I'm not sure what I was proving. I set out to make a loop around Lake Superior with my brother, Larry, on my 650 V-Strom and me on my Yamaha WR250X. At first, this seemed like a good idea. Through town and into the backroads country side, the 250 was perfect. For the first 100 miles I thought I had the better deal. Then we started making miles on long straight 2-lanes in Wisconsin into Michigan and across the plains to Ontario the 250 showed its other side; the under-powered, butt-numbing, over-capable side. A bike that can stop on a dime, turn like a ballet dancer, and go from 0-50mph as fast as you can shift from 1st to 6th is under-utilized in a world designed for bad drivers, big trucks, and boring scenery.
An Electroglide or Goldwing is more suited to boring roads, but so is a station wagon (or SUV, if that designation makes you feel less wimpy for driving a station wagon) with cruise-control and HVAC. While I sat on my skinny dirt bike perch, I had way too much time to think about the mechanics of the trip. Both bikes, the DL650 and the WR250X knocked down the exact same 55mpg, mile-after-mile and fill-up-after-fill-up. The difference being two gallons more capacity in the 650, even after I'd installed an aftermarket fuel tank on the WR. So, I stalled the trip for fuel stops twice as often as Larry. Plugging along at 65mpg for 1600 mostly-straight miles gave me more than enough time to think about what I was doing on that road.
One of the things I thought about is that, obviously, mathematically and practically-speaking group motorcycle rides don't make sense. Even little groups, like our two-man crew. Two guys on 55mpg motorcycles are spending more transportation money on their bikes, than they would taking one car, if the car got at least 28mpg. My Ford Escort gets 34mpg and it's a crappy old station wagon with 200k on the odometer and 1998 fuel economy. Four 55mpg bikers could have been traveling in a 16mpg camper. Six bikers would have been able to justify a rented luxury bus.
It proves to me, again, that motorcycles are best suited to solo travel. When one person wants to, or needs to, get from point A to Z. Of course, you could argue that two people can travel more economically on one motorcycle. Obviously, 55mpg is history, going two-up, since even an efficient bike is going to be less efficient with more weight and greater wind resistance. Tire wear is accelerated. Maintenance becomes more critical and more expensive. The two-up motorcycle is bigger, more expensive, and less maneuverable; a Goldwing instead of a KLR, for example. More important, one person can ride anywhere.
Two, not so much.
The idea of riding with someone is much more interesting than the reality. In a group, you have to lead or follow. I suck at either position. I don't look back and I like to keep at least two miles between me and whoever is in front of me. I have another unpredictable human mind to anticipate. More distractions and obstacles to deal with. Twice as many maintenance problems to solve. Fuel stops are more complicated and take way longer. I'm either slowing someone up or someone is dragging me back. I have to pay attention to moods, interests, habits, problems, and other personality issues. I'm lucky to know what I'm thinking. I have no idea what is in your head and usually don't care.
So, the next time someone asks to go somewhere with me, we're going to take the cage. The advantages are obvious. First, I might not have to drive. Second, the trip will be cheaper. Since I'm going with someone, I'll have the chance to talk to them on the trip. We can easily carry more camping and travel gear. We can save money by sleeping in the car; that's what reclining seats are for, right? We can venture away from the parking lot, since we can lock up our stuff in the cage and worry (less) about thieves and vandals. [You can't meaningfully vandalize my Escort because Ford and I beat you to it.]
There are places where all this logic falls apart. Not many, but some. When there is a good reason to go somewhere with someone else, next time I'm going to shut off my analytic mind and enjoy the ride. To do that, I have to stay away from boring roads to ordinary places.
Trail riding is an obvious buddy event; ride a few miles, fall down, make fun of the victim, pick the bike up, tell stories about the last ride, hydrate, share power-bars, ride some more, fall down and start the sequence all over again. I'm not sure the riding part of an off-road trip is a group event, but the falling down parts are. Other than trying to avoid running over the other guy or being run over by him, all I have time and capacity to think about is staying on the trail. But there is always some time along the trail for extracurricular activities when I'm on the trail.
So, while I left on last summer's trip with the idea that I would prove that my little bike was a serviceable touring bike, I came home with the proof that touring with someone else is a silly idea. At least, I proved that to myself. Your mileage will probably vary. As far as the original concept, the WR250 did fine. I'd take it places over my 650 on at least three out of four mid-length trips and about 99% of my usual commute and around-town errands. However, if I'm going to be bored with the road, I'm going to take the big bike. At least I'll be comfortably bored.
MMM July 2012