How I got started at Adventure Motorcycling
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
I’ve always enjoyed the sensation of freedom, which is why I got into adventure motorcycling. As soon as I was old enough to pedal, I would get on my bicycle and dash to my friends’ house, take myself to school in the morning, or travel to the nearest shopping centre to purchase some sweets. This might seem like normal behaviour for any child, but the context was the suburbs of post-apartheid South Africa in Johannesburg, where seeing a small white child dart around on a bicycle on their own was certainly worth a second glance.
The one I thing l lacked was the ability to go further, see more, go faster. The opportunity to take my meandering to a new level arrived promptly after my 18th birthday. My flatmate at university in the south of France was a motorcycle enthusiast, his whole family rode bikes, he knew all the makes, all the models and I enthusiastically took in all his advice and guidance.
Shortly after, I bought my first bike, an HM 50cc, two-stroke supermoto which I could ride without a full licence. My first attempts at riding it, under the indulgent guidance of my flatmate, was quite catastrophic; repeat over-revving, short-shifting, and stalling culminated in an outburst where I told him I would never be able to ride!
Luckily I somehow managed to figure it out.
“Yours truly, aboard the mighty HM 50cc, it had very little power, rubbish suspension, and ran on lawnmower oil, which might explain why I seized the engine once. I distinctly remember snapping the clutch cable a few times too, which meant kickstarting in neutral, pushing the bike through traffic and jumping aboard whilst kicking it in gear. I’m also pretty sure the shift lever was stuck on with bubblegum and fell off once whilst riding.”
My next foray at motorcycling took me back to South Africa, where after some prolonged research I settled on a DRZ400E. Coming from a 50cc moped, the DRZ appeared imposing, impossibly sophisticated and intimidatingly powerful. However, it proved to be a wonderful travelling companion, that took me back to some of the forgotten places of my childhood, and more places I had never visited!
This is when my venture into adventure motorcycling really started, where I took my bike away on the weekend to explore anything North, East, South and West of Gauteng. This is also when I first started riding on dirt, taking the DRZ and my ill-equipped self off the beaten track to see what lay around the next bend, across the next stream, and beyond the distant hill.
“Outfitted in a cheap polyester jacket, motocross helmet and some ripped jeans I took the DRZ on many a trip into the South African bush. Being a somewhat carefree student my only tools were a can of WD-40, a leatherman and a tyre inflator. Fortunately, I never got a puncture or had a break-down on the reliable Suzuki. It was the perfect bike to get me started on my adventures.”
After a hiatus in England and Canada for some more work and studies, I made my way back to South Africa. The tug of the vast landscapes, stunning vistas and rolling scenery proving too hard to resist. With my aim of going further, seeing more, and discovering new places in head, I needed a bike that could take me further. This time I settled on a heavily modified DR650SE, which had the power and range to take me to new horizons.
With some more cash, I upgraded my riding accoutrement with some protective boots, proper offroad pants and an ADV lid, ready to set out on some more offroad trips. I started working on the bike, doing my own oil changes, cleaning the carb and oil filter and replacing small parts that inevitably broke down or fell off as a result of my off-road antics.
“The DR650 I acquired came fully outfitted and ready to tackle long-distance and offroad adventure riding. Upgraded suspension, long-range tank, aftermarket handlebars and a salvaged BMW F650GS Dakar windscreen which I bolted to the stock dirt bike headlight made it an outstanding adventuring companion.”
The biggest challenge I set myself with the DR650 was the infamous Sani Pass, which takes 4×4 enthusiasts and undeterred bush-taxis from the lowlands of South Africa into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Fortunately, it was a bright sunny summer day when my dad and I went up the pass, which proved not as hardy a challenge as its reputation led to believe, but a wonderful ride nonetheless! A ride up on a cold wet winter day would probably end up as a muddy slog through ragged twisting gulleys, which might not be so enjoyable.
“Whilst this photo might look heroic on the DR650, I am fairly sure this was taken as I was stuck on a rock, trying to ride through the landslide, which blocked off the road to our destination. I also proceeded to crash quite spectacularly shortly after trying to jump over a small bump to get back on the road. No harm done, just some more indicators to replace.. “
A return to the pastoral lands of England brought with it its own impetus for travel, this time with the coastal meanders of Cornwall’s cliffs and the bleak highlands of Scotland beckoning. With limited offroad potential in sight, my weapon of choice was a Suzuki V-Strom 650 outfitted with some panniers, auxiliary lights and crash bars.
Whilst imposing due its bulk and lack of poise, the grunty V-twin and versatile package of the Strom proved the right choice for more tarmac-based adventures. Enough room to pack my gear, plenty of power to take me along, and sufficient wind protection to keep me in comfort on the road.
“The problem with having a big size bike like a V-Strom is that your friends seem to think you are meant to carry their things as well! The sights of Ireland make it easy to forget the added weight at the back though.“
The V-Strom is quite amazing for such an accessible budget bike, you can commute with it, ride it in the rain or take it on a whim from London to Paris, the Strom will take it all with ease. You lose out on a bit of power and some style points versus the GS warriors, but it just as capable on the road and for long-range touring.
The V-Strom has taken me on extended tours of England, Belgium, France, Scotland and Ireland with not a single hiccup. Ireland remains memorable due to the contrast of sea, green hills and rocky landscapes that stagger its western coast, the Wild Atlantic Way. Scotland is also a favourite due to the bleak and immersive landscape of the Highlands through which you can ride for several days along the North Coast 500 with not a city in sight.
“Apples! Remember apples to get to Applecross! ”
I heeded the kind strangers advice as I departed from Loch Lomond in Scotland and made my way to Applecross via the Isle of Skye. One of the most scenic rides I have ever done. I was also blessed with exceptional weather on my tour of Scotland along the North Coast 500. If you ever get 8 days of sunshine, go ride in Scotland!”
Throughout my years of adventure motorcycling, I have borrowed, rented and test-driven many bikes in various places for various reasons. A pattern does emerge in the bikes I keep. I tend to prefer, old school, reliable motorcycles (mostly yellow brand ones). My bikes have never let me down so far, and I enjoy the more sedate pace of a slightly underpowered steed to take in the scenery and admire the sights and sounds of the landscapes I travel through. The odd burst of acceleration once in a while is not amiss though! To each their own…
I created Adventure Geared to serve as a guide for new riders. So that others can get a feel for some of the sights and wonders I have had the pleasure of experiencing. I would also like new riders to avoid some of the mistakes in choosing gear or a bike one is likely to make when starting out. Adventure Motorcycling is an expensive hobby, so why not get it right the first time.
This website feature advice and recommendations based on my experience and research, these are my opinion, with more than likely their own bias. It’s up to you to make your own decisions, I just hope to help along the way.
What does the future hold for me? Well, it’s the next big one, and it looks like something this…
“Live long and prosper”