THE TOUR DE FRANCE WINNING SMUGGLER WHO SAVED HUNDREDS OF LIVES IN WW2

Italian Gino Bartali is one of the all-time greatest road cyclists. If it hadn’t been for the Second World War and the obvious halt to grand tours among enemy nations, he might have won more Tours de France than anyone. After all, when war broke out, Bartali had already won the Tour once and the Giro d’Italia twice. But what Bartali did during the war was far more righteous and laudable than racing a bike: He saved lives. Hundreds of them. And he kept his secret until the day he died.

Bartali was conscripted into the army, as was his rival Fausto Coppi, but instead was assigned to work for the traffic police. But because Bartali was a national hero (think of American movie stars of the day who were often given a pass from front line duty), he was permitted to go on training rides, a huge gift in a fascist state. Though also one borne of perverse pride. Mussolini felt an Italian sports champion included his country in the ‘master race.’ When Bartali won the 1938 Tour, he was asked to dedicate the win to Mussolini. He refused, a dangerous slap in the fascist’s face.

After the war, he told his son Andrew about his actions, but made him swear not to blurt about it to the press.

Thing was, throughout his wartime training rides, Bartali wasn’t just getting a workout. He was smuggling documents and cash to groups of nuns who were harboring Jews facing deportation to concentration camps. He also delivered messages to the Italian resistance. Bartali would ride huge distances, sometimes more 200 miles in a day, all to carry forged passports, fake IDs, and money in his bike’s seat tube and under his jersey—which bore his name, so there was no hiding. He even sheltered Jews in his basement, risking his own family’s life.

After the war, he told his son Andrew about his actions, but made him swear not to blurt about it to the press.

Unlike his archrival Coppi, Bartali came from rural roots in the south of Italy and was reserved and conservative. It was only a few years ago that a university history project first revealed the details of Bartali’s bravery. Research with the support of the Jewish community in Tuscany and exposure by the journalist Laura Guerra has led to enough testimony to honor Bartali a few years ago in Israel at the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem. A tree was planted in his honor and he was given the distinction of “Righteous Among the Nations,” awarded to those who placed their lives in danger to save Jews during WWII.

After that war, Bartali continue to rack up wins. He nabbed another Tour and another Giro, even winning three consecutive mountain stages in the 1948 Tour—a feat that has yet to be surpassed. It wasn’t even until the 1999 TdF that someone was able to grab three stages in a row, period, let alone mountain stages (that man was Mario Cipollini, who took four in a row on the flats).

In the final reckoning, Bartali’s competition accomplishments pale in comparison to his humanitarian: It’s estimated that he helped save the lives of as many as 800 Jews who might have otherwise been gassed to death or shot. But Bartali, who died in 2000, was humble to the end. “Good is something you do, not something you talk about. Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket.”

Words by Michael Frank

North Shore Betty

After nearly 30 years on the hallowed trails of southern British Columbia, Betty Birrell still thinks life is one big playground—and that you’re never too old to send.

North Shore Betty
Lean back and let ‘er rip. Betty Birrell goes full send on Floppy Bunny, her go-to warm-up lap on Mount Fromme in southern British Columbia. Don’t be fooled by the name; this black-diamond trail is packed with enough roots, rocks and wooden roller coasters to challenge even experienced riders. Photo: Travis Rummel

It’s a typical fall day in the forests above North Vancouver, British Columbia. The rain is coming down so hard you can’t see more than a few hundred feet, almost obscuring the cedar trees swaying in the surrounding murk. Wind whips between the column-like trunks, making waves through a sea of emerald sword fern. A crack! slices through the rain as a small tree snaps and falls into a nearby stand of Douglas fir.

If Betty Birrell and her son, Hayden Robbins, are fazed by the weather, they don’t show it. Their bikes seem to float down a river of contorted roots, greasy rocks and slippery wooden bridges as if it’s a mild day in June, with Betty leading through the vilest conditions. It’s amazing to watch. She is much, much more confident on these trails than I will ever be, and I’m half her age—and a former professional mountain biker, though I feel embarrassed to admit it at the moment.

At 73 years old, Betty has called these trails home for almost 30 years. In the early 1990s during her mid-40s, she bought her first mountain bike, and a good friend she refers to only as Old Rob took her down 7th Secret, a trail on Mount Fromme. Her second ride was on the aptly named Executioner, another steep, rooty, technical fall-line descent. Both trails have retained their black-diamond rating, and even on the plush full-suspension bikes of today, most riders would find Executioner terrifying.

Her face lights up at those memories. “I was hooked right away.”

North Shore Betty
Betty poses at the bottom of Empress, a treacherously steep, extremely technical double-black diamond on lower Mount Seymour. Photo: Jordan Manley

Betty’s entrance into mountain biking—as a single mother a few years short of 50, raising a 6-year-old while flying overseas each weekend as an international flight attendant—is unconventional, by most measures. But to start on Vancouver’s North Shore during the 1990s … well, that’s another level of gnarly. Clinging to the mist-shrouded slopes of Mount Fromme, Mount Seymour and Cypress Mountain above North Vancouver, “The Shore” is to mountain biking what Yosemite is to rock climbing or what O‘ahu is to surfing: Few other places have done more to influence and define the sport. And, like the Dawn Wall or Pipeline, it is not for the faint of heart.

“Some people say that California invented mountain biking,” says local trail builder Todd Fiander. “The North Shore invented mountain biking.”

The Shore’s infamous trails are a cross between a BMX track and an Ewok village, a convoluted web of wooden ladder bridges, rock drops, berms and “skinnies”—narrow, raised features intended to be ridden across. Some of this woodwork climbs into the trees, demanding riders navigate catwalk-like planks, sometimes only 6 inches wide and as high as 20 feet above the forest floor. Other features roll multiple stories down near-vertical rock faces.

North Shore Betty
Left: Ladies Only is one of Todd Fiander’s most beloved masterpieces, a seminal and lasting testament to his vision and commitment to giving people a good time. He built it in 1992 and has been personally maintaining and tinkering with it ever since. The trail redefined what was possible, with features like the first-ever teeter-totter bridge and the iconic “Monster” roller coaster, and though it’s seen some overhauls over the past 30 years, it still embodies the spirit of those early days. Photo: Jordan Manley

Right: Built by “Dangerous Dan” Cowan, the Flying Circus trail on Mount Fromme represents the absurd pinnacle of the North Shore’s renegade early years. It had the skinniest, highest and most dangerous features anyone had ever seen and could only be ridden by a handful of people. Trails like Flying Circus were decommissioned as mountain biking became more widely adopted, but the remnants speak to the enduring legacy of cedar planks, mad creativity and an unrelentingly desire to push the limits. Photo: Jordan Manley

“Shore-style” trails can now be found across the globe, but when Betty started riding in the early 1990s, locals had only been building them for a few years. Todd—or Digger as he’s known in the mountain bike world—is considered the first to incorporate ladder bridges and raised wooden structures into his trails. He’s observed nearly every notable rider on The Shore for the past three decades and captured many in his 11 North Shore Extreme films, including—to my surprise and, I must admit, chagrin—Betty.

A few years ago, I made a documentary about the history of free-ride mountain biking, much of which happened on Digger’s trails, yet I hadn’t heard of Betty until this past year. I’d seen her, however, while poring through hours of Digger’s grainy camcorder footage. I just didn’t know it was Betty.

“She was the first person to ride The Monster,” Digger says, referring to an iconic stunt commonly regarded as the first “roller coaster.” (It looks exactly as it sounds, just made with slats of split cedar.) “I had just put the last plank down and asked her to ride it for me, so I pulled out my camera and filmed her. The third time, she fell and pulled out her shoulder, and I had to pop it back in. And I think she was like 55 when she did that.”

Betty recounts those early days so casually, it takes me a few minutes to realize how insane her entry into the sport was. In the early ’90s, body armor was rare and full suspension and hydraulic disc brakes were nonexistent, making the bikes as much of a liability as a lack of skill.

“Fortunately, I didn’t really have a fear of falling,” she says. “Still, I was covered with bruises, black and blue. I couldn’t go out wearing shorts because it looked like someone took to me with a baseball bat.”

North Shore Betty
The North Shore is well-known for its wooden features and rock rolls, but what gets most people are all the roots, which become so slippery after a rainstorm that even a slightly misplaced tire can lead to disaster. For Betty, such greasy sections—like upper Floppy Bunny—just add a little spice to long-familiar trails. Photo: Travis Rummel

But full-send is how Betty operates, under the radar or not. Born in the rural town of Chemainus on Vancouver Island, Betty moved to the city of Vancouver to study geography at the University of British Columbia, where she joined a crew of fellow climbers who got after some of the biggest peaks around Vancouver.

“In the ’70s, she was part of this really hard-core group of climbers that had all sorts of first ascents in the area,” says Hayden, who is a professional ski guide and operations manager for Whitecap Alpine Adventures. “But they wouldn’t claim them because they didn’t want people to find the zones.”

Betty picked up windsurfing a few years later and by the early 1980s had become one of the top female windsurfers in the sport, flying out of huge 30-foot waves the likes of which no woman had done before. As an editor for Sail Boarder Magazine put it in 1982, “Betty Birrell is a superstar of the sport … a leader of the leading edge … ranked on par with most top men.” The German magazine Surf summed it up even more succinctly in a headline from their June 1982 issue, “Betty Birrell: The Best Female Surfer in the World.”

She stationed herself in Hawai‘i, working as an international flight attendant while surfing big waves between shifts. She married a fellow Canadian three years into her time on the island but continued to commute between Hawai‘i and British Columbia for a year so she could sail. Eventually, Betty returned to Canada and, at 39 years old, gave birth to Hayden.

“I think motherhood is the best adventure ever, really,” she says. “I was so surprised how much I loved being a mom, how much I loved being pregnant.”

Just before Hayden’s second birthday, her husband left them. She recalls an argument before the split, “He said, ‘You just think life is just one big fucking playground!’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah!’ I thought it was a compliment.”

North Shore Betty
Most moms go on walks with their kids; Betty and her son Hayden Robbins session double-black diamonds, which has become somewhat of a family tradition after two decades of riding together. Mother and son scope the final rock roll on Empress before dropping in. Photo: Jordan Manley

As a newly single mom, Betty worked overseas flights on weekends while Hayden stayed with his dad or grandmother, and she’d return for Hayden’s bedtime on Sundays. “You just kind of adapt as you go along,” she says. “I just reinvented adventure. Instead of going mountaineering or stuff like that, we’d go car camping with my parents, and it was just so fantastic.”

Betty’s face glows when we talk about anything mom-related. She asks to see photos of my kids and swoons at the sight of them. Above the stairway in her home is a huge photo of her and Hayden beaming after a day of cat skiing together.

“Mountain biking was the perfect activity for a single mom because it was right outside our door and easy for [me and] Hayden to do together,” she says. “I would pick him up after school, and we’d dash over to Fromme for a ride.”

Hayden remembers her enthusiastic coaching and patience on the trail. At an age when most kids want their parents to park around the corner to avoid being seen by their friends, Hayden welcomed his mom joining him and his friends on rides. “It’s amazing when you get on a technical trail with her,” he says. “She just zips along like you wouldn’t believe. She’d be better than my buddies, so that was a funny dynamic.”

North Shore Betty
There’s a price for riding someplace as high consequence as the North Shore, and it’s one paid in smashes, scuffs and oftentimes broken bones. On this particular afternoon, neither the weather nor a bruised jaw could wipe the smile off Betty’s face as she sessioned the black-diamond Pingu trail on Mount Seymour. Photo: Travis Rummel

Let me just say that if my mom were mountain biking alone down double-black diamonds, I would probably give her a tracking device or an emergency beacon. But Betty isn’t my mom. And I’m not Hayden. “My concern for my mom is overridden by knowing she is so experienced,” he says. “She is the consummate mountain woman.”

Some people, however, notice her age before her ability. Occasionally, she notes, when coming upon fellow riders assessing stunts on the trail, “They see I’m older, and I’m a woman, so they just stay in the way because they think I’m not going to be able to ride it. I just say, ‘Excuse me, I think I’m going to ride on through.’ I actually like that because I feel like I’m doing a service for women—older people, too, but especially for women.”

But with all sports, injuries happen. Like that time she broke her leg hard-boot snowboarding. Or when she broke both her hands riding the infamous Rippin’ Rutabaga rock drop in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park in 2003.

“I remember lying on the ground,” she says. “I was 54 then, and I knew I was hurt badly, but I didn’t want to tell the bike patroller how old I was.”

Hayden was 15 at the time and returned home to find his mother immobile from the shoulders down. “She had these crazy wrapped arms, lobster-claw things,” he says, “and she couldn’t do anything.”

At age 58, Betty took early retirement and started her own landscaping business; she still helps friends and family with their yards occasionally, though no longer as a profession. These days, she mostly rides alone: Most of her bike buddies work during the week, and Betty avoids riding on weekends (the trails are too busy, she says).

And, of course, she still rides with Hayden whenever he’s home. Hayden now lives in Revelstoke, British Columbia, and whenever he talks about his mom, he’s visibly proud. “For me, she’s laid the path that I’ve followed in my life, and it’s a different path than a lot of people,” he says. “But she’s always been the biggest supporter and inspiration.”

North Shore Betty
In a place that can receive 100 inches of precipitation each year, you get used to riding in the rain; after nearly 30 years, Betty actually enjoys it. Betty and Hayden navigate roots and the weather on lower Pingu—just another lovely day on the North Shore. Photo: Travis Rummel

Almost 30 years after her first lap down Executioner, Betty admits she’s scaled back her riding (she avoids skinnies in particular), aware that a bad crash could have larger consequences than when she was younger. But she still sends. Not because she’s fearless. She just knows better.

“It is calculated,” she says. “You know your limits. Sometimes you push a little bit too much and you get away with it. But you know your limits, and you know what you want to do.”

Back in the fall storm, we call it a day and say our goodbyes. As I pull out into the pouring rain, I’m left with an overwhelming sense of permission to try all those things I’d convinced myself I was too old for. I’m not aging out of the fun and games of my early 30s; after a day with Betty, I feel like the good times are just beginning.

“When I was 50 years old, I never thought I’d be able to ride a mountain bike fast down a trail at 73,” she says. “It’s interesting how your perception of age changes as you get older. I would love to be 65 again. Isn’t that crazy? Who would have ever thought. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to appreciate where you are.”

By Darcy Hennessey Turenne

For more information and details : https://www.patagonia.com/stories/north-shore-betty/story-119987.html

THE WORST ADVENTURE MOTORCYCLE MISTAKES AND HOW TO AVOID THEM

The adventure motorcycle market is one of the biggest in the UK for new bike sales. But do you know the most common mistakes off-road riders make? Here’s how to avoid them

Tiger 1200 (2022) official specs, pictures, and details

AN adventure motorcycle is a big, burly and attractive beast. The prospect of taking to the trails and going off-grid for a weekend is a very alluring one indeed.

But if you’ve just ditched the one-piece leathers in favour of some textiles and want to head into the forest, the best thing you can invest in is some training. If you can’t, won’t or don’t want to do that, here are the most common adventure riding mistakes and how to avoid them.

 

Tenere-700-World-Raid-2022-Visordown-Review

How do I stay loose on an adventure motorcycle?

Tensing up while riding a bike off-road is all too easy to do. The problem is, adventure bikes are complex bits of kit, with millions of dollars of development that go into each one. Every component is designed to allow the bike to travel in the direction it needs to go. Slapping a human on top that’s as rigid as an ironing board is going to prevent the rake, trail, and suspension from working as they should.

Keep your legs bent slightly, with your knees moved away from the sides of the seat to allow for forward, lateral and vertical body movement. Try and keep your elbows slightly bent too, if your arms are stiff the bike won’t be able to track over obstacles in the road like it’s designed to.

Now let’s focus on your grip on the bars. You should only be gripping the bars with the thumb meeting your ring finger. Your first and second finger should be laying over the brake and clutch, ready to be called into use.

 

Husky-Norden-901-Visordown-Review (98).jpg

Lightly! The main mistake is that people think they need to take everything with them, when in fact all your doing is adding weight to the bike. That’s bad for fuel economy and even worse if you drop it and need to pick it up.

If your adventure is only lasting a day or so you’ll need a basic tool kit, first-aid set, puncture repair kit and something to keep you warm and dry. That’s the basics, any food, water and camping equipment should be added on top of this.

 

Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin Adventure Sports

 

Where should I be looking when riding off-road on a motorcycle?

It’s common for new riders to stare intently at the front wheel of the bike when riding off-road. The trouble is if you see something two feet in front of your wheel – it’s already too late. You’re definitely going to hit it and you can do nothing about it.

The best thing to do is look up as far down the trail as you can. Doing this not only allows you to spot obstacles but it’ll also helps you to ride quicker. Looking at the front wheel focuses your eyes on a very small area of the trail. In this situation, your inbuilt safety compass will only allow you to ride up to a certain speed. Raising up your eye-line and focussing ahead will allow your brain to let you press on more quickly – with added safety too from your increased hazard detection.

Should I sit or stand when riding an adventure motorcycle?

When the going gets tough newer riders will almost always take a seat and try to paddle through obstacles. The trouble is that sitting on the seat actually increases your centre of gravity. When standing on the pegs, your CoG is nearer the foot-pegs, sitting on the seat brings the CoG nearer to the seat.

You also have less that you can do with your body when sat down, moving forward, backward and side to side becomes much less effective.

 

Tiger-1200-2022-Visordown-review

 

When I need to sit down, how should I do it?

The only time to take a seat is when you’re on long smooth sections, with good visibility and no obstructions. It can be good to take a seat on a long ride as this helps conserve energy, saving some for the trickier sections.

One mistake people make is to sit too far back on the bike, stretching their arms out in front of them in the process. With your arms outstretched they don’t move as freely as they do when you have a slight bend at the elbow. Hit a rock or small log like this and the only place you’re going is down!

 

Pan America 1250 Special Review Visordown

 

Should I deflate my tyres for riding off-road?

No, there’s too much weight in a big adventure motorcycle. It works for light trials bikes and some enduro motorcycles but for a 220kg plus adv machine it could be a bad idea. Damage to the rims is the first risk, the second is the increased chances of getting a pinch flat or even pulling the tyre off the rim. On some occasions, releasing some pressure to get out of a sticky spot can be a good thing, deep sand or clay mud for instance, but once clear you should get the tyres back up to pressure. Likewise, an over-inflated front will tend to bounce off rocky trails and deflect the front end one way and another more quickly than a properly inflated tyre. All that makes the bike harder to control.

 

890 Adventure Visordown Review

 

Should I use the front brake off-road?

Some novice adventure motorcycle riders like to completely avoid the front brake, opting for the rear only. The trouble is, the rear brake is only good for slowing the bike, not stopping in an emergency. For that, only the front will do but it needs to be used with caution. Braking in a straight line with decent ABS and tyres should be fine on anything other than loose gravel, mud or wet grass. In any of those situations, you should have already noticed the danger and reduced your speed accordingly.

By Simon Hancocks

For more information and details : https://www.visordown.com/features/advanced-riding/adventure-motorcycle-riding%20tips

Inside the mind of an Adventure Bike Rider

Given the choice between wing flying over the Grand Canyon or watching a festival on the beach with locals, which would you pick? It seems the former is gaining the most traction with tourists or would be travellers than ever before.

For wing flying, read ‘motorcycle adventure riding,’ and you suddenly become part of a new survey in the adventure travel market in the Americas and Europe. The jump in market revenue, according to a study by the George Washington University on behalf of an influential travel trade association, went from $89 billion in 2009 to $263 billion in 2013. Kite surfing and paragliding are considered hard adventure; canoeing and hiking are a little softer. Motorcyclists are definitely in the tougher part of the survey.

Nick Sanders standing with his Yamaha Tracer

However, I contend the adventure bike rider is a unique and specific category. The average adventure traveller is male, around 36 years of age with a four-year degree and an average income exceeding £44,000. 48% are single; they spend an average of just under £1,000 per trip and around £280 on gear each year. Spot the differences to the people in the sport we all know? Trips start at that price but can include selling the house, and as for gear, £280 buys you a less than top of the range helmet. What about the bike?

Speaking personally, 95% of clients on my own motorcycle tours are married and are in the 50+ age range. Equally, I notice the relatively fewer independent travellers who fill the pages of ABR (both in print and online) so bravely, are similarly aged, have had to deal with some extrication from family life and, in a minority of cases, have sold everything they have to provide the income they require to do that one big, possibly ultimate, long term journey.

Motorcyclists are adventurers just by putting their leg over a bike. But when you extrapolate where some of us travel to, the dynamics involved are off the scale.

The proliferation of new models of adventure bike, an advance supported and instigated in some ways by companies such as Touratech, Kriega, Metal Mule and Adventure Bike Rider itself, has dominated the motorcycle industry of recent years. If adventure motorcycling is still the hot topic in most bikers’ minds, what exactly is inside the adventure bike rider’s head?

 

Adventure and non-adventure travellers agree climate and natural beauty are two of the most important factors when choosing a destination. This fits with how riders I know prioritise where they wish to ride. A forest scent, a mountain view and a few physicals around hairpin bends veritably puts a bit of poetry into our hearts.

There is a third consideration. Adventure travellers select activity options in a destination – the Andes, the Alps, a spin with Eagle Rider across Route 66 – whilst non-adventurers chose friends and family as their top priority. I have a hunch that the adventure bike rider cleverly chooses their family and friends from a select group of individuals, and we know who they are.

They’re assertive, headstrong, brave to the point of being courageous, foolhardy, have a dubious taste in heavy metal music whilst compulsively showing attention to detail, and are known to us all as motorcycle enthusiasts! Enjoy your riding, you impulsive people!

By AJ Daly

For more information and details : https://www.adventurebikerider.com/article/adventure-bike-rider-motivation/

My First Time Riding Enduro, How Hard Could It Be?

What it’s like riding enduro bikes for the first time as an ADV rider.

Nestled between the Sierra Nevada and Inyo Mountains of California lies a land of towering summits flanked by glaciers, the bases of which are contrasted by sweltering deserts that harbor less life than the bottom of the ocean. Massive boulders look as though they were cast down by some ancient, monolithic beast, while countless springs spew mineral-rich water from the earth. This really is a land of geologic extremes. One might question the logic of introducing a first-timer to the world of enduro riding in this inhospitable place, but that’s exactly what happened.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Over the past four and a half years, I’ve been able to ride adventure motorcycles through untold regions and environmental conditions. I’ve pushed myself well beyond my physical limitations numerous times, witnessed countless awe-inspiring scenes, and overcome things both mental and material that I would have considered taboo if not outright impossible before I began riding. The experience I’ve amassed over nearly half a decade of muscling mid-sized ADV bikes around has put me in an ideal spot to leap into the world of enduro riding. The confidence and skill I’ve gained in that same time should have prepared me for anything, but oh man, was I wrong.

In October, I was offered the incredible opportunity to try out KTM’s 2024 500 EXC-F in a theatrically stunning region in California’s Owens Valley, a place where the Southern end of the Great Basin Desert slams face-first into the nose-bleed-inducing peaks of the Eastern Sierra. This land is home to everything from glaciers, hot springs, numerous 14,000-foot peaks, ruins from ancient natives, high deserts, and more trails than you can shake a stick at. I didn’t think much about the offer before unequivocally agreeing to go on this trip because, honestly, who would say no to such a thing?

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
We outfitted our 2024 KTM 500 EXC-F with Dunlop EN91 knobby tires, a Black Dog Ultimate Skidplate, Acerbis Endurance X handguards, and a set of Wolfman Threadworks E-12 saddlebags.

With a plan set for us to meet in late November, we would have three days to ride all manner of trails in an area between the White Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. Ultimately, I was told, our goal was to get my feet wet into a bit of everything to gain a well-rounded feel of what it takes to ride enduro. We all ended up in the town of Bishop by about mid-afternoon. This town makes a fantastic place to stage because of its many accommodating hotels, restaurants, auto parts stores, and anything else you may need for bashing on bikes for a long weekend. Once settled, I prepared myself for the completely unknown.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

A sub-40-degree morning greeted us, and a sense of nervousness set in as we geared up. We fueled the bikes up and immediately sped South toward the White Mountains. Right off the bat, the 500 EXC-F impressed me with how easily it made power throughout the rev range (especially down low) and how nimble it felt. Our first task of the day put us into some sandy tracks, and this is where it became immediately apparent that Enduro Bikes simply do loose tracks a hell of a lot better than any ADV Bike ever will. Those gains are not without some drawbacks though, as I felt the lack of weight and shorter wheelbase resulted in some loss of the stability I’m used to having on an ADV Bike. I also felt a notable increase in how much the bike throws you around. But with its clear weight advantage and a set of aggressive Dunlop EN91 DOT knobby tires, this bike clawed through sand effortlessly. This is a greatly unfamiliar thing to me, as I’m far more accustomed to exerting much more energy to propel 400+ pound bikes through similar conditions.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

By this point, I had already begun to experience some discomfort riding though, mostly due to my complete inexperience on such a machine. Still, I’d also later discover that the unadjusted ergonomics on the KTM had a role to play. We’d later correct this, but that would not happen until the next day. For now, I was saddled upon one of the most powerful machines money can buy in the Enduro segment, navigating loose, rock-infused tracks and washes, unable to stand for more than a few short sections before my core simply couldn’t keep up. Amazingly, though, I still managed.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

The shale-coated track steepened considerably as the trail rose above the wash below. With my rear tire fighting for grip, I made it part of the way up the steepest climb I’ve ever been on before losing momentum. ADV Pulse contributor Mike Massucco made it a short distance further while Senior Editor Rob Dabney came up from behind and effortlessly sped to the top. Mike followed shortly after restarting from a stall, leaving me with the task of figuring out how to continue up this seemingly insurmountable climb by myself.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

I’ll admit I was struggling. GPS would later reveal we were on a section that rises nearly 1,000 feet in about two-thirds of a mile. A 30%+ gradient is difficult enough without inexperience and unstable ground fighting you, so my struggle continued. Eventually, Rob picked his way back down the hill to give some pointers, and this is where the importance of body position on this lightweight machine became abundantly clear. While I struggled for 5-7 minutes, making very little progress, Rob simply suggested I shift back on the saddle a couple of inches. At the time, the cynic in me thought, “What the hell is that going to do?” Lo and behold, the Dunlop tires suddenly began clawing away at the terrain and pushing the useless sack of meat atop this otherwise flawless machine toward the top of the hill. Exasperated and devoid of energy, at the top, I was surprised at how easy the hill became simply by shifting my weight no more than an inch or two. However, this brief elation was spoiled when Mike pointed out the next section, which appeared twice as long and even steeper than what we had just overcome. With some experience in my utility belt, we pressed on.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

I’d be lying if I said anything other than the next climb was a complete blur; by this point, I was already fighting a combination of bad habits, poor body position, and just general inexperience, but soon I was looking at the top where my companions were waiting for my arrival. There, we broke for a moment, and I was given an opportunity to discuss the ride so far. It was clear at this point that I was way outside of my element. Although the bikes are vastly more capable, the riding discipline is an entirely different animal when compared to swinging a leg over an adventure bike. Needless to say, I was a fish out of water.

Rob assured me that the hills we had just tackled were among the most demanding obstacles we’d do the entire trip, which was somewhat reassuring. Still, my energy reserves were tapped by this point, and my confidence waned as I frequently began questioning myself, seeking the answer to how I got myself into this mess. The experience gained over those miles of grueling ascent soon proved valuable when the tracks ahead mellowed slightly.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Ahead, we found ourselves ascending into a forest of ancient Bristlecone Pines, and for the first time, I started to feel a bit “at home” on this otherwise magnificent machine. It’s a challenge to compare riding an adventure bike to this KTM 500 – things that are normally “things” on a larger, heavier machine simply cease to exist. The challenges people have riding overtly loose terrain, such as deep sandy washes, just disappear when you subtract a couple hundred pounds of weight and toss on sticky, knobby tires. Sure, anything can become a challenge with a bit of speed, but I couldn’t help but marvel at how easily the bike tackled anything we threw at it, even if I wasn’t nearly as capable.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

With the forest of ancient trees behind us, the terrain opened up to Papoose Flat. Without GAIA GPS running on the bars, it would have been easy to forget that we were just below 9,000 feet as the surrounding area could just as easily be mistaken for a desert landscape or perhaps a portion of the Alabama Hills rather than a high plain nestled between numerous mountain summits. Here, we stopped to recharge and take in some of the incredible scenery, where the only reminder that we were at cloud level was the blistering cold that set in once we became stationary. As we enjoyed the scenery between handfuls of trail mix and meat sticks, it became apparent that staying much longer would result in frost-bitten fingertips. I thought, perhaps naively, that at least this would mark the part of the day where we’d begin making our way back.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

East of Papoose Flat, the track slaloms through a sand wash, and despite the frigid temperatures, my lightweight Alpinestars Venture R enduro gear was shockingly effective at keeping the cold out. Perhaps it was my accelerated heart rate on account of my being a crap rider or just the overall construction of the kit, but the jacket and pants really impressed me with how it was handling a late November trip above 8,000 feet. Equally surprising was how it managed to keep me cool when tackling the earlier hill climbs by simply cracking a few vents open. We continued, and the sand wash turned into a rock-laden stream bed. While I’m usually keen on riding embedded rock slabs and the like, the fatigue was setting in by this point of the day. To my surprise, we arrived on a highway a short while later.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

At this point, it was already 3 in the afternoon with sunset coming around 4:45 pm over the high mountains, and mentally, I had already accepted we would be taking this stretch of pavement straight down the mountain West toward Big Pine, but oh boy, was I wrong. With a few infamously uttered words, we pointed our bars East and set off deeper into the wilderness. I’d be lying if I remembered much of this section, but I can’t conjure up much from memory. Chalk it up to me blocking out trauma or just being a general wuss, but I was far beyond exertion, something only exacerbated when the track suddenly became more akin to a narrow hiking trail clinging onto a cliff edge, than one suitable for motorcycles.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

We’ve all seen photos of narrow single-track zig-zagging its way down the side of a mountain through several 180-degree switchbacks, but few get to ride such tracks, and fewer still do it on their first day on an enduro. In hindsight, I’m a bit proud that I pushed through, but this was, without a doubt, type 2 fun. At the first switchback, Rob stood by to assist, and though I was absolutely gassed, I insisted on navigating this first particularly nasty switchback on my own. Still, his support and a helping hand on the bars to ensure I didn’t go over the edge was almost certainly requisite to my making it off the mountain in one piece.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

I was beginning to get the hang of a few of these switchbacks later, though I’m not entirely sure if any skills were gained. My body and mind were in survival mode, but thankfully, I managed to do just that. In front of me, Mike reached the next switchback and got it wrong. It became one of those moments in slow motion — the front tire of Mike’s bike barely going over the edge, and he and his machine sliding off the scarcely 12″ wide track down the steeply sloping embankment. The only thing between him and total disaster was the remnants of a long-deceased Bristlecone that had likely sprouted before Europeans made it to the Americas. As though I had been hit with a shot of adrenaline, I flipped my 500 around, got it set safely against the mountainside of the track, and scrambled down to give Mike an assist.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Initially, we tried to maneuver the bike so that it was pointed back toward the track, though this quickly proved futile. Incredibly, Mike decided he’d just ride down the side of the mountain. This seemed to be a fool’s errand to the uninitiated, but he and his Beta picked their way down the side of the mountain with low effort to reach a point further ahead on the trail below us.

Back above, I tossed a leg back over the KTM and made my way down the remainder of this harrowing single track. Rob would later refer to the track as a “5 out of 10” on his scale of difficulty, which sounds mundane on the surface, but then I recall that this man has raced Baja, among other things. Suddenly, 5 of 10 sounded like a hell of an achievement for a first-timer.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Some more two-track and docile single-track later, and we were again at the edge of a paved road, only now it was dark. Just when I was prepared to breathe a sigh of relief, my 500 began to sputter and as we passed a slow moving big-rig, then she died completely. Inevitably, my ability to leverage gravity faded as the descent leveled out, and there I sat on the side of the road at the crux of the single most exhausting day I’ve ever experienced on 2 wheels, all alone in the  in the dark, cold, vastness of Inyo National Forest out of fuel just a two miles from the gas station.

Eventually, my companions would realize I was missing and circled back to find me. A quick splash of fuel would get us back to home base. Relieved to be done with what I can only describe as having your shoelaces tied to one another and then being asked to run a marathon, we began rolling down Highway 163 toward Big Pine. I would later remark that it was obvious which days I had the most fun by the number of photos I took on a given day. On day 1, I took only 5, almost all in the first 30 minutes of our day.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Determined to start earlier than the prior day, we began our second riding day at dawn’s break. This proved a wasted effort when Rob’s battery gave out, and he realized the thing we saw sparking down Highway 395 the night prior was actually his kickstart lever. We attempted to borrow the lever from Mike’s Beta, which worked until Mike’s battery gave out too at the filling station. It would end up being 10 in the morning before we could begin the day once we found that the local AutoZone in Bishop stocked the correct battery for Rob’s 2012 KTM 500 EXC. Trying hard to forget the aches and pains I developed the day before, we finally set off into the Sierra Nevada mountains.

We ascended quickly, stopping only to observe our surroundings and make a small adjustment to the bars on my KTM 500 — rotating them forward just enough to get my body over the bars and allowing my legs to straighten. This in turn put less strain on my back and allowed me to find that blissful neutral riding position. As it turned out, this would be the catalyst needed to finish the day in less pain.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

We continued up the track toward Coyote Flats, reminded by the dusting of powder on the surrounding hills that we’d likely see quite a bit of moisture along the way. A deeper-than-expected creek crossing and some slightly muddy tracks later, the road turned icy. Rather graciously, the waterproof Tech 7 Enduro Drystars kept my lower extremities dry through the 21″ tire swallowing crossing, which was a relief because wet toes in this extreme climate would have been nothing short of miserable. As winds howled and swirled, the powder drifted in any cavity the surrounding terrain revealed. It was here that I began having uninterrupted fun for the first time on this trip.

The altimeter didn’t take long to read above 10,000` as the track quickly climbed through snow drifts. The Dunlops clawed their way through flats of powder more than a foot deep and drifts more than twice that. We pushed beyond the point where most would have turned back long before. A few strategic line choices later, we were perched more than a mile above Bishop at 11,400 feet.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Our reward was a stunning view of the surrounding terrain, albeit one cloaked in an incoming Winter storm. We elected not to waste much time to avoid getting stuck on the mountain and began going back down, though a clearer day would have revealed that we were gazing down at Inyo National Forest’s South Lake. We picked our way down the trail with one more stop on the agenda. With my newfound confidence, I sped ahead into the white abyss.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Man’s hubris is often our downfall, as it was mine on our return. As I confidently blasted through the snow, my luck eventually ran out when things went crossways, and I managed a low side at speed on the track. Luckily, the ice kept things frictionless, and I managed to slide to a stop before quickly propping my legs up on the bike as if to play off the fact that I had just eaten it hard.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

The steed and I both survived without a scratch, though my ego was slightly tattered, given this marked my first drop of the trip. We continued down, more cautiously than before, until a crossroads turned us back North. What lay in front of us was the leading edge of a large, late fall storm, pummeling the higher altitudes of the Sierra Nevada. If not for the storm, Rob insisted we’d have a glimpse of Palisade Glacier. We took a moment to grab a snack and admire nature, but within a few minutes, the sun that had previously warmed our backs had been pushed out by the darkening skies.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Wind and cold temperatures quickly reminded us how fierce the mountain can be, so we plunged into the snow-laden tracks, this time with our bikes aimed back toward Owens Valley. We would again climb to nearly 10,500` to get there, where the day’s challenge began. The ascent to this final pass wasn’t all that bad, though some deep snow on a steep slope makes for a lot of high revving and practice of ideal body position; no, the real issue was the more-than-a-mile of altitude we’d need to lose over 6 miles of track.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

This began innocently through a mucky meadow as snow flurries chased us away from the mountain slopes. The further we got from the meadow, the drier and rockier the track became until we soon descended through a series of boulders. Ahead of me, Mike managed to lose balance and go down. I, with my vast inability to do anything other than a white knuckle, soon found myself struggling to stop in time and, too, went down like a sack of rocks. With the bike uprighted and undamaged, I continued, albeit more slowly, to avoid repeating my prior fault.

This continued for what seemed like an age, steep descent after steep descent, with just enough level ground in between to regain control; all the while, Rob and Mike made it look easy. Ironically, the steepest stretch of track was the very last section, which dropped at near enough to a 45-degree angle. This is where years of riding ADV bikes paid off, as I’m somewhat accustomed to simply letting the bike do the work, and if there’s one thing a lightweight enduro is damn good at, it’s doing the work.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

On the way back, something piqued our interest from just off the side of the highway. It’s not entirely uncommon in the Eastern Sierra to see puffs of steam coming up from the ground, often from hot springs littering the area. As it turns out, we stumbled upon one, and what better way to relax and have an introspective moment after a weary day than to do so in mineral-rich, hot spring water fed fresh from the very mountains that, a short time before, we were trying to freeze us out.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

It was here that I really began to appreciate the capability of these enduro machines. Riding them, especially as a first-timer, is a trade-off. You forgo the comforts of an ADV machine for a tool that can take you places that aren’t possible on a larger bike. Simply swinging my leg over a different, more purpose-built machine had suddenly allowed me to reach heights both literal and figurative that I could have previously only dreamed of. Sure, my ass, bones, muscles, and head were all beaten to a pulp, but I had just finished riding with friends to the edge of a Glacier in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in late November. Who else can claim such a thing? And the truth is, I have this buzzing, masterpiece of an enduro machine to thank for that, and with one more day of riding ahead, I’d have more time to enjoy it.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

The sun’s warm glow brought uninterrupted views of the freshly snow-coated Sierra Nevada to the West. Expecting this and paired with the fact that we’d all need to drive a few hours each to get home later that same day, we opted to remain in the valley for a softer final day of my intro to enduro. The morning saw us riding North towards Crowley Lake, a place impossible for me to pass on Highway 395 without singing a classic Ozzy tune.

The tracks promised to be timid, and they started that way; first drifting us towards a wetland in the center of this otherwise barren landscape to a place that serves as the only home on the planet to a specific species of fish, and then by following these stunning sandy tracks to the relatively unknown Fish Slough Petroglyphs. The day began as promised – gentle and otherwise un-intimidating – until we left the petroglyphs.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

The road turned North, and quickly, something about the substrate changed. We began riding over what I can only describe as embedded volcanic rock – massive slabs of it, separated by stretches of sand. At first, it wasn’t a problem, but the further into the expanse we rode, the rougher the track became. Imagine the worst washboard gravel road you’ve ever ridden and amplify it considerably.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

We finally slowed to take in the majesty of the slowly eroding volcanic ruins that swarmed around the track when Rob noticed that his GoPro was missing. A frantic search for a camera followed, which is easier said than done when you’ve ridden 4 miles into an unfamiliar desert. I rode ahead, backtracking towards Fish Slough, with Rob sweeping for a second scan of the Martian surface. I took no particular pleasure in this as it meant riding back over the tracks that had already beaten me to a pulp. Still, the camera’s contents were too valuable to accept that it had become one with the surrounding terrain.

I had ridden nearly back to Fish Slough when something caught my eye in the distance and soon it was clear I’d found the GoPro!. I quickly scooped it up, tossed it in a bag. As Rob approached, I dejectedly asked, “Do we really need to keep looking?” Rob began trying to explain the importance of the camera, to which I responded that it seemed like a long distance to go. Our back and forth went on for about 30 seconds until I finally said, “I still don’t understand why you need to keep looking for a camera I already found.” He paused momentarily as the realization set in and called me a few names before we both began laughing. A small prank was the least I could do after the hell I had been put through over the past few days.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

As we continued further exploring the valley, the path slowly climbed until we reached an intersection. With sleeves rolled up, the mighty KTM and I tackled one last daunting challenge after reeling from days of riding well above my skill level. This final test was one I took with little chagrin, however. In three short days, I had been through so much on this bike that this last rock and ledge-strewn climb over a 7500 ft peak seemed almost mundane. Sure, I was exhausted beyond belief, but by then, you stopped focusing on the pain and exertion and kept chugging through. Yes, I would have probably preferred at the moment to ride the Pole Road back to Bishop, but instead, this final ascent rewarded us with the best views of the Eastern Sierra we’d manage to witness for the entire trip.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Over the next few miles, we’d take smooth gravel roads toward Crowley Lake, inevitably emptying back onto 395 to make our final return to Bishop. The 30-minute ride back left me plenty of time to ponder the weekend’s events in between bouts of warming my gloves next to the bike’s radiator, though my conclusion nearly brings as many questions as it does answers.

An enduro bike is undeniably the most effective way to explore impassable terrain on two wheels. There’s no arguing the merit and capability a machine like KTM’s impeccable 500 EXC-F has on offer. The ability as a rider to approach something that would otherwise make you turn tail and flee home and instead ride over it with little effort is mind-boggling, and the confidence it, in turn, gives you to tackle new types of terrain on a larger bike, knowing it can be done, is simply invaluable.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

There were times I was ready to throw in the towel on this trip — the visceral nature of it all, the lack of comfort, and my being about as effective as a lead weight atop a class-leading enduro machine. Still, there were many more moments where, when tested physically and emotionally, this machine gave me the courage and confidence to continue plowing ahead. Looking back, the pain and mentally trying moments were all more than worth it. The experience and skills gained are all things I can return to my adventure bike with and will make me an objectively safer and more capable rider.
Does this mean I will sell my adventure bikes and switch to team enduro? Perhaps I can find room to add one more bike to the stable. That said, if you find yourself in a position of wanting to improve as an adventure rider and feel as though your talents and ceiling have topped off, a bike with half the weight, 50% more suspension travel, and a great deal more ground clearance might just be what the doctor ordered.