Los Angeles to Barstow to Las Vegas Dual Sport
Smallest displacement bike.
Me and My Tohatsu
When I was seven years old my father purchased my brother and I
motorcycles. My brother got a YG1 Yamaha 80. Mine was a Tohatsu 50 Trail
Master because it was the only bike, of the time, small enough for me to
ride. I loved that bike and rode it all over the Antelope Valley. My
lifetime love of all things motorcycle began with that small bike. About
seven years ago the first batch of grandkids got big enough to ride
motorcycles. I thought it would be really cool for them to learn on the
same bike that I had so I started looking for a Tohatsu to restore.
Though the Tohatsu company still manufactures outboard motors and small
engines they have not made motorcycles since 1964 when they closed their
Motorcycle division and sold their interest to Bridgestone.
Locating parts for a forty-four year old bike had me searching ebay
every day and, where necessary, driving as far as 1,900 miles round trip
to pick up parts and spare bikes. Every part on the Tohatsu was produced
by Tohatsu and there is no interchange with other maker’s parts. During
the restoration I met some great people and now have a community of
Tohatsu collectors as friends. After about a year I had the bike running
pretty good and I remembered a ride my Dad had made.
In 1964 my father and 2 buddies rode Yamaha YG1 80cc bikes from Palmdale
to Baker and followed the old Railroad out of Baker as far as they
could. They had no support vehicle and used backpacks for gear. I grew
up hearing adventures from that ride.
I figured riding the LA b to V Dual sport on my 50cc Tohatsu would be
pretty close to what they had accomplished so I entered in part to
commemorate the ride my Father organized in 1964. Another motivation was
that I wanted to show that Tohatsu put some pretty good engineering into
their bikes and that one of their bikes, even old and undersized, could
make the cut. My friends say I also wanted to show that I am nuts but
there are easier ways to prove that!
The Ride Starts
We got started from Chaparral at about 7am after a long line at signup
and loading the roll chart on the chase bike. Frank Brewer from the
Checkers MC offered to ride with me and carry extra parts and tools. I
gave my roll chart to my son, Geoffrey, who was driving a 4X4 with the
balance of the spare parts. For the trip I took along a spare engine,
spare front and rear wheels, brake hubs, shocks, swinging arm, chain,
ignition coil, points, fuel tank and a collection of other small parts.
And, though I didn’t know it at the time, I apparently loaded lots of Luck.
The first challenge was the climb up a fire road from San Bernardino.
For the Tohatsu most of the climb was low gear with some pushing with my
feet. The rocks that are taken in stride by my XR650 were like boulders.
Each time I hit a rock I would bottom the suspension (all 2.5” of
travel). In addition the dust was a challenge as big bikes were flying
past. Riders were supportive and would slow to look at the Tohatsu as
they passed however once passed they would resume speed and I could not
see the rocks through the dust. Several times in the dust trying not to
loose speed I hit large rocks and had an unexpected jump.
We met my son Geoffrey on highway 138 just above Lake Silverwood and
fueled the bike. The Tohatsu has a .7 gal fuel tank so my range is only
about 60 miles. In addition oil must be mixed with the fuel as Tohatsu
did not install oil injection on their bikes.
The downhill side of the mountain was a lot of fun. I could almost keep
up with the big guys and stay clear of dust for the most part. I hit a
large washout and all of a sudden the bike started making excessive
noise. The Pipe had come out of the head and moved some to the side.
After a quick inspection I determined the spring holding the pipe was
not strong enough. I added wire along with the spring to hold the pipe
in. We fueled again just before the scheduled Gas stop in Hesperia. Then
we started the long climb up the mountain again; winding up power line
and forest roads. Every hill was a mountain for the little 50 and I
regretted not lowering the gearing when we last fueled. Low gear was not
low enough for about 50% of the hills so I used the clutch a lot. I was
concerned about the long term effect of this but at the moment this was
the only way I was going to make it up the steep hills. After what
seemed like hours the road started down then turned into pavement. Soon
I saw Big Bear Lake and once again I had conquered the mountain.
It now was getting late so we grabbed a snack at a gas station fueled
the bike and started off again. I decided since it was so late to take a
short cut and jump ahead. We followed highway 18 down the backside to
Lucerne, fueled again and rejoined the pack at Highway 274 and Camp rock
road. At about 3 miles down Camp Rock is where the next mistake
occurred. Frank had never used a roll chart and for the most part we
were following the other bikes. By mistake we took the Hard way. So the
next 20 miles were deep sand and steep hills. After about an hour of
fighting up a sand wash we came to a large rocky hill. With some help
from Frank we were able to get the bike over the hill. It took all the
bikes power and ours to make it.
When we came to a pipeline road that would take us back to Highway 247
we bailed back to highway 247 since it was getting dark. About 10 miles
from Barstow on highway 247 the engine on the Tohatsu broke a piston.
This most likely was caused by over-rev on the long down hill. I was
running about 45 MPH when it let go so the engine was toast. I rode the
support bike to Barstow met with Geoffrey and we retrieved the bike. We
had dinner then swapped motors for day #2. I completed the engine swap
at 12 midnight and got to bed at 12:30 in the morning. Just to top off
the day the room smoke detector malfunctioned and went off at 1 am and
woke us again. It quit going off after about 5 minutes and we got to sleep.
5 AM on Saturday we got up and prepared for day 2. The rear shocks had
lost all oil so I exchanged them and we got on the road about 6:30 Am.
It was quite cold and I was worried about the effect of the cold heavy
air on my engine. Just in case, I raised the needle one notch in the
carburetor in order to make up for the cold heavy air.
Just on the edge of town the route started up a deep up-hill sand wash.
About 300 feet into the sand the engine seized. After allowing it to
cool the piston broke free and the engine had compression. It started
easy so we continued. It was pretty plain that I could not make it up
the wash on such a tight engine. Our only option was to take roads but
after over an hour of looking and unable to find a route around the
freeway I decided to chance it and take 3 miles of freeway in order to
get out of Barstow.
All was going fine driving 25 mph along the side of I15. About ¼ mile
before the off ramp a CHP traveling in the other direction spotted us.
As Luck would have it a center divider prevented him from reaching us.
He blasted off southbound to turn around but we were off the freeway and
down a side road before he could get back.
About 6 miles out of Baker the course turned up an uphill sand wash.
Once again the bike was working hard so about every mile I would stop
and let the bike cool down. One time I stopped and, Oh Shit! fuel was
running out in a stream. The sediment bowl had come off and fuel was
running straight to the ground. I turned off the petcock and began the
search. Bikes were passing every few minutes and if one were to run over
the bowl we would be stuck. After about 30 minutes of walking back the
trail, I found the rock colored, grape-sized bowl to the side of the trail.
At the next Hard Easy split we decided to take the easy route and by now
Frank was getting much better with the roll chart. About 10 more miles
and most of them deep sand the bike started making a new noise. A quick
once-over found the fender bolts were missing. The rear fender was
reattached with a piece of heavy iron wire we found laying next to the
trail. Another good Luck. I had wire for repairs but nothing heavy
enough to hold a fender. The balance of the piece of wire was placed in
the parts “just in case”. I ended up repairing the fender 2 more times
with the wire because every time I came down really hard, the wire would
We made lunch in Sandy Valley and started on the final leg to Vegas.
About 5 miles after lunch the bike dropped the chain. The master Link
had broken. I installed my spare master link and in a few minutes was
back on the road. The next 40 or so miles were sandy and rocky roads;
however the bike did great. On day 2 I had swapped the rear wheel to one
with a 45 tooth sprocket. I started with a 40 tooth. In addition the new
motor had one less tooth than the original. So now I had a top speed of
30 MPH however I did much better with the hills and sand. At 3:15 in the
afternoon we reached highway 160 and the roll chart indicated after 3 to
take the highway to Las Vegas. A few miles down the highway the bike
started to miss and soon it would not run. After a short maintenance of
the points and replacing the spark plug we were back on the road.
Another 5 miles down the road the engine quit again. This time I ran out
of gas. By Luck again, we were in front of a gas station so I added .5
gal of gas and the proper amount of oil. We pulled into the Hotel
parking lot at about 4:30 just as it was getting dark.
What an adventure! I could never have made it without the help and
support of Frank Brewer and my son Geoffrey. We all had a great time but
I feel no hesitation in applying the “Once in a lifetime” label to this