The last week of August, Gordon and I plan to ride the Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route (IBDR) on the Bultacos. From Porthill, Idaho on the Canadian border to Jarbidge, Nevada. The route is nearly 1,300 miles and we expect to cover it in 7-8 days.
As many of you know, Idaho is a second home to me. The riding opportunities are vast, there are amazing places to ride all over the state. The IBDR route is almost entirely new to me. The area north of Sandpoint is home territory so I have ridden many of the trails in that region.
In 2010 when I did a story for MotorcycleUSA, we road some of the areas east of Idaho City on the middle fork of the Boise river. But we got turned back by snow on the Magruder Corridor on that trip too. Aside from these areas, the trip will be entirely new terrain for me.
Neena and my Mom, Carlene, will be along driving chase. While it may have been an interesting challenge to do it unsupported, we cannot really leave them behind for this scenic trip. And it will be nice not to have to carry everything. That way we can camp in style. They will also be hauling a spare bike.
Over the past few days I have been working on the route using the IBDR Map produced by Butler maps and available from Touratech. It is very detailed and really lays out the logistics for the trip quite well. Fuel range is our primary consideration. We expect to need about 4 gallons for each 110-120 mile stage.
As we are based out of north Idaho, we plan to ride the route from North to South. That lets us start from Sandpoint the first morning and liason up to the border. We will only get to Clark Fork the first day. Even though it is close to home, most of the day is stuff I have not ridden in a number of years.
We expect the following overnight stops to be Orofino, Darby, Grangeville, Yellowpine, Featherville and finish up in Jarbidge. The chase truck will follow paved routes for the most part and should be able to meet up with us each evening.
The route is nearly all two track road. No, we are not attempting any single track for this one (famous last words). The only significant paved section is from Lochsa over into Darby, Montana. Gordon thinks we can take the old highway that parallels Highway 93 south of Missoula to avoid some of the traffic. Other than that, it is dirt roads the entire way. But dirt isn’t without its own hazards. As someone who rides thousands of miles of two track a year in Baja, I know that oncoming traffic is often paying very little attention to the surroundings and road conditions.
Next step was for me to search out my own bike for the trip. Gordon already has a Frontera and offered up his very nicely restored Alpina, but that just wasn’t going to do it for me. Who knows, maybe Alpinas will come in fashion someday, but not for me. I wanted a Frontera and while I wasn’t to particular about the exact model, the M143 would be first choice. That way the two bikes would match and it was the bike I rode way back when, the 250cc version.
I was actually looking at a pretty nice M181 Mk10, but I called my local Bultaco restorer Bruce Reynolds and he happened to have this nice M143 sitting there looking for a home. Story goes that a client of his got it off Ebay, shipped to him, but then after some discussion lost interest in doing a complete ground up restoration on it. The bike looked great, as you have seen in the photos. But as it was untouched by Bruce, nothing was really known about the true condition.
With a bit of negotiating, it was loaded into the van and came home with me. The agreement was that Bruce would go through the motor for me at a reasonable charge. With any luck it would only need; crank inspection, seals and top end. 4th gear was a weak spot on the Fronteras, so that was a bit of an unknown.
The bike build has been a much bigger project than first appearances indicated. But I am not at all surprised, dirt bikes seldom age gracefully and 43 years is a long time. When this idea popped into my noggin, I gave Gordon a call to see if he was interested and of course he was. His bike was built a few years ago and he rides it a couple of times a year. So it should not need too much to be ready.
I pulled the motor straight away and returned it for Bruce to do his thing. As I had Baja trips and a rally to prep for, I left the chassis in the corner. When I got the text from Bruce, it was obvious the news wasn’t going to be good. Seems the nut on the primary was loose. The primary had sheared the key and then welded itself to the crank. The job just got a whole lot bigger and more expensive.
Frankly, the bike probably ran fine just as it was, the primary wasn’t going anywhere, including coming apart. But it all had to be fixed proper, so add to the parts list- primary, crank and flywheel and a whole lot more labor on Bruce’s part. With the cases apart that let Bruce do his 4th gear fix and replace all the bearings. So it would be as good as new.
With the motor back I got to work on the chassis. This is one of those bikes that is fundamentally nice, not too many rough miles in its history, but not at all as it seems on the surface. Someone had probably bought a decent running bike and did a quicky resto to make it look good enough for Ebay. Amazing what a little work with a rattle can will do for a bike – looks great at ten feet.
The tank and pipe are in good shape, but probably from different bikes. Nothing on the bike was assembled with an eye towards being ridden. Spacers, bolts, order of assembly, just everything was wrong. All wiring for the lighting and switches was missing. The seat had a newish cover, but the foam was brick hard, probably from sitting in the sun.
But I can now say that I am almost happy it came to me this way. It has forced me to go through every single part on the bike, disassemble it and then put it back together again correct. Bruce has been a tremendous help. I called him numerous times so he could explain how things fit together. And often he has a special method or part to make it better than it came from the factory. But at times it has been frustrating as I try to explain that I know a part is missing, I just don’t know what it is supposed to look like. But in the mean while Bruce has picked up a very clean 500exc, so he teaches me Bultaco stuff and I explain KTM’s to him.
Now I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I still have not been out for a proper ride in the dirt, but it was quite a thrill to kick the Bultaco to life a couple of days ago. With one short ride around the neighborhood, it feels amazingly good. It is smooth, strong and very tight feeling. So I have high hopes for its performance on the trip.
Gordon and I have nearly identical 1975 Bultaco 360cc Fronteras. Both bikes are nearly ready to go. I need to get out and do a real shake down ride in the dirt. I am still waiting on a few parts like bars and chain to make it ready.
We still have a few issues to sort out. Gordon and I each have 3 gallon tanks as it stands. At the Hodaka Days ride a few weeks ago, Gordon was able to average 35mpg on his bike. So that puts us at roughly 100 mile fuel range.
I have a very rare 4 gallon Hanneman tank. I believe this is the same model tank used in the Baja 1000 story. But it will need some professional restoration before it can be used. There is a small amount of fiberglass damage. The interior will need sealed and I still need to inspect the petcocks. But it is unique enough that it is worth fixing up. I am considering having it painted with Frontera graphics. I think it would look pretty cool.
If need be, we may run the Giant Loop saddlebags and just plan to carry a half gallon extra in each side.
We both have Preston Petty fenders and lights. The new production parts look great. But honestly, the headlight was never intended for any serious use. So I have two ideas that I am contemplating for additional lighting. First would be to mount the Baja Designs Squadron on the bars and run it off a battery. I can put a lithium motorcycle battery in a tank bag and have plenty of emergency lighting that way. The other option is to add another halogen. Each bike has an extra wire from the ignition intended to go to a battery, I assume I could use this power to mount a proper driving light on the bars.
Even with the wide ratio Frontera transmission, the gearing was never intended for open roads. Gordon says his comfortable cruising speed is about 47mph. I have decided we can go one tooth taller in the rear, so I have 13/41 gearing on my bike. Sprocket Specialists is making up a couple more of these sprockets for us. I am going to run the DID VT2 enduro narrow chain to give as much clearance as possible, the small sprocket puts the chain almost on the hub. Of course Bike Bandit is where I go for all those kinds of parts.
1,300 miles riding through the mountains of Idaho on 43 year old motorcycles, what could possibly go wrong? But it isn’t hardly as difficult as some of the adventures we have talked about from a half century ago; racing Baja or riding a Yankee to Alaska.
I am looking forward to the trip. It is really about the adventure of doing it. Just getting to the start is half the fun. If we make it the entire way without any serious mechanical issues, great, otherwise I guess we will figure that out when we get to it. Stay tuned.