Getting Ready


Planning a motorcycle trip to Alaska is one thing, but getting all the gear together can practically be a full time job. There are clothing considerations, as the weather in June and July can be as warm as 90 degrees, but it could also snow in some of the places weíll be riding through. Of course there is the need for rain gear, and donít forget your mosquito repellent. Chuck and I both spent many weeks and many dollars getting all the little particulars together. I think I went to Campmor four times, and my UPS man was like a regular guest at my apartment. But the biggest gear issue of all is the motorcycles themselves and making sure they are prepared properly.

All types of motorcycles have been ridden to Alaska. From Harleys and Hondas to Ducatis and BMWs, from little dirt bikes to big luxury-tourers, just about every kind of two-wheeled vehicle has made the trek north. And some have survived the trip better than others. Itís a matter of how comfortable the rider wants to be, how much gear you want to bring, and how competent you are riding through dirt, and mud, and gravel. The roads are the biggest concern when deciding what bike to ride, and having the "right" motorcycle on the "wrong" road, could make all the difference in the world.

After making the big decision to ride to Alaska, Chuck had to make an even bigger one: What bike to take. Last year Chuck rode his BMW K1200LT all over the country, racking up 18,000 miles. But the K12LT is a big luxury-tourer, and at 835 pounds it is very top heavy at slow speeds. The few times Chuck took it on gravel, it was not exactly what we would call a fun ride. Sure it could make it to Alaska, as the Alaskan Highway is paved all the way, with only a few stretches of dirt where there will be construction, less than a hundred miles when you add it up. But taking the big heavy BMW up the Dalton Highway? Forget about it.

In January, Chuck bought a brand new Harley Davidson FLHTCUI, a full-dresser. At 805 pounds itís no lightweight either. And, yes, the weight is lower down, but the bike is BIG and it also has a very nice paint job. Do you want to torture it on those dirt roads, and risk dropping it along the way? NO THANK YOU! Neither one of these bikes is the choice ride for motorcycling to Alaska.

So the decision becomes simple. Sell the BMW K1200LT and buy a new BMW R1150GS, the ultimate motorcycle to take on the world! The R1150GS is the latest in BMWís line of dual-purpose motorcycles, meaning itís great on the highway and also capable of off-road duty. At 530 pounds, itís no dirt bike, but itís very comfortable when taking on the slippery stuff. The new GS has the latest six-speed transmission and a new hydraulic clutch.

When BMW first introduced the GS, some 20 years ago it was entered in the famed Paris-Dakkar Rally, a deadly run through the Sahara and northern Africa. BMW won the rally first time out. The GS was an instant legend. The model line has been slowly refined over the years, as is BMWís way, and it has gotten heavier over the years. But to many, it is the ultimate motorcycle. For a trip to Alaska and the Arctic Ocean, it is the perfect bike.

Of course, being a new model and coming off the heels of an incredibly successful run and great press reviews, finding a new R1150GS is not so easy. For the year 2000, BMW has only allotted 6.5% of their production to the new GS, or about 650 of itís 10,000 bikes to be sold in North America. Thereís actually a waiting list! When Chuck went to his local Florida dealer and inquired about getting one, the guy practically ignored him. I suggested we contact David Dorrance at Lindner Cycle Shop in New Canaan, Connecticut, the dealer Chuck and I have bought our BMWís from in the past. David is a terrific guy, and he even went to the same high school I did, Millbrook School in Dutchess County. I figured David would be able to help us out, and find Chuck a bike.

And I was right, as David and his top-notch crew came though big time, going out of their way to help us make this happen. In a matter of weeks, Chuck rode his K1200LT up to Connecticut and picked up his brand new R1150GS, fully loaded and ready to take on Alaska. If anyone out there is interested in a very well maintained used K1200LT, Chuckís bike is now on consignment sale at Lindners. Give them a call at 203-966-5188.

In my research, I read quite a bit about the road conditions up to and around Alaska. And nothing was more enlightening than Greg Pinkís story of his Ultimate Coast to Coast ride, last June. Greg rode his BMW R1100RT, a motorcycle very similar to my R1100RS except it has a bigger fairing and windshield, as well as a more comfortable seat. It is a true touring motorcycle, while the R1100RS is a sport-tourer. Everything was going well for Greg until he hit the Dalton Highway. About 50 miles south of Prudhoe Bay his rear tire went flat. But it wasnít that the tire got a hole in it. The lightweight, high performance, alloy wheels on his motorcycle had become so severely dented by the rocks on the road (some as big as footballs), that the rear wheel was no longer round!  The tire couldnít stay seated on the wheel!  Greg managed to pull off the wheel, along the side of the road, and pound it out with his camping hatchet. Once round enough, he reinstalled the tire and hobbled to Deadhorse.  The next morning, after resting at one of the two motels in town, Greg discovered his bike laying on its side. Both tires were flat and the bike wouldnít start. Unbelievably, a bear had come in the middle of the night and smashed his bike over! Many dollars later, Greg and his motorcycle were down in Anchorage, where he replaced the ruined cast-alloy rims with more durable spoke wheels. Talk about a large towing bill!

My intention was to take my BMW R1100RS to Alaska, and after I read Gregís story I knew immediately I had to change the wheels. Donít get me wrong, the cast-alloy wheels are wonderful high performance rims. But if you let your tire pressure get too low and run over a pot-hole, you're talking about trouble.  After a little Internet snooping, I discovered that A&S BMW in California, has sold the California Highway Patrol hundreds of BMW R1100RTs as CHiP bikes, a couple of years ago. The wire spoke wheels they had come with were replaced with the cast-alloy rims, and A&S had a few hundred sets of the wheels I wanted. But that was 2 years ago. I called to discover they had one set left. I knew they would work on an R1100RT, but would they work on my RS? I was assured it would not be a problem. $1500 and they were mine, complete with brake rotors, tires, and a new speedometer drive.

Three weeks before I was set to leave for Alaska, I brought my motorcycle to Linders to change the wheels. David and I put the bike on the lift, and David got to work switching the rims. The front wheel went on like butter, and it looked so good I decided to never swtich them back. But when we got to the rear wheel it was another story entirely. The brake set-up and the ABS system is different on the RT compared to the RS, and we quickly saw this wasnít going to work! A&S was wrong! Now what the hell was I going to do? Further modifications would take time and money, and they might not ever work out. And I donít want to change things on the motorcycle that werenít meant to be changed. Suddenly modifying the bike is not an option. Oh @%#^! Me!

I could take the bike to Alaska, and skip the ride up to Prudhoe Bay. But for me that would be like walking out of the movie 10 minutes before the big finale. Itíd be like sex without an orgasm. It would be like visiting Herseys and not trying the chocolate. Okay, you get the idea. Iím not going to skip the best part. Why would I even think about that! Next, please.

I could rent a motorcycle, but no one in their right mind would rent a vehicle to have it beaten to death on the Dalton. Besides, how would I gear it out properly? And it would cost too much. And I want to ride MY motorcycle to Alaska. Moving right along.

I look at David and ask him about the1998 R1100GS I saw on the showroom floor when I arrived. "Take it for a test ride. Now."

Art Blight, the wonderful sales manager at Linders sets me up and itís a done deal. Iím the new owner of a bright red BMW R1100GS with only 4,600 miles on the clock. The the bike is already loaded: Ohlins shocks, matched painted luggage, heated grips, a big Aeroflow windshield, and even a tank bag. All I would need would be a top case, a new GPS mount, the engine protection kit (or crash-bars as they are affectionately known) and Iím ready to go. Of course, itís never good to take an unfamiliar machine on a long trip, so a quick test ride to Maine and back, and Iím ready for the 6,000 mile service.

I was a little upset to think that I wasn't going to take my RS up to Alaska.  After all, I've become quite attached to the bike after riding it all over the country.  But in the long run, I'll be much happier that I did this ride on a GS.  It really is the ultimate riding machine.  The thing can go anywhere, and it should hold up to any abuse I'll be subjecting it to in Alaska.  And it's kind of cool that Chuck and I will be riding the same kind of bike.  Considering the results, if I had to do this planning all over again, I would have just bought a GS in the first place.  Actually, I'm lucky the bike was there at Lindners.  A few hours after I told Art I was purchasing the bike, someone came in to the shop ready to buy it.

I'd like to take a little space and properly thank David, Art, and the entire crew at Lindner Cycle Shop. Without their help and advice this trip would not be possible. They are a terrific bunch of people, and it you are ever in the market for a BMW motorcycle you would be doing yourself a grave disservice not to stop by. It turns out that Art will be headed to Alaska a few weeks after Chuck and I depart. Heíll be on his 1995 R100GS, and joined by two other riding buddies. Hopefully weíll see them somewhere on the road.