My initial foray into adventure motorcycling was kind of interesting. Like many other riders out there I gained interest in the topic when I watched the Long Way Around when I was deployed to Iraq in 2010. This series pulled me towards a world of taking a motorcycle with knobby tires and riding it off-road via trails or dirt roads to a destination that may or may not be well known. Watching the Long Way Around sparked my interest but it was a few years later where I would actually begin to take a dual sport motorcycle on an adventure.
My first bike that got things heading into the right direction was probably the worst bike for it. In terms of maintenance, capability, and ease of ride it was pretty bad. My first bike started out as a Craigslist find and was a $600 dollar box of parts and a barely running frame, enter a 2001 Suzuki RM250. For those of you who don’t know what an RM250 is it was Suzuki’s answer in the motocross world to compete with the Honda’s, Yamaha’s, and Kawasaki’s. The bike was a 250cc two stroke with raw aggressive power and plenty of torque that would easily pop the front tire off the ground with a simple flick of the throttle. After a weekend of putting it back together and a few orders on https://www.rockymountainatvmc.com/ I was able to get it running and ready to go for grand Colorado adventures…or so I thought.
At the time, I lived in a new housing development on the north side of Pueblo, Colorado and all around me was open desert and prairie land for miles upon miles. I quickly used my “back yard” as my training area on the basics of how to start, stop, pick and follow a line, climb inclines, and go down declines. For an open spot of land to learn some vital off road skills I couldn’t have asked for anything better. After a few weeks of blasting through the desert I started to experiment with riding further and further away from home. Luckily for me my bike came with a 4 gallon Clarke Desert Tank which gave me quite the range compared to the original 2.2 gallon tank, sometimes this extended range got me into trouble as I was out past dark and the RM250 didn’t have a headlight. As I started riding further from home I also started to print out maps and imagery from Google Maps to find areas to explore. This was mostly regulated to abandoned train bridges since my area had quite a few of them. Over the course of the spring and early summer I felt confident in my abilities that I could do a simple day trip in the mountains with no issues. Well my overconfidence was about to hit me with some hard earned knowledge and experience.
In early July as the snowpack was melting I decided to take my bike up to Hermit Pass Road (NFS 160) that goes from the sleepy town of Westcliffe to the summit of Hermit Pass in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This forest road is mostly gravel and can be quite bumpy however it’s not to technical and I’ve seen Subaru Outback’s drive up it previously. An interesting note about Hermit Pass is that at 13,540 feet it is one of the highest passes that you can drive up to in South Eastern Colorado. Since my bike was a two stroke and not road legal I hesitantly trucked it to the trailhead of Hermit Pass Road. Looking back it would of been nice to have a road legal bike since the ride to Westcliffe from Pueblo is packed with some nice scenery and curvy mountain roads.
The ascent up Hermit Pass Road wasn’t to challenging however I quickly realized that my suspension was very soft and it didn’t rebound like it did in the softer desert terrain that I had normally ridden in. On this incredibly rocky road it was brutal on my knees and back and it made me start to realize the limitations of the RM250. I also failed to realize that altitude can play havoc on a bike with a carburetor that wasn’t jetted properly. As I climbed up the pass I had to keep the bike in 1st and 2nd gear just to keep it running and it was very difficult to really gain any speed above 20 miles an hour. What I expected to be an hour long trip up to the summit turned into a three hour ordeal. Once I got above the timber line and had the summit in sight things did get somewhat easier as the road was less rocky and was mostly decomposed granite that had been packed down from years of heavy snowfall and four wheel drive vehicles. Just short of the summit where the switchbacks begin their final ascent their are a series of small alpine lakes with the biggest ones being named Hermit Lake and Horseshoe Lake. These lakes have some fine trout fishing and the water is crystal clear which makes it easier to get a fly where you need it. I highly recommend bringing a collapsible pole on this route.
The last mile was fairly easy and I was able to watch a herd of elk in a nearby meadow. Up here my bike really struggled with the altitude and I had to keep it in first gear just to maintain a snails pass as I hit the summit. However it was worth it in the end. The views of the Wet Mountains to the east were amazing and looking down you could see Westcliffe and the trail head in the distance. Even though I didn’t summit the pass by hiking I still signed the register to let the world know that I took a two stroke bike to just over 13,000 feet in elevation on my first dual sport adventure.
The temperature on the summit was a little brisk however, it wasn’t that windy which surprised me. After twenty minutes on the summit I decided to ride back down to the trailhead and head home since my body was starting to ache from the jarring it had taken. The trip down went a lot faster however I wasn’t paying attention on one incredibly rocky section and took a low speed fall which snapped my brake lever. I had to use my rear brake for the rest of the trip which taught me the lesson of having lever guards or have a extra set of levers in a toolkit.
All in all my first dual sport adventure was a success however I learned a lot of lessons that day. Such as how altitude can play havoc on a bike, suspension tuning, the use of lever guards (bark busters), and how a simple trip can turn into a lengthy ordeal if your not prepared. The RM250 quickly showed me its limitations and it never made it up in the mountains ever again. I rode it almost exclusively in the desert around my house and eventually it would be sold prior to my last deployment so I could save up some money to get a proper dual sport motorcycle.