SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA BDR
BY OLIVIER DE VAULX
Dozens of adventure bikes are parked in front of the small theater of downtown Long Beach. The World Premiere of the CABDR-South Expedition Film Documentary, featuring a winter route put together by the great non-profit organization, was long awaited by the ADV community and there’s not a seat left. Watching the movie, every rider present discovered an 820 mile journey through the California deserts, tested by a crew of riders of all ages and skills on big ADV motorcycles. Featuring the route through an impressive documentary is costly but is also one of the reasons why BDR, a non-profit organization, became an essential part in the expansion of our sport.
In 2010 when Tom Myers and Bryce Stevens created Backcountry Discovery Route, a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of off-road exploration across the US, they knew that they would help fill a need. But what started with one route in Washington progressively extended, each year providing new tracks crossing western states border to border. In its 8th year of existence, BDR is now known as the trademark of a specific type of rugged off-road adventure, with 7 proven routes in the West and one on the East coast. BDR and the ADV community grew together, and today the need for adventure appeals to more and more riders, who can purchase Butler maps with all needed information regarding the route, download GPS tracks directly to their GPS for free and enjoy the adventure without thinking twice about their itinerary. Starting a new exploration has never been so easy! But with more traffic on the trails comes more problems, a concern addressed by BDR members who always involve local businesses and landowners in the development of new routes. A win-win strategy, which helps to keep the trails open while bringing fresh money to remote areas. According to Inna Thorn, BDR Director of Operations since 2012, the ADV riders brought $17 million on the 7 routes combined for 2017 alone! Focused on education, the BDR crew also launched a “ride right” campaign to reduce the odds of head-on collision on the trails. The only missing piece so far in this otherwise almost perfect package, was a way to ride during the winter when snow is preventing any attempt to cross Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Idaho, and when the mud makes New Mexico trails impassable.
A Perfect Opportunity
When BDR announced that they had a Southern California route ready for winter exploration, we were definitely among the ones who wanted to hear more about it. After having watched the movie, we were sold and absolutely wanted Upshift to be part of the promotion of this route. We talked to Inna about having a head start and doing a part of the CA BDR in advance, to give our readers a glimpse of what to expect on their next adventure. Knowing that the BDR crew struggled in sandy and rocky sections, we opted for the dual sport option, thinking that it would be a better choice anyway for most riders than a big and heavy adventure bike. This also convinced Mark Samuels, multiple winner of the Baja 1000, to come along and test the CA BDR with us. Having two riders is indeed the minimum requirement for keeping a reasonable level of safety, and knowing that Mark survived - and won - the most dangerous off-road race on the planet multiple times was a big confidence booster! He was also very excited by the prospect of trying his brand new CRF450L and we, therefore, asked Honda USA to provide us another stock bike. We added a set of Reckless 40 Mosko Moto bags and a Trail Tech Voyager Pro GPS on each motorcycle, along with an IMS 3-gallon tank. Mark couldn’t help but stick race SLR graphics on his CRF, but then went lazy and kept the stock IRC tires. On the other 450, we opted for no graphics but more aggressive knobbies from Dunlop. Planning on riding by ourselves, we first thought about camping on the way, an option recommended by Inna: “It’s the best way to really enjoy the BDRs!” she advocated. But the winter nights are pretty cold, and there was not enough room to carry camping gear and wood for bonfires on the small Hondas. We could have asked someone to drive a support truck, but we really thought that doing a portion of the BDR on our own was closer to the real experience than most riders would have. Our two-day ride was then planned with accommodations for the night, and among the 8 sections of the 820 mile trip, we decided to ride the third and fourth sections.
Fun Ride in the Mojave
Our first day of riding started under a warm and sunny sky near Needles, CA, and would have been the third day for whoever rode the entire CA BDR. Crossing the Mojave Desert from South to North, we needed a range of 120 miles to reach Primm, NV, which is close to being the maximum available range on the CRF with the IMS tank. Luckily, Mark was not in race mode, and we could save some gas while cruising: “I risk my life enough on race days, so I really enjoy going at a slower pace,” said the multiple-time Baja champion. Funny enough, Mark never rode here, as most of his riding takes him to Mexico. Amazed by the quality of the trails and the ever-changing landscape of the Mojave, he couldn’t stop asking questions about the ADV trend, the BDRs, all aspects of off-road riding that this active racer doesn’t know.
On the other hand, the CRF seems to have been created for this kind of adventure. The smooth but constant power makes it easy to use, with a light but stable chassis. The trail winding in the Joshua Tree forests was therefore taken at relatively high speed, and we didn’t even notice our loaded bags. At this point, the buddy feature on our Voyager Pro proved to be useful, as it was hard to follow closely a rider as fast as Mark Samuels. Cruising, for him, means keeping his momentum at an average of 65mph, which is definitely close to the maximum speed of a decent rider on these quite technical trails. Luckily, we stopped every 20 minutes to drink some water, soak up the sun and share a snack. The Mojave Cross and the Evening Star Mine were both perfect stops to think about history and remember that we’re pretty lucky to be here, riding, while others were having a tough time trying to survive the harsh conditions of the last century! After having spent the whole day far away from civilization, in amazingly warm weather, we finally reached the pavement. The CRF kept a steady 65mph on the freeway, and we soon arrived at Primm, with temperatures finally dropping around 35°F as the night settled.
Heading to Death Valley
The second day, we were expecting to have a bit of a hard time, as we planned to cross some of the most challenging sections shown in the movie. The first one was a steep climb with rolling rocks, just after the Ivanpah solar panels plan. It was a tough one for the BDR crew with their big adventure bikes, but it was almost uneventful on our nimble CRFs, up until the moment when Mark pinched his soft IRC tire and had to replace the stock tube with some Heavy Duty Michelin tube we had in our Mosko Moto bags. Only ten minutes lost under the hot sun, but at least, the rider showed that he was also a good mechanic! We then finished the climb with no effort, proving once again that, for enhanced performance off-road, small is more than often better than big! In the meantime, we gained three thousand feet of elevation and reached the Coliseum Mine. The artificial excavation is not used anymore and what is left of this industrial past is easy access to a beautiful emerald lake surrounded by orange cliffs. The vibrant colors shone in the warm light of the early morning, and we just stayed here for a couple of minutes, speechless. But it was not the end of the trail, and we had to keep going, enjoying the next hours of narrow double tracks. Hitting the pavement and arriving at Tecopa a bit sooner than expected, we decided to take some liberty with the plan. Mark knew an exceptional riding spot a few miles away from the official route, and we soon found ourselves drawing curves on the giant Dumont Dunes, having a taste of Dakar on our 450s! Burning gas in the sand was fun, but we forgot that the days were so short. By the time we went back to Shoshone to fill our tanks, it was too late to keep going to Furnace Creek, in the middle of Death Valley. We just had a few hours of daylight left to explore the entrance of the valley. If the beginning of the track was sandy and would have been challenging on big ADV bikes, the next miles were way easier: the large graded roads allowed us to take high speed, and that’s where the big twins would have stepped up. Our 450s could maintain 85 mph, but the rev limiter was always really close to entering in action. The same speed on big adventure bikes would have been more comfortable, for sure, due to their big bores and their fairings… but hey, this backcountry route has something for everybody, right?
Winter Made Easy
Back to Tecopa, we shared our thoughts during the dinner at Steaks and Beer, a tiny restaurant owned by a very talented cook. These two days of riding were too short to pretend that we did the route, but it gave us a really nice overall view of what one could expect on the journey. First, even if the route goes on pavement or easy gravel roads a few times, the terrain can still be quite challenging. Most people would have more fun on smaller bikes, even if it means less comfort on the highway. It’s all about skills and personal preferences, but keep in mind that pleasure is not on the pavement anyway! The logistical aspect should also be considered. With the odds of having rain or snow being close to zero, you can pack light and keep small bags. The average temperature in the middle of December was around 65°F, way above what we experienced this summer on the Pacific Divide in Washington state… It’s still winter though, and when the sun disappears, temperatures drop quickly and might be a bit low for comfortable camping. It means that a support truck is almost necessary to carry sleeping bags, blankets, wood or propane, etc.… Of course, hardcore and experienced explorers on bigger bikes will be able to manage it, but that’s another story! These different considerations brought us to the conclusion that it’s up to each rider to make the CA BDR his own and finding his own way to do it. Some will almost race it, putting in a ton of miles every day, while some will take their time, stopping more often to explore the surrounding areas… Either way is okay as long as it makes it a better experience! Finally, Mark summarized it all: “I really want to do this entire road one day. It’s so different from racing. Now I had a taste of it, I need to do it in full, and I’m so excited about the prospect of such an adventure.”
Track and Maps
If you want to go on the California Backcountry Discovery Route by yourself, and more likely with a couple of friends, it’s effortless to find all the resources. Just go to www.ridebdr.com/CABDR to see the map, download the GPS track, get a list of interesting points to visit as well as addresses of gas stations, restaurants and accommodations along the way. A Butler waterproof paper map is available for each route and makes it easier to make decisions on the go during the trip. Last, but not least, the website provides updates regarding road and trail conditions. And for those who don’t own the right bike, each dedicated route page includes a list of rental companies. The guys from BDR thought about everything, so you’ll have a hard time finding any excuse for not going on the ride!