Motorcycling Across America with Gary McKechnie and Jamie Jensen: Part Two

Gary astride his bike with a classic Route 66 Motel sign behind him.

Great American Motorcycle Tours author Gary McKechnie on famed Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona. Photo © Nancy Howell.

Summer is here, and it’s the time of year to hit the road. Our Road Trip USA author Jamie Jensen took the time to interview Gary McKechnie, the author of the best-selling guidebook Great American Motorcycle Tours. Bored with his 9-to-5 job, McKechnie sold his house and set out to write America’s first nationwide motorcycle touring guidebook, embarking on an 18-month journey across the United States. He shares tips for beginner riders, as well as other advice on touring the country.

Jamie Jensen: Is renting a bike to tour around the country an option?

Gary McKechnie: Absolutely, and for part-time riders as well as people who want to explore the other side of the country, it’s probably the smartest option. There are many motorcycle rental agencies across the nation, but the two largest are Harley-Davidson, which rents only H-D models, and Eaglerider which rents a variety of models including Harley, Kawasakai, Suzuki, BMW, Honda, Triumph, Victory, Yamaha—and even the three-wheel Can-Am Spyders.

Rentals usually include a helmet and locks, and you should expect to pay about $100 to $125 per day.

JJ: Besides needing a motorcycle license, how much riding experience does someone need for a bike rental?

GM: Even if you show the dealer the motorcycle endorsement on your license, don’t be surprised if they ask you to demonstrate your skills with a short ride around the parking lot. When you’re ready to ride, though, be sure not to ride beyond your abilities. In other words, don’t try to tackle the switchback roads across the Rocky Mountains if you’ve only ridden in flatland Kansas.

JJ: Most riders seem to do day trips, for fun on a weekend. What are some of the challenges of taking longer tours?

GM: Incredibly, the biggest challenge is just deciding to go. Most of us are so wrapped up in a daily routine that we forget that we need time to explore and refresh our souls. Once you’ve made that decision, then the biggest challenges are deciding where to go and what to pack. Unless you haul a trailer, a motorcycle doesn’t afford room for suitcases or all of the things you’d stow in a car. You’ve got to pare it down to the essentials that’ll work for you in the desert or mountains or prairies and will also be appropriate when you go out at night.

JJ: Are there companies that organize tours for beginning riders? Like along Route 66?

GM: Eaglerider, mentioned above, organizes tours, as does Europe-based Edelweiss. One factor to note is that American riders are fairly comfortable with the geography, so US-based tours are more appealing to travelers from Europe and Asia.

Since these are full-service tours, the cost may be a bit much for American riders, but you may find lower-cost tours provided by passionate riders who’ve figured out a way to match their love of riding with a chance to generate income by leading tours. Just do a search for “motorcycle touring companies.”

JJ: I’ve seen people riding these three-wheel, open air Spyder roadsters, which seem to give the feel of a motorcycle but are easier to ride—and you can rent them with a standard car driver’s license. Do have experience with or impressions of them?

GM: No, I’ve see the Can-Am three-wheelers, but I haven’t ridden one yet. I think, though, whatever gets you on the road is right. Also, it’s worth noting that a growing number of older riders who’ve ridden motorcycles for years are having their bikes modified into trikes—two wheels in the back and one in the front—which naturally gives them a great degree of stability while preserving the same experience of riding in the open.

JJ: Do you find that more women are owning/renting/riding their own bikes?

GM: According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, the number of women riders shows a sharp and steady increase each and every year. In addition to the overall appeal of motorcycling, one factor that helps women get involved in riding is the availability of smaller street/touring bikes that are a great introduction to riding. One of the most popular “introductory bikes” for lady riders is the Honda Shadow, usually a 750cc bike that has nice ergonomics, has a low seat and low center of gravity, and is pretty nimble—while still having enough muscle for longer rides.

JJ: If someone’s never ridden, how can they learn so they can ride safely and begin to explore America?

GM: Before you can receive your motorcycle endorsement on your license, you need to pass a motorcycle safety course. That’s handled by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation which offers safe riding courses across the United States. The cost is minimal, and they provide small motorcycles to help you learn how to shift, brake, turn, and lean. They also provide a general understanding of how to handle a motorcycle. Do it.

Read Part One →

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