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Bike trip of a lifetime?: Guided in the USA

By Sam Pinney -

Touring & travel

 15 February 2010 10:43

Now is the time to book a biking holiday. But they are expensive – so you need to choose wisely. Independent or guided tour? US or Third World? We’ve tried both to help you decide on your trip...

Guided in the USA
►3000 miles ►Two weeks ►Kawasaki GTR1400 ►Four states ►Go-go dancers

The sell
You can’t consider yourself a true biker until you’ve owned a bike with a kick-start, entered a trial and ridden in America. And the best place to ride in the US is California and neighbouring states; they were invented for motorbikes. It’s almost always hot, they’ve got proper wiggly roads and within a few hundred miles are all the places you’ve ever seen in films. You can ride to the Grand Canyon, nip over to Vegas and even go down the interesting bits of Route 66. It may be a cliché, but so are drunken teenage fumbles and who’d want to grow old having missed those?
A guided tour is ideal if you’ve never been before, it means someone else has to worry about hotels, routes and you’ll be shown all the best places to ride. It means you can turn most of your brain off and just ride. Go guided. Go USA.

How hard was it to arrange?
Contact the tour operator, get a place (they go surprisingly fast) and then all you have to do is arrange flights and find suitable clothes.

What was getting there like?
The flight is only about nine hours. The airport is near the city so it’s only a short bus ride to where the fun starts. You have a couple of days before the riding begins so you can recover from the jet-lag.

What were your fellow travellers like?
A mixed bunch: lifelong riders and -others who had only just caught the bug. It was like going on holiday with a load of MCN readers, so it was bound to be fun. We may have been strangers at the start of the tour but I definitely made some friends for life by the end. Once you’ve survived Death Valley together you have a bond.

What were the locals like?
I went drinking in Vegas with a go-go dancer, had a chilli-eating contest and even met a real cowboy in Utah. -Everyone was very friendly. They even put up with us raiding their service stations for ice before riding off into the sun.

What was the bike like?
I had a GTR1400 – it was amazing, incredibly comfortable and sporty enough to make the most of all the fun roads. It out-rode everything else on the tour. The only slight negative was its thirst – but that was probably a result of having so much fun. The Kawasaki was a beast, I want one now.

How many miles a day did you do?
The biggest day was about 300 miles, and that was on dull roads. For most of the time we were playing on fun, wiggly roads. The tour planners made sure that we would ride at least one amazing road a day which was a real treat. It would be easy to travel around following the most direct course and completely miss all the fun routes.

How was the riding?
There were unbelievable roads which made the Stelvio Pass seem like a Tesco car park. We would cover 30 perfect hairpins repeating one after the other as we went up the sides of mountains and down again. Most of the roads had huge positive camber on the corners and buses pull over to let you get by.
On the second day we rode through a park to a place called Kernville. The road was empty and like a Scalextric set with no straight pieces. We were on it for hours and had to dodge rattlesnakes, cows and raccoons. I want to move to Kernville and commute.

What were the wows and how wowy were they?
The first proper mountain road through a national park was amazing, I’ve ridden through most types of weather but a storm of butterflies was a new one for me. Cruising down the strip in Vegas at night was special too.
We chased the sunset across the Grand Canyon and even battling through the intense heat of Death Valley had its charms; the temperature almost magical in its intensity. We stopped in the -middle of the valley and some F16s flew by and the pilots waved at us.
Every day we would see something more impressive than the last. Route 66 is a bit dull though, which surprised me.

What was tough about it?
The heat if you weren’t used to it. One person dropped out because they couldn’t take it. You don’t mess around with Death Valley and it was important to drink lots of water. And finding beer in Utah can be a challenge. The riders who chose Harleys suffered overheating and (by comparison) slow, boring riding.

What would you have tweaked to make the trip better?
Most of the group wanted longer in -Vegas. The only bad thing I can think about the tour is that it had to end. I completely understand why people get the touring bug and refuse to come home. I want to go back. Actually, I want to emigrate.

Sum it up
Riding in Europe is often about enduring things: cold weather, awful traffic, constant police surveillance. When you ride in America it’s impossible not be infected with a feeling of freedom. The roads are so vast, and bizarre.
We covered 25 miles in a perfectly straight line and then went through a valley resembling the surface of Mars on a line of perfect tarmac laid out like a dancing snake. The country played up to all the good clichés – mile long trains, perfect apple pie and incredibly cheap petrol.
By the end of the holiday everyone’s riding was much sharper - it’s hard not to improve after spending whole days riding around mountain passes. It felt like a different world, not just a different country.

Overall cost
- £3555
Breakdown of costs:
Tour (bike, rooms, breakfast, guides) £2495
Flights  £500
Insurance surcharge  £1000 (refunded at  the end of the tour)
Food and petrol  £560
Typical daily spend  £40
Bike arrangements Choose from Harley-Davidsons, BMWs, Goldwings, Yamaha FJRs and Kawasaki GTR1400s.
Contact info - www.toursareusonline.co.uk