Posted On 27 Apr 2024
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This entry is part 6 of 29 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#28


Sitgreaves Pass, Arizona, looking in the general direction of Oatman.

“If you ever plan to motor west, Travel my way, take the highway that’s the best” Bobby (& Cynthia) Troup, 1946

Let’s take – not the road less travelled, but the things less known about the road often travelled. Most people know about Route 66 as the road the Okies took to escape the Dust Bowl, and as the lifeline for American defence materiel and troops during the Second World War. They also know that it crosses eight States and three time zones on its way “from Chicago to LA”. And they know about the many tourist attractions along the way. But do they know that it was the fi rst US highway to be completely sealed? Or that we nearly got “Get Your Kicks on Route 40”? Here are a few lesser-known aspects of America’s Main Street, a road that I have loved and that has always left me in one piece, something that cannot be said about all American roads.


Route 66 is a road; but it is also one of the major characters in John Steinbeck’s great novel The Grapes of Wrath. It is probably the only road that ever helped anyone to win a Pulitzer Prize, and later the Nobel Prize for Literature. Steinbeck was the first to call it The Mother Road; when it was being put together – and it was originally put together, not built (see below) – its creator Cyrus Avery called it America’s Main Street.

It’s interesting to consider that the car, and the motorcycle, of course, provided the inspiration for America’s now staggering road network. Before they came there were only “wagon roads” and the various trails; they were not sealed and they played second fiddle to the railways. Well Iron Horses, who’s playing beautiful music now?


“Route 66” the song is a second thought. Marine Corps vet Bobby Troup from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania wrote “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” while driving Route 66 on his way to California. He had initially intended to write about Highway 40, but his wife Cynthia suggested the Route 66 title. Thank you, Cynthia.


Route 66 inspired more than just Steinbeck’s prize-winning book.An oil company executive was testing his firm’s new petrol in a car in Oklahoma when someone remarked that the car was doing “like 60.” The driver looked at the speedometer and said: “We’re doing 66.” The car was doing 66 mph on Route 66 near Tulsa. The company took the hint, and at its next board meeting the Phillips 66 brand was born. The Phillips 66 shield logo was subsequently created for its link to the famous highway.


Route 66 is clearly a metaphor. It stands for the restless and often desperate drive that took the Okie farmers west to a better life, and that still takes Americans all over the country to find and live the American Dream. It stands for connection, for opportunity and for indomitability.

All this despite the fact that it is effectively gone, reduced to a series of short unconnected stretches and a very few longer roads. American highway builders generally construct their roads over the top of existing ones, obliterating them. That’s what happened to much of Route 66, and perhaps that’s a metaphor for modern America; the old and historic being obliterated in the name of the new and efficient.


Route 66 was seen as a bit of a boondoggle. Cyrus Avery, a state highway commissioner in Oklahoma, was the most influential proponent of the establishment of a route from Chicago to Los Angeles. He put forward a combination of many existing roads into a single route, one which just happened to pass through his home town. His critics lost no time in pointing this out…

This is also the derivation of the name America’s Main Street. Unlike modern highways, Route 66 actually passed through the towns along its way,often following their Main Street.

TRAVEL This is why many bits of it that remain are “business loops”, detours from main highways into the hearts of towns.

While we’re on the subject of highways, did you know that it took five Interstate “superslabs” to replace Route 66: 55 from Chicago to St Louis, 44 from St Louis to Oklahoma City, 40 from there to Barstow, 15 from Barstow to San Bernardino and 10 from there to the coast at Santa Monica.

A Bear and a Tiger – and some rocks.

Check the prices for this motel in Arizona.


Route 66 is a compromise, or at least its name is. Originally, the board planning the road had settled on the number 60. After vociferous complaints from officials responsible for a road from Virginia Beach to Springfield, Missouri who felt they had dibs on the number, Avery and his colleagues settled on 66 and the name became official in 1926. East-west highways had and still have to have even numbers. US 60 still exists; in fact it was extended from Springfield all the way to LA, where it arrived in 1933 before being shortened again. It now ends at Brenda, Arizona.

An iconic sign marks an iconic motel. (Photo Mike Grant)

Root beer is vile. Take a bottle home as a souvenir, but do not drink.


Route 66 was more an idea than a reality for decades. When it was established, fewer than 65 miles of the 1200 miles west of Oklahoma were paved. Local authorities were responsible for maintaining Route 66, and many struggled. It took lobbying by the US Highway 66 Association and subsequent Federal assistance from President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program to finally seal the last bit of Route 66, in late 1937. That still made it the first US Highway to be completely sealed.

The Frontier Motel is permanently vacant.


Route 66 is also a ghost. There might be little of it left on the ground, but its ectoplasm spreads far wider than the simple route from Chicago to Los Angeles. Some of its travel guides are printed only in continental European languages, not English, and what is left of it features – believe it or not – German restaurants. Not many, admittedly, but enough to be amazing when you see them. Like many other nationalities, the Germans have bought the mythos of the Old West, but in typical Teutonic style they take it to its logical (?) conclusion. When they’re not dressing up as cowboys and Indians to commemorate the stories of Karl May, they’re riding the Mother Road on rented Harleys.

This might just be a bit of the original Route 66.


Route 66 is mostly not a great bike road. The bits that are left of it reflect its creation as a utilitarian transport link. Unless they are business loops, they tend to be straight, they run along the obvious geographical channels – through valleys rather than across hills – and they deliberately avoid difficult terrain. Many curves were originally so dangerous that the road was sometimes referred to as “Bloody 66”. These were eventually straightened. So, except for a few places like Sitgreaves Pass (opening photo) and to a lesser extent Cajon Summit, there are hardly any twisty bits to enjoy on a sports bike. Instead, the road is the dominion of the cruiser, and its attractions are historical and visual – there are some wonderful desert crossings, for instance.

Street scene in Oatman, Arizona. (Photo John Miller)

Take it… eeeasy

Be nice if you’re “standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona”.

From the web: “Arizona gun control laws are among the least-restrictive in the United States. Arizona law states that any person 21 years or older, who is not a prohibited possessor, may carry a weapon openly or concealed without the need for a license. “

You do need to “complete a firearms safety course” but “there are no minimum requirements for what a safety course must include… Several companies offer online classes.” So remember what happened to Dennis Hopper (admittedly in another State) in Easy Rider, and don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy…


Though much is taken, much abides, as Alfred Lord Tennyson points out. The sections of Route 66 that are left are worth seeing, and riding.

And of course if you want to be able to claim that you’ve ridden the world’s great roads you must have sampled at least a part of The Mother Road, ideally the bit in Arizona and California because that does have some corners and some wonderful scenery.

Many tour companies offer guided or self-guided tours of parts or the entirety of Route 66; the best of them (of course) advertise in these pages. They include Route 66 Tours; California Sunriders Motorcycle Tours & Rentals,; Eaglerider Rentals and Tours,; and Ride America, You will also fi nd my San Francisco based buddy Wolfgang at Dubbelju Motorcycle Rentals, helpful, and if you want to get your kicks on your own bike it’s worth talking to Australia’s Get Routed,


And guess what: you can see some of the best bits if you come along on The Bear’s Best of the West, the GAMCT tour we are running in August. This is a 16 day tour with 14 days of riding. As well as one of the most iconic stretches of Route 66, it includes the Pacific Coast,Monument Valley and national parks like Death Valley, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Zion. On top of that you’ll have a chance to meet motorcycle design legend Craig Vetter, and share a meal with him.

Cost is very reasonable, ranging from $5,995 per person for two people sharing one bike and one room, to $7,195 per person and a bike sharing a room with someone else, and $8,995 per person with a bike and a single room. Price includes Harley-Davidson rental. Mention my name when you book and you’ll get a discount of $300 per motorcycle.

For more information and bookings, please email Skip at, and copy me in at . Skip and I will lead the tour. Love to see you; come and “get your kicks”.

Pick & choose

Here’s one of my least favourite questions, along with “you don’t really want another beer, do you?” It is “What’s your favourite road?” There are almost as many answers to that as there are roads. Not only does it change depending on my mood, the bike I have at the moment and the amount of flexibility my arthritis is allowing me,but it also changes with the person asking the question. If you’re a raw beginner you will not get the answer, “the Hill at Kotor”, and if you’re a feral scratcher I will not say “the Big Sur road”, because you wouldn’t like them.

What? You want to know what my favourite road is right now? Okay, seeing that I’ve been thinking about the western US, I’d say Utah 12 from Torrey to Escalante. Or no, wait, er…

Here come zer Chermans!

About the Author
Australian Motorcyclist Magazine is Australia's leading motorcycle travel magazine.
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