THE BIKE SHOP ON THE EDGE OF AMERICA
Motoquest’s garage in Anchorage, Alaska
there are few places in the world as hostile to a motorcycle as Alaska. The riding season is brief, nipping from June to September so long as the weather holds. Half of the state’s highway system is pocked and cratered dirt roads, and the paved surfaces are fractured with frost heaves and potholes. Much of it is doused in calcium chloride to keep dust low or ice at bay, and the chemical accelerates corrosion on everything it touches. The state is also staggeringly beautiful, situated on the teetering, undeveloped edge of the North American continent. That’s why, despite the challenges, Motoquest Alaska has operated out of Anchorage in one form or another for more than 20 years.
Founder Phil Freeman began with a humble stable of small bikes, a tarp, a beater Subaru support vehicle, and a dog back when the company went by Alaska Rider Tours. Now Motoquest operates in 20 countries, owns more than 75 motorcycles, and has four permanent outposts, including Portland, San Francisco, and the headquarters in Long Beach, California. But the company’s darling is
the shop in Anchorage.
“Even with a well-maintained, wellcared-for motorcycle, it can feel a bit like triage,” says Brenden Anders, a guide and managing partner with the company. “If you look at a 1200GS, for example, when we buy it in March or April and send it up north for one season, the thing looks like it’s aged five years in five months. You really have to have a well-stocked facility, not only with wear-and-tear parts, but parts that don’t usually need replacing.”
The Anchorage base is as much a logistics center as it is a motorcycle shop, with workers scrambling to keep the necessary bits and pieces in stock. The job requires everyone on staff to think on their feet, to be the kind of resourceful that doesn’t come from dealership training. It also attracts workers who don’t tend to fit into the 9-to-5 workforce.
“We have a number of people who have other gigs the rest of the year,” Anders says. “We’ve employed quite a number of ski bums and school teachers and people who have the summers off and want to do something interesting. We also have a growing contingent of what I like to call shepherds, who follow the flock. They’re typically younger individuals who still have a lot of autonomy in their lives. They aren’t married, they don’t have kids, but they really love the travel and the motorcycles. Right now, I have two full-time employees in Alaska who come down to California the other half of the year.”
Motoquest rents everything from the big BMWS to Harleys to Suzuki’s V- Strom. Anders says that while the premium German bikes may rack up
30,000 to 40,000 miles in a season, the Japanese machines may see as much as 60,000 miles over the course of 18 months. That intense use means the workers in Anchorage are constantly working to keep up with maintenance.
“We have to look at service in a different way,” Anders says. “We can’t just say, oh, every 5,000 miles we’re going to change the oil, because let’s say a bike has 3,000 miles on an oil change and it’s going to go out for another two weeks. The average person who rents a motorcycle goes about 250 to 300 miles a day on the high end, so in addition to what’s already on the clock since the last service interval, you have to anticipate what the rider’s likely to use.”
Much of that anticipation means changing parts ahead of time, and that means that by the end of the season, Motoquest has stacks of tires with 40 or 50 percent wear on them.
“The last thing you want to do is send out a renter for two weeks on a premium bike for a once-in-a-lifetime trip on rubber that’s not going to last.”
And these are once-in-a-lifetime treks. Customers can disembark on solo or guided rides right from the shop, gunning for the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay, exploring the state’s wild and remote interior, or waiting for the sun to ebb late in the season for a chance to glimpse the aurora borealis, all accessible thanks to the bike shop on the edge of America.
right During the riding season, the shop is a hub of activity. With a steady stream of customers arriving and departing, Motoquest’s workers have to do constant maintenance and repairs just to keep up. left Motoquest Anchorage attracts a cast of characters, all driven by a love of motorcycles and the adventure of living in Alaska. The seasonal work means most of the crew spends only half of their year here.
BELOW Motoquest caters to street-oriented riders with a number of Harleydavidson rentals, but big adventure machines like the BMW GS are made for Alaska’s long dirt roads. ABOVE The Anchorage base is as much an explorer’s club as it is a motorcycle shop. Souvenirs plucked from around the globe serve as decor.
RIGHT Each bike may go out for 2,000 to 2,500 miles at a time, which means Motoquest goes through plenty of tires. They make good scootercourse obstacles, though. RIGHT The crew works to diagnose an issue on a BMW GS. It takes time to deliver parts, and the crew has to rely on its own resourcefulness at times.