Intercontinental Motorcycle Touring/Popular Routes
Some routes around the world are very popular or yield exceptional attraction among riders because of the spectacular beauty of their surroundings, their extreme fitness for motorcycle riding, or simply their convenience. Similarly, some particular destinations carry a strong mythical value for riders (such as reaching Ushuaia at the Southern tip of South America) and many of them are systematically featured in intercontinental routes.
- The Alps (France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria) - The Alps mountain is a paradise for motorcyclists because of the striking landscapes, the infinite number of twisty roads, and the rich culture from the region. One the advantage of the Alps is that is allows connecting various countries of Europe making it easy to include this region into intercontinental routes which very often go through Europe.
- Route Napoléon (France) - This section of the French Alps goes from Grenoble to Cannes, on the Côte d'Azur. The route got its name from the fact that Napoleon used it in 1815 on his return from Elba. It is now a 325 km (200 mi.)section of the Route nationale 85. The main interests of the Route Napoleon, like for most Alpine roads, are the striking beauty of the surroundings, the rick culture, and pleasure riding through such a long winding road provides. From its North end the whole of Western and Northern Europe can easily be reached, while from its South end Italy and Spain can be reached.
- Cairo to Cape Town - Riding from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa (or the opposite), along the Eastern side of Africa, has been one of the most popular trans-African route with motorcyclists, especially English-speaking ones, since the route conveniently goes through many English-speaking countries. The route also has a strong geographical significance, going from one end of the continent to the other, while being pretty much the only continuous one viable, although it does require going through Sudan, Ethiopia, or Uganda which feature a higher level of risks to travelers due to local political tensions. The route also has the benefit of avoiding the complexity of going through Central Africa (D.R. Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda) although some travelers deliberately chose to ride through these countries. Another advantage is that both ends of the route offer good land, air, or sea connections to other continents such as the Middle East and Europe (from Cairo) and South America, India, and Australia (from Cape Town or Johannesburg).
- Paris to Dakar through the coastal road - Designed as a four-week rally raid in the late 1970s, the Paris-Dakar Trans-Saharan route became somewhat of a mythical reference to many European adventure riders. The initial route was going through the Algerian, Nigerien, and Malian deserts before reaching Senegal's capital, Dakar, on the Atlantic Coast (see the 'Across the Sahara through Tamanrasset' paragraph below).
- Trans-Saharan road through Tamanrasset - This mythical route was made popular in Europe with the first Paris-Dakar rally raids in the 1980s. Coming from coastal Algeria, riders were diving South into the heart of the Sahara desert, through tough sandy tracks, reaching places that evoked the times of the trans-Saharan caravans from centuries ago, such as Ghardaïa, El Goléa, the Ahaggar Mountains, Tamanrasset, the Ténéré desert and its famous lonely tree (now a modern sculpture), or Agadez in Niger. Political tensions and terrorism, first in Algeria through the 1990s, then in the entire Sahel region until now, have made this route less and less traveled by riders; the Dakar rally raid itself having even permanently moved to South America in the 2008.
- The Karakoram Highway (Pakistan) Also known as KKH, this is one of the most spectacular mountain roads in the world linking Northern Pakistan to Western China across the Karakoram mountain range, and reaching 4,693 m (15,397 ft) in altitude. Riding conditions are extreme with the high altitude, the wild rules of the road, the many blind turns and tunnels, the sometimes rough terrain and, more recently, the added stress due to political tensions in the region. This said, the road is often explored by tourists and having ridden the KKH, in the very heart of Asia, at the crossroad of so many ancient cultures, is probably one of the most rewarding event in the life of a global rider.
- The Trans-Siberian Highway - Having been regularly ridden since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Trans-Siberian road links Vladivostok, on the Russian Pacific coast, near North Korea, to Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains, on the natural border between European and Asian Russia (Siberia). The route follows more or less the Trans-Siberian Railway. The popularity of this road resides in the fact that it offers, in summertime, a direct link between Europe and the Pacific Ocean, thus avoiding the complexity of the South and West Asian roads. Although construction has been going for years to make it a fully asphalted road, the 2,000 km (1,240 mi.) long stretch between Chita and Birobidzhan, along the Amur River, known as the Amur Highway, still features some extremely difficult sections sometimes running for hundreds of kilometers. West of Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk the road connects to the dense European Russian network easily leading to the rest of Europe. The other end of the road, the ocean port of Vladivostok, offers sea freight connections to North America via South Korea, and is the Trans-Siberian Railway's Eastern terminal. One branch of the road requires going through Northern Kazakhstan, and the city of Petropavl, while another allows going around that area. Very few riders have ridden the Trans-Siberian Highway in wintertime when temperatures are well below freezing point. The main drawback of the route - aside from the Chita-Birobidzhan section - is its monotony since it more or less following the same latitudes, thus featuring thousands of miles of taiga. Back in the early 1990s, the road was known to be roamed by organized bandits, often linked to the local mafias, but this threat has now mostly disappeared, at least from a traveler's standpoint. One branch off the Trans-Siberian Highway is the very difficult "Road of Bones" which goes through the Siberian Northeast to the ocean port of Magadan.
- The Australian Outback and the Southern Cross - Australia is almost a continent in itself and traveling there as part of an intercontinental ride includes transporting the motorcycle in and/or out of the country. Immense territories and open spaces are ideal for adventure motorcycle touring while reaching destinations such as Ayers Rock in the very center of the country can be a goal in itself. Another goal for some riders is to travel through the "Southern Cross" linking the farthermost cardinal points of Australia. Although the Southeast of the country has a reliable road network, some transcontinental roads are still made of dirt and used by heavy trucks.
- The Pan-American Highway - This succession of asphalt roads from Alaska to Patagonia allows riding on a good surface across the entire continental block of the Americas in an almost uninterrupted fashion (see some popular sections of the highway, below). The only gap in the highway is the Darien Gap, between North and South America (see this entry in the section about road blockers, below). The highway is often chosen by intercontinental riders, riding it from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Ushuaia, Argentina, because it features a significant latitude span of 124° from North to South, is highly meaningful ('crossing the Americas'), offers a variety of landscapes and cultures along the way, and is definitely noticeable on any world map featuring the route (see details about Prudhoe Bay and Ushuaia, below).
- Prudhoe Bay (Alaska) - Opposite to Ushuaia at the Southern tip of the Americas, Prudhoe Bay is located at the Northern tip of the Americas, on Alaska's Arctic Ocean coasts. In that sense, it has a high geographical significance and many riders include it on their trans-American route, along with Ushuaia, to formally materialize the extend of their ride through the Americas. Prudhoe Bay being located at a Northern latitude of 70° and Ushuaia at a Southern latitude of 54°, the latitude span covered by linking both destination is of 124°, representing a third of the Earth's circumference. The road leading to Deadhorse, Alaska, Purdhoe Bay's main nearby city, is a dirt one used by many oil tanker trucks.
- The US Southwest - The many roads crossing the US states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado are some of the most stunning in the World going through vast rocky deserts, high mountains, and mind blowing rock formations, most featured in dozens of national and state parks: Monument Valley, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Joshua Tree, Zion or Yosemite. Beyond landscapes, the region also features a strong Native American heritage, especially from the Navajo, Hopi, and Apache people, that definitely adds to the region's richness. Riding a motorcycle through that region definitely bring back memories of old tales from the West where the horse was the primary mean of transportation. Freeways, highways, and the majority of the small country roads are in excellent shape and well serviced, making traveling through that immense region easy. Off-road riding capabilities are also plenty.
- Pacific Coast Highway - Also known as PCH or Highway 1, this is one of the most beautiful roads in the World offering almost 600 km (360 mi.) of riding on the edge of California's Coastal Range overlooking the blue Pacific Ocean and through wild Mediterranean vegetation landscapes. Although often narrow and winding, the road is very safe and well maintained. It features some beautiful sights such as Big Sur, the California Central Coast, the Hearst Castle, dozens of surf beaches, and many opportunities for marine wildlife watching. The road runs between San Francisco and Santa Barbara, although it also links the Malibu and Los Angeles area but requiring to ride through a stretch of freeway.
- Patagonia (Argentina) - Patagonia makes most of Argentina South of Buenos Aires and the Pampa region. This 2,000 km (1,300 mi.) long, triangular-shaped, vast expense of steppes is bordered by the wild Atlantic Ocean on the East and the Andes mountain range on the West. Roamed by wild vicuñas and sheep and featuring many species of marine mammals and birds along its coast, Patagonia is ideal for long distance riders. The main drawback is, however, the constant powerful winds coming from the East that has its toll on the riders in the long run. Many roads along the Andes are gravel roads, locally known as "ripio", making their way between mountains and glacier lakes in some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet. Some of these roads, such as the "Ruta 40", are extremely popular with long-distance riders. Most people who ride through Patagonia attempt to reach Ushuaia, at the Southern tip of the Americas. There are many roads that allow crossing from Patagonia into Chile.
- Ushuaia (Argentina) - Ushuaia is famous for being the World's southernmost city (although the title has been regularly challenged by the nearby Chilean town of Puerto Williams). It is located at the Southern tip of South America, on the island of Tierra del Fuego, at a Southern latitude of 54°48′, and only 1,000 km (660 mi.)
- The Southern Andes (Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina) - The 4,000 km (2,600 mi.) long, North-South mountain range of the Southern Andes, on the Western edge of South America, is a prime destination for mountain road motorcyclists. Through the Andes the rider can travel in Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. However, the range extends even further into Ecuador, Columbia, and Venezuela but under a tropical weather. Southern Bolivia, in the region of the Salar de Uyuni, features some very difficult terrain for hundreds of kilometers and at very high altitude, often above 4,000 m (12,000 ft). The local cultures, either pre- or post-Columbian, are fascinating and offer unlimited opportunities for off-motorcycle tourism.
- In 1999, Slovenian motorcyclist Benka Pulko succeeded in shipping her bike from Chile to Antarctica and in riding it for a few miles on the seventh continent, a first in History. Although this challenge can still be met with proper logistics and means only the most motivated riders will embark in such a unique adventure where riding opportunities remain extremely limited.