Dr. Frazier: Clancy Ride US Part 1

June 7, 2013
Dr. Gregory Frazier
Dr. Gregory Frazier
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Having made multiple runs across the globe, round-the-world adventurer Dr. Frazier imparts some of his motorcycle traveling wisdom in his monthly Dr. Frazier Rides column.

Walter Storey and Carl Stearns Clancy pictured here at the start of their round the world tour with their 1912 Henderson motorcycles.
Walter Storey and Carl Stearns Clancy pictured here at the start of their ‘round the world tour with their 1912 Henderson motorcycles.


100 years earlier Carl Stearns Clancy and his riding pal Walter Storey left the USA on the first leg of their ‘round the world motorcycle ride using two 1912 Henderson motorcycles. Storey left his Henderson in Paris and returned to the USA while Clancy soldiered on alone, eventually hooking up with a second riding mate in San Francisco, Robert Allen, who used a 1913 Henderson to travel with Clancy across the USA to Chicago, after which Clancy went on alone to his start point in New York City.

When I was thinking about retracing the Clancy tire tracks 100 years later across the USA, a riding pal stepped up and offered to join me much like Robert Allen did with Clancy.

My potential riding pal, Richard Livermore, and I had many conversations about what kind of motorcycle we could take across the USA. We started by trying to find 1912 and 1913 Henderson motorcycles. That search ended when we discovered how few remained on the planet and how dear they were in price, easily in the six-figure category. Even a copy was in the $125,000 range, far out of our desired budget.

We then cast about in the market for new adventure oriented models, ranging from BMW GS models to Kawasaki KLR650s. I favored the KLR650 due to the value and my history with the model, having ridden one around the world and bagged another 30,000 miles on a 2009 model with no serious maintenance issues. Livermore had used a 2006 KLR650 on several occasions and thus was also familiar with their versatility and value.

While considering the Kawasaki KLR we began looking at used motorcycle models rather than purchasing new motorcycles. One key factor was that we knew that after we completed The Clancy Centenary Ride in June, 2013 across the USA we were going to mothball our motorcycles in storage for a long pit stop, possibly extending well past six months. Neither Livermore nor I were in favor of purchasing new motorcycles, riding them 6500 miles in three weeks and then parking them for an extended period of time.

Livermore and I both had a history with the 1982-1983 Honda turbo charged motorcycles, the CX500TC and CX650TC models, each having owned one or more. Livermore had also found me the 1983 Honda GL650I that I had used to ride through South America (www.ultimategloberide.com) with a lady friend who had Parkinson’s disease, a solid runner over some tough ground. Livermore knew the motorcycles and models well, having bought a new 1983 Honda GL650I that was a leftover in 1984 and still owning it in 2012 when we were debating options for our adventure across the USA.

Greg Goss  Honda turbo guru  prepped both GL650s for an arduous ride across the USA.
Greg Goss, Honda turbo guru, prepped both GL650s for an arduous ride across the USA.

We finally decided to hunt for a used pair of basic 1983 GL650s which Livermore eventually found on eBay. One had 13,000 miles on it and the other 30,000, so we assumed they had been broken in and any bugs had been ironed out. However, the motorcycles were sent to a renowned Honda Turbo guru in southern California, Greg Goss, for a thorough mechanical check. While undergoing the extensive service he installed aluminum panniers from Happy Trails (www.happy-trail.com), windscreens, new batteries, tires and minor parts from Honda.

Once all the labor, parts, purchase price, paperwork and shipping were computed we had nearly $4500 in each motorcycle and we felt they were ready for our adventure tour across the USA. A short test ride from San Marcos, California to San Francisco found no performance or maintenance problems.

As Livermore and I were preparing to depart from San Francisco on the first day of The Clancy Centenary Ride we looked back on our decision making process for acquiring the 30 year-old Hondas for our 6,500 mile ride and made note of the following:

• We were both familiar with the quirks of the GL650s, like weak stators and starter clutch failures, and knew ways around them if broken on our journey.
• Tires were readily available across the USA if we needed a new one.
• Like the Henderson model Clancy rode in 1913, our GL650s 100 years later in 2013 were no longer being manufactured.
• Both Honda and Henderson began with the letter H.

One tourist looking at my motorcycle asked, “What year is your Harley-Davidson?” When I told him it was a 1983 Honda he replied, “Sure looks like a Harley-Davidson.” A second tourist, more enlightened, looked at the GL650 and said, “It looks like a Moto Guzzi without a soul.” This brought a reply of, “Well, we’ll see about the soul, but so far in California traffic where everyone seems to think 75 mph means 80 mph, the Honda has had enough heart to keep up.”

We met two new riding pals at the wharf area on the San Francisco Bay. The two motorcycle adventurists, Geoff Hill and Gary Walker, are from Ireland and had been following the original Clancy route around the world. They were riding 2013 BMW 1200 Adventure models, special 90th Anniversary editions. Their motorcycles had arrived in Los Angeles several days before and both were preparing to join us and others as we crossed the USA. Their massive gas tanks and high seat height made the GL650s seem small when parked next to them

Geoff Thomas  pictured here  gave my GL650 some good karma from a Buddhist temple in Thailand.
Geoff Thomas, pictured here, gave my GL650 some good karma from a Buddhist temple in Thailand.

Geoff Thomas, a Londoner whom I had met numerous times in Asia and the United States, came to the Official Start of the USA leg of The Clancy Centenary Ride and gave all four of our motorcycles equal blessing by presenting us with Buddhist wrist bands that had been blessed by monks at the Lak Si temple in Bangkok, Thailand. He affixed mine to the handlebars of my GL650 while reciting a Buddhist prayer in the Thai language. Each of our motorcycles thus blessed could be viewed as having departed from the start point of The Clancy Centenary Ride with equally good karma.

The four of us left together for Sacramento. After zigging and zagging through potholes and road construction in downtown San Francisco, with a side ride down the famous curves of Lombard Street, we arrived at the multi-lanes of I-80 and our first sustained high speed highway ride. It was the two GL650s up front, but only because the leader was competent with his GPS and I, on the second motorcycle, was not going to let him shake me off. The two foreigners from Ireland on the their Bavarian behemoth BMWs fell in comfortably behind me and the three of us, like feral dogs clamped on a ham hock, hung on to our GPS leader to Sacramento where we stopped for the night. While unloading our luggage I asked the Irishmen if our 650cc motorcycles had been going too slow for their 1200cc Bavarian Adventures. One of the Irishmen laughed and then growled, “Grrrrrrr,” like a mangy dog

I think we are going to have some fun on this adventure tour.