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Desert Racing with a Difference

Posted By Ian Schmeisser, Monday, January 26, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

  Anyone who’s seen the movie On Any Sunday remembers the scene with a starting line in the California desert that’s hundreds of bikes wide, where everyone starts simultaneously to race madcap toward the “smoke bomb,” a pile of burning tires that indicates the start of the Barstow-to-Vegas race course, the grandaddy of American desert racing.




  Fast forward 40 years, past the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Desert Tortoise decision and wilderness designation on much of the desert itself, and you wind up with today’s “race,” the AMA District 37 LA-Barstow-to-Vegas. It’s the “most famous and longest two-day Dual Sport ride in the world.” The ride is now in its 30th year, and is a huge success for both desert racers and environmentalists.

  Starting in Palmdale, California, located in the high desert north of Los Angeles, riders start out in a controlled fashion, each choosing to follow their choice of “easy” (for large adventure bikes) or “hard” routes, for experienced riders only. The promoter said that on the hard route it was possible that the jugs could get ripped right off your “adventure” bike. Ha! There were a number of BMWs in the event, and most chose the sane option for this class of bike. But not Brian Englund, James Valentine and Landon Norman. Oh, no… they’re going to do the hard course on an R1200GS, an F800GS and a darned-near-new R1200 ADV LC. Nuts.

Art of the Possible

  Brian said it best: “Difficulty is a relative measurement, and I don’t need easy. I just need possible. For the ride itself, words cannot adequately describe the terrain for someone who hasn’t been there. Some of the horror stories are overblown, and some are true. It’s hard —sometimes almost insanely so — but the true challenge is the marathon aspect of the ride. Terrain that was simple at the outset is increasingly difficult eight plus hours later. The variety spans the spectrum from deep, soft sand on giant whoops, packed dirt, dirt with large rocks, loose large rocks, and rock and sand crap in Last Chance Canyon that is probably at the outer limits of the R1200GS’s capability.”

  One interesting development is a blend of Social Media, GPS, cellular data and satellite maps that made it possible for many other interested riders to follow the riders on the course. The event ran during the Thanksgiving weekend, giving MOA and GS Giant member Jeff Kurtz the ideal opportunity to follow and report on the ride from his warm bedroom in Indiana. Hundreds of others followed along online as they digested their turkey and stuffing leftovers, enjoying over a thousand posts by Jeff and others containing GPS locations on satellite imagery and even posts from the riders themselves, many showing their motorcycles in rather interesting positions. It was a tremendously entertaining show.


  Tech inspection for the ride started at 6 a.m. sharp, so this clearly called for waking up at 2:03 am. Race day jitters… what are those? Brian posted, “Damn James and I with our military issue requirement to be early! We both fell victim to years of military conditioning, demanding that we show up early for first formation. Neither of us can turn it off. We’re hard-wired that way now.” The tech guys took one look at the BMWs and gave them only a cursory glance. OK, now *three* hours until the start… what are we going to do? Plenty of socializing, meeting and greeting ensued, calming the nerves and defining the strategy. Knowing each team members’ location during a ride is essential, so James, Landon and Brian installed “Real Time GPS Tracker” apps on their smartphones. They shared their usernames with Jeff so that he could capture images and post to the GS Giants Facebook group.

  An epic online thread ensued, with hundreds of posts and a whole bunch of friends discussing the action. The GPS images made it clear to see the hard sections… as the app (and their SPOT receivers) regularly uploaded location data. The closer together the data points, the slower the going for the riders. Red Rock Pass generated a huge blob of data points.

  Between images of location, terrain, and bikes on their side, shot and posted by the riders themselves, as well as all the messaging going on between them and all of the comments from the peanut gallery, everyone had a great time!

This Could Go On Forever

  It was truly an adventure. Falling. Fuel injection problems. Bent nerf bars. Fuel consumption rates. iTunes breakdowns. Flat tires. Broken windscreens. Lost. Dark. By 8 p.m.-ish the riders (except for Brian, who ran out of fuel) were in Barstow for the night, chowing down on the hotel buffet. As he waited for the sweeper who came four hours later, Brian sat in the cold, dark desert, sucking on his hydration bladder and munching on the half-Subway sandwich he saved from lunch. Grasping at any wisp of a cell phone signal, a quick text to James and Landon resulted in a reply containing a photo of their beer. Racing can be so cruel.

  Well, it really isn’t racing, but the open-desert hard course lived up to its reputation, and the pace was quite brisk. James and Brian struggled mightily with their 1200s and Landon did admirably with his F8. There were a number of other BMWs in the ride. MOA members Roger and Carla Norman (Landon’s mom and dad) rode the easy course. There was a sweet R80G/SPD, and a bevy of other beemers taking in the fun.

  The pictures really do tell the story here (especially the Vegas dancers at the finish line). This event is legendary adventure riding fun, but it really isn’t for beginners. However, there are opt-out sections to avoid the harder parts of the easy route, so it’s not all that bad. This was the first time the three had ridden together, and it was great fun seeing them become friends.

  Word is there’s a competition team forming within the GS Giants, and there are opportunities for racers as well as us old whitebeard adventurers to serve as their pit crew and other support services. Interested? Check out the latest news at



Tags:  GS Giant 

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