Life on the road, and motorcycling in general, is a lot like life itself: it’s brilliant and unpredictable, it can be awe-inspiring or painfully mundane, it can bring joy and discovery, or it can become an everyday thing you do for reasons you’ve long forgotten. And just like society has certain expectations of us – which mostly involve wearing same-color socks, paying taxes, and buying Apple products to go with your soy latte – so does motorcycling. It seems that no matter what you ride, where you ride it, or how, there’s always a certain pressure to go bigger, faster, and just generally be cooler. After all, motorcycling does involve the cool factor, right?
Thing is, I’m too school for cool, so getting a BMW GS 1200, racing Rally Dakar, or jumping said GS off of tall dunes for some Very Cool Motorcycle Ad Video just aren’t in my future. More than that, however, I have learned that even Dakar riders tend to stick to a more conservative policy when they’re out there racing. Edwin Straver, the winner of last year’s Dakar malle moto class who tragically passed away this year racing in Saudi Arabia, had told me his strategy wasn’t very exciting at all. “I just keep showing up, really. I plod along minding my roadbook. If I was younger, I’d chase after the faster guys… But now, I know that this way I’ll just wear myself out. So I ride slowly compared to some. But I show up at the finish line”, he told me back at the Dakar 2019 bivouac in Peru.
And so, slowly but surely, I learned to adopt the policy of slow and steady in all aspects of my own motorcycling life on the road – and so far, it’s been paying off.
Pick Your Lines
Anyone who rides off-road knows the rule of picking good lines. If you’re facing a nasty uphill climb, deep ruts, or a rocky track, you’ll want to pick a good line so you can roll over obstacles better. Thing is, sometimes, we feel tempted to climb the rocky part of the trail, go right into the deep sand, or hop off a small hill because we’re riding with others and want to show off our skills, or because it’s what everyone else does, or because, hell, we’ve got to give it a go at some point, right? I confess, I go for deep shale, rocky steps, and thigh-high ruts sometimes, too – but only during a rally when I know there’s an entire medical and mechanical team to help me out in case of trouble, or when riding with other people. When I’m solo, I ride as conservatively as possible, picking the easiest lines, because I’ve dragged my bike out of enough ditches to know it’s just not fun when you’re alone.
This year, I started racing in multi-day roadbook navigation rallies, and I’m pretty bad at it – but I keep showing up nonetheless, and slowly but surely, there’s progress. However, I stick to Edwin Straver’s strategy when I race: instead of going flat out every day, I ride slowly. I plod along. It’s not very cool at all – but it gets me over the finish line. So if you’re facing an endurance event, or simply a grueling, long-distance ride, pace yourself. Power slides look cool AF, but having enough energy to get to your destination before sundown makes life easier.
When you live on the road, the thing that’s hard to get used to sometimes is lack of privacy. You’re always a guest, a novelty, a spectacle, a newcomer everywhere you go. You’ll be surrounded by people when you stop for fuel or your campsite for the night, when you go out to grab some food, when you’re looking for a bike shop. For the most part, that’s great as you get to meet the locals and other travelers. But for me, I do need my solitude and privacy once in a while, which is why I no longer stay at hostels. Aside from needing some quiet time, I also need to work, so sharing a room with an over-enthusiastic horde of backpackers just doesn’t work for me anymore. If you’re like me and need your privacy sometimes, plan ahead and book a hotel or an Airbnb in your next destination. There’s very little that’s cool about hiding away in a quiet apartment or hotel room getting work done or bingeing on Netflix, but rest is more precious than a beer-soaked evening in a hostel.
Ignore the Cool Kids
I lost count of messages from well-meaning people telling me how I must have out-grown my Suzuki DR650 by now. “You’d love the new KTM790”, “a Husky 701 would be so much better for you”, “dude, you’d really appreciate a Lyndon Poskitt rally bike!” – I get a message like this at least once a week. And, yeah, I probably would love a KTM, a Husky, or a wondrous Poskitt machine. Sure. Thing is, the cost of a brand new motorcycle and all the necessary mods afterwards would easily suck up a year’s worth of traveling budget, and to be perfectly honest, I’m still more than happy with Lucy, my DR. It looks like a cross-eyed mule, sounds like an asthmatic donkey, and is as elegant as a yak, but from Arizona to Chile and from Poland to Greece, including several rallies, crashes, lost spokes, and crappy engine oil, it has never failed me. We get along, me and Lucy: I forgive the looks and the lack of power, Lucy forgives my questionable skills and poor maintenance routine. It works, and our life on the road is still as uncomplicated as ever.
How do you make life on the road easier? Let me know in the comments below!