Touratech Rally West Review: Debut from a Newbie ADV Rider

Touratech Rally R 1200 GS Pictures

Touratech Rally West Review

Shortly after purchasing my first adventure bike late last summer, a Suzuki V-Strom DL1000, I realized that the mammoth catered to the street over the dirt.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering I was a 15-year veteran of sport riding. But as the off-road began whispering my name, I quickly found the off-road limits – both of the Strom and my own. Endless research began for aftermarket parts, and this is where Touratech-USA came into my life.

Some parts were ordered, including the much-needed crash bars. Riding the Strom off road didn’t come that easy, so I began to obsessively self train. Then I met Touratech-USA’s General Manager Paul Guillien at the New York City International Motorcycle Show. Guillien recommend further parts that would enhance the Strom and DVDs that would help build my skill, but, more importantly, he also shared a few passionate adventure-touring stories, most of those tales set in the Pacific Northwest.

Ron Lieback at Touratech Rally West aboard a KTM 950 Adventure
Author Ron Lieback aboard Touratech’s KTM 950 Adventure

These tales continued through email as I hounded Guillien for more information on this new-to-me genre of motorcycling. Then the tales brought about a mission – to get out of Pennsylvania and ride in the Pacific Northwest.

Months later this mission became a reality when Touratech invited me to participate in the third annual Touratech Pacific Northwest Adventure Rally by RawHyde. The June event would further fuel my enthusiasm for adventure riding, a genre that I barely knew existed until last year.

And the details oozed with outdoorsmen appeal; the event consisted of three nights of camping and two days of riding, with base camp just north of the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, Wash., where participants would gather under the southern flanks of the snow-capped Entiat Mountains.

The rally would provide tours through Washington’s wildest country, taking riders throughout the dreamlike landscapes of Wenatchee and Mt. Baker national forests. And skill wasn’t an issue; the Touratech-USA crew put much energy into the planned rides, which would tackle every skill from beginner to the most advanced, each ride led by a Touratech staff member.

The event also included an optional class, the RawHyde Adventures Intro Training; Jim Hyde, the owner of RawHyde Adventures, the official BMW Off-Road Riding Academy, led the instructional sessions.

Once I received the final itinerary, a welcoming feeling surfaced considering it’d be a short break from the normal 12-14 hour workday. And the peacefulness of camping under Pacific Northwest skies was further enhanced by the lack of cell phone service – no calls, texts or emails (though I found one area near my camping area that provided signal, which I later forced myself to forget about).

I flew into Seattle on a Wednesday evening, crashing at a nearby hotel. In the morning Touratech-USA’s Sales and Technical Support Guru Iain Glynn picked me up, and we headed to Touratech-USA headquarters. There I met with a few members of the staff, all who would be at the event Friday through Sunday, and got a tour of the facilities. The atmosphere felt homegrown, the facilities containing the showroom, offices and packing/shipping areas. They even have a self-built studio on hand where photography is taken of Touratech parts for catalogs and other marketing materials.

Following the tour, Glynn introduced me to something that would become a symbol of my first true adventure ride – a KTM LC8 950 Adventure. This would be my machine for the next few days, and from the first twist of the throttle, I would quickly fall for its true off-road ability.

After a few hours of touring back roads and Route 2, we arrived at base camp, where I was introduced to the remaining Touratech-USA staff and Jim Hyde. Although I didn’t participate in the RawHyde school, I owe much to Hyde. One of the DVDs Guillien recommended was the BMW GS Off-Road Riding Skills Instructional DVD. Besides knobby tires, this DVD (read my review here) provided the most significant change in my off-road riding progress.

Touratech Rally West Expert Trails

Following a quick tent setup, and change from Klim Badlands gear to simple jeans and a t-shirt, I began to simply observe. Around 150 riders were there, mostly Americans and Canadians. The machines were 95-percent BMW GS models, sprinkled with a few KTM LC8s, a few Ducati Multistradas, and even a man who turned a 1200cc Harley-Davidson Sportster into an adventure bike, knobby tires and all. Most riders seemed to be in their 40s and 50s, though a few youngsters and ridiculously in-shape seniors were in the crowd.

As for the daily grind, job history was vastly different – from CEOs to yacht builders to motorcycle-dealership owners. And then there were two video production companies on hand – Noren Films, run by Sterling Noren, who was doing a piece on the event for Touratech, and Curbsyde Productions, run by my immediate good friends Joe and Flora Lloyd, who were doing a piece for BMW.

The best part of this group? I couldn’t find one person that irked me, resolving that whole stigma built around those “cocky” BMW GS riders.

Once settled, and the on-site Dakar Bar opened ahead of a ridiculously amazing gourmet meal Chili, Guillien signed me up for “The Epic Chelan” ride on Friday. Eleven tours were scheduled, from beginner to difficult, and the Epic Chelan ride was the most advanced, consisting of a nine-hour, 137-mile loop.

I was pumped, and up at 5 a.m. Friday. I took a short hike, allowing that brisk morning air to fill the lungs, sorting things out in my head before the day’s ride. I was hoping my hour a day regime of off-road V-Strom training paid off…

And it did. Three turns after the 12-rider group led by Guillien departed base camp, nearly all the techniques I’ve practiced were utilized. We began an immediate ascension into the steep mountains on skinny logging roads with edges that peered deep into the valleys below, eventually following section four of the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route over Chumstick Mountain to Ardenvoir.

Touratech Pacific Northwest Rally by RawHyde | A Debut

I began from the back, but by the time we began ascending Chelan Mountain and Slide Ridge, riding skill was sorting itself out, and I was up front with Guillien and another immediate good friend, a Bob Berglund of Adventure Touring Films, who can ride a BMW R1200 GSA like no other.

The Epic Chelan trek featured nothing but Pacific Northwest views, with cliffs rolling endlessly off to the sides, snow-capped mountains hugging the horizon, and certain parts of the trail covered in snow. I was awestruck with the scenery, this feeling seeming to arrive every few feet during the entire day, frowns erased from existence.

And Guillien spoke highly about Slide Ridge, which he associated with the famed Pikes Peak hill climb. When we began ascending, I quickly knew what he meant; the corners sharply rolled into one another, the bike barley upright for a few seconds at a time, the rear tire on the KTM constantly sliding. And then, once over the mountain, there’s a mesmerizing view of Lake Chelan 4500 feet below, a lake we would soon ride along.

After a picture-perfect summer salad at the Karma Winery near Lake Chelan, we headed up a steep, zigzag sandy pass to Chelan Butte, which offers a 360-degree view of Washington, providing spectacular views of the Columbia River, Lake Chelan and dozens of snow-capped mountains.

Up until the start of the return trip, only a few bikes were dropped at low speeds. But as things normally work out, there was a bit of an incident near Oklahoma Gulch. Sticking to my slow after lunch philosophy, I took it easy in this section, feeling out of my comfort zone.

Up ahead, though, Guillien and Bob were enjoying the ride. But a slight upset occured when Guillien’s front tire on his F800GS battled with an awkward rut, sending our leader to the ground. He quickly got up, shaking off the fall. But a few miles later at the bottom of the hill he was in some pain, complaining of his left shoulder and some slight weariness.

Toruatech Rally West Riding

All 11 remaining riders sat for a few, each offering assistance. But after a short break, Guillien was ready to ride, and we began trekking back to camp. He said he was taking it easy, but that ride back to camp was by far the most challenging to keep Paul in view…

Back at camp the evening’s festivities were in full throttle, the conversations keeping the adrenaline high just as if everyone was still riding. The minds were in full pace, but it was easy to see almost everyone’s body was a bit tired, including me. The tiredness, along with a bit too much to drink that evening, made for a slow start on Saturday morning. No hike that morning, although the portable outdoor shower helped awake me.

Rain in the forecast, I decided to pursue some self-guided adventures to run at my desired pace and grab some photos. I trekked another 80 miles through various roads around Chumstick Mountain, which takes a rider 5,810 feet above sea level.

Upon returning to camp later that afternoon, I began talking with a few others about their experiences. Nothing but positive remarks, and thankfully no injuries, though a few bikes went down on various rides. And everyone I asked guaranteed me they were returning for next year’s event, many hoping to take a more advanced ride.

Still weary from jet lag and a few hundred miles aboard that orange beauty, the LC8, I decided to head back to Seattle to catch up on some well-needed sleep ahead of an entire day of flying, my plane leaving early Sunday morning.

Hurting, Guillien decided to ride back with me to the Touratech facilities to return the KTM to its rightful home. During the three-hour trek, I was hoping for a relaxed ride. But that changed when I blew out the front tire about an hour into the ride. Luckily Guillien was with me; although he couldn’t physically do anything, he showed me the tricks of changing my first flat, which turned out to be a pinch flat from running too low of pressure.

Upon finally returning to the Touratech-USA facilities, Guillien offered residency at his place for the night, which beat a hotel. After an amazing Italian dinner cooked by Paul’s wife, we headed into the garage and talked motorcycles and the possible participation in some off-road races. But it was a long few days, and we were both beat. Sleep consumed me fast that evening after an extremely hot shower.

Touratech Rally R 1200 GS Pictures

Traveling on Sunday, I had nothing but time (almost 11 hours of flying!) ahead to reflect, realizing what I had just experienced at my debut ride in the Touratech Pacific Northwest Rally.

Besides the non-stop Pacific Northwest scenery, non-stop riding, relaxing camping, savory food, and instant friendships, the event provided a sense of awareness of who we truly are as motorcyclists.

As stated, the crowd ranged from extremely successful business owners to those working the 9-to-5 grind. But during the Touratech Pacific Northwest Rally by RawHyde, all of that was forgotten, creating a community of equal-minded people with only one thing on their minds – adventure riding.

The price – $325 for entry into event (includes meals, camping, food, beverages), or $1395 for the event with RawHyde Intro Training. Both prices may be a bit steep, deterring some riders from participating, especially those who already live in the Washington area.

But the experience, especially for an East Coast bum like me, provided the truest form of adventure riding in the truest setting. And the best part? It will all return next year for the fourth annual Touratech Pacific Northwest Rally by RawHyde. I hope to see you there…

To stay up to date with news of next year’s rally, stay clicked to Touratech-USA’s website.

Photos by Angela R. Goodman Photography

Touratech Rally West Review: Photo Gallery



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