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Dr. Frazier Preps KLX250 Adventure Tourer

Friday, March 12, 2010
Pictured is a sample of what some of the tracks were like where the KLX250S would have to carry me and my survival gear.
Pictured is a sample of what some of the tracks were like where the my motorcycle would have to carry me and my survival gear.
An expedition motorcycle was needed. The plan was to travel across parts of Alaska where there were no roads, places were only snow machines, dog sleds or a bicycle could transport people and luggage when the ground was frozen solid and covered with snow. The major difference would be timing: instead of frozen tundra and ice the motorcycle would be crossing the terrain in July when much of the ground would be covered by two- or three-foot deep spongy tundra. What was a hard packed track in winter would be loose gravel, some swamp or impassable mud wallows in July.

The motorcycle needed to be light enough to be dragged through or carried over sections too deep to ride through or soft to cross. It would also have to be powerful enough to carry camping gear, extra gas and food to points where there would be none. Additionally it had to be simple; one that a shade tree mechanic like me could repair if a tire deflated, a crash broke a clutch lever or bent a rim.

Another factor in the decision of “Which motorcycle was best for the expedition?” was the purchase price. Where the expedition was taking me there was a possibility the motorcycle might have to be abandoned or that it would be confiscated for illegally being in another country.

An Enduro Fender Bag and X-Carry All Bag from Wolfman Luggage held spare inner tubes and a bicycle hand-operated air pump from Walmart.
Reasonable priced and with enough power to get through tough situations the KLX250 was a wise choice for this adventure.
The initial plan was to start in Anchorage, Alaska. From there I would somehow get myself and my loaded motorcycle to as close to Russia as I could, and then hopefully on into Siberia after crossing the Bering Strait.

My motorcycle of choice was a 2009 Kawasaki KLX250S (read about our own KLX250 adventure tour on Kauai). I had used a KLX250 before in the jungles of Thailand and found that the 249cc engine with six-speed transmission had enough displacement and power to carry myself and significant gear over major highways at satisfactory speeds or through some nasty sections of slippery, narrow trails. At 277.8 lbs dry, I could unload the luggage and then drag or push it through uglier sections. I also liked the purchase price of under $6000 for a new model. It was not an adventure budget buster and left some funds for the accessories I would need on the expedition.

Having been to Alaska 25-30 times since the early 1970s, I knew what to expect on the major road system in Alaska. What was an unknown were the trail or track conditions off the pavement between Anchorage and my eventual destination far to the northwest a few miles below the Arctic Circle.

With a two gallon gas tank on the Kawasaki KLX250S  I would need more fuel capacity. Walmart sold an inexpensive plastic gas tank which fit perfectly in one of the Ortlieb saddlebags  and did not leak gas.
Waterproof Ortlieb Dry Bag Saddlebags and a large Duffel Bag from Aerostich would keep gear dry while being lightweight additions to the overall weight.
I ordered the accessories I needed to outfit the KLX250S from motorcycle adventure outfitters like Happy TrailsWolfman Luggage and Aerostich and had them ship the boxes to The Motorcycle Shop in Anchorage where I collected the KLX250S. When I explained where I was going, on an expedition to the Bering Sea nearly 600 miles from Anchorage as my last supply depot, each company offered some suggestions for my list of gear, including riding clothing and free advice about cold weather riding.

The 2009 Kawasaki KLX250S was waiting along with the numerous boxes at the Motorcycle Shop. Owner Don Rosene had known of my planned expedition and offered some friendly advice as I signed legal papers and started to bolt on and strap parts and accessories to the KLX250S in the parking lot of his shop. He said, “Take a sharp knife. If a polar bear comes after you, and you can run fast, maybe you can cut yourself enough to bleed out before it eats you.”

Rosene also introduced me to an Alaska State Trooper who worked out of Nome. As I rode away from The Motorcycle Shop to break in the motorcycle I began to wonder about his tips, thinking either Rosene had a good sense of humor or knew something I did not about the far north of Alaska.

The best known route from Anchorage to Nome was over the Iditarod Trail, famed for the annual dog sled race in March. Leaving Anchorage on the fully-loaded KLX250S to arrive at the first check point about 30 minutes away was relatively easy. The four-lane paved highway was simple work for the 249cc motorcycle with its weight. When I needed a little extra zip to pass a truck or slower moving vehicle I simply downshifted to fifth and had plenty of power.

Pictured is where I would not want to be in the winter: The Iditarod Trail coming into Nome.
Pictured is where I would not want to be in the winter: The Iditarod Trail coming into Nome.
The Iditarod Race leaves the pavement in the town of Wasilla where I stopped at the Iditarod Trail Headquarters. It was here I discovered some interesting facts about the miles ahead:

First, the 1,049 miles of the race trail to Nome was a symbolic figure. The race was really a “thousand mile race in the 49th State,” thus the number 1,049. The actually mileage was closer to 1,200 miles, depending on which route was taken.

Second, a bicycle rider had made the trip in 14 days.

Third, about one foot off the gravel track into the weeds and bushes of what would be the frozen trail in March was where the Kawasaki stopped in July. Maybe another foolish motorcycle adventurer would want to spend the next two to six weeks dragging his or her motorcycle and gear over the 1,200 miles of thick weeds and brush ahead, but this one backed up to the gravel track and began mapping Plan B.

I spent the next weeks breaking in the KLX250S, testing the motorcycle carrying capacity on and off pavement, and checking my camping gear and the weather worthiness of my riding gear. A stop at the Alaska Leather store in Anchorage they let me change oil and we renewed old friendships. Their proffered advice about my expedition towards Russia: “Don’t Ride Naked.”
I built up my own took kit. The one on the right pictured here came with the motorcycle. The rest of the tools I added from various stores around Anchorage.
I built up my own took kit. The one on the right pictured here came with the motorcycle. The rest of the tools I added from various stores around Anchorage.

While I was prepping and testing the KLX250S I was also working on an updated version of my book ALASKA BY MOTORCYCLE. Every few years I return to Alaska to see what might need changing from earlier editions, as well as research film projects for motorcycle informational DVDs about riding to and in Alaska. This year the news at Alaska Leather was they had moved to a newer and larger location, as well as had posted on their marquee the “Don’t Ride Naked” motto – a sticker of which they insisted I affix to my helmet, wanting me to carry their mantra to one of the last places on the planet where a motorcyclist would want to ride naked, Nome.

The next stop was at Walmart and then an auto parts store where I built up a tool kit. The tool kit that came with the Kawasaki was adequate for simple fixes, but I knew where I was going I would be at times at least 70 miles from town. Besides adding some basic tools like a hammer and vice grips, I purchased a bicycle hand operated air pump and tire patch kit. Passing the ATV section at Walmart I noticed two items that made sense to add to my gear. The first was a pair of waterproof snowmobile gloves that came nearly to my elbows. Knowing I was going to be close to the Arctic Circle, the summer riding gloves I carried with light rain covers would likely keep my hands dry, but not warm.

A self-made brace from a curtain rod kept the soft hand guard from pressing against the clutch lever at speed from the wind.
A self-made brace from a curtain rod kept the soft hand guard from pressing against the clutch lever at speed from the wind.
The second purchase was a pair of soft lever covers that easily mounted to the handlebars of not only an ATV or snow machine, but also over the levers of my motorcycle. For $15.00 they seemed to be a good investment against the high probability of cold rain and possibly protection in a slow speed fall.

The next decision was to go by boat versus air cargo. Out of Anchorage there were boats and barges carrying goods to Nome, but they were slow and not scheduled for when I wanted to leave and arrive. An option was to ride the motorcycle north to Fairbanks or on the Dalton Highway to the Yukon River Crossing and there try to hitch a ride on a boat going down the Yukon River. That option would have been even slower than a barge out of Anchorage and likely would leave me stuck trying to find a way across the Norton Sound. In the winter the Iditarod entrants (and the bicycle riders) could cross the Norton Sound because it was frozen, solid ice. Not so in summer and there were few small boats making the passage.

The distance between Anchorage and Nome by air was 549 miles. A promise of a two day air cargo delivery made this a more timely option than sitting and waiting on the banks of the Yukon River swatting mosquitoes for a week or more.

I had to strip off all the accessories at the air cargo shipping dock in Anchorage and ship the accessories in a separate box.
I had to strip off all the accessories at the air cargo shipping dock in Anchorage and ship the accessories in a separate box.
I rode the Kawasaki to the air cargo terminal at the Anchorage airport and began shopping for the best deal. The range in prices by various air cargo companies varied, depending upon when I wanted the motorcycle in Nome. $750, uncrated, would deliver it to Nome in a promised day. $500, uncrated would get it there on a less expensive carrier, but with no promise that it would be there anytime soon. When computing the price of a room in Nome at $75.00-$100.00 a night waiting for the motorcycle when I wanted to be exploring on it, the $750.00 offer seemed best, especially if I had to wait a week.

The air carrier I selected changed rules about half way through the packing process. Some bureaucrat in a back room concluded the motorcycle had to be shipped as two units, not as one which I had previously been told. The bureaucrat wanted all the bags (tank bag, fender bag, headlight pod bag, saddlebags, windscreen and carrying luggage stripped off and shipped in a separate box). Some hassling took place while the unknown bureaucrat hid in his or her office and issued interpretations of rules, one of the wildest being saddlebags on motorcycles were not fixed items, and thus had to be removed.

The other hassle was the airline counter person wanting me to pay a freight forwarding company located across town to fill out the one page form I had already correctly completed for Dangerous Goods. This process would likely take a half day and cost up to another $150 not counting taxi fares and possibly an additional night in a motel in Anchorage at $110 for the least expensive room near the airport.

Beach riding in soft sand with a fully loaded motorcycle made me appreciate the lighter Kawasaki KLX250S versus the Kawasaki KLR 650 I opted to leave behind.
Beach riding in soft sand with a fully loaded motorcycle made me appreciate the lighter Kawasaki KLX250S versus the Kawasaki KLR 650 I opted to leave behind.
Eventually the bureaucrat either went out for lunch or home for the day and the counter person decided the properly presented Dangerous Goods form I supplied would suffice. The motorcycle was stripped of all accessories which were boxed and shipped separately. With the battery disconnected and gas tank drained, the motorcycle was weighed, then measured for overall space displacement and my credit card was whacked with the promise my motorcycle would be waiting for me the next day when I arrived in Nome.

Two days later the motorcycle arrived and I reassembled it at the air cargo bay in Nome. A friendly worker there volunteered a liter of gas and my expedition began. The only good part of the air cargo experience, other than meeting some nice workers in Nome and Anchorage, was a telephone call from one employee telling me that the bureaucrat had been incorrect, saddlebags were considered an integral part of the motorcycle, and if I wanted to ship the motorcycle back to Anchorage using their company I would not have to remove them.

At the first gas station in Nome I stopped at to fill my nearly empty gas tank the cashier asked, “What kind of motorcycle is that?”

I told him, “It’s a Kawasaki.”
Even fully loaded I had room on the KLX250S for a souvenir from Alaska.
Even fully loaded I had room on the KLX250S for a souvenir from Alaska.

“Don’t see many of those up here, not that kind.”

I asked, “Have you ever seen any?”

He scratched his beard, and then answered, “Nope. We’ve got a couple of Harley-Davidsons, some Yamahas and a Honda or two. Where’re you going with that Kawasaki?”

“I’m going to see if I can get out to Council, maybe Taylor, then up to Teller and, across to Russia from there.”

He laughed, and said, “You won’t see the Harleys on that route. Heck, even the dog sleds in the Iditarod stop here in Nome. You’re headed where few people go unless they have to.”

My expedition out of Nome was looking up. I’d be going where loud pipes were not trying to save lives and I possibly had dealt with the last bureaucrat for a few miles.
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speedymcgreedy   December 8, 2011 09:13 AM
Dr. Fakester, My gout is acting up, what do you recommend? Wait, you're not actually a medical doctor are you? Wouldn't Ph.D be less misleading. Has that degree even ever been verified? Oddly, I'm a doctor but don't feel the need to slap Dr. in front of my name for everything.
DocForesight -Sorry - clarification  April 14, 2010 12:05 AM
That was a Wolfman Expedition dry duffel for the tent, air mattress and shoes plus the Aerostich duffel for other clothing. I couldn't see them all in a single picture to see how you arranged them (if you actually used them simultaneously) with the Ortlieb Dry saddlebags. Thanks again.
DocForesight -Couple quick questions  April 13, 2010 11:56 PM
Dr. Greg, in your thumbnail pictures you show both the Aerostich duffel and the Ortlieb Dry duffel plus the Ortlieb Dry saddlebags. Did you use all of them at the same time? It sounded like you used the Aerostich for clothes and the Ortlieb duffel for the tent and the saddlebags for extra gas and clothes, but I wasn't sure. Considering you're saving over 300 pounds in raw bike weight compared to a R-GS, I really appreciate your approach -- particularly when off-road is limited speed anyway. Thanks for the great ideas!
Dr. "Greg" -Global Wanderer, still wondering why there is no free lunch...  March 31, 2010 10:58 AM
Hi Mickey D:
Someone directed me to your kind words below of March 25. You're right, I am a middle to low-end traveler and had a timeline. I knew the KLX250S was a solid runner, some mechanics and electrical things about them and could afford the purchase price. I bought it off the floor of The Motorcycle Shop in Anchorage, the local Kawasaki dealer. The owner was a good guy, and offered me a "free" choice of color: red or screaming green. While it would have been nice to receive the whole motorcycle free motorcycle, I stepped up to the counter and wrote a check like most of the rest of us do.

As for breaking it in, when it landed in Nome there was just under 1,000 miles on it. I bagged another 900 miles in and around Nome. See April's article for what I found on part of the Nome Expedition.

Again, thanks for the kind words and keep the Motorcycle Superstore sliding your credit card. And of course continue reading Motorcycle USA They are the ones who send you the nice artwork and words. I am merely the guy out there in the jungles or snow banks using inexpensive cameras and cheap Internet cafes (or "borrowing" free Wifi) to feed their excellent publication, and having fun doing it.

Mickey D -Best On the Net!  March 29, 2010 02:07 PM
Dr. Greg is one of the best motorcycle writers out there. Thanks to Motorcycle USA for publishing Dr. Greg's travel stories. (I'm a good MC-USA customer, have bought LOTS of stuff from you guys ... and direct a lot of friends to your site!) To Todd: The KLX was a test bike for review, supplied FREE to Greg by Kawi USA. In general taking a less expensive bike into the 3rd world makes lots of sense as in most cases your local insurance will not cover theft or govt. confiscation. This happens more than you'd think. Greg already owns several used bikes (which have all gone RTW) stored in various parts of the world. In reality, breaking in a bike happens in about 250 miles of spirited riding. This especially true on a 250. A few heat cycles and the motor is basically broken in and is safe to ride normally. After 30 new bikes, I've got pretty good at this "break in" thing. I think Greg gets it too. As far as his chosen route, note that he tells you he has already been to much of AK, about 20 or 30 times over the years! I believe his chosen route was something new. AK is a big place. If you'd ridden it you'd know. My guess is Greg is on limited time and budget. Spending an extra two weeks on the road in AK can cost you A LOT of extra money; in food, Motels, whatever. Expensive place. Flying ends up being cheaper and keeps him on schedule.
Herbie the Hawk -Greetings from swiss alps  March 25, 2010 02:55 AM
Hi Greg
I hoppe to see you soon in switzerland.
the roads in the alps are soon ready :-)
Herbie the Hawk -Greetings from swiss alps  March 25, 2010 02:54 AM
Hi Greg
I hoppe to see you soon in switzerland.
the roads in the alps are soon ready :-)
Herbie the Hawk -Greetings from swiss alps  March 25, 2010 02:54 AM
Hi Greg
I hoppe to see you soon in switzerland.
the roads in the alps are soon ready :-)
todd -several questions?  March 18, 2010 06:35 AM
I dont understand why you buy a new bike to do this. This in regard to the statement that you dont want an expensive bike in case it gets confiscated. I also wonder why worry about breaking in a bike that might get confiscated. Breaking in a bike in that environment would be difficult at best while trying to concentrate on keeping it on 2 muddy wheels. A used bike makes way more sense to me. I would have wanted an air cooled bike to boot. Like you said more than 70 miles from nowhere would make a broken radiator a long walk home. I think the snowmobile gloves are a best buy on this trip. One last question. Why not just ride all over Alaska and maybe into canada. No hassle with unloading bike and crating or dealing with idiot paper pushers.
Ruben -On to Adventure riding  March 16, 2010 09:22 PM
I alway love Dr Frazier's article about adventure riding. I'm from the Philippines, and everything he told about riding in my country was true. I'm on to Alaska this June from San Diego with a riding buddy. Our first trip on road bikes (RT & Concours 14). Any good suggestion or advise?
Hank -Lost Way Around  March 15, 2010 08:03 AM
Agreed, Dr. Frazier has a talent for taking us to places many can only dream of. Nome, Alaska? Very, very cool, and not the weather, but the idea to go there on the Kawasaki 250KLX he outfitted. I wish I had thought to try that when I was in Alaska. I want to know what he found in the Nome area? I've read numerous Alaska motorcycle articles and posts, but never anything remotely close to remote Nome. Thanks Dr. in advance.
Clint W -For those of us that can't  March 13, 2010 04:01 PM
I read these articles with envy - having done some bike touring but NOT to that extent - I look forward to the next installment - for you do what many of us can't or only wish we could do- those with a sense of adventure or itchy feet envy you to no end and your natural abilities to relate these adventures to us - carry on for those of us that can't for whatever reason - you awaken the sleeping adventuring spirit in us - Good Job
John Frye -1st Officer Eagle Bluff SCRC  March 13, 2010 07:55 AM
I have yet to find an article by Dr. Frazier that I haven't liked.
Eric -High five.  March 12, 2010 09:33 AM
Please continue to inspire others to take the long way home.
Michael -Awaiting the next post...  March 12, 2010 08:05 AM
Dr. Frazier is one of the main reasons I visit motorcycle-usa. Keep 'em comin!