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MotoUSA Utah Dual-Sport Adventure

Friday, October 9, 2009
Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
This article and many more like it are featured in Issue Two 2010 of MotoUSA Magazine. This coffee table quality publication features timeless articles that focus on the best destinations and the rides from around the world is brought to you by the editors of Motorcycle-USA.com. Get your complimentary copy with every order from the exclusive distributor Motorcycle-Superstore. (While supplies last!)
Our week-long adventure kicked off at Miller Motorsports Park, host for Round 7 of the World Superbike series. Our Digital Media Producer, Ray Gauger, Kawasaki’s Jeff Herzog and I took in the sights as American homeboy Ben Spies showed the world how it’s done, easily winning both races, starting our trip off on the right foot. But while watching the Texas kid win, we sat in anticipation of our five-day dual sport ride that Herzog had planned months in advance.

Our “mega” adventure was about to embark, and it was mega in more ways than one. For the first couple days it was “mega fun” and the last couple were “mega long,” but all were mega, no doubt!

Day 1

Park City  Utah. Home to the uber-wealthy and a great place to stop in for a quick lunch.
Park City. The Hollywood of Utah. Beautiful town and it hosts the annual Sundance film festival.
We packed up our saddlebags and hopped on KLR650s just outside Salt Lake City. A short jaunt down the freeway and we were quickly climbing the Wasatch Mountains en route to Park City, the Hollywood of Utah so to speak. But we took the “scenic route” to get there, which started by jumping a gate and proceeding up the “closed” dirt road that leads directly over the top of the mountain. Closed to cars due to the amount of snow still on the road, but for bikes like the KLRs it would be easy as pie. And, for the most part, it was. With the exception of briefly getting stuck in a snow drift, the Kawasakis tackled the fire road without a second thought, and the view was absolutely amazing of the entire Park City valley and ski resort.

From here it was down the mountain partway into the city itself, which, with its amazing location, epic ski resort and annual film festival, is loaded with multi-million dollar homes that we suspect sit vacant for most of the year. It’s now become the Hollywood snow bunny retreat for the who’s who and it’s easy to see why. And I’ve got to be honest; if I won the lottery I would be shopping for a Park City house myself. It’s an amazing place.

Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
The first week of June is still too early to expect the snow to be gone in most of Utah's higher elevations. Make sure to dress for major temperature swings as we experienced below freezing conditions in the upper altitudes.
But from there we would be venturing off to the ultimate juxtaposition to the high-class city. This night would be spent in a secluded cabin on the highest lake in Utah, Moon Lake. This couldn’t be further from the posh Park City, but at the same time it was nice to get away. No cell phone reception and a fire pit for cooking our own dinner was just what the doctor ordered. Some R&R was a welcome retreat from the usually go, go, go lifestyle. Not to mention the fire roads getting there provided a fun and entertaining way to venture off the beaten path. And it was well worth the trek. The view was stunning, our little log cabin sitting 100 feet from the lake with the mountains behind us. We didn’t have much more than basic amenities but the surroundings were staggering to behold.

Some fire-pit cooked steaks and baked beans, plus a few hours of bench racing, capped off an awesome day. I could have easily stayed there for longer but the journey must go on. Not to mention the thought of a hot shower was starting to sound really good…

Day 2

This looked to be the biggest adventure of the trip as our planned route had two options and, of course, we opted for the harder of them. Option 1 was to take freeways (boring) out and around the eastern side of the canyon and Indian reservation which lay beneath us, or Option 2 was to wing it and try and make it the entire way off-road, going straight south and navigating dirt trucking and fire roads through the canyons, reservation and wilderness with only a vaguely detailed map. So, off-road it was… They don’t call it an adventure for nothing.

Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
'I thought we were here?' 'No way... I think we're over here'. Ah, the fun of the adventure...
The goal was to reach Moab for the night, where we would spend the following day exploring the famous red rock area. But first we had to get there. Not easy when you have little to no idea where you are going.

The pavement quickly ended once we got onto the Indian reservation and mining lands. This was initially made up of a series of dirt highways just big enough for tanker trucks to get back there to pick up their load. We aimed for what looked like the correct thin brown line on the map and headed straight south, hoping we went the right way. We did take one turn a bit too early, but an extremely helpful trucker we flagged down got us pointed in the right direction and off we went.

Kawasaki’s KLR is made for these kinds of dirt roads, easily blitzing through them at 60-70 mph without problem. It was like hauling down the freeway, only now I’m getting roosted by loads of dust and grime from Herzog in front of me. Even in the chopped-up braking-areas made by the trucks there wasn’t the slightest need to roll out of the throttle – just lean back and soak it up with your legs. They did bottom out on occasion, hitting the frame rails, but this did little to slow them or us down.

Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
The Paiute trail made for some of the best fire road riding of the entire trip.
The dirt highways then bled into fire roads up and over the mountainous terrain we had to cross, where things got a bit more difficult. You see, the dirt highways had at least some trail signs to keep the truckers on track, but down here it was nothing but man vs. wilderness. There was no question we would get lost, but considering how fun the riding was and the amazing view which accompanied it, none of us really cared.

We proceeded to blast up and over several mountain ranges, elevation constantly changing – climbing and dropping, climbing and dropping. Eventually we made our way to the base of the final set, crossing some fun small streams and mud washes along the way. But where were we? Who knows? We knew we had followed the compass heading relatively south the entire time and couldn’t be too far off. But then again…

Much to our astonishment, as we crested a left hand gravel sweeping turn I spotted a rundown house followed by a sign in the distance. It looked like a highway mileage sign. As we got closer it came into focus: 15 miles to I-70. We did it! We were right on track and didn’t take a single wrong turn. Considering all the opportunities we had to mess up, this was nothing short of a miracle. As Herzog put it: “I’ve been off-road riding KLRs for 20 years now and this is the first time I haven’t got lost at least once or more the entire day. I can’t believe it!” There was a bit of a scare just as we got to the highway, as Ray’s bike quit working for a moment, but once we reconnected the carburetor vacuum line, all was good again.
Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
The Kawasaki KLR650 is an amazingly reliable machine. The occasional small issue is understandable considering the terrain it had just covered. Not to mention, what kind of an adventure would it be without a few small hurdles to overcome.

This now meant it was back onto the freeway to Moab. While it was only 90 miles to Moab, compared to the 200-plus we had just done off-road, it felt like it took three times as long. There’s something about venturing off the beaten path that takes one’s mind off of the time.

The beautiful Red Rock Lodge was our host for the night and, I must say, it’s the ultimate outdoorsman’s getaway. If the sound of a posh room with an amazing view of the Red Rock Canyons in a rustic atmosphere sounds nice, look no further. It may not be the cheapest place in the Moab area but it’s definitely worth the money; it has to be one of the most awesome hotels I’ve ever stayed at.

Day 3

Moab was the third day of the trek, and the highlight was, without a doubt, Slick Rock. It was the first place we went after breakfast and what was supposed to be a quick visit turned into a half-day of madness.

Now they must call it Slick Rock as a joke – like in the movies when the big fat guy is nicknamed Tiny – as the rock formations are as tacky as 100-grit sandpaper. One can ride up walls nearly vertical and traverse ledges at crazy 60-plus degree angles. The grip far exceeds that of even the most coarse tarmac, and once acclimated the amount of obstacles we were able to conquer on our KLRs was bind-boggling; even scary at times as a fall would have been horrific, yet still so much fun.

Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
Slick Rock in Moab is the ultimate off-road playground. Another place you want to make sure that you schedule plenty of time to see all the sites.
The trail is shared with mountain bikers and rock-crawling Jeeps, and unlike those in California, everyone is polite and gets along, waving and moving for those with the right-of-way. Amazing what a bit of common courtesy can get you – all you Cali mountain bikers pay attention here. If you are ever out in Moab with any kind of off-road vehicle you must go to Slick Rock. We could have stayed and explored for days, but it was getting late and the next town was calling our name; time to hit the open road (highway) once again.

You see, by themselves the single-cylinder KLRs will only do 80 mph pinned in top gear, making getting anywhere fast a tough job. This is where Herzog and I put our road racing experience to good use. With the upright seating position making the bike and rider a giant sail, slowing us down, it called for some full-tuck drafting to get our speeds up. Once pinned and playing leapfrog with each other’s draft we could just tip 90 mph consistently. Not to mention it was a laughably good way to pass the time on the oh-so-boring freeway. Luckily, the following day would be mostly off-road.

Day 4

The Paiute trail was the name of the game and the goal was to stay on it as long as possible. It’s one of the largest motorcycle, ATV and UTV trail systems in North America and they actually welcome off-road vehicles to use the town’s paved streets, making car transportation unnecessary at all inside the city limits.
Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
The backcountry awaits...

For this part of the adventure we met up with Ray’s old boss from his former ATV TV show, who actually loved the place so much that after shooting a few episodes on the Paiute he moved there for good. It really is an off-road enthusiast’s dream, as there’s no need to ever own a car. Sprawling some 200 miles in total, it goes all the way down to St. George, Utah, which sits at the Utah/Nevada border and was where we wanted to end up as our night stop was to be Mesquite, Nevada. So, trails the entire way to St. George it is. Or so we thought…

We followed Ray’s old boss and explored some tilled up rocky gravel roads and trails trying to find our route for quite some time. A good number of the passes were closed due to snow still on the mountain peaks so we had to take a few detours. Eventually we landed on the main trail, leading us through amazing wooded sections and up the side of boulder-laden cliffs. The variety of terrain was astonishing and quite fatiguing at the same time. It’s easy to see why this is such a trail-riding Mecca. It features every kind of terrain one can imagine and a variety of routes that suit all skill levels.
Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
Slick Rock proved to be some of the most challenging and adrenaline-filled fun of the entire trip. We could have stayed for days.

We continued on the main trail for as long as our bodies could take, but by mid-afternoon my back had given up the ghost and the rocky roads were doing a number on me. Barely able to sit upright, we finished our 100-plus off-road miles that led back to a small town and decided on some smoother, but still fun, paved roads that took us winding and weaving over the mountains to St. George. In fact, we got so far up in altitude that the temperature dropped from a solid 70 to below freezing. Quite the drastic change. Thankfully the road wound itself down just as quickly as it went up and we were in St. George before we knew it.

From there it was another couple hours of the drafting game down the I-15 to Mesquite, Nevada, where a much-needed hot shower awaited. Making things a bit more interesting were the blistering 30-40 mph crosswinds that had the three of us blowing around like rag dolls on the relatively light and upright-seating KLRs. This made the last 50 miles feel more like 500, but we got through it without getting blown into a ditch. Some mandatory gambling (we were in Nevada after all) in the form of roulette and blackjack that night eased the pain as I pocketed $100 before falling into a mild coma and getting some rest.

An amazing journey though the wild landscape that is Utah.
Who knew what an amazing journey though the Utah wild landscape that this would become!
Day 5

All that was left was of our mega adventure was some serious freeway miles to get home - 350 of them to be exact. Once again, the typical Nevada crosswinds greeted us as we hopped on the I-15. So, we tucked in, pinned the throttle and made headway home.

In fact, we made it all the way to Baker, California, on one full tank of fuel without stopping. We grabbed some lunch and did exactly the same thing all the way back to sunny SoCal and Kawasaki’s Irvine headquarters. We did make a quick stop to top off the fuel tanks in San Bernardino, but that was it. We were home by 2 p.m. … but we were hammered. While 350 miles may not seem like much, on a bike that will only do 80 mph tapped-out and is a sail in the wind, it’s a lot of work; we were absolutely knackered!

What a great adventure! From camping in a cabin in the wilderness to vertical rock climbing in Moab to the sight of seeing Kawasaki’s parking lot after doing 1296 miles in five days, 680 of which were off-road – it was an adventure none of us will soon forget. And judging by the dirty and “well-used” looking KLRs, neither will the bikes.
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The Adventure
The route may not look like much here  but truste me  it sure was!

Utterly amazing, to say the least. From rock-laden traverses, to Moab’s Slick Rock Park, to high-speed road racing at MMP, to winding back roads; you name the kind of riding you desire and Utah has the answer – all some of the best the United States has to offer.

Filled with some of the most breathtaking mountains in America there’s never a shortage of scenery to look at; everything in the state of Utah was a gem. Nevada, on the other hand, was flat and boring the entire time with massively annoying cross-winds. We recommend staying in Utah if it’s scenery you’re after.

Like most of America the food is just like everywhere else: major towns fill with chain restaurants and thus one can have anything they please. It’s in the small towns where pickings become slim. Though, it’s also in the small towns that we found some of the best down-home-style cooking we’ve ever had. There’s nothing like starting a day with a ham and cheese omelet big enough for a family of eight for $4.99.

We mustn’t lie, there’s no doubt we had a bit of a predisposition about Utah’s finest and the Moron-dominated religion which reigns supreme. But our minds were quickly changed as everyone we ran into was nothing but helpful. The curfews are a bit strange but otherwise the entire state of Utah was a pleasant experience.

All of the cities we were in provided a wide range of options depending on your price-range. But without a doubt the star of the trip was the Red Cliffs Lodge just north of Moab. With and old-world-meets-new vibe it provided plush rooms and an absolutely breathtaking view from the base of the massive Red Rock Canyon – 200-foot rock walls all the way around. Absolutely stunning!

Kawasaki ZX-6R/ZX-10R/KLR650. The first two sportbikes were used only on the track for Day 1 of the adventure and were great fun as always. The rest of the journey was spent on the KLR. And they were perfect for it. Fitted with some Kawasaki-brand saddlebags and a tail bag we had plenty of clothing space. They tackled everything we threw their without the slightest hesitation, even when packed full of our gear and clothes. On the freeway they topped out at a mere 80 mph and vibrated a bit, but some drafting got them up to 90 mph and made things more enjoyable. If you are actually going to be doing some serious off-road riding as well as logging street miles, the KLR is no doubt the bike you want.

Los Angeles, California (LAX) to Salt Lake City, Utah (SLC) direct via Delta Airlines.

Grand America Hotel
555 South Main Street
Salt Lake City , UT 84111

Moon Lake Resort
Mountain Home, UT 84051

Red Cliffs Lodge
Milepost 12, Hwy 128
Moab, UT 84531

Utah had anything one could want, some of the highlights for us:

Red Cliffs Lodge Restaurant – It was a bit expensive but the view of the cliffs and the blue cheese-crusted filet steak was worth every penny. It was a very welcome and hearty meal after an epic day of riding and the best meal we had the entire trip.

Small town diners –Located all throughout our trip, it’s impossible to narrow them down to one. The smaller the place we stopped at the better and cheaper the food seemed. There was always enough food to feed an army for prices you thought were from the 1950s. So be brave and venture away from the chain restaurants and go for the small town diners.

We transported our own bikes to Utah as we needed a wide variety of them for the journey. But if you plan on flying in and want to rent, check out Open Road Motorcycle Adventures (www.openroadmotorcycleadventures.com). They provide everything from simple motorcycle rentals to fully-guided tours, and are one of the only two-wheeled rental providers in the great state of Utah.

Miller Motorsports Park, Salt Lake City – $150-$300 depending on trackday provider
Slick Rock Park, Moab – $5 per person for the entire day
Paiute Trail, Marysvale – Free

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MOTOMAJ   May 2, 2012 06:14 PM
I got my off road fix for the month thank you very much. I was right with you guys all the way. I didn't know that the KLR650 was so good in the of road dept. I have a 450 exc that I'd love to take on a long ride but going 80plus is out of the question. thanks for the ride my friends.
Dave -me  February 3, 2010 10:54 PM
Where can I rent a KLR 650 in Utah?
Michael Sharette -Photo-trickery?  November 5, 2009 12:05 PM
Why would you change the camera angle on the slick-rock photo to make it look like a very steep segment of ride (the vegetation in the background ratted you out)? Your readers are already impressed enough with the bikes, the trip and the riders... there's no need to exaggerate your coolness. We already worship you guys!
RT Rider -KLR Tires  October 23, 2009 06:47 AM
I am considering a dual purpose bike right now. I like the price of the KLR as my dealer quoted me $4,200 for a new 09. The only thing holding me back is the tires with inter tubes. If I got a flat out in the middle of nowhere I would be screwed as I am unable to make a field repair. The BMW F650GS has tubeless tires but it cost 2x more than the KLR. Guess I will keep looking for a used F650GS.
KLR Dave -Speed  October 15, 2009 04:27 PM
A KLR that has a hard time making it to 80 mph? I have never heard of a KLR that can't make it to 90 unless they changed the gearing. The KLR's are not the fastest stroker but most forums have people claiming 100 mph or a little over. My 2008 has seen an indicated 95 but mostly its 91-92 mph when I dare go that fast. 80 mph is nothing.

Is there a geographical high altitude air in Utah that is slowing the bikes down?
John -Shootout  October 14, 2009 04:51 PM
If you do it on singles, I would like to see Husky TE610, Kawi, Honda, and KTM and more challenging terrain. For big bikes I would like to see 990Adv, BMW800GS and 1200GS. Not sure if there are others out there.
JC -Shootout  October 12, 2009 09:39 AM
That's not a bad idea, Jeff, and one that we're always considering. Which bikes would you want to see included?
jeff -shootout  October 10, 2009 06:29 PM
why don't you guys do a shootout between adventure bikes,base results on comfort,range,price,cargo capacity with optional equip,street and dirt performance.
MotoFreak -BAH!  October 9, 2009 08:04 AM
Thanks guys. Another awesome video showing me just how much my job sucks! This ride and a track day to start it off. Excuse me while I go punch myself in the face. I gotta move out of New England! You guys are truely lucky. Thanks for the great video.