I wouldn’t consider myself much of a rally rider. I have been to Sturgis a couple of times and have enjoyed the endless amounts of twisty two lanes that dissect the badlands much more than the beer guzzled in the establishments looking to make a buck. However, my father has enjoyed the event for years and I have tried to fit in and ride along for that father-son bonding time.
Fast forward to 2016, KTM hosted their off-road rally in the stomping grounds of Sturgis. Deadwood is an easy ride from the Twin Cities of Minnesota and on that notion I decided to give the rally a try. I called up my buddy Josh, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri because I know he is always up for a dual sport adventure. He graciously agreed to join me even though he rides a fire breathing German GS 1200.
Being born and raised in the southern section of Missouri, off road motorcycle riding was fairly easy to come by. Eight miles south of my birthing grounds was an excellent public off-road playground. I cut my teeth on the dirt, rocks, and hills Missouri had to offer. Since moving to Minnesota I have been pleasantly pleased with the amount of motorcycle-only off-road trails the state has to offer. However, sustained climbs, and rocks are rarely found. Buddies of mine have tried to convince me to come to the black hills and ride the trails there. Hills, rocks, and hundreds of miles of trails could be found, they promised me.
Josh and I met up in Sioux Falls mid-day Thursday. My 1190 made it on one tank of gas from the parking lot of work to the rendezvous spot. Though I watched the distance to empty run off faster than the miles I was clicking off and my nerves tempted me to stop and get go-go juice at least twice. The heat of the day had set in. I-90 is a long, straight, boring ride across South Dakota and this was our own personal hell for the next seven hours. The thermometer went from 95 to 101 and my mind just imagined the rubber burning off my new knobby tires as we cruised down the highway well north of 80 miles per hour. Black clouds filled the sky over the western border and messages from buddies that live in Rapid City started popping up on my phone and Instagram that described the bad weather that awaited us. “Should we have trailered?”
Friday marked the first day of the rally. We stuck our heads out of our tents surprised not to see the skies unleash the fury of rain yet. Scrambling to get our gear on and panniers off we loaded the bikes with essentials and set off for registration and breakfast. KTM has the rally experience dialed. The KTM staff was friendly and all of them seemed to be chomping at the bit to ride as much as we were. Meals were severed in a banquet room at the local casino which also served as base camp for many of the riders. I was surprised by the number of the attendees that stayed at the hotel. Even more surprised by the lack of folks camping in tents. Maybe that is just my perception of Adventure and perhaps off center for this group.
As we shared small talk over the bacon and eggs that were served for breakfast I noticed that many of the riders did not have a lot of off-road time under their belts. What a perfect place to learn. KTM had offered a number of rider skill courses for those to help get a better grasp of what was in store. A star studded lineup of KTM sponsored riders also lead rides every day. With 15 person limits, the rides were broken down by experience of the riders. Folks quickly formed lines and picked the ride that spoke the most to them and their wants. However, this day many of the rides were truncated for the long awaited rain had started to fall from the skies and had no signs of slowing down for the rest of the day.
Josh and I loaded up with paper maps, a dry pair of gloves and hopes of finding Devils Tower by way of mostly off-road trail. It is never fun walking from the dry to the pouring rain to throw a leg over the bike for the day. That first sense of getting wet hurts the ego and drowns motivation until you finally get on the road. The first few trails we hit were closed by recent mining. The trail would just disappear and be blocked off with fences that warned of trespassing consequences. A few re-routes and we had made it to what is often referred to as a B Road. Not maintained except for the occasional tires that knock down the grass, this road looked muddy. Josh looked back and said, “It’s only a short distance to the road from here.” He was right. Approximately 1.5 miles in distance, this road seemed to be the biggest challenge of the entire trip. Ruts dug deep from farmer’s 4x4s and tractors were filled to the brim with water. “How deep?” was always a question that slammed front of mind as my bike slid off of the center of the high ground I tried so hard to maintain.
I watched Josh mud wrestle his BMW at least a dozen times after the ground decided to reach up and slap his wheels out from under him. He has a technique down to turn away from the bike and deadlifting it up by grabbing a handlebar and the luggage rack to heave the beast up for the next attempt of clearing the 1.5 miles. The awesome thing about modern day motorcycles is that they have a setting optimized for every situation known to man. The not-so-awesome part is that you have to remember to flip all the switches and gizmos to keep your bike moving forward when it is swallowed up to the pegs in an unsuspecting mud bog. I had the throttle twisted back enough that my wrist essentially was touching the back of my hand, however the bike made no forward progress. Nor did the rear wheel even spin. I looked down at the dash and the warnings were blinking at me as to say I had a bogie at 10’oclock on my tail. Traction Control failure; ABS failure. My hopes of making it through melted away as I stepped off the bike and watched it stand there stuck hopelessly in the muck.
Josh came by and laughed. He found a dry, flat spot to put his kickstand down to try to help me pull the bike out of the rut. Both of our phones were acting goofy with the cold and the rain and as soon as our batteries were charged, they died. This means no proof of the event actually happening which is what Josh wanted so desperately.
Tugging quickly uncovered that we were not getting this bike out by lifting. Josh asked if we could lay my beautiful bike on its side to spin it out of the hole it was in. My heart hurt, but that is why I put the crash bars on the bike. With a small spin we were able to get the bike’s feet on drier ground just enough to cautiously creep the it away from the hole that hid so innocently behind tall prairie grass. Now with the OFFROAD mode on, Traction Control off, and the right amount of speed, we were off to conquer the rest of the ¾ mile left of this road. Just in time for the rain to start falling a little harder.
Day two of the rally we woke up to dry skies and sunshine. Oh, how the sunshine felt so good. We went to the rally headquarters for breakfast and we wanted to see what goods the vendors that came this year had to offer. One of the coolest pieces for me was to see and be able to ask questions in person to all the vendors that only had one thing one their minds; KTM. Josh however did not feel left out. When he would bring up the fact he was on a BMW they knew exactly what they had to offer there too. They just didn’t have those parts with them. If you wanted a new seat for your KTM, you could get it done right there on the spot. Lights, bags, tires, gear, exhaust, suspension the list goes on. Everyone was there to cater to the needs of the KTM riders. Really cool in my opinion.
Another KC rider was making his way through the Badlands in his RV with a trailer full of toys. He had a recently acquired KTM 500 EXC 6 Days version of course, and an 1190 Adventure R with all the bells and whistles. We had decided that since we didn’t really get our fill of singletrack on the previous day that we were going to go out for an all-day raid. Jerry joined up with us at the event and off we went. Everything from singletrack that was marked motorcycle only, to UTV trail, to two track to some gravel we rode it. Roughly 106 miles of it. You couldn’t have asked for a better day either. Temps in the 60’s and the trails were so dry they even became dusty.
Needless to say we rolled into camp a bit late and missed the evening’s festivities at the Rally. Awards were given and food was consumed. I am also sure stories were told of the days riding adventures. We were content with our mission and a Bud Lite Limearita was just the ticket to a day serious off-road fun.
For me the rally really was the catalyst to get me out to a new area for riding that has been on my to-do list since I moved to Minnesota. Every year I think about going out only to be paused by my not really knowing the area or where to start. KTM did a great job of providing me those tools to get out and explore what I will say is some of the premium dual sport riding in the US. The amount of trail is limitless. The vendors were a bonus for me and now I have a laundry list of goodies I will put on my Christmas list for Santa. It was also cool to see that if you wanted to hone your riding skills, they had that covered. If you wanted a group ride, check! Last but not least, if you wanted to sit around and talk about the latest fads on the internet or just tell stories, there was no shortage of opportunities to do so. I may not be your typically rally rider but I do thank KTM for opening the door to new trails I had yet to lay rubber on. Thank you!