Canning Stock, Camino de la Muerte or Dalton Highway - for some destinations, the sound of their name is enough to send a pleasant shiver down the backs of motorcyclists. From short sections of dirt roads to expeditions lasting weeks, we have put together a selection of ten dream routes around the globe, all of which have been travelled by Touratech-supported travellers.
Canning Stock Route
Location: Western Australia | Traveller: Andreas Hülsmann and Jörg Becker (†) | Length: 2000 km | Duration: 3 weeks | Difficulty: Extreme
More than a hundred years ago the Canning Stock Route was built as a cattle drive. The partly very dilapidated track crosses three deserts in Western Australia. Huge dunes make it an ordeal to travel by motorbike, the supply situation is extremely difficult. Only with meticulous planning and perfect equipment it is possible to get through.
Little Sandy, Gibson and Great Sandy Desert are the names of the deserts through which the Canning Stock Route runs. Each one is a great adventure in itself, on the legendary cattle trail only episodes. Episodes, however, that are really something. Around 1000 larger and smaller dunes have not only once made the two travel professionals Andreas Hülsmann and Jörg Becker (†) doubt the sense of their project. With their F 650 GS Rally from Touratech they had chosen Dakar-tested material for this extreme route, but as is well known, every gram counts in the sand. And the two globetrotters had inevitably packed their bikes properly. Water reserves, fuel supplies and spare parts drove the vehicle weight up.
Next to drinking water, gasoline is the most precious substance on this route. Fuel is only available in two places along the 2000 kilometre long track. And in one of them even only on advance booking. With a lead time of six weeks, the operator of the Capricorn Roadhouse delivers a 200-litre petrol barrel to Well 23, the name of the water holes along the route. One of the vital preparations for a Canning Stock expedition is to accurately record the exact position of the wells in the GPS before the journey
But even with perfect planning, there are countless imponderables in an undertaking of this kind, which constantly force travellers to improvise. For example, the numerous falls in the difficult terrain not only caused damage to the motorcycles, which had to be repaired provisionally, but Andreas Hülsmann also lost a considerable amount of fuel in a crash.
The Canning Stock Route can only be travelled in the Australian winter, otherwise the temperatures are too high. The best time to cross the deserts is between the beginning of June and the end of August.
Northern Fjallabak Trail
Location: South Iceland | Traveller: Jo Deleker | Length: 75 km | Duration: 1 day | Difficulty: hard
In the south of Iceland the F 208 branches off the ring road. The road leads through lonely landscapes up to the highlands. Whoever wants to travel the northern Fjallabaksweg should not be afraid of water. Deep and raging fords want to be mastered on the lonely stretch.
Fjallabaksleið nyrðri - what tongue twisters, these Icelandic names. So let's just call the northern Fjallabaksleið nyrðri by the name of a bureaucrat: F 208. F - that means a highland road without bridges. Very nice. And the F 208 is certainly one of the greatest runs on the volcanic island. It starts at the geothermal area Landmannalaugar with its colourful rhyolite mountains and the hot pool, unfortunately besieged by countless tourists in summer. But the loneliness already starts behind the next of the moss-green mountains.
The rough track meanders southwards, plunging into a world that seems to come directly from Mordor's realm. Only trees are completely missing here, but brown ashes, black lava, bizarre mountains garnished with old snowfields, a few colourful spots like the purple flowering stalkless gluewort or poisonous green moss cushions.
Fine black lava stones crunch under the XT's studded tyres, soft dark sand tries to prevent the track being followed. Concentration. Then the first of over a dozen fords. Stop the engine, explore the ford on foot. All good, clear water, not even knee-deep, firm sandy ground. First gear and pull the chain through. Turn around for the photographer and with a swing through the river again. He wants dynamics and he can have them at this ford. Good that the visor is closed, the ice-cold water splashes meters high. The deep fords are still to come, they don't want to play anymore, they are serious.
We spend hours on the road, completely caught up in the drama of this wild and so strange world, so different from anything we have seen in Iceland so far. Hardly ten cars are approaching until tonight, this is nothing for beginners and "ring road drivers". That's good, then the F 208 will remain what it always was, one of the most exciting and lonely highland tracks that the island at the Arctic Circle has in its repertoire.
The overland route to India
Location: Eurasia | Traveller: Jo Pichler | Length: about 12000 km | Duration: several weeks | Difficulty: mixed
The myth of the Silk Road always resonates when it comes to the land route to India. Even today, the legendary route is still one of the greatest challenges for motorcyclists because of its cultural diversity, but also because of the demanding sections and the difficult to calculate political situation in many countries.
Not only since the hippies set off in the late 1960s with rickety companions for the land of enlightenment, the overland route from Europe to India has been one of the must-do's for travelers eager for discovery. Even the pioneers of motorbike travel, such as Max Reisch, succumbed to the mysterious lure of this route, which was used even before antiquity. Of course, there is no such thing as the one connection between Orient and Occident. Even the legendary Silk Road had many branches and ramifications. A particularly challenging route, which bundles numerous highlights, was devised by the motorbike adventurer Jo Pichler.
in the supposed rogue state of Iran, the Austrian experiences unimaginable hospitality and fights his way through one of the hottest places on earth. In the Dasht e Lut, Iran's largest desert, enormous heat and breathtaking scenery become his companions. In Kyrgyzstan he sets up his tent at the foot of the Pik Lenin in the Pamir Mountains. His next stop is Kashgar in western China, the legendary caravan base on the Silk Road. In the already thinning air of the Karakorum Highway, the journey continues over the 4693-metre-high Khunjerab Pass to Pakistan and down into the Hunza Valley.
In Amritsar the border to India is reached, where the fascinating Kashmir with the highest pass roads on earth awaits him and leads him to the Himalayan region to "Little Tibet". Here, in the remote monasteries of Ladakh and Zanskar, an original form of Tibetan Buddhism is still lived today. After a descent of 4000 meters Joe Pichler reached the Ganges Plain. With the Indian subcontinent, the next adventure awaited the traveller here.
Wild mountain world in Lào Cai
Location: North Vietnam | Traveller: Martin Brucker | Length: 1200 km | Duration: ca. 20 days | Difficulty: partly very demanding
Often it is paths only a few feet wide that connect the villages in the inaccessible mountainous region of North Vietnam. Martin Brucker has explored the remote region in the border area to China with his single cylinder enduro.
In the very northwest of Vietnam lies the province of Lào Cai, which is known for its steep mountains, deeply cut gorges, raging rivers - and the still traditionally living mountain people. A nice contrast to the rugged wilderness are the terraced rice fields around Sa Pả, from where I started my exploration tour into the mountains of North Vietnam.
The GPS had sometimes no reception for minutes, so narrow and steep were the gorges. Most of the time it didn't take long and the road turned into a dirt road or a narrow path that can only be used by single-track vehicles.
Twice I turned into the wrong path at a turn-off, turning back was not an option as there was not enough space to turn my bike. On one side it was steep uphill and on the other side it was just as steep downhill - I had to unload the luggage, carefully put the bike down on the mountain side and turn it around on the handlebars on the footrest.
Early in the morning visitors were waiting patiently in front of the tent, hoping to get a glimpse of my equipment. The petrol stove was of special interest.
Shortly before Mai Son we had to manage a ticklish river passage. The motorcycle had to be loaded onto a longboat, on the opposite side of the river I could unload it only with difficulty backwards.
On the road number 6 we passed Hanoi and headed south again, when I heard a scratching noise, which obviously came from the rear wheel bearing. When I pulled out the axle, all balls rolled towards me. In a small bush workshop the damage was repaired as unconventionally as quickly. After a short stay I could continue my journey through Vietnam.
Road of Bones
Location: Eastern Siberia | Traveller: Claudia and Andreas Hülsmann | Length: 500 km | Duration: At least 1 week | Difficulty: extreme
In the far east of Siberia, the Road of Bones is one of the great adventures for motorcyclists. The route, which is subject to decay, can only be ridden in favourable weather conditions, and even in optimal conditions there is no guarantee of getting through.
Once built under inhuman conditions by Gulag prisoners, the Road of Bones is now largely left to decay. The Kolyma Highway has taken over its function. Two sections, however, are still preserved and can be travelled by hard-boiled motorcyclists.
Kolyma Highway is the colloquial name of the route between Jakutsk and Magadan on the Sea of Okhotsk. Officially, the 2031 kilometre long road R504 is called Kolyma. The surface of the road is now almost continuously in good condition, but not asphalted.
In Kyubeme, the Old Summer Road, as the Road of Bones is also called, branches off the new route. Already the entrance was a real challenge for Claudia and Andrea Hülsmann. The Kyubeme River was so deep that driving through it was out of the question: too great the risk of getting water into the engines or falling into the floods. The engines were completely unloaded and pushed through the river one by one. Then the equipment had to be carried to the opposite bank.
The following 250 kilometres were then relatively easy to drive. This section will be maintained for a while to be able to supply the city of Tomtor.
From Tomtor the Road of Bones shows its uncomfortable side. Often the motorcycles have to be dragged with great effort around huge mud holes next to the road through the bushes. After 40 sweaty kilometres, Oymyakon is reached. The city may adorn itself with the dubious title "cold pole of the earth". In 1924, minus 71.2 degrees were measured, less than anywhere else in the world.
From here the daily average shrinks to 60 kilometres. Like all roads in Siberia, the Road of Bones suffers from permafrost. The ground, which will soon be frozen below the surface all year round, prevents the rain from seeping away. After rainfall the road can be impassable for days. But even in dry weather, mud is a constant companion.
In many places the track is so severely undermined that craters gape metres deep. Often there is only a narrow strip between dense undergrowth and the abyss over which the machines have to be balanced.
Near the ghost town of Kadykchan, Claudia and Andreas Hülsmann reach the Kolyma Highway again after 500 kilometers. Further east is another section of the Old Summer Road, which was impassable at the time.
Africa – Coast to Coast
Location: Southern Africa | Traveller: Dirk Schäfer | Length: 12.000 km | Duration: At least 5 weeks | Difficulty: mixed
From the Atlantic coast to the Indian Ocean, Dirk Schäfer has crossed Africa in west-east direction from Namibia via Zambia and Tanzania to Kenya. The approaching rainy season made progress on the slopes enormously difficult, and not only once was the success of the undertaking in question.
The starting point for the crossing of Africa lies on the legendary Skeleton Coast, a barren stretch of land where dozens of shipwrecks rust away in the surf of the Atlantic Ocean. On a salt runway Dirk Schäfer and his two travel companions follow the coast northwards until the trio turns east into the interior at the height of the Damara Mountains. Rugged mountain peaks cast a spell over the travellers, but the animal world also presents itself in fascinating diversity.
In Zambia the rainy season has already begun. The Zambezi River - the tributary to the Victoria Falls - is already heavily swollen and it is impossible to make rapid progress off the main routes, as was the case in Namibia a short time ago. But it is not only the slippery slopes that push the travel route towards the Victoria Falls. The track branches out continuously and neither the map nor the GPS provide useful information. In the end, it is the Victoria Falls themselves that show the way with their several hundred meters high rising spray. Mosi-oa-Tunya, thundering smoke, is what the locals call it.
During the trip to a bay of Lake Tanganyika, the travellers get stuck in the mud and need a whole day to get the machines free again. In order to avoid having to drive the material-killing track again, a boat crossing over the second largest freshwater lake on earth is organised - the motorcycles upside down in a rotten barge.
On the way to Arusha and the Kenyan border the next mud battle follows. This time the road is flooded, knee-deep holes lurk as invisible traps. The travel speed drops to walking speed.
Completely different conditions then in Tanzania around the Kilimanjaro. Here the rainy season has not yet arrived, the slopes are so dry that the dust plumes behind the machines require a distance of several kilometres.
After 12,000 kilometres and four countries crossed, the Indian Ocean is finally reached near Mombasa in Kenya.
Fascination Western Alps
Location: Southern Italian/French Border area | Length: different | Duration: as you like it | Difficulty: mixed
Demanding slopes and challenging trails against a breathtaking mountain backdrop - enduro hiking cannot be more beautiful than in the Western Alps. Despite some closures, there are still numerous trails waiting to be discovered in Piedmont, Haute Savoie and Haute Provence.
It is probably no exaggeration to say that a whole generation of enduro riders has been socialised with the fascination of the Western Alps. At about the same time as the "Golden Age" of Enduros in the 1980s, more and more often the news of unheard-of high mountain adventures reached the garages of even the flattest German lowlands. The next issue of Tourenfahrer was eagerly awaited, perhaps the authors had a new revelation in store? The details were then provided by Denzel's Great Alpine Road Guide. Chaberton, Sommeiller, Jafferau were the melodious names of the high destinations - to be reached only over narrow, sometimes very steep gravel paths, on the summits forts with morbid charm.
Almost the entire main Alpine ridge in the Italian-French border region is covered with a tight network of military roads, which were laid out from the beginning until shortly before the middle of the 20th century. They were once used to supply fortifications and forts. After the Second World War, the decay began; not only of the military installations, but also of their access roads.
For endurists, the slopes and paths, most of them boldly laid out and leading up to the summits of stately three thousand metre peaks, offer an adventure playground par excellence. When, after a long day in the rests, the campfire crackles in the evening in front of the ruins of a ruined fort, the vineyards circle and the challenges of the day are reviewed, then the adventure Western Alps is perfect.
The idyllic Alpine scenery was first clouded by the closure of Mont Chaberton at the end of the 1990s. It was feared that the Western Alps were facing the same fate as the region around Lake Garda, where entourists were successively completely excluded. Fortunately this was not confirmed. Until today there are numerous paths and slopes that are legally passable.
Certainly, today one has to get more detailed information in advance, preferably from the local tourist offices, and more consideration is also required for the increasing number of hikers and cyclists. But the fascination of the Western Alps is worth the effort. For sure.
Information: Denzel - Great Alpine Road Guide, 26th edition. ISBN 9783850477741
South America compact
Location: Central South America | Travelers: Touratech Testteam | Length: 2000 km | Duration: about 4 weeks | Difficulty: partly extreme
Close to the Bolivian metropolis La Paz, South America can be experienced at a rapid pace. The semi-desert-like Altiplano plateau, the snow-covered six-thousand-metre peaks of the Cordillera and the tropical lowlands come together here in a very confined space.
It takes our breath away when we get off the plane in La Paz. The thin mountain air is still unusual, about 24 hours of flight stick in our bones. Nevertheless La Paz is a good starting point for a South American tour. The airport is manageable, with some Spanish and negotiating skills the motorcycles are quickly brought through customs. And also the city itself is an attraction. The metropolis stretches from a stuffy hot valley basin up to the Altiplano, which is about 4000 meters high, where mostly an icy wind blows.
After a few days of acclimatisation and exploration of the colourful markets, the route leads just below the mighty, almost 6000-metre-high Huayna Potosí to the pass La Cumbre. Here we literally pull the ground from under our feet. The highlands break off abruptly, deep down a sea of clouds billows over the jungle of the lowlands.
In former times the Camino de la Muerte was the only way down to the Yungas. Although today there is a comparatively comfortable bypass, no endurist should miss the path carved into hundreds of meters of vertically sloping rock walls. But be careful: The route is considered one of the most dangerous in the world.
During a two-hour drive, the thermometer rises easily by 25 degrees. No sooner has the dense cloud layer broken through than tropical plants surround us, exotic scents penetrate the helmet. One can get used to the new scenery wonderfully in Coroico, a touristically well developed place, while enjoying a local coffee.
We branch off from the main road, which leads deep into Amazonia, and reach the gold-digger village of Mapiri. With the most primitive means the garimpeiros, as the gold diggers of the lowlands are called, wrest the rare gold from the river sand.
It is not clear until the end whether the tour can be driven as a lap as planned. Maps and satellite images provide contradictory information. But we are lucky. A runway exists, albeit in a hair-raising condition. Hundreds of meters of mud fields have to be crossed, hip-deep fords have to be mastered.
But even in the remoteness of the forest we meet scattered settlements. Not only once we are offered an empty hut as an overnight accommodation.
Shortly before Tuiluni we reach the national road 16, which is not much more than a rutted roadway. But now it is clear that we can finish our round through the lowlands as planned. Soon the road climbs steeply again and after we have climbed another 2000 meters, the deep blue water of Lake Titicaca is in front of us.
On the eastern shore of the lake we make a side trip to the Nudo de Apolobamba, which is one of the most beautiful mountain ranges of the Andes with its strong glaciation. From here it is still a day trip back to La Paz.
Alaska and Dalton Highway
Location: Northwestern tip of North America | Travelers: Josephine Flohr and Daniel Rintz | Length: a good 3000 km | Duration: about 4 weeks | Difficulty: easy to medium
The endless expanse of the arctic tundra characterizes large parts of Alaska. But also rugged mountains with huge ice streams and forests rich in game await the traveller. However, those who want to explore the northernmost state of the USA should have a certain weather resistance.
There are not many side roads or smaller paths in Alaska, because the few inhabitants usually use small airplanes as means of transport. Many places are not connected to the road network. This means that you often have to travel with the main connections. These are in good shape, but about half of these routes are unpaved. But also the slopes are relatively easy to drive on. One only has to be very careful, or better take a day off when it rains.
For example, to make the Dalton Highway usable for the heavy vehicles also in summer, the surface is mixed with calcium chloride. When this compound gets wet, the result is a soap-smooth surface. Fortunately we only had one rainy day, but on that day we didn't get past second gear.
The most popular destination for motorcyclists heading for Alaska is of course Deadhorse in Prudhoe Bay, the northernmost accessible point in America. Also we did not leave out this destination. I found it to be an interesting route, and I am glad that we took on the exertions involved. To see the polar sea, you have to get into a minibus for the last few kilometres and hire a guide to enter the private grounds of the oil drilling company.
Alaska was certainly one of the highlights of our world trip. The first memory that comes to my mind is the incredible nature with an almost healing effect. Alaska would not be my first choice for cultural experiences and getting to know foreign cultures, but the vast, mostly uninhabited expanses favour spiritual encounters with oneself.
The Matanuska Glacier in southern Alaska, which is almost 40 kilometres long, is probably one of the few places where you can climb around on your own. For your own safety we would recommend a guide and the use of crampons.
Not to be missed when travelling through Alaska is Denali National Park. For an exploration I would plan about one week. There are not only a lot of great hiking trails, but you also need a lot of patience to see the coldest mountain in the world. The Mt. McKinley hides most of the time in the clouds.
Location: Southern South Africa | Travelers: Josephine Flohr and Daniel Rintz | Length: 300 km | Duration: Several days | Difficulty: Easy to medium
The so-called Garden Route in South Africa is certainly one of the most scenic coastal roads in the world. It runs for about 300 kilometres from Mosel Bay in the Western Cape to Storm River in the Eastern Cape. But it is also worth leaving this dream route. Real off-road adventures await you in the interior.
We started in Cape Town and chose the roads along the coast as often as possible. The asphalt is in good condition and sometimes winds along the shore just above sea level. In steeper coastal passages, however, the roads also like to wind their way up to lofty heights in hairpin bends. The views are regularly breathtaking.
If you are on site in July or August, you have a good chance of seeing whales directly from the road. Hermanus, an otherwise sleepy nest two hours from the southernmost point of Africa, is awakened by countless tourists during the winter months because hundreds, maybe even thousands, of whales have chosen this bay as the birthplace of their offspring. We have been told that so many whales come so close to shore that one could theoretically jump from one whale's back to the other.
But what you can enjoy all year round are the curious penguins. Many resting places are equipped with hiking trails that lead directly to the beach.
If you leave the coastal road inland, you will soon have to prove your off-road skills. Many scenically interesting routes lead over rough and smooth. Especially in the summer months it is worthwhile to seek some cooling in the mountains, which are about 1000 meters high. We played the beach-mountain-interplay along the coast for several thousand kilometres.
In Durban, a typical South African city with a distinctive surfing scene, we got the impulse to ride the Sani mountain pass to Lesotho. For the bigger part it was good to ride, but the last part, from about 2500 to 3000 meters altitude difference, our nerves were tested. Half of the hairpin bends were soaked and muddy by the sun, while the other half of the hairpin bends, which are in the shadow of the mountain massif all day long, were icy. Of course there are no crash barriers. But the indescribable view and the beer served in the highest bar in Africa (2874 meters) more than compensated for the effort.