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When would you have travelled given the opportunity?
I was pondering when for me was the golden age of motorcycle travel and came up with the answer of the 1930's, it was a time when motorcycles and communication were fairly advanced but traditional cultures were still being practiced in many parts of the world. I have read about Max Reisch and Robert Fulton's epic journeys in this decade, it was very challenging travel when few roads were tarmac and a visa was needed to get to the next european country let alone further afield, but the friendliness and hospitality they encountered exceeded even that found today and many people were still living as they had for centuries.
I realise travel then was the preserve of the better off but am interested to hear what others would do given the opportunity and money, would you like to clatter along rutted roads on a bike with no suspension, belt drive and hand gear change, or do you prefer tapping a postcode into the satnav of your 1200 GSA? or perhaps all of this is too much and would rather trot off in the footsteps of Alexander the Great on a horse.
The sixties for me - bikes were good, Britain dominated the manufacture and they still had that visceral purely mechanical 'feel', wind, grease and vibration!
The bike I'm building for my RTW trip is a classic, a new frame built to an old design, a reconditioned old (1967) engine but with the convenience of modern wheels, brakes and suspension. It's going to be very minimalist (no heated grips or GPS on this bad boy, no battery!). It should have about 50BHP and weigh in at about 150-160kg including luggage.
The 'downside' to older bikes is more time spent on repairs and a few full engine rebuilds but if you like getting the spanners out this isn't a problem.
I'm not sure that peoples open-ness and friendliness has diminished much in certain parts of the world, you just have to look a bit further afield.
The ideal era for me would have been the early 70's to the mid 90's. Before the 70's bikes were pretty unreliable but if you were doing it then I guess you'd have known no different so you'd have just got on with it. After the mid 90's the 'global village' has been closing in which, I think has spoilt even remote parts that are rarely visited by the all inclusive tourist.
We were lucky enough to travel through Africa in 91/92 pre the days of mobile phones, internet and GPS. We've been back a couple of times since and although there are still many great places to visit where a dollar would have been a fortune 20 years ago 10 dollars is now considered an insult.
End 60's / early 70's! (I was born in 1973, so no possibility to ride a bike at that time).
All I could have needed was an oil-spitting HD shovelhead chopper, high handlebar and wild parties on the beach (and long hair, now they are only a memory to me... ).
I was bike travelling in the late 60's/ early 70's - with parties on the beach, high bars and long hair ! Here's a picture taken the year you were born -
I'm the one on the left!
Here's another one from two years earlier - going over the Brenner pass on the way to Athens. It's my travelling companions John and Brigid on John's 250 Yamaha YDS6. He and I had used the bike the previous year for a trip to Morocco.
Whether this was the best time to be travelling is very subjective and obviously I have no experience of what it was like in the 50's or earlier, but there are a few differences between then and now that are worth mentioning. Whether you think this makes it better or worse I'll leave to you -
Firstly, it really is a lot easier now. Bikes are bigger (in all senses), roads are better, communications were virtually non existant then. My very first trip was to the Austrian Alps in 1969 and it was a huge undertaking (think Top Gear Special!) with backup vehicles etc. These days I have a flat in the French Alps and can get there in a few hours via Easyjet. I think nothing of riding down there and often take odball vehicles just to make the trip more interesting.
Going back to the first (1973) picture above we were stranded in Greece for a couple of weeks when we lost a bag containing some money, ferry tickets etc - no credit cards then and huge problems trying to phone somone back in the UK.
Next. We had to work everything out for ourselves. No internet, HUBB, ADV etc where you can get route info, other peoples wisdom etc. This isn't the old " you don't know how easy you have it" moan but we really didn't have anyone to ask - really, nobody was doing this. We went to Morocco navigating with a page torn from a school atlas as we couldn't find any maps in London. The downside was that we had no real idea where we were going and often missed seeing loads of stuff. It took us half a day to find the Parthanon in Athens and we'd never even heard of the Todra Gorge in Morocco until we met another traveller in Casablanca.
Bikes. All our early trips were done on small Japanese bikes - mainly because there were no big Japanese bikes (that we could afford anyway). I wouldn't have used a British bike even if the dealer had paid me rather than the other way round. To my eye at the time anything British was junk. The engineering looked like it was from the 30's (it was!), they leaked oil, vibrated and were unreliable (I knew a lot of people with Brit stuff and they were always breaking down). Just horrible. The Jap stuff looked and sounded like the future, and importantly for our needs, just kept going if you knew your way round a few basic maintainance items. But - we felt like we should have been using big British stuff. They were real bikes and using Jap stuff was just playing at it. So when we came to plan the '73 trip John bought a Triumph. I wasn't convinced and bought a Yamaha. Here's a picture of the Triumph in Greece -
That just about says it all. Never again.
People. These days bike tours are two a penny if you don't want to go it alone. Back then hardly anyone went far in the UK nevermind Europe and package tours were still a novelty. My parents really thought I was going to my death when we went off on the first (1970) trip. They were no happier when four of us ( including two girls) set off in '71 and there were many, many rows about this. They never really were happy about any of the trips, even after I moved out. It's only in recent decades I've seen it from their perspective. If it was bad for them, at least we were male and supposed to do this sort of thing. The parents of the girls that went with us must have been worried stupid.
Once we went round the corner at the end of the road that was it for the next month. No phone calls or any information whether we were dead or alive. The girl on the right in the '73 pic above was 18 and had never been on holiday without her parents before. I'd only met them a few times before they entrusted me with her safety - on a deathtrap (as they saw it) motorcycle for a month. I know that there were many arguements between her and her parents about this trip before we went. I suspect even if she'd come back pregnant they's have been relieved - at least she'd be alive. (she wasn't - pregnant that is) To Fern I would say - nothing changes. At least you can keep in touch easily these days.
I think any time has it's own advantages. Those thinking the 1930's were great, consider that my Grandfather, (travelling at His Majesties expense by ship and horse complete with pith helmet and pointy stick) was issued what they called a goolie chit. This was signed by the governor of where they were (it was all supposedly British even if not everyone thought so) and set a sliding scale of value for a returned soldier depending on his "condition". The idea was that the Somali or NW Frontier tribal elder could get ten times the cash for a live and complete one than for one missing vital parts or a dead body. The difference with today was simply that having met some disgruntled and unwilling alledgedly Imperial subject you'd get a small announcement in the times six weeks later not U-tube the same day. You could of course get RTW with not much more than a British passport and a letter from someone with letters after his name.
As for the future, it's either pedal cycles or when you do get to Everest base camp you'll find a party of fifty on hired GS's already in Starbucks! That will of course be a great age for the riders on that holiday.
I was fortunate enough to ride an MZ through Eastern Europe at the end of Communism. That has to be a golden age to me, but I hardly think it's fair to those who had forty years of Stalin to want to go back there.
If I could choose, I would go back in time to the 70's and travel on a BMW R75/5 or R90/6
When my wife and I were just married (a long long time ago ), we went from our home in the Netherlands to Switzerland on a R60/5 (hers) and a R90/6 (mine) and that was one of the best trips we ever made.
Thanks for pictures, as a young'n to the adventure motorcycling community I always like seeing pictures of people heading out back when the word 'adventure' I think had so much more meaning. Not to detract from the modern day, as with a bit of effort and brazen imagination, anyone can hock up an idea that will take them on a serious adventure. But I do feel that it was a lot easier to "get off the beaten track" several decades ago. As others have said this is attributed to technology being more rudimentary in both the sense of global communication as well as cultures being less touched by outside forces. For me the excitement of traveling is the ability to put yourself in a sovereign experience where you can challenge yourself and your understanding of the world with which you live in. Of course, today this is still possible, but I do feel that it has been made much easier with the advent of technology (HUBB, satnav, interwebs) and the wealth of information that has been supplied by people having done what you may be hoping to do already.
If I could get a mix of it all, having the reliability of good equipment (not necessarily digital tech, but just reliable equipment such as tents, gear, etc) coupled with the cultural sovereignty that made travelling to far off places so exciting and enthrawling as they had been less touched by other parts of the world and travel was much less restricted, and throw in a dash of modern convenience of being able to get anything you need (parts/information wise) when shit eventually hit the fan....that would be amazing.
Of course these are only dreams. Aside from the cultural sovereignty though everything else can be in your control. You can always choose what bike you take, what parts you take, whether you utilize the digital tech and online resources that are available to you, and you can always choose to drop off the map and not be in contact with people. But there will always be that idea in your head that other people have likely done what you are doing before, and with far less information and technical assistance. Not to say that that's bad, but you just can't argue that the experience of the first assent up El Capitan and the modern single day push to the summit are the same. Both adventures in there own right, but not the same. I feel like you have to push harder and go further to get that same sense of adventure that others got 30-40 years ago.
I think what someone said about the 'global village' or something that's occurred during the last 20 years is about right. At any point before mobile phones and GPS the world would surely have been a different experience. But I also agree with the original poster that the 1930s might well have been the best specific time.
Originally Posted by henryuk
The bike I'm building for my RTW trip is a classic, a new frame built to an old design, a reconditioned old (1967) engine but with the convenience of modern wheels, brakes and suspension.
In 1935 Ella Maillart set out to travel in central Asia and sent a letter saying "I am going on a journey. Do not expect to hear from me for 6 months and do not worry until until a year has passed" That journey became her book Forbidden Journey (and Peter Flemming, her travelling companion's News from Tartary, both recommended, but there are no motorcycles). To achieve that degree of isolation would take a great deal of effort today, and that was real adventure. That said, being honest with (and about) myself, that is probably too hard core for me, and I doubt I would have set out on that journey.
I like some of the modern conveniences, even if they stay packed unless/until things start going wrong, so I would prefer to be travelling now. If I could travel with the health and youth I had in the 70s and 80s, and the experience and self knowledge I have now I would be well pleased, whatever equipment I was using.
I quite like the live for the moment philosphy and rekon that right now is the best time to go around the world, (or for me 18 months time).
Obivoulsy throughout history there have been great times to get out in the world, but I'll never travel the world in the sixties, but I can travel the world and see how the sixties, thirties, etc changed the world to give us the world that we currently live in.
I ... rekon that right now is the best time to go around the world, (or for me 18 months time).
That's very true and unless Dr Who is your next door neighbour, now is all any of us have. I did what I did in the 60's / 70's etc because that was now then. I certainly didn't see it as a golden age, it was just today. It had it's good points - not too many people were shooting at each other (in Europe anyway - Vietnam was off my list at the time), (some) borders were more open than they had previously been (no iron curtained eastern Europe but the hippie trail to India was in full swing) and cheap(er) jet travel through package holidays meant that the idea of visiting foreign lands was percolating though society.
There were bad bits as well - who remembers that there was a cholera outbreak in Italy in 73 or that there was a strict £50 limit on taking spending cash out of the country (About £5-600 now - see how far that gets you without plastic). Our route took us right through the middle of the cholera zone (cue family rows about irresponsibility) and we had to smuggle extra cash out. All the sort of usual rule bending and "wing and a prayer" planning that's still needed now if anything's going to actually happen.
There is a nostalgia for some sort of golden age of travel where the problems that beset or detract from traveling now didn't exist. The Orient Express with Michelin Star level dining rather than a Big Mac, a flying boat to Cairo where you're on first name terms with the pilot rather than packed like sardines into a Ryan Air flight etc. It must have been better, or at least more romantic. I suspect the Big Mac and Ryan Air options are going to look pretty romantic to people in 50 yrs time. My 60's and 70's trips were just the way things were done at the time and I never for a second thought I'd be having this sort of "conversation" all this time later.
In reality nothing much has changed - you can communicate a bit easier but the postcards I sent were themselves an advance over what was available in the 30's. Bikes are not really that much better - they're a bit more refined but how reliable does something have to be before it's not an issue and countries / borders come and go - easy access to the Maghreb countries then but no eastern bloc and the other way round now. I'm planning more trips and I certainly don't think it's been downhill since the 70's. One of the trips then may have been a turning point for me personally but that's another issue.
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