It is an oddity of marketing when a vehicle is offered to buyers not for its speed but because it goes slow. In the case of two new motorcycles, the makers are urging as a supreme advantage the fact that they positively creep. Both are designed not for racing, or for such speed as the law allows on the highways, but for use in remote areas where roads are mere trails (and sometimes nonexistent) and where the challenge is not to get there fast but to get there at all.
One of the bikes is the Trail-Breaker, a sturdy, 185-pound vehicle, built by Rokon, Inc., of Keene, N.H. The Trail-Breaker is designed to climb mountains, explore forests and deserts and is guaranteed to go places that even a pack animal can't manage. It will (according to the makers) climb grades up to 60 degrees, with no pushing required, and can manage the narrowest trails, though at the speed of a turtle. Rokon says the Trail-Breaker can ford streams up to 24 inches deep, and its hot engine will not fail even if plunged into cold water. In deeper waters the machine can be made to float on its side like a raft because of flotation chambers in its drum-type wheels. Trail-Breaker can be started either by the conventional kick starter or by an auxiliary rope-pull starter, with the latter method recommended for restarts if the machine gets caught in deep mud, sand or snow. A two-wheel drive system allows each wheel to find its own rotation speed when climbing over or going through obstacles, and a high-ground clearance of 15 inches minimizes some of the hazards of rough terrain travel.
Optional accessories include a front cargo rack that will take on 75 pounds of extra weight. The bike can carry as much as 400 pounds without being hampered in performance or manipulation. A foldaway tow bar, which mounts on the rear axle, permits the driver to pull a trailer weighing another 650 pounds.
What makes this particular motorcycle especially adaptable in rough terrain is the drive arrangement by which the front and rear wheels operate independently of each other, causing a "push-pull" action that gets the machine through mud, snow or other difficult terrain. "The two-wheel drive," says Orla Larson, president of Rokon, Inc., "takes a little getting used to in manipulating turns, since you're actually pulling in two different directions, but with practice the problems diminish."
For most sportsmen, the appeal of the Trail-Breaker is probably limited: hunters and fishermen don't ordinarily want to take on a rough journey—even with a two-wheel drive—before the fun starts and will settle for places accessible to more usual transportation. There may be a rugged type here and there who knows about game or a mountain stream out of reach except by air—or a Trail-Breaker. The company's hope is that the machine will be useful to agencies concerned with fire fighting and other conservation problems in hard-to-reach areas.
Trail-Breaker's manufacturers are doing their best to sell their bikes to skiing area authorities, Forest Service personnel and landowners in an attempt to open up trails previously closed to two-wheel vehicles. Trail-Breaker retails at $695.
Less expensive, smaller and only slightly less robust than the Trail-Breaker is another two-wheeled remote area traveler, furnished in a kit for home assembly, called the Heathkit "Boonie-Bike." This is manufactured by Heath Company of Benton Harbor, Mich. and retails for $189.95. Whereas Rokon admits that its machine may find some mountainous territory troublesome, Heath's bike will scamper around such challenging regions "like a mountain goat," according to a factory representative—a slow goat perhaps but a goat nonetheless.
The Boonie-Bike, which made its unexpected debut at the New York Boat Show, of all places, is still so new that customers may have to wait for lights, horns and other accessories not yet available. The manufacturer emphasizes that the bike is not a mini, though it weighs only 140 pounds without accessories, and will fit into car trunks, boats or on luggage racks.
The Boonie's rear tire is a giant 18 inches by 8.50 flotation type, designed to give maximum traction for pushing through mud, sand, snow, gravel, tall weeds and rough underbrush. Its most interesting feature is a ski accessory that clamps onto the front wheel and converts the Boonie from trail bike to snow bike. The ski weighs 12 pounds and costs $16.95, is equipped with a "grip lock" attachment and can be mounted to the front axle without the removal or addition of any parts or the use of any tools. It is, says Heath, ideal for winter hunting and for towing skiers or tobogganers. The Boonie has a five hp, four-cycle engine, a two-speed chain-drive transmission and an automatic centrifugal clutch. A three-quart tank holds enough gas to carry the rider 60 miles before refueling.
Remote area travelers like Trail-Breaker and Boonie were never meant to be speed demons on flat surfaces. The Trail-Breaker tootles along on the flat at only about 20 mph; the lighter Boonie-Bike can manage 30 mph. Inquiries about the Trail-Breaker should go directly to Rokon, Inc., 160 Emerald St., Keene, N.H. 03431. Inquiries about the Boonie-Bike should be addressed to Heath Company, Benton Harbor, Mich. 49022.