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ADV BikesTackling The Infamous Big Bear Run On Big Bikes

Tackling The Infamous Big Bear Run On Big Bikes

 The tiger, the twin, and the “Easy” route.

Published on 07.12.2018

I showed up to the ADV Pulse headquarters in Southern California Friday afternoon excited because the next two days Senior Editor Rob Dabney and I would be riding Big Bikes, in the mountains of SoCal, for the 24th annual Big Bear Run AMA Dual Sport Ride.

After promptly packing and loading our small luggage onto the bikes, I hopped on the 2018 Honda Africa Twin, and Rob chose the pearly-white 2018 Triumph Tiger 800 XCa. We planned on switching bikes the following day for comparison and to allow extended seat-time on each bike. As we split lanes headed towards Big Bear, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Looking back at the time, I was pleasantly unaware that the Big Bear Run is considered one of the most difficult, if not the most grueling dual-sport rides put on by the AMA.

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Motorcycle rocky uphill
Our weapons for the Big Bear Run — the Triumph Tiger 800 XCa and the Honda Africa Twin with DCT.

Pick Your Poison…or Not

We arrived a bit late to the convention center meeting point but still managed to catch a little bit of the rider briefing by the friendly event staff. We learned that there are three route options available, depending on your skill set: the ‘Hard Way’, the ‘Easy’ route, and an ‘Adventure’ route that was intended for the ADV bikes. Keep in mind that the easy and hard routes are intended for small bikes, whereas the ADV bike route, was a combination of dirt/street. After checking in, we got our GPS tracks and maps, then headed to the motel for some much needed sleep before the early day tomorrow.


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Early the next morning, groups of skinny bikes were exiting the parking lot in a steady flow after clocking in at 6am with a total number of 279 riders enrolled in the event. Many of these riders were attempting the “hard way”, which, to describe it as technical and difficult would be a massive understatement. Quinn Cody tried the hard route last year on a specially prepped 1190 ADV R and broke the bike in the process during the first half of the ride. Let’s just say that it is over 200 miles of bone crushing, wheel bending, soul crushing, bash plate twisting, mettle-testing network of trails around the Big Bear area. Out of the 150 riders who attempted the ‘hard way’ only 29 riders finished! The advanced riders who chose the hard way took between 10 and 12 hours to complete the course, with a few riders barely making the 12 hour time limit. It isn’t a race, but the relatively few successful finishers receive a rare and coveted plaque of accomplishment.

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Motorcycle rocky uphill
A little taste of the routes at this year’s Big Bear Run – one of the toughest Dual Sport rides on the AMA circuit. Our big bikes surely had their work cut out for them.

The “Easy” Route

Before we took off for our ride, we decided to get some breakfast and to discuss the day. It was a neat little café embedded in the local airport, overlooking the runway. Breakfast was great, and our Russian waitress was very curious and blessed our trip. Thank you for the good juju, we (read, I) was going to need it today. I was going to need her blessing because Rob had chosen for us to take the ‘easy’ route. Keep in mind that for me, there had never been a more inappropriate use of the word ‘easy’ before this moment. Das Vadanya, Lady, Rob’s apparently trying to kill me.

We hit the trail by 8 AM. We both were feeling great and our pace was good. The terrain was difficult, I’m not going to lie. Rocks everywhere, boulders everywhere, stone ledges to go up and down, and challenging, technical hill climbs that led to epic vistas.

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Motorcycle rocky uphill

We managed to pass a few skinny dirt bikes in the first half of the day, but we may have been a little too exuberant with our pace in the beginning, and I was starting to feel it. Around noon I was getting fatigued and I’d already consumed all of my water. I know that if we weren’t going so quickly, and if I wasn’t so fatigued, I would have been able to enjoy more of the beautiful scenery this area has to offer. Around noon, I fueled up on some much needed sugar and beef jerky, refilled my hydration pack, and got my second wind.

Putting the stock WP suspension to work on the Tiger 800 XCa #bigbearrun

We were only half way through the day and it was around this time that we decided to pace ourselves a bit better to conserve our quickly-depleting energy… Wrestling around a 500+ pound motorcycle all day can be exhausting. Especially on a trail that was designed for smaller dirt bikes. I probably wouldn’t have attempted many of these trails on my own, especially on a big adventure bike, but Rob was a great barometer to demonstrate whether or not something could be done at all. Watching him take the Triumph Tiger 800 in places that I know very few riders would even attempt, gave me on the Africa Twin the confidence to follow on the most technical of trails.

The DCT-equipped Africa Twin is a very capable motorcycle off-road. The suspension is compliant and sure-footed, albeit a tad soft. Throughout the day, I was pushing the Africa Twin hard and it handled everything I threw at it, I was impressed with the AT’s ability to be poised in the rough stuff yet tough enough to take a beating when commitment was the only way through some of the tricky black-diamond trails. Its ABS system (rear brake can be deactivated, but front-end ABS remains active at all times) negotiated sandy and rocky downhill descents perfectly and admittedly saved my ass from going down more than a few times through the day. The Africa Twin DCT makes you a better rider and I was happy to experience it firsthand on such rough terrain. A true torture test for both bikes…

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Motorcycle rocky uphill

The sun was settling down a bit by 4pm but it was still hot. I was wondering just how much further we had left to go. I was beat. We had been motoring for about 8 hours or 100 miles by this point. Rob reassured me that we were on the “home stretch.” I didn’t lead on at the time, but I was very happy to hear him say that. The Africa Twin and I mustered up some more energy and pressed on. We hit some glorious pavement a few minutes after that and I was able to catch a breather for a few miles thinking that this was the tarmac that will lead us into town for the conclusion of the day’s ride. Apparently Rob’s “home stretch” involves about 47 miles of the toughest trails and downhill single track that I’ve ridden on a big bike. Rob must live in a rough neighborhood but we agreed that he wasn’t going to use the words “easy” or “home stretch” anymore.

Big Bear Run Dual Sport Motorcycle Ride
This KTM rider went down a cliff but was uninjured. He had more than a dozen strangers stop to help him get back on the trail.

We rolled in to the convention center around 7:30 pm. Definitely tired, definitely hungry, definitely exhilarated from a day of very special riding, and on the Africa Twin that I enjoyed very much. But now it was time to take a shower, and get some dinner provided by the organizers.

During the dinner, they gave away the plaques for the hard way finishers, raffled some great products from the event sponsors, and told some stories about what took place that day. We learned the fastest rider made it through the hard route in 9 hours 5 minutes and the oldest hard route finisher was 68 years old!

Big Bear Trail Riders Club President Jim and VP Miguel were affable and receptive to all of the riders. They were especially impressed with us taking our big bikes on the easy route, and they cheerfully admitted that the ‘easy’ route may need to be more accurately named. As far as they knew, we were the only two riders to complete the easy route on Big Bikes.

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Motorcycle rocky uphill

Time to head back to the hotel for some much needed rest for tomorrow, when we’ll be swapping bikes and doing much of the same. Although the Sunday route is meant to be a more casual ride for those who did Saturday’s Hard Route, it’s still on par with the easy route in terms of difficulty.

Round Two

The next morning we both felt great after a good night’s sleep. We geared up and swapped bike keys. Where the Honda has a softer, plusher ride that is capable of absorbing bigger hits, it is immediately apparent that the new Triumph Tiger has a firmer more precise handling feel. The stock factory WP suspension is more taut and communicative than the Honda, both on and off the tarmac. The Tiger’s 800cc triple revs like a sport bike, pulls like a twin, and sounds so good you don’t want to shift gears. It has similar capability to the Africa Twin off-road and a huge improvement from previous Tiger iterations. My impression of the Tiger grew even stronger after doing a back-to-back evaluation of both bikes, especially being able to test them in such tough conditions. Kudos to both bikes, but the Triumph gives me the feels.

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Motorcycle rocky uphill
My gloves gave out half way through the first day of riding. Perhaps it was my death grip on the bars?

Our second day of riding was cut short when our luck ran out on one of the black diamond trails when the AT’s foot peg sheared off on a malicious boulder. Rob fashioned a makeshift foot peg from a pair of needle-nosed vice-gripping pliers and was able to ride to the pavement then subsequently home.

Pictures only show a fraction of the beauty and technicality of the area. I was most impressed with the people behind the Big Bear Trail Riders motorcycle club and the ride they put on. Jim, Miguel, all the staff, and fellow riders truly made this a memorable event. If you ride off-road, and you love dual sporting, whether it be on a skinny bike or big bike, you should definitely consider putting the Big Bear Run on your calendar. Hope to see you there next year!

Author: Sharif Massoud

Sharif has been a 911 paramedic since 2001 and has worked for both Ventura and Los Angeles counties. As a paramedic, his duties have allowed him to work in an ambulance, SAR Helicopter and motorcycle detail. He is currently a sweep-rider and head paramedic for RawHyde Adventures, and is also a Clinical Instructor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Author: Sharif Massoud
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8 thoughts on “Tackling The Infamous Big Bear Run On Big Bikes

  1. Camel ADV makes a nice foot peg brace that’s definitely a necessity if you’re going to beat the AT off road. Take a look at how he durability tests them, it’s a video on his page.

    Great write up, impressive! Great job to both of you and the bikes!

  2. You did an excellent job riding a very challenging event! I’m glad you always stayed in front of us (Adventure Route Sweep two up on the 500 CBX). I’m thinking there should be a more exacting description for “easy or adventure” routes, truly it’s one of the few tough big bike AMA events. Kudos to the Big Bear Trail Riders for this event, and your persistence to finish!

  3. We did a BDR Oregon route recently — me on a 2013 Tiger 800 xc — that was similar for endless rocks. Even our most experienced riders said those we the most rocks they’d ever ridden in.