A few years ago, when my dad started riding motorcycles, I thought, huh—really? I didn’t realize that beyond the Harley Davidson rally in Southwest Colorado, there are bikes for touring and outdoor adventures, too. My dad, Steve, is a laid back, active outdoorsman, so when he bought a BMW R1200 GS, the pieces all came together.
What’s to love about motorcycle adventures?
In all aspects, touring on a motorcycle begets mindfulness. You can only pack the bare essentials. With two panniers and front and back pouches, there’s enough space for your basic survival tools: food, extra layers, a hatchet, and a tarp or tent.
You are more exposed to the elements, which enables you to more closely experience them, and simultaneously causes you to be a part of them—no matter what. To ride safely, you should always be reading the sky for weather warnings, be aware of when the sun sets and rises (try to not ride in the dark), and be prepared with season-appropriate layers.
Being on a bike also molds you into a more independent traveler. There are countless dealerships and mechanics you can call if your car breaks down, but if your bike has an issue, you could be stranded. So, “take care of the bike so that it can take care of you,” my dad advised.
Overall, there’s an extra level of excitement with being on a bike. And for some, a slight twinge of terror.
Motorcycling in Utah
In October, I drove 5 1/2 hours from Denver to the east side of Arches National Park to join my dad at his encampment on the edge of the Colorado River. Crimson, cathedral-like towers stretched above our tent in the winding canyon. He’d arrived on his bike and I’d brought all of the food for our campfire cooking. The cool yet sunny fall weather couldn’t have been more perfect for exploring Utah’s Moab area—especially on the back of a bike.
In the crisp morning, I finally stepped onto the back of his bike, decked out in my motorcycle outfit, and I felt—awkward. The helmet was tight and I was physically unaware of myself in space. Whenever the bike sped up or slowed down my helmet would clang against the back of my dad’s helmet and I was afraid to lean too far back or forward—would I fall off of this thing?!
The second day on the bike was much better. We made room in the pannier for my pack. I learned that I could lean back and use the foot pegs to sturdy myself. I was a relaxed passenger, which made all the difference. After riding through Arches the first day, the second day we toured Canyonlands National Park—which I had never visited.
We entered on the north side, near the Island in the Sky, and rode to Upheaval Dome where we hiked the out-and-back to the crater’s edge. Then rode down to Grand View overlook and Green River overlook, which was my favorite panorama in the park. In the shape of fingerlings, the desert floor gives away like the tiers of a cake, plummeting to the winding curves of the Green River. In the center of the park, the confluence of the Green and Colorado River meet, the two bodies of water that carved out this magnificent canyon.
When we rode, we wore our hiking boots and clothing—shorts and synthetic t-shirts—underneath our safety gear: helmets, jackets, pants, and gloves. As I learned, motorcycle apparel isn’t solely made in leather-style. Many companies incorporate Teflon or other abrasion resistant material with synthetic, breathable fabrics. Both the jacket and pants should have pads that are inserted in high-impact areas: the hips, knees, elbows and shoulders.
My pants, made by Joe Rocket, didn’t include removable liners (I run warm, so I thought a pair with liners would be too heavy for me) and had zippers that ran the entire length of the legs, so I could open those for ventilation. The pants should fit comfortably—not too baggy and not too tight. Any pair of handyman gloves will work fine (my dad wears a Marmot pair.) Attached to our helmets, we used a rechargeable microphone system to communicate, which is awesome when you’re traveling together by motorcycle.
In Denver, head to Performance Cycle
I hunted high and low for a motorcycle shop that rents out apparel, and to my dismay there were none in the Denver area. This made me again excited for the concept of Bold Betties—which, if you missed Garage Grown Gear’s story, read it here (I cannot be the only person who doesn’t own a bike who wants to join a motorcyclist as a passenger—can I?)
Regardless, I found a stellar mom-and-pop shop called Performance Cycle in Colorado, owned by Don and Bernie Waddill. Started in 1984, Don was a drag racer and he and his friends needed a spot to work on their bikes. So, what initially began as a service stop for his immediate circle evolved into what it is today—a family-run 26,000-square-foot warehouse stocked with riding gear and accessories. Their son, Lance is the manager, and along with the other employees, are all super knowledgeable and personable.