By Kurt Sunderbruch
As I write this, I am getting packed to fly off to the UK to ride motorcycles with friends for the next couple of weeks – maybe that sounds frivolous, especially when there is so much great riding available here in the USA, but I disagree. While there is a certain surface logic to that argument, some of the most memorable riding I’ve done has been in other countries, and in many cases, it was the very foreign-ness of the experience that made it so memorable.
Maybe that sounds like it’s exotic and out of reach, but it doesn’t have to be. Since my first big international tour in 2006, I’ve managed to ride in more than a dozen countries. In the process, I have learned some ways to make it more flexible and affordable. The experience has been so positive for me that I want to share some of those lessons.
Rule #1: Believe. No, really. The first and most critical step is simply allowing yourself to believe that you can do it, it’s within reach, and you will have an amazing time. Without this belief as a foundation, no other step will happen. You have to believe in order to move forward. People less financially well off than you have done this. People who are less accomplished riders than you have done this. People with no more travel experience than you have done this. People who can’t speak the language of the country they intend to ride have done this. People who can’t read a map have done this. People whose cellphone won’t work in the place they travel have done this. What other objection do you have? You can do this.
Rule #2: Don’t let the great be the enemy of the good. If you think the only international trip that’s worth doing is one that checks all of the boxes and provides an unobtainable perfect itinerary is worth doing, you’ll never go. You’ll just sit home and dream about your perfect trip, while being simultaneously jealous of the people who are actually going. My first trip to the Isle of Man happened because I knew that I would be close, and that I could just take the ferry. No, the TT wasn’t happening that date. No, there was no other racing going on that date. No, I had nothing planned. Yet, by taking the choice to actually go to the island I had an epic good time. I met with TT winners, and was invited to ride a parade lap of the Mountain Course. I had lunch with a gentleman who finished on the podium years earlier. We were warmly welcomed (no, really!) by the IOM police. We had a private tour of one of the finest motorcycle museums I’ve visited. If I were still waiting until I could make everything happen for the TT, I might still never have made it to the island. As it is, I’ve been back two more times since then to see racing on the island and have had a wonderful visit every time.
Rule #3: Any motorcycle is fun. If you think the trip will only be worthwhile if you can use the perfect motorcycle, you are putting up needless obstacles. Motorcycles can be very expensive to rent, especially if you will only consider a top-of-the-line BMW, or Ducati, or Harley. I spent a huge amount of money to rent an R1200GS in Iceland, and vastly less to rent a 125 Yamaha on Tortola. There was zero correlation between the amount of money spent and the amount of fun experienced. If the cost of an expensive bike will make the trip beyond your means, or will make the trip too short, rent something more modest. It’s all about the ride, not the bike.
Rule #4: Be flexible. This continues a theme. If road A is closed, take road B. If you can’t get into the recommended hotel, book the one down the street. If you can’t afford to stay in hotels, look at B&B’s. If you can’t afford B&B’s, look at hostels. If you can’t afford hostels, take camping gear. If you can’t afford the restaurant with the Michelin star, get your ingredients from farmers’ markets, and make your own fine dining. Greater flexibility equals greater possibility.
Rule #5: Be friendly, and let people help. One of the beauties of traveling solo or with only a companion or two is that you are easier for the locals to approach. People will be curious about the foreigner on a motorcycle. Be open to them. They will tell you the best places to go, where the best roads are, where you can get your tire fixed, good spots for lunch, where you can find local points of interest – including the free ones. Even better, if you have trouble, let the locals help you. You will be doing a favor for both of you. One of the greatest kindnesses any of us can offer another is to allow them to help us. I’ve had help fixing my bike, getting un-lost, finding local delicacies, finding a local fabrication shop that could fix my broken rack, and have even been invited home for dinner, a shower, and a good night’s sleep.
My one disclaimer here is that I am a large, older, white male. I’m old enough that most folks don’t see me as a threat, and large enough that most are not a threat to me. If I were smaller or female, I might have had different experiences. I’m not suggesting you throw caution to the wind, but I am suggesting that you do your best to be open and welcoming. It pays you back.
Rule #6: Prepare. Do a little research. Find out if there are rentals available where you’re going. Find out if insurance is included in the rental agreement, and whether you should plan on getting more. Find out where you might want to ride on your rental. Find out what is the best thing to see, eat, drink, hear, experience where you’re going.
Also, find out what you don’t need to worry about on your adventure. For instance, I used to always get an international driving license for my international trips. I’ve never once been asked for it. Not once. I don’t bother anymore. It may be the case that the country you’re visiting will be different than the countries I’ve visited, so you may need one. Or, it could be the case that your rental provider will require it. Find out in advance, and if you don’t need it, that’s one less task to take care of prior to your trip.
Rule #7: Go. This closes the loop on rule #1. Believe you can go, then confirm your belief by actually going. Rules 1 and 7 are the most important. The others are good rules, but belief and action are critical. For instance, when I rented that GS in Iceland, I had not planned to ride motorcycles there. I had done almost no research, and zero preparation. I had no gear with me either. Yet, when we turned up in Reykjavik I thought, “When will I be here again?” A quick Google search to find a rental outlet, and a brief chat with a taxi driver who could get us there, and thirty minutes later we were riding out into the Icelandic countryside.
Believe and go. You can do it. Take the step that will open your eyes while producing memories and stories for a lifetime.