeks ago, I attended the Touratech Adventure Rally West — just me, my bike, and 972 friends.

Touratech Adventure Motorcycle Rally West
Touratech Adventure Motorcycle Rally West

Actually, this annual event’s exploding popularity attracted the 972 attendees – they weren’t really friends drawn to my expansive, uninhibited personality. Mostly because my expansive, uninhibited personality doesn’t exist. I mean, I’m a writer for cripe’s sake: I talk to my keyboard more than to any living human.

(Now, dogs; I talk to dogs a lot. I’m rambling again.)

The point I’m failing to reach here is that even a thousand unacquainted motorcyclists, introverted or not, still share an easy opening gambit:

“So…what’cha riding?”

I met a married couple from San Diego that way, a friendly gang of Argentinian ex-pats, and two friends from Idaho, Lee and Curt, who had ridden together through the Bitterroot Ranges to Plain, Washington to attend the rally.

And they handed me a beer and said: “So…what’cha riding, Kevin?”

Since Husqvarna motorcycles have never achieved any kind of mainstream prominence in North America, my bike is kind of a curiosity to other riders.

So I say, “Husqvarna TE610,” and the guys are vaguely curious. And, because I know this game, I say, “What’cha riding?”

Now, I’m sorry Curt, but I don’t recall your precise answer. I know it was a big BMW GS – but the models just seem to breed like fruit flies, and all those numbers – 1150, 1200, 800 – look: I’m just not good with numbers. But it was big and Bavarian and really sweet.

Lee’s KLR

2016 Kawasaki KLR650
Source: Kawasaki.

Then I turn to Lee. This is like a religious ritual. “What’cha riding?”

And I do remember Lee’s answer. Precisely.

He responded, “Just a KLR.”


And, honestly, I felt gut-punched.

I’m no zealous devotee of the slightly pot-bellied Kawasaki KLR, mostly because I’m not a zealous devotee of any bike. I once owned a KLR, and it reliably transported me on more than 40,000 kilometres of adventures. Many of those kilometres traversed places I was informed the KiLLeR could never manage. And we managed swimmingly, thank you very much.

Kawasaki KLR650
My old KLR650. Not “Just” anything.

I’d own a KLR again: it’s a great bike, because, well…because it’s a bike. Motorcycles open a world of adventure, and the best motorcycle is the one that’s hauling your city-weary ass out into the forest or desert right now.

Also, KLRs are comparatively cheap. Like borscht. Like dirt. (I like dirt.) And I like spending money – so long as the quantities of money I’m spending are somewhere in the general neighbourhood of zero.

But here’s the thing, the gut-punch thing. Lee said, “Just a KLR,” because someone else said something like, “KLR? Pfftt!”

(Pfftt, in this case, being my attempt to capture with the written word a particular verbal expression of disdain. Was that obvious?)

Probably many someones said that.

Anyway, someone – probably many someones – said something like that to Lee. Or wrote something like that in some motorcycle blog or magazine.

And now Lee, who has found the courage to embark on a new adventure, who has rediscovered a child-like spark of joy and freedom that I know will enrich his busy, responsible life as a working-class family man, feels like he’s outranked, a junior member of the boy’s club.

Because he made a sensible decision, spent less, and saved more for his family.

Because he realized the goal of riding is to have an adventure – not to buy one.

He gets it, you know? And, all too often, his reward is a “Pfftt!” from somebody with a fatter wallet and a fancier bike.


Marketing’s rotten stepchild

Maybe this unjust “Just,” like so many other unsettling experiences, is the wretched stepchild of manipulative marketing.

You see, any crowd of adventure motorcyclists, even a crowd of 972 of them, tips unmistakably toward a specific demographic: me.

Bill Murray
Source: Touchstone Pictures / Empirical Pictures

Okay, that’s not actually me.

What I mean is: middle aged, middle class, white male.

And that’s a demographic with dollars. Marketers love us: prime earning years, empty-nesters trying to recapture a piece of our youth. So they sell us the narrative that, yes indeed, we can reclaim that feeling – for a price.

The Honda Africa Twin, for example, has the traction control, ABS and 100 finely-tuned horsepower that any 56 year-old, life insurance broker running-to-paunch clearly must have. It’s only $16,000 – plus the usual taxes, surcharges, destination fees, first-born child….

That’s not much to pay to feel young again, is it? To have an adventure? To escape the job, the city, the mortgage? After all, that German uber-bike would cost almost $7,000 more….

Then again, the KLR650 would cost well under half as much.

But have you seen the uber-bike? It’s just so — SO. I mean, I want one. I really want one.

2017 BMW R1200GS Rallye. Source:

And the embarrassing truth is, I want one because BMW not only does some nifty whiz-bang engineering; they do some phenomenal whiz-bang marketing.

If I spend more, I’ll upgrade my adventure, right?

I don’t think so.

To a point, it’s true: the cheapest hardware isn’t usually the most reliable. And I need a reliable, capable bike and some adequate gear to tackle a multi-day ride in the Great Basin Desert.

Reliable like a KLR. Capable like a Husqvarna that might be a little past its prime. Or, yes, like that uber-tactical BMW R1200 GS Adventure. Or the brand-spankin’ KTM 1090 Adventure R.

Source: SeeSeeKTM

But adventure doesn’t spring fully-formed from your wallet like Athena, freed from Zeus’ forehead by Hephaestus’ axe. That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? The ancient Greeks, eh? – progenitors of western society. Weird bunch.

It’s equally weird to think that he who buys the most expensive has the best experience. ‘Cause sometimes he’s just the best consumer.

And then there’s Serge’s slug.

By way of some oddly twisted progression of thoughts, all this cogitating reminded me of my friend Serge.

We were hiking together recently (probably because, for some inscrutable reason, he’s failed to come to his senses and buy an adventure motorcycle), when I learned of an odd ritual Serge acts out.

Each time he spotted a banana slug, he would bend down, gently lift the slimy wee beastie, and deposit him or her in the undergrowth at the trail’s margin, safe from the stomping treads of hikers.

banana slug
Source: Wikimedia Commons photo by Roisterer, CC BY-SA 3.0.

His little ritual – bend, lift, save – made me realize something: in a world of ubiquitous human meddling, slugs die because they’re slow and unassuming.

But being slow is what a slug is supposed to be; there’s nothing wrong with being unassuming. It shouldn’t be a death sentence to be who you are.

Lee’s KLR. And Serge’s Slug.

My point – insubstantial though you may perceive it to be – is that slugs and KLRs are just fine the way they are. They’re not the fastest; they’re not the prettiest. But that doesn’t make them junior members of the “fauna club” or the adventure rally. Their value is inherent, intrinsic. They fit in; they have a role.

And so does Lee. So do introverted writer-types plopped down in a carnival of 1,000 motorcyclists.

Am I reaching here? Yeah.

But it seems to me there’s a genuine connection.

Why should Lee feel compelled to add that “Just,” just because he spent less money than Curt, or me? Why should a slug suffer just because it’s slow?

We’re all on our own adventure, regardless of how much we spend or what qualities we embody.

Lee is trying something new and bold. The banana slug embraces his glacial pace.

I admire both.

And I say, “No more just.”

Oh, and, “What’cha riding?”

Read my report on the Touratech Adventure Rally West in the upcoming August issue of Canadian Biker Magazine.

Riding the Time Machine


Going back to Africa. Twin.

Here’s a trivia question for you. Who makes…

Electric crotch-rockets that’ll rip the arms off wannabe boy-racers.


Run-of-the-mill lawnmowers (or should I say, “garden variety”?)


A robot dude.


Totally awesome private passenger jets.


Did you guess “Honda”? I bet you did.

But, who creates all that…plus a time machine?

Yep: Honda again.

They call it the 2017 CRF1000L Africa Twin.


Set the dial to 1986…

In 1986, Honda developed the NXR750 Africa Twin and kicked ASS in the Paris-Dakar for four years. Then they pumped out thousands of units of two successive production models between 1988 and 2003. And Soichiro Honda nodded, and proclaimed it good.

1988 RD03 – Source: Bennetts
1990 RD04 – Source: Bennetts

But production halted, and then the people did lament. In response, Honda produced the XR650L…and then the people did lament. To be honest, they lamented pretty loudly.

Enter the XR650R, multiple Baja champion. Joy returned to the people, but Honda forgot the electric start and the street registration. Still the people were joyful. But Honda inexplicably halted production in 2008.

2006 XR650R – Source:

It was a crisis of Biblical proportions…so Honda built a time machine: the CRF1000L Africa Twin.

And they’ve been preaching to the adventure crowd for a couple years already, proclaiming this bike the second coming of the legendary twin-cylinder competitor from last century. Honda has high hopes for this bike: it’s the iconic, “halo” product for their underwhelming adventure range. (Oops…did I say “underwhelming” out loud?)

So I rode one.

We match. Must mean I need one.

The DCT version I saddled up boasts a pair of electronically-controlled clutches. That means it can shift gears automatically – but it’s not actually an automatic. It just doesn’t need any help from your clutch hand or your left foot.

One clutch operates 1, 3rd and 5th gears; the other manages 2nd, 4th and 6th. When first gear is spinning your wheel, second is actually spinning as well – but its clutch is disengaged. When you let the bike shift – or when you choose the Manual option and flick the finger paddle on the left handlebar pod – the second clutch engages, clicking the bike into second gear in a fraction of the time you could do the same. It also spins up third gear, ready to go for the next upshift. It’s pretty slick. And pretty darn smooth.

The redundant clutch lever on the left handlebar now serves as a parking brake – wisely set too far forward for your instinctive clutch-grab. The left foot peg is lonely: there’s nothing there for your toe to do – although mine kept spontaneously twitching every time a gear shift was in order. Surprisingly, my left hand made no errant grasping motions, although I thought it well-trained to do so with every gear change.

In the “automatic” Drive mode, a Sport switch toggles three settings, which simply change the RPMs at which a shift will be triggered. The most aggressive setting delayed shifts until the litre-displacement twin was into a pretty meaty band of power. In any setting, however, Manual, Drive, Sport 1, 2 or 3, the engine is linear and smooth. Power delivery was predictable and controllable — a critical attribute for a 94 horsepower motorcycle on a loose surface.

But since, you know…computers, you can also fire up the Traction Control. Similar to the Sport toggle, TC has three levels. With the babysitter on duty, the blocky Continental TCK80 out back refused to spin at all, even on the dry hard-pack and loose gravel of the fire road I was riding. A stuttering engine note, precisely like that of a rev limiter on a manual transmission car, alerts the rider to what’s happening back there.

Traction control and manual gear shift triggers.

Of course, “the rider” would rather have control of what’s happening back there, so I switched TC off. Ahh, that’s more like it! With the engine’s silky twin character, breaking the rear loose under throttle was easy and controllable, sending the pleasantly agile chassis into a power slide and a composed corner exit.

There’s also a vaguely-defined button on the dash, labelled “G” for “gravel.” It apparently shifts with less slippage and offers a more cohesive “feeling.” Yeah: I just stayed away from that button….

ABS shutoff…and “G” button. G?

ABS is pretty much standard on everything these days except a Chinese knock-off of a Japanese copy of a Vespa. Thankfully, whoever decided to kill the XR650R wasn’t in charge of the Africa Twin design brief, so you can at least shut off the rear ABS – though the front cannot be disengaged. This electronic nanny was less intrusive, and more welcome, than the Traction Control.

Power is ample – seriously, nobody really needs 100 horsepower from what is ostensibly a dirt-oriented adventure bike. Ironically, it doesn’t feel fast, since the computer-controlled systems are so drama-free. That is, until you look down at the instruments and discover that you’re schlepping along at about twice the speed you thought you were. I guess that’s both good and bad….

Although the elaborate DCT drive system and  associated computerized gee-gaws receive the most attention, the chassis is actually where this liter-sized dirt bike shines. Although it weighs a somewhat portly 242 kg (534 pounds) with about 18 litres of fuel onboard, it doesn’t feel like it. (The standard, non-DCT model sheds about 23 pounds.)

The red, white and black “Rally” model I tested carried its weight low and centrally; narrowed significantly at the waist; and dipped low enough at the adjustable seat (33.5 to 34.3 inches) that even a first-time pilot feels quickly confident. Subjectively, braking and suspension perform well; the fork and shock travel don’t quite reach 9 inches, but effectively soaked up most of the ruts and holes I aimed at.


I did, however, dial it up on a rougher section of forest road, and was sadly disappointed for my efforts. Taking some big hits at speeds I normally ride my Husqvarna TE610 resulted in some pretty harsh bottoming of the shock; the fork too, actually, if I failed to torque up the front end with the throttle and a pull on the handlebars.

The suspension is adjustable for spring preload, as well as compression and rebound damping at both ends, but I wasn’t invited to meddle with these settings, so I’m not sure whether I could have found a sweeter-spot for aggressive riding. I’ve heard rumblings that the price a knowledgeable suspension tuner would charge to hand you a real off-road performer would amount to a significant percentage of the bike’s purchase price. I suspect suspension limitations will prove the biggest challenge to Honda’s time machine.

But it’s all relative. If you’ve been riding an uber Adventure bike like the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure (at 263 kg, or 580 pounds, fuelled up, 2017 model), I think you’re going to feel like the Africa Twin is a flickable dirt bike. Coming from a TE610 that weighs in at 141 kg (310 pounds), I found the Africa Twin a bit ponderous, and a bit out of its element under hard throttle in rough conditions.

It’s all a compromise, too, in the world of adventure motorcycles. And the time machine bets its success on occupying a discernible gap in the existing ADV offerings: it’s a bit lighter than most big ADV bikes; a good bit more at ease on the slab than most dual-sports; and a more competent performer off-road than many bikes in either segment.

It’s good. Then again, the original Africa Twin might have been great….

Get your daily tech quotient here.

Or see what ADV Pulse says about their test of the CRF1000L.

2017 CRF1000L Africa Twin DCT Rally: $16,199 MSRP (CDN)

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