Have you heard of it? Maybe it’s just me who hasn’t, I’m not sure.
What I know now is that I can’t wait to go back to visit in 2020 so I can enjoy virtually unlimited, prototypical adventure motorcycle riding trails in the area. At the same time, I’ll participate in another Cow Tagz XL Rally organized by Klim.
“You’ve got a little something on your face, Jim.” Photo by Ian Clark
Maybe I’ll be able to keep my big mouth shut next time and walk away with a brand new Honda CRF450L… I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up and start at the beginning.
2018 was the greatest year of motorcycle riding for me mostly because I rode all the way to Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic Ocean. In the process, I was able to conduct a long term, high mileage review of the brand new 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2SX.
It’s tough to top that, but when I took ownership of a 2019 KTM 790 Adventure S in June of last year I needed to find a ride worthy of a long term review for it as well. I didn’t have enough time to organize a huge trip like the one for the Ninja, so I started looking around closer to home.
Klim Comes Calling
An opportunistic email invitation arrived from Klim in late June for the September Cow Tagz XL event and I decided that was the best option. It was the first year for the “XL” version of the Cow Tagz event that’s hosted each year by Klim during both winter and summer in a near paradisiacal riding area of Idaho where they do their gear testing.
This XL version was targeted towards dual sport and adventure bike riders instead of just the purely off-road crowd that the usual Cow Tagz (non-XL) event draws.
Photo by Darrin Dance
Participants pay a $120 USD fee to register and the proceeds are donated to support riding trail advocacy and preservation programs in the area. Here’s the link to the winter or Frozen Cow Tagz event going on March 13 and 14, 2020.
What’s A Cow Tagz XL Event?
It’s a virtual scavenger hunt recorded digitally using the Rever App. This phone app uses GPS to sense your coordinates and award you a “tag” for each nav point (Point Of Interest) reached. Each tag is an entry into a draw to win a 2019 Honda CRF450L.
I foolishly figured I could have all the necessary guarding in place on this new KTM bike to protect it for a Rally in 2.5 months. How hard could that be to do? I ordered parts feverishly as best as I could, but in July 2019 very little was available even from KTM directly!
In the end, all I managed to get installed on my bike in preparation was some much needed reinforced handguards from KTM (the ones that come standard on the R model 790) and some Motoz Tractionator Adventure tires which were a lifesaver. Click on the links to see my reviews and articles of all the aforementioned if you’d like more details.
I didn’t even end up with proper luggage as I was waiting for some soft bags from Giant Loop to arrive… that never did! All I had was my SW Motech aluminum tour pack (which I love!) and a Nelson Riggs bag I had lying around. They did the trick nicely!
The 600-mile (1000 km) ride south from my home in Airdrie, Alberta to Challis, ID was split into two days because I don’t like rushing when riding the scenic and twisty mountain roads of Montana/Idaho. There was also a border crossing to deal with.
Happily, I have only good things to report from the ride down. You can watch some great video footage I shot from the trip with my Sena 10C Pro, but be warned I had music playing while filming and YouTube copyright infringement rules forced me to mute all audio for a large chunk of it. Still, the video alone is stunning from the Going To The Sun Road, Lost Trail Pass/Casey Road and Highway 93 South in general.
All of those roads are ones I highly recommend for motorcyclists to experience.
Going To The Sun Road, Montana
The Lost Trail Pass at the MT/ID border.
A Side Trip to Klim HQ
Klim HQ in Rigby, Idaho
I arrived in Challis two days before the actual rally started because I had in mind taking a 2 hr side trip to Rigby where the Klim HQ is located if I could arrange to get a tour.
I made some calls and worked it out pretty easily with the media relations staff despite giving an inconsiderate amount of short notice. I made the trip over to Rigby and dropped in to spend a few hours with their Brand Training Manager Dustin Pancheri.
President/Founder Justin Summers’ office door at Klim HQ.
The first place he led me was to the office of the President/CEO and Founder, Justin Summers. Unfortunately, Justin was out of town so I didn’t get to meet him myself, but Dustin is a long time friend of the CEO and shared with me the great backstory on how Teton Outfitters LLC (Klim’s actual company name) came to be, over 20 years ago in 1999.
Snow Maker Jackets
Justin worked at a local ski hill back then and noticed how the jackets worn by snow making staff were completely inadequate. They weren’t waterproof, warm enough and all were torn to shreds on the front due to contact against the sharp-edged clamps used on water hoses the workers regularly lugged around.
He took it upon himself to design and sew prototype jackets that were warm, waterproof and highly abrasion-resistant. They worked as hoped and soon Justin was able to sell enough to justify opening the company full time. From this point onward they moved into the world of snowmobile riding gear as it was a natural transition and haven’t looked back since. Klim is likely the top gear manufacturer for snowmobilers.
Motorcycle gear has been another huge area for the brand. Their future looks bright to me. Polaris purchased Klim in 2012, but so far have left Justin and his crew running the show how they know best.
Not An Instant Success Story
In the early years, there was a lot of financial struggle despite having a quality product as Justin and his friends launched the brand. I heard about times when Justin and his wife were harvesting wild asparagus from alongside local roads to eat for dinner. This is something of a tradition in Idaho from what I’ve read, but most people tend to pick “ditchweed” for fun, not out of necessity.
Summers teamed up initially with a trusted friend he had made years before when he volunteered as a church missionary for a two year period overseas in Taiwan. He realized the tough road ahead could only be won with a tightly-knit group of like-minded friends. That’s exactly what he did, pushing forward successfully with his ambitions for the company. You can see in the photos above how they grew from 2 to 5 to 30… on and on to the couple hundred strong they are today in Rigby.
They display these photos prominently in the building to remind themselves of their humble roots (I would presume). All the employees I was introduced to seemed happily engaged in their work, whether they were in design, logistics, GoreTex repair (one of the few places licensed for it), customer service or warehousing. It’s very much a friendly and cohesive atmosphere Justin created by continuing to hire his family and friends even today.
Their large lunchroom is regularly used to bring in catered meals for the entire staff. This is done to carry on a company tradition started long ago. In the beginning, everyone took a turn cooking lunch for the whole team each week, but obviously the company is too large to do that anymore.
Employees That Ride!
A common trait among the employees is many of them are adrenaline junkies! They almost all regularly sled, motorcycle, side-by-side, quad or all of the above.
Maybe Justin Summers was off racing this off-road buggy when I visited? Apparently he’s placed very well in races he’s entered since getting into the scene.
The CEO races well… everything, Dustin Pancieri is a former motocross rider who still gets out regularly, the head of textiles/materials actually has raced and placed well in the Erzberg Rodeo. That’s just to name a few and is part of the reason why Klim gear is so highly regarded.
It’s made by people who ride HARD and are passionate about making gear not just for their needs, but every kind of rider out there. They don’t compromise on functionality even if it raises the price tag significantly. When you use as much Superfabric on gear as Klim does, rest assured it will perform.
Crash Gear Collection
I got to inspect their massive collection of riding gear that has been crashed in. If you crash wearing Klim riding gear that is less than 5 years old, they’ll replace it free of charge in exchange for a police report and the damaged gear. That’s so great for us riders who shell out big bucks for this riding gear but also benefits Klim’s design team.
Their collection is well documented and organized in a way to facilitate learning. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take photos of this and many other areas I wanted to in the interest of privacy and confidentiality. It was very impressive to inspect what little damage occurs to their gear even in crashes around the 100 mph mark!
Klim started designing and building helmets not all that long ago. We’ve reviewed some of their helmets and gear on WBW as you can see here. I like very much the way they’re heading with their helmets when it comes to using Koroyd instead of EPS foam liners. However, my enthusiasm does waver a bit because of Snell Certification, or rather a lack thereof.
I asked Dustin about the lack of Snell certified helmets and he told me they feel the Snell homologation is more auto racing attuned than it is the needs of modern motorcyclists. They feel more inclined to model around the ECE 22-05 motorcycle helmet standards which are also good according to the data I’ve seen.
It was great discussing their approach to safety gear with Dustin, and to hear first hand how they’re leading the way forward with their new products.
Photo from Klim
I like the look of their Krios Pro helmet seen above in particular and I’ve got a promise from Klim to supply us with one to review in the Spring of 2020.
Back To Challis
On the long ride back to Challis that evening after the tour I couldn’t help feeling envious of the people who work at Klim. I would love to spend every workday pursuing projects that I’m passionate about like they do. A wise man once said, “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
My helmet was pretty dirty after riding from Rigby to Challis that evening.
Teaming Up With WebBikeWorld Fans
I got back to the hotel in Challis later that evening and settled in at the restaurant to eat dinner and collect my thoughts. I began daydreaming about the sort of terrain and riding I would encounter the next day once the Rally began.
The parking lot was packed with bikes from far and wide at the hotel as dozens of eager riders gathered in anticipation of the adventure to come.
My daydreaming was cut short by a couple of guys who noticed the WebBikeWorld shirt I was wearing and asked if I was one of the website reviewers. Ian and Mick became my wingmen during the next three days of most excellent riding around Challis! I was so pleased to have them adopt me into their duo because honestly, I was apprehensive about riding in unfamiliar territory by myself.
They welcomed me and my KTM 790 Adventure into their group of BMW R1200GS without hesitation. We also later teamed up with another 1200GS rider named Darrin on the last day out. The more the merrier!
Ian (left) from Winnipeg, Canada and Mick (right) from Baton Rouge, Louisiana were instrumental in helping sort out some problems we encountered with the Rever App and navigation in general.
The Rally organizers gave us a map of the 10,000 square miles of trails in the area which had each one marked in a color that corresponded with the difficulty of the terrain.
This was easy to use and we found it to be accurate in describing the type of challenge of the terrain, but they didn’t have the routes mapped out in the Rever App for us to follow. That made navigating difficult at times because the Rever App didn’t have turn by turn directions to follow as a GPS does.
A screenshot of the Rever App showing my position inside the Cow Tag waypoint.
Ian brilliantly found a way to incorporate a digital copy of the map of the Cow Tagz into his Avenza App, so all we had to do was plot our route to each Tag and then follow it. I give him full credit for helping us gather what turned out to be 16 Cow Tagz. I’m sure without his help I wouldn’t have gotten half that.
Finding our way around in the Idaho backcountry. Photo from Mick Heim.
For the most part, the Rever App worked as planned. All we had to do was ride into a 50-meter radius of the digital point of interest and our virtual Cow Tag was auto-logged in the App. If there was any question or problem with the points of interest the rally organizers awarded us credit for the cow tag.
The tags were all located in historically interesting locations or spots that could only be accessed by travel down entertaining paths, as you can see from the photos.
Finding Cow Tagz
Darrin’s BMW along the trail.
Have a look at this video compilation to see some of the terrain we encountered along the way.
I didn’t record the best footage unfortunately because I was having too much fun riding it and forgot to start recording. You’ll just have to show up this year to see for yourself.
Nothing But A Good Time
Photo by Darrin Dance
At the end of each day, all 75 riders in attendance gathered back at the community hall for supper together. It was included in the cost of the registration for the event and was top-notch food! It was a great time to bond over stories from the trail.
Mark Kincart from Klim welcoming everyone to the Cow Tagz Rally 2019.
Klim representatives auctioned off gift cards and other donated items at supper each evening in an effort to raise more funds to donate to the upkeep of the recreational trails we’d just been riding on. It’s great to see a local company give back like this.
Riders gathered in the morning to check in before heading out for the day.
An Intimate & Alternative Kind of Rally
I was surprised at how few riders were in attendance until I found out the massively popular KTM rally was going on at the same time over in Colorado. That explains it, but in discussion with Mark Kincart from Klim who organized the event he liked the almost private feel this rally took on by having less than 100 riders out.
There weren’t any retailers present either. I don’t think anyone missed them. I think once again this showcases the Klim culture of enjoying the ride first and foremost. It’s awesome!
Honda Test Rides
Honda America was in attendance with a half dozen of their new dual-sport bikes available for test rides during the Rally. If you experienced trouble with your own bike you could just borrow a Honda and go ride the trails to gather cow tagz that way instead! Hats off to Honda for supporting the Rally this way.
Not to mention offering up a new CRF450L as the grand prize for the draw!
Speaking of that…
Then I Opened My Big Mouth
While talking to Mark on the last night of the Rally leading up to the draw for the 2019 Honda CRF450L I asked him how exactly the bike would be awarded.
“You’re just going to draw a winning number out of a hat, and give them the bike?!!” I asked incredulously.
“Well… yeah! That’s what I envisioned, to be honest,” Mark answered, though I could tell at that point my question had piqued his interest as to what crazy alternative scheme I had in mind.
Minutes later I had Mark sold on the idea of gathering 6 different ignition keys from the Honda representatives to use to pick the winner of the CRF450L. He would draw not once from the hat, but 6 times to choose the lucky contestants who would get to choose a key from the pile and then try to start the bike. If it started, they would be the winner!
“That’s F&*^%*$ Stupid!”
When Mark announced his new plan (mine) over the microphone someone at the back of the room shouted out this objection loudly in response to my plan. You can’t please everyone I suppose, but I think it was brilliant!
I’ll give you one guess what number was drawn first out of the hat by Mark… Yep… it was #56. My number!
Shocked doesn’t begin to describe my level of amazement at hearing my number drawn first. It was then I realized I had just cheated myself out of winning the bike! If I had let Mark proceed with his original plan I’d have myself a new motorcycle that I REALLY like.
I reviewed the 2019 CRF450L on our site when it first came available in late 2018. It was the most read review I’ve ever written because unbeknownst to me Honda had placed a media gag order on the bike with all the major motorcycle media groups, and my review dropped two days before the gag order was lifted!! How sweet would it be to win the bike bearing that history in mind?
I still had a chance I suppose. I just had to pick the correct key out of the 6.
If you watch this video from the Klim Motorcycle Instagram account and skip to the end you’ll see footage of us 6 finalists go up to the table and choose a key for the lottery. I chose the key off the table right beside the winning key… can you believe that?!
So close. When I told Mark afterward what happened he laughed hysterically and told everyone there about it.
Yep… they’ll never forget me down in Idaho. The guy from WBW who couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
It Went To The Right Person
Paul, the person who did pick the winning ignition key was the “right” person to win the bike.
Paul a few minutes after winning this bike at the Cow 2019 Tagz Rally (photo from Klim)
He had traveled to the Rally from his home in Washington State and had been plagued with mechanical troubles the whole time. He also had been riding the CRF450L demo bike instead so that he could get some riding in and was in love with it.
Paul and his family, taking ownership of his new bike at his local Honda dealership.
I suppose it was fate intervening, eh?
The Best Part Of The Rally
The comedy each evening I enjoyed back in the hotel parking lot really made this trip fun.
The Crazy Canucks corner at the hotel in Challis, ID.
Incredibly the corner where I was parking my bike was inhabited by several other riders from Alberta as it turned out! The “crazy Canucks” as I started calling them ran what amounted to a motorcycle hospital each evening trying to get their broken bikes back in running order for the next day of the Rally.
One rider I met named Danny from Calgary, Alberta had ridden down to Challis on a 1987 Yamaha Venture Royale outfitted with TKC80 tires! He actually rode that 800lb touring bike out on the trails “successfully” all three days.
Danny (right) with his Venture Royale doing repairs in the hotel parking lot.
He admitted to dropping it about a dozen times in the process and that exhaust parts fell off it more than once as anyone would expect. He told me that there were times even he began questioning the wisdom of bringing a touring bike to the Rally while struggling to keep it rubber side down on some of the more challenging trails! I believe it went down in the middle of a stream at one point too…
It’s that kind of silliness I really enjoy seeing at events like these. Danny was threatening to ride the Idaho BDR on his way back north as we parted ways when the Rally was over. I hope he did!
I also got to help another rider put JB Weld on his cracked radiator core and piece back together the shards of a shattered windshield off his KLR650.
Please Come Out In 2020
I encourage everyone reading this to attend the 2020 XL version of the Klim Cow Tagz Rally.
If my schedule permits, I’ll definitely be there myself, riding who knows what. Maybe I should track down a Honda Gold Wing now and get it ready?
It’s all for a good cause, and I’m positive you’ll have the best time in the process of enjoying this hidden gem named Challis in the middle of the Idaho hills.