There’s no denying that adventure motorcycles seem to be ‘in’ right now. While sport bikes have been hammered by exploding insurance premiums and the cruiser market is being eroded by an aging demographic, adventure bikes seems to be one segment that is doing okay.
Yes, in the grand scheme of things it’s still a pretty small segment, but in an industry where any growth is a good thing, adventure bikes are definitely a good thing. Which is all good by me. I simply adore adventure riding, and after producing many Mad Bastard Scooter rallies over the last decade, the opportunity to do an Adventure version was too good to pass up.
Living in New Brunswick for the past five years has given me the time to get my boots muddy, so to speak, checking out the local dual sport scene and finding the lay of the land. Although my hometown of Sackville is somewhat devoid of exciting off-road trails (it’s all marsh and mud), it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the Fundy National Park.
Here is a little adventure oasis; hilly terrain, lack of settlement and an extensive network of logging roads makes the area very accessible to the adventurist who is looking for some easy and not-so-easy trails, mixed in with some stunning views on the Bay of Fundy and some fine southern New Brunswick countryside.
In short, it’s become my new playground and after some initial exploration in the company of my pal Brad Crossman, the idea of making a rally was hatched and the scouting was started in earnest.
SPONSORSHIP, ROUTE & ACCOMMODATION
In order to do a kick ass rally you either need to be independently wealthy with lots of free time, or be able to find a sponsor who gets what you’re trying to do. BMW Motorrad Canada saw the FAR vision and having partaken in the last Mad Bastard Rally, also knew that we could carry it off, and promptly took on the role of rally sponsor. Sweet.
Apart from getting sponsorship, perhaps the most crucial element is the route and although to most it may seem like something put together over a nice weekend’s jaunt around the countryside, a good route is in fact a good deal of work.
For our rally, the first step involved buying a copy of the New Brunswick Backroads Mapbook and then riding every black line (the non paved trails) in the area where you think the rally should run. Although the original plan was to base it out of some non-descript hotel in Moncton and head out of the urban jungle into the leafy one from there, during all this scouting we found the perfect HQ; Adairs Wilderness lodge.
Located suitably in the middle of the wilderness, Adairs is an actual adventurist’s oasis with gas (high octane to boot), accommodation and a restaurant/bar. So we booked up all the remaining rooms and cabins and the rally was officially on. All that was needed now was to finish off the route and try and rally up some rallyists.
Scouting involved coordinating timing with Brad (he actually has a real job) and then heading out with the Backroads Mapbook and a pen so that each section ridden could be marked off with an “A, B, C” or “ATV”. The A,B,C being grades of difficulty (A being the easiest) and the ATV being “I went in, I turned around and got the hell out” ‘cause only an ATV would venture any further. Always an interesting experience on a big F800GS Adventure.
After a couple of summers doing this with Brad I eventually had a pretty well defined map of the area and was then able to start stringing the A and B sections into short legs. We decided to make each one start and end at the same location (gas stations as it handily turned out) so that riders could easily get gas and then choose which route they wanted to do next.
Each B leg was awarded a number of points depending how gnarly the worst section was and so also served as a guide to riders on the skill level required to tackle them. Or so the theory goes.
In order to be able to tackle a B leg, riders had to be in a team of two to five (so that they could help if one was in trouble). Alternatively they could opt to ride solo without a SPOT but then they would be limited to the easier A leg which was also swept by the pick up truck in case of any issues. We eventually ended up with two loops just over 500 km in length that were then scouted, fine tuned and confirmed for the rally. Job done.
Well, almost. Since riding off road introduces some additional hazards from just riding on pavement (though at the same time it also removes some), we wanted to ensure the riders were as safe as possible. Enter stage left SPOT who loved the idea and offered up 15 Gen3s, as well as RAM Mounts, who offered up the same amount of mounts to hold them.
If you’re not familiar with the SPOT Gen3, they are basically a device that communicates with satellites in a similar way to a GPS but they only send data through various buttons (help, ok, SOS, etc) as well as automatically every so often to show where you are. This offered two important advantages:
1) If a team got into trouble in the B options (which were not swept by the pick up as they got too rough) they could press various buttons on their SPOT to either let us know they were getting help but needed to meet the truck, or had a serious medical issue and needed a speedy evacuation – an emergency service offered by SPOT itself.
2) We could get an update of their position every two and a half minutes that ensured we knew almost exactly where each team was on the route. This enabled us to see if any had bailed and were heading back or had opted to ignore our requirements to bail if they did not get to the start of the latter legs in time (tut, tut) and therefore be out of the running.
THE SET UP
Being the first year of the Fundy Adventure Rally I’d guesstimated that we’d get between 20 and 30 riders – if we were lucky. By the time registration had closed we had 60, some of which were coming in from as far away as Toronto, with one team from Maryland in the States and a solo rider from Maine (seems like adventure riders don’t mind distance).
We rented a pick up to act as sweep truck and swung by Moncton on the Thursday of the rally to grab last minute supplies, as well as a rather helpful brother-in-law who had flown in from Toronto, before heading to Adairs to set everything up.
The Main Hall, usually the domain of the backwoods wedding that is popular out here, doubled up as the rider meeting place, registration and rally HQ. Larry and Ida Adair have run this place for quite a while now, and though you’d expect such a place to be rather rough around the edges, it’s remarkably well organized and I was pleasantly surprised how well kitted they were to host such an event. I guess we’re not that different from a wedding, except everyone was happy to be there.
By the time Friday rolled around we were actually pretty much ready and riders rolled in from lunchtime onwards to register and partake in the BMW GS demo rides that actually took riders through some proper terrain for a GS and gave them a short sample of what was to come.
I’d originally set up a series of movies and presentations in the Main Hall to keep everyone fully entertained, but a hot sunny September day kept most everyone outside. So we pulled the indoor events save for a video and chat by Terry Burt who was happy to extol his Labrador adventure from the previous year and managed to draw in a decent crowd in the process.
Food for thought for next year, though I’d really like to try and expand this event beyond just the ride and into a bit of an adventure riders’ gathering, replete with talks, presentations and some rider training. Especially since Adairs’ Mail Hall capacity is 200, so there’s plenty of room to build.
Friday wrapped up with the Riders’ Meeting presented by my good self, in which I went over each leg of the route ahead, the possible hazards that may present themselves (including big bloody balloons thanks to the neighbouring Sussex Hot Air Balloon Fiesta – if you look at them while riding you will likely hit a tree) and an optimistic caution to behave.
Unlike the Mad Bastard Scooter Rally, this event has to be completed within a 12 hour window, not 24, and so send off could be at an altogether more civilized time of 7 AM, ordered to try and get the more competitive riders out first, based on the machines they were riding.
One of my concerns with an event like this is that all the riders start out relatively close together and so there’s a high probability that teams will try and pass each other. By ordering the send offs by likely speed, this can be minimized.
As it turned out, this was not a factor in any mishaps as the first leg (a 100 km loop out and back to Adairs) saw a few riders hobble back in after either running off into a ditch, hitting a rock and going over the bars or having an early mechanical. Thankfully no-one was hurt to the level of needing medical attention and before long all the teams had checked back in and were off on the main loop.
One of the elements of the rally that I was quite chuffed to be able to do was to include the Fundy Trailway – a 16km stretch of gloriously tight pavement with spectacular views of the Bay of Fundy. Unfortunately it’s a toll road and the gravel trail that enters it at one end is normally gated to prevent unauthorized access around the toll.
Thanks to Larry Adair we were able to get the gate open though between us we still had to cover the riders’ tolls. Of course, this being Fundy, Saturday started with fog and the Trailway offered views of absolutely nothing and wet slick roads, but maybe we’ll have more luck next year.
We had originally intended to use the SPOT tracking to be able to see exactly which options each team had taken but the mass of dots and tracks on the map meant that it was too difficult to decipher exact routes taken and so that process was saved for rider check in. Here each team was required to download its GPS track which could then be overlaid onto the officially route track to show clearly who had done what, which worked a treat.
It was a statement of the marvels of the technology we have available to us these days. Not only can we load up a GPS with a route that means riders can navigate accurately while riding, but we can see in practically real time where they are – and they can get a helicopter to come get them if anything seriously untoward happened. Pretty damn impressive really.
As it happened, although many riders got a good dowsing in a few select mud holes (and yes, I found some great ones to include), no-one needed to use the emergency options. And although I was surprised at how many riders opted to bail out of the last few legs (you have to keep on the ball and not stop for too long) I was also surprised that of the 15 teams entered, six managed to complete all the options within the 12 hour window, some with literally minutes to spare.
This lead to a tiebreaker situation, which involved deducting points for every overshoot of turnoffs that were apparent on the teams’ GPS tracks (they had to download them when checking back in remember). The winning team actually managed to get around the route within the time and without overshooting ANY turnoffs. They even managed to have a rear end collision between them in the mud hole section …
Not surprisingly it was a team of two (the more riders you have the more time you tend to spend managing them), those being Bogdan Marinescu and Adam Rush of Team Maribal Adventure+. Both guys rode up from Toronto and so rather shamed the local riders in the process.
All in all a very favourable start to what we hope will become an annual rally. In fact we’ve already booked the whole of Adairs for the weekend of September 11/12/13, 2015 and will be scouting out some more routes and tweaking the existing to make it the best it can be. Who knows, maybe we’ll add some ‘C’ options into the mix too …
Mark Richardson writing for the Toronto Star, Costa Mouzouris for Motorcycle Mojo and Dan McAfee from Canadian Motorcycle Rider were also attending this year’s rally and should have write ups appearing shortly (we’ll be sure to add them to Fundy Adventure Rally website when they are published). We’ll also be posting a few of the blog write ups from the event this week.
For more info and to register for the newsletter on the 2015 rally, check out FundyAdventureRally.com
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