The Fundy Adventure Rally is this weekend in New Brunswick, and we’ll be there bashing around on adventure bikes and getting dirty again. It’s only been a couple of years since the first Fundy rally, but as part of our series to celebrate two decades of publication, here’s the account of that first rally from (now CMG Editor) Mark Richardson.
As Editor ‘Arris said at the time, Mark made the trek down east from Ontario and teamed up once again with fellow moto hack Costa Mouzouris (Montreal) to revive their Team Death Star from previous Mad Bastard Scooter Rally forays.
The thing is, Mark’s experience off-road is somewhat limited, Costa’s not so much. With 500 km of mixed off-road conditions and only 12 hours in which to complete it in (and a push to win the thing to boot), can our journo duo do it?
Likely you already know the answer but you can follow their attempt at dirt-laced glory at the Fundy Adventure Rally below …
Fundy Adventure Rally
By Mark Richardson
Sussex, N.B.—The Bay of Fundy looks different through a dirt-smeared pair of goggles.
It looks cold and damp and mysterious. The gravel road looks intimidating. And I look worried – not that you can tell through the mist.
My riding partner Costa, up ahead on a BMW motorcycle identical to the press bike I’m on, is making great time, skittering his front wheel over the rocks and ridges of the road. I’m tightening my grip on the bars. We’ve got a long way to go today and nobody wants to crash in the first half-hour.
There are 60 of us on this rally, the first to be organized for the region, and our backgrounds vary widely. Some are on big 1200cc BMW dual-purpose bikes, like the motorcycles Ewan McGregor rode around the world with his friend Charley Boorman. Some are on small Yamahas and Kawasakis with barely any experience at all. Others ride high-powered dirt bikes, barely legal for public roads.
Most are like me, though. A mid-sized motorcycle, a bit of experience, and a foolhardy spirit of adventure, out to see the province from a whole different perspective.
In the beginning – in it to win
The route is 500 kilometres of dirt roads and rocky tracks, a large loop around southern New Brunswick. It’s divided into eight legs, each of which has an easy route and an optional “challenging” route. Completing each leg earns points, and the challenging routes earn extra points. Whoever earns the most points within 12 hours will be declared the winner.
I told Costa at dinner last night that we’re in this to win, but I’m rapidly changing my mind. It’s not that the motorcycle isn’t capable – it’s a BMW F800 GS, made to ride these roads all day – but I’ve forgotten a few things. Like how to brake and corner on loose sand and gnarly rocks, and how to find the best way through a deep puddle of mud.
Add to that, I can’t really see where I’m going because the mist is fogging up my glasses and eye protection, and the dust that Costa and the others are kicking up on the road ahead is adding a film of filth that’s tough to look through. Why am I doing this again?
Under the riding jacket and pants and helmet, though, I’m warm and dry and the bike is running well. I press on, breaking through the cloud and onto a paved road next to the Bay of Fundy, and for just a few kilometres, everything relaxes at 80 km/h.
It doesn’t last long. I’m following Costa who is following his GPS, and the “challenging” route we’ve elected to ride takes us back onto the gravel and then onto a tight trail of large rocks. It’s too narrow for a car but it’s perfect for four-wheeled ATVs and light dirtbikes. The key is to stand up on the pegs and lean your weight toward the back of the bike; this way, the front wheel presses less against the ground and doesn’t get caught so much between the rocks. It takes some practice and the bike almost goes down several times. Costa, up ahead, is oblivious.
We make it through, past a fishing lake and some hunting cabins, and find ourselves back on the gravel. This is still the first leg and I’ve gone off the idea of trying to win – there were too many narrow escapes just now.
On the faster dirt road, there’s a bike down on a corner and a rider pulling stones and branches from its broken fairing. Several other rallyists have stopped to make sure he’s okay and all’s well. We’re still on the first leg.
“Hey Costa!” I yell out at my partner, paused for once at the crash site. “How about we call ourselves winners if we just manage to finish?”
He grins. This was his plan all along.
Half-way round – things get sticky
The appeal of “adventure touring” is that you can go almost anywhere, without stopping when the road ends. You stumble across isolated places and magnificent vistas. You go places few people visit.
But that’s not really the appeal of a rally like this. The Fundy Adventure Rally is far more of a personal test – it’s a challenge to ride over farming roads and along hunting trails, past fishing lodges and obscure hillside cemeteries. The next legs take us into small villages where locals sit on the porch of the general store, watching the muddy riders chug by. We’re all well behaved. There’s nothing to prove to anyone except ourselves out here.
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we come across a group of rally riders who’ve stopped for a flat tire. The back wheel is off the Suzuki DR and some pieces of wood form a makeshift stand for the bike. The sun’s out and the riders are stripped down, swatting at flies. They’re not going to finish all the legs in time now, but they’re not bothered at all. It really is just the taking part that’s important.
We’re also not going to finish everything in time. At the next stop, coming down on narrow trails though the moose forests and back to the bay, Costa and I realize we’re running more than an hour behind the time we need to complete all the legs. So we shrug and go to Kelly’s Bake Shop, “the home of the sticky bun,” near the gas stop in Alma.
Our sticky buns are warm and we enjoy them outside on a bench, looking at the filthy bikes. Checking over the map, we realize we just rode the leg’s “challenging” route. That explains why I almost crashed a few more times, then. But the near misses fade as Costa and I bench race for a while. Maybe this is the real reason people do this – to swap stories and trade tales.
Almost there – the key to winning
The BMW motorcycles are much smarter than us. They come equipped with ABS brakes and traction control, for much improved safety on the paved back roads, but the ABS must be switched off on the loose surface of the gravel or mud. If it’s left activated, the brakes just won’t work properly. Most of the stopping power of a bike on the dirt comes from a fully-locked rear-wheel slide.
Switching back and forth from asphalt to gravel and mud, a good rider must also switch riding style: front brake only for pavement, back brake only for dirt. One moment of mixed confusion could mean disaster. It’s the same around corners, where the tires dig differently into the ground depending on its resistance. This is where experience proves itself.
But I’m not that experienced, especially compared to Costa, so we just slow down and ride as best we can. The final legs take us through forest roads and rutted gravel and the fillings have long since shaken from my teeth. There isn’t time to complete legs seven and eight, so after 10 hours of riding, we pause for an ice cream and then head back to the wilderness lodge that serves as the rally headquarters.
Once there, we find plenty of riders chose the same wise course of action, but plenty more completed the entire course. Six rode every challenging route of every leg, and a winning team was finally chosen by comparing GPS tracks to see who deviated the least from the directions.
The winning team was Bogdan Marinescu and Adam Rush, from Toronto and Guelph, who rode their Yamaha WR 250 and Kawasaki KLR 650 from Ontario to take part. “We didn’t stop much,” said Bogdan, 40 years old, who’s in only his third year of riding a motorcycle. “We just followed the purple line (on the GPS display) and we didn’t get lost. We just wanted to ride.”
It sounded simple, but then they mentioned, almost casually, how Bogdan had stopped his bike just before a mud hole and Adam, airborne from riding through a ditch just behind, crashed into the back of him. The rear rack of Bogdan’s Yamaha was twisted; the brake rotor on Adam’s Kawasaki was bent. They shrugged as they explained the damage – nobody was hurt, after all – and described the scenic route they’ll take home, around Cape Breton and then back through the States, climbing Mount Washington along the way.
“It’ll be a good trip,” said Adam, 25. “We’re looking forward to it.”
No wonder Costa and I didn’t stand a chance. These people are crazy.