Touring Australia and Mexico 2003

By Chris Katzer

Planning and executing your own motorcycle tour can be very rewarding, but participating in an organized tour has some advantages. In February 2003, I did the Copper Canyon dirt bike tour with Pancho Villa. In October 2003, I rode the Australian Adventure Tour with Edelweiss. Both were outstanding.

Copper Canyon was an eight-day, 1500-mile trip starting and ending in El Paso, Texas. I put the Suzuki DR 350SE in the back of the truck and drove two days through a little ice. The group consisted of 9 guys, mostly in their mid fifties, although one rider was 20. About half brought their own bikes and half rented the tour KLR 650s. The deductible was pretty high and only Herman the German and myself avoided crashing at some point. Most crashes were pretty minor, but we had some spectacular ones. Only one guy was so injured that he couldn’t ride through the end (dislocated left thumb).

The $1200 fee covered the hotel rooms, two meals a day, a chase vehicle and a guide. Pretty square deal-my Spanish isn’t real good unless I need a beer or a bathroom. Most of the dirt riding was outstanding. Breath taking rides up the sides of mountains, across deep streams and through mud. About 40% of the riding was honest dirt- logging trails, motorcycle trails and the like. The guide took an 1100GS, which I wouldn’t attempt on a bet. Most of the ride was through rural Mexico, which was probably a lot like rural America in the 1930’s. Regular electricity was still a bit of a novelty. We ate well, often in people’s homes! They’d open up their dining room and have us in there. Real home cooked meals! Crossing back to the US and eating fast food was a sad day.

To do over, I would’ve installed a Corbin seat (that dirt bike seat is good for about 40 miles) and a stock front sprocket for better power/mileage for road riding. (good roads!) The Aerostitch suit was right on target. Steve Thoerner and I did their Colonial road tour out of McAllen TX, back in 2001. Both Pancho Villa tours were a good value for the money.

The Edelweiss tour was impressive. Normally, that’s a little high-zoot for me, but I had won the 2000 BMW "Great Rides" contest and had a credit towards the tour. My uncle retired from teaching in June and decided he’d go. He takes high school kids abroad in the summers and had been to Australia about five or six times. I took a month off to allow for diving off the Great Barrier Reef, time in Sydney and 19 days for motorcycling.

The 3500 miles proceeded from Sydney to Melbourne, across the ocean to Tasmania, back to Melbourne and back to Sydney. The Edelweiss package covered the hotel rooms, two meals a day, a BMW motorcycle, a chase vehicle and a guide. I rode an 1150GS with tankbag and saddlebags; my uncle rode a K1200LT with the full boat GPS, disc changer, etc. We had seven riders including a two-up couple. Five Americans and two Germans. What did the Germans ride back home? R1200Cs! No crashes the whole trip. Riding on the left was only a problem at the first turn of the day (all those years of doing it the right way are strongest when you first pull out.)

To summarize the riding: Imagine your favorite twisty road (Route 10, Deal’s Gap, etc.). Stretch it out about 45 miles. Put a perfect layer of asphalt (bitumen) on it. Grow a centuries old rainforest on the sides. Put one, maybe two cars on it. Mount an 1150GS with 400 miles and ride, ride, ride. Repeat.

The majority of riding was like that. We did have some crap weather, but not very much. It was Australia’s Spring and I packed more for summer. Gas was about three times more expensive than the US, but $ .70US = $1AUS. The guy who rode Norway, Sweden and Finland noted gas in Europe was about four times US prices. The accommodations were top drawer and the riding length was about right. We’d start around 8:45AM and pull in around 4:30PM. We stayed off the tourist routes and rode back roads almost exclusively. Australia is roughly the size of the continental US, with 20 million (vs. 240 million US). Melbourne and Sydney account for about 8 million.

80% of Australia’s animals and plants are found nowhere else in the world, so the road kill was always exotic. Our guide pointed out that "Kangaroos have very small brains and they don’t like to use them." If a roo wouldn’t get out of the way, he suggested hitting it under power. He advised against running over wombats.

The Australia trip was great. The riding was some of the best I’ve ever done. Adding the additional time in for Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef made the experience that much better. A few folks flew in for the riding only and missed fantastic Sydney. Designing and riding your own trip has its own satisfactions, but doing a tour allows you to focus on the riding and not logistics.