Motorcycle diaries: World’s epic rides
David McGonigal was the first person to ride a motorcycle on all seven continents and all time zones. Here are his top 10 rides.
1. Norway’s Troll Ladder
The Trollstigen is the stuff of legends in a land where many roads seemingly defy gravity. Located in Rauma, roughly midway between Bergen and Trondheim, this short stretch of road offers 11 hairpin bends dropping down a ninedegree descent. Oh, and the road is usually wet and fog is quite common. You are likely to encounter many other motorcyclists, particularly at the viewing platform at the top, before you commit yourself to the descent.
2. Ride through Tibet to Everest
The Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world, have several operators running motorcycle tours there, in Nepal, India, Bhutan and Tibet. The preferred bike is an Indian Royal Enfield and the ultimate goal is Mt Everest from the Tibetan side. Nomadic Knights offers a 14-day ride from Kathmandu that takes you across the Chinese border and over several 5000 metre-plus passes to Rongbuk Monastery and all the way to Everest Base Camp that lies at 5200m. See nomadicknights.com.
3. The Great Ocean Road
The Australian road that makes every ‘‘best of’’ list is Victoria’s B100 from Torquay to Warrnambool. Better known as the Great Ocean Road, it has everything a touring motorcyclist could want: bends and straights, great wildlife and stunning views. It can be done in a day but is better covered over two. The best riding section is between Lorne and Apollo Bay but the whole road is a brilliant ride that will be better enjoyed the more you stop. See visitgreatoceanroad.org.au.
4. Panamericana to Ushuaia
Ride to the bottom of the world. The Pan-American Highway runs from the top of Alaska to the tip of South America with a 100km break called the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. While much of Patagonia is a grey, cold, barren place when you cross to the island of Tierra del Fuego you’re in a land of forests, mountains and lakes. Eventually, when you come into the Ushuaia ‘‘fin del mundo’’ expect to see lots of on-road/offroad GS BMWs with number plates from everywhere.
5. Italy’s Amalfi Coast
The SS145 between the cities of Sorrento and Salerno is only about 60km in length. It’s not for the faint-hearted, particularly when you find yourself sharing the outside of a clifftop with an exuberantly driven bus. The scenery and brightly painted villages are grand but you’ll want to stop to appreciate them. There’s room to park a bike, not so much for a car. The road swoops and soars into towns like Positano, and the Tyrrhenian Sea far below is never more than a missed braking mark away.
6. Russia: Trans Siberia
Russia is the biggest country on Earth and on the 10,000km ride from Vladivostok to St Petersburg you’ll become very aware of that. It has even been ridden in winter. I found hospitable locals, historic cities and endless birch forest make this a great summer ride, just as Ewan McGregor and Charley Borman recounted in Long Way Round. The bureaucratic preparations are much worse than the experience on the ground. See davebarr.com; longwayround.com.
7. Hana Highway, Maui
The spectacular coastline of the Hawaiian Island of Maui features on this 100km ride. It combines routes 36 and 360 between the town of Hana and Kahului airport on the north coast. There are more than 600 bends and about 60 bridges along the route that mainly runs through dense rainforest. See hanamaui.com.
The US West Coast offers a great road trip. While much of the attention is on the Los Angeles to San Francisco section, I prefer the backwoods of
8. US Pacific Coast
Highways 1 and 101 between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. If you stick to Highway 1 along the coast you go through quaint towns like Bodega Bay (made famous by Hitchcock’s The Birds), Crescent City and Astoria. You pass by coastal redwood forests with the tallest trees in the world, a remarkable Glass Beach at Fort Bragg and Cape Meares’ impossible Octopus Tree.
9. Los Caracoles Pass, ChileAlthough
the main highway from the Argentinean town of Mendoza up the Andes to the Chilean border in the shadow of Aconcagua (6961m) is a series of steps, from the border post at 3200m the road plummets down towards Santiago de Chile. The last time I rode down here, my companion was passed by the local bus while negotiating the 20 successive hairpin bends covered in a scattering of loose gravel. Los Caracoles means ‘‘the snails’’.
10. Norwegian Coast to Nordkapp
Nordkapp, or North Cape, is the northernmost point of Europe. That would be reason enough to visit. But if you follow the coast from Bergen along the E39 and E6 to get there you’ll be on one of the most convoluted rides in the world. There will be ferries and fiords and remarkable scenery throughout the 2300km journey. Then the trees shrink and disappear, and finally you take a ferry to the island of Mageroya and ride past reindeer and snowdrifts to the top of Europe.
Himalayan ride with Nomadic Knights: The road to Mt Everest.