Motorcycle Diaries: Ten road movies that will inflame your wanderlust

Sometimes all you need to achieve your life goals is a little nudge in the right direction. Whether that nudge is a well marinated, after-midnight pub story by a world conqueror, a travel diary which scents of gasoline and awakens the butterfly valves in your belly, or an inspiring movie which sparks the itch to pack up and leave home for a while. 

That feeling of zipping your bag up, slamming the front door, twisting the key and savoring every single mile of tarmac devoured by your tires on the road to nowhere in particular. As on a motorcycle, the only destination is the trip itself. We’ve opted to present you a cinematographic warm-up selection for your next road trip - truthfully documented, or romantically dramatized - it doesn’t make any difference for that creeping, motorized travel bug...
 

The Motorcycle Diaries

Bearing the Motorcycle Diaries legacy, it would be a bit weird not to start off with the movie which sparked it all: The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). This masterpiece by Walter Salles is a dramatized version of the motorcycle road trip Che Guevara went on in his youth that revealed the well-known life's calling.

The film is a biopic about the journey and written memoirs of the 23-year-old Ernesto Guevara - later known as the guerrilla commander and revolutionary Che Guevara - that tells the story of a 1952 motorcycle expedition across South America by Guevara and Alberto Granado. That year, a semester before Ernesto Guevara is due to complete his medical degree, he and his older friend Alberto Granado leave Buenos Aires in order to travel across South America. The main goal of their journey is to go work at a leper colony in Peru, but they’re both in the mood for some pure fun and adventure as well.

In that spirit, both friends ache to discover as much of Latin America as they possibly can, covering more than 14,000 kilometers in just four and a half months. Their initial method of transport is Granado's badly maintained Norton 500 motorcycle which is called La Poderosa ("The Mighty One") - until it breaks down and they’re forced to continue their journey walking…

Fun fact: the real motorcycle which Ernesto and Alberto rode was an all-original, British Norton International, with a 500cc single-cylinder engine. For the film, however, the crew used restored Nortons to shoot most of the movie, except for the crash scenes - then the crew used modern Suzuki’s made up to look like Nortons to do the ‘dirty work’. According to the director, the old Nortons were reliable throughout the takes, whereas the modern Suzukis constantly broke down. 

Mondo Enduro

Another one which will give you goosebumps, is Mondo Enduro, a documentary of a round-the-world adventurous motorcycle expedition in the mid nineties. Brothers Austin and Gerald and their friends Chas Penty, Bill Penty, Clive Greenhough, Nick Stubley and Mark Friend motivated themselves to steer their bikes - Suzuki DR350’s - around the globe. Although that’s not the only goal: they want to do it by the longest route possible in the shortest time - talk about ambition!

The result of their captured trip is a two part TV series - I know, not the definition of a movie, but close enough - which leads them from London, through Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Siberia, then from Alaska to Chile and finally from Cape Town through Africa and the Middle East back to London. Handy trivia: this trip was the first recorded crossing of the Caucasus, Central Asia, Russia and Siberia making Mondo the first Europeans to reach Magadan post collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as the first attempt to cross the Zilov Gap, and of course an unprecedented use of small dirt-bikes for an unsupported 65.000 kilometer trip. Amazing stuff.

And we’re not the only ones to think so, as the exploits were broadcasted on Discovery Travel countless times, which has elevated Mondo Enduro to cult status amongst motorcycle adventure travellers. If you haven’t seen it yet, you most definitely should. 

 

Riding solo to the top of the world

Not around the world, but well worth mentioning is Riding Solo to the Top of the World. A 2006 documentary film -  in English, don’t worry - directed by Gaurav Jani on the Chang pas of Ladakh, in India. Apart from a motorcycle trip, it’s a confronting journey of self-discovery.

The road leads our protagonist from Mumbai to one of the remotest places in the world, the Changthang Plateau in Ladakh, bordering China and averaging above 5.000 meters in altitude. The above-mentioned director was a one-man camera crew unit who loaded his Royal Enfield Bullet 350cc motorcycle called ‘Loner’ with 300 kilograms of equipment and supplies and set off on a journey to one of the world's most difficult terrains.

A land devoid of roads and with temperatures that dive to minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter. Do yourself a favor and get on Jani’s pillion to drive along and witness the beauty of riding solo. You won’t be disappointed - as is proven by the 11 awards it won at 21 film festivals... 

Cycles South

Yes, we could’ve selected ‘On any sunday’ to complete this list, but we’ve opted for an oddball movie from the other side of the spectrum - far beyond any political correctness: the mind-boggling Cycles South (1971). A well-aged motorcycle documentary film that is surprisingly amusing for a movie that some of you will have never heard of. Sex, drugs, rock-‘n-roll and of course motorcycles: sorry ladies, but this reeks a bit of the ultimate male fantasy.

Oh yes, there’s a storyline as well. Four young hippies from Denver, Colorado decided to slam the door of their homes, drop everything and test how far they can travel south on the (at the time) newly paved Pan-American Highway that runs from Alaska to Panama. Needless to say what follows is a motorcycle trip of a lifetime: they ride down jungle trails, carve through the desert, follow the tracks of an abandoned railroad, while along the way, they enjoy all possible tourist attractions - skiing in Taos, scuba diving off the Mexican shore, and even go bullfighting in the border town of Juarez…

To do so, they pack their old BSA’s with some spare parts, a sleeping bag, a fresh pair of pants and every penny their back pockets could afford. Their adventure tour takes them through seven countries over the course of four months before they run out of money in Panama and ship their bikes back home. The moral of the story is you don’t always need a lot of money, a brand new bike or a solid plan to have a great time - as true adventure mostly happens when you allow fate to do its thing.

Long live the kings

You’re the kind of person that prefers a hasty espresso over a well-savored café lungo? In that case ‘Long live the kings’ might just be the thing for you. Clement Beauvais and Arthur de Kersauson scored a hit with this rather strange six-minute documentary, which follows three guys on their road trip through France on classic, Blitz-built BMW flat twins - we spotted a seventies Honda tank on one of them, for example.

Although produced in 2012, the short movie has the seventies or eighties feel to it, thanks to the fact that it was shot on Super 16mm film. Tip of the house: don’t forget to check out the LLTK-blogspot (http://long-live-the-kings.blogspot.be) as the movie comes with stunning photography by Donald van der Putten. To watch over and over again!

The Royal Silk Road 

25 countries, 4 months, 16.000 kilometers, 3 ancient Royal Enfields, 0 motorcycle experience. The summary of a plan so bonkers only three young Belgians could’ve come up with it. Leopold Wirtz, Thibault Flament, and Donald Marchandise took on a journey, which would take them from New Delhi to their hometown, Brussels: The Royal Silk Road.

An expedition that took our trio to remote populations, past incredible views, endless kilometers over the most stunning roads on this planet, and made them suffer countless crashes and technical problems - broken clutches, gearboxes that needed welding, overheating,... Totaling up to a delay of one and a half months. Unbelievable, but true.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to have these guys over for the proverbial tea - a short interview for the magazine I used to work for. Their story is one that has been on my mind ever since: leaving for India with two thirds of your fellowship that still needs to get their motorcycle license over there, the whole crew had never ever opened an engine in their life - they just carried a workshop manual - and their choice for oldtimer Indian Royal Enfields…

The end result is not a movie, but a series of eight rather short but stunning episodes of their mind-blowing trip, shot by professional cameraman/photographer Donald. Epic is the word.

Somewhere else tomorrow

Every motorcyclist and his dog will have had the thought of leaving on a motorcycle trip around the world at least at one point in his or her life. But then some questions pop up. When will you ever have time to leave for a couple of months? And where on earth would you get the money to actually go for it? Sell the house and tell the kids they’re not going to college? Well, there are other possibilities, as Somewhere Else Tomorrow points out in a truly extraordinary way.

This one is the story of Daniel Rintz, a wide-eyed dreamer, who’s afraid of dullness and worried about getting tangled up in a boring job. In order to avoid the latter, he pursues the greatest dare he can think of: traveling around the world on a motorcycle, without any money at all. Rintz was born in East Germany at a time when world travel was a far-away dream for the former communist state, But during his teens the wall fell, leaving a gaping hole towards adventure.

Instead of wasting precious time saving up for the trip, he decides to leave right away and make money by taking on any job along the way – a splendid idea, rendering the trip more challenging and dangerous than he intended in the first way.  A story about survival, filmed by himself (no film crew), and without any money to buy his way out of tight situations. A must-see for every ‘yes, but...’-er!  

Long Way Round

As it was the case with The Royal Silk Road, this one too is not really a movie - rather a series about the adventures of famous Hollywood actor Ewan McGregor and his mate Charley Boorman. Together they embarked on their epic Long Way Round, taking them from London to New York, to bike 31.000 kilometers, across 12 countries and 19 time zones in just 115 days...

Riding BMW R1150GS’s they crossed Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia to ride the Road of Bones through Siberia, over to Alaska, through Canada, and North America. ​Long Way Round is the result of their adventures - a fascinating, frank and highly entertaining series about two friends riding round the world together and, against all the odds, realizing their dream.

Can’t get enough of their adventures? Don’t despair, as the duo has been spotted during the last months, riding their way up from the southernmost point of Argentina, towards Alaska (?) for their The Long Way Up. On a set of Harley-Davidson LiveWires. Yep! 

The Sibersky Extreme Project

As you know, motorcycle overlanding is always about pushing boundaries - which is exactly whatmotorcycle adventurer Walter Colebatch did to can his 'The Sibirsky Extreme Project', a motorcycle ride through the ultimate depths of Siberia. He was hoping to discover what is possible in terms of motorcycling in Siberia and was aiming to ride routes and tracks that had yet to be explored by adventure motorcyclists. 

And boy, did he discover: he rode the Tuva Track (a vague boggy unridden route linking the Altai and Tuvan Republics, near the Mongolian border), the Anabar Road from Lensk to Udachny (an unridden route leading further north in Asia than anyone had ridden before), the Vilyuisky Trakt (an unridden dirt track only completed in early 2009 that runs 1.500 kilometers east between Lensk, Mirny and Yakutsk) and topped it off with the (in)famous BAM Road.

The latter is one of the toughest adventure roads left on this planet, which used to be railway service track that runs alongside the old railway track in Russian Siberia. Roughly 4.300 kilometers filled with everything from dilapidated bridges to waist-high water crossings, many kilometers away from civilisation. The road mostly consists of gravel, with broken wood bridges and extreme weather conditions. Not for the faint of heart... An abandoned road no motorcyclist had ever even attempted in its entirety, let alone ridden it. Needless to say, you'll be on the edge of your seat.

MotoNomad 

The last one - well, actually it’s a documentary trilogy - will also appeal to the more, eh, competitive overlanders. The concept of this recent movie series is simple: no film crew, just two forty-something-year-old Australian mates on a journey, armed with KTM EXC500’s, a drone, some GoPro’s, and a firm amount of offroading talent. Adam Riemann (pro-level racer and motorcycle journo-turned-videographer) and Mark Portbury (former pro racer) take on a 7.000-kilometer ride on their dirt bikes from the Mattighofen HQ’s of KTM in Austria to Egypt while passing through the heavily militarised Sinai Peninsula. A stunning trip, which is emphasized by their motorcycle skills. 

In the second movie, 'MotoNomad II: Riders of the Steppe', Adam takes along two other riders to venture deep into Siberia's Altai Mountain range and attempt to cross the great Steppes of Mongolia. Traversing flooded rivers, snow-capped mountains, and baking hot deserts, as they race toward the capital of Mongolia to witness the country's greatest celebration -  the Naadam festival. 

For the third leg of this trilogy ('MotoNomad III: Riders of the Andes') the threesome sets sail for Chile’s Atacama desert. Following an old route of the 2014 Dakar Rally, they venture into the Altiplano – a high altitude volcanic plateau stretching across Bolivia. Extreme cold, extreme altitude, and limited fuel supplies prove to be quite the test again - but the scenery and videography are stunning. You’ll have trouble finding a more beautifully filmed and edited motorcycle road movie than this series. An absolute gem, that will have you up and riding halfway watching it. Before ordering them, have a look at the trailers below! 

Where next?

Explore the best roads & POI's around and plan your next trip based on those roads.

 


 

 

More stories

7 scenic roads in Portugal

7 scenic roads in Portugal

On her bike: Through Sudan and Ethiopia

On her bike: Through Sudan and Ethiopia

Trans Euro Trail: Switzerland

Trans Euro Trail: Switzerland