Blog: The Attraction of the Solo Rider

There’s a pleasant solitude in a solo journey on two wheels, but in my case riding alone has not always meant being alone. Non-riders seem especially willing to approach a solo motorcyclist stopped for a break. Perhaps romantic notions of freedom and self-reliance implied by a rider going it alone draw non-riders. Perhaps a non-rider’s perception of risk in approaching a group of riders is reduced when there’s just one—and reduced further when the rider is short and boney like your humble scribe.

My experience leads me to conclude that a solo rider is a magnet for non-riders. A conversation is often ignited by the license plate that reveals my home state. Especially when I’m not in that state, people express fascination at the distance I am from home.

“Says ‘Mass’ on your license plate, son,” said a man in North Carolina. “That’s not Massachusetts, is it?”

“Yes, sir, it is.”

“That’s a long way. Trailer it down?”

“No, I rode it.”

“You rode that motorcycle all the way to North Carolina? What the heck for?”

“It’s on the way to Tennessee.”

“You could fly, you know.”

“It’s about the journey, so I’d rather ride.”

Such encounters occur especially when someone defines the distance from Massachusetts as “far.” One afternoon I stopped to take off a layer at a rest area in New York’s Hudson Valley. I was three hours from home; I ride farther for breakfast. A motorist pulled into the parking space next to me. Predictably, seeing the license plate cued the driver to start talking to the motorcycle guy.

“So you must be heading home,” he said, as though he knew this to be the case.

“No, sir, I just left home. I’m going to Illinois.”

“You’re riding a motorcycle to Illinois? That is so hard core.”

“Not really. When I get there I’ll be meeting people who are riding in from places like Florida, Texas, Arizona, California and British Columbia. They don’t view it as hard core either. We just like to ride.”

“Why are you all going to Illinois?”

“The Moonshine Lunch Run. We get together at a general store in the middle of nowhere for a hamburger.”

“How many of you?”

“Around a thousand.”

“You eat a hamburger?”

“That’s right.”

“And then what?”

“Then we ride home.”

“Buddy, from where I’m standing that is hard core. I hope it’s a heckuva hamburger.”

Staying alone isn’t guaranteed when you stop your bike...better keep riding.
Staying alone isn’t guaranteed when you stop your bike…better keep riding.

It doesn’t matter why I’ve stopped—gas, food, a look around or just to rest—if I’m riding alone I usually find myself with company. One Sunday in April I rode the last 600 miles home from Moonshine solo, and people approached me at every stop. It was a cold, gray day with few bikes out, which must have added to the curiosity of people who saw a bike with an out-of-state plate.

Near the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border, a woman perhaps 70 years old looked at my motorcycle, the only one around, and then looked at me dressed in riding gear.

“Is that your motorcycle?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I used to ride with my husband. We have a trike now; it’s easier for us. I see you have a long way home. Please be safe.”

“Yes, ma’am, thank you.”

In central Pennsylvania I stopped for a rest. As I sipped a coffee, a woman coming out of the store changed direction and headed my way.

“Hi! So where are you going?”

“Home to Massachusetts.”

“Massachusetts?” She confirmed by walking around to look at my license plate. “On a motorcycle? Goodness, where are you coming from?”

“I left home last Saturday, rode with friends down through Virginia to North Carolina to visit my aunt, then rode up through Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana, and then met more friends in Illinois for a hamburger. Now I’m going home.”

“Your butt must be really sore.”

“No, not really.”

“Well, you must really like riding that thing.”

“Yes, ma’am, I do.”

“Hope it was a good burger.”

“Yeah, it was good. Cheese and bacon. Pie for dessert. Well worth the ride.”

She stood silently for a moment, looking over my bike with puzzled curiosity. She wasn’t the first to look that way at the Honda ST1300 I was riding. It looks different than the cruisers so many non-riders associate with motorcycles.

“Jeez, there’s no chrome on that thing anywhere, is there?”

“Chrome is work to keep clean. I’d rather ride my bike than wash it.”

“Yeah, and you do seem to like riding. Well, be safe out there, lots of crazies on the road.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’d be much obliged if you’d look out for motorcyclists. Safe travels.”

At my next gas stop in northeastern Pennsylvania, I was leaning against the seat, looking at a map. Despite the wide choice of empty parking spaces, a woman in a pickup pulled in right next to me. She slid down the window.

“Are you lost?”

“No, ma’am, just seeing where I am.”

“Hawley, Pennsylvania. Where are you going?”

“Massachusetts.”

“Oh my God, it will take 10 hours to get there!”

“I’m thinking I’ll be home in four hours.”

“No one can go that fast.”

“Whatever you say, ma’am.”

On this ride alone I was managing, somehow, to attract women, for reasons best known to them, but it’s no surprise when kids want to talk to the motorcycle guy—kids know that motorcycles are cool. As I exited a convenience store, a boy perhaps 10 years old was eyeing my ST. He had his hands clenched behind him, as though his parents had drilled him about looking with his eyes and not his hands. (Some fine parenting happening in that family.) He saw me coming and walked right up with a question:

“Does this thing really go a hundred and sixty?”

“You know, I’m not really sure.”

He said “wow” and ran off with a wave.

On a different day coming out of another store, I encountered a boy about five. His mother was dragging him into the store but he was tugging the other way to check out my motorcycle. My high-viz jacket, then new, was viciously bright and my helmet was tucked under my arm. The boy looked up, saw me and stood up straight. With pie eyes and his mouth agape, he initiated a short but meaningful conversation.

“Are you a superhero?”

“Well, sometimes my daughter thinks so. Do you like motorcycles?”

“Yeah, I have a quad but I really want a dirt bike.”

“You always wear your gear when you ride, right?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You’re smart. Mind your mom, OK?”

“I will.”

Age doesn’t seem to be a factor, considering the brief conversation I had with a teenager doing his best to look cool while pumping gas into a minivan. The van appeared to be packed with his parents and siblings, a potentially embarrassing situation. What if someone he knew should see him? What if it was the girl he liked? Taking control of his situation, he called over to the motorcycle guy.

“Hey, man, nice bike!” Everyone in the van turned to see. “What kind is it?”

“A Honda ST1300.”

“Wow…really? I never knew Honda made motorcycles. Pretty cool.” He hung up the nozzle, gave me the slightest nod of acknowledgement and hopped in the van.

As I rode home, I chuckled inside my helmet thinking about the people I’d met, people who couldn’t resist the attraction of the solo rider.

28 COMMENTS

  1. My friend may be short and bony, I am anything but. The experience is the same.

    I like riding with people well enough, but I really like the solo ride. I talk to lots of people too. Some think I’m crazy, but every now and again somebody gets that look in their eye…

    For years my stock line to kids was “When you get a motorcycle make sure you get a red one. They are fastest” Now that I ride a silver bike I just don’t say it…

    Thanks Mr. Bones!

  2. “Bones,” I almost always ride solo. What your articles conveys is absolutely true. Especially, with the kids. I always give kids as much time as they want to look at my Honda ST1300. I never say, “Gotta go.” No, I let them look at the bike, my Hi-Viz helmet, glIves and my jacket. For some reason, kids love the Hi-Viz. That makes me feel good about future generations of riders wanting to wear bright colors so they can be seen. Hopefully, even if they don’t ride when they grow up they will be more aware of the colors and know intuitively that a motorcycle is near them.

    I live in Wisconsin, and recently pulled into a 24 hour diner for breakfast. It was 28 degrees outside and the first week of December. 99% of riders here already winterized their bikes. After I parked my bike and took off my helmet, gloves and balaclava and stowed them (none of my gear is heated). I walked into the diner. About 6 men were waiting for me and greeted me like a rock star. We talked for a while and I made some new friends.

    Yes, Scott, there is something intriguing and approachable about a solo rider.

  3. I too ride alone. I have only been riding 2.5 years but have 65,000 miles on my behind. Out of that I have probably ridden less than 1500 miles with other people. Being a single female riding alone does make people do a double take when they see my plates and I am no where near home or when they realize that only one person would fit on my Honda CTX. They come up to talk to me all the time. Asking questions about the bike, advising me on road conditions, sharing stories or places I have to see. I was on the road to BigTexRally last year and pulled into the Texas Welcome Center. I was hungry so I got a bag of chips and beef jerky out of my top case and was sitting in the shade on the side walk when an older couple pulled in. They noticed the KY plates and came over to talk. The next thing I knew I was sharing part of their picnic as they talked about living in KY years ago. My community has expanded since I started traveling by two wheels. I love each of the miles and smiles it has brought

    Lynne

  4. Hi Scott,
    Thanks for the great article. I rode many a mile; enough for a few times round our planet on my own and enjoyed the rides and the people I met along the way. Then I found a marvellous lady who wanted to be a full time pillion and the times just got better. Still get the same interactions as a couple is not intimidating to approach but I have my best friend the whole time.
    Ride safe
    David

  5. Awesome write up! I ride a beautiful Honda ST1100 1991 SIlver, and I have been to the Moonshine Shop for the triple cheese burger 🙂 one of a kind!

    I am sure I must have read your posts on STOWNERS.COM 🙂 I’m ‘thepaleobiker’ 😀

    Lovely read, I miss the solo rides to meetup with good LDR folks! 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful winter.

    Regard,
    Vishnu

  6. Awesome Read! I’ve an ST1100 and I can relate to some of your experiences (i’ve far less miles on my ST 🙂 )

    I’ve been to the Moonshine Store! The motorcycling LDR community is wonderful and always up for a conversation.

  7. I ride solo most of the time. Don’t often miss not having others to ride with. The nice thing is that you can ride your pace. But the people that you meet alway make it fun. I’m in CT, so I’m in your backyard.

    Matt M aka “fasterpastor”
    Triumph Tiger 1050

  8. I ride two up with my wife on our Goldwing the majority of the time. She absolutely loves to ride, and I enjoy taking her. We get similar instances regularly , particularly if it’s rainy or cold or both. Ive had just as many dads as children looking wide eyed at the bike. It’s fun. Great article .

  9. Good article! The conversation in northeastern Pennsylvania made me chuckle: “Whatever you say, Ma’am.”

    I pretty much always ride solo, by preference, and avoid large group rides in particular.

    Years ago I and a couple of fellow motorcyclists decided to ride from Victoria, BC to Halifax, NS, (and maybe Newfoundland if time permitted) By the time we arrived at the outskirts of Ontario, the other two decided they’d had enough, so the next morning i continued on my way solo. At the very next gas stop, and elderly gentleman approached, spoke admiringly of my Yamaha XS750 touring set up, and told me he’d ridden a Norton while in the British Forces in WWII. And at nearly every stop from then on, all the way to Halifax and on the return trip to BC, I had brief and pleasant encounters with folks.

  10. Love to ride with my wife, and friends, but the Best tours I have taken were solo. No one to ask you to go south , when you really want to go north. To stop when you still wanna go. And yes – Ice Cream can be a valid lunch.
    “We’re not going in THERE ? Yes I am.
    Thanks Bones , nice piece.

  11. I loved this story. It has never really seemed to matter much to which part of the country I ride, people always gravitate my way for some passing conversation and to satisfy their curiosity when I make a quick stop.

    Having said that, now that my wife started riding her own bike and shadowing me on lengthy rides and we stop, generally people go to HER instead. Perhaps because, at 5’4″ she is perceived to be more approachable and may be somewhat of an inspiration to many women who have considered their own rides but hadn’t (yet) made it happen.

    And no, I’m not concerned about her stealing my thunder.

    My bike is faster than hers.

  12. I really like the article and so true.You definitely do get the odd conversation from curious individuals at various places,in my country Australia as well.Very well written Scott thank you.

  13. Great write up.Here in Ireland we haven,t the vast distances you have in US.We can travel coast to coast,east to west in 3 hrs,north to south in about 5.
    I love the solo rides to,being able to decide when to stop,when to go,turn right or left,get up and head off at 6AM or lie on til 10am,talk to people about where I,v come from and where I,m headed.

    Pat

  14. The article is spot on about never being alone when riding solo. At gas stations, burger joints and campgrounds guys always come up to talk. Even more so when you ride a classic bike. I ride two different shaft-drive Suzukis from the early eighties, just two of a string of such bikes i’ve owned. People have to come over and tell me what they have or had. In a campground a old guy might remark how he wished he was on his old bike instead of his big motorhome with wife and grandchildren. zukiman

    • I had a similar experience, we were leaving an ice cream stop as a group of Harleys pulled in started a chat. One told me nice bike asked what year, I said 93 (Wing), he thought it was newer, wanted to know mileage and I said 208K. He complimented me and I asked about his, a rebuilt ’48 that had beautiful workmanship. Turned out he was young latino talking to an old redneck and ending up a good casual conversation.

  15. Thanks for the article. I too have experienced all your anecdotes. I always take a moment to chat. I consider it part of the sport.

    A few years ago I was suiting up in a Walmart parking lot when I spotted an older lady approaching. Here we go again, I thought. This’ll be a waste of time, but held off putting on my helmet. She came up, asked where I was from and so on then said ‘Have a safe ride’. My son rides and I worry about you guys every day.’ And then walked on to her car.

    I have never been so moved.

  16. Solo riding has been my passion since the 1970’s for these very reasons. You are never truly alone on a bike. I wish I had a dollar for every meal, beer or conversation that riding alone has brought to me. The sight of a motorcycle with a tent and sleeping bag affixed to it stirs my soul and the vocal chords of even the most shy people. They already know something about you as your whole life is strapped to the scooter. We have nothing to hide and so much to share.
    Ride in, brothers and sisters. See you on a lonely highway somewhere soon!

    Bob Jones
    Galena, illinois

  17. On a recent ride from NH to the Dragon in TN, I too had the solo experience you describe.

    Riding solo I always take the opportunity build bridges, foster understanding and do a bit of moto-PR along he way.

    I especially like the little kids who shyly approach with their curious parents. If I am about to leave, I always say, “Hey, wanna help me start the engine?” I show them the starter on button on the ST and describe how to push it. (And let it go once the engine starts!)

    The look of joy and amazement on a kid’s face as I ride away seals the deal: One more motorcyclist welcomed to our fraternity, just a matter of time.

    cb

  18. Scott and the other posters, nice stories, it’s enjoyable reading and comparing them to some of my own. I rode with others for a long time, even big groups, but after a few trips solo realized I had missed a lot of enjoyment. I made a lot of trips from Fl. to Ohio to see family but always had to include routes that give me exposure to different areas and sites to see. A worker once asked me “did you ride, my Gold Wing, from Fla. to Oh?” and I said “yes, and I’m going to ride it back.” He just laughed and said “I could never do that on my bike!” I told him just take your time and try it. The humor in our talk was I was in my late 60’s and he was in hiis 30’s. Ride often but ride safe, see what you can and enjoy!

  19. One of my bikes is a little Moto Guzzi and I swear, if I were gay and 40 years older, I’d have a hatem. Old dudes swarm to it if I go anywhere outside the city.

    However, you forgot the “ah had/ride a bike” posers who just love to pattinize you at stops.

    “Triumph, huh. Didn’t know Harley still made that model. Used ta have one back in the 70’s.”

    “Yeah, got me a Dyna. Don’t ride it so much in ghis kinda weather. When you gonna upgrade to a Harley and get a real bike?”

    “How fast does that thing go? I know bikes are a lot slower now than in my day, thanks to the EPA and fuel injection.”

    * all real quotes

  20. Just rode from winnipeg Manitoba canada down to the dragons tail. 6500km . Alot of the same experiences. My friends all thought I was crazy going by me self but you are never alone when you stop.

  21. Great article from a great magazine. I love the feeling of riding alone, and I can just sense envy from the occupants of every vehicle I pass. I also enjoyed reading everyone’s comments–what a fine bunch of people!

  22. I travel from the UK to the USA most years at least once and rent a Harley to ride the road, but last year I rode a Honda Goldwing. What I noticed was that the Harley always attracts conversation, but last year even with doing the ride from STL in to Dakota and across to Northern Cali redwoods, and down to LA , through to vegas and back to STL , 6800 miles , probably a hand full talked to me on the GW ..

  23. At a gas station on German autobahn I was getting ready to leave when guy approached with his 6-7 year old son. I started my bike (BMW K1300R) and nodded to the little guy to come over and rev it. When he did he looked like Jesus Christ gave him a blessing or something. It felt like it changed his live. I’m sure he’ll remember it for a long time.
    P.s.: exhaust was akrapovic with no baffle 🙂

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