“Bloody hell, mate, are you alright?” Simon asked as he rushed over and grabbed me by the arm. “You look really upset!”
There was no emotional trauma, in fact the third day at Overland Expo had gone very well, but I hadn’t realised how bloodshot and watery my eyes had become. Relentless exposure to the strong sun and sandblasting wind of northern Arizona had simply taken its toll. Nevertheless, Simon’s genuine concern was touching – as much because it provided a glimpse of the big-hearted character behind the public smile, impeccable branding, and trademark sweary banter.
Simon and his adorable wife, Lisa, lived in Somerset in England and, well before ‘adventure riding’ had become a genre, sold everything they owned to begin their journey in 2003. Since then they’ve ridden well over 450,000 miles through 78 countries. Along the way they’ve broken countless world records, crossed 28 deserts, and suffered multiple cases of malaria and dengue fever. Simon even broke and dislocated his neck in the Amazon, paralyzing the left hand side of his body and making him blind in one eye. He and Lisa then rode for an agonizing three weeks to reach medical assistance and life-saving emergency surgery. Thankfully, Simon made a full recovery.
Their original bikes, a BMW R1150GSA and an F650GS, carried them faithfully around the world for 12 years. Then in 2016 a generous Canadian sponsor (LXV Outdoors) enabled them to upgrade to new machines with a vast array of custom modifications. Simon now rides a BMW R1200GSA LC, which he throws around like it’s no more than a pushbike, and Lisa, despite her diminutive stature, rides a custom built F800GS.
Even though they provide inspiration for thousands of fellow adventure riders around the world, motorcycle travellers like Simon and Lisa are all too frequently derided for being heavily sponsored and ‘professional’. What the critics forget, or choose to ignore, is that long-term independent travel, and the sharing of it, is effectively a job – and one that can be incredibly hard work.
Going round the world on a motorcycle isn’t all epic roads and romantic sunsets. No matter how much equipment sponsors might provide, food, fuel, bike maintenance, and other day-to-day essentials still have to be paid for, along with medical care, visas, insurance, and shipping costs between continents.
In Simon and Lisa’s case, their responsibilities include keeping sponsors happy, fulfilling a grueling schedule of public speaking engagements, maintaining a huge website and social media channels, writing articles, and producing videos and presentations. For good measure the iconic pair also sell their superlative photography, which is the self-taught product of years of dedication and experimentation.
Since switching to their new bikes, Simon and Lisa have been criss-crossing the USA, Canada, and Mexico, and last summer finally achieved their ambition of reaching Deadhorse in Alaska.
With the day’s Expo business concluded and a raging thirst gratefully quenched by Happy Hour beers, I caught up with them again around the campfire. As usual, Lisa was rustling up a free-for-all feast while Simon entertained the gathering with unpublishable tales from the road.
“Hello darling!” Lisa said with a wink as I wandered over. “How the devil are you? Would you like a nibble of Simon’s spicy sausage?”
Don’t miss Lisa’s soon to be published cookbook for travellers called ‘Dirty Dining: ‘An Adventurers Cookbook’. You can get a copy, and see the full story of their unique journey, at 2ridetheworld.com
Words by Iain Harper. Photo courtesy of Simon Thomas.
This article was first published in Issue 18 of Overland magazine.