One of my favorite adventure characters was Pat Parker from Fort Worth, Texas, who had logged over 9000 miles on his $300, 49cc Jonway. That’s all his travel gear and he had been traveling for nearly two weeks.
“Eccentric Elitist,” was the moniker hung on me by an acquaintance. At first I bristled, but then laughed at myself, thinking it better to be dubbed The Eccentric Elitist than The Town Clown. Being tagged an elitist connoted some degree of character, which I accepted. Coupled with my preference to pursue adventures on motorcycles that were not pre-packaged bubble-wrapped adventure models, the moniker seemed applicable.
During the last 12 months I found myself looking at the myriad of new “adventure” motorcycles with a degree of lust. Not only did they look sexy, they seemed designed to massage the dollars out of my savings account where they were earning less than inflation, and the happy ending would be me standing on the pegs of some 120 horsepower, 800 pounds of growling two-wheeled adventure hunter. At the same time I was also looking at the odd adventure seekers on smaller motorcycles, some well used, riding over the same roads, tracks, sand and gravel I pictured myself on with my new motorcycle.
While in Williston, North Dakota, I met a hardened traveler who scored high on my chart for adventure seekers in the budget category. Pat Parker, from Fort Worth, Texas, had spent nearly two weeks riding his Chinese 49cc Jonway scooter to hopefully find employment in the booming oil and gas fields of North Dakota. He purchased the scooter for $300, it having been used for 825 miles. When asked how fast he could travel he said he averaged about 35 mph. I quickly did some math after looking at his odometer which was showing 9195 miles. The numbers did not equal the distance between North Dakota and Texas.
When I questioned him about those 8370 miles used on the odometer, he admitted adding a few miles to his journey by driving to Florida, and then doubling back through Fort Worth to California before meeting me in North Dakota. That admission of wanderlust impressed me, as did his minimal traveling gear. More impressive was his tale of having a blowout that wobbled him off the road and into some trees where a sudden stop against a stump broke the scooter’s frame. His slow speed was what he attributed to not falling down until his abrupt and frame-breaking halt.
As believable as his story was, the icing was added to the tale when he showed me the tie down strap that was holding the scooter together underneath the foot panels. He said the tie down had been his roadside fix for the last 1000 miles, and that he did not have enough money to replace the frame or the scooter, although he did replace the tire. When I asked him if he was having fun he laughed and said, “I guess you could say I’ve had a heck of an adventure.”
While poking around Southeast Asia I met three more motorcyclists who were riding motorcycles with some obvious character. The first was Geoff Thomas, a wandering Brit that I had crossed paths with three times before as we rode around the globe. While he had circled the globe on a used Triumph Tiger, he had stepped off that and replaced it with a Thailand manufactured 2010 Tiger Retro, an 110cc reproduction of a Honda C90 Super Cub. He said of the Retro, “It cost half the price of a Honda 125cc, but you get half the bike. By the time you hit 1200 kilometers every cable will have broken. All the dealers are now ghost dealers.”
Thomas was a savvy motorcycle adventurer, having tagged over 100 countries around the globe, so knew a bit about motorcycles, repairs and budgets. When asked why he chose to purchase the small Tiger Retro for his travels in Southeast Asia, he said, “It made me smile when I rode it and it’s different.”
Robin Thomas from Darwin, Australia had been riding motorcycles for 48 years before stepping off a BMW F650GS three years earlier to tour Southeast Asia on a well-used Australian postal service 2006 Honda CT110 (Honda Cub Trail).
I met another Thomas, this one Robin from Darwin, Australia. He had been riding motorcycles since he was 12 years old and had last owned a BMW F650GS before deciding to purchase and outfit a well-used Australian postal delivery motorcycle (called a “Postie”) for his adventure from Australia through Southeast Asia to unknown destinations. He spent six months planning a route and prepping the 105cc mount to find himself in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he had made a pit stop to vacation with his wife and make some major modifications to the Postie, including a new engine which pumped out twice the original 7.8 horsepower.
The Postie had served him well but he knew he was underpowered on the major highways. Thomas had been cut-off by an SUV that bumped him into the jungle in Malaysia. Afterward he determined that with some extra power he would better stay up with traffic rather than be passed by everything other than foot traffic. When asked why he chose the unusual Postie over a larger and better outfitted adventure motorcycle, he smiled and said, “I wanted to maximize my travel money and my fun. Besides, anyone can go out and buy a new adventure motorcycle. I wanted something a bit different.”
American Sasha Herman had been using a 1974 Honda CB200 for his adventures based in New York City. Rather than spend the thousands to fly his old motorcycle to Southeast Asia he opted to fly himself and his savings into Malaysia where he purchased a used Kawasaki KLX150 with 5000 miles on it, but well maintained. His purchase price was about $2000. He had saved that and the time and paperwork associated with importing anything from the States, so figured he was ahead in the money part of his adventure.
When asked why he had gone small in displacement he said the high import taxes for larger motorcycles was going to significantly eat into his travel budget. But more importantly for Herman, he wanted something he could manage by himself for loading onto rafts, crossing streams and on jungle trails. I could tell that he had already pictured himself and his motorcycle doing tasks that I would never want to do on any bike over 250cc – like dragging it out of some jungle creek after having fallen off a bridge of slippery, barkless logs.
Sasha Herman, from New York, flew into Malaysia with a small wad of cash and bought a 2009 Kawasaki KLX150 for $2000 for adventuring in Southeast Asia.
Herman was headed for Cambodia and Laos after looping around northern Thailand. He had driven over 1000 miles to where I met him, and his adventure spirit was still pegged on the high side of the scale. When asked why he had chosen a Kawasaki over the more popular Honda models in the under 150cc displacement category, he said, “The KLX150 was never imported to the countries where I hope to reach, so it will be different. There are plenty of Hondas there, so my screaming green Kawasaki machine will be different. People might see me as being different than the average traveler they might have encountered. I’m looking for different.”
I related the tales of these four adventurer riders to the acquaintance who had tagged me as The Eccentric Elitist. When he asked me if I was going to let loose of some of my savings and buy a new adventure motorcycle, my first response was, “What would I do with the extra horsepower, I can barely manage the 40-50 hp I own now?” Then I pictured myself on one of those adventure marketed models, standing on the pegs while racing over the sands of the Sahara, front wheel well off the ground. The picture faded when I remembered one lesson I had learned about speed, sand and weight: that the faster I go on my heavyweight motorcycles over the tough stuff, the further I fly over the handlebars when I fall down.
The one element I wanted to retain if I stepped up to a bigger, newer, faster and sexier adventure model was being able to meet and relate to the adventurers like Parker, Herman and the Thomas duo. They all had an eccentric element in their adventure seeking composition. Besides being adventure motorcyclists of character, they were all piloting motorcycles of character.