You’ve been riding motorcycles for a while. Maybe your wife has joined you on a breakfast run as a pillion. Now you are planning a long adventure bike trip with your wife and you are starting to think of all the things that it will entail. I remember how worried I was before my wife and I decided to go on a 3-month journey across Africa on two Chinese delivery bikes.
5 things to consider when going on a long adventure bike trip with your wife are (1) safety, (2) which bikes, (3) on board communication, (4) where to stay, and (5) the duration of the trip.
Going on a long distance motorcycle trip with your wife is something very few bikers will ever get to experience. It is a golden opportunity to create life-long memories with your partner that you’ll both remember when you are grey and old. If it does not split you up, it will almost certainly bring you closer together.
Safety on the trip
My biggest concern on all our bike trips together was the safety of my wife. It is not that I don’t trust her riding skills, but she had less riding experience than I did and biking is inherently dangerous. On our first trip she had only been riding for a month and just got her learners permit. Apart from the risk of coming off your bike, there is the added concern of unwanted attention, especially in third-world countries. It is not that the people are more dangerous there, but due to the cultural differences, it is harder to judge a situation. Something that might be completely harmless, may seem uncomfortable if it is only you and your wife.
The single biggest danger on any motorcycle trip, even in deepest Africa, is an accident. You are far from home and emergency services may not be an option. If you’ve ever been in the crazy traffic in Cairo or Mumbai, you’ll also know that the rule of law is not exactly something that is upheld to the same degree as in Germany or the UK for instance.
After watching my wife rear-end a car once (luckily at low speed), we’ve made a rule that I always ride in front. There are two reasons we do this: (1) I can scan the road conditions and adjust the speed accordingly, as well as take the decision when it is safe to pass a slow truck, and (2) the one in front has to look in the rear-view mirror constantly to make sure you stay together. It has worked well for us and we do this on all our trips.
One thing to consider when the experienced rider is in front is the pace. You might be on a faster bike or just more comfortable with the poor road conditions. As a result, it is important to communicate about the pace and agree on a signal to slow down. Do not rush ahead and wait, rather slow the pace and stick together. Some couples may find it easier for the slower rider to set the pace from the front.
A very important safety precaution is to stop often to take short breaks. Even if it is just to stretch your legs and make sure both riders are still awake. In order to avoid riding for too long, plan the route so that you reach the destination for the day at least two hours before sunset. Never try to make it just before dark. It is during times like these that accidents happen.
This might be obvious to some, but I’ve often seen the guy wearing an expensive Arai helmet with all the gear, with his wife on the back with just a jean and a cheap helmet. Make sure you both wear proper quality safety gear. For my article on whether you should wear a neck brace, click HERE.
People have an unwarranted fear of other people in the developing world. I remember how apprehensive my wife was the first time we entered Zambia. While people look different and talk different languages, they are generally very friendly and helpful all over the world. Using common sense, like not riding in the dark or not leaving personal belongings hanging from the bike is sufficient in most cases.
If you are entering countries where a civil war is raging, you might want to rethink. That said, we passed through Kenya during the time they declared war on neighboring Somalia. We wild-camped in Sudan two months after the country split into two and entered Egypt the same week president Hosni Mubarak was ousted by revolting protesters. If we didn’t watch the news we would not have known any of this was going on (apart from the tanks in the streets of Aswan maybe).
Make sure you have a plan of action in case you do land into trouble. Discuss what you will do in different scenarios, for instance a key word that indicates “let’s subtly get our of this situation and ride away”. Also make sure that both of you know how the satellite phone works (if you have one) and has access to emergency contact details. I always carry a little book with phone numbers of friends of friends in each country we visit.
Which bike should your wife ride?
One option is to tour two-up on a big bike. While a single-cylinder, like a Yamaha XT660 Tenere, can work, a larger bike is probably a better idea. This is where the BMW R 1250 GS Adventure is in its element. The problem with a smaller bike is not necessarily space or comfort, but rather the risk of over-loading it. It is not uncommon for an overloaded bike frame to snap in half on a bumpy road.
While I would have loved a big bike with my wife riding pillion, I understand why she prefers to ride her own bike. Heck, I’d never sit on the back of a bike for even an hour. Never mind a week or more. I absolutely love riding my bike and I owe it to my wife to experience the same freedom. I had to let go and trust her abilities and judgement.
Another benefit of two bikes on a long trip is that you have a back-up if one bike breaks down. You can get on the other bike and ride to the next town for help.
Light and small
Picking the right bike for an inexperienced rider or someone with shorter legs is a whole story of its own. I would suggest the following though:
- Keep the weight down. She must be able to pick up the bike and luggage on her own.
- Make sure both her feet can plant firmly on the ground. This will give her extra confidence, especially in the dirt.
- A bike with less power is much easier to ride. On a long tour you should not speed anyways.
This may not be a popular piece of advice, but I would even consider getting similar bikes. You will be able to carry one set of spares and you only need to know how one works if something breaks.
After deciding to ride separate bikes, the obvious next question is how to communicate with each other while riding. There are different types of Bluetooth bike-to-bike intercom systems. They work very well if you are within eye-sight of each other. Since you will be riding together, these work great.
Another option are the push-to-talk systems that work with your cell phone. These can work over any distance, provided that you have cell phone coverage and a sim card for the country you are in. This is impractical if you are traversing many countries, as you would need to get two sim cards in each country you ride through.
A third option, which had surprising benefits, are ditching the communication altogether. We rode through Africa for 90 days (rarely staying over for more than a night – so we were on the bikes a lot!) and we didn’t have any way to communicate with each other. It has obvious drawbacks. Every time you wanted to say something or make a joint decision, you had to stop.
The upside of no communication on the bike was we had plenty to say each night in camp. We experienced the same road each day, but essentially traveled alone. Also, if the one was annoyed about something (or something the other one did), he/she was over it by the time we stopped. As a result we didn’t fight once on the trip.Francois Steyn – Crossing Africa
TIP: We took two Zartek 2-way radios along so we could keep contact as the one watched the bikes while the other enters a shop or garage toilet.
Camping with your wife
Where you sleep pretty much depends on how comfortable your wife (or you) likes to sleep, as well as the depth of your pockets. For many, camping is an integral part of an adventure trip. There is nothing like passing out in a tent or under the starts after a long day in the saddle. And then making coffee on the camp stove or fire the next morning, while you go over your bike. Camping is also a lot cheaper in most countries, especially in the developed world.
In some developed countries it might be trickier to find a campsite, but often hotels are not that expensive. There are many places in the world where you can wild camp for free. Wild camping is essentially when you sleep in the middle of nowhere without checking in or paying. With a big group of guys, this is much easier, as you can more easily scare off intruders. I’ve found that I am much more particular about where I wild camp when it is only my wife and me.
Strangely enough, Sudan and Egypt were the easiest countries to wild camp, as there are so few people outside of the towns. We usually just rode off into the desert and hid behind a small hill until it was dark. We also never made a fire when wild camping, so no-one would even have known we were there.
TIP: Don’t start looking for a camp spot after dark. It is impossible to know where exactly you are are and you won’t know that you are camping on someone’s property until the next morning!
In Western Tanzania we got caught out on a dirt road after dark and we ended up riding until 23h45 pm before we found a small town with an open mission center that had a room for us. It was a harrowing experience that I would not like to experience again. We could have camped next to the road, but every time we stopped to check out a spot, someone would emerge from the bush and be startled by us.
Duration of the bike trip
Obviously, a weekend away on the bike is the best place to start. Our first bike trip as a couple was only one night away. We rode an old Kawasaki KLR650 C-model (not a touring bike!) with a luggage rack I welded that afternoon (I am not a welder!). It went well and we soon upgraded to the bigger tanked A-model KLR. After a few more short trips my wife declared she wants to ride her own bike. It took her less than a month to get ready for a 5 800 km trip around South Africa on her own 125 cc bike.
The advantage of the short trip is obvious. She gets a chance to experience adventure biking, while it is not too long if she hates it. The great thing about touring with your wife on longer trips is that you both get to share the memories. No-one cares about your bike adventure as much as you do. So making her part of that once-in-a-lifetime mega trip will mean the memories get to be shared for ever.
And who knows. If she likes it, you might soon be plotting the next big trip.