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ADV EventsThe Hammer Run: Dual Sport Riding ‘The Jersey Way’

The Hammer Run: Dual Sport Riding ‘The Jersey Way’

 We do dual sport rides a little different here in New Jersey, Capiche?

Published on 01.16.2020

Fair warning you may want to read this with a New Jersey (fake Italian) accent while wearing a velour tracksuit.

Do you remember the scene in Good Fella’s when Ray Liotta’s character is describing what it’s like to go into business with Paulie (the big guy)?

Trouble with cops? He can go to Paulie. Deliveries? Paulie will handle it. But now the guy’s gotta come up with Paulie’s money every week, no matter what. Business Bad? F-You, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? F-You. Pay me. Got hit by lightning, huh? FYPM!


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The Hammer Run (The Hammer) kinda operates like that too. Don’t know where to ride off-road in NJ? You can go to The Hammer. Want to ride hundreds of miles of singletrack? The Hammer. But now you gotta play by their rules to attend. Didn’t sign up in time? Not my problem. Oh, you lost your confirmation email and QR code (which I did, but thankfully, took a photo of with my phone!)? Not my problem. Don’t have a license plate? Not my problem (NMP).

Kicking off The Hammer was a mad dash to get an online ticket months in advance. This year the two-day ride sold out in under 10 minutes, and I watched it happen in real-time! Imagine if Bruce Springsteen decided to play a private show at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. I couldn’t text my riding friends fast enough to get their one of 600 tickets, and some of them didn’t, not my problemo pal. This is the Hammer.

You might be asking yourself, “New Jersey? The most densely populated state in the country? The state that gave birth to the The Sopranos? Isn’t that the state pork roll (Taylor Ham) comes from?” Yup, we’re the same state that hosted ISDE qualifiers in 1975 and 1977, the Hammer Run was awarded the AMA Event of the Year in 2017 right here in the Garden State, and we got Mike Lafferty. Who’s Mike? Eight-Time National Enduro Champion Mike Lafferty, and The Hammer Run goes through some of his New Jersey training grounds too.

Getting prepared for the Hammer Run
License plates don’t even stay on bikes during the run so I had mine mounted to my backpack.

Right, so now that you’re up to speed on NJ a bit, let’s talk about the ride. I show up in Port Elizabeth Saturday morning, my bike and gear were loaded up Friday. A few tough guys camp out Friday and Saturday night, but it’s the first weekend in November here in NJ and bikes that were in the field the night before are frosted over in the morning. Anyone without a camper usually arrives the morning of and gets a hotel room for Saturday night. Why not camp? Cause we ain’t here to make new friends, we’re just here to ride with the old ones.

The riders’ meeting is held off the back of an old fire truck that doubles as a kegerator (it literally has beer taps coming out the side of it). The announcements are standard issue for NJ. “Don’t Ruin the Ride.” The big man runs down a laundry list of things not to do, and for a good reason; this is sacred (usable) ground, and we don’t want to lose it because someone wants to have too much fun – cause once you lose it, you lose it forever.

Rider meeting at the Hammer Run

Going through the start checkpoint with your riding crew is the way every Hammer Run starts. That doesn’t mean it’s going to end or even be that way after the first 3 miles of the 100-mile day. At The Hammer Run, you just have to keep it moving. Your buddy crashes, “he’ll live.” Flat tire, “leave em.” Is the guy in front of you going to slow? Just shout at him to move over or rev at him.

This might seem a bit macho, “Jersey Shore” or intimidating to anyone that’s not from the East Coast, but really it’s just how we communicate out here. Direct and to the point, and that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to show respect, but who gets it? Well, for starters, the old-timers do. Usually, they can be spotted wearing vintage enduro gear, sitting down on an old KX or Honda with those late 80’s style rear fenders and straight back kickstands instead of the high fly KTM ones. You don’t get too close to em, you don’t push em, and if you can’t make a clean pass, you ride behind em until they want to slide over for you. It’s just common courtesy and respect.

Trail riding at the Hammer Run

Before we get into the ride, here’s my brief history with the Hammer Run: 2017 I showed up with a Suzuki DR200 and my friend let me borrow his 1st Gen pumper carb’ed KTM 400. It ran better than any bike on the planet for precisely two turns. After that, it ran like crap the rest of the day and beat me to death. That night I slept without exaggeration 13 hours and rode 30 miles the second day on the DR200, then went home.

2018 was a different story. My local shop, Solid Performance KTM, hit me up and let me borrow a bike that was actually a theft recovery from a smash and grab they had early in the year. The bike had been treated horribly as most “wheelie boy” bikes do. Solid went over the 250 XC-W (two-stroke), and it ran better than new. Throughout that ride, I got to trade-off with friends and rode every bike in KTM’s four-stroke line up from 250 EXC-F all the way up to the 500 EXC-F.

A rare opportunity to ride and compare all the KTM four-strokes in one day turned out to be the best thing that could have happened for me that weekend. It shaped what would be the future of my small bike career and ultimately helped me make my decision to buy my KTM 250 EXC-F. Why would anyone that weighs in at 215 pounds without gear and stands 6’2″ tall buy a 250 four-stroke? The terrain for starters or, in our case on the east coast, the trees. Forget about open desert or boulder fields, East of the Mississippi River we trade our wide-open views for switchback turns and trees so tight you have to guess which one will bend and put the bark buster into it!

Wood riding at the Hammer Run

Back to the race… er… the ride. Saturday starts out with two sections of an enduro course. Each about 10 miles long, but when you can’t get out of second gear, it might as well be forever. Some of my crew is still with me, and others have fallen behind. Once you finish a section, you can catch up on your roll chart (analog navigation) and wait for your friends off to the side. If you’re fast, you get a break. If you’re slow… well, at least we let you catch up.

It’s not all survival of the fittest and race mode. If you really need a hand fixing something on your bike or you have a bad crash and honestly need a minute, we’ll pull over for one of our own. Revzilla’s resident fast guy, Spurgeon Dunbar spent the day breaking parts off his 350, and occasionally we’d pull over to help him out with some quick grab tools from my GIVI waist pouch as he dismantled more of his bike than repaired.

Spurgeon Dunbar fixing his bike at the Hammer Run
Revzilla’s resident fast guy Spurgeon Dunbar, spent the day breaking parts off his KTM 350.

Midday, and I’m behind a pack of riders that are just a bit off my pace. I can’t really make a clean pass, so rather than beep, yell and rev my way through ten riders, I take a minute to catch my breath. That’s when the mythical beast Mike Lafferty goes by me a few yards off the trail! I jump on his tail and hold it wide open. He decided to ride his brandy new 2020 KTM 500 XCF-W for Saturday, and like I’ve seen in the years past, he’s not one for waiting behind riders.

In 2018 I was full throttle around a wide-open sand corner on a borrowed 250 EXC-F when all of a sudden, I felt the air pressure change around me. Like being sucked into an air vacuum and having the Hollywood war scene flashback, I couldn’t hear anything for a split second. Followed by the cavitation of air blast as Lafferty went by me on the outside on his 2019 500 EXC-F. He then rode around the rim of a water hole in a wheelie. Touched the front down in a mess of clay cross ruts and lifted the front back up to ride off out of sight at a rate of speed that anyone under “A-Class” enduro rider can’t really comprehend.

Steve Kamrad ripping at the Hammer Run.

I manage to latch on to him this year as he goes by and blazes a trail through the brush. After about 45 seconds of following Mike, I manage to pass 15 riders as we skip three tight turns slightly off the trail. There’s some saying about how riding with people faster than you will make you faster, but I’ve yet to really ride “with” Mike.

Lunch? You mean WAWA? It’s a “Central-East Coast” thing. We have these gas station/convenience stores called WAWA, and if you need something to eat or drink, you can always grab something at the gas stop. At the same time, if you’re having issues with your motorcycle, Solid Performance has a chase truck that makes it to the gas stops and will help you out the best they can. That kind of community engagement goes a long way, and it’s absolutely the reason me, and probably 85% of the field are on KTM’s.

Muddy trails at the Hammer Run

After 70 miles of tight-single track and bark-busting trail-blazing, Spurgeon put his bad knee into a tree. Luckily for him, we’re all feeling a little tired and wait for him to rejoin the group. He comes rolling up; it’s not good. He can’t put any weight on it and has to ride sitting down. Typically he’d be left for dead, but we’re so far behind schedule a sweep rider catches us.

We get him set up with an “easy” way out. Good thing as Jeff (riding buddy) and I rolled into the “Stitches or Bitches” split trail section. Not known for their correctness, the organizers chose these trail names. But it should be noted that no one at the event found them to be offensive. Maybe it’s the East Coast in us all, but hey, plenty of guys took the “bitches” way out. While Liz (another one of the crew) said: “I ain’t no bitch” and rode out the hard way.

Stitches or Bitches sign at the Hammer Run

Back at the parking lot, we all have a few beers, and I book my hotel room after I lock my bike up so it can spend the night in the field. The Hammer offers a spaghetti dinner on Saturday night with plenty of sauce (sauuuce), but we usually opt for dinner in town and some drinks. Spurgeon was talking about a triumphant return tomorrow, but we all knew that wasn’t happening.

Sunday morning hits, and the bikes are frozen over again. No big deal as this is as mild as the winter’s going to be here in Jersey. We all decided to head down to Solid’s vendor tent to group up before riding. Spurgeon shows up (limping) with donuts, hoping we won’t beat him up verbally too bad for sitting Sunday out. After a few “on your knees too much?” jokes get tossed around, we let him off the hook since he is genuinely hurt. That’s when Lafferty busts out the big guns. His KTM 790 Adventure R with a WP “A-kit.” That’s cone valve forks and XPLOR-pro rear shock with an extra 30mm of suspension travel, along with a set of skinny 690 Enduro rims laced to the hubs so he can run a bib mousses!

Mike Lafferty getting suspension dialed at on his KTM 790 Adventure R the Hammer Run
Eight time National Enduro Champion, Mike Lafferty rolled up on his KTM 790 Adventure R, sporting an extra 30mm of suspension travel and a set of skinny 690 Enduro rims running bib mousses.

While Mike gets his suspension rear sag height set on his 790R, we even leave him behind. It doesn’t take long for him to catch up though, as he runs us down in the second “enduro” section of the day. I turn on the tractor beam and get behind him for a while. I’m sure he wasn’t going nearly as fast as he could, but I run 9 outta 10 to keep up. We ride together for a few miles, and he is running a pace that I couldn’t set on my 250 if I was out front.

As a mid-to-front of the pack C-vet class rider, I was finally able to learn something from Lafferty as his 200+ pound bike handicap allowed me to finally keep up. Watching him run enough trail brake to slow down but not stall the engine and his sit down/over the front body positioning improved my riding in just a few turns. Taking wider lines and using the whole trail helped me to understand where I was losing time.

Mike Lafferty ripping on the 790 Adventure R
Mike Lafferty busted out the big guns ripping on his fully-dialed KTM 790 Adventure R.

Losing time happens for a lot of reasons, and I fell victim to one of my most common. Overriding myself, I hit neutral in the middle of a turn. Then in a moment of frustration, I override the bike and run a corner wide, and just like that, a 790 walks away from me on a dirt bike in some of the tightest woods NJ has to offer.

The Hammer Run goes through a lot of private property, and that’s one of the things the organizers really drive home at the rider’s meeting. “Don’t even think about riding it again.” It’s also why we aren’t allowed to video the ride with helmet cams. That and the tree huggers (environmentalists) will use it against the organization any way they can.

Two of the private land sections are grass tracks. I didn’t have time to take photos, but if you use your imagination, you’ll be just fine. My favorite section is a Christmas Tree Farm, and it is a riot with friends. Green grass with brown dirt ruts cuts a path snaking its way through a maze of pine trees. Some sections are so tight your arms get battered back and forth, and the only way you make it out straight is to hold the throttle open and keep going.

The last section of the day and I go into it with my buddy Jeff behind me, and we’re pushing the pace a little bit. Most of the trails at the Hammer are sandy with some dirt mixed in, but the last trail is more dirt with tree roots. I make a mistake and end up losing the front, crashing and sliding into a tree. Jeff actually has to help me pick up my bike as my body is shutting down at this point from exhaustion and general pain all over.

Back at the parking lot where The Hammer Run starts and ends, we get out of our sweaty, wet, cold gear and crack open a cold beer to ‘cheers’ the day with. At the kitchen, they have a spicy meatball (you have to hold your hand in that way with your thumb and fingers pressed together and say “ahh spie-see meat-ah-ball) and potato soup that signifies the end of another year.

I want to take a moment to thank the organizers, the sweep riders, the family members in the kitchen, and just everyone who helps keep the rides and enduro racing going in NJ. If you want to attend The Hammer Run, keep an eye out in the AMA magazine and website, but do me a favor and don’t tell anybody I sent ya, Capiche?

Photos by Spurgeon Dunbar, Jeff Kiniery, Liz Kiniery, and Steve Kamrad

Author: Steve Kamrad

Steve has been labeled as a “Hired Gun” by one of the largest special interest publishing groups in America. His main focus now is video content creation as a “Shreditor” (thats shooter, producer, editor all in one nice, neat, run and gun package). If he’s not out competing in a NASA Rally Race you can find him on the East Coast leading around a rowdy group of ADV riders. Some say Steve_Kamrad has the best job in the world but he’s not in it for the money. He’s a gun for hire that can’t be bought and that’s the way we like him.

Author: Steve Kamrad
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