Viva Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas
Las Vegas. The Strip. The showgirls. The strippers. Las Vegas. Sequins. Sin. Sex. Céline. Las Vegas. Glitz. Glamour. Dan Tanna. Las Vegas. Neon and Newton. Penn & Teller. Tigers and sharks... This pioneer town has had its share of ups and downs, from one incarnation as the mid-twentieth-century, mob-manipulated, Rat Pack playground, to another as a tired, passé, 70s has-been, and now to its resurgence as a dazzling Disneyland for adults.

Woven throughout the city's history are unforgettable motorcycle moments, too: Evel Knievel's '68 rag-doll impersonation in the Caesar's Palace parking lot; The Art of the Motorcycle exhibit in '01; and more recently the AMA Red Bull Supermoto A-Go-Go at Bally's. Elvis even got into the act in '69. Resplendent in black leather for his comeback concert, The King looked as cool as ever and a lot like Brando in The Wild Ones.

My trip to Vegas was less about making history and more about sneaking in a two-wheeled fix as winter descended onto the East Coast like a total bummer. Beyond The Strip the veneer of "bling" is quickly supplanted by a beautifully barren landscape that hasn't changed all that much in hundreds of years - the perfect venue for expanding my motorcycle horizons.

The sun sets over a great day of riding.

Dirt bike ride
Primm, Nevada, is a one-pixel town on the Nevada - California border, 45 minutes by shuttle from the MGM Grand, and the start-finish for a day on dirt bikes. As a road rider, I'm hoping to learn a thing or two today and while donning my gear in the Whiskey Pete's parking lot, my inner Walter Mitty wakes to rouse my inner Valentino Rossi and inner Ricky Carmichael in the process. This unlikely triumvirate is deluding me into thinking that my talent will shine with the brightness of 1,000 suns today, and that within a year I'll be on the MotoGP grid, with my own posse of umbrella girls, setting pole at Jerez and winning at Laguna Seca...

We hit the trail and I immediately realize I'm neither Ricky nor Rossi - I'm not even Ricky Ricardo. That's where Uwe (Oo-va) Diemer comes in. He's the proprietor of California-based Admo-Tours (, renting bikes all around the world and running dirt-bike tours in California and South America. Originally from Germany, Uwe took the long way to California, via Africa and South America on a motorcycle, so he knows a thing or two about riding and adventures. He has planned a full day for beginners like J (the other guest and a mountain biker from California) and me, exposing us to changing terrain with each section building upon previously learned skills. The classroom is a cool, sunny day in a California high desert of scrub brush, Joshua trees and big sky, and my desk is a late model Suzuki DR-Z400, an eager thumper with a wide spread of torque and a plush long-travel suspension.

Lake Mead from Hoover Dam. Note the distinct water line.

Starting on arrow-straight dirt utility roads should be mind-numbingly easy, but for a dirt novice like myself, it is anything but. The bike jukes and jives beneath me, following grooves and ruts with a looseness a street rider like me is unaccustomed to. I struggle vainly to maintain "control," and the process reminds me of being a spastic, brand-new rider who needs total concentration to handle the little tasks (like canceling turn signals) I now take for granted. Uwe is making it look easy, riding serenely in front, and then he turns onto narrower, twistier trails. It's on to the next lesson: Turning. Today will clearly be a return to the fundamentals.

We approach the first sandy section and Uwe tells us to keep our weight back and our speeds high. Below 30mph and the bike sinks into the sand; above 30mph, the bike skims along the top. Sounds easy, right? Yes. As a matter of fact, most of the skills he teaches us sound easy. Indeed, some of the most difficult things in life sound easy - hit this little white ball into that little white cup...ride faster...relax. I guess that's why we're here in the first place, to make the things that sound easy...easier. Experience certainly helps, and feeling the bike float along the sand at 40mph helps build confidence.