The biggest bike I’d ever ridden was laying on its side, on a particularly challenging hillclimb, and all I could do was laugh at myself.
My buddy Kyle and I were tackling the WABDR on big KTMs—he took his 1190R and I had my new-to-me 990—and for the first time I had to admit that I was in over my head. We’d planned this weeklong trip for a couple of months, and it was supposed to be a bunch of my buddies and I on our trusty DRZs. When Kyle joined in we’d joked that he’d be the odd man out on his monstrous 1190… but as each of my buddies flaked one by one, Kyle was the one doing the laughing.
“You’ll have a lot easier time keeping up with me if you take your 990” he prodded. “Plus, what happens when we’re done and I get to rip back home at 80 and you’re chugging back in the slow lane trying to not get blown off the road?”
He knew just how to nudge me out of my comfort zone, and I appreciated it.
I’d only had my 990 for a short time, buying it had sort of been an accident, and I had zero experience riding big adventure bikes off road. From what I’d heard the BDR routes weren’t that tough, but they certainly weren’t beginner friendly and I wasn’t too eager to make them my training ground to see if I could cut it on a bike I “wasn’t going to want to try and catch”. Sure, my buddy Casey made it look like a cakewalk on his HP2, and Kyle never shied away from a track with his 1190, but there’s about triple the power in my 990 as my DRZ and, as overweight as my yellow bike was, it didn’t begin to tip the scales as an “adventure bike”…
“Screw it”, I’d muttered to myself, “I’ll take the mile-burner.” The last thing I wanted was to have roped Kyle into a long ride, and only make it longer because he had to wait for me after every wide-open section. I moved my luggage onto my KTM, ordered up a few key parts, and we started off on our adventure.
The bike had come outfitted with a Rottweiler intake, a BRP submount (with Scott’s damper), and Oxford heated grips. Before we left, I added a Rottweiler pre-filter and their O2 sensor delete kit, a set of Fastway foot pegs, a Cyclops LED headlight bulb, a RAM mount for my GPS, and a set of Motoz Tractionator Adventures underneath. To me, it was absolutely dialed and, although I had that lump in my stomach that comes from a lack of experience, I couldn’t wait to see what it felt like to gobble up a route I’d dreamt of since I got into the sport a year or so earlier.
We’d started our trip down at the Oregon border and were headed North… fast! Instead of the 1 section = 1 day plan we’d made when it was a DRZ trip, Kyle and I had set the bar high on day 1; we’d bitten off all of Bethel Ridge and a good chunk of Umtanum too. Say what you will about full-size adventure bikes, but they know how to make long roads seem short! We’d smiled all the way to our campsite, which we’d chosen after 300 miles because my arms—gripping my bars too tight all day—had turned to jelly. Plus I’d just run over a massive snake, and Kyle hates snakes, so it was only right that I insist that we stop where we might bump into its pissed-off cousin.
After a quick breakfast, and zero snakebites, we’d taken the fork on the map that routed us to the notorious baby-head Umtanum hillclimb. It would’ve been easily bypassed by another section of trail, but my buddy Casey’s words were fresh on my mind and I had all the confidence of a rookie bull-rider; “the key to big bikes, is they have big, heavy wheels. If you get in over your head, just keep your revs up and the bike’ll stand right up and do the rest.”
So between that sage advice and a killer bike that certainly hadn’t wanted to take a nap in the rocks, where had I gone wrong?
As I looked down sheepishly at my 990, then back at the section below me, I had to laugh at myself. I’d ridden most of the hill without even realizing it was the tricky section! As soon as my brain caught up, I’d brashly doubled down on Casey’s advice— I rolled on the throttle so quickly that my rear, wrapped in that sticky Motoz rubber, got out ahead of my front, setting me down to laugh at my overzealous right wrist.
Kyle’d stopped to take another run at the hill, so he helped me spin my bike around and I humbly finished my ascent.
We’d continue on to the beautiful fast tracks above Lake Chelan, and the fantastic riding before and after Ruby Grade, all the way up to the Canadian border, only diverting from the track on our Butler map to add a few viewpoints along the way.
Over the course of our trip, we successfully maintained a moving-more-than-we-were-stopped pace (a badass achievement for our GPS to announce), and we finished what I’d planned to be a 7 day adventure (by DRZ) in about half that on our big KTMs.
Reflecting on my choice of bikes was easy: I’d had far more fun on my 990 than I would’ve had on my DRZ. The extra weight of the big adventure bike was absorbed by the oversized foot pegs I’d added, the Rottweiler extras had smoothed out the power band so I felt confident pushing myself along the way, the Cyclops LED made my bike feel almost as eye-catching as Kyle’s futuristic 1190, and when I got home from the 1,300 mile round trip, my Motoz tires looked barely broken in.
The only downside was finishing the trip earlier than I’d expected to. Now that I know how many miles an adventure bike can devour, I’ll just have to plan longer rides!