THE DOORLESS-JEEP EX­PER­I­MENT

Our Automotive Fix­ers

Cycle World - - Components -

JJohn from Lou­i­si­ana was right to call me a cheater, and for more rea­sons than one. This trip to Alaska came to be in part from the help of our friends at Road & Track mag­a­zine, when Ed­i­tor-at-large Sam Smith de­cided to take a Jeep Wran­gler Ru­bi­con along the renowned Haul Road for his own stab at the last fron­tier. The R&T staff were cu­ri­ous how a Wran­gler-es­que mo­tor­cy­cle would stack up on this jour­ney, and in­vited us to join. Out of sol­i­dar­ity (and a lit­tle stu­pid­ity), Sam promptly re­moved all four doors from the Jeep upon ar­riv­ing in Fair­banks, and com­pleted the trip in an open-air Ru­bi­con. Stuck along­side him was friend Michael and the group pho­tog­ra­pher, DW Bur­nett, code-named “Dave.”

Hav­ing doors and win­dows that seal out wind and weather is one of the pil­lars of automotive travel. For most of the trip, the R&T team was spoiled by a wind­shield and a roof but oth­er­wise in­vited in all of the el­e­ments. While the weather was good, there was dust and the deaf­en­ing howl of road noise and wind. “Yeah, we can’t hear any­thing above 55 or 60 mph,” Dave re­ported.

As tem­per­a­tures cooled, so too did the sup­port for Sam’s open-air ad­ven­ture. Neck-warm­ers were donned, and the di­a­logue about the weather went from PG-13 to rated R. For bet­ter or worse, the Jeep­ers ad­mit­ted to feel­ing more in touch with the en­vi­ron­ment than ever be­fore. The raw and abra­sive na­ture of the road seemed closer, they said, when you look past your knee and see na­ture fly­ing by. Fin­gers of cold air that waft through steep val­leys hit their nos­trils, and pud­dles splashed into the cabin.

Re­mov­ing the com­fort of the Jeep built a bridge, to a cer­tain ex­tent, be­tween cars and mo­tor­cy­cles. We bonded over the weather rather than the cagers sim­ply feel­ing bad for me. (In fact, with a hel­met and wa­ter­proof cloth­ing on, I ar­guably had it bet­ter.) It felt like more of the voy­age was shared be­cause we had com­mon ground. I’ll leave it to Sam to de­cide whether to rec­om­mend any road trip that em­ploys the same door-re­mov­ing tac­tic, but see­ing their fin­gers so cold was enough to warm my heart.

I was too proud to let the Jeep haul any of my equip­ment or gear, but the team did help out when I drowned the GS in a frivolous creek cross­ing about 130 miles from safety on the re­turn trip. It’s worth not­ing that at one point, this R1200GS was par­tially dis­man­tled and flipped up­side down to dump wa­ter out of the air­box and ex­haust sys­tem. A friendly passerby loaned an Allen wrench for the drain plug so most of a gal­lon of wa­ter could be emp­tied from the crank­case. Af­ter be­ing locked solid, the bike fired up will­ingly and trekked back, with­out in­ci­dent, to Fair­banks.

At the end of the day, there’s no deny­ing our friend John. The lone-wolf facet of the jour­ney to the top of the farthest-north road was ar­guably tar­nished by hav­ing a safety net that most peo­ple do not have. I cer­tainly would have thought two or three times about try­ing to make it across that wa­ter if there were no cam­era and no ex­tra me­chanic’s hands to help me com­pe­tently flip a bike over. I re­main hum­bled by John, and with any luck oth­ers will be in­spired by him too—to take this trek and bond with a ma­chine. Just watch out for doorless Jeeps. Sam’s es­pe­cially cold and dusty four-wheeled ac­count of the ex­pe­di­tion can be found in the Septem­ber is­sue of Road & Track and at roadand­track.com.

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