Rediscovering America’s iconic roadside motels by motorcycle

The Motelorcycle Chronicles and Sleeping Around in America, relives the lustre in those old neon signs and rediscovers a near forgotten piece of American pop-culture- the roadside motel. So at 50 years old, I set out on a 10,150 mile motorcycle journey to spend 50 days visiting and experiencing the state of 50 mid-century motels across the United States and Canada.

There is a cheesy romanticism about motels and motorcycle travel. Images of iconic 1960s motels and James Dean prevail in your mind. They take you back to a bygone era where holidays, road trips and business travel were king.  And it does not lose its irony that motel lodging is the byproduct of car travel and this is about a motorcycle journey. But by bringing the two together we can hopefully realize a romance that is a long time in the making.

Motels peaked in popularity in the 50s and 60s as car travel became more affordable and families went out to explore the country. Before they completed the US Interstate system, secondary highways were the norm. The motel provided refuge for weary families and business travellers alike. Their history is not always glorious. They were sometimes the location of the down and out and the debauchery not spoken about in decent company. The motel owner provided directions and if they had a restaurant served up warm meals. In their heyday, motels served as the first introduction for many to color TVs, air conditioning, automatic coffee makers, outdoor pools and HBO. And while often the motel served as a stopover on route to somewhere else, other times they were the destination themselves.

Along the journey I meet, learn and share unique stories about the people (moteliers) who operate and restore these retro motels and some motelorcyclists who stay in them. I tell you their stories. Who are they? What inspires them? Are the motels an expression of the moteliers in the same way motorcycles are riders? What is it about the destinations that attracts them? Why have they have settled where they are and do what they do? What is the history of the motel? Who were the guests? What is the craziest thing they’ve seen? Why are these motels great for motorcyclists? And I discover the quirky cultural elements unique to each place. Finally, in the long periods of quiet helmet time on the highway, and beyond the buzz of the old half lit neon motel signs, I get time to think about midlife and share with you the thoughts I derive from hours of solitude.

This project was well over a year in the making and involved researching and adding vintage motels to the list of destinations on this website, speaking with moteliers, motorcyclists , other travellers and mapping the journey. Along my travels I captured thousands of photographs and brief recaps of the motels I visit.  And finally now upon my return, I will publish a written account of my journey to discover the intersection of motorcycles and motels entitled Sleeping Around in America:  Revisiting the Roadside Motel  scheduled for release late fall 2019.

For more information, to suggest a route, vintage motel or if you are a motelier or motelorcyclist and would like to share your story, please contact Andrew here.

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