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 www.touratechrally.com 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.

Oh no — is that a cop up ahead?!

As the RCMP officer stepped out, motioning me to stop my motorcycle, my first thought was this guy must be, like, 6 foot 5. Oh oh.

My second was, “Look, lock, lean.”

“Yeah, you got this!” he responded, waving me on to the next element of the Motorcycle Skills Challenge course.

motorcycle rider
Start of the challenge

I eased out the clutch, rolling into the funnel of orange traffic cones, turning my head to search out the exit and align my Husqvarna TE610 for the restricted left, right, left sequence. Revs up, drag the rear brake into the corner entry, feather the clutch – and exit.

Yes: the humane society asserts that no cones were harmed in the making of this short film!

Now to attempt that dastardly “W” shaped sequence that tripped me up last time…

Kevin finally makes it through the dreaded W (video).

Who would of thought riders would volunteer for a police lineup?

But they did, dozens of them — even in the early morning rain.

riding skills practice
Voluntary police lineup

Braving the rain – as well as the sun that joined us later in the day – the Burnaby RCMP’s motorcycle officers set up a course that challenged the skills of both women and men mounted on everything from Euro crotch rockets to burly adventure bikes to Harley and Victory cruise liners. And, of course, Yvonne and I with our dual-sport Yamaha and Husky.

motorcycle police skills
Showing how it’s done

Positioned at the entry point of each course element, officers clad in high-viz riding jackets pointed out lines, analyzed errors and offered detailed, actionable coaching to seasoned and inexperienced riders alike.

As a result, my second lap was better than my first, and my fifth better than ever – though not, I have to admit, better than Yvonne’s: she nailed that “W” sequence every time, looking smooth and confident.

Watch Yvonne’s smooth, slow-speed control (video).

And our friend Greg, riding less than a year, put in an impressive performance, too. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a rider in the bunch who didn’t notice improvements, thanks to the perceptive and targeted instruction.

motorcycle rider training
Greg in the W

Five techniques to hone your riding skills

According to these motorcycle cops – who complete hundreds of hours of advanced training on their big-displacement Harleys and BMWs – there are a few techniques you can use to ride better in any situation. Are you doing all five?

  1. Look where you want to go. The cone (or pothole) you look at is the one you’re going to hit.
  2. Keep your chin up and your eyes will do the same – since, you know, they’re attached to the same head.
  3. Use engine revs to steady the bike (Google “gyroscope”). Or go buy a gyroscope. Remember the gyroscope you had when you were a kid?
  4. Apply rear brake to settle your bike for corner entry; stay off the front lever at slow speeds, or you’re likely to tip over in a parking lot. (Done it.)
  5. Chew gum.
practising motorcycle riding skills
Get that chin up!

Okay, now you know the techniques – oh, wait, what’s that? Why chew gum?

Well, sometimes a rider’s mind is his or her worst enemy. Trying to decipher, “Look, lock, lean,” or focussing on the natural anxiety that accompanies an upcoming obstacle, we start spinning thoughts that monopolize our attention and detract from the fluidity and instinctive responses that accrue from training and experience.

Chewing gum distracts your thoughts just the tiny bit that might allow your training to regain the upper hand. If you try it, let me know what you discover. Does it make you a more instinctive rider?

Thanks again to the Burnaby RCMP detachment’s motorcycle officers for a great day.

See you next year!

police and motorcycle rider
Stopped by the police again

What am I doing next Saturday? Riding my motorcycle really slowly. With a bunch of police officers.

No, I’m not riding in a motorcade for some visiting dignitary.

It’s the third annual RCMP Motorcycle Safety Skills Challenge,  hosted by the Burnaby, BC detachment.

They’re inviting you to ride through a maze of densely-packed traffic cones at the crawling speed of a baby sloth.

So they can laugh if you fall off.

Okay: they won’t laugh. I made that up. They’re actually good coaches, helping you ride your motorcycle through the torturous obstacle courses they’ve created in an empty parking lot. (Not so helpful when you’re feeling smug after you squeak through the maze at walking pace on your little 400cc bike — and then they do it at three times the speed on a Harley that’s bigger than a Honda Civic. Perhaps I digress…)

Skills.

You can ride the course once, or keep getting in line and doing it all day long; last year, we were there for a couple hours, riding and watching. Got ourselves a spiffy badge and pin, too.

The Officer-in-Charge of the Burnaby Detachment, Chief Superintendent Stephan Drolet, says, “It will be a unique opportunity for the public to train like we train, and I encourage motorcyclists to take the challenge.

Anyone with a Class 6 licence is invited to come ride the course and learn from some seriously skilled motorcyclists. It’s also a great chance to blow out the winter cobwebs and prepare for riding season in a safe, non-intimidating setting.

Plus prizes!

Saturday May 13, 2017

8:30 – 10:00 am ~ women riders only

10:00 am – 4:00 pm ~ all riders: male, female and anything else you like

3760 Sperling Avenue, Burnaby, BC (Burnaby Lake Rugby Club parking lot)

It wasn’t my fault! Okay…maybe it was my fault.

And then Satan said, “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?!”

Ever heard of “Hell’s Revenge”?

Maybe you can help me then, because I’m confused. If you happen to actually be hell, yourself — just humour me here, for argument’s sake — then you’ve already cornered the market on revenge, haven’t you? You kind of are revenge. After all, the story goes that God created you — hell — as a sort of revenge on Satan.

So then… why, or on whom, would you want to be revenged?

And to make matters even more confusing, Hell’s Revenge actually has nothing to do with this post: it’s just a jeep track that criss-crosses the famous Slick Rock Trail in Moab, Utah.

Which does, in fact, have something to do with this post.

It’s the Rapture!

Moab is kind of like Eden to off-road zealots, mountain bikers, motorcyclists, the 4×4 crowd…so it kind of makes sense that the name actually has a bunch of biblical connections, too.

Heaven on earth rock

What I’m sayin’, in a round-about kind of way, is that riding the slick rock is a pilgrimage, a paradise, a temptation and a trial in the desert — it’s the whole religious experience!

Minus, you know, actual divinity and sin and redemption and such.

But the riding…oh, the riding…it’s truly a revelation!

I have for you only one commandment: go ride the rock. And you will be saved, brothers and sisters!

This video is my testimony: a numinous day riding my Husqvarna TE610 around the 17-kilometre Slick Rock trail.

(August, 2016. Soundtrack starts at 0:25)

Can I really do this?

Okay, you know what a rhetorical question is, right? Oh, actually, that’s one there: it’s me asking you a question when I already know the answer.

Now, don’t worry if you’ve already got this stuff wired: I’m not being condescending. I’m being pedantic.

Anyways, I mention the whole “rhetorical question” factoid for two reasons.

First, I’m an English teacher, so I dig that kind of stuff. Second, I mention it because the title of this post is a rhetorical question.

You see, I already know you can do this off-road expedition thing.

I’ve been out there. A lot.

When I was a private wilderness guide and Outward Bound instructor, I guided adults and teenagers tackling challenging month-long canoe trips, dog-sledding treks in temperatures as low as -47o C, rock climbing, white water kayaking, hiking, camping, sea kayaking, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing….

 

snowshoeing-guide
Guiding a snowshoeing group

A real diversity of trips, with an even greater diversity of participants.

But virtually all the people I’ve guided in the wilderness – and there have been hundreds – had two things in common:

1. They didn’t think they could overcome the challenges they encountered.

2. They overcame the challenges they encountered.

It’s one of the reasons I loved my job: I got to see people overcome their fears and limitations. Every day.

I witnessed the transformation when my clients and students realized their limitations were mostly self-imposed. Given the motivation to challenge those limitations, they were able to accomplish more than they ever dreamed.

I take my hat off to all of them.

And I take my hat off to you.

Because, if you’re reading this, you have the motivation to get on your bike and leave the pavement far behind.

You just need someone with experience to get you started

That’s where I come in. My profession and my passion have given me decades of experience in outdoor travel and survival. Plus, massive miles accumulated off-road on motorcycles. And – you’ll recall that I’m a proudly self-confessed pedant — I have a life-long habit of making lists.

So, seriously, who better to lay out all the details of this adventure thing?

Whoa! Is that another rhetorical question? I didn’t even do that on purpose.

 Ride farther. Stay out longer.

I know you know how to ride

You already know how to ride a motorcycle. On the road, maybe on the track – but especially in the dirty stuff.

And you’ve got this whole Internet thing wired, too: if you need information about braking points, picking lines, weighting the outside peg, you know where to find Professor Google’s office.

So I think we can all agree you don’t need my advice about riding your bike.

But then I still have a question for you. Why don’t you ride more?

I’m not perfect

I suspect it’s not really imperfect riding technique that limits your time in the saddle. True, neither of us is Jonny Walker – unless you are Jonny Walker…in which case, Mr. Walker, could you please teach me how to ride a dirt bike? Please?

 

jonny-walker-hard-enduro
Jonny Walker doing a magic trick (source: redbull.com)

Where was I…? Oh, yeah: assuming we’re not enduro prodigies, we still ride and do our learning while we’re missing the apex or forgetting to unload the suspension before rolling over that rock. Okay, so we mess up sometimes (Speak for yourself!). But that kind of learning is part of the excitement of riding a motorcycle off road.

But.

But I bet you aren’t satisfied.

If you’re like me, you’re riding to Starbucks, or commuting to work.

Doing an annual holiday trip on the slab.

Or getting out on the occasional weekend dirt ride to orbit the same few trails over and over, locked into the gravity well of your bike trailer or the nearby gas station.

But I’m willing to bet you want to ride more. Ride farther. Get off the blacktop.

And I know you want it enough that you can convince your boss, significant other or Toy Poodle to give you some time off work or from the To-Do list stuck on the fridge door.

So why aren’t you out there riding the Great Basin desert?

And I know you aren’t, because I was there, and I didn’t see anybody….

 

great-basin-desert
Great Basin Desert, Nevada

The non-riding stuff may be the biggest obstacle on the trail

If it’s not recent surgery holding you back, or your kid’s Grade 4 class performance of “Silent Night” that you just can’t miss, I gotta figure it’s because you’re uncertain about the non-riding stuff.

Stuff like…

  • What if I break down, crash or get lost?

  • How do I get all that gear into those bags? (It’s never going to fit, you say, unless you can figure out the secret to that thing where the clowns multiply like rabbits inside a Volkswagen….)

  • Where can I camp, and what equipment is essential?

  • Does GPS actually stand for “Gadgety Piece of Shit”? Because I cannot get this thing to work!

It’s not about the riding

Let me show you the tested techniques and systems I’ve developed in almost 75,000 kilometres of off-road adventure. You’ll learn all the stuff the riding schools don’t teach you.

In fact, this isn’t about riding skills at all. Don’t forget that part where I was being painfully honest: I can’t ride like Jonny Walker.

Heck, I might not even be able to ride as well as you.

But I don’t need to. Because even a moderately skilled off-road motorcyclist can…

  • Ride confidently into the desert, forest or mountains for days at a time

  • Enjoy fantastic routes through places you just can’t reach in a single day

  • Rely on light, tested equipment

  • Camp comfortably in beautiful, remote locations

 And so can you!

Don’t forget to share this adventure with your riding buddies!

Ride farther. Stay out longer.

Don't keep it to yourself. Share the adventure!