There are a few books that are classics of the adventure motorcycle scene: Endless Horizon, by Dan Walsh. Jupiter’s Travels, by Ted Simon. The Mondo Enduro diary, which was kept by that expedition’s members. Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig (although almost nobody can understand it!). And, there’s the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook, which Brit author Chris Scott has just updated. The Eighth Edition debuts in the US on September 21, and I finally had a chance to read a copy cover-to-cover while I was on vacation.
I’ve followed Scott’s website over the years, and seen his writings elsewhere, but I’ve never picked up one of his books. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I was pleasantly surprised to find the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook covers the basics of ADV riding in a pretty thorough fashion.
Start with the foundations
Scott’s 423-page book begins with a section on trip planning, sensibly enough. Assuming you’ve got the travel bug, what travel documents, insurance and other paperwork will you need, if you want to ride to Cameroon or Costa Rica? The rules aren’t the same worldwide, but they’re roughly uniform across continents. The book walks a reader through stuff like – What’s a carnet, and where do I need it, and why? – so you don’t have to go online and pester forum users with these basic questions. The first chapters have some rough guesstimates on fuel costs, recommendations on things like travel companions, how much money you should bring, how much time you should need, and so on. Not the most exciting questions, but some of the most practical; you can figure out plenty of details out on the road, but some things are easier or even essential to have sorted before you leave.
From there, you get a couple of chapters that address the always-prominent questions: What bike should you buy, and what modifications should you install? Here’s where the book really starts to show its value, I think, and it’s all due to Scott’s decades of experience. Through his own years of bashing through the Saharan sand dunes and other adventures, Scott’s seen all these bikes in action, first-hand. He’s not sharing Internet gossip (“I heard about a guy, his mailman’s cousin had a third-gear blowup on a DR650,” etc., etc.). He’s owned many of them himself, and knows what they’re good at, where their weak points are, and what’s good value for money.
The same goes for farkles. Do you need spoked wheels? What tools should you bring? Should you buy soft luggage or hard luggage, and do you need a luggage rack? What tires should you buy? Scott’s been running adventure bikes madly off in all directions since the early 1980s, and he’s got opinions based on that experience. These chapters also have some extremely useful sections on basic bike breakdowns, and how to fix them, and a handy guide to tire puncture repairs. There’s a rundown on riding gear as well, with some sensible recommendations on what to look for when buying riding jacket and pants.
Putting it together
With your paperwork, bike, farkles and gear all sorted, it’s time to hit the road. Scott gives you a general run-down on practical skills you’ll need on the road. Some of it you can pick up in the developed world (map reading, wild camping), and some of it you won’t experience until you push your limits (navigating police checkpoints,). He doesn’t waste much time telling you how to ride offroad, just giving you the basics. That’s smart, as you’re better off learning from an in-person coach, or at least watching an experienced YouTuber demonstrate, if you’re a noob in the dirt.
Then, you get a run-down of basic overland routes through Asia, Africa and Latin America, with considerable input from other travellers, to keep it all up to date. The chapter on Latin America is particularly comprehensive, with a detailed list of what to expect on each border crossing (author Tim Notiers put a lot of this chapter together). The chapters on Africa and Asia aren’t quite as detailed, but then, that would be a tricky thing to do, since the sociopolitical situation in many of those countries tends to be less stable than Central and South America.
While the earlier chapters may be of more interest to noobs, I think these later route-planning chapters are useful to riders who have years of adventure riding experience close to home base, and now want to see the broader world. In particular, the section on Latin America would itself be worth the book’s price tag if you were planning a journey through there.
Wait, you’re asking: What about North America? Given the ever-increasing number of roads into the Arctic, plus the Trans Canada Adventure Trail, plus the Trans American Trail, surely this book should have some deets on those adventures? I asked Scott why there was nothing on North America, and he said he’d had some of those routes in the past, but found it detracted from the book’s focus. “While ADVrider proves you can have a right old adventure in any of these places, these regions are often covered in better detail by local writers,” Scott says. “So I reverted to the original concept: Africa, Asia and Latin America – the classic overland destinations where the paperwork, temporary importation along with all the rest, sets them apart for most readers.”
Fair enough. ADVrider does indeed have scads of information on everywhere in Canada and the US, from Fairbanks to Oceola National Forest to the Trans Lab, and everything in between, and Scott does have some details on his North American trips on his website, if you want to check that out.
The same goes for information on riding and camping gear. I would have liked to see that in the book, but Scott’s got plenty of that information on his website, if you want his opinion on stuff to buy, and stuff to avoid.
Should you buy it?
The book is available on Amazon for $27.95 and I think this book is a steal for the beginning ADV rider. If you watch the upcoming Long Way Up series and want to see for yourself what adventure travel is all about, this book is a concise guide to everything you need to know.
For the more experienced adventure rider, I also think there’s value here, if you’re planning on taking your riding to the next level. If you’ve only ridden around your home county, state or province, you might be able to handle any riding scenario, but there’s lots to overland travel besides that. This book will help you figure out what you need to ride around the world. It’s all practical advice, gained from experience on the road, and there’s no turn-offs from the author’s attitude. The conceited pomposity or avaricious self-promotion that taints so much other work is absent. It’s a helpful guide, self-contained and easily read at the beach, a coffee shop or (in the COVID era) your couch, in front of the fireplace.