Defining “Adventure Motorbiking”
I’m actually writing a piece on “Choosing the ideal Adventure Bike” (see link [here] for the final version), but in doing so I get to the same question: What is “Adventure Motorbiking”?
Your own definition of this, and subsequently the kind of riding you have in mind, has such a huge influence on the kind of bike you should consider that one cannot really begin with choosing before getting this sorted out. So here goes…
First off, we are talking about riding a motorbike. With this comes a meaning that only those who have ridden a bike will understand. Wind in the hair, leaning through corners, a sense of freedom. You get this whether your riding life started on a 50cc bike as a schoolboy, an off-road scrambler or a Japanese Commuter. It’s what “biking” means to the initiated.
Controversially, I’d put it that,as a man, you need to ride a bike at least once before you die. There’s something so prehistorically, unapologetically masculine about the sense of freedom and devil-may-care attitude it offers, that you simply need to experience it.
I remember the first bike I bought – an ancient Yamaha XT600 Tenere. It had a massive tank, was tall in the saddle and heavy to pick up off the stand. After buying it, I had the previous owner drop if off at my house and park it in my garage. After he left, I got a coffee and returned to the garage to just LOOK at it. It was huge and intimidating. An hour later, the coffee was finished and I had also gathered the courage to touch the throttle and levers. Finally, I picked it up off the side stand…and proceeded to promptly drop it over to the other side. I was scared shitless at the very thought of riding this thing. At the age of 30, I had gotten myself into something that I had no prior experience of and could very well kill myself with. I loved every moment of conquering that fear.
Riding a bike, any bike, is an ADVENTURE.
One way to define “Adventure Riding” thus is to just focus on the ride. For many, this is enough of an adventure – I salute those who take the step to add this dimension to their lives. I’d liken this to owning a Hummer. It looks the part, can do the part, but is unlikely to ever see gravel (or low range) in its lifetime.
[Adventure-lite bookmark] A second way to define adventure riding leans more towards the camel-man adventure bit…exploring roads you would not normally take in a sedan, or even a luxury SUV. Those last few remaining gravel roads just outside the city limits. Actually, I like to think of adventure riding in this context as taking any road you have not taken before, be that gravel or tarmac. A shortcut here, a squiggle on a map or a turn-off that looked like it headed nowhere. Not knowing how or where the road ends is the adventure. I’ve experienced this within cities, in the rural countryside both locally and abroad. For the purposes of getting to a definition, I’d call this kind of exploring “Adventure-lite” riding.
Some incredible roads quite close to home were discovered this way, and have become my “happy-place” at the end of a hard week on an idle Saturday afternoon. These I would ride (or drive) when I need a break and a change of scenery.
The advent of pervasive GPS technologies, now even available in smartphones, has made it hard to just aimlessly explore. To ride for the joy of discovery.
It brings us to “Mild-core Adventure Riding”. For this type of riding, I propose that any two of the following should be present: 1) A real language barrier, 2) multi-day riding and 3) 70%+ non-tarmac surface.
Let’s expand on this: I had the wonderful privilege to fly to Europe, rent a bike and ride through Spain, France and Italy not so long ago. It was a huge adventure, despite the fact that I didn’t sleep in a tent once, nor rode any gravel. Each day was a sensory overload of epic proportions and riding bliss, punctuated by getting lost in French countryside, not being able to ask for help or get directions in English while getting soaking wet from early summer rain.
In my mind, this experience was as taxing (and exhilarating) as riding through parts of South Africa (my home country) on a 7-day clearing-the-head session. During this ride, I covered Gamkaskloof and the Swartberg Pass, Baviaanskloof and the beautiful Eastern Freestate.
In both cases, the routes were mapped beforehand, chosen for their visual richness and whether the roads on the Michelin paper maps had green lines on. Of course, loading and then following GPS instructions took some of the guesswork out, but luckily (for adventure’s sake), these were not foolproof…
The final definition category can be labelled “Hard –core Adventure Riding”. This is where roads or tracks are chosen for their remoteness, ruggedness and inaccessibility (part 1 of the recipe), ridden despite any weather condition known on earth (rain, hail, snow, fog) – part 2 and for a duration exceeding 10 days (part 3). To complete the definition, I’d add that a certain level of resolve should be required to see the trip through despite what difficulty parts 1 to 3 might cause.