Interview with Ted Simon – Still Orbiting

Dec 31, 2011 View Comments by

RR: You are famous among motorcycle travelers around the world because of your journey in the 70s and the resulting book, Jupiter’s Travels. Why did you choose a motorcycle for traveling?

Ted: I didn’t know anything about motorcycles, but I thought it would be the most interesting and unusual and, at the same, time useful way to travel. Motorcycles are economical and light, and I figured I could go places where I could not go with a car. And after all it seemed to be an exciting thing to do – and that was the real reason.

RR: Twenty-five years later at the age of 70, you did another world tour, again on a bike. Did you ever consider another means of transportation?

Ted: Yes, indeed, I did think about another way to travel. But what was interesting about the second trip was that I could compare everything with the first journey, and I thought I ought to use the same method of transport because it would be a more direct comparison. And of course, again I liked the idea of doing it on a bike – it was a bit of a challenge, too, I have to admit.

RR: You celebrated your 80th birthday this year. Are you still riding motorcycles?

Ted: Yes, I am still riding. I’ve got a Suzuki outside right now, and in Germany I have an F 650 GS that I use to run around Europe. I think it’s a very good standard, solid bike. But I don’t do a lot of motorcycling between my big journeys. Whenever I leave my home, I always have to bring something back, and that means using the truck. And what with the foundation and the books I have to write, I really don’t have a lot of time to travel for the fun of it.

RR: You started motorcycling rather late, at the age of 42, when you started your first trip. But motorcycles were quite common among the young men in your days. Weren’t you fascinated by them?

Ted: Motorcycles were common when I was young, but only because people couldn’t afford cars, at least the working class kids couldn’t. So they went to the factory on their motorcycles.

Yes, I was fascinated by them. I loved to see them go by. I particularly liked the look of AJS and Ariel and Matchless. But I never had one. In college I was too poor. Then I was in Paris. Afterwards, I was in the Air Force, and at the end of that I went immediately into Fleet Street and the newspaper business, and I had to use a car.

RR: During your trips, you immersed yourself into many different cultures. Which one do you think was the most fascinating?

You can’t say that any one is the most fascinating. What is fascinating is that they are all different. I was certainly affected by the atmosphere of spirituality when I went to India the first time, but maybe I am not quite as spiritual as I would like to think, because I suspect that ultimately it was a bit more than I could swallow. But there are many things about the Latin culture, as well, which I find very attractive – particularly in Brazil. The strong sense of enjoyment, the love of life in Brazil is really amazing. People were so poor when I was there first, and it impressed me so much that they could somehow escape from all that poverty in their minds and behave as if the world was such a welcoming place – which it really is. They have this wonderful sense of freedom and joy, music and happiness and all the rest of it. It was lovely.

And of course I am very close to the French in the way in which they approach life. I find that to be a very attractive culture, and in truth, if I could move my property to France I would probably do it.

But I do find the rural culture in this particular part of California where I live really quite amenable. It is a very happy solution to the problem of space and control, because the trouble with Europe is that there is really too much control.

RR: Do you think there is anything special about the motorcycling community?

Ted: Motorcyclists as a society are really very interesting to me, because generally speaking, the people who ride motorcycles are more inclined to take responsibility for their actions than others do. So if you can generalize at all, I am more likely to find that motorcyclists understand the way I feel about life, because you obviously do take your life in your hands if you ride a motorcycle. When you ride a bike you have to take responsibility for yourself – if you don’t, you’ll probably get killed. Of course, I am talking about the people I meet who usually use their bike for traveling. I am not very interested in bikers who only want to do crazy things and just enjoy taking risks. I find that a waste of time and life.

RR: You did your second trip to see out how much and in what ways the world has changed. What did you find?

Ted: The world is a mess and has too many people, and some of the more interesting things about the world in the old days are slowly disappearing in terms of cultural differences.

But this is the old argument: Do you want the world to be a museum for the West, or do you want everybody in the world to enjoy the same affluence that we have in the West. It is hard to complain if the African tribes don’t look as colorful and distinct as they once did, and in fact the news at this moment of the terrible hunger in the whole of Africa is a reminder that we really can’t afford to be sentimental about tribal life – all of that is changing. And so in some ways it has become less interesting. Which is not to say that anybody traveling out there could not have just as exciting and interesting a time as I did. It is just that it is different now.

RR: And how do you feel about your own trip? Was it a success?

Well, the downside is that there are just too many people. The cities have grown enormously, and often it was almost impossible to rediscover the places that I had known, hard to have the same experiences. There is just so much pollution, so many slums and so much more crime – yes, things have changed in general. But there were still many moments of happiness and fascination, and I am glad I did it.

RR: Do you think your trip could be done again in another 25 years?

Ted: Yes, of course. I am too old. I could not do it, but I am sure there will always be fascination, there will always be something mysterious about the world for people who haven’t been there and haven’t been around. It is too big a place for it all to become the same. So yes, there will always be a journey to be made in another 25 or 50 years.

RR: And what are your plans in the near future?

Ted: I am not sure if one should really have any plans at the age of 80. I am just doing what comes up. I hope the foundation will be an exciting challenge and will produce a lot of people who want to do some spectacular things, and I hope we can help them. Otherwise my plans revolve pretty much around my wife and my home and my garden and my friends, and I hope I can see as much of those as I possibly can.

RR: Could you imagine any other country in the world to live in? Which one and why?

Well, I could easily imagine living in Brazil because I love their attitude towards life, and in Colombia because it is so beautiful, and in Chile because of the magnificent scenery and the very good friends I have there. And of course, I would love to live in France because I am really a Mediterranean person. And Spain also attracts me – I do not really know where there is any end to this. So the truth of the matter is I can imagine living anywhere.

RR: The Ted Simon Foundation was launched this year.  Who had the idea? What is the idea of the foundation?

Ted: Well, it wasn’t my idea. I always thought foundations are for people who have a lot of money and want to give it away, and that certainly isn’t my case. I responded to somebody else’s idea that I ought to have a foundation. I asked them how this ridiculous idea came to mind and they explained that it was really more the idea that my foundation would inspire other people to do things and to be helpful to other people, and so that is really what we are trying to do. We want to help people who have the desire and, we hope, the ability to write, or make films, or do creative stuff – to use their journeys to tell stories that will help other people to understand each other, that will make human relationships in the world better.

RR: You have seen the world twice, which is more than others dare to dream of. Are there still any unfulfilled dreams do you still dream?

Ted: I do not really have dreams for the future, other than I would like everything to go along in a rich productive way until I drop dead. That would be wonderful and it is a lot to ask, but I am hoping that I can keep producing ideas and keep helping people and stay out of trouble. Really, I think it would be better for me to stay out of trouble . . .

For further information and to order Ted’s books, visit


Ted Simon

Having ridden twice around the world through 48 countries by motorcycle, Ted Simon, author of Jupiter’s Travels, has experienced the world in a way few others have. Simon, who recently turned 80, was born in Germany, and lived in England for several years before moving to California. His unique account of what was happening around him, and his interactions with those he encountered along the way, led to the formation of the Ted Simon Foundation. This foundation assists fellow travelers in transforming their observations into valuable contributions that can be shared with the world.

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