27th Big Bear Run Report: 2021 Kawasaki KLX300 Dual Sport Ride

The North American Dual-Sport Rider (Equitem ludo dual) is one of the most varied and resilient creatures in the motorcycle kingdom. Periodically, they migrate in great numbers, visiting remote areas spending weekends exploring backcountry routes, partaking in a “Run” or “Rally.” Often, they are found roaming sanctuaries known as OHV parks, sometimes their young offspring in tow. More mature specimens will venture hundreds of miles from their nests, enduring all manner of hardships through rough terrain. They are a different breed, gents.

Big Bear Dual Sport: Annual Ride
Hard Way riders getting an early start from the Big Bear Mountain Ski Resort.

For the past 27 years, dual-sport riders from all over the Southern California area have flocked to the San Bernardino National Forest to partake in the two-day Big Bear Run (BBR), hosted by the Big Bear Trail Riders Association.

Having been around since the 1980s, these guys know a thing or two about the extensive trail system in and around Big Bear Lake. The Big Bear Run is also part of the Beta AMA National Dual Sport Series, and it has a well-earned reputation for being one of the more challenging among the 16 events throughout the continental United States.

With over 400 participants of all ages and sizes, there is something for riders of every skill level—even the hard-as-nails types. However, the BBR is open to anyone. The family-friendly atmosphere is at a high, with RV spots available.

Big Bear Dual Sport: Club Ride

If camping does not work for you, Big Bear has a slew of cozy accommodations within a stone’s throw of the event. If you have a plated bike with a spark arrestor and AMA membership, you’re welcome to join. Membership in the Big Bear Trail Riders Association is encouraged, and the organization is an excellent resource for those looking to hit the trails in that area.

The whole event kicks off on Friday afternoon. Riders can check-in, sign-up, collect GPX routes, and pal-around with a growing vendor list that included Kawasaki, Honda, Dunlop, Yoshimura, Barkbusters Handguards, Fox Racing, IMS Products, Mitas Tire, Motoz Tire, Poway Powersports, REACH Air Medical Services, Ricky Johnson, Rottweiler Performance, and San Diego Powerhouse. There is plenty of swag hanging about and raffles on Saturday night.

Big Bear Dual Sport: Trail Tech GPS

This isn’t an old-school rally with trail markers; organizers provide comprehensive GPX files that break your respective route into four unique parts, prominently marking turns and gas stops. Trail Tech GPS navigators were commonplace in the BBR paddock. A modern smartphone with the Gaia GPS app could also get you through the day—make sure you don’t drain your battery.

Big Bear Dual Sport Routes 

For 2021, four routes were on deck—the Hard Way, Advanced Easy, Easy, and Adventure. These routes are updated every year to keep things fresh, and the terrain varies wildly. They run the gamut between easy forest dirt roads, fun jeep trails, groovy two-track, excellent single track, some of the best twisty roads SoCal has to offer, rocky washouts, rocky hill climbs, and rocks. Oh, dear Lord, the rocks.

Another Hard Way competitor charging through one of the many BBR’s rocky sections. Embrace the rock, friends.

Those looking to put both rider and machine to the test will undoubtedly seek out the Hard Way, a grueling 200-mile trail ride that combines some of the most challenging terrains in the area. To paint a clearer picture of how difficult this is, 57 percent of this year’s 205 Hard Way registrants managed to collect all the checkpoint tickets and earn the coveted finisher’s plaque. Some years, that number can drop as low as 30 percent. Dive into the YouTube rabbit hole to watch brave riders try their hand at sections like 38 Special if you need more evidence.

The Advanced Easy route totals around 135 miles, with the clear majority being off-road. The route is a proverbial sampler platter of what the San Bernardino National Forest trail system has to offer—lots of fun, flowing trails through the forest, loads of engaging two-track routes, and of course, a few tricky rocky bits. The Advanced Easy route sprinkles in a few Hard Way sections just to kick up the difficulty.

Big Bear Dual Sport: Alpinestars

Meanwhile, the Easy route rolls the difficulty-dial back and focuses on an easy-going experience, covering 125+ miles. Lastly, the Adventure route ponies up 135+ miles of awesome asphalt riding, along with a few ADV-friendly off-pavement sections to get some dust on those panniers.

Tres Amigos and the 2021 Kawasaki KLX300 

Being a primarily road-faring motorcyclist, I sparingly dip my toe in the world of dual-sport. Although my hunting grounds stick to the confines of well-groomed places such as Hungry Valley State Vehicle Recreation Area (aka Gorman), the BBR is an event I’ve meant to check out for years. When I got the call from Kawasaki PR Supervisor Brad Puetz to join him and Managing Editor Ryan Adams of Motorcycle.com fame for the ride, I was in.

Seeing as I do not get dirt under my nails too often, a motorcycle such as the 2021 Kawasaki KLX300 is a fitting companion. It stood up to the demands of the trail and, in many ways, had a few advantages over performance-oriented dual-sport machines. It has a decent amount of power and a stout chassis. Best of all, the new KLX300 has a much lower seat height than your average 450cc+ high-performance dual sport. In all, it is a great motorcycle for someone who needs to focus on riding technique.

We made just two changes to our otherwise bone-stock KLX300s. We mounted the grippy Dunlop Geomax MX52 tires (not DOT legal), which helped immensely in the dry, dusty conditions we get here in SoCal. Plus, Trail Tech GPS units kept us on the right path.

The 27th Annual Big Bear Run 

If you’re one of the daring individuals tackling the Hard Way, your day will start no earlier than 6 a.m. and no later than 7 a.m. Riders line up to collect their first tickets before heading off into the great unknown. Godspeed, friends, as I shudder to think about waking up that early on a Saturday.

Big Bear Dual Sport: Kawasaki KLX300

Meanwhile, we opted for the Advanced Easy route and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast from a local fine-dining establishment known as 7-Eleven. Our Camelbacks filled to the brim, we departed at a fashionably late 8:30 a.m., though I do encourage riders to get going earlier.

We didn’t set the trails ablaze with our pace, nor did we ride particularly slow, and we still didn’t return to camp until 6 p.m. While the elapsed time will depend on your skill level and the routes you choose, assume that the ride will take all day to complete. Pack extra snacks and make sure you stock up on fluids at the checkpoints and gas stops.

The Advanced Easy route begins by exploring some curvy blacktop, winding its way through the mountain village, where we were able to stretch the KLX300s’ throttle cables and cruise along at highways speeds before dropping down into a nifty little single-track route. It was our first taste of rock-strewn trails that offer a bit of a challenge throughout the day.

Once that’s checked off the GPS list, we ventured into the genuinely stunning Holcomb Valley area. We explored massive fire roads and a few jeep trails through the forest, while darting through awe-inspiring rock formations—all of which is welcoming to beginner riders.

The third section incorporated a taste of the Hard Way. A tricky, rock-strewn single-track trail followed by a few loose and rocky hill climbs that challenged someone of my average off-road skill level. Here is where the KLX300 begins to shine for someone of my ilk.

Thanks to the lower seat height and softer suspension, I was able to doggy-paddle my way up without too much difficulty. Sure, more power would have helped in various stages of the ride, but I saw more than one competition-based dual-sport bike loop out or stumble where the KLX300 did not.

Taking breaks to hydrate, snack, and relax are the key to success on long rides. Word to the wise: Pack more than you think you’ll need.

It’s also the section that made me wonder if organizers were playing fast and loose with the definition of Advanced Easy. Big Bear Trail Riders Secretary Miguel Burgi did say that a more fitting Intermediate might be used next year.

With the end in sight, the final 55-mile homestretch offers more rocky trails that the KLX300 gobbled up, along with winding fire roads that are just my style. After dealing with rocky bits that I find challenging, it’s nice to settle into a groove and find your flow.

By the end of our ride, my Kawasaki KLX300’s trip meter displayed 137.8 miles. When I look at our route, there were only a few particularly challenging spots along the way. What is difficult is the length of time in the saddle, coupled with those rocky areas that sap your energy. The real struggle is staying hydrated, focused, and maintaning a steady pace so that you don’t burn yourself out during a ride this long, which just happens to be the most mileage I’ve ever done off-road.

After consuming my body weight in dust, we made it back to the paddock at 6 p.m. and had a chance to reflect on the day. It was a challenge, for sure, but an attainable one and something that can only be savored once you’ve kicked off the boots. With all that under your belt, it’s time to tuck into the Rider’s Banquet on Saturday night and swap stories from the trail with friends. That’s a wrap for the 27th annual Big Bear Run, so I’ll see you guys out there next year!

Photography by Ben Liebenberg, Brad Puetz, Lindsay Stanley, and Nic de Sena