Riders! You really should read Frazier’s Book

I’ve just finished Dr. Gregory W. Frazier’s latest book, Adventure Motorcyclist: Frazier Shrugged. (Order from Sound Rider.) The book is a collection of Frazier’s columns, many from the pages of CityBike Magazine, where Frazier was a long-term contributor, before the publication folded its tent in 2019. Although it’s likely they appeared in many others as well. Frazier is a prolific writer and regular contributor to a variety of domestic and international motorcycle magazines. Like me he’s written for BACKROADS, Motorcycle Consumer News and RoadRUNNER, but adds Motorcycle-USA.com, American Motorcyclist and Road Bike here in the States to his domestic list. His work also appears in motorcycle-oriented publications in Germany, New Zealand, Great Britian, Russia and Japan. We share reputations for solid product evaluations and compelling stories of our motorcycle journeys. We’ve both raced motorcycles, although few records exist of my middle-of-the-pack finishes, Frazier has won races on BMW and Indian Motorcycles and competed successfully on Hondas and Yamahas as well.

That is where the similarities end. When it comes to riding, Frazier is on the other end of the scale. He’s the only guy I know who has circumnavigated the globe by motorcycle six times. He’s been shot at, jailed, bitten by snakes and run over by Pamplona bulls. He’s broken down or had flat tires in more countries than I’ve ridden in. His over 1,000,000 miles on a motorcycle have taken him to Alaska, Ushuaia, Argentina, North Cape, Norway, Cape Agulhas, South Africa and New Zealand, among many, many others.

Thorough the riding stories in Frazier Shrugged, he expresses thinly veiled disgust with the erosion and broadening of the word “adventure.” I understand. He’s built a life around a series of genuine motorcycling adventures. He’s personally navigated the globe on a variety of motorcycles half a dozen times, most often alone. Having the term “adventure” applied to low-risk guided motorcycle tours lead by a GPS equipped tour professional, followed by a cradle of riders with a sweep van filled with tools and luggage going from one 5-star hotel to another, manages to get his ire up.  When the term adventure is further extended to a host of motorcycles and accessories, it infuriates him even more. I get it. The dictionary definition of Adventure includes terms like risk, hazards, exciting action and uncertain outcomes. However, tolerance for risk and ambiguity varies from person to person.

Frazier’s perspective on his fellow riders reminded me of an incident a few years back in Camden, Maine. Overhearing a conversation between two obvious Maine residents, I could barely hold back a chuckle. The first one asked the other, “Where ya from?” and to the reply of “Portland,” he huffed back, “Portland! You might as well live in Massachusetts!” Now, to fully appreciate that, you’d need to add a deep Maine accent  — “North Haven” becoming “Nahwth Haven” and “summertime” heard as “summahtime.” Running into the Portland resident later I asked if she’d been offended. She said, “Oh no. That’s pretty common. Anyone living in Maine who lives further south from where you personally reside is considered fair game to the criticism that where you live might as well be ‘a suburb of Massachusetts.’ In their estimation, genuine and true Maine residents only live right where they do – or further north and east.”

This same judgement is often expressed in automobile drivers: a growing frustration and mutterings of “what’s wrong with this idiot,” when following someone going slower than they wish to proceed. Of course, a few minutes later, commenting “Look at that crazy idiot,” when someone speeds by much faster than they are moving. In other words: “If you’re going slower than me, you’re an idiot and if you go faster than me, you’re an idiot.”

It’s difficult for me to criticize Frazier. We’ve shared editorial homes over the years and met a few times. I like him. When it comes to global riding, with minimal resources and support, he’s absolutely the genuine article with his million plus miles to nearly every country in the world prove that. My riding “adventures” are far lower on the risk and ambiguity scale than Frazier’s – although higher than many of those with whom I typically ride. I’ve ridden in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada (does that count?), Croatia, Chile, Greece, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, South America and Turkey and some more than once. My rides have been a mixture of solo efforts and guided tours and I’ve loved both. Readers of this newsletter can find copies of some of my stores about these trips here.

Frazier’s animosity for those lower than him on the scale of risk, danger and ambiguity is not a feeling I share. To me the point is this – no matter where you are on this competency/experience scale, there is someone higher, who could, if they wished, make snide and derisive comments about your experiences and accomplishments: “What, you slept in a flea-bag motel with a real roof which was mostly water tight? You wimp! We camped 100% of the time, even in the snow!” Or, “What, you had a 650 cc bike? We did all our trips on nothing bigger than 250 cc’s. How can you possibly consider any experience on a 650 cc bike an ‘Adventure? What kind of fraud are you?’”

Frazier isn’t a tourist, he’s a traveler. Like my cousin, John Gravley, who spent several years of his life traveling the globe, Frazier’s travels are not a holiday. He takes whatever time is needed to get from A to B, and once there, decides what point C will be and when he’ll head in that direction. He’s not there to see the sights, at least not the ones in a guidebook. He eats what locals eat, although happy to see a McDonald’s. Frazier makes an effort to learn at least some of the language of whatever country he’s passing through and, over the years, has been able to communicate capably in many of them. This is a very different approach than a typical ten-day riding vacation where you are essentially a tourist. But what he perhaps does best is capture the feelings of those experiences and pass them on to readers. As an editor of mine once told me, “Your job is to never say, ‘Well, I guess you had to be there.’  Your job is to take them there.” In this, Frazier succeeds, albeit with a shorthand sometimes only other travelers and adventure riders will hear.  But as my Australian friends say, “Good on ya!”

While I don’t agree with his penchant for dissing the foibles, lack of planning and unrealistic expectations of other motorcyclists, I must admit some of his stories are pretty funny. Readers who enjoyed his columns will remember why they liked them. If you have ever thought about hopping on the back of a motorcycle and taking a really, really long multi-month ride, you owe it to yourself to read not just this book, but some of his other books as well. You can find several on Amazon.com, although I prefer to order them from Sound Rider, feeling he likely gets a bigger cut and these online retailers need all the support they can get.  My favorite Frazier books are:

  • Down and Out in Patagonia, Kamchatka, and Timbuktu (also available from Sound Rider)
  • Motorcycle Adventurer: Carl Stearns Clancy – First Motorcyclist to Ride Around the World 1912-1913
  • Motorcycle Touring: Everything You Need to Know
  • On the Road: Successful Motorcycle Touring

His other books include: Alaska by Motorcycle, Europe by Motorcycle, New Zealand by Motorcycle, Riding South: Mexico, Central America and South America by Motorcycle, Motorcycle Sex: Freud Would Never Understand the Relationship Between Me and my Motorcycle, Motorcycle Poems by the Biker Poet, Motorcycle Cemetery, Indian Motorcycles International Directory, BMW GSing Around the World, Riding the World, Motorcycle Touring: Everything You Need to Know, On the Road: Successful Motorcycle Touring.

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2 Responses to Riders! You really should read Frazier’s Book

  1. Barney Watson says:

    As always, good review. Those kinds of riders/adventures make the rest of us dream. In the old days you had to have Balls of Steel. A friend of my brother (Butch Swanson) toured all over the world by himself. While in Spain he walked right into the Bultaco factory and had a tour by Mr. Bulto himself. Another friend Bill White, toured all over the North America while at U of Nebraska getting his engineering degree. I own his 1966 T100SRS that he used!! When Roger and his cousin Gary, and I toured Europe in the summer of 1962, we considered buying 3 BMW 250cc singles. But for $1600 we bought a new VW equip w/luggage rack, delivered in Rotterdam, much more convenient!! We shipped it back on the same boat we went home on, drove it from Montreal to Omaha and sold it for what we paid for it! Yes, we took a tour of the Triumph factory, and went to Road races at the Snetterton Track. Pouring rain, and those crazy limys racing!!! What fun. Be careful.

    Barney

    BTW: there are reports that constant wearing of masks, can cause legionnaires types of disease. Can’t win for loosing………Barney

  2. John Gravley says:

    Hey, I got a shout-out.

    A great article, as usual. I understand his tendency to look down his nose at people whose idea of adventure is riding from 5-star hotel to 5-star hotel but, like you, I really make the effort to accept other people’s stories and respect what they’re doing. I once failed miserably at this. I was talking to another traveler in Bangkok back in the 80s and he looked the part of a hardened traveler. Our conversation drifted to India (as many of my conversations do) and he said he’d just spent 8 months in India. My interest soared and, thinking I was about to hear stories of riding on the tops of buses and trains, staying in flea-bitten hotels and rubbing shoulders (quite literally) with the locals, I asked, “Where all did you go?” He responded, “Oh, I was only in Goa.” I did my very best to hide my disappointment and disdain but I’m sure some of it shone through. Goa is a former Portuguese colony which is known primarily as a beach hangout and a place to do copious amounts of drugs. Nowadays, it’s become even more touristy but even back in the 80s, it didn’t qualify in my mind as the “real” India. Our conversation ended shortly thereafter.

    My favorite motorcycling-around-the-world book is “Jupiter’s Travels” by Ted Simon, published in 1979.

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