Jerry Anderson likes Suzukis—a lot. “I’ve always had Suzukis,” he says. “Never owned anything else.” So when his application for the 2017 Iron Butt Rally was accepted, it’s no surprise he decided to ride a Suzuki. What is surprising is the Suzuki he chose, a 1974 GT750, a water-cooled, two-stroke triple. Appropriately, he entered it in the Hopeless Class.
The Hopeless Class is reserved for bikes and riders who aren’t content with the inherent challenges of riding in an 11-day scavenger hunt that ranges from coast to coast through the worst that nature and the rally planners can throw at them. The first Hopeless Class entry was another Suzuki, an RE5 Rotary, in the first Iron Butt Rally, in 1984. Running an oddball motorcycle powered by an engine practically nobody had ever heard of seemed like a hopeless cause, and thus the class was born.
Fast-forward to 2017, and Anderson’s reasons for choosing a bike some call the Water Buffalo. “There aren’t a lot of them on the road any more,” he says, adding this particular one has been very good to him. “I’ve done a lot of riding on it. It took me coast-to-coast-to-coast in 92 hours, and from Key West, Florida, to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.”
Iron Butt Association president Mike Kneebone approves Hopeless entries based on little more than the opportunity to answer the question, “Can it be done?” He liked Anderson’s willingness to see if an antique two-stroke could buck the odds and finish. Unlike most IBR entrants, Anderson had never ridden a long-distance rally of any kind before submitting his application. So why choose the toughest of all for his first? “I’m not really sure much thought went into that,” he admits. “But I knew the Hopeless Class would be my way in.”
Anderson found the GT in someone’s backyard in Dallas, Texas, 10 years ago. He bought it and went through it front to back, powdercoating the frame and rebuilding the engine. For the Iron Butt Rally he added an auxiliary fuel tank, made brackets for saddlebags, ditched the stock points for electronic ignition, bolted on a set of Clearwater driving lights and installed a water pump for a rider hydration system. “Other than that,” he says, “it’s a stock GT750.”
“Can it be done?” turned out to be the theme of Anderson’s rally. First, there were problems with the heat. “I started running into vapor lock problems before the second bonus I picked up. It was so hot the fuel boiled in the carbs. Every time I parked the bike for the night I’d get up the next morning and it would be flooded.” The aux tank started acting up, too. “I was always fighting it and switching the tanks to see which one I could get gas out of.” Not only was getting gas tough, buying it almost became impossible. “Going into Wichita, Kansas, the clear plastic sleeve on my Aerostich suit with all my gas cards in it blew off.”
The heat affected Anderson, too, nearly causing personal vapor lock, but he found a cool solution. “When I got to Texas it was seriously hot, so I put a bag of ice inside the front of my Aerostich suit. After a while it melts and you’re wet for the rest of the day but it beats being overheated.”
On the Fourth of July in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he discovered his rear Heidenau tire had two tread blocks missing; he could see the tire’s carcass. “Where am I going to get a tire on the Fourth of July in Cheyenne, Wyoming?” he recalls wondering. “The answer was nowhere. So I had to keep going.” He found a tire the next day but didn’t stop to mount it, a decision he reversed when the old one shed a third tread block.
At the end of the rally, he says, “It was kind of emotional. You spend a year and a half working on your bike. You get out there and it becomes all about finishing. I wouldn’t mind doing it again. But the IBA tells you right up front this isn’t just about you, it’s about your family, too. I was gone for a good three weeks—according to my wife I was actually gone for the last year and a half.” Anderson finished the rally 78th out of 104 riders, a solid showing that proves there’s hope even for the hopeless.