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Coast to Coast on Adventure Bikes

Updated: Mar 23, 2022

A great Craig's List find made for an epic 15 day adventure...

A United States cross-country ride is the type of trip that is on every motorcyclist’s bucket list. The freedom of just you and your bike taking any road you choose is the stuff dreams are made of. In reality, it is a very logistically difficult ride to pull off. Maybe the most overwhelming part of this dream is once you figure out how to get “there” you realize its 3,000 more miles to get back home.

For as intentional as I am about creating new riding experiences, maybe this is the reason I’ve not put any real effort into making this particular trip happen. If this ride was to be for me, I was content to just wait and let the opportunity present itself.

Then along comes the opportunity. My good friend and neighbor, John was doing some contract work for several months in California. This assignment required him to live in San Francisco and he would fly back home to Virginia every other weekend. While living in San Francisco he did what any adventuresome soul would do and bought a Ducati Multistrada Enduro to “commute” and explore Northern CA. With his contract end date about a month away we were chatting about options for shipping his things, along with the Ducati back to Northern Virginia. In that moment it occurred to me, this was a one-way trip. The greatest cross-country ride challenge, the return, was already solved. Not only that but, this was a Ducati that needed to be delivered to the end of my driveway! This was beyond opportunity knocking, it was something that needed to happen. The idea seemed like a win/win. I get an epic adventure ride and John gets his bike back home. So, I offered to ride it back for him.

With some surprise, but very little hesitation, John was up for the idea and I immediately got to work mapping my route. A few days after our plan was hatched my excitement for the ride must have begun rubbing off on him and John decided he wanted to ride too. Fantastic! There’s just one problem. Now we have two guys and only one bike.

At this point, not going was not an option. This was simply something we would have to overcome.

For a few seconds I considered shipping one of my bikes to California but quickly dismissed that thought. With John on a Multistrada this really needed to be an Adventure style ride, and my bikes being either sport or dual sport bikes were not equipped for this long of an ride.

Plan B was to rent a bike. With our need for the bike being only a few weeks away the already limited motorcycle rental options were even more scarce. We could not find any Adventure style bikes for rent. The only two-wheeled option was a Harley Davidson Street Glide. Nothing against the Harley but part of my initial excitement was the idea of doing this ride on an Adventure bike. Exploring some back roads and taking us off the asphalt. Feeling out of options, I pressed forward with getting a quote for the cost of renting the Harley.

The next hurdle just emerged. A fifteen-day rental, with a one-way surcharge, taxes and insurance was going to cost nearly $4,000. That may not be unreasonable for what we were requesting but it is a lot of money, and it was starting to feel like we had found another reason why most people do not pursue this ride. Even with John’s offer to share the cost and take turns on the two bikes, the idea just was not sitting well with me. This was going to be a serious adventure and I wanted to feel excited rather than just being able to say I found a way to make it happen.

Bring on Plan C. I decided that if at the end of this ride we will have spent $4,000 on a motorcycle and have nothing to show for it but the experience, then I bet that I could buy the bike I want, not be limited in my travel time, resell the bike at the end, and still net a cost less than $4,000. Suddenly it didn’t feel like a compromise, it felt like a game and one that I could win!

I began scouring the internet for used Adventure bikes in Northern California. Local dealers did not have anything that excited me so, I moved on to private sellers. I found a few Ducati Multistradas, but they all had more miles than I wanted and I felt they may require maintenance to get across the country. I broadened my search to include the BMW GS. The issue with these bikes is that even used with 20,000 miles they still cost close to what they sold for new. Undeterred, I dove into the somewhat scary world of CraigsList and there it was. A 2015 Triumph Tiger 1200 Explorer. Lots of high-resolution photos and a lengthy description of the bike. One owner, excellent condition, just serviced, only 1,300 miles and equipped with panniers and a top box for $11,500. Perfect!

I immediately called the owner with my list of questions to determine if the ad was legitimate and if the bike world work for our trip. In talking with him I quickly learned he was a business man who did work around the bay area. He was selling the bike because he had three young kids and was just not finding enough time to ride. He seemed reputable and his reason for selling was reasonable so I got comfortable that the bike really was just as he had described in his ad.

Now how to arrange for delivery? He lived in Sacramento and John’s office was 90 miles away in San Francisco. Do I fly to Sacramento? Do I Uber from San Francisco? I told the owner of our cross country intentions and being a bike-guy, he couldn’t help but get excited for what we were about to do. Picking up on his excitement and that he had clients in San Francisco, I saw an opportunity. I suggested that he arrange for a client meeting to give him a reason to come into the city, and that I would happily agree to pay his asking price if he would trailer the Triumph along to the meeting so I could take delivery in San Francisco. Seeing this as a win/win he agreed to deliver my new bike to the front door of John's office!

With the wheels of our new plan in motion I needed to prepare to sell the bike that I did not yet own. Since, his ad did such a great job of selling me I figured how could it not appeal to the next owner. I copied all of the photos and text from the CraigsList post in Sacramento and pasted them into a CraigsList post I created in Northern, Virginia. With one small edit, adding 5,000 miles to the odometer to account for our trip, the ad was ready to go.

I excitedly called John to share the news that our cross-country excursion was going to happen and it would be a true Adventure ride! Now to execute on the plan.

I flew into San Francisco and caught an Uber to the Mission Bay area where John worked. Anxiously watching my phone for a text message confirming the exact arrival time of my bike. Word was spreading through John’s office about what we were preparing to do, and the curiosity of whether this really would work was building. Then the text I was waiting for came through. The bike would be arriving in just a few minutes. We waited outside at a bus stop and as the bus pulled away in came a Ford Raptor towing my new cross-country ride.

While untying the Triumph from the trailer we gave the bike a quick visual inspection and started it up to confirm everything was functioning properly. Everyone around us was now part of our experience and could see how thrilled I was the Triumph was just as he described in the ad. I paid him and promised to send pictures from our excursion. I unpacked my gear and loaded my remaining items into the panniers and rode away from the bus stop. This whole process took less than fifteen minutes and just like that, we were now committed to this bike to carry us across the country. It was a crazy and exciting feeling.

The first stop was just a few blocks away at the Ducati dealer where John’s bike was being serviced and he had arranged for us to have helmet communicators installed. The staff at the shop knew what were about to do and their enthusiasm was just adding to our anticipation. After a quick tutorial on the use of our headsets we waved goodbye and excitedly headed out onto the steep streets of San Francisco.

Now our trip had become a reality. John and I were riding together, and all of the logistics of preparing were behind us. All we had were our bikes and the next 14 days to get across the country, taking whatever path we would choose.

I had loosely planned a route that I felt could be completed in 10 days, but we allowed 14 days hoping for good weather and the opportunities for added exploring. Luck was on our side and we had near perfect weather conditions. Taking full advantage of this we changed our course daily spending additional time exploring Utah and Colorado. Even re-routing our mid-west route north to ferry across Lake Michigan and ride to Traverse City.

This ride was truly an adventure and provided material for stories that we retold at every coffee shop along our route. From our start of crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, to exploring wine country of Napa Valley, experiencing the twisty roads on our way to South Lake Tahoe.

Crossing “The loneliest road in America”, and seeing the only three tourists sites (Sand Mountain, Petroglyphs, and Hamburgers in Middlegate.)

Getting stuck in the sand in the Nevada desert, joining a family reunion with folks we had just met in Ely, NV.

Baking in the 118 degree heat entering Zion National Park.

The stunning views from Bryce Canyon, carving through the most amazing road I’ve experienced (Rt 12 to Capitol Reef National Park), meeting The Mayor of Hanksville, UT, extending our ride south on Rt 95 across the Colorado River to Natural Bridges National Park (one of the least visited National Parks), dodging Elk in the dark on our way to Telluride.

Crossing Berthoud Pass following a vintage Harley with suicide shift, enjoying a cold beer and open air dining at The Boat House in Salida, CO, summiting Pikes Peak and Rocky Mountain National Park the same day, losing my iPhone at 75 mph along an Iowa highway and finding it still working, hiding under an overpass to wait out a storm in Illinois.

Catching the 5:00am ferry across Lake Michigan, hanging with good friends at Torch Lake, MI, visiting my parents in Indiana, PA, enjoying familiar roads back to Virginia, and finishing with a beer at a favorite destination Dirt Farm Brewery.

In the end we had ridden nearly 4,400 epic miles over 14 days and other than being a little sore, we accomplished this ride without incident. Even my Craig’s List ad worked just as I had hoped. Three weeks after I took delivery of my Triumph, its new owner happily rode it out of my driveway. The unconventional approach of buying and quickly reselling the bike worked for us and just added another story to an already amazing adventure. Ultimately my net cost for the bike was only $500 but the stories and the adventure are priceless.

See below for more details on what it took to make this ride a reality.

· The Bikes – We rode a 2015 Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200 and a 2017 Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro equipped with panniers and top boxes. Both were great choices for this ride. The Ducati is a more exciting bike to ride. The ergonomics and power delivery are very Italian (more look and feel than comfort focused) and it’s better suited for a taller rider due to the seat height. The Triumph was plenty powerful and smoother to ride due a three cylinder engine that feels more like an in-line four and final power delivered via shaft drive vs the Ducati’s chain. Both bikes performed flawlessly only requiring stops for fuel. For this ride the nod goes to the Triumph because of its comfort. This was an endurance ride and the ability to move around in the saddle made this bike better suited for our ride.

· The Gear- We broke out some of our favorites for this ride and at the top of that list are my UglyBros riding pants. Great comfort, a tapered fit, cargo pockets and knee armor that slides in from the outside these pants are a great choice. I would normally opt for an Adventure style helmet on a bike like this but due to the sustained high speeds of the mid-west the visor just catches too much wind. I rode with my Shoe GT Air. It had great ventilation and the internal visor is fabulous when you are transitioning from day to evening riding. Gaerne Adventure Boots are an excellent choice because they provide protection and comfort while riding and do not feel like a ski boot when you need to walk in them. Alpine Stars SP-2 leather gloves for cool mornings and a pair of vented FIVE Stunt gloves. Revit vented jacket with a rain shell, just in case.

· Skill Level – This was not a technical ride and the vast majority was paved with occasional detours onto the dirt and sand. However, it is long approximately 4,400 miles total with a few 500 mile days. Fitness is probably more important on this ride the riding skill. I would rate this as a 6 on a scale of 10.

· Travel logistics – We opted to only book our first hotel in advance. After that we settled into our pace and would book hotels in the early afternoon each day when we could estimate our stopping point. This lack of planning may not work for everyone but for us it took the stress away from knowing we had to make it to a certain check point and afforded us the option to call an audible during our route and check out something new. I had the Hilton Honors ap on my phone a that worked in most towns where we stopped.

· Greatest challenge – Finding a bike that didn’t cost a fortune and that afforded us some flexibility in our schedule.

· What could go wrong – A lot. But it didn’t. No mechanical issues. No accidents. Only one rain event and we sat under a bridge for 45 minutes then were back on our way. And no Craigslist scam!

· Cost (per Person) – Airfare from Washington DC to San Francisco $535. Approximately $2,000 for hotels. Plus fuel and meals. After buying the Triumph for $11,500 and selling it for $11,000 my net cost for the bike was only $500.

· Time Required - Our trip took place in late June through early July. It was 15 days total including my travel day out to California.

· How physically demanding is this ride – Due to the distance approximately 4,400 miles, this ride is an endurance test both physically and mentally. I would rate this ride as a 7 on a scale of 10 for the importance of physical fitness in completing this ride.

Who will go with me – This was easy since John needed to find a way to get his bike home anyway this trip came with a willing riding partner. Many thanks to by buddy John for making this adventure a reality!

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