Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

I did end up taking that motorcycle ride yesterday. I completed the loop that I’d aborted when the engine started overheating. But it wasn’t easy.

The purple line on the map is my route, courtesy of APRS running on my phone during the ride. (My bike is KJ1H-8, while my van is KJ1H-9.) Since I’m already a couple of miles into the La Posa South LTVA, I decided to continue southeast to open BLM land, then loop my way north toward where I’d turned around before. I knew the trail was pretty easy from that point on, as well as for several miles out of La Posa South.

The trail took me through some amazing views. I had to give a wide variety of cacti a wide berth. I didn’t want to brush any of them with my hands or legs as I cruised past. This part of the trip was quite enjoyable.

I got to a short steep downhill with uneven ground. I’d turned around here once before. But with the extra off-road riding practice I’d gotten since then, I took it slow and easy down this hill, and got through it with no problem. The trail would continue to be mostly smooth, with the occasional short “hero section” that was more difficult.

Photos don’t provide any perspective on the wild elevation changes here. This was a difficult descent, followed immediately by a steep incline, with rocks and uneven dirt the whole way. I veered slightly off course on the uphill, and a cactus thorn stuck into my finger, even through my leather gloves. As soon as I got to the top of the hill I stopped to pull it out, take off my glove, and assess the damage. Fortunately, it didn’t break the skin or draw blood. But it was quite painful. I do not recommend riding your motorcycle quite so close to a cactus.

This part of the ride had suddenly gone a bit beyond my comfort level. But I had no desire to push my luck on those steep hills again, so I decided to press on. I also didn’t want to be defeated and give up on this loop a second time.

The smooth sections between the hills got more difficult as well, as hard-packed dirt turned to loose gravel. This is fine for a UTV with wide balloon tires, but my narrow motorcycle tires sank into the gravel. As long as I kept moving it was ok, but the front wheel behaved more like a boat rudder than a wheel in this slop.

The geography was probably the most interesting I’ve encountered on any Arizona dirt ride so far. This section felt like I was making a run down the trench of the Death Star, with steep walls on both sides. Fortunately, Darth Vader didn’t swoop in and shoot me down.

Finally, the trail began to smooth out, and I reached the point where I’d turned around last time. I was relieved, especially knowing the trail from here was pretty easy, especially compared to what I’d just been through. I’m rather impressed with myself that I got through it all without dropping the bike. But I didn’t enjoy the rough stuff. I’d rather enjoy the scenery I’m passing through than worry about placing my tires in precisely the correct places to avoid crashing and sliding down a steep hill. The KLR650 is not a good bike for this kind of technical riding, being much bigger and heavier than a true dirt bike or small dual-sport that’s made for this. But I got through it, and any landing you can walk away from is a good one.

I do not intend to ride this loop again. In fact, I’m questioning trail riding on the KLR in general. Over the winter I’ve become much better at dirt riding because nearly all of my riding has been on dirt. It’s been excellent practice. But I feel like I’ve learned what I can learn about dirt riding on this bike. If I want to tackle these kinds of trails, I’d do better on a smaller, lighter bike that’s easier to handle. That would require a big compromise to my road riding, which I still want to do as well. I think I’m done adventuring into the off-road unknown for a little while. I didn’t get scared on this ride, but I certainly got concerned about being out of my comfort zone. It worked out okay, but I don’t want to take a chance like that again.

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