November 17, 2017 by
Photography by R.L. Lemke
Illustration by Derek Joy

In search of the perfect motorcycle ride, I have coordinated several epic trips with family and friends over recent decades. Our routes have ranged across the U.S., from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Pacific Coast, in between, and beyond. I hope the following snippets of advice prove helpful to anyone chasing their own “perfect” ride.

The Best Coast

As motorcyclists travel from East to West, they find fellow motorists becoming more motorcycle friendly. East of the Mississippi River, folks on four wheels seem to expect motorcyclists to stay in line with every other vehicle—not to pass—and they often endeavor to prohibit a motorcycle from passing. On the West Coast, motorists better understand the motivation for riding: the sheer joy that comes from barreling down a twisty road. Most motorists pull over, even off the road, to allow motorcyclists to pass by and continue at their own pace. Lane sharing in California allows motorcyclists to pass through traffic between stopped and slow vehicles on multi-lane roads. Most riders in the West pull through stopped traffic at lights to get to the head of the line. The Western attitude toward motorcyclists makes riding there much more enjoyable.

Go with the (Weather) Flow

In the West, coastal summers remain in the 60s through the day; meanwhile, dry heat from the 70s to 100s awaits over the other side of the coastal mountains. Elevation changes in the Cascades or Sierras offer warm riding in the valley and cold riding only a few miles uphill. Thus, if you don’t enjoy the weather one place, change your direction, and within minutes you are in a completely different climate.

California Back Road Dreaming

Back road routes are a passion of mine. I scout these small, paved byways before every ride. In most states, the back roads are unpaved. This forces motorcyclists to ride with the tourist and commuter traffic. Some states offer endless miles of paved back roads with little to no traffic—roads that wind through mountains and valleys with breathtaking scenic vistas.

Roads empty of traffic allow stopping in the middle of the lanes to take photos. Of the many states I have traveled, California has the most miles of paved back roads. Many of them cut through national forests, and I suspect their paving has to do with accessibility for addressing forest fires. These arteries of pavement serve as a means to avoid congested tourist areas and cities.

So, taking into account how motorcyclists are treated, the variety of weather, and the opportunity to explore endless miles of back roads in breathtaking scenic countryside, California is the destination I return to year after year.

Choose Your Own Adventure: Bring a Camera

Many riders find enjoyment in hitting the open road without a plan, selecting their route as they travel. Whimsy determines which way they go, which road to travel upon, as they stumble upon great vistas and twisty adventures.

Other motorcyclists find joy in meeting up with friends at a specific destination (consider the legendary Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the Black Hills of South Dakota), a social affair built around a ride.

I approach each motorcycle ride as if the adventure has priceless value—something to be planned for—so that each rider can experience the ride to the max. I take great pleasure preparing for the route before departure. Afterward, organizing the photos, videos, and GPS files adds further enjoyment—an opportunity to savor the once-in-a-lifetime experience again.

Gather Your Crew

Everyone knows that life is fullest when we are committed to the moment, setting aside all worries of past and future. Motorcycling forces one to live in each and every moment. Spending those moments with good friends and family only strengthens the bonds of our relationships.

My crew usually consists of five to 10 bikers, including my brothers Todd (Omaha Magazine’s publisher) and Tyler Lemke (the magazine’s vice president of operations).

All of us riding these adventures have limited time away from work. Time is too precious for us to seek fun by happenstance. No, solid planning makes certain that each ride is one for the record books. A lifetime memory.

Our riders have come from Nebraska, Kentucky, Iowa, Canada, Texas, and even California to enjoy the well-planned rides. Sometimes riders iron-butt more than 1,000 miles over 24 hours just to participate.

It takes a special kind of rider to enjoy our grueling pace. On our adventures, at the end of each day’s ride, all we can do is eat and then collapse into slumber. In fact, these rides are so intense, with so much “fun” concentrated into the daylight hours, that the return to work offers a welcome chance to recover (physically as well as mentally).

Safety First

Risk management should be an important consideration for any motorcycle adventure plan. In our gang of (middle-aged and white-collar) riders, we wear top-of-the-line protective gear.

We also have bike-to-bike radios to facilitate communication while engines are roaring. Whether there’s sand on the roadway, deer, or an angry pickup driver, we can warn one another of potential dangers. We work as a team to keep one another safe.

Slippery road surfaces can be a matter of grave concern. When driving a car, I’m not interested in sand or gravel on the road, but on a motorcycle it can lead to crashing and certain injury.

When it rains, cars can just turn on the wipers; on a motorcycle, it is a matter of adding a layer of rainproof gear or getting soaking wet. If it is hot, we deal with the heat. If below 60, we add an electric vest. Even with safety precautions, riding a motorcycle ties you directly to the moment—to life in the right now.

Don’t Feed the Vultures

Wild animals are a hazard to motorists everywhere, especially motorcyclists. When we are riding in California, there is a huge bird that offers a unique challenge. The vultures in California appear to coordinate their efforts when lingering on the road in front of motorcycle riders, leaping up and taking flight the last instant before impact. It is as if they expect to intimidate the rider into an avoidance crash, making for a large meal to share. This has happened countless times, which affirms my conclusion.

Anticipate Physical/ Mental Exhaustion

At the end of our spring 2017 ride through coastal California/Oregon, riders commented that they were utterly exhausted. I know that I was. Roads on our route featured so many corners that rare straight sections of pavement offered relief. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. The whole point of the ride was to test ourselves, to see sights few others do, to expand our motorcycling capabilities.

People often ask what it is like to ride as we do. For those who downhill ski, it could be comparable to flying down black diamond moguls

for miles and miles. The back-and-forth effort, the exhilaration of not only surviving the unexpected but excelling at it offers more than just an adrenaline rush. That same physical back-and-forth motion is akin to cornering on a mountain bike, but hour after hour, day after day. Completely exhausting, but completely worth it.

Ready, Set, Go!

What sets a motorcycle adventure apart from the normal motoring vacation is the direct interaction with the moment. While riding a motorcycle, even olfactory experiences are instant and powerful. Smells assault you with full force, from skunk roadkill to blooming flowers along the road, from someone smoking cigarettes in their yard to the salt spray from the ocean.

Intense and concentrated motorcycling is fun, I promise. Long days test each of us physically and mentally, while camaraderie builds passion for the sport. This is what motivates each of us as we chase bliss in the moment, here and now.

Visit rllemke.smugmug.com to view more photos from R.L. Lemke’s adventures.

This article was printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.