By Paul Berglund
As foretold by the oracle in the last issue, I have built a scrambler. It didn’t turn out the way I had planned and then I did something else unexpected. I rode it over a mountain in Colorado. Tin Cup pass near St. Elmo Colorado to be exact. The outcome was… mixed.
In the original scrambler mission statement, I had theorized that scrambler motorcycles are made to ride on bad roads. I was still feverishly working on what bike I would use to build my scrambler when the former editor of Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, a Mr. Sev Pearman, declared his Tin Cup Challenge. He was going to buy a street bike for $500 and ride it over Tin Cup Pass at the end of August. Most likely it would be an early eighties Japanese cruiser, because no one loves them and they’re about the cheapest bike out there. I instantly wanted in on this action.
I began looking for a $500 motorcycle on Craig’s List. But mid summer in Minnesota, people are gripped with a profound delusion on what their motorcycles are worth. The poor souls that had their non running, just needs a carb clean, easy fix, dropped by previous owner, turd bikes listed on Craig’s List felt their bikes were worth $1000 or more. I tried to reason with a few of them but it only lead to frustration for both of us. This went on for nearly a month. It was then I remembered the TV cartoon Tom Slick.
Tom Slick was a racecar driver and he had one car called the Thunderbolt Grease Slapper. Each week he would enter a different race and modify his car to work in that race. I looked at my motorcycle (named Thunder Punkin) and thought that for the price of a turd bike, I could modify it to enter the Tin Cup Challenge. And that’s what I did. The road that runs out of St Elmo up to Tin Cup Pass is a bad road. From the pass down to the town of Tin Cup it’s not a road any more. It’s made entirely out of rocks and boulders and it’s closer to an obstacle course than a road. But I chose to ignore the “bad road” stipulation in scrambler’s modus operandi and press on.
I started to prep my unsuspecting Triumph Speed Triple for the challenge from the ground up. First thing I found were knobby tires. That was easy, I took the wheels off my bike and brought them down to Crosstown Cycle and asked them to put knobby tires on them. Done. Next I wanted some form of protection or crash bars to bolt on to my bike. I found a company on line called Xtreem Bikeworks (http://www.xtreembikeworks.com) that made “crash cages” for stunt bikes. I ordered up one of those and waited for it to arrive.
Between looking for a turd bike and helping Mr. Pearman with his bike, the two of us forgot that we hadn’t ridden off road all summer. We decided (a week before
we were set to leave for Colorado) that we should go down to Snake Creek off road park and do a test run on his bike. I didn’t have my crash cage yet, so I brought my dirt bike. We had a blast! His Suzuki GS450L was not good off road. Not good at all, but it can be done, and in the doing, much fun was had.
In all that enthusiasm, I forgot (again) that I hadn’t ridden off road all summer and high sided onto a bunch of rocks and cracked a rib.
Now I had two tasks. One was to finish prepping my bike and two was to not let my wife see how much pain I was in till we left for Colorado. The next day the crash cage arrived and I quickly explained it was protection bars and I was just sore from riding all day yesterday. Honestly, would you tell your wife that you were going to bolt an Extreem crash cage on your street bike and ride over a mountain in Colorado? What good could come of that? Saturday morning we had the bikes in the truck and drove off without much protest on her part. But then, she always appears skeptical when I explain what I’m about to do, for some reason.
Once in Colorado we road our dirt bikes over Tin Cup Pass on Monday. On Tuesday we saddled up for the Challenge. Mr. Pearman on his GS450L, Rick on his Yamaha 80cc Champ and me on my Speed Triple. Right away we noticed Rick couldn’t make it up the first climb. He neglected to re-jet the Champ and while it could move his butt on flat ground in Minnesota, it struggled mightily to do so at 10,000 feet in Colorado. He would make it to the top, but he walked next to it for most of the ascent. His wife had accompanied us on her ATV, so he waved Mr. Pearman and me on.
Mr. Pearman took the lead. It seamed no one wanted to follow a huge knobby tire spun by a 120 horse power triple up the trail. The sound was glorious. That ride up the mountain was one of my life’s highlights. A spur of the moment idea, followed by poor preparation never resulted in so much fun. When we reached the summit there was a large group of people in side by side ATVs. They gave us a funny look. They didn’t understand what we had just done. But Mr. Pearman and I knew, and Rick would know in about an hour. Right then we were on top of the world.
The next leg of the journey took us down the rock road to Mirror lake and then on another bad road to the town of Tin Cup. The clever boys at Crosstown Cycle had made a skid plate for Mr. Pearman. He bashed his way down on his Suzuki. Several hundred yards into our descent a large and nasty rock took out my oil pan. I shut down the motor instantly and it would be several weeks before it would run again. Luckily this mountain is steep and the bike and I were coasting in the same general direction as the gravity that was active here in Colorado.
Some parts where terrifyingly fast as I struggled to maintain momentum for the slightly up hill portions. It was on one of those up hill sections that I was breathing so hard while struggling to push the bike that my cracked rib decided to break. Then the fast down hill rocky sections lost some of their fun as the bike hammered my arms and thereby my rib. But I made it to Mirror lake on my own. I had to wait there for five hours while the rest of the team went to get the truck and came to pick me and Thunder Punkin up.
I stood in the drizzle and looked at the lake for most of that time. Every half hour or so I’d look back at that shiny orange bike parked at the bottom of the trail and I knew I would do it all over again without hesitation. This had been an epic trip and even though we were both wounded, each of us would heal and both of us would be the better for it.
See Sev’s story here 200 Miles, 12,000 Feet On 30-Year-Old Tires