Do You “Tour” Or “Travel?”

Motorcycle travelers aren't tourists — they're modern day adventurers.

Growing up in South Florida, I remember well the sight of monster-sized tour buses packed with their silver-haired cargo, touring the tropical ocean front of Miami Beach. Tiny faces could been seen peering out behind the tinted glass from their seats perched high in the bus. I always felt like an exhibit at the zoo when they’d pass by with everyone looking out, staring at the local fauna — me! These were tourists, touring on a tour bus. They were passengers taking in the sights that someone else had deigned important enough to include on their itinerary. I understand that some people prefer this low-impact type of travel, for health or other reasons. But in my mind, traveling by motorcycle is 180-degrees opposed to touring.

Motorcycling doesn’t request, it demands immersion in the places you travel through: the sights are real and immediate, not like watching them on TV or from some remote air-conditioned comfy seat. You feel the weather, the wind, the heat, the cold, the wet — it’s all a part of the experience. People who travel by motorcycle do so for that reason, to become a part of the journey as an active player, not a passenger. Even passengers on a motorcycle are an active part of the trip. By any measure traveling by motorcycle is the anti-tour.

Travel is active — touring is passive. Maybe it’s semantics, but I can’t in good conscience apply the word "touring" to motorcycles. I’m not a tourist on a motorcycle. It just doesn’t sound right, does it? So in spite of the insistence of the motorcycle industry to use the word touring, I can’t swim with the current on this one.

Since we started our motorcycle magazine about eight years ago, we’ve used the word travel as it applies to trips by motorcycle. I see a lot of others picking up on the use of word travel in regards to motorcycles trips. That’s a positive because sometimes terminology serves to limit people’s thinking.

For example, I’ve heard it said that if it’s not a "real" touring bike, then it can’t be ridden on a long trip. So not true! People are creative and resourceful about making stuff fit on a bike. They don’t let the fact they don’t have a certified touring model stop them. There are tons of products that convert a non-touring bike to a travel-friendly machine so you can travel on any motorcycle. I’ve traveled on my Ducati 748, Honda CBR 600 F2, Polaris Victory Vegas, H-D Sportster, H-D Softail, Moto Guzzi Breva, Ducati ST4S, Honda Magna and of course my current bike, a Yamaha XT 225. (Before you roll your eyes, I’ve ridden the XT 225 extensively in the outback of the Big Bend Country of Texas, California, New Mexico and twice deep into Mexico).

You’ll notice none of my trips have been on a touring bike. The big touring bikes are great for certain types of touring and people. But they are by no means the be-all and end-all of motorcycle travel. The luxe-touring bikes are just too large for many riders and price can be a barrier — with most of the full-on touring bikes priced at over $20,000. Consequently, there are a lot of us squirting around out there on all kinds of bikes "unsuitable" for touring and having a great time. Our last reader survey at Ride Texas Traveler indicated that 85% used their motorcycles for an overnight or longer trip in 2005. I can’t say this percentage would hold up across all riders in the U.S., but it is significant in identifying a clear trend. People are using their bikes for multi-day rides — any bike and riding everywhere. No limits … except the speed limits, of course.

Two-Wheeled Traveler will not be an esoteric touring column for the select people who ride the top-of-the-line big touring bikes. What it will do is address the needs of the overnight to month-long motorcycle traveler who loves the experience of travel by two wheels for nearby getaways, explorations of the U.S. and beyond. This includes an eclectic group of riders on all brands riding from full-on dressers to standards to hyper-sport bikes to the most minimalist dual-sport bikes. I hope my broad experience in motorcycle travel with your indulgence will permit me to share my insights, identify trends, spotlight products, maybe even highlight destinations for motorcycle travelers — all with the goal of helping of you help your customers travel better and more often, by motorcycle.

And whether riding alone or with a hundred of their best friends exploring new horizons, motorcycle travelers aren’t tourists, they’re modern day adventurers. Let’s not put them on the tour bus just yet.

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