Motorcycle Reading... When You're Not Riding.
A Collection of sure-fire books that will interest, excite and inspire motorcycle journeys near and far.Written By Jim Foreman
Maybe if you’re like me, you think a lot about riding your motorcycle. When one doesn't ride one's motorcycle, for example, on an international flight or long hot boring drive, one still thinks about one's bike.
As one who frequently travels to destinations not well suited to a motorcycle, reading about travels or listening to audio books while driving is the next best thing.
Motorcycle travel books also serve as a source of inspiration and motivation to go out and do more riding farther from home.
While listening to or reading an engaging book, I often become transported to the locations described by the author and begin to hear the sounds of an approaching thunderstorm or smell the scents in the arid African plains, in my imagination.
In Southern California, there aren’t too many days we can’t go out and ride. Now and then we do get a good rain, or our main mountain pass is snowed or iced over. There are times when we have to commute in four-wheelers, and an audio book eases any frustration of being caged up on the road.
Listed below is a thoroughly vetted list of great books one should strongly consider purchasing. Many of them are available as an audio book on sites like Audible.com and others.
Sadly, many adventure books start off with lush and vivid detail and dramatic situations, but as the effort of writing drags on, the descriptions get more terse and hastened. These books listed below do not suffer from this common affliction. They are great, from start to finish and leave you, the reader, desiring more.
The following selections are books I've read, and often, re-read. They will certainly capture your imagination and bring a longing for more riding.
Into Africa – Sam Manicom
Into Africa remains my favorite book I’ve ever enjoyed. I've read it four separate times, and each time, I'm transported to this amazing continent. Sam does a cracking job of describing the environment and feelings and making you feel like you’re right there with him. Sam Manicom has four books, and they are all wonderful. The four books chronicle his Round-the-World adventures with wit, triumphs, and disappointments. Once you start, it will be a challenge to put it down. After completing this book, you’ll want to dive immediately into “Under Asian Skies”, “Distant Suns” and “Tortillas to Totems.” “Into Africa” is particularly unique as it, along with “Under Asian Skies” is also available as an audio book. Sam, himself, is the narrator and this brings a particular joy listening to him recount these travels. Sam appears in an episode of the SoCal BMW Motorrad Podcast.
One More Day Everywhere – Glen Heggstad
Glen Heggstad is another unexpected Round-the-Worlder. After a kidnapping by FARC rebels in Colombia, detailed in “Two Wheels Through Terror”, Glen set out on his journey to see the world. Motivated by a desire not to let terrorists win, Glen's journey started from the eastern Siberian coast and traveled east. Glen’s book is full of wit, wisdom, and strange adventures. Throughout, Glen keeps an unusually honest and real portrayal of the highs, lows, desires and fears.
“One More Day Everywhere” is also available as an audio book. Though Glen does not read the book, the narrator does very well. If you have an opportunity to see Glen’s “Earth Ride” presentation, make sure you do!
Vagabonding - Rolf Potts
Vagabonding is probably one of the most important and singularly complete books anyone thinking of serious travel must read. Though 'Vagabonding' is not specific to moto travel, it does share how to do it in a way that leads to better understanding. Like Sam's book, you'll be reading this one many times over. You'll be writing notes, highlighting passages and ultimately using it to ensure a meaningful and soul-satisfying trip.
Long Way Round – Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman
OK, who hasn’t seen an episode of “Long Way Round”? These are charming and fascinating episodes highlighting the round-the-world trip Ewan and Charley made on their motorcycles. While some have foolishly criticized them for having a camera operator and a support vehicle, it remains a powerful motivation for people to venture beyond their comfort zone. If you enjoyed the TV series, the book is even better. Ewan and Charley each write up their experiences in a way that brings more depth and feeling to the journey. Ewan and Charley also did a follow-up journey from the northern tip of Scotland to the southern tip of South Africa called “Long Way Down.” The book for that journey is equally captivating and brings a profound human and personal perspective to the experience.
Lois on the Loose – Lois Pryce
Lois Pryce is a firecracker! Lois left a good job at the BBC to discover an exciting life. She shipped her bike to Alaska and began a solo journey that brought her to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina. Lois details her experiences and surprises of how different countries like the USA and Mexico were from how they were described by those, back home. Having worked in the media, Lois saw first-hand how perceptions she had were entirely different from reality. “Lois on the Loose” is an enjoyable story and one that will keep you entertained and longing to set out on experiences for yourself. Lois Pryce also wrote “Red Tape and White Knuckles” which is equally delightful and a page turner. Lois is also featured in a segment on the SoCal BMW Motorrad Podcast. Her personality and zeal shine brightly in the interview.
The Perfect Vehicle – Melissa Holbrook Pierson
“The Perfect Vehicle” is a masterpiece that takes the reader through Pierson’s personal experiences with deciding to ride and own a motorcycle. Pierson shares intimate details and personal reactions motorcycling brings. “The Perfect Vehicle” features a relaxed writing style that welcomes readers into her life. Much later, Pierson wrote, “The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing.” The follow-up is a fascinating story of World Record holder John Ryan’s casual style and his determination to revive Pierson’s love of riding. Sadly, John Ryan left us too early in 2013.
101 Road Tales – Clement Salvadori
If you’ve ever picked up Rider Magazine, you’ve no doubt read and probably enjoyed Clem Salvadori’s writing. Clem is a legend for having an easy-going writing style that feels like he’s right there, in the room, telling you a story. “101 Road Tales” is a compilation of these stories. Every story leaves one feeling a bit wiser and intrigued to go and discover another corner of their region, state or country. “101 Road Tales” is a little harder to find so look carefully. I recommend that you enjoy a chapter, each night before you go to sleep. It will guarantee happy and exciting dreams as one drifts into twilight and sleep.
Found in the synopsis of the book is this rather accurate portrayal of this story. It's not for everybody, but I found it to be refreshing and interesting.
"Francis had my favorite imbalance of cautious adventure, uninhibited
fidelity, a taste for the right breakfast." Bolo? He looked like his
grandfather, but once in a while, he smiles. They ride not to have a
grand adventure, not to save their marriage, not to do some kind of
anthropological study. They just want to find great places to have sex.
And they do, under cold blankets in the mountains of Mexico. In a
communist hammock in El Salvador. After being painted blue by naked
Indians in Panama. In a posh high-rise apartment in Ecuador. Alone in
the ruins of Machu Picchu. And finally, in Argentina.
But it is a motorcycle adventure. It would not be the same in a car,
or by bus, or by simply flying or parachuting into each location. They
travel by overland motorcycle, with everything they need to live,
everything, strapped to the back. Their motorcycle is the rock star, the
main attraction. It opens doors and introduces them to rebels, bandits,
television personalities. The motorcycle gets them places quickly, and
it gives them reasons to stop.
Bolo and Francis did this ride. They lived it. And afterwards, it's
part of them. In everything they do, they know they did this one
fantastic thing. They rode a motorcycle to Argentina.
Motorcycle Adventurer – Dr. Gregory W. Frazier
Today, riding around the world still captures people’s attention. The mere mention brings anticipation of extraordinary stories, photos, and experiences. With modern motorcycles, air-freight, GPS technology and a network of relatively easily obtainable parts, it has never been easier to setting off on one’s individual round-the-world adventure. That’s today. Now imagine yourself in 1912 trying something nobody has ever accomplished. Sitting astride a 1912 Henderson, Carl Stearns Clancy did what nobody had done before. From 1912 to 1913, Clancy became the first person to ride around the world. Dr. Frazier, who also shares a love of Henderson Motorcycles, gathered up all of Stearns’ newspaper article submissions, journals, and other sources to piece together a lush and fascinating history of this fascinating person and his great accomplishment.
Proficient Motorcycling – David Hough
Not an adventure tale or even a narrative, but rather one of the best and most complete instructional books on riding motorcycles safely and correctly. Most motorcyclists already own this book. Take a look at it and flip through the pages. It’s a sure bet you’ll re-discover something useful and probably spend more time going through the book. If you have a friend who has just started riding or returned to riding, buy them this book.
A Twist of the Wrist II – Keith Code
Aside from “Proficient Motorcycling” this book is probably one of the best books available to learn and understand about Motorcycle performance and how to be a substantially better rider. The technics taught in this book work beautifully in both track and street riding. You'll discover practical ways of handling unexpected situations without yelling an expletive into your helmet.
Tales of the Midnight Rider (Series) - Gary 'Koz' Mraz
Gary 'Koz' Mraz, like many of the other authors mentioned is someone counted as a friend. What started as a simple magazine article about night riding evolved into a provocative, fascinating and sometimes unbelievable world of those who are moving goods while we sleep. The "Tales of the Midnight Writer" series is based, mostly on fact and real people Mraz chronicled and observed. Mraz keeps embellishments to a minimum while setting a mood that seems as foreign as Kathmandu. With each page turn, more and more of this subculture is revealed with all of it's tangents and dramas. If one is looking for a seemingly unbelievable world, right here in the US, give these amazing and fun books a good read. The series is also available as ebooks.
Motorcycle Owners Manual - Various Authors
The owners manual is an important book everyone should read. In it you'll know correct tire pressures, bulb replacements, and what that little blinking light on your dash means. If you don't have one or would prefer it on your mobile device, go to your manufacturer's website and download an electronic version. If your bike is an older model, search out other sources for obtaining the owners manual. Google is your friend, for this task
There are hundreds more books about motorcycling and motorcycle trips. Many are quite good. A few are excellent. Some are awful and cringe-worthy.
Listed are some additional titles that I haven't either read, or don’t quite measure up to the excellent storytelling of the ones listed above.
Jupiter’s Travels – Ted Simon
Jupiter’s Travels is Ted’s first journey, made in the 1970’s. There are many colorful and memorable parts of the book; some of which are quite entertaining. Overall, a pall of negativity and prejudice permeates the book leaving one feeling a little flat and disappointed. It’s worth a read and is a well-produced audio book.
Ghost Rider – Neil Peart
Legendary rock band, Rush’s drummer documented his ride and feelings after the tragic deaths of his daughter and wife. Simply put, I haven’t read it yet. Many trusted people have given it high marks.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
More of an autobiographical narrative of a father who suffered a mind-altering nervous breakdown but later decides to take his whiny son on a journey across the Unite States. Zen isn’t so much about motorcycles but rather an account of how Robert dealt with his schizophrenia and his bouncing between the character of himself and Phaedrus. The motorcycling part of it is interesting, but the philosophical outreach leaves me turning the pages quickly to get back to the riding.
Motorcycle Therapy – Jeremy Kroeker
This book was frustrating. In it, a rather arrogant Jeremy Kroeker mistreats and annoys his long-suffering friend. After both men recently broke up with their partners, they set off on a journey from Canada to Panama. It doesn’t take long to see why Kroeker’s partner left him. “Motorcycle Therapy” does have some very charming and funny scenes. Unfortunately, the story is hurried along, rather quickly, after two-thirds of the story is told. Many times, I wanted to reach through the pages and sock Kroeker for being a cheap, overbearing jerk.
When you are in Southern California, please come to Irv Seaver BMW in Orange County, CA. There you'll find a fully stocked parts department, extensive apparel department and a huge selection of new and pre-owned motorcycles. There's some great people there, too!
|Sam Manicom with Ted Simon and Libby|
|Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman|
|James Franco and Amber Heard between takes on set.|
|Melissa Holbrook Pierson and her Moto Guzzi|
|Glen Heggstad on his Round the World trip|
|(L-R) Alan Karl, Sam Manicom, Jack Borden, Jeffrey Polnaja, Ken Duvall, Jim Foreman|
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