Travel & Adventure Don’t Diss The Humble Foreign Moto RentalRenting and riding a motorcycle in foreign countries will make you a more versatile rider … and it’s always a kick-ass time.
- Words & Images Owen Clarke
I was just outside Antamina, a sprawling open pit mine perched high in a remote region of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, and I was pinned underneath my motorcycle, the engine block crushing my kneecap.
I’d low-sided on a torturous, pothole-choked mountain road at 13,000 feet while gunning the bike to outrun a flatbed full of guards chasing me out of the mine. Antamina has a history of corruption, allegedly contaminating the water and air, threatening villagers, and bribing officials. I was interviewing miners as part of an investigation of the mine and the rock climbing around it for Climbing.
Now I was pinned in the mud like a cockroach under a boot, struggling to lift the CBX500 free of my scrawny frame. The bike was loaded with gear (including a vintage issue of Playboy that I’d planned to use to bribe the mine guards). With every wiggle, it seemed to push me deeper into the mire.
But I wasn’t stressing because the guards were after me, or because my kneecap felt like it was about to implode, or because I was suffering from a heinous bout of Montezuma’s Revenge after eating poorly-cooked ram meat in a village 100 kilometers south.
Ironically, what stressed me out the most was that the bike wasn’t mine. It was a rental. Is it dented? Dinged? Did the side mirror crack? These were the fears racing through my head.
Luckily, the bike’s only injuries were a dented exhaust and dinged handlebar. I shot the owner $40 when I got back to Lima, and we called it square.
Rental bikes get a bad rap. No one wants to say they don’t own the bike they’re riding. It’s like renting a tuxedo or renting a house. If the threads, the pad, or the bike are rad… everyone secretly wishes they just owned ‘em instead.
When I post photos of motorcycles in foreign countries, my friends who ride back home will reach out, asking how I got the bike out there from the U.S. When I tell them it’s not my ride, just a rental, their interest is noticeably dampened.
It’s ironic, because most American riders I know, even folks who ride daily, have rarely (if ever) ridden outside the country. It’s not that they don’t travel, but that they don’t think about picking up a bike while abroad. My father, for example, has ridden for 40 years and done his fair share of international travel but has never combined the two.
I’m not sure whether this trend is because of perceived risk or misconceptions about rental processes, but it’s not surprising. Americans are known as infrequent (and over-cautious) travelers. Perhaps American motorcyclists are no different. I’ve rented and ridden in three different countries in the last year, and never once seen an American rider. Several of the rental outfits I’ve spoken with confirmed this. American motorcyclists are a rare sight abroad.
That’s a shame, because riding in foreign countries is a quick ticket to becoming a more versatile, well-rounded rider, both from trying out different types of motorcycles and from riding in different locales, with unfamiliar traffic laws, driving styles, terrain, and climate.
The best part about renting, though, is that you aren’t riding alone. Someone has your back. Rental agencies equip you to have the best experience possible. They know the best bikes for their country’s terrain. They know the routes to take, weather to expect, hazards to avoid. Their bikes are already registered and insured for the country, saving you heaps of hassle if you were to import or buy a bike instead.
In Guatemala last summer, Motorcycle Adventure Guatemala gave me a burner phone to contact them from anywhere in the country and marked on a paper map the handful of roads that were bandit hotspots. I never thought I’d care for an XR250, but it was the perfect bike for the rugged mountain roads there. It got me up a gnarly track to 11,700 feet so I could hike to the top of Tajumulco (13,789 feet), the tallest peak in Central America.
Here in Ecuador, Ecuador Bike Rental equipped my bike with a GPS tracker so they could keep up with my progress, a waterproof phone mount for the incessant rainstorms here, and helped me plan the best routes to access the mountains I’m trying to climb. I paid in bulk for 17 days spread out into four separate trips, so I’m paying for bikes only when I need them, and they let me try a different bike each time I ride. Last week my girlfriend and I took a Himalayan to the beach. This weekend I’m taking an XRE-300 to the Amazon.
These experiences have been far better than my first time riding abroad when I bought a half-fallen apart ‘82 CG125 while living in New Zealand. I spent more time moronically fiddling with that hunk of metal than I did riding it.
Back in the Cordillera Blanca, after a few minutes of squirming in the muck on the road, I reached around the bike and unlaced my boot, then managed to lift the bike and slide my leg free. Either the mine guards had given up a few klicks back, or they were having a tough time navigating all the potholes.
Regardless, I sped off down the windy road unmolested and made it to the village in the valley below a couple of hours later. Luckily, the bike’s only injuries were a dented exhaust and dinged handlebar. I shot the owner $40 when I got back to Lima, and we called it square.
The point is, the next time you leave the country, maybe don’t immediately jump to renting a car or taking buses, trains, or taxis.
You’re a motorcyclist at home, right? You can be one abroad, too.