Jim Pilon, the District 37 dual-sport workaholic who engineered the two-day LA to B-to-V event, had two turkeys at his last Thanksgiving dinner. One had been stuffed in an oven for eight hours and one had been stuffed into airline economy class for eight hours and was so jet-lagged he was thinking of buying a Packard.
They told me later that I was the only one who sat down to dinner fumbling for a seat belt and looking out the window to see if the flaps were down before we took off.
Pilon might dispute the workaholic handle, but only a terminal case would walk away from a marvelous Thanksgiving dinner to sit in a parking lot and sign up riders. He asked me to go with him, but I OD’ed on cheesecake and Coronas because I knew I’d need the energy for the next day’s ride.
The next morning came way too soon and I still didn’t know what motorcycle I was going to ride. I just hoped they didn’t plan on giving me a heart attack like they did when they hauled out a Honda XLV750 V-twin Paris-Dakar model—and all I could see was Paris-Forest Lawn.
This time, they trotted out a ’61 Triumph Cub that looked better than any Cub I’d ever seen without a rubber band to rewind the kick-start lever. I was a little apprehensive about the left-side foot brake and right-side shift because it had taken me 18 months and 400 crashes just to forget that system.
If they’d had a handful of Woodruff keys and a good file to go with it I could get it to Vegas, though not necessarily this year, mind you.
But the little Cub was just a teaser; what they had me scheduled to ride was a real honest-to-gosh test bike: a Cagiva T4 dual-sport model. They said it was the only one in the country.
Putting the world’s worst dirt rider on a pre-production model and aiming him at Pilon purgatory has to be the ultimate bike test! Cagiva had a lot of courage asking me to ride two days, 200 miles each, across both the Mojave Desert and Foothills Boulevard, but I just took my vise grips, set the foot brake to match my gimpy ankle and spun the clutch adjuster to put the freeplay where it would do more good, pointed it away from the parked cars and fired it up. It took three kicks.
I missed five out of the first five turns and never even saw the five-mile check which was supposed
to be painted right on Osborne Street!
Would you believe I had a kilometer-based odometer? Would you believe someone this dumb actually checked to see if gas was in the tank?
Nothing to do but wait for another group of riders and just tag along, so I joined Lynn Wineland’s bevy behind a well- matched couple. He went down on the first graveled right turn and she went down on the first graveled left.
The 350 had more than enough power for me to keep the group in sight all morning; the gear spacing seemed to be perfect.
Then, just beyond Mojave—HOME OF THE VOYAGER the sign said—Wineland turned up the wick to get us in before dark. On a really atrocious sand road, Paul, 50 yards in front of me on a BMW R80GS, got four feet off the ground before losing his airspeed and stalling. When he hit it looked like an eight-inch naval shell!
I don’t like to embarrass a rider when he’s down, so I wandered around picking up expensive-looking BMW mirrors, instruments and plastic pieces as Paul got to his feet and made sure that everything that was supposed to bend did and anything that wasn’t supposed to didn’t.
The BMW’s instrument cluster had unclustered itself and looked like a pinball machine that had been shoved through the sixth-floor elevator doors when the elevator was on the seventh floor. I used all my duct tape to cover every bare electrical connector then strapped all the switches against the handlebar.
When Paul turned the key, the engine started at once.
Because the T4 felt so nice and smooth on the road sections, I bailed out after another sand wash crash as the sun was setting. I didn’t hesitate to ride 91 miles of highway into Las Vegas.
Paul was the only rider to get a mention on TV that night. The announcer said: “A government seismograph relay station reported a minor aftershock this afternoon near Riverside.”
Nice going, Paul.
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This column originally appeared in our December 2017 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.