Every ride can be an adventure in its own right, but with satellite phones, GPS, and motorcycles now as reliable as Kalashnikovs, round-the-world adventure is not as daunting as it once was. These days, such trips seem doable. It wasn’t so long ago that you had to be a very rare and special type of person to accomplish feats of long-distance travel on a motorcycle. The world was less accessible, and machines were finicky by today’s standards. All of which made the journeys particularly worthy of record, unlike the fodder in your Instagram feed.
Robert Edison Fulton Jr., Elspeth Beard, and Ted Simon are the OGs of motorcycle adventure travel, and their tales are must reads for motorcycle and travel enthusiasts. Theirs were no small feats, no endeavors requiring little sacrifice; as trailblazers, they were a bit mad. Or as Fulton’s English friends would say back in 1931: “balmy.”
In 1932, a newly minted graduate of Harvard University and the University of Vienna, Robert Edison Fulton Jr., aged 23, blithely announced at a dinner party that he would soon be embarking on a round-the-world trip on a motorcycle. And just like that, he found himself riding a Douglas twin, donning a pith helmet for protection, and on his way from London to Tokyo. One Man Caravan is the charming narrative detailing his 18-month journey, peppered with harrowing moments—like being shot at by Pashtun tribesmen, and spending a night in a Turkish prison—with "By Jove!" the nearest thing to pass as an expletive. The book is a pleasure to read inasmuch as the man is remarkable for his fortitude and unflappable demeanor.
In 1982, Elspeth Beard, a 23-year-old architecture student from London, hopped on her '74 BMW R60/6 and rode 35,000 solo miles to become the first English woman to ride around the world. With homemade aluminum panniers and an intrepid spirit only few possess, Beard carved out a place in the pantheon of motorcycle travel pioneers, and her story is one of the most inspiring. It's all the more impressive that Beard flew under the radar for so many years. She went on to become a notable architect, only setting pen to paper a few years ago to write Lone Rider, first published in 2017. She still regularly rides her R60/6.
Ted Simon's account of a four-year journey around the world remains a classic tale of adventure, filled with longing, frustration, and triumph—of more than one kind. Simon's Triumph Tiger 100 is as famous for making the journey as he is. His account is exceptional for its transparency. He never puts on airs or pretends to be some emotionless yeoman of adventure. When he's tired, he tells us. When he cries, he cries to us. The reader acutely feels his joy and despair thanks to his candid portrayal of one of the most famous motorcycle journeys of all.