Jeremy Kroeker is a freelance writer, a speaker, and the author of three books, “Motorcycle Therapy”, “Through Dust and Darkness”, and “Motorcycle Messengers”. With his motorcycle, he has traveled to nearly 30 countries while managing to do at least one outrageously stupid thing in every one. He has evaded police in Egypt, tasted teargas in Israel, scrambled through minefields in Bosnia and Lebanon, and wrangled a venomous snake in Austria. One time he got a sliver in El Salvador.
How long have you been riding for? How did you learn?
I learned when I was 12 or 13 years old. Since I was 16 I have been riding on the street. My dad taught me, but taught me very poorly. He never indicated I had to use a clutch to shift. So I was slamming the bike in and out of gear. I eventually figured it out. Ironically, I actually taught people how to ride motorcycles for three seasons. I learned a lot teaching too. Motorcycling is like playing a guitar. You can always get better at it.
What kind of motorcycles do you ride?
I do a lot of travelling and I love riding in the gravel and dirt trails but I find most of my riding is on the street. I love adventure, trials, and dirt motorcycles. Cruisers are good. Sportbikes scare me, they’re amazing and I should not ride them. I would definitely need a course to learn how to ride those and read a few books.
What has been your favorite motorcycle?
Either the Kawasaki KLR 650 or a 1982 Honda CB750 Custom. The Honda is actually the motorcycle I bought when I was 17 or 18. I sold it to my dad and he rode all over North America. He had to stop riding due to Parkinson’s Disease so it came back to me. I am currently rebuilding it and it is a crotchety, temperamental machine but I love it. It is a female bike I call El Toro. It has a masculine name but it is a female motorcycle. It’s confused.
On a KLR… “It is a easy to fix and hard to break. It is utilitarian. If there is a Zombie apocalypse, you hope there is a KLR in your garage.”
If you had $25,000 to spend on motorcycling. how would you spend it?
I would buy a Kawasaki KLR 650 and spend the rest on a crazy trip. You don’t need to spend that much money on a motorcycle. The KLR, you can poke fun at it. It’s clunky, it’s heavy and under powered. I have taken it to Panama and back. Rode all through Syria. It is a easy to fix and hard to break. It is utilitarian. If there is a Zombie apocalypse, you hope there is a KLR in your garage.
What is one skill or technique that has changed your riding?
There is a bunch. When I was in high school, riding El Toro on the highway, it dawned on me that if I turned the handlebars to the left the bike would go to the right and vice versa. No one ever told me about counter steering and I figured it out. I immediately rode home and told my dad this amazing new revelation. No one told me about it but it is important to understand. When I figured that out it was a game changer. Later on looking where you want to go has been the biggest revelation. Snapping to attention and turning your head to where you want to go. It just works and that’s what you should be doing. Target fixation can get your into a lot of trouble.
What are some of the mistakes you’ve made while riding?
I’ve got a lot of regret! but we’ll keep it to motorcycles. I was in Columbia and I was rushing. I was riding past my limit on a deep, descending gravel road. I went wide, lost control and crashed. I regret rushing things on a motorcycle.
What is the best $100 of less that you have spent on motorcycling?
A throttle lock! The Go Cruise is this simple piece of plastic. It just works. It gives your wrist a break while you’re riding.
“Always own a motorcycle, never let yourself go years without owning a motorcycle. Owning a motorcycle is more important than owning the money you would have spent.”
What do motorcycle manufacturers get right?
The simplicity and authenticity.
What do motorcycle manufacturers get wrong?
When they make something to look good, but it serves no function. A piece of plastic that doesn’t need to be there, a fake carburetor, unnecessary things. When they start adding in these breakable parts it is just causing more problems. Anything artificial.
What are some of the mistakes that you see other riders do?
People have different riding styles so I don’t like riding in groups. I prefer being on my own or maybe with one or two other people. I’m a big fan of keeping your right foot up on the peg when coming to a stop. You should be able to control your motorcycle. That said, if you want to stop with both feet on the ground go for it. Motorcycling is about individuality. We need to get along a little better too. There are several different types of riders and we should all be nicer to each other. Just because we ride different motorcycles doesn’t mean we can’t chat. I think that’s a mistake.
Who are the great riders out there that you admire and look up to?
Ted Simon, but not because he’s a great rider – he’s never claimed to be that. It’s just that he has travelled a lot on his motorcycle, and he is a great writer. Great observations on culture and human condition too. Austin Vince, Ed March, Lois Price are right up there, too.
Who are good riders that shouldn’t be?
I hate to give a shout out to this guy, his name is Chris Becker. We went to Las Vegas together. He is completely oblivious to what is around him. Every time he comes to a stop he puts both feet down 20 feet before the stop. He does one, maybe two things correctly. I am amazed he is still alive and still riding bikes. Everyday is an adventure for him. He once got lost in a parkade and, if that is possible, the world is your oyster.
Do you have any eating or exercising while riding?
My diet has always been crap. I grew up eating Spam, Kraft dinner, Captain Highliner fish sticks. When I travel on my motorcycle I actually eat better. In Mexico I am actually eating real fish tacos, in the middle east I am eating good hummus. On the longer rides I do carry a bag a nuts or a protein bar with me. Carrying snacks and water will get you through the day. Riding through the middle east was challenging in that regard, some places just didn’t have any water to buy.
What are some of your favorite books on motorcycling?
Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. It is not about motorcycles or zen. It is a seminal book that involves motorcycles and it is difficult to read. Don’t pick it up if you are into simple travel narratives. Give it a try, the first time I read it I did not get much out of it. The second time I read it, it was excellent. Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon. It is a little dated now but reads well. You should pick it up if you haven’t. Ghost Rider by Neil Peart is pretty good but it is a tragic story.
If you could talk to yourself at the moment that you learned to ride what would you say to yourself?
Enjoy the ride and appreciate the motorcycle. Always own a motorcycle, never let yourself go years without owning a motorcycle. Owning a motorcycle is more important than owning the money you would have spent. There was 10 years I didn’t have a motorcycle and they were dark years.
“By far the worst advice is carrying a weapon. Carrying a Knife or a gun. Bad idea.”
What does it take to ride through the Middle East, Panama, etc?
Anyone with the physical ability to ride a motorcycle can do it. But very few people have the will to do it. It takes curiosity and some vulnerability. Be willing to ask for help because you probably will need it. A big adventure ride in a different country is harder than back packing trip in some ways but it can be easier. You never have to wait for a bus or figure out a train schedule. You do have to import your motorcycle and find out where to change your oil.
What is something or a couple of things that you wished you took with you on your trips?
Nothing. Not a single thing. I always had everything I needed. I have probably had too many things on trips. It is a good lesson to learn. You do not need much on a motorcycle trip. I think it was in Lonely Planet that recommend to take half of what you planned on taking. Then double the amount of money you are going to bring. You don’t need a large sum of money to travel. When I went from Canada to Panama it cost me $4,000 and this was a 4 month trip. My trip through the middle east cost $12,000 and that was an 8 month trip. That includes shipping the motorcycle, the flights, etc. It was cheaper than living at home. When I travel I save money.
How was riding around in the middle east?
Great. I was riding through a dust storm so I had to stop. While I was hiding out at a gas station, someone cleaned my headlight and tail light. The hospitality of the people is remarkable. They were always willing to help. Theft is rare as these countries punish heavily when the law is broken. We fear the middle east and our governments are adversarial but when you get into these countries, the people are great. People are the same everywhere.
What is some bad advice for world adventure riders?
By far the worst advice is carrying a weapon. Carrying a Knife or a gun. Bad idea. Robert Young Pelton (War journalist) said that carrying a weapon makes you a threat. Therefore, it endangers your life. The world is NOT as scary as people make it out to be. It is a bit risky but so is living. All you need is a smile, curiosity, and the willingness to interact with strangers.
What are you excited about for 2017?
I did a lot of travelling in 2016. I went to a bunch of motorcycle rallies, I spent some time riding with Motolombia in Colombia, then I rode with some friends up to Alaska. So 2017 may be a year of rest. I am working on volume 2 for Motorcycle Messengers so maybe it will be released for 2017.