Living and traveling on a motorcycle feels like not only an inextricable part of what I do, but a preferred way of life. I’ve been riding for about 15 years now, but living on a motorcycle for the past 5 years—different bikes on different continents. Simply riding, however, is not what drives me.
The only thing I’ve been passionate about longer than riding motorcycles is wildlife.
Perhaps my most favorite achievement in this lifetime is bridging these two worlds, of fueling motorcycle travel with my purpose of honoring the wild, pursuing ecosystem protection and fighting against the illegal wildlife trade.
I can’t live without motorcycles. As a biologist and journalist, they are a conduit for me to document the positive actions taken to protect ecosystems and the animals & people who depend on them (that’s all of us, really).
This trip, I’ve partnered with Indian Motorcycles to ride a Roland Sands Design modified Scout Sixty from Santiago, Chile, to the north of Colombia to pursue wildlife and habitat protection. This is a very unconventional bike for this terrain. Many, in fact, believe that I am on the wrong bike. That I should be on an enduro or ADV bike, something you’d typically see on the back mountain roads of South America. However, I feel so honored to be riding a bike made by America’s oldest motorcycle manufacturer (the USA is my home county) to seek out those on the frontlines of conservation. And anyway, I’ve always loved a good challenge.
Established in 1901, Indian Motorcycles now manufactures modern bikes in classic Indian styling. With just two dealerships in all of South America, Santiago, Chile, became my destination to rendezvous with an Indian Scout— a bike first made in 1920.
I picked up my 2019 Indian Scout Sixty in Santiago, Chile, and made the following changes before venturing out into the rugged landscape:
- Stock Indian Scout Bobber Kenda K761 tires (130mm front, 150mm rear)
- Protection bars
- Roland Sands Design:
- pulley guard
- handlebar risers
- gauge relocator
- exhaust slip-ons
- Progressive Suspension 970 Series
- Memphis Shades
- gauntlet shield
The tread of the stock Scout Bobber Kenda tires has more traction in wet conditions, extra grip on rough roads and dirt, but are still sturdy enough to last on the pavement.
Moving the footpegs from cruiser position to mid-controls allows for much better handling, enabling me to take the weight off the seat when the road gets gnarly. The handlebar risers and gauge relocator make for a more comfortable riding position for long days on the road. The upgrade in suspension to top-of-the-line, adjustable Progressive shocks makes the bike about half an inch taller and offers a smoother ride. The chrome slip-on mufflers are simply an extra Roland Sands Design touch and make the bike sound amazing.
The fairing and handguards block some of the stronger winds from my torso and hands, making the bike more aerodynamic (without obstructing my view of the road) and helping out in colder temperatures and coastal desert sandstorms.
With a full tank, the bike’s weight is 246 kg (542 lbs), and I carry an additional 30 kgs (66 lbs) of luggage on back in Giant Loop Moto soft bags. Due to the low center of gravity and seat height, the bike is easily manageable for me at my height of 5 ft 6 in (about 170 centimeters).
I’m absolutely in love with this bike. I’ve named her Onca, after the scientific name for jaguar, which is Panthera onca. That’s not to say I haven’t had some rough days on terrible roads though the Andean mountains of Peru. I’ve traveled more than 7,000 miles since leaving Santiago, Chile, in May, and much of that has been on dirt. Rutted out washboards, river crossings, potholes, and landslides have made up much of my traveling through Peru.
I truly believe if you just went through the Pan American Highway, you did not see Peru.
Visiting wildlife conservation areas means that I’m traveling to more rugged places off the beaten track. In Chile, I traveled to birds of prey conservation areas in the mountains, endangered marine otter rehabilitation facilities in coastal deserts, and to the elevated habitat for illegally trafficked armadillos.
Here in Peru, I’ve ventured along rocky, dirt roads etched into the cliffside to visit the conservation project site of the most threatened cat of the Americas, the Andean Cat. I’ve made my way through the Andes to document wildlife sanctuaries for animals like spectacled bears and pumas rescued from circuses, and met with an amazing organization on the outskirts of the jungle working to relocate rescued wildlife, victims of the illegal pet trade, arrest poachers, and shut down markets where wildlife is sold.
I am inspired by those who dedicate their time and resources to making life better for individuals, populations, and entire species of wildlife. I hope to connect people to nature, animals, and each other in this way because I believe that in the end, it is empathy that will truly save the forests, the animals, and ourselves. Therefore, connecting people with the life on our earth, in all its beautiful variety, will help cultivate more of this.
Riding solo through all of this has offered me the opportunity to truly meet myself. To know the inner workings of my mind and how I cope with difficult situations. As a window into the world of wildlife protection from the vantage point of my two wheels, I hope to share stories as a bridge between the worlds of motorcycle travel and environmental conservation.
All photos by Janelle Kaz