December 09, 2010

An Iron Butt week on a little bike  

Two rides. The first Iron Butt Association Heaven to Hell 1000 and record attempt for the smallest bike to complete an Iron Butt CC50 (Coast to Coast in under 50 hours) on a Honda CBR 125
The route from Windsor, Ontario to Mt. Evans to Death Valley, to SanDiego California, to Jacksonville Florida

     In the middle of the desert in southern Arizona. Screaming over a hill at 11,000+ rpm. In the distance a police officer immediately uses his radar gun to paint the little white "crotch rocket" style motorcycle with the crouched down rider. He looks at the display and gets a very quizzical look on his face. After all, I’m not speeding, just trying to go as fast as possible on a bike of only 125cc. Welcome to the world of little bike Iron Butt riding.
This particular incident was four years in the making and started a long way away and with an entirely different motorcycle. I adopted, for free, a little 49cc Honda NS50F about 4 years ago and decided that since it had a genuine Honda two stroke racing (HRC) engine, it could be made to do Iron Butt Association rides. Of course the first thing that occurred to me was the way "CC50 on a 50cc" rolled off the tongue. I was hooked!

The 49cc Honda NS50 "Barbie Bike From Hell" (250 decals to help
with freeway restrictions :) )
     After completely rebuilding the bike with massive modifications to increase speed and equip it for long distance riding we actually completed some IBA rides on it. Most notably a "Bun Burner 1500" where it managed 1600+ miles in 33 hours. (See: click on 1600 miles, 33 hours, 49 cubic centimetres) Several rides later however it finally sunk in that even though it would do a 19 hour 1000 miles, it wasn’t fast enough to do a Coast to Coast in under 50 hours (IBA CC50) and still allow for delays and sleep.

     Thus after the Florida Legends ride in March of 2010 I decided to abandon a CC50 on a 50cc and just try for the small bike record for the coast to coast in under 50 hours ride.

     Since most of the planning etc. had already been done it was just a matter of a suitable bike. I managed to come across a new Honda CBR125 at a very attractive price. Can you imagine - it has a two year unlimited mileage warranty! So, the rush was on to modify it for distance riding, break it in, get going before it got too hot in the southwest and while the days were still long. All of the usual "Farkles" were applied. Fuel cell (4 gallons), GPS, light enhancement, hydration system, timers and clocks etc., etc. Thirty days later and a test ride of a Saddle Sore 1000 (1000 miles in under 24 hours) proved the little 125 could do the job. But could I? I started the usual regimen of exercises and abstinence of alcohol and caffeine.

The little 125 as ready as we could get it in a short time
      I had also been contemplating another ride which would dovetail with our trip out to the start in San Diego. I had been speaking to Mike Kneebone, (president of the IBA) and discussed a new ride. A 1000 mile route starting at the top of Mt. Evans (+14000 ft.) to the bottom of Death valley at Badwater Basin (282 ft. below sea leverl). This is from the highest point attainable by road to the lowest point, in the U.S.A. The ride was accepted as certifiable and the attempt was approved. The ride was later named by the IBA as the "Heaven to Hell 1000"

The usual crummy photo at O'dark Thirty at the Ambassador
Bridge in Windsor, Ontario
      So off we went at about 5:00 a.m. on May 27th, 2010. I met a riding partner, Charles Fider on his 1982 BMW R100RT (with 434,000 Km on it) at the Ambassador Bridge. After the obligatory photos - that as usual look terrible, we departed. A nice cool morning as we rode over the bridge to Detroit. With everything running smoothly it seemed just too good to be true. We decided to document the entire ride even though we would only submit for the two rides mentioned. Practice is always a good thing. After clearing Customs it was straight down to Toledo and then across the Interstate 90 toll road where we encountered the first glitch. My EZ-Pass failed to work. This really is a problem when the gate refuses to open and a voice comes out of the grill that sounds like an ostrich being strangled. I just kept yelling "I’ve got an EZ-Pass and it won’t work" over the tooting of horns behind. Finally the "Toll Troll" came by to manually punch in the number and off we went. The EZ-Pass that I’d lent to Charles of course worked perfectly. This scenario was to be repeated several times until past Chicago and blessedly no more toll roads. The ride however was great. Part of my test 1000 mile ride had been along this section of I-90 so there were no surprises.
     Overnight in the Lincoln, NB area made for a short second day. Early in day 2, along about the middle of Nebraska we stopped for some gas and water and I noticed that the bike hesitated when I tried to start it. Shortly down the road it just quit. No electrics at all. Fortunately the battery was still accessible with only a minimum of disassembly of add-ons. Turns out the battery cable screws had vibrated loose. Tighten them back up, add a dab of threadlock and we were back on the road in only about 15 minutes.

Charles working to find the electrical fault. Somewhere on I-80
in Nebraska

       This was a precurser of things to come. Threadlock, duct tape and zip ties seem to be the only cure for vibration. The rest of that day’s ride was generally as uneventful as the scenery in that part of the country. The only other issue was some bad gas just entering Denver which made for some tense moments causing speed drops down to 30mph on Denver freeways. Of course both the main and the auxiliary tanks were full of the stuff so all had to be drained. Even so we still had enough time to rest up for the trip up Mt. Evans on the next morning. We were trying to pace ourselves so as to not get exhausted before the main event(s).

     Checking in with the Mt. Evans Chief Ranger we were informed that the road had indeed been opened only the day before and should (weather permitting) be open for our attempt. We were also informed however that all of the area to the north of us had road closures due to snow. OOPS - time to look over our route and make some changes. We altered the route to continue on I-70 all the way to I-15 instead of taking a cut off up Hwy. 191. The additional mileage needed would be made up by going north on I-15 towards Salt Lake City, until the required distance was obtained and then finding a place to document a turn around to return wouthward.

     The attempt day dawned clear and cool so off we went. We were accompanied by Kenny Wayne on a Goldwing and Randall Briggs on a Harley, two fellow long distance riders who had ridden up from Colorado Springs to help witness our departure at the top.

Charles & Bob with the day's newspaper at the base
of Mt. Evans - Echo Lake in the background.
     We documented everything we could, hotel receipt, gas fill up, purchase at the base Mt. Evans store at the park entrance, the entrance fee receipt etc. The main difficulty of the ride other than simply riding a small bike over 1000 miles through some of the highest passes in the U.S. was the documentation. There is simply no way to get a "computer receipt" at either end. We even obtained a current newspaper and had our photos taken showing it, to document that we hadn’t done anything previously.
    The ride up Mt. Evans went surprisingly smoothly for such a small bike. Thank-you whoever invented fuel injection! The little bike didn’t so much as wheeze, although it was down into second gear on some of the sharp switchbacks.

High snowbanks carved out only a few days before.  Note crack in the
foreground.  The slope is steeper than appearances here.  Bob then Kenny,
Photo by Charles
 Once above the usual road problems at Echo Lake the climbing started in earnest. With very large 20 foot thick drifts above us with the road carved out of them it was daunting. Just thinking of all that bright warm (?) sunshine beating down on them we were quite expecting a snow slide. Fortunately none of us had any loud pipes saving our lives to set off an avalanche and we proceeded to the top unscathed. Once at the top we took the obligatory photos, met up with a Park employee as a witness and coerced anyone else around to witness our starting location. I believe we ended up with about six. Hopefully that will be enough.

Charles and Bob att top of Mt. Evans with Newspaper as part of documentation process.
     Once the paperwork was out of the way we were "on the clock" and therefore wanted to leave as quickly as possible. Since it was a balmy 36 degrees F. at the summit we were bundled up with all of our warm clothing on. Charles had the luxury of an electric vest but with the anaemic electrical system on the little Honda I was reduced to relying strictly on lots of clothing. The trip down the mountain was an absolute joy. All of the limitations of 125cc engine displacement disappeared as gravity took over. Wow - just like the big guys! At the bottom, reality again asserted itself and it was back to nursing the bike up hills and maintaining a racing crouch akin to trying to get under the paint. Surprisingly the little Honda was able to negotiate all of the hills and passes with a minimum of fuss. The lowest speed was in the Vail Pass area where steep hills along with the 10,662 foot elevation caused a drop only to about 53 mph. The extra tall gearing enabled me to keep going down in gears without dropping the speed to dangerous levels. Having Charles behind me and my wearing a reflective vest was comforting during slower portions. For the rest of the daylight hours it was a glorious ride through the Rocky Mountains. Cool weather up high and warmer at the lower elevations.
Into the Colorado Mountain Passes on the way West.  Charles getting a little "run" ahead.

Bob in his usual riding position somewhere in western Colorado
     All went smoothly until nearing the I-70 I-15 junction where we were to turn north. I hadn’t been able to find Charles in the rear view mirror for quite some time. This wasn’t unusual as he would occasionally take breaks from the tedium of following along. This was different however as I hadn’t seen him in over 15 minutes. I stopped for about 10 minutes at exit #1 (hwy 161) and waited about 15 minutes. Still no Charles. Of course I immediately went into panic mode and used the interchange to reverse my route and rode almost all the way back to Hwy 89. Still couldn’t find him. I stopped at a pull out and pulled up to an extra large tractor trailer that was running. After beating on the door for a few minutes a "extra large lady trucker" appeared at the window. I asked her if she had a CB and if so would she enquire if any trucks had spotted Charles. No luck. Deciding that I must have missed him I again rode west. As I approached Exit #1 again there was Charles waiting. He had came up just as I was negotiating the off ramp and decided to wait. He’d stopped to take a few photos. Phew! All my worries that the ride was over evaporated and we headed north under gradually darkening skies.
     As the sun went down, so did the temperature. By the time of our turnaround and gas stop at Scipio Out in Bad Standings it was in the middle 30’s. I thought that once we were again heading south as well as down in elevation that the temps would rise. No such luck. The dashboard thermometer seemed stuck at 36 degrees. This was my lowest point of the entire trip. I was uncomfortable and cold. Not a good combination. My only salvation was that the old IBA adage kept running through my head. "Keep finding reasons not to stop rather than reasons to stop". This kept me from pulling into a couple of rest areas but the last one north of Las Vegas was the hardest. I actually started slowing down. Then I found my reason - I would stop at the next one. The same reason I’d used for passing the previous rest area. But it worked. Within minutes the elevation started going down and the warmer desert air started to thaw out my numb body. By the time we turned at Las Vegas and stopped for gas it was a toasty warm 65 degrees. Heaven! I can’t believe I just said that about Las Vegas. When it’s cold and dark however your perceptions change.

Now we turned back north through the night and out into Death Valley National Park. Not having enough miles at the infamous "Nevada Joes"

The infamous Nevada Joe's where you could no doubt by anyone...err... I mean
anything.  Just before dawn and the temps are now bearable. Just north of  Death
Valley.  We checked mileage and found had to go to Beatty first for enough miles.
 we continued on and got another receipt at the little town of Beatty before descending into the valley of Death - so to speak. In actual fact the sun was just coming up and the temperature was a balmy 70 degrees F. More like Heaven than Hell. We were now in "get all the receipts you can" mode so we stopped at the automated ticket dispenser for Death Valley Park. You put in money and out comes a park pass. If you’re caught without one by a ranger you’re in trouble. Standing around looking at the scenery and letting ourselves rest for a moment at the pull off, all of a sudden there was a large crash behind us. Since we were the only ones here this was not good.

Entrance to Death Valley.  A few minutes later Charles' bike fell over with
a broken sidestand. Minor disaster! Major P.I.A.
Looking quickly around to see what was going on we found Charles’ BMW R100RT on it’s side leaking gasoline across the parking lot. Since he’d left it on the side stand this was definitely not a good thing. Picking it up we discovered that the sidestand had broken. As we righted the bike, Charles indicated that this would be a major problem. It turns out that the older BMWs don’t have a "ride off" type of center stand. Thus you had to get off and on without using anything to hold the bike up. With the fuel cell complicating matters it was nearly impossible to mount the bike and getting off was even more of a problem. Somehow he managed - sometimes with me holding it up and sometimes on his own. We continued on in a somewhat subdued mood and shortly arrived at the final check.

Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the United States at 282 ft. below sea level. The finish of the first "Heaven to Hell 1000". After taking the obligatory photos of the sign halfway up a large cliff announcing "Sea Level" we started to once again pester the other tourists for witness signatures.

Congratulatory Handshake. Photo taken by one of the witnesses.  The first Heaven to Hell 1000 is now complete
pending IBA certification. on a 125cc bike and an almost 30 year old bike with over 400,000 km on it!
The little white blob in the top center is the Sea Level sign denoting actual sea level it's some 230 feet above us!
      Since it was still early in the morning the tourist supply was limited but we managed a few good witnesses and decided that we might as well press on to San Diego. There is not a lot to do in Badwater Basin and the temp was steadily rising. What a surprise! 
There are some long lonesome roads in  Death Valley.  Just after sunrise and it is already about 80 deg. F.
     We had an interesting although uneventful trip across Death valley and had reasonable temperatures until turning south towards Los Angeles. As usual there was lots of traffic going around Los Angeles but it thinned out on the way southward.
     By the time we arrived in San Diego and booked into a Hotel close to the coast we were both very tired. So after a quick dinner it was sleep time.

      In the meantime, I had put out a plea on the internet to members of the Long Distance Rider’s network for assistance to find a welder for Charles’ bike and a source of a new back tire for the little Honda. Although the tire had looked fine at Death Valley the trip across the desert and the grooved pavement along the way had it now almost at the wear marks. This task wasn’t so easy as it was the long Holiday weekend and most places were closed. Fortunately, Craig Chaddock a local rider from the LD Riders list was not only able to find a Honda Dealer open on the holiday but set us up with a friend who has a race shop out of his garage. The Honda dealer had nothing to fit my 125 as that model is not available in the U.S.A. He did however have a front tire for a Ninja 250 but refused to install it on the back wheel of a bike. "Insurancedon’tchaknow" Was the reason. I bought it anyway and left with it around my neck "bandoleer style". Fortunately Craig’s friend Daniel Sherburne (DHS Racing) also has a tire change machine and could solve both of our problems.

Daniel (DHS Racing) changing the tire on the little Honda.
He also expertly welded up the BMW's sidestand.
      A most entertaining afternoon was spent bench racing and swapping stories while the BMW kickstand was expertly welded and my tire swapped by Daniel. I thought that having a tire for a Ninja 250 (the model that currently held the record of which I was attempting to break) was somewhat ironic. Once again early to bed for as much sleep as possible. Everything was finally a go!

     Our departure was to be timed to miss the San Diego rush hour so we had plenty of time for the trip down to the water to gather the traditional vial of Pacific Ocean Water. Once that was out of the way we were clear to get our beginning gas receipt at the gas station that seemed to be closest to the coast and we were now "on the clock" at 10:52 am Pacific Daylight Savings time. Headed east.

Beginning fuel receipt - we're now "on the clock" for
the ride from the Pacific to the Atlantic in under 50 hrs.

     Once out of the urban area surrounding San Diego the hills and desert of southern California exerted their usual summer welcome. Instant heat once away from the cool Pacific Ocean. Dry desert and hot. Much hotter than when we were in Death valley. We continued on and passed out of California into Arizona. At 3:52pm (all ride times are Pacific DST) our first gas stop was at Gila Bend, AZ. This generally set the trend for gas stops. About 4 1/2 hours. Generally just running out the fuel cells and using the main tanks as "reserve" Neither one of us wanted to run out of gas in the desert heat so we were extra conservative. During that afternoon my dash thermometer hovered between 106 and 118°F for several hours. Lots of water and few stops to get us out of the area of high heat as quickly as possible.
View crossing the deserts of Calif. and Arizona Temp 106 F.

     Generally a routine trip until darkness found us near Las Cruces, New Mexico. This was not a favourable position after a full day of riding and night falling. Lots of stories, newspaper articles and general fear mongering warned that stopping at a rest area and even some remote gas stops anywhere between Las Cruces and El Paso, TX was not safe. There have been many muggings and more than a little violence in the area due to robbery attempts by youth gangs. Charles readily agreed that we wouldn’t be stopping until well after El Paso, for any reason. Thus we rode on through the night and passed the infamous Ciudad Juarez as nothing more than a vast landscape of lights going over the horizon as we passed safely north of the Rio Grande river through El Paso, TX.

The Iron Butt Motel (AKA a Picnic table)  This is the delux
version with a roof and parking.  Keeps you away from
the fire ants and other critters on the ground.

An hour at the Iron Butt Motel in a rest area well to the east of El Paso set us up nicely for the rest of the night. With the dawn came relief at not seeing the herds of deer so commonly reported in west Texas. On through San Antonio (the aftermarket mirrors vibrated apart) and on to Houston (the aux. Laminar Lip windshield started to come off) we "duct taped" and "Zip Tied" our way into Louisiana. The toll was starting to tell after so many hours of high frequency vibration at such high RPM). After the long haul through Texas the smaller states seemed to be nothing more than the size of large cities. Our only slow down was through Louisiana near New Orleans where the bypass (hwy. I-12) was clogged with stop and go traffic that evening.

9:32pm necessitated another trip to the Iron Butt Motel. This time behind a gas station for 20 minutes. It never ceases to amaze me how much a short nap can refresh you. This one didn’t "take" however so about an hour later we stopped again, for a full hour this time. Fully refreshed it now felt like we were on the home stretch as we crossed the Florida border. Our last state and we were well ahead of schedule. Not far along however we decided to sleep for one more half hour just to make sure we were fresh for the boring run along northern Florida. It is after all mainly just a continuous forest.

Charles droning along in the early morning on I-10 - N. Florida

Daylight once again perked me up but about this time I noticed Charles starting to weave a little. This is not at all like him and I knew something was wrong. My big problem was that I couldn’t catch up to him to signal to pull over so we could talk. After several tries I managed to get close enough to catch his attention. We stopped at the next exit and both had an Egg McMuffin and a large black coffee. After not having any caffeine for over two months the effect was almost instant. The food also helped as I guess you can only get so much nutrition from Cliff bars every 41/2 hours and a handful of trail mix now and then. Not often am I accused of not eating enough. Lots of factors induce fatigue and lack of eating is a large one. Nearing the finish our spirits soared.

That all important "Off the Clock" receipt.

We knew the people waiting for us at the final gas stop in Jacksonville had been following the Spot tracking website so they would know when we would arrive. Imagine arriving and coming along the road from the south to see them eagerly peering north! A few beeps of the horn fixed that up as we hurried in to get a little gas and the all important "off the clock" receipt.

The final results 43h, 56m - not bad for a 125cc bike
      The photo of the GPS says it all .  Not a bad time for any size bike, and I can truthfully say that at no time were we within range of getting a speeding ticket (sob!). Hopefully our little week’s ride(s) will be certified by the IBA in the near future.

     These two rides complete a long time quest to do all three dimensions of the Contiguous states. Southernmost to northernmost (Bottoms Up Tour), west to east (CC50) and vertical (Heaven to Hell 1000) Several thing have definitely been proven however. Your bike doesn’t need to be big or new to do an Iron Butt ride. You can hold a modern (little) bike wide open at close to redline for over 90 hours in 6 days and it still runs great. "It is a lot more fun" as the old adage goes, "to ride a little bike fast than a big fast bike slow" With a little bit of planning an Iron Butt certified ride can be done on almost anything. So if you’re waiting for that new bike and "someday" you can just go ahead and do it now.

Many thanks especially to Charles who "droned" along to accompany me on this ride. Thanks also to my ever tolerant wife Lynn and my long time friend Ed Hooft and new friends Kenny Wayne and Randall Briggs. To the folks on the LD Riders list who always come through in a pinch when a member needs it and especially to LD Riders Craig Chaddock and Daniel Sherburne for their help in San Diego.


Here is a video of our final receipt stop at Jacksonville Beach. The not very affectionate greetings had to wait until we were off the clock once the receipt was printed. As you can see we look perfectly normal!

UPDATE: The Iron Butt Association has verified and approved both rides.  Here is the artwork they created for us and future riders that complete the Heaven to Hell 1000

Bob Munden
Windsor, Ontario

This article in an very shortened edited format originally appeared in the Iron Butt Magazine Fall 2010 issue.

Some other rides recorded at:

Photos of rides and bike prep. at: http:/

Follow along on future rides via the "Spot" tracking system at:

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