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


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.

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)

Riding the Owyhee Desert

This story first appeared in Canadian Biker magazine (March 2016, #319).

Into the Great Alone

On a July morning, as the rising sun promised relentless heat, I topped up the fuel tank of my Kawasaki KLR 650 in Elko, Nevada. Apprehensively, I filled my water bladders in the gas station restroom: crammed with camping equipment, tools, spare parts and food for three days, my panniers could fit only seven litres of water….

Then I wheeled onto a crumbling ribbon of asphalt winding through arid hills towards the 19th century mining settlement of Mountain City, and rode into the blazing emptiness of a desert dawn.

I was at the midpoint of my annual trek, exploring the deserts of the American Southwest. Loaded with topographic maps, my GPS was the key to navigating multi-day off-road routes plotted between towns. The previous night, with my tent pitched below Secret Peak, near Elko, I had charted a route through the Owyhee Desert to McDermitt, a fading mining town straddling the Nevada-Oregon border.

My route would be simple – at first – until I arrived at a dogleg where State Route 226 intersected a feeble stream meandering east from the Owyhee River. Its trickle would be my first objective after quitting the graded gravel of SR 226. From there, my planned route twisted through a braided tracing of lines on my GPS, marking trails and tracks and unused roads. In the Santa Rosa Mountains, the highest elevation of this ride at 2,400 metres, I would briefly parallel the Trans America Trail before searching out Canyon Creek Road and following it to the pavement of Highway 95, south of McDermitt.

Squinting into the heat haze fifty kilometres north of Elko, I turned west onto the 226. The rays of the rising sun settled on my back, and I steeled myself for temperatures threatening to eclipse yesterday’s high of 40 degrees Celsius. The wind blowing through my perforated riding jacket provided some meagre cooling, so I opened the throttle further, more concerned with generating a breeze than risking a speeding ticket in this desolate corner of a sparsely-populated state.

Sweat trickling down the inside of my armour, I muttered to myself, “All the gear, all the time.” Even summer time. Even in the desert….

It was almost 11:00 am. I bypassed State Route 789, which trailed off between low hills towards the declining old town of Tuscarora.

Enjoying the sinuous bends of the gravel road, spellbound in that moment of euphoria familiar to motorcyclists, I was pushing hard when my GPS displayed the waypoint marking a left turn. The KLR’s front wheel ploughed deeply in the loose, dry gravel as I braked to a stop.

Gasping in the sudden heat that clamped down on me, I kicked down the stand and dragged my right leg over the saddle, the top case, tent and Ortlieb panniers making any kind of gracefulness impossible. I folded my mirrors to keep them intact in the inevitable crashes to come, aired the tires down to 13 and 15 psi, and took a sip from my meagre supply of water.

Alone into the shimmering heat of the desert

This was it; this was where I would leave the maintained route and ride, alone, into the shimmering heat of the desert.

Soon I was idling along beside a rare sight in these arid plateaus: vivid green lining the banks of a twisting stream. The water was only a hand-span wide, but it traced a line through strata of mud and sediment marking past accumulations of melting winter snows, heavy sometimes at this altitude of nearly 2,000 metres.

I continued westward, concentrating on the silty paths threading between gnarled bushes of sage, marvelling that these indistinct trails were depicted on the Lowrance GPS. I suspect Nevada’s rich mining history – gold, silver, copper, gypsum – explains the extent and quality of the maps available for the “Silver State.”

The KLR’s fan hummed steadily; I had wired it to a switch on the dash, concerned that the intense heat of these desert rides would quickly result in disaster if the temperature sensor ever failed to activate the fan.

A sharp right turn led to a wider trail, likely made by the trucks of the cattlemen who sometimes traverse these high plains, rather than the hooves of the cattle that had created the narrow tracks I just departed. The terrain was relatively flat, the leeward sides of low ridges sloping gently into drifts of wind-borne sand and silt.

As I rode, morning drifted into noon, into afternoon, early evening. I don’t really pay attention to time in the desert. I camp when I find a spot that appeals to me, go to bed when I’ve counted all the stars I can, dawdle over breakfast before packing to move on. And then I ride.

I increased the pace, standing on the pegs, the KLR clambering confidently over terrain I had repeatedly been informed was beyond the capability of the overweight, under-suspended Kawasaki. Eyes up, sweeping the track ahead, I spotted something: small dark forms on the trail….

Heavy metal monsters

I had never before seen Mormon Crickets, though I had heard improbable stories. Some summers they descend on northern Nevada in swarms numbering in the millions, voracious, flightless red insects measuring five centimetres in length; the size of their swarms can be measured in kilometres. Elko County has been known to use snow plows to clear them from the roads and lays tonnes of poison bait in a desperate bid to reduce their numbers. The residents of the pocket-sized town of Tuscarora have kept the shield-backed katydids – as they are more properly known – at bay with a phalanx of speakers stacked in the streets blasting heavy metal music from dawn to dusk. I kid you not.

As I rolled up and swung clumsily off the bike, these diminutive monsters raced towards me, captivated, I presume, by the possibility that I might be edible. They crawled into the shade cast by the KLR, scuttled up my riding pants. Recalling accounts of the noxious smell they emit if crushed, I flicked them carefully from my legs and decided a swift retreat was in order; it was a very good day to be riding a bike that didn’t require time consuming kick-starting.

The sun was slipping west. I rode a few more kilometres before setting up camp on a grassy ridge where the sandy soil was sculpted into miniature crests and the cricket armies were AWOL.

Space is at a premium when packing for two and three-day off-road crossings between small towns in the desert, and water is always the first priority. That means food isn’t, and my meals reflect that fact: unappetizing pre-packaged pasta invariably forms the entire menu.

But then comes the best part of the day. As the sun sets, the desert relinquishes heat from rock and sand, and the air begins to swirl in a dance of warm breezes. Although equipment for a month-long trip must be ruthlessly cut down, there’s always room for one luxury: the camp chair that lets me lean back and relish the unfolding desert night.

On the second day, my GPS route followed trails that seemed to wilfully fade and re-emerge. I halted frequently to re-assess the map, re-trace my route…re-examine my irrational obsession with solo desert travel. I did have an emergency plan, though: somewhere up ahead, the primitive Lye Creek campsite was said to have a drinking water supply and, possibly, the chance of meeting someone willing to siphon some fuel into the bike. Large as it is, even a KLR’s tank has a limit, and I was worried I would exceed it. I had already travelled almost 300 kilometres. And, to tell the truth, I didn’t actually know where that campsite was located….

I forced my concentration back to the trail as I passed a charred hillside. Lightning strikes occur frequently on this arid plain, and wildfires are the predictable result. Recurring gusts of wind whirled the scorched soil and vegetation into short-lived dust devils that nudged me across the trail, filling my mouth and nose with grit. I continued westward, sipping water each time I stopped to ponder the map or select a branch in the faint, diverging trails.

And I switched the bike to reserve.

As evening approached, I found the Nevada Forestry road that would be my route through the Santa Rosa Mountains. Setting up camp in the lee of a bluff near Hinkey Summit, I found myself lingering, gazing at the sun setting over the distant ridges and plains revealed beyond the height of the range.

Santa Rosa mountain morning

When sunrise woke me, I packed quickly – not my usual lazy morning routine – but I was visualizing a dry gas tank and a long walk during the hottest part of the day. I rode east, accelerating gingerly to conserve fuel, as the forestry road curved back north and then west. Cresting a rise, I saw laid out below me the amphitheatre of Canyon Creek and, with it, my reprieve from hiking in the desert sun: the forestry road descended steeply toward the highway – still hidden below the western horizon – in a series of switchbacks cut deeply into the canyon’s brow.

The left-side laydown

I cut the engine and coasted down the dusty bends of the road, warily entering corners without the stability normally created by a revving engine and the assistance of compression braking. The profound silence of the desert descended, but the cooling breeze of my forward momentum continued. It was a novel sensation that made the penultimate section of this ride especially memorable.

Reaching the flat bottom of the canyon, I restarted the KLR.

The KLR promptly stalled.

Dismounting, I laid the bike down on its left side, urging fuel from the right section of the tank to trickle toward the petcock – I was so close to the pavement! Upright again, the engine reluctantly coughed into life, and I crept onwards.

I had to resort to the “left-side laydown” one more time before rolling up to the Sinclair gas station in McDermitt, my odometer reading more than 420 kilometres. It was the farthest the KLR had ever travelled on a tank of fuel – and I didn’t need to walk after all…except across the street, to the “Say When” Casino, to celebrate with a cold pint.


Motorcycle riding schools don’t teach you this stuff

I like riding alone. Especially when I’m in expedition mode: way off the pavement, picking a route through the back country towards some lake or ghost town.

And I like riding with friends even more.

But most of the time, I’m by myself out there….

Be honest: do I smell?

I think more riders would hit the trail with me if either, (a), I showered more frequently, or, (b), they had the skills necessary to take their dual-sport and adventure bikes on long off-road trips: equipment selection, bike preparation, route planning, navigating, camping — you get the picture.

I want to change that. I want more riders to feel confident tackling multi-day trips in the dirt. So I’m sharing my own practical, proven techniques and systems for adventure riders.

This isn’t about teaching you how to ride your bike off-road; there are already lots of schools that do a great job of that. In fact, I’ve created a list of dirt and adventure riding schools. Those guys are the pros. Attending one of their programs is certain to teach you something valuable.

Adventure Ride Guide will teach you something else: the techniques you need to put those riding skills to good use, way off the blacktop.

These are techniques I’ve learned through experience out there, off road, through trial and error and hours in the saddle in the middle of big blank spaces on the map.

Your bike belongs in the dirt. And so do you.

I’ve talked to many riders who want to enjoy epic trips like mine.

But they say they don’t have the knowledge or confidence to get off the beaten path.

Skilled riders, some of them more capable than I am, tell me:

  • I don’t have camping or wilderness experience.

  • I don’t know how to start planning a motorcycle camping trip.

  • Specialized equipment is just too expensive.

  • Once I get my gear on the bike, it’s too heavy to manage off road.

  • I’m not a good enough rider.

That list is probably why I meet those riders, on their GS1200s or their V-Stroms or KLRs, on the pavement.

“I could never do what you do”

I’ll be rolling onto the pavement somewhere in…let’s say, Idaho…dirty and grinning. A guy riding past on a sweet Triumph Tiger waves and pulls over to ask where the gravel road goes. He’s a great guy, friendly and genuine, like most riders.

After I tell him I’ve been out in the mountains for a few days, the conversation usually goes something like this:

“I’m an okay rider. But I could never do what you do.”

“Really? Why not?”

“Well, I’ve never done that much camping and, like, wilderness stuff.”

“You know,” I say, “that’s easier than you think. You just need someone with experience to get you started.”

“Well, I’ve read lots of stuff on the forums…but it’s kind of overwhelming. There’s so much information, and I’m not really sure what to focus on.”

I nod my head. “Yeah, I get that.”

“Then when I pack up my gear for a road trip, it looks like I’m ready to go around the world, and my bike handles like I’m doubling a sumo wrestler. I’ll probably just stick to the pavement. Maybe take the occasional gravel road….”

It kills me

‘Cause he’s a great guy, and he’s got a bike that could take him almost anywhere he wants to go. I’d happily ride with him for a couple days, and I know I could learn lots from him, too.

But then he waves again, and turns back onto the pavement.

While I turn up the old logging road to Fourth of July Lake….

Fourth of July Lake, Sawtooth Range, Idaho

Let’s change that.

Ride farther. Stay out longer.

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