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Schaffer Trail, UT.jpg (289853 bytes)

Action - BMW R100GS on Single Track.jpg (261359 bytes)

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To Corcscrew Gulch.JPG (1220126 bytes)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alpinas & GSs

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Design Philosophy - Go anywhere !

Alpinas              GSs                 Sidecars  

Although we like and appreciate most all aspects of motorcycling, the concept that most appeals to us is the idea of the  All-Road motorcycle. There are a lot of terms in use that describe motorcycles for this type of riding - Adventure, Dual Sport and Dual Purpose are the most common. We just think that All-Road is more descriptive of the concept we have in mind. We use the term road here loosely to include basically any existing pathway that a motorcycle will traverse, from the super slab of the interstate highway system to single track goat trail. The other component of this philosophy is the issue of speed or perhaps, lack of it. In our design approach, speed is not the primary goal. We are more interested in covering a lot of ground, taking in the scenery, exploring every last pathway to its end, and very frequently on a solo trip too boot. Mind you, we really like going fast on both pavement and dirt, but riding near the limit is just not the focus of this part of our motorcycling world.

Within that realm of super slab to goat trail we believe it takes a fleet of two motorcycles to cover that total range of riding possibilities without some serious compromises. We define serious compromises as those that shift the riding experience from being fun towards being an ordeal.  The common element to both mounts is that they be street licensed and are equipped so that you can ride out from your garage to your destination and back. The main variable is whether you are headed out that day to start a world tour, or go up a local goat trail and back on a dayride, or something in between. The essential element here is that the bike is a good mount for whatever type of riding you wish to do.

The overlap between the two bikes is fairly broad and it is only towards the extremes of use that each becomes essentially incapable of fulfilling the role of the other. You can certainly ride a small displacement, single cylinder, knobby tired dirt bike with full complement of camping gear on the highway for hours at a stretch on multiday journeys. By the same token you can certainly try riding a  fully loaded oilhead GS with Tourances on a muddy, switchback mountain trail to 12,000 ft. in altitude. At some point however the challenge of stretching the limits at these extremes bleeds over into not being much fun at all, perhaps even an ordeal that you just want to end. The worst thing perhaps is that you turn back before you have satisfied your curiosity about where the path leads. You turn back because you fear incapacitating damage to you or the bike. You really do not want to have to activate an emergency locator beacon, that would really ruin your day. Our goal, having accepted the reality of the riding extremes we really enjoy, is to design and build a mismatched pair of bikes capable of covering the whole range of riding possibilities so that the ride is ended by some circumstance other than running out of fun. Your task is to fettle the bikes to adjust the point of overlap between them and then choose the bike from your stable that best fits the type of ride you are planning for any particular outing. 

As you juggle the bike choices to fill these two roles, you have quite a wide range of overlap. We would suggest that two lane blacktop highway of moderate cruising speed, say 50 – 60 mph is a good starting point for the dividing line, but you shift this split and the configuration of the bikes to fit your own personal preferences and riding skill level. With our split in mind we would suggest that a twin cylinder ( or more, if you must ) of 500cc or larger is best suited for the side of the equation leaning towards multiday, fully loaded highway jaunts and that a four stroke single cylinder dirt bike is best for the side leading to the goat trail. How you choose each bike and how you stretch the operational parameters for either mount into the range of its opposite number depends on a variety of issues; road speed, altitude, fuel range, your tolerance for discomfort, your riding skill level, etc, etc.

For the sake of discussion we refer to the side of the equation from our two lane highway split to the extreme of load, distance and speed as the road or GS half. We refer to the side of the equation from our two lane highway split to the top of a switchback mountain goat trail as the dirt or Alpina half. 

 

Alpinas

Depending on your age and/or your familiarity with motorcycle history you may recognize the name Alpina. This was a model of motorcycle produced by the Spanish firm Bultaco in the 1970s. We use the term Alpina here to describe a philisophical approach to a type of riding and the kind of motorcycle that goes with it. We think this is a highly desirable but essentially lost conceptual theme in off road motorcycling. 

1974 Bultaco 250 Alpina

The Bultaco Alpina was essentially an observed trials motorcycle with a higher volume fuel tank, an “all day” sit down seat, lights, instrumentation and gearing suited to a wide range of trail and road conditions – all in all an excellent platform for a trail bike. I use the term trail bike here to describe a vehicle suited for technically challenging terrain. By that I mean tight single track, roots, rocks, climbs with minimal approach run. Think of a tight “switchbacky” mountain trail. More of a platform for exploring the neighborhood rather than blitzing through it. 

Since around the time of the Bultaco Alpina, dirt bikes have evolved down two essentially divergent evolutionary pathways. Currently, most versions of the trail bike have evolved as a derivative of the motocross platform rather than from the observed trials platform. This is understandable as the trials bike has evolved into a highly specialized device, characterized by miniscule fuel tanks and essentially non existent seats. While unsurpassed for dealing with highly technical terrain, they are essentially closed course, limited “seat” time rides. Although the basic chassis geometry and engine characteristics are highly suitable for technical terrain, the whole trials package is really an unsuitable mount for most riders interested in all day exploration rides, not withstanding those riders who are quite capable and satisfied with a trials bike as their primary trail bike. A couple of European models, such as the Beta Alps and the Gas Gas Pamperas, are as close to contemporary versions of an Alpina as we have.  The Scorpa T-Ride looks promising as well, but the reality is that most manufacturers offerings to fill the trailbike niche are essentially slightly reconfigured motocross platforms  - designed primarily to be competent at race speed in off road terrain. There are, of course, minor variations within that theme, a little bit of engine and gearbox ratio jiggling here, a bit of suspension jiggling there, but the basic conceptual design essentially remains optimized for going fast, not going slow. There is no question that given the choice of these two rather disparate platforms the motocross derivative is far more suitable for general trail riding than a trails bike. Exceed your speed limit on a trials bike and you may go ass over tea kettle. Go too slow on a motocross bike and you will probably just suffer a "Laugh-In" style tip over. 

So, the goal  is to develop platforms which show promise as trail bikes along the pathway illuminated by the Bultaco Alpina. Development of engine characteristics, gearbox spreads, chassis geometry, appropriate suspension travel and compliance, long range fuel capacity - all combined with reasonable riding position ergonomics. Add a street license and you are now prepared to go from your garage to the top of the nastiest goat trail you can find. Sound like fun, eh ? 

 

GSs

Most everyone in motorcycling is familiar with the BMW GS model line, very cool motorcycles indeed. The BMW GS and similar models from other manufacturers fall into a fairly recently named category called Adventure Bikes. The term GS was not created by BMW although they were the first to make extensive commercial use of it. It is an acronym for the German phrase Gelande Strasse ( forgive the missing umlaute ) which means “Trail and Street” or something along those lines. Before the introduction of BMW’s version, the GS was often attached to bikes with application to the International Six Days Trial ( forerunner to the International Six Days enduro of more recent years ). 

Perhaps the most sought after version of the BMW G/S

We think it is appropriate to attach the GS monicker to a philosophy of riding and the type of bike that goes with it, with one small modification. We use it to refer to the half of the equation biased towards the fully loaded, multi day, mixed pavement and fire road journey up to and including the open ended around the world jaunt. We are also fond of the using the term Sled, derived from Desert Sled, circa 1960s, usually a twin cylinder British bike, 650cc plus, stripped of street gear and affixed with knobbies and open pipes. Man I betcha a whole line of sleds galloping across the desert towards the smoke bomb was quite a sight and sound to behold. 

Because of the likely mix of large loads, high speed traffic infested roads, high altitude passes, etc. and the potential of plentiful dirt, we believe that a twin cylinder four stroke of medium to large displacement is the most satisfactory foundation for this part of the riding spectrum. There are numerous examples of riders successfully navigating through horrendous riding conditions on immensely loaded, fully faired, rearsets and clipons, short travel, nearly slick shod, four cylinder street racers – their accomplishments are jaw dropping. ( I actually once watched a guy motocrossing a Honda Gold Wing in Vintage MX – no doubles that I recall ) On the other end of the scale, there are riders who find a way to accomplish this same type of riding on converted motocross bikes piled high with gear. To us though, these seem extreme choices of mount if you are seeking that ever sought after balance between the challenge and fun of riding.  So, while we wouldn’t ever tell you that a particular bike you fancy as a core for your GS project can’t work ( ‘cause we can make just about anything work better ), we do have some fairly strong opinions about what bikes are best as a suitable base. Ultimately it is a matter of progressively zeroing in your search for the right balance between how your bike is setup and how wide a range of riding situations you find yourself drawn to. 

We also like to think of GSs as in their own class - Fire Road Touring ( we think we coined this term ). In the U.S. there are far more miles of gravel road than pavement, roads which are usually devoid of traffic and many of them run thru land upon which you can camp at your leisure - how sweet ! So, at a minimum, we believe that a GS should be very capable on gravel roads and perhaps even optimized for this part of the “road” spectrum. Any further setup bias from the gravel road mid point to either pavement or deeper into off road is largely a function of tire choice. There is a wide range of tread patterns available in tires that are very suitable for gravel road travel. Some are biased more towards pavement and some biased towards more challenging dirt conditions. A good basic set up for gravel will still work exceptionally well on pavement, really limited only by the tire configuration and your self control. Tires with a more aggressive off road bias will probably not be the limiting factor as you go from gravel to two track and beyond. More than likely suspension and sheer bike mass will rear up as limitations first. 

Unlike the Alpina concept, there are a some very good contemporary choices in the GS’s genre, and many manufacturers are adding a model for the Adventure class, although we think the definition is being stretched a wee bit. Some are clearly little more than street rides with knobbier tyres, more upright seating posture and a healthy compliment of adventure bike styling clues, perhaps implying more off road capability than actually lies beneath their skins. To be clear, we are not complaining ( well, perhaps a wee bit of a groan ) since the evolutionary direction is very welcome. Any of these bikes, no matter how clearly a derivative of a street only model are usually further along the path to being a more useful all-road mount. The evolution of the BMW GS model line from relatively lightweight, DIY field repair to the newer, much heavier, electronically festooned, slab burners is probably proof positive that market demand on the whole is biased towards pavement bikes that have minor concessions to all-road ability rather than the other way around. We can only hope that as time passes, additional market hair splitting of models occurs and we also get Sled class all-roaders without major concessions to pavement use. In the mean time, we get more base bikes to choose from, perhaps some new ideas to work with and we still get to roll our own. 

So, here we are, hoping you share our philosophy that a two bike stable is ideal to cover the full range of adventure riding & exploration possibilities. We would like to help you choose and set up your own fleet. Feel free to rummage about in the Alpinas and GSs pages. You will find our current projects, planned future projects, vaporware projects, information, parts we are looking for and parts for sale, and lots of links to sites we like or think are relevant to what we are trying to achieve here. I trust this web site also demonstrates that we understand what it takes to set up a bike to work well at either of the riding extremes we have discussed, so even if you choose to stick with a single bike we can help you set it up to maximum advantage for the type of riding you really want to do.

As you can probably tell, we are more than happy to offer advice on choosing component and setups for your bikes. We are especially fond of converting bikes that might seem “unsuitable” as originally equipped and make them into more competent all-road rides. Workable basic engine and chassis configurations are the essential core to a practical project. Many bikes of seventies and eighties vintage are good candidates. You might be surprised at how much of an improvement arises from some simple, but well designed and executed modifications. This is particularly welcome since most of the newer Adventure bikes are in the $10K to $20K range. Take a look at the fabrication projects we have done for our bikes. If you think you would like something similar for your ride, get in touch with us and let’s see if we can work something out. If you have an idea of your own but need help with design and fabrication to see it through to completion, give us a ”ring” as well. ( Actually, probably best to start with an e-mail first and rough out the idea along with model of bike, type of riding, etc. so we can do a little research before our first live chat ).

Here’s to riding for the adventure, the challenge and the fun ( and of course, tinkering with the hardware) !!

 

 

Sidecars

Sidecars have a couple of very desirable features. They can carry an enormous load of gear, including containers for water and additional fuel and they can be ridden comfortably in traction conditions that would be white knuckle on most motorcycles - think snow and ice in particular, or a mud slicked, down hill, off camber fire road. In these conditions, sidecars  can even be immensely entertaining. I remember a jaunt at two in the morning on the deserted streets of Minneapolis after a vicious snowstorm, rig in a full lock slide around corners, rooster tales of snow flying, occasionally ending up embedded in a snowbank, even upside down once or twice - lots of laughter, great fun. Clearly you give up the ability to go down a narrow single track but that leaves a whole lot of off-pavement riding opportunities left over. An all-road hack would be great rig for an extended, multi day camping trip into the Utah outback where water sources can be scarce.