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Here’s How I Set Off on a RTW Journey as a Complete Novice Rider

 Growing pains of traveling on a motorcycle with no clue and no agenda.

Published on 09.25.2017

“Don’t lock your wrist up. That’s it. Go, go, go!”- Ryan’s cheers sent me wobbling across a small dusty plaza on the outskirts of Nazca. My newly purchased steed – a Chinese 150cc motorcycle – felt a little awkward as I tried to figure out how to start, balance, and stop the thing; but Ryan, a kindly motorcycle traveler who had agreed to teach me (a complete novice rider) to ride, was optimistic. “These Chinese bikes are pretty reliable, just carry spare spark plugs and adjust your carburetor a little in higher altitude. You’re not going to be doing more than 6,000 miles around Peru anyway, which I think is the limit for this little engine, so you’ll be just fine!”.

I ended up doing a lot more than six thousand miles; I forgot all about spark plugs and carburetors the very next day, and locked my wrist up more than once, which resulted in some spectacularly silly crashes. But Ryan was right: I was just fine. With absolutely zero previous motorcycling experience, eighteen months, 25,000 miles and various riding, working and adventuring stunts later, I felt I’d seen a very different South America.

A Motorcycle? Yes, Please!

In 2013, I found myself volunteering and backpacking around Peru. I was instantly in love with this big and incredibly diverse country, and as there was no deadline or plan to go home, I kept wandering from the coast to the mountains to the jungle and back, exploring and taking this fascinating New World in.

But on my travels, I kept meeting motorcyclists. In backpacker hotels and campsites, town squares and sleepy Andean villages, there they were: a different breed of traveler, riding these beautiful, mysterious machines, usually alone, usually so inexplicably awesome. I couldn’t help but wonder, what was it that they had which I, a public transport civilian, did not possess or understand? Was it simply a different kind of experience?

Round the World on a motorcycle as a complete novice rider
For a wallet breaking $1,200 I purchased my first motorcycle, a 150cc Chinese bike I would ride 25,000 miles around South America.

Determined to find out, I decided I’d get a motorcycle, too. Upon a chance meeting with Ryan, a Californian riding around Peru on his motorcycle, and asking whether he could help me get into this biking business, I found out the legal stuff wasn’t very important. I didn’t have a motorcycle license, but in Peru, nobody really cared about it. I didn’t know how to ride a motorcycle – but Ryan promised to teach me. I didn’t have a motorcycle – but for a whopping $1,200, I purchased a wonderful blue machine which I solemnly named Blinkin after Robin Hood’s blind servant from the movie “Men in Tights.”

After a day waiting on Blinkin’s papers and service, and a couple of hours learning to ride and practicing my figures eights, gears, and stops, I reckoned I’d learned everything I needed to know. Strapping my backpack on Blinkin’s tail with string and rope, I set off the following day.

No Plan is a Good Plan

Complete novice rider on a rtw journey

I didn’t have a particular route or length of the journey in mind: heading somewhat South-West, I simply wanted to explore Peru more. And after that? I was open to improvisation.

I crashed the bike within the first mile. A motorcycle with awkwardly secured luggage behaved differently than an unloaded one – that was my very first lesson in adventure riding. Picking up the bike and the remnants of my ego up, I set off again… Only to crash again a block down: the traffic in Nazca is pure chaos, and pedestrians simply ignore little motorcycles in hopes they can maneuver around.

But once I finally crept, elbowed and darted my way out of Nazca and hit the open road, I realized what was that preciously guarded secret of motorcyclists that the four-wheeled travelers didn’t know. It was freedom. A purer, more joyful, more exhilarating sense of freedom than I’d ever felt.

Riding RTW on a motorcycle as a complete novice rider

And that’s probably where I got completely and utterly hooked. Making my way slowly along the coast of the Pacific and across the Andes I realized I wouldn’t just ride around Peru. At Lake Titicaca, I crossed into Bolivia. A few months later, I found myself at the Argentinean border and eventually, in Ushuaia. In Tierra del Fuego, I ran out of money and stayed there for twelve weeks, working as a ranch hand training half-wild Patagonian horses. I pushed on into Chile the next year, back up North via Bolivia, back to Peru, into Ecuador and Colombia and finally, the Caribbean.

As I watched fishermen’s boats lulling lazily in the turquoise blue waters of Taganga Bay, I knew I was in deep trouble. I knew I was going to ride round the world: I wasn’t sure how, but I was certain I’d do it.

Better, Wiser

Now, after a journey across Europe two-up and a dirt riding experience in Canada and the States, I’m on the road indefinitely. I have a more powerful motorcycle now, more experience, and probably, more ambition. But I’m still a fan of crazy routes, improvised expeditions, and I still savor the same sense of freedom I did when I first hit the road with no clue and no agenda.

Setting off RTW as a complete novice rider

So if you’re a novice rider, but dream of a grand adventure, here are a few pointers to help you out there:

No experience?: I’d recommend doing at least a basic MSF course before you set out: two hours of learning may be enough to grasp the very basics of riding, but lessons with a professional trainer will do you good – plus, you need that legal piece of paper! As for the rest of it, you learn as you go along, gain new skills as you travel, and improve your riding as you face different terrain.

Not sure what motorcycle to choose?: It’s very individual, but a general rule of thumb is go second hand and go small. A lighter, cheaper machine is a great beginner’s bike: it’s easier to get used to two wheels if they don’t weigh over 500 pounds, and if you lay it down, the dents and scratches won’t matter as much on a used bike. Plus, a smaller, less shiny motorcycle means you’ll blend more with the locals. Take it easy and upgrade later!

Round the World on a motorcycle as a new motorcycle rider
Small bikes don’t run on Fanta, but they do keep your fuel costs significantly down.

Check your seasons: I’m all for going on an unexpected adventure, but some basic planning will help you avoid silly mistakes. Because I forgot that the seasons in the Southern hemisphere are reversed, I ended up getting hypothermia on the road to Ushuaia – September is snowstorm season there!

Watch your terrain: One of the biggest mistakes I made as a beginner was miscalculating distances in the mountains: what I thought was going to be an easy 200-mile ride turned into a dark, freezing cold nightmare in the Andes simply because I didn’t realize the same distance takes a lot longer in mountainous terrain than on a straight, nicely paved road.

Round the World on a motorcycle as a new rider
The Bolivian altiplano is spectacular, but very remote. Make sure you’re prepared to camp and cook your own food.

Pack light and pack well: I’m not suggesting you need the newest, most advanced luggage system out there, but an old backpack and a piece of string isn’t a great choice, either. There are plenty reasonably priced luggage options out there: pick one that will carry your stuff safely and securely, and remember: when packing, less is always more!

Create your own route: Getting informed and having a basic understanding of the countries you’re going to ride is great, but instead of being overwhelmed by all the advice and trying to visit all the “must see” places, create your own unique experience and sense of discovery rather than blindly follow someone else’s route. After all, this is your adventure!

Round the World on a motorcycle as a complete novice

Take it slow: The slower you go, the more you see, the less you spend. Immersing yourself in a local culture is a lot more rewarding than racing right past it, and the slower you travel, the less overall expenses you have: staying in places longer usually means cheaper lodging (most campsites and hostels are happy to offer discounts for longer stay), lower fuel costs (doing less distance daily and not having to ride at top speed will keep it down), and better food budget (it’s much easier to shop and cook for yourself when you have the time).

One day at a time!: When I first picked my way gingerly out into the crazy traffic in Nazca, I did not know there were nearly two years and over 25,000 miles ahead of me. I thought I’d just ride around Peru, but I enjoyed it so much I just kept on riding. If you’re unsure about setting out on a very big journey just yet, plan a smaller ride. For example, go to Mexico; if, once you reach the border of Guatemala, you feel like you want to keep riding, go ahead. But if not, turn around: everyone’s adventures are different, and there are no trophies.

Egle Gerulaityte Author ProfileAbout the Author: Riding around the world extra slowly and not taking it too seriously, Egle Gerulaityte is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor of the Women ADV Riders magazine, Egle focuses on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeled maniacs out there.
Photos by Paul Stewart

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

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10 thoughts on “Here’s How I Set Off on a RTW Journey as a Complete Novice Rider

  1. Very engaging, refreshing story. Helpful reminder to “Just Do It” to those of us caught up in the fussy decision-making process about what is the best bike, the best GPS, the best packing system, the best time of year, the best tent… You made me want to just ride my bike and enjoy. Thanks. I look forward to following your adventures.

  2. One additional way to save money is when you enter a hostel is to ask how much it costs, then ask how much it costs, “sin factura.” If they don’t have to pay government tax, they can lower the price a bit to pass along the savings to you.
    I have just stopped, for a while at least, traveling for eight years and about 300,000 k in Europe, Africa and several times to and from South America. I highly support your telling folks to learn Spanish, both to really make contact and to share your culture. I am surprised at the number of long term/distance riders who don’t bother to learn much.
    As a motorcycle instructor and racer (started 40 years late) your suggestions about taking an MSF course (or equivalent) and going only as far as you are comfortable, starting with Mexico, are excellent. Learning about basic maintenance and troubleshooting along with the Spanish for parts names are also very useful.

  3. I love your outlook on motorcycle riding! You hit the nail on the head as to what makes traveling on a motorcycle different than a car. I also appreciate your view of traveling on a motorcycle as even though the community is super friendly and willing to guide you to the best places to see that sometimes discovering them on your own is the best way to experience it. The adventure will be particularly special to you because it adds to that sense of freedom. There’s so much to see in this world that it’s very easy to get caught up in trying to visit everything. Eventually you end up being tied down to your agenda which eats away at your sense of freedom. Thanks for the reminder to not over think the route!

  4. Pingback: If anyone is bit scared to just hit the road, here might be some inspiration. I love finding this stories! – Cool Motorcycles and More

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