How does North America's premier motorcycle travel publication choose the best tours of the year? Location, photography, story, adventure? Yes. All of them. With so many spectacular travel articles from world-renowned journalists, it's never easy whittling them down to a "best of" list. It's kind of like saying who your favorite child is. Luckily for us there are so many to choose from, the kids will be alright.
-Florian Neuhauser, Editor-in-Chief
Riding in Cuba: Revolution, Raki, and Rum
Just 20 miles west of Havana, we’re already amid a quintessentially Cuban landscape. The traffic has thinned to an occasional yanqui jalopy, Soviet tractors and trucks, and creaky wooden carts pulled by sturdy oxen, dropping long stalks of sugarcane as they go. Cuban tránsitos—motorcycle cops—astride Moto Guzzi 750s and newer, sleek Chinese 650s salute as we pass through dusty towns.
It’s nearing sundown as we pull into the parking area of the hilltop Hotel Horizontes Los Jazmines in Viñales, boasting the most sensational view in all of Cuba. Great mogotes—sheer, freestanding knolls the size of skyscrapers—loom over a broad valley, the Valle de Viñales, suffused with late afternoon sunlight. Below, ox-drawn plows till emerald tobacco fields, with soils the color of ripe tomatoes. With all the fuss about politics, it’s easy to overlook Cuba’s sheer beauty.
A Sublime Loop Around the Southwestern States
My breath made a spool-shaped flicker of steam on the visor below a deceptive sun, which shone anemically through a thin gruel of clouds. Light snow began to fall, with meandering flakes that seemed little more than the air itself until they soon coalesced into hard gray pellets.
The best I could do was pull over, shuddering uncontrollably while blowing into cupped hands and heating them on Pearl’s engine, courtesy of my BMW F 650 GS. The vast wilderness, swathed in tree-clad mountains, scenic byways, and high snow-capped peaks along the Million Dollar Hwy, was a sight to behold. I wasn’t about to let something as trivial as the icy temperatures stop me from appreciating where I was.
Racing Thoroughbreds From Tennessee to Kentucky
We’re howling around a left-curving decreasing-radius corner and just as we begin to straighten through the exit, it’s down again as the road continues to snake left and right along Hwy 135 just north of Cookeville. The switchback corners here are awfully fun, but the broken pavement and gravel drive washouts in a few corners remind us to keep our cool. We turn right on Hwy 85 and make our way to Hilham, TN. Don’t blink as you ride through Hillham or you’ll miss it. This tiny town consists of a post office and corner store called The Crossroads Market & Eatery, which serves up one delicious burger. After filling our personal fuel tanks, we head north toward Burkesville.
Germany, Austria, and Italy: Monkey Business in the Dolomites
Instead, we feel like actors in a children’s road movie: small kids on a huge adventure. For fun, we sometimes ride side by side, just to check if the other has such a big grin on his face as well. At Ammersee Lake, where Bavaria starts to spoil you with postcard views toward the snow-covered Alps, we take our first break. Down here, with temperatures in the high 80s, the beach is alluring. With all the luggage, we don’t want to leave the bikes in the parking lot and ride all the way along a cycle path through the sunbathing crowd. Usually, this would result at least in angry looks. But with our small whispering engines and the kiddy look, we just get smiles. Some of the people we pass applaud, others shake their heads with pity or grin in disbelief, especially when Hannes unfolds his 6-foot-10-inch frame off the Dax.
Cleveland, Mississippi Shamrock Tour®: The Heart of the Delta
Blues music originated in the U.S. Deep South after the Civil War. There were many influences to what is now known as the blues, including field hollers, work songs, gospel, and more. Traditionally, blues music was performed primarily by Southern African American men working in agriculture. Early blues music was often inspired by some sort of loose narrative—personal woes, working conditions, lost love, oppression, and hard times. It’s said that blues music “can’t be sung without a full heart and a troubled spirit.” Early blues artists, like W.C. Handy, “Blind Lemon” Jefferson, and Charley Patton, paved the way for what later artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Elvis Presley were able to bring to the scene. Blues eventually gave way to rock ‘n’ roll, country, and other genres as it worked its way up the Mississippi River.
We turned south on US 278, our Mississippi playlist blaring from the speakers on the Challenger. Thanks to our Bluetooth communicators, whichever one of us was riding the Chief at any given moment could still hear the music as we cruised. US 278 took us into Greenville, where we were on the hunt for hot tamales.
Moab, Utah Shamrock Tour®
It was one of those slow-motion falls, the kind where you have time to think about what went wrong, what you should do, and how it will end. Cameron was now on the ground with the bike falling on top of him. The first point of contact was the bike’s footpeg, which landed squarely on his foot—the same foot that was wearing a borrowed motocross boot from Dave.
To give you some context, Cameron started the trip in more casual leather boots that offered much less protection than proper dirt bike boots. Dave noticed this when we met and almost forced him to borrow the better boots for the rest of the trip. It’s a good thing he did.
Georgia: The Little Great Country
West of Tsalka I leave the asphalt road, heading toward Lake Tabatskuri. My path leads into a high plain surrounded by 10,000-foot-high mountains. Seeing the sheep herds all over the distant slopes, the place reminds me very much of Mongolia. I detect a group of herders close to the path and ride over to ask for the way. A big mistake! Their huge, snarling dogs don’t like me at all. Fortunately, one of the five men stops them with a cry and a wooden stick, allowing me to approach safely.
Immediately, they invite me to sit down at their “table”—a wooden box. In a big pot, they have just cooked lamb, and beside it stands an oversized teakettle. Again without asking, they hand me a plate of lamb, with a piece of bread and a cup of tea. The elder of the group gives me his jacket so I don’t have to sit on the grass. The men and the surroundings are rather rustic, but rejecting the offer is not an option. The meat, cooked in salted water, tastes great as it is. But the fact that I’m sitting in this epic landscape and enjoying the hospitality of strangers transforms it into a real delicacy.
Sunset Boulevard After Sunset: Hollywood Midnight Ride
In the realm of paved American thoroughfares, there are iconic names that speak to the character of specific places. New York City has the bold and lively spectacle of Broadway, as well as the nefarious shenanigans of Wall Street. There’s the pursuit of musical fame on Beale Street in Memphis and the seemingly endless party of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., is the pavement of our democracy, and the barren desert of Nevada turned into a luminous gaming town, birthing Las Vegas Boulevard. Running through the center of the country are remnants of Route 66, a two-lane symbol of American freedom. On the west coast, there are Pacific Coast Highway and Hollywood Boulevard, a street paved with countless broken dreams.
New Beginnings and Mystery in Arizona and New Mexico
Toward the north side of SR 70, about 16 miles southeast of Alamogordo at the heart of the Tularosa Basin, iridescent white dunes rise up from the earth. Unmissable but not immovable, they constantly shapeshift and settle over the Chihuahuan Desert, engulfing 275 square miles in sparkles. White Sands National Monument is a gargantuan gypsum dune site, the world’s largest.
Firmer and cooler to the touch than you might think, the dunes make for shed-loads of fun sledding down them from 60-feet high. But between us—hauling a laden rucksack spilling over with camera equipment and more dry bags strapped to me than I care to remember—we traipsed rather than tobogganed in. A mile later, we set up camp in a secluded spot we would call home for the next two days. Perfect timing, I mused—the day before a dazzling sea of spring breakers descended on the site.
Riding Death Valley: Third Time Lucky
Joining Hwy 374, our wheels hummed to the song of a one-way 27-mile trail through Titus Canyon, kick-starting east of the park boundary. Regardless of the vultures circling above, descending into Death Valley for the second time gave me the nerve to put my big girl pants on and kill it. As canyons go, Titus matched up to its Greek meaning: “of the giants.” Its swath of mountains possessed endless ruggedness, leading us on a serpentine, stony trail. Some of it was loose—cue the need to jolt my muscle memory and get my off-road on—and we meandered around vivid rock formations, adorned with desert flora and petroglyphs. The pair of us sewed our way through the hem of a rah-rah skirt without fraying any nerves. A spectacular climax ensued at the western end as the canyon narrowed to a winding finish.
Fayetteville, Arkansas Shamrock Tour®
After lunch at the New Delhi Cafe, I double back on US 62 to visit Thorncrown Chapel. As motorcycle travelers, we like to talk about the thrill of riding in the elements, the journey being more important than the destination. I agree in most cases, but this destination is so special, so beautiful, so peaceful that the trip feels like an afterthought.
Thorncrown Chapel was completed in 1980 and is one of the most awarded and respected architectural designs of the 20th century. Nestled in the trees, seemingly made almost entirely of windows, it’s a remarkable space. At 48 feet tall, it has 6,000 square feet of windows and is already on the National Register of Historic Places, a status usually reserved for buildings at least 50 years old.
Spain: A Man in La Mancha
Meandering through the backroads and villages of La Mancha, I delved deeper into the novel. In the small bars and cafes of these lazy enclaves, deeply browned Spaniards—with plenty of silver in their smiles—would patiently listen to my abysmal attempts at their language, faces brightening when they discerned my quest was retracing the route of their beloved Don Quixote. Asking after their local hero was like being in possession of the key to their city. Locals would then eagerly point me to the nearest Quixote artifact or point of interest.
And that’s the way I traipsed about the countryside, preparing myself for arrival at Campo de Criptana, where a group of whitewashed windmills from the 15th century have stood sentinel against the passing of time. There are but a handful of these structures left, sprinkled about La Mancha, and most are in disrepair. The windmills at Criptana, however—the actual “giants” Cervantes immortalized in Don Quixote—are preserved as a national treasure.