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Wednesday 28 April 2021

Biltwell 100

It's About Good Times, Not Lap Times!

Libellum Raceday reports on The Inaugural Biltwell 100, held at Randsburg in the desert of the Indian Wells Valley of southern California, in April.
Photos by Geoff Kowalchuk

For sure Biltwell didn't invent the off-road Sportster, but when they became the first ever to finish the NORRA Mexican 1000 in 2019, the idea of desert racing with such an apparently inappropriate motorbike immediately went mainstream. 

At 1,300 miles over five days, Baja proved that such an overweight underdog could actually do it. Fast forward to April of this year, and the scrappy helmet and hard parts company partnered with veteran off-road race logistics team DP4 to produce the very first Biltwell 100.
Sign-ups were quietly announced on social media in December and were sold out in 48 hours. With a tag line for the event that promised "Good Times, not Lap Times," riders immediately knew what the Biltwell 100 was all about. 

Behind the scenes, things were more serious with professional EMTs on site, a medivac helicopter on stand-by, BLM permits, expensive insurance contracts and dozens of seasoned desert rats ready to sweep the course for injured or broken down riders.
Race classifications at the Biltwell 100 were unique. Women had their own classes, but this was no "Powder Puff" race. Ladies started on the same rows as the men and went the same number of miles. Multiple vintage classes were well attended with 60s British iron strongly represented and plenty of 70s and 80s Japanese bikes.
Of course, with Biltwell's history with Harleys and Hooligan racing, there was a solid showing of Sportsters in the Hooligan Expert and Novice classes - 22 in total. That's approximately 11,000 pounds of Heavy Metal! 


Just in case someone or some bike didn't fit into a category, the Misfit class was designed just for them. Since the race was a series of 25-mile laps, different classes did 2, 3 or 4 laps and the Misfits only had to complete a single lap. Misfits indeed, as the class included a few noobs who just wanted to try it out, plus a knucklehead named Jedd on his rigid, tank-shift 45" Harley (he made it a stunning 15 miles) and two complete loons on pull-start mini-bikes who inexplicably finished the entire 25 miles. Not to be left out, there were plenty of experienced riders on extremely capable and fast modern bikes.


The dynamic on the starting line was nervous. 150+ riders lined up in seven rows for a rubber band style start, just like the old days. Fighting dust and overriding fear, the fastest rows went off first, with the Misfits bringing up the rear. Five hours later, riders were not allowed to enter for another lap and by 4:00 pm or so, the sweep teams had rescued the stragglers, and everyone was safely back at camp and ready to party.
The attrition rate was high in most classes, especially for the Harleys, with some of the fast favorites like Mikey Virus ending the day with a blown engine before completing lap one. This added to the excitement and showcased how important mechanical empathy and pace discipline is in off-road racing - even when it's supposed to be laid back.
After a gruelling weekend in the California sun and wind, riders from every skill level and corner of the US map agreed - the Biltwell 100 was built for fun. The terrain had proven plenty challenging, but not so rough that two idiots on mini-bikes with more determination than brains couldn't make it. 


In typical Biltwell fashion, there will be an internal 'After Action Report' where pros and cons are debated over beers and legal pads, with the plans for 2022 starting to crystalize into task lists and the whole thing will start all over.
But first, the crew must survive their other infamous event - the El Diablo Run, which takes place in Baja at the end of April. One has to wonder how "work" could be so much fun?