I never believed myself to be the motorcycle type of person until the day before I bought my first bike. One morning after having a wild dream about riding on a motorcycle across South America, my shaman serendipitously told me that he’d decided to put his own bike up for sale. I took this as a sign that it was time to step into my new future as a motorcyclist. It wasn’t until after buying the bike that it dawned on me that I didn’t know how to ride and that I’d have a long journey ahead: from the jungles of Northern Peru to my home at the time, in the Sacred Valley of Peru.
Before going further, I should make clear to you that I am not trying to scare you around from getting a motorbike. Nor am I trying to paint a picture of my own experiences as being anything less than one of the most amazing journeys I’ve taken in my life. If you’re prepared and you know what you’re doing, I totally recommend traveling through Peru by motorcycle. At the same time, traveling by motorcycle across Peru can be a dangerous endeavor if you are not ready in the best possible ways.
Do not go to a hole-in-the-wall welding shop to get your luggage rack extended a half of a meter beyond the back of your bike
I still had a lot of packing to do and would need to leave within minutes if I wanted to get to the stopping place for the first night of my trip before it got dark. My stuff was sprawled on the floor of my friend’s house, and I rushed to see what I could fit into my expedition backpack, and what I would have to leave behind.
The day before I’d hired a local welder to extend the length of the bike’s luggage rack to stretch a half meter beyond the back tire so that my backpack could fit on the bike with me. On afterthought of having it done, I’d never seen anything like it before. I got to questioning why I never saw motorcycles like mine, stacked overflowing with bags? The weight? Because people don’t need that much? The worry that too much weight in the back would cause the motorcycle to flip backward as one woman, a scooter rider, told me. Or was it the recognition that my luggage rack, fitted with this bulky backpack, drapes over the brake lights and causes more danger? It’s clearly not something that would be legal in the USA, but in Peru, anything goes.
Don’t pay attention to locals who laugh at you when you tip your bike over at an intersection while riding solo for the first time.
Even though I’d practiced riding the bike around the area before leaving on my journey back to Peru, it was a different beast once I had all of my luggage tied behind me. I was still working out how to balance the bike when I stopped at intersections. All of the neighbors watched me when I made my dramatic exit from my friend’s house, and some ran over to help when they saw me stall at the first intersection, and then tip it over on its side. Not a good way to launch off a week-long biking trip.
Do not try to fit your motorcycle on the bow of a shaky canoe while abandoning a broken-down cargo ship
After stalling my motorcycle several more times in the city of Tarapoto, I left the city and roared into the jungle. I was on my way to the port town of Yurimaguas, where I’d take a cargo ship to Iquitos. I spent a month traveling on my bike around the Iquitos area before making way for the next leg of my trip, onwards to Pucallpa. In order to get there, I had to take another cargo ship. Though the trip was supposed to take 4-5 days, it ended up taking 8, because the boat continuously broke down.
When we were three hours from Pucallpa, the boat broke down once again; this time for good. Thick plumes of black smoke consumed the entire boat. The engines were shot, the captain screamed while sprinting from the front to the back of the boat. “Who was responsible for maintenance? There’s no oil in the engines!”
With no other choice, I flagged down a motorized canoe and somehow passed my motorcycle to the bow of the boat. There was barely enough space, and it wabbled with every turn, but we were able to transport it back to land.
Don’t set out on a solo trip across uninhabited mountains without gear to fix the bike when things go wrong.
Again, I got lucky on this one. Despite the fact that I didn’t have any tools with me in case things went wrong, I only ran into one problem; After spending the entire day roaming through uninhabited heights of more than 4,500 meters, the bike’s chain fell off of the drive train, and I needed to seek help from somebody with the right tools to set it back. Fortunately, I was only a short walk from the nearest town. I learned from this experience to expect that things will go wrong and be prepared.
Other important things
When buying a new motorcycle, bring somebody along with you who has knowledge about what to watch out for.
When I bought my first bike, I was lucky enough to have gotten it from somebody who I knew well, and who I trusted. He wasn’t trying to rip me off and was honest about the history of the bike. But you shouldn’t expect yourself to be so lucky. If you don’t know the basics about what to look for when getting a new bike, bring somebody along with you who knows what they’re doing. And when you see red flags, take it as enough reason for not buying that bike.
Better yet, why not just get a new bike instead of getting a used on? You can get a decent quality brand new bike with a 200 cc engine for around 2,000 soles.
Don’t trust the effectiveness of skimpy and cheap helmets that are sold in quantity at most motorcycle shops
The owners of most shops will tell you that their helmets protect you, but don’t trust them. I recommend that you get online to find the best helmet that you can find. A great place to do this is by visiting Mercado Libre.