Advocating OMTs

(Organized Motorcycle Tours)

By Clement Salvadori

RIDER Magazine, October 2000

Of late in these pages you have been and will he reading about a lot of OMTs, or Organized Motorcycle Tours. So far this year Donya went to the Alps, Denis Rouse traveled through China, Mark was on the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Sardinia, and I was way Down Under in New Zealand.

You might think that this is all just fun, the editors having a good time, but for us it is work, hard work. Dirty, dangerous -- we'd all much rather be marching into the air-conditioned office with a clean white shirt and pressed slacks (jeans not allowed), but when you choose to become a motojournalist, you have to put up with the downside in order to keep the consumers properly informed.

When we editors write up these tours we try to be objective. Here is the way the deal works, and the tour operator (TO) takes it or leaves it. Rob Beach of Beach's Motorcycle Adventures, or Werner Wachter from Edelweiss, or Skip Mascorro from Pancho Villa, or Burt Richmond from Lotus, or somebody, calls up and says he would like to invite an editor to come along on the trip and do a story about it. "Okay," says Tuttle, the man who clears all this, "but no guarantees. We'll write it up the way we see it. You lose our luggage, the bike seizes because of poor maintenance, the entire group gets ptomaine poisoning because you chintzed on the restaurants, that'll appear in the story"

"Fair enough," says the TO, being confident that he puts on a good tour because he is getting repeat rates of 30 percent or more. And no matter how cranky a Rider editor might be (and we do have some really cranky ones), if the tour is a good one, he or she will write a favorable report, and then 200,000 people will read the story and think, "Maybe I should bust the piggybank and go take a look at Spain; sounds like fun."

And the TOs have a right to be confident -- they do give good tours, because if they don't they are soon out of business. Word of mouth is the most effective kind of advertising, and if the clients are happy, the publicity is good.

OMTs have been around since the early '5Os, but have proliferated in the last 15 years. There are now at least two dozen companies advertising in the American moto-press which offer trips from Alaska to the Andes Mountains, from the Appalachians to the Alps, from Africa to Australia -- just to use up a few As.

All you have to do is look at the ads in the moto-mags, or run "organized motorcycle tour" past your computer's search engine, then collect a whole bunch of brochures and catalogs from these companies, choose where you want to go, see what dates the trips are scheduled for, tell the boss you are taking the first two weeks of October for vacation, send in a deposit check, and you are almost on your way.

The check is your commitment. Remember, taking an OMT will probably be your second-biggest motorcyle-related expense, after buying a new bike. Costs vary greatly, whether you are doing a quick long-weekend run in central Mexico or three weeks in New Zealand. However, my loose rule of thumb is that a 10-day-trip to some far-off land will set you back five or six grand. Take your spouse and it will be 10g. That is not the stuff you feed chickens, that is serious money -- for most of us.

But that $6,000 should cover the the whole shebang, covering not only the price of the tour but everything else as well, and includes airfare, motorcycle rental, nine nights in comfortable beds, three squares a day; gas, souvenirs, a bottle of local wine at dinner, a tip to the guides (if they deserve it), etc. Now figure what a week at Disneyland would cost, immediately followed by second week at Disney World (God forbid!), or a nice outside cabin on one of these cruise ships going through the Panama Canal.

You pays your money; you gets on the plane, and at the other end you are met, whisked off to a nice hotel, introduced to your fellow tour members, and from then on you have nothing to do but eat, sleep and ride. All, or nearly all, your concerns are taken care of. You might have to find your own gas station, and decide whether to have lunch in that delightful seaside cafe specializing in fresh lobster, or the charming little restaurant on the mountain pass. The tour guides usually look after everything else, from picking up your bags in the morning to getting them into your room before you arrive at that evening's establishment.

There is a hardcore group amongst us, of course, that scoffs at such storebought luxury; maintaining that the only way to really see the world is to do it on your own. These adventuresome types have a good point, but they also tend to have oodles of time and no need to be back at the office in two weeks. Would that we could all be so fortunate, but most of us do have jobs and mortgages and dogs and kids, wherein a two-week trip is doable, a six-month hiatus to ride from Point Barrow to Tierra del Fuego quite impossible.

That's okay. In '76 I came hack from a three-year around-the-world ride and was promoting the idea to anyone who would listen, when a good friend commented, "Clement, if there hadn't been a thousand of us who stayed behind and kept those wheels of commerce turning while you were off enjoying yourself, you never would have been able to take your trip. Be grateful to us." And I was, and am, and this is why I promote these OMTs.

They are a good deal. In this first decade of the 21st century time has become the major consideration for most of us. You can always make more money, but no way can you make more time. And that is what these OMTs do, help you make maximum use of your time.

And you don't even have to leave the continent. Live in San Diego and want to go to the Canadian Maritimes -- contact Northeastern Motorcycle Tours. Or ride the Blue Ridge Highway and the Smoky Mountains -- try Mountain Thunder Tours. Live in Miami and want to have two weeks in the Rockies? Try Freedom Tours. The Big Sur Highway? California Motorcycle Tours.

Look at it this way: If you're 40 years old, you probably have another 40 years ahead of you, or 2,000 weeks -- which sounds like a pitifully small number. And while you might possibly hit the lottery next Saturday, your days on earth are numbered. What are you going to do with those 2,000 weeks?

If you read this magazine you like to ride. And if you itch to get beyond that radius that you can comfortably reach on your own bike in a two-week trip, consider the OMTs.

If you think I am promoting travel, you're darn tootin' I am. Travel is good, and I am convinced it makes better people of us. Whether you're a rider from Mississippi winging down east to Maine, or a woman from New Mexico thumping over the Himalayas, you are going to be meeting new people, experiencing new things and becoming a little more tolerant of the world you had not known about before.

Rider Magazine, October, 2000

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