There was a time in America where the lure of the Wild West drew both men and women across the continent. For the most part these early settlers found themselves in the wilds, surrounded by threats and often left to fend for themselves. This gave rise to the American Cowboy, an icon molded in many ways after the U.S. Marshals Service, and one that would eventually be known around the world as a symbol of the American spirit and will to persevere.
That period of time is much romanticized, as bygone eras so often are. Much like the Knights of Europe, or the Samurai of Japan, the American Cowboy became representative of a culture. Being a cowboy was an aspiration every young man had for more than a century, but politics and social advances slowly chipped away at the prominence of this icon. That is, until the early 1900s.
This was when the first real motorcycles started appearing. At the time horses were generally more dependable and much easier to feed, but that didn’t stop the adventurous from setting out across America on machines. For some it was just a phase. For others it was the beginning of a lifelong relationship.
Bryan Dolnik is one such person. He’s a bit of a mix between cowboy and steampunk, bringing a marriage of motorcycle technology and cowboy survival skills to adventure motorcycling. He grew up on motorcycles, purchasing his first one when he was just 13 years old. Like most young mechanics on a limited budget, he started out with duct tape to hold it together and a can of spray paint to make it look like it wasn’t held together by duct tape.
No different than a cowboy riding his horse until it was no longer able to be ridden, he rode that bike into the ground. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for motorcycling and adventure. He carried that passion with him into the army, where he learned to live off the land, reading maps and applying survival skills across various types of terrain, and later into his career in technology.
That blend of personality, character, and survival is the backbone of adventure motorcycling. What Bryan can’t make work on his motorcycles ends up being adapted until it can, which is one of the more interesting parts of his story. He isn’t just an adventurer, but also a pioneer, fitting components, technology, and even iPhones into places they weren’t intended for any more than man and motorcycle were.
Today he has two bikes, depending on the adventure, and it’s a relationship few understand. For those who do, the attraction is as undeniable as it is irresistible. It isn’t about speeding, or racing around a track, but rather an indescribable bond between man and machine. You can read about Bryan’s trips on his adventure motorcycling blog, but there is no substitute for the experience. In every sense of the word, it is the lifestyle of a modern cowboy.
Legends have been built around motorcycling, with entire subcultures trying to understand the lifestyle. But there is no region that embodies the adventure motorcycling spirit more than the Americas. From the book The Motorcycle Diaries to the film Easy Rider, the image of a cowboy on an iron horse is an icon associated with freedom and America.
There is also something shared among these adventure motorcyclists in much the same way the camaraderie of cowboys was shared in the Wild West. They set out alone or in small groups, men and machines, travelling without the protection of seat belts or doors. Wind is everpresent, and the elements never far, yet still these adventurers and their iron steeds ride across America and the world. Where one has trouble, others are always willing and ready to assist, and as a group they are loyal and independent.
Bikers remain an icon, and a constant reminder of the need to see what lies at the end of a long road, to be unique, and to never stop chasing dreams. This is adventure motorcycling, and while it is not for everyone, it is as American as apple pie, baseball, and freedom. Understanding it just requires getting on a motorcycle, leaving the comforts of home, and letting yourself go on an adventure in much the same way the cowboys of old rode into the sunset of the Wild West.