Photos: James Lissimore, unless otherwise noted
“Sorry folks – due to safety reasons, the ride is canceled.”
A brutal way to start Day 2 of the 2019 KTM Adventure Rally, but it was a no-brainer. The late-September snow had been piling up for hours, some highways were already closing, and the temperature was dropping, not going up. The organizers made a tough call, but they made the right call. Costa and I were going nowhere, and neither were any of the other 120-or-so riders. Once again, everything had gone very CMG …
It had all looked so promising the day before, sort of. Due to airline weather delays, Costa and I arrived at the KTM rally mid-way through the first day of riding, instead of the riders’ meeting the night before. We threw our bags inside our swank condo (thanks, KTM!), bolted our GPS units to the bikes, and wired in our heated gear. A quick lunch, and we were out on the Columbia and Western Rail Trail, picking up the afternoon section of Friday’s ride.
KTM Adventure Rally
This is the third year for the Canadian KTM Adventure Rally, hosted each time in British Columbia.
This year, the rally was based out of the Red Mountain Resort, in the Kootenays town of Rossland. The 2019 rally was supposed to have two days of riding, approximately 350 km each. Riders could choose from an easy R2 route, or a more challenging R1 route.
Although you cannot rent a motorcycle from KTM for the event, some riders based in eastern Canada shipped their bike west for the event, flying out to pick up the bike and ride the rally.
For years, I’ve heard how great British Columbia’s off-road riding is, but this was the first time I was experiencing it for myself. And just as the organizers promised, the ride was amazing.
Instead of the ATV-destroyed swampland I’m used to riding around New Brunswick, the easy two-track around the mountainside was smooth, had great traction, and best of all, great views.
With a cliff on the left and the Columbia River on my right, this section of decommissioned rail line quickly proved one of the most enjoyable off-road stretches I’ve ever taken in my life. Costa got to enjoy the incredible scenery even more than I did, as he had to wait for me to catch up all the time, but he was in his happy place too.
But then the rain began. I started getting wet, thanks to my Alpinestars pants randomly deciding to start leaking again, after staying dry all summer. Not a great situation, but nothing too serious, right? So what if I couldn’t see out of my fogged-up helmet …
Things were getting unpleasant, but not worth whinging about. Then the railbed section ended, and we climbed up a smooth forestry road, higher, higher, higher, and the air got colder, colder, colder, and the rain turned to flurries.
Still nothing serious, especially as I had a heated vest, right? Er, no. I was in such a rush to hit the trails that I hadn’t grounded it correctly. I had to make do with no heat.
Costa had the sense to bring a better liner, so he was fine, but when we descended the other side of the mountain, I mentally kicked myself for not checking the vest before we left. I should have known better — it’s hardly my first ride in bad weather. John Lee Hooker had it right: It Served Me Right To Suffer.
The second section of the afternoon didn’t have the same scenery as the railbed, but it was definitely tailor-made for big-bore adventure bikes: an almost endless series of corners perfect for hooning around on a KTM 1290 Adventure R. Well, custom-made for Costa, anyway; in every corner, I could see where he’d torn through, slideways, while I wallowed in cold self-pity. Wah wah wah. Why does it always rain when I go to an adventure rally?
Well, it wasn’t that bad, but I will say that, at the end of the day, I was happy to discover my ensuite bathroom had a sauna shower. Costa had to schlep it with an ordinary shower on the other side of the condo. After all, I deserved it, he was toasty warm all along. Dozens of other riders were still scattered out on the R1 and R2 trails, some of them arriving after dark, via pickup truck, when organizers rescued them.
Some of them encountered much more snow than us (it’d only really been that mountaintop flurry), and some of them were so cold they couldn’t even take off their own riding gloves. No worries, it’d all be fine in the morning, right?
Wrong. We knew we were screwed as soon as we looked out the window.
After the cancellation announcement, some keeners (there are a few in every moto-crowd) boldly announced their intentions to go tackle some trails anyway, but were seen quickly riding back up the driveway shortly after they rode down. Well, some were riding; one was pushing his bike, so I can only presume he’d experienced the lack of traction first-hand.
KTM Ultimate Race Qualifier
The KTM Ultimate Race is the company’s in-house adventure bike skills competition. It runs alongside the Merzouga Rally in Morocco in the winter, with competitors getting the full factory team treatment, riding bikes supplied and maintained by KTM.
This event is for amateurs, and for KTM customers only. You can’t qualify if you’re a pro racer, and you can’t qualify on a KLR650. Only multi-cylinder KTMs are allowed to participate.
To get to the Ultimate Race, you’ve got to qualify at a regional event. KTM Canada runs its qualifier at the Adventure Rally. Over the course of the weekend, contestants had to prove their ADV capabilities through a series of timed maintenance tests, as well as through riding and navigation.
Over by the bike-washing station, another rider managed to almost take out two parked cars when the bike he was riding for a clean-up suddenly lost traction. Good thing those 790 Adventures crash so well!
So how to fill the day? KTM slotted in some last-minute presentations (a tech meeting, a GPS explainer, a mountain safety talk), and in the afternoon, the KTM Ultimate Race Qualifier ran in the resort’s lower parking lot.
The riders in the Qualifier were originally supposed to battle it out on the trails all day long. Instead, KTM’s organizers put together a challenge in the parking lot, with gnarly hillclimbs and a cone course. And these guys hit that course as hard as they could.
Somewhat frustrated with my own slow riding the day before, I was amazed to see just how hard these riders were willing to hammer their bikes.
Unlike the BMW GS Challenge, which provides motorcycles for the final in-country qualifier, the KTM event saw the riders blasting the track on their own machines. The top prize for winning the Ultimate Challenge is a new KTM 790 Adventure, and I could see why they were battling so hard for a chance to win at the final: there was a good chance they’d need the bike, to replace the one they’d half-destroyed getting there.
Ultimately Wayne Hodder and Wendell Maki prevailed, and they’ll be heading to Morocco this winter from their homes in BC to represent Canada at the Challenge.
Time to go
Thankfully, the weather broke long enough for Costa and I to get out of the mountains on schedule, giving me time to think on the plane ride home. Despite the foul weather, I really did have a great time at the event. It was disappointing to miss a bunch of riding, but KTM made the right decision to call off Saturday’s riding. It wouldn’t have been safe, and no amount of testosterone-fueled bragging can make up for the potential tragedies that could have occurred. Team Orange may be Ready To Race, but they can’t control the weather, and organizers did the best they could under the circumstances.
But even with the shortened event, one thing’s for sure: Everyone got the adventure they were promised. By my standards, that’s a successful rally, even if you don’t get in as much riding as you hoped. I’d guess that in coming years, there are going to be plenty of “I was there” stories about the 2019 KTM Adventure Rally. And I was. I just wish I’d wired in that electric vest.