THE BIKE SHOP ON THE EDGE OF AMER­ICA

Mo­to­quest’s garage in An­chor­age, Alaska

Motorcyclist - - Shift - BY ZACH BOW­MAN

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.

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