KICKSTANDS & KEVLAR
Kickstands & Kevlar is a blog hosted by Overland Expo’s own Motorcycle Community Ambassador, Eva Rupert.
Follow Eva @augusteva.
Like all great love stories, this one begins in Las Vegas*. And, it’s not really about the KLR. I’m about to hit you with a good old fashioned love story. Because, you know, it’s Valentine’s Day, but I promise it won’t be too sappy.
*This may be the only great love story that actually began in Las Vegas. Ever.
It’s easy to talk about love and motorcycles in the same sentence. The wind in your hair, the dirt-scrambling, free-wheeling, camp out under the stars kind of love. You love your friends that you ride with. You love your bike. You love that it’s the weekend and you love that you’re not stuck in that damn office.
And sometimes, your moto ramblings send you down a lucky two-track and you cross paths with the love of your life. For me, that started on a KLR650.
When I first met Sterling, my boyfriend and partner-in-all-things-awesome, I was riding a KLR650 that I had owned for a month or two. I bought it in the middle of a Flagstaff snowstorm from a guy who was hunkered down in the trailer park off I-40 on the east side of town. Prior to purchasing the KLR, I religiously rode my beloved ‘79 Honda CX500 on all sorts of adventures, but, having attended Overland Expo for years, I was feeling a bit out of place amongst the Klim-clad GS riders standing on their pegs and riding gnarly trails that would make my old Honda cringe.
It was clearly time for an adventure motorcycle, but BMWs were far too fancy for my vintage tastebuds. KTMs were nothing but orange-clad intimidation. For all I knew, beyond that, the ADV bike options seemed to come to a screeching halt.
And then I found it. A gently used KLR on Craigslist, with enough dings that I wouldn’t worry much about dropping it and carbureted enough to ease my fears of high-technology motorbikes. A quick dip into the farkled-out Kawasaki forums made it clear that this was my next motorbike, which was soon to become the vehicle for meeting the love of my life.
My first KLR trip started out like any other moto ride. A bit of planning, a glance at the map, and a new set of tires. Donning a fresh pair of double-front Carhartt overalls (safety first, you know) I set out with my duffle bag bungeed to the back of the bike and a light drizzle misting the route to Las Vegas.
The plan was to head to Vegas for a screening of the new Backcountry Discovery Routes movie, then west to Death Valley for a BDR fundraiser and an opportunity to ride with some people who were so good at adventure motorcycling that they didn’t wear canvas overalls.
In Vegas, I had a dirt-bike riding girlfriend that I knew through Facebook who had a place to stay in the city. After the movie ended, I made my way on the KLR through the crowded Vegas streets to park the bike for a safe night of urban recklessness on foot.
My friend had assembled a small posse of adventure motorcyclists, which happened to include the filmmaker from the movie screening. We set out for a classic Vegas night full of drinks, drinks, and more drinks followed by a morning so fraught with hangover I could hardly tell the tailpipe from the handlebars when I stumbled out to my KLR in the morning.
One night in Las Vegas is more than enough for me and, as they say, what happens in Vegas, stays. Except for me… and Sterling, the filmmaker from the night before. He was traveling in his van, with a BMW GS somehow strapped to the back bumper (can you see where this story is going?).
Sterling and I were both headed to Death Valley for the next BDR event. We had a day before we had to be at the next destination, our conversations were rich and intriguing (even through the whisky haze of the previous evening) and he seemed to be a good travel companion. Sterling suggested that we spend a night at the hot springs in Tecopa, a defunct California desert town crustier than my Carhartts. An evening of soaking in the mineral water was just what the doctor ordered and by sunset, the hangover had subsided and I was back to feeling like a million bucks.
Sterling and I hung out by the campfire, probably a little too close and probably verging on the sappiness I promised to leave out of this story, so let’s get back to the KLR…
That night, something I had never seen before came through the campsite: a trio of 20-something comrades who called themselves the Lost Boys on bikes no different than mine… a whole group of people riding KLRs! Who even knew that there were others out there rambling around on these odd machines? At least one of them was wearing double front Carhartts as well.
They stopped for a bit of moto small-talk and social media contact swapping before making their way down the road to some free camping on BLM land.
Departure day for Death Valley followed a night so blustery that crumpled beer cans from the next campsite pelted my bivvy sack till sunrise. We packed our things and set out. Sterling hit the road early, having a deadline to arrive at the BDR event in time to film the opening of the event. I rolled out after a second cup of coffee with the intention of taking my time before registration began.
Not 10 miles down the road my KLR came to a perplexingly quiet halt.
No twist of the throttle or flip of the fuel reserve gave her any more speed and I pulled to the side of the road perplexed. Fuel gauge, fine. Ignition and engine, no problem. But the chain was nowhere to be found.
Having ridden the CX exclusively for years until I bought the KLR, the chain, as a concept integral to the forward progress of the motorcycle had eluded me completely. The Honda CX is a shaft drive, allegedly pinched from Moto Guzzi’s smooth cruising design in the 70s. The thought of chain maintenance was so far from my mind that I found myself alone on a desert roadside.
Like grandma looking for a lost contact lens, I scoured the immediate vicinity to no avail. So I started walking back the way I came. A quarter mile back, there was the chain, in a neat pile in the center of Route 127. The master link had let loose without announcement, leaving me stranded.
Now, there are many great advantages to being a lone woman on a motorbike, but the only one I need to mention at this point is the ability to draw attention to oneself when broken down. Hardly a car had passed before I could hitch a ride to Shoshone and the nearest payphone to call in the tiny, necessary, part from the city.
I’ve never been one to get stressed about mechanical breakdowns that happen without injury. This is, after all, an essential part of adventure. Plus, I had a bike stocked with camping supplies and I certainly had enough time that nobody would miss me if I’m running behind schedule.
Since it appeared that I would have a day of waiting for the part to make its way from Las Vegas to my middle-of-nowhere detour, a cold beer seemed in order and I sat in front of the convenience store sipping an icy brew, contemplating my next move.
No sooner did I crack the cerveza than Sterling’s van, riding low with his GS on the hitch tray, crested the road. Needless to say, the sight gave me a bit of unanticipated embarrassment about the breakdown and a little flush of excitement at the same time. Of course, I had to play it cool in these early moments of a burgeoning crush. I sipped the beer and explained to him that I had someone running the part out from the city later today. I was taken by surprise when he said that he turned back because I hadn’t passed him yet (clearly he was impressed by the mighty speeds that the KLR could sustain). I’m sure I managed to keep my blush concealed at the idea that someone was actually looking out for me.
We were making a plan for remedying the breakdown and along came the flock of KLR Lost Boys from the night before. We all got to chatting about the weather and whatnot when one of them asked me about where my motorbike was. “Well, um, I slipped the chain back on the road to Tecopa and someone is bringing me a master link from the city this afternoon.” As if the stars weren’t already well on their way to alignment, the Lost Boy pulled a zip-locked part out of his overall pocket. He had picked it up the day before in Vegas for just such a situation. With my jaw on the floor at the coincidence, I gave them the rest of the six-pack with gratitude.
Sterling gave me a lift back to the KLR’s roadside resting place and pulled a cooler from the van to prop the bike’s skid-plate on to do the repair. The repair and the ride into Death Valley went smooth enough, and beyond that, it all gets a little blurry. There’s some riding and some socializing, but all I really know is, that weekend, I spent every available moment hanging around with Sterling. And we’ve been hanging around each other ever since.
It’s been years since I’ve been to Vegas and I ride a BMW GS now (quite a luxurious step up from the old KLR) and my double front work pants have been replaced by some high-tech kevlar. Sterling and I have, of course, outlasted both. We’ve been on countless moto trips and now make our home in southern Arizona running a little vintage motel for travelers.
I don’t quite know how to end this story, since Sterling and I are in it for the long haul. I will say, in conclusion, that love and motorcycling draw from the same wellspring when it comes to metaphor. Whether you’re in it for the rapture, the battlefield, the journey or destination, you should definitely just keep riding and make sure you keep a master link in your tool kit if you’re on a KLR.