Canning Stock, Camino de la Muerte or Dalton Highway - for some destinations, the sound of their name is enough to send a comforting shiver down the spine of motorcycle travelers. From short stretches of road to week-long expeditions, we have put together a selection of ten dream routes around the globe, all of which have been traveled by Touratech-supported travelers.
Canning Stock Route
Location: Western Australia | Traveler: Andreas Hülsmann and Jörg Becker (†) | Length: 2000 km | Travel duration: 3 weeks | Difficulty: Extreme
More than one hundred years ago the Canning Stock Route was built as a cattle trail. The partly heavily dilapidated track crosses three deserts in western Australia. Huge dunes make getting around by motorcycle an ordeal, and the supply situation is extremely difficult. Only with meticulous planning and perfect equipment is it possible to get through.
Little Sandy, Gibson and Great Sandy Desert are the names of the deserts through which the Canning Stock Route leads. Each is a great adventure in itself, but only episodes on the legendary cattle trail. Episodes, however, which have it in itself. Around 1000 larger and smaller dunes have made the two travel professionals Andreas Hülsmann and Jörg Becker (†) doubt the sense of their undertaking not only once. With their F 650 GS Rally from Touratech, they had selected 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. There are only two places along the 2000-kilometer route where gasoline is available. And at one of them, gasoline is only available by advance order. The operator of the Capricorn Roadhouse delivers a 200-liter gasoline barrel to Well 23 six weeks in advance. Well is the name given to the water holes along the route. Accurately storing the exact position of the wells in the GPS before the trip is one of the vital preparations for a Canning Stock expedition.
But even with perfect planning, there are countless imponderables in an undertaking of this kind that constantly force the travelers to improvise. For example, the numerous crashes in the difficult terrain not only caused damage to the motorcycles, which had to be repaired in a makeshift fashion, but Andreas Hülsmann also lost a considerable amount of gasoline in one crash.
The Canning Stock Route can only be traveled 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.
Location: South Iceland | Traveler: Jo Deleker | Length: 75 km | Travel time: 1 day | Difficulty: hardcore
In the south of Iceland the F 208 branches off from the ring road. The road leads through lonely landscapes up to the highlands. Those who want to travel the northern Fjallabaksweg should not be afraid of water. Deep and tearing fords want to be mastered on the lonely route.
Fjallabaksleið nyrðri - what tongue twisters, these Icelandic names. So let's just call the northern Fjallabaks route by its plain bureaucratic name: F 208. F - that means a highland road without bridges. Very nice. And F 208 is certainly one of the most magnificent tracks on the volcanic island. It starts at the geothermal area Landmannalaugar with its colorful rhyolite mountains and the hot pool, unfortunately crowded by countless tourists in summer. But the loneliness starts already behind the next of the moss-green mountains.
The rough track meanders southward, diving into a world that seems to come directly from Mordor's realm. Only trees are completely missing here, but instead brown ash, black lava, bizarre mountains garnished with old snow fields, a few colorful spots like the purple blooming stalkless glue weed or poison-green moss cushions.
Fine black lava stones crunch under the studded tires of the XT, soft dark sand tries to prevent the targeted track. Concentration. Then the first of over a dozen fords. Stop, engine off, explore the ford on foot. All is well, clear water, not even knee-deep, firm sandy bottom. First gear and through with pull on the chain. For the photographer, turn around and go through the river again with momentum. 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 coming, they don't want to play anymore, they mean business.
Hours we are on the way, completely caught in the drama of this wild and so strange world, so different from anything we have seen so far in Iceland. Hardly ten cars come towards us until tonight, this is not for beginners and "ring road drivers". Good, then the F 208 remains what it has always been, one of the most exciting and lonely highland roads that the island has in its repertoire at the Arctic Circle.
The overland route to India
Location: Eurasia | Traveler: Jo Pichler | Length: approx. 12000 km | Travel duration: several weeks | Difficulty: mixed
The myth of the Silk Road always resonates when it comes to the overland route to India. Until today, the legendary route is one of the biggest challenges for motorcycle travelers because of its cultural diversity, but also because of demanding sections and the difficult to calculate political situation in many countries.
The overland route from Europe to India has been a must-do for explorers ever since the hippies set off for the land of enlightenment on rickety vehicles in the late 1960s. Even the pioneers of motorcycle travel such as Max Reisch succumbed to the mysterious lure of this route, which was used even before antiquity. Of course, there is not the connection between Orient and Occident. Even the legendary Silk Road had many branches and ramifications. The motorcycle adventurer Jo Pichler has worked out a particularly demanding route that combines numerous highlights.
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 Peak 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-meter Khunjerab Pass into 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 into 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 over 4000 meters in altitude, Joe Pichler reached the Ganges plain. With the Indian subcontinent, the next adventure awaited the traveler here.
Wild mountains in Lào Cai
Location: North Vietnam | Traveler: Martin Brucker | Length: 1200 km | Travel time: approx. 20 days | Difficulty: partly very demanding
Often there are only a few feet wide paths connecting the villages in the inaccessible mountainous region of Northern Vietnam. Martin Brucker explored the remote region in the border area to China with his single-cylinder enduro.
In the far northwest of Vietnam lies the province of Lào Cai, known for its steep mountains, deep gorges, raging rivers - and the mountain peoples who still live in the traditional way. 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 northern Vietnam.
The GPS had no reception for minutes every now and then, so narrow and steep were the gorges. Most of the time it didn't take long and the road turned into a dirt track or a narrow path that can only be used by single-track vehicles.
Twice I turned into the wrong path at a junction, turning back was not an option because there was not enough room to turn my motorcycle around. On one side it went steeply uphill and on the other side just as steeply downhill - I had to unload the luggage, carefully put the motorcycle on the uphill side to turn it around on the handlebars on the footrest.
Early in the morning, visitors were usually already waiting patiently in front of the tent, hoping to catch a glimpse of my equipment. The gasoline stove was of particular interest.
Shortly before Mai Son there was still a ticklish river passage to master. The motorcycle had to be loaded onto a long boat, and on the opposite side of the river I could only unload it backwards with difficulty.
On road number 6 I was heading south again past Hanoi when I heard a scratching noise, apparently coming from the rear wheel bearing. When I pulled out the axle, all the balls rolled towards me. In a small Busch workshop the damage was repaired as unconventionally as quickly. After a short stop, I was able to continue my journey through Vietnam.
Road of Bones
Location: East Siberia | Traveler: Claudia and Andreas Hülsmann | Length: 500 km | Travel duration: at least 1 week | Difficulty: extreme
In the far east of Siberia, the Road of Bones is one of the great adventures for motorcycle travelers. The route, which has been abandoned to decay, can only be traveled in favorable weather conditions, and even in optimal conditions there is no guarantee of getting through.
Once built under inhumane conditions by Gulag prisoners, the Road of Bones is now largely abandoned to decay. The Kolyma Highway has taken over its function. However, two sections are still preserved and can be traveled by hardy motorcycle travelers.
Kolyma Highway is the colloquial name of the stretch between Yakutsk and Magadan on the Sea of Okhotsk. Officially, the 2031 kilometer long road is called R504 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 from 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: the risk of getting water in the engines or falling into the floods was too great. The machines 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 kilometers were then relatively easy to drive. This section is still being maintained somewhat in order to be able to supply the town of Tomtor.
From Tomtor on, the Road of Bones shows its uncomfortable side. Often the motorcycles have to be dragged around huge mud holes next to the road through the bushes. After 40 sweaty kilometers, Oymyakon is reached. The city is entitled to the dubious title of "cold pole of the earth. In 1924, minus 71.2 degrees were measured, less than anywhere else in the world.
From here on, the daily average shrinks to 60 kilometers. Like all routes in Siberia, the Road of Bones suffers from permafrost. The ground, which soon freezes beneath the surface year-round, prevents precipitation 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 slope is so badly washed out that craters are several meters deep. Often there is only a narrow strip between the 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, but it was impassable at the time.
Africa – Coast to Coast
Location: Southern Africa | Traveler: Dirk Schäfer | Length: 12,000 km | Travel duration: at least 5 weeks | Difficulty: mixed
From the Atlantic coast to the Indian Ocean, Dirk Schäfer crossed Africa in a west-east direction from Namibia via Zambia and Tanzania to Kenya. The approaching rainy season made progress on the roads extremely difficult, and not only once was the success of the undertaking in question.
The starting point for the Africa crossing lies on the legendary Skeleton Coast, a barren stretch of land where dozens of shipwrecks rust away in the surf of the Atlantic. Dirk Schäfer and his two travel companions follow the coast northward on a salt road until the trio turns eastward into the interior at the height of the Damara Mountains. Rugged mountain peaks cast a spell over the travelers, but the animal world also presents itself in fascinating diversity.
In Zambia the rainy season has already begun. The Zambezi River - tributary to the Victoria Falls - is already swollen and rapid progress as in Namibia is no longer possible off the main routes. But it is not only the slippery roads that put pressure on the travel average in the direction of the Victoria Falls. The road branches out constantly and neither the map nor the GPS provide usable information. In the end, it is the Victoria Falls themselves that show the way with their spray rising several hundred meters high. Mosi-oa-Tunya, thundering smoke, is what the locals call it.
During the excursion to a bay of Lake Tanganyika, the travelers get stuck in the mud and need a whole day to get the machines free again. In order not to have to drive the material-killing track again, a boat crossing is organized across the second largest freshwater lake on earth - 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 pace.
Conditions in Tanzania around Mount Kilimanjaro are completely different. Here, the rainy season has not yet arrived, and the roads are so dry that the dust trails behind the machines require a distance of several kilometers.
After 12,000 kilometers and four countries crossed, the Indian Ocean is finally reached near Mombasa in Kenya.
Fascination Western Alps
Location: Southern Italian/French border area. Length: variable | Duration: according to taste | Difficulty: mixed
Demanding slopes and challenging trails in front of breathtaking mountain scenery - Enduro hiking can't be more beautiful than in the Western Alps. Despite some closures, numerous trails still await explorers in Piedmont, High Savoy and Haute Provence.
It is probably no exaggeration to say that a whole generation of endurists was socialized with the fascination of the Western Alps. Around the same time as the "golden age" of enduros in the 1980s, news of unheard-of high mountain adventures reached the garages of even the flattest German lowlands with increasing frequency. With tension one waited for the next Tourenfahrer booklet, perhaps the authors held again a new revelation ready? The details were then provided by Denzel's Great Alpine Road Guide. Chaberton, Sommeiller, Jafferau were the illustrious names of the high destinations - to be reached only via narrow, partly steep gravel roads, on the summits forts with morbid charm.
Almost the entire main ridge of the Alps in the Italian-French border region is covered with a narrow network of military roads that were built from the beginning until shortly before the middle of the 20th century. They once served to supply fortifications and forts. After the Second World War, they began to decay; not only the military installations, but also their access roads.
For endurists, the mostly boldly designed slopes and trails leading up to the summits of stately three-thousand-meter peaks offer an adventure playground par excellence. When, after a long day of resting, the campfire crackles in the evening in front of the ruins of a dilapidated fort, the bottle of wine circulates and the mastered challenges of the day are reviewed, then the adventure of the Western Alps is perfect.
The Alpine cyclist's idyll was marred for the first time by the closure of Mont Chaberton at the end of the 1990s. There were fears that the Western Alps were threatened with the same fate as the region around Lake Garda, where endurists were successively barred completely. Fortunately, this has not been confirmed. To this day, there are numerous trails and slopes that are legally navigable.
Sure, today you have to inform yourself more precisely in advance, preferably at the local tourist offices, and also more consideration for the increasingly numerous hikers and cyclists is required. But the fascination of the Western Alps is worth the effort. Certainly.
Info: Denzel - Great Alpine Road Guide, 26th ed. ISBN 9783850477741
South America compact
Location: Central South America | Travelers: Touratech test team | Length: 2000 km | Travel time: about 4 weeks |Difficulty: partly extreme
Near the Bolivian metropolis of La Paz, South America can be experienced in fast forward motion, so to speak. The semi-desert Altiplano plateau, the snow-capped six-thousand-meter peaks of the Cordillera, and the tropical lowlands all come together here in a very small area.
It takes our breath away when we get off the plane in La Paz. We are still unaccustomed to the thin air at high altitudes, with around 24 hours of flying in our bones. Nevertheless, La Paz is a good starting point for a South American tour. The airport is manageable, with a little Spanish and negotiating skills the motorcycles are quickly brought through customs. And also the city itself is an attraction. The metropolis stretches over about 1000 meters in altitude from a sticky hot valley basin up to the Altiplano, which is about 4000 meters high, where an icy wind usually blows.
After a few days of acclimatization and exploring the colorful markets, the itinerary takes us just below the mighty, almost 6000 meter high Huayna Potosí to the pass La Cumbre. Here the ground literally pulls out from under our feet. The highlands break off abruptly, deep down a sea of clouds billows over the jungle of the lowlands.
In the past, the Camino de la Muerte was the only way down into 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 beware: the route is considered one of the most dangerous in the world.
During two hours of driving, the thermometer easily rises by 25 degrees. As soon as the dense layer of clouds is broken, tropical plants surround us, exotic scents penetrate the helmet. We can get used to the new scenery wonderfully over a local coffee in Coroico, a well-developed tourist town.
We branch off from the main road, which leads deep into Amazonia, and arrive at the gold mining village of Mapiri. With the most primitive means, the garimpeiros, as the gold seekers of the lowlands are called, wrest the rare gold from the river sand.
Whether the tour can be done as a round trip as planned is not clear until the end. Maps and satellite images provide contradictory information. But we are lucky. A track exists, albeit in hair-raising condition. Hundreds of meters of muddy fields have to be crossed, waist-deep fords have to be mastered.
But even in the remoteness of the forest we come across scattered settlements. Not only once we are offered an empty hut as a place to spend the night.
Shortly before Tuiluni we reach the national road 16, which is not much more than a rutted road. But now it is clear, we can finish our round through the lowlands as planned. Soon it goes again steeply uphill and after we have screwed ourselves again about 2000 meters in the height, the deep blue water surface of the Titicaca lake lies before us.
On the eastern shore of the lake we make a detour to the Nudo de Apolobamba, which with its strong glaciation is one of the most beautiful mountain ranges of the Andes. From here it is still a day's journey back to La Paz.
Alaska and Dalton Highway
Location: Northwest corner of North America | Travelers: Josephine Flohr and Daniel Rintz | Length: a good 3000 km | Travel time: approx. 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 wildlife await the traveler. However, a certain weather resistance should be brought along who wants to explore the northernmost state of the USA.
There are not many side roads or smaller trails in Alaska, as the few inhabitants usually use small airplanes as means of transportation. Many places are not connected to the road network. This means that you often have to make do with the main roads. These are in good shape, but about half of these routes are not paved. But even the dirt roads are relatively easy to drive on. You just have 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 even in summer, the surface is mixed with calcium chloride. When this compound gets wet, it results in a soap-smooth surface. Fortunately, we only had one rainy day, but we didn't get past second gear on that one.
The most popular destination for motorcyclists heading to Alaska is, of course, Deadhorse in Prudhoe Bay, the northernmost drivable point in America. We didn't skip this destination either. I found it to be an interesting route, and am glad we took on the rigors involved. To see the Arctic Ocean, you have to board a minibus for the last few miles and hire a guide to allow you to enter the private property of the oil drilling company.
Alaska was certainly one of the highlights of our world trip. The first memory that comes to mind is the incredible nature with an almost healing effect. For cultural experiences and getting to know foreign cultures, Alaska would not be my first choice, but the vast, mostly uninhabited expanses favor spiritual encounters with oneself.
The nearly 40-kilometer Matanuska Glacier in southern Alaska is probably one of the few you can climb around by yourself. For your own safety, we would recommend a guide and the use of crampons.
Not to be missed on a trip through Alaska is Denali National Park. For an exploration I would plan about a week. Not only are there a lot of great hiking trails, but you also need a lot of patience to see the coldest mountain in the world. Mt. McKinley hides in the clouds most of the time.
Location: Southern South Africa | Travelers: Josephine Flohr and Daniel Rintz | Length: 300 km | Travel time: 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 kilometers 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 inland.
We started in Cape Town and chose the roads along the coast as often as possible. The asphalt is in good condition and at times winds along the shore just above sea level. In steeper coastal passages, however, the roads also like to wind up in hairpin curves to lofty heights. The views are regularly breathtaking.
If you are there in July or August, you have a good chance of seeing whales right 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, perhaps 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 whaleback to another.
What you can enjoy year-round, however, are the curious penguins. Many rest areas have walking paths that lead directly to the beach.
If you leave the coastal road and head inland, you will soon have to prove your off-road skills. Many scenically interesting routes lead over hill and dale. Especially in the summer months, it is worthwhile to seek some cooling in the mountains, which are about 1000 meters high. We have played the beach-mountain game along the coast for several thousand kilometers.
In Durban, a typical South African city with a prominent surfer scene, we got the impulse to drive the Sani mountain pass to Lesotho. For the greater part, this was good to drive, but the last stretch, from about 2500 to 3000 vertical meters, tested our nerves. Half of the hairpin bends were soaked and muddy from the sun, while the other half of the switchbacks, shaded all day by the mountain range, were icy. There are no guardrails, of course. But the indescribable view and the beer served in the highest bar in Africa (2874 meters) more than compensated us for the effort.