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ADV RidesTouring RegionCentral AmericaClassic Motorcycle Documentary Film from 1971 – “Cycles South”

Classic Motorcycle Documentary Film from 1971 – “Cycles South”

Four men drop everything and head south for an adventure of a lifetime

Published on 12.30.2013

Cycles South is a classic motorcycle documentary film from 1971 that is surprisingly entertaining for a movie that most people have never heard of. Four young men from Denver Colorado decide to drop everything and see how far they can travel south on the newly paved (then) Pan-American Highway that runs from Alaska to Panama.

With just a few spares, a bed roll, a change of clothes and very little money, they set off for a trip of a lifetime.  Their adventure tour takes them through seven countries over the course of four months before they run out of money in Panama and ship their bikes back home.  Starting off on a set of old BSA motorcycles, they eventually experience mechanical problems and decide to trade their bikes in for Kawasaki Bushwacker 175’s that they purchase on credit.

This is definitely a motorcycle documentary film from another era. A time before “politically correct” ever existed. It feels a bit like “On Any Sunday” with a Machismo spin.  Hedonistic pleasures are explored throughout the film at every opportunity.


The movie begins by introducing Dick Johnson, their drunken cameraman. Some of their escapades include a stop at a hippie commune where they indulge in free love and psychedelic drugs.  As they cross the border into Mexico, they make a beeline for the local house of prostitution. As they reach Acapulco, the group decides to ditch their helmets and jackets because of the hot weather. Cycles South is the ultimate male fantasy film where the men run with the bulls, drink lots of beer and search for female companionship in every new town.

While some may feel this motorcycle documentary is a bit over the top, the film does manage to capture the ideal of living a life of freedom on a motorcycle. When the group reaches the western beaches of mainland Mexico, they discover they can survive almost indefinitely in this tropical paradise. With a speargun and snorkel gear, they are able to catch more fish and lobster than they can eat. They trade their extra seafood for other necessities as they camp each night on a new beautiful beach in the open air. Even though on a tight budget, the group still find opportunities to participate in local activities and enjoy cultural experiences.

We warn you, this film can be a bit cheesy at times.  But if you can overlook some of its flaws you’ll enjoy a great historic piece that captures the essence of a true motorcycle adventure. The theme of this motorcycle documentary still rings true today… You don’t need a lot of money, an expensive bike or a lot of planning to have the best time of your life. True adventure happens when you let go of control and allow fate to happen. A line from the end of the movie says it all…

“Do it today, before you get hung up, or you’ll probably never do it at all.”

Author: Rob Dabney

Rob Dabney started a lifelong obsession with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he purchased his first bike – a 1982 Honda MB5. Through his 20’s and 30’s he competed in off-road desert races, including the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. Eventually, his proclivity for exploration led him to dual sport and adventure riding. Rob’s never-ending quest to discover what’s around the next bend has taken him on Adventures in Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

Author: Rob Dabney

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Motorcycles and Surfing - Can You Combine Two Passions? » ADV Pulse
July 30, 2014 12:51 pm

[…] It sounds like the perfect adventure as they ride rugged off-road tracks en-route to a remote beach, then spend several days surfing the waves and spear fishing for lobster. In the evenings they camp under the stars with a warm breeze, listening to the crashing waves. These unforgettable scenes repeat themselves all the way down to Panama. It’s like a combination of two epic 1960′s era adventure films, “Endless Summer” and “Cycles South.” […]

LeRoy Knight
LeRoy Knight
July 18, 2015 4:31 pm

yes it was kind of like that, the riding anyway. those who were not born yet missed a lot


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