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The Endless Highway - Part One

Lifestyles of the fulltime motorcycle drifters.

By Scooter Tramp Scotty

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There was a time when the pressures of everyday life seemed like an endless drone that would hold me prisoner until the final breath. Then came the dream: Screw the bills, to hell with the boss, goodbye alarm clock, forget the lawn, I should just pack the scoot and ride off into the sunset of gypsy travel and adventure.

I was not alone.

For most, this idea is probably best left as fantasy. Yet of those who dare to live this dream many will stay gone for a matter of months, a year, or maybe two before again setting in roots somewhere; for it takes a rare brand of insanity to truly embrace such a lifestyle for the long haul. Yet these cross-wired personality types do exist. For them, the highway’s great freedom and ongoing adventure can be almost as whiskey is to an alcoholic, and there are those who’ve been on the road for 10, 20, and even 30 years! Among these men (and one woman) I’ve spent many a month and, although we are few, our existence cannot be denied.

Of course, such a life requires that the nomadic motorcyclist adopt, refine, and embrace many unorthodox methods. And although these men share similarities such as high mileage, often beat-up, gypsy motorcycles generally packed to beyond capacity with the accommodations of freedom; a willingness to make camp wherever is convenient, and an attitude that allows instant adaptation to changing environments.  I’ve noted that, being tenacious individualists, no two of these men use exactly the same methods. In fact, their techniques often vary widely. So it is in these next pages that I’d like to examine the different methods used by these nomadic drifter types. For I’ve known them all many years.
On the road since 1976
On the road since 1976

I think it only fitting that the first be Panhead Billy Burrows since, aside from the fact that he’s become somewhat of a living legend, Billy’s been on the road since the mid 70s. 
First off, Billy’s natural disposition is probably the most relaxed of anyone I’ve ever known. More than most he lives entirely in the moment. When he eats he is completely with that food. At a concert or race he seldom, if ever, steps out early. No, for the pleasure of the moment dictates that one simply remains still for the duration of that moment before moving on to the next. Some say that God lives only in the moment. If there’s truth to this then He and Panhead Billy are destined to spend great quantities of time together. Of the qualities that Billy offers to the world this one is my favorite.


As for Billy’s road-techniques I think it safe to say that, at the age of 66, he’s still the toughest man among us. This particular road-dog enjoys the ability to throw his bed down absolutely anywhere then simply slide in and get a good night’s sleep. I swear that man could snooze through an atomic blast. For bedding he uses an average sleeping bag set onto a tarp and often thinks me a pussy for putting down a foam pad. Although he carries a tent, you seldom see him use it. Offer him a room in your house? Forget it. For, like me, he’d rather sleep in your yard or on the porch. If you ask why, Billy will simply say that he prefers to stay out with the critters where he belongs.

Palm Springs desert
Palm Springs desert

Among the first questions people ask is almost always, “Where do you guys get your money?” To this I always point out that none of the motorcycle drifters I know are independently wealthy. We earn money as we go. But the saving grace is that since we own very little and never see a monthly bill, there’s very little financial pressure. We’re not in the game man. Of course there’s still gas, food, etc. but it does not require a 40 hour work-week to maintain such simple needs. I personally never exceed three months of work per year—usually less. And although I’m not going to get into another man’s finances, I will say that it was from watching Panhead Billy that I first learned to work for the vendors who permeate the big motorcycle rallies across the country. This is a job that allows one to put in a hard week, get paid, and then hit the road again with pockets full of green freedom.

Palm Springs
Palm Springs

Billy rides a 1960 rigid framed Panhead with about 400 million miles on it and, when I ask why it doesn’t hurt his back after all these years he answers, “I don’t know”.


How does one keep a Panhead going under such conditions? Well, what I see is: The Pan has very few systems to maintain. It offers no gauges, no rubber mounting, no radio, no brake light, no high beams, no shocks, or electric starter, and not even an ignition switch. This bike is bare bones. Just an engine, transmission, and two wheels; leaving very few systems to be rebuilt when the time comes. For that is what we do: ride these bikes to their final end, rebuild them, then ride some more. Billy, as do we all, handles his own mechanical work. Another thing I’ve learned from watching this guy is that it’s possible to push a worn part into far beyond the point at which I’d previously believed was necessary to rebuild or replace it. I’ve also noted that the men who ride the most tend to mount bikes that truly show their wear.


Although stories and photos of him have seen print in so many publications over the years, Billy has no interest in publicity and therefore makes no effort to acquire it. There is however, a Facebook forum filled with the many friends who follow his movements.  I do; for Panhead Billy is truly an anomaly unlike any other.


Part Two to follow soon.


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Reader Comments

loved it

To, ON, Canada
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
I forsee a book of story's on Billy's travels I would love to see it. He is a true American hope to get a chance to meet him one day.

Mark Moore
santa clarita, CA
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Editor Response You will, and let's see about the book. It won't be dull...
I just read about Panhead Billy in a recent Thunder Press (written by Shadow). Very intriguing . Since I am retired now, I am taking to the road this summer. I'll be arching for Panhead Billy on the road in holes of saying hello! Liz Q.

Liz Quigley
Quakertown, PA
Monday, April 21, 2014
Thanks for that article, nice read, hope to see the rest.
Just one thought pops to mind: why is the ratio men/women 90%??? Has it got something to do with insecurity or is it that maybe men have less feelings for the whole property/dogs/kids package??

Have a good one

bastia, haute corse, France
Sunday, April 13, 2014
Editor Response Good question. It brings a myriad of topics to the surface. Maybe women lean toward a nest more, because of the kids. I don't think it's an insecurity issue. There are a couple of women who spend a great deal of time on the road. Scotty knows and has ridden with one.

We have some of her stories around here somewhere. I met a woman last year who sailed around the world by herself and wrote a book about it. Tania is her name. She was the youngest person to ever circumnavigate the world single-handed. Terrific book.

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