LAB2V

L.A. To Barstow To Vegas

Bad Choices Make Great Stories

Words & Photos by Scott Toepfer

Most of my friends have learned that I don’t make motorcycle choices based on reliability or race-worthiness, hell I’ve driven more miles than I can count just to race a bike that wouldn’t even start when I got there. Maybe it’s vanity, maybe it’s a nod to the challenge or maybe I just love the nostalgia. Regardless, if you tend to make decisions along this train of thought, or have a similarly afflicted friend, let this story be a warning against your best “worst” intentions.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched many friends power through familial Thanksgiving feasts, and then load up bound for the desert to attend one of the oldest desert rally rides in US history. The LA-Barstow-Vegas (LAB2V) Rally is held every year on this weekend, and has lured hundreds of dual sport and adventure riders to the desert for over 30 years.


Amidst the sea of orange machines, there’s always about ten or so vintage riders willing to attempt the 400-mile rally. And by vintage, I don’t mean a street legal 2001 CR500. The bikes being tested are older than the rally itself– the types of bikes that popularized desert racing in the first place.

LAB2V

Every year a small group of friends would gather and chat about riding it ‘next year.’ While most of my friends had done the ride many times, it was my first time gathering the stones to try it. To add to the challenge I thought I’d give it a go aboard my recently acquired 1967 BSA Hornet.

That last part should definitely be a red flag for most folks. I thought I had a decent feeling of what I was getting myself into, but the expression I kept hearing slowly began to make sense more and more…”75-percent of the way on a BSA.” With 50-horsepower (stock), roughly 380 pounds of weight and packing 3-4 inches of travel, the gear nut in you is probably head shaking already.

After mounting up some more aggressive desert knobbies, wiring DOT lights, mufflers and wire mesh spark arrestors, I passed tech inspection in the dark and the AMA signed me in. I was ready to roll. The excitement and nerves overpowered our doubts of whether or not our GPS would work, or if we had enough water and gas to make it to the next stop.

Our group consisted of three guys on old bikes, a 1967 Triumph Bonneville and two 1967 BSA Hornets. We started the day with clean clothes and big smiles. We hoped to pass as many of the guys on big bikes as we could before we hit the dirt. As it turned out, two miles into the ride we ended up on some dusty switchbacks with the sun in our eyes. Being in the desert with 500-600 motorcycles riding single file into the sun is a bit of an awful proposition with a 50-year old clutch.

LAB2V
LAB2V
LAB2V

While the clutch survived, my lighting did not. Fifteen minutes into day one, the cast aluminum bracket holding my headlight snapped. At least I got it out of the way early. A few minutes of fun with the Leatherman and I officially needed to finish before dark.

Not long after that, my bike started to short out. I didn’t think to bring fuses, but I had a ton of safety wire. I quickly learned how to hard wire my fuse holder. I was either gonna finish this ride or melt my motorcycle in the sand.

The first day went like this: fall behind old guys on fast straights and then pass old guys in the dirt. Get gas, get lost, get stuck in sand, tell newcomers who joined our group that “I was fine” and then find the road to the next gas stop. When it was fun, it was FUN. When there was no service and no help, it was a character building experience in a gritting your sand-filled teeth kind of way. We were running the ‘hard way’ as long as we could. When the gearbox on one of our bikes broke, we decided to take the short way.

Luckily I wasn’t the only one having trouble. A few of the other vintage riders had lost power, flatted tires, smoked clutches and broken woodruff keys. Nobody was safe from 200 miles of sand and rocks. Except the guys on brand new bikes with brand new gear… those guys were untouchable.

LAB2V

After several hours under the sun we ended up taking some detours through the familiar area of Stoddard Wells, just outside Barstow. We found some rocky hills to climb, got another flat tire or two, and got lost on the backside of the mountain. Thankfully, being a holiday weekend, there were plenty of guys throwing thumbs up that were willing to point us in the right direction.

Without lights, the ride into Barstow was a little dicey, but thankfully our team manager, Joy, had her brights on and was tailing us into town. We finally rolled into our motel parking lot and assessed the milieu of damage. Despite the fatigue there was no time to rest, it was now time to repair.

The lot was riddled with bikes making fixes. The main hotel was a block away, but we had our own little vintage oasis away from the ‘hey my dad used to have one of those’ conversations courtesy of the cheerful guys who’d already showered and eaten dinner.

I was officially not legal anymore. My mufflers had rattled out, my lights were gone, and one of my footpegs had shed its grippy outer cage. The good news was that I found the culprit creating the electrical short in my wiring. I also cleaned my air filters checked some nuts, bolts, and I was good to go.

LAB2V

As a tribe of sorts, tools were passed around, fluids drained and refilled, flats were patched, and team manager Joy’s manicure got messed up. The camaraderie among vintage riders is great and we worked and laughed well into the night. JB Weld even made a mandatory appearance at our fix-it-fast party. After a lot of beers and head scratching, every one of the bikes in the vintage class was running and ready for the second day’s run to Vegas. Even that stuck gearbox was fixed and running better than ever through the sleepy streets of Barstow.

Day 2 started with high hopes, but within ten minutes of riding, my gas tank mount snapped. It was a weak link we’d been watching since the beginning. My team stopped just long enough to dump a pile of bungees at my feet before heading north. I used all of them, and jumped on I-15 to catch up.

Collectively we decided that we would forgo the rally markers followed by miles of sand whoops and give the bikes some time to breathe. We paralleled the freight line along I-15 through some fast service roads, drainage ditches and rocky embankments, keeping the bikes moving in 3rd gear. It was as fun as we could ask for.

LAB2V
LAB2V
LAB2V

As is normal during these sorts of things, we all got separated at different points along the way but had a point we knew to aim for. We used a little more Google than we would’ve liked, but found our way to Baker, and assessed the group’s situation. It was at this point that I realized my oil tank mount had also broken. It happened to be bouncing around between my battery box and a side cover, so I rummaged through some roadside garbage and found enough cardboard to wedge the tank in place. Another roadside fix for a broken, rare piece of British motorcycle history.

During all of our preparation, we’d had the Red Rock Canyon section in the back of our minds. We tried to save our motors and clutches for this last hurdle, and while most of the guys made it without problem, I did not. All of my forward momentum was halted when a group of side by sides came into view.

They rock crawled right past me, and I was stuck at the bottom of the ravine with very little clutch left. I walked, scooted, pushed and got a few boosts as the bike managed to climb foot-by-foot closer to the top.

The ‘hard way’ was really HARD here. Watching $20k adventure bikes topple over as their pilots looked up and asked for help picking them up was the only salve for the sting of my embarrassment. I wasn’t the only one begging for relief and a cold beverage at this section and we all shared some laughs.

LAB2V

At the end of Day 2 I believe seven vintage bikes crossed the finish line of the 34th LAB2V Rally. I was promised showgirls and photo-ops, but instead I got a parking garage full of new and old friends and cold drinks. This will forever be the most fun I’ve had in a parking lot. As we celebrated and shared stories, members of Team Orange came by to tell us we were crazy and threw out some high-fives. It was a good weekend.

As we drove back to Ventura, the high from completing the run faded and I made a list of broken bits to replace to get my trusty steed back in the dirt:

  • Broken gas tank mount
  • Broken oil tank mount
  • Broken foot pegs
  • Fried clutch
  • Broken brake cable
  • Bent levers
  • Broken brake pedal
  • Replaced foot peg mount
  • Broken headlight mount
  • Torn seat
  • Broken front fender mount
  • Blown fork seals
  • Bent handlebars

Now as I sit back in retrospect, I’d definitely attempt this ride again on this particular bike. I’ve got a better lay of the land and know what to expect. I have also made tools that will work in these scenarios, and learned a lot about the bike itself. My competitive nature wants me to have a fast, light, high performance bike, but I really do think that the ride would need to be significantly more challenging to match the engagement that a vintage rally requires. I love this old bike.

While I would’ve been happy to sell it if it hadn’t finished, it has finished, and now I’m attached to this old, dirty, broken piece of English manufacturing.

Here’s to many more adventures!

LAB2V
LAB2V

Leave A Comment & Win Free Schwag

Want to win some free schwag? Leave a comment and vote up the most thoughtful comments and each month we’ll pick a winner. The person with the smartest and most helpful replies will earn some sweet new gear. Join the Pack