Could there be a more complete feeling of freedom than roaring a motorbike through the most untamed destinations on earth?
The world’s best motorbike journeys are defined by adventure, iconicity, and liberation. But the best motorbike journeys are also those that reveal something that only two wheels and an engine can find. Take these two examples. Hurtling across the old Route 66 on a chopper is a great experience, yet it’s not an exclusive one. Conversely, winding through the Myanmar mountains on dirt tracks provides unrivaled originality; anyone without a motorbike can’t tread where you are going.
It’s this intrepid exploration of the unknown that’s the base for inclusion on this list of the world’s greatest motorbike journeys. So flick the wrist and leave behind a trail of dust as you discover the world’s best motorbike journeys.
Classic route – Pick up a bike in Yangon and seek out the roads where buses can’t pass.
Myanmar is slowly opening to the world and its enchantment remains limited to a select handful of destinations connected by domestic flights. Head off on two wheels and you’ll discover parts of the country that have hardly seen Western eyes in over half a century. Rutted muddy trails weave through forest clad mountains, winding past tiny villages of wooden shacks and bewildered locals with beaming smiles. Also expect to find thousands of ancient temples and an exultant spirituality. Allow a couple of weeks to really get a feel for the area.
2) Namibia and Botswana
Classic route – From Cape Town to the Namib Desert, east across the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, then north to Chobe National Park and Victoria Falls.
Imagine riding a motorbike through lion country. Or roaring across the world’s highest sand dunes. Or slowing to allow herds (note the plural) of elephants to cross the road. Practically uninhabited and cascading natural superlatives, these two countries offer a safari playground that can be explored by motorbike. Distances are huge and being self sufficient with camping gear is essential. Just remember to keep the nightly fire aglow to ward off hyenas and other big cats.
Classic route – Just keep driving south until you’re on the tip of South America.
The southern reaches of South America are wild and almost uninhabited, mile after mile of dazzling mountain scenery dominating farmland pastures. Towns are lucky if they have one bus a week and a motorbike offers an unrivaled freedom to explore the wilderness. Bring a tent and ogle the constant panoramas, just remember to keep your nerve when traversing precipitous narrow tracks smothered in ice.
4) Palawan Island, The Philippines
Classic route – Start in beautiful El Nido on the southern tip, then loop around the island, either dropping the bike back in El Nido or at Puerto Princesa.
600kms long and bursting with vibrancy, Palawan combines off the beaten track adventure with a handful of idyllic beach destinations rapidly rising in popularity. It’s a great beginner’s ride. The roads are rough and ready but not dangerous, locals are invariably welcoming, and after a day in the saddle you’ll find a cute wooden hut overlooking a resplendent beach. A week is long enough to traverse the whole island, so long as you don’t get stuck in a hidden beach paradise along the way.
5) The Andes Mountains and Reliving Che Guevara
Classic route – Many variations of Chile / Argentina – Peru – Bolivia – Ecuador – Colombia.
This classic journey meanders north through the Andes, cutting through a few different countries and covering some of the planet’s most dangerous roads. For iconicity, follow the route of a young Che Guevara and his first trip out of Argentina (made famous by the book and movie The Motorcycle Diaries). A decent knowledge of Spanish is almost essential, as once you’re off the South American tourist trail, you’re into the land of quaint village traditions and doing as the locals do.
6) Across Australia’s Red Center
Classic route – Perth to Sydney, or Perth to Cairns via Alice Springs and Darwin.
The mix of scorched nothingness and blistering heat makes Australia a motorbike journey for experienced riders. It could be well over 500 miles between towns so you’ll need plenty of water supplies and a satellite phone in case of breakdown. This barren and seemingly endless desert offers an absolute immersion in landscapes at their primitive best. Journeying south is a little easier as you can mix in stretches of deserted beaches along route. Going all the way from Perth to Darwin is an experience of beauty and fatigue.
7) Northern India
Classic route – Head northwest from Delhi to the foothills of the Himalayas, then wind all the way east to the tea plantations around Darjeeling.
The colors, the smells, the enthusiasm, the madness…India is always an enchanting journey into an almost ethereal world. This is intensified by motorbike. Two wheels can delve deep into the heart of the country and its culture. That means villagers shitting on the streets and mobs of single males crowding around your machine. But it also means the most vibrant and alternative show on earth. Enhance the experience further by traveling on a classic Royal Enfield; riding an Enfield through the Northern India tea plantations is as iconic as riding a Harley from Oakland to San Francisco. India is huge so allow a month if possible. The north has far more scenic diversity than the south.
8) Sudan / South Sudan
Classic route – North to south through the Sahara.
It’s one long dusty road through Sudan and South Sudan, the challenging stretch of tarmac cutting through the edges of the Sahara Desert. The riding is not particularly inspiring but meeting the locals is a fascinating experience. Few travelers ever stop in the traditional towns throughout the country as there isn’t anything to actually see. However, the local commitment to hospitality ensures you and your motorbike will be treated like royalty, with continual invites to sleep, eat, meet local chiefs, and most importantly, share a glass of sweet coffee.
Classic route – Hire a bike in Luang Prabang and wind into the forested mountains towards the Vietnam border.
If you’ve never ridden a motorbike then some of this list isn’t going to be suitable. Adventure is good, but you don’t want to die. Laos offers amazing motorbike experiences for beginners; main roads are in decent condition yet side trips allow you to test out rough and moderately challenging tracks; tourist infrastructure means you can travel light, but you’re never more than an hour from a destination that’s firmly off the standard trail; then the lush landscapes and charming villages exude both a sense of adventure and a harmony with nature. Make sure you respect the signs that warn of unexploded ordinances.
10) New Zealand
Classic route – Ninety Mile Beach in the far north to the fjords of the far south.
New Zealand’s landscapes oscillate between the sublime and surreal, each angle a new immersion in Middle Earth and natural drama. Roads meander past alpine lakes and volcanic craters, green forests juxtapose with jagged snow-fringed mountains, and it’s impossible to shake the impression that you’re riding through a famous movie location. The roads are in perfect condition yet you’ll rarely pass another vehicle, and there are good options to either camp on municipal grounds or take Mom and Pop guesthouses in tiny towns.