Spotlight: Kris Ziemlo and The Last Frontier

Spotlight: Kris Ziemlo and The Last Frontier

Kris Ziemlo, 38, is many things.

He is a Venice Beach native, the son of a single mother. He's a Marine Corps Veteran with incredible stories of meeting people around the world. He's a resident of Northwest Chicago. He's a husband and a father of two sons.

He's also a biker who once embarked on a cross-country trip to Alaska.

While in the Marines Corps, Kris received some life-changing advice: Live your life with no regrets. This wisdom was passed on to Ziemlo by his late mentor. Ziemlo knew he would find a way to honor his legacy.

"This [advice] became a main motivation, as I didn't wanna leave this planet in the fear of regret," Ziemlo states. "It's a wonderful motivator in doing all the things you want to in goal setting."

Ziemlo realized he could achieve his goals and honor his late mentor's legacy by actively pursuing his passion for motorcycles. Never a fan of stock, he applied his solid understanding of proportions and symmetry to bike customization. Ziemlo didn't always have the necessary resources, but he consistetly maintained his vision and worked with what was available.

"For a long time, I built custom cars, Cadillacs specifically, and learned a lot about tools and how to build things wrong and tried to do the opposite whenever possible within the budget that allowed," Ziemlo reminisces. "I did dabble in some bikes over the years and always had one in that time period. I've had lots of iterations of 2 wheels and none stayed stock."

Above is Kris' 2018 Road Glide Special. Much like its owner, this bike has lived many lives. Kris knew this bike would have a purpose, resolving to make it work no matter what.

"[I] got some typical mods and started riding on roads that had curves and fell in love with the skill needed to run them," Kris expresses. "Unfortunately, the touring bike isn't the best suited for this in stockish form, especially with the amount of miles I put on 2up. After meeting some great, well-known people in Sturgis in 2019 [My first summer with the bike], I was able to see how important suspension was."

Ziemlo embarked on this journey completely on his own, needing to rely only on himself in the unlikely event of an emergency. As his trip took him across the Canadian wilderness, Ziemlo went through times when he was essentially in the middle of nowhere. And it was in the middle of nowhere where Ziemlo met some more, let's just say, interesting characters.

"Immediately after going over Beartooth Pass, I found a random spot in the woods to camp," Ziemlo remembers. "Isolated, no one around. I woke up early and made coffee. As I'm drinking my coffee, I saw movement far away. A guy walked out of the woods and started kicking a tree stump. He noticed I was looking at him. He had no gear, no car, no means of travel and just walked backed into the woods. Ironically, it rained overmight so I never knew where he came from or where he went!"

Kris knew his ride would need to be of substantial height, lest he encounter any setbacks on the road. Unsure if the knobbies would maintain their proper function levels under the bagger's wieght, he tested them out at home and even went so far as to use them to ride to the Fast Life Campout.

It was a good thing he did.

"I had to fit the knobbies just in case the Dalton Highway was going to be wet. It was," Kris laughs.

While the amount of gear Kris packed for Alaska may be considered overpacking by normal traveling standards, everything was essential. His travel essentials included:

  • A fitted Garmin GPS unit & Garmin Emergency Tracker/SAT Messenger
  • Two Different Types of Tire Plugs
  • Air Compressor
  • Trauma Kit
  • Tent, Cot, Chair & Sleeping Bag
  • Two Sets of Rain Gear & Multiple Pairs of Gloves
  • Heated Weather Gear
  • 2.5 Gallons of Fuel
  • Stove W/Spare Food & Even a Grill
  • Coffee & a French Press
  • All kinds of tools & Lots of Zip Ties

Kris knew he would have to make some important adjustments to his ride if he wanted to carry it all. Luckily, these changes were simple to make.

"I wanted to be able to strap gear to my bags," Kris explains. "But the Harley bags wouldn't allow that, plus they were messed up from crashing a few months prior on the Daytona Speedway when I was racing this same bike. I added the SW Motech bags using Bareknuckle Paul's kit. Not much else needed to be changed, asd the bike was pretty solid from the abuse I had already given it!"

When asked if he faced any technical setbacks on the road, Kris admits the only significant setback happened when his front caliper was locked at 90 in a dense fog. Despite cleaning his Special vigorously, Kris' bike was still pretty messy. He cleaned it off one more time and exercised the caliper, continuing his homeward bound journey safely. Over 1,200 miles covered, and some lessons learned and to be shared.

"Don't use a Harley!" he declares. "Ride a rental if you're going to the top. Frost heaves are no joke. The Yukon is also a dangerous place. Be prepared to work on your own stuff. Don't panic! Talk to people! That's the best part, besides the views. Be comfortable being uncomfortable."

Kris built his bike in small stages. When he encountered a part that he had ridden past its ability, he would upgrade instead of tossing countless parts together with the hopes that it would work. Kris says this method allowed him to see how one individual part would change his bike for the better.

"There are so many others that have helped in sharing their experience to help me pick what I need to achieve those current goals," Ziemlo states.

Kris' Road Glide Build Sheet:

While he assembled almost everything aside from the 124 kit, Kris received plenty of help customizing his ride. He'd like to thank:

  • Kyle at Forever Rad
  • Kevin at Cobalt Cycles
  • Steve from Screaming Speed & Fab
  • Justin Page (His Machinist)
  • Justin and Keiron from Kleen Moto
  • Mike from CMP
  • Kevin from Big Bear Performance
  • Paul from Bare Knuckle

"I was surprised that it all held together," Ziemlo admits of riding his Road Glide Special all the way. "I put this bike together so many times. It was unexpected how many great people I met, and the experiences and views I'll cherish for a lifetime. To be able to call home and tell my two young boys I did it! I was at the top of the world."

All Photos Provided Courtesy of Kris Ziemlo.

24th Mar 2024 Jackie J.

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