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June 23, 2009

Motorcycle Touring Part 1

Nick Diaz

In my many years of traveling by motorcycle, I’ve encountered many people who ask me questions like, “Did you ride that thing all the way out here from Maryland?” The standard reply from this smart aleck is: “It’s better than pushing it all the way from Maryland…”


Questions like that are common among the non-motorcycling public simply because they don’t understand why we do it, and how we do it. They also don’t seem to grasp that the means of travel is as important as the destination.


Touring by motorcycle is what this column series is about.


A lot of the information I cover in this series of articles could apply equally as well to traveling by car, and some even to travel by train, bicycle, or on foot. I'm talking about topics such as where to stay, where to eat, money, weather.


A lot of my experience in these areas came as much from traveling by car as by motorcycle. It seems that many people, particularly those born since about 1965, have never traveled more than a day or two from home by car. If they want to go further, they fly.


I only travel by plane for personal reasons – and if there's no reasonable alternative. It's hard to get to the West Coast, or to Europe, without getting on an airplane. In general, however, I think that flying is a tiresome and dreary way to travel. The only bad downside to each of my memorable trips to California, Ireland, Sweden, and Scotland has been the airplane ride over, and the airplane ride back. Some people like flying per se. My preference is to travel on a motorcycle.


Since some people have this strange desire to be herded around airports like sheep and spend hours sealed in an airplane, a large number of people have no idea how to live on the road. When we baby boomers were kids, most of us always traveled by car. I didn't realize that there was any other way to travel until I was an adult. So, I will cover these rather mundane topics (like where to stay, where to eat, money, weather) even though I think that any competent adult should already know these things.


I also intend to include some general motorcycle information like safety, clothing, and maintenance. These are not specific to motorcycle touring, but I'm covering them because a lot of people have asked me these questions over the years.


Touring Style


I'm starting with style because your touring style influences everything else; what bike you pick, what stuff you take, where you stay, and a bunch more. In turn, your style is influenced by the type of bike, what stuff you take, where you stay and so on. If you're just starting motorcycle touring, or if you’re merely Walter-Mitty fantasizing about it, you probably don't know your style yet. You may think you do, but until you take a few trips, you don't really know. It'll take a while before things start to come together.


Motorcycle touring is about compromise, just like the rest of your life (big surprise, eh?). You'll have to decide which compromises are best for you. In this series I'll share with you what compromises I've made, and why, as well as what I've tried and abandoned because it didn't work. You can decide what to use and what to ignore.


My Style


Some people tour to go see the sights and play tourist, some to get someplace and then see specific people or things, some to explore. I know one guy who tours to visit historical markers – he stops at every marker he sees and takes a picture for his collection. I think he's a bit unusual, but, hey, whatever works, do it!


My style of touring is to ride the motorcycle, period. I don't much care where I go or what I see as long as I'm riding. Sure, I try to go different places and see different things. I prefer my “invisible roads” with twisties and nice scenery just like everyone else; however, I'm on the road to ride, and that takes first priority.


I don't generally stop for anything but gas, food, picture taking, or, understandably for many of us old-timers, the restroom.  What's important is that I should be on the bike moving down the road. If I'm not doing that, I'm wasting my time. For you newbies, this is not the way most people ride.


The second characteristic of my style is that I hate crowds. This means that I avoid large cities and tourist areas like the plague. This is also one of the reasons that I don't ride in as easterly direction very often – too many people and towns centered around Megalopolis. This is also why I do not attend large gatherings like the “Ride to the Wall” on Memorial Day.


This is also why you won't find very much information in this series about destinations. My destination is the road. It took me about 10 years of touring to realize that this is really what I liked about touring, (I'm a bit slow in the thinking department sometimes), but now that I know, it makes everything much easier.


Sometimes a destination is a place to eat, as in “Eat to ride, ride to eat.” For example, some of us like riding down to Syria, VA, to Graves Mountain Lodge, where lunch is served family style for only $10.75. Over the years I’ve developed a number of routes to get to and from Graves Mountain, all on invisible roads. The secondary goal of our rides to there is to eat; after all, riding a motorcycle on invisible roads makes our bodies thirsty and hungry. The primary goal of our Graves rides, however, is to ride.


People ask me all the time "Where are you going on your next trip?" Occasionally, in gas stations or restaurants along the way, someone will ask me about my bike and then ask where I'm going. Often the real answer is: "That way (pointing in the proper direction) because I see a cool mountain road over there and from the map it looks like an invisible road with some nice twisties." This is the wrong answer! If you give this answer you'll confuse them at best, and, at worst, they'll think you're insane and refuse further conversation. The right answer, understandable to most, is "Asheville," or “Kentucky,” or, at least, "The Finger Lakes."


Keep all this in mind while reading what I have to say because your style will most certainly be different than mine. Take what you read here with a grain of salt; I’m writing this not only to inform, but also to entertain!


Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
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