Finding Adventure with Bilbo And Two Wheels
By Paul Berglund
Somewhere back in grade school I was handed a book of excerpts from other books; reading it was required, so I set about my task. My lackadaisical brain grew grumpy from the effort. Then I came upon one excerpt from The Hobbit. I was hooked. I went out and bought the book, not an easy thing to do for a kid in rural Minnesota in the 1960s. I read it many times over the years. When I got my first (and only) dog, I named him Bilbo. Thankfully he was an Australian Shepard and reputedly, he was smarter than me. Together we hiked along the river, over fields and through the swamp. I would be gone all day, returning only when I was hungry, or the smell of us grew too foul.
About the time I was age 12 someone gave me a bamboo pole. I don’t know where it came from, other than China. It was one of the most wondrous gifts I ever got. It was from the other side of the world. It was so light and yet incredibly strong. It joined Bilbo and I on our adventures. I would pole-vault from clump to clump and reach impassable parts of the swamp. Only Bilbo would stink of swamp from then on. With the bamboo I could poke the untouchable or fend off an enraged woodchuck. It was the most versatile of tools. It came to symbolize much more than a walking stick.
In those years, and for all the years before that, children like me were allowed to have adventures like these. Here in modern America, that’s over. Supervised activities are all that’s left to them now. Where are their swamps, their adventures?
Bilbo and the bamboo walking stick will live in my heart forever, but they have been joined by another wondrous tool of adventure: the motorcycle.
I’ve rode around the USA and that metric country to our North, having many adventures and seeing things I truly needed to see, and I have been to places that make travel so very rewarding.
After a few years my wife and friends no longer wanted to go on motorcycle trips. I took fewer trips on my road bike. Then it occurred to me that riding past a mountain on a motorcycle was one of my favorite things in life. What about riding on a mountain? I bought a dirt bike and began to train.
My traveling companions of old were confused by my new-found love. My wife (she too is reputedly smarter than me) liked me riding wooded trails better than riding the freeways of Atlanta or Seattle. I made new friends and converted old friends to off-road riding. The dirt bike had expanded my world once again. All the inaccessible places outside of towns and between the roads were mine to explore. And I’d even return home smelling of swamp from time to time.
Then, there came a time that I had ridden enough trails in Minnesota that I thought I was ready for the real trails, on real mountains. I focused on the trails in the Colorado Rockies. There are maps of sorts that show you where the trails are, but there’s little or no indication on just how difficult the trails can be. As a flatlander riding mountain trails for the first time, you don’t know what’s up ahead, or if you have the skills to ride it. You can choose to turn back or ride on. There is no try, only do.
It was a hot sunny day when we saw a trail on the map that would take us over some mountains and into Aspen, Colo. The morning ride went very well. We came out at some little mountain town, gassed up and had lunch. It was hard to find the second half of the trail. We rode past the entrance twice. Not many trails are marked in Colorado. The climb out of the valley was a very rocky switchback goat path that had me working hard to stay upright. The trail went on for miles. We rode through sections that were at or beyond my skill level. After 7 miles of bad trail do you turn back and the relive the horror? Or do you ride on and hope it get’s better? We rode on for miles. On one stretch I had fallen three times.
I didn’t know if I could go on. I lost all hope when I thought about turning around and riding back the way we came. I was sure I couldn’t do that. I did some soul searching standing by that rocky trail. We decided to forge on. Luckily, and oh so happily, that part was the worst of it. It wasn’t easy, and it did take two more hours, but we made it into Aspen. We sat at a gas station, drinking Gatorade. We were filthy and exhausted. We watched the wealthy residents drive by in expensive automobiles and we were very pleased with ourselves.
But we still had to ride the road over Independence pass to get back to our truck. From there it was a 20-mile drive back to the hotel. I was very weary when I (barley) swung my leg over my bike – my bamboo.
The sun went down before we reached the pass. Our feeble dirt bike headlights were no defense against the many deer we saw congregating at the side of the road. A guy in a large SUV knew what we were facing and motioned us to follow him. We made a tight formation just feet off his rear bumper and road on. Confident his front bumper would hammer any deer into pulp, should they try to get us. The air was cool, the sky was clear with stars twinkling, and as we rode I had Bilbo on my mind.
There have been heated debates amongst the motorcycling populous about the true definition of a Dual-Sport motorcycle.
Here at MMM, we’re going to go with the definition used by the manufacturer supported Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC). Thus, to us, Dual-Sport motorcycles can be both low priced small displacement models as well as relatively expensive large displacement models that can be taken on and off road.
As with Scooters, the relatively low purchase price for smaller models, their standard operating platform, and the utility effectiveness of traditional Dual-Sport models makes them a target for beginner and experienced riders alike. While true Dual-Sports can tackle mountain trails and roads with equal vigor, standing out in past years is the number of new models labeled as “Adventure Touring” bikes but more reminiscent of high-seated & racked large displacement standard models (Utility Standards?).
Including both small and large displacement models, sales of Dual model motorcycles were on a growth course up until a two-year downturn during the Great Recession, after which these do-all bikes bucked the overall sales trend and continued to grow in market share as more popular types of motorcycle – Cruiser, Sport and Off-Road – experienced downturns.
Still, Dual-Sport models make up only about 7% of annual sales of new motorcycles. In 2013, Dual sales in the U.S. totaled approx. 29,600 units, up +7.5% compare to 2012, still down -33% compared to a sales high point in 2008, but up a healthy +48% compared to 2003, according to figures supplied by Minneapolis-based Power Products Marketing (PPM).
The most popular models in 2013, according to PPM, were the Honda CRF250L, Kawasaki KLR650, BMW R 1200 GS/Adventure, Suzuki DL 650 A V-Strom, Suzuki DR 650 SE, Yamaha XT250, BMW F 800 GS, Yamaha TW200, Yamaha WR250R and Yamaha XTZ12 Super Tenere.
The R1200GS/Adventure again served as BMW’s best-selling bike in 2013. However, only 35% were the Adventure model ($18,200), with the majority of buyers preferring the sleeker model ($16,100). BMW’s third-best selling Dual model was the F 700 GS ($9,990), followed by the G650 GS Sertao ($8,650) and the now discontinued F 650 GS.
Honda’s CRF250L ($4,999) served as the best-selling Dual model in the U.S. in 2013. The OEM managed to move nearly four times as many CRF250L as its other Dual model, the XR650L ($6,690).
Dual models make up two of the top three best-selling models for Husqvarna. The TR650 Terra ($6,999) leads, with nearly twice as many sales as the TE511 ($8,999), which barely out-sold the TE449 ($8,599).
Introduced in 1987, Kawasaki’s KLR 650 ($6,499) continues to be among the best-selling Dual models in the U.S. In fact, Kawasaki in 2013 sold four times as many KLR 650 as its next best-selling Dual model, the KLX250S ($5,099). Fun fact: MMM is posted as a source on Wikipedia’s KLR 650 listing.
KTM’s best-selling Dual models in 2013 were the 990 Adventure ($14,999), 990 SM-T Supermoto ($13,999) and 1190 Adventure/R ($16,499). These results may appear skewed to some of you, since many Dual enthusiasts prefer to turn KTM Enduro models into street-legal D-S bikes. For instance, the 500 EXC ($9,899) sold approx. three times as well as the 990 Adventure, and even the 300 XC-W ($8,299) nearly doubled the sales of the 990.
Moto Guzzi in 2013 offered the BMW-chasing Stelvio 1200 NTX ($15,990) and now discontinued 1200 8V. The NTX sold nine times more than the outgoing 8V but, as Moto Guzzi is still viewed as a bit of a boutique brand, it still failed to sell in triple digit numbers.
Suzuki’s DL 650 V-Strom Adventure ($9,999) served as the third best-selling Dual model in the U.S., out-selling the DR650SE ($6,399) by approx. three hundred units and DR-Z400S ($6,500) by nearly 800 units. Other Suzuki Dual models included, in order of popularity, the DR-Z400SM ($6,999), DL 1000 V-Strom ($10,399) and DR200 SE (discontinued).
Triumph’s Dual models include the Tiger 800 ($10,999), Tiger 800 XC ($11,999), Tiger Explorer ($15,699), and Tiger Explorer XC ($17,199). Triumph in 2013 sold nearly three times as many Street Triple as its best-selling Dual model, the Tiger 800 XC. The Tiger 800 XC out-sold the base 800, Explorer & Explorer XC.
Yamaha sells four of the top 10 Dual models. Sales leaders were, in order, the XT250 ($5,190), TW200 ($4,590), WR250R ($6,690) and XTZ12 Super Tenere ($14,790).
My Day Working As An Escort
By Guido Ebert
My family has always had an interest in bicycling. I worked at Penn Cycle through my high school years, my brother spent a good number of years riding competitively for a couple of local teams, and my father … well, a massive amount of recreational riding has left him in critical condition in the hospital on three separate occasions.
That’s why I responded to a query from Tim Litfin, executive director of Minnetonka Community Education and event director of the Tour de Tonka (TdT), a bicycle ride of various distances organized to benefit the Minnetonka-based Intercongregation Communities Association (ICA) Food Shelf. Tim reached out to MMM in an attempt to secure motorcyclists willing to volunteer as escorts during the event.
I told Tim I’d be glad to help, that I was an avid spandex-wearing bicyclist in an earlier life, and that my 71-year-old father planned to ride the TdT’s 52-mile course (bicyclists could choose to ride a course of 16, 26, 44, 52, 67 or 100 miles, all of which meandered their various lengths from Minnetonka to Maple Plain in the north to Minnetrista in the west and Chaska in the south).
I had a problem, though: My Yoshimura-outfitted ’05 Suzuki SV1000S wouldn’t be the best bike for this type of application. I’d need an alternate pair of wheels – something offering upright seating, a non-abrasive sound, room for a passenger and take-alongs, and perhaps a bit of grunt.
Answering the call, the folks at Belle Plaine Motorsports were gracious enough to lend me a Triumph Tiger Explorer XC ($17,199) for the task.
At first glance, the Matte Khaki Green bike appeared far too large for my frame to handle. Almost comically large.
The Big Tiger weighs 587 lbs. in running order, stands at 55.5 inches tall (without mirrors), has a handlebar width of 38 inches, boasts a 33-inch seat height and stretches to a 60-inch wheelbase. I stand at 69 inches tall, weigh a soft 175 lbs. and sport what trouser makers often claim is a 30-inch inseam.
High-kick a leg over, add body weight and the bike sags into position. You’re sitting high, upright and dominant, arms splayed comfortably, and with plenty of room to move or for accessories. One foot is perched on a peg, the other stands firmly planted to the ground. Perfect form.
The adjustable windscreen could be placed to limit buffeting, even with my flip-up helmet open, and the broad, flat seat proved easily adjustable to either 33 inches or 34 inches without the need for tools. Still need a bit of ergonomic tuning? Even the bars and levers adjust.
Twist the key, engage the run switch and finger the starter … bub-blurb, burb, blurb, blurb … the bike awakens with a show of lights and a gentle “blurble” that – during a Northwoods tour – would allow fellow campground inhabitants to sleep right through your early-morning departure. ‘Nice,’ I thought, ‘a low decibel sound like this is sure to keep even the most internal combustion engine-hating bicyclist pacified as I roll by them.’
While I didn’t think I’d need the aluminum plate sump guard, 55w fog lights with aluminum guards, engine cage and hand guards, the Tiger Explorer XC gives you a host of sophisticated rider aids and tells you everything you need to know on a journey.
There’s switchable ABS, traction control, cruise control, two-setting heated grips and seat, a 12V power socket close to the ignition switch for a GPS unit or heated clothing and, for all of those modern electronic rider aids, a big 950w alternator.
As for information display, the LCD instruments use handlebar mounted thumb switches that allow you to toggle through two trip meters displaying distance covered, journey time, average speed, average fuel consumption, instant fuel consumption and range to empty, as well as a tire pressure monitoring system readout, heated seat power indicator, cruise control operation information, and a numeric readout for ambient temperature. Oh, and although we didn’t need it for this mid-summer event, there’s an on-screen alert for freezing temperatures as well.
Once underway, I found the Explorer’s 1215cc three-cylinder engine offers a huge torque spread, starting its massive pull early, achieving peak 121nm at 6,400 rpm, and continuing to strongly propel you forward to find peak 137bhp at 9,300 rpm.
Whether shifting at high rpms or lugging at low speed in high gear, the engine mated to beefy shaft drive proved as smooth as one would expect; ride-by-wire technology showed predictability and was narely noticeable; and the shifter and brake pedal were well-placed, too, when utilized while sitting or standing on the pegs – which I did a great deal of.
The 45mm KYB inverted front fork mated to 110/80R19 tire easily dealt with roadway – and trailway – irregularities, while the rear KYB monoshock with hydraulically adjustable preload and rebound damping supplied leverage for me, the three packed hard cases, and a passenger if necessary (the bike has a 489-lb. payload limit).
For panic on the roadway (or to check on riders with punctured tires), braking was supplied by twin 305mm discs at the front backed up by a single rear disc, all controlled by Triumph’s switchable electronic ABS system.
All together, those bit and pieces produce a bike that, despite its size, offers easy handling, whether in service at low speed or boogying through some fast sweepers.
As for that sound … While the Tiger Explorer XC’s stainless steel three-into-one side-mount silencer made the bike quiet as a standard passenger vehicle upon start-up and while lollygagging at 20 mph in 3rd, things change when you goose the throttle, the beautiful baritone bark of the triple accompanying you as you jettison down the road into the future.
So how’d the TdT go? It was a lot of fun. The start was at Minnetonka High School. Riders, separated by ride distance, would depart at 7:30am. I arrived at 6:30am to learn that I, during my inaugural TdT, would be leading the 67-mile route.
I placed the supplied map in my tank bag pocket, but it turns out I wouldn’t need it; organizers did a fantastic job of marking the routes, and members of law enforcement and volunteers staffed waypoints to further assist in navigation.
Ultimately, since the bicyclists had their own maps, my only duty appeared to be to keep them separated from motorists. While riding, I remember equating it to herding cattle back to the farm from their summer grazing pastures. The cattle know where to go, my main job was to keep them safe from predators during the journey.
I ended the event at around noon after logging approx. 100 miles. With Triumph claiming 68 mpg at a steady 56mph, the bike’s 5.3-gallon fuel tank left me with plenty of Go Juice to enjoy the remainder of my sunny Saturday afternoon.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. And I’m ready to serve the Twin Cities Marathon, triathlons and other events that need two-wheeled assistance.
By Victor Wanchena
Like many riders, I like to explore what our state has to offer, but I had never explored much of northeastern Minnesota. I had ridden Hwy 1 and the Gunflint a couple times, but never explored off the main roads much.
While looking for a summer adventure I was alerted to a dual sport ride up in the Arrowhead region called The Shindig. This was the 4th year of The Shindig, which was held the second weekend of July. It is hosted by MMM’s own Jesse Walters in Finland, Minn., and his stories of the back roads in the area had me intrigued, so I was in.
I decided to ride up a day prior and wander around a bit. I would be riding my DR 650, perfect for this sort of dual sport trip. I took a winding route that turned a 200-mile trip into 300-something. Leaving the Twin Cities metro area I found a few fun roads I’d been curious about. I picked up one called Old Military Road around Hinckley and followed it a long way north. My guess is it was a wagon route south out of Duluth in frontier days.
North of Duluth, I directed my wheel onto some forest roads and two-track lanes. A lot of it was fun, narrow gravel, and a couple turned real spicy. The best was a two-track that required a serious detour around some downed trees and then seemed to dead-end at some standing water and brush. I was not looking forward to back tracking when I noticed a dirt bike tire track going into the water. I tested the traction (i.e. rode in blindly) and found it was hard packed. 200 yards of water and I was back on over-grown trail.
The Shindig home base was the Wildhurst Campground in Finland, Minn. It is a nice lodge about four miles north of Finland on the scenic Minnesota Highway 1. The owners, Leroy and Colleen Teschendorf, are Twin Cities transplants who decided to leave the Metro to run a campground in the Northwoods. The Wildhurst welcomes The Shindig each year and are well equipped to handle the dual sport crowd; amenities include campsites, cabins, showers, and an on site bar/lodge.
Friday, the group met up in Finland at a breakfast joint and we split up according to the riding you wanted to do. Three main groups: big bike, small bike and scenic. I decided to try the big bike group, which would be mainly graded gravel and some two-track. Jesse was the leader for the big bike group and took us on a nice winding ride up to Grand Marais.
We stuck to forest roads and some two-track trails. I road sweeper in back figuring the big bikes would be miles a head of me, but the weather slowed them down. We rode through mist and rain the entire way to Grand Marais, and the wet grassy two-track was a challenge for some the bigger bikes.
After lunch we continued back to the campground in Finland. Much of these roads were old railroad grades. The timber companies in the area had built many rail lines from the North Shore into the interior. Trains were used to haul the timber in what was known as railroad logging. Many of the rail grades have been converted into roads, and offer a fun way to explore the area. We arrived back at the campground having put on 170 miles.
Saturday, there were a lot more bikes, around 35 total. I decided to run with the small bikes since there were so many in the big bike group. The small bike ride was focused on more technical trails. Our leader was Ted on a 950 Super Enduro. Ted was an excellent rider, quite fast, and wore a hatchet on his belt. I wasn’t sure about the hatchet until later. I had no shot of hanging with him and was content to ride sweep again.
His route took us on some excellent trails, mainly abandoned logging roads, around the Isabella area. These were really fun. There wasn’t anything too difficult to ride, but it was very tight and technical. Of the 160 miles we put on, half was old logging roads traveled only by off-road bikes and the occasional ATV.
Many of these old logging roads had grown into single track. Most were rarely traveled and downed trees were common, explaining Ted’s hatchet.
As the day progressed, our group dwindled as riders fatigued and mechanical issues popped up. Nothing major, just some missing bolts and bent bars. The day finished with a nice dinner at the lodge and requisite BS session.
Sunday I headed home, this time taking a more direct route. The riding and three days of sleeping on the ground had worn me out.
The scenery was wonderful and the roads and trails reminded me of Colorado without the elevation change. I have done myself a disservice by not exploring this area more. It was hands down some the best dual sport riding I’ve done in a long time.
The Shindig is a fun event. It felt more like friends getting together to ride as opposed to an “event,” and I plan to return next year. If you’re interested in riding the area, I suggest you check out the Northeastern Minnesota Riding thread in the Midwest regional forum on advrider.com. The Shindig has its own thread in there, was well. You can find more pictures, some videos, and watch for updates on next year’s dates.