Talking travel with pro motorcyclist Erik Buell

I’m here with Erik Buell, a former AMA racer and engineer for Harley-Davidson who now runs his own subsidiary, Buell Motorcycle Co, which produces the only sportbikes made in the US. He’s also happens to be an avid road-tripper–of the two-wheeled variety–and has cruised almost all the back-roads of America.

What got you interested in motorcycles?

Freedom to explore and experience the world at low cost! I grew up out in the country on a farm, and although it gave me a great work ethic, it also gave me a great need to see more.

Is a cross-country roadtrip by motorcycle possible? How would the logistics of that work? I’m assuming step one is lose the suitcase.

Cross country trips on motorcycles are the very best. When you are inside your Hummer with tinted narrow windows, a big GPS screen, dashboard and controls, face it, you might as well be at home on the couch. On a motorcycle you roll through valleys and hills and your senses feel the changes in temperature, you smell new-mown hay, and as you idle through little towns you listen to kids playing and maybe get splashed by a sprinkler as you ride by. And you can either use a backpack to travel light or get saddlebags, top box and tank bag and have all the clothing you could want in case you want to go to a fancy restaurant in St. Louis, or go to a play in Seattle, or even pull out your backpack guitar and sit in with some guys jamming on the street corner.
What are some of the best motoring routes in the states?

Anything with less than four lanes! And for me, the wigglier it looks on the map, the more appealing.

I’ve heard of epic adventures motorcycling across South America and Asia. What parts of the world are most friendly to motorcyclists and any particular routes you recommend?

Interestingly, motorcycles are very accepted all over the world, since many people ride in less affluent countries, where fuel is expensive and transportation more of a necessity than a luxury. Motorcycles are more green than any other motorized personal transport, and as such people see you not as an invader, but as a fellow individual traveling through life.

What about Europe? What’s their deal with motorcycles?

Europe is a great place to ride. Once again, they have been living with high fuel prices forever, and lots of city congestion and narrow roads. So although they may be affluent, the perspective on economy and personal footprint is much in tune with motorcycles. The terrain is also wildly variable, with lots of hills and mountains, so it is a spectacular place to ride.

How much training goes into riding a motorcycle, let’s say for a roadtrip?

Basically, anyone who starts riding should take a really good initial training class like is offered by Harley-Davidson through the Rider’s Edge program. Beyond that you need to simply get some riding experience. Not much takes the place of simply riding on a regular basis so the controls are all natural. If you want to go further, Harley-Davidson has the advanced Rider’s Edge course and, of course to become expert, you can take a training course at one of the Buell Inside Pass sessions at racetracks around the country.

What about speed vs cruising? Is there always a trade-off?

Well, sport bikes and cruisers appeal to different riders and are suited to different roads. All motorcycles, like all cars are capable of significant speed. Cruisers are best suited for interstate type roads or putting down the beach front, as the riding position is much like an easy chair. Of course such motorcycles can go 150mph on the Autobahn in Germany if needed! Sportbikes on the other hand are light and nimble and athletic, so they are the best for the winding roads through the Alps, or slipping through the traffic in Milan or in Los Angeles.

Worst accident on a bike for you? I’ve heard it’s inevitable that sooner or later you’ll crash and burn if you own a bike (but hey, I like danger).

Riding on the street it has been a long time since I had an accident, but I did have a couple big ones on the racetrack!

Motoring the Deep South

Sticking with my recent motorcycling theme, I wanted to plug another ride-of-a-lifetime. You’re not limited to exotic, foreign locales for motorcycling adventures. Fantastic times can be had right in the ole U.S.of A., by renting a bike from Eaglerider.

Obviously, I don’t recommend this for those with no motorcycling experience (especially not a 88+ cubic inch H-D), but Eaglerider is a franchise of Harley-Davidson rental shops around the U.S. (and two locations in Europe and one in Mexico too) with one central reservation facility online. You can rent for as little as one day, for approximately $130/day.

One of my all-time favorite trips was a 4-day excursion, starting out in New Orleans. Covering most of southern Louisiana, and tooling all the way up to beautiful, antebellum Natchez, MS, (stay at the Dunleith!) was awesome on a beautiful, black, H-D Heritage Softail Classic that was a mere month old. (Unfortunately, Al Gomez’s Eaglerider shop in N.O. was wiped out by the hurricane, but we’re hoping he reopens soon!)

Interestingly, Al told us that people came from all around the world to rent motorcycles and tour the South. Even folks from Germany booked months in advance. Their bike of choice? Not a Beemer, but the dream bike for the big, straight, flat American road: the Harley-Davidson.

Motoring Through Indochina

A friend recommended an adventure that I’m dying to do: a week motorcycling throughout Vietnam. He’s done it two years in a row, and recommends an outfit called Explore Indochina. The outfit is apparently run an Aussie and a Brit that act as tour guides and speak fluent Vietnamese.

They host a couple of rides each month, and cover different areas of the country (as well as Laos and Cambodia). They put together only small groups (5 or less).

Picture this: 6+ days straddling a 125cc two-stroke Belorussian motorbike, rolling through the beautiful scenery of Vietnam. It’s muddy, it’s wet, it’s real. That’s my idea of cruising!

Makes me want to dust off that copy of Jupiter’s Travels.