Interviewing Bill Dragoo, Global Adventure Rider, Trainer, and Storyteller
Show Notes for Podcast #71
Scott Brady interviews Bill Dragoo, accomplished adventure motorcycle traveler, trainer, and journalist. Bill was a finalist in the GS Trophy, and has prepared multiple ADV Motorcycles and 4WD overland vehicles for global travel.
As a moto-journalist, Certified BMW factory-trained off-road instructor, and Certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Coach, Bill Dragoo never strays far from adventure.
Setting goals since his Eagle Scout days, Bill is also a certified flight instructor, has earned commercial pilot ratings in powered aircraft, seaplanes and sailplanes, is an accomplished sky diver and scuba diver, and has won numerous competitions in motocross, cross-country mountain biking, sailboat racing, and adventure riding. Bill has won two Tour de Dirt mountain bike state championships, has completed a double century bicycle ride (200 miles in a single day) and has fulfilled his dream of an unsupported, solo transcontinental bicycle ride across the northern tier of the United States.
In 2017 Bill was honored to teach a week-long off-road riding course for the Fort Worth Police Department and he scored 100% on their on-road qualifier after only two hours of instruction. He has also added to his professional repertoire by attending BMW’s Off-Road Instructor training in Hechlingen, Germany, a stringent, week-long course focusing on the art and craft of precision big bike skills in the rough. He has been on the podium at the Rawhyde Adventure Rider’s Challenge two of the three times he has competed, with first and second place finishes, and represented his country as one of three men competing with Team USA in the 2010 BMW GS Trophy held in South Africa. He has ridden motorcycles on five continents and has hiked through the Himalayas to Mount Everest Base camp with his lovely wife Susan.
Among the ever growing list of magazines that have published his work are: ADV Moto, Roadrunner, Outrider Journal, Overland Journal, Oklahoma Today, Overland UK, Outdoor X 4, Ride Oklahoma, and Adventure Rider.
“The best part of any adventure is sharing it,” says Bill, and he does just that through his stories and by teaching others some of the finer points of managing a heavy dual-sport motorcycle through questionable terrain.
Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal and is often credited with popularizing overlanding in North America. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and includes three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar expeditions include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. @scott.a.brady
This episode sponsored in part by
Scott Brady: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the Overland Journal podcast. I am your host, Scott Brady, and I am here at Overland Expo West. I am here with a dear friend Bill Dragoo. Bill and I have had some amazing adventures together. When we started this podcast, the goal was to inspire and to educate and there are a few people in my life that I have been so inspired by and educated by as Bill, and Bill runs the DART school. The Dragoo... adventure, riding, training. So that is a great resource for those that want to learn more about riding adventure motorcycles. He's also the director of the motorcycle training program here at the Overland Expo. Bill and I have done some interesting adventures, including Elephant Hill and some other places in Utah that required even winches with motorcycles, so we'll talk about that [00:01:00] in a little bit, but Bill thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Bill Dragoo: Scott, thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
Scott Brady: Yeah, and you know, the first thing that comes to mind for me is you've got this exceptional riding pedigree and skills. In fact, if I remember correctly, you won the GS trophy with BMW. Was that not correct?
Bill Dragoo: I did. I won a place on team USA in 2010, and then I won the Rawhide Adventure Rider Challenge in 2008, which is kind of what lit the fuse on all that.
Scott Brady: Talk a little bit about how you got started in riding motorcycles and maybe more important, as a selfish question, is what were the pieces that came together that allowed you to ride so proficiently.
Bill Dragoo: Well, you know, in the old days we didn't have training. I mean, maybe some people on the west coast did, but in Oklahoma where I came from, we didn't know what training was and we just went out and tried things. So there was a whole lot of hold my beer moments. [00:02:00] But I started as a young man riding on the back of a Harley with Norman's first police officer at five, and that probably got me really started in my interest there. A few things happened along the way. At 14, I bought my first motorcycle working for 65 cents an hour at the Sonic drive in, was fortunate enough to have the little Honda 70. And really still while I was 14, I began racing motor cross. I met a fella, a good friend named Norman Hinicky. He went on to be state champion soon after that, and so he was sort of my mentor and getting started racing. Norman and I both slipped off into trials and we both did quite well, in top levels in the state in both events back in... what was it? Back in the 70's? So if you remember that... you don't remember the seventies. Okay.
Scott Brady: That was just a glimmer...
Bill Dragoo: But yeah, so that, you know, the trials background, the motor cross background, those things really started me wanting to master some skills on a [00:03:00] motorcycle.
Scott Brady: Yeah. Amazing. And you can see it, especially the low speed handling of these large adventure bikes. It's a thing that we see come up regularly in conversations around adventure motorcycles, this kind of dichotomy in viewpoint around something that is very small or something that is powerful and that has some presence on the road. I think it's important to discount the reason why I think a lot of people buy big motorcycles, which is kind of this ego thing. I think if you just take the ego out of it and you look at the positives of both a small bike is much less expensive, if it gets stolen in another country, you know, it's not such a huge loss. But then on the other side, a large motorcycle has a lot of presence on the road. When we're in Colombia, I mean you've ridden a lot in Columbia with Mitcho, our mutual friend, and I noticed the difference when you're on a large [00:04:00] GS and you're riding in the road with the rest of the cars. They notice that you're different, that you're not another 125 kind of hugged along the side of the road. So I noticed that cars give you a lot more birth and then of course they can carry more payload. They can pass very quickly and safely. So what are some of the things for you that you see as an advantage to having a larger motorcycle, not only in North America, but in developing countries as well?
Bill Dragoo: I'll preface that my answer was saying that there is a place for all of them. Simplicity is certainly a great way to roll, and a lot of people just want that. And then there are those who can only afford maybe a small motorcycle, a used motorcycle or whatever, and there's nothing wrong with that. That's fine. But there's a joy to riding a big motorcycle in technical terrain and that technical terrain might be Bolivia. The roads out there where my first time down there, the people that I met asked [00:05:00] me to come back because they said we're hurting ourselves. And in fact, I was speaking with one of them in the the salt hotel down there on the Salar de Uyuni and this guys foot was just crushed under his motorcycle and he said, please, please come back after my foot heals and help us learn to ride these motorcycles better. Of course that was... the bikes are too big, we brought the wrong bike, but I did go back multiple times and began to teach them. What they learned was that... the analogy that I like to give is it's like owning a pet rhinoceros that is well-trained, and you can tap it on the shoulder. You can nudge it with your knee. You can give it a carrot and it will do a lot of things that you want it to do, and it does them very, very well. You just don't want to get it irritated, right? So developing the skill to ride one well creates a joy that's beyond that of simply thinking you've mastered a smaller, lighter motorcycle that you can do a lot with muscle without a lot of energy. Big bikes, it doesn't matter how much muscle you have. You're going to run out [00:06:00] of energy. If it falls on you end up like my friend in Bolivia.
Scott Brady: No, that's a great point and I've certainly had a lot of joys riding, smaller motorcycles, and like we talked about, there is this real advantage to something that's less expensive. That's easier to pick up, especially when you get into really technical terrain. But I noticed when we worked with the team through... we went through Canyon Lands, and we went through Beef Basin and we went through Elephant Hill. These were fairly technical routes, I would say, especially on a GS. And I noticed that if you use enough body English, I was watching you ride, and you definitely weren't trying to muscle the bike through you knew what the bike was going to do. You kind of had a sense for how it was going to behave when you hit that ledge or whatever, and you put your body in the right position to be able to counterbalance it. Is that one of the things you find to be most effective?
Bill Dragoo: Yeah. You know, the first thing that we teach is [00:07:00] the triad: clutch, brake, throttle, and how to manage that. Then we began to incorporate foot peg, or peg weight steering, which is also called in Enduro-steering. So the analogy that I would give there is like pushing your bicycle, not touching the handlebars, but leading it by the seat, making a turn right and left going through certain terrain or on flat terrain or whatever. But because of the geometry of the bicycle, it goes where you ask it to simply by leaning. So with our feet and the peg weight steering, we're leaning it left, leaning it right to initiate turns. The more complex elements become counterweights during... which we can talk more about if you want to, but when you began to use the triad: clutch, brake, throttle. So we're putting the bike in tension, clutch throttle, against break, then that bike becomes extraordinarily stable. And then we'll use a little bit of peg pressure, one direction or the other, then it's stable within a turn, not just going straight.
Scott Brady: I've noticed the effectiveness of that tension, especially using the rear brake and kind of dragging the rear brake a little bit under a little [00:08:00] bit of clutch tension. That definitely makes a difference. But I remember when we were going through that trail, I felt like I was a Neanderthal trying to throw the GS through it. Whereas you were, you were like a gazelle when you were moving, and of course you made a lot more of the obstacles than I did, but I think I was running out of brute strength is what the deal was.
Bill Dragoo: You have omitted part of this, and maybe it's going to evolve throughout this conversation, but this was November and there was a lot of snow and mud, and it was 27 degrees as I recall and I think it continued to drop. And finally, our salvation was that the ground froze so that you didn't have to push my motorcycle out when I ran out of gazelleness.
Scott Brady: That was... it was literally one of the most enjoyable trips I've ever been on because it was so difficult. I mean, it was such a physical exercise and to see some of the people that we were with, they were just moments away from just not being able to do it anymore. [00:09:00] Totally smoked.
Bill Dragoo: One of my favorite moments in that trip was... and it's pitch dark. It's freezing cold. We're sweating. I mean, we're dripping in sweat. We know what's going to happen when we cool down, and I'm looking at our friends and I said, Scott, we need to think about bivouacking up here. And I'm looking at the snow on the side of the mountain, trying to figure out how to carve a flat spot out to lay down and we did have camping gear with us, fortunately. And you said, let's give it one more, like 45 minutes or something like that and see if we can cress this pass. And we did, but just before we crested it, but you and I both were aware... in fact, we were shuttling back, helping our friends get out. You looked at me and you put your hand on my shoulder and you said, man I love this kind of stuff. I said, me too. I mean, this is why we're here it seams.
Scott Brady: Exactly, and we learn so much when we stretch ourselves a little bit. And maybe that's the thing that we can encourage the listener is if you have a bike that you find to be a little bit big, or [00:10:00] maybe something that you haven't quite had enough training to be able to operate in the ways that you want to... get out with a trainer and stretch yourself a little bit, push yourself. And that's the beautiful thing about going to training. And I remember that going through the raw hide intermediate program and spending time with you and other great instructors is it gives you that little bit of confidence to try some stuff that you may be able to stick, that may now become muscle memory.
Bill Dragoo: Well, and, you know, fear is one of the number one, I guess, failures... or cause of failure, excuse me. And that fear is typically generated by lack of knowledge. So you talked about confidence, so it's difficult to have someone say just take that step. And that step looks like in the Indiana Jones movie, I don't remember which one, but he has to step down into the chasm. And they said, when you step down then the ledge [00:11:00] will appear, but right now it's not there. Well, that's a leap of faith. Well, it's hard to take that leap of faith initially. So fear is holding us back, but then knowledge replaces fear, so think about this. You're walking down a street in maybe someplace it's a little seedy, a little scary, and there's a dark alley. And from that alley, you hear these popping sounds, and these lights are flashing and people are screaming. You're probably not going to turn down that alley to go see what's going on.
Scott Brady: Most likely not fireworks.
Bill Dragoo: Most likely not, but then these flood lights come on and you see the entire scene, and there are teenagers running around there. They're in the one of these inflatable fun houses. They're having a ball. They are throwing fireworks. Now your paradigm completely changes because, oh wait, this isn't what I thought it was. So knowledge, your knowledge of what those sounds in those flashes in those screens were about replaces your fear. Well, that same method works with knowledge of riding a big [00:12:00] motorcycle in bad places. It's what we profess to do is teach people to ride them in those places. So those skills begin to make you feel a little more confident at a lower level than on a very tall steep ladder with closely spaced rungs. You begin to get more confidence, more confidence, and eventually you're not looking down anymore.
Scott Brady: Yeah, and it is true. I think it applies to all travel is that the only way to gain confidence is through experience. And the only way to get experience is to start; is to try. Whatever version that is, whatever that easiest first step is that definitely seems to make a big difference in, like you said, building towards that knowledge base that makes us feel confident as riders. And I do remember that night it was almost dark and there was sounds of metal crashing into rock and screaming, if I remember correctly, one of our poor fellow travelers there when he ran his GS into the side of the cliff. I think [00:13:00] the front brakes stopped working at about that point.
Bill Dragoo: He broke his front brake. His clutch began to slip, it was an older GS an older... not an Air Head, it was an Oil Head, but still with a dry clutch... began to slip and he was very fatigued. Plus he was handling, I mean, to his credit, he was handling a bike that was probably 75 pounds heavier than ours.
Scott Brady: It's the heaviest bike that they've made, I think.
Bill Dragoo: Yeah. And so he was dealing with that and that's when the winch came out, you were ready to unload the Tacoma and we had a vehicle with some gear in it and you were saying, hey we got to stash all this gear behind these rocks. And we got to get this guy in this motorcycle out and I'm like, Hey Scott, I got a winch and like, that little thing? And it worked.
Scott Brady: It totally worked.
Bill Dragoo: The Warn XT17 man. It did the job.
Scott Brady: That was very fun to see. That was really a cool moment when we finally got to the top and then I have no idea how we got down to the bottom of Elephant Hill. I think it was because we couldn't see, we had no idea what we were actually going over. So that moment of ignorance was bliss.
Bill Dragoo: You and I both had to ride back down the [00:14:00] hard way first and then back up and I had the little headlamp on and it didn't have my helmet on because I needed the headlamp to see where I was actually looking, but I had to go back again and then winch Steven up two layers... or two sections of that switchback going up, and you were just going back and forth and back and forth to...
Scott Brady: I was pretty smoked. When we got to that pizza place, I mean...
Bill Dragoo: That was the best pizza I've ever had in my life.
Scott Brady: In my entire life. Absolutely. Now tell us a little... like, start to fill in some of the color of your life, because if I remember correctly have you been a pilot as well? And you also worked with vehicles at a dealership as well, and I mean tell us a little bit about what made the adventure of Bill Dragoo? I mean, what are some of the things that you've done in your life that you think were the critical ingredients towards being in the adventure that you are now.
Bill Dragoo: Besides marrying Susan?
Scott Brady: Well, that was a good choice. [00:15:00]
Bill Dragoo: Well, so... yes, I worked professionally as both a motorcycle mechanic, a automobile mechanic, and an aircraft mechanic and actually aircraft mechanic was first professionally. So during high school, I went to... our tech school had an aircraft mechanics program, and I took half of my AMP training there and then as soon as I graduated, I went Spartan school of aeronautics in Tulsa... pardon me, and I finished my AMP and during that time I began to fly. So one of my fellow students at the AMP school was a flight instructor. Neil Smiley was one year older than I was, but vastly more knowledgeable. He could actually fly an airplane. So I started flying with him and our very first lesson he taught me to loop, roll, and spin a Cessna 150, or at least he demonstrated how to do it.
Scott Brady: That's a small aircraft, a very underpowered small aircraft.
Bill Dragoo: A hundred horse... was it even a hundred. It was a little continental motor in it. But yeah, it was 150. It was probably a [00:16:00] hundred. I remember on my first solo flight, which was eight hours into my flying. There have been those who have soloed less, but it was pretty short time. I did... wait for it, a loop, a roll, and a spin.
Scott Brady: During your solo?
Bill Dragoo: In my first solo flight, I did. I shouldn't have done that. I shouldn't have done that. Yeah, I split assed out of the, out of the roll and I saw a red line on the airspeed indicator, but you know what, that thrill just... I couldn't wait for the next time. And I realized the wings didn't come off, and I remember thinking, okay I know if I pull too hard, they will... so I won't, and I had plenty of altitude not to. The airspeed I was worried about didn't know how long the air the windscreen would stay in the airplane, but after I did that, I just thought I've got to do this better. So part of the adventure spirit I think was really lit up then. There were events before that, but that was one of the really major components. And then with motorcycles, I mean, [00:17:00] racing, motor cross, just the thrill. And I won a lot, I was very fortunate. I think we didn't have much competition there in Oklahoma, but I did do well with that. And here again, it was that... it was a bit in your teeth kind of feeling that I couldn't let go of. I just, I had to win. I had to be the one in the front, so competition with both myself and against others was a big part of the early days, and I think that formed a lot of my spirit.
Scott Brady: Do you find that you are more competitive with yourself or are you more competitive with others?
Bill Dragoo: Boy, that's a really good question. I used to be more hard on myself whenever I didn't do well, but I'm going to disclose this in public right now. Something happened to me last month that I was hoping would never happen. I have won about every slow race that I've ever done, so that's a real great... it's a good competition for somebody my age, you know, not a fast race, but a slow [00:18:00] race. It requires a lot of skill. My son is getting very close. A couple of my instructors are just nipping at my heels, but nobody's really out and out beat me yet. Well, Justin Collider... he was a GS trophy competitor. He applied for the GS trophy, outstanding rider. He worked for Harley Davidson now demonstrating the Pan-American. And in fact, I think he's here at Overland Expo... beat me by six inches last month. I challenged him to that and I will probably live that down eventually, for sure. But I was so happy for him, and that is a change in me from when I was younger. I would have been very unhappy. In fact, I would have challenged him to best two out of three, and I wasn't going to do that because, I was happy that Justin won. And we both had a good run, and it was a lot of fun. And that's what it's about now more for me, is seeing someone else succeed. Usually not when they've beaten me to do it, but if that's the way it's got a roll, then I'm good with that. So I love seeing people succeed. And I think [00:19:00] that's one of the things that has really also formed who I am as an instructor, that is honestly more than the financial aspect of it. I mean, unfortunately we have to be paid for what we do, but one of the reasons that we're the cheapest out there is because of that very reason. We just want to see people do well.
Scott Brady: Well, and I can certainly see that in even the way that you worked with all of us on that trip, you were just very open with your knowledge and so encouraging, and I can see that in you as an instructor as well. Another question for me that comes to mind is when you look at the fact that you've done the motorcycle racing, that you worked on aircraft, and you worked on vehicles. When you look at that chapter of your life, what were some of the things that you felt were the most important lessons that you learned? During that point of competition and rapid gaining and knowledge, what were some of the more important lessons for not only you personally, but for travel in general?[00:20:00]
Bill Dragoo: Well, I can't think of any specific things that have been like a great moment of awareness that the light has come on. As far as a lesson, I mean there are a lot of lessons per se that come along. Don't go so fast. Don't be so overconfident. Practice before you go out and actually try to win a competition. Some of those things I think are instrumental in being successful and doing well. But then when you translate that to say going somewhere of like what you and I did in the Traverse, the Utah Traverse... you need to be prepared for those things. You can't just go out there willy nilly and try to make it happen. So go out there with your equipment and yourself prepared to succeed, and we can break that down some if you'd like.
Scott Brady: Yeah, so true. That was one of the real benefits that we had with having Sinuhe there, being the one that created the Utah traverse, [00:21:00] we had his knowledge of, of where to go. We had had a lot of time making sure that we had the right equipment. We had great motorcycles all in good condition, except for one, but we had good equipment along with us. I think that was very helpful as well. The one thing that we didn't anticipate was the weather and that can certainly change, and I know that that was one of the lessons for me from that trip was we have to always respect the weather. It's easy to feel that we've got this amazing gear. We've got these amazing people that we're with, but we always hear about the cascade of events where one small thing goes wrong, which leads to another small thing going wrong, which leads to people fatigued and making poor choices and then injuries and other things can come after that. And I think that for me, that was the one big takeaway from that trip was that we got right up to that edge. [00:22:00] And I think it would have been good to have a couple more moments of, let's make sure we're doing the right plan and we're not just pushing ourselves deeper into the abyss. And we were very lucky at the end of it, that it all turned out the way that it did, but that was a tough one. That was... I mean, we were in the weather
Bill Dragoo: I have definitely been on trips that where I was much less prepared than that. So as you said, we had food, we had decent gear. The fact that we got sweaty was a little bit of a... that was a challenge, because I remember when we were, when we did finally settle in and we began to, it wasn't above Bobby's hole. We set up camp and all, I remember being so cold. You know, got my tent set up. You're over there. You and Steven, I think, and Steven was making that coffee or was that the next morning? I'll let you describe that coffee, that was funny, but everybody's just eagerly waiting for this and he's trying to [00:23:00] squeeze it through plastic, impermeable plastic. We were all just dying for the coffee. I'm sure that was the next morning, but yeah. So as an MSF instructor also, a motorcycle safety foundation, one of the things that we talk about is the accident chain and each link of that chain has a name, and it might be weather. It might be glare, you know, of sun. It might be road conditions. May be grass from mowing or from dew, slippery. It might be fatigue. It might be an illness. It might be anger. It might be the condition of our motorcycle, the tires, the brakes even the suspension, but any one of these things might not be the one that gets you. But the fact that there is this combination that becomes this chain that drags you down, that can cause failure, ultimate failure, and a serious accident, injury, or death. The idea is to break that chain when you see it starting to evolve, you just need to cut that chain. You need to stop [00:24:00] that chain right there and begin to rebuild that particular system that you're about to rely upon, to go out there and do like what we did and others too.
Scott Brady: And I remember if you don't want to talk about this incident, I would totally understand, but you were down in Columbia and you had a very serious accident occur on a trip that you were on and talk a little bit... as much as you'd like about what happened, and what were the links of the chain that you saw. So for someone that's getting ready to travel internationally on a large adventure bike, what were the links in the chain that you saw that led to that?
Bill Dragoo: So the incident you're referring to is when our friend Cindy was riding with us, and she was a very eager, energetic, and courageous off-road rider. And there were maybe a dozen of us all total on this trip of mixed skills, she was the lowest of the skill level there on that trip as I recall that time. There were some factors I was not [00:25:00] aware of as well, and we'll bring those up in a moment, but it began to get later in the day we had had to stop to do some camera resetting. One of our riders, he had a lot of cameras on his person in his bike and he wanted to set them, and we wanted to respect that. He was a guest on this tour. We wanted to respect that. Let him capture the event as he wanted to. Then we began to have other issues, a couple of crashes, a hole in an engine, a valve cover on a BMW, a Boxer Beamer, and we had to stop and repair that... the glue took time. Each of these things is pushing that sunset time closer and closer. Well in Columbia you really don't want to ride after dark, especially not in the jungle area on this abandoned railroad that we'd been riding on. There were a lot of just treacherous hazards. Some of the bridges we were crossing, it might've been a couple of 300 feet down to the rushing water below. We started seeing these and crossing them. And the rumbling across the railroad ties, no guardrails, loose railroad ties. They'd just sit there with their own weight, [00:26:00] and then some of the long trestle type railroads or railroad bridges... mind you all the tracks are gone. Some of those tracks were used as linear supports on these trestle type bridges. And there might be a a two by six or two by eight plank in the center of all that, and there could be big gaping holes that if you went through the best, you would do is fall and break your leg. If you go through it, it's a long ways down... so these things were beginning to occur and we were beginning to see them in the daylight finally a flat tire and one of our guests bikes shut us down. The sun was setting, and we got it fixed. We kind of went through a demonstration of how to do it. Took extra few minutes for that and once we got ready to roll, well the tube had been pinched, so it's time to fix it again. So our ride leader said, you know what? Bill, you need to take this group and go on. I was riding chase. I'd not been on this route before. He said you need to take the group and go on and get to this next village, which was about an hour and a [00:27:00] half ride. And by now... even the time of this discussion, it was pretty dark. So I said, well let me have your GPS because I don't know the route. And it's pretty much stay on the main road, but you know, Columbia, night, jungle. You don't want to miss the road. No phone service, needless to say. So I zip-tied his GPS using the battery to my handlebar and rode. Well, I noticed that Cindy was getting farther and farther back. I would stop periodically for the group to regroup. And so I said, okay, Cindy, come up here and ride with me. And then I put said, one of the top riders with our group as a chase rider, I'm making the best decisions that I can. But now she is riding beside me. I'm in slight left echelon a little bit behind her so that she's not eating my dust or worrying about hitting me. And we're combining our headlights. She has no dust. And during this ride, I learned Bill I can only see through one eye. Grace has no peripheral vision either so this is the best [00:28:00] we can do to try and mitigate the circumstance. And we came to one of those tall trestle railroad bridges, you can picture it. The great big, tall steelwork and all rusty... certainly wouldn't hold up a train anymore, but it will hold motorcycles. And I stopped to assess this bridge Cindy had refused to stand up prior to this, but then during the training we did just before the event, she learned to stand and was very good at it. She proudly and perfectly stood up on that motorcycle and head out across that trestle... not a good choice. And I was not in a position to stop her. Well, the next thing I knew, I saw her wobble. Her front tire went down, and all I could see was her taillight. So at least the bike hadn't fallen through the bridge. But when I ran over to where she was with no light, but my cell phone there's no Cindy. She had fallen through the bridge, and I had no idea how far down it was. I could smell the river below. It was a slow swampy type river, so I ran down around, [00:29:00] I looked, I finally heard her on the other side... a local had stopped, fetched her out of the water. We got her back up through the ants, got the ants off of her. Got her some water. She had some bruising, big hematoma on her arms. She had ingested a little bit of the water and got a little sick, but they gave her some stuff that got her better. And she actually went to the hospital to be checked, which I think was a very good choice on the part of our ride leader. And she's okay, she ended up in great condition. But when I looked back at that event and thought about the circumstances, that accident chain leading up to it, well it was a tough one. I mean, everybody had made what they felt were the best choices, but then in retrospect, we could see there are things that now I would never do the same. I would never try to lead from behind any rider... no matter who it was. I mean, I say that. There might be somebody who was in a position. There might be a circumstance where I needed to stay with someone, but for the most part I'm going to be in the front. If I'm leading the ride, I'm not going to try to lead from the [00:30:00] back. So, and there are other things, you know, as we're looking at the time and knowing where we were in stations along that route, I probably would have started upping the energy in lets complete this ride a little bit more than that, which our ride leader had in fact started doing. He's juggling between his guests and their desires, their needs, pushing them, causing an accident. Sunset, you know, the bottom line is this... it's adventure. It's adventure. You put yourself out there not to be hurt, but so that you might, and so that you have to be the one who is in charge of yourself in making these decisions.
Scott Brady: What an incredible event. And obviously we're so grateful that she was not injured significantly during that, and I think about the number of times that I have been so close on a motorcycle, and even the times that I've gone down where you think like this [00:31:00] is no big deal and either the bike or yourself has gotten some injury from it. And I think that on the motorcycle, that reinforces to me the importance of getting good training, wearing the right gear, and being with the right people. If I was to summarize motorcycling for me, which is oftentimes even why I will ride alone, because I have found that in some groups, you get this dynamic going where people want to ride faster and faster and faster. And if you're fairly competent or maybe like yourself, for example, people know who Bill Dragoo is, they know your skill, and now they want to show you what they can do. So they start to maybe push themselves at that 85, 90%. I remember one time I was riding out from Toroweap and I was with another rider and he was a big fan of the magazine, and he didn't have a lot of experience... and I was just doing my thing and I was probably riding at 65% or 70% [00:32:00] riding quite fast, and he was right there. I realized that if I don't shut this down, something else will and it was... he was not doing anything wrong. He was eager to ride at that pace and to be right there with me alongside me. And I realized if I don't back off, then this is going to create a real problem maybe for the both of us, and I think that that's one of the things that's nice about riding in a group of people that you have that rapport with, that trust with. You don't push each other beyond what they should. You're paying attention to what the other people are doing. You're seeing if they're getting fatigued. I mean, we all experienced that on the Utah Traverse. We were paying attention to how everyone was doing. Have you been drinking water? You know, when you spend a lot of time with someone, you know, how they speak and I have found that one of the earliest indicators of excessive fatigue, as they start to speak differently, they use different words. Maybe their [00:33:00] vocabulary starts to shift. They express themselves in a different way, and you can see this as the start of them being affected by dehydration, or they're getting overheated, or they're getting over fatigued. What are some of the other things that you've noticed in leading so many groups that you find is a great indication of how someone is doing?
Bill Dragoo: Well, attitude. We profess that there are four cornerstones to be successful at adventure riding. Balance, control, judgment, and attitude. So the first two, balance and control, are more kinesthetic, you know, they're what we do with our bodies. The balance, our innate ability to stand up right on two feet. Control in this case, it's the ability to use the controls of the motorcycle to maintain our balance. Judgment, should we go? Should we go around? Should we stay? Should I go back? Should I have ever ridden with this guy in the first place? And then attitude, the most important I think of those four cornerstones and that's what says I know I'm hurt. You know, my bike is damaged, [00:34:00] but I'm dragging everybody down by kicking sand here, or you put a handle on that guy's shoulder who's dented his tank and broken his wrist and you said, hey I know that this is really a bad day for you. But we're going to get you home, we're going to get your bike home and you're going to have some great stories to tell when we get there. So those are the four cornerstones, any one of which can get you through when one or more of the others fail. When you see balance fading away, you see judgment going away, someone wants to peel off the trail and take this extraordinary steep hill or sketchy trail or something. Or they're... you know, balance and control, maybe they're just not riding as well as they had been before. Or you see that downward spiral of attitude. Those are some indicators that I think as a Couture leader that I have seen and noticed, and then maybe the tour guide in myself have collaborated in saying, you know what? We should talk to this person, [00:35:00] and when you do that as a collective unit, where two or three people walk up to that individual who is starting that spiral, and maybe one puts a hand on the shoulder, you don't want them to feel closed in trapped cornered. But to know that this is a consensus that, hey we're going to stop and rest a little bit, or we need you to slow down, or please don't ride so close. Please don't do wheelies in the pack. Whatever it might be that you see that needs to be changed when you actually can recognize that through your experience and stop something before it happens, you never know whose life you saved or what injury you've prevented.
Scott Brady: For sure. And you're not only being considerate of that individual, you're protecting the other people that you're with and yourself even. Your own reputation, business, health, safety, all of those other things. So before we pivot to the four-wheel drive stuff, cause you have a lot of history and in interesting stuff to talk about on the four wheel [00:36:00] drive side as well, when it comes to an adventure motorcycle, what would you say is the top three or four modifications or things that you bring on your bike that for you, you just wouldn't want to leave.
Bill Dragoo: Boy Harley Davidson's gonna love this one. Adaptive ride heighth. I did a, I did a story for a magazine just four or five weeks ago in Michigan using the Pan America. And that's not a modification, that's a factory option that you have on that bike, but it was so cool. You know, I used to want to push a button so that I could stop riding my Honda 70 and I would be riding a triumph 650 Bonnyville. This was back in the early seventies, late sixties, early seventies, or I would want to push a button and not be riding my XL 250, but be riding my CZ 125 motor cross racer. So we try to make these bikes do-it-all motorcycles. I currently ride the BMW [00:37:00] R1250GS HP with the sports suspension. So it does have tall or low suspension that I can select, it just doesn't do it when I stop. So fortunately I'm tall enough to handle that, but that motorcycle is so incredibly capable out of the box, both on-road, and off-road. All of those pet rhino things that we like about it, that it does these things for us. You can pull yourself onto that motorcycle if you're out of balance. My 170 pounds doesn't influence it that much initially, and so it'll let me get myself situated before it starts to get out of shape. So the bike is really capable on and off road, but sometimes I fall down. Sometimes on Elephant Hill I case out with the front wheel in the air on the bottom of the engine. So if you really to ride one off road, think about protection for yourself and for the motorcycle, all of your strike points for personal strike points: elbows, knees, hips. Things like that... shoulders. Those are places you need to protect yourself. And of course the motorcycle has its known [00:38:00] strike points. A boxer BMW you want good engine guards on that.
Scott Brady: Yeah, so I don't lop a cylinder off.
Bill Dragoo: Well, yeah. You know, and even just punching a hole in one like what happened in Columbia and set us back an hour and a half. That could have been a link in that chain that caused the failure. You know, was the final straw or whatever. So armoring your bike up properly... you're not trying to weight it down. You know, Farkles: functional things that sparkle... kind of that contraction. So some of those things really mean business, and one that... you know, like I can give you a list. I mean, there's a story on my website about the, the battle-tested GS that goes through this ad nauseum, but the tiniest thing can cause a failure. I had an incident recently on my BMW where I struck a rock and the side stan switch hit the rock directly, and I looked down at that and I thought that's not going to work anymore. Well, I [00:39:00] had a little Turotech guard just a little twenty-five-dollar part, probably on my side stand safety switch that took the beating, and it was crushed and the switch was not touched. So knowing the strike points on your bike, the things that might take damage and then preemptively preventing that damage by covering it up with something that's an accessory then I think those are really important things. And then you have comfort items. My saddle, I mean sergeant saddle on that bike that I've had on four motorcycles back-to-back now, you know, that allows me to go a long distance on the motorcycle. Proper luggage, you know?
Scott Brady: What's your favorite luggage right now?
Bill Dragoo: Well, I'm using Moscow Moto right now. I've used Wolf Man in the past. They're both very, very good. But Moscow Moto I think leads the industry right now in so many ways. Their customer care, the customer service, the the product itself, the evolution. The constant evolution, I mean they are definitely Kaizen, that [00:40:00] constant never ending improvement in their approach because they are such avid riders. You know, Pete Nash in particular had become good friends and I see what they do. I see the result of their love and their care for the sports and the people in the sport and how they take care of the many of my students who have used this gear have come back to me and said, this is amazing. I tore this. I hooked a log and ripped it and I sent it in and I can't tell it was ever damaged. You know? So just the overall... it's not just the piece, but it's the people behind the piece and the piece itself. It's just good stuff. So soft luggage as opposed to hard luggage is a big deal to me because legs get broken on hard luggage. And I have had so many people... probably six, honestly, that I could come up with names for who I have warned, or they have known better. And they broke their leg with hard luggage. Stepping down, it's often in sand. Sometimes it's in a rat. Sometimes [00:41:00] it's just a dab, but that leg gets caught behind that hard luggage. And the difference is getting hit with a sledgehammer versus a half inflated, basketball. Hard luggage versus soft, and no disrespect to those who sell hard luggage. They make some really good stuff out there.
Scott Brady: They have their place. If you're mostly riding on the road, or you're in a country where you're concerned about security.
Bill Dragoo: Security, yeah. Your priorities shift but adjust your motorcycle according to what you're really going to be doing. There's plenty of data out there to find out what works and what doesn't work. And the forums are not always the best. You know, I hate to say that, but they're not always the best. So mix the opinions that you get with your own pot and make that stew that tells you this is what works for me.
Scott Brady: Yeah or talk to someone who's been where you're going on a motorcycle, similar to what you ride and then get their insights for sure. Yeah, exactly. That's a good one. So let's, let's pivot a little bit [00:42:00] and let's talk about your love for four-wheel drives. So let's talk about your vehicle and what vehicle you currently drive and how you modified it.
Bill Dragoo: Well, we have a couple. Probably not as many as you, but we do have a couple of...
Scott Brady: I've pared-down the fleet quite a bit.
Bill Dragoo: Good for you. I remember our friend, Tybirrio and Susanna had the old Disco... yeah, but you know, for me, the interest in four-wheel drive came when I was actually teaching flying and flying air charter in Ada, Oklahoma. And I met someone who had put a V8 motor in a Toyota FJ 40 Land Cruiser. And I just fell in love with that thing. I love the sound of it. I loved the look of it and it wasn't long before I had bought an FJ 40 with no motor. And I put a short block Chevy in it, built every bit of it in my little one car garage there in Norman, Oklahoma
Scott Brady: Thats a great garage by the way.
Bill Dragoo: Oh yeah. Well, this was a garage before that one. Long before that one. I was... gosh, I was in my twenties [00:43:00] at the time, I guess. Maybe thirties, maybe thirties at the time. So I really had an affinity for the FJ 40 and the Jeep CJ7. I worked with Jeep as the dealership for a number of years, both as a mechanic and in sales. Jeeps were very interesting to me. They were small, they were agile, capable. They were cool. They look good. We managed to haul three children around in the back seat of a CJ7 for a long time, camping, driving it from Oklahoma to Colorado.
Scott Brady: Isn't that amazing how people were able to use a small vehicle like that. Go camping. Now... it's funny. You'll see two people in an excursion and they're pulling a trailer. I don't understand. It's like how much stuff do we have to bring? It's amazing. It's amazing what you can do with something small and simple, and that’s just right.
Bill Dragoo: You said something once Scott, when we, we had lunch with you in Baja one time. You were coming north; we were going south. We stopped there on the intersection of five and one, I [00:44:00] believe
it was so cool that we were able to connect there.
Oh, it was awesome. But, you know, I looked at your G wagon and I'm like where's your stuff? And you say, well I pack for this like I pack for a motorcycle trip, and I use the same gear. And it was freeing... I mean I was driving at that time, a really nicely built Tacoma. I mean, we had 30 gallons of onboard water, a compressor, awesome truck, but it was heavy. And so we subsequently built a Forerunner that... it was going to be Susan's vehicle and then whenever she had to swing out a swing out tire carrier with five gallons of water and five gallons of fuel on it and had to lift it to get the thing completely shut it... it wasn't exactly what you want to hold grandkids around in anymore. But it became an amazing overlanding vehicle for us, it was built significantly lighter, and it wasn't more nimble, but it was still very nimble, a bit more economical from a fuel perspective, and it held stuff inside where it couldn't get as dusty. [00:45:00] So we really have moved to that as kind of a favorite and we've used it both with a rooftop tent. So we've got a really nice easy on rooftop tent and also Oztent, quick-up tent. So depending on our circumstance, we'll use one or the other, and sometimes we'll just throw a backpacking tent in there for quick setups. But that vehicle is really nice, and it forces us to use the mentality that you projected then in Baja at that time, so we've leaned a little more towards that since then.
Scott Brady: Yeah. It's funny how the less that we take with us, the more memories we bring home. That has been my experience. And it's funny, the more gadgets and systems... it just seems like that they just consume our time that we're on an app trying to figure out what the temperature of the fridge is instead of looking at the sunset. And that has... and I have done all of that. I have made all of those [00:46:00] mistakes many, many times, and for a very long time where the things consumed my experience because they're shiny, they're Farkle, they're interesting, and they're... you think that they'll solve problems, but in most cases these gadgets just create problems.
Bill Dragoo: They can, you know...
Scott Brady: there's a few things that work great.
Bill Dragoo: There are a number that worked great and there are multiple items that will serve the same purpose to different degrees. Helge Peterson Globe Riders I believe it is, you know, Norwegian... leads some of the most incredible expeditions around the world on motorcycles. He is very anti modification to motorcycles. He tells a story of a guy on a KLR 650, who had an updated stater and all kinds of electrical gadgets things to make him more comfortable and to make the ride more interesting, I suppose. And it did, pretty much everything failed on that bike and Helge began to make some really strong rules about how you could prepare your bike for [00:47:00] trip and less modifications was a big aspect. So in overlanding, probably my favorite overlanding vehicle that we own right now is our 1976, FJ 40. And I love that vehicle. It beats me to death. When I ride it, I've messed with this, I've done all this stuff, but it's not super modified, but I mean I've tried to make the suspension good I've shirts poly bushings and greased everything and put Teflon between all the leaf spring. And it's still rides like a bug board, but I never stopped smiling when I'm driving that vehicle. And that's one of our, one of our goals in the hopefully not too distant future is to really bring that up to a not a modified state but a very well improved stock condition, overhauled motor and some things like that.
Scott Brady: Yeah. In fact Susan wrote a great story for us about your trip through, I think it was Oklahoma with the FJ...
Bill Dragoo: Arkansas, the Arkansas Traverse. We borrowed a... Well, it's something about flattery not plagiary, sorry. That was a Freudian [00:48:00] slip. But no, we did the Ozark Traverse, I believe it was, and used that truck for that. Had a lot of fun with it and did some stuff in Southeastern Oklahoma also. And oh, that might've been... there was a Butterfield. That was the trip I believe it was actually in your magazine.
Scott Brady: Awesome.
Bill Dragoo: Fun stuff.
Scott Brady: And there's a couple of other things that come to mind for me, you've also always focused on your physical health and fitness. You've mentioned to me many times that you believe that being ready for adventure, physically ready for adventure is a big component of the success that you've had not only in competitions, but in traveling around the world. Talk a little bit about what you find is the most important things to do as a rider to keep yourself fit and healthy?
Bill Dragoo: Well riding for one, and when I'm competing, I'm more focused on my fitness than whenever I'm [00:49:00] just rolling and training. So I don't think I'm that different than anybody who gets extremely busy with their work and forgets or allows themselves to be less focused or active on fitness. So for me, setting a goal or having a goal. That requires fitness really is helpful. You know, if I may borrow from my wife's recent experience, she just got out of the Grand Canyon yesterday morning doing the hermit trail and she trained for months for this carrying a 32-pound backpack so that she would not be hurting too much for the actual trip. And she came out and said, hey this was a blast. Yeah, my legs were a little tired and then by today, they're fine so it was really the same for me when I was racing mountain bikes for example. I would tell people, and here again I won a lot... I won two state championships back-to-back on the mountain bike, and I told people train harder than you will ever race and that sounds funny. Like, why wouldn't you race harder than you try? Well, you don't have to race harder than you train if you [00:50:00] train harder than you will ever have to when you race. So it worked for me. I mean, I was in the attic on my CompuTrainer building my motor every morning at 5:30 to really get super fit with that. And then alternately, I would do core exercises so that I had an extremely strong core, and I could do a lot of reps of whatever it was that I wanted to do.
Scott Brady: And have you found that that has translated in other ways to travel itself? Have you found that having that base level of fitness has been important for you for travel as well?
Bill Dragoo: Without question fatigue you know, just the ability to follow my wife the places she likes to go because she is a foot traveler, and she really likes to hike. And when I've let myself get down on fitness, it's cost me time with her on those trails. So the times that I've been more fit, if she tells me that a trail is five miles long, and I discovered that she might've shrunk that a little bit and it was actually 9 or 12, I'm okay with that [00:51:00] because I have the fitness to be able to continue and do that. So it's never a bad idea to maintain that fitness. You never know whenever there's a situation that you might need it. And you know, my inspiration and my motivation goes up and down and my activity on that goes up and down. As I said, when I have an activity that requires fitness, that's what I'm best at it.
Scott Brady: Well, I've heard when people talk about you and your riding that has come up many times, they'll mention how fit you are, and I believe that it's an interesting thing to consider. If you're going to try to move around a 600-pound motorcycle for a day, if you've got this really strong core in this great base of fitness, even if you're a great rider, if you're not fit it's just going to be a lot more difficult. The chances of maybe one of those links in the chain come into bite you, I think is a factor.
Bill Dragoo: Without question fitness extends your riding time, [00:52:00] both in minutes, hours, days, and years. So that helps a lot. Skill extends your riding time, and the skill actually causes you to need less fitness, but it doesn't cause you to not need to be fit, because you will find yourself getting fatigued and then starting to see some of those failures within the balance, control, judgment, and attitude area. Even though you're a skilled rider, you can still get tired. You can still get heat fatigue, you know, and it may not just be physical fatigue, but it's just the heat. Just the ability to perform. I do a lot of teaching, so I am out there talking and standing on my feet and helping pick up motorcycles, and that alone is... there was some element of fitness to that, but it is something and it keeps me going. And also, it's a routine that I'm familiar with, so when you put yourself into a situation that you might not be familiar, you better have some reserve somewhere.
Scott Brady: A little bit in the tank. Exactly. One of the questions that I do like to ask [00:53:00] is if there is a book or a few books that you have read that you found were inspiring for you or have helped shape the course of your life, or if there's podcasts that you've been listening that you really enjoy or any other resources that you'd like to recommend.
Bill Dragoo: Well, there are a few. You know, from an entertainment perspective Jack Riepe has written three books on the motorcycle riders diet I believe it is in conversations with the motorcycle, and he can be a little crass, but he is funny and he is very experienced as an on-road rider. So from just a pure fun to read and also something you can relate to because, you know, he's around my age and he rode back when you know, street bikes... the fast ones were green and, you know, 750 Kawasaki and the sterile of two stroke oil in the gas and all. So he's a fun one to read. Peter Egan in Leanings. Leanings and Leanings 2. Peter Egan wrote a column for [00:54:00] cycle world for a number of years, and I aspired to write like him. I mean, I love his writing and I wanted to be the kind of writer that he is. So I practice his art as much as I could. I learned as much as I could from him. So his books were both inspirational from a perspective of a writer, but also as a motorcyclist. He can bring you to that moment of joy of just sitting and looking at a motorcycle, popping open for him it's always, a Guinness... not my favorite beer. But in staring at it, the GCF and all which I've borrowed from that even for some of my writings before... sorry Pete, but yeah, so, you know, he's a very good and inspirational writer, but going back to some of the early books that I read that kind of set me on this adventure path Desert Solitaire by Ed Abbey. He was a bit of a Maverick of a radical. He did not want paved roads going to any place that anybody could hike to. And I think that there needs to be a balance in there. I think we have overdone that [00:55:00] in some ways significantly and in some ways we've done good things for people who did not have the ability to access our lands. So I understand both sides of that coin, but Ed Abbey and just the way that he writes in the book Desert Solitaire put me there and it made me want to be there more. He also wrote The Monkey Wrench Gang, and a couple of other books that were interesting. Don't follow his advice in The Monkey Wrench Gang. You don't need to tear up equipment that building roads. You don't have to do that. It doesn't work, just gets you in jail. But those are some that I think have been very interesting to me.
Scott Brady: Oh, that's great advice and then one of the other things that I like to ask, and again with you having been such an inspiration to me, if someone was sitting across the table from you at a little cafe in Baja and they said, Bill what you do is so cool. What advice would you give that person that was just getting into travel by motorcycle [00:56:00] or by four-wheel drive. What would be those few words of wisdom that you would give someone that was just about to start that journey.
Bill Dragoo: Don't wait to start your journey. Don't wait to have all of the, whatever it is, fill in the blank, that you need to do it. We see so many people who are waiting to build the perfect rig or the perfect machine before they will go, or they need to have a certain amount of money to do it. You know, my good friends, Eva Rupert and Sterling Lorraine, they sing the same song and it's, you know, I'm not copying them on that. That's something I've always felt. Run what you brung. John Penton you know, the founder of KTM really I mean, here in the United States, he really started with, with some of the bikes that became KTM and he would ride his 175CC NSU to racist long distances away. Peel the lights off of them, race, win, and put the lights back on and ride at home. He didn't wait until he had the perfect machine that now we feel like we have to have to do it, but do you need to stay [00:57:00] within your scope as well? Stretch yourself to stay within your scope. Think of Lois Pryce in her book Lois on the Loose and riding from the Arctic circle to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of south America and she calls herself this pasty face Britt. She's just this gorgeous, cute, fun, funny, energetic, and very intelligent, well-spoken British redhead that climbed on an XT225 Yamaha and rode that distance from the north to the south. As far as you could go from each end and made a Lark of it in that book.
Scott Brady: She’s my hero. I've decided.
Bill Dragoo: I'm telling you. Yeah, but she did things that you know, people would say, oh you shouldn't do that because you're a female or you don't have the knowledge or the skills, or you don't know how to fix your motorcycle. She learned things on the road. People would think, well, what about in South America when you need a chain or a tire? Well, you know what, they have motorcycles down there too, and they also have mail service [00:58:00] and sometimes you just gotta sort it out and that's the adventure. If you can embrace that adventure, the changes in it as, hey this is part of it... that's pretty cool.
Scott Brady: I would agree. Yeah, those that are listening take a read of Lois Pryce's books. They're all absolutely fantastic. And for those that are listening, how do they find out more about you? How do they find out more about Susan, your wife? How do they get to read more of your content, learn about your training and follow your adventures?
Bill Dragoo: So Susan and I both write for a number of different magazines. She has for the past several years edited a couple. Outdoor By Four and ADV Moto magazine. So now she's writing a book of her own, but she has a website, SusanDragoo.com real simple. SusanDragoo.com. She has a lot of publications on there, her work is much more diverse than mine as a historian, a foot traveler [00:59:00] and all that she is. Some very interesting content there, and then some truck content as well. And then mine is BillDragoo.com. So it's very simple to find as well and there's an area called publications on mine. And, you know, I still do a regular column for Ride Texas magazine. Most of those I think are on my website. DART tips... some of my previous columns for Road Runner magazine just sidetracked. Some of those are fun. Some are funny. Some are informative, maybe inspirational, I don't know. But there are the short versions and then there's some longer versions there also. Certainly Overland Journal. You know, it's a little harder to get to some of those, but you know, there's some good stories that that you and I have done together on some really cool trips, but yeah, my website and hers SusanDragoo.com or BillDragoo.com. You can find more about us there and also with what we do with DART. Adventure rider training is it's on my website.
Scott Brady: Well, thank you so much bill for your time, and [01:00:00] for those that are listening, and if you love motorcycles and you want to go see the world by motorcycle, I could not recommend highly enough the idea of getting training before you go. Build that knowledge like we talked about and that time in the saddle, so that you have confidence when you go into the unknown and thank you all for listening, and we will talk to you next time. Thanks.