Dr. Frazier: ADV Motorcycles Morphed for Iron Butt Rally

Dr. Gregory Frazier | July 31, 2015

“It’s not a race. It’s an adventure where riders test their abilities to reach goals, to see if they have the Iron Butt DNA,” said founder Mike Kneebone on the eve of the start of the 2015 Iron Butt Rally.

If one wandered through the impounded motorcycles at the start and noted the number of adventure-marketed models in the 87 starting entrants, one could agree there must be an element of adventure in the definition of the Iron Butt Rally. Numerous built and not bought adventure models were there, marked by a large contingent of BMW GS models.

While not true adventure rally BMWs like those made by the German rally bike manufacturer HPN or others, the Iron Butt Rally entrants were far from stock. Many were rolling farkle and bling displays, almost to the point of having electronic gizmo and gadget overload.

Dr. Frazier Iron Butt Rally 2015 Start

Wires galore on this BMW GS, an adventure waiting for when the charging system fails or the Iron Butter atop the GS smells burning electrics.

Other OEM adventure-marketed motorcycles included the Yamaha Tenere and Triumph Explorer and Tiger, albeit none of these were stock either.

Some add-ons included factory panniers wide enough to make splitting lanes in California nearly impossible. A stock factory seat on any of the entered adventure machines was the exception rather than the rule, ruling out the image of the Iron Butt Rally rider standing on the pegs as many of the OEM ads for adventure machines presented. It was obvious to the casual observer that many riders were going to maximize seat time on their motorcycles over the following 11 days. One aftermarket seat touched the $2000 mark, while another was quoted at $79.

Rally entrants were quick to describe the contributions made to their adventure models. Long-distance highway tires were optioned over dual-sport or off-road tires because 99.9% of the rally was to be on pavement and, depending upon route options, over half of that on high-speed interstates, toll-ways or freeways.

An array of electronics affixed to handlebars, wind screens and tank bags ranged from radar detectors to global positioning senders and receivers. At the low end of the electronic gizmos on display were flexible lights for seeing paper maps in tank bags at night to a simple cigarette lighter for one smoker who wanted to light up while moving.

As one entrant nervously went through his mental check list an hour before the official start, he offered to voice his list: “GPS #1, GPS #2, SPOT, tablet, EZ Pass, cell phone, microphone/earphone connection, radar detector, clock, light, battery chargers and auxiliary light switches.” When asked where on his BMW GS the switch was for his electronic fuel pump for the extra five gallons of gas carried on the back of his motorcycle in a fuel cell, he pointed to a toggle switch on the handle bars. Clearly his adventure-built motorcycle had not been modified for seeking adventures in the mud wallows of the Congo or Brazil where a minor electronic glitch in his electronic maze would find him and his dead BMW computer aboard an airline to the nearest BMW adventure diagnostic center in the Republic of South Africa or Germany.

Dr. Frazier Iron Butt Rally 2015 Start

Need lights? This GS had lights, and more lights

During the day prior to the start entrants polished windscreens, checked oils and kibitzed in the parking lot, hotel lobby and nearby restaurants. Several were questioned about how water exited from one, and sometimes two, thermos containers attached to the motorcycles after it was ingested through various forms of tubes. None admitted to wearing either diapers or catheters, although some said prior entrants had done so. The most entertaining response was given by Bob Lilly who admitted to once wearing a condom to avoiding unnecessary pit stops on his 2011 BMW R1200GS ADV. No one had told Lilly to apply talcum powder before rolling on the protective device and the result was a painful rolling off which took a considerable amount of skin with it….YEEEEOOOOWWW!

At the closed and highly secretive Rider’s Banquet the night before the official start all entrants were introduced and given their Riders Number. The sealed “rally packets” were handed out and lectures given. In the lobby outside the conclave several non-VIPs discussed the possible routes entrants would take to collect the bonus points, the secrets having been leaked days before to veterans, insiders and those able to bribe others in-the-know. While no one was betting on winners or finishers, the absence of runners to place bets was voided by newbies and veterans marching to and from the restrooms between agenda items inside the cloaked banquet room.

Dr. Frazier Iron Butt Rally 2015 Start

The stock seats on nearly all of the BMW adventure motorcycle entered had either been modified or added to for the enhancement of sitting and not standing on the pegs as often depicted in BMW advertising material.

At the Official Start, Monday, June 29, the adventure models matched speed, noise and decorum when waved off with non-adventure models. The loudest adventure model may have been Jack Cheasty’s 1995 BMW R100GSPD, the noise attributed to the 20 year-old mechanical parts of one of the truly badged adventure models. Newer BMWs quietly slipped by, their only noise the beeping of horns, apparently some form of Iron Butt fist bumping with the crowd.

For 11 days the entrants will push themselves and their motorcycles, trying to prove they have the DNA referred to by Mike Kneebone. From the Iron Butt Rally website for 2015 the event was described as “a long distance motorcycle competition that pits rider against the map and his or her wits, to accumulate as many points as possible in a fixed period of time.” Somewhere between those lines are the morphing words adventure and DNA.

For entrant information and daily reports, as well as a history of the Iron Butt Rally, a visit to the website www.ironbuttrally.com is interesting as well as entertaining. The event is one of the few happenings where motorcycles designed to be adventure models are morphed into pavement rally motorcycles versus the usual opposite where any make or model of motorcycle is morphed into an adventure motorcycle.

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Dr. Gregory Frazier

Contributing Editor| Articles | Having made multiple runs across the globe, round-the-world adventurer Dr. Frazier imparts some of his motorcycle traveling wisdom in his monthly Dr. Frazier Rides column.

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