If you own a dual sport bike, you should at least exercise both parts of the capability no? Well with the BMW R1200GS, that is not always the case. The bike is capable in many categories, and as Cycle World put it, “…tackles canyons, backroads, interstate and off-road with equal aplomb”. High praise which allows many buyers to purchase it for just one of those areas. It is a great touring bike, even two-up, and can carve twisties with the sport bikes. Those were my primary reasons, but the off-road capabilities were desirable as well if infrequent. As I have stated before, it is the Swiss Army Knife of motorcycles.
At the BMWMOA rally, a few folks put a lot of work into arranging a GS Adventure pre-rally event. It involved two days of off-road riding in central Oregon. Seemed like a great way to improve skills offroad and learn what the big GS was really capable of. The registration fee went to the BMWMOA Foundation, so it was a good deal all around. The pre-rally attendees had a designated little camping area on the rally grounds and I was among the first arrivals on Monday. Randy “Polar Bear” was one of the organizers, and was already onsite when I pulled up. He is a great example of the people in every volunteer organization who go above and beyond with little reward to help others have a good time.
There were three levels on the Adventure rides, Easy, Intermediate, and Advanced. With some fire road experience, and an attempt at the pine barrens, I still assumed that in the west that would translate into the Easy level. I could always step up on day two if it seemed too easy. However, once a few others showed up and I began talking with them, it sounded like I should challenge myself a bit and move up to Intermediate. This was a tough call since I needed the bike (and the rider) to be capable of riding 3000 miles back home after the rally.
Day one began with a briefing by coach Stroud on the route and then some tips on riding off-road and Q&A. There were a couple of challenging sections of the ride that you could opt to skip if desired. Camp site neighbor Jim Risendahl and I had about the same level of anxiety, so we decided to team up. Groups saddled up and left as they wanted. A sweeper group of experts brought up the rear, and the phone was manned back at the rally site in case the rescue team needed to be sent in.
After 25 miles or so of paved road, we turned off onto a gravel road. We stopped to deflate the tires a little, and I adjusted the preload and rebound in the rear. We also disabled ABS, which was a critical step. Then we were off. Fire roads in the east are either hard pack dirt, or loose sandy dirt. This was a different deal. The gravel surface was loose, and underneath was only slightly less loose. The front end wanted to go all over the place, and the rear would break traction in a heartbeat. Touching the front brake was a guaranteed crash. I stood on the pegs, got my weight back, and increased speed. Much better. Over the next few hours, surfaces changed from gravel to soft dirt, to hard red dirt and back to gravel. My comfort level increased and so did speed. Then we came to the “challenging” section where the road went up to the top of Cache Mountain. It was a dirt single track that was wide enough for two bikes in some sections. Jim and I decided to go for it. At first this seemed like a big mistake. The soft powdery dirt was deep in places, and there were whoops and rocky sections. However, you could modulate speed and technical riding to get through most of it. We got two thirds of the way up without incident ! With raging confidence, we pressed on needing to stop several times to allow descending riders to pass. Then, at the very top, the road turned to deep lava rock. If you lost momentum, it was basically game over, and to the right was a sheer drop off of several hundred feet. Jim got sideways a bit and turned left into the mountain. It was a slow speed getoff, and neither he nor the bike suffered any harm. I was behind him, and came to a safe stop having lost momentum. I tried restarting, but there was no way to gain traction with my mostly street tires. We turned the bikes around, but walked the 50 yards to the summit for a great view. We were dreading going back down this trail, but it turned out to be a non-event as the difficult sections seemed to have disappeared. This challenge was already making us much better off-road.
A little more dirt, including a very rocky section which we skipped, and we rolled into Sisters, Oregon for lunch at Slick’s BBQ. We were very hungry, but the ribs were fantastic. In addition, each meal contributed $1 to the foundation. More goodness. The afternoon section returned to gravel. The sweeper team caught up to us, as most people had either started earlier, or skipped Cache Mountain. Travelling with these guys forced you to up the pace a little, but by this time, I was comfortable doing that. By the end of the dirt, I was charging along in third gear while standing on the pegs !!
Back on the road, Randy and a couple of the sweeper crew started flying along a switchback road. I followed, and once again marveled at how competent these bikes are as sport bikes. We flew around cars and then blasted down backroads and finally a highway section. Back at camp, we were impressed with the difference in skills and speed between morning and afternoon. This was a great learning experience and another day of it was ahead. We headed into town for a beer and some grub, but we could have chosen to stay put. Joe’s left pannier was double walled, and filled with ice, water, and beer. The perfect accessory for the perfect bikes.