The Doctor's Notes by Dr. Gregory W. Frazier

Text: Dr. Gregory W. Frazier • Photography: Dr. Gregory W. Frazier

Which motorcycle is best for a planned adventure? That is one of the most difficult, and possibly most expensive, questions an adventurer must answer when planning an expedition. Early on in my travels, I often made the mistake of pursuing adventures that exceeded the design of the motorcycle used because I did not know the extent of its limited use nor even my own limitations then.

When I planned my first trip around the White Rim Trail in Utah 40 years ago, my choice of motorcycle was limited to what I had available for the combination of roads. I knew I had to ride to Moab, over 600 miles of paved roads, and then back home. The map showed the White Rim Trail as a gravel road, clearly unimproved, and about 90 miles in length. So the trade-off was to take a motorcycle well suited for 1,200 miles of pavement, then trust my skills to get it over those unpaved miles of trail. In this case my decision was simplified by the fact I only owned, and could afford, one motorcycle. That was my daily runner, a black BMW R75/5.

Looking back on that week, I laugh at my foolhardiness. I should have driven to Moab, taken a good road out to an overlook and simply peered down at the White Rim Trail without trying to pilot the BMW road machine over the 90 miles of Hades on earth.

Getting to Moab took two easy days. Driving, pushing, pulling and waiting for help to get the BMW around the White Rim Trail took a full day - a long, hard day of hot sand, loose stones and ugly rock steps. I remember being splayed on the ground after crashing a dozen times, once so violently it knocked the wind out of me and left me gulping for air like a guppy out of water.

Had it not been for two men in a pickup carrying some extra water I could well have died from dehydration since I had foolishly neglected to bring any of my own. They met up with me at mile 65 or 70 and told me I should turn around and go back, rather than attempting the remaining miles. But judging from what I'd been through I concluded that whatever was in front of me couldn't be any worse; and after giving me a gallon of water to re-hydrate, they helped me push the motorcycle over the next hard section. They laughed when driving off and said they'd return in two days to see if I was still out there in the 110-degree sun and hadn't cooked yet. I told them I hoped to see them that night in town to repay their kindness.

By the time I got to Moab that evening it was close to midnight and I had no energy left to buy my saviors a beer. Instead, completely exhausted, I fell asleep in my clothes, on top of my sleeping bag, at the campground immediately after arriving. It had been one of the hardest motorcycling days I had ever experienced. The motorcycle held up under extreme conditions but the adventure was only completed with life and limb intact because the greenhorn I was didn't know any better. It very easily could have turned out differently.

Another time I took the same BMW R75/5 for a ride to Alaska. The map showed an unpaved, inland road from Hazelton, British Columbia to the Alaska Highway. The inducement to take this road, the Cassier Highway, was that it's only about 400 miles in length and cuts off nearly 1,500 miles of travel farther east and up to Dawson Creek, all on pavement. However, those 400 miles took nearly five days, one of which I spent sharing a cabin with a couple of bicyclists who agreed that the mud ruts and rain made travel impossible. Again, my option of what to take was limited to my ownership of only the one motorcycle, the BMW R75/5.

Recalling my decision to ride the Cassier Highway on the BMW is amusing now, although I did little laughing then. Most of my breath was spent on the torrent of profanities I unleashed while struggling through the foot-deep mud ruts made by logging trucks. Sometimes I could paddle only 10 to 20 feet between stops because muscling the BMW through that muck was so fatiguing. I fell so often I looked like the Mud Monster from the Swamps. Twice I waddled straight into streams and immersed myself to rinse the mud off my riding clothes, an English-made outfit of waxed-cotton jacket and pants. It was an ugly five days but once I conquered them I felt I'd had a real adventure.

Today I have much harder decisions to make. Instead of just the one motorcycle, I have several of mine to choose. Some are "off-pavement adventure specific," like the highly modified HPN/ BMW or my Honda 250 XR. Either one could get me up the Cassier Highway in a day, or around the White Rim Trail easily in half a day. Getting to those places would be less comfortable, but once the pavement ran out the next leg would be far less arduous than flogging that 1970 R75/5 was.

I am now planning an expedition that will take me within a place that is inaccessible because there are no roads, only animal, trapper and snow machine trails. After examining several maps and doing considerable research, I have picked the Kawasaki KLX 250 S to do the work. To get to that choice though, I had to plow through everything from a 1200cc BMW to a wide range of motorcycles in the 650cc range, then look at smaller models, all the time keeping a close eye on my wallet. All told, I have spent more hours deciding which motorcycle is best for this upcoming adventure than I have on budgeting, logistics and actual planning together.

While pondering how much and which model, I actually longed for the 1970s when I was going through the same, but simpler, expedition planning. Back then, learning about which motorcycle was best wouldn't have mattered or factored into the adventure equation: the old BMW R75/5 was the only option I had. And, for me, fit for the trip in mind or not, it was the "best" because it whetted my appetite for all the adventures yet to come.