We Finished the NORRA Mexican 1000 on a Stupid Sportster

 

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

As desert races go, the NORRA Mexican 1000 is one of the more mild and fun events, IF you are in or on a proper off-road vehicle. A Harley Sportster isn’t a proper off-road vehicle no matter what you do to it, but we were determined to build and ride our little Milwaukee tractor from Ensenada to San Jose del Cabo. The hard way. The race takes place over five days and covers 1,000 miles (not kilometers!) of off-road terrain and another 300 on asphalt. When we decided to start this project last fall, we knew it was a foolish idea, but it would be really fun if we could actually pull it off. We did several test sessions in our local deserts and fine tuned the bike over the winter months. There were several baked-in compromises based on the fact that we wanted to retain the stock(ish) look by keeping the Sportster gas tank, oil tank, rear fender and totally stock frame. We didn’t want it to be a modern dirt bike with a H-D power plant, we wanted it to be a lightly-modded Sporto, built more for endurance and survivability than all out performance.

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

By the end of day 2 with no mechanical failures, I knew we could do it. Surely, it would take some good luck and tight logistics, but barring any big mistakes, the bike and riders both seemed totally capable. Much of the race course is regular old ranch roads that aren’t particularly rough. Over time, that washboard has ruined many a machine however, since that constant vibration likes to loosen hardware and electrical connections. It was the short but rough sections that proved challenging and Moeller and I both had a few get-offs. Trying to get a 500lb motorcycle back on it’s wheels after tipping it over is easy when it’s on a flat road, but in a sand wash or silt bed, it’s nearly impossible by yourself. Wait until the video is out and you’ll see some Survivor Man footage that Moeller captured on the Go Pro when he went down in baby powder silt and had to get out on his own. It’s funny now, but it was a lot of work at the time. Desert racing requires thousands of tiny decisions, each of which can be a deal-breaker if you choose the wrong one. About fifteen minutes into my section on day three I came up on a water crossing. Luckily (for me), a rider was crashed on the opposite side of the bank and was frantically pointing for me to cross about 50 feet upstream. That part was mucky and technical and I felt fetid water pour into my boots as I went through it. When I made it to the downed rider he told me his bike had hydro locked when he went straight through the crossing and the water was above the tank on his Beta. On the Frijole, it would have been over the bars and would have most likely been catastrophic. I wrote his race number and the GPS coordinates on my tank bag and stopped the next time I saw a baja bug with a race radio and asked them to call his crew and let them know where he was. According to someone at the bar later in the week, that rider showed up at the hotel about 3:30am the following day. That’s why you should always be prepared to spend a night in the cold desert.

 

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Since we knew this was going to be difficult, we spread the work out over five of us. Four riders and one dedicated mechanic. I quietly guessed we’d end up with one all-night work session and two broken collar bones. Rouser powered through some late nights, never cutting corners, but none of them were high-stress and none lasted all night. All four of us riders escaped unscathed. Not everyone was so lucky. Our new friend John on the #43 XR650 was attempting his third or fourth Mexican 1000 and crashed exiting a wash about eighteen miles from the finish. I helped him get it back on the wheels and when it backfired into the airbox, his leg caught fire and once we got that out, the bike was on fire. We buried it with sand as fast as we could until he finally said “I think she’s a goner, Mate” and we gave up. I made sure he had water, loaned him my tarp for shade and kept moving as his bike burned into a puddle of molten aluminum and broken dreams. Maybe next year, dude! A sad reminder of how serious things can get in a hurry was the passing of Jake Batulis, from San Clemente, CA. As I understand it, he hit a quad in the dust on day five and did not survive the medevac flight home. Our sincere thoughts go out to his friends and family.

 

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Riding the Frijole was surprisingly easy in most conditions. The tractor-like attitude of the Harley made it an animal in the sand. Even in the really deep stuff, it would just power right through and never felt like it was struggling for power. Through big rocks at low speed it was a little less predictable than a normal dirt bike and of course a lot less nimble. It’s so heavy that moving your body around doesn’t have near the effect as it would on a lighter machine. That excess weight makes it push right through some larger rocks, so that was kinda weird. The high speed washboard stuff was a blast, as were the twisty ascents and descents. If we had it to do over again, I’d give in and put a permanent kick stand on the bike like all the other riders asked for. I’d also consider lengthening the swingarm just enough to make it less twitchy at high speeds in small whoops. Cams would probably have been a good idea too. If the response was snappier, it might have been easier to wheelie over some terrain. Other than that, it felt like this was about as good as a Harley-Davidson could possibly perform in this kind of terrain. If you want more details on the bike itself, check our last blog with a video that goes over all the tech stuff here.

 

 

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Pulling up to the podium right behind the trophy truck of Mark Post was surreal. I gotta admit I had a little sand in my eye, so I may have teared up just a bit. Months of planning paid off and I couldn’t be more proud of our team. Riding the bike through huge sections of the peninsula that were totally new to me was an exceptional experience, but riding was almost the easy part–the amount of coordination required to fuel the bike every 60 miles or so made it critical to be on time and in the right place, several times each day and we never once missed a pit. We reviewed the plan for the next day each night and even though that was a tedious process, everyone pulled their weight, plus some. My favorite quote from Flynn after the fact: “Good thing this wasn’t a six-day race.” I joked before the race that as long as we finished the whole thing, we’d never have to do it again. At least not on the Frijole. Moeller has already bought a crazy Bultaco twin (yes, it’s possible) and Otto and I have a class 11 VW project that is stewing on the back burner. We drained fluids, put some Marvel Mystery oil in the cylinders and parked the filthy Frijole Sportster in our showroom here in Temecula as a reminder that terrible ideas, if well-executed can turn out to be some of the best decisions!

 

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Mechanic/Builder: Rob “Rouser” Galan
Media Team: Geoff Kowalchuk / Flynn Bryant / Chris Zam
Chase: Harold “McGoo” McGruther / Tim Statt / Big O Aguirre / Junior Aguirre
Special thanks to: JC and team from Baja Voyager and of course Jenny Coleman and everyone else from NORRA!

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

According to NORRA race results, 43 motorcycles started the 2018 edition of the Mexican 1000, with 32 finishing. The Frijole 883 was among 21 Modern Open bikes, and finished 14th in class. Overall standing was 27th out of 32 total finishers. As far as we know, it is the only Harley to ever compete in the Mexican 1000. -Bill

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Frijole 883 Specifications

Built at Biltwell HQ in Temecula, CA by Rob “Rouser” Galan and Bill Bryant

Model: 2000 Harley Davidson Sportster 883

Frame: Stock Harley-Davidson, rear shock mounts reinforced

Tank: Harley-Davidson Sportster, clearanced for stabilizer

Rear Fender: Chopped Harley-Davidson Sportster

Swingarm: Stock Harley-Davidson. Gusseted and shock mounts moved by Roll Design, Fallbrook, CA

Forks: Honda CRF250 Front forks, hub, brake. Internals reworked by Precision Concepts, Riverside, CA

Rear shocks: Elka, custom

Paint: Hot Dog Kustoms, Temecula, CA

Seat: Stock Harley-Davidson seat foam by Duane Ballard, cover by MotoSeat, Temecula, CA

Carb: CV with Rouser mods

Air filter: Four layer, custom

Stabilizer: GPR

Top Tree: Gigacycle

Rear Brake: Tokico 4-piston with custom Gigacycle carrier

Tank bag and rear gear bag: Biltwell Exfil-11 and Exfil-7

Bars: Pro Taper Adventurer

Risers: Fastway 2”

Hand Guards: Cycra

Gearing: PBI 65t rear / 22t front

Rocker Boxes: Buell PCV breather style

Exhaust: Custom using Biltwell exhaust kit and shortened Super Trapp

Oil Tank: Harley-Davidson, customized with rigid mounts, two additional mounts and screw-in oil cap

Shifter: Modified Honda XR400 folding, mounted in reverse (GP style)

Brake pedal: custom

Foot Control Mounts: Hugo Moto (modified)

Skid Plate: Hugo Moto (modified)

Pegs: Moose (modified)

Oil Cooler: Honda XR400

Navigation: Primary: Lowrance Elite 5Ti, Secondary: iPad mini with LeadNav app, Third: iPhone with LeadNav app, Fourth: Road books from NORRA

Throttle, cables, tools: Motion Pro

Headlight/Fairing: Baja Designs Squadron Pro

Rear gear rack: Custom stainless steel


Maintenance Log

Nightly

Oil and filter change

Primary oil change

Primary chain check/adjustment

RTV gasket on clutch and inspection cover

Air filter change

Breather/catch can drain

Clean and lube drive chain with SCC Slick & Cleaner

Adjust drive chain

Lube clutch cable

Check clutch cable free play

Tighten spokes front and rear

Top off gas

Check motor mounts

Check brake pads and disks

Check cha in slider and roller

One time maintenance 

Clutch adjustment on night of day 2

Upper chain slider replaced on night of day 2

Bleed front brake on night of day 4

New rear sprocket on night of day 4

Replaced chain roller bearings on night of day 3

Replaced shift lever night of day 3

JB welded brake pedal peg to keep from rotating night of day 3

Replaced f&r wheel set night of day 2

Replaced front wheel night of day 3

Replaced rear wheel night of day 4

Parts consumed

1 upper chain slider

2 chain roller bearings

1 rear sprocket

4 air filter set ups (paper element, inner foam, outer foam, and precharger)

1 front wheel and tire

1 rear wheel and tire

4 oil filters

5qts gear/trans oil

16qts Motul 20w/50

1 shift lever

1 rear view mirror (not replaced)

Mechanical issues

Choke cable housing came “loose” and had to be held in place when closing the choke (day 4 or 5?)

Chain roller nut came loose on bolt but was held on by the RTV (day 3)

Squared one front rim pretty good (day 3)

Major kink in one rear wheel (day 4)

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

Norra 1000 Frijole 883

 

  • Forward_Thinker

    Bad. Ass.

  • Mike Clarke

    Animals. Love you guys.

  • PunxDad

    Tits

  • Greg Bloom

    I want to know how many times that tank had to be filled….

    • Biltwell

      You can count the gas stops on those pit maps. It was ALOT! Haha.

    • Biltwell

      I went back and counted 26. That doesn’t count topping off the night before each leg, or filling up from the auxiliary cans on the bike!

      • Greg Bloom

        Yeah I just counted them up and thought there had to be way more gas stops than that!

        I can’t help but think that this story should have been on ESPN or made national news. It would be like racing a bull in the Kentucky Derby and finishing alive. Biltwell went for gold on this project and nailed it!

  • Phipps Hadaway

    This… is… awesome…..!

  • Eric

    Fantastic story, and photos to match. Great job, guys!