Pulling up to the tech inspection in Ensenada, we were decidedly out of place. Our bike didn’t have a kickstand. It had about half as much range as our competitors due to its tiny, stock gas tank. It sat several inches lower than the “real” dirt bikes, and at 500 pounds, it weighed twice as much as most of the other bikes in line. No one on our team had ever raced a motorcycle in a desert race like the NORRA Mexican 1000 off-road rally. If ignorance is bliss, we were happy AF.
The other competitors were friendly, but I felt like a Christian headed into the Colosseum. People cheer for the underdog, but they also enjoy watching the lions tear you to shreds. Whatever, fuck it … we made a pact between the four of us who would be riding. We would ride to survive, and not even think about racing. If we simply made it to the end in San Jose Del Cabo after five days of racing, that would be an absolute win.
After a successful tour with the Marines in World War II and a bunch of fishing and 4×4 trips down the Baja Peninsula, Ed Pearlman and friends launched the first annual Mexican 1000 in 1967. The race grew from a grassroots, run-whatcha-brung free-for-all into the Baja 1000, where professional teams with massive budgets compete in half-million-dollar trophy trucks and bring their own helicopters for support. About nine years ago, Ed’s son Mike brought back the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) and the Mexican 1000, which quickly became known as “The Friendliest Race on Earth.” It’s a multi-day, rally-format race that attracts vintage buggies, trucks, and bikes, and is closer in spirit and ethos to the original Mexican 1000. Friendly it may be, there are still some trophy trucks and long-travel buggies that caught us late in the day. Being passed by a pissed-off, 800-horsepower truck as you’re trying not to fall over in a sand wash is quite an experience.
We worked our asses off on this bike, and it proved surprisingly capable, despite the heavyweight handicap. It plowed through deep sand and silt like an affable little tractor.
We caught heat on the internet from would-be pros telling us how they would’ve done it differently, but by the end of day three, I knew they were full of shit. We worked our asses off on this bike, and it proved surprisingly capable, despite the heavyweight handicap. It plowed through deep sand and silt like an affable little tractor. River crossings, rocky uphills, loose gravel … it did it all. It was not always predictable, and it was hard as hell to pick up after tipping over, but it never suffered a single mechanical difficulty over 1,000 miles of off-road abuse, plus another 300 miles on pockmarked Mexican highways. Rouser did meticulous maintenance every night, and we stuck to the “Ride to Survive” mantra. There were 26 fuel stops over five days, and our crew of sunburnt friends never missed a single one, despite none of them having pitted during an off-road race.
When I finally rode onto the slippery podium at the finish line, we were the 27th motorcycle to finish the 2018 NORRA Mexican 1000 and the first Harley-Davidson to ever do it. Of the 43 bikes that started, only 32 made it to the finish line under their own power. Several times it could have been a dramatically different result, and had we been on regular dirt bikes it probably would have. But since we were on such an inappropriate underdog, our tactic of being slow and thoughtful proved that the turtle really can kick the rabbit’s ass in the end.