15 Places to Ride Before You Die
There are plenty of lists out there of places you should ride before you die, and for good reason. Ask ten bikers for their bucket list of destinations and you are going to get ten different answers, and possibly an argument. This is my list, based on 25 years and over 100k miles of riding around the U.S.A. You could write a top ten list of just bike weeks and rallies, or just epic roads, or just races. This list includes roads, events, rallies, races, and more, that should be of interest to any biker worth his or her leather.
1 Coast to Coast
You don’t have to go New York to L.A., or Atlanta to Seattle, or Portland, ME to Portland, OR. There really are no rules, but to be able to say you have ridden coast to coast gives you the cred to say that you are a serious biker. The United States of America is a great big, complex, country with many, many different people in it, and lots of different cultures spread across thousands of miles. I rode from Boston, MA to Los Angeles, via New Orleans and the Mississippi river, and was amazed at how different each little town I stopped in was from the next, even in this age of cable TV and the internet. Do yourself a favor and set aside a good four weeks or more, bring a paper map, and avoid the interstate highways as much as possible.
2. Daytona Bike Week
Going to bike week in Daytona is kind of cliche, but everyone ought to do it at least once. If you live in the great white north, riding there can be a real ordeal since it takes place in the middle of winter, but it is doable on a properly equipped bike. Get yourself good waterproof gear and an electric vest and as long as you don’t have to ride through a snowstorm you will be fine. One thing is certain, though: this is not a trip that is going to include camping out under the stars, so be sure to budget for hotel rooms all along the way, and plan on some days only getting maybe 100 miles while up north. In Daytona, plan on going to the motocross, flat track, and road races that typically happen that week, and not just profiling on main street.
3. Canada to Mexico
This is the so-called “Three Flags Run” because it typically involves visiting Canada, crossing the USA, and visiting Mexico, or vice-versa. This is the north-to-south variation on the coast-to-coast theme and another big bragging right ride among touring riders. I’ve never done it myself, but I aim to ride the west coast one of these days, south to north, and back to Los Angeles. If you are the type of person who likes big organized group events, the Southern California Motorcycling Association does this tour every year in September.
4. Laconia, NH Bike Week
There are basically three huge bike week rallies every year, and Laconia is the oldest, yet the least well known. They have been having motorcycle rallies here since before the first world war. New Hampshire is a beautiful state full of great motorcycle roads, and in June when the rally happens, the weather is typically perfect. Being in the middle of New England, history is all around, and day trips can take you to Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts.
The road up the tallest peak in the north-east, Mount Washington, typically closes to all but motorcycle traffic for a day during bike week, too. Perhaps the highlight of bike week at Laconia is the hill climb, where specially built bikes scramble up a dirt hill to see who can make it to the top fastest, or in the lower classes, who can make it at all. There is road racing at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway if you prefer. Of course, like any big rally, there is a vibrant main street-to-cruise and plenty of parties to enjoy.
People say that Alaska is the last American frontier, the last wild untamed land in the country, and you really ought to ride there. If you are already planning on doing a three flags tour, why not just continue north across some of the great Canadian highways, and head to our largest state? What’s a few thousand more miles, right?
6. Any Local Parade
Now Billy and Wyatt got thrown in jail for trying to join in the local parade, but in most small towns it is not hard to get permission to join the local Memorial Day, 4th of July, or other parades. You may have to get your whole club involved, or you may have to join a club, but the cheers of the crowd are worth the hassle. I’ve wanted to do this ever since I saw a group of Shriners on special purple and white bikes riding around and throwing candy to the kids.
7. Sturgis, S.D. Rally
Does anyone really need to explain to you what Sturgis is, or why you should go? Are you sure you own a Harley Davidson? Better go check that you didn’t accidentally buy a Honda Shadow by mistake. Sturgis is probably the biggest rally to ride to drawing bikers from all corners of the country like iron to a magnet. The rally takes place in August, which is the heart of riding season, and is in South Dakota, which is the middle of the country, and the middle of nowhere as far as a lot of people are concerned, so it is a great time to ride and a nice distance from everywhere. There are races of all sorts at Sturgis, too, with the drag races being the must see event.
8. Peoria TT Races
Since 1947 the Peoria Motorcycle Club has organized a race which combined flat track dirt oval, a jump, and a few right turns for good measure, all on a 5/8th mile course. It set the standard for what would be a TT race in this country. Many other tracks have run similar races over the years, but the Peoria TT is the big one, and still part of the AMA dirt track season. Of course, whenever you have a bike-focused event like this, you draw bikers from all over, and it becomes a party. There are plenty of opportunities to make the scene in town, and a bike show, as well as other activities. The big race weekend is usually in the middle of August, right after Sturgis.
9. Rolling Thunder
Rolling Thunder is an annual ride by bikers and veterans from all over the country that converges on Washington, D.C. every year on Memorial Day. The goal is to raise money and awareness for POW/MIA and veterans affairs. Could there be a better cause?
Maybe the Shriners money raising for sick kids, but veterans are always a close second. Ask around, and chances are you’ll find a group in your part of the country heading to D.C. that you can caravan with.
10. Grand Prix of the Americas, Texas
Now sure, not a lot of people think of Harley Davidson when they think of MotoGP racing, but this is a huge biker event every year no matter what you ride. The Circuit of the Americas is in Texas, near Austin, so of course, there will be tons of Harleys there, like everywhere else in Texas. You may not want to be caught dead riding a plastic clad sportbike yourself, but there is no denying the superhuman abilities of these riders and their bikes as they push closer to 200 mph every season.
11.Any Mile Flat Track Race
The big mile-long flat track race takes place several times a year at tracks in Arizona, Sacramento, CA, and the biggest one in Springfield, IL. These are the tracks where superhuman men corner inches away from the wall, elbow to elbow, at speeds close to 150 mph. For a long time, AMA flat track was a Harley only event, with no other bike maker able to produce a motor as well suited to the dirt as the Sportster-based XR750. In the past 10 years, though, Kawasaki, Ducati, Triumph, Suzuki, and Indian have all been fielding entries and nipping at the heels of the Motor Company. This year the AMA races in Springfield in May and in September. You can see the schedule at AMA Pro Flattrack.
12.Monument Valley, UT
Along with the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley is at the top of the list of most iconic natural locations in the American West. If you have ever seen a John Ford western, you know these rocks. What better place for a modern cowboy on his steel horse? If you are looking for an epic western road trip you can hit Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Four Corners, and the Million Dollar Highway on a two-week vacation and have a lifetime of memories.
13.Pacific Coast Highway, San Francisco to Santa Barbara
Admittedly, you can take this route from Mexico to Canada, but the best parts of it in California are between San Francisco and Santa Barbara. That is lucky for folks who are not locals because you can rent bikes at either end. That means East Coast riders can fly in, rent a bike, have an amazing tour for a few days and fly home.
14.Harley / Hooligan Night at the Local Dirt Track
As I mentioned before, Harley Davidson for a long time had a lock on professional flat track racing. In order to increase the number of spectators, many local small dirt tracks started inviting street riders on any old Harley to come race on one weekend a season.
Some called it Harley Night, some called it Street Bike Night, and many called it the Hooligan Class, but no matter what you call it, it was big messy fun. Typically these were tracks only about a quarter-mile around, so speeds were in the 30-60 mph neighborhood. Costa Mesa Speedway, in Orange County, California, has been doing this for 40 years or so several times a season at their speedway races (single cylinder, single speed, purpose built bikes).
15.The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride
If you are like most men, you love your prostate, so why not take a ride to raise money to fight prostate cancer? The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride (DGR) is perhaps the easiest ride to do. In fact, you can do it once a year in different cities all over the country. Everyone shines up their bikes, puts on their Sunday best and goes on a nice easy ride from one bike-centric location to the next. It is the perfect reason to grind down your toenails and get the grease out of your fingernails.