On the trail to adventure

Sound RIDER! logo


Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - Adventure Motorsports


On the trail to adventure

Two whacks of the snooze bar and it's now 3:50 a.m. I'm out of bed standing in my living room, camping and motorcycle gear strewn about. The vague serendipity of the time and number of CCs in my Suzuki DR is lost on me as I work to cram my gear into a single backpack. Four, maybe five days out requires a certain amount of supply and though a fairly good minimalist, tools and a sleeping bag take up a hell of a lot of space.

My knee buried into my pack I work the zippers closed and reassure myself that, it really is ok to install a set of panniers…Skinny ones at least. Dear God...The last thing I want is to become one of those "kitchen sink packers," strolling down the highway on my Goldwing with an Airstream trailer in tow… I'd rather buy a damned Miata for ⅓ the cost...

Just after 4:30 a.m. and on one of the longest days of the year, the sun is already beginning to rise. Helmet in hand, I sling the 30+ pound pack over my shoulder and realize, almost gratefully at this hour, that this may be one of the last times that I intentionally shoulder such a burdensome load. Perhaps the sun was setting on my moto minimalism.

Forgive me, it's easy to get philosophical in the early twilight, particularly when your motorcycle lacks both a luggage setup and a windshield. If the internal monologue doesn't keep you occupied, then you're in real danger of being consumed by the deafening pummel of 70 mile an hour winds. On the first of a four day trip and with 500 road miles scheduled, I was sure to be consumed by something.

Rolling out from downtown Seattle, I am headed to the Happy Trails (www.happy-trail.com) factory in Boise, Idaho. After weeks of hunting for the slimmest aluminum pannier setup possible, I had begun an email exchange with the company's CEO and dedicated adventure rider, Tim Bernard.

The 5" wide Imnaha pannier setup was what I was interested in. With no horsepower to spare on my DR350 and fighting to stick to my "take only what you need" approach this was absolutely the only luggage setup that I would consider. Soft luggage wasn't an option as I wanted the locking security of hard boxes and vanity being what it is, I couldn't escape the glistening image of my freshly rigged Suzuki, perched against a mountain backdrop on an unnamed dirt road.

Two questions for Tim. 1: They didn't have a mounting kit listed on their website for the DR350, could they make one? And 2: What did he think my experience would be like riding in the rough stuff? The DR is a dirt bike at heart and I didn't want to sacrifice any maneuverability.

Turns out, Tim had done the exact same setup on another DR350...his own. Granted, his DR might be the most tricked out 350 in existence, but with his assurance that he rode "many a mile of single track," for trail maintenance "...with a chainsaw," I planned the pilgrimage east. Surely I could pick up my own chainsaw after I arrived.

Crossing over the central Washington passes in the wee hours of the morning, I duck behind the non-existent windshield in an effort to hide myself from the 40 degree temperatures. Hours later, as high noon approaches, I shoot across the the northeastern corner of Oregon and begin to feel the high desert heat. My all-black riding suit, though stylish, eagerly invites the sun, as temperatures climb to nearly 100 degrees.

Heading into Idaho, I consider shedding some of the underlying insulating layers that I wear, only to realize that my single backpack is already bursting at the seams. Fatigued from 400 miles on the interstate and brutalized by the sun, I fully disregard my hesitation towards pannier installation and hope that the Happy Trails team will be able to get me set up before I make the roundabout journey back to western Washington.

After a brief night's respite in Boise, I make my way to the Happy Trails factory and am greeted by Tim and shop manager/chief custodian Jason Ward. Jason's good natured personality is exactly what you would hope for from an operation like Happy Trails and as he looks over my bike, I can see that he clearly has something on his mind.

"I was thinking…" he casually offered, "We don't have the Imnaha's in stock, but we could build them for you today and get you outta here with something?" "Absolutely!" I say, planning out the next few days of riding in my head, with gear easily accessible and safely locked away. "You guys can do that?" Jason nods, "Yeah."

Though not the typical build schedule, with most of Happy Trails products constructed right here in Boise, it is something that they are capable of. In fact, not only is the manufacturing done here in Idaho, much of the source materials like steel tubing and sheet metals are purchased in the greater Northwest region as well.

With the deal in place, Tim appears with a toolbox and rolls out his DR350. There won't be time to build a new mounting rack today, but I am welcome to the setup on his. Wrench in hand and with the shop team already at work on the aluminum panniers, I begin to disassemble the frame.

In between turns of the wrench, I grill both Jason and Tim for tips on luggage and packing that only thousands of miles and years of industry experience can bring to light (see part II, "10 tips for motorcycle luggage success) and eagerly begin to plan my route back to Seattle.

The mounting racks now transferred and the end of the work day approaching, I can already envision the sleek aluminum panniers being mounted to the bike. The guys help me plan a ride that will take me through southern Idaho, into the high desert of eastern Oregon, through the valleys of central Washington and finally, across the Cascades and back home to Seattle.

As the aluminum panniers slide onto the frame, I exchange handshakes with the team as we admire the new setup. My appetite for gear had not grown, but my anticipation to hit the road had. It was time to get out and ride, it was time to get out and have an adventure.

Derek Roberts/July 2015

We've worked hard to upgrade this site. Click here to notify us of any problems we need to correct.


Subscription has its privileges - Each month Sound RIDER! publishes new features on rides, clubs, dealers and events. Don't miss out on these informative stories.

Sign up today for your FREE subscription and you'll get notification each month when the new issue comes on line. You'll also be the first to find out about special Sound RIDER! events. From time to time, we also provide valuable coupons that can save you hundreds of dollars on motorcycle services. What are you waiting for? Click here to sign up now!