It may cost $20,000 but six weeks touring the United States on a grunty motorcycle is "the trip of a lifetime," Steven Richardson says.

He's done three trips so far, and said they always take in the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and a section of Route 66, also known as "the mother road" , "the gateway to the west" and "the Main Street of America". It curves from Chicago south and across to the California coast at Santa Monica.

Steven has watched a lot of John Wayne cowboy movies and especially likes riding through desert places like Colorado's Monument Valley. The high altitude switchbacks and lovely lakes of Montana's Beartooth Pass were another highlight.

But really, he just loves being on his Harley Davidson Ultra Limited motorcycle.


"I just love the riding, even the worst days that kids sitting in a car would find boring."

He was brought up on a dairy farm at Orini, in the Waikato, and started riding motorbikes there. He went on to work as a builder and farm manager, bought his first Harley Davidson motorbike in about 2003 and was the president of the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Harley Owners Group for three years.

He moved to Whanganui in September last year, and now manages a garage door business.

His first motorcycle ride in the United States happened in 2008, when he and a group of friends went to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Sturgis in South Dakota has a population of 6700, but he's heard that as many as 1,500,000 people and 1,000,000 motorbikes converge on it for nine days every summer.

"Just seeing the bikes themselves is just amazing. You have four lanes of motorcycles, going 24 hours a day. It's the only place where you get sick of hearing motorcycles," Steven said.

The rally riders visit South Dakota historic monuments such as the Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorials. They stay in surrounding towns, where a room for a night can cost $1000 at that time.

"In 2016 I paid US$8500 for a two bedroom house for four nights."

After the rally Steven and his friends spent six weeks touring on their motorcycles.

In 2013 Steven returned to the rally, with more friends, and that time he planned the trip. They spent nine weeks on the road and took in New York City and the east coast, as well as the Wisconsin city of Milwaukee, where the first Harley Davidsons were manufactured in a little shed in 1903.

His group was there for the 110th anniversary, rode in a parade of flags and represented New Zealand.

Next Steven managed to plan ahead and store up enough leave to guide a group of five on a third trip last year. They landed in Los Angeles and rode across the southern United States to Texas, seeing existing sections of a wall between the US and Mexico, and more being built.

They visited the southern states, the home of Elvis Presley and the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral in Florida, where they saw a rocket launch.

On that trip they had a support vehicle, driven by a good friend of Steven's who was recovering from the death of his wife and needed a break and distraction.

"He had an absolute blast. Everybody loved him, because he had the car. He got a few free drinks here and there, based on carrying various goods and suitcases. Women love to shop, and there's so much there that's not available in this country, particularly in clothing."

Steven's next trip is in the summer of 2019, and there are already six or eight people lined up for it. It will again start in Los Angeles but head up the west coast to Seattle and Vancouver, spend two weeks in Canada, then head south through Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, toward Sturgis.

He puts weeks of internet research into each trip, consulting websites like Trip Advisor. It's fun thinking about possibilities, then seeing how they work out in practice.

He gets his costs for the trips paid, and doesn't make a profit. In 2019 he hopes to make the trip with his wife.

Most of the riders on his trips are in their sixties. It costs $20,000 for a couple and their motorcycle to make a six-week trip, and for most it's "the trip of a lifetime".

Part of the cost is getting motorcycles shipped to the US. It costs $4000 to $5000 for each one - a third of the cost of hiring a motorcycle for the same amount of time. The riders then have the advantage of a bike that's familiar to them.

Steven organises for the motorcycles to be packed together in a container. There's lots of paperwork involved with temporarily importing bikes, and insurance to pay.

He has some advice for people who fancy making the trip: don't wait too long.

"A lot of people that buy Harleys buy them in their sixties when they retire. By their late sixties riding a big bike in the heat and the cold is too physical for them. It's extremely exhausting for the body."

A couple riding through the heat of Death Valley passed out on their bike on one of his trips. They hadn't eaten or drunk enough - had had no breakfast and drank lots of dehydrating coffee.

Riders need a full New Zealand motorcycle licence, and their bikes have to be registered and warranted for the whole time.

Steven gathers people by word of mouth, and said 10 is the maximum number he would take. They use GPS and keep in touch by phone, and he gives each one a detailed itinerary before they set off.

That way, when anyone breaks down, they can rejoin the group. There's been a breakdown on every trip he's done.

"If they break down they need to make right whatever is wrong and catch up with the group. I broke down once, and had to catch up over 1200kms to get back in synch."

He'll normally try to get in a solid two hours' riding at the start of each day, with people either staying together or meeting at pre-arranged places. After that there are increasing numbers of breaks during the day, and the destination is usually reached by mid afternoon.

He likes to book accommodation with breakfast and a swimming pool provided, and said people could then either go out and see the sights or rest up. If there is a lot to see the group will sometimes stay for two days.

They can choose their own amusements. One rider was a farmer and wanted to look at American farms. Others like to go to museums.

"Last trip I went whitewater rafting. Only two of us did it and we saw bald eagles and beavers."

He's found American people very friendly, and said the food was "too much" - extremely cheap, quick, and always nice.

For Americans the drink of choice is coffee, but not the kind most Kiwis like.

"Nobody found good places to drink quality coffees."

Steven himself prefers tea, which was hard to get. But the main problem with getting food was tipping.

"For Kiwis, the hardest thing is tipping. It's their custom, and staff over there, particularly waitresses, only get paid $3 an hour in some places. They depend on their tips."

His routes tend to avoid freeways, unless people are very tired or need to get somewhere in a hurry. Some US roads have speed limits of 85mph - which is 130kph.

Riding is on the right hand side of the road, and people turning right get a free turn at red lights. Traffic police insist on both feet being on the ground at compulsary stops, and helmets are optional in some states.

"People initially don't take their helmets off. They they get used to the roads, and with slower traffic or in national parks or in town in the evening people start leaving their helmets behind."

As well as enjoying the riding, Steven likes seeing his group enjoy themselves.

"Six weeks is pretty much spot on. It makes it well worth shipping bikes over, and it's not too long to be on the road," he said.

For more information, he can be contacted by emailing