Screw the bills; to hell with the boss; goodbye alarm clock; forget the lawn; I should just pack the scoot and ride off into the sunset of gypsy travel and adventure — I was not alone.
For most, this idea is probably best left as fantasy. Yet of those who dare to live this dream, many will stay gone for a matter of months, a year, or maybe two before again setting roots somewhere. It takes a rare brand of insanity to truly embrace such a lifestyle for the long haul. Yet these cross-wired personality types do exist. For them, the highway’s great freedom and ongoing adventure can be almost as whiskey is to an alcoholic, and there are those who’ve been on the road for 10, 20, and even 30 years! Among these men (and one woman) I’ve spent many a month, and although we are few, our existence cannot be denied.
Of course, such a life requires that the nomadic motorcyclist adapt, refine, and embrace many unorthodox methods. These men share similarities such as high mileage, often beat-up, gypsy motorcycles generally packed to beyond capacity with the accommodations of freedom, a willingness to make camp wherever is convenient, and an attitude that allows instant adaptation to changing environments. I’ve noted that being tenacious individualists, no two of these men use exactly the same methods. In fact, their techniques often vary widely. On these next pages, I’d like to examine the different methods used by three of these nomadic drifter types, for I’ve known them all for many years.
I think it only fitting that the first be Panhead Billy Burrows. Aside from the fact that he’s become somewhat of a living legend, Billy’s been on the road since the mid ‘70s.
First off, Billy’s natural disposition is probably the most relaxed of anyone I’ve ever known. More than most he lives entirely in the moment. When he eats he is completely with that food. At a concert or race he seldom, if ever, steps out early. No, for the pleasure of the moment dictates that one simply remains still for the duration of that moment before moving on to the next. Some say that God lives only in the moment. If there’s truth to this, then He and Panhead Billy are destined to spend great quantities of time together. Of the qualities that Billy offers to the world, this one is my favorite.
As for Billy’s road-techniques, I think it is safe to say that at the age of 66, he’s still the toughest man among us. This particular road-dog enjoys the ability to throw his bed down absolutely anywhere then simply slide in and get a good night’s sleep. I swear that man could snooze through an atomic blast. For bedding he uses an average sleeping bag set onto a tarp and often thinks me a pussy for putting down a foam pad. Although he carries a tent, you seldom see him use it. Offer him a room in your house? Forget it. For, like myself, he’d rather sleep in your yard or on the porch. If you ask why, Billy will simply say that he prefers to stay out with the critters where he belongs.
Among the first questions people ask is almost always, “Where do you guys get your money?” To this I always point out that none of the motorcycle drifters I know are independently wealthy. We earn money as we go. But the saving grace is that since we own very little and never see a monthly bill, there’s not much financial pressure. We’re not in the game, man. Of course there’s still gas, food, etc., but it does not require a 40 hour workweek to maintain such simple needs. I personally never exceed three months of work per year — usually less.
Although I’m not going to get into another man’s finances, I will say that it was from watching Panhead Billy that I first learned to work for the vendors who permeate the big motorcycle rallies across the country. This is a job that allows one to put in a hard week, get paid, and then hit the road again with his pocket full of green-freedom.
Billy rides a 1960 rigid framed Panhead with about 400 million miles on it. When I ask why it doesn’t hurt his back after all these years he answers, “I don’t know.”
How does one keep a Panhead going under such conditions? Well, what I see is the Pan has very few systems to maintain. It offers no gauges, no rubber mounting, no radio, no brake light, no high beams, no shocks, no electric starter, and not even an ignition switch. This bike is bare bones; it’s just an engine, transmission, and two wheels, leaving very few systems to be rebuilt when that time comes. For that is what we do: ride these bikes to their final end, rebuild them, then ride some more. Billy, as we all do, handles his own mechanical work. Another thing I’ve learned from watching this guy is that it’s possible to push a worn part far beyond the point at which I’d previously believed was necessary to rebuild or replace it. I’ve also noted that the men who ride the most tend to mount bikes that truly show their wear.
Although stories and photos of him have seen print in so many publications over the years, Billy has no interest in publicity and therefore makes no effort to acquire it. However, there is a Facebook forum filled with the many friends who follow his movements, and one can probably find this link by searching his name. I do, for Panhead Billy is truly an anomaly unlike any other.
Next, we have the famous Bean’re. It was sometime in the earlier ‘90s while camped in a parking lot at the Daytona rally with a slew of other tightwads who favored this place because it was free, that I first met a tall, blond, white dude named Bean’re. He was one of the guys, and fate had brought us together. His was a brand new, white Road King police bike and we bombed around Daytona eventually ending up at the drag races. To my surprise, Bean’re entered that cop bike in the “run what ya brung” class. In the years to come, I’d note that this cat has a competitive nature and natural love of playing in any bike games.
Back then the road bug had only dug its baby teeth into this destined-to-be gypsy biker, for Bean’re still maintained his home and landscaping business in Miami. It would not be until the year 1997 that he’d ultimately give in to his passion, leave everything behind, and join us as a fulltime rider upon the lonely highways of
endless freedom. I began to see him at rallies everywhere.
In those early years, I believe Bean’re’s carpentry skills supported his travels. However, and although this guy utilizes the same manner of packed up bike, willingness to camp, and ability to adapt, etc. as the rest of us, there is one particular quality to which he seems uncommonly proficient.
I sometimes wonder if it enters the minds of those who dare to dream of just how often the drifter arrives in new places. Anyone who’s ever moved to a new town knows what this feels like. You know no one there and it takes time to make new friends. For us, the time is usually short. For the drifter this is a very real problem, especially when traveling alone. It becomes of paramount importance that one learns to make friends fast. It’s for this reason that all of the nomadic motorcyclists I’ve known have been forced to hone their social skills to the very best of personal ability. And so we have.
Yet, it’s given to Bean’re’s uncommon natural ability in this arena that his notoriety began to grow across the country and even abroad. Add to this fact that the “Mayor of Fun” (a name coined him by famous motorcycle photographer Michael Lichter) is outrageous, funny, entertaining, always standing center field at any event or social gathering, and an extreme publicity hound (show
me a camera and Bean’re will likely be standing in front of it), and it’s easy to understand why Bean’re has made so many connections.
During the heyday of famous bike builders, he worked with close friend Billy Lane. Bean’re has also taken employment among most of the other bike builders at one time or another, if only for short periods. Although he’s bounced around over the years, Bean’re now works part time at motorcycle rallies at places like the Buffalo Chip (Sturgis) as emcee and basic entertainment artist. This kind of work takes him to motorcycle events both nationally and abroad. Bean’re has high energy and is a real go-getter. He now maintains a column in Cycle Source, has a book on the market, and may someday even have his own television show. So, it’s easy to see that although most of the drifter types enjoy a certain solitary edge, Bean’re’s is a life lived far more in the limelight.
As to the maintenance and rebuilds of his motorcycle, Bean’re does his own work and modifications too. Over time I saw that stock cop bike morph into the weird-ass purple chopper that, for many years, was Bean’re’s trademark steed. With the increasing pressure of his busy schedule, Bean’re simply had no time left for the repairs that the now 300,000 mile police bike required.
Knowing from bitter experience that in our world virtually all mechanical breakdowns occur somewhere along the lonely highway and must be attended to by the rider himself, Bean’re set out to build a new bike. He started with an engine that he hoped would, when completed, be both modern and simple
— a daunting task in the present day of onboard computers, sensors, fuel pumps, spaghetti wiring, fly-by-wire throttles, and other state of the art nightmares. Bean’re started with a set of 2013 cases then worked his way out while purposely eliminating every major money saving shortcut (weakness) the HD corporation now builds into their engines (there are three), then throwing the ECU away, installing an older and far more simple Evo ignition, and hanging a carburetor on that sucker. He now has a 103” Twin Cam engine that should offer all the simplicity and longevity of the standard 80” Evolution engine.
So continues the endless journey of yet another true gypsy biker. Tune in next month for part 2 of The Endless Highway.