True adventure tourers are often recognized by their ingenuity. This conversion comes with everything but a kitchen sink.
According to one industry analyst, the niche of motorcycle adventure riding is expected to continue to grow for at least the next five years at an annual rate of five percent. That is not bad when some manufacturers are scaling back their projected output and most Americans believe the R word (as in recession) is reality. Part of this increase is based on growth in sales as a percentage of the overall motorcycle market, and includes parts and accessories. Another element is what the analyst defined as the “dump the cruiser, get a dual sport bike,” factor. This is interpreted to mean there is a segment of the market that has grown tired of riding their straight line cruisers up and down congested Main Street, rapping pipes to save lives, and wants to head to the serenity and freshness of the mountains, wide openness and far away spaces.
Another reflection of this growth is reflected in motorcycle tour companies offering adventure tours. They incorporate the word adventure in their company name, like “Ron Smith Adventure Tours,” then describe what an incredible adventure the paying customer will have in their advertising. In fact, what they are offering is a pretty tame road ride with five star hotels and cloth napkin restaurants, following guides, some leading the group in cars or trucks. The point is they are trying to reel in retired Walter Mitty with the word adventure as Walter looks at pending retirement and pre-retirement paid vacations.
The same market is being targeted by some manufacturers. Recently a rep for a major brand was in negotiations for a spokesperson or poster boy to promote adventure motorcycling in their country and a new adventure model motorcycle they will be importing. The manufacturer saw the niche as a growing one and had solid plans to carve out an early segment for themselves. While discussing their press introduction, promotion and marketing plans, both parties agreed that one of the attractions to the niche of adventure riding is the fun factor. This form of motorcycle touring could be fun for the hardened adventurer who really makes the most of an adventure ride as well as the person who wants to look the part. The part-time adventurer could be like the two policemen who annually trailer their Harley-Davidsons to Daytona Bike Week. They let their beards grow, wear black leathers and ride their choppers for the week, playing bad boys. They were having fun but admittedly were not really bad boys. They liked to look and play the part. The same applies to some of the newbie adventurers.
Adventure riders have been poking their front wheels into dark or unknown places for nearly 100 years, usually going solo, lacking GPS’s and seldom following a guide unless required, like some countries do in a military convoy. In a November 2007 interview with City Bike magazine, Ted Simon admitted that although he did have a GPS on his second ride around the globe, he never figured out how to use it and was “relatively happy when it fell off eventually.” Gasp! Is a ride around the world without using a GPS possible? One high-end motorcycle adventure touring company requires its clients to have a GPS. This while following their tour guide with his GPS and a second “back-up” unit, on their advertised “adventure of a life time.”
Worn tires, dirt-riddled exhaust, scratched up bodywork and plenty of stickers on its panniers. This bike bares all the tell-tale signs of a serious adventure-touring bike.
Another icon in the motorcycle adventure riding niche is Dave Barr, who did an 83,000 mile ride around the world without a GPS, and without the benefit of legs, guide or a sidecar. Then there was the Guinness Record ride by Englishman Nick Sanders as the fastest man around the world, again without the GPS gizmo to keep him on track.
If a GPS is not needed to make a global adventure ride, why are they selling so well to new adventure riders? The same question goes with motorcycles marketed as adventure tourers like BMW GSs, KTM Adventures, V-Stroms, Tigers, Multistradas and the KLR? And books and DVD’s on adventure riding? Adventure riding clothing? Tire repair kits targeted to adventure riding? The adventure rider socks and underwear? There is likely some company out there preparing to market the ultimate motorcycle adventure rider’s codpiece with jock strap.
One of the answers to the growth of this niche is the Internet and thousands of wannbe or vicarious adventure riders (the later called keyboard cheerleaders by one forum poster of frequent trip reports) who are stuck in some job like tech-support for sewage-treatment plants. These adventure riders are described as the “Dreamer” by Ed Milich in his Motorcyclist magazine April, 2008 piece titled “Field Guide to Common Internet Motorcycle Wackos.” Their lust for the freedom is portrayed and marketed as adventure riding, but they likely will never be a real adventure rider. Time, money, age, limited personal risk envelopes or risk aversion, wives, girlfriends, mortgage payments and fear factors will keep them from ever making the jump from cyber adventure and weekend rides to freely motorcycling away from the safety net of paved interstates, cell phones, roadside assistance plans, and well-stocked motorcycle dealerships open seven days a week for parts, warranty claims and tire repairs.
That doesn’t mean they can’t join the fun. For $5,000 they can purchase a new budget dual sport adventure motorcycle. If well heeled, they can purchase a $20,000 bike and hand it over to a company like HPN in Germany to make it ready for a global adventure for another $25 -$30,000. With the adventure motorcycle in the garage, they can start outfitting themselves with adventure riding gear ranging from tents to tools. Once they have the motorcycle and gear, they are ready for an adventure ride, possibly to an adventure rider rally or just around their local area. Before leaving though, Mr. or Ms. Walter Mitty Adventure Rider needs to do some fine tuning to his appearance and that of his motorcycle to keep from being spotted as a poseur having some fun.
A $20,000 dirt bike some well-heeled owners change into an adventure touring bike. It was designed to be light and nimble, for off road riding. Adding touring accessories and weight can be likened to making a cheetah carry a hay bale on its back.
Dirty it up.
A spotless adventure bike screams “newbie.” Ride it through some mud puddles after a rain. Another option is take it to a car wash, park it in a bay with nasty looking grunge on the floor and use the pressure washer to blow the ugly stuff on to the bike by deflecting it from the floor. Make sure to get some dirt on the license plate, headlight and under the fenders.
Tires with nipples yell to the educated observer “New tires, no miles.” Some sandpaper, an electric sander or even a sharp knife can make that new tire look like the rider has done some twisty roads, maybe even deep dirt or sand.
Sticker and map up your panniers.
A map of the world or lists of places you have (or have not) been says you might have gotten out of Kansas or San Francisco. Stickers from retailers like tire or oil companies can imply you have big time sponsors. Rub dirt and sand on the stickers, you do not want them to look new. Do not paste on stickers that look like bullet holes. You, and the viewer, know these are faked, that you really did not get shot at in Iraq or Afghanistan. If you want the “danger” look, then take off your aluminum or look-alike panniers, lay them against a hill well away from civilization and curious eyes, aim carefully from 40-50 feet away with a .45 or .38 and blast a few holes in those $1,200 -$1,500 burnished or OEM plastic beauties.
Clothes Make “The Man” (or Woman):
Chuck the leathers:
Leather riding gear, with the exception of gloves and boots, is out, textile pants and jackets are the “in” adventure riding gear. Gortex is best, and the most expensive. The gear needs to look like it was worn while adventure riding, so new is bad, dirty and torn is good. The leader in adventure riding clothing is Aerostich Designs. Their Darien Jacket and Pants are acknowledged by most as the best on the market. However, a new suit looks new, and says, “I’ve not been anywhere.”
Aerostich founder and adventure guru Andy Goldfine suggested the following tongue-in-cheek recipe for breaking in a new Darien jacket, to make it look globe weary.
This New Zealand couple had been adventuring two-up around the world for over two years. They posted no Internet ride or trip reports, had no website, but did use e-mail.
1. Remove foam pads and all contents of pockets.
2. Soak jacket in bucket of muddy water.
3. While jacket is soaking, dig, or hire someone to dig a hole in the ground large enough to bury the jacket fully.
4. Wad up the still wet jacket and bury it in the hole.
5. Water the dirt covering the jacket liberally, like the hole contained a plant seedling.
6. Wait three days, then dig up the jacket and let it air dry.
7. After drying out, grab the jacket by the collar area and whip it hard against the trunk of a tree five times.
8. Replace pads and wear the broken in jacket with pride.
Scratch and scrounge-up boots, gloves and helmet:
No hardened adventurer can claim they did not come off their motorcycle at least once, so some dirt and scratches need to be applied. Dragging the new boots behind the bike attached by a bungee cord for a few hundred feet down an alley will give them a worn look. For gloves, try wearing them while helping the wife or mom plant roses or flowers.
A helmet takes a little more finesse. If the wannabe adventure rider has dumped the cruiser in exchange for a dual sport motorcycle, the cruiser, open face helmet or beanie has to go. A new full face model will need to look like it has been used. Scratched or aged stickers are a start (no bullet holes though). Using sandpaper or a file, some paint can be removed from places that will not reduce the integrity of the helmet. A few scratches applied to the face shield away from the field of vision add to the likelihood the rider was down while wearing the helmet, like in the sands of the Sahara.
Drop the right names, but be careful:
Do some reading and research to be able to nod appropriately when others are chin wagging about who is on the road or did a big ride. Try not to get carried away or engaged when these conversations take place, it is very thin ice to purport to have more information or some inside track on the subject. Opining on an adventurer might give away the fact your occupation is the tech-support guy in the sewage treatment plant cyber cheerleading. While swilling around the campfire or in the bar, remember the famed Mutating Quote, that simple maxim not attributable to any single person, which is not to question its wisdom:
“Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
When the adventurer is posting pictures of himself being “the Man” he should make sure the lady is a lady, which this one is not, but she did like his approach and big adventure motorcycle.
That is my story and I am sticking to it:
To be recognized and acknowledged as a serious adventurer takes a hook, some wild tale of adventure riding by which the others will remember you. Be creative. The best fabrications involve incredible feats of bravery, guns, and near death experiences. Getting run off the road by a Tata truck in India is blown off as minor babble because nearly every motorcyclist who has ridden in India has had that happen. Being robbed or cheated is also pretty common fodder. The same applies to crashes, disease, broken bones and dead motorcycles. Hire working ladies and have them pose for pictures with you or your motorcycle to post on your travel website suggesting “You’re the man, Mr. Adventure.”
Make your adventure tale a whopper. It is easier to pitch the big story than a little one; people will find the wilder one easier to believe. If it is a story about being captured by bad guys in south Los Angeles and kept captive in an apartment for weeks while family and friends were trying to raise money for your release, change it to some obscure place like Puerto Padre, Cuba. Back checking and verification of your claims in Los Angeles is too easy. Not so in Cuba, and enough motorcycle adventurers have been to Cuba to make your having been there believable. Once you have got your story fabricated, stick to it, and do not waffle when confronted with contradictions or corrections. As one blues singer wrote: When confronted by your wife with 8 x 10 glossy pictures of you and another woman in a motel room, there is only one thing to do – lie, lie, and lie, but stick to your story.
One keyboard warrior posted erroneous information on travel publications. He was politely contacted off the board and advised of his error. Ignoring the chance to correct his mistake or purposeful misinformation, he replied back to the authority, “I do stand by what I said.” He was sticking to his story.
In 1961, Danny Liska’s wife, Arlene, sent photos to Motorcyclist magazine showing Liska in a stream nearly up to his shoulders in water. His handlebar mounted windshield was deflecting the torrent flowing around him. The magazine published the photo but with reservations. Looking at the photo, the assumption is his BMW R60 was underneath him and that he was holding onto the handlebars. It was a remarkable photo, one that captured the essence of motorcycle touring at an extreme. The Liskas were having a little fun with the press. He was standing in the stream holding onto the windscreen. Later he stepped up and admitted it was a staged photo, one for fun but by that time the admission was old news. What remained in the reader’s mind was the hook, the tall picture tale from the trail in Costa Rica. For readers like me the hook had been set: If he could ride through streams that deep to South America, what should keep me on the pavement in the USA, or on the planet.
The adventure riding or adventure touring segment of the motorcycling world is growing at a time when many other nice things on the planet are going to ugly places in a hand basket. Whether the motorcyclist wants to join the thousands actually doing extreme rides and extended two wheel touristing to far away places, or if they choose to be cyber cheerleaders, both are feeding the healthy growth of this market. I might even want to buy that adventure rider codpiece when it hits the market. It would be the perfect gift for one of my newer adventure rider acquaintances in the pond of literary critics who, like the eunuch in a harem, sees the trick turned every night but can never do it.
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