Interview by Anne Van Beveren, Free2Wheel, July 1999
At first glance, Ron Young doesn't seem too out of the ordinary.
He's a 50 something insurance agent whose interest in motorcycles has followed a pretty typical pattern: He rode in his 20s, sold his street bikes when he had a young family, and returned to the sport when the kids were all grown up and moved away from home.
It's how he returned to the sport that sets Ron Young apart.
When Young got on a motorcycle for the first time in 20 years he headed off for a three week tour of Europe. In the rain. And he's been touring ever since.
This returnee to motorcycling has wracked up something like 20 tours in the space of just seven years. He thinks nothing of spending six weeks on a bike at one time, and is an absolute mine of information if you have questions about anything to do with traveling on two wheels.
"I went through the normal progression," said Young. "I probably started dirt biking at 17, and worked my way up from a 100 to a 125 to a 250 had to go for more power all the time. I got my first street bike when I was around 20 and actually ended up working for a helmet manufacturer for a while."
Young's job in the motorcycle industry was really more luck than good management.
"It wasn't any sort of a calculated career move," Young explained, with a smile. "In high school I just wanted to graduate and be in some kind of sales. I started out changing tires at Gemco, got a job in the manufacturing end of the helmet company, and ended up getting into sales. It was a small company. I was only 19 or 20 at the time and they would send me out in an Econoline van with the whole back stuffed full of helmets. I would sell them right out of the back of the van."
Young's motorcycle industry adventure lasted about a year, then he moved on to the Automobile Club. He worked his way up from handing out maps to selling insurance, and that's when the kids came along.
"With four sons, riding in the desert was a very big part of our life - we'd camp out and ride for the weekends, but I stopped riding street from about 1969 to 1991 more than 20 years," said Young. "We felt that, with four boys, our responsibility had to be with them. If anything happened, who would take on four ornery boys? Besides, we didn't have the money or the time back then, and you really need that to ride the street."
But everything changed in 1991. The kids were on their own and a vacation drive through Vermont reminded Young and his wife, Vickie, how much fun riding used to be.
"It was the Fall - beautiful leaves, lots of covered bridges, and we kept seeing guys on Gold Wings. We kept saying how much fun it would be to see it on a bike," said Young.
But it took a death in the family to really set the wheels turning.
"My brother in-law's brother had a heart attack and died at 47. He was on that car trip with us, and I said, 'You know what? Bad things can happen. Don t wait for some day. If you have the time, go out there and do it now,"' said Young. "I brought home a magazine. It had a photograph of someone riding in the alps. At that stage I didn't know where the alps were but I said, 'How would you like to go to Europe on a vacation? On a motorcycle? We haven't been on a bike for 20 years but we will learn."
Young ignored the little voice inside him that said he should take baby steps and start by riding a small bike around a small block. He bought a Honda Pacific Coast, put Vickie on the back and headed for the hills.
"I cried the whole time," said Vickie. "I was scared to death. There was no back rest and I didn't realize you could put one on. I was devastated. I had been so excited thinking we were going to have this fun time and it was going to open a whole new world to us, and I hated it."
But a backrest for Vickie, and a riding class or two plus a little more practice for Ron, soon had the Youngs back on track.
"Four months later, we were off to Europe on a three week Beach's Tour. And it rained 11 days out of 14. It rained the whole time and it was terrible," said Vickie, but with a laugh. "The rain didn't matter. We were hooked. We were totally hooked because of the people we met - the camaraderie. We still have friends from that first tour that we get together and ride with every year."
"It was amazing," said Ron. "We had developed tunnel vision. Our whole world had revolved around little league, baseball and camping for so long, there was no other world for us. And suddenly we were re-experiencing all those feelings that feeling of freedom. It was just amazing."
That was July of 1992. In the seven years since then, the Youngs have seen a lot of Europe and a wide swath of Canada. They've been to New Zealand three times, Costa Rica once, and they were on a ride to Cancun when the Northridge earthquake struck in early 1994.
Vickie Young goes along for the ride when
the destination suits. Her advice:
"Get the best riding gear you can.
When you're on tour, you ride
no matter how hard it's raining."
"The revolution in Chiapas was going on then, too," said Ron. "There were 10 of us - friends who had met on other tours, and we were stopped by revolutionaries with machine guns about 10 miles from Chiapas. That was pretty scary. Then we turned on the television and saw the 5 Freeway on top of the 14 Freeway, and heard there had been a big earthquake in Northridge. That's about 10 minutes from our house, my office is near there and our son was attending college at Northridge. You can imagine what they were showing on Spanish television, and we couldn't get through on the phone. We had terrible winds on that trip, too. We had to stay three days in one place because it was too windy to ride. We call it the trip from hell really more of an adventure than a motorcycle tour, but those are the ones you remember."
And, if you're like the Youngs, even adventures like that don't stop you from going back for more.
Ron has owned his own insurance agency since 1973 and has built the business up to a point where he can almost come and go at will. This allows the Youngs to travel for a minimum of three to four months a year.
"Ron has worked so hard. When he started the business we had $50 in the bank and we had four kids. It was pretty tough, but it has paid off in the long run," said Vickie.
Selecting a tour is fairly easy for Ron; he's up for just about anything that involves two wheels, but Vickie is a little more picky.
"She goes on about half of the tours,' said Ron. "She wants to go to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and anywhere in the United States, but she doesn't want to go to the third world countries. This September I'm going to Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Chile so I can ride the Andes, and she's not very happy with me doing that. I'll go with an experienced guide and if there is civil unrest, I'll stay home, but I don't mind a little adventure."
The Youngs divide their riding pretty evenly between organized tours and self planned journeys. The deciding factors are the newness of the terrain and the degree of risk that they want to assume.
"When I go to a country for the first time I want to go with someone who knows the area. It has a lot of advantages," said Ron. "It lets someone local show me the highlights of the area the little known things to do that you would go right by if you were on your own."
And the advantages of an organized tour don't stop there.
"Organized tours are also good because all the guess work is taken out of the trip," Ron explained. "You don't have to worry about whether you can get to the next town in time to get a room because a room is waiting for you. In Colorado, we were traveling on our own and ended up not being able to get a room until 2.30 in the morning and it was $150 a night."
Ron in the Alps on a Beach Tour
On an organized tour you don't have to worry about meals, either.
"When you're traveling on your own in a new place you could end up eating at Ptomaine Toms or the best place in town; you just never know. An organized tour helps to take some of the guesswork out of it," said Ron. "They also provide a chase van to haul your luggage. That's important."
Organized tours also supply something that doesn't appear in the brochure - new friends.
"We've made the best friends we've ever had on tours. I would say our closest friends are motorcyclists that we've met because we've been on a tour," said Ron.
There's just something about tours that brings people together.
"The people you meet are friends for life because you have a bond," Ron explained. "Riding a motorcycle knocks down all the barriers. They just melt away because you're all in this together and you've all been suffering from the sun, the rain, the terrible wind, whatever. It doesn't matter how rich or how poor you are; you all experience the same thing and it's a great equalizer. We used to wonder what the best people in the world do for fun; now we know."
The price of touring varies, depending on the level of luxury you're seeking and your destination.
"You can pay a lot if you want to, but you don't have to," said Ron. "A three week tour of Europe can be $10,000 for two people, but when I went to Spain and Portugal it was only about $100 a day because they are cheaper countries to visit. I personally prefer more of a bargain tour. I don't need a five star hotel and I don't want to dress for dinner. Tours run the gamut from Levis and running out to get fish and chips, to dressing up to go to a five star restaurant, and the prices vary accordingly."
The price of a tour also depends on whether you ride your own motorcycle or rent from the tour operator.
"Depending on where you're going, if the tour is lengthy say two to three weeks, it can work out cheaper to ship your own bike," said Ron. "Renting generally runs about $100 a day, and it costs about $400 to $500 to ship a bike one way from the West Coast to the East Coast. If I want to go to Bike Week, for example, and I don't want to ride to Florida, I ship my bike, take a $99 airline rate, then spend the time being where I want to be rather than trying to get there." Ron ships his bike with The Federal Companies (800 7474100).
"Your bike has to go business to business, so I have it shipped to a local shop. If you're healing for Tennessee and you ride a Honda, call the Honda dealer in Tennessee and ask if they'll accept it for you. A lot of people will do that. I've also put my bike in a self storage place, flown home and gone back a month later to continue my trip" said Ron. "A lot of dealers will let you leave the bike at their shop if you have it serviced and will be back in a couple of weeks."
If you're heading out of the country, the balance tips in favor of renting.
"On a trip to Costa Rica, the cost of taking your own bike is prohibitive. That's an easy decision," said Ron. "And when you're thinking about cost, don't forget tires. On a long trip, you'll generally go through a set of tires. Let the wear and tear go on their machine not yours. If you take your own bike, you're responsible for all the repairs and maintenance."
And repairs can be a little pricey if you make the sort of mistake that Ron did when he took his own bike on a tour to Mexico's Copper Canyon.
"We were working our way down a river. We had crossed it 10 to 15 times, and I just went off the main path at the next crossing and ended up covering everything but the handlebar on my BMW R1100GS," he said, shaking his head.
Don't expect touring to always be a bed of roses, warns this experienced twosome.
"On an organized tour, you keep going, no matter what, so I recommend getting good gear for bad weather. Don't skimp on equipment," warns Ron, and Vickie agrees.
"I have an Aerostitch suit and I never ride without it, no matter how hot it gets. I paid a lot of money for it and I want to have it on when I crash," she told Free 2 Wheel. And when it comes to crashing, Vickie knows a thing or two.
"We fell down coming back from Mexico in 1994 four miles before the border," said Ron. "It was raining, the streets were full of red clay and it was like riding on snot. The bike just went right out from under us. We slid for 150 feet. There was traffic everywhere, swerving trying to avoid us."
Vickie cringes at the memory.
"We've seen a lot. I've been absolutely terrified in the wind. I've also been so cold I thought I was surely going to die in fact, I wished I would," she said. "It was in New Zealand. It absolutely poured for hours. I had full gear on and I was wet to my underwear, but I'd go back in a second."
Part of the attraction is the scenery and the camaraderie, but a lot of why the Youngs tour is just to be together and to really live life.
"It's made a big difference to us as a couple," said Vickie. "When we were young, we were more in tune with each other. You get out of that when you have all the kids, and this is like getting reacquainted."
"We're very lucky," is the way Ron puts it. "There are not too many times in life when your passion can be pursued when you have the money, time and your health. When all three of these line up, you'd better take advantage and push the envelope for as long as you can. So many people say one day; one day I’ll buy a motorcycle and go riding, but they never do it. We're making our 'one day' right now."
Ron and Vicky joined us on the Maori Meander in 1993, the Alpine Adventure in 1992, and the Italian Idyll in 2007.
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