big bear run riders

I heard about the Big Bear Run a few years ago. It was just before the 25th annual event and I was bummed to realize that my schedule wouldn’t allow me to attend. Maybe next year, I thought. Well, the 26th event came and went, and I found myself muttering those same three words. One thing was for sure though, the only way I was going to attend the event was to attempt the infamous “Hard Way.” For perspective, this year only 57% of riders who attempted the hard route actually finished, and those brave souls were awarded a finisher’s plaque for the feat afterward. 

Big Bear Run Hard way plaque

Photo by Ben Liebenberg.

When Kawasaki contacted me to gauge my interest in attending the event on the new KLX300, I thought to myself, “The bike might be a bit of a handicap – at least with me piloting it – but I’m up for the challenge,” fully assuming we would be tackling the hard route. Our crew would consist of just three riders: Nic de Sena from Ultimate Motorcycling, Brad Puetz, PR Supervisor at Kawasaki USA, and myself. Soon after committing to the event, I was told that we would be taking the “advanced easy” route. It turns out not everyone takes a sadistic approach to off-road riding. Rad Brad assured me it would be a fun low-key weekend, which was exactly what I needed after figuratively and literally being at WOT for weeks. I was in.

2021 Kawasaki KLX300 Review – First Ride

Catching just the beginning of weekend traffic as it began to clog the southern California freeways, I made it up into the mountains in a reasonable amount of time. I had loaded up my truck with the necessary gear, and Kawasaki had my bike prepped and waiting for me when I arrived. Just about the time I get overwhelmed with this gig, I’m reminded of the perks. 

kawasaki klx300

Yours truly managed to lock down the number one plate before the event even started, which prompted questions from curious cats all day long.

Year-to-year, the Big Bear Run pulls in around 250 registrants. This number has ebbed and flowed over the years but shot up in 2021 to more than 330 registered riders. Looking around the crowd during the packed post-ride banquet dinner – where riders enjoyed a meal of rosemary chicken or steak while simultaneously having the chance to win one of numerous assorted prizes – demographics ranged widely. I saw guys on the trail whose age doubled my 31 trips around the sun, and plenty of younger folks, too. I chatted only briefly with the singular female I came across and she gave me line suggestions as I sized up a big climb – “It’s really loose on the right side,” she said. There were plenty of entire families present at the after party, lending a family-friendly atmosphere to the event. 

After linking up with good folks on the Kawasaki events and PR team, I was given a quick rundown of the bike prep, which included ultra-heavy tubes stuffed into Dunlop MX52 knobbies and a hardwired Trail Tech GPS unit, otherwise, we were running the machines bone stock. Proper dirt rubber is probably the best upgrade you can make to a dual-sport bike if you plan on staying off the tarmac.

kawasaki klr650

I wasn’t able to convince the folks at Kawasaki to let me have a rip on the new KLR. They were just there for show.

While posted up at the Kawasaki booth Friday afternoon I overheard Big Bear Trail Riders President, Jim Nicholson mentioning that the club gives away scholarships every year to a Big Bear local for college. Following up with the club after the event, I learned the non-profit donates to various charities: Ride For Kids, Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, Kurt Caselli Foundation, Thundering Trails, The National MS Society, District 37 Dual Sport, and the Childhood Cancer Foundation of Southern California. Riding dirtbikes and giving to those in need are both sure to make you feel good. 

Big Bear Trail Riders logo

The Big Bear Trail Riders have been exploring the area’s trails since the ‘80’s and are the organizers of the Big Bear Run which is also part of the Beta AMA National Dual Sport Series and the AMA National Adventure Riding Series. The Dual Sport series encompasses 16 events throughout the country for 2021 from California to New Jersey and nearly everywhere in between while the Adventure series comprises 14 events that are equally dispersed. An AMA membership is required to participate in the Big Bear Run, and a Big Bear Trail Riders membership is encouraged.

bir bear run rider

Hard Way challengers were up bright and early to begin their assault on the mountain. Photo by Ben Liebenberg.

Being the responsible adults that we are, we had dinner Friday evening and turned in early. The hard loop registrants would need to pick up their checkpoint tickets at 6:00 am, but since we were having a low key weekend on the advanced easy route, we weren’t getting up before the sun had warmed the mountain. In retrospect, our 8:30 am roll out may have been a touch too leisurely, but still left us with ample time to complete the ride. 

Big bear run loops

The advanced easy route consisted of four loops. Our trip odometers were reading around 140 miles at the end of the day.

We were given GPS tracks that included four loops making up our day’s route. Turns along the tracks and gas stops were clearly marked making it easy to stay on track and fueled up – for both the bike and ourselves. The longest stretch we had between gas stops was around 55 miles which left us with plenty of fuel in reserve throughout the ride.

kawasaki klx300 in action with ryan adams

Our day started off fairly tame, though we were quickly reminded of how rocky many of the trails around Big Bear are. It just so happened that I had ridden most of the trails on our day’s route during various rides and shoots for, having done the majority of at least two of the loops during our 2020 Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin Vs. Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT comparison. 

kawasaki klx300 in action with ryan adams

The 2021 Kawasaki KLX300 turned out to be a pretty well-suited steed for our day’s ride. The dual-sport’s low seat height, plush suspension, and juuuust enough power (for our route) made it fairly easy to ride through all of the terrain we faced. Even the two difficult rocky boulder-strewn climbs that were included, which overlapped with the hard route, were handily conquered thanks to the low seat height and modest power, which meant I wasn’t at risk of nearly looping the bike like the Honda CRF450L rider ahead of me. Sure, the low-end torque of those larger more performance-oriented machines would have been welcomed, and I missed it when trying to drift through corners on the brakes and then the gas, but as it has been said dozens of times, it’s fun to ride a slow bike fast. The Kawasaki KLX300 was fun to ride at its limit and was never lacking in performance for the terrain we faced. It’s a bike well-suited to the advanced easy route – which may have its name updated to Intermediate or something like it in the coming years to more accurately describe the difficulty.

big bear run checkpoint

Checkpoints were primarily for timed Hard Way challengers but also provided much-needed relief to all riders who passed through.

The terrain we faced was never too difficult, but after 140 miles with many of them over fairly rocky terrain, it can certainly be tiring. I was happy with the route and felt content at the end of the day that we had been given a thorough sampling of what Big Bear has to offer (minus the fun of 38 Special, White Mountain, and other obstacles reserved for Hard Way patrons) without ever feeling worried or frustrated. We didn’t take too many breaks, just enough for a photo here and there, and a couple of fuel and snack stops. Despite our forward momentum through the day, we still managed to hit the last checkpoint late enough that the folks manning the pop-up asked if we were just out cruising – the checkpoints were primarily for Hard Way contenders to check in, but also offered water and sustenance to any wary rider along the way. 

brad puetz, nic de sena, ryan adams

Done and dusty.

At 6:00 pm we rolled in done and dusted – emphasis on dusted. Riding the advanced easy route, we didn’t see too many riders through the day, not at all like the hard route where at times visibility is zero thanks to the dust being kicked up (so I’m told). It gave the atmosphere of a casual trail ride and made the day quite enjoyable. It felt like just another day riding dual-sport in the mountains rather than an annual event. If you search the YouTubes you can find plenty of videos of folks attempting (and completing) the Hard Way to get an idea of what you’re in for should you sign up. Despite my original stubborn sentiment of Hard Way or no way, I thoroughly enjoyed the low-key weekend up in the mountains. 

big bear run banquet

For 2021, the event was headquartered at the Big Bear Mountain Resort which was just far enough off the main drag to not have to battle with hordes of tourists for parking.

It was great to see all of the camaraderie on the trail, in the pits, and at the vendor area. In my experience, riding off-road provides this in spades. There really isn’t any other discipline of motorcycling that is like it – again, in my experience. There were riders posted up in bottleneck sections of the trail just to provide assistance to those that needed it, checkpoints throughout the ride staffed by folks making sure riders were in good condition to tackle the challenges ahead, and an overall friendly vibe during the post-ride celebrations that made you feel that you were among friends or at the very least, the like-minded moto-masses. I was happy that I attended and it prompted me to start checking out local races and other dual-sport rides. Maybe I’ll see you out there?

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