Calgary Herald, Globe-trotting, two-wheeling Albertan Rene Cormier, by Greg Williams
Images courtesy Rene Cormier. Story first appeared in the Calgary Herald’s Driving section 23 April 2010.
Rene Cormier’s single-cylinder 2003 BMW motorcycle shows 154,000 kilometres on the clock.
Cormier bought the bike specifically for one purpose – to tour the world. Needless to say, those kilometres weren’t added commuting back and forth to work.
Every one of them was racked up over a period of four years between 2003 and 2008 as Cormier rode through 41 countries, existing on a meagre $25 a day budget.
Cormier is justifiably proud that he did the entire journey without any sponsorship — he bought the 2003 BMW F650 with his own money.
When he ran out of cash halfway through his odyssey he returned home to Edmonton where he worked for a year as a new house framer to earn enough funds to carry on.
But now that he’s back BMW has taken an interest in his exploits. The company is paying for Cormier to tour across Canada, visiting 15 of their motorcycle retail outlets. He’s in Calgary next week on Thursday, April 29 at Blackfoot Motosports from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
While the talk is free, a donation of a non-perishable food item for the Inter-Faith Food Bank would be appreciated. And, you don’t have to be a motorcycle enthusiast to enjoy the talk – anybody with a spirit of adventure is welcome.
Cormier recently released a self-published book, The University of Gravel Roads: Global lessons learned from a four-year motorcycle adventure (www.renedian.com). He says his BMW presentations will be an overview of the trip, peppered with five or six anecdotes that he says are the most interesting. Then, he will take questions.
“Of the top 20 questions I get asked the one I hear most often is: ‘How did you pay for it?’” Cormier says during a telephone interview from his home in Edmonton. “I sold everything I had. That’s how I generated cash to put in the bank.
“And, the easiest way to get your money to go a long way is to live cheap – about $25 U.S. a day. That’s about $10,000 a year if you do the math.”
In 2002 Cormier was working in Colorado for RockShox, a bicycle company that produced suspension systems. He was living the dream. But when RockShox was sold to a larger firm based in Chicago he decided he didn’t want to make the transition.
Cormier literally became a fan of motorcycle adventure touring in 1992 after seeing his first bike on the trail, so to speak, while on a safari in Kenya, Africa. Ten years later, in 2002, Cormier could finally afford a motorcycle. He bought a used 1986 BMW R100 GSPD, and during a soul-searching tour of Alaska Cormier decided he wanted to tour the world via motorcycle.
And that’s how, when he returned home to Colorado, he helped RockShox close up shop. He sold everything he owned, bought a new BMW and rode it to Vancouver to start the first leg of his trip.
And here’s one of the anecdotes Cormier might just share. It wasn’t banditos in Mexico or any other South American country, nor an inebriated border guard in Ethiopia armed with an AK-47 who scared him the most. Nope, that happened in Utah, on his way to Vancouver.
While camping under the stars his slumber was shattered at the sound of a gunshot. A group of fun-loving folks were taking potshots from a vehicle parked a few hundred metres away, and one of the bullets had just pierced his fuel tank. Gasoline dribbled out of the hole and soaked his sleeping bag.
The other anecdote Cormier likes to share is how in November 2006 he met his future wife, Collette (they actually just married four weeks ago) near Cape Town in South Africa.
“I met her at a birthday party, and we got speaking and chatted for a while,” Cormier recalls. “She told me where she worked, and we agreed on a date.
“I picked her up on the bike, and we had a great day riding the beautiful South African roads enjoying the wonderful scenery – ocean side riding, then through vineyards and mountain passes. She’d never been on a motorcycle before, and I don’t think either one of us really expected the relationship to last.”
Cormier was waiting for the rainy season to pass in points further north in Africa, and when it was dry enough he left her behind in Cape Town.
“But we kept texting each other, and she’d fly up to meet me, or I’d fly to meet her, and that was it, really,” Cormier laughs.
Cormier’s BMW was a steadfast steed throughout the journey – it never once let him down. He performed regular oil changes, and kept on top of preventative maintenance chores. By riding cautiously he managed to make a chain and sprockets last 40,000 km at a time.
The message he hopes to impart at his BMW retailer presentations is that the rewards far outweigh the risks of any travel adventure.
“The goal behind bringing my stories to other riders is to remind them that although there are inherent risks with any travel, we imagine them to be bigger and scarier than they actually are,” Cormier says. “I want to convince people of the overwhelming rewards of adventure travel by motorcycle.”