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

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

Crashing, a broken motorcycle, and being robbed or lost are the four topics provoking the most questions when new adventure motorcyclists are considering their first long trips and asking me for tips. These situations are all part of the adventure, I usually reply, while also letting them know that some of the associated risks can be reduced by using what they already have in their physical and mental tool kits.

Though crash-risk factors can be moderated, causation cannot be lowered to zero. Some things are beyond our control. Hazards I can diminish or remove are those I control, such as my speed and never trusting the actions of the car, truck, bus or animal driver ahead of me, including the impulses of the animals themselves. The majority of my most serious crashes have been the result of making contact with something directly ahead, from slow-moving trucks to snakes and even camels; so now I am particularly mindful of trying to travel at a speed that allows enough space to stop or avoid an obstacle in time.

Using common sense or eventually learning as I did from hard-won lessons will eliminate other elements of risk. For one, take alcohol out of the equation: I won't drink and then drive my motorcycle - not one beer at lunch, nor a cocktail with dinner - and it goes without saying that I never meet my buddies, have a beer or two, then ride home or to the next bar at any other time. And don't drive anywhere after dark: Originally, I held to that prohibition only in third-world countries until I heard about the late-night motorcyclist who hit an aluminum ladder that had fallen from a truck into the middle of an interstate highway. He said he never saw it. Not only did he crash and ride from the scene in an ambulance, but he was also ticketed for driving while impaired after admitting to having had one beer earlier.

I also prepare for the inevitable, that somewhere on my ride I will fall down. That preparation includes wearing body armor in the form of padded textile jacket and pants, boots, gloves and always a helmet. Somewhere on my body I'm also tagged with medical identification. To this I add medical evacuation insurance to certify that my broken body will be transferred from lower quality care facilities wherever located, in the United States or around the world. These policies may include the transport of a broken motorcycle, but that's low on my requirement list. I like knowing the insurer will bring my remains home too, if need be, removing the burden of that unsavory chore from my family or friends.

The complexities of the newer motorcycles make preparations for the likelihood of having a broken motorcycle problem more difficult than in the past. Minimally, I want to be able to fix a flat on the motorcycle I am using. These days most motorcycle dealers have to turn to a bank of computers to even begin figuring out what is wrong with my motorcycle, which worries me more than it did when I, or some shade-tree mechanic, could repair, or at least diagnose the problem with older, simpler models. But on the upside, newer motorcycles, their computers, electronics and mechanical configurations supposedly make them more reliable and less likely to need repair.

An expanded tool and tire repair kit, some mixed nuts and bolts, a chain master link, cable ties, glues, duct tape and spare cables are some of the items added to my basic motorcycle tool kit. Another addition, the most often used, is a multi-purpose knife/tool. Stored where it's easy to get at, in the tank bag or fairing pouches, saving me from unpacking gear to get at the larger kit, this is the one I use for quick fixes.

Being robbed, whether in Mexico or Morocco, is always a possibility. When traveling by motorcycle you are always broadcasting a message that says, "I am traveling, have cash, credit cards, cell phone and other valuables perhaps." The more expensive the motorcycle and your clothing, the louder the message. I play down my image and hide the valuables, spreading them around. Some go in plastic bags hidden in my body armor. The credit card(s) are not kept together. A "dummy wallet" I carry holds one good credit card, two or three others long dead, and only enough cash for a day's worth of travel. My real wallet stays stashed deep in my riding gear.

Luckily, on my five rides around the world, I have only been a pickpocket's victim once; and it happened on a day I was being a typical tourist, off the motorcycle and watching a parade. The thief snagged my wallet from my right front pants pocket as I was pushing through the crowd. I felt the dip, but thought it was just inadvertent contact from one of the law-abiding people I was pushed up against. He must have been disappointed by his take, however, because I had left the major portion of my cash, the credit cards (except for one), and driving license hidden with my gear in the hotel room. If your lodgings have a safe, that's better still.

Getting lost can be the high or low point of an adventure. Whether you use a GPS, paper maps, or your internal compass, none are foolproof. While I am seldom seriously lost, I have been known to waste quality riding time wandering around aimlessly, usually within the confines of major metropolitan areas. Asking a local for directions can produce erroneous information, especially when pride supercedes knowledge. But usually when two out of three provide the same directions, you can trust the odds.

GPS directions are not always the best to follow either. Two motorcyclists I heard from were so dependent upon their GPS for directions they didn't realize they had circled Manila twice before recognizing the same road signs. And then there were the three Norwegians who recently followed their GPS directions for the "best way" back to their hotel. It led them through one of the worst slums in Rio de Janeiro. They were shot at, and one of them was wounded.

Anyone worried about getting lost should remain cool and remember that the sun comes up in the east, goes down in the west, and if looking into the sun in the morning, you'll know that south is to the right and north is left. That settled, turn on your smile and ask the first unarmed individual you come upon for directions.

To the newbie who asks, "But what if I crash because I was on the wrong road and went down at a roadblock put there by bad guys who proceed to steal my money, passport and motorcycle, and I wind up with a broken leg or arm?" I answer, "Bad joss. It was meant to be. Perhaps you should have paid attention and listened to the guys at the guesthouse who told you not to go there, or maybe you should have been flying." Then I laugh about it, telling them all those things have happened to me at some time, that I already have that T-shirt memory, and that it's just part of the adventure - the bad part, for sure - but in my experience the good far outweighs the bad.