JJ le Roux is a South African motorcycle rider, adventurer, and sound engineer who started the Gravel Travel podcast just under a year ago and has been going strong ever since. Having interviewed dozens of inspirational ADV travelers, rally racers, and wandering motorcyclists from around the world, JJ says he’s fascinated with people’s stories and their motivation behind RTW travel, motorcycling, and rally racing, and he hopes to keep telling those stories for years to come. But what is his own story, and why did he start Gravel Travel in the first place? I caught up with JJ to find out.
Cape to Cairo In Steel-Toe Boots
JJ tells me he got into adventure motorcycling in 1995 when he met two travelers in Johannesburg, South Africa, and decided to join them on their Cape to Cairo adventure. “Back then, Cape to Cairo was what Alaska to ushuaia is now; it was a big thing, and when I met those guys, I decided I’d join them and make a documentary about the journey. I bought the 1100 GS, some steel-toe boots, and cargo pants, and I was good to go. At that point, I hadn’t ridden much dirt before, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but off I went. When we reached Cairo, I put the bike on a container to ship home, cut the legs off my cargo pants to convert them into shorts, and it was all good”, JJ said. Ever since, he’s done some adventure motorcycle trips around South Africa, Namibia, and Europe, helped scout the GS Challenge (now GS Trophy routes), and built some adventure bikes himself.
“I currently have six bikes in my garage – I’m a big BMW fan, so I have 2 R80 GS’s, a R80 GS Kalahari, an HPN that I built myself out of an old R80, and a 790 KTM Adventure. Building and fixing bikes is another one of my passions”, JJ explains.
Engineering Sound and Stories
JJ is a sound recorder by profession, but when the global Coronavirus lockdowns started back in March, he couldn’t work anymore – so he started a podcast. “It’s an ideal opportunity to bring a few things together: riding adventure bikes, bringing my two passions – sound recording and ADV – together, and talking to some interesting riders while doing it.
I love podcasts and because of my background, I know I’ve got the sound quality down. It’s not always easy to have the best quality with your guests as you’re in different parts of the world, but I love stories, and it’s nice to be able to relay these stories to others. Everybody has such a different vision of what adventure motorcycling is or could be; more than that, you never know where it’ll take you – some people start as weekend riders and end up building their own tour companies, others start because they want to win the GS Trophy then remain on the road for years, others still will live out of dumpsters to be able to ride and live their dreams, and just I find it absolutely fascinating”, JJ says.
Currently, the Grael Travel podcast has over 300 of active listeners, and JJ hopes to grow the podcast as he goes along.
“It’snot without its challenges: motivation is sometimes hard to come by, and it wasn’t easy to understand podcasting as such in the first place. Learning the technical side of things, editing sound, spending hours researching, improving all the time, lots of trial and error… ow, the challenge is to keep the variety in my content. I never felt like it should just be a show about one thing, like bike maintenance or guys who ride enduro, I want to have very diverse people and stories because I think that’s the beauty of the ADV world. In addition, I love the idea of helping people become better motorcyclists through storytelling. You accumulate such a wealth of information in these experiences, interviews, and talks, and it’s important to share it”.
Growth in the ADV Community
According to JJ, some of his most intriguing guests were Dr. Chris Leatt, Reggie the Nomad, Michnus and Elsebie Olivier, and Paul Stewart. “Some of the most fascinating features so far were Chris Leatt’s story because Leatt isn’t just a faceless corporate name, Leatt was an idea and a dream before it became a company, and the driving force behind it is still there.
Reggie the Nomad was very interesting because he believed in his art so much he went from Cape Town to Cairo selling his art along the way. It just goes to show that if you really want to do a trip, there are so many ways you can find to fund it. I love seeing what people will do to fuel their passion. This adventure and freedom, it’s worth so much to people; Michnus and Elsebie, nine years on the road, Paul Stewart, seven years on the road, and now Lennart, this young kid who built his own bike and dumpster dives so he can ride, race, and adventure? It’s crazy and it’s wonderful. It’s hard for me to single out any one person, I just love all these stories and this variety”, JJ says.
When I ask him about the biggest changes he sees in the adventure motorcycle world, he mentions women riders – and mid-range bikes. “Women riders just blow me away – maybe it’s just because there wasn’t much awareness about female motorcyclists before, but now, it just feels like two-wheeled gals are coming out of the woodwork en masse and taking on the adventure motorcycling and rally racing world. And it’s not just riders, women now lead entire manufacturers and brand marketing departments, it’s just incredible.
Another big change is mid-range bikes and the rally world.
When it comes to adventure riding and traveling, I’ve always believed that the mid-range motorcycle market was underdeveloped, and I’m not surprised to see that it’s changing. The KTM790, Yamaha T7 – I think the mid-range will expand a lot, and it will change the way we ride and travel. Adventure travel, whether it’s weekend warriors or RTW travelers, is also moving towards rally racing, and once again, the mid-range bikes are helping it. Lyndon Poskitt might have started it, but I think we’ll see a lot more of adventure riders going into rallies.
Electric bikes are inevitable, too, going greener and better is just a matter of time; there’s KTM Freeride, Zero, Cake – I don’t think there’s going to be massive development in the next 5 years, but in ten, who knows.
At the moment, Corona has slowed us down, but I think once the pandemic is over, the adventure riding scene is only going to grow because people can’t wait to get out there. From the adventure point of view, there’s so much development on the social media front with so many people posting stories, so while it’s hard to come up with new stuff, adventure travel will only grow. Motorcycle companies are doing very well right now; people are buying bikes and getting out there, and that’s good news.
As for RTW travel? It isn’t for everyone, and I think you’ve got to find balance. Mine is simple: ride, tell stories, and be with your family”.
Listen to Gravel Travel podcast on: Buzzsprout
Images: JJ le Roux