After returning from a recent trip to Florida, Chris McIntyre likened driving his car to life in a fishbowl. "The wind is not in your face, the sun is not on your arms, you don't hear any sounds or smell any smells," he said.
And that's a bad thing?
Only if you would rather be on a motorcycle, which McIntyre would. He's president of EagleRider, a 10-year-old motorcycle rental and tour company that rents Harley Davidsons and arranges group trips.
"A motorcycle trip can be a very solitary thing," says Frank Covucci, director of travel and tours for the Ohio-based American Motorcyclist Assn., which has more than a quarter-million members and also offers tours. "If you've done that enough times, it's nice to have someone to talk to, to share war stories, to have dinner with."
The amount of structure varies with the tour. Beach's Motorcycle Adventures tends to give its participants more freedom, says Rob Beach, the president. "We don't ride down the road as a big group," he says. "While it is a 'tour,' each individual tour member has the freedom to do as he or she pleases every day. "
But some bikers like to depend on a tour for the details, such as accommodations, meals (or at least restaurant recommendations), information on the best roads and sights, and, sometimes, transportation (bike rental may or may not be included) -- many of the same reasons that one joins any tour group but with an important exception: "You are part of the scenery," Covucci says.
And unlike a bus tour, motorcycling trips require skills. "No motorcycle trip should be for a beginner," says Diane Fitzgerald, who, with her husband, Burt Richmond, operates Lotus Tours, a Chicago company that also offers trips to out-of-the-ordinary destinations, such as Morocco and India. "We need people to have thousands of miles of experience."
Whether to the Middle East or the Midwest, motorcycle trips are not for the faint of heart. Some of the terrain and conditions can be challenging: the Alps with its twisting roads; the British Isles, where driving is on the opposite side of the highway; or anyplace where it rains, for which tours rarely stop unless it's a deluge.
They are also not for the faint of wallet. Tours can run more than $225 a day without motorcycle rental and as much as $300 a day with. Air fare to the destination often may be extra. Motorcycling gear and bike rental may not be included.
Here are some important things to remember when choosing a group:
Ask friends for recommendations.
Check to see how long the company has been in business. Stability counts.
Ask the company for references.
Go with a group that explains precisely what is included in the trips and the prices.
Find out how experienced the tour leaders are.
Choose a trip that suits your skills and reflects your level of independence.
Among companies offering tours:
American Motorcyclist Assn.: (800) AMA-JOIN (262-5646) or (614) 856-1900, http://www.ama-cycle.org. You do not have to be a member to take a tour. This year's tour destinations: the U.S., Britain, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Alpine Europe.
Beach's Motorcycle Adventures: (716) 773-4960, http://www.beachs-mca.com. Europe, Italy, New Zealand, Norway and Southern California.
EagleRider: (888) 900-9901 or (310) 536-6777, http://www.eaglerider.com. Offers tours and rents motorcycles by the day at 30 locations around the world. U.S. and Mexico guided tours.
Edelweiss Bike Travel: (800) 507-4459 or (760) 249-5825, http://edelweissbike.com. Americas, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Lotus Tours: (312) 951-0031, http://www.lotustours.com. India, Turkey and China, the Americas, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Web sites that will point you to motorcycle tours: http://www.bikersplanet.net/tours.shtml, http://www.moto-directory.com/touring.htm.