A Good Day of Riding

In keeping with the theme of the previous blog post, I took the Kawasaki Versys out to explore some dirt roads.  I started out by heading to the Holy Jim Trail.  It’s close to where I’m staying and I’ve been there a few times so I figured it would be a good place to start the day’s ride.

20160607_112254There’s a steep hill off to the side of the road that I’ve looked at and avoided in the past because it looked like it would be difficult to navigate with the Versys.  However, when I went past it today, I decided to give it a try.  After studying the hill for a minute or two to choose a line, I started going up.  About 3/4 of the way up the first part of the hill, I got into the deep bumps/ruts.   The rear wheel lost traction about the same time the front wheel slid in the soft sand and down I went.  Loose dirt and sand isn’t really what the street oriented Avon Trailrider tires were designed for so I’ll chalk this one up to poor judgement on my part.

I rolled down the hill about 10 feet and looked up at the bike laying over on its side with the top of bike on the downhill side.  I walked back up the hill and got the bike spun around so that I could get it up off the ground.  Since I was in some ruts and there was loose dirt all around, getting the bike upright and pointed back down hill by myself was difficult.

After getting the bike back down the hill, I continued down the dirt road to the end where I turned around and headed back out towards pavement.  I decided that I’d like to try a road near Lake Elsinore called N. Main Divide.  So, I headed to the Ortega Highway which I always enjoy.

I turned left onto N. Main Divide and after a couple of miles, saw a dirt road and turned on to it.  The first mile or two wasn’t too bad.  There were some ruts and loose dirt but nothing too hard.  Eventually, I stopped at the bottom of a fairly steep part of the road in a shaded area and setup my GoPro to capture some video.


The next couple of miles had some sections that were a bit challenging with deep ruts, loose dirt/sand and rocks but nothing too bad.  Eventually, I came to another steep hill that looked like more than I was willing to take on by myself so I turned around and headed back down the canyon.

At some point, I saw a turnoff and decided to pull off and see where it went.  It didn’t go far, maybe 100 feet, so I turned around and went back to the road.  As I was turning back onto the road, I touched the front brake and the front tire slid and I fell again.  I guess that’s why you’re not supposed to use the front brake in dirt.

I had a bit of a scare when I tried to restart the bike and it refused to start.  I walked away and soon realized that I hadn’t turned the key off when I dropped the bike and that that it probably just needed the ignition turned off/on again to reset the tip-over switch.  That was the problem and it fired right up for me.

Since this was the second time I had dropped the bike in one day, I decided that it was time to go home.  At 470 lbs plus gear, the Versys isn’t exactly a lightweight bike and I really didn’t want to have to pick it up again.

Other than a few steep spots where I had to work at keeping the bike from picking up too much speed downhill, the reset of the day’s ride was uneventful.  All-in-all, it was a good day of riding.

Damage to the bike was minimal.  The crash bars and BarkBusters did exactly what they were supposed to do.  The engine cases were untouched and the brake levers survived unharmed.  I have a couple of scratches on the right mirror and a small mark on the plastic near the gauges, but other than that, the bike is fine.  The dirt I fell down in is more like fine talcum powder than sand so it got into everything.  The bike could use a good washing.

Unfortunately, a bag of Chex Mix that I had in the saddlebag didn’t fare too well.  When the bike tipped over, the unopened bag popped and there were Chex all over inside the bag.  So much for my afternoon snack.

I was pretty dirty and tired when I got back home, but it was worth it.  After a shower and a cold beer, I felt good about the day’s ride.  I got to explore some canyons and back roads that I haven’t been on before, found the limits of my off-road abilities, was reminded not to use the front brake in loose dirt, and didn’t hurt myself or the bike despite falling down twice.  It was a good day.

Learning to Ride All Over Again

I’ve been riding motorcycles for about 10 years now having started on the street and gradually shifting towards more and more dirt riding.  It’s been an interesting transition in a number of ways.

My interest in riding dirt roads and trails has evolved over time.  When I first started riding, I wanted to go on long cross country trips to experience all that North America has to offer. Initially, I was quite satisfied to be able to go 500+ miles each day soaking up as much scenery as possible travelling exclusively on paved roads but over time, I started realizing that I was missing just as much as I was seeing.

I started wondering what was down that lonely dirt road that disappeared into the desert or what I would find if I traveled up a steep dirt road in the Rocky Mountains that quickly disappeared into the forest.  I found myself yearning for a different type of riding that would allow me to go places that most people pass by every day.

Many of the places I would have liked to go were simply off-limits when riding a big heavy touring bike.  While my Harley Davidson Electra Glide and BMW K1600 were both great at eating up miles on paved roads, these bikes are simply not made for dirt roads.  So, after 6-7 years of riding exclusively on the street, I started looking for a bike that would be more suited to dirt roads.

This led me to the purchase of my 2013 Kawasaki Versys in an attempt to open up more riding options.  The Versys has allowed me to ride some easy dirt roads while also being fun on the street.  While the Versys has allowed me to explore some Forest Service roads, it’s still more street oriented than a true adventure bike.

So, after crashing my K1600 in the summer of 2015, I decided that the replacement for the big BMW would be an adventure bike.   As it turned out, I ended up with enough enough money to replace the BMW with two bikes – the KTM 1190 Adventure and the KTM 690 Enduro R.

The two KTM’s have opened up new riding opportunities that were previously off-limits with the other bikes I’ve owned.  The 1190 is a great for longer rides and dirt roads are now something that I actively seek out rather than avoid.  While it is a bit bigger and heavier (40lbs) than the Versys, it somehow just feels more stable and easier to ride on dirt roads and trails.  Of course the 1190 is still a 500+ lb. bike with street tires so when things start getting difficult, I just turn around, make a note of where I am, and return another day with the smaller KTM.

The 690 Enduro has been a blast to ride.  As a dual-sport bike, it strikes a nice balance between street and trail riding.  The LC4 motor has plenty of power for street riding while the knobby tires and tall suspension make trail riding fun.  In the short time I’ve had the 690, I’ve been on some trails that I would never attempt on any of my other bikes.

This new focus on dirt riding has me feeling like I’m learning to ride all over again.  After so many miles of street riding, getting comfortable slipping and sliding around in mud,   loose dirt, and over rocks is going to take some time.  Further complicating things is the fact that I generally ride alone and don’t have anyone to show me the proper line over obstacles so I guess I’ll need to learn this the hard way.  With practice, I’m confident that I’ll improve my skills and when I do, it’s going to be even more enjoyable to get off the road and onto the dirt.

I’m currently back out in southern California for a couple of weeks and will be riding the Kawasaki Versys in search of that next dirt road to adventure.