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.