Inspiration: Big Trip

Motorcycling in extreme conditions

Quick tips to make adversity your friend

If it’s adventure you’re after, then you have to unearth and then conquer the extremes of Mother Nature.

These tips are based on the experiences of Kevin and Julia Sanders, who hold the Guinness World Record for the fastest circumnavigation of the world by motorcycle. Find out more at

Terrain tips for: altitudewind, sand, mud, gravel, snow and ice and river crossings.


The best riding in the world is in the mountains. Fact.

Sooner or later you’ll find yourself riding at altitude. That’s anything above 2,400 metres.

Climb too high, too fast and you risk altitude sickness. Go up slowly, drink water and avoid alcohol.

Take your time.

Good bikes can handle it. Modern Triumph Tigers are superb at height, and start and run without issue even at 5,340 metres on low-grade fuel.

An older carb-feed bike could mean reduced power delivery, poor mileage and black smoke from your exhaust.

Altitude will affect tyre pressures, so check them as you go up and come down.


Strong winds are a nightmare – make the unpredictable predictable.

Headwind is noisy, eats fuel and increases fatigue, regardless of screen. Fuel management can be a headache in remote areas due to unexpected increased usage.

A tail wind carries you along and creates an eerie quietness but can also lead to you going faster than you intended without realising it.

Constant or gusting crosswinds are a pain in the saddle, damned hard work and will take anything into the distance that’s not bungeed down.

Find out where the wind is coming from and adjust your position closer to it. If it does strike, you’ve got room to be blown across your lane without being forced to the wrong side of the road.

Stay in a lower gear for more flexibility and drive.Counter steering can also help by applying pressure through the bars to counter the force of the wind.


Gravel comes in all shapes, sizes and depths – embrace it whether it’s on a fire track in Wales, a side road in the Pyrenees or a three-day ride down Ruta 40 in Argentina.

The deeper it gets, the worse it is… especially on a fully loaded bike.

Standing on the pegs lowers the centre of gravity and gives the bike more stability on movable surfaces.

If the road is rocky or potholed it allows the suspension full movement without being compressed like it is when seated.

Standing gives better vision – pick your best line.

Keep the front light so it doesn’t dig in and remember that momentum – not speed – is your friend. The key is to keep the bike driving through.

Gravel roads will lure you in with wheel tracks or lines to follow. But they can coax you to the wrong side of the road, leaving you needing to cross large heaps of loose pebbles in the middle to return to your side. Get the front wheel as close to a 90-degree angle as possible and then commit.

Landslides consist of loose rocks and small stones but if they’ve been there a while you could find a compacted track.

Careful on the corners where gravel is piled up, weight the outside footpeg, lean the bike into the turn and the weight on the outside will help the tyres to grip.


Favourite worst nightmare… for some – but heaven if you’re a Dakar wannabe or off-road nut. Focus on keeping the front light and driving the bike through.

Ignore your brain – your head will tell you to throttle off, but do that and the front digs in.

Don’t be too bullish – inexperienced riders may prefer to try and paddle the bike through or walk it across short stretches of the stuff.


Know your brown stuff. There are different types, from treacherous, sloppy quagmire and heavy clay to the surprisingly grippy, crunchy mud.

Get on the pegs – keep the controls loose and be smooth, avoiding harsh or sudden movements, which will spark a major slide.

Professional training:

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Snow and ice

Avoid it if you can – however, fresh and thin new snow is easier to ride in by once again getting up on the pegs.

Deeper, wetter snow rutted by other vehicles can be passable, but it’s slow going and may involve paddling the bike through.

Slow and smooth – don’t be heavy on any controls. Also, if you have ABS, make sure it’s off.

Consider the wind and air temperatures. Is there a risk of freezing and ice?

What’s the wind chill? Stronger winds could turn compressed snow to ice and you have a major problem. Consider turning back or getting off and walking it.

River crossings

Base instinct. The condition of the bed is crucial. If soft, you run the risk of your bike driving into the ground and going deeper. Are there rocks, and what and where is your exit?

Look before you leap. Watch other vehicles as they go through and ask the locals. If in doubt, walk it.

Intake of breath. Know where your bike’s air intake is and keep water well away or it’s journey’s end.

Ride the line. Keep focused on the exit, keep the bike moving, the revs up and slip the clutch, keeping the bike moving at a good, fast walking pace. Uncertain about the base or current? Stay upstream so even if the bike does go down, you won’t.

Prep your ride. Proper planning and knowledge of the areas will minimise the risk of encountering extreme conditions. Going to the Yukon in April or the Sahara in September may not be a good idea!

Train and practise. The better you are equipped to deal with situations, the more enjoyable your journey will be.

Also, you can get world-class off-road training at Triumph’s Adventure Experience.