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ADV PreppingInterview With Adventure Motorcycling Pioneer — Ted Simon

Interview With Adventure Motorcycling Pioneer — Ted Simon

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

Published on 01.05.2016

RIDING A MOTORCYCLE AROUND THE WORLD IN THE 70’s

So you embarked on your journey and headed towards Northern Africa?

Yes, and I could go on about that all day. But the thing that evolved as I went into North Africa, Tunisia, then Libya and Egypt, was that my main concern was to avoid killing myself on the road. This made me very anxious, and it overshadowed any other difficulty I might have with people. Gradually as I became more confident on the bike, I began to realize that people were posing no problems at all. In fact, it was the very opposite. Everywhere I went, from the beginning of that trip, people were just fascinated by my arrival on a motorcycle, especially from Tunisia to Egypt, all the way along that coast that we now know so well. It became obvious to me that this whole [trip] was meant to be. Instead of the world being the hostile place that many people in my mother’s generation would have thought it was, I realized that far from needing to protect myself, the world was waiting to welcome me, in a way.

So I would roll into a small village on the bike and stop the bike where there were people, and just sit there. I smoked at the time, so I would have a cigarette. People would walk over to me, and they would ask me where I’d come from. I would tell them, and they would ask how I was able to get past ‘those terrible people’. They would ask me where I was headed, and they would tell me not to do so because the people their would ‘rob you blind’. Then they would ask if I’d slept, or if I was hungry, or could they get me any food, and everything would be presented to me, really.


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It took maybe two or three months to realize that this was a really wonderful way to become a part of any society I would be passing through. So it was a revelation.

Ted Simon circumnavigation of the globe

Can you elaborate on what the motorcycle gave you in terms of access to people that was unique?

Of course. In all of those four years that I was traveling I only met two or three other people on bikes. It was a very rare thing. And so I excited a lot of interest. That’s really all you need to do.

They had assumed, as I had assumed before, that what I was doing was very dangerous thing. And to them it was an exciting thing to have this dangerous cavalier arriving on a motorcycle. Because they were interested and curious, I got lots of invitations.

Ted Simon travel riding into town

To make himself more approachable, Ted tried to make it obvious he was a real human being -no fancy motorcycle clothes, an open-face helmet, and no windshield or fairing on the motorcycle.

I remember once counting the nights of the journey. And I realized that I had spent a third of them on the ground, another third in small hotels, and a third I had spent in other people’s houses. I could have been in other people’s houses a lot more, but I felt sometimes that I really needed to be on my own for a bit, because I was writing notes and so on. So [the motorcycle] was a wonderful introduction into people’s lives.

The main thing I was always really careful about, though, was to make it obvious that I was a real human being on this bike. There were no fancy motorcycle clothes in those days. The motorcycle itself, I really dumbed it down so it wouldn’t look like some extraterrestrial vehicle. I had an open-face helmet, and I had no windshield or fairing at all on the motorcycle, which amazes me now.

Can you talk about the access the motorcycle gave you to the landscapes through which you traveled, access that would have been unique?

Ted Simon: Absolutely! The first thing that comes to mind is the weather. There are large parts of the world where you can see much further than you can see, certainly in the United Kingdom, where I spent a good part of my life. And to be able to see a huge rainstorm coming, and then to be able to see past it, where you are going to come out at the other end was really dramatic. And of course, on a motorcycle, the only thing you don’t get is sound because it is a noisy machine. But all the other senses are really stimulated. You smell all sorts of stuff that you wouldn’t smell in cars. You can smell cut grass from a long way off. You can smell the manure and things growing in the fields. Of course, you feel the temperature and the wind. You are very much closer to nature than you would ever be on any other vehicle, except a bicycle. And a bicycle would have taken too long. [The motorcycle] is a terrific introduction to the geography and topography of the land.

Ted Simon on the road during Jupiter's Travels journey

MODERN ADVENTURE MOTORCYCLE TRAVEL

Does the technology of motorcycling ever get in the way?

It really does. But of course the really big thing about it was that I was on my own. If I had had someone to chatter with in English, it would have been a bit of a barrier to others. Being alone really enabled me to become whatever I wanted to be at any time. And so I very rapidly discovered that I was a much simpler person than I had thought I was. It didn’t matter what I looked like. I didn’t have to worry about my haircut, or if I was shaved. It was a wonderful way of being stripped down to the basics. And people responded to my self-confidence in being this way. It really opened them up.

The motorcycle worked wonderfully well at that time. Today, I’m unsure, because on my second journey, 30 years later, the roads were full of people on motorcycles. So I’m not sure that it would have the same ice-breaking effect that it did when I first did [the trip].

So if somebody came to you today and said they wanted to see the world on a motorcycle, what is the one thing you would tell them?

It’s pretty hard to strip it down to one thing. But for me, the most important thing would be to be alone in the world, and to be as unencumbered by the things you take with you as possible. In other words, use the least pretentious bike, take the least amount of stuff, and use the least amount of camouflage. Just be out there on the bike, as though it were a horse, or a donkey. Just be available to the world rather than trying to shield yourself from it, or worry all the time about things that might happen to you. Move slowly and very simply through the world, like the old troubadours used to do in the long distant past; like travelers always have. And leave all the technology behind.

And, very importantly, remember that there is nothing that you might need on your journey that you can’t get from others. It may just take time, but the time will be very valuable. When you ask for help is when get the closest to people. And if it takes you time, then all the better, because you find out more about them. People like to help. As long as you don’t overstay your welcome, you’ll be OK.

Ted Simon getting his biked wash by locals
“Be available to the world rather than trying to shield yourself from it.” —Ted Simon
Interview Performed by Jim Vota and Photos Courtesy of Ted Simon
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Author: Jim Vota
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7 thoughts on “Interview With 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.