Marlene Doyle

Photo By Larry Dalton

Thousands of Sacramentans will hit the road this summer, many hoping to escape the brutal heat in favor of more temperate places. But most will miss nearly everything between home and destination as they hurtle through space in the air-conditioned confines of family car and commercial jet. Few will experience the country as retired state workers Dan and Marlene Doyle, who since 1980 have toured the United States, Canada and even England by motorcycle and sidecar. This year they’re planning a leisurely trip on their Honda Valkyrie and Champion Escort sidecar to the Northwest, the Yukon and Alaska. It’s not the fastest way to travel, but for the Doyles, getting there is all of the fun

So, you guys cover thousands of miles every summer on this thing?

Last year we did 9,900 miles in five weeks. We went from here up to British Columbia. Then we took Canadian Highway One all the way across, over the top of Lake Superior and wound up on Prince Edward Island on the Atlantic Ocean. Stopped in New England, then went down to Kentucky for a national sidecar meet. Up to Minneapolis to see some relatives and then a couple of days at Sturgis, a big bike thing there in South Dakota, then came back home by way of Salt Lake City. Last year was the third year in a row that we went to the East Coast. This summer we’re going up to the Yukon and up to Alaska. It’s probably about 6,000 miles.

But this setup isn’t really made for long distance travel, is it?

Oh no, it’s fine. It’s great, ask Marlene. She can kick back and sleep, read, drink coffee.

We had to do some modifications to the sidecar. And we had to put a car-type tire on the rear wheel. The first one we had we had to import from France. This one is a “taxi” tire from Dunlop. It’s about what you’d find on a mini-truck

Why did you start taking vacations on the bike and sidecar?

Well, our daughter Jennifer came along [Laughs].

I have always been interested in motorcycles. I’ve been doing it for 40-something years. When we got married, I had the bike and we’d take it out once in a while. When our daughter Jennifer came along, my mother and my wife’s mother were always on our case about asking them to baby-sit while we were out there risking our lives. So we bought a sidecar and started taking Jennifer with us.

So the whole family could risk their lives together? That’s sweet. But why not take vacations in a nice, comfortable air-conditioned car?

It’s like they say: If I have to explain, you won’t understand it. No, it’s probably the same thing that encourages people to shimmy up the face of Half Dome instead of driving around the long way. It’s just something you like to do. We all have something in us I think that makes us want to be just a little bit different.

When you travel by motorcycle, at least the way we travel, I think you see more than you do in the car. Number one, if we were in the car we’d be taking turns driving, and one person would be sleeping probably and we’d be whipping off six or seven hundred miles in a day.

We travel by motorcycle and cover three or four hundred miles in a day. We stop for gas every hundred miles or so, and we’re pulling up in front of the little mom and pop coffee shops and people come around and talk to you about the motorcycle, especially the sidecar, everyone loves that. The old-timers come up and tell you about how they came West in one of those back in 1932 or something like that. It’s just that kind of experience.

What was the most memorable trip?

We took one trip across the country in the 1980s where almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We’d gone back for a national sidecar meet in Plymouth, Massachusetts. That’s where I found out I was desperately allergic to clams. I got deathly ill. I had all of the reactions you might imagine out there on the campground, and Marlene had to take care of me. Then I decided it must have just been bad clams so I tried them again at a friends house in New Hampshire a couple of days later. I soon found out it wasn’t bad clams, it was just clams.

Then we got into some heavy stop-and-go traffic in New Hampshire, and the bike started running real hot; we ended up smoking the rings on the thing. We were using a quart of oil every hundred miles or so. Then the frame on the sidecar broke. So we hooked up with some friends in Niagara Falls, and Marlene and Jennifer rode all the way back to Sacramento in the back of our friends’ pickup truck. So, we’ve had mechanical problems on a lot of trips, but it always works out.