Back in the last decade of the 20th century I took Bob Kornafel on what was to be a Baja pavement ride to San Felipe by way of Tecate and Ensenada. Bob was riding his very clean, vintage 1970’s BMW R100S, complete with street tires and those stock, short handlebars pretty well hidden behind the classic “S” fairing. My mount was a 1979 unfaired Suzuki GS1000E four-cylinder weighing in at somewhere north of 600 pounds, shod with Metzeler pavement rubber.
As Bob and I were heading through Valle de la Trinidad on the way to the desert, Bob waved me to the side of the road and pointed at the Mike’s Sky Ranch sign. He then pointed to the dirt road heading up into the mountains and exclaimed, “I’ve always wanted to see Mike’s Sky Ranch! Do you think we can get there on our street bikes?” I responded, “Well, we’ll have to ride about 45 miles of dirt round trip on a road that usually ain’t in great shape.” My adventurous companion responded, “Let’s give it a go!” Not one to refuse a dare, I agreed but insisted that we first reduce our tire pressure all around, which we did.
Bob and I successfully negotiated the many hazards we encountered on the road to Mike’s and arrived without incident. I was amazed that despite having no dirt riding experience, Bob never bobbled, crashed or tipped over. In my case I was happy to have had years of off-road dirt bike experience under my belt when tackling a road like this.
After snapping a couple of creek crossing pictures just below Mike’s, we rode up the hill and parked next to the motel. I gave Bob the nickel tour of the Ranch before we had lunch. We noticed that not one of the half dozen or so hard-core dirt bikers sitting around ever said a word to us. It made us feel like a couple of YZ-Yamaha sport bike riders at a Harley convention.
After lunch and a quick swim we departed Mike’s, successfully negotiating our return to the pavement, where we aired our tires back up and headed east and south to San Felipe. Even though the paved highway was pretty rough, it felt wonderful compared to the 45 miles of dirt we had just traveled.
Whenever I think of Mike’s Sky Ranch I always remember two rides, this one with Bob Kornafel on what today would be called an ADV bike, and another ride in the mid 1970’s on a sub-300 pound “real” dirt bike with Alan Dietor. Standing only 5½ feet tall and weighing in at 135 pounds, Al was the best dirt bike rider I ever knew. However he greatly enjoyed abusing big guys, the bigger the better. On this particular ride, Al and I parked behind the Pemex station 15 miles east of Tecate near the border. We unloaded the bikes, put on our gear and had the following conversation:
Alan: Well, what road do we want to travel today, Big Guy?
Elden: Your call, Maestro! (I later regretted this comment!)
Alan: Let’s go the Mike’s Sky Ranch for lunch and a swim!
Elden: In one day?
Alan: It’s only about 270 miles round trip.
Elden: Yeah, 270 miles of rocks, sand and bumpy unimproved dirt roads.
Alan: We can do it if we keep the gas on, the average speed up and don’t crash.
Elden: Let’s get going!
I’ve taken more long dirt rides than I care to remember but this one with Al out to Mike’s and back was an energy sapping ordeal. Fortunately we had no flats or crashes that might have delayed us, because without headlights, riding after dark was not an option.
As I mentioned, Al liked to get his jollies whoopin’ on big guys, but I’ve always wondered if he wasn’t just a little bit worried that we may have bitten off more than we could chew that day. But I’ll tell you, no one ever got more out of a teenage horsepower stock XL-250 four stroke engine without blowing it up than I did that day. As they say, all’s well that ends well.
These two rides point to some interesting conclusions. If you ride a heavy ADV bike off-road, your horsepower won’t help you when the going gets challenging. Additionally, you will not be able to cover nearly as much ground as on a lighter dirt bike, and you will spend huge amounts of energy trying to stay upright and moving in the right direction. I can assure you that had Al Dietor and I unloaded a 528 pound KTM 1290 Super Adventure and a 505 pound BMW S1000XR from the trailer that day, we would have stayed on the pavement and headed east to Mexicali for lunch.
If you have one of those expensive, overweight, and overly complex ADV behemoths in your garage, do yourself a favor and remove the semi-knobbies and install good pavement tires. Now you have an excellent road-going sports tourer which is all an ADV bike is anyway: a sports tourer with knobbies.