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ADV PreppingADV Spotlight on Adventure Motorcycling Pioneer — Ted Simon

ADV Spotlight on Adventure Motorcycling Pioneer — Ted Simon

 A talk with Ted Simon, whose books inspired a generation to ride the world.

Published on 01.05.2016

Ted Simon Author of Jupiter's Travels

In 1973, Ted Simon set of on a four-year 64,000 mile journey around the world on his trusty Triumph motorcycle. The accounts of his trip were detailed in the books “Jupiter’s Travels” and “Riding High.” Simon retraced the steps of his journey three decades later, which he documented in the book “Dreaming of Jupiter.”

Countless Adventure Riders have lived vicariously through Ted Simon’s motorcycle travel books and he is often considered the “father of adventure motorcycling.” Jupiter’s Travels was even a inspiration for actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman in their “Long Way Round” documentary.


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We had an opportunity to sit down with Ted Simon for an interview and he was kind enough to thoroughly answer our questions. Below is the result of that interview. We’d like to thank Ted for his time, and his contribution to this form of travel.

THE ORIGINS OF JUPITER’S TRAVELS

What inspired you to travel the way you did, especially at a time when it was not as common as it is today?

Ted Simon: Well, we have to start out by trying to evoke an understanding of what the world was like in 1973, and to realize that in those days people knew far less about the world than they do now. Information was really limited to television and radio. And even those media were not particularly interested in exploring the ‘underside’ of the world, if you like. They, for the most part were doing nature programs, holiday programs, showing you nice spots, and so on.

I come from a very political background. My mother was very political, and those days during the war and after the war were full of all kinds of extraordinary things going on in the world, mostly to do with war and the consequences of war. So I was probably more aware than most that there were a lot of places in the world that looked as though they would be very interesting to go to, but at the same time I had very little information about them.

I was a journalist and a fairly high-ranking executive at a national newspaper, yet I was surprisingly ignorant about all kinds of places. And then my life went into a big switch when I decided to leave newspapers, spend my time in a ruin in the south of France, and just experience that kind of life. That actually had a great deal to do with me going on this trip. It made me realize that there was a physical life that was very attractive to me, even though I wasn’t especially suited to it. I wasn’t as strong as I would like to have been. But I found I could do all these things, like stone masonry and such. And it really improved the way I thought.

This is very relevant to what we are talking about. Because what I discovered was that when I spent part of my life connected to material things my thoughts and feelings as a writer became very different. I began to feel that I had been much too involved in abstruse, theoretical stuff, and I found it was important to get down to the basics of life.

I was trying to write a book while I was down in my ‘castle’, which was really a ruin, I bought it for a thousand dollars, and I saw a television program. It was a BBC program about some islands in the South Pacific. [The program] was about how poor and miserable these people were in their lives. But the pictures were of beautiful looking men and women, almost naked, on the beach, hauling in fishing nets. And they were surrounded by trees that provided fruit, and so forth. I thought, ‘This is ridiculous! There’s something wrong with this picture. They don’t look at all like miserable people.’ So for some reason that particular incident is what actually got me thinking that I really had to go out and see for myself what is happening to all these ‘poor’ people we kept talking about.

In 1973, England, along with the rest of Western Europe had come out of a lot of post-war gloom, and we were suddenly and amazingly affluent. And people were starting to realize that there were people around the world that were very poor and very miserable. So people were getting very excited about this. Oxfam International started, and other NGO’s started around this time. And missionaries were buckling on their Bibles. And I wanted to see what was really going on in the world, particularly in what we then started to call the ‘Third World’.

Ted Simon Motorcycle Travel
Ted’s Journey was inspired by a desire to see for himself what was really going on in the world, especially in ‘Third World’ regions.

Where you riding motorcycles at this time?

Ted Simon: I’d never been on a bike, nor had I ever had anything to do with motorcycles. But I realized that if I were going to do this trip, it would have to be done in a way that would excite some interest, because I would have to write a book about it. And the book would be part of my scheme to pay for the journey.

So I thought about all the different ways in which one could travel. The motorcycle struck me as being a really brilliant notion. I didn’t think anybody had ever done this. And millions of idiots were riding motorcycles, so I thought, ‘why shouldn’t I?’ That really all happened in minutes. I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m ready for this! This will be great!’ I had no sense at all about the time it would take or the cost of [the trip]. I thought, ‘Well these are problems we can deal as I go along.’ So for the next six months I was really devoted to making this thing happen.

So my interest specifically came out of wanting to find out about the world. Not to go on a thrilling ride. I had no sense of what that would mean. And the bike, at first, was really a gimmick. I had to borrow bikes, and pretend that I had a license. I went through a lot of comical episodes along those lines, borrowing friends’ bikes that didn’t work and trying to make them work. I had a lot of rough ground in the south of France where I could ride these bikes. And, in fact I had my worst accident of the journey before the journey even started. I tipped this Triumph Daytona over on a gravel path and the doctor spent about an hour pulling bits of gravel out of my skin. [He] told me that if this were an indicator of how this journey was going to go, I would never finish it. But as I got closer to actually getting on the bike I became more and more excited and eager about what I was doing, specifically because of the bike.

So, anyway, I went into preparing for this thing. And of course, like all of us I started inventing all types of terrible situations I might find myself in, and figuring out how I might fix them. But the thrill of it was just incredible! And the sense of embarking on something that I was sure could be lethal made me really believe that what I was about to do was going to be very dangerous.

What preparation did you go through before you departed?

Ted Simon: There was so much to do in terms of preparation that I didn’t get much time to find out much about the countries I was going to visit. It was like going into the unknown. The hardest part was getting the visas for the first part of the trip, which was Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. It took a long time to do that, and I had to have two passports to be able to do it. And when the journey started, to my astonishment, and everybody else’s I suppose, the Egyptians launched a tank war against Israel in 1973. Because of my visas, I had no choice but to go straight into this war zone! The charge that I got from this sense of being involved in some cosmic trip was an amazing and thrilling thing. At the same time it was also a very scary thing that I was doing.

Ted Simon traveling through a war zone.

 
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Author: Jim Vota
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7 thoughts on “ADV Spotlight on Adventure Motorcycling Pioneer — Ted Simon

  1. Well done Mr. Vota! I have been a fan of Teds for decades, having read his books multiple times and seeing him speak in Salt Lake City. I have been somewhat distressed that Ewan & Charlie (who are no doubt cool, accomplished guys) are often lauded as the consummate world travelers when solo, unsupported pioneers like Ted and Helge don’t even get a mention. Thanks for giving him his due. And if you haven’t read “One Man Caravan” by Fulton documenting his solo round the world trek on a 8 hp Douglas in I believe 1927, I highly recommend it.

    • Thanks so much, Rick! I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to know Ted! He truly embodies the spirit of travel and cultural understanding.

  2. A man before his time. We often weave our own web of complications. Its refreshing to see what can be accomplished with the basic necessities and leave behind the marvels of modern technology. A true revelation that life is 95% attitude and 5% inspiration.

    • Well said, Trevor! Mr. Simon has definitely made the most of life. I heard him say once that he has worked for as long as he can remember, but that he hasn’t ever really had what he would call a job. I hope I can say that when I am his age. Thanks so much for your comment!!

  3. Wonderfull interview with the man that made me start riding motorcycles 40 years ago.He has allways inspired me with his books.I have read them over and over again .They are a must for every motorcyclist.Thank you Ted.
    Hans Smolenaars (the Nethelands)

    • And thank you, Hans, for your input here! Mr. Simon has affected so many people. And that is a wonderful accomplishment on its own.

  4. What a wonderful interview. Thank you. As a fairly new rider, and a recent discoverer of ‘adventure’ riding, I hadn’t heard of Ted Simon. Now I’m anxious to read his books.

    In 1974, at the age of 17, I took off hitchhiking with a buddy, intending to see a bit of the West. I had $100 bucks and a backpack and after a month of traveling, and going up to Canada and to the coast and back to my home in Utah, I neither ran out of money nor of goodwill from the people I met. Now people say “how dangerous” that must have been. But there was no sense of danger at all, just of adventure and of discovery (both geographic and psychological). I hope to recapture some of that now on my bike and, although I may never make it now on a RTW trip, I hope I can take some of Ted’s words to heart in my more limited travels.