• Log In
  • Sign Up
    • I started to imagine how a motorcycle should be designed for this. It should be like a Land Rover on two wheels—rugged, good clearance, more upright seating, less buffeting, more cargo space, more suspension travel, bigger gas tank.

      How come the only two I could think of were a BMW GS and Triumph Tiger? I didn't like oilhead GS engines in the day because they surged. I had owned an oilhead street bike. I wondered, aren’t Tigers more street than dirt with that low front fender? Why can’t someone else make a rugged bike with more than one cylinder so I can zap past the trucks?

    • I made a mental note: get on the Internet when you get home and find a forum for…hmmm…what do they call rugged touring bikes? Oh well, I'll just call them adventure bikes for now because this is turning into one Hell of an adventure.

      Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta were beautiful, but I avoided tourists and stayed with locals. I felt like Ben during his missionary adventures. A group of teens came over to hear stories about America from the big gringo. They laughed, asked questions about pop stars and fashion, and asked why we didn’t listen to Nancy Reagan when she was First Lady.

      What? Nancy Reagan? They explained how American demand for drugs meant kids they knew got leather jackets and machine guns at 16 by joining cartels. Did Americans know how much our consumption of drugs drove violence in Mexico? No, actually, I didn’t and we stopped laughing for a while.

      The ride to Guadalajara was breathtaking. On Sunday morning I cruised the city and admired the 50s & 60s-era cars people were showing off downtown. I felt like I was in Cuba. I spent a couple hours just walking and admiring the Buicks and Chevy Bel Airs, and wishing my father would have let me buy his 1953 Buick Roadmaster when I was 14.  I would still own that car.

    • In 2001, Mexico was building cement superhighways, called Cuotas (toll roads), that reminded me of the Autobahn in Germany. They were nearly deserted. The locals said no one could afford them, not even the truckers. I was twice shaken by the sight of trucks that had plunged off the narrow roads into ravines below and couldn’t stop thinking about the tragedy of the tolls.

      I hopped on a Cuota from Guadalajara to Mexico City and accelerated to the speed limit. After a few minutes, WHOOM, a BMW car shot past at seemingly twice my speed. 10 minutes later a Porsche did it. Pretty soon I realized there are some rich Mexicans and nobody seems to enforce the speed limit. So I got bolder.

      The first thing I wanted to know is how fast they were going. So I took it up to 90. WHOOM: another one. 100. WHOOM. Well maybe more like a whoosh at that speed. 110. Whoosh. Okay, that’s it, my ears were going to explode from wind noise and losing my earplugs at the border sinkhole. 

    • The burros made me shiver on the two-lane roads because they would feed on the shoulders just a few feet from me as I zoomed by. Do they ever run out in the road? On the Cuotas, the burros were blocked by fences. Relief.

      Sometimes I’d run into a flock of butterflies and they would coat my helmet so I couldn’t see. I kept stopping to wash my helmet shield. And for some reason my bike was getting slower. More WHOOMs. Was it because we were getting to higher altitudes near Mexico City? Top speed dropped to 90, then 70, then lower. The engine sounded pitiful when I rolled open the throttle. BUWAAHHH.

      This was the trouble I dreaded. A breakdown on a fancy bike in the middle of nowhere. Dirty gas? I pulled into a rest area having no idea what to do. As I washed my shield again I thought, “Hmmm… So many butterflies." I checked my air filter. Totally clogged. I cleaned it out, along with the radiator, and back to 110 mph.

      No one told me that in Mexico City the busses don’t care if you’re in the lane next to them, they’re coming. Better squeeze between them and the car next to you. The first time it happened, I thought jerk! You could have killed me on this congested freeway. But I figured out that if you’re a motorcycle, they’re coming for you. After that I stayed off the freeways in Mexico City and enjoyed the city streets. They have beautiful roundabouts, dramatic statues, parks, & big trees.

      Lucky for me—the man without a plan—I happened upon Zona Rosa near the old town. It has artists, a gay community, and great restaurants (Photo from Flickr user Aram Franco )

    • Zona Rosa is the only place in Mexico where I saw almost-shaved heads (more like buzz cuts) and always on women. They were striking.

      I never mind asking someone for their photo now, but back then I wasn’t so brazen. So you’ll have to make do with this photo of Natalie Portman from Good Housekeeping.

    • Mexico City stunned me. First, IT’S SURROUNDED BY SOME OF THE WORLD’S HIGHEST MOUNTAINS! Who knew? El Pico de Orizaba is 18,500’, 4,000’ higher than Mt. Whitney. Who knows this?

      If only I had a rugged motorcycle…I could have ridden up a dirt road to 14,100’. From there you can summit in a day. I didn’t have crampons for hiking up glaciers or a warm parka, but I got a great bucket-list item for someday. Must. Return!

    • Second, just 45 minutes outside of the city is Teotihuacan, an ancient (abandoned) city of perhaps 125,000 population, concurrent with the Roman empire—perhaps the 6th largest city in the world at the time. It also contains the 6th largest pyramid ever built. Tourists were bent over clutching their burning quads trying to get to the top.

    • Third, the road to Acapulco! Well paved, smooth twisties, remote, beautiful, alpine… Whenever I’m asked what my favorite road for motorcycling in the world is, I think of this road. Whatever rugged bike was in my future, it had to be good on roads like this.

    • It’s a crazy thing to suddenly descend, after 4 hours of riding in the cool mountain air, to Acapulco. In the space of a few miles it suddenly gets hot, humid, congested and packed with luxury resorts.

      A funny thing happened in Acapulco: I got homesick. I called Toni from a phone booth: $96. I was tempted to ride south down the coast and through the mountains to Guatemala and Belize, but I wanted to do it with her. And I wanted to be home when she went under the knife.

      So I turned around and rode back to Mexico City. I still can’t believe this but the next day I rode 1,141 miles to El Paso by setting the speedo to 120 on the Cuotas and holding it there all day. Ow, my ears. The next day I rode an equal distance back home, in slow motion, at 70 mph.


      What’s a motorcycle adventurer to do once the needle is in your arm and you need a daily fix of adventure?  Buy a server and forum software on a lark and not think about what it will mean for you for the next 17 years?

      Yeah, I didn't think that through either. (To be continued.)

    • Great story and nice to hear how advrider was born. I found advrider in 2004 and have lurked there since.

      MikeO's "inspection of the colonies" and Seán's "took a little ride" ride report showed me a side of the US that wasn't in the tour guides.

      Forgive me for touching on a very emotional time in your life but you said you were in NY when you got the call that Ben was ok. I seem to remember that was also when the attack on 9/11 happened?

      Did your experience during 9/11 also encourage you to hit the road?

    • Chris, you created a site & concept others have only been trying to replicate (and capitalize on) these days.. I have been on it, like others, since around 2004 and think it was/is largely so popular and liked because of it being genuinely people oriented and not for profit, with no ads, among other things. Passion, good managing the diversity of topics, good moderation, and an imo extremely attractive design (especially the orange black) site's rich features help too. Just as with people, one good thing attracts another, and being on ADV did lead me to interact with so many wonderful stories and people. I also eventually did start posting my own ride reports, and subscribed to smugmug which I still love today. I look forward to reading more of this story!

      Before advrider, there were only books..


    • MikeO's "inspection of the colonies" and Seán's "took a little ride" ride report showed me a side of the US that wasn't in the tour guides.

      I think a critical ingredient to ADV's rise was how we were naturally drawn to adventurous characters. Sean was incredibly entertaining and inmates (more on that word later) would message me saying how much they LOVED his stories. They had everything: love, adventure, conflict, a dog...

      When SmugMug was young, he stopped by with his dog on the way to Guatemala where he was going to teach English as a second language. I knew how good a writer he was so I offered him a job and he became employee #7, I think. He wrote the line "Your photos look better here" which SmugMug still uses in various places. He is a key player in SmugMug's education and VIP support. He was just on Skype with @rtwPaul helping with something.

      Here's what he casually wrote in 2007 on his ride:

      By 11:30 am I've returned to sea level, and the Pacific comes into view. The sun is shining and I am warm enough to take off the wooly. For better or worse, I am determined to bring every bit of color I can with me as I venture further north. I'm still not sure when I'll get home, but when I do, I want to look like I have been very far away. Wife beater armed, Mr. Sol, do your stuff!

    • Part 2: Speaking of characters, there was a mailing list for BMW GS riders with 1,000 people. Two members stood out: cRAsh and fish. They had been banned on other forums for too much attitude.

      I made them mods and they invented an off-topic forum they named Jo Momma. What could go wrong? When the adventure motorcycle community saw they were mods, they wrote "the inmates have overrun the asylum!" We loved it and the words asylum and inmates stuck.

      The two wild childs had a profound influence on everything. Anyone who loves ADV owes them for its edgy character. And yet, I also banned them a few years later for too much attitude. 😢 Still love you guys.

    • I came back from Mexico not knowing what bike to buy for my next ride (to Alaska!). The other forums springing up were named after bike brands. I lust after Ducatis and KTMs too but the love of adventure and riding seemed bigger than my shameless addiction to bike porn. So it took 3 seconds to decide on the name. And another few seconds to decide that Ride Reports should be the top subforum.

      Thing was, we were self-conscious about being just a forum and we needed people to sign up, so I became a bike and book reviewer to draw people to ADVrider. All these years later, I have no memory of doing that, but The Wayback Machine doesn't lie:

      It's funny, I rated the upcoming KTM Adventure (did we inspire the name?) 3 stars. It looked too shiny and street bikey. What a machine it turned out to be. Where was it when I was bashing topes in Mexico?

    • One of our first mantras was "pics or it didn't happen." But how? Message forums sucked at hosting photos and anyway we couldn't afford the storage. The photo sharing sites of the day—Kodak, Shutterfly, and SnapFish—didn't allow you link your photos into a forum. Flickr and Photobucket didn't exist.

      So Fish tried to get us all to sign up for PBase accounts. It's still around.

      The trouble with PBase was it was designed for serious amateur photographers and it was complicated. My oldest son Don had started a company that was social networking for gamers before social networking was a thing, and he had built photo galleries for game art and kills. I thought maybe we could charge $29.95 a year to host your priceless photos without ads in the beautiful galleries he had designed.

      We named it SmugMug after Don's little sister Anne and her adorable smug smile when she was a toddler.

      It thrust me back into the pressure cooker of Silicon Valley company-building in 2002 when investors believed the Internet was over. With each new piece of feedback we got, it punched me in my gut and I couldn't sleep at night:

      "The photo sharing wars were fought 5 years ago. Kodak, Shutterfly and SnapFish won." All investors.

      "No one pays for services on the Internet." Chris Anderson, then Editor of WIRED.

      "Ofoto (bought by Kodak) changed my life. I have no need for anything else." Steve Wozniak, during dinner with Don and I.

      "Honey, if you're saying you have to have 100,000 paying subscribers to even get $3 million in sales..." My wife Toni, still The Countess of Cash at SmugMug, who had to donate her time and house for over 4 years in the beginning to get it off the ground.

    • SmugMug made some of ADV's most epic ride reports possible, but it also took my time so gone were the days I could review bikes and books on editorial pages. The forums would have to stand on their own.

      The good news is we could bring Adventure Rider's growing traffic into SmugMug's data centers to leech off us. The bad news is Photobucket launched, offering free photo linking to forums, and ADV's members flocked to it.

      I couldn't understand how Photobucket could sustain it over the long term so we decided not to follow their lead. I couldn't promote SmugMug on ADV because inmates would flame me as a spammer, so we needed something else. Pressure.

      And then. A phone call. A pro photographer called to say how much he liked the look of the photo galleries Don had created and could we make it possible for him to sell his photos online? He would gladly give us a fee and pay more for an account.

      Remember that thing about not much planning before riding to Mexico? I talked to Don about pricing photos and he said we could do it, what could go wrong? Not understanding what you're getting into has its benefits. 1099 forms? State and country taxes? Fraud? Whatevs.

      And that, in my opinion, explains the rise of SmugMug and how it could eventually buy companies like Flickr. It was the same formula that gave rise to eBay sellers and YouTube stars.

      And that's what launched me into the fantastical, incredible world of pro photographers and put Don, the CEO of SmugMug and Flickr, onto the edge of a San Francisco skyscraper in a real photoshoot by one of the world's great photographers.

      That building had deep meaning for me because it was where I had started my career years before in a suit and polished Wingtip shoes, working for Chevron. I almost died of boredom inside that building in the Chevron days and almost passed out from raw fear on the edge for my SmugMug photo. The improbable event that put me and Don on top of that building was a series of impulse decisions, starting with riding off into the rain towards Mexico.

      (To be continued.)

    • Forgive me for touching on a very emotional time in your life but you said you were in NY when you got the call that Ben was ok. I seem to remember that was also when the attack on 9/11 happened?

      I was in NY near the Twin Towers when the planes flew into them. As I stood there in shock, struggling to put it in context with events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the sinking of the Titanic, a policeman asked if I would volunteer for the triage center.

      As he led me through the horror, I believed this had to be a vivid nightmare and I struggled to force myself awake. There was no way to appreciate the scale of it by watching TV. Just the sound of bodies falling from the sky put hardened firefighters into shock.

      There is a film, however, my second-favorite documentary of all time, that truly captured the love, heroism and tragedy of the day:

      97% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. I've watched it several times.

      For years I've told the story of how I took my escape ride to Mexico after surviving the fall of the towers, but I checked the dates. I rode in May of 2001 and the towers fell in September. That shows how memory can be contaminated.

      We talked about 9/11 on ADVrider in a huge thread in Jo Momma. I was pretty tolerant of edgy and misinformed dialog in there, but the angry conspiracy theories claiming it was staged made me crazy. That was when I came to understand what could go wrong with Jo Momma and that it simply wasn't in me to let a theory like that take hold and get amplified. I banned a few good riders and friends over that and nearly shut Jo Momma down. 😢

      There was another New York-based drama strangely connected to Ben's mission that got me to hop on my motorcycle and ride away. I'll tell that later.