Iceland is wild. It’s the first place we’ve ridden abroad where we’ve had to stop and stare at the scenery. The island is ringed by Route 1’s tarmac, but turn inland at Grafarkirkja and you’re met by river crossings and tracks galore. The liquid-cooled BMW R1200GS copes well with deep river crossings – the air intakes are positioned high so that the engine can breathe when water is running well over the tops of the cylinder heads. Keep riding the dirt tracks north west until you hit tarmac again on Route 32. Stay in mountain huts. These are dotted all over the interior and come with natural hot running water courtesy of the local volcano. Don’t worry about booking in advance.
Paved roads can be dull in Iceland, but check out the twisty Routes 360 and 435 close to Nesjavallavirkjun geothermal power plant. Be careful of high winds, though, they can drive at 20 metres per second and switch direction in an instant – pretty difficult to cope with when you’re leaned into them on a dirt track. Test your off-road riding with Simon and Chris on their Icelandic Adventure. Six days on a BMW F800GS will cost £2900. Go to offroadskills.com for more information. Visit later in the season after all the snow has melted. September is best. Return flights will only cost £100.
New Zealand with Andre Newlands
Phenomenal riding roads with minimal traffic set against a backdrop of movie-set landscapes and laid-back locals who love sharing their country with visitors. Its small geographic area is stuffed with turquoise blue lakes, alpine passes, winding coastal roads, sub-tropical rain forest and perfect surfaces. You’re also never days away from civilisation, so it’s possible to have an adventure but still have easy access to petrol, food and accommodation. This means you pack a lighter bike, which in turn means you’re riding a better-handling machine.
Simply put, the North Island is ‘bush and beaches’ to the South’s ‘mountains and epic landscapes’. You can get off-road on both. Ride out along the 90 mile beach at the top of the North Island, or follow the Rainbow Road when it’s open to the public between Boxing Day and 5pm Easter Monday. Ride one of André’s 44 BMWs on a Paradise Motorcycle tour. Going on the 18-day North and South Island with a friend sharing a twin room solo-riding R1200GSs will cost £5595. Flights cost as little as £550, but avoid touring in the colder months between May and September. Renting a R1200GS will set you back £122 per day.
South Africa with Damon I’Anson
The biggest difference between riding here and most of the planet is the space. The whole South African coastal mountain range, which stretches 500 miles from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, is riddled with routes. On one side lies the Little Karoo semi-desert and on the other the Garden Route. The best riding – tarred and gravel – I’ve seen anywhere is in the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, a land-locked country rising above the heart of South Africa. Miles of near-deserted snaking black-top that make the most of the vast landscape. It’s proper Africa.
The prime reason for using a big GS in southern Africa is availability of both bikes and spares. Every second bike out here is a GS and BMW have by far the biggest dealer network. Range is an important factor – 250 miles between fuel stops is not uncommon. Tyre choice is super- critical on the loose stuff, with big-block knobblies the way to go. However, weight and grunt mean the big GSs mash dual-purpose rubber at quite a rate. My advice: keep it nice and light.
Ride with Damon I’Anson on a Blazing Trails Tour. Ten days costs £1795, or £2445 flight-inclusive. Going solo? Try for £450 return flights in spring or autumn when the weather is best. Hiring an R1200GS with luggage costs around £100 per day.
North America with Richard Millington
There are epic distances to travel in North America, a continent full of massive variety. Avoid Route 66 – which was built as a trunk road and is best compared to the UK’s A1 – and a wealth of different opportunities appear. Turn off the tarmac just north of Mexican Hat in Utah and find yourself in the Valley of the Gods. Race up the side of the nearest mesa on the Moki Dugway, a dirt road full of hairpins. Chances are you’ll drop the GS at least once on a long journey, but they’re surprisingly easy to pick up. When they topple, the cylinder heads rest on the ground, stopping the bike about 30° from horizontal.
It’s much easier to pick it up from that point, than haul on another adventure bike that’s lying flat. Further North, dirt roads become more frequent. My favourite is the Top Of The World Highway in Alaska and the Yukon. It’s challenging and twisty at times, but it’ll give you great memories: the tiny Dawson ferry operated by one man, the outpost in Chicken, the dirt road on the way to Boundary where one bloke serves you coffee. Only problem is, the border’s actually two miles further up the road. Ride North America with Richard Millington’s Alaska and the Canadian Rockies Tour. 20 days on a BMW R1200GS will cost £6495. Book flights three months in advance to get the best deal and expect to pay £830 for a return to Anchorage.
South America with Mirko Heilhecker
Prefer riding on tarmac? The best routes are definitely in southern Peru. High mountains and curves all the way – no traffic at all – and you can pull the throttle on the GS without fear of landing yourself in too much trouble. Ride east from Nazca on the 26A to Izcahuaca and then north to Abancay and Cusco. That road is stuffed with corners and the tarmac is very good quality – better than nearly anything you can find in Europe. There aren’t many local cars, but watch out for buses. Peruvian bus companies employ hell-drivers and as you might expect they don’t give an inch. Nazca is close to the ocean, but as you head up into the Andes it’ll hit 5000 metres above sea level. The GS handles the altitude much better than my old carburettor-fed Honda Africa Twin, but it does lose power as you ascend.
Want a serious challenge? Ride the Paso de Jama between Chile’s Atacama Desert and Argentina. But when you get to the top of the pass just before crossing into Argentina, take a small road north into Bolivia. It’s a three-day ride through volcano, hot springs, and flocks of flamingos. Take extra fuel because – surprise, surprise – there aren’t any petrol stations .
Ride South America with Mirko Heilhecker on Edelweiss’ Adventure Altiplano Tour: 17 days for £4973. Or plan a solo trip in June, September or October and fly to Santiago for £580 return.
Or ride your own bike to Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan sounds like it’s at the other end of the world, but it takes just ten days to ride there from the UK. Most of its population is nomadic and live in yurt camps. They’re a friendly lot, even if you don’t have any language in common – with a bit of gesticulating you’ll be invited in to eat and sleep with a local family. Getting there involves riding through Ukraine, Russia and flat Kazakhstan. The latter is vast and if you’ve got time, drop off the road and cut corners wherever you want. Some yurt camps are at 10,000 feet and get very cold at night. Sheep dung fires work well if you don’t mind the smell, but don’t last all night. Take a thick sleeping bag. You can ride your own bike to Kyrgyzstan and China with Steve Hotson on a 66-day journey. Check out motoexplorers.co.uk for more information.