There’s more to adventure riding than big bikes, big budgets and riding the same trails. Countries like Vietnam offer the chance to get off the beaten track. Read on and experience the very best in two-wheeled adventures with known adventure riders.
Mention adventure riding to the average Joe and the TV series Long Way Round is never far behind. Not that I’m taking anything away from Charley and Ewan’s motorcycle experiences. They’ve put adventure riding on the map, and let’s face it; the pair will forever be on BMW’s Christmas card list.
However, even in the wilds of Mongolia, the camera crew, back-up truck, and a local fixer were all within spanner-throwing distance. As I said, I’m not demeaning their efforts as adventure riders, but let’s be clear; they were standing on the shoulders of giants.
So who are today’s Adventure Riders?
The definition of adventure is an exciting experience that is a bold, sometimes risky undertaking. Add the words ‘on a motorcycle,’ and you’ve got the perfect explanation.
You can forget trying to fit adventure riders into some social demographic, though. It could be anyone, man, woman, old, or young whose life in the rat race is only made tolerable by letting loose every so often, taking to two wheels and getting off the beaten track.
As popular as the riding part of the adventure is, there’s an element of the activity which also really adds to its appeal. And that is the prep.
There’s a vast difference between heading across country and crossing continents. However, a certain amount of preparation is needed for both. Any motorcycle rider who’s ever planned for either type of trip though, knows that the adventure begins right there.
Look at a map to plot a potential route, or lay your tool kit out on the garage floor, and that feeling of excitement and anticipation will grip your stomach. A feeling that stays with you and over time builds to the point when you finally kick your bike into gear and leave the rat race in the rear view mirror.
A Perfect Storm
Having established why it’s so popular, what are the factors that have facilitated the increased popularity of adventure riding? There’s no single or right answer to this question; instead, a perfect storm of factors all combining with one another.
Firstly, when it comes to motorcycle riding kit, never has a more diverse range of protective clothing been available. Technologically advanced fibres and breakthroughs in manufacturing processes mean that motorcycle clothing is now lighter, tougher, more weatherproof, and above all, affordable.
Crash helmets are tougher, their lighter-weight makes them more manageable, and Bluetooth compatibility is almost a given. It’s the same story with adventure motorcycle boots.
Regardless of the terrain, the rider’s foot will always come into contact with the ground. An adventure motorcycle boot with a sturdy yet flexible sole, ankle, and shin guards and waterproof breathable uppers will help keep you adventure proof too.
Today, breathable fabrics that wick moisture away from the body while stopping rain from seeping through are commonplace. Developments in lightweight shock-absorbing materials also mean that adventure riders no longer have to look as if they’re preparing to joust.
If the technology behind adventure riding clothing has advanced incredibly, then the leap from paper maps to computer-aided route planning is off the scale.
Thanks to the Internet and orbiting satellites, no part of the globe can hide. It may even be possible to locate King Kong’s Skull Island and find a thread on ‘how to avoid becoming the main course for the local cannibal’s.
Some riders still take to the hills old school style. With little more than a map, a compass, and a sense of adventure. Great, if the circumstances allow, and if you can read a map and afford to take off extra time for the trip.
On the flip side, if, like the vast majority of us mere mortals, you have to fit in with family and work schedules, then the Internet is an invaluable time-saving tool.
It may feel like riders have traversed almost every part of the globe, but that’s the beauty of adventure riding. No two rides are ever going to be the same.
Committing to the idea, though, is the easy part. The dilemma of choosing a destination that is both logistically feasible and adds a tick to your bucket list is a lot harder.
If the clock is on you, choosing a destination within your own country can be a viable solution. In the United States, there are still vast areas of wilderness, trails, and fire roads within easy striking distance of most major cities.
Home or Away
Whether you want the desert scrub of the Mojave Road in California or the alpine-like loop trails of Colorado, there’s lots of choices. You could even opt for the adventure rider’s dream route, the Magruder Corridor Wilderness trail which takes you through the forests of Idaho.
The 44 countries that make-up Europe are home to enough breathtaking scenery to keep you adventure biking for several lifetimes. Many European rides provide the springboard and inspiration for trips further afield. These include Africa via Spain, Eurasia via Turkey, or Russia through Ukraine.
You can use adventure rider forums or topic-specific websites and pick up hints and tips from those who have enjoyed riding through the area before. Alternatively, plot a route and look for your own rest stops, gas stations, and points of interest. Either way, research can save time and money; it’s as simple as that.
Documenting and photographing your journey also means that you can join the ranks of the online adventure riding community. Who knows, your exploits may trigger the wanderlust in another would-be adventure rider.
While on the subject of wanderlust. For bikers considering the holy grail of adventure riding posting exploits online is just one way to finance those longer trips. For epic adventure riding namely an around the world trip or a cross-continent sojourn, blogging is just one way to help keep the show on the road.
Going down this route may not be as easy as it sounds. However, there are adventure riders out there right now relating their exploits and earning enough food and gas money to carry on to the next leg.
Originally from Poland, before becoming an adopted Ozzie, adventure rider Kinga Tanajewska captures her round the world adventures via social media. Kinga’s impressive resume now includes Facebook (59.5K followers), YouTube (136K subscribers), and Instagram (70.4K followers).
How it all started
Kinga could probably fund her ongoing RTW trip from her social media related endorsements alone; however, her adventure got off to a more unconventional kick-start.
With her second successful cross Australia trip and 19,000kms tucked under her belt, Kinga was returning to Sydney when she found herself t-boned by a car, writing-off her beloved F800GS.
Two years later, in 2017, with her broken bones healed and compensation for the accident, Kinga bought another GS and realised it was decision time. ‘I remember saying, it’s now or never,” Kinga said. “I quit my job and left Australia to head off around the world. Called it the ‘are we there yet’ tour because I didn’t know where I was going and I’m really impatient,’ she laughs.
Almost three years later, Kinga has crossed Australia, the Far East, Middle East, Russia, Mongolia, and Africa, and more – fundraising for children’s charities along the way.
Kinga aims to post a new video every ten days, and the quality and editing, not to mention the off the beaten track routes, make her video diaries massive hits. Her adventures in Mongolia, for example, have over 945,000 views alone.
Testing Gear on the Road
Like other RTW riders, she road tests gear and kit along the way. Everything from neck braces to tents and luggage gets a thorough kicking, and her honest evaluations win her an army of fans.
‘If you’re going to post videos or build your own brand and get enough hits to become an influencer, make sure you use the right platform,’ says Kinga.
‘YouTube is hands down the most powerful social media platform out there,’ she explains. ‘Your content is always there and some people may not have either Facebook or Instagram, especially in places like China and Russia, but everyone on the planet watches YouTube.’
During her travels, Kinga has ridden into a revolution in Sudan and fallen off and got trapped beneath her aluminium panniers. Being a lone female in Iran led to her arrest. She was subsequently invited to join the local mayor for afternoon tea. As she readily admits, life on the road is never dull.
Being a lone female in Iran led to her arrest and subsequent invitation to join the local mayor for afternoon tea. As she readily admits, life on the road is never dull.
Sharing her Travels
In her latest Facebook update, Kinga shared her travels in the wilds of Sudan. First, heading to the forgotten Nubian pyramids in the ancient city of Mero. For the furture who knows where her adventure ride will take her to next.
Kinga’s adventure riding philosophy is simple, ‘one life, one chance,’ she says. ‘Don’t be scared and always remember, you don’t have anything to prove to anyone, just enjoy the ride.’
This sentiment is one that drives adventure riders to push the envelope in terms of new two-wheeled experiences in far off locations. A subject that leads me to the latest trend in adventure motorcycle travel. For those with the wanderlust but not the time; the fly and ride.
Motorbike Adventures in Exotic Locations
Low-cost airfares make fly and ride motorcycle adventure tours to exotic locations and challenging terrain possible within a vacation type time frame.
Places such as Rajasthan, the Amazon, and Jordan or epic bucket list milestones including the Himalayas and Andes, all await the avid two-wheeled adventure rider.
If, after scrolling through the myriad of adventure rider forums, you think all the best trips have already been done you couldn’t be more wrong. Countries like Vietnam still offer the very best of unspoiled adventure motorbike tours.
Located to the east of the South Asian Peninsula and bordered by the South China Sea, Vietnam has the type of terrain, culture, and unspoiled trails that are perfect for adventure motorbike touring.
Until recently, Vietnam was not only difficult to reach but challenging to access. On the plus side, this self-imposed isolation has nurtured one of the most incredible untapped regions of Asia.
Thanks to the likes of the Top Gear Vietnam Special, this amazing country has, in the last few years, enjoyed an increase in conventional tourism. The presenters farcical two-wheeled exploits did little to advance motorbike touring in Vietnam. However, the TV programme was a perfect showcase for its stunning scenery.
Major hubs, including Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Nha Trang, are now the main draws for many overseas visitors. So while regular tourists head for the hot spots, those with an adventurous spirit are free to explore. Their adventures, taking them to the unspoiled jungle-clad mountains of the centre, the secluded beaches of the south and terraced paddy fields of the north.
In theory, it would be possible for an intrepid round the world adventure bike rider to enter Vietnam from Cambodia or China on their own bike. The paperwork, however, is a total nightmare. The border guards are ultra-strict, and taxes and fees astronomical.
Furthermore, you need to be met by a registered Vietnamese guide at the border who you have to pay to organise your itinerary for the duration of your stay. If this all sounds like a major headache, that’s because it is. A more obvious and less stressful solution is to fly into Vietnam and join a professional motorbike tour.
Once in a Lifetime Motorbike Tours for Adventure Riders
Based in Da Nang, Onyabike Adventures offer lifetime experiences on a motorbike tour of Vietnam. Bike mad, Aussie Jeff Burke started the company a few years ago after many years of adventure riding around Asia.
According to Jeff, something about the culture and unspoiled countryside of this beautiful part of the world just clicked. Jeff decided to pack up everything in Australia and relocate to Vietnam.
After riding throughout Vietnam, Jeff’s vocal enthusiasm for the stunning scenery and unspoiled trails became infectious. Before long, he found himself spending all his time organising motorbike tour itineraries for friends and family visiting Vietnam from Australia.
‘I remember sitting in a bar one night chatting to a mate. He told me I was so passionate about the whole thing I should start a business to show the place off to others,’ he recalls.
Vietnam is no Country to Cut Corners
‘A lot of motorbike tour companies in Vietnam cut corners so are not fully legal,’ he admits. ‘We wanted to get everything right; otherwise, important things like Travel Insurance aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.’
Jeff’s dream of showing the hidden gems of his adopted home to fellow bikers is now a reality. Today, Onyabike Adventures run 1 to 21 day motorcycle tours all over the country.
‘It was really important to me to get this right and provide the best adventure motorbike tours in Vietnam,’ says Jeff. ‘After all, it’s better to see something once than to hear about it 1000 times.’
As mentioned earlier, slightly tongue in cheek, thanks to orbiting satellites, no part of the globe can hide for long. It’s even possible to locate King Kong’s Skull Island. Well, that’s because the three stunning locations used in the movie are all located in, yep, you guessed it, Vietnam!
King Kong and Much More
Regardless of whether you’re a fan of the big ape, Ha Long Bay and Ninh Binh in the north and the Phong Nha National Park in the central highlands are prime motorbike touring country. Needless to say, Onyabike Adventures cover these three areas of Vietnam.
When Jeff Burke speaks about getting ‘everything right’ for his motorbike tours, he doesn’t mean only the paperwork and scenery. Therefore, finding the right bike for touring Vietnam became a top priority. After a lot of trial and error (or should that be trail and error) Onyabike chose the Royal Enfield Himalayan.
Specifically built by Enfield to fill a gap in the adventure bike market, the modestly powered 400cc single-cylinder Himalayan is a very capable motorcycle. This fact takes us to the final part of adventure motorcycling’s perfect storm; the bikes themselves.
Fall of the Dinosaurs
While Charlie and Ewan did their bit to make BMW’S GS series the best selling adventure bike for over a decade, the world shifted. A whole new adventure biking philosophy now sees riders moving away from technologically complicated 800lb behemoths and towards real-world middleweight dual sports.
Ego boosting 1000cc+ dual sports bikes needing electronic interventions to keep their monstrous horsepower under control will always be popular. When the likes of BMW and KTM also start producing their own maneuverable middleweight adventure bikes though, you know the page is turning.
Japanese manufacturers have always offered motorbikes in this middleweight category, such as KLR, CRF, XT, and DT range. However, it’s thanks to the likes of the Royal Enfield Himalayan that they have all received a serious makeover if not a total redesign
Bikes including the all-new Suzuki 250 V-Strom, KTM 390 Adventure, and Yamaha Tenere 700 also confirm that the middleweight adventure market is something to be taken seriously.
Counting the Cost
If a market exists for smaller capacity duals sports bikes, what exactly is fuelling its popularity? The equation is simple and best explained like this.
The list price for an entry-level BMW R 1250 GS is $23,490 (US). For $15,000, you can buy a plane ticket, a 14-day North to South tour of Vietnam including motorcycle, gear, accommodation, and buy a new Royal Enfield Himalayan when you get back home!
The math is a no-brainer, and for more and more adventure riders, the experience is everything. Smaller and more maneuverable bikes with real-world performance are also the reason we are seeing an increase in female adventurer riders.
The Rise in Female Adventure Riders
Round the world explorer Noraly ‘Itchy Boots’ Schoenmaker, confirms this theory. Noraly sums up this new breed of women adventure riders perfectly when she talks about the choice of wheels for her cross-continent adventures.
‘Why waste 24K Euros on something, when a Himalayan will do the job just as well? And with the money you save, go have an adventure.’
‘I chose the Royal Enfield because it’s tough and manageable. I’ve dropped her plenty of times, but I was never in a situation when I couldn’t pick the bike up myself. It’s reliable, easy to maintain, and low-tech. Regardless of where I went, no back street mechanic was afraid to pull an engine cover off either. ‘
Adventure Motorbiking Royalty
It’s safe to say that in the world of adventure motorcycling, Simon and Lisa Thomas could be considered royalty. The husband and wife team set off on a journey around the world in 2002, which has seen the couple visit over 80 countries including the beautiful South Asian Peninsula.
Undeterred by major setbacks, 500,000+ miles later, they are still going strong. Accidents along the way include Simon’s fall through a rotten bridge in the Amazon RainForest, resulting in him breaking his neck and wrecking his bike. Plus, Lisa’s face-first fall in Jamaica, which left her with serious skull injuries. Regardless of the setback the pair remain undaunted.
Although they’ve experienced some of the planet’s most amazing and isolated landscapes, they are firm believer’s that it’s all about the ride and the adventure, not just the location.
‘Unlike a car or plane that shuts you off from the world, on a motorcycle you are living it smelling it and feeling it. Adventure motorcycling is the perfect metaphor for freedom, no matter where you are.’
The world may be shrinking. One thing is for sure though, if you know where to look, there are incredible motorbike tours and adventures still waiting for you to experience. All you have to do is fly to Vietnam and get Onyabike.