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I've said this previously but more recently even, BMW has been having quite a lot of social media blowback over their stanchion problems. I first noticed this in November of last year and posted on Instagram these three images, one of which I took myself and another from the same event I was at:
Now we have reports of injuries related to apparent failures of these fork stanchions:
Woody Witte (of Woody's Wheel Works) in his caption to this story above he shared on Facebook: "This is the sort of stuff that makes me MADDER THAN FUGGIN HELL!! I bet i can round up at least a dozen incidences in a few minutes Half of which have lefte the rider needing serious medical help !!MAN UP BMW & send an alert ir even product recall before it'll cost ya more in bad press AND COURT COSTS!!! Pass the word!!
I even had a reporter from Motorrad Magazine in Germany reach out to me the other day about this.
Just to refresh... these crimped forks have been found to be coming loose on the '13+ liquid cooled GS bikes. There have been a few injuries. To BMW's credit there is word of some new service bulletins out designed to address this (not yet confirmed as of June 23) and there's already a few after market solutions (see link at top).
Here's where it gets interesting though... So I read that the crimped fork solution was in an effort to reduce weight (and probably cost) from the previous generation GS (looking for source now). I had an '11 GSA and never had this problem. But as it turns out, this crimped fork solution appears to be an attempt to patch or correct an even earlier design that was found to have also failed ... coincidentally merely weeks after the fatal accident of journalist Kevin Ash at BMW's GS launch in South Africa on January 22, 2013.
According to an anonymous source (6/24 edit: this was actually public), barely two months after the accident (April '13), BMW Motorrad USA issued a service bulletin regarding a check of the front forks. The bulletin affected only a few handfuls of early '13 model bikes and their solution was a tool they provided to crimp the forks so there'd be no separation between the "slack plug" and the fixed fork tube. Their wording was such that they'd determined in rare cases the plug could work itself loose. It was after this that the fork tubes came crimped from the factory.
As to Kevin's accident, there is no implied or direct connection being made here between the fork stanchion issue and that. Reporter Florin Tibu of AutoEvolution.com felt that even a year after the accident, many questions remained. He characterized the fact that BMW retained the wrecked bike before a forensic mechanic could inspect it as "a bit bizarre" and that explanations are still due in the investigation. The Warwickshire UK coroner, Sean McGovern, says there's no verdict due to insufficient evidence. BMW never released the results of their investigation, even at the request of Ash's widow. Caroline.
With a rough plan for the next two weeks, and a bit of optimism, I set out to race the Sandblast Rally in South Carolina and then continue down to Florida to catch bike week if all went well. The plan was to work out of my company’s Florida office and to rough it in a tent for as long as I could cut it; hopefully long enough to combine my return trip with a detour to Tennessee to catch March Moto Madness. Despite some ups and downs the stars aligned and it turned out to be quite the journey.
Sand Blast Rally
On the morning of Thursday, March 2nd I packed up my bike and departed from my home on the eastern shore of Maryland. The ride down to Cheraw, SC was uneventful but I was burning through my knobbies faster than I anticipated causing my somewhat worn rear tire to turn into an extremely worn rear tire. I arrived at the campground in time to catch a stunning sunset before unpacking my things and making a run into town for signup. At signup I ran into my friends Steve and Amelia who offered me to pit with their crew, an offer which I took them up on.
After signing up and getting supplies I returned back to a cold campsite and prepared for bed. It was a cold night, dropping to freezing temperatures, but I was plenty warm and plenty grateful that I had opted to pick up a 30⁰F sleeping bag before I departed on my trip. The problem though, came when I had to leave my sleeping bag and put on all of my now frozen clothes. There is nothing like scavenging together pine cones to burn for warmth at 6 am.
I eventually warmed up enough to go into town and run through tech inspection before attending the novice competitor orientation. Following orientation I went back to the tent and prepared my roll chart for the race by cutting out the special stages then trimming and taping it all together.
Shakedown runs in the afternoon were followed up with parc exposé (fancy words for race car show) in the adjacent town of Chesterfield where the rally start would be held. After talking with other riders and getting some tacos for dinner I called it a night. The morning of the race I woke up extra early to give myself time to warm up by the fire. Once warm, I made my way towards Chesterfield for the start only to arrive shivering; it was still near freezing at 6:45am. I warmed up with some coffee and a hot breakfast sandwich, set my watch to key time, and queued up taking my spot as the last motorcycle to start. Starting 30 seconds behind Steve I followed him to the first special stage while getting better acquainted with using my roll chart. Doing some mental math I ensured that I checked in on the correct 30 second interval to avoid penalty and moved up to prepare for launch. With my nerves buzzing with anticipation I watched the timer countdown to my exact second to launch. The timer hit zero and I took off blazing. Unthinking and overly anxious I did not heed the old adage of “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”. Only several turns in and I was already getting the dreaded arm-pump. Barley able to hold it together, sliding through a chicane I ignored logic and accelerated into the next turn pitching rear slide sideways.
Photo by Mathew Styrker
I had bitten off more than I could chew and I put myself into a drawn out lowside giving the viewers quite the spectacle. I picked up the bike and finished with a more sustainable pace, the arm pump now so bad that I could barely pull in the clutch at the finish. Heeding my lesson in exceeding my limits, I relaxed and elected a more suitable pace for special stage 2. With my arm-pump subsided I was able to find my rhythm and increase speed throughout the day, though not without a few more mild crashes.
Photo by Rally Girl Racing
All in all I ended up finishing 8th of 13 for medium class, and 16th of 28 for all bikes. Steve’s video of the rally sums up the whole experience nicely, plus it has some sweet crash footage.
Video by Steve Kamrad
The end of the rally was in downtown Cheraw where NASA threw an excellent party with “free” food and beer for the competitors and volunteers. Trading war stories and tall tales of the day’s events seemed the perfect way to cap an exciting day of racing. Comradery runs high among the rally folks and many new friends were made.
In the morning I packed up camp and set off down to Florida. Upon arrival I crashed at my friend and coworker Joe’s apartment for a few days while I decided where to camp. Joe owns a Ninja 300 so naturally the hijinks started right away.
Joe had expressed an interest in riding dirt with me so we went adventure riding after my first day of work. I do not think he expected to ride 20 miles of powerline cuts, rail road tracks, and trails but he managed them much better than I ever thought possible.
After a few days of staying with Joe I found a place to set up camp in the woods near my office. I guess word got around the office because I soon had an offer to set up camp at my coworker Tommy’s property. Tommy has around 40 acres of property and gave me free reign over it. I found myself a little lean-to structure in the woods and set up shop under it. This would become my new home for March.
Adapting to living in a tent turned out to be easy and I quickly got into a routine of going to work early to shower, making meals at work, stopping by the laundromat twice a week to wash the small amount clothes I brought with me, and doing “Florida things” such as visiting the swamps and paddle boarding.
I caught wind of a free CADS/GS Giants event called the Trans-Florida Adventure Ride so I eagerly prepared the Versys with an oil change and new rear tire. Early Saturday morning I packed up my bike with my camera, sleeping bag, tool roll, and air compressor and headed out to traverse Florida.
The Trans-Florida Adventure Ride starts out of Crescent Beach along the Atlantic on the first Saturday of bike week and takes a primarily dirt route out to Cedar Key on the Gulf, followed by a mostly dirt route back to the start on Sunday totaling around 360 miles. Navigation is done solely by roll chart with optional “enduro” sections and picture challenges. Deciding I wanted a challenge I took the first optional section, to ride down the beach and get a picture for proof. It turned out I was the only one who did the 4 mile long challenge which now placed me behind literally everyone. Questioning my abilities to follow a roll chart I hastily made off to the next dirt section hoping to catch up with the pack.
I rocketed through the next dirt section and despite a few navigational difficulties I got back on track. Passing a group of riders taking a break as I neared the first split between enduro and adventure routes I decided to take the enduro route with the hope that there would likely be someone behind me in the event something went wrong. Naturally things immediately went wrong.
Things started to get bumpy blasting down an overgrown trail that somehow passed for a “road” according to my roll chart. At first it was fun getting small amounts of air as I set my pace to 60mph, but my concern grew as the dried mud holes that launched me started to increase in size. I tried to back off but was too late; I flew out of a dip over the bottom of another hole and landed onto the uphill face exiting it. Bottoming incredibly hard, I felt my left foot come free from the peg. Headed towards a mud hole that was filled with water I tried frantically to get my foot back on the peg and regain control but to no avail. I blasted straight through the water hole before finally coming to a stop, now completely drenched. Checking the damage I realize that I could not perch my foot back on the peg because the peg had broken free of the rearset mount taking the shifter and linkage with it. The riders I passed by earlier stopped to check on me as I zip tied the dangling peg and attached shifter to the frame. Seeing that the bike was still rideable I sent them on their way.
Attempts at rigging up a way where I could still shift failed as the zip ties snapped immediately or didn’t allow for enough movement. Thinking about my vice grips laying back in my tent, I contemplated what to do now that I was stuck in 3rd gear only 40 miles into the day 1 ride. “How hard could it be to ride one footed,” I pondered. I would soon find out that hard was the answer.
Photo by Steven Breckenridge
Realizing I had nothing better to do this weekend I decided to forge onward. Placing my left foot on the rear passenger peg afforded my quickly tiring leg some rest as well as added bike control as I made my way through the deep Florida sand. For the next hour I played cat and mouse with the group of riders I encountered earlier; I would pass them as they would wait for the group to reassemble, then subsequently get passed back as I missed turns. Soon I found myself lost, all alone, deep in Ocala National Forest single track. Ready to give up, I turned my bike off (since I couldn’t shift into neutral) to check my phone’s GPS, and to my surprise I distantly heard a bike struggling through the sand down the trail to my right. With renewed hope I rapidly took off in the search of the machine’s pilot hoping that they could show me the way.
The first rider I found, Courtney – a R1200GS pilot, had lost place on the roll chart as well but directed me to catch up with the leader of the group, Nick who helped organize the event, would surely know. I reached the group at the end of the trail only to find out that they were actually taking a slightly different, “locals only” route they knew and that I indeed had been lost. I followed them through the last few miles of the section before regaining my bearings and finding my spot on the roll chart. After talking with one of the riders, Mark, at a gas stop I decided I would take their offer to ride with the group for the remainder of the day. After many more miles of sand we reached Cedar Key. Mark was kind enough share his hotel room with me after discovering that I had no accommodations.
The next day we ride the 180 miles back, this time with slightly less dirt. About three-quarters of the way through the ride the skies opened up quickly soaking us. Cold and wet we finish the ride back to Crescent Beach to earn our Trans-Florida Ride Finisher stickers. While we celebrated with dinner and some beers I messaged my “roommate” Tommy to see if he knows anyone who can weld aluminum and fix my footpeg. As luck would have it Tommy was drinking beer with his friend who happened to be a welder at that very moment. I limped back at 60mph down I-95 and paid a visit to his friend.
With my bike fixed I went back into my normal routine: wake up early, go to work, adventure ride, eat tacos and drink beer, and sleep. That Saturday I headed down to Daytona International Speedway to get a taste of bike week. I started off by immediately demoing an Indian Scout, followed by an FJR1300, and finishing on a Hayabusa. After thrashing them as much as I could get away with (they all do wheelies, yes, even the scout) I went and met up with Joe and we checked out the manufacture’s offerings that we couldnot ride, then watched the Daytona 200 from the infield before finishing the night off by bar hopping on Main Street.
Photo by Joe Sendzia
During the time since the Trans-Florida Ride I noticed that my gas mileage was starting to drop, and soon a noticeable power loss too. Checking my air filter I discovered the problem; it was completely clogged. The dirt and sand was caked onto the filter in unbelievable amounts, to the point that rinsing it was futile. Having failed at cleaning the filter I had a new one overnight shipped. With the new filter in place power was immediately restored and wheelies abounded.
In the period from when I first took Joe to the trails to now he had been riding his ninja off-road nearly daily, unbeknownst to me. After catching me planning an afternoon dirt ride he wanted to join along, which I agreed to of course. We started off with local sandy ATV trails and single track that led to a large play area of deep sand.
Photo by Joe Sendzia
Joe was surprising me with how much more comfortable he had become off-road and was able to go at a respectable pace. After playing on the single track for a while longer we decided to see how far we could make it on the powerline access trail before dark. After knocking out around two miles we reached a swampy low area where I suggested we turn around. Joe wasnot having it and volunteered me to go through first to see how bad it was before attempting the feat with the ninja. Like a good friend I obliged.
I started by trying to ride the center between the 4x4 ruts but it turned out to be slick and I soon found myself pulled into the rut of slimy mud. Duck walking I managed to make it through at a crawling pace as the rear refused to get traction despite my best efforts. As I turned around to tell Joe not to attempt it he came barreling down towards the ruts without heed. Despite nearly tucking the front he saved it and his momentum carried him half the length of the rut before the trouble started. Appearing to be stuck Joe turned down my offers of assistance and instead man-handled the 300 to conform to his will. I laughed and photographed him as he slipped and slid every which way, slowly making progress in the intended direction. With the sun about to set we jumped onto the next road the powerlines crossed and met up with Adam for some food truck and brewery action.
Brec, one of the riders I befriended at the Trans-Florida Ride, asked if I would be interested in riding a mostly dirt route from Florida up to Tellico Plains for March Moto Madness. Already having plans to attend March Moto Madness, I quickly asked my boss for additional time off to take the long way up. With permission granted I packed up my tent home and spent my last few days in Florida at Adam’s apartment, getting in a few fully loaded test runs over the weekend.
Onward to Tennessee
Tuesday morning I loaded up the bike for good and headed north to meet Brec in Jacksonville. With his KTM 690 smartly packed and my Versys loaded to the brim we took off, picking up the trail west of the city. Following our route we winded up through the sand roads of Florida and into Georgia, eventually setting up camp for the night near Twin City, Georgia.
Rising with the sun we got an early start on our day, crushing many miles of sand that slowly gave way to the red dirt that Georgia is known for.
As the day wound on we found ourselves on the twisty, gravel, mountain roads of Chattahoochee National Forest nearing sunset. With only 35 miles of riding left before hitting our intended stop, Mountain City, Georgia, my trunk broke free and tossed itself down the gravel road. The bouncing had sheared the horizontal pins from the ¼ turn fasteners that connect the adapter plate to my tail rack. With a quick zip-tie repair we were back underway only to have it break off again a mile down the road. With sunlight fading fast I was prepared to leave my trunk, its only contents being a sleeping bag and pillow which I could lash to the rack and some MREs I would have to leave behind. Brec insisted that we give it one more go but this time he lashed the adapter plate to the rack with a cam buckle strap. To my delight this worked, but the happiness would be short lived. While stopped at a junction a mere mile down the road my oil pressure light illuminated red. Neither Brec nor I had oil with us and we were still 30 miles into the mountains. Reviewing the roads on the GPS we see that we are already on the shortest path back to civilization and we decide to push on. Maintaining revs to elevate oil pressure enough to stave off the light became my new riding style as we made our way through the forest in the dark. Pulling into town a little after 9pm we decided to get a hotel for the night.
In the morning I got oil from gas station next-door which conveniently carries Rotella T-6. The versys eagerly gobbled down a quart, followed by most of the second bottle. This was not good; an oil change requires 1.9 quarts per the manual, only 1.7 if you don’t change the filter. The moment of truth: I pushed the starter and it reluctantly came alive only to stall when idling. Sometimes the bike does not like to idle on cold mornings I reminded myself and I fired it alive a second time. Mildly concerned, I crossed the street to the gas station only for it stall as soon as I pulled in the clutch. My concern quickly grew; I thumbed the starter button but there would be no third time.
Not wanting to accept its fate, Brec and I swapped batteries since it was cranking a bit slow. No dice. With it starting to rain a man from the town Welcome Center offered me the use of his pavilion to work on the bike. After pushing it over I pulled the tank off and checked the air filter for oil only to find that the entire airbox was covered in dirt.
I called my friend Chad, who lives in Georgia and would be attending March Moto Madness, to see about getting a lift. Chad offered to pick me up on his way north that night, even though it was two hours out of the way. Seeing as I had all day to wait he recommended that I try pulling the plugs and putting some thick oil down the cylinders in an effort to raise compression enough to get it started. Now armed with a plan, and back-up plan, I said farewell to Brec as he continued his journey solo. (Brec has a much more detailed report of our ride, with plenty of pictures, located at http://advrider.com/index.php?threads/waybills-ride-to-tn-from-n-e-florida.1229589/ )
I walked down to the auto parts store and picked up oil and fresh plugs and got to work. I poured oil into both cylinders and gave it time to settle while I found lunch. After turning over the motor a few times to blow out excess oil I installed the new plugs but not before checking for spark the old fashioned way. With the plugs installed and my fingers tingling I tried starting it again but the motor gave not even a hint of wanting to start. Due to the abundance of time and stubbornness I tried oiling the cylinders and cleaning the plugs three more times before accepting the hard truth that the versys was dead. I put the bike back together and waited for Chad to come save me.
March Moto Madness
Chad took me up to March Moto Madness where we meant up with Steve, Amelia, Rob, and Don. After some pleading, Steve and Amelia were kind enough to offer the versys and myself a lift back home. With a ride secured I turned to the problem at hand: how do I find a bike so I can ride with my friends? After asking around I discovered that GSM still had one rental KLR available for the weekend, and with some exchanging of information I had a hot new ride to thrash.
How is March Moto Madness? Well Steve answers that with his video better than I could explain:
Video by Steve Kamrad
Steve playing in the water
Chad and Rob laugh at Steve’s inferior, non KTM bike
Tough limbo competition this year
Don doing his version of limbo
Top of the world
Amelia ripping on the ‘burg
The crew pondering where to go next
After a great weekend of hanging with friends I loaded the versys up behind the TRD Pro and spent a cozy twelve hours with the Karmrads. Arriving back home in Maryland it was now April 2nd and time to return back to the normal grind. March was a hell of a month; now I have to figure out how to top it.
When Dave and I arrived at Burgdorf Hotsprings on Sept. 28, he announced we were going to stay the night in one of the rustic cabins. I was totally down for that as the original plan was to find a campground down the road and pitch our tent. The nights were starting to get very chilly and there had been talk of a wolf pack in the area that would howl all night. This created some eerie imagery, which a storyteller loves but I could do without wolves sniffing us out. Read more here.
This is my second visit to PSR....both thanks to Mr. Hall...
I just wanted to share how awesome the team at PSR is.
The photo above is a Tiger 1200 laying down with a holed oil pan, somewhere near the bottom of Saline Valley....see the close up below of a "bash-plate-fail".
The crinkled corner of the bash plate damaged the oil pan....and hopefully not the crank case.
So....these guys roll in around 8pm
....they've had a long haul back to PSR (couple hours), and need to go back with a truck,
....they explain their dilemma to the PSR folks and what additional tools they need for a long night of repairs,
....a few minutes later, a nice bearded gentleman shows up with a grinder, hacksaw, and extension cord,
....and says, just bring them back when you are done, let me know if you need anything else.
I look forward to going back.
From Gerald Massey:
LD Comfort – a performance base layer designed for riders, by a fellow rider
Mario Winkelman likes to ride his motorcycle. I’m not talking about bar-hopping or making a few runs to Starbucks, but rather Iron Butt-class runs spanning thousands of miles over a few days. Like many of us Mario found that at times he was suffering from a pain in the ass… so to speak. So Mario hooked up with a friend in the garment business and focused on inventing the perfect base layer for people that ride motorcycles. And thus, in 1999, LD Comfort was born.
LD Comfort “World Headquarters”
The riding shorts were quickly adopted by the Long Distance riding community and became the gold standard for base layer among this group. My personal experience with LD Comfort started with my introduction to the riding shorts about 10 years ago. I was already wearing Nike DriFit clothing as a base layer for both snowmobiling and motorcycle riding, so garments designed for this purpose were interesting to me. I loved the shorts and expanded my collection to include most, if not all, of the items in the LD Comfort line
When I ride I wear the LD Comfort shorts, but also the shirt, skull cap and socks. Most of the year if on the road for a few days or even riding for most of a single day this is all I wear underneath KLIM Badlands pants and one of several riding jackets. In winter I wear Warm ‘n Safe heated pant, sock and jacket liners between the LDComfort and my riding gear.
The Original – Riding Shorts The “Roo-Fly” design While the riding shorts are pretty standard items, there are a couple of varieties of shirt. I have both the standard mock neck as well as the new zippered mock neck. The zippered neck is nice in the summer to quickly release any build-up of heat when stopped, hiking, etc. Both shirts are long-sleeve as this is a critical part of the functionality of the gear. I won’t try to exhaust the topic here as it is all covered on the company’s website, but the long-sleeve mock neck serves as a great insulator/liner within either heated items or simply underneath riding gear.
But the real magic comes in the cooling capability of the shirt. The procedure is that in high temps, 90 degrees plus, you close up the venting on your jacket, leaving only a partial exhaust open in the rear. You wet the LDC shirt sleeves, usually from the elbow down, don and zip up your jacket, the open the end of the jacket sleeves to expose the end of the shirt sleeves. Once moving this creates your own personal swamp cooler and I have routinely developed brief chills or goose bumps on 100 degree + days upon initial highway speeds in this gear. Most people seem to report that the effect is good for a couple of hours at a time. You can extend the effective time by wetting more of the shirt, or even dunking the shirt and putting it back on if you have access to water to do so. Personally, I use a bathroom sink or hose and soak the sleeves initially. Then an hour and a half or two hours later I just hold my hand up and pour about half of a small water bottle down one sleeve from the open cuff, and the other half down the other side. That “recharge” is usually good for another couple of hours and doesn’t require getting off the bike
As I noted above I also wear the skull cap and socks pretty much year-round. The skull cap is great atwicking moisture and keeps me from experiencing sweaty helmet liner when it’s hot. The socks, which are the one item not actually made my LDC but sold by them, are thickly reinforced in the toe and footbed. I have found them to be extremely durable. Though I have several of each item for convenience, all of these items are easily cleaned in a hotel room sink with an individual packet of a mild soap. As they dry very quickly there is no issue doing so even in an overnight quick-turn while rallying or traveling. I have traveled for more than a week with two sets of each item – one in use and one clean.
For those in the Pacific Northwest another great thing about Mario and LD Comfort is that they are right here in our neighborhood. The company is located in Hoquiam, Washington, a coastal town located on Gray’s Harbor, along Highway 101 about 50 miles west of I-5 at Olympia. Though I have only been outside the building I understand that in addition to their website there is a small showroom and retail space within their facility. Though probably obvious from this review, I am clearly a devoted fan of LD Comfort and like so many others have tens of thousands of miles experience riding in them.
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I pretty much met my match out on the trail this past weekend. I was out for a nice ride on some easy trails I knew up in the mountains above Salt Lake City when I proceeded to make a cascading series of mistakes that got me in a heap of trouble. My 1st being riding on unknown trails alone. I ended up tired, embarrassed, and feeling like a bit of an idiot.
I decided to try a trail I had never been on before. On the GPS it was only a couple miles long and ended up back on the main road. Easy! I headed down the trail and it was great at first. The usual rocky trail that I’m used to, somewhat narrow, minor washouts, thin surface mud and puddles in places, you know all the things that make riding a trail fun! Not to mention the scenery and views were amazing!
The first obstacle on the trail was a bunch of rocks firmly planted in the ground with sharp craggy tops - all about a foot or more tall. Nothing like the soft fuzzy rocks I’d been riding through so far. Just below that was some loose scree and then a coffee sized boulder. Beyond that the trail looked like more of what I’d just been riding. I wasn’t crazy about this obstacle, but sometimes you’ll find a nasty spot in an otherwise good trail that if you can just get around or over all will be well. There was a side-hill whoopty that I could use with a bit of momentum to get around the rocks. Fortunately the whoopty dumped into the scree with the perfect line to get around the boulder. I made my 2nd mistake and proceeded around the obstacle that I knew would be very difficult to surmount in the opposite direction. If I needed to return I’d have to ride uphill through scree, turn in the scree while keeping up momentum, and hit the whoopty perfectly to get around the rocks again. I wasn’t worried at all at this point though as I figured the rest of the trail would be just fine, and in a couple miles I’d be back on the main road.
Around the next corner? Crap. The trail started to quickly degrade. Steeper downhill slopes, worse washouts, more scree. At this point I knew I would have a very difficult time going back the way I came. So on I went. I did find one wide enough and flat enough place to dismount and rest in the shade which is where I snapped the first picture above. From there I walked a little back up the trail to try to get a more representative picture. Here’s a section I actually rode through. Meaning I was up on the pegs actually riding the bike. I wasn’t willing to waste the energy needed to walk back up to one of the “less than 2 miles and hour sitting on the seat paddling and screaming for my mommy sections”! What this picture doesn't represent well is the 30 to 35 degree downslope of this section.
From here I took it very slow. I’d walk a little ways ahead on the trail, scout out my lines, ride the lines, stop when I could, and repeat. The trail just kept getting worse and worse and I was digging myself deeper and deeper into the crap pile. I just kept looking at the GPS and thinking “It’s only 1 mile to the main road! How bad can it be”? Then I’d come up on something like this. Plan my line. Make it through.
At this point returning the way I came just didn’t seem like an option. I was doing alright though. Hadn’t dropped the bike once, was making progress, and more or less feeling pretty good about myself. Hell, I even ran over a rattlesnake with my front tire, he struck, hit my boot… Meh - I’m invincible.
This section made me feel particularly good about myself. A narrow weave through a washout, but what you can’t see is the 30 yard long 45 degree downhill scree slope right after the left turn in the pic. I pulled it off - managed the bike with some rear brake down the scree which ended in a nice meadow.
Took a long break after that, and walked some more trail. Looks like it might be getting better finally! Yay! I was just getting ready to push on when this Jeep came down the trail I had just ridden from above me.
It’s a CJ of course, and naturally the guy’s name was actually CJ. The nicest, and most helpful guy you’d ever meet. He was quick to tell me he wasn’t going any further down the trail as it was impassable a bit past where I’d just walked. Very steep, covered with scree, and pretty much washed out to non-existence. At least 3 times worse than what I’d just come through. In fact, two months ago a jeeper died trying to come up that section when he rolled his jeep over backwards. Now, I realize I’m on two wheels and am not a jeep, so it’s very possible that what he sees as impassable may very well be passable to a bike, but at this point my confidence was completely shot. After a bit of deliberating internally I decided the only way out was back the way I came through a trail I did not want to go back through. Double crap.
CJ said he'd follow me up and make sure I got out. An amazing guy. So up I went. At first not so bad. Moving at a pretty good clip keeping up momentum over the rocks when I took a bad angle and ended up in a bush. Sorry, no pic of the bush. CJ caught up and helped me yank the bike out of the bush, get it back on it's wheels and off I went again.
Another nasty obstacle - had a bad line and had to stop. Good thing I did cuz down came 2 Tacomas and a FJ. Now the predicament of getting me out of the way, and CJ's jeep out of the way to let the 3 Toyotas get by and out of our way. Classic trail dilemma. Lucky for me the 3 Tacoma drivers looked like they lived at the gym, and we just literally picked the 560lb bike up off the ground and moved it over.
I Didn't have much room to get a run at the obstacle which was on a really steep sideways cant. Lost the rear end into the ditch and the bike ended up on it's side and upside down. The three huge guys were still around thankfully, so we just picked the bike up and carried the damn thing the rest of the way up the obstacle. Off riding again. Completely wasted, burnt out and tired.
Finally came up on the big doozy of an obstacle. You know, that first rock pile I’d navigated around knowing it would be exceedingly difficult to get around in the opposite direction? Yeah, that one. I though about it. Thought about it some more. CJ finally says - "you're not doing this. your too wiped out and you'd have to be completely on your game to pull this off. If you screw it up you WILL break bones. I don't give a shit about your bike, but your not breaking any bones." As luck would have it AGAIN two more jeeps pulled up behind us, both with Andre the Giant at the wheel. We got the bike out of the way enough to let CJ in his CJ by, and he went up past the rocks, turned around, and payed out his winch. Yes I said payed out his winch. We winched that damn Tenere up around the rocks. BTFA! If those guys hadn't been there I would have been leaving the bike and walking home - I am forever in their debt.
AltRider - your crash bars and skid plates are indestructible! Unfortunately I don't have video of winching over the obstacle itself as the camera operator had to go run the motor in the CJ's jeep so his battery wouldn't die. You can get a pretty good idea of what we were up against though.
After that it was smooth sailing back to the road. CJ met back up with me there and we aired the tires back up on the bike and his Jeep, fixed some bent crap on my bike, had a couple beers, and shot the breeze for about an hour. Great guy - CJ wherever you are, YOU ARE MY HERO!
If it hadn’t been for all those 4-wheelers being in the right place at the right time I would have been screwed. I either would have had to leave the bike there and walk out to return later for it, or more likely done something I shouldn’t have done in my wiped out state.
- Never ride an unknown trail alone. For that matter it’s not really a good idea to ride any trail alone whether known or unknown. You never know what kind of crap you’ll get yourself into.
- Never cross an obstacle you are either A) Not willing to cross again, or Can’t cross again in the opposite direction. Option B is exactly what I did in this situation, and as you’ve read it got me in a serious pickle.
In the end it all worked out ok. No damage to me, and some minor damage to a couple of the guards/plates on the bike, but meh… that’s what their for right?
con·trol, kənˈtrōl/ - noun
1. 1. the power to influence or direct the course of events.
syn·er·gy, ˈsinərjē/ - noun
1. the interaction or cooperation of two or more agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.
No doubt you've been wondering why adventure riding is so dull. I'll tell you.
When we're riding, we have nothing to do! Aside from activating the odd turning signal or grip heater or GPS, we have very little that we can do with the bike. The meat of the matter is… a bit salady; we can control the bike's direction - right, left, straight, nowhere, and with a little extra 'body English', up & down - and we can control it's acceleration - positive, negative, & nothing.
We don't even have many tools with which to exert this control. We can fiddle with the clutch, the front & rear brakes, the engine (throttle), and the suspension. This last we can fiddle with indirectly, by pressing (or not pressing, or pulling…) on the bars, the pegs, the tank, or seat, or really any part of the bike we can touch with part of our bodies.
Our bodies. We can't do much with the bike without touching it. Bike control, really, is all about body control: the only way we can control the bike is by touching it - so it pays to develop the skills, strength, & flexibility to enable ourselves to apply our body to the bike in as many different ways as possible. And to develop the endurance to be able to do that a lot, for a long time, when we want to.
So, I started at 'riding is dull' & got to nine things we can do with the bike, coupled with the idea that the more athletic we are, the better able we are to do any of those nine things. Well, I can get more options on a pizza, but maybe it's not that dull…
What are we actually manipulating, then? When we use our body to wield one of those few tools we have available to us on the bike, in order to alter (or keep from altering) the bike's direction or acceleration, what, actually, are we manipulating thereby? Again; not a lot: We can manipulate traction, balance, momentum, and what I will perhaps incorrectly call Angle of Attack, or lean - which may turn out just to be balance, really. So - for now - four things. That's it. Let me know if you come up with another.
Here's where it gets (for me anyway) interesting: We're only manipulating those four things, but I submit to you that 1) We can use ANY of those 4 things to manipulate BOTH direction AND acceleration; and 2) We can use ANY of the tools I listed above to modulate ANY of those 4 things (or, almost any).
So, adventure riding is dull because we only have
1[body] x 6[tools] x 7[directions] x 3[accelerations] x 4['things'] = 504 -
- wait; that's not right. One body we have, but at our best we are in contact with the bike with two feet, two hands, and two knees - at least - and although the other controls can really be manipulated from one place, suspension can be influenced from many, so,
(1[body] x 5[tools] + 6[body parts] x 1[tool]) x 7[directions] x 3[accelerations] x 4['things'] = 924
Nine hundred twenty-four things to do. Hm. This is beginning to sound like work. Or at least - interesting...
In reality, there are probably a few less combinations available that are actually functional, but the statement above makes an important point to absorb, slightly inaccurate though it may be, for it is MOSTLY accurate, and quite revolutionary, from many folks' perspectives. So I'll say it again: We can use our body in AT LEAST 6 ways to wield ANY of the 6 tools at our disposal to manipulate ANY of the 4 things with which we can make the bike go up, down, nowhere, straight, right left, slower, faster, or the same speed.
So now you know why adventure riding isn't very dull; there's so much to do!
"But wait; there's MORE!"
There's one other tool we have for manipulating traction, balance, momentum, & lean. It's sort of a weird one. It's terrain. Admittedly, we must use other tools to manipulate those things in such a way as to guide the bike onto specific terrain, but in doing so, we can guide the bike onto terrain that then helps us further affect traction, balance, momentum, & lean. Compared to the other tools - take the clutch, which we can engage, disengage, or slip - terrain is almost endlessly varied, often in unpredictable ways. Our ability to use it is limited (or broadened!) by strange things like creativity, past experience, or bravery. [... And the discipline (& In Situ SkillzDrill) of Line Selection was born..] This adventure riding thing is beginning to sound downright exciting, to me!
"But wait; there's MORE!" And now, finally, you get to find out why this post is titled Control Synergy: We can use more than one of our available tools, at the same time! And, if we can use ANY of the tools available to modulate ANY of the 4 things we, er, modulate in order to control ANY of those… bunch of things we can control, well, then we can use ANY COMBINATION of … message repeats… How cool is that!
I TOLD you adventure riding is fascinating. But you didn't believe me…
A lot of EarthRider classes focus on a specific riding technique or skill, and implicitly, on the tools most effective in performing the technique, or what to do with your body to get the riding results the class is about. Control Synergy is a different class in that we spend time considering some more seldom-used control combinations, & discuss what they might be helpful for. It's a class that tends to fatigue small muscles instead of large ones, that often requires 'detail work' and finesse, that is as much about riding slower well as it is about riding faster safely. Riders don't generally go home with a specific new skill in their pocket ("Now I can back into a turn!"), they go home with an arsenal of ideas about how they can go out & play on their bikes in a dirt lot for 20 minutes and continue thereby to make notable improvements in there riding.
<inevitable plug>"And its coming up on April 17. Check out the EarthRider website for registration & other information." </inevitable plug>
Keep the rubber off the asphalt!
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They say adventure is only glamorous in retrospect…
The sky was overcast and ominous as I headed away from Sani Pass. I could already feel butterflies in my stomach at the prospect of heading into the unknown all alone. Sani Pass and its lodge, bar and backpackers are still very civilised, very well known, and very close to the South African border. I had heard lots and lots of stories about Sani and seen millions of pics, but now, the trip was actually starting, and I could feel it strongly. Happy, but nervous to be on the bike again I made my way into great wide open, now with a pathological fear of having another puncture.
Heading away from Sani with the weather coming in
The weather started to worsen, the thermometer on the bike showed 0.0 degrees C, with a grey sky that was quickly darkening, and light that was fading. Then it started to rain, soon with increasing intensity on an already waterlogged, mud road. With the rain also came a cold mountain wind. Slipping and sliding over the wide, muddy roads, and steadily beginning to feel the cold, I made my way further up the mountain, gaining altitude as I went. When I look back at the GoPro footage I had taken from the helmet-cam, it had already been noticeably snowing for some time already, but I only realised later when I saw it against my black glove. To see the snow was very unexpected for me, it would be my first time riding though snow and I was really excited (oh the irony). I saw the snow as a blessing, and when combined with a beautiful view and a great rainbow I was overcome with relief and felt crazy-chuffed with myself for overcoming the hard morning I was having (Pffft! Hahaha!).
Noticing the snow for the first time, I was still excited about it at this stage…
Beautiful view and a rainbow before it all went to hell
And now for a phrase I’ve been waiting to type most of my life: LITTLE DID HE KNOW the unsuspecting biker had completed the relaxing, warm, dry, morning stage of the ride. And up I went. The weather got infinitely worse, and so did the road. Freezing temperatures, driving rain, snow, sleet, and hail (yup, that’s right: hail) made the ride unbearably uncomfortable, and to add to this, not only had I not attached my winter or wet layers into my gear, but my both my phones were useless. I had absolutely no reception and no-one knew where I was. This would prove to be one of the hardest parts of the journey mentally, which came as quite a surprise to me. The greatest source of my stress throughout the ride would be the idea of what my wife and mother might be going through back home after not hearing from me after I had promised to check-in with them daily. This theme played through my head for the majority of the ride, and I think the mountains taught me a great deal about the effects our decisions and our well-being have on our loved ones, and seeing things from their point of view. It taught me to worry about my safety not for my sake, but for theirs.
Anyway, enough with the touchy-feely fluff and back to the ride. The road was a bloody disaster and I was colder than a well-diggers arse, it had gone from a wide, muddy, dirt highway to an uneven, narrow, rocky pass, with very slippery mud and a sheer drop on one side. All then while the weather continued. In one clear, God-given few minutes, the weather held up to a drizzle, and after psyching myself up, I pounced off the bike, took of my jacket and my pants (not at the same time obviously- that would be insane) and zipped the waterproof and warm layers into them, shivering violently. In this period I even managed to put on a dry shirt and swap my gloves out for a dry pair with some glove liners underneath, whilst this was happening, two local girls walked past me and shared a very awkward moment with a half-naked, pasty-white South African in panic-mode.
The last shot before my battery died, it only got worse from here on
By now, the weather had started up again, it was becoming so foul that it became dark, and the sun ‘set’ at about 16:30. It was soon pitch dark, made worse by the weather, the road, my lack of cell coverage, the massive mountain and the fact that I was alone and no-one on Earth knew where I was. I was beside myself with a whirlwind of worry, and no matter how I rode, my destination didn’t seem to get any closer. I pushed into the night, counting kilometer by kilometer through the muck and the cold, never before have I had to work so hard to motivate myself to keep on going, even though stopping was not even a vaguely an option. So I carried on following my orange headlight through the night through kilometer upon kilometer of windy mountain roads. Soon, in the absolute middle of nowhere, I came upon a massive half-constructed highway overpass, very odd since the only nearby road was the crappy little one I was on, which went under the bridge. It made a very impressive scene, which was very post-apocalyptic in nature when viewed with a bit of imagination. As I rode under the huge concrete bridge I noticed that it provided amazing shelter from the rain as well as the wind, so for a moment I shared a thought with my own brain: ‘are you thinking what I’m thinking?’. I was desperate for shelter and rest, it was now about 20:00 and my destination was still a long way off. I would have to put up the tent again, it would be very cold. With the bike stopped I looked around, it was deadly quiet, and pitch dark, no workers, offices or any signs of life. This place looked completely deserted, had I made a wrong turn? Where was I? I suddenly had an intrusive, unwelcome thought about the movie “The hills have eyes”. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. We ride on! Immediately!
And so I pushed on, it felt like forever, but before long I saw lights, lots of lights. This had to be Thaba Tseka, the town before Katse Dam, and I have never in my life been so happy for my tyres to hit tarmac – I even did a little dance and accidentally ran a stop-street to celebrate. The thought of pushing on further to Katse dam seemed ridiculous at this point, a bad idea. And as I was thinking this, I saw a sign. The illuminated words ‘lodge’ were an absolute God-send, I rode in without delay. Met with a large, sopping wet man in full motorcycle gear, shivering, with red eyes and a filthy face filled with panic, the staff looked at me like an alien had just walked through the door. They were the most amazing people, immediately I had a room, the manager let me use her own cellphone to call my very relieved wife and organised me dinner when I was ready. For Thaba Tseka this is extremely impressive and was very unexpected.
I didn’t even realise how cold I had gotten, it had gotten to the point where it could have become very dangerous medically. This became apparent when, after peeling off my mud-soaked gear, I was still freezing cold and shivering after 15 minutes in a boiling hot bath. I warmed up, I ate, I drank hot-chocolate, and I slept in a warm, dry bed, where I could remember the idea of the overpass without regret.
Buggered… finally in Thaba Tseka
My Thaba Tseka room didn’t know what hit it…
In the morning I missioned off to the local PEP store and bought myself a sim-card with a Lesotho number – I was back in the loop and back on the radar. The benefit with being so close to Katse Dam was that I could take my time that morning, and really enjoy the ride. When I started the ride again it became apparent to me what I must have missed the previous day by riding in the dark and the ‘hell-on-earth’, I must admit, I was a bit sad about it, and still am.
The ride consisted of windy, open gravel road, every turn had a better view than the last. It felt like a massive luxury to have the sun on my back, and be able to stop for a drink here and there, play with kids in the villages, and be near-assaulted for “sweeties”. Life was damn good again.
This is Thaba Tseka – All of it.
Majestically introducing scenery – one of my many talents
This is the pass that I rode to Thaba Tseka: it’s much more relaxing from afar
The sweetie monsters
Most were very camera shy – not this guy
Before long, the beautiful ride led to Katse Dam, absolutely beautiful, and now I could see it properly. That night I ate like a king at Katse lodge’s restaurant with fancy 4x4ing families and followed it up with a dinner of junk-food in bed reading Jupiter’s travels – amazing. At Katse lodge I stayed in a dorm, I was the only person in a massive, echoey dorm, with communal bathrooms and a good creep-factor, luckily I couldn’t be bothered this time round and I had a blast, I did my washing and my room even had a powerful heater that managed to dry all my gear and even scorch one riding sock, what a win.
The GPS was being really helpful all the way to Katse Dam
And finally, I made it – Katse Dam wall
My dorm at Katse, not even slightly creepy.
This was the view from the dorm window – too cool
My awesome turbo-heater, doing a great job of drying out the gear
Coming up in Part 4 (The last one): Some of the best, and most satisfying riding ever, an amazing African ski resort and an unpleasant encounter with a taxi to bring to ride to an abrupt end –
For more on The Great Amertican Trek visit: www.greatamericantrek.com
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Photos by Stacie B. London
The LA / Barstow / Las Vegas route chart described the next quarter-mile of Red Rock Canyon as a "Rock Garden." What was actually off the front wheel of my 600lb motorcycle didn't resemble any garden I had ever seen. Gray exhaust smoke hung low in the canyon, glowing in the late afternoon's winter sun and the air was thick with the smell of cooking clutch plates and overheated engines. The trail ahead merged into a dry creek bed through a long, narrow gorge that was filled with car-sized boulders and steep rock faces. In it was a traffic jam of bodies and two-wheeled machines. The scene was a mass of human-mechanical struggle. Some motorcycles lay on their sides, others were bottomed-out over high jagged rocks as their riders fought to stay upright, exhaust pipes belching, tires spinning and men cursing. One bike even appeared to have been abandoned, it's front wheel inexplicably buried in silt up to the axle.
An unending stream of riders flowed up the canyon, some pausing to consider what they were about to face, others throwing themselves into the trail's maw without a moments hesitation. Men on torque-addled enduro machines with tall, supple suspensions and claw-like knobby tires throttled their impossibly light machines onto the rocks one atop of another.
My 1200cc BMW felt heavier than it ever had . Climbing off, I hiked down the trail to let Stacie know that we had to turn back. We had come so far over that past couple days, overcoming miles of deep sand, boulder strewn fields and single track hill climbs, but now it was over. This final metal mashing section seemed impassable. The notion that we would have to turn back and go around the mountain to Las Vegas by the "easy route," left me defeated. I didn't even have the energy to be angry at myself for not being good enough. Redrock Canyon had humbled me. After covering hundreds of off-road miles the final turn onto the paved highway for Las Vegas was a mere ten miles further up this trail and over the mountain. But it might as well have been another hundred miles. Riders on bikes 300lbs lighter than mine were melting down in the sausage grinder ahead and the prospect of getting my beastly BMW through the carnage seemed impossible.