A buddy of mine once told me that a good “Dual Sport” bike is really “the worst of both worlds…..Sucks in the dirt and sucks on the street man!” Imagine his disappointment when a few years ago, I bought one, a “roided up” XR650L with all kinds of ridiculous motor work. And, you know, despite enjoying the bike, for years I always gave his philosophy some credence. Until this past weekend, that is….
I recently decided that I might try and do a “Dual Sport” ride, maybe a 1 or 2 day affair, on June 14th and 15th. I was inspired by disdain for a recent bout of inactivity on my part, a recently renewed desire to ride dirt, and the fact that three of my WT
buddies were about to embark on a huge “adventure trip” to Colorado on KLR650s. I figured if they could ride clear across the country on KLRs, I could at least ride two days just about friggin’ anywhere. For those of you who don’t know what a “Dual Sport” ride is, it is not racing, but instead a well organized/marked tour that might cover hundreds of miles of various terrain, mostly—but not exclusively—off-road. It is, essentially, “gentleman’s dirt-biking”. My favorite kind.
Of course if I was gonna do it the bike would need some prep. First and foremost, I’d have to mount up some knobbies. The Avon hybrids I had on the bike were okay for a short blast to the woods, but would be a real disadvantage anywhere else. I needed a bigger IMS gas tank, a fresh chain and sprockets (with maybe a few gearing options) and to perform some basic maintenance to the bike. I’d also need to give my self a tune-up, get back on the bicycle and maybe lay off the “booze” for a week or two. I need to drop 35 lbs. to get down to fighting weight but if I could drop 5 in the next two weeks I’d be ecstatic. I was finally gonna do it! I had a plan firmly in place……until the phone rang last Thursday.
My buddy Trent (gpzTurbo
) had been trying to put together a NJ group ride for some time to no avail. This weekend he was going up to Lock Haven, PA for the “Durty Dabbers Great Adventure Dual Sport” ride. It was a huge event in the mountains of central PA, sanctioned by the AMA. He invited me to come up with him. I told him all my concerns about my bike, the tires, the tank etc. He told me “no problem”. I had my doubts, but after some hemming and hawing I decided to go for it…..I’d have little to no time for any of the preparations, save an oil change on the bike. All that stuff, including my “training
”, would have to wait.
I scrambled around on Friday after a hot day at work. I got everything loaded up and blasted westward.
I didn’t make it to Lock Haven until after 11:00. I was too cheap to get a hotel and slept in my truck. Trent was hours behind me and didn’t roll in until about 3:00 AM. We would be two tired dudes in the AM!!
The first day was an educational one for me. There are three ways to navigate a 100 mile loop through woods, trails and mountain passes you’ve never seen before. The first is a “roll chart
”, a primitive, but effective means of simply reading a little scroll and noting mileage. The second is to download a file of coordinates into your navigational system. Neither of us had a roll chart holder nor a GPS, so we would defer to the third method: Following the dude in front of you and hoping he’s right. The ride would consist of the main trail, alternate trails for more experienced (enduro) riders and an adventure bike (easy) loop for the hordes of BMW/Triumph etc. owners that showed up.
The ride started off with some pretty technical stuff and I soon realized that the regular trails were anything but. Mountains imply rocky surfaces and there were rocks aplenty up in those hills. For two “sugar-sand lubbers” like me and Trent it would require some adjustment to our typical techniques. Trent is a KTM guy but had recently procured an XR650L like mine, but newer. I was excited to be riding with a guy my age, who’d done this ride before, on a bike just like mine. Ever the competitive one, I’d now have a barometer. I soon realized that for the most part, I’d get by without knobbies, but have to watch my step in some of the roots and rocks. The trails had a great deal of character and were a great mix of rocky single track, rocky double, hard-pack and fast sweeping gravel roads. Although the big XR is really at home in the wide stuff, it was in the tighter stuff that I did my best riding. Now I know that this was supposed to be a pleasure ride but it didn’t take long before I started to really put the hammer down and pick some guys off. I also tried to gap Trent and there were a few times when I really got into a groove on my big old pig XR.
I did however take the time to stop at some of the better outlooks and soak it all in, reminding myself that this
is what it’s all about.
The views from up in Bald Eagle and R.B. Winter Forests aren’t the “Eureka!”, “Shout from the hill-top!” views that I’ve seen in the Smokies and out West in the Rockies. But they are, nonetheless, quite beautiful, with the kind of vistas that make you feel good ‘n warm inside, with lush green over-tones and an element of soft symmetry to them. I could live here, die here and be quite happy. And if my accomplishments on Day One were any indication, I’d ride like a madman in the interim.
The last section of trail that day was one of the most challenging. We wanted to do one of the “alternate” trails so I went ahead and did some reconnaissance. I should have known when I almost dropped my bike at the foot of the trail to turn back but I’m stupid
like that. I got a few hundred yards ahead and realized that I had no shot at making it up. This one had not rocks, but boulders
. If the XR had knobs, I might have made it, but even then I was probably in over my head. I turned back and released my frustration on the last descent of the day back to base camp. Trent and I flew through a beautiful section with an atypical back-drop. I hadn’t seen anything like it all day but we were in a tall stand of pines growing out of a beautiful, ashen soil. The Pines were all the same caliper and height, and their purity was interrupted only by an amazing mono-stand of 2 foot tall ferns. Their lemony green color went on, quite literally, as far as the eye could see. I remember thinking to myself that I should stop and get a picture. But I was rollin’ and my Mo-jo wouldn’t let me. I now regret that decision.
We’d logged 98 miles of trail with no major mishaps. We stopped and celebrated our ride with a hearty “Durty Dabbers” meal and chased it with a generous serving of alcohol and a coupla hours of bench racing. Along for the weekend’s ride were Collie and Dave and a few of the original members of the now defunct “Celtic Racing” Team, as well as Dave Gallo and a few other Team Promotion warriors. We recanted the day’s events and re-hashed countless stories of mayhem from our Pro-Mo days. Trent had me all pumped up for the job I did. It was the perfect end to the perfect day.
I was Fat, Smug, and Happy!!! Who needs knobbies anyway?
The second day started a little earlier than Day One. Two nights sleeping in a truck and a mild hang-over had us both a little groggy, but we were both pretty jazzed. Our plan was to blast the day’s ride and get on the road early. Day Two was gonna be a piece of cake. The day started with the famous “Durty Dabbers Creek Crossing”. We’d crossed plenty of water the day before but nothing this deep or wide. I was worried about it but Trent told me to chill out. The “no knobs” thing had me concerned. If I couldn’t catch some traction in that creek I was going down. We waited in line and you could hear all the hooting and hollering every time someone struggled…..or worse. We couldn’t see exactly what was happening but it sure seemed like a lot of screaming. Eventually we watched a buncha guys cross then our number came up. I decided that Trent should go first because he got me into this mess. He went out and capsized almost immediately. He got about thirty feet in and quite honestly it was the worst
effort I’d seen by anybody
all day. He must have hit something square.
The rescue crews quickly up-righted his bike but not before the tail-pipe was completely submerged. He was embarrassed….and screwed, and now I was feeling less than confident. One never wants to fail at this type of thing but especially with an audience so big and raucous. The way it works is this. If you cross and make it, they pay you no mind, maybe even applaud if you look good. If you cross ugly they mock you. If you give up and push across, they chastise you. If you flop like Trent did, they freak out.
I wanted to be ignored
. I put her in 2nd and was lugging across the creek. I thought I was gonna make it when near the end I hit something that made me veer to the left. I stuck my lefty out to push off the embankment and the bike stalled about twenty feet from the end. So now I had like thirty guys standing over me yelling all kinds of sh*t like “Try another button a$$hole” and “get a real bike” and I got a little flustered. I pointed to my tires and asked for mercy. They soon grew bored with me and my stalled XR and some of them jumped in to push me out. I was bummed I didn’t make it but the cold water in my boots felt strangely good. I did not yet realize that Trent’s mishap would start an unfortunate chain of events………
I was OK but Trent had issues. His bike had sucked a lot of water. We had to stand it up on its back wheel and drain a quart or two of water out of the pipe. Then we took the air filter out and dried it out too. We lost some time but eventually we got her to kick over. It’s a Honda, after all. The next section was supposedly a “hill climb” so we took off with a head of steam. He went first and he pulled a gap on me. We got to a very steep, very loose, very rocky hill and when Trent got about ¾ of the way up, water in his float bowl caused an untimely stall. I didn’t realize until too late and stopped right behind him. Without knobs, I had no shot at making it the rest of the way up. We both needed to get back down the hill but there was no room to turn around. We had to muscle our bikes around and it was a difficult, treacherous endeavor. We got his bike to kick over
and he tried again. No dice. I tried again. I just about made it and lost it. Thank God Gallo came by and pushed my sorry ass back to the top. I kept going a good clip but Trent’s third try failed so I had to hike back down a bunch of trail, help him drain his bowl, and then hike back up. It really kicked my ass. Trent was getting discouraged and promised his XR would be on E-bay next week. We then proceeded to get lost in an ORV park, where the trails were really dusty and nasty. Trent’s XR continued to stall and we drained it 3 times. We got lost again, until some old timer bailed us out then we got lost AGAIN. We got more disheartened when a second old-timer happened upon us and offered a short cut to the lunch stop. He took us down West Renovo road, an amazing little piece of pavement. Suddenly all our hardship seemed worthwhile as we gleefully clicked through a 35 MPH road at 65 -75 MPH. We must have been a sight to see. And I have nothing but respect for some of the grizzly old veterans we saw out there. These guys could ride.
Trent was talking about leaving after lunch but I had all my buddies work him over and he decided to do the last thirty miles. I was glad we did. The last leg started out with an ascent to the top of RB Winter Forest.
I snapped this shot at about 2000’. My camera cost $6 BTW….
I raced a coupla Irishmen down the hill and then it was time for the home-stretch. The last part of the ride was a bone-jarring high-speed down-hill trail that, if negotiated incorrectly, would result in a bruised ego or much, much worse. We backed off the pace and made it back to camp unscathed. 108 additional miles on the clock. 3 hours late. Intact.
Before I go, a few observations about this past weekend: First, some of my buddies have been encouraging me to try an enduro, and perhaps I will, that scene is intriguing to me. But I am certain
that Dual Sport rides are for me. I love the easy-going atmosphere, the camaraderie, and the riding. I love rolling hills and sleepy little towns with no cell service. These rides attract an additional element, the “adventure bike” element, whose bikes I think are so very cool. Here are a few pics of some “oldies-but-goodies”
Maybe someday I will ride one of these, but for now I’ve fallen back in love with my XR.
And my last observation would be: Holy Crap! I need to get back in shape.