You could see that opinion in the face of the man as he got up from leaning against a boulder and came closer to us. “I wouldn’t go that way if I were you.” He said, pointing out that we were driving on an offroad trail with deep sand on street bikes and worse yet – scooters with limited suspension and small tires.
You could hear that unsaid, even as we explained that we’d done it before and knew what we were in for. The unspoken words drifting away as we thanked them for the warning and continued up the hill to the start of the train, the start of the soft, soft sand. A quiet laugh from the men echoed briefly before we went out of sight.
On a well-travelled, well mapped trail we were now explorers. Not in terms of terrain, or mapmaking – but of capability and possibility. We were on a mission not to find out if the trail was passable – it was clearly, we had bikes zooming past us proving that every few minutes.
Our mission was to find out if our bikes could do it, if these broken down, sun baked, cracked and dented and
machines could traverse trails they were never intended to go on. If they could travel places that could be a challenge to knobby tired, high powered and high technology machines.
Which would come first – our destination or some failure of mechanical means or human frailty?
Welcome to the Junk Run – where we’d be finding an answer to questions that nobody of sound mind ever asked.
The day of the Junk Run ended up being just about perfect weather – the deep humid heat had broken to an extent and the day was sunny and clear.
Three machines, by pure coincidence all Kymco brands. We had a silver 2008 Kymco People S200 scooter, a white 2008 Kymco People S200, and a red and silver 2006 Kymco Bet and Win 250.
Two of the machines were multiple veterans of the Mad Bastard Scooter endurance rallies – with the silver People S200 having taken part in 2 MBSR events and the red B&W having taken place in 4 MBSR rallies. These two had their scars and scratches and scrapes – but still smoothly moved along.
The white People was purchased just for the Junk Run for $700, but has already taken a permanent place in the Scoottoronto stable as a general purpose machine – it’s just too handy and too cheap to insure and run to not keep around.
Out of three riders, only one had dirt experience before this of any extent – racing a vintage two stroke motocross machine on various tracks, and puttering around with his Kawasaki KLR650. The rest of us had experience off-roading a motorcycle and sidecar (a Ural 750) but hadn’t really ventured into the dirt with much of anything else.
So there we were, 3 machines totally inappropriate for what we were about to attempt. We’d already been warned by (presumably, they had fancy looking bikes and equipment) experienced riders not to do what we were going to do, and we had a route plan that consisted of hastily scrawled notes on a notepad.
Paris-Dakar this wasn’t. Actually backyard dirt-biking this wasn’t.
We started off, immediately hitting deep sand – though it wasn’t quite as dry as it had been for our scouting run a couple of weeks before so it wasn’t quite as brutal and tiring, and there was less of the wallowing around. Though this could be due to increased experience and comfort with the machines as well. Due to one of these, we made quicker progress and were less tired by the constant focus on keeping things upright and moving forward.
The machines did surprisingly well – though we clearly saw the non offroad design limitations come into play with limited suspension travel, a CVT designed more for starting off at stoplights than starting off at the base of a loose, rocky hill.
We were probably getting cocky when we decided we’d venture off the dual track, wider trails and go onto the single track – the narrow, more challenging paths that twisted their way off the main trails and into the depths of the forest.
After all, the voices in our head said reasonably, what could go wrong?
We did briefly consider the fact that listening to random voices in our head had indeed gotten us to buy used and abused machines and take them an riding situation way beyond their comfort zone. Or sanity zone. Probably several zones past that actually right into “Hold my beer and watch this!” zone.
But still, the voices this time were calm and persuasive and things were going well – so why not?
Remind me next time to at least ask the imaginary voices for some kind of credentials before taking their word on things such as this. Or at least some kind of plan that isn’t written on crayon and stabbed into the side of a Halloween jack o’ lantern.
The single track was far more challenging – and far more thrilling. My Brother Jonathon on his People S200 was hitting the steep, loose and rocky hills at full speed in a show of barely controlled momentum.
You soon learned how to pick the best line, trying to keep from bouncing off the larger rocks and at the same time not washing out on the looser stones barely clinging to the hillside. It became a game of balancing momentum against the ability to steer, and every once in a while momentum lost and you’d had to perform the difficult feat of getting started on the steep hill with limited traction.
This wasn’t so much of an issue with the People S125 scooters, both of which had been upgrade to a 4-season snow and ice scooter tire with a fairly aggressive tread and a softer compound. The Bet and Win 250 however, with street slick styled scooter tires had much more difficulty getting a grip on the loose rocks and soil leading up the side of the hill.
The smaller/wider tires that had done a better job in the loose sand were also doing it no great favours here. It had difficulty weaving between larger stones and less stability at speed up the hill.
A few times it actually dug itself into a high centered position, rocking back and forth on the centre stand and needing a bit of a push to get going. Basically the best way to get this machine down the trail was to give it a perhaps not entirely sensible amount of throttle and point it uphill and hope for the best.
Going timid would get you stuck halfway up, and then you had to hope the people you were riding with were not sufficiently sick of you to pretend they couldn’t hear your cries of help and continue on.
Which may have happened to me at least once when I swapped with the rider of the Bet and Win 250 to give them a break. Bastards.
Still, they did eventually return and I wasn’t in fact immediately eaten by squirrels. Though I do swear I saw one looking hungrily at me.
All in all – the single trail was much more fun and more interesting a ride than the sandy, wider trails. It was definitely more challenging, but the bikes handled it surprisingly well.
So after a full day of riding 3 scooters off road what was the end result beyond dirt being crammed into interesting bits of anatomy and a legally required psychiatric evaluation?
The machines handled it quite well actually.
One of the People S200 scooters was missing a few non essential screws in the legshield, but this particular scooter had been down before on a gravel road and could have lost a screw or two then. (And it was perhaps inevitable for us to be in a “Screw loose” situation.)
Aside from that, all machines rode around the park all day, through deep sand, through rocks and single track and up and down hills that were far beyond anything you would have seen in street use. All of the machines finished the day and rode home via the highway with no issues beyond a slight rattle on the one with the legshield screws missing.
This could have been at least partly due to the very good reputation Kymco scooters have for reliability – it would have been interesting to see with a larger group of manufacturers what the result would have been. Maybe next time if we can get a few more people to throw sanity to the winds and join us on another Junk Run.
I suspect if you were to make a habit of this you’d be decreasing the life span of the scooter. Vibration, dirt getting into machines with a non sealed CVT, and just general wear and tear would be much higher than with street riding.
Though part of the whole premise of this was to use machines that had sufficiently low resale value that you just didn’t care what happens long term. And also I suspect we can get away with this as an occasional activity just fine. Just don’t remind me that I said that when I break down out in the woods somewhere.
So all in all – I think we’ll be doing this again. We’ll have to figure out if we are going to make this a yearly thing, or do it every 2 years so as to not interfere with our scooter entries into the Mad Bastard Scooter Rally, but we’re aiming to do another one.
And next time might be more lengthy. And possibly more challenging.
Because while we’ve pumbed the depths of stupidity, we don’t seem to have hit the absolutely bottom as yet.
Below are a couple of teaser videos from the day.