Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book review

edgeofthemapI just finished reading the Kindle version of “Riding off the Edge of the Map,” mostly because somebody on the BMW MOA  Facebook page mentioned that it could be downloaded for free.

What the hell? I like a good ride story and David Bryen’s account of a ride into Mexico’s Copper Canyon region sounded promising.

We all bring our own life experiences to books like this and I came to it as a 68-year-old retired newspaperman who has been riding motorcycles about 35 years. I have more than 300,000 miles in my mirrors – almost all of them on BMW motorcycles. I was a Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor for 10 years, from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s and taught more than 1,000 students the basics of riding a motorcycle. I was among the first examiners when Indiana instituted skills testing as a part of motorcycle licensing. I also went through the Northern Illinois University Trail Riding Course in the 1980s. I took it twice – once with each of my sons – and would have bought us all trail bikes if there had been any public land open to off-road bikes in Indiana at the time.

So I came to Bryen’s book with a fair amount of knowledge on the subject of motorcycling and dirt riding.

At the time of his trip, Bryen was a 62-year-old psychotherapist from the Pacific Northwest who had also been an MSF instructor. He and his wife had just moved into a new home in Mexico and he was keen to visit the beautiful and rugged Copper Canyon region on his 650cc Suzuki V Strom. I have friends who rode BMW GS (dual sport) bikes for years and recently defected to V Stroms, so I supposed his choice of bike for the trip was within reason. His riding companions were a neighbor named Jake – a biker lifestyle expatriate from California who rode “a $20,000 BMW” which I guessed to be an R1200GS. Jake’s friend Tom, who flew down from Alberta, had an “$11,000” BMW that was probably an older GS, but I can only guess because Bryen doesn’t tell us what the models were.

Jake is a “ride anywhere” guy, but Tom, also 62, has a hip replacement and vows not to ride in the dirt for fear of crashing and destroying his hip. Likewise, Bryen is keen to avoid gravel or dirt.

If you know anything about riding in Mexico, especially rural Mexico, you just saw some red flags go up.

It appears they did little or no research or preparation and headed out with just a hand-drawn not-to-scale map some guy gave them. There are several companies that run motorcycle tours into Copper Canyon and you can get a pretty good idea about roads and equipment and riding styles by watching the videos on their web sites. Bryen and his friends might have found those videos to be highly instructive.

Instead, they quickly got in over their heads, falling repeatedly on the rutted and boulder strewn tracks that pass for roads on their map. Bryen crashed hard on the second day in the canyon, breaking at least one rib and disabling his bike. He managed to hitch a ride in a passing pickup truck that hauled him and his bike to the next village while Tom and Jake continued on their bikes.

Bryen decided he was done and caught a flight out the next day, leaving his Suzuki in the yard of a local who claimed to be a mechanic. Tom and Jake left town about the same time, but Tom crashed hard a few miles down the road and limped back to town where he gave his bike to a local cop in exchange for a ride back to civilization. Jake soldiered on, completing his ride of the canyon and then riding to Alaska before he came home to Mexico.

There is a newspaper copy editor’s prayer that goes, “Lord, save me from the things I think I know.”

Bryen, in his naiveté, could have used that prayer.

The story of ride – actually just two days of riding hell and the rest was escape and aftermath – is disturbing enough, but being a psychotherapist, Bryen fleshes it out with his internal dialogue and life history in agonizing detail.

Judging from the reviews on, most readers are okay with his inner journey. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t find it particularly interesting. I just don’t have a lot of patience when I feel somebody is overthinking everything.

That said, the book held my interest and I finished it in three or four sittings, so I guess the philosophizing  wasn’t all that off-putting.

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