Richard Bailey, 57, is chairman and CEO of Pacific Beachcomber, the $140 million hospitality group that owns such properties as the InterContinental Tahiti and InterContinental Bora Bora resorts. A 20-year-plus resident of Papeete, Tahiti, Bailey is currently building the Brando, a luxury eco-resort on Marlon Brando’s Tetiaroa Island. Bailey was a close personal friend of the actor.
I like motorcycles. They burn less fuel, and they’re fun. And to be honest, when you live on an island, your eyes get hungry for naturescapes different from open ocean. You want a change of scenery. I like to ride mainly in the American West, out in the big open spaces: The desert, the mountains.
It’s really a great way to decompress. It’s also just a great way to see our country. We have a great country. If you stay on the interstate highway, which you mainly do driving, we sort of lose the pleasure of getting there. On a motorcycle you see everything, you smell everything, and you’re much more in it.
Also, when you get to my age you have that inner bandit that wants to get out and roam around. It’s not like dressing up in leathers like in the movies—it looks like that, maybe, but I think for a lot of guys like me who like to ride out in the country and get lost for a while it’s more of an inner voyage. You have a relationship with the machine, so it has to be suited to your temperament and also to what you want to do. You come to a deeper appreciation of its design and its manufacture—you can tell that there were some very thoughtful people involved. Motorcycles are just a great combination of form and function.
Most motorcyclists tweak their machines. I have a Harley-Davidson, a 2003 Deuce model. They don’t make that model anymore, but, anyway, it doesn’t matter because it hardly has any original parts on it besides the frame. I’ve tweaked it and played with it and increased the power and done all kinds of things with it to make it more fun to ride. I have done some of the work myself, but so many things need specialised tools, and I don’t have a garage for that—but I do like to turn the wrenches when I can.
I picked it up late. I set all crazy things like that aside when I was raising a family. I guess my wife was a little bit uncomfortable. I tried to convince her, but she couldn’t get comfortable with it, so I set that aside. And then I was about 40 and a friend of mine in Tahiti told me that he was going to go on a ride in the West. Rent a motorcycle in L.A. and then take off into the desert. And I said, Wow, that sounds like a great idea, can I come along? So I quickly got my motorcycle licence, and two weeks later I was on my way with him and really never turned back.
I’ve tried a lot of different types of riding. I tried some track riding on superbikes for racing. I got my racing certificate in California. I never really raced, but I felt that doing that training would make me a better and safer rider. It sort of hones your instincts.
I have a Ducati Monster in Tahiti, which is great for weaving in and out of the traffic. In California I keep the Harley-Davidson, which is pretty tricked-out—I’ve customised it pretty nicely. For most bikers it’s always sort of a work in progress, but I’ve got it to the point now where there’s not much left to do. I almost need a new canvas. I guess I have about 45,000 miles on it.
I also have a Honda CBR1000, which is sort of a racing superbike. We have a place in Maui—Maui has this road that goes around a volcano called Haleakala, and in about 36 miles you can go from sea level to 10,000 feet. I mean God one day figured: I’m going to make a road for motorcyclers.
Just one. That’s it. This is that road, and it’s a dream. It’s nothing but curves and it’s just carving curves in and out for 36 miles. A motorcyclist’s dream.
So in Hawaii I keep that type of bike because that’s just such a great road.
The very first bike that I owned in Tahiti was a Suzuki Bandit. Perfect name—I was really drawn by the name, actually. It was a good bike—about 600cc, so not too big. I started off slow and worked up from there. After I felt like I was becoming somewhat proficient, then it was up to the Harley. But I realised, for me, that there was a bike for each place I am. Definitely for the US the Harley is the thing. For Tahiti it’s something to handle traffic, and then in Maui it’s really something for that windy road up Haleakala.
I do ride differently in each location. Contrary to what you might think, in the US. I’m really not in a hurry to get anywhere. It’s really just about enjoying the ride. In Tahiti it’s because I’m really getting someplace. Going to an appointment or a meeting somewhere across town or something like that. And Tahiti is notorious for its traffic, so that’s very convenient. And in Maui it’s really for the buzz. There’s a lot more leaning into the turns.
I do have a group of friends from Tahiti that from time to time go on a one-week ride. We’ve been north as far as Washington, out to Utah, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico. Up to Montana—pretty much all over the western United States. Riding with a group of guys is really great, a great thing, and I love that very much. It’s great to be with friends. Equally great in the experience is just the ride itself, the scenery. The places you see.
We go on back roads, and we look for the most sordid dive bar we can find. You go through towns, and you say, What do people do here? In deep America there are some astonishing things to see.
You can’t just go out and put yourself in a dangerous situation. You have to be willing to train. To have the patience to train yourself. But then you have to be willing to have confidence in the training and know that the training will allow you to do what you want to do. It’s very important to know your limits and be disciplined enough not to go beyond those limits. If you do that, then you stay out of trouble. There are risks, of course. But the training really reduces those risks. It’s relatively easy to get a licence—that doesn’t mean you’re a safe rider.
But I’m in better shape today than when I started. It’s an outlet I know I can turn to when I need one. And it doesn’t take much—one hour on my bike can really change my outlook on everything.
Like a lot of people, I’m always just trying to learn and try new things and stay curious. Just not die stupid, you know?
(As Told To Hannah Elliott)