Once we got home from Romania I was pretty exhausted. Yes, I have more Romaniacs stories to tell, be patient as I work to get them on paper and our Dirt Rider Mag story. Anyway, Romaniacs really took a toll on my body, mostly from being sick. So once home I more or less sat on the couch and watched cartoons, eating Froot Loops for a week.
I am not sure that I was physically ready to leave the couch yet, but mentally I was ready to be out doing something. I saw the boys talking about the upcoming Baja Beach Bash. I had not planned to attend, but I was ready to get out. Besides, I needed to rack up some more miles for our testing of the 2013 Sherco 300i. What really tipped the scales was when I saw that Laia Sanz would be along. If you read my blog at all, you know that we follow her career very close and meeting her was an opportunity I could not pass up.
Funny how things are, practically none of my riding friends actually read this site. So I was the only one who was not particularly surprised when Laia started showing her riding prowess during the first day of the event. Of course I already knew that she has a special talent, but everyone kept asking “tell me again who she is”?
Now where was I? Oh, so I called Cameron Steele up and asked if I could still get in for the ride. His only comment was “better bring a sleeping bag”. No worries, I can find a place to sleep just about anywhere. So I threw a mousse on the back of the Sherco, filled with gas and loaded up the van.
The group’s plan was to meet up down at Acambaro near Santo Tomas. I figured there wasn’t much sense driving when I could ride dirt nearly all the way there. Thursday morning I was out the door early driving to Tecate. I could not find anyone else to ride with me. So I unloaded in Tecate and hit the dirt solo. It was 115 miles of fun riding down through Ojos Negros, Tres Hermanos and Uruapan to catch up with everyone.
The Sherco was lots of fun on the ride. The only downside was the stock gearing. It is not really set up for dual sporting, 55mph is about top comfortable cruising speed. I am going to get a 14t countershaft sprocket for it. I averaged about 30 miles per gallon on the trip. With taller gearing I am sure that number would climb significantly.
South of Tres Hermanos there is some very rocky old Baja race course. I used the section to play with the fork clickers some. With very light .42 springs, I have to run a little extra compression to hold myself up, so my set up is a little compromised. Still I have found a setting that seems to work well for nearly everything. It is stiff enough that the fork does not dive too much, but soft enough not to deflect off rocks. I am at 19 out on compression and 19 rebound, with 4 turns of preload. I might try adding just a little oil to the forks next.
The shock seems pretty happy regardless of settings. The spring is too light. I have added extra preload, but I still have too much sag.
With nearly 60 riders, the Baja Beach Bash is quite a production. It is comprised of all sorts of riders and skill levels. The trail pace is sedate, but there are plenty of challenging sections too. For those who might not be up for such, there is always an easy way around.
After a couple of hours of riding we hit the beach for the first time. For me, I have ridden the beach for years, so it is no particular thrill. But for the first timers to Baja it seems to be an unending source of fun. Quinn Cody was the first to try coming up from the beach over a nasty section of rocks. Laia quickly followed and started to demonstrate her skills (on a bike she had never ridden before).
Soon Destry Abbott and others attempted the same climb. Laia quickly took it up a notch, trying an even steeper line. There were plenty of spills for those who followed. Destry had a spectacular stall and get off, tumbling backwards down the rock face. It was scary looking, but his bike took most of the damage. The rest of us just sat back and enjoyed the show. It was one well worth seeing.
Next up was the first of the “challenges”; the hill climb. It would be three different climbs over the four days, with only the successful riders advancing to the next climb. Nearly 50 riders attempted the first hill, with only 10 of us making it to the top. My attempt on the Sherco was not pretty, but I made it to the top. This was one of the first chances I had to really test the 300i power in a crucial situation.
The 300i power is very smooth. Like the 350 KTM, nothing is wasted; it just puts power to the ground. There is almost no wheel spin. The motor will lug down to a near dead stop in second gear. The light clutch pull makes it very easy to control, even in the worst of situations.
It would be two days before we got to the next hill climb. In the meantime there was the foot down race. All the contestants were lined up inside a corral at Rancho Santa Marta. The winner would be the last rider to put a foot down. You could block any rider or do anything else, as long as you did not make significant contact with them. You couldn’t just take them out.
Laia seemed like a shoe in for this one, 12 time world trials champion and all. But she was a huge target and got picked on. The secret was to ride around invisible like until most of the riders had gone out. At one point Justin Morgan was able to hit the kill button on Destry’s Kawasaki. Destry was actually able to kick it and get going again without dropping a foot! In the end it came down to Destry and Quinn for the title. Quinn and his 310 Husky emerged as victors.
The other big event was the circle sand race. 7 riders line up around a circle, when the flag drops everyone goes. When a rider gets passed, he is out. Last man standing wins. In the final it came down to Johnny Campbell, Destry Abbott and Cameron Steele as last three standing. Cameron was first out. A long battle followed between the other two. Neither could gain ground. Finally, Johnny had a solo fall, handing the win to Destry.
I didn’t compete in either of these. The foot down race was so entertaining that I wanted to video it. The sand race is just an accident waiting to happen; it is particularly tough on those with fragile knees (like mine).
Rancho Santa Marta is an orphanage and school located in San Vicente. Each year the Beach Bash has used this as stop on the ride and raised funds to help out. This year was unbelievably successful with the ride raising $32,000 for the organization. Cameron Steele and the Desert Assassins made a big push fundraising this year. Of the many sponsors, Bullet Proof Diesel made a significant contribution by pledging $10,000 in matching funds. It was a fantastic success for everyone.
With lots of new trails to ride, the time flew by fast. The Beach Bash is always about fun people who love to ride their motorcycles, regardless of skill level or Baja experience. The daily mileage is short and that leaves plenty of time for just goofing around and general horse play.
Day three brought part two of the hill climb challenge. As we pulled up, it didn’t look particularly difficult. I envisioned myself as “the one” who did not make it up. Of the 10 of us who remained in the challenge, only 4 of us did make it to the top. It was trickier than it looked. There was no approach; the line was loose and lacked traction. To top it off, there was a 3’ rock outcropping right at the top that you had to have enough momentum to clear.
My run at the hill did not start well; I was a little slow off the line. But I could feel that the Sherco was doing fine, I just had to pull it all together. I made sure to get on line by the midpoint of the hill, then I cracked the throttle wide open. I had just enough power to coast over the rocks and make it to the top.
At the top it was me, Laia, Quinn and Johnny. My run was by far the slowest and not very pretty, but I had the control I needed. A number of other watchers swore I wouldn’t make it. But Quinn commented that having already ridden the 300i he could hear it was doing fine, even if I was going woefully slow.
I figured I had another day to bask in the glory of being in the final four. Just then Cameron announced that we were headed straight for the final climb, the infamous “Chilly’s Challenge”. Just my luck they would make me climb my own hill! As far as I know, it has never been climbed before. As far as I am concerned, it is impossible; we have only gone down it.
The rule for the final challenge was simple, each rider would have 5 minutes to get as high up the hill as possible, any way possible, as long as it was unassisted. Using rock-paper-scissors, I won the right to choose the starting order. It was to be; Quinn, Laia, Johnny, myself.
Quinn went first on his Husky TE310. He made the climb to the first ledge easy enough. But from there the trail was nothing but loose rock and silt. He could only make about 10’ up the trail before losing traction. For the next few minutes he literally pushed the Husky up the hill with brute force. He doesn’t have the nickname “Crusher” for nothing. He was slinging rocks down on everyone. But he made it. While he climbed all the way to the very top, time had expired and a determination was made as to the height that counted.
Laia started the climb by taking a rim shot off the rocks on the left side of the gully. How she did it I still can’t say. Even on video it does not show how crazy it looked to me. Next she lined up, not to hit the trail, but to go up over a big rock and jump up the first section of trail. Her first attempt saw her bounce off the side of the rock. Undeterred, she backed up to do it again. The second time she flew over the rock in pure trials fashion and landed about 15’ up the trail. From there, she too had to push, but made it up and faster than Quinn.
I could not believe that Johnny Campbell was lined up to attempt the same rim shot as Laia. His first attempt was a spectacular crash with him and his bike tumbling to the bottom of the ravine. Fortunately, Cameron was standing in just the right spot to catch the bike before it landed on Johnny. For his second attempt, Johnny took the easier line up the middle and made the ledge with no problem. From there he only made it about 10’ up the trail before taking a breather as time expired.
Now it was my turn. What would you do? I had watched the incredible skill of Laia, the brute strength of Quinn and the wild tumble of Johnny. All I could think was that I had nothing of value to add! Besides, I figured it best not to damage the Sherco if I could help it. So I chose to pass. I had watched three incredible riders put on a great display and I was happy to leave it at that. I would concede for fourth.
As for the Beach Bash, we had one more night at Coyote Cal’s. They put on a great spread of food for us. Following that we had a raucous ceremony of awards for the noted and notorious. Laia was judged as best newcomer to Baja. Her enthusiasm for riding is infectious to all those around her. There was also the squirrel award. Unfortunately the story of the winner is a bit too off color for me to relate. As with any big organized ride, there was the acknowledgement of the “NRP” (no reason passer) as well as lots of other fun things.
The fourth day saw some new single track as the group headed back to Acambaro and prepared to turn for home. Some of us stayed to enjoy a fantastic BBQ pork lunch. I was going to ride the Sherco back, but Justin Morgan offered me a ride back to Tecate, so I jumped in the truck with him. We had an easy crossing back to the states to end a perfect long weekend of Baja fun.
The Sherco continues to impress. Riding in Baja is probably as far away from its natural home as possible. This is a bike designed for tight conditions. Still, other than the low gearing and a few stalls, it performed fine. It never shows any sign of headshake or instability. As the trails get more technical, it simply shines, the tougher the terrain, the better. Nearly all the other bikes on the ride were 450’s. As soon as the conditions turned nasty, I had a distinct advantage over most of them because the Sherco is so easy to ride and manage. There were a number of these at Romaniacs and now I can see why. If you were to imagine an enduro bike built to emulate a trials bike, this is it.
I can’t possibly imagine how Cameron Steele and Johnny Campbell will top this year’s Baja Beach Bash for 2014, but I can’t wait to see either.
This video clip comes to us from Scotty Breauxman
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