Let’s face it, we all need a bit of a kick up the backside from time to time. When it comes to motorcycle adventures, one thing that stops us from making our own adventure is that it’s all too easy to believe that you need to have a fully-loaded BMW GS Adventure, a healthy bank account and the luxury of time. You don’t need any of those. Well, maybe time, but you can have an memorable adventure in just 24 hours.
Unfortunately motorcycle travel has been whitewashed. Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman don’t live in the real world and – contrary to what you might believe – they didn’t invent motorcycle adventure travel, they merely twisted it for the highly-polished social media generation. Now, people believe you need a £20,000 Adventure motorcycle to have the trip of a lifetime.
Of the people I’ve spoken to who’ve done ‘that big motorcycle trip’, most planned it so thoroughly. Every ferry crossing, every route, every hotel – all booked in advance, the one thing they forgot was: to have an adventure. The family and friends back home got a day-by-day airbrushed update on social media while the rider spent more time worrying about making their next check-point than worrying about how they can avoid ever having to go home.
It’s in danger of being the modern-day version of a coach tour to the Costa del Sol. At one time, that was seen as being a bit off-the-wall.
So take this list of inspirational motorcycle adventure books as exactly what it is: a one-million word kick up the backside, designed to inspire you to take your motorcycle and go somewhere different. The common thread in all of these stories is that the writer had wanderlust, wanted to explore, took each day as it came and kept the planning to a minimum.
So go on, buy one of these books and start your adventure.
Into Africa: Every Day an Adventure
Sam Manicom / 2008
Sam Manicom’s very first travel book takes the reader on an enlightening, yet daunting journey across fourteen countries between Cairo to Cape Town. Chronicling his adventures across the dusty terrains of Africa, Manicom himself was at first sceptical about how interested his readers would be in one mans travel journal in a far away location. Turns out, he managed to write an awe-inspiring book that offers a real sense of depth and texture. Even though he escapes being shot at, is arrested and then jailed and later knocked unconscious in the depths of the Namibian desert, his story is inspiring and scary in equal measures. Anyone who has every dreamed of jumping on their bike and heading out into the great beyond will love this well written account of one man’s adventures in Africa.
Lone Rider: The First British Woman to Motorcycle Around the World
Elspeth Beard / 2018
Much more than just a standard travel memoir, Lone Rider by Elspeth Beard is a fascinating account of a young woman’s journey around the world. Leaving London at just 23, a disenfranchised Elspeth was determined to prove herself. Set in the 1980s, Lone Rider is the thrilling story of her 35,000-mile solo adventure around the world on her 1974 BMW R60/6. Faced with unforgiving landscapes, war torn countries, civi uprisings and the threat of sexual attack, she remained dedicated to her cause – to find herself again. Having survived life-threatening illness and brutal accidents, her story is told with honesty and wit, and is a truly unique account of an extraordinarily moving life-changing adventure.
Ureka: Finding the line between desire and contentment. Then riding it
Graham Field / 2014
Hitting the road once again with his cheap and cheerful KLR650, rider and author Graham Field heads out to the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Driven by his desire to seek out unexplored locations, Field has a “Ureka” moment that results in a fantastical exploration of Eastern Europe and beyond. Ureka: Finding the line between desire and contentment. Then riding it is an almost accidental realisation that we cannot control our mood on the road, but that embracing this can be the most enlightening travel experience of all. He recounts his moods and adventures through remote regions that never usually make into travel books, including Iraq, Georgia and Azerbaijan. This book is a thrilling account of how to feel the fear and just go for it, wherever you may be.
In 2008, Cathy Birchall rode pillion with her partner Bernard Smith to circumnavigate the globe on Bertha, Smith’s 1990 BMW R100RT. Together, they rode for 26,385 miles across 31 countries on five continents. This may sound like a standard motorcycle memoir, but when you consider that Cathy herself is blind, the book becomes less about seeing the world, and more about hearing, feeling and touching it. Documenting their adventures through Europe and across the pond to Canada, the book it an inspirational read about how to break through the boundaries of being blind, and it is sure to touch the hearts of the reader with its honest, witting and refreshingly well-written narrative.
Revolutionary Ride: On The Road In Search Of The Real Iran
Lois Pryce / 2018
In 2011, at the height of the tensions between the British and Iranian governments, travel writer Lois Pryce found a note on her motorcycle outside the Iranian Embassy in London from a Persian gentleman called Habib. Willing her to think of his countrymen not as terrorists but instead as friends, it inspired Lois to set off on a 3,000 mile ride from Tabriz to Shiraz to discover the heart of one of the worlds most most complex country’s. Along the way she meets a wide range of colourful characters, all trying to live their lives under the rule of an extraordinarily strict Islamic government. Revolutionary Ride is the story of a people and a country, and one woman’s fearless determination to see beyond the Western view to find the real Iran.
Bike riding veteran and fearless adventurer, Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent, saddles up once again to explore the world on her ageing Honda Cub. Embracing the opportunity to explore the military engineering feat that is the Ho Chi Minh Trail she sets off to expose this vast transport network that is slowly being lost forever. Heading off from Hanoi, she recounts two months spent riding 2,000 miles through the mountains and jungles of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. With multiple breakdowns and plenty of unusual and often dangerous encounters, the book is a poignant insight into the history of the region and her desire to document it before it is too late.
It might have been published in 2001 but don’t let that fool you – this is a story from the 1930s. A remarkable story of the first two women in the world to ride the length of Africa, and the first to cross the Sahara on a motorcycle. They travelled from London to Cape Town overland by motorcycle and sidecar, pulling a trailer with no backup, over a two year period from 1934 to 1935. Theresa Wallach and Florence Blenkiron completed a journey that might well defeat even modern motorcycles and riders and had amazing adventures arguing with the French Foreign Legion for permission to continue, rebuilding the entire engine from scratch in Agadez and meeting gorillas, lions and snakes along the way. This fascinating look at the gumption of these two women is an inspirational read for lovers of both motorbikes and travelling. You go, girls!
One of the most well read travel memoirs ever written, Jupiter’s Travels has inspired many riders to take off and discover the world, including actor and motorbike enthusiast, Ewan McGregor. Over just four years in the late 1970s, Ted Simon covered 78,000 miles through 45 countries, living with peasants and presidents in prisons and palaces, and made his way through wars and revolutions. Already an accomplished writer, his fascinating narrative draws the reader in, and may even have you reaching for your keys and helmet before you know it. Savour every page, but don’t be surprised if you experience a sudden bout of wanderlust when you finish it.
Two doctors, one motorcycle and the remarkable story of a four year journey around the world. Bearback: The World Overland, is a beautifully written account of how a couple decided to jack it all in and jump on their bike – The Bear – the cover 100,000 miles through six continents and 64 countries. From the sand dunes of Timbuktu to the ice sheets of Patagonia, Bearback is a story of one guy and one girl, and their awe-inspiring adventures full of freedom and love. Offering outstanding photos and thoughtfully written entries, this travelogue will make you feel like you are out there riding with them. The book has also been endorsed by Sir. Ranulph Fiennes and National Geographic.
Road Wise: An Odyssey of Machine, Maps & Meditations
Jon Fabian / 2012
Road Wise is a detailed account of Fabian’s monthlong, 3,6000 mile scooter excursions to visit friends and see the countryside. During his journey he experiences oppressive heat, Biblical thunderstorms, very poor directions and multiple mechanical setbacks. He gets there in the end, despite crashing on a mountain road, and as a motoring Buddhist he discovers many new insights to life along the way. Written in the style of a novel, Fabians story of his journey to the heartland is transformed into an epic tale of self discovery. Don’t be put off by the fact this is an adventure on a scooter and not a motorcycle – it captures the essence and emotions of a proper adventure.