You are planning to ride a motorcycle from frozen tundra to untamed jungle, covering nearly 20,000 miles in between. You will ride in darkness, in bitter cold, in sweltering heat, and through wilderness to reach the very end of the road on the South American continent. Why? Just to see if you can.
This might be a fantasy for some, but it’s becoming reality for a team of four U.S. military veterans who are planning to ride from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Ushuaia, Argentina, attempting to cross the notorious Darien Gap along the way. They’re filming the expedition from preparation to completion, and will release a feature-length documentary called “Where The Road Ends” — check out the captivating film trailer. They’re also riding in support of the Lone Survivor Foundation, which provides aid to wounded service members and their families. Team leader Wayne Mitchell approached Twisted Throttle to help outfit their bikes, and if you know us here at Twisted, you know this is right up our alley. Read on to see which accessories were installed and why. (Note: All photos are by the Where The Road Ends team.)
Now, this expedition has been carefully planned from the start, and planned out more than a year in advance. The journey will begin in Alaska in November, which means they’ll be riding on frozen roads in sub-zero temperatures. That’s why the bike prep took place this past February, so the team could test out their rigs in ice and snow. Once we’d all settled on the choice of lights, luggage, and protection, our own Mr Twisted, Erik Stephens, along with Twisted tech expert Keith Gardner were dispatched to Colorado (with a few pallets of gear) to help with the build.
Which motorcycle did the team choose for this extraordinary endeavor? The one that many world travelers before them have relied on: the trusty Kawasaki KLR650. This kind of trip is a testament to what you can do with this bike: add a sidecar, load it for street touring, strip it down for dirt riding. It’s lighter than the big ADV bikes, so you can more easily get through difficult terrain. And it has a larger tank than almost any other mid-size ADV motorcycle, with a range of about 250 miles. There’s a sticker we’ve seen at rallies that sums up the KLR well: “Your bike can go fast, my bike can go anywhere.”
One of the primary challenges with outfitting for this kind of expedition is the enormous change in terrain. The team will ride from frozen roads to highway to 100 miles of pure jungle. Let’s look at the major differences in setup to accommodate the changing conditions.
For the Alaska portion, the bikes will be kitted with sidecars custom-built by Edwards Racing in Brighton, Colorado. The sidecars will hold extra equipment in a Pelican side case, including additional batteries. The KLR has a famously weak charging system, and in the deep cold the team will need to power heated gear, heated grips, auxiliary lights, and winches. In this circumstance, bulletproof is more important than flashy, and it’s best to keep the accessories and electronics simple. That includes avoiding doing anything that would tap into the original wiring harness or modify the electrical system. To that end, we used a DENALI PowerHub2 to keep electrical accessories off of the original harness.
Since the men will also be riding in the dark, with only about 3-4 hours of twilight each day, the sidecars were outfitted with powerful DENALI D4 LED lights, which send light 500 feet ahead along with lighting up a wide swath on either side. The bikes received DENALI DR1 lights, which draw less power than the D4s and thus are less taxing on the KLR’s charging system. The DR1 is perfect for all the highway riding later, providing 700 feet of viewing distance down the road. (To see more lighting options for ADV bikes, check out this helpful video.) Lastly, studded tires will help ensure traction on the icy roads of Alaska.
Once past the Arctic portion of the ride, the sidecars come off and SW-MOTECH crash bars and skid plates go on, along with TRAX ADVENTURE side cases with Quick-Lock EVO racks. We added the hard-bolt kit, which provides additional strength and durability for the side racks during rough riding. It also makes the luggage much harder to steal. An SW-MOTECH steel top rack with expansion plate adds a wide storage space at the rear. This top rack also has pre-drilled mounting points for RotopaX fuel packs. Up front, the bikes will carry the SW-MOTECH Enduro tank bag for additional storage. As for tires, the team will swap the studded rubber for MEFO Explorers, a 50/50 dual-sport tire.
Once the team reaches the jungle, it’s time to strip the luggage to make the bikes as light as possible. They’ll also swap the regular 50/50 tires for something with even more grip — that could be studded tires again, possibly the MEFO Stone Master and MX Master (as of this writing, we’re not sure).
There are a few other accessories that will make the trip a little more comfortable — or maybe “bearable” is a better word. For starters, the KLR’s stock footpegs are known to get pretty slippery, especially when muddy. They were swapped with SW-MOTECH On-Road/Off-Road Footpegs, which offer a wider and grippier surface. Doubletake Adventure Mirrors replaced the stock ones, which have been known to break at the threaded mount (good luck fixing that on the road). The Doubletake mirrors use a RAM ball mounting assembly, so if the bike falls over, it pushes the entire assembly aside instead of breaking the mirror or mount. The SW-MOTECH Centerstand for the KLR will come in handy for roadside repairs and tire swaps (once the sidecars are gone). Finally, Barkbusters Storm handguards will provide cover from wind, rain, and snow in the cold, and also protect the levers from damage if a bike hits the ground.
This spring and summer, the team will be traveling to events and rallies to drum up support for the project. We’ll update this blog with a list of where they’ll appear, so you can meet the guys and check out the bikes in person. You can contact them via the expedition website or Facebook page. And please help spread the word — the team needs support to make the documentary happen. Right now, we’re focused on helping them gear up for the ride of a lifetime.