Best Long-Distance Motorcycle?


Simon and Lisa Thompson

Which is the best long-distance motorcycle?

And who could best answer that?

How about a husband and wife team touring the world with bikes and tent?

British riders, Simon and Lisa Thomas, are doing just that. Starting from England in 2003, they have made a life of touring the countries of our planet.

You might think they would consider “BMW” to make the best long-distance motorbikes, since they each ride highly modified Beemer GS’s. Especially since the talk I attended, “An Evening 2 Ride the World,” was presented inside the BMW Motorcycles of Ventura County (California) dealership.

However, “BMW” was not their answer.

So, then, what was their response?

And by the way, just who are these two?

Simon and Lisa are a delightfully spirited couple. They took turns entertaining the audience with light-hearted humor while outlining the joys and disasters of their round-the-globe travels: an adventure that is still in progress.

This year the pair rode into the United States via the southern tip of South America. After originally departing home in England, they rode north to the Arctic Circle, south through western Russia, toured Europe, and south through Africa, where they crated their bikes up for the ocean journey to South America.

Here are a few of the insights they offered last night about their ride so far:

  • The profound poverty in Africa is in stark contrast to the warm, hospitable and generous nature of the people themselves.
  • Riding across the immense sand dunes of the Sahara Desert is accomplished first in your mind: stand up, ride fast, and just let the rear end squirrel around through the soft sand without thinking about it or trying to correct it.
  • And speaking of mindset, it really is your own attitude that will turn any challenge that might potentially end a journey, into something that merely is another obstacle to handle so you can get on your way again.

Perhaps this last thought was adequately demonstrated by the toil and perseverance they experienced when a dilapidated wooden bridge gave way under Simon’s bike in a very remote section of the Brazilian rain forest, resulting in a bad accident. Simon was in great pain when he regained consciousness and was void of feeling in his left side. Unbeknownst to either of them, he had a broken neck and ribs. What they went through in the next 23 days as his wife directed themselves and their bikes to medical attention is worthy of a movie all on its own. Finally making it to a hospital in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the doctors were incredulous that he survived. Another 1.5mm neck motion during their ordeal since the crash, and he would have died or been paralyzed.

So what would you do after 23 days of harrowing torture with a beaten up body, culminating in five hours of surgery, and several weeks of recovery?

I would dare to say that most would pack it up and go home. However, Simon and Lisa became more determined to continue their journey. And on top of that, they both became debilitated with malaria before finally getting their trip going under full steam again to complete their South American tour before heading to North America.

Their presentation featured some great photography by Simon; and their talk was punctuated with an entertaining repartee between two long-distance riders who know how to enjoy life and pursue their dreams.

In fact, perhaps the most insightful tip is a view they both share:

There will never be enough money and the ‘time’ will never be convenient to follow a dream. If you want to ride around the world, or do anything that you dream, you just have to figure out how badly you want to realize your dream and decide if you can accept the consequences of making it happen. Don’t keep putting your dreams and desires off to the future. You can always find a way to make it happen.

So, which is the best long-distance motorcycle?

Here is Simon’s view: “All bikes have their advantages and disadvantages. Whichever one is best is whichever one you are most passionate about. The one that is best for you is the one you want to get on and ride day after day after day.”

Simon and Lisa are an inspirational example of determined riders on a personal odyssey. They quit their jobs and sold their house to pursue their dream.

Dare you consider what it would take to fulfill your dreams?

44 thoughts on “Best Long-Distance Motorcycle?

  • BJ, Hi Not sure if we have met. Don’t know who you are. We’ve never been to a rally in colorado or ridden a dirt bike in California and haven’t applied for any Guinness records. Are you sure you met us…Simon & Lisa Thomas? You may be confusing us for Simon & Monica Newbound, whom had a very ‘different’ traveling attitude and they did intentionally clock up miles in the USA by crossing it 5 times in order to claim a world record. If memory serves these guys were also on an R1150GS and a F650GS.

  • I met Simon & Lisa, they seemed nice enough, ’til invited to speak at a rally. They came up with a song & dance about being broken down in Colorado, while bragging about Simon’s exploits on a dirt bike in California on their website.
    At that time they were wandering back & forth between the same destinations just to break the Guiness record for miles.
    I appreciate their enthusiasm, envy their ability to chuck it all & ride, wish they were a little more straightforward & honest. You can’t believe a lot of wht they say & post.

  • Horses for courses I think… if it’s a month blasting about the ashfelt then a fast tourer.. I’ve a k1200s that just eats the milesa and is about as comfortable as I will allow myself before I start to fall asleep.

    For off riding something low tech and light like Ed Mills DR would be my choice… something you can keep going with a coat hanger and a roll of gaffer tape.

    The older bmeers were great but the modern ones have too many electronics to go wrong when you’ve dumped it into a stream.

    Bottom line – the best in the world is the one that gets you home!

  • I agree ..all bikes are great it just depends on where your passion ends up.
    for me its my new 2012 road glide custom!!!! Once you go glide you’ve found your ride!!!!
    everyone enjoy their passion!

  • You’re right…All y’all. I just finished a $15k mi 100 day four corners bucket list ride on the HD Road Glide (2012 w/103 cubes). Been riding 42 years and have had a number of bikes and ridden many more. Haven’t truly road tested many of the touring models but have done short runs to check the fit and fun factor. Liked all of them for their own reasons, however, the Glide was perfect for this rider. I avoided interstates like an oil slicked tarmac and saw/felt/smelled and met up with the essence of America on those long forgotten by-ways. Some reasons supporting my HD choice. I am vertically challenged and found the best fit with the Glide. BMW is too tall, GoldWing is too upright. I personally like to sit in the bike…not on top of it. Reliability is a legit new standard for HD, repairability is important when in the middle of Montana and similar non-descript ports, the dealer network is unmatched (their corporate policy is clearly to treat travelers as their #1 service priority) and there’s nothing like letting European tourists have their photo taken with your Harley in Death Valley. From the deserts, to the Pacific coastline, Olympic Peninsula, Great Plains, Great Lakes, Upper New England, to the Blue Ridge parkway and the Keys my trusty pal never missed a beat. Find what’s right for you. Ride it. Live it. Love it. Follow your dreams.

  • I ride a 2012 Suzuki dr at the moment around town and in the bush i like it a lot but i don’t think i would go on a long trip on it i would prefer my VN or ledwing i used to own.

  • Well, I have owned a Goldwing and although it was a very pleasant experience in virtually every way, my R1200RT has something the ‘ol Wing will never have. Character. Although the Wing always was ready to do whatever long distance trip I through at it, it never stirred my soul like the RT. Perhaps it was its ponderous weight or size or electric smooth motor, but whatever it was it felt like, well nothing! The RT has just about the perfect mix of power, weight, sound, superb wind protection (when you want it), comfort and economy. All in one bike! Astounding that I just got off of a 1500 mile ride in two days and can’t wait to do it again. Not that the ride would not have been possible or even enjoyable on the GL, but…I just can’t put it in to words. Own them both for a while and you’ll get it!

  • Absolutely loved reading all the above. My R1150R is a great machine
    But for someone younger. I feel the 1200RT is the best all ’round compromise. Nimble in the city, yet smooth as silk on the highway. ST1300, FJR, Concours 14 all have more power (with 4 cylinders) but more weight — easily a hundred pounds more (455 kg). Victory’s Cross Country & Vision give great leg room, Gold Wing has been a proven winner for years. You ridea Harley because nothing else matters (and you don’t care! It’s a Harley!) the Glides are comfy, not quite a Wing –but it’s a Harley. Victory is doing a great job – I think better value, but the small dealer network (which is growing), is a concern. Ja

  • Again, there’s lots of discussion here about specifically what’s the ‘best bike’ and what can and cannot be done on this bike or that. Realistically it’s never about the bike but more the rider. A bike journey never stops because a bike broke down but simply because a rider chose not to fix it that one last time.

    here’s one of my favorite expressions, uttered after Argentinian Emilio Scotto spent ten years going around the world. He visited every region, in every country in the world and did the lot on a Honda Goldwing !$£@?!?!?! At the a bemused reporter asked him…But Emilio why did you do it on a Goldwing. his answer was priceless

    “…well, because no one told me that I couldn’t”!

    Cheers for now.
    Simon Thomas

  • Went from the Artic Circle in Ak to the tip of Florida and back in 5 weeks on a Road Glide. Thought the ride couldn’t be much better. This year made 1/2 that millage on a 2011 Fatboy lo and thought it was the best ever. Easier for my 30″ inseam and new replacement knees. So what I’m saying is the best bike ever is the one that’s paid for and between your knees.

  • I’ve logged some serious miles on a bike and have been riding for 40 years. For me, the most comfortable is the Vulcan VN2000. It is long and you can stretch out like a rocking chair. Huge floorboards and with Cobra Freeway bars and pegs it’s a great fit for a tall guy. Stock seat is bad but replaced with Mustang. Recently rode 2977 miles in 10 days. Could spend all day every day in the saddle on this one. Other bikes had to stretch every 50 miles. With a 2053cc engine, freeway cursing at 80 or 90 is effortless. For the Driver(not passenger), it’s more comfortable than any BMW(can’t stand) or Wing(bad peg position) or Ultra Classic(floorboards too small and heel shift poorly positioned). The 1300 and 1500’s seem like mopeds.

  • I left Baltimore on June 10th 2011 and rode from here to Vancouver BC through the States, and back from Vancouver BC to Baltimore though Canada. I was averaging 450 miles a day and rode 7907 miles on a Kawasaki VN 2000. All stock and the bike was a dream to ride. Only downside was the tires only lasted 6000 miles before having to be replaced. My next trip I’m planning is to circumnavigate the US…

  • but they did ride b m w , why cause theres dealers every where for the repairs ans service , thats the bike you take , hondas, bmw world wide, parts tools dealers happy to help set it up plan route. stick to it and go…bmw loves the add. on something like this.. great co solid bikes…

  • I can understand that it is the RT but surely is it not the bike that you feel most happy and comfortable with? a bike that will take you to the end of the continent. My son and I were in conversation with some bikers today and the subject of distance to ride came up, The owners of sports bikes reckoned that 90 miles was the limit. The tourers owners spoke of riding all day and the next day and so on.

  • I have been riding for 30 years now and this year Marc my 16 yr old son bought a new CBR125R and after only 400kms in the saddle, my life long buddy and I took him on a 2,500km ride around the province of Ontario all the way down to the BMW National Rally in Bloomsburg PA. He was tougher than I was and dealt with two incidents very well showing great riding mindset and polished riding skills. It turned out much better than I anticipated but as a parent I can tell you that riding with your child piloting their own bike is not for the faint at heart but the rewards are immense and the memories are priceless.

  • Thanks for all your comments… son and I have started a closer relationship since my wife and I entered Empty Nest Era….she doesn’t ride and I just started…have a couple Yamaha xs650’s (one was gonna be for parts but since they both run….) My son toured Australia last year on a Kawi 250…and hope to do more riding together! …Cheers,Tim

  • Another great Post! If you want to read more about Simon and Lisa’s trip, they were featured in Road Runner Magazine.

    “Bumblebee” or “The Bee” is my yellow 93 Honda ST1100. I love having the hard bags and top case. The Bee is dependable and just a great all-around bike.
    “The Beast” -my 1982 Suzuki GS850G was considered The World’s Most Perfect Motorcycle.”
    My 1983 Honda Magna is “Miss America.” Very fast and nicely geared, basically a CB750 with a cruiser-styled seat.

    Hey, the motorcycle you own and ride is always the best! I hope to take The Bee along Route 66 very soon, and we spend a lot of time together!

    Ride Safely, RIde Smart, Be Visible and Enjoy one of Man’s (and Woman’s) greatest pleasure – motorcycling!

  • Whatever you are lucky enough to own and are game to ride. I’ve seen pictures of a GSXR ridden to the tip of Cape York in Aus.

  • Hmmm, A lot of commentary and a little truth. Favorites? Is a matter of opinions and we all know what they say about opinions. 1968 HD 250 Sprint, an Italian made piece of Crap, but when I was on it, it was heaven. Ugly, big, expensive as children when you could actually GET the part., and enormously over sized compared to cc, but it was my first. Paid $350 for it and that included the boxes. Oh the places we went. that big ugly lunker will ALWAYS be the best bike i ever sat. Jim

  • Good answer.I was doing laps at the Hawks Nest in NY.Pulling into the overlook to talk to my friend who would rather watch than scrape up his floor boards.I told him I’d need to learn more about the adjustable suspension on my Super Glide Sport.This turd who overheard me then says I was on the wrong bike.I was out there scraping pegs and exaust pipes.Having a blast on a big Harley cruiser.How can there be a “WRONG BIKE”?

  • These comments echo what Simon and Lisa have said. The “best bike” is what you like and are comfortable with. And, perhaps more importantly, follow your dreams. All my life I’ve heard people say “I really want to do ……, and as soon as I get the time. Or, “I have always wanted to do that but just don’t have the time”. The truth is, you find the time to do what you really want to do. If you are passionate about something, you will do it.
    The corollary is also interesting; if you’re doing something you’re not passionate about, why are you doing it?
    Life is too short not to be passionate about things and to do that about which you are passionate.
    Ride safe (my choice would be a BMW R1200GSA) and find something every day about which to be passionate.

  • Perhaps a lot of people didn’t really capture the gist of what was being said. There is no such thing as one overall best subjectively. When you enjoy or love what you ride you become one with it. Dont want to be overdramatic, but this is true. Yes, I own a BMW 1200R and love it. I would like to travel the world on it. If I owned a goldwing, Ha-D roadking or a Kawi Concours, I would feel the same. When I get on my beemer, I get on it for me and my thrill. When I see someone on their Soft-tail or electra glide, it’s great to see somebody enjoying what they are on. Don’t compare, brands, just be proud and happy to see fellow riders enjoying the glee of the moment. After all, is this not what it all comes down to. Be safe always. Scott

  • I own a 2006 harley davidson street glide and have a detachable tour pack and have 56,000 thousandmiles on it and love it and would take it over any other motorcycle except for road glide. Harley for life period.

  • In every aspect except top speed and perhaps pose value the POSTIE wins hands down…no question.

  • Hmm best bike thats would have to be a Honda CT110.For those who dont know the bike it is what we call here in Australia a Postie Bike.You cant kill them and they never ever break>You can run them dry of oil,seize them and then allow them to cool down ,top up the oil and away you go.They weigh bugger all but come with the capability to take anything you can throw at them.When you bog one its a matter of dragging them out (single handed) they use little fuel and less tyres and oil,servicing is basically change the oil tighten the chain check the tyres and flog it til your tired.In Aus we give them to kids to learn to ride on ,we herd sheep and cattle on them (to slow for kangaroos) we ride them across country from one side to the other (thats dirt and desert not roads)we also race them(called bucket racing) and every man and his dog has fond memories of a part one has played in their life.
    I myself rode one around for nearly 20 years an average of 5 hours a day and never ever did i meet anything that ever stopped it
    The best thing about the ol postie bike is its flat bicky at about 70/75 kph so you dont get hurt when your fall or crash and best of all you see what you went riding to see instead of some green and brown blur like the one you see on a superbike.
    When you stop you find friends you never knew you had and stories and fires you never want to loose.
    Itdoesn’t matters knowing where you are going/have been what matters is when your heart wells up in your chest and you are at peace with your existance and thats easiest to find on a postie bike

  • I am with Chris GL 1800 all the way. I have an 07 in blue and wether I want to take a trip or ride the twisties it can do both. A very nimble machine to look so big.

  • Great and inspirational article. I totally agree that the best bike is the one you’re comfortable with in your head. My [current] dream is to ride my BMW 1200GS to the four corners. I like the GS because I never manage to stay totally on blacktop on any given long ride and it suits me better on dirt roads–I do give up some comfort. Don’t want to do the rally because I want it to last two to three months and to avoid freeways the whole way–two-lane blacktop. Here’s hoping you all make the ride of your dreams.

  • My dream is for me and my good buddies, the “Old Hogs”, to ride cross country on our touring bikes, taking a northern route, from Long Island, New York to the Coronado Beach Hotel on Coronado Island in San Diego, California. Our wives will then fly out there to meet us and spend a week of fancy dining and lounging on the beach. Following that, we put the ladies back on the plane, mount our HOGs and return home via a southern route. I expect that such a trip will take about six weeks. Can’t wait to do this. It’ll be my reward to myself for retirement after 36 years of practicing surgery. My ride is a Road King.

  • Nice answer! Many people are surprized that I love to ride my bike even long distances. I have done week long plus trips up and down the entire east coast from NC.

    I ride Honda’s smallest cruiser (until they stopped production of it last year).
    It’s The Honda Shadow VLX Deluxe. That’s right, a 583 cc cruiser with no windshield.

    One of my trips to New England covered 2,700 miles.
    The other was a week in Florida covering 1,900 miles.

    I recently outfitted the bike to carry my 6 man tent and camping supplies for motorcycle camping. Works great! Three camping trips to date.

    Love to ride! Lets go!

  • The Best Long-Distance Motorcycle is a great article and I enjoyed reading it.
    PS: the answer surprised me.

  • Sounds like this couple has done what it takes to become motivational speakers!

    I like the idea of the best bike being the bike that you love to ride, alot of wisdom in that.
    If I had to vole, I’m in for Honda’s ST1100, has kind of a cult following, as it is a really good bike that gets overlooked.

  • In my opinion Simon and Lisa really know what they’re talking about.
    The best bike is the one you love to ride, day-in and day-out, mile over mile. Any small doubts will transform into nagging regrets otherwise.
    “How” and “when” to follow your dream? “Now” and “whichever way it happens” is the answer, otherwise you’ll keep inventing/finding always new reasons NOT to do it… and you’ll end up NOT doing it EVER. Take it from somebody who is very often TOO rational. When something is important to you, throw away reason and follow your heart: better to live with bad memories than with the regret of having never even tried…
    Safe and enjoyable riding to all my biker friends out there, especially those I haven’t met.

  • I agree it’s largely a taste of the rider. I was a diehard Harley man for nearly thirty years, and five years ago I would have said an Electra Glide. That was before I discovered the BMW RT. I still love an H-D, but the RT is hands down the best all around bike I’ve ever owned, which includes all the japanese except Yamaha. For some reason I’ve never owned one. Maybe there’s an FJR or VMAX waiting for me out there?

  • I agree with “Ed Mills” response. I to have been riding motorcycles since I was able to drive a car. If I was driving across country on any paved road. It certainly would be an 1800cc HONDA GOLD WING. There is not other motorcycle that can even come close to the reliability and comfort that the HONDA GOLD WING provides. It has power beyond your wildest dreams and it is even a good canyon curvy capable rider in comfort and with stability. Yes, there are other motorcycles like a BMW or other sport touring bikes that have great cornering and power. But “NONE” hold a candle to a Honda GOLD WING for comfort and reliability.
    Yes, I believe in enjoying my motorcycle riding in comfort, power, stability and reliablity. If you haven’t ever ridden a GOLD WING you must ride one sometime. You too will then see what all the rave is about! It is the NUMBER 1 rated motorcycle for paved road cross country touring in the whole nation of the good old USA. No Harley, BMW, Ducati, or any other motorcycle can compare. Don’t believe me…… go ride one for yourself. Then you can say you have ridden they finest motorcycle ever built! Yes, we all have our riding styles and preferences. But, NOTHING will ever hold up to a GOLD WING for performance, safety, reliability, comfort and total FUN!

    Safe and enjoyable riding to you all……… what ever one drives. BE SAFE and RESPONSIBLE!

  • Wouldn’t the choice also seem to also depend on where one’s long distance is to be found, and what defines “long distance?”

    San Francisco to New York on mostly freeway? I’d like a Goldwing, thank you. Especially that stretch across Nebraska. All those buttons and widgets would make life much more bearable for those of us with ADHD.

    500 miles of moderately swoopy open highway with a few good long straight stretches interspersed? I’ll take my own Hayabusa on this one. (yes, my personal current choice of road machine is also greatly influenced by a bad case of attention-deficit hyperactivity….)

    A thousand miles of paved, twisty coastline alongside craggy outcroppings and fathomless ravines? Sadly, the Honda 919 is no longer produced, as it would seem wonderful for this. Comfortable, sporty but not all crunched up in a racer’s crouch. Or perhaps Yamaha’s FZ1. Either way, perhaps with a little more aggressive tire tread pattern than is found on the stock units. And some suitable panniers, of course.

    A week-long ride on really primitive, boulder-strewn, pitfall-riddled, intermittently disappearing “roads?” Good and bad things have been said about BMW “adventure” bikes, Kawasaki’s butt-ugly KLR650, Honda’s “designed for tall athletes who ride back and forth to NBA practice via a motocross course” XR650… and KTM’s pretentiously exotic, NASA-priced offerings… but I bought the slightly dated, cheap, reliable, user-friendly, low-tech Suzuki DR650 for such work. (So far, I love it, except for the absence of a really low first gear. They really need to make these bikes with dual-range transmissions like the old Honda Trail 90’s used to have.)

    Is 500 miles considered a “long” ride? It certainly seemed so, twenty-five years ago when I purchased a decrepit old oil-burning, bald-tire’d Yamaha TX500 for the whopping sum of $300 and rode it from Oregon to California over the Siskiyou mountain range. I wish I had some video footage of me sputtering and wheezing past Mt. Shasta’s grandeur on that poor old thing.

    Ride safe and hearty, friends . . .


  • Hi to all.

    I have travelled aaround 120 000miles on reasonable roads including average sand roads on various types of bikes two up with my wife and only one bike can keep a smile on both of our faces . We consider all aspects including comfort , weatherprotection , reliability , luggage space for 4 man tent tent , sleeping gear and going out clothes.

    Have You guessed yet what my answer is?

    Come on guys it pretty obvious to anybody who has experienced varfious types of motorcycles. I used to be a motorcycle and boat salesman and have tried everything and anything which i could get my hands on . Yes thtas right – you mention it – Ive ridden it for at least a full weekend.

    Here s Your answer.

    Ready fot ot Yet?

    Scroll down now.
    The one and only BMW RT Range. Ultimately the RT1200 but even the R1100RT is better then anything else which i have ever ridden. No wind, water ingress, upright position , 50mpg long distance tank, heated corbin seat, plug in sockets for vests and heated gloves for those -20 and below in Eastern Europe and cold nights in Africa. Who wants to ride on extreme bad sandy rocky roads and be comfortable without falling and damaging the bike 50 000 miles from home – stay off those bad roads You dont need on / off road bikes . They have poor handling, poor grip in the tarmac and concrete blah blah blah. Enjoy Your riding guys.

  • There isn’t a best LD bike. Just look at the start of the Iron Butt Rally every other year and see for yourself. Different riding positions appeal to different riders, as well as bike type-GS style, Sport Touring, Touring…heck, some folks like the sport bike position and can ride ride quite adequetly on an R1!

    The best LD bike? The one that fits you and is the best compromise of fuel efficiency, capacity and comfort.

  • I agree I have ridden thence so long I do not remember and in 1990 I was involved in a accident that my wife did not make it through and I had to raise my son who was only eight month old and have done a wonderfull job, both him and I will not drive and we live near the famose Salem which town so we get snow so this year I found studs on and have a Buell Blast as a spare bike so I am getting dirt tires and studding them so he can get to his classes, he just started college and just bought me and him new bikes, I tried to talk him out of it but he and I have a special relationship and he say’s that hanging out with me is sometimes better than his friends.

    I have been through Hell and I worry about him riding but I think it is in are blood, he does not have a car license to drive and I wonder if him or the both of us blame cars for the death of my wife his mom.

    I am trying to give him all the knowlege I have so he will not get hurt and I also gave up allot to raise him and I am both proud of myself and him for we both are very good guy’s.

    I want everyone to know to drive as safe as possible because loosing some one you love will change who you are, and you will be missed by all the people who care about us.

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