An epic test ride in the PNW.
Story, and photos (unless otherwise noted), by Jesse Felker.
Why Packwood? This little town at the foot of Mt Rainier is a gem for dual sport riding. The surrounding national forest is the Gifford Pinchot, with endless miles of forest roads with views, twisty backroads, and all the singletrack you could ever need. It is also a mountain town, tucked away from the metropolis of Seattle and Portland, and is the gateway to Mt Rainier National Park.
Within moments of leaving town, you can find yourself on a number of Forest Service roads leading into the mountains. One of the most traveled ones is NF-21, which is a part of a popular ADV route through Washington. This route is a portal to days and days of riding in the GPNF.
Chris Jonnum, a Honda team member, flew in during the summer to ride with me in the GPNF. With a rental DRZ-400S and my 500, we spent 2 days scouting trails, campgrounds, views, and more. The goal was to make sure Packwood would be the right spot to show all of the 450L’s capabilities, and have a memorable impact on the riders. Chris is “the man” making the Premiere happen, and he is really good at it!
We rode everything that these bikes were made for, were rewarded with epic views, and it was settled. Packwood it is!
Even the paved sections in the Gifford are fun. Tight, windy roads with towering evergreens on both sides. Quite often on this highway you will see entrances to many different bits of singletrack. Perfect for trail connecting.
During another scouting venture, I met up with Casey Cryan, a local Packwood dual sport rider and long time member of PNWDS. He took me to Burley Mountain Lookout, an impressive sight in person. On a clear day, you can see Rainier, Adams, St Helens, and Hood all at the same time. This lookout is also open to the public to camp in, even featuring a wood fireplace and a liquid fuel stove.
On scouting trips, I was riding out of cell service and far from town. I needed to bring extra supplies such as oil, tools, parts, etc. However, I didn’t want the bulk of my motocamping luggage, or to carry it on my back. With a bit of rearranging, I was able to “fold” up my Reckless 40L harness with the leg bags removed to keep the luggage tight with a minimal payload.
A large amount of the single track is pretty easy, with a great flow to it. Many sections even include waterfalls that you ride right past, or even over the top of on beautifully constructed moto bridges. However, it does get pretty wild.
After all of the tracks had been laid out, it was time for the exciting part.
The 450L Premiere begins, all starting with a big Honda semi truck rolling through town, getting everyone’s attention. This truck contained a pile of brand-new, unreleased 2019 CRF450Ls and a handful of 650Ls.
The bright white section of the number plate was just asking for a PNWDS decal.
The gear I picked to use during the Premiere was the Dakar as a base, paired with Forecast pants and a Stow Away jacket in case of cold and rain. These were easily packed away on the bike or in my Arsenal Vest, which carried my hydration and radio equipment. With the mix of singletrack and highway, I chose to wear the Krios helmet in order to cut down on wind noise and the weather on my face. This is my go-to setup for any day I’m riding anything aggressive, with a chance of inclement weather and highway time. KLiM’s apparel options are wide enough to mix and match gear for any riding situation you may be in.
I outfitted the bike with prototypes of the now available Pico tank bag, and also luggage system that solves the situation with my R40 from earlier: the Reckless 10L. After using this minimalist Mosko Moto setup, I can assure you this is the ultimate setup for a long day on a dual sport. The products made by this company are the highest quality and most adaptable fully waterproof luggage solutions on the market.
Before the editors arrived, we had two days to ride. I took the Honda crew out on day one on the proposed route and extra options I had available, so we could work out a final route plan. We brought a handful of 650Ls along, the workhorses of the Premiere. It was fun seeing them excited to ride something new, most of them living in California full time. Far less dust, much more green, and a lot of tree cover.
From high mountain lakes, to meadows, to cliff-side singletrack, we rode the entire day. Always right behind me was Honda team member Johnny Campbell, 11 time Baja 1000 champion, who was an honor to ride with.
There were a lot of specific things that Honda needed included in the ride. We would need several designated photo spots, lunch, and a good flow as we change terrain and location throughout the day. For the remainder of the day, we used my route and added these features as we went along.
The beginning of day two started out by myself and Johnny taking Hiroshi Nakashima out on a ride. Hiroshi was the Vice Large Project Leader for the 450L/X program out of Honda in Japan, and hadn’t yet ridden in Washington yet. So, we took him out on parts of the route for a fun rip.
Out of all of the days of the event, this was the only one we had that gave us a volcano view, so of course we stopped and took a lot of photos.
The remainder of day two was used to create content for the editors to use in their articles. Luckily, there was a handful of great photo spots just a few minutes from base camp.
As seen below, Brendan Lutes and Drew Ruiz know where to find the best shot. During the group rides, while carrying an impressive amount of equipment into the woods on 650Ls, they raced through the mountains to intersect us at the next stop, so it was pertinent to get the right logistics.
Atop the hill just above town, the media crew worked on stills. The place I took them was the Mt Rainier view as seen earlier in the story, but unfortunately the Pacific Northwest has a tendency to get cloudy.
Brendan eyed this spot on the way up the mountain, and turned out to be the perfect on-road/off-road transition.
I just don’t think the shoot could be complete without this tandem wheelie!
Also on the team was PNWDS crew member, Travis Zylstra, on emergency bike recovery duty and running supplies into the woods with his rock crawler. He might look blue in that Dakar setup, but he’s having a blast.
The R10 has an amazing amount of room for your legs to move back as compared to the R40. Great for those times you need to have a leg down for those pivot turns.
Turns out, the 3” PNWDS decal fits perfectly above the headlight.
Now that all the groundwork had been taken care of, it was time for the show. Honda did a great job at setting up the yard of the venue for everyone, easy to grab a bike and roll out.
Each of the editors added their own touch to the bike they would be riding. It was awesome seeing everyone’s logos slapped on the 450s for a day, and gave each one it’s own personality.
For the next four days, we started each day by riding up into the clouds. Following that, 100+ miles were ridden. I’ll let these photos tell the story:
As any big event, there’s always a lot more going on in the background. Jason and Travis spent every single evening detailing, repairing, and maintaining the bikes past midnight sometimes.
Big thanks to Honda for this great opportunity, and an amazing experience.