Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Super Sherpa

    He put me on the Sherpa.. Here I was preparing to go on my first real dual sport ride and my father, who had so kindly invited me along, was making me ride the Sherpa. The sticker on the side of the gas tank reads "Super Sherpa", which I was sure was over exaggerated.

   For those who don't know, the bike I am talking about is a 250cc dual sport that was produced by Kawasaki several years ago. It's an entry level bike that leaves a lot to be desired for in terms of handling (i.e: suspension, brakes) and produces 28 horsepower (at the crank, mind you). This was designed to be a trail bike to be ridden around a campground or down gravel roads.

   Myself however, come from an off-road racing background and have been fortunate to race/ride for 12 years now. The exact opposite rider the bike was intended for. Sure, I was happy to come along for the ride and to spend time with my dad but as I was standing there looking at Sherpa I couldn't help but feel like I was going to be bored a lot during the day. My dad meanwhile was riding his Husqvarna TXC250, a lean mean machine that has been de-tuned for the street, the bike I wanted to ride.

   I fired up the Sherpa, turned onto the pavement and began clicking through the gears as I followed the other member of our party, Chris, who was riding his Honda XR660. The power the bike made actually impressed me at first as I expected much less. It was quiet, so much so in fact that after 50mph the wind noise drowned out the sound of the engine. We made several turns at intersections with each new road gradually becoming narrower and less maintained. After 10 miles we finally hit the dirt, and as the road began to fill with scattered rocks and potholes I was struggling to keep pace with Chris and still ride smooth. The little bike had the engine to run with him but not the suspension. To keep from hearing the horrible clanking sound of the forks bottoming I was carrying my front wheel over ever obstacle on the road. The usual standing attack position you use for riding these conditions was tough to do in the small, cramped cockpit. This at least was keeping the ride interesting for me however, I was doing everything I could think of to keep pace with the faster, better handling bikes and not be out of control. I had been successful thus far but we had only covered maybe 10 miles at this point and I knew the group had planned on doing over 120 miles today. How long could I keep this up? A long day was ahead of me it seemed.

"flying through the air as I was desperately trying to pull the bike in the direction I wanted.."

   What happened next however changed my whole thought process. We were coming down off a ridge and down our first real descent all day, as I looked ahead I saw a water break that had been built across the road and it was the perfect size to jump. A grinned formed on my face as I gassed the bike and compressed my suspension to pop off the top of the jump. I went off the face and felt the bike leave earth, and I laughed as I thought how funny I must look jumping a Sherpa through the air complete with saddle bags. The bike then came down with a loud clank and bounced upwards again. It was during this bounce that I saw the off-camber corner ahead and the large rocks that lay before it. Instinctively I hit the brakes, but to my surprise nothing happened. The brakes were there but weren't powerful enough to slow me down , worse yet was the lack of bite the DOT approved tires had on the slick gravel like dirt. Now in a half slide I hit the large rocks and felt the bike give a hard shake as it tried to ricochet to the side, then I felt the both wheels leave the ground. The bike was about half sideways at this point, flying through the air as I was desperately trying to pull the bike in the direction I wanted. I landed, and fought for traction while I braked in an attempt not to go over the drop off that was on the outside of the corner I had just blown. Finally the bike slowed down enough that I was able to turn, going around the corner on the outermost edge.
   Relieved that I didn't throw the bike away I recovered my composure but this time with a different mindset. No more trying to keep up with the bigger bikes. So I slowed down and focus on picking the smoothest lines possible. I didn't have to stand as much, with was much more comfortable, and when corners approached I didn't need to apply as much brakes. The big bikes pulled away from me but I didn't let that change things. I knew they would wait at the intersections and I was determined not to have any more close encounters of the "Oh Shit" kind. The bike is what it is, and when I began riding it within its limits I realized something. I was having fun. With my focus shifted on going slow I was able to look and enjoy the beautiful open timber the trails were winding through. I was seeing the details of the scenery and enjoying the time I was spending outdoors. I had ceased expecting anything out of the bike and with no pressure to keep pace it actually impressed me.  The Sherpa was earning it's Super title.

An overlook somewhere in the mountains of the Western Shenandoah Valley.

"my dad's smile was the same as ours, all of us just happy to be out enjoying the day together on our dual sports.."

   We covered several more miles and at one intersection my dad stopped and let me ride his Husqvarna for the rest of the day. However, as we covered mile after mile I couldn't help but think back to the Sherpa. When we would stop at a intersection, my dad's smile was the same as ours, all of us just happy to be out enjoying the day together on our dual sports.

A view from the ride at Reddish Knob, Va.

And that's what bikes like Sherpa are about, they don't need any special treatment or fancy accessories. They are simply serve as a platform to go out and ride with your friends. They force you to slow down and enjoy your surroundings, to focus on the journey and not the results. And that is what makes the Sherpa, Super.