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Early Motorcycle Camping History

Black and white photo of someone camping with a motorcycle

With the summer rally season upon us, many riders will incorporate camping into their journey. To many riders, the idea of roughing it is a great way to stay connected with the freedom they enjoy while riding.

How Did Motorcycle Camping  Begin?

The history of motorcycle camping actually dates back to the beginning of the last century. In 1915, the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. actually prepared a brochure for riders planning to ride across the country for the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego and the Panama Pacific—Exposition in San Francisco. 

The pamphlet “Camping Hints When Touring with a Motorcycle” was created by rider Theodore J. Werle, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Anti-Tuberculosis Association (WATA). Theodore had spent the previous three years traveling around Wisconsin educating small town folk on the dangers of the deadly lung disease and how to prevent it.

A Harley-Davidson® motorcycle was selected as his method of transportation and camping would provide an economical yet comfortable means of shelter while touring.

In an unusual relationship for that era, Harley-Davidson supplied a small number of motorcycles to the WATA in exchange for the right to publicize, in the company’s publication titled The Harley-Davidson Dealer, the durability of both the motorcycles and new developments such as the two-speed hub and three-speed transmission. 

“Camping Hints When Touring with a Motorcycle” Pamphlet

Throughout the 23-page brochure, Theodore covers all aspects of preparing and packing the proper gear necessary to ensure a successful journey.

  • Patterns are provided to sew your own tent as well as instructions for waterproofing it by boiling the cloth in alum, lead, sugar and water.
  • Inventories of riding clothes, cooking utensils, first aid and assorted camping gear are simple, yet complete. 
  • Clean drinking water being one of the most precious resources of the day, he suggests being vaccinated against typhoid fever before starting on your journey.
  • A complete and varied menu that would make Martha Stewart proud is also included within the text. Recipes include “Scrambled Eggs-German Style”, canned salmon on toast, and “Susan Soup” made from the week’s leftovers! Real bakery bread is prepared on a stick over a bed of hot campfire coals to be enjoyed with hot coffee or cocoa.

The pleasure of being “close to nature” while touring on a motorcycle is romanticized in the summation of the booklet with the following paragraph, “He who has never rolled with a softly purring engine between his knees out into the country, stopping on the heights to drink in every detail of scenery; he who has never slept through the cool, starry nights in the soft grass among the wildflowers, has not yet tasted of a simple, wonderful joy. No man who has a motorcycle can believe himself to have exhausted the possibilities of his machine if he has not enjoyed to the fullest extent all the pleasures of touring.”

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