I wrote this back in 2018 for another publication, but it never made it to print. I ran across it again recently and thought it was cool enough of a story to share. Think of it as a first-run throwback Thursday.
A couple weeks ago, a guy from Switzerland came to America with an idea. Contact everybody that was selling a scooter in the greater Los Angeles area and ask to rent it.
Sounds like a horrible idea, where do we sign up? Err, I mean... Why would anyone do that?
“So I couldn’t get a motorcycle through rental companies because the insurance prices for someone under 25 were outrageous,” Hannes Thurnhurr, the Swiss guy in question told me, “Like you pay five thousand bucks to rent a motorcycle for a few weeks.”
So he turned to Craigslist.
His pitch was asking to rent the scooter for sale for a few weeks, and bring it back with a “couple more miles” on it and then they could still sell it. He didn’t specify just how many more miles would be on it probably because nobody would have believed just what he had planned.
Hannes was fresh out of his mandatory Swiss military service and was looking to go on a bit of an adventure before he went back to school. A talented landscape photographer, Hannes wanted to view some California landmarks through his own lens. That’s right, Hannes was not looking for a scooter for local LA sightseeing, he was going on a tour of California.
“I wrote like ten people and only one person got back to me,” he said.
Fortunately, the one person that got back to him was my friend Ari Henning. For those of you that were in the same boat as Hannes a couple weeks ago and do not recognize the name, he was a long time writer for Motorcyclist, is a kick ass racer, and co hosts the Motortrend show “Throttle Out”. More than once Ari has asked where to sign up for a horrible idea, so Hannes’ plans must have seemed like just another day in the life.
The scooter Ari had for sale was a Zuma 125, and after emailing back and forth a few times Hannes was surprised by all the “surprisingly good advice” he was getting from a guy selling something on craigslist.
“I won the lottery with that, because Craigslist isn’t actually known for its quality of people,” Hannes told me. “Even beyond Craigslist there probably couldn’t have been a better person to give me advice on this.”
After reaching an agreement Hannes had the keys, an extra gallon of gas in a can strapped to the floorboard, and a list of places to visit.
Why do this on a Zuma 125?
While he does have some prior scooter experience, Hannes does not know how to ride a proper motorcycle. But that wasn’t the only reason. Knowing that a Zuma 125 was not the ideal tool for the job was actually part of the draw for him. “First It’s much more a feeling of accomplishment, and secondly since it is not the ideal tool for the job you have to be, so you have to solve more problems. If I had a BMW GS it would be easy. People would look at me and say, oh you drove through California on a motorcycle? OK. Doing it this was is something special.”
Speaking of special, Hannes was in the special forces of the Swiss Military, (I refrained from making Swiss Army Knife jokes because of this fact) and he said that he was used to carrying everything around in a big backpack and sleeping outside. This was perfect training for the trip as he had more gear with him than would fit under the seat of a Zuma and he didn’t have to drop any cash on a hotel room.
At the time I ran into Hannes his accomplishments included traversing Death Valley and riding up to the trailhead of Mt Whitney... where he ran into a bit of a situation that required a phone call to Ari. “I rode up to Whitney Portal and spent the night at 8500 feet. Bear country. I got up, four in the morning, went to the parking lot to grab some things out of the scooter and when I got to the scooter I found it thrown around the parking lot, the seat completely ripped apart, mirrors broken off," Hannes told me. "I did not leave any food in the scooter, but there must have been a wrapper or something because the bears had thrown it down on both sides. I put all of the foam from the seat back with duct tape. This was a big problem for me since I didn’t have the money to buy a new scooter for Ari. I texted him the bad news and he just laughed.”
When I ran into Hannes at the Sears Point round of MotoAmerica he had already clocked over 2000 miles and was admittedly - and understandably - getting a bit tired. That was not going to stop him though, as he still has to get back down to LA (he opted for Highway 1) to return what is left of the bear-ravaged Zuma.
In addition to the California experience, Hannes has gained a bit of perspective on motorcyclists in general. He mentioned to me that he was really surprised by how much riders looked out for each other, and that the average rider did not fit the big bad biker stereotype. I did my best to help his perception by offering him a place to stay on his travels south, something I probably should have cleared with my wife first.
I mentioned that Hannes does not know how to ride a proper motorbike quite yet. He does have good taste, though, as he was asking me all sorts of questions about my V-Strom 1k, as that is the bike he wants to get when he goes back home.
You can follow the rest of his adventures on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/hannesthu