Adventure Riding: A Practical Matter?
“Want me to make a big splash?” asks Cid.
“Sure, that would be great!” I say. I want dramatic photos, after all. Anything we can do to create drama is fine with me. As long as it's not dangerous, of course.
I’m standing on the edge of a shallow tributary of the Rio Chicamocha in north central Colombia. The stream descends through dense vegetation and disappears below a turquoise pedestrian bridge after creating a slippery crossing over the rocky roadbed. Our Elephant Moto group’s journey into the spectacular depths of Chicamocha Canyon -- said to be deeper than the Grand Canyon -- is on pause while a punctured valve cover on a BMW R1200GS is mended with JB Weld. One rider, Cyndy Kelso, fell in the creek, her motorcycle connecting precisely with the point of a small but diabolically placed rock. To kill some time while the repair is underway, I’ve asked another rider, Cid Dennis, to go back and forth across the stream for some “adventure riding through stream crossing” photos. Always a nice touch, those stream crossing photos.
On his third run, as I crouch with the camera on continuous shooting (“sport mode”) for the most striking perspective and to capture every possible drop of any splash created, other riders enter the scene. They are locals, toodling along on their 125cc motorbikes. With zero fanfare, they cross the stream and continue on with their day. I can’t help but laugh. Who’s the “real adventure rider”?
Anyone who has traveled in Latin America, Asia or Africa knows that in those parts of the world, motorcycles are far more common than in the U.S. In fact, a recent study found that 23% of households in Colombia own a motorbike, versus 14% in the United States. I’m surprised it’s not a greater difference.
For most of the riders in “developing countries” the bikes seem to serve primarily as affordable transportation. Sometimes they provide a way to make a living and are used as moto taxis or for hauling large and bulky loads in ingenious ways from one place to another. And often they’re the equivalent of the family station wagon, with mom riding behind dad and a babe in arms in between, occasionally with big sister or grandma hanging on behind. Of course, in some countries there is an upper class who ride expensive BMWs or sport bikes just for fun, but they seem to be in the minority.
I learned from our Colombian hosts that the small bikes we see there in such large numbers are mostly of Chinese or Indian manufacture and sell for the equivalent of about $500 U.S. dollars. Much less expensive than a Honda or Yamaha but also much less reliable. Motorbike mechanic shops are everywhere, supporting the need for repairing the ubiquitous two-wheelers. Shops also advertise motorcycle personalization, and some of the fancy paint jobs I saw indicate those folks do take pride in their wheels.
Our week-long tour took us from Bogota through the surrounding ranges of the Andes, into colonial towns, to a jungle retreat on Rio La Miel and up high to an aerie with hot springs in Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. As we traveled, I watched local riders negotiate heavy and seemingly chaotic (but with what is truly a latent logic to its flow) traffic in the big cities and cross treacherous bridges on remote jungle paths. I had to wonder if they were chuckling at us, charging around on our big machines, helmeted and armored, seeking adventure on roads or trails they negotiate on a daily basis as a practical matter.
I’m just speculating. We experienced nothing but kindness and generosity from other riders we met along the way. Camaraderie? Maybe. Still, I have to wonder about that guy at the stream crossing. I could swear I saw him shaking his head as he rode away.
ADVMoto Associate Editor @susandragoo spent two weeks in Colombia in February and March, 2017, part of it touring in the chase vehicle with @elephantmotoco (http://www.elephantmoto.com/). See more photos at susandragoo.com.
Study cited above: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2015/04/global-car-motorcycle-and-bike-ownership-in-1-infographic/390777/