Dr. Frazier: Adventure Riding Gone Sideways

MotorcycleUSA Staff | December 11, 2015

“The bike and I both did exactly what you said, ‘when the tour goes sideways.’”

So wrote motorcycle adventurer Rodger Black, who crashed on his second motorcycle adventure tour. Black had signed up for a guided tour which provided the motorcycle, hotel bookings, chase vehicle, guides front and rear, and a taste of out-of-country motorcycle travel. Twenty-one days into the 30 day tour he hit a pot hole and slid on the pavement behind the motorcycle for 100 yards.

His hide was saved from serious road rash by wearing a tough riding jacket and pants, his head protected by a high quality helmet, but his broken ribs caused severe pain over the next eight days as he rode as a passenger in the chase vehicle. The tour company eventually delivered him back to his start point where he connected with his scheduled flight back to the USA.

Dr. Frazier Adventure Riding Gone Sideways

Rodger Black, down but not out, in Ecuador. The attendant pictured here was keeping the sun out of his eyes with a small booklet, not reading him his last rites.

Although he was down and out on his second adventure tour, two years later he “cowboyed-up” and paid for a third out-of-country adventure tour. On that tour he had a physically uneventful adventure other than some breathing problems at high altitude. The third time he was armed with better travel insurance and the heightened sense of awareness that not all is safe on a guided tour.

Having travel insurance was no safety net for a motorcycle rider on a guided tour who crashed in Shangri-la China. He had purchased a premium policy which offered 24 services, which he said was true. He had broken his upper right arm and right shoulder blade. After 24 hours the insurance company finally replied to his inquiries, giving him two options: 1) they would fly him back to his start point in Chiang Mai, Thailand where he could have the operation done at his expense, or 2) fly him to Kunming, China to go to the insurance company’s nominated hospital where they would pay for the operation. He chose option #2, only to be told 20 hours before the operation was scheduled and on the fifth day after the accident that the insurance company would not pay because they had concluded it was not an “urgent” operation. On day six the insurance company flew the downed motorcyclist to his start point where on day seven he was to have the surgery. The cost of having the surgery done in China would have been about $18,000 USD, which included flying a surgeon into Kunming, versus the customer paying $1,600 USD to have the surgery done in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The lesson was “caveat emptor,” or buyer beware – read the small print on the policy to see what’s excluded or how the insurance company or underwriter cannot pay or knock down what they eventually pay.

Simple, and sometimes not so simple, paperwork can make an adventure out of a seemingly mild journey. Rather than wait for a border office at the border of Brazil to re-stock with the stamps needed to be pasted into my passport after paying the visa fee, I went to a smaller border crossing. On a sleepy Sunday the Immigration and Customs officials at the small border crossing let me enter Brazil on my motorcycle having paid no fee and not pasting anything in my passport. I happily traveled for a month not knowing what adventure awaited me when I tried to exit from Brazil and enter Venezuela.

Dr. Frazier Adventure Riding Gone Sideways

There was a wadded BMW F650 in this pile that had seen its last adventure ride. It was not worth more than parts. The rider lived.

The Brazilian Immigration officials would not let me leave Brazil because they had no stamp in my passport to cancel. A long morning and hot and humid afternoon was spent while telephone calls were made between the border officials and government officials in Brasilia, trying to decide whether or not to lock me up in jail for having entered the country illegally or kick me on down the road. Eventually I paid cash, in US dollars, the equivalent of the entry fee, and was politely asked to do the proper paperwork if I came back to Brazil. I suspect the border officials at the small border where I entered may have paid a higher price than I had, albeit not in dollars.

A motorcycle tour company offered what they promoted as an “epic adventure,” which included the option of using their company-owned rental motorcycles versus the client’s own. The group of clients all entered Russia together. At the end of the tour, two of the customers flew out while the rest were left to pack a shipping container with all the motorcycles and do the paperwork needed to send the shipping container back to their start point. However, this became more than epic when the Russian officials demanded a penalty fee be paid by the tour operator for not having the two long gone customers present with their passports to do the paperwork needed for the two rental motorcycles. The proffered Russian exit fee was reported to be $1000 per motorcycle, which the tour operator then wanted to pass on to the remaining clients because if the fee was not paid the container could not be sealed and all the motorcycles would remain in Russia. With some other added expenses along the tour route the customers at the end could say their adventure had become an epically expensive motorcycle adventure.

Equipment failure can push an adventure into the nightmare zone. A BMW owner stopped in Gillette, Wyoming, for gas and a soda. His motorcycle would not re-start, resulting in his calling a towing service to haul the dead Beemer to the nearest dealer, in Rapid City, South Dakota. The towing bill was about $1500 and then when in Rapid City the New York to Alaska and return adventure was going to cost him an additional two nights in a motel because the dealer would be closed the next two days, and the additional costs to make the needed repairs and parts.

Dr. Frazier Adventure Riding Gone Sideways

This adventurer’s preparation paid off by his having purchased an insurance policy to provide assistance when he needed it on a hot July afternoon in Wyoming, a truck and trailer being sent to assist in fixing a flat tire.

Another adventurer was headed to Canada, and then Maryland, when he had a flat tire. He had all the necessary tools and know-how to fix the flat. What he did not have was a center stand that would lift the front wheel high enough off the ground to remove the front wheel. Wisely he had added a rider to his insurance policy before leaving which gave him roadside assistance, which he had called. After four hours in the treeless hot Wyoming sun a truck and trailer finally arrived. His day had been an up and down adventure, down on air but up on lucky planning.

A group of four backpackers in Hanoi had decided to team up, purchase cheap motorcycles and ride to Ho Chi Minh City, an adventure outside the one they had initially planned by bus and train. Poor planning had found none of the backpackers with protective motorcycle clothing, one riding in a pair of open sandals. Seemingly no one had taught the budding motorcycle adventurists about weight and center of gravity when packing their small motorcycles. When the one wearing a cotton jacket and sandals hit a pot hole, the front wheel bounced into the air and she came down sideways. Her motorcycle adventure was over. Her next adventure was in a taxi to the nearest clinic and then some days later a flight back to her home country.

Paying for a guided tour can provide a semblance of a safety net for the adventurer. However, on one guided tour the clients had their safety net pulled out from under them when the tour organizer and operator crashed and broke his leg on the second day into their tour. For the leader his adventure would be the next eight months of healing and rehabilitation. For the clients, their adventure was halted until a back-up guide could reach them and take over for the fallen leader, thereby throwing a semblance of a safety net back under them.

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I am not exempt from the ups, downs and sideways of unplanned adventures. Having been a consultant to, or investor in, several motorcycle tour companies I have seen what lengths can be gone to by operators to manage risk or attempt to avoid it. For the solo adventurer many of the same factors must be managed or avoided. Some can be done with insurance, some with caution, but there still remains the fact that the operation of a motorcycle is risky.

The half day I spent in the hot sun, unable to pick up the downed motorcycle because of my broken leg, gave me time to reflect on what I had left out of my risk avoidance management. I had known there was no honor in avoiding adventure, and had set out with honor in hand. Any medical evacuation or road side assistance insurance I had purchased would have been useless as I carried no communication mechanism such as a cell or satellite phone. The small print on one insurance policy I had excluded hauling me or my downed motorcycle the distance I was from the nearest dispatch point. Any satellite marking system would have likely been read by acquaintances and the reception center with my kind of luck as, “Ahhh, we see Dr. G is down, again.”

My adventure had gone a bit sideways, and I was down, but not out. I eventually wedged the motorcycle upright and drove the 50-60 miles to the next town where I self-medicated. I had prepared a Plan B and C for just such an incident, those being a couple of well-funded credit cards, some cash and a bit of grit. At the end of my broken day I concluded that extreme motorcycle adventures, measured by our own skill set, should not focus on danger or death, but on skills and preparation.