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ADV EventsBMW MOA Rally: Exploring the Crossroads Of The West

BMW MOA Rally: Exploring the Crossroads Of The West

 More than 4,200 riders braved the heat for a weekend of discovery and fun.

Published on 08.14.2017
Many interesting bike builds made an appearance at this year's BMW MOA rally like this 'baby GS' by Skunkwerks Moto.

Everyone has their reason for going to a motorcycle rally. And they vary so widely that you can find one just about every weekend of the year. Some want to see crowds of bikes and customs, others go to see new products on the market, others still go just to see their friends. A gathering of like-minded people is something special and the BMW MOA Rally is no different… but it’s also quite different from the rest.

North Bound

As an annual event that changes locations every year, I don’t always go to to this one. But having recently picked up a BMW sport touring machine, I was in the market for some lederhosen and a couple of brats. Instead I got beer with 3.2% alcohol and some terrific Polynesian meals from the food trucks on site. The rest of the event was pure BMW.

With the need to ride nearly 2,000 miles to a rally in Salt Lake City, came the opportunity to test ride the 2018 Suzuki V-Strom 1000XT, so Senior Editor Rob Dabney and I loaded up for camping and took off a day early. He took this opportunity to test the new BMW R1200GS Rallye and left me to ride the Japanese bike to a German party. I think we got this backwards.

BMW MOA Rally 2017 testing Suzuki V-strom 1000 and BMW R1200GS Rallye
We took the opportunity to get in some testing on our Suzuki V-Strom 1000XT and BMW R1200GS Rallye during the roughly 2,000-mile journey between Los Angeles, California and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Gigantic Good Times


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The BMW MOA Rally is a gathering of all types of BMW motorcycles but GS Riders dominate the event — roughly three out of four bikes at the rally are GSs. While one would expect to find new throttle locks, parking assistants and lighting kits on display at such an event, no one really expects to see riders willingly destroy themselves, as well as their bikes, on a temporary obstacle course built for exactly that purpose. Destruction.

The GS Giants is a virtual club that meets at rallies like this one to challenge their riders, specifically those on GSs, to clear a trials-style course in straight-up, timed and pointed competition. While some of us are smart enough to not even try walking such a course—lest we turn an ankle—others turn their Anakees “wild” and rocket over giant tires, wooden see-saws and through a maze of dizzying wooden tracks laid into the parking lot. Good times were had by all and great prizes given out, including REV’IT! riding suits, Tours to the South American continent and more… maybe I’ll try it next time. Although I don’t think my K1300GT would make it through the first sand pit… so maybe I won’t.

BMW MOA Rally 2017
The obstacle course was open to anyone interested in testing their riding skills on a big bike. Just sign the waiver!
BMW MOA Rally 2017
Adding AltRider crash bars and skid plate helped eliminate concerns about inflicting damage to our BMW R1200GS Rallye test bike on the obstacle course.

Kit and Kaboodle

Spread throughout the fairgrounds were dozens of motorcycle product vendors offering aftermarket BMW parts tip to tail, and tour companies from just about every major destination on Earth.

Some of the newest stuff (to me) were the (ironically) tire pressure monitors from Cyclops Adventure Sports — built into valve caps and usable for any and every motorcycle, not just BMW’s.

TurnCycle was showing its motorcycle Lazy Suzan—available in two sizes—and impressing us with the idea that has been around since long ago. Designed much like the turnstiles used to turn around railway cars at the end of the line, this dual-layer steel plate can hold up to 1,000 pounds and offers the ability to park your bike (on the centerstand, on top of this plate) and spin it around. No more tip-toe backing out of the garage. Now you can launch out like Evel Knievel.

BMW MOA 2017 Rally
The TurnCycle lets you spin around your bike in the garage on this wheel like a Lazy Susan.

Helite Moto was displaying their line of airbag vests and jackets. We caught a quick—0.00007 seconds to inflate—demonstration of their system in the main hall. Sold as a vest, or integrated into a line of jackets (cruiser, adventure, etc.). Each inflation uses just one CO2 cartridge and doesn’t require expensive repacking after use. They’re bringing motorcycle safety to the next level.

Atlas throttle locks was there representing their latest updated product. With now a larger, toggled engagement switch… feels smoother too. If you’re riding a low-tech motorcycle, and need to give your wrists a rest on occasion, here’s a smart and solid solution that doesn’t slip off the bar end or snap in two when you install it.

Scorpion had their modular ADV helmet on site, the EXO-AT950, loaded with functionality at an affordable price.

BMW MOA 2017 Rally
The Atlas Throttle Lock puts a simple cruise control system on bikes that don’t come with it from the factory.
BMW MOA 2017 Rally
Scorpion’s flip-up modular helmet comes with drop-down sun shade and a KwikWick II anti-microbial liner all for less than $300.

And here’s something you’ll notice more often after I tell you, Redverz appears to dominate the tenting scene at a MOA Rally, with seemingly every third tent at the event capable of housing a motorcycle as well as your personal kit. Ironically, the groundskeepers put the ki-bosh on the whole idea of parking our bikes in the grass, leaving many with acres of extra sleeping room.

For the rides you take, when you want to take less, Redverz now has a new model, the 4-season 2-person Hawk II. While this one doesn’t fit your bike inside of it, it does have 28 square feet of space, fitting nicely between a backpacking tent and the Atacama Expedition hotel-sized product. It might be the right one for you.

Tourism for Wanderers

If, instead, your bike is fully dialed in and you need someplace to go other than to the annual MOA gatherings, start with a MOA Rally and bring your sitting pants. Not only will you find new crash bars for your bike, tour companies around the world will be vying for your attention with slideshows and lectures about riding in exotic lands.

I just learned that my bucket list has now grown a few lines this weekend. Adventure 57 and Elephant Moto will have you covered in Colombia, and Christopher Baker will show you around Cuba with RTW Moto Tours. You’ll learn more about this charming Caribbean island than you know about your own country riding with Chris. He wrote the book on Cuba, literally. Having already authored three tour books on the country for Moon, National Geographic and Eyewitness guides.

BMW MOA Rally 2017 maps

Adriatic Moto Tours showed us around the former Yugoslavia, made me want to go back and ride it this time! And MotoAdvenTours has me convinced that I need to add South Africa to my destination list, if not merely to photograph the “Big Five” game animals—African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, and Rhinoceros—then to see Victoria Falls. CNN calls it one of the seven natural wonders of the world, that’s a good tip.

And perhaps more local to you might just be one of AltRider’s ride events. Part rally, part tour, they put on three shows each year, one in the Pacific Northwest, one in Pennsylvania and their most-popular one in Pahrump, Nevada.

Evening Adventures

BMW MOA Rally 2017 live entertainment

When the late-sun finally set at 9:30pm, many attendees hit the pillows. But many others were gathered in the beer garden for some camaraderie and live music on the South Plaza Stage. Rockabilly, Swing and Country Boogie tunes from six different live bands had us dancing and laughing well into the night. We had a great time talking shop about motorcycles and travel with new and old friends from around the world, but one thing I still couldn’t figure out before I left Salt Lake; What’s with the inflatable sheep?!

BMW MOA Rally 2017 live entertainment

South Bound

The ride home went as they often do. Knowing that the next destination is much closer to home, and the “the real world” awaits, makes the retreat far less interesting than the approach. Problems tend to arise, and pain is inevitable. No one ever wants to go home.

In our case however, we psyched ourselves up by planning a little sidebar trail-ride to break up the slog along the freeway. Things don’t always turn out as you expect them to however.

BMW MOA Rally Riding the Trails in Utah

Looking at the map, we found a spur trail that ran a North-South ridge line and would have returned us back to the 15 Freeway were it not for the trail closures. At nearly 11,000 feet, there’s still snow on the ground, so much so, we were (fortunately) forced onto a technical ATV trail to avoid back tracking. That’s where the adventure truly began for this tour of duty!

Fifty inches wide, we tackled the rutted, loose gravel and dirt mix trail with our fully-loaded, oversized dual sports. But the trail didn’t win. We took that all the way down to the eastern valley floor, where we then added nearly 100 miles to our day over all.

BMW MOA 2017 Rally Suzuki V-strom-1000-xt
Several feet of snow blocked our path for miles at the top of the nearly 11,000-foot pass.

Sadly, however, we needed to get back home fast, which meant it was a straight shot for us at that point, all the way to LA. Almost 900 miles later, our unintended near-iron butt ride was brutal. Karma bites back… be aware! In the end however, riding the Arpeen Trail, seeing all our wayward and industry friends at the rally, and to see the beauty of Utah made it all worth it.

All told, there were roughly 4,200 people in attendance over the weekend—reportedly down from previous year’s attendance, perhaps do to the heat—but collectively they still managed to gather more than $6,000 for this year’s chosen charity, Tom Larson’s Motorcycle Relief Project. Good folks, doing good things for motorcycle-riding veterans. Next year’s MOA Rally will be in Des Moines, Iowa… hope to see you there, even if you don’t have a BMW to ride! Remember it’s not what you ride, it’s that you ride.

Photos by Alfonse Palaima

Author: Alfonse Palaima

When not in Los Angeles hiding from society, Alfonse is far, far away from home, collecting passport stamps and slicing through traffic on two wheels with a smile on his face. Slowly rounding the world one country at at time, riding countless miles, on countless motorcycles, covering 6 of the 7 continents so far. While he is a rider like you and I, he has also been a moto journalist in the field since 2003.

Author: Alfonse Palaima
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