It was that time of the year: The XR boys head for the Rockies to take it to the edge. Steve, my long-time riding partner, and I embarked on this journey from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, heading for Clark, Colorado, a little town of log cabins perched on the mountainside just northwest of the popular ski slopes of Steamboat Springs and adjacent to the Routt National Forest.
Traveling from the West Coast were our counterparts, Bob and Glen, in an '01 Chevy Suburban equipped with a big 8.1-liter V-8.
When it comes to dirt bikes, we all agree the best way to hop rocks is on the bulletproof Honda XR. This year's fleet consisted of two XR400Rs, three XR600Rs, and one old but reliable XR500 for backup. The XR400R and 600R are similar in design, with the larger holding the advantage in power and the smaller boasting lighter weight and more agile handling characteristics. The low-end torque of the four-stroke, as opposed to a higher-revving two-stroke, is essential when it comes to serious mountain riding.
For this venture, we went with the all-new '03 Ford Expedition/Eddie Bauer 4x4 to trailer our Honda two-wheel off-road machines. We'd put a decent-size cargo load in the back, and the power-folding third-row seat made packing the gear no trouble. We had a minimal trailer load of three bikes on a single-axle flatbed.
After logging the coordinates into the Expedition's navigation system (the first in a Ford vehicle), we adjusted the six-way-power leather buckets with the heat/cool option and headed north across the plains toward Kansas.
The ride was exceptional with the addition of a rear independent suspension attached to a 70-percent stiffer hydroformed frame. The upgrade to rack-and-pinion steering provides the new Ford with an improved road feel. Acceleration from the 5.4-liter Triton V-8 bolted to a four-speed automatic transmission is reasonable, but not overwhelming.
Darkness set in as we passed through Denver and began our climb up the winding mountain roads. There was a typical loss of power as the low-oxygen content took effect on the engine.
The first morning began with the required mechanical preparation to our off-road motorcycles: jetting the carburetors to obtain an optimum air/fuel mixture at 10,000 feet above sea level, adjustment and lubrication of the drive chains, and tweaking the front and rear suspension in accordance to the rough terrain.
We started out on the loose-rock slopes of Hahn's Peak where an XR can't quite make it all the way to the top. It requires a hike up a nearly perpendicular wall of rocks to reach the aged, wooden observation post that bears a history of lightning strikes. Riding east on a wide variety of trail contours, burms, and obstacles brought us to a well-known high spot, Farwell Mountain. We pitted our bike's knobbed tires against the boulders and logs at the level peak before descending the steep grassy slope on the far mountain face.