Nuno Cerca is on a first-name basis with adventure. The wilds of Mozambique and East Timor are among the intrepid destinations the 30-year-old biomedical engineer from Braga, Portugal has explored by motorcycle. So it’s no surprise that a snippet from a National Geographic documentary about the Gobi Desert in Mongolia was all it took to inspire Cerca to hit the road again in search of unscripted two-wheeled adventure.
“I’d already been in two deserts—the Mojave in California and the Outback in Australia,” Cerca says, “But I saw those images of the Gobi and I thought, this is the desert as you dream it—wild, tough, lonely, simple and beautiful.”
“And, without a question in my mind,” he says, “I knew I had to see the Gobi riding a motorcycle.”
Cerca contacted Tenuun Tour Co., Ltd., an adventure outfitter in Ulaanbaatar that he found online, to arrange a motorcycle rental (the off-road-friendly Yamaha Serow 225) for his trip. Because there are no gas stations or basic provisions in the outermost reaches of the Gobi Desert, the company also organized an SUV support vehicle to accompany Cerca along his route, carrying gas, camping equipment, food and water. He then set off from Ulaanbaatar for six days on a roadless ride through the dunes and wide-open desert steppes that stretch into the nothingness south of the Mongolian capital. The SUV, Cerca says, always stayed several miles behind him, appearing only when it was time to refuel, eat or sleep. And apart from encounters with a handful of nomadic families—a few of which hosted him in their yurts—Cerca he had the desert to himself, his machine and his two-wheeled whims.
“I was completely alone in the Gobi,” he says, “with one of the world’s biggest and wildest playgrounds at my disposal—it was an amazing feeling.”
When it comes to wild playgrounds that cry for exploration by motorcycle, the world is rich with both off the grid and more familiar locales that boast big curves, little to no traffic and boundless adventure.
New Zealand is blessed with stunning glacial, alpine and rainforest environments, uncrowded roads and a wealth of tour operators offering North and South Island forays with top-notch bikes for hire.
And for riding terrain that’s further removed from a western sensibility, think the land of the former Maharajas, with a tour through Rajasthan, India. Or set your sights on the end of the world with a motorcycle quest through the remote regions of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and Chile. With its steep mountain passes, winding roads and Hmong hill tribe villages, north Vietnam is another exotic wonderland for motorcyclists.
“I’d always been curious about Vietnam and its people,” says Charles Drummond, a 68-year-old retired marketing executive from Walla Walla, WA, who toured North Vietnam in late 2007 with Offroad Vietnam, a motorcycle tour company in Hanoi.
During the ten-day trip, Drummond departed Hanoi with a small group of riders and headed north, close to the Chinese border, on a circuitous route that led up steep mountain passes terraced with ride paddies. “The trip was challenge as far as my riding skills, but I survived,” Drummond says. “It was delightfully grueling ... We rode for four to five hours a day and there were mountain passes of ten and 12,000 feet. Homestays along the way made the trip even more rewarding.
The mix of challenging riding terrain and cultural wonderment of motorcycle adventure in Vietnam makes for quite a cocktail. “Adventure riders like North Vietnam a lot,” says Anh Wu, co-owner of Offroad Vietnam, “The roads go all around the mountains with many blind curves, and it can take 20 kilometers to complete one mountain or hill because it winds around so much.”
What's makes the experience even more special are the locals. “The Hmong people who live in the countryside, they cheat nobody and they are friendly,” he says. “If they see a foreigner, they consider it will bring good luck to them, and they welcome them like a god.”
Halfway across the world, in the land once called Gaul, locals don’t exactly revere motorcycle tourists as deities. But you can still live like a god in France during a motorcycle trip in the country’s rugged south west, where the department of the Lot is home to some of Europe’s most sublime riding terrain.
“France is very motorcycle-friendly,” says Pete Roots, who, together with his wife, Chris, runs Bikers-Lot, offering bed and breakfast accommodation in the couple’s home as well as guided tours throughout the Lot region. “You park outside of a café and people will come up to you and talk to you about your bike,” he says, “and cars part like the Red Sea to let you through. It’s brilliant.”
Chris Sharp, a seasoned motorcyclist and hotelier from the Channel Island of Guernsey, made several trips with Roots while a guest at Bikers-Lot and raves about the region.
“You could spend three weeks riding in the Lot Valley alone,” said Sharp, “It’s just a wonderful mixture, from beautiful rolling countryside to 1700- and 1800-meter-high mountains—and then the Gorges du Tarn itself is just breathtaking.”
For Sharp, having the cozy surrounds of Bikers-Lot as a home base was a key element of his enjoyment. “A biking holiday is really like a skiing holiday, you don’t realize how much energy and concentration you’re using,” says Sharp, “By the end of the day you feel you’ve achieved something, and what you really need is a good meal, conversation and a nice place to stay.”
Sharp welcomes the chance to improve his skills when riding with Roots. “It’s kind of like having riding lessons. Pete’s really good at judging the pace you want to go, and his knowledge of the roads is phenomenal ... I come away feeling like my riding and confidence has improved 200 percent.”
For more on the world’s most stunning locales for ramping up your riding skill, see our Slideshow of Gonzo Motorcycle Destinations.