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Kate Johnston

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Photo by Miriam Romais

REVIEW

hen the Americade Motorcycle Rally comes around, I think, “OK, now the motorcycle season has started”. Maybe there are earlier motorcycle events around the country, such as the Progressive Insurance International Motorcycle Shows, but in the New York area this is “The One”. On June 5th – 10th, 2017, Americade celebrated its 35th anniversary in Lake George, NY. 35 years of bringing all brands together for a week of fun. Three hours from New York City is an easy ride to a week-long rally, chock full of events, rides and activities all centered around motorcycles. It is a celebration of riding, touring, cruising, adventure and vintage motorcycling. I know of no other event that does as much with so many facets of motorcycling. Sounds fun, right? Couple that with beautiful scenery and scenic roads, it is an ultimate motorcycle retreat vacation. Americade attracts more direct factory demos than any other event in the world, by far. So, go and try everything out! My home base for the first two days was the BMW demo truck; as you

can guess, I don’t need too much cajoling to hang around BMW bikes all day! BMW has a knowledgeable and professional crew that likes to talk about bikes. Led by the ever-cheery Moira, the whole team exudes an easygoing friendliness that makes you just want to hang with their gang and ride their bikes. I found myself there at the start of my first full day of the rally, just as the bikes were being warmed up. Since one can never have too much fun with BMWs, I stayed to the end of the day to make a last ride as they closed shop. I was able to ride the BMW C evolution electric scooter (Very cool! Not just your “plain Jane” scooter), BMW Scrambler, the R1200GS Rallye and the R1200GS Adventure. The demo rides worked – at least in my case. I had ridden my beloved R1200GS Exclusive to Americade, but a demo ride on the R1200GS Rallye changed the future of my riding. I was hooked and I couldn’t see my life without it. Upon my return

Carlos Braga giving a BMW Demo Team Pre-Ride Talk.

Photo by Bob Locicero 42 | ON THE LEVEL July/August 2017


g n i t t Ge at DirtDaze y t Dir By Kevin Bushnell

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ith the growing popularity of adventure biking, it was only a matter of time before someone organized a rally for adventure bikers. June 7-10, 2017 was the second annual DirtDaze Adventure Bike Rally, held in Lake Luzerne, NY. I heard about it through a club friend and decided to head down from Montreal. DirtDaze was held the same weekend as the Americade motorcycle rally in nearby Lake George, and my ride down on Highway 9 took me right through Americade in the late afternoon. I felt a little out of place as I rode through on my GS with Touratech panniers. All the Harley cycles were lined up gleaming on both sides of the street, and it seemed to me that it was more about the bike than the riding. Guys were sitting shirtless on plastic chairs outside their motel rooms drinking beer out of the can; it didn’t seem like much fun.

Kevin Bushnell (right) and other coursemates listening to Jimmy Lewis.

Jimmy Lewis instructing his beginners class.

46 | ON THE LEVEL July/August 2017

Chris “Teach” McNeil on the Trials Course photo by Miriam Romais.


I scooted through apologetically, for ruining their parade, and was soon at “my” rally in Lake Luzerne. No sooner was I off the bike when an organizer said to me, “Welcome. Slow race in five minutes.” Now this is more like it! I was pretty pooched from my 5 ½ hour ride down, but he was so enthusiastic and convincing that it would be fun that I decided to drop my big tail bag and participate. The course was a straight 50 feet, lined with cones. There were ten of us paired in heats of two. The last rider over the finish line wins and moves on; the other is eliminated. In watching the first couple of heats, I saw that the start was crucial; if you got ahead of your opponent over the first few feet, it was difficult to make that distance up. When it was my turn, I was pretty nervous with having everyone watching and a little too tentative off the start and I stalled the bike. “Doh! Damn!” I was mad at myself, but it was all for fun. I then rode back to the camping area with my tailpipe between my legs and chose a spot to pitch camp for three nights. We were pretty packed in, but it was nice to be able to camp on-site and keep costs down. The rally is held at The Painted Pony Ranch. It’s a great location with food and drink available at the saloon, hot showers, lots of space for vendors, and four obstacle courses. And, since it’s a ranch, there is livestock. If you’re a light sleeper, you might want to camp at the nearby KOA campground. Between the lowing and the snoring and the 2-strokes firing up at 6 a.m. – all of which become indistinguishable after a while – you’re not going to get much sleep. I’ve never had any off-road training, so I signed up for a two-hour beginner class on Friday morning with Jimmy Lewis. Jimmy and his wife, Heather, run an off-road school in Nevada and offer compressed versions of their full-day courses at DirtDaze. Jimmy is an amazing rider. He has been a podium finisher at the Dakar and an overall winner of the Baja 1000 and Dubai rallies, among

other accolades. His curriculum focuses on balance and traction. In all the exercises we did, we never got out of first gear. His exercises develop muscle memory for finding and maintaining that neutral point when the bike is in balance. He says that if you come to an obstacle and you’re off balance, you’re going to get into trouble. As for traction, he says it doesn’t matter what they call your tire – 60/40, 70/30, or – like mine – 85/15, if you run your hand along the side of the tire and don’t feel sharp edges, you’re going to go down in the mud. More on this later. In fact, in their school in Nevada, they make 50/50 tires mandatory. One of the nice things about DirtDaze is the people you meet. I came alone but was never alone. A few of us who did the morning class went for lunch together and then decided to do one of the self-guided rides in the afternoon. A few of my classmates had done a guided ride the day before, and when we got lost on our self-guided ride, we decided to return to a network of trails they knew of from their previous ride. I’ve never done single track trail riding, so I quickly got in over my head, especially with my “street tires,” as everyone kept referring to them. I actually did pretty well with the slow turns and descents, even the sandy hill climbs - the

back end sliding all over the place - but when it came to mud, my skills and tires let me down. The bike and I ended up in a deep mud puddle at the bottom of a hill, but I managed to get the bike back up and out using some of what I’d learned in the morning class; Jimmy had showed us how to start in low-traction terrain without digging in. When I reemerged from the woods and met up with the other guys, I must have been a sight. Someone said “I’ve got to get a photo of this.” When we got back to camp, I headed for the bike wash. “Why bother?” someone asked. “It’s just going to get dirty again.” The next day was my planned “big ride” - a guided full-day ride through the Adirondacks with about 50% of it being on off road trails. It was led by veteran rider Bill Dutcher, founder of Americade (then Aspencade East) in 1983. I’d been warned about Bill – ‘the old man hauls ass’. There were twelve of us, and I decided to tuck in behind Bill so I could watch and learn. Soon after we pulled out of the Painted Pony Ranch, I found myself going 70 km/hr on a dirt road with a smattering of gravel. Wow, is it going to be like this all day? I was already riding over my head but didn’t want to hold the group up. All was good for a few kilometers until we headed down a sweeping descent.

July/August 2017 ON THE LEVEL | 47


Kevin Bushnell, far left. John Rossi third from left, Bill Dutcher third from right, Chad Warner far right. Post-lunch at the Garnet Hill Lodge for the Adirondack Off-Road Ride.

Halfway down I knew I was in trouble. If I braked and turned I would low-side, and for the first time in my short riding experience the thought that I might crash flashed through my mind. Fortunately, I didn’t panic. Instead, I dropped my line and headed straight, gently squeezing the brake. I eased to a stop before I ran out of road. Someone behind slowed and gave me a ‘thumbs up’ as a question. I nodded and looked back. No one was behind me, just empty road. I realized I needn’t have worried about holding the group up because they were all well behind. I had made the classic mistake of trying to keep up with a rider who had 49 more years of riding experience than I have. I took that little incident as my warning and decided to drop back. As the day continued, the group settled into two groups, with three fast riders up front with Bill and the rest of us behind at a slower pace. They waited for us at each turn. It worked; I was still a little out of my comfort zone, but in a good way. I was able to practice the peg-weighting I’d learned from Jimmy as we weaved through the Adirondack back-roads. There were a few times when I hit sand and almost lost the bike - again, the street tires! - but at a much lower speed. At one point we hit deep gravel, what looked like ¾” crushed stone, and that was interesting. Again, I had enough good sense - or God’s blessings - to not panic but let the bike go where it wanted to go and ride it out. When we got to the next rest stop, Bill asked if anyone had had trouble with 48 | ON THE LEVEL July/August 2017

that gravel, and reminded us that the technique for dealing with it is to get your weight back and, counter to what your intuition is telling you, get on the gas. These two reactions lighten the front end causing the bike to ride over the gravel instead of digging down in, which would be trouble. I was learning a lot. We lunched at a classic mountain lodge with a beautiful view of the surrounding Adirondack mountains. Other parts of the ride brought us to picturesque vistas. We ended up again at that network of trails and, once again, I fell victim to mud at a small water crossing. I successfully crossed the stream bed, but once on the other side I was so focused on the mud under my tires that I forgot to look beyond the obstacle further down the trail. Perhaps I tightened up or maybe I got too much weight over the front tire. Before I could say “another classic mistake” the bike was on its side halfway up the bank. Despite the spills, the ride was exhilarating and I told Bill afterwards that this was the ride of my life. Back at camp, we were treated to a demonstration by World Freestyle Champion Chris “Teach” McNeil. His nickname is ‘Teach’ because he is a Latin teacher at a private school. As an English teacher in Montreal, I think I have the cool factor when I pull onto campus on my bike, but I’m pretty sure this guy is even more popular with his students! Freestyle or stunt riding is not my thing, and I’ve seen videos of guys doing

nose-wheelies; seeing it live is whole different experience. It’s pretty damn impressive to see the way the power and weight of his BMW S1000XR is used as a plaything in his hands. After such a full day, I was ready to retreat to my tent. I lit a pipe and wandered through the camping area checking out the other bikes. Back near my tent, I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me. I was lamenting a few scratches on my bike from my falls this day when he said, “Ah, you can’t worry about that. It’s a bike.” It reminded me of the comment earlier about not bothering to wash it, and I thought again about the gleaming Harley bikes just up the highway and just how different adventure biking is from that kind of riding. Adventure biking is about the adventure of not knowing what’s going to happen in the woods. It’s about helping others lift and fix their bikes on the trail, like when Bill helped me fix my engine guard with a zip tie and duct tape. It’s about escape, and risk, and skill - a lot of skill! What impressed me the most from the rally was not any particular bike but the skill-level of many of the participants. It seemed appropriate that one of the final events of the rally was the Ugliest Bike Contest. The bike that won was the one Jimmy Lewis borrowed to win the slow race. Kevin Bushell rides a 2006 F650GS. He lives in Montreal, where he is an English teacher.

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