The riders and their mighty steeds.
The riders and their mighty steeds.

By Sev Pearman

This past July, I got itchy and called MMM® off-road guru Paul Berglund and asked if he was up for another Colorado mountain ride. “Sure. What do you have in mind?”

“The Tin Cup Challenge. It is time.”

“I’m in.”

The Tin Cup Challenge is a reference to MMM’s Trans-America Trail ride (see April, 2011 issue of MMM®). On that trip, Hancock Pass in CO was washed out. We re-routed over Tin Cup Pass and a get-off by yours truly landed me in the hospital. With each re-telling of that ride, the adventure grew. Publisher Wanchena then started joking that if we would buy it, he would ride any vehicle over Tin Cup. We amused ourselves by emailing ads of choppers, mini vans and stretch limos, bragging, “Yeah, I could get that over Tin Cup…”

Jump ahead to July, 2016. The Tin Cup Challenge boasts have grown stale, I haven’t taken a long trip since April and there is a hole in my calendar. Time to shut this down.

First, I needed a bike. In my garage were two Moto Guzzis and my KTM trail bike. The KTM was no-contest and the Guzzis are too pretty to toss off a cliff. This meant I had to buy something. I decided to go with a Japanese street bike. Internet searches would find possibilities but the sellers were either insane (“Ran when I put it away in 1996; no title; $1,800”) or baffled by electronic communication.

A call to Kim at Sport Wheels (www.sportwheel.com) got the ball rolling. Paul explained what we were up to and our paltry budget. Kim listened patiently, expressed her support and steered us toward a few bikes. $500 doesn’t buy much but I settled on an ’86 Suzuki GS450. We did the paperwork and I drove home with a hideous but running Metric cruiser in rattle-can black. While I had hoped for a standard bike, a cruiser, with its additional handicaps, would add “trail cred” to my Tin Cup Challenge.

I cleaned the carbs, fixed the tank leak and installed fresh fuel lines. New spark plugs and caps smoothed out the idle. I changed the oil and brake fluid. Over the next two weeks, I sorted things as needed. While the ride and performance were dated, the bike basically ran fine.

Next up was a test of her off-road (li)abilities. The Suzuki was no KTM. Those ancient street tires were a joke. In loose soil, the front would plow straight ahead. While lowering the pressure to 15psi helped, I wanted to replace them with knobbies or a decent dual-sport tread. Other areas of concern were the slippery, ribbed foot pegs; low-slung oil sump and header pipes and suspension. The bike bottomed out on any bump bigger than a walnut.

A trip to Crosstown Cycle (www.crosstowncycle.com) in Bloomington was next. “You want to do what with this turd?” And with that query, “Turd Bike®” got her name. Crosstown confirmed the stator was shot. This meant that the bike would not generate electricity to recharge the battery. I would have to start each day with a full charge or risk it not starting. They said they could fashion a skid plate, dismissed the suspension worries and agreed that newer tires were a good idea.

I cut off the pillowy, OEM foot peg rubbers and inserted ice racing tire screws into the metal tangs. The tires were more problematic. The cruiser 16” rear limited tire choices.

My $1,000 budget depleted, I decided to run on the existing, ancient street rubber backed up by a used 19” dual-sport front and new, loaner 16” street rear as spares. I did spring for new spare tubes (front + rear) and a spare clutch cable. I was out of dough and out of time.

Fortunately, I would not be alone. I would be joined by Mr. Berglund and MMM® regular Rick. While I went cheap, Rick went low-mass. His weapon of choice was a 1977 80cc Yamaha Champ with a feathery 125-pound weight. Mr. Berglund went “Distinguished Gentleman,” by Range Rover-ing his 2008 Triumph Speed Triple with knobbies and a “stunta” crash cage. Why take a 100-hp street bike with zero off-road ability off-road? Because you can!

Arriving in Buena Vista, CO, we rode our “regular” trail bikes to St. Elmo and over Tin Cup Pass to assess the trail and get our chops up. Listed as Forest Road 267, Tin Cup Pass is six miles long and connects the towns of St. Elmo and Tin Cup, CO. FR-267 is more rocky trail than road. We easily made the 12,154-foot summit, proceeded to the town of Tin Cup and then bagged other passes. We returned to town and took our TCC bikes out for a final shakedown. All systems were “go”.

The next day, Paul led the way on his Triumph while Rick and I trailered our TCC bikes to St. Elmo. If everything worked, we would ride over and back, then have lunch in town. We left St. Elmo in formation, Rick blazing the trail. Unfortunately, the mighty Champ was muzzled by the thin air and Rick’s Viking mass. He waved Paul and I ahead. We wouldn’t see each other for hours.

Paul and I traded lead position as we rode up the southern side, both bikes easily navigated the trail. It was glorious to hear his Triumph triple in full song as Paul skillfully ripped toward the summit. At the summit, we paused for the obligatory pics, then headed down toward Tin Cup.  I led the way and – HOLY CRAP! What happened to the trail? What was easily traversed on my KTM the day before was an evil, rock-filled, case-bashing, trail of tears on the Turd Bike®. I struggled to maintain momentum, for if I slowed below a certain speed, gravity would take over and pull the bike from me.

A group of KTM riders did a double-take as I rode by on the Turd Bike® but I could not stop or wave. It took all my skill and strength to keep the poor Suzuki moving forward. After a half-mile, I pulled over in a relatively flat spot, panting from exertion and dripping with sweat. I dismounted, took off my helmet and hobbled back to look for Paul. He soon appeared, triple growling under the slipping clutch, bounced around the corner and high-sided. I scrambled up to help and a guy in an ATV stopped as well. We quickly got the Triumph on the trail, thanked the stranger and –

Ruh-roh…

Oil streamed out of the bottom of the motor. Somewhere since the summit, the mountain had delivered a mortal blow to the Triumph.

One thing about Paul: he never loses his cool. He calmly said that we would push and coast his now dead bike down to Mirror Lake, then go get the trailer and pick him up. We briefly discussed me turning around and riding back over the summit and getting the truck and trailer, but I didn’t want to leave him alone and frankly, didn’t think I could ride the Turd Bike® uphill over the merciless rocks.

Between my pushing and gravity, Paul bounced his dead, 470-lb bike down to Mirror Lake without further incident. At one point, he flagged down a couple in an ATV and bought their tow strap. If you want a new moto-challenge, may I suggest Team Off-Road Motorcycle Towing.

All that remained was a hundred-mile ride to the truck, then a repeat trip over Cottonwood Pass to Taylor Park, St. Elmo, Mirror Lake and Paul. I met up with Rick and Julie, we rescued Paul and returned to Buena Vista 13 hours after our departure. The Turd Bike® didn’t disappoint. It successfully completed the Tin Cup Challenge plus delivered another 200-miles. Damage? One jettisoned rear blinker and a broken tail light filament.

What about Rick? Walk/riding his Yamaha to the summit, both he and the Champ made it. Unaware of our plight, Rick turned around and rode back to St. Elmo and our trailer. It took hours to make a cell connection and get a recovery plan in place.

Lessons learned?

80s Japanese street bikes are simple, reliable and robust.

Street bikes make lousy off-road motorcycles.

Skid plates are more important than fresh knobbies.

Always ride off-road with a friend.

Satellite phones are good for wilderness riding.

When in doubt, take that motorcycle trip.

See you down the road.

See Paul’s story here Thunder On The Mountain

MMM

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