Colette Coleman, author of a new book about great motorcycle journeys, picks 10 of her favourite places to ride.
I had my first taste of adventure motorcycling as a teenager, wobbling through the Yorkshire Dales on a maroon Yamaha FS1E that belched blue smoke and rarely made it out of third. I didn’t care; that combination of freezing northern wind on my face, the smell of burning two-stroke and the realisation that on my bike I could go anywhere started a love affair with motorcycles that continues to this day.
At 20, taking a death-defying ride on an Indian bus in the mid-Eighties, I read Jupiter’s Travels, Ted Simon’s account of his round-the-world ride of a decade earlier. It was the most inspiring book I had ever read. This was the way to travel. On my return from India I met Steve (the man who would become my husband), who shared my enthusiasm, and in 1995 we set off on an overland ride to Australia. We knew we needed a Carnet de Passages en Douane, but other than that it was a case of roll up at the border and smile. Guidebooks rarely mentioned motorcycles.
Our only source of information was fellow riders, among them one who mentioned his idea for an overland motorcycle guide and asked if we would get involved. With a team of contributors providing first-hand experience and no-nonsense advice, Chris Scott produced the first edition of the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook in 1997. It inspired motorcyclists across the world and launched the motorcycle websites that today bring bikers together to share information and plan their overland adventures.
The adventures of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman finally brought adventure motorcycling to mainstream television. Long Way Round, which was screened in 2005, and its sequels must be at least partly responsible for the huge increase in new registrations of adventure-sport motorcycles, up from 6,648 in 2003 to 12,148 in 2007; figures for last month show an increase of 8.3 per cent on August last year.
Motorcycle tour companies have sprung up worldwide to cater for the demand, offering trips to suit all tastes, from a weekend’s riding in Iceland to a six-month odyssey through South America. For many years the only way to “hire” a bike was to buy a locally produced smoking pile and hope to sell it at the end of your journey. These days you can fly as far as China for your annual holiday and ride the fabled Silk Road on the latest, fully kitted BMW GS. Here are some tasters of what the world of motorcycling now has to offer.
Roll off the ferry from Spain for a tantalizing taste of north Africa. Morocco is a fantastic winter escape for motorcyclists. The diversity of the landscape provides riding possibilities to suit all tastes. Traffic is light and the main road surfaces are reasonable.
The adventurous can tackle mule tracks, dry riverbeds and sand dunes, heading off road on well-maintained pistes. Enjoy isolated riding on the wild mountain switchbacks of the Rif Mountains, or cruise along the Atlantic coast. The high passes of the Tizi-n-Tichka and the Tizi-n-Test — connecting Marrakesh to the palm-filled oases and deserts of the Sahara — are a rollercoaster of hairpin bends and far-reaching views. Hone your skills in the deep sand that stretches south towards the African sub-continent.
Wilderness Wheels (www.wildernesswheels.com) organises guided, all-inclusive off-road tours in Morocco. The fleet includes Honda CRF450X, KTM 400 EXC and Yamaha TT250R enduro and trail bikes.
If you want to combine leisurely riding through constantly changing scenery with culture and delicious cuisine, head to Europe’s eastern edge. Road conditions are as varied as the landscape, with smooth, fast motorways giving way to bumpy rural roads. Out of the cities the pace is leisurely. From Istanbul, cross the Bosporus and ride across a land scattered with the ruins of ancient empires. Wind over the mountain passes of the western Black Sea mountains, then head inland to the lunar landscapes of central Anatolia, where you can ride through valleys of strangely eroded rock formations and spend evenings in luxury cave hotels. Head south through the lush scenery of the Taurus Mountains until you reach the Turquoise Coast, then kick off your boots and relax.
Kazoom Moto Adventures (www.kazoom-moto-adventures.com) offers tours of Turkey and neighbouring countries including Syria, Jordan and Iran. BMWs available for rental.
3. Costa Rica
In this safe and peaceful country at the heart of Central America, most destinations are within a day’s ride of the capital, San José, leaving time to mix the riding with time out on tropical beaches or exploring volcanoes and cloud-forest reserves. The road network is varied, with short stretches of motorway giving way to single-track potholed roads and dirt trails. Stick to highways and paved roads, occasionally tackling a dirt road, or spend the holiday exploring the trails: a combination of mud, sand and gravel. You can ride alongside rainforest, through rivers and even up a volcano.
Wildrider Motorcycles (www.wild-rider.com) rents dual-sport motorcycles (250cc-650cc) and offers tours in Costa Rica.
Ferries from Newcastle deposit you and your bike in a land of raw power, magnificent scenery and roads that defy gravity as they switchback up mountains, cling to the side of fjords and cut through rock faces. Waterfalls thunder down sheer cliffs into turquoise fjords, and the ferry journeys in this land of water provide panoramic views of the scenery. Ride through fjord land on the west coast, heading for the Golden Route to zigzag across the face of a mountain. Continue riding north through pristine wilderness and eventually into the Arctic Circle. With almost 24 hours of summer daylight you can pack a lot of riding into just a few days.
Nordic Bike Adventure (www.nordicbike.no) offers two- and three-week tours of Norway, plus bike rentals.
The Dolomites are dramatic, jagged rocky pinnacles towering over roads that curve through northern Italy. The Italians love motorcycles and their warm welcome makes riding in this region enjoyable. Hotels display an orange sign with a motorcycle logo proclaiming moto sotto il tetto (bike under the roof), and offer secure parking, touring information and often spa facilities; a luxury after a hard day’s ride. If you want to combine great riding with spectacular scenery, and evenings meeting other riders over good food and wine, then the Dolomites make for a great summer ride.
Club Mototurismo in Trentino (www.trentinoinmoto.com) produces a booklet and map for motorcyclists and works alongside the tourist board.
6. North Vietnam
Ride a circuit of the remote northern provinces. Starting in Hanoi, hire a Belarusian Minsk 125cc, affectionately known as con trau gia (“old buffalo”) by the Vietnamese, and the ideal bike for a journey into the rugged north. Stay in isolated villages populated by colourful mountain tribes, whose culture has been preserved behind craggy peaks. Roads are single-track and potholed, throwing up loose gravel and rocks. Take the “old buffalo” across rivers, along narrow mountain passes and on tiny dirt roads that can quickly turn to mud in heavy rain. Experience the joy of riding on roads that weave through steamy valleys of lush vegetation, climbing steadily higher through tea and coffee plantations and into an area of limestone pinnacles and perpendicular walls of rock as you skirt the Chinese border.
Voyage Vietnam/Mototours Asia (www.moto-tours.org) offers all-inclusive guided tours in Vietnam and tours in south-east Asia, including China, Laos and Cambodia. It also offers bike hire in Hanoi.
7. Australian outback
Australia’s outback sizzles under a scorching sky. It is wild and desolate and you can ride for hours, or even days, without seeing another vehicle. Weather can change the terrain dramatically, so speak to riders coming off the tracks and plan fuel and water stops. Picking up a fully-loaded bike is hard work in the heat, so keep luggage to essentials. The desert tracks will test your riding skills as you encounter hundreds of miles of corrugations, rocky tracks and “bulldust” — an Australian speciality that often covers a hole deep enough to bury your bike.
BikeRoundOz (www.bikeroundoz.com) offers rentals and inclusive tours from all major cities in Australia. Rentals are from one day to six months or more, guided tours range from five-day to five-week trips.
Bikescape Motorcycle Tours & Rentals (www.bikescape.com.au), close to Sydney, offers “all-inclusive” rentals, self-guided tours and support services. It also has a range of accessories to hire, from helmets to GPS units.
India has long been a favourite of motorcyclists thanks to the availability of the Enfield Bullet, a bike whose poor brakes and bone-shaking suspension make for an exciting if kidney-crushing experience. The cities are mayhem as traffic, livestock and humanity compete for space, but once out on the open road rural India is magical.
Tears of frustration, hysterical laughter and a mouthful of diesel fumes are all part of a day’s ride, as is the ability to hit the dirt at a moment’s notice to avoid oncoming trucks. As you trundle through the subcontinent, the landscape changing from humid tropics through the western deserts to the snowy Himalayas, consistently bad roads and suicidal driving are guaranteed. Keep your thumb on the horn and enjoy the ride.
Himalayan Riders (www.himalayanmotorcycletours.com) has fixed-departure and tailor-made all-inclusive tours on Royal Enfield and KTM Adventure 640cc motorcycles. Tours are in Nepal, Tibet, PRC, Bhutan, China, Darjeeling and Sikkim, Ladakh and Mongolia. Rentals are also available.
9. America’s wild west
Arizona, Utah and Nevada are America’s west at its wildest, offering an extensive choice of riding terrain in incredible landscapes. Whether you take a road bike or a dual-sport there are numerous options for great riding combined with spellbinding scenery.
Ride through Navajo and Apache lands, take a hair-raising ride along Hell’s Backbone and cruise along historic sections of Route 66. If you want to hit the dirt, the Great Western Trail offers adventurous off-road riding along a corridor of parallel trails traversing more than 1,864 miles of canyons, deserts and woodlands. Stop at frontier towns, live it large in Las Vegas and absorb the magnificence of the Grand Canyon National Park. Finish your ride with a blast along the sunny Californian coast.
EagleRider (www.eaglerider.com) offers motorcycle tours and rentals throughout the US. Rental models on offer include Harley-Davidson, Honda, BMW, dirt bikes and scooters.
10. North Yorkshire
North Yorkshire’s roads twist through valleys and sweep across untamed moors, offering some of the best biking roads in England. The skies are huge, the air is clean and views of heather-clad moors and limestone scars are vast. The beauty and solitude make for amazing riding whether you want to tour the dales, head to the coast or get muddy on the green lanes. Biking is big in Yorkshire, with towns such as Hawes, Masham and Helmsley providing accommodation and biker-friendly cafés. Blast across the North York Moors to the coast, sweep back over the Pennines to Cumbria or climb into the hills onsingle-track roads that lead into the heart of the dales.
White Rose Motorcycle Tours (www.motorcycletours.co.uk) offers holidays in Northern England, Scotland and Europe.