This story has been updated from its original publication in January, 2018.
How’s your case of PMS (aka Parked Motorcycle Syndrome)?
It might be cold and yucky in Canada right now, but it’s warm and sunny in lots of other places: places you can rent motorcycles and ride them, or even go on a guided tour.
There are advantages to both options. A simple rental is cheaper, and it gives you more control of where you go and when you get there. You aren’t waiting around for other riders at rest stops, and you aren’t being held back, or dragged along, by other tour members on the road. You’re in control of your own pace.
On the other hand, a good touring company will make sure you travel on the best roads to reputable accommodations and restaurants. A guide will help regulate the pace somewhat, even if some riders want to go faster or slower, and will know where you can speed up, and where you shouldn’t. A guide should know how to avoid speed traps and other local issues. As well, if you have bike trouble, your guide should be able to take care of things for you.
A good compromise between these is to take a self-guided tour that’s been assembled by a rental company, something EagleRider does in many areas.
One other option is to ship your own motorcycle to a warmer climate, but the Air Canada motorcycle cargo rates aren’t in effect in winter so you’ll pay a lot more to fly it.
You can ship your bike by ground, either throwing it into your own truck/trailer, or shipping it with someone who arranges this sort of thing. There are plenty of ground shipping companies, but you want to make sure you pick one with a good reputation for shipping vehicles in a careful, timely fashion; in the Toronto area, TFX will ship bikes, but in other areas, you will have to search to find someone who does this.
Some dealers are big on these fly-and-ride arrangements, where you simply fly to the destination, ride your bike, then fly home, and they take care of the shipping both ways, but it varies year-by-year. If you want to try it, first check with your local dealer, and if they don’t offer it, maybe they know someone who does. You tend to find these sorts of offers by word-of-mouth advertising, through friends of friends. If you can’t find something, maybe you can arrange your own deal with your friends? And don’t forget, if you’re wanting to communicate with other riders, there’s always the CMG Forum.
But if you don’t want to trust your bike to someone else, or you want to go somewhere it isn’t practical to ship your bike, the best bet is to arrange a rental or a tour. Ready to pack your bags? Read on for your midwinter motorcycle vacation options!
The United States
If you want to go to the US, you’ve got to decide which side of the country you want—east or west. Realistically, east means Florida, which is hardly a thrilling motorcycle destination (although much more exciting than shoveling your driveway). The west (let’s say from Texas to California) has far better riding, and once you get to California, far more selection of companies to rent from or tour with.
However, one mega-company spans the whole country: EagleRider, the world’s largest motorcycle rental company. No matter which side of the States you’re traveling in, if you use Google to find a rental or a tour, you’re going to see ads for EagleRider. Thanks to its team-up with Harley-Davidson, EagleRider is everywhere, offering rentals of new Harley-Davidsons, as well as guided and unguided tours. It’s a known entity, there are locations in all the major US cities, and it’s convenient to use. For these reasons alone, EagleRider could easily be one-stop shopping if you’re planning a trip to the US.
Aside from EagleRider, there are many smaller but well-known touring companies (mostly based on the west coast) that could help you out this winter, offering everything from offroad rips through Death Valley to corner-carving street rides through California canyons.
Other well-known outfits with midwinter motorcycle excursions in the US are Pashnit Tours (street-based rips through California), Motoquest (adventure rides in the American southwest), and Rawhyde Offroad (more adventure riding in the American southwest). If you want to find other rental outfits in the US, check out the Horizons Unlimited rental listings.
Starting in Mexico and heading through Central and South America, there are tons of riding opportunities in the middle of the winter. While the stereotype is to think of gruff, bearded adventure riders tucking a Luger into their boot and heading south for Argentina, the reality is that most Canadians are likely not headed that far on a winter vacation. Also, if you don’t want to ride offroad, you don’t have to; there are plenty of decent street-based motorcycle tours available, especially in Mexico.
Eagle Rider has a presence in Mexico, offering both street-based tours and rentals in Cozumel. Riders of the Sierra Madre also offers street-biased touring, or adventure touring, if that’s your flavour.
And let’s face it: When most people think of riding in Mexico or other southern destinations, they’re thinking of adventure riding. Rawhyde’s tours through Mexico’s Baja peninsula are very well-known (there’s a wait list!). Down in South America, Ayres Adventures (the only company with tours to all seven continents) offers mid-winter adventure that takes you through the same countries as the Dakar rally, including a rip through the Atacama Desert and a trip to Machu Picchu. If you’re a female rider who isn’t interested in watching a bunch of men try to prove who’s the fastest, you can sign up for MotoDiscovery’s Women Ride The Baja tour.
Along with Ayres and MotoDiscovery, Edelweiss is another company with a presence pretty much everywhere on the globe, and in the winter, it has some particularly interesting stuff in South America. Along with tours in mainland South America, Edelweiss also offers shorter and longer tours of Cuba, a destination that’s particularly hard to get to by motorcycle.
Are all these touring options leaving you cold, or maybe just too expensive, or maybe you just can’t talk your partner into it, because he/she just wants to veg out at a beach?
There are other outside-the-box options you can look into; many tourism-focused areas have independent rental companies that offer small-cc bikes at budget prices, allowing you to plan much more of a shoestring-budget tour. Or, if worse comes to worst, just do what I did in Cuba in 2012, and rent a crappy Chinese scooter off a resort. At least that lets you explore the local area, and if the locals are mostly driving donkey carts and trucks from the 1950s, your vehicle isn’t any worse than what they’re driving. Again, you can find a lot of motorcycle rental listings at the Horizons Unlimited website.
While locals are happily zooming around Europe on two wheels, it’s basically impossible to find a motorcycle tour there right now. The weather is just too iffy to make a tour a good idea.
But wait! Depending how crazy you are, you can go on the Ice Run. Organized by The Adventurists, a UK-based group that seems intent on making the world more interesting one madcap stunt at a time, the Ice Run takes you across Russia’s Lake Baikal on a Ural sidecar. If you do this, you might die. But if you do complete the Ice Run, please let us know. We want to hear your story, unless you survived by eating your riding partner or something horrible like that.
Edelweiss, MotoDiscovery, Ayers, and Eaglerider all have options in Africa, but along with those outfits, you should consider Renedian Adventures. Run by Rene Cormier, whose round-the-world adventures have appeared on CMG (here’s an example). Rene offers a variety of African tours, from street-based rides on Harley-Davidsons to excursions with massive amounts of gravel road riding aboard BMWs. CMG has never gone on one of his tours, but we’ve talked to people who have, and they always seem to enjoy their ride. Give him a call if you’re looking at going to Africa.
Motorcycle rentals are also doable in Africa, although the Horizons Unlimited bulletin board has fewer listings there than some other areas. Scott Wilson rented a Honda Africa Twin in Cape Town, and told us all about it here. For now, Eagle Rider doesn’t do rentals there, but that may change in the future.
By the time you get this far away from Canada, your flight time will cost you a lot more money and will cut into your vacation, so you don’t hear as much about Canadians flying to these destinations.
Having said that, if you have the time and/or money, Asia, Australia and especially New Zealand can all be very rewarding riding locations. There’s a wide variety of touring options in Asia, from the major touring companies mentioned above to small independent shops scattered all through southeast Asia, willing to hire bikes out for just a few bucks a day. Scott Wilson rented a Honda CRF 250L in Laos and told us about it here.
Really, this is one the most affordable ways to see the world on two wheels, if you have the time, and some adventure riders even recommend this type of trip as being superior in some ways to the classic RTW trip on your big adventure bike: riding around on a dilapidated 125 cc Honda knockoff will ensure you meet a lot of locals, even if it’s just looking to replace the pieces of your bike that broke or fell off in the day’s ride.
As for Australia and New Zealand, be prepared for massive airfares if you’re headed this far from home, and it might take a couple of days each way in airplanes. But both countries offer motorcycling experiences you won’t get in Canada, from vast, empty, dangerous Aussie outback to the wild mountains scattered through New Zealand’s islands. Several CMGers have done trips through New Zealand and always highly recommended the riding — read a couple of those tales here.
That’s right, you can stay right here in Canada and have a motorcycle vacation … sort of. Aside from flying to Vancouver on the off-chance you can find an off-season motorcycle rental (not a great idea, but possible), you can also head to the Rockies for snowbike action!
We haven’t written much about snowbikes in CMG, but they aren’t a complicated concept: they’re just dirt bikes that have the front wheel replaced with a ski, and the rear wheel replaced with a track kit. They’re not cheap, especially when you consider you’ve got to buy the dirt bike first, and that’s probably why you don’t see more of them around. That, and the iffy brakes …
Out in BC, several of the companies that offer snowmobile tours and rentals are also getting into snowbike rentals. We have no first-hand experience with any of these companies, but if you’re curious, you can find examples here, here, and here. This looks like a very fun way to burn off the winter blues, even if it doesn’t technically involve two wheels, especially since these rentals take you deep into the mountains when they’re at their best.