Interview with Si King & Dave Myers, The Hairy Bikers about Hairy Bikers Route 66
Route 66 across the states.... The ultimate road trip for motorcyclists! What took you so long to do this?!
Dave: It’s been on the radar as something we wanted to do.
Si: It’s one of those iconic motorcycle trips - we just got round to doing it as it’s such a great time to discover the United States of America, because of the huge changes that have gone on. It’s a good time to actually see what the States is about now. Route 66 has got historical status now, so there’s been a certain shift in the American psyche towards 66. It’s the mother road, it’s the most important road historically, in modern history anyway. It seemed an opportune moment to go and do it.
Dave: Over the years we’ve both visited America on east coast and the west coast. Obviously we know about Route 66, but there are thousands of miles of unchartered territory - there was a migratory route that really is the heart of America, real America, so it was something we wanted to do.
I couldn’t really picture what was there and it was a long time coming, it was quite difficult to film, as you need to look quite hard off Route 66 to find stuff: we didn’t want to go to just diners and drive-ins and eat burgers all the time. We wanted to get to the heart of America and the people.
Si: Route 66 is so important in terms of social history, in terms of it being a migrant route, it being an immigration route heading west towards California for fame and fortune and more prosperity. And all of that social history is the stock and trade of Dave and I, quite apart from the food.
Dave: We both reread John Steinbeck The Grapes Of Wrath, which is the story of that migration across America. It’s kind of the story of what created America. The modern America that we know today owes an awful lot to Route 66. But within that, we went back to the basics of Native American people, the trail of tears, where Cherokee people were taken from their land - all of that links to Route 66 and the migration. It took us a while to realise the depth of culture and history that was there, and that was what we really wanted to explore.
Si: We met real honest Americans, carving out a living in modern America.
How was it being on the road together?
Dave: The year before we did a charity motorcycle ride through Vietnam, British Columbia and Alberta in The Rockies - obviously we weren’t filming that, we were making some money for charity and having a really good time. But now we’ve never lost that love of going off together. When we managed to lose the crew, the pair of us are still sitting there with a coffee in a truck stop talking rubbish really, which we’ve sort of done for 25 years. It was a magical trip this one.
Best bits and best bites?
Si: You have to take the light with the shade. And this day was a particular day of light with shade. We rode our way to an organic farm. On a motorcycle you’re part of the environment, it’s not like a car. And Dave and I have some comms between each of us while on the motorcycle. And I said to Dave, there’s nothing on the wing. There’s no insects, very little bird life, it’s a bit weird. It’s eerily silent. And Dave picked up on it and went, "yeah no absolutely Kingy, there’s nothing here it’s weird’.
So as we were going through this land, we weren’t covered in insects, which you would ordinarily expect to be. And in Oklaholma there’s about 70,000-odd farms, of which only a handful are organic. We arrived at this organic farm and it was fantastic and people were working really hard, taking their produce to market, because great food is about great produce. And we were asking them about their neighbouring farms, and fundamentally they weren’t organic, and what we were very concerned about was that there was no bird life or insect life, and that stuck in my mind. You had these huge farms that weren’t balanced with the earth and you have these little pockets of care and kindness to the environment that was a stark contrast to its neighbours.
Dave: The best bits for me were being able to meet the communities of people that exist around Route 66. We were so lucky. We started in Chicago. We started the trip off filming the ‘Italian stance’. It’s this wet beef sandwich and you have to adopt a particular stance or else you get your shoes covered in gravy. But we learnt then about the Italian community in Chicago, the Navajo community. We were with the Navajo people, went to their houses and we got adopted by the Navajo nation.
Si: That was a very special moment actually, wasn’t it.
Dave: They killed a sheep and barbequed it for us. This was in the middle of Monument Park. So basically it was right in the heart of Navajo territory. We got on really well with the family. I think the mum was amazed that we just tucked in and cooked with her. In the end she said: "This is your family. You are now part of the salt tribe of the Navajo nation and I am your new mother." And she was called Dorothy. So we're both brothers, we're sons of Dorothy. That was a very magical moment. You know what, I think she meant it!
Si: Oh definitely, there was a sincerity to it wasn’t there.
Dave: Si do you remember Bill? He was the BBQ pit master in Chicago. So we filmed that day with the Italian community in one side of the city. It was like an episode of The Sopranos. Then we crossed the tracks as it were and we filmed a barbeque with this pit master Bill, who had been running this pit, basically selling cheap barbeque food that fed real people. But again we are there in the kitchen, cooking with him, being slapped on the back, having a good time.
Si: On the south side of Chicago it was fantastic - a barbeque, sat on the bikes, outside of the restaurant.
Dave: On Route 66, a lot of it, it’s very transient. There’s an awful lot of really, really bad food, you can’t ignore that. You end up having days and days and days and it really is turkey tots, chicken wings and burgers. But within that, there’s one that sticks in my mind. Not that we eat many burgers because were trying to keep our weight down! But there’s a place called the Golden Lights Café in Amarillo and it’s run by a young lady called Angela. I think it’s the oldest diner on Route 66. Her burgers were unbelievable, and each one’s tailored to their local. That was a highlight, I really enjoyed Angela’s.
Dave: The weather was a huge nightmare for us. I think we both assumed the weather would be pretty moderate. But we went from -9 outside Chicago to plus-50 Celsius in the Mojave Desert.
Dave: The Amish community were extraordinary. We had amazing access to them. That night we had 150 miles to ride back to Joliet, it started to snow and it was the only time we had to pull off the road.
Any interesting off-camera moments?
Si: We ended up in a diner. In Love’s diner. We were pre-hypothermic. It’s because we had 40-knot cross-winds across the interstate with freezing rain. It was dangerous. It wasn’t the place to be on a motorcycle. So we arrived at this diner. Dave had better gear than I did. I was soaked. These lovely, lovely ladies came up saying “why? Are you crazy?” Well no, we just got caught! They gave us coffee and fed us and wrapped us up.
I ended up wandering through a shop with the assistant trying to find t-shirts so I could get changed, it was hilarious. And this old guy came out to the car park and said, “boys listen, just come home with me! I’ve just rang my wife and she’s more than happy for you to come and stay the night”. That was so, so lovely. That was the spirit of that route really.
Dave: The Mojave Desert was plus 50. Now, I’ve cooked duck eggs at 50 degrees celsius. You can imagine what it’s like on a bike. That was pretty, pretty gruelling. Inside your legs burn. On the road it hasn’t been without its difficulties. But there again, riding through the cornfields of Illinois, the hugest skies you’d imagine, on your motorbike with your best friend. Just magic. And the bad times go away.
What was your most memorable experience?
If you could do it all again…
Dave: Pay more attention to the weather forecast!
Si: It would have been nice to spend a little bit more time with the Native Americans, with the indigenous people, because culturally, that is so rich. The impact of the modern world on their lifestyle. And the horrendous, horrendous, social control that they were subject to was awful. And that story is a programme in itself to be honest. That was fascinating.
Any other thoughts and reflections, things you learnt?
Dave: Back in time, very relevant to Route 66, there was a massacre of the black community in Tulsa, which we didn’t know about. The whole area was burnt to the ground. You walk down the street and there’s little brass plates in the floor that say kind of like, ‘Mrs so-and-so: hairdresser’ or Mr so-and-so: Doctor’, and just destroyed, killed, destroyed, killed. That’s a whole area.
Going back to the cowboys, in Texas, we were with real cowboys, rounding them up, roping, it’s very much part of life there, and the cowboys are part of it. It’s funny how much of the ‘old times’ are still rooted in modern America. That history - it’s still a very young nation, but with immense power. I think that’s what’s come out of it, Route 66, it taught us the story of America, and hopefully we can pass that on. The story of the indigenous American people, it’s extraordinary.
Dave: If anything the trips brought the pair of us closer together in a funny sort of way.
Si: That would take marriage to bring us any closer together!
Dave: There were a lot of times on this trip - some of the places we went, the motels - there was nothing. There was just the pair of us sitting in a really basic room with a six-pack of beer like we did 25 years ago.
What was great is that we had the dream team on this. We’ve got a team that goes back to Mum Knows Best days, that was like 2008, and people come and go, but both producers and directors, Dick Sharman and François Gandolfi, the camera crew, they’ve been with us since those days. So obviously over ten years, we’ve had some amazing adventures with these people. And I think that was quite special. When we did Route 66, there was a huge amount of passion and excitement, so we are surrounded by that. That was really memorable. Almost life changing for all of us really.
What road trip would you love to do next?
Si: I’d quite like to do the ‘stans, all of the ‘stans - because I know absolutely nothing about them. Apparently they are incredible. I don’t know about the food… I was looking at the map the other day and there are quote a lot of ‘stans. All of which used to be a part of Russia, a part of China, or whatever… remarkable.
August 29, 2019 9:42am ET by BBC TWO