I succumbed to the YOLO. I think the itch went from one of those “groinal that I’m going to scratch through my pocket and hope no one sees” to unbutton flys and make like grating cheese” when I went for a ride with a friend on his KTM 390, (me on the Ducati) just after COVID hit. Our tarmac ended and turned to dirt. It really bothered me that I couldn’t have that lovely drifty feeling that transitioning from tarmac to dirt gives you. Instead we awkwardly scooted 180 in the road whilst being iced with dirt by speedy pickups.
Of course the beloved Africa Twin was top of the pops for knobbles. What more could one want? I mean, if you’re reading this you’ll know that I have spent almost too much time aboard the Japanese African and regard it as the ultimate tool to cross a continent both ways. Then that niggle starts. Weight. I’m not going to be zigging then zagging across this massive land mass like before. I need fun. Bursts of fun and something that could do a distance.
Aah the hunt. Back to the hunt.
Since I bought Ginko, my beloved Africa Twin, there have been two iterations of the species. The first was a basic mutation with a little refresh and an ‘Adventure Sport’, then the 2020 version showed its head and increased the engine size and a load of other changes, including Apple Car Play. This both super turned me on and off at the same time. The bike got bigger and more complicated. DARN. I wanted smaller and less complicated.
Yamaha Tenere T700. They’re onto a winner with that thing. It’s light, sleek, simple and looks like a super cool Paris Dakar rally raid weapon. By all accounts it looks like the most sensible choice. The press really like it and it’s priced right. So right, in fact, that they nearly sold out in British Columbia. But round the corner something with kinda evil eyes and bulging pecs was looking. Looking and beckoning.
After asking a dealer near me about the T7 his allocation was out and he said “I bet you just walked straight past that 790 out there?” I did. All those KTMs look the same to me; anyway the headlight is weird. And that started it. The obsessive reading and watching. Work has been mental and my mental break has been research. Nerdy research. Youtube, forums, Instagram, Reddit, hell… even Facebook. I was in deep.
So here it is. My brand new 2020 KTM 790 Adventure R (yet to be christened, Hedy is in the running).
So, wossitlike?? Well. The difference is like a well worn pair of dress shoes versus a pair of fell running shoes, or Chinos versus those new jeans that are like wearing jogging pants. It’s sprightly and lithe. When I dropped Anne off after we came back from the dealer I went off for a quick scoot around the neighborhood and ended up airing off two dropped kerbs and railing a grass bank. Naughty. Fun. Involved and sprightly. I haven’t even run it in yet.
You’ve probably thought the random ramblings added to an end but, oh no, the hiatus has been broken by probably the worst decision in Motorcycle purchases I’ve made in my 40+ years. I mean, who, in their right mind would buy a blue 20 year old touring Ducati that had been left under a tree by its uncaring owner for the last 6 years?!
One buys a Ducati because it’s cool and fast. The mechanical quirks and crap 90s Italian build quality are part of the experience that are rewarded by the coolness and speed. My Ducati has neither, but double the problems .
It was a incredibly sad for me to sell Ginko. I’m one of those people who form emotional bonds to their vehicles and my relationship with Ginko was a particularly strong one after all we had been through together. If I had the resources I would have just kept her for ever…. buuuut I had a bit of a Tax problem and needed to pay. Financially that was probably the worst timing too; I mean, who buys a brand new model year bike, rides it 20,000km and then sells it months later? Stupid.
So so feeling very lonely and geographically trapped by the new city I moved to, whilst the love of my life was on the other coast, I feverishly parsed craigslist for cheapo bikes to fill the void. I had a $2,000 budget and flipped the virtual pages of Craigslist like a teenage boy who had found a porno. I would really have liked a Honda but nothing even remotely sensible came up, then I saw it. A blue and gold Ducati ST2 with panniers. Ask anyone I went to university with, ive wanted a Ducati for decades. All the mental flags that I normally would notice as a warning we’re ignored through the pink mist that was the prospect of being on two powered wheels again.
I saw saw the advert and rushed out to Delta from Downtown Vancouver as quickly as I could. When I arrived at the suburban two car garage house there were two blokes standing beside the bike. First flag. To me, it’s pretty rude to have two buyers at the same time, this guy wanted rid of this bike quickly. It turned out Mr “I bet she’s fast, how big is it” had never owned a bike before. Even without knowing what I do now about the bike this dude would have been in a world of pain if he had bought this thing. So after dispensing with him I took the thing for a test ride. It was terrible. The battery was obviously flat/knackered, the clutch was dragging, the brakes wooden, chain slack, tyres square and the fueling was so bad the thing would die after shutting off the throttle. So I bought it.
Some of the things this Ducati abuser did really confuse me. The man had a garage but kept the bike on his drive under the worst sap and pollen producing tree I have set my eyes on. I mean, the bike had a literal crust of disgusting yellow and all the exposed fastenings were oranged with rust. I know this from historic Google street view photos six years outside! He had bought a brand new Motorcycle Guzzi to replace the Ducati but when I borrowed his helmet it was ancient, like sticking a tin pot on my head; who buys a $20k bike and doesn’t have a new helmet in 20 years?
Boy did I get in trouble. The bike needed new tires so badly, so I took it into Daytona Motorsport which is a very convenient 5min walk from my office. I discussed tyres and they had some in stock. Naïvely I assumed they wouldn’t price gouge me; this being the age of the internet, where brick and mortar stores really need to keep customers happy. I was super busy in my new job and left it with them, approving a new chain over the phone during a meeting. I got to the shop and was presented with a bill for over $1000. I wasn’t best pleased with myself and neither was Anne, for good reason. We were paying two rents and the cost of moving was straining after the aforementioned tax issues caused by yours truly.
It’s been a year now since I went and even longer for c90 adventurer Ed March.
Ed and Rachael crossed Canada in winter then did the whole Trans America Trail on 90cc scooters. It took them a while but props to them. The video below describes their journey across the best bit of the trail and the tribulations of travel as a couple with different agendas.
Grab your favourite hot beverage and enjoy 50min of great adventure film!
As a young teen I was completely obsessed with the Japanese model maker’s products. Now they are making an Africa Twin. I suppose I’m going to have to wait until it comes out, but save all my pennies because it’s not cheap.
Aah the nerd joy of building a mini version of your own bike.
Tamiya is so burned into my psyche that I dragged Anne to the factory shop in Tokyo. It was like going into Willy Wonka’s factory for me, with all the weird tools and odd things that could only come from a Japanese company there to buy.
I have covered my feelings about how much Quebec hates motorcyclists here, but one of the most frustrating elements of this is that you are forced to take your bike off the road for four months. They don’t actually ban you from riding your bike in winter, they simply introduced a law that says you must have officially sanctioned winter tyres on your motorbike.
Of course, they don’t exist
Now I don’t want Ginko to live on the deck all winter… even under her super waterproof and breathable British Oxford cover…
[Update: Added the unpacking video and post trip review]
I went south of the border to pick up a lot of my stuff for the TAT yesterday and with it was the pannier system that I’m very much looking forward to using. I really love the companies ethos, which is to openly develop their products and make stuff that they personally want to use.
On first impressions I am really chuffed with the system. Everything seems of a high quality with really hard wearing fabrics and straps.
They system is basically a harness in which dry bags slide. The details are superb and you can really see the head scratching that went into the design of all the little details.
Unfortunately the Africa Twin has huge hips in the form of grab handles that cannot be removed because the seat is attached to them, but for now here are some mounted pics. I don’t have time to mess with it before the TAT but hopefully someone will make a more minimal handle system.
So how did I find the system after the trip? Read on…
Well my judicious research paid off because I really can’t imagine a luggage concept that would be better. I had no idea but non-motorcyclists can’t really comprehend what is required of a luggage system, illustrated by the slow realisation of my friend Ishita. When showing her my photos from after the trip she asked about waterproofing. I don’t think it occurs to most people that everything you have with you needs to be protected from the worst of weather.
“So was your stuff waterproof” she quizzed.
“er.. yeah” I said with a dumbfounded expression “..of course!”
I suppose that people who ride around in cars don’t have this constant paranoia that when it rains everything you own is going to get drenched. Unless you’ve thought hard about what is in where and how to prevent it getting soaked. The blokes at Mosko had this dilemma that is normally sorted out by having some drybags and strapping, tying or bungying them to the bike. They fixed it because other manufacturers have come up with ideas like Wolfman’s ‘rack and a million irritating clips’ idea and Giant Loop’s ‘stick a zeppelin on and fill it with crap’ solution, but Mosko stopped and designed this saddle. I think they looked at those harnesses you see on donkeys and modelled it on that.
It’s cool. You divide your crap up into the three dry bags and just slide them into the donkey pannier thing. Other more fiddly crap can be put in the flaps that go over the centre bag; stuff like iPhone cables, leatherman, headtorch. Maps go on the corresponding flap, which you can unclip and pretend you are first world war officers around a campaign table. It really worked like that when Adam and I got lost in the Utah desert.
Then there are two pouches on each side donkey pouch. I stuck less accessible stuff in there like inner tubes, tools and chain lube.
Mounting the donkey thing is a bit of a pain because you need to get it centred and in the right position fore and aft but that’s really moot because you only have to do that once in a blue moon. I’d just pull the mount straps once in a while to make sure it was all doing okay.
Security was on my mind a lot at the start of my trip and not at all at the end. I wore a CamelBak which contained all the essentials; passport, cards, cash, which left me a bit more at ease to leave the bike. I think that because the system is so neat creates a psychological barrier to anyone wanting to fiddle with it, a bit like opening a car door, it’s really obvious if anyone has been monkeying with it. Added to that, they would have to be pretty familiar with the straps to undo anything.
The whole thing is covered in Molle webbing on which you can attach other pouches or strap random crap. Mosko sell some additional pouches especially for this but I wanted to limit my space so purposely didn’t buy them, of which I was glad. There are also some metal loops sewn into the back flap which was awesome for strapping a fuel can to.
The disadvantage over rack mounted panniers and systems (like the derided Wolfman above) is that you can’t have a passenger on the bike, but really, who wants a passenger when you are riding off-road? The system is designed as an off-road solution so, to me, that doesn’t come into it.
Speaking of which I fell off. Quite a few times. In order it was: Mud, Sand, Dirt, Gravel, Rock and the bags don’t have anything to show for it. They are super durable. There are a few patches on the dry bags where some kind of compound or chemical got on there and the first layer of rubber is coming off, but I have no idea what caused it. For all I know it could have been an alien bug or a truck ejecting acid?
If you’re undecided on a system go and get it; you’ll be delighted.
By the way; I paid the full going price for this thing and have no affiliation with Mosko Moto
Here is the rather long video of me unpacking the whole thing…
Moving away from the 3 step ranch was difficult. It’s beautiful, there is great food and it’s very serene. Being on the road is kinda the opposite, except for the scenery, but off and at ‘em we were, confident in Adam’s plumbing work on Dr Zeleaky and the lovely fresh tyres that I had installed.
Aaaaand we’re off… through the undulating hills of Eastern Utah in the cool morning. Dr Zeleaky was smoking, what I thought, was the smoke of a fresh fiddle when we stopped to put our rain gear on just past La Sal. Adam took a cursory look and spearing ensued.
The whole exercise to reduce kinks in the DRZ’s guts had an awful side effect; the plastic catch tank was resting on the exhaust and now had a hole burnt clean through. Adam, now as adept as a F1 pit mechanic, whipped the thing out and we set about with gasket sealant and gaffer tape in an attempt to patch the scar made oh-so difficult because it was covered in oil, like the whole bike.
Off again we went climbing heights again, through forest and up into damp cloud. Not the terrain we imagined for Utah, but a great relief from the 42ºC (108ºF) of yesterday’s foray into Moab scavenging for parts. Even the workers at the recycling centre were complaining about the heat whilst they sucked on popsicles and sorted card and metal, overlooked by an Angelina Jolie era Tomb Raider cardboard cutout. Like everyone we met they were all too glad to help and untangled an old power supply from the pile for the fan inside.
Peaking Mt Peale and Mt Mellenthin we descended to an incredible view of Moab and it’s Warner Bros matte painting like canyon backdrop. There is no doubt that the cartoons we watched as kids came from the mind of someone who spent quite some time in Utah. The overlook was spectacular, so much so that I almost want to deny you a photo because the justice the photo brings is kangaroo court. This trip has been full of moments like this, with the sad realization that the vistas can never be shared, only experienced at the time. Photos are a cruel court in which to judge the expletive generating scenes that I experienced daily.
The other great advantage of being line-of-sight with a major town is cell phone signal. So I call Anne and jibberishly attempt to describe what we are seeing and Adam calls Rocky Mountain ATV, the Amazon.com of the motorbike world, to see if we can replace the melted blob duct tape ball that was his catch tank. Of course they have it and weirdly Adam has a credit of exactly the amount in his account there, having bought pretty much everything he was wearing and riding from the same shop.
Through Moab we at at Milts, my Moab favourite for it’s simplicity, busy collage age staff and genuine history. The place gets a lick of paint but thats about it. The formica top to the bar must have seen hundreds of thousands of burgers and ‘shakes crossing it since the fuzzy black and white photos from the ‘50s – its great. We bumped into a couple of English lads there who paid to come and teach American kids to play football for the summer. Seems a bit of a scam that; they should be paid, not the other way round. A dash up the highway for a couple of miles, then left into the real desert of sand and red rock, climbing up and up to a precarious view down to the canyon, then down to the plateau. It’s hard to ride in this desert. There are rocks sticking up treating to puncture Ginko’s new boots and nasty sand to test my fortitude. I’d love to be on a light enduro machine here and blast across it at warp speed but I need to get all my water, food, fuel and supplies across in one piece.
At one point we had to rely on traditional map skills of Northings and Westings to work out where we were. GPS gets you so far, but the desert is pretty featureless and there are a lot of snaking canyons of which we were in the wrong branch.
More desert, sand dust and sun brought us back to the Highway and then the old highway, dangerous for it’s huge potholes going North to Green River and more rain. We chickened out and took a motel, washed clothes, ate crap and slept to continue across the desert the next day where we encountered the most incredible of canyons. If you are ever in the area look up the CR332 and drive the road North-West. The scale of the scenery is astonishing.
The TAT heads in the direction of Salt Lake City, which is where Rocky Mountain ATV is based so we decide to head there, first climbing and descending South Tent Mountain to Ephraim where we had what San Franscisco resident Adam described as ‘the best burrito I have ever had’ at a little Mexican place in town. It was great, but we needed to ride to Nephi and the cheesy carbohydrate volleyball in our stomachs caused some narcoleptic episodes.
Adam’s favourite was the freeway. We needed to make time for all the stops and that meant him riding what is akin to an angry lawnmower a long way up the freeway to Payson near Salt Lake City and Rocky Mountain ATV. Of particular seared in olfactory memory was a truck that overtook us. The DRZ is geared at a speed juuuuust below which these Semi-Trucks are comfortable, so we end up being slowly overtaken by a succession of interesting, dull and in this case gag-reflex inducing stench that crept past us until we were still in it’s wake with the rig miles away in front. It must have had desert baked animal bodies, off offel or maybe liposuction fat in it. Memorable it sure was; that truck driver can not be popular.
Arriving at Rocky Mountain ATV we park on the pavement outside and the dirt savvy customers exiting the little shop glued onto the massive warehouse clock Ginko and I get the now familiar questions about the rarest of beasts, the Africa Twin. Adam decides not to sully the clean cement and parks away from the shop, walking in to be greeted by tempting bits and bobs on sale. We got chatting with Mattie who is a guru with the Rocky Mountain ATV website, quickly pulling up the most random of bits. Adam got his weird plastic black box, some extra Roc Straps to replace those that Dr Zeleaky had eaten and I bought a mirror smoke visor for my craigslist helmet. we chatted and as we were leaving someone in the clouds opened a tap and the sky filled with water. We were a bit stuck because we really needed to fix the Dr and we asked Payton, the supervisor if there was a covered area where we could pull the Suzuki apart. To our surprise he opened one of the loading ramps and we were ensconced by a billion dollars of motorcycle parts taking the world’s grimiest DRZ apart on their clean floor. That warehouse is massive, so big that the only thing limiting its expansion is the Interstate. thew staff were super cool and interested in what we were doing. It was amazing to look up from the dirty Dr and say “umm… have you got one of these?” holding up some destroyed part for someone to come back with a selection for us to choose.
When we’d installed the wretched black box and some other bits (causing a nasty gash in Adam’s hand) it was closing time and we got the local knowledge about where to camp. Dave came out in his helmet and jacket so I asked about his ride… something I have wanted to try since Anne and I lived in Bangkok, a Honda Grom. The antithesis of Ginko, it’s a tiny but classy fun machine with a clutch, upside down forks and great brakes. We swapped had a scoot round the loading area then set off chasing Dave in the direction of the valley we would be camping in.
Setting up tents in the trees we chatted to the camp neighbours and had a walk wound the lake in the woods overlooking the town, ate some food and tried to start a fire. Our direct neighbours were a pastor and his family of eight children who were out for the day. I suspect they must have noticed us trying to light the damp wood hurriedly left by the previous occupants escaping the downpour, because the kids bought us a succession of campfire lighting tools, starters and eventually Dad bought over the heart of their own fire on a metal skillet. Not only that but marshmallows and sticks, so we had a raging fire and pudding.
In the morning we were given even more hospitality from another Dad and kids cooking pancakes on a griddle. We got a fantastic fresh cooked pancake breakfast and were on our way. We looped round to Eureka and Vernon where we battled huge heat and big winds, north to Tooele and then the Salt flats where we fulfilled a life’s ambition and took to the salt… then ran away because the stuff was wet and stick to your bike like alien blood cement, eating through steel with abandon.
Having cheap Mexican in the Bonneville salt flats cantina we studied maps and decided to cut the TAT where it goes into Idaho. There is a curious loop that runs way East then North to Idaho which we concluded could be short-cut. Whilst doing so a dude interrupted us saying he was on the TAT in his Jeep and his friend’s Land Rover. He told us that GPS’ were ‘a good idea and that we should be using them’ and that ‘…there are these fuel containers called RotoPax, you’ll need some of those too.’ Errr.. okay dude. I think we’re okay for now, but thanks for the useful information?!
Nervous of the lack of fuel for the next section we had bought gallon containers and filled our bags with water. Local knowledge was scarce of information about the roads north. Would we be okay? Find out next time on JasonWD.com!
The Colorado passes are a ride of a lifetime. In a jeep it must be spectacular, trundling up unthinkably steep rocks and looking over the edge to a certain doom. In a bike it is terrifying. On Ginko the switchbacks are about as tight a corner as you would normally do, except there is also loose rock and extreme steepness. Doing down I disabled the ABS on the rear wheel and slewed the back like a storm anchor on a ship. One corner was so loose it was impossible to stop the weighty war horse (as Adam calls her) so we skidded and slid down the loose rock sideways until we were inches from the edge.
I’ll have to look at a map, but we rode quite a few passes and camped in between at a national forest campsite, setting our tents up military style in the teaming rain when a little, mildly officious, lady approaches us for the $14 fee to camp. In our rush to find a spot we didn’t realise there was a massive trailer behind the trees with a generator running to power the huge TV we could see through the tinted window. I don’t understand why these people come all the was to the beautiful countryside and sit in humming air conditioning watching soaps through the satellite receiver placed on the picnic table. It seems I did a bit of killing along the way too…
It’s a different experience I suppose. I’m sitting under the cover of a rodeo arena in my sleeping bag listening to coyotes howl over whatever they caught for breakfast. The sun is just ebbing over the mountains to the east. More of that later.
Our last pass ended with a really fun ride through the tree line and mud whoops, snaking down to a pair of dudes arguing over a map. Their fresh bright orange KTM Adventures parked patiently and packed to the neighs, they sat and discussed how best to tackle the passes. Adam has a better memory for names so explained our route which at first they thought impossible, at one point gesturing to my bike and exclaiming ‘On that?! You guys are the real deal!’.
I told them how great Ginko was to ride and convinced them to have a go. Returning Mike said “I’m getting rid of that piece of shit KTM and getting myself one of these as soon as I can. This thing is amazing!”
Quite the reaction from someone who just bought a new bike!
Mike and Mark
When we reached Salida (sa lie da) adam’s bike was still building up huge pressure in the oil tank. He would have to stop and release the cap to relieve the engine for fear of a gasket of hose blowing off somewhere.
Farther up the trail we came across two guys on KLR 650s. Scott suggested we visit Dustin in town. What a magic geezer. He stood in the rain pulling hoses and finding the culprit.
Opting for a motel we rolled the strip in Salida and discovered our pet friendly room would be $170! I desperately needed sleep and Adam needed a place to strip his bike so we went for it. There was a rodeo in town and even the Internet couldn’t help us.
Another pass and rolling tree lined roads through undulating forest put us through Silverton for lunch then up up up back into the forest and a campsite overlooking an incredible valley. We were really in the middle of nowhere cooking my last Quebec bought rehydrated Shepherds pie, then hanging all out food in a tree to prevent bears getting it.
That night was my first experience of coyotes. They were right outside the tents making this weird yap/howl/screech. I should have put earplugs in because there wasn’t the best sleep to be had at over 10,000ft it was cold too.
The states have very different characters because after the woods came miles and miles of nasty gravel toward Utah. I had to stop and reduce my tyre pressures which made a remarkable difference in the ease at which Ginko carved the deep stuff, but increased puncture paranoia from the ‘sticky outy rocks’ we warn each other about over the radio.
On the plains a house came into view so we took a look. It was a dust bowl era house that looked as if it would collapse at a gust. Cecil turned up in his truck and confirmed our theory then gave us the best local knowledge. A canyon not oft visited but as spectacular as the Grand was promised. We had our doubts but were gobsmacked when we saw it. As usual, the pictures don’t really do it justice.
Onward! To the Hideaway we went, crossing to Utah, washing the bikes and arriving to a note at 3 step that said ‘come in and make yourself at home’.
When Scott and Julia arrived we were given a cabin and shown to the Livery where my new tyres were waiting. The thousands of miles from The Saint’s house had taken their toll on the poor Shinko 804/805 combo and they really needed retirement to get me to Victoria, BC.
It’s a good thing Scott’s 3step Hideaway workshop has a concrete filled barrel because getting those huge tyres off and on is a mother f**king b**ch ass pain in the hole.
Adam also had DR Zeleaky (her new name) apart in a constant struggle with the oil hoses.
Scott needed to hunt for a bag his previous guests lost and offered to take us along in the ATV. What a cool and incredibly capable vehicle! We followed a dry river bed deep in sand then crossed back into Colorado via a very Zimbabwean fence. As a kid it was my task to jump from the bed of a pickup and drag these barbed wire fences away from the path of the truck. The bag, containing an expensive helmet, was just beyond, having being flung from the race prepared ATV that was no doubt skipping over the gnarly terrain faster than the average highway family sedan speed.
We loved being at 3step and wanted to relax there, but Adam needed to replace his hoses and possibly get a fan rigged up to his radiators. We awoke from our cabin to a delicious huge breakfast and headed to Moab on Ginko and her new tyres. It’s odd that town is a hundred mile round trip, but we arrived in a 42°C Moab and scouted for parts. No luck with the fans: we were looking for computer fans to bodge onto the radiator of the DRZ, but a bloke in the NAPA suggested we get a mister bottle (the kind your gran uses on her geraniums), so we got one of those too. The motorbike shops were surprisingly bad, at least compared to the bicycle shops I went to in my past Moab visit.
A lovely steak dinner and more bike fettling followed with Scott’s angelic presence reassuring us with all our idiotic wrenching. The man knows his bikes but won’t interfere unless you really need him. He’s a top bloke who should be supported in every way. Go to 3 Step, you’ll enjoy the place no matter what.
We left and back to the TAT. Aaaannnnnnd… DR ZELEAKY STIKES AGAIN!
We stopped to put our rain gear on and Adam discovered that his exhaust was burning a hole in the oil catch tank.