After 12 years of participating in the granddaddy of dual sport events in America since 1987, when it became a two-day ride, you would think I knew how to prepare for the 2019 LA-Barstow to Vegas (LA-B2V) day-after-Thanksgiving ride. But every year is not the same. Not in November.
I joined nearly 500 participants on an icy and snowy route starting from the Embassy Suites Hotel in Palmdale, riding desert routes to Barstow that brisk Friday morning. After storms the days before, there was white stuff on what is typically your run-of-the-mill desert two-track terrain.
It was certainly the highlight of the year. After the brave souls who hit the trails early—and the guys that provided the warnings of falls on icy pavement—the braver trailblazers gave tracks down to the moist, and sometimes muddy, earth making it easier to navigate.
I was tapped for this ride by Ultimate Motorcycling Editor Don Williams, an old friend who was Editor of my Dual Sporter Magazine publication in the 1990s. He put me on a 2019 KTM 690 Enduro R and dressed me in a full Alpinestars outfit. Knowing ahead that it will be cold and wet, with the possibility of snow, I had a bit of preparation to perform.
I picked up the KTM and received the gear a week ahead. I changed the ADV-oriented Continental TKC 80 tires to a set of more dirt-worthy, though not street legal, Michelin M12 XC knobbies I had left over from my KTM 350 EXC-F.
I also changed out the primary sprocket from a 15-tooth to a 14, and that set the rear tire farther back. This gear change gave the 690 Enduro R better power delivery in the tighter and slower dirt terrain; I didn’t plan to ride much, if any, on the highway.
For the first time, I installed cold weather handlebar mittens to protect my hands from the cold. They are a slip-on installation, and I taped the gaps between controls using Black Gorilla Tape. The Tusk Hand Mitts required I move the 690’s traction control and drive mode mapping switch of the 690 down the handlebar toward the triple clamp, and relocate the mirrors outside the mittens. The mittens also slipped over the HDB Ultimate Handguards I had for protecting my hands and levers from falls.
Last was getting the navigation equipment mounted with my collection of Ram Mounts and wiring the Android-based Garmin Monterra to the KTM’s battery. I added the Garmin GPSMAP 76Cx as a backup, along with my double bank of Countdown Engineering roll chart boxes. However, with the majority of tracks in the snow, the guys out front of the pack did the dirty navigation work, so I could focus on riding. I was soon passing the slower guys in conga lines, staying on the brown tracks, giving thanks to those knobbies as I passed in the snow.
The Alpinestars gear—Andes V2 Drystar jacket, Tech Layer Top inner jacket, Andes Touring Outdry gloves, Yaguara Drystar pants, and Corozal Adventure Drystar Oiled boots—kept my body dry and warm. I added a full-face balaclava and fleece Alpinestars Neck Warmer to stay warm under the HJC DS-X1 Helmet.
As I didn’t have a shakedown ride, I took my chances. I did figure out that I should have put Roko Goggle Quick Straps on the HJC, instead of relying on the faceshield alone; it fogged up easily in the cold, slower off-road conditions. The bulky winter gloves, which kept me warm on the highway, were changed out on the trail for lighter ones. I put them in my backpack, along with all the necessary trail tools. Luckily, no flats or repairs were needed.
On Day 1, I headed behind Rosamond and to a crossing of California State Route 58 towards California City, and then north above Boron to our first fuel and lunch stop at Kramer Junction. Just before lunch between the new 58 and old 58, I ruined my ride by not noticing the 10-inch black poly water pipe across the temporary construction access road for the new Highway 58 bypass.
I was riding at a fast clip right of center with two riders to my left. By the time I saw the raised pipe on an elevated piling of dirt, I didn’t calculate fast enough for the right possible outcome. I hit it with a slightly light front wheel, hoping to jump it. It didn’t work out that way, and I did a flying W into the moist graded dirt road. There must have been other lines I didn’t recognize in time, as most riders looked far ahead enough to have avoided the higher rise and getting through it. It’s just nothing you usually find on a graded dirt road.
As expected, I wasn’t the only one—others did the same, with one rider going to the hospital with a broken tibia and fibula. I got off relatively easy—a bruised shoulder, neck, and upper ribs. As a result, I skipped the only difficult route around the Black Hills and Fremont Peak towards the Husky Memorial—my upper body wasn’t taking jolts well. Fortunately, the KTM 690 Enduro R survived nicely.
After lunch and fuel, it was straight powerline road, plus routes through more snowy Jeep trails. I arrived in Barstow fairly early at 1:30 after 123 miles. I made good time by not eating, passing riders and stopped groups, taking the general easy routes, and not taking enough photos. I needed OTC painkillers to nurse my way to a better Day 2.
That evening, I reunited with Alfred Jorgenson and other old friends, and picked up the next day’s GPS tracks and roll chart. A good Mexican dinner and night’s sleep were the final objectives. The KTM was secure at a large lot at the hosting Ramada Inn with the hundreds of other dual-sport motorcycles. The local Boy Scouts Troop watched over our bikes through the night, so we didn’t worry.
The 2019 KTM 690 Enduro R had been holding up and handling well. I played with a few fork settings during Day 2 in the rough, sandy washboard routes that are mostly traversed and beaten by side-by-sides. Teeth rattling was a message to make fork adjustments. I continued on without any shock changes, as I hate stopping.
Before the ride, I had set fork settings to the suggested Sport settings—20 clicks on the forks, and 10 on the shock. I have never been sensitive to suspension settings, and will ride with whatever quirks a motorcycle may have. I’ll get to point A to point B as fast as possible, and within the abilities of my machine and me, hoping that only Mother Nature is the victim. My two broken collar bones back in my racing days and a near miss this ride only proves I sometimes lose that battle. My shoulders are shot these days, so I wouldn’t want anything heavier than the 690 to lift in a fall.
The 2019 KTM 690 Enduro R has a new motor this year, featuring two counterbalancers to reduce vibration, a problem in previous years. This evolution of the 690 began with the purple-seated 1995 KTM 620 RXC LC4. The ‘95 was provided to me by KTM to market the motorcycle to new enthusiasts as sponsors of my California Dual Sport Series. I also raced the 620 that year in the 1800-mile, five-day Nevada Rally—the ultimate cross-country adventure that utilized navigation skills I gained by charting dual sport rides. Those who couldn’t read a roll chart would fall victim, because there were no trail markings.
The 2019 KTM 690 Enduro R’s LC4 motor is much different from the earlier design. It’s a whole lot faster, with some interesting electronic features—engine mapping and traction control options for road or dirt. There’s also ABS.
For the 2019 LA-B2V, I went full dirt mode—no traction control or ABS. The challenge is remembering to check these settings every time you restart, as the settings return to the default street mode. If I didn’t remember, I would have to stop, and bundled up in my heavy winter gear to push buttons with bulky gloves made me impatient. Also testing my patience was the BLM-required 30 mph speed limit on wide, graded dirt roads of tortoise habitat, even though these are hibernation temperatures.
In 1995, the KTM LC4 620 was a European-style left-side kickstarter. Most dual sport bikes of the time had electric start. It wasn’t until 1997 that it was featured, and the 2019’s e-start is a great feature.
The 2019 KTM 690 Enduro R now has a fuel tank under the seat at the back of the motorcycle. That means I have to get off the motorcycle to refuel, and the tank holds just 3.6 gallons, which compromises its long-distance capability—it’s not bad for a dual-sport, but short of an ADV motorcycle. My 620 had a cherished five-gallon composite Acerbis tank that held paint and stickers.
The other great feature of this year’s 690 is its fuel injection. That provides easy starting, something I would have given a right leg for in hot or cold starting conditions with the ‘95. EFI improves power and fuel consumption, which reduces the range impact of the smaller tank. There is a product available that relocates the airbox and filter for an additional tank you can mount in the traditional location—definitely worth considering. I would absolutely replace the 690’s paper air filter with an oiled foam filter.
The best improvement from the old days is the power the 690 produces. Where was it in ‘95? The current 690 revs to the moon, and that is most enjoyed when needed for passing or highway cruising.
The six-speed gearbox is also a significant improvement, though the stock gearing is very high. Even when geared down, it is comfortable at highway speeds and does well at 70 mph. With these speeds comes the need for the strong braking provided by the Brembo calipers and Magura controls. On the downside, the footpegs felt small.
Alpinestars has been producing motorcycle riding gear for a long time, and offers a large variety of clothing for any type of riding and conditions. It’s all about layering, and Alpinestars offers the full gamut. With my feet, I added the thick insulating Heat Holders Merino Blend socks with a TOG (Thermal Overall Grade) rating of 2.9 with still a good feeling of the foot controls.
The two-buckle Alpinestars Corozal Adventure Drystar Oiled boots are simplified compared to my older Alpinestars Tech 3’s with four buckles, making for easier and quicker mounting. I like easy, and I don’t like being cold. That was never an issue, even with the riding temps in the 30s and 40s.
The Alpinestars Drystar three-layer membrane construction in this full-body outfit was the right choice—maybe overkill with the additional thermal pant and shirt base layers I wore. Only a couple zipper malfunctions marred the performance of the Andes V2 Drystar jacket and inner jacket. There was a separation on the front of the jacket as it neared the top, and I had trouble opening the inner liner jacket pocket. Outside of the zippers—which are YKKs and shouldn’t have issues—I rate the construction and design of the Alpinestars gear as one of the best.
Day 2 was clear, sunny, and there was much less snow in the lower elevations. I left Barstow towards the Calico Ghost Town trail system now popular with the Jeep and SxS crowds. The mileage that day would be 234.
The hard option was minimally tough, until we got to the rock steps where a line had formed. Early passes made the situation more difficult for the late riders, as the primary route got dug up. I enjoyed watching those tackling it and making it through. Garrett Ortiz of ADVLite was there making videos with his drone and getting great shots.
I opted out to keep my bruised upper ribs and ego intact, taking an easier bypass just before the steps. That took me back to the main hard route, joining rider headed towards I-15.
Next up was a more desert-like style of sandy powerline roads up to another hard option of deep canyon sand washes. I went for it, confident that my tire choice and skills would get me through. Despite a few surprise jolts of hidden rocks, I made it without a hitch.
Arriving in Baker, I fueled up the KTM and had a late breakfast at the famous Mad Greek. I ate their popular shawarma and chatted with a guy in the patio, who was waiting for his riding partner, who never showed. He asked if he could join me after a bit of motorcycle talk of the early days, as he was a vintage bike shop owner in Glendale.
After fueling up, we chose the easier route and skipped out on the beginning section until it merged again alongside the Kingston Range Wilderness. This got us closer to our scheduled lunch stop in Sandy Valley, Nevada (pop: 2100). There, a fuel truck filled our tanks, firemen washed down the accumulated mud from our wheels, and lunch was provided in the school gymnasium.
In Sandy Valley, I waited for my friend Alfred, who was there with a personal chase truck with his friend Jeff driving. After lunch, we decided to load up our bikes and truck them to Las Vegas, as the remaining route was a wide, graded dirt road shortcut to Nevada State Route 160. The destination of hard option Lovell Canyon and into Red Rock was closed due to snow cover. This was a chance for me to get a bit of sleep on a paved road into Vegas before getting to Alfred’s home for a shower to make me presentable for the evening post-ride festivities.
What brings over 500 riders to the 2019 LA-Barstow to Vegas ride? Not the terrible choice of ride date, which was set in stone early as it coincided with the legendary Barstow-To-Vegas off-road race that was run out of business by environmentalists in 1989. Not the beat-up routes across open desert powerlines. Not the inclement weather. Not the parking lot of a drive back to the LA area from Las Vegas on Thanksgiving Sunday.
It’s the social gathering at a Las Vegas casino and free swag. And, perhaps, bragging rights of completing such a long-distance late-fall ride. It’s not my first choice of dual sport rides, but I still do it. Just maybe only after a bit of snow and rain, like in 2019. Because I hate dust.
Photography by Garrett Ortiz/ADVLite, Catherine Powell, and Damon Powell
Helmet: HJC DS-X1
Balaclava: Seirus DynaMax
Neck cover: Alpinestars Neck Warmer
Jacket: Alpinestars Andes V2 Drystar w/ Tech Layer Top
Layer: Alpinestars Tech Layer Top
Gloves: Alpinestars Andes Touring Outdry
Pants: Alpinestars Yaguara Drystar
Socks: Heat Holders Merino Blend
2019 LA-Barstow to Vegas Photo Gallery