By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 4/3/17

Jim enters Alaska

For the twenty sixth installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orcas, we are thrilled to speak with Jim Findlay. Jim is an avid adventure motorcyclist and all around cool guy.

I came across Jim’s travels on Adventure Rider and you can read more about his trips here or here… After you read this interview of course.

Jim has taken some incredible rides from his home in Missouri. I immediately relate to adventure riders from the Midwest because we all face the similar challenge of having to own a motorcycle large enough to ride out of the Midwest. You are faced with high speeds of Interstate Highways for at least 8 hours before you to start to get to the “desirable” off road adventure riding hubs like Colorado, Northern Arkansas, The Upper Peninsula, ETC.  This means if you own one bike, you are riding something that is 800cc or larger and it has some decent off-road capability. Still have to find that balance of finding the right machine to tackle the jeep trails of Colorado and Utah and also something with enough heft and comfort that you can ride comfortably across Nebraska with a 35 mph crosswind.

Jim has found this grove and makes the most of it. I enjoy his trip reports and travel style because he seems to have strong goals and works to make them happen. But he is also flexible enough to make sure he is enjoying himself and not just completing the ride.

He is a great reminder that the point of adventure riding is to enjoy your travels and experience the road and places you pass through and not to just lay waste to as much gasoline and rubber as you can.

What do you consider to be your current job or goal? 

I have a custom bicycle frame building business.  It’s called Saorsa Cycles.  You can find it at www.saorsacycles.com.  Saorsa is Scottish gaelic for freedom.   I’m half Scotch/Irish.   That’s what bicycles and motorcycles have always been for me, freedom from stress, boredom, the daily grind, etc.

I’ve been an avid cyclist for over 30 years and in a previous life I was a welder in the nuclear industry, doing almost exclusively tig welding.   I’m very interested in environmental issues, really missed tig welding and loved everything on two wheels, so building frames was a perfect fit.   I build custom steel frames for road, cyclocross, touring and commuting.   The person I most enjoy building for though, is that person that wants to park their car and ride their bicycle to work.   I’m a small volume builder and not having a big build list enables me to ride my motorcycle when I want.

Tell me about your motorcycle. What is it?  What do you call it? 

 My motorcycle is a 2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC.    I bought it new from a good friend, Randy Lusk, who just happened to be a Triumph dealer.  I’d taken about a 25 year hiatus from motorcycling before I bought this bike. I think it’s about my 15th motorcycle though.

In the 70’s and first half of the 80’s I was very active in motocross and observed trials.   Randy and I competed in trials against each other for many years.   I quit riding to go back to college.  I sold my motorcycles because they were simply too much of a distraction for me.    After college I became involved in cycling and stuck with that primarily until about 1999.

In ’99 I got involved in Adventure racing and really loved that.   But by 2009 it was time to retire from racing and I really felt the need for a motorcycle again.   I had some unfinished business.    I had always wanted to do a ‘big’ motorcycle vacation.

I have about one third of my spine fused, mostly in my neck, so I needed a bike that sat upright, like a dirt bike.    Being a quasi-math person, I did a silly spreadsheet analysis of about 10 adventure bikes, with several categories all weighted to what I thought I wanted.   Real nerdy, boring stuff.  It came down to three bikes.    Ducati Multistrada S, BMW GS800 and Triumph Tiger 800XC.    Called my buddy Randy after not talking to him for over 10 years, at least.   He said to come on down, “I’ve got an organized ride to lay out anyway, you and I can spend the day on a couple Tigers!”   Couple that with the fact I knew he’d strip a showroom bike and ship parts wherever I was, I was a buyer right away.  Randy died just a couple years later.    So this Tiger has quite an attachment.

He, if he is a he, is just called “Tiger”.

Have you made any upgrades or changes to it? 

Yeah, it’s had a lot of changes.   I’d never owned a street legal bike before, so I was very conscious of being visible on the road, so before I even saw the bike I had Randy put on some auxiliary Denali lights along with a heavy Triumph skid plate, SWMotech crash bars and Triumph heated grips.

Then I decided I was going to ride to somewhere, not sure where, but I needed luggage.   Another friend I’ve done quite a bit of riding with, Aaron,  found a great deal on some Holan panniers.   It’s my understanding that Holan, a Polish company, used to/ or still does,  build some of Touratechs luggage.   The Holan brand doesn’t have the Touratech spif but it’s built well, has kind of an industrial look to it that I like and, most important, it was about half the price of Touratech.

Then I put on some Skene design P3 LED brake and rear turn signal lights, again for more visibility.   Also fitted a Holan headlamp grill guard, Touratech radiator shield and front fender lift and a Madstadt adjustable windscreen.   I’m about 6’1” so the stock windscreen just ensured that wind would fly right up into my helmet.    The Madstadt is great.   One of my favorite purchases for the Tiger.

I run an Endurostan Sandstorm tank bag.   It just straps on so I use a PacSafe retractable cable combination lock for it and my helmet if I can’t get the helmet in my top box.    I’ve also installed a Denali SoundBomb compact horn.   That thing will get someones attention.   I tried the Soundbomb mini, but it was too thick to fit where the wimpy stock horn goes and it wasn’t as loud as the compact.  The compact mounts in a different place as it sits along the engine.

I also wanted a folding shift lever.   The vendors that offered one made for the Tiger were priced at about $175!   So I bought a DRZ400 steel folding shift lever, cut the end of it and cut the end off my stock Triumph shifter and welded the DRZ folding one on.   Works great for about $14.

Mostly my mods were for protection and visibility.   I didn’t care about more performance, looks or a ‘better’ sound.

Last, another ADVRider inmate recommended, due to my fused neck, that I try running Triumph Explorer bars rather than the Tiger bars.    The bend of the Explorer bar is more swept back.   So I’ve got those on, but the verdict is still out whether they’re easier on my neck or not.   So far so good though.

I think that’s about it.

What other motorcycles did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought?

The Multistrada S was the best road bike of the seven or eight bikes I test rode.   But I wasn’t convinced it’d compare close to the Tiger or the GS off road and it had a lot of electronics that, being a retired computer guy, I was a little afraid of reliability and cost-wise.   The GS800 was better off road, but is still a 500 lb bike, therefore, still not a good dirt bike.  My opinion is, nothing weighing 500 lbs plus can really be considered a ‘Good’ dirt bike.  So adventure bikes are a big compromise and the Tiger was the best all around fit for me.  It can bludgeon it’s way down some singletrack if you want to.   But, you can ride it all day on a highway or, better yet, some cool two lane blacktop until the cows come home.    Plus, at the time, it was almost half the price of a Multistrada S or GS1200 Adventure.

The real selling factor was the dealer.   A dealer who’ll take care of you when you need is much more important than brand to me.


 How many miles have you put on your bike? 

I’m right at 28000 miles now.   But, I had four structural surgeries in 14 months in 2014/2015 and didn’t ride it for almost two years.

What is your favorite part about it living off of your bike? 

The absolute freedom and simplicity of it!   I love not having to be somewhere, no reservation, just ride until you wanna stop.   Find a good place to camp, or hotel it.   Whatever you feel like.   When you’re living off the bike, you don’t have a lot of complicated fluff to take up your time and effort.

When you catch that blue sky day in some great terrain, it just doesn’t get any better than traveling by motorcycle!


 What is your least favorite part about it? 

Continual days of cold rain can kind of suck.   I’m also not real wild about 100 degree temps anymore.   You know, when I was younger, racing motocross and trials, those real hot days were my day.   Not anymore.   I don’t handle the heat as well.

What is the best place you have taken it? Is there just one? 

I don’t have one favorite.   Northern Arkansas has some of the most fun roads I’ve ridden.  British Columbia is fantastic.


 Favorite road you’ve ridden? 

The Tiger is an absolute blast to ride.   It can make any road a favorite for me.   But, I’ll admit, I like using Butler Maps and if they give a road a gold rating, that road is gonna be fun!

I don’t have one favorite road.


 In one word, what describes your approach to life? 


I feel if more people, especially in the U.S.,  were more curious and compassionate about other places, people and animals in our world, we’d all be much better off.


 If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about living and traveling off of a vehicle, what would you tell them? 

First, I’ve come to realize, not everyone truly has the opportunity to travel.   Sam Manicom mentioned in the preface of one of his books that he had meet a man who loved reading his books and wanted to travel, but couldn’t.   His mother was disabled and he was the only person to take care of her.   You have to appreciate that man’s dedication.

But, if you’re not under that type of restriction and you’re considering it, Go do it!  Don’t wait for just the right time, the right bike, the right equipment, or the right partner.   Traveling alone by motorcycle is great.  I waited 47 years to take my “Big Motorcycle Vacation”.  Big Mistake.  But, once I did, I loved every minute of it.    Do not let naysayers stop you.   Some people are afraid of their shadows and don’t want you to show them that, others just want to control you for whatever reason.

Go Do It!  You’ll learn the details as you go.   That learning process is a key part of the experience.

It takes a special kind of person to recognize that the journey, not the destination, is the point of life. Travelers know this. Was there a point in your life where you became conscious that you were one of those kind of people?

Since I’ve retired I’ve truly realized that just getting out there and exploring is ‘The Destination’ in itself.   I retired a little early just because I didn’t want to give “The Man” my time any more.   That made it easier for me to take the time needed for a good trip.  You certainly would not have to be retired to accomplish this though.  I really appreciate that my office is now that Triumph display behind that gas tank taking me wherever it takes me.  I don’t do it enough yet. And, back to the journey part of the trip, the spontaneous things on the road have, by far, been the best experiences.

For example, on a recent trip I’d just crossed into Alberta when I saw two moose standing about 50′ off the road.   I stopped and was pulling my camera out of my tank bag when they jumped the fence, crossed the road and leapt into a pasture across the road, where two horses were.   A big black, likely a stallion, spied them and bolted straight at them, totally pissed.  He chased the moose across the field where they jumped the fence and went on their way.   For me, loving wildlife and horses, it was a perfect, totally surprising, introduction to Canada and Alberta!

You have found a strong place in the community of adventure riders, do you see yourself as someone who gets more out of your travels knowing that you have a following of people appreciating what you’re doing? 

I’m relatively new to road riding.  I found the road motorcycle community, in general, to be fantastic.   I took a trip to Hyder, Alaska last summer and had bikers pull in to just  shoot the bull, just having seen the loaded Tiger.   I also had some very helpful tips on ADVRider.com on my trips.   There’s a lot of experience out there that’s willing to help out when you need it.

That community that’s understands what it’s like to be out there is very cool.   My experience is, people who don’t or won’t push themselves don’t get the extra benefit that can be derived from more unconventional means of travel or just pushing your comfort zone.    Going beyond your perceived limitations is really rewarding.


Do you see yourself as someone who took a leap of faith to travel in an unconventional way or do you think it kind of just happened? 

I’ve been addicted to two wheels for a long, long time.   Traveling by motorcycle was a dormant need in me that’s been finally awakened.    To answer the question, my first longer trip was both, I just decided to go and it was a leap of faith.


 Where do you want to go next? 

Scotland again… and Africa!  Probably not on a motorcycle though.  On the bike, it’s definitely Newfoundland, Key West, the Yukon, and The Panama Canal…   The list goes on.  I hope I never complete it.

I met a guy on my trip last summer, who was 75 years old, he was leaving mid Missouri for Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, on his adventure bike, shortly after I left on my trip to Alaska. I kept in touch with him and he had one hell of an adventure, and he made Yellowknife.

He is definitely an inspiration.


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