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ADV RidesDoing the LA Barstow to Vegas Ride on Big Bikes

Doing the LA Barstow to Vegas Ride on Big Bikes

 Tough trails make the LAB2V a challenge for riders on Big Adventure Bikes.

Published on 12.29.2014
(Courtesy 'Photos By Grumpy')

The LA Barstow to Vegas Ride is a long-running tradition for dual sport riders in Southern California. Each year, more than 500 riders rise early the day after Thanksgiving to take part in this historic two-day organized dual sport ride. It’s a 450-mile journey that tests man and machine through hostile terrain, but it’s also an opportunity to enjoy the desolate beauty of the Mojave Desert.

As a fully supported ride, the organizers carry all of your gear to your hotel each night and also provide sweeper trucks that will pick your bike up on the trail should you break down or get injured. Routes are marked by difficulty level and a number of bail out points allow you to choose the intensity level of your ride. After completing 2-days of torturous trails, you get to celebrate in party central, Las Vegas!

Most participants in the LA Barstow to Vegas (LAB2V) choose smaller Dual Sport motorcycles in the 450cc range because of the difficulty of the terrain, but an increasing number of riders are joining the fun on big Adventure Bikes. The deep sand, rocks and dusty trails make the LAB2V a challenge for any motorcycle but for heavier Adventure Bikes in the 800cc range and larger, it’s a true test of skill.


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We last rode the LA Barstow to Vegas years ago on lightweight KTM 640 Adventures. This year our group rode a mixture of Adventure Bikes in the 800cc to 1000cc range for an even bigger challenge. Our photographer Bill Lieras was also present, riding his KLR650, fresh off completing RawHyde’s Intro to Adventure Off-Road Training weekend.

For this year’s LAB2V, we had a few delays in the morning and got off to a late start. Long registration lines, loading GPS and setting up roll charts always takes longer than expected. Our late start meant we were riding in the dust of the more than 500 participants in front of us. Just as we were getting settled into a rhythm, we soon encountered our first set of big whoops. Immediately we noticed the difficulty level seemed higher than previous years, now that we were riding heavier bikes. Even trails marked as “Easy” included giant whoops and deep sand, which was a shock for some of the less experienced riders in our group.

At around noon, a couple of us split off from the group to ride one of the sections marked “hard” on the course notes. This took us through a sandy wash into Red Rock Canyon State Park near Ridgecrest, CA. The heavy bikes lumbered through the deep sand and it took considerable effort to make it through.

sandy wash jagged rocks.
This hard section on day one went through a sandy wash with jagged rocks.

At one point, I thought my eyes were deceiving me when up ahead I glimpsed a group of scooters riding in the wash. To my surprise it was no mirage and we soon caught up to a group dressed in vintage costumes riding scooters fitted with knobby tires. We stopped for a moment to chat and have a few laughs with our new friends. We couldn’t help but admire their ambition and sense of adventure as we carried on past them.

Finally, we exited the sandy wash but our next obstacle was no less challenging. A large rocky hill climb lay before us with no way around it. As we arrived at the bottom of the hill, a KTM 450 rider made it to the top without much effort. However, his friend on an older Honda XR600 took a bad fall trying to follow in his footsteps. We jumped to his aid and helped him get his bike upright again. The rider was uninjured but this only made the hill look more intimidating.

Just as we were about to make an attempt at the hill climb, the scooters caught up to us. We decided to wait to see how they would do on the hill before proceeding. The first scooter got about one quarter of the way up the hill before he jumped off to the side and started pushing the scooter up the hill like a bicycle. Throttle wide open with a few friends pushing behind, he was finally able to make it up the hill after about 10 minutes or so.

scooter goes up hill climb with knobby tires
A scooter pilot gathers his speed for a hill climb in Red Rock Canyon State Park.
Red Rock Canyon State Park Hill Climb
This hill climb in Red Rock Canyon State Park was a bit of a challenge for bigger bikes.

After making it up the hill climb with no incidents of our own, we continued on toward the town of Ridgecrest for lunch. Along the way, we encountered amazing desert vistas that carried on for miles, free of any signs of civilization. In Ridgecrest, it was difficult to gather everyone in our group together for lunch and by the time we finished, it was so late that we lost our opportunity to ride the last 100 mile section of dirt. For safety reasons, the organizers now close off the trails a few hours before dark, so we were forced to ride into town on the highway. We ended the night in Barstow with delicious Mexican food and a few Margaritas at Los Domingos Restaurant.

Day two we were up at 5:00 AM ready to get an early start so we wouldn’t miss any of the dirt tracks. We decided to skip the first hard section to ensure we would get an opportunity to ride through picturesque Red Rock Canyon in Nevada. We were on the trail by 7:00 AM and the Sun was just beginning to peer over the mountains as we rode directly toward the sunrise. It was extremely difficult riding through deep sand and whoops with the heavy dust and sun shining in our eyes.

Bill newbie off-road rider.
Cameraman Bill had plenty of opportunities to test his new riding skills on the 2-day ride to Las Vegas.

We made good progress once the terrain opened up and the riders began to spread out. Our big Adventure Bikes now felt like they were in their element and we were passing smaller dual sport bikes left and right. As speeds picked up and the trail got rockier, on a few occasions I heard the distinctive ping noise of a solid rock coming into contact with the front rim.

powerline road

While pulling over to gather our group, I noticed two large dings in the front rim. As I inspected my bike for more damage, a rider made a beeline toward me and waived his hand to get my attention. He asked if I had been riding with a guy on a blue BMW F800GS and went on to explain that our friend had a bad get off a few miles back. He said the rider was uninjured except for a few sore ribs but he had destroyed his bike and was unable to continue.

I headed back cautiously several miles on the trail, making sure to stay to the far right and keep out of the way of any oncoming riders. I soon came upon the scene of the accident and saw ADV Pulse contributor Mike Massucco sitting on the side of the road next to his broken bike. I learned that Mike had been pushing the pace too hard and had an impact with a hidden rock lodged solidly in the ground. This sent him flying over the handlebars tumbling across the ground. If that wasn’t enough, the nearly 500 pound machine was tossed through the air and landed right on Mike as he braced himself for impact.

Wearing full motocross gear helped save him from any serious injuries. However, the bike was not so lucky. He’d bent the front rim well beyond the point of repair. The rim was bent in so deeply that it nearly impacted his brake rotors. He also snapped his steering shaft and blew out his top triple clamp. The amount of damage was surprising and it looked more like he’d hit a wall than a rock.

giant ding in rim
A rider in our group on a BMW F800GS encountered a hidden rock on the trail. The impact completely destroyed his rim and nearly pushed through to the brake discs.
broken steering f800GS
The impact with the rock also snapped the steering shaft and blew out the top triple clamp, ending our ride prematurely.

After waiting several hours, we got the bike picked up by one of the sweeper trucks and eventually put onto a friend’s trailer. We were sad our day ended prematurely but happy no one got seriously injured. We continued on to Las Vegas knowing there’d be a big party when we arrived. Some good food and beers with friends would be all we’d need to brighten up our spirits.

lab2v trail sweepers
Trail sweepers help ensure you get your bike off the trail should a mishap occur.

As expected, the LA Barstow to Vegas Ride on Big Adventure bikes was a true test of skill and endurance. Our experience reminded us that if you try to ride a big Adventure Bike like it’s a motocross bike, your day is likely to end badly. It’s important to always respect the weight and power of these incredible machines and understand their limits if pushed too hard off-road. Despite our little mishap, we had a great time riding the LAB2V on our Big Bikes and we left inspired to come back next year to do it again. Until next year!

For more information about the LA Barstow to Vegas go to their official website.

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Author: Rob Dabney
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8 thoughts on “Doing the LA Barstow to Vegas Ride on Big Bikes

    • Hey Mike. This is definitely harder than the Hooked on Phoenix ride, especially if you take the hard routes. If you are riding a small bike and you are an experienced rider, it’s not so bad. There are some deep sand and whoops sections that go on for miles though. Also some gnarly hill climbs on the hard sections. Most of these difficult parts can be bypassed though if you want to avoid them.

    • Hey James. Congrats on your accomplishment! Finishing all the hard routes on a Big Bike is definitely doable if you are a skilled rider and you get an early start. Also, small groups help to reduce the chance of delays from flats. It’s not a race but you need to stay consistently on pace and avoid unnecessary stops if you want to finish all the hard routes before it gets dark. This year our intention was to introduce some of our friends of various skill levels to the LAB2V, so our goal was to just go out and have some fun. But I think for even skilled riders this is challenging stuff on a big bike.

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