The Safety Issue / Unexpected Dangers Of Adventure Travel!

Amy Stewart

The definition of adventure is “an unusual and exciting or daring experience.” If you add a motorcycle to an adventure (or adventure to a motorcycle), everything intensifies.

In my seven years’ solo journey around the world, I experienced all sorts of adventures; some of them, I could never have imagined before I left on my journey. Venturing into a foreign country by motorcycle, exposing yourself to unexpected elements, means you’re also exposed to risk. As a result, when I talk to people about solo travel on a motorcycle, the “safety issue” is one of the more sensitive topics that comes up.

First off, I have to say that most people I know who’ve traveled solo (both men and women) on motorcycles have had nothing but pleasant and safe experiences during their journey. Personally speaking, I also had mostly good stories to tell. But bad things sometimes happen to us just because we are unaware of our surroundings. Like that time my belongings were stolen in a country where most people wouldn’t expect things to go wrong. Read on, for an, errrr, “safety assessment” of a few regions, and let me know in the comments below if you agree or disagree…

Photo: Paolo

US

America is a relatively safe country, but danger may come from unexpected sources. Traveling on a motorcycle is generally safe and so is wild camping, thanks to the wide roads and vast territories where you can roam and find shelter. Lane splitting is unfortunately illegal, except for a handful of states, so you must be careful while overtaking.

Vehicles tend to be very large with a lot of blind spots, which could be a problem for motorcyclists. You should always keep a fair distance from big pickup trucks and SUVs, which may not see you when riding close or overtaking.

Wildlife is another potential danger while traveling through the US. If you’re traveling in remote areas, it’s common to have close encounters with coyotes, snakes, cougars, moose and bears, which are generally not dangerous, but could be if felt threatened or hungry.

I only had one close call with a black bear at night, fortunately. I was sleeping in my tent, wild camping in Sequoia National Park, California, and I heard some strange noises. I knew bears frequented the area, so I had my spray ready, just in case. The poor animal was just looking for scraps to feed on; it was more interested in the food bag that I hung high up on a tree branch before sleeping. I wasn’t on the menu! But this is a good point: if you’re camping in the US, Canada, Australia, or anywhere there could be dangerous wildlife, make sure to always keep food out of your sleeping area.

I also had a couple more (fortunately uneventful) close encounters with a moose and a grizzly bear in Alaska. There was no confrontation between me and the animals, as they were just crossing the road.

Italy

Italy, like some other Mediterranean countries, has an unfortunate reputation. Petty theft is common and it’s unsafe to leave your belongings unattended, especially at night. So, plan ahead. Choose hostels and accommodations with secure parking. It is imperative to remove your belongings from your bike when leaving it unattended for long periods.

For Italians, Naples has a worse reputation in terms of crime, but statistically speaking, Milan is actually the city with the most thefts. Other than thefts, one of the biggest dangers while traveling in Italy is the drivers. Italians have the tendency to drive aggressively and speed limits are often not respected. The difference between other countries with a need for speed, is that Italy has high population density (60 million people) and some of the tightest (and most spectacular) roads in Europe.

One of the many examples is the famous Amalfi coast. I rode there with my KTM 890 Adventure and I had many close calls with cars and buses. The road is usually very busy and could barely fit one and a half cars, with a mountain on one side and a 100-meter cliff to the sea on the other. Not for the faint-hearted for sure!

Traffic is not an issue in most of Australia. Photo: Paolo

Australia

Australia is a relatively safe country, together with its neighbor New Zealand. The low population density compared to the vastness of the territory, the high quality of life, and the relatively good infrastructure makes the land Down Under very safe for road tripping. You often see motorcycle helmets left unattended on bikes, as petty thefts are quite rare. Maybe I was lucky but I often left my helmet on my bike unattended and always found it there when I returned.

Still, no country is crime-free, even in the most remote areas. For example, my friend had his KTM 500 EXC-F stolen, (fortunately for just four days) when some drunk kids decided to take his bike for a ride; he got it back after they abandoned it in the desert.

Australia’s biggest danger is its incredible wildlife. The unaware traveler could have a lethal encounter with saltwater crocodiles, venomous snakes, deadly spiders, or even invisible killer jellyfish. While camping in the national parks in the Northern Territory, I was even attacked by red ants that chewed my tent up and went straight for some of the bread I had stashed in it. I also had a close encounter with a bunch of brown snakes while swimming in some natural pools in Kakadu NP. I had to cross croc-infested rivers while riding on the Gibb River road in Western Australia. Luckily I didn’t come off my bike while doing so and I even got the chance to take a photo of the bystanders.

Brazil – Lencois Maranhensese. Photo: Paolo

Brazil

Brazil’s  crime rate is quite high and drivers have usually an aggressive approach on the road. Aside from this, it is also home to one of the most incredible motorcycle communities I’ve ever seen in my life. People are so friendly and helpful, especially with solo travelers, that you would rarely be left at the mercy of random fate (or GPS).

One unexpected danger to be wary of here: Watch out for kite wires! That’s right, the nylon wire used to control kites. If you are Brazilian, you know already what I’m talking about, but If you have never been on Brazilian roads, then heed this warning. Many Brazilians fly kites near the road, and those kits have transparent strings which are a hazard when the kits are abandoned or lost.

When I entered Brazil from Bolivia, I immediately started to notice “antennas” sticking out vertically from motorcycle handlebars. Initially, I thought locals were installing radios and speakers on their bikes and that they were putting antennas there to get better signals. I was wrong; one day I was riding along the beach in Salvador de Bahia when suddenly I felt like I was being strangled and pulled backward by an invisible force. I was caught up in one of those wires. With a sudden move and a bit of luck, I grabbed the wire with one hand and pulled hard enough to escape from it, without crashing.

I was fortunate to come out of it with just a small cut on my neck and a few gray hairs, but after this episode I started to ride with my head tucked in below my KTM’s touring windshield.

Photo: Paolo

Canada

Based on my personal experience, Canada is the most dangerous country in the world. Wait, aren’t all Canadians friendly? Let me explain …

On my very first day in Canada, I ended up in Vancouver, BC, where I stayed at a friend’s house in the heart of the city. It was raining, so I parked my motorcycle underneath the building in their quiet neighborhood, and removed all my bags from the bike, except my toolbox and handlebar bags (which have always stayed on the bike during my whole trip from South America to the north). Both of those were gone in the morning. I was very upset about it, since I wrongly assumed that Canada was safe from petty thefts.

Turns out that Canada generally is very safe, but Vancouver has a very high population of drug addicts living on the streets. Apparently, they spend their nights walking around, scavenging whatever they find inside trash cans or grabbing items to resell at pawn shops. After I realized this the hard way, I started to notice little things as I walked around the city, like padlocks on public trash bins and a lot of people begging for money outside the supermarkets (or even doing drugs on the sidewalk in broad daylight).

I also noticed drivers weren’t really accustomed to motorcycles, at least not the way I rode them. A lot of drivers got really angry and aggressive towards me because of my riding habits. I couldn’t understand what was wrong at first, since I was riding conservatively, the same way I rode through the US. It turns out Canadians do not like lane filtering at all, or being overtaken by motorcyclists in traffic. Car and truck drivers often honked or yelled at me as I tried to filter through cars at the traffic light, even if my maneuver wasn’t interfering with anybody in particular. They seemed to be particularly concerned I was aware of the law.

One day, a very angry driver in a Mercedes tried to knock me out of the road for taking “his spot,” while queuing at a traffic light. I didn’t cut him off. I  just changed lanes and went in front of him as he was stalling. I’ve never seen anybody so angry for losing 2 meters in a cue. I thought that might just be a single episode, but another time, while riding through the middle of nowhere in Yukon Territory, I had another bad experience with an angry driver. It was 7:30 AM and I was riding a misty, cold, desolate road. It was raining; in the distance, I saw a four-vehicle convoy stopped at a temporary traffic light placed before a messy roadwork zone.

I didn’t want to be sprayed in wet mud early in the morning, so I slowly overtook the semi and three small pickups in front of me. I stopped right next to the never-ending traffic light and turned off my bike; as usual, it took 5-10 minutes for the light to turn green. Suddenly, in the rearview mirror I saw a figure approaching from behind. It was the semi-truck driver from the end of the convoy.

I initially thought he was interested in my motorcycle; instead, he stood right by my side, uncomfortably close, and start yelling at my face, holding his fist in mid-air like he wanted to punch me. In his tirade, he said that in Canada, people stay in line. Despite my unorthodox way of approaching this traffic light, he was willing to enforce the law with even more unorthodox manners. I’m not sure exactly why he was so upset, but thankfully our early morning debate about Canadian street laws ended with no major difficulty.

Despite these unfortunate encounters, Canadians generally upheld their reputation of being some of the most graceful and hospitable people on this planet. I made some great friendships there and I even attended the amazing KTM Adventure Rally with Chris Birch at Vernon, BC!

Crete was an absolute paradise for riding. Photo: Paolo

Greece

Greece is one of my favorite countries in the world, but there are unexpected dangers for riders here. Above all, beware of the infamous “wet tarmac.” Greece is one of the warmest countries in Europe; it can reach temperatures of over 40 Celsius in summer. Some parts of the Hellenic regions (especially on the islands) are roasted by hot African winds, which deposit a thin layer of sand on top of the tarmac. As long as the roads stay dry, there’s no issue. Tires are usually so hot that they still get enough grip. But once the tarmac gets wet, the whole surface is as slippery as soap. It is absolutely terrifying to ride a motorcycle on the slick, worn-out Greek roads after a rainfall.

The other danger, which is prevalent in more rural areas, is livestock, with goats and other animals roaming free in the streets. One thing I learned during my year and a half stay in Crete is that if you suddenly see some animal poo on the road, there may be a bunch of goats or cows a few corners ahead—time to slow down!

Peru

Lima, Peru, had one of the most memorable driving experiences of my travels. Here, vehicles sometimes ram into each other to push their way forward. You also hear a lot of horns honking, which can be distracting if you’re not used to it. The traffic can make the streets dangerous for motorcyclists; as a result, you will not see many scooters or mopeds around the city.

Got another area in mind, with unique dangers for motorcyclists? Leave your experience and observations in the comment section below!

Unexpected Dangers Of Adventure Travel!

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