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ADV RidesLA Barstow to Vegas: No Dust No Glory

LA Barstow to Vegas: No Dust No Glory

 The famous 400-mile dual sport ride never disappoints with thrills and spills!

Published on 12.15.2017

They were lined up outside a motorcycle dealership in Southern California, hundreds of them before dawn on the day after Thanksgiving. Not Black Friday shoppers trying to get door buster deals on electronics; these were hard-core dirt riders looking to make it from Los Angeles through Barstow and on to Vegas the hard way.

Sleepy eyed enthusiasts were waiting to pass tech inspection and then collect their roll chart for navigating the roughly 400 miles of dirt standing between them and bragging rights on the Las Vegas strip. For the most part, it looked like a KTM/Husqvarna ad but all major brands were represented, including a large number of vintage machines and of course a small army of XR650’s.

Los Angeles Barstow to Vegas on Big Bikes
A fresh set of Continental TKC80 knobbies were spooned on for the deep sand. We rode light carrying just tools and camera gear in GIVI soft bags. District 37 carries the rest of your gear to the hotel.

One thing was clear; out of the approximately 600 entrants we were definitely in the minority riding a KTM 1090 and Honda Africa Twin. While both of these bikes are very capable off-road they still tip the scale north of 500 pounds and all that weight can be a handful in deep sand. In fact, sand was the name of the game on this ride and I for one was not looking forward to piloting my Africa Twin through long deep washes but what was my choice? How could we know how difficult the “hard” routes were until we attempted them on these giants?


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As soon as we said goodbye to pavement in Palmdale, it became clear that this was not a scenic dual sport ride. The LA Barstow to Vegas felt more like a desert race thinly veiled as a non-competitive event. You can hardly fault District 37, I can’t think of any organization capable of corralling hundreds of dust crazed riders hell bent on making it to Vegas without touching Interstate 15.

Los Angeles Barstow to Vegas on Big Bikes

Los Angeles Barstow to Vegas on Big Bikes

Stuck in a Cloud of Dust

I felt like I had taken a shot of speed that morning with a steady flow of adrenalin pumping through my veins. There is nothing like the blind hubris of dirt bikes plowing into dust clouds with no end in sight. Riders tore along all around me in zero visibility with little regard for life or limb. The route itself was not entirely treacherous but with no way to see where you were going 75% of the time, it’s a wonder more people weren’t injured. In later days, stories surfaced of broken wrists, legs and floating collarbones. With harsh desert conditions reeking havoc on man and machine, nearly one in six did not make it to the bright lights of Vegas.

After about 20 miles the route split and we committed to the first hard section, which turned out to be a seemingly never-ending sand wash. It felt like I was piloting an unruly jet ski in choppy surf as I awkwardly tried to stay afloat. By the time I had made it a few miles in, I was frustrated enough with my slow progress to resort to uncomfortable speeds and the reality that I could crash at any moment. Someone once told me “The faster you go, the faster things happen.” I was keenly aware of this but it wouldn’t save me from a painful reminder in my near future.

Los Angeles Barstow to Vegas on Big Bikes

Things Get a Little Hazy

Around 85 miles into the day, my LAB2V experience changed drastically. Earlier I had been tossed from my bike in a sandy corner and tried to become one with some shrubbery but since then things had been looking up. I finally felt I was getting used to sand (we don’t get a lot of sand in the Pacific North West) when I unceremoniously lost the front end of my Africa Twin at speed. Bracing for impact with my shoulder left me unprepared for the whiplash that propelled my head into the ground. I grunted as my shoulder hit and then saw black as the right side of my head bounced off what I hoped would be a much more forgiving surface.

After that there’s a flash of someone asking if I was alright and next thing I knew I was riding alone through the desert. It felt like someone had flipped a light switch in my mind but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I was separated from my group and unanswered questions started accumulating in my helmet: How long had I been riding? What did I have for lunch? Wait, did I stop for lunch? What really tipped me off that I had sustained a head injury was my inner addict telling me not to forget cigarettes at the next stop even though I haven’t smoked in years.

Los Angeles Barstow to Vegas on Big Bikes

An Early End to My Ride

By the time I made it back to pavement outside Helendale for our lunch stop, I wasn’t sure of much except that I had a concussion and I probably shouldn’t be operating a motorcycle. I had ridden the last 15 or so miles in a quizzical state wondering why I could no longer keep up with my group. When I finally caught up with my patiently waiting friends, my first comment was “I fell somewhere back there but I don’t remember doing it.” Big eyes in my buddy’s helmet indicated that this statement coupled with my strange behavior was cause for concern. I also learned that I knocked off the Sena Prism camera attached to my helmet during the fall and apparently called one of my friends asking him to look for it, but this was all news to me.

Soon after, a group of District 37 EMT sweep riders stopped to see if everything was copacetic and after a short Q and A urged my compatriots to not let me ride because another blow to the head could have much worse ramifications. Thankfully, we had a support vehicle nearby and my AT was loaded on the trailer and I in the passenger seat within 30 minutes. The other riders in our group carried on while we went ahead to meet them in Barstow.

Los Angeles Barstow to Vegas on Big Bikes
Senior Editor Rob Dabney pushing the KTM 1090 Adventure R through the deep sand.

Hunkered down in Barstow for the night, most riders opted for matinee dinners and early dates with motel beds. Some of the more grizzled entrants opted for strong drinks and entertainment on what is probably the wildest night this desert outpost sees all year. Rouge dirt bikes could be heard tearing through the streets and small work parties could be found in any hotel parking lot. Jaywalking across historic route 66 with my head still reeling, I tried to process the days events and make sense of the sheer magnitude of this event and what I would be missing the following day.

Los Angeles Barstow to Vegas on Big Bikes
Ride too slow on a big bike in the soft sand of the LAB2V and this can happen.
Los Angeles Barstow to Vegas on Big Bikes
Free couch anyone? Unfortunately you always have to keep an eye out for garbage dumped on the trail, especially with limited visibility in the dust.

Saturday morning the metallic clatter of dirt bike engines before first light made for frantic energy in the air. Knobby tires slapped pavement as riders clamored to get back on dirt. Everyone was moving with purpose because they knew they had a long day ahead. I too was in a bit of a hurry as I had resolved to be a spectator of the highest caliber in lieu of riding. I spent the day chasing dust clouds in the desert intersecting the routes wherever possible.

Aside from the head trauma this was a great way to experience the event, I got to see it from both sides as a rider and spectator. Watching dirt bikes move like desert dogs through the terrain in small packs but endless streams made me feel small. I realized that this many people wouldn’t be out here Thanksgiving weekend for 34 years running if the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.

Los Angeles Barstow to Vegas on Big Bikes

Finish Line on the Vegas Strip!

That day Red Rock Canyon just outside Vegas, was easily the highlight with amazing colors and rock formations (and no more sand!). The technical riding that was within the canyon was a highlight for many of the riders as well. I greeted participants exiting the last section of dirt as they did wheelies and snapped their throttles in celebration. Next stop was the big show and everyone bounded for the Orleans Casino and finish line on their knobby tires.

Chaos reigned as riders trickled in with different degrees of shell shock on their dust-covered faces. Bikes piled up in the loud smoky parking garage of the Orleans Hotel as motorcycles were abandoned in favor of slot machines and cocktails. Santa and one of his showgirls strolled by as someone kick started a stubborn XR650. At this point it was hard to tell if it was the excessive amounts of exhaust smoke or post concussive side effects that were bending my reality. The Orleans seemed like a fitting location for this ride to culminate. With its off the strip attitude, cheap buffet and low rent entertainment, most of these savages felt right at home. The LA Barstow to Vegas crowd blended seamlessly into the dark, tawdry façade of the casino.

Los Angeles Barstow to Vegas on Big Bikes

Later that night, I was off to McCarran Airport and soon Vegas was just a hazy memory. As we gained elevation, I could see traffic stretching all the way to Los Angeles as holiday travelers tried to make it home in gridlock. I got all warm and fuzzy thinking about things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: That I got to participate in this fabled dirt circus known as LA Barstow to Vegas, that I didn’t get hurt worse and most importantly that I wouldn’t have to eat that much dust until I was back for redemption next year.

Photo Gallery

LAB2V: Riding from LA Barstow to Vegas

LAB2V: Riding from LA Barstow to Vegas

LAB2V: Riding from LA Barstow to Vegas

LAB2V: Riding from LA Barstow to Vegas

LAB2V: Riding from LA Barstow to Vegas

LAB2V: Riding from LA Barstow to Vegas

LAB2V: Riding from LA Barstow to Vegas

LAB2V: Riding from LA Barstow to Vegas

LAB2V: Riding from LA Barstow to Vegas

LAB2V: Riding from LA Barstow to Vegas

Photos by Spencer Hill

Author: Spencer Hill

“The Gear Dude” has been fueling his motorcycle addiction with adventure since first swinging his leg over a bike in 2010. Whether he’s exploring his own backyard in the Pacific Northwest or crisscrossing the United States, Spencer is always in search of scenic off-road routes, epic camping locations and the best gear possible. He began writing shortly after taking up two-wheel travel to share his experiences and offer insight with his extensive backpacking, camping and overland background.

Author: Spencer Hill
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7 thoughts on “LA Barstow to Vegas: No Dust No Glory

  1. Looks like a fun ride with one exception — roll charts. I tried to use one of those on a ride once back in Oregon a few years ago and it was a HUGE pain in the ass, to the point that I abandoned the ride and swore to NEVER use one again. It’s time for these rides to come into the 21st century and offer GPS tracks for those who want them.

    • Thankfully they did offer GPS tracks in addition to the roll charts. The only real disadvantage of the GPS tracks is that you miss out on some of the hazards and condition information.

    • It gives an incredible impression of the god like skills the Dakar guys/gals have to do roll charts at speed in way worse conditions then LA to Barstow……..for 2 weeks!! AMAZING!

  2. Thats me in the 4th image down in the orange jacket. I remember seeing two people at the top of that hill in the middle of nowhere taking pictures and wondered who they were and if I’d ever see those shots!