Sunday 18 May 2014

Adventure Biking

An epic journey with
an epic budget
I'm over a year into the habit now and my biking interests continue to evolve.  One of the things that got me started was Ewan and Charlie's Long Way Round.  When looking for my first bike I was all about the adventure bike.  The idea that I could ride to Borneo or the Andes was pretty enticing.  A bike that could go anywhere and do anything seemed magical.

Look at me and my friend
Ewan on our big bikes!  It's
hard not to get taken in by
the image.

It turns out it is magical.  You give up a lot of physics to have a tall bike with knobbly tires that looks like it can ride to the Andes.  Being a guy in the vanishing middle class with a young family and work, I'm not in a position to gallivant off into the woods for weeks on end following my inner McGregor.  I get the sense that, like SUV drivers, many adventure bike riders are in it for the posing.  I've never been good at posing, it's one of the reasons that cruisers have never done anything for me.  I'm less interested in being seen on a bike and more interested in the process of riding it.

An epic journey on a
To complicate matters I then saw Mondo Enduro and heard Austin Vince's arguments for adventure riding for adventure riding's sake (rather than adventure marketing for sale's sake).  The idea of taking inexpensive, small bikes around the world seems absurd from a Long Way Round/BMW/Adventure Bike Rider point of view where anything less than a 1000ccs without electronic assist and no wind is 'uncomfortable'.
Why can't I buy this
in Canada, Austin?

While Ewan and Charlie actually did the deed, they did it with an awful lot of support, brand new sponsored bikes, a staff and no worries about money.  That they did it is being leveraged a great deal by bike manufacturers to move large, heavy bikes that are ill-suited for off road work, but they look the part and let you live that movie star dream.

I get Austin's angle, and still get excited by the idea of travelling light and far for travel's sake, not for image's sake.  I'm currently reading Ted Simon's Jupiter's Travels, and he too focused on the opportunities motorcycling around the world offered rather than the image it portrayed.

I just turned 45 and fantasized about mid-life crisis motorbike choices.  I was surprised to find that adventure biking didn't make it onto my list considering it was one of the genres of riding I was most excited by.  Like the SUV driver that has never driven on gravel but wants 4 wheel drive and a massive vehicle just in case it might happen, the idea that an adventure bike will make it look like I can travel down roads I'd never take is marketing that I just can't buy into.  

The road beckons, it's right outside my door, so why would I ride a bike that wasn't designed for it?  It's not like you can't go pretty much everywhere on a road bike, Nick Sanders certainly has.  If you want to get off the beaten path and camp Jo Sinnott can manage it on a Triumph Bonneville.  If you want to be extreme, Melissa Holbrook-Pierson will introduce you to the Man Who Would Stop At Nothing who makes Charlie & Ewan look like frat boys.

There is no doubt that adventure riding is a meaningful genre of motorcycle riding, just as off-roading is a meaningful genre of four wheeling.  But are you the guy who has to hose out his jeep after going deep, or are you the guy who polishes his SUV and pretends he's all about the mud?  I suspect I've read too many life changing adventure bike articles in magazines that sell the myth.  As long as adventure riding is about the image rather than the deed, it doesn't do much for me, mid-life crisis or otherwise, which makes me sad.