Bare-Bones Budget Bikers - Dirt Rider Magazine

Drake McElroy

It has been said that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. In other words, it sometimes takes messing up a few times to properly learn something. Over a long weekend, I took off with two close friends-freestyle junkie Drake McElroy and off-road stomper Alexander Malcolm Smith-on what was to be an adventure of a lifetime. The plan originally called for a budget dual-sport ride from Southern California's famed Glen Helen motocross track all the way to Death Valley. Right from the start, though, things began to go totally wrong. Bikes repeatedly broke. Wrong turns were made. Canteens went dry. Rivers were much deeper than they originally appeared. Yet all the while, we laughed our way through the trip, soaking up experience and smelly river water to learn a wealth of lessons along the way-both easy and hard-and enjoyed whatever the adventure decided to throw at us. In the end, we accomplished our goals of spending as little money as possible, learning from our mistakes and coming home with one heck of a story. What follows are the top lessons, in no particular order, that our ragtag trio learned on a 450-plus-mile bare-bones budget ride through the California desert. _-Chris Denison_

1. Properly Prepare Your Motorcycle

A properly prepared motorcycle is essential to the enjoyment and success of your ride. It might seem like a tedious task, but going over every nut and bolt on a bike before a big trip will save your butt on your next adventure ride. Equally important is having the correct aftermarket parts to ensure you didn't take that week off from work just to spend it sitting on the side of a dirt road waiting for the next human to come by with his Winnebago to pick up your broken bike. For this trip I outfitted my KTM with all the necessary crash protection: radiator, disk and chain guide guards from Bullet-Proof Designs, hand guards and a skid plate from MSR HP. I mounted an eight-inch Baja Designs HID headlight that would light up even the darkest roads, just in case it was necessary to ride at night. Lastly, I fitted a Pro Moto Billet rack to the rear of my bike to provide a stable platform to strap my Wolfman Luggage dry-bag. Of course, I also made sure the motorcycle was street-legal. We didn't want any trouble from the fuzz! _-Alexander Malcolm Smith_

2. Plan For Maximum Range

Bike setup is crucial in any off-road or-dare I say-dual-sport expedition, and fuel capacity is an absolute must. I prefer Just Gas Tanks/Safari's 27-liter Exxon Valdez replica tank for maximum volume. Initially, learning to time the slosh in the tank to dodge upcoming trail obstacles kept me busy and focused. However, I became a friend-favorite mobile refueling station and campfire-starting commodity. Body position becomes slightly compromised when fully loaded down, and you have to tap into your inner Jedi to navigate heavy-duty trail obstacles, but the extra range is well worth the trade-off. _-Drake McElroy_

3. BYOG

If you really want your trip to have true budget (read: vagrant) status, bring your own grub. There's nothing more manly-or cost-efficient-than parking your bike in the middle of the desert, starting a fire and cooking your food right there on the ground. We made sure to buy food that didn't need refrigeration (except for the first night's meal) and simply split it up weight-wise between the three of us, then just pieced together meals whenever we got hungry. By boiling water over fires, we had oatmeal, pasta and a bunch of other tasty, nutritional and super-cheap meals. It was the only way to go. _-CD_

Drake McElroy

4. Don't Be Picky

It's a good thing my pops was a manlier (and less right-wing) version of "The Nuge" when I was growing up. And, luckily, I have the belly of a dog from my budgeted upbringing and a decade's worth of FMX-induced travel. Chris did all the shopping for the trip, and it ended up being easy food with more brand names than I had initially anticipated, but the lesson here is you can't be too picky when you're eating out of a fender bag for three days. The pre-frozen hamburger/potato/veggie Boy Scout foil packets were a finger-burnin' hot hit after a long first day of riding. _-DMC_

5. Comfortable Riding Gear Is A Must

Adventure riding consists of long days on the bike where space is at a premium, and taking an extra change of riding gear is out of the question when you're living out of whatever bag you can strap on the back of your motorcycle. For this ride I chose to wear my Gaerne SG-12s boots, MSR Attack pants, Trans jacket and standard-issue moto jersey, as well as my comfortable Troy Lee Designs helmet. None of this gear was new to me, I knew exactly how it fit and I was confident I would have no issues. If you are going to be wearing the same set of riding gear for more than three days, you'd better make sure it's comfortable, broken in and familiar. Riding buddies who don't mind how you smell after a few days of riding are also a necessity! _-AMS_

6. Snivel Gear Is Your Friend

Snivel gear-that which you bring on a trip to keep you warm, comfortable or otherwise more at home away from home-is typically frowned upon on bare-bones budget rides. I thought I was too tough to need a sleeping pad on our camping trip (we didn't even bring tents), but after a night of getting jabbed with dozens of spark plug-sized rocks every time I moved (and losing valuable body heat in the process), I made up my mind that I would allow a bit of snivel gear on our next adventure. _-CD_

7. Pack For The Climate

In most domestic situations, spending a long weekend on a budget adventure mission and not with the family is frowned upon. Good thing my wife is loving and super kick-ass! Spending a buttload on extra camping goodies may have soured such domestic cooperation. Luckily, Chris was like, "You can borrow my sleep pad, I'm definitely not using it." Not so lucky was bringing the random mummy bag in the coat closet that was not rated for the early morning temperatures and nighttime winds that the desert had to offer. I froze! Thank you Air Blaster for making a sweet set of ninja thermals complete with a hood and old-time zippered butt flap (which I tested in an outhouse, thank you very much). Note to self: $129 bivy bag for future adventures is a must. _-DMC_

8. Think Twice, Act Once

When you're on an adventure ride, chances are you don't have your pickup waiting over the next hill, or any other way to get home should something happen to you or your bike. You must be in a constant state of caution and prevention when on extended, unsupported trips. Say, for example, you come to a big river and you're not sure if you can make it across without being swept downstream. The last thing you should do is charge right in without really knowing how deep the water is. Within the first hour of our adventure ride I had the opportunity to play professor for this fine lesson while standing chest deep in an unusually strong Mojave River. Thankfully, I was riding my trusty KTM 530, and within five minutes I had it fired up and was showing Drake and Chris a slightly less wet route across. Thanks to my dry-bag I wasn't tossing and turning in a wet sleeping bag that night, either. _-AMS_

Drake McElroy

9. Become A Bum

There are many times when an economical solution to a problem is close at hand, and all you have to do is be creative (and perhaps look at the situation from a more "homeless" standpoint). For instance, we at one point found ourselves in a parking lot of a small desert town, trying to drain the oil on the overheated DR650 that I was riding. The problem, though, was that we didn't have a drain pan. Using some good ol' Reno ingenuity, Drake meandered over to a nearby dumpster and looked inside. Then he began digging around. Pretty soon, about all you could see was two Alpinestars boots sticking out of the trash pile, from which Drake emerged with a cardboard box and some thick, industrial-grade plastic. Voila! Instant drain pan. He may have looked like a homeless freestyler, but Drake's thrift and ingenuity provided a perfect no-cost solution to our little dilemma. It's thinking like this that keeps a trip going! _-CD_

10. Recycle Everything

Reusing your waste is always important on a budget trip. Once emptied into your belly, a liter water bottle can become not one, but two bowls for your morning oatmeal, so long as you saved the plastic bottle top and remembered to pack a pocketknife. "Eco fine china" became a hot hit during mealtime. -DMC

11. Only Cut The Fibers!

So you're two days into your adventure ride and your buddy's bike roasts a clutch on a rocky trail. What do you do? First, make fun of him. But seriously, I can tell you from experience exactly what I did right and what I did wrong, so maybe you won't make the same mistake. After rebuilding Chris' clutch two times in as many days, we were all out of spare clutch plates. No problem, right? I'll just use that quick-thinking Smith ingenuity and we'll be up and running in no time! I tore into the clutch on the Suzuki-something that at this point I could do with my eyes closed-and surveyed the damage. Two fiber plates were worn down to the metal all the way around, and two metal plates were badly damaged. I proceeded to cut two of the good fiber plates into quarters so I could stack them on top of each other on opposite sides of the basket and reassembled the bike. This fix worked for about 35 miles, but it wasn't going to get us home, and we were stuck again. My next idea was to cut two of the metal plates into quarters and stack them the same way that I had stacked the fiber plates. DO NOT DO THIS! The metal plates don't use the outside of the basket to stay in place and will easily fall out of place under load. I only ended up making our problem worse when I had wrecked a metal plate and the small pieces would not stay in the clutch basket. I would have been better off cutting two more fiber plates and leaving the metal plates alone. Who knows if this would have gotten us home, but I definitely learned something in the process. -AMS

12. If A Bird Drinks From It, There Probably Isn't A Dead Raccoon In It

Due to an untimely underestimation of thirst, our trio ran out of water in the vicinity of Panamint Valley, just west of Death Valley. Heading to the nearest town and hitting up a gas station would have been against the unwritten rules of our trip, so we improvised a bit. After coming across a friendly, almost-abandoned Native American trailer park outside of the dusty desert ghost town of Ballarat, we were drawn to a stagnant water source that at one time was a swimming pool. A mysterious and rusty pipe was feeding the "pool," and in spite of our thirst we had our doubts about the cleanliness of the water. Just then, a small bird cruised over and took a few polite sips straight out of the deep end. Needless to say, we enjoyed a delicious campfire-made dinner of spaghetti a la chlorine that night! -CD

Drake McElroy

13. Don't Be Scared, Sleep In A Cave

Not letting your imagination run away with the inevitable is sometimes hard to contain when cruising through, and sleeping in, BFE. Yes, your surroundings may look like the set of The Hills Have Eyes remakes, but that's the price you pay to live outside The Plastic Man's reach. I suggest that each and every individual who picks up this magazine take their motorcycles out and serve yourself a small slice of experience. I mean, we literally slept in a caves... How cool is that? _-DMC_

14. Don't Know What You're Doing? Act Like It!

Confidence is important in all aspects of life, from trying to get a date with that girl you always see at the local track to convincing your riding buddies that you know what you're doing. If you're not confident, act like it and just smile when things don't go your way; this seems to have worked for me! I was able to convince Chris and Drake that we could, in fact, ride across that "dry" lake, only to get halfway across and start to wonder if it was normal that the lakebed was level with my footpegs. Sorry about that, guys, it was really just a guess. The same goes for that river, and the coat-hanger-in-the-clutch fix, and that shortcut out of Saline Valley.... -AMS

15. Bikers Are The Best Kind Of People

Fast-forward to the final day of our ride. After a 35-mile tow from Ballarat to Trona, the limping DR650 was on its very last leg. We laid the bike over outside of a gas station in preparation for one final clutch surgery before abandonment, and then went inside to find some oil. When we came out, the Suzuki was back on its wheels. Weird! Just then, a lanky dude popped out of nowhere and explained that he'd seen the tipped-over bike and had righted it for us, then asked if we needed help. As we explained our unlucky dilemma, the man's eyes lit up and he pointed to Alexander and me. "I know you guys! Didn't you race Romaniacs together? That story was wild!" As it turns out, our newfound friend was a full-blooded Dirt Rider reader returning home from a weekend of riding in the desert with his girlfriend. He just so happened to have a DR650-sized spot in the back of his trailer, which was headed back to his home not 10 miles from Glen Helen where our pickup trucks were parked. So, with Alexander and Drake whipping 150 miles home in the screaming wind, I enjoyed a cold Gatorade and a delicious sandwich while bench racing with my newest riding buddy, Mr. Johnny Ringo. Like I said, bikers are the best kind of people. -CD

16. For The Record, Thank You

To KTM, for making the 625 SXC! Thank you Big Al, for loaning me said motorcycle. Thank you Alexander, for being mechanically sound and having one of the best attitudes a human being could possess. And thank my stars I didn't have to ride the DR650! -DMC

Chris Denison
Alexander Smith
Drake McElroy
Chris Denison
Alexander Smith
Drake McElroy
Chris Denison
Alexander Smith
Drake McElroy
Chris Denison
Alexander Smith
Drake McElroy