400+ Miles on Mini Bikes: LA-Barstow to Vegas

Dec. 19, 2012 By Gabe Pari, Photos by Justin Majich
It was about nine months ago a few of us came up with this silly idea that we could ride the famous LA-Barstow to Vegas ride on vintage Honda Trail 90s. Our thought was that anyone can do it on a real bike... we wanted to make it a challenge. It's only 450-500 miles off-road in two days, starting in Palmdale, CA, and ending in Las Vegas, Nevada. What could go wrong?

If you're not familiar with the Honda Trail 90, it's basically a small step-through motorcycle manufactured by Honda from 1966 to 1979. It featured an air-cooled 89cc four-stroke with a four-speed and an auto clutch. It also offered a low range sub-transmission that basically let the bike climb like a goat over very technical and steep terrain. Hunters used them and they were big in the RV world, easily fitting on the back bumper and such. Many people remember learning how to ride a two-wheeler on these when they were a kid.

LA-Barstow to Las Vegas Ride 01

With at least six months to go, we finalized our plan and started prepping the bikes. Dave Druck, off-road enthusiast and owner of Trasharoo, decided to build up a non-running Craigslist find. Start with one broken-down 1969 CT90 and throw in a big bore (104cc), hot cam and a bigger carb. Dave was sparing no expense in making sure he had a few extra ponies to get those tiny little tires on top of the inevitable sand washes. Dave's better half already owned a 1978 CT90, but as pristine as it was she'd absolutely kill him if he tore it through the desert and beat it to death.

Chris Johnson, or "Hippie" as his friends call him, being a very competent mechanic and machinist, decided to build a "Franken-motor." Part CT90, part ATC 125, part custom-made doohickey, Chris' bike was fast. With a 125cc electric start motor with a manual clutch, Chris was the favorite to finish this thing in one piece.

LA-Barstow to Las Vegas Ride 02

I (author Gabe Pari) decided to buck the trend and just freshen up my bone-stock '69. All OEM Honda parts were sourced for the motor with the only aftermarket parts on the bike being new, stiffer rear coilovers, stiffer front springs and my favorite pair of grips, AME half waffles. With the bike being 6-volt and not trusting the internal battery terminals in my Garmin 76, I wired up a battery pack from my Nite Rider bicycle headlight system to power the GPS.

You would think that six months would be plenty of time to prep three bikes for the event. Wrong! I was chasing down charging system woes and ended up tearing down the motor and replacing the stator three days before Thanksgiving. Chris' bike was stuck in neutral the night before we left for Palmdale, and he ended up having to tear his motor down and weld up a new pin in the transmission. There was no quit in us yet.

Being that this was the first time any of us had participated in this event, we had no idea what to expect. Luckily, my cousin Wayne had done the ride in 2011. We loaded up the bikes in Wayne's truck at 4 a.m. Friday morning and headed for Palmdale. Wayne helped us navigate tech, check-in, helped get our luggage on the trailer and off we went, hell bent for Barstow.

LA-Barstow to Las Vegas Ride 03

We quickly found out this was going to be a very long day. Right before the reset from pavement to dirt, Dave's bike started smoking and a quick visual revealed a fuel line resting on the cooling fins of the head; cold wet fuel spilling onto an air-cooled head is not a good thing. Luckily there was no fire all that was needed was a bit of spare hose and off we went again. But 13 miles later, Dave's bike quit. A bit of investigation showed he had melted the piston. This time we weren't so lucky. We towed him to the highway and after a few phone calls Dave was on his own. Chris and I were back at it. What Chris and I didn't know at the time was that Dave was calling in reinforcements. His friend Bryan picked up the aforementioned pristine '78 CT90, which happened to be completely stock, and drove it up from Anaheim. Dave later swapped bikes and proceeded to "chase" us about four hours behind.

Day one was long, rocky, dusty, sandy and long. We stuck to the roll chart all the way until a few miles past Cuddeback Hill (yes, we made it up Cuddeback!). There were no more ribbons and we were chasing sweep. It was about then my rear rack broke almost dumping my tools and spares. Chris' tail bag was also missing, and he rode three miles back in the opposite direction and found it.

LA-Barstow to Las Vegas Ride 04

We figured it was time to put our tail between our legs and slab it the rest of the way. Unfortunately Chris' ride would end 20 miles from Barstow. On the 58, headed east, his bike stuck a valve and his motor was kaput. A $250 tow truck ride back to Barstow, and Chris was an unhappy camper. Note: Regular AAA coverage does NOT cover motorcycles.

Dave showed up in Barstow around 9:30 p.m. after riding all day by himself. We left the bikes in the watchful eyes of the Boy Scouts and tried to get some well-deserved sleep. I will admit I had my doubts after day one 244 miles on a CT90 will kick your butt. I was sore, tired and ready to throw in the towel. The next morning, 6 a.m. in Barstow came way too early. We literally crawled out of bed, checked valves, points, tires and added oil, and off we went for another 200 miles on our way to Vegas.

A little bit wiser on day two, we decided to get a jump on the course. We headed East out of Barstow, paralleling the 40 on broken pavement and dirt to Dagget. From there we went North and caught Powerline Road out of Yermo. This is just what we needed to get some confidence back. We followed Powerline to Afton, then Arrowhead Trail to Rasor. As we were getting wonderful fuel mileage (I would later find out that I averaged 124 mpg), we skipped the fuel stop at Rasor and we were back on the roll chart.

LA-Barstow to Las Vegas Ride 05

Rasor proved to be a section we should have skipped. The tiny bicycle-like tires on the 90s did not mix well with the large jagged rocks that comprised the road. Dave suffered two flats that ate up a ton of time as we picked our way through the trail. We were having a hard time holding our line in the rocks, zig-zagging with other riders behind us. I was worried about getting roosted by passing riders. I am happy to say we got nothing but compliments, thumbs up and encouraging words from every rider we came across. We arrived in Baker around noon. With high hopes of making it to Sandy Valley for lunch, we stopped for a quick splash of fuel, a few snacks, chatted with a few people who had a hard time figuring out why in the world we were out there on 90s, and away we went.

You guys and your "real" dirt bikes ... You think the sand after Baker was hard? Try it on a 43-year-old Honda Trail 90 with tiny little tires and no suspension ... oh and did I mention, only 90cc! Had this not been a Tortoise section, we would have been riding between the bushes. I will just say the sand sucked the life out of us. But we made it up the canyon and popped out onto Kingston Road. After a left turn, a nice smooth dirt road and we were rolling into Sandy Valley. The pulled-pork sandwiches were a welcome surprise!

LA-Barstow to Las Vegas Ride 06

At this point, we knew it was time to do whatever we could to make it to Vegas in time for the awards ceremony. A quick chat with the checkpoint stewart and we decided we'd take 161 to Jean and Old Las Vegas Blvd. into Vegas. Remember, we are on 90cc bikes and not legally allowed to ride on the freeway. We putted along at 33 mph (all the '78 would do, wide open) and rolled into Vegas at 6:00 p.m., Saturday night. We covered 434 miles with only 80 miles of pavement. Some said we were "crazy," some said "stupid," some said "awesome"... well, they were all right! WE MADE IT!

This was our first B2V and our first multi-hundred mile trek on the 90s. It was an awesome experience. The trails were fun, but the people made the event memorable. See y'all on the trail, though it will be a while before I saddle up the 90 again. I'll be nursing my wounds and riding my TE450 for a while.

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