Biltwell Conquers Legendary NORRA Mexican 1000 Off-Road Race - with a Sportster!
The NORRA (National Off-Road Racing Association) Mexican 1000 all-terrain race in Ensenada, Mexico is not exactly what you’d term a V-Twin cruiser friendly undertaking - be it the versatile Sportster or any other kind of V-twin cruiser platform.
Run for the first time in 1967, the now legendary event pits men and their custom-built two- and four-wheeled race machines against some of the harshest terrain on earth. This year’s five-day stage race thundered past free-range cattle, over boulders, beaches, potholes and silt beds as it caromed down both coasts of the Baja peninsula before reaching the finish line 1,300 miles later in San Jose Del Cabo on April 27.
For the first time in NORRA Mexican 1000 history, a Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 made it across the finish line, 1300 miles from Ensenada. The feat of derring do was the brainchild of Biltwell Inc. co-founder Bill Bryant along with co-riders Mike Deutsch, Erik Westergaard and Chris Moeller - with significant support from co-workers, friends and family.
To ensure their greatest chance of success, Biltwell enlisted the talents of an old friend, one-time Texas chopper builder and current surf bum “Rouser” Rob Galan to customize and service the Frijole 883 Harley-Davidson. Upgrades to the essentially stock MY 2000 Sportster included suspension modifications, the jettisoning of redundant onboard electrical systems, and ergonomically appropriate handlebars, hand controls and foot controls.
Knobby tires with airless inner tubes on strong yet lightweight alloy wheels helped with the hostile terrain as efficiently as other machines in the race that weighed half as much and that were designed expressly for the task. Onboard equipment for bike maintenance and rider safety included a tool kit, reflective blanket, Lowrance satellite with iPad Google Earth backup, extra fuel, food, water and a wad of petty cash.
According to Bryant Team Biltwell’s race strategy for the five-day event called for two racers each day to alternate at mile marks that made sense for speedy gas stops and rider changes. Every evening, mechanic Rob Galan serviced the Frijole 883 by changing fluids and filters, tightening spokes, checking nuts and bolts, replacing worn parts if required, and sleeping next to the motorcycle on an army cot to help riders make the 6:00 a.m. check-in the following morning.
According to NORRA race results, 43 motorcycles started the 2018 edition of the Mexican 1000, with 32 finishing. The Frijole 883 was among 21 Modern Open bikes and finished 14th in class - overall standing was 27th out of 32 total finishers. None of the 13 Modern Open machines that finished ahead of the Frijole 883 started life as an American V-twin cruiser, and few if any weighed over 300 pounds.
In full race trim, the Biltwell Frijole 883 weighed 500 pounds, and could barely squeeze 70 miles per fill-up from its stock Sportster gas tank. Bryant says: “Wise men say you should bring a gun to a knife fight – we brought a WWII Sherman tank”!