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Has Adventure Riding Become the New "Gluten-Free?"

Eric Hall




Has adventure riding become the new gluten-free?

Everything in the grocery store now seems to carry a label “gluten-free!” I bought bacon the other day and saw it on the front. It’s BACON! Of course it doesn’t contain any gluten!

Likewise it seems with “adventure.” Everything seems to be “ADV” this or that. Even BMW’s new S 1000 XR comes with the “adventure” moniker even though it’s probably the last bike I’d ever use for what I define as adventure riding.

Look at me, I’m going adventure riding!


It’s not really that important to me how people ride their bikes or what terms they use to describe their riding. But for me, “adventure riding” does still hold more of a finite than infinite description.

I guess the classic and more narrow definition of adventure riding would be something like this: Any motorcycle journey of perhaps a week or longer, probably international or at least out of one’s comfort zone involving travel over multiple road surface types (not solely tarmac/bitumen/asphalt) where the rider is most likely camping off their bike and/or sleeping in a different place most nights, raising money for X charity and documenting their epic selfies with a GoPro camera and becoming social media commodities.

Okay, so I might have been kidding about those last parts.

Personally, it’s meaningful to me to understand what I consider adventure riding is as well as what it’s not. I’m very open minded and have become even more so over time but there are still some things I find bug me about it. I understand that adventure means different things to different people but when I hear someone talk about throwing their un-plated dirt bike in the back of their pickup and going “adventure riding” for the day, I just kind of shake my head. I understand that guy sees it as an adventure of some kind. I just don’t see that as “adventure riding” myself.

I recently had the opportunity to pose this question of how does one define adventure riding on a Facebook group, IBAR (International Brotherhood of Adventure Riders; 8,300 followers) and got some really fantastic responses. I learned a lot! My perception of adventure riding has definitely been expanded, but I find I’m still clinging to my own tastes in certain areas.

Believe me, if there’s one thing I hate it’s a “bike nazi” who sets up rules of what you can/can’t do. I don’t want to be “that guy.” But when a word starts to mean anything, it means nothing. I’m really good with broad brushes but if all I’m seeing on a canvas is a blob of neutral color with no shape, definition or story, I’m lost.

I also know that simply owning an “adventure bike” doesn’t equal adventure riding. I own an adventure bike and on the rare occasion I commute on it, I call that commuting, not adventure riding. I might go ride some twisty canyon roads on a weekend and prefer to call that canyon carving, not adventure riding. I might go do a track day and would call that track riding, not adventure riding. Recently, Tolga and I took his new camera assistant, Gozde, out for some dirt training and a little trail ride. I’d call that trail riding, not adventure riding.

I sit back and look at all the riding I’ve done over about four years and 56k miles and guess that maybe only about 20% of my miles were what I personally would call adventure riding (e.g. Bolivia, Baja, AZBDR, COBDR, etc…). I do a lot of these three day weekend trips to say, Death Valley, and camp in one spot and ride trails out and back each day. I guess that’s really more trail riding than adventure riding.

To me, that’s totally fine. I don’t feel like I’m some kind of adventure rider poser because I’m not “doing it right,” nor does anyone else. There’s no right/wrong answer and no test to pass. It’s really irrelevant. I’m not an Alex Chacon, but I do still love following adventure riding topics via this site (of course) as well as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc…

I also don’t think one even needs an “adventure bike” to go adventure riding. Some of the best examples of adventure riders did their journeys on bikes most wouldn’t consider adventure bikes: Harley Davidsons, Honda Goldwings, Honda C90’s, old Triumphs, BMW RT’s, etc… This being XLADV, I still don’t think adventure riding requires any kind of “XL” or big bike component (doesn’t hurt).

Not everyone has the time/money to be a Ted Simon, Austin Vince, Lois Pryce, etc… I think the longest motorcycle trip I’ve done was just two weeks. A lot of the riding I do for fun locally I view as kind of training for future adventure riding, so in a sense I kind of see how the term gets expanded.

Interestingly, I find the more regional trail riding I do is many times more adventurous and enjoyable than the two weeks of riding I did in Bolivia. The riding conditions there were pretty bad, actually. There were lots of narrow, dusty and dangerous dirt roads and no interesting single-track, challenging hills or beach riding like I’m more used to. The adventure there for me was in the places I got to see, the people I got to meet rather than the riding itself. I guess the “death road” and seeing a hillside road slide down a thousand foot cliff in front of me was adventurous.

It’s also just a convenient classification we use to distinguish ourselves from other motorcycle sub-cultures like café racer hipsters, sport bikes, choppers, cruisers, tourers, moped gangs, etc… (yes, there are moped gangs).

In sum, I guess I can say that while my definition of adventure riding is already quite broad and has been expanded, it still holds specific meaning to me. That meaning is just one person’s opinion and not a test, label or judgment passed on anyone else.

I’ll leave the reader here with some of the responses I felt were noteworthy:

  • Notion of picking a spot on the map and going seems to fit. Something new, different, destination unknown, more for the journey than the destination. Live, ride explore.
  • Not everyone can take a multi week multi country trip. For some, a good day ride on a new more challenging track is all we have time or allowance for. Anything new, or more challenging that pushes our bubble just a bit bigger is an adventure. It is to each of us a personal experience.
  • For me it's travelling. Whether it a weekend of logging roads near Algonquin (& camping) or longer, mostly pavement trips. 10 days in Canada's East Coast & 6 weeks through Western Europe. Just getting out there and being.
  • I think the term "adventure" is relative to each person. Hey, if it's an adventure to you based on your everyday life, then more power to you. Live your adventure.
  • Single definition of adventure riding don't exist!! All depend what adventure means to YOU..
  • My idea of adventure riding. It's not about the route but about the journey. Alone or with a friend pick a spot on the Map and go there. It's always different, take pictures, enjoy the people places and the ride.
  • I think you can define it as whatever you like. My personal definition, is having the ability to go off road and find a nice camping spot. I'm on an adventure every time I ride, even if I don't hit dirt that day.
  • For me, an adventure ride HAS to include some dirt/off-road sections. Adventure to me is not being on Tarmac 100% of the time. Gravel, OHV trails, minimum maintenance roads and preferably not sleeping in my own bed.
  • Explore riding is what I do riding to see where a road goes I've drove past a hundred times in my truck. Riding is fun and every ride to me is an adventure but if you can ride trails fire roads freeways you are an adventure rider.
  • Adventure is a mindset (Harold Olaf Cecil)
  • Adventure is in the heart. In my opinion. If you can't go out and have a good time, no matter what. You're NOT an adventurer. If you break down and say, "that really sucked"...but it was AWESOME! You ARE an adventurer. If you're on a ride with friends and have something to complain about. You're NOT an adventurer. If you can jump into a ride, last minute without caring where the destination is, you ARE an adventurer.
  • I don't see it about being on dirt or bitumen or related to time or distance traveled. I see it as being open to try new places, roads, tracks and experiences, and being willing to go out of your comfort zone to have those experiences. It's about learning and living all at once.
  • Well I have to say this much for you Eric Hall, you do ask some great questions and start some good threads. The marketing department at BMW really knew what they were doing when they attached the word Adventure to there bulked up GS back in 2001/2002. At that time the GS was just a moderate seller in their lineup of bikes. Now today it is their biggest seller. I think as a definition in the motorcycle world the Adventure bike was meant to be a do everything machine. Tour the freeways and highways with ease and comfort as well as get you though some fairly rugged stuff if you had the balls and the skills to ride it there. KTM soon produced a twin to compete and now there are more and more bikes that have a wider range of capabilities because that is what people think they want. One thing is for sure, the Adventure market has opened up a lot of opportunities that did not exist before. Look at all the companies like Touratech just for starters who have thrived because of this segment of motorsport. I echo the sentiments that riding in general is an adventure, but that does not mean you are necessarily doing it on an Adventure bike.
  • If you are riding and you want to call it "ADV" riding have at it I say, want to put knobbies on your bike and run back and forth to Starbucks well maybe it's not so ADV'ish
  • To me if it’s all pavement it’s not ADV. All pavement is touring or sport touring. ADV includes some dirt and generally longer distances. Dual sport is similar but shorter distances. The original intent of the term was to draw a distinction vs. other forms of riding
  • My definition......the bike has to be plated and at least some of the riding must be off the pavement.......now if you're lucky.......MOST of the riding will be off the pavement and involve tents, sleeping bags and a bourbon of some kind!


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