Inspiration: Big Trip

Top 5 scrambling destinations

The best places in the world to take your bike off-road

Scramblers have long been the motorcycle’s answer to the call of the wild. From the early days of ‘scramble races’ and the ‘hare scramble’ – now more than 100 years ago – these bikes have given riders access to the great wide open.

As contemporary technology feeds these truly field-tested workhorses, it’s clear the next leg of the scrambling epic has begun. Modern tailored chassis, fully customisable riding styles with dialled-in ABS and traction control monitors catering to all possible terrains and riding surfaces, as well as fully adjustable front and rear suspension with incredible clearance damn near impossible to bottom out – to name just a few contemporary perks – have come together to create wildly adaptable on- and off-road machines.

Whether a winding mountain road or a desert, a sandy beach or a dirt track, dust bowl or gravel pit, these bikes can conquer it all, writes Long Island journalist and rider Shane Herrick.

Triumph Scrambler 1200 at Baja
The latest in off-road motorcycle design – the Scrambler 1200

1. Baja California Peninsula, Mexico

The Baja California peninsula in Mexico is a paradise for scramblers and off-road riders. There you’ll discover 140,000 square kilometres, roughly 55,000 square miles, of immaculate beaches and wide-open, arid dirt flats that tremble in the desert heat just west of Mexico’s mainland and south of California.

Baja has a plethora of guided tours

Rugged single tracks wind through the scorched mountains, while the dirt roads below weave endlessly through cactus-riddled desert plains, remote villages and ranches. With the Pacific Ocean stretching off its western coastline, and the crystal blue waters of the Gulf of California lapping its eastern shore, Baja is indeed a desert oasis reminiscent of a Sergio Leone filmset.

For those riders seeking a little expert insight and a more structured experience, Baja has a plethora of guided tours and touring companies from Ensenada in the north to Cabo San Lucas at its southern tip. There are a few based in the United States as well, which usually depart from San Diego. Many companies offer their own bikes if need be, fully inspected and kitted out for the unforgiving Baja terrain.

For those looking to venture forth on their own terms, a general rule is DO YOUR HOMEWORK. In short, a few things to note:

  • plan your routes beforehand
  • bring maps (paper maps don’t run out of batteries)
  • know where to get gas
  • know where to get filtered/bottled water
  • bring some cash (most places take cards these days but cash is still king, USD widely accepted).

2. Triumph Adventure Riding Experience, Wales, United Kingdom

Located at the southern foothills of the Brecon Beacons in South Wales, the Triumph Adventure Riding Experience is a scrambling playground and bona fide training centre for avid off-road riders. The compound sits just south of the Cribarth, or Sleeping Giant, while Wales’s highest peak, Pen y Fan, reaches skyward in the distance just to the north.

Amid the stunning panoramic views of endlessly rolling hills and woodlands, the centre boasts countless routes catered to your preference and ability. From steep dirt switchbacks, gravel pits and mud trails to narrow single tracks weaving fast and loose among the pines, there is terrain here for every rider.

Each trail is tailor-made specifically for Triumph Tigers and Scramblers

With full guidance available through the experienced on-site instructors, city riders can study and hone new riding skills. More experienced riders can let loose, brush up and, yes, certainly grapple with new obstacles in some demanding environments.

Each trail is tailor-made specifically for Triumph Tigers and Scramblers, a number of which can be hired on-site. But that’s not to say you can’t bring your own. It also offers classroom space for review sessions and skills training, and a facility for gear outfitting and maintenance.

Sitting only roughly four hours from London, just shy of two hours from Bristol and a mere hour’s drive from Cardiff, what are you waiting for? It’s perfect if you are planning a bigger trip abroad or just to experience what off-road should feel like.

3. Nan Province and Pattaya, Thailand

Thailand truly is an all-around motorcycle wonderland. From the densely forested limestone mountains in the north to the low-lying, coastal jungles to the south, the country provides countless challenging riding environments to put yourself and your Scrambler to the test.

For those experienced riders looking to push themselves and their GPS – both on- and off-road – the mountainous Nan Province along the western border of Laos awaits. Sitting a few hours east of Chiang Mai – roughly 700 serpentine kilometres to the east – the province boasts a multitude of world-famous mountain roads. The R1081, for example, that weaves through remote villages and forests along the mountain ridges hugging the Laos border. Or the infamous R1095, which will put you, your bike and your cornering ability through the ringer with its almost 2,000 corners.

There are miles of tracks and trails among the low-lying jungles

The area is also known for its abundance of national parks, remote villages and breathtaking waterfalls, forests and rivers. For challenging scrambling among raw, dramatic nature, the Nan Province is second to none. On that note, definitely mind the wildlife! And, as always, respect the locals and the land and property they call home.

For those looking to venture along the coastal southern region, there are miles of tracks and trails among the low-lying jungles just outside of Bangkok. One could easily dip into Thailand’s capital city to scratch your cosmopolitan itch with some street scrambling, before heading roughly an hour’s ride down the south-eastern shore – toward the Chonburi and Rayong Provinces – to tear through numerous marshland mud tracks, stream crossings and thick jungle trails. These regions host several scrambler, enduro and motocross touring and training companies, each with their own facilities, if you’re after some local knowledge, a little brushing up or some tried-and-true trails.

4. Manali, Leh, Rajasthan and Kerala, India

In terms of topography and climate, India boasts perhaps the widest range of riding environments, all of which are steeped in India’s vibrant history and culture. The northernmost region – several hours north of Delhi – is generally most alluring to adventure riders due to the region’s drastic changes in scenery and sheer altitude. Rugged switchbacks and rustic mountain roads climb skyward as the Himalayas tower into the clouds.

Manali is one of many popular destinations and marks the beginning of the historic trade route to Ladakh. Do your altitude sickness research as Manali is nestled roughly 4,000m up, approximately 13,000 feet, offering unparalleled panoramic views.

Head for the historic desert region of Rajasthan in northwestern India

Further north toward Leh, the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh and historic chief residence of the Dalai Lama until 1959, the landscape and trails become increasingly barren as they continue to switchback through the clouds and thinning altitude.

For those not so keen on scrambling above the tree line, head for the historic desert region of Rajasthan in northwestern India, where camel and buffalo carts line the sand and dirt roads connecting remote villages, ancient forts and world heritage sites of the Thar Desert.

If tropical jungles, white-sand beaches, endless fields of tea and rustic country roads are more your speed, the far south of India, in the coastal Kerala region, awaits.

5. Nara and Kawagoe, Japan

From the subtropical climate of the southernmost main island of Kyushu to the snow-covered mountains and hot springs of the northernmost island of Hokkaido, Japan boasts a huge range of terrain, all laden with pristine national parks, imperial palaces, ancient Shinto shrines and lush woodlands.

Less than an hour’s ride east or west of Tokyo, the city already gives way to the sprawling forests and winding mountain roads of rural central Japan. Mount Fuji towers just 100km (60 miles) to the west of the city’s centre. Getting off-road, however, requires a bit of scouting. Though off-road trails are plentiful throughout much of Japan, especially in those more rural, mountainous regions, they are often unmarked and difficult to reach. In order to get off the beaten track, you are left somewhat to your own devices and a good map.

Should you want a little guidance or structure to your motorcycle run through Japan, there are countless touring companies offering a wide variety of routes and expeditions through the many breathtaking national parks and historical sites Japan holds.