Two on the Road: Motorcycle Touring with a 2012 Honda NC700X

Riding “solo” cross-country on a motorcycle can be a lonely experience…. but are you really traveling alone? And no, I’m not referring to a higher entity.

Is it possible to establish an emotional bond with your motorcycle out on the open road, and if so, is this phenomenon normal? Can you really form a poignant connection with an inanimate object? Is it a human trait to find a connection with something that doesn’t breath, think, or eat when you are isolated?

Personally, I was never one to attach a name to my car or truck, as many people I’ve come to realize do. Basically my relationship with my machines were non-existent. They served a purpose and that was it – nothing more, nothing less. But, I like to think of myself as being open-minded, and questioned if it could be possible.

Joe Zimmerman Motorcycle TouringSo, can an inanimate object take on the role of a living being and provide the interaction and company of another human? Or was this all simple mind games? I mean, can your toaster-oven become your best friend?

Like the effect Amazon’s “Alexa”, or Apple’s “Siri” has on society? Well, I won’t get into the psychological “complexities” of something like that, but what I can attest too is this – after my first cross-country ride across America, time spent with my Honda Motorcycle abso-freaken-lutly did convince me that bike’s (at least) do “become” your living and breathing travel companions.

Like humans that need food to sustain life, and function properly, bikes need gas to sustain energy and function properly. Like humans that need to brush their teeth and take showers, bikes need maintenance and service.

And, very much like humans, some bikes are reliable, and others are simply not. Yes the love and affection may be coming from one direction, but that can be true of living beings as well. And although some may suggest a motorcycle may not be able to communicate… that’s not exactly true…

Oklahoma Motorcycle TouringIf riders simply tried hard enough, they could hear and see their bikes communicating with them all the time. Hearing the rattling of a loose chain, or feeling the effects of a deflated wheel, is basic bike dialogue. Your bike lets you know that she’s hungry for fuel if you simply glance at her instrument panel.

Some of it is simple communication. If you don’t understand it, then you simply haven’t taken the time to learn the language. Taking a cross-country solo trip with your bike definitely provides you the time and opportunity to learn that language..

Deciding to take a cross-country trip on my 2012 Honda NC700X alone during the month of October, 2017 was not a light decision. The temperature across the country was beginning to get cold – three hurricane’s back-to-back in September had devastated parts of Texas and Florida and brought heavy rain into the middle of the country. But, the reality was that there never would be a “perfect” time, so I just had to commit before winter set in.

Because I was now approaching my 54th birthday and had just suffered the loss of my best friend (my mother), I decided it was time to fulfill a dream that I’ve had since I was a child watching actor Michael Parks in the 1969 television motorcycle traveling series “Then Came Bronson,” to see if I could also become “one” with my bike in a cross-country adventure from Los Angeles to my childhood home on Long Island, New York.

After raising my son, Aaron, as a single parent, my second-year college student was now capable of being on his own. So, with a couple of weeks off from work on a television show entitled “How To Get Away With Murder,” for ABC, and part time managing family property, I had no excuses and started preparing.

Visiting grave via MotorcycleMy goal initially was to visit two separate cemeteries that my two childhood friends were resting at since they passed away. But, in a sense, the trip took on many components to it beyond paying my respects and acknowledging my appreciation for life.

Two weeks prior to my ride, I was rolling on the mats one evening in my Jiu-Jitsu class at Jean Jacques Machado Jiu Jitsu Academy in Tarzana, Calif. with one of my black belt partners. In doing so, he revealed to me that he had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. He kept telling me how lucky I was and how he would like to learn to ride and take a trip like this. A married father with teenage children, who was my age, was envious of the trip I was taking.

My co-worker on the TV show, “Ryan Cassidy”, no sooner lost his brother, David, and another co-worker on a previous show (“ER”), Jon Fong, the technical medical adviser had also passed away. Both men, not much older than myself had simply vanished from this earth.

So a trip like this was very important on many levels. In retrospect, virtually every gas station stop found me conversing with people of right mind – all wanting to be free of their structured world, asking questions like, “What made you do this?”, “How much did the bike cost?”, etc. It was something countless people I came across wanted to do, but for many reasons could not. At this point in my life, I did not want to be one of those people anymore.

In a sense, this trip had not only been an experiment between the relationship of bike and rider, as it soon became a journey of self-analysis with thoughts of “not wasting anymore time”. (Not that I had though, since I have lived a full life and fulfilled my dreams of adventuring in the film and television industry working on such shows as “Jurassic Park”, “NYPD Blue”, “Sons of Anarchy”, and so forth. But this adventure was not scripted nor contained the safety of an 80 film-crew back-up team. This time my adventure would be real.

On set of Sons of Anarchy
Author Joe Zimmerman on the set of “Sons of Anarchy” in N. Hollywood (2014)

We all know life is short, but traveling thousands of miles on a motorcycle, truly gives you the time to reflect on that, all-the-while allowing you to take in the images and the grandeur of this amazing country. Appreciation for life takes on a whole new meaning when you’re zipping through the United States on two wheels.

This can’t be understood from the protection of someone’s “cocoon” of a comfort-zone. The experiences I was yet to have, of…chasing speeding trains along the dirt roads of New Mexico, riding under flocks of trailing birds in Oklahoma, gliding down the mountain top throughout a sea of forest in Virginia, or crossing the waters of the Atlantic over the bridges of Delaware, or zipping by that crazy-looking Arch in St. Louis at night while crossing the Martin Luther King Bridge, or looking out at the horizon and seeing the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline while crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and then dodging murderous drivers along the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, all while battling the elements of heavy rain, high-speed winds, and freezing cold, would not only be experienced by me; it would also be shared with my bike. These were true life experiences we would both come to share.

As a side note, along with paying my respects to my departed childhood companions, I would also find myself visiting some very important people from my days gone by. So this trip that my NC700 would be taking me on was truly to be special as it would also provide me with a window into my past.

Two month’s prior to the trip I started prepping. I watched and occasionally communicated with several adventure riders on the internet. (Worthy of mention: Craig Ripley, at “Living Off the Slab” from New England; Mike Smith, at “916MikeCA” from California; Pavil, of “Motorcycle Adventures” from Germany.)

Cross Country Motorcycle TripAdditional recognition going to the YouTube channels of Kevin Morris of “MCrider” in Texas, Rosie Gabrelle from Canada, and Motovlogger Dodge Rider in North Carolina—all wonderful resources for anyone venturing out in this world on two wheels).

Additionally, I shopped on Amazon and Ebay for anything that I thought I might need (from mini sink washing detergent soap, to head-strapping flashlights). If it was important, miniaturized, and affordable, I got it.

The Honda NC700X weighed in at 475 pounds and allowed for 430 pounds of carry weight. Since I weighed in at around 200 pounds, I had roughly 230 pounds of storage weight capacity (of which 130 pounds was eventually used). And yes, like every first-time adventure rider, I did over-pack.

As I prepped the bike: attaching fender extenders, fog lights, battery tenders, a custom seat, highway pegs, new tires, engine guards, a larger touring windscreen, a better horn etc., so did I to myself: exercised my cardio, lifted weights, got better protective body gear, purchased rain gear and tried to get more sleep. The bike and I would both need to go through a transformation to make this trip successful. And we did, together.

Joe Zimmerman Filling up for gas

But the closer I got to the launch date, I still wasn’t entirely trustful of my two-wheel machine. Could it go the distance? Would the battery die on me? Would I be able to make each fuel-stop? Between Barstow and Needles, Calif. (just before the Arizona border) I arrived on fumes and well into the bike’s reserve. The tank on the NC only holds 3.6 gallons (although I did bring a gallon of backup gas in fuel bottles). So basically my tank would get me about 180 to 200 miles before emptying out (mind you the bike was carrying 330 pounds and often pushing through high winds, which ate up more fuel).

So, as much as I lacked full trust in the beginning, the more I learned about the bike each day, the more I began to respect it and its capabilities. It started up every time, no matter the weather, and it could pop over curbs because of its high 6.7-inch ground clearance.

Even with 330 pounds of weight on her back I never had to worry about cracking the oil filter. The longer we traveled, the more bonding we had acquired and I soon began realizing the NC700 had become a living and breathing being to me. I became comfortable relying on it and felt it could rely on me… or so I thought.

After putting in over 1900 miles, during one particular afternoon on the third day, I dropped the bike before fueling at a gas station in Ohio (I pulled into a station that had uneven gravel). After I placed the kickstand down, I got off the right side because the gas pump was on the left side of the bike.

Because I was wearing three layers of pants, I dragged my foot along the top of the seat and the bike came falling down toward me and lightly went onto its side. But because of all the protection I threw on the NC (Engine Guard, Barkbuster Handguards and Exhaust Muffler Protectors), there was no damage, and the bike shut itself off like a good trooper.

Elvis Presley Wall
Author visiting Graceland

Later, while continuing to ride, I found myself thinking as if I were speaking to my bike, “I’m sorry I dropped you. You’ve been doing your job and I didn’t do mine. It was my
fault. I’m sorry.” I was actually apologizing to my motorcycle because I got lazy and
wasn’t careful. The bike, in essence, had become my traveling companion and was no longer just a vehicle.  I was talking to it, in my mind. I really felt that I wasn’t alone anymore. And all that sort of crept up on me by the third day, but was welcomed.

You see, taking off down the open road at the start of a long adventure trip can be a little nerve-racking, especially when the farthest you’ve ridden was 100 miles and now found yourself tackling 7000 miles alone.

But, while riding, I slowly started realizing—when I was dehydrating and needed to drink—the bike was running out of gas and needed to be fueled up. When I needed to clean my helmet’s visor, the motorcycle needed its windscreen cleaned. When I needed a safe place to rest, the bike needed the exact same thing. Even at every side motel, when I locked my room door at night and covered myself in bed, the bike needed to be locked and draped over with a protective cover. As with our experiences, our needs seemed shared as well.

Unless the bike was garaged at a friend’s home, at no time riding through the 19 states we traveled did I ever sleep more than 15 feet away from my companion. The bike became my partner. If I took care of it, it took care of me. So, if a motel couldn’t accommodate for “us” to be close together, we rode on. But what I usually discovered at every motel stop was that management usually always accommodating, as if they were used to people like me that had “relationships” with their bikes.

At a Super 8 motel in Virginia, the night clerk was so nice they allowed me to ride my bike up a narrow pedestrian walkway overlooking the parking lot so my bike would be alongside my room window—something I’m sure was a definite code violation. Management understood we couldn’t be separated and they took care of “us both.”

Parking Motorcycle at hotel
Above the parking lot, “Super 8” motel had accommodated the NC700X (next to my room window) in Virginia.

And like in every relationship, trust takes time and has to be earned. No different was it with the NC700. Fuel, oil, brakes, tires etc., were things that I nervously thought about. Would riding 80 mph for two hours at a time burn the oil? And if so, by how much? Were my new all-terrain Conti Trail Attack 2 tires worn in enough or would I take a spill from lack of traction? Will I need to change them when I reach the East Coast? So many questions, fears, etc.—but they started to all fade away the longer I rode. Eventually I started trusting the bike, and like good friends, it simply took time together to form that trust.

Upon leaving California on the first day, sitting on the bike was done in the proper upright posture and I rode at the speed limit with correct leg position. In contrast, I would later find myself completely as one with the bike and upon my return home found myself speeding and veering through semi-trucks with my legs hanging over the engine-guards while I leaned back on my motorcycle baggage.

I wasn’t really reckless, but at this point I knew what the bike was capable of and I had complete trust in it. I bonded with my motorcycle and my body posture alone was a good indication of the transformation that took place. I had actually experienced an emotional and physical connection with my motorcycle by the time I returned.

Two on Road Motorcycle TouringIf you think I’m crazy, tell that to Tom Hanks when he called out to “Wilson”—a battered and deflated volleyball in Director Robert Zemeckis’ brilliant 2000 film, “Castaway”—his only companion of five years on a deserted island. Zemeckis illustrated that you absolutely could make such an emotionally bond.

And, adding his own personal connection with motorcycles, the late great actor, Steve McQueen, confirmed his sensitivity and emotional bond with his bike (a Triumph TR6) in Hollywood’s classic 1963 war movie “The Great Escape.”

After a failed attempt “together” to flee the Nazis and reach Switzerland, lying on the grass entangled in barbwire, Steve, hurt and beaten with his bullet-ridden motorcycle laying beside him, purposefully “thanks” his bike by patting it on top of the gas tank, confirming and displaying his emotional attachment with the two-wheel machine that gallantly tried saving his life.

After putting nearly 7000 miles behind us, both battled-warn, and with a tally of at least several thousand murdered flying bugs impaled on our windshield, both the bike and I were in need of a bath and some rest. The NC went into the garage and I went into my bedroom where I pondered over the concept of relationships and bonding (for this article).

In so, something I came to realize is that, unfortunately with human relationships, sometimes when we treat our friends and family well and good, we don’t always get back what we put in.

Yet, on this coast-to-coast trip with my NC700X I learned that if I treated her good, she treated me likewise and gave me much, much more in return. She made me feel alive, took me to places I’d never been to and gave me memories of a lifetime. And, again, that’s a lot more than what some people ever do for us.

So, is my relationship with my bike real? Or is it just conjured up mind games brought about by the human desire for companionship when we’re alone? Honestly, I’m not sure, but what I can tell you, is that she does have a name now.

Two on the Road: Solo Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip with Honda NC700X