Gathering for Adventure

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

What does the growth of adventure touring rallies nationwide mean for riders?

Photo by Rob Dabney.

The adventure-touring market is red hot, and if you have any doubts, consider that the middleweight adventure class (between 600cc and 1000cc) in the United States has no less than 11 models available. Another sign of the ascendency of the adventure market is the burgeoning collection of adventure-focused rallies. Some, like the Overland Expo have been around for a while but have been, until recently, primarily four-wheel focused. Nevertheless, we’ve noticed an increase in event PR making its way into our inboxes, and naturally, we decided to investigate.

To get an idea of what one might expect to find at an adventure rally, we decided to attend two events over the course of two weekends to see what events of different sizes and levels of maturity have to offer. For the large event, we selected the Get On Adventure Fest Mojave. While the upstart option was the second Mosko Moto Dusty Lizard rally. Managing Editor, Ryan Adams, and I split duties and each attended one of the events. What we hope to accomplish here is to give readers an idea of what they can expect from an adventure festival and how it might vary based on the size and history of the event.

The Dusty Lizard’s outpost in the Mojave desert. Photo by Drew Martin.

Big and Small

First run in 2021 in Sturgis, South Dakota, the Get On Adventure Fest (GOAF) is a product of the RevZilla juggernaut. With that size of an organization behind it and the close relationships that the company has with the aftermarket, you would expect the GOAF to be large, well organized, and have lots of representation from aftermarket vendors. All of those expectations are more than met.

The event consisted of four days of riding with new routes dropping on the Rever app every morning. The rides were rated Easy, Moderate, and Difficult, covering from pavement only to one with mud so deep that it took four people to free a GS from the muck. Held at Rawhyde Adventures’ Zakar facility, the GOAF had all the amenities you could want – even hot showers! The vendor row contained roughly 30 vendors offering everything from information about Backcountry Discovery Routes to tire changes. Three meals a day were provided, as was nightly entertainment with music, a BDR movie, and campfires. Also of note was the full bar and the special nightly snack of s’mores, fresh brownies, or ice cream, depending on the night.

Non-adventure events consisted of raffles with some fairly significant prizes to some hysterically-competitive races. Super73 provided bikes for a series of elbows-out races – with spectacular crashes – throughout the vendor area, while REV’IT! organized slow races featuring a culmination in the Box of Doom.

No Super73s were hur-... totaled in this exercise of reckless abandon at the Get On ADV Fest. Photo by Evans Brasfield.

Mornings consisted of free coffee and a variety of classes on adventury topics, though most people seemed to head out right after breakfast to ride in an effort to beat the unseasonably high temperatures. The final tally for the event was 350. Although it seemed that big during the gatherings at Rawhyde's Zakar facility, out on the trails, the size felt smaller – as it should with multiple routes spread out all over the local desert.

On the other hand, the Dusty Lizard had a different genesis that Ryan will tell you about:

As public interest in traditional motorcycle shows wanes, so too do manufacturers’ interest, as the ROI is no longer there in many circumstances. Mosko Moto figured this out a while ago and has begun to set up its own events that are more akin to laid back rallies than motorcycle shows with numerous vendors. Mosko has been having smaller events on its own here and there around the western US, but the Dusty Lizard, in its second iteration, has grown legs of its own. The PNW-based company has decided to put some serious effort into providing a fun, relaxed event for adventure and off-road riders who are just looking to ride ‘n chill. And of course it wouldn’t make sense not to offer a substantial showcase of the company’s product available for purchase, too.

Just because they’re sleeping on the ground at the Dusty Lizard, they didn’t have to give up all creature comforts. Photo by Drew Martin.

This Dusty Lizard and the previous one sold out prior to the event kicking off. What was originally capped at 75 tickets expanded to more than 125 registrants. Thankfully, Mosko had the space to offer more tickets for the event which was located on a private ranch just outside of Joshua Tree, CA. Considering my knowledge of the area (and the terrain) I thought to myself a few days before the event, “I didn’t think adventure riders liked sand…” and if there are two things Southern California has it’s sand… and rocks. Onsite it turned out to be about 50/50 dual-sport bikes and adventure machines of all sizes. The 10 or so provided GPS routes spanned everything from nearly all asphalt, to gnarly terrain definitely more suited to “small bikes” (as they’re called at these events) aka dual-sports. If you’re familiar with the King of the Motos U.S. Hard Enduro race (if not, YouTube it) held in Johnson Valley, you know that you can find terrain as gnarly as you want in this portion of the California desert.

Included in your ticket price, which can be purchased by day or for the full weekend (Friday - Sunday), is a spot to pitch your tent or park your camper, breakfast, dinner, drinks of all sorts (including beer and other alcoholic beverages), and event discounts on Mosko gear. Despite having mostly pulled out of traditional motorcycle shows to put on their own event, Mosko Moto did invite friends from Ruby Moto and MotoMinded to set up small displays of product.

Group rides with people you just met (and indirectly sold your old bike to) are what adventure rallies are all about. Dusty Lizard photo by Ryan Adams.

Mosko Moto’s idea for this event was to provide some GPS files for routes, hand them out, and let folks put together their own groups. Mosko Moto co-founder and CEO, Pete Day, encouraged attendees to link up with people they didn’t know at the end of his welcome speech with hopes that new friendships could blossom throughout the weekend. As a lot of us know, there’s an inherent bond between motorcyclists, and when you’re faced with challenges along a ride together, that bond grows even stronger.

A moderate GOAF route got us up out of the unseasonably warm temperatures. Photo by Evans Brasfield.

The Routes and Experiences

My plan for the GOAF was to take my Kawasaki KLX300 down as many different types of routes as possible to get a feeling for what the event offered. While I didn’t try one of the all-pavement routes, I did sample a couple of the easy tracks, and what I found was rolling dirt roads across the desert valley offering easy riding, great views, and occasional challenges in the form of deep sand crossing some large washes. The comments from riders of larger ADV bikes that had tipped over and gotten stuck in the sand were ones of surprise, but my feeling is that if you ride in the desert, you’re gonna hit sand. Since you have no choice, you might as well get used to it.

The moderate tracks exchanged some of the wider roads for narrower roads climbing out of the valley and offering tremendous views. While the routes I tried never quite turned into dual track, they got close. For the culmination of my weekend riding at GOAF, I joined about 15 hardy souls for a group ride on a difficult route. The bikes ranged from big adventure rigs to two KLX300s other than my own and lots of options in between. The energy in the group was positively infectious, and a good bit of the credit for that goes to RevZilla’s Spurgeon Dunbar, who led the ride. With a great sense of humor and timely stops to prepare for challenges, he helped all of the riders get through water crossings and deep, muddy ruts – all while taking cell phone photos of the mayhem.

Up in the mountains it was cooler – and muddier – on this GOAF difficult route. Here I’m making sure that I don’t end up like the GS that is up to its axles in mud to the left. Photo by Gideon Perez courtesy of REV’IT! Sport USA.

As a journalist, my group rides are largely with other journalists for introductions and shootouts or with a couple close friends. It’s been years since I’ve ridden with a random group of motorcycle enthusiasts in a situation that challenged all of us at some point. Although I’d had lots of nice talks over meals and s’mores during the weekend, it was on this ride that I experienced what is the whole point of these rallies – bonding with other riders through a shared experience. By the time the ride was over, I was walking on air. It truly made my weekend.

And this is why the organizers put on these events. Yes, they do hope to sell some of their – or their vendor’s – gear, but the benefits of a rally go way beyond into the realm of non-tangible. People leave these events pumped on motorcycling and want to share their experiences with others, which (hopefully) makes people want to ride more or maybe even become motorcyclists. It’s good for the sport and good for the riding community, and I believe that this is the primary motivation behind these events.

The adventurous group that braved the bike-swallowing ruts and mud following our fearless leader Spurgeon Dunbar. Photo by Spurg (really).

Ryan’s experiences were quite similar to mine:

I linked up with a guy I had met a couple of times as well as one of his friends, and two folks we met during the event. Our crew consisted of two KTM 890 Adventure Rs (one that I was piloting), a 1290 Adventure R, a Ducati Desert X, and an Africa Twin. We kept a reasonable pace for trails that often see a lot of use (particularly on the weekend by all sorts, two wheels and four), marked turns for each other, and regrouped after more challenging sections. After a pretty bumpy uphill section inundated with embedded rocks and a rider struggling, I pulled over (I was in the lead for most of our ride) to regroup. Our crew and the rider who had struggled as well as his friend on a Pan America all eventually convened in a pull out off the side of the trail to chat and have a snack.

I walked over to the 1190 Adventure R who had tipped over and introduced myself. I told him about the 1190 ADV R that I used to have and chatted with his friend about the Pan Am. Noticing a few choice upgrades to the 1190, I commented on them to the owner, “Tastefully done, sir.” A nice BDCW skid plate, Rottweiler Performance intake system, Fastway footpegs, limited edition red, white, and blue Rottweiler Performance sticker in the middle of the tank cover… wait a sec, that was my old KTM! Turns out, the guy on the Pan Am was the person who bought it from me in the first place and ended up selling it to his friend after ultimately buying the Harley-Davidson that he had asked me about during the sale.

Ride adventure bikes in the Mojave Desert, and you're going to find sand. Photo by Rob Dabney.

Our group even ended up with a flat tire to change! It wouldn’t be an adventure without a lil hardship. Surprisingly it wasn’t a pinch flat or bent rim from the copious amounts of embedded rock, but a nail likely picked up on our way to lunch at the Big Bear airport. Thankfully (Andrew may not feel the same), it was in the rear tire of the Africa Twin which uses tubes. We first tried Slime since we were close to an Autozone, but when that didn’t work we knew we would have to change the tube. Since we were just doing loops back to camp, Andrew had left his soft bags on but just carried tools which included three foot and a half long tire spoons, a combo spoon/axle nut wrench, two extra tubes, and an air compressor among other various tools. At one point, since we were just doing this in a parking lot without a stand, all five of us chipped in: two holding the rear of the Africa Twin in the air, one stabilizing the bike at the handlebar, and two working to get the rear wheel and axle in. We could have spent time looking for a stand, but since we had the manpower, we just got it done as quickly as possible.

Sometimes, it’s a pinch flat. Other times, it’s a nail. That’s adventure touring. Photo by Ryan Adams.

Our entire group had a great time. We all rode at our own pace without getting too wild on public trails, helped each other, and stuck it out together until the end. Like I said previously, it’s hard to match the camaraderie earned when riding off-road. The Dusty Lizard is a laid back fairly unstructured ADV event, but that doesn’t mean it’s not well organized and that made this Mosko Moto event a perfect way to unwind for a weekend after being hard on the gas all year with no signs of letting off in sight.

The Trail Ahead

Our goal in writing this article was to sway adventure riders and adventure-curious owners of ADV bikes to take a look at one (or more) of these events and perhaps give one a go. Yes, there will likely be moments in which you struggle and possibly scratch your bike, but the experience of the camaraderie in an epic outdoor environment can’t be understated. To make the decision easier, we’ve gathered a group of links to upcoming adventure rallies below. Get out there and ride!

While slow races are often part of rallies, don’t drag your feet when choosing which event to attend. They sell out quickly. Photo by Evans Brasfield.

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Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

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