A motorcycle is like a flying carpet, taking the rider to places all over this planet. And riders are often moved to write about their trips, short or long, and we can read about their exploits in newspapers, magazines or books. Probably the first such narrative was written by George Wyman, who rode a California Motor Bicycle from San Francisco to New York in 1903, and wrote about his adventures in the Motorcycle magazine. Unfortunately his exploits have never appeared in book form, though much can be found on the Internet at WymanMemorialProject.Blogspot.com. The advantage of a book is that it lasts, and old copies can be found on the Internet at sites like AbeBooks.com—where all 10 of the books below can be found.
The 10 books are listed in chronological order, by when the trip took place.
Around the World on a Motorcycle, 1928 to 1936
In 1928, Sulkowsky and a friend, both Hungarians, had a lust for travel, bought themselves a very used Harley-Davidson J-model and decided to see the world. Eight years later they got home, having traveled more than 100,000 miles on six continents, visiting 68 countries. This was back in an age when gas stations were infrequent, Harley dealerships scarce, and anyone contemplating such a trip had to have considerable mechanical competence. And patience; like when a serious problem occurred in Australia’s Nullarbor Plain and the outfit was towed out by a camel, for example. The book was published in Hungary in 1937, but an English translation did not appear until 2008 (Whitehorse Press).
One Man Caravan
Robert Edison Fulton, Jr.
In 1932, a young Fulton had completed a year of post-graduate work in architecture in Austria, and was ostensibly on his way home to New York, stopping off in England to see friends. At a dinner party someone asked him what he was going to do next, and he blithely said he was thinking of riding a motorcycle eastward, through Europe and Asia. A gent at the table happened to be owner of the Douglas motorcycle company, and offered to give him a 750cc Mastif model. He was on his way in July, and got home 18 months later, publishing his book in 1937. In 1996, Whitehorse Press got permission to print a new edition.
The Rugged Road
In December of 1934, Wallach and a friend left London, headed for South Africa, riding a Panther M100 motorcycle with a Watsonian sidecar and trailer. Theirs may well have been the first motorcycle crossing of the Sahara Desert, taking the relatively well-traveled Tamanrasset Route. Unfortunately, the extreme heat and deep sand caused the engine to fail, and they ended up in Agades, waiting for more than a month for spare parts to come from England. And then found that local mechanics had metric tools, while the Panther was done in Whitworth sizes. But all was fixed eventually and the journey continued.
Around the World with Motorcycle and Camera
Eitel & Rolf Lange
In 1953, Europe was just getting out of the post-war miseries, and this father/son team, both being journalists and photographers, bought a 600cc Zundapp with sidecar. In February they left the cold German winter and headed for warm southern Italy, followed by Istanbul and points east to India. Then it was mostly a sea route to San Francisco, off-loading the outfit in Hong Kong and Japan along the way. They had some financial support from a German magazine, but essentially this would be a trip done on the cheap. A little more than a year later they returned home, having spent only some $10,000 and covering 30,000 land miles, and 11,000 miles on ships.
Tracking Marco Polo
Severin was studying geography at Oxford in 1961 when he got the notion of following a path that Marco Polo might have taken on his way to China in the 13th century. And he got three friends to agree to come along—on two BSA 650s with sidecars, donated for the purpose of this Marco Polo Route Project. Of course none were really experienced motorcyclists, and by the time they got to Kabul, Afghanistan, one of the four had returned home, and the remaining trio was riding three-up on a solo BSA. They did make it to Calcutta, and then back to Bombay where they and the motorcycle, “… trailing a woebegone trickly of oil …” were loaded on a ship.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
In 1968 Pirsig and his son took off from Minnesota for a motorcycle trip to California. Pirsig, a brilliant teacher, had suffered mental problems a few years previously and was concerned that his 12-year-old child might be suffering the same. The book he wrote was published in 1974, having been rejected by 121 publishers, and went on to sell more than five million copies. He writes about the trip in both a literal and philosophical sense, subtitling the book An Inquiry into Values. This has deterred some readers, but it is a travel book that should be read. In his Author’s Note he does say that, “It’s not very factual on motorcycles either.” So don’t expect to learn how to adjust the valves on a Honda Super Hawk.
In 1973, a 40-ish English journalist was a bit bored with life and decided to take a trip around the world on a motorcycle. Not that he knew much about motorcycles or even had a license. He flunked his first test, made it through on the second. He got a major British newspaper to support him, somewhat, and convinced Triumph to give him a 500cc T100. He overloaded the poor beast and then spent the next four years riding the bike nearly 80,000 miles on six continents, with a modest number of falls and breakdowns. And then proceeded to write one of the most entertaining travel narratives I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
10 Years on 2 Wheels
So here was this Norwegian boy, living way up north and thinking about Africa. When he got his license he developed a passion for motorcycles and photography, and in 1982 took off on a BMW R80G/S, headed for Spain and a ferry to Morocco. The bike was set up to carry 15 gallons of gas and five gallons of water, which would be needed for crossing the Sahara. He got to Cape Town, turned around, and headed north, arriving back in Norway two years later with about $10 left. But he had contracted the travel itch, and next we see him working on a Norwegian ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean on his way to Brazil, his BMW in the hold. For 10 years he did this, and ended up publishing this well-illustrated book.
Most motorcyclists who travel around the world have a constant worry—money. Rogers did not have that problem, as he had made a heckuva lot of money working on Wall Street, sensibly choosing to retire at the ripe age of 37. And now he could indulge his passion for motorcycles, convincing his girlfriend to learn to ride and take off on a two-bike trip around the world. With the intention of writing a book—not merely a travel narrative, but veering off into the investment possibilities he sees in all the countries he visits during his two years on the road. Would that we all had his financial acumen.
Long Way Round
Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman
Here are a couple of successful British actors who decided in 2004 to ride motorcycles around the world—but with their commitments they only have four months. Okay, they’ll do more or less a straight shot from London riding eastward to Siberia, fly from Magadan to Anchorage, Alaska, and then on to New York. Funniest bit is at the beginning when they ask KTM if they could borrow a couple of bikes, and are denied as not being competent enough. BMW was more generous and got a major hit when the story came out. Entertaining book, especially the bit about the Road of Bones; I’d rather read about it than ride it.
Clem, allow me add #11: The Road Gets Better from Here by Adrian Scott.
An Australian motorcycle novice flies to Magadan on the Russia’s east coast with his KLR 650, preps the bike on the tarmac with the help of locals, then heads off into Siberia. An early crash slows him down a bit, but he presses on, riding the Road of Bones and following the Silk Road through China and Central Asia. Everywhere he goes, friendly locals take him in, feed him, and fix his motorcycle. The book is a positive statement for humanity.
My book Keep Moving:Tokyo to Cape Town by Motorbike is inspiring because it shows you can be older and still do this adventure travel.That book is about a year long trip in 2010.Currently I am going from Alaska and the Arctic Circle to Chile on the same bike with my husband riding his bike.
I have read most of them and on the whole a pretty good list but should include something by Sam Manicom and remove Jim Rogers who in my opinion is a rather unpleasant character with a lack of respect for local cultures.
I only just saw this. Thanks very much for putting my books in the mix! Cheers Mark.
Why are Sam Manicoms books not featured they are the best books I’ve ever read on motorbike adventure novels, the Into Africa one even had me in tears at the end it is so well written……………..
What a fantastic comment. Thank you Kevin!
Some great books in the list. If your thinking of seeing Japan the book ¨Motorcycle Japan A Riders Diary¨ gives a breakdown of gear, costs and preparation tips like insurance, checklists and videos https://www.scribd.com/doc/133569342/Motorcycle-Japan-A-Rider-s-Diary
I have a copy of the lushly illustrated Pederson book on my coffee table. Time to get additional reading. Thanks for publishing the list.
Read only a few pages of “Zen” some years ago, but lost interest as he continually bashed his riding partner. Guess I was looking forsomething a little more philosophical.
I have read one book out of this list. — Around the World with Motorcycle and Camera.
My dad got me to read it about 10 years ago. I can honestly say it’s one of the reason I decided to start riding int he first place.
Great list. Anyone thinking of travelling Africa, you will enjoy Ubuntu: One Woman’s Motorcycle Odyssey Across Africa (Black Inc. 2016). Recently listed on Amazon as a bestseller in travel.
The Perfect Vehicle by Melissa Holbrook Pierson
Not so much an adventure travel book but a good read and it is alwats good to read a motorcycle book from a woman.
Where are the books of Lois Pryce?
A british journalist who takes you along on her first adventure from Alaska to the tip of Argentina. (Lois on the loose) Her second book she travels solo from London to Cape town (Red tape and white knuckles) and last but not least, A mind-blowing adventure to wandering around on2 wheels in Iran as a woman. (Revolutionary Ride)
Agree 100% about Sam Manicom, a great writer and an even better human being as is Ted Simon. And yes, Lois Pryce well deserves to be included in the list. Let’s not forget Simon Gandolfi and his book ‘Old Man on a Bike’ which struck a chord with this other old man on a bike.
In 2014 I went RTW, 21,000 miles and 21 countries on my trusty Suzuki DR650, inspired by the collection of books, articles and videos of RTW and other adventure journey stories I started collecting in the 1990’s, books by Ted Simon, David Barr, Helge Pedersen, Piet Boonstra, Clement Salvadori, etc. I consider Robert Fulton, “Once Upon a Caravan,” the first to complete a RTW trip on a motorcycle, 1932, and have his video too, made from the motion picture camera he took with him through 22 countries. He passed away in 2004 at age 95. Carl Stearns Clancy did it in 1912 ~ 1913, but spent too much of his trip aboard ship for me to consider it a RTW trip by motorcycle.
Where-ever I have been, in the most remote parts of the world, there are always bicyclists traveling long distance! Always the bicyclists! The most interesting book in my collection is a two volume set, “Around the World on a Bicycle” written by Thomas Stevens and accomplished in the 1880’s on a Penny-farthing! I recommend this book above all other RTW stories, even if it is non-motorized two wheel travel, it is much the same or even more adventure . Lacking pictures, the book is accompanied by detailed, artful hand sketches. Amazing stories therein. Makes you think how much and how little the world has changed.
Another nostalgic book I would recommend, my first motorcycle book, “The Complete Motorcycle Nomad” published in 1974 and written by Roger Lovin. “Tells you everything you need to know to travel long distances on a motorcycle” from choosing the bike and gear to making money on the road. How the world (in America) has changed? One piece of advice that wouldn’t work in today’s world, when needing a few dollars to put gas in the tank, I wouldn’t recommend stopping by the local elementary school and offering rides around the block for a small charge. You’d end up being charged.
Anyway, as you’ve heard many times from adventure riders, don’t listen to the nightly news, don’t be afraid to ride RTW or just into other countries.
Hey! Thanks for your comment and your recomendations! Although your comment is from old world times, I hope you still might see this comment =). Did you do any documentation of your travels? Publish anything, YouTube or other? I´d be really interested. I just bought a DR650 too with the intention to do the same as you! Cheers! Sam from Finland
Robert Echard Iwould like to hear more about you DR650 and travels
Nice to read your books and stuff. I will check them all and will grab one. Thanks.
I love to see if my friends can check and get some of them. Thanks for your list.
I’ve read some of those listed: two of Ted Simons, Clem’s No Through Road, One Man Caravan, Long Way Round (as well as the DVD of it and the DVD of Long Way Down.
One I’ve not been able to buy or get via the library system here, is Overland to Vietnam by Gordon G. May. My particular interest is having served in Vietnam in ’69-’70 in the Army. So far it seems it’s only available in England and getting it via Amazon is not possible. It’s been listed at near $200 here used, too much to pay. Any ideas of getting this one?
Most relevant is Ted Simon’s “Jupiter’s Travels” with its magnificent beginning, the ferry to Africa, and among precisoned sentences as good or better than Bruce Chatwin’s ‘In Patagonia”, there is that great sentence about a boy’s striped bell bottoms looking like “strawberry ice cream running down the inside of a trash can”. To Ted’s eternal benefit, he puts his motorcycle in 2nd place and is more interested in people and culture. That he didn’t grow up a motorcyclist fastened and is therefore not self-absorbed is our luck. Pirsig’s “Zen…” book is not a motorcycle book. I own 3 of these top ten.
Where is Elspeth Beard? Her trip RTW makes McGregor and Boorman sound like wimps with all the support while she went it completely solo!
My thoughts exactly! Just read Lone rider =)
Indeed Elsbeth Beard should be on the list
Elsbeth Beard should be at the top of the list in my opinion.
Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road.
Took this from Amazon.
“Within a ten-month period, Neil Peart lost both his 19-year-old daughter, Selena, and his wife, Jackie. Faced with overwhelming sadness and isolated from the world in his home on the lake, Peart was left without direction. This memoir tells of the sense of personal devastation that led him on a 55,000-mile journey by motorcycle across much of North America, down through Mexico to Belize, and back again.
Peart’s journey of self-exile and exploration chronicle his personal odyssey and include stories of reuniting with friends and family, grieving, and reminiscing. He recorded with dazzling artistry, the enormous range of his travel adventures, from the mountains to the seas, from the deserts to the Arctic ice, and the memorable people who contributed to his healing.
Ghost Rider is a brilliantly written, and ultimately triumphant narrative memoir from a gifted writer and the drummer and lyricist of the legendary rock band Rush.”
Elsbeth Beard! Absolutely should be added toe the reading list. at one point there was mention of a movie about her rtw at age 22 and single woman! Wow!
A lot of weird reactions to this list.
The list is obviously meant to help as broad and diverse a group of people as possible.
Settle down people!
A few other books to include: Timeless on the Silk Road, and Ubuntu, both by Heather Ellis; Lone Rider by Elspeth Beard; India: The Shimmering Dream by Max Reisch. It tells the account of Austrians Max Reisch and friend Herbert Tichy who ride from Vienna to India in 1933, on a small two-stroke motorbike, riding through Iraq, Iran and Baluchistan. A great read. Motorcycle Adventurer by Dr. Gregory Frazier – tells the story of Carl Stearns Clancy, first to ride around the world in 1912-1913. Lastly, Around the World on a Motorcycle 1928-1936 by Zoltan Sulkowsky. Hungarian Sulkowsky tells of how he and a friend travelled around the world on a Harley-Davidson with a sidecar.
As so many here have said; Elspeth Beard – Lone Rider!
Running With The Moon by Jonny Bealby is a superb motorcycle travel adventure book. You will love it. London to South Africa.
Agree! It’s in my top 10 favourite motorcycle travel books.