How possible was the road trip in Easy Rider?

From the information I’ve gathered, Peter Fonda rode a 1200 cc Harley with a 2.2 gallon gas tank. Subtract the .2 gallons for the hose full of money rolled up in the tank and giving him a generous 50 miles to the gallon for the bike, your looking at about a 100 mile range before refilling.
Simply put, were their enough gas stations between L.A. and New Orleans in 1969 (or even today for that matter) for this trip to be possible?

I don’t know about then, but I do know that in the late 90s and early 2000s, I white-knuckled it at least twice into towns in Wyoming and Utah riding bikes with similar-sized gas tanks. Once was really scary; I was riding by myself south of Landar, Wyoming, and really didn’t think I was going to make it to a town. This was pre-cell phone times, the highway was not a popular one, and I wasn’t sure what would have happened if I’d actually run out.

So yeah, valid question. In my experience long-distance riding on a motorcycle in the time frame I mentioned was definitely possible, but you had to be on your toes as far as reading a map and making sure that you had enough gas in the tank to get to the right town. Not having your shit together in that situation caused problems.

I also don’t know about then, but nowadays most bikes have a reserve tank, meaning that if you run out of gas, you switch to the reserve and have a bit extra. I think that’s sort of a warning to stop and get gas right away, but both times I mention above, I had been almost out of the reserve as well and had been looking for a station for many, many miles.

I don’t know what route they took in the movie, but I looked on Google Maps with a ruler, and I only ran into one trouble spot (the ? in my list below).

Here are the gas stops I came up with:

Los Angeles, CA
India, CA
Quartzite, AZ
Phoenix, AZ
Tucson, AZ
Wilcox, AZ
San Simon, AZ
Lordsburg, NM
Derning, NM
Las Cruces, NM
El Paso, TX
Fabens, TX
Van Horn, TX
Fort Stockton, TX
Ozona, TX
Junction, TX
San Antonio, TX
Columbus, TX
Houston, TX
Beaumont, TX
Lake Charles, LA
Lafayette, LA
Baton Rouge, LA
New Orleans, LA

There’s no small town between Van Horn and Fort Stockton, and the distance is a bit longer than 100 miles. It would make it (just barely) with that extra .2 gallons in the tank which you excluded, but without it, it comes up just a bit short.

This assumes of course that every town has a gas station.

On google maps there are a lot of little roads around the area where 17 and I-10 intersect, bu there’s no town listed there. If someone has a gas station around there, you’re good.

You do have to plan carefully.

Timing would be everything too. I remember my dad telling me that back in the sixties gas stations would close at 6 pm during the week and at noon on saturdays.

I never saw a gas station close at noon on Saturdays in the 1960’s, ever. Many stations in remote areas, close to highways (freeways) were open 24 hours for long-distance travelers. But during the gas crisis of the 1970’s, many stations in the same remote areas closed permanently. Getting from Chicago to St. Louis in 1974, a heavily traveled route, was sometimes iffy if you travelled at night, didn’t fillup first, and missed one gas station. And I’m talking about cars with 300 mile cruising ranges, not cycles.

Reserve tanks are a thing of the past. They were used on cars and motorcycles that didn’t have a fuel gauge.

For some weird reason, there were still bikes produced in the late 90s - early 00s that didn’t have fuel gauges, but I don’t think there’s a single new bike today on the market that lacks a gauge/has a reserve tank.

After more googling, I found that someone actually compared the scenes in the movie and worked out the actual route that they took. It’s a more northern route than the one I mapped out.

I went through the route on Google Maps and the route does work (except for one part that doesn’t match up with reality, which is noted on the web page above). Valentine AZ (where they apparently stopped to repair their bikes), in between Kingman and Williams, doesn’t show up on Google Maps, but if you look at where it is located, it’s a necessary stop between Kingman and Williams, otherwise you’ll run out of gas before you get to Williams. Other than that, there are stops within the 100 mile range all along the route that show up on Google Maps (again, assuming that every town has at least one gas station).

Not to nitpick (it’s an interesting question), but doesn’t this assume that the movie was actually shot on location across that span? I don’t know that it was or wasn’t, but given all the movies shot in a small radius of LA, Vancouver etc., I’d wonder.

I am always surprised to be reminded that except for short sequences in NYC and Santa Monica, my treasured Gumball Rally was shot entirely in Arizona, even though it’s supposed to span the US.

This site examines the locations used for shooting:

The movie was supposedly mostly unscripted and was shot as they went, mostly on location.

If you look at the web pages, you’ll see that they were able to match up a lot of it through California, Arizona, and New Mexico, but there’s a big gap in Texas and Oklahoma where the movie apparently didn’t do much (if any) filming. The film locations pick up again in Louisiana, so the web page authors just connected the dots to figure out the route.

The web page also notes that some locations were recreated (the commune was actually shot in Malibu, for example).

There’s a lot of good commentary on the second web page I linked to.

Why would this even be a question? There were gas stations everywhere in the '60s. It was possible to drive across the country, to drive anywhere there were roads. People did it in cars all the time, and the cars of the time didn’t get nearly the mileage a bike would have, or even a car of today.

In the early '70s during the gas crisis a lot of the smaller stations off the interstate went under, but I would say a cross-country trip on non-interstate roads would be harder now than it was in the '60s (and I speak as one who white-knuckled it and feathered the gas like crazy in rural Colorado only a couple of years ago because I assumed a place named Last Chance would, in fact, have a gas station, and it did–but it was closed. Had probably been closed for years).

If you drive long stretches of desolate 2-lane highway out in the west, abandoned gas stations of various vintages are a pretty common sight. Many pre-war cars really weren’t designed with long distance travel in mind and had atrociously short ranges. For example, if you drive some of the abandoned stretches of Route 66 today, you’ll see there was usually a gas station (or at least some sort of store that sold gas) every 30 miles or so. Reading some of the accounts of people traveling the road in the 1930’s, a lot of those old early 1930’s and 1920’s vintage cars practically had to stop at every other one.

The in-between gas stations slowly dwindled after the war, but the energy crisis and the move to self-serve is what really drove the nail in the coffin for most of them. During Easy Rider time there still would have been a lot more small middle-of-nowhere gas stations than there are today.

There’s still tons of bikes sold with the reserve tank setup instead of a gas gauge, mostly in the dual sport/adventure touring category. In general, the carbureted bikes have the reserve tank system and fuel injected bikes have gas gauges. Emissions regulations are probably going to eventually push them all to FI (at least in the US), but at least today there’s some really popular bikes like the Kawi KLR650 or the Suzuki DR bikes that still come with carburetors and no gas gauge.

Cars back then didn’t get good mileage, but they also had huge gas tanks to make up for it. Cars have always had roughly a 300 mile or so range. Modern cars with much better mileage have smaller tanks. A 1969 Dodge Charger for example may have only done 15 mpg or so, but it had a 20 gallon tank.

While you could mostly go anywhere back then and not worry about gas (gas was about 35 cents a gallon back then, too), the one thing I remember a lot of folks saying in the late 60s and all through the 70s was that you had to be very careful about gas even in a car when going through the desert in the southwest as gas stations there were spaced very far apart. My father took that trip (in a Volkswagon Beetle, of all cars) in the late 60s and I heard all kinds of stories about going through the desert (in the summer, in a VW Beetle, with no AC…). I also had a cousin drive that route and white-knuckled it in a car because they had about a third of a tank of gas and hadn’t stopped, and then were sucking fumes when they finally reached the next gas station (I don’t remember what kind of car).

It wouldn’t have surprised me if motorcycle riders back then had strapped gallon tanks of gas to the back of their seats to get through the desert. With that little 2 gallon gas tank, there’s quite a few spots on the map where you’re cutting it close between fill-ups. Once you get to eastern Texas or so, it stops being a problem. It’s only mostly through Arizona and New Mexico that gas stops are scarce.

Actually, if you had zoomed in a little closer you would have seen that there are two small communities there, Balmorhea, about two miles south of the freeway, and Saragosa, about two miles north. I found a gas station in Balmorhea via street view. Saragosa appears to be even smaller and more diffuse, so I don’t know, but it does have a post office. I should have thought that for rural, isolated communities like that, however, a gas station would be one of the first necessities.

Of course, if that wasn’t their route, it is irrelevant.:frowning:

There were a lot more small mom-and-pop markets with a gas pump scattered across rural areas and small towns in the 60’s than there are now. And the steel fuel tanks eventually rusted out and leaked and contaminated the soil and groundwater. Modern fuel tank regulations have made operating a gas station much more expensive than it used to be. Gas stations are now far more likely to be larger and corporate owned, and fewer and farther apart. Hence the numerous abandoned gas stations GreasyJack mentioned.

FWIW, my '08 KTM and my '13 Ducati both are fuel injected and neither have fuel gauges. No reserve tank on either, but both have low fuel lights.

^ This. It seems a logical solution. It’s not hard at all to strap a 5 or even 10 gallon gas can to your bike on a long trip. Why wouldn’t you? For that matter, I’ve heard that it wasn’t that unusual for people to do that on car trips in the old days.

In the 1960s the places selling gas was a combination gas selling operation and auto repair service–the traditional gas station. This combination is rare today. Today we have the convenience store which sells gas. Auto repair is done by separate businesses.

Not necessarily in rural areas. A general store might have a couple of pumps in front without any repair area. I saw those in Appalachia in the early 70s.

My point was if there’s a road there–and there was–there is a gas station within range of that road.

Of course you have to know that you need to tank up before hitting these desolate stretches. Get it when you can. Still true today, although in the old days you were dependent on some kindly stranger happening by and today you are dependent on whether you can get a signal on your phone so you can call AAA.