This was a fun thing to do. Last year, I was invited to nominate 25 of my favorite roads to be considered for a Top 10 poll at USA Today. My contributions were combined with two other riders/writers and the roads that received the most nominations between us were put on a list for readers to choose from.
A bunch of my nominations made the top 10 list including the Cabot Trail, Beartooth Pass, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Cherohala Skyway, the Twisted Sisters, the PCH and US 101.
Doesn’t matter where you identify yourself on the spectrum, few are happy today with the political process or our elected officials. Believe it or not though, we do have something to thank our local politicians for. Many of the roads we dream about riding–many of the most scenic, out-of-the-way slabs of beautiful, swoopy asphalt–were the result of political horse trading.
The Cherohala, for example, is a seductive ribbon of highway in the Appalachians bisecting the Cherokee and Nanthahala National Forests. It’s magical 43 miles connects Robbinsville, NC in the east to Tellico Plains, Tennessee in the west. Construction began in 1958 and was completed nearly forty years later in 1996 at a cost of about $100 million. Beautiful, but hardly essential.
There’s no particular purpose for US 212’s run between Red Lodge Montana and Yellowstone’s northeast entrance. This route which follows General Phillip Sheridan’s trail over the Beartooth Mountains requires constant maintenance and is open just a couple of months out of the year. Practical? Hardly. But this 68 mile byway offers us a stunning ride through one of the most diverse and beautiful ecosystems anywhere. The same could be said for its nearby cousin, the Going to the Sun Highway or any of a thousand other such projects.
Be glad they were built when they were. In today’s political climate, the chances any of these roads would be built is ZERO. As you stand at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway this summer or enjoy a ride along some other lonely ribbon of road, offer a word of thanks to the politicians who made it possible.
A road to nowhere makes little sense to the average citizen, but we riders know just what to do with it!
There’s a lot of truth in the cliche “less is more,” especially when it comes to small pop up campers. I’ve spoken with a number of folks over the last few years who are selling off their full-size travel trailer and going to a class of small, lightweight camper that are marketed primarily for motorcycles.
A motorcycle camper doesn’t offer quite as many conveniences as a larger camper does. There’s no kitchen or stand up shower. No cedar lined closets or flat panel TV. But small pull behind campers have advantages that make up for some of those missing conveniences. Here are ten reasons that a lightweight motorcycle tent trailer might just be the solution you’re looking for, whether you’re getting your first camper or thinking about downsizing.
Low up front cost. Of course a mini camper is less expensive, often by a lot. Pop up camper prices for a comfortable, US made, 2 person camper begins at around $3,000. How is that an advantage? For starters, that’s low enough that many folks can buy one outright, avoiding costly interest payments. If you decide to finance, check with your bank or credit union. A mini camper is a vehicle with a VIN, so many financial institutions would consider a secured loan. That means a much better interest rate. And, if you go a couple of months without using your camper, you won’t feel the nagging guilt you would every month you stroke a payment check for that big travel trailer that sits unused in your driveway.
Tow with any vehicle. While mini campers are most often marketed as motorcycle campers, they can be towed by any vehicle, a tiny Smart Car, a three-wheel Spyder, or even a mid-size motorcycle. There’s no need to buy an expensive diesel-sucking dually pick-up to pull a mini camper. Two-seater sports cars like the Miata can handle one easily. That means any compact or full size car or truck can tow a small pop up camper. When towing with a four-wheel vehicle, a motorcycle pop up camper will have nearly zero impact on your gas mileage. Any model can be wired with a flat-four plug which fits most vehicles equipped with a hitch. Here’s what it looks like to tow a camper with a motorcycle. I’m towing at a responsible speed, but it ain’t slowing me down.
Easy maintenance. When you have a big camper, there are a lot of things to take care of, whether you use it or not. It’s like taking care of a boat. Mini campers require a lot less. At the beginning of the year, I set mine up and spray it with Scotchguard to improve the fabric’s rain repellency. I’ll hit the hinges with a little silicon lube. During the year, I just make sure it’s clean and dry when I pack it up. Once every couple of years I’ll check the bearings to make sure the grease is still fresh. That’s it.
Easier and less costly to store. There’s no need to rent an expensive parking spot or build a hangar-sized addition to your garage to house a mini camper. In the winter, take off the tongue and your camper would consume up a manageable 65” x 43” space in the garage.
More outdoor experience. At what point does camping with all the conveniences of home cross the line and simply become “living in a different place?” That’s what travel trailers signify to me. When I go camping, I want to be closer to the outdoors, not insulated from it. To me, that’s one of the big advantages of pop up camping. I don’t want to bring along the 24 hour news channels or the microwave popcorn. I want the four C’s of camping: a campfire, a comfy chair, good conversation, and a cigar. And a beer.
Comfortable where it counts. While you do give up a lot of built-in amenities, a pop up camper offers the most important conveniences. You get a roomy bed area comfortable for two. Some campers feature sitting areas that give two people plenty of room to relax inside a fully screened living space.. If needed, some models feature add-on rooms that allow you to create a much larger space. Air conditioning is an option. Some folks tote along a porta potty, which is a matter of personal preference. For more covered space outside, some models like the Time Out camper offer an L-shaped awning that creates a lot of covered space.
Access to more camping spots. Lightweight mini campers are narrower than any car or truck and much lower, which means you can park them in more remote spots than larger campers. I frequently camp at friends’ homes in the Appalachian mountains. I can park my camper on their lawn and not worry that I’ll leave ruts behind. Mini campers much easier to maneuver which means anyone can easily park one with confidence. And if you can’t get it in just the right spot, you can unhook it from the vehicle and move it by hand. Try that with a fifth wheel! You can tow them pretty much anywhere, even Alaska, as this Mini Mate customer will tell you.
Ready to go, so you camp more. When I come home from a camping trip, I take about ten minutes to vacuum out the inside with a battery-operated hand vac, wipe down the roof, and organize my gear. When I close up the camper, it’s immediately ready to go. Now I know you can do this with a travel trailer as well, but the task is a lot larger. It’s like cleaning a house. The fact is that having the mini camper ready to go, with less fuss, means you’ll do more camping. Just pull it out, hook it up, and drive away. Camping really doesn’t get any easier than that.
Fast, easy set up. In the videos I create that show how to set up a pop-up camper, it generally takes me, alone, less than ten minutes to set up camp. The Mini Mate camper sets up in two minutes. That’s less time than it takes to set up most travel trailers and way faster than setting up a tent. Likewise, striking camp is equally fast. In the morning, I can be packed and ready to go in twenty minutes. When you’re traveling point to point, that’s a big plus. You can either get an early start, or sleep in a little longer. Plus, you don’t need to go through an arm’s-length checklist to make sure you’ve stowed and strapped everything. If you’re traveling on a motorcycle, you know what that’s like. It’s a pain.
Very low depreciation. Finally, if there does come a time that you decide to sell your mini camper, you’ll be surprised at its resale value. Used tent trailers that are small enough to be pulled by a motorcycle are in high demand. It is not an exaggeration to say that a well-kept motorcycle camper can hold up to 90% of its value over the first three years, and more than 75% over five years.
I know the folks at “GoRVing” would have an issue with this, but as you think about your next camper, consider what you really want from a camping experience. If you’re looking to create a home away from home, a big fifth wheel trailer or Class A motorhome might be the right fit. But if you’re looking to enjoy more of the great outdoors, the way it was meant to be enjoyed, then a lightweight motorcycle camper might just be what you’re looking for.
Every motorcycle camper has a list of personal essentials to take on a trip. In addition to the real necessities, like a tent and a sleeping bag, for example, there are a couple of things that add enough to the experience that you just have to find a way to bring them.
For me, those non-essential essentials are two items that I can trace back to my childhood. No, I’m not talking about a blanket and a Teddy. My two must-haves are a small battery-operated fan and a shortwave radio.
The fan is a habit I developed at an early age, simply because we didn’t have AC until I’d almost left home. That meant many summer days and nights spent within the blast radius of a box fan that noisily recirculated warm, moist central Virginia air. I became so accustomed to the movement of air and the sound that I find it hard to sleep without it today. It doesn’t take much room, and my little fan puts out just enough to keep a breeze stirring.
If you didn’t pick up the fan habit, you probably grew up, as I did, with a transistor radio. Something small enough to hide under your pillow or the covers, so you could listen at night when you should be sleeping. (Did you ever accidentally bump the volume dial and get busted by your parents? I did.)
Time spent scanning the AM dial or shortwave bands meant you could pull in signals from stations around the country, or the world. Even today, there’s something less magical about clicking a link that takes me to a webpage in Brazil or Germany than listening to music from a different culture that I know is coming from a broadcast tower thousands of miles away.
Sitting under the stars at my campsite, panning the broadcast dial I realize that I spent my youth wondering what would happen in the years to come. Now that I’ve arrived at that future, I spend time looking back the other way.
It’s understandable, and natural at this point, I suppose, to reflect both on where you’re going and where you’ve been. I do that best when I’m removed from the dither of everyday life, which is why motorcycle camping suits me so well.
And all it takes to move me back and forth through time is a little staticky accordion music and a light breeze.
If you’d like more information about motorcycle campers, please visit my site. I represent US-made products (only!) from Mini Mate and Time Out that can be pulled by motorcycles, trikes and ANY four-wheel vehicles including the SmartCar, Prius, etc. Or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Having sold motorcycle campers for more than a few years now, I know just about what to expect when I open my e-mail box on any given day during the year. When the calendar turns September I usually see a flurry of camper orders. And that’s when I know that camping’s “second season” is about to begin.
I understand that. I have to be honest, I dislike camping in hot weather. No matter how much air I get moving with a fan, it’s still uncomfortable many summer nights here in the mid-Atlantic. I suppose a ride further north would answer some of those issues. Even if I’m pulling a Time Out camper with an air conditioning port, I’m still sweaty by the time I finish setting up at night or preparing to leave in the morning.
Fall, however, seems to be the perfect time. The humidity drops and, excepting the occasional tropical system, the chances of a washout are lessened as well. Cool autumn nights make time spent around the campfire something to enjoy instead of something you do out of a sense of obligation. Another bonus: after the kids get back to school, campgrounds and parks have almost emptied out. And let’s not forget those vivid fall colors that make every bike-and-background picture look like a magazine cover shot.
Yep, autumn is my favorite time to fire up the bike, camper in tow, and head for the hills. Then again, even if it’s a little warmer than I like, any time I can get away for a motorcycle camping trip is the best time!
Is the Mini Mate motorcycle camper as fun to own and use as I make it out to be? Don’t take just my word for it – hear it from one of my customers! Gary Moody has put over fifty thousand miles and slept more than fifty nights in his Mini Mate in his first year of ownership. Hear what he has to say.
Inspiration, ideas and how-to's for motorcycle travelers.