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Common Tread

Texas Iron Butt Challenge: 1,000 miles, 24 hours, zero stops

Jul 19, 2019

Every motorcyclist has a marathon story, whether it’s returning home on a cold night from a few towns over or crushing 10 states during a coast-to-coast road trip.

Distance holds a particular allure for us riders. For motorcyclists who want to prove themselves against their odometers and the clock, the most basic test is 1,000 miles in under 24 hours. The Iron Butt Association, which certifies long-distance rides, calls it a Saddlesore 1000.

A Saddlesore 1000 ride is no walk in the park, but frankly, with today’s high-tech and luxurious ultra-tourers dripping with comfort features, it just doesn’t seem that difficult. So we decided to up the ante and tackle our 1,000 miles in one go. As in, without stopping. That means no stopping for gas, food, or bathroom breaks. Not even putting a foot down for 1,000 miles. Which is how we ended up peeing through a hose and eating granola bars for three meals straight. More on that later.

This story is based on the latest episode of Throttle Out, now available at MotorTrend On Demand. You can find Ari and Zack on social media at @arihenning211 and @zackcourts.

As if that weren’t enough, we opted to tackle our 1,000 miles on $1,000 bikes, or at least give ourselves a total budget of $2,000. Ari found a crashed and slightly clapped-out Honda CBR250R that he managed to take ownership of for a very reasonable $400. Most people would have been intimidated by the broken bodywork and rag-tag looks, but Ari knew that fuel mileage would be key and his garage has a funny habit of increasing a motorcycle’s reliability. For Zack, a well used Kawasaki Concours 1000, circa 2002, made it to our driveway for $1,600. Ostensibly a forgettable, boxy touring bike, the Connie 1000 was Zack’s choice for one main reason — its 7.5-gallon tank.

working on the CBR250R
Because Zack’s bike needed less work he offered to help put on the WeeBR’s touring windscreen. Soon after this photo was taken he snapped it in half and had to fix it with gaff tape. Thanks, friend. All photos by Spenser Robert and Lyttleton Carter.

Disparate machines was the beginning, but our techniques were quite different as well. Ari would carry all the fuel he needed for the ride, which worked out to an additional 15 gallons strapped to the CBR’s rear with a tangle of hoses, valves, and a fuel pump feeding gas into the tank. Zack would ride light and refuel like the Air Force does, by getting his gas pumped into the tank during a fill-up rendezvous with a truck.

modified CBR gas tank
One hose for gas going in, the other for air going out, Ari’s CBR tank will never be the same. Note the red switch inboard the stock controls to toggle the fuel pump. All photos by Spenser Robert and Lyttleton Carter.

The last piece of the puzzle was where our thousand-mile ride would take place, and for that we chose the great state of Texas. It’s famously wide across its middle, plus it offers varied terrain and high speed limits. We prepped the bikes in the back of a dealership near the city of Orange, nestled up against the Sabine River at the easternmost border of the Lone Star state. Our destination was El Paso — about 850 miles west of Orange in a straight shot, but we planned to dip south and brush the Mexican border and net a hair over 1,000 miles.

The launch, and what about stop lights?

Neither of us slept well the night before the ride, and most of Texas was still asleep when we wiped dew off our seats at 4:30 a.m. and prepped for launch. We plugged our headsets into accessory USB ports and gave our hamstrings one last stretch. Then we lifted our feet up onto the footpegs where, if all went well, they’d remain for the better part of 24 hours.

mile zero on the 1,000-mile ride
Mile zero, 4:50 a.m., outside the Hampton Inn in Orange, Texas, gas tanks full and catheters still dry. All photos by Spenser Robert and Lyttleton Carter.

After only a couple miles we encountered an unanticipated but entirely common obstacle: a stop light. We’d thought about gas, bathroom breaks, and food, but the mandatory law-based stops had sort of slipped our minds. We quickly developed a strategy: Roll as slowly as possible toward red lights and hope they turned green before we arrived, or, if necessary, peel off into a gas station, parking lot, or the road shoulder and do circles to kill time. At stop signs, we did our best trials-style balancing act for a moment, legs sometimes flailing to keep from tipping over, and then moved safely through.

The first 100 miles went by quickly and put us on the outskirts of Houston just as the sun was rising behind us. Early morning is a busy time on the highways of America’s third-largest city. Waves of brake lights (and no ability to filter lanes like we can in our beloved California) threatened our no-stopping agenda. With careful balance and some creative lane changes we managed to keep our wheels rolling and make it out of the urban sprawl.

on the road
It’s kind of a miracle that the CBR avoided the attention of law enforcement for 1,000 miles, considering it looks like something a Bond villain would build. Being in Texas probably helped. All photos by Spenser Robert and Lyttleton Carter.

But what about stopping for... you know

At this point we were 120 miles into our journey. Normally, that would be when most riders would want a break to stretch legs or maybe use the bathroom and grab a snack. If you have a Ducati Hypermotard or Harley Forty-Eight, you’d already have stopped for gas. For us, those 120 miles represented just a little over a tenth of our total distance, but the obvious hurdle we had to clear was that our bladders were still on a regular riding schedule. It was time to test a system that might be the downfall of our mission. Our “Texas catheters” were ordered from an off-road accessories site that supplies the peepee devices to drivers and riders competing in long-haul desert races.

We’ll spare you the details of their installation, but suffice it to say we were nervous about how they’d work. Nerves don’t make it easy to pee. Neither does sitting on a motorcycle, evidently. We both went to our happy place and relaxed as much as we could, but couldn’t get the flow to start. Ari unlocked the secret, which was to stand up, but then the hose had to be directed away from the bike, which made for an awkward, one-legged squat worthy of a Crossfit workout. The embarrassment was pushed further when we each had to get confirmation from the other that fluid was actually coming out of the hose. Based on the warmth running down the inside of our pants it felt like the fire-retardant Alpinestars base layer was soaking up the sauce.

Thankfully, it was a success. More than that, we may have turned over a new leaf for future touring adventures; we would recommend it. Our other favorite accessories were our magnetic tank bags, where we kept three meals worth of granola bars, nuts, beef jerky, and protein shakes. Plus a secret weapon: super-sour Atomic Warheads, which we figured would be an effective wake-up snack. (In fact, we’re willing to bet your mouth is watering now just thinking about them.) Accessing the goodies and transporting them to our mouths proved to be tricky, even with modular helmets. Then again, when you’re droning across the widest state in the lower 48, bored out of your skull, struggling with the wrapper on a bag of almonds can be a welcome challenge.

Those are surprisingly simple directions for a 1,000-mile, 22-hour ride. Our tank bags’ most important responsibility was holding a day’s worth of snacks. All photos by Spenser Robert and Lyttleton Carter.

Aerial refueling for ground-bound vehicles

At 190 miles the next big question about this trip was about to be answered. The fuel gauge on the CBR was flashing on empty, which meant it was time for the Wee-BR’s first fuel transfer. A fruitful test of the auxiliary tank transfer had occurred back in the garage, but what if the switch wiring failed, or the cheap supplemental fuel pump blew a fuse? Ari opened the valve on the left Jerry can, flipped the switch on the handlebar, and we both breathed a sigh of relief when gas flowed through the hoses and bars began to build on the digital fuel gauge. Three minutes later the tank was full, with no damage to average speed. Fuel-up success!

With its impressive 7.5-gallon tank, we calculated that the Concours would need fuel at around 300 miles, but the needle on the analog gauge was already aimed at the big E well before our first planned fuel rendezvous. Maybe the 40,000 miles on the Kawi’s odometer had been hard ones and the rings were worn, making the big C10 especially inefficient? We hadn’t done much to the bike other than confirm that it started, so anything was possible. Zack felt around for the petcock, preparing for the moment when the torquey inline-four would stumble. Sure enough, it was 20 miles into reserve by the time we rolled up to the Circuit of the Americas outside of Austin, where we planned to use the track’s world-class parking lot for the Connie’s first on-the-fly fillup.

stickers on the Concours
To match the method of refueling, the Connie 1000 was outfitted with fighter-bomber style, in this case stickers that were made for a kayak and winglets made for the front bumper of a Honda Civic. All photos by Spenser Robert and Lyttleton Carter.

Refuelling the Concours was a delicate and difficult balancing act. Fueling from the left would have made the most sense for Zack, but the van only had rear windows on the left, so Zack was forced to modulate the clutch and rear brake to regulate his speed, all while handling the grounding cable and fuel hose with his right hand. It took skill, coordination, and deliberate communication with the van driver and fuel-pump operator, but after two laps of that massive parking lot the Kawasaki was laden down with regular unleaded and ready to inhale another 300 miles.

We skirted San Antonio and headed south to connect with Route 90, which would carry us west toward the Mexican border. Rolling into the small town of Hondo, our hearts sank as we looked down a minefield of traffic lights. What followed was an embarrassing compilation of right-hand turns to procrastinate stop lights and somehow find our way back to Route 90, all while trying desperately not to pull out in front of an innocent driver. We passed public parks, a hardware store, and restaurants in our meandering battle to get back on course. By the time we cleared the last light and slapped our modular helmets shut to keep moseying west, we realized an odd twist: We had seen more of the texture of the town than we would have if we hadn’t placed upon ourselves the absurd burden of not coming to a stop.

Concours in the rain
A strong shower just before sunset highlighted one of the Concours’ advantages over the little CBR: weather protection. Perforated boots meant wet feet, but otherwise the Connie was a champ in the rain. All photos by Spenser Robert and Lyttleton Carter.

Part two of the ride, brought to you by Advil

By early afternoon we’d added 500 miles to our bikes’ odometers and were mercifully halfway through the mission. Even after the Connie’s second fuel-up near Del Rio, the Honda and Kawasaki were running flawlessly, but we could feel ourselves beginning to break down. Mentally we still felt sharp, but our butts, knees, and necks were predictably unhappy. Adding Advil capsules to our diets of beef jerky and nuts helped take the edge off the agony as we steeled ourselves for the second half of the journey, which we knew full well would be a lot more difficult than the first.

As we rode, the landscape changed from wooded fields to arid chaparral and eventually morphed into the sprawling desert of the west. The dinner hour came and went, and we longed to sink our teeth into some tangy, Texas BBQ and slurp down a sweet tea. Instead we sipped water from our hydration packs and nibbled on snacks that we were tired of tasting. Shortly before sunset, we rode headlong into a rainstorm, but made it through to clear skies with just enough daylight left to dry out our gear. When the sun finally dipped below a low mountain range on the western horizon, we’d been in the saddle for 16 hours straight.

The CBR continued to dole out fuel and Zack completed his final fillup in the dark (poetically staged just outside a town named Marathon), which made things a little more exciting, but local law enforcement closed the road for us and soon enough the Connie was holding enough gas to carry on to El Paso.

refueling the Concours
Fueling the Concours on the fly required modulating speed with a high idle and clutch finesse, as well as the rear brake, plus clamping a grounding strap to avoid static charge, and managing fuel flow from the fuel truck (code named “Black Hawk”). Yes, the roads were closed for us. All photos by Spenser Robert and Lyttleton Carter.

Amazingly, we never felt the weight of fatigue pulling at our eyelids. Somehow the thrill of the challenge sustained us, and while there were periods of silence on our intercoms, we spent hundreds of miles discussing everything from kitten ownership to the fact that outer space doesn’t end. It just keeps going. So, what’s it expanding into?

Texas is a big space
If you do the math, our average speed was a piddly 45 mph. Pretty slow, considering we never stopped, but since we were filming a video, we burned several hours doing circles in parking lots waiting for the camera crew to set up. All photos by Spenser Robert and Lyttleton Carter.

Fine, maybe we were a little delirious, because when the lights of El Paso finally appeared in the distance, it was close to 2 a.m. We were tired, stiff, and downright sick of riding by the time we pulled into a scenic overlook on the western edge of the city. Our legs wobbled as we held ourselves upright for the first time in nearly a full rotation of the Earth, and we laughed at the bizarre and farcical mountain we had just climbed. We didn’t prove anything, other than you shouldn’t try this at home, but if nothing else it placed us one step closer to appreciating those motorcyclists who undertake these rides more regularly. Respect.

We gazed east over the twinkling city and reflected on the soggy floodplain of the Louisiana border. Texas had offered high speed limits, yes, but also a grandiose canvas for us to paint our own version of the Iron Butt Challenge. All motorcyclists have their marathon story. And now we have ours.