What safety and security tips would you recommend for long distance motorcycle travel?
“What safety and security tips would you recommend for long distance motorcycle travel?”
First and foremost, one of the most dangerous things about traveling anywhere, even in your hometown is vehicular accidents. Even walking down the street, you are at a huge risk, compared to other ways of getting hurt. To reduce this risk, wear decent gear. Helmet, riding suit with armor, decent boots and gloves. You don’t have to, I didn’t for many years, but the risk of injury is so much greater without this gear it is hard to argue against it. The risks become greater still when you are in a foreign country where you may not speak the language, or in areas where you may be far removed from an ambulance service or decent emergency care (anyplace rural). Your choice.
What I have written here is FAR from comprehensive. An encyclopedia could be written on safety and security while travelling. Traveling with a bike would add another dozen volumes. One must look at every situation as unique.
I am assuming this is a question about international travel, rather than just long distance travel in your home country. In that case, you can take all the usual precautions one might take if travelling by public transportation and multiply them by 1,000. Or something like that 8^)
When you travel you have to concern yourself with your belongings, and not putting yourself into a situation where you are a target. When you are travelling internationally with a vehicle, you have already made yourself a target by saying “”Hey, everybody, I have money!”. You are out on the road, alone, vulnerable to police, thieves (there’s a difference?) and anyone else that wants to make a quick buck. Besides any money you have, you are driving a vehicle that is worth thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars. If this does not make you feel paranoid, then nothing will.
Everywhere you go, there are evil, or just kinda bad people. That does not mean, however, that the world is “filled” with bad people. In general, people are good. It just means that you can’t completely let your guard down anywhere. It is no different than travelling by bus, but when you are on a bus your total belongings seldom are worth more than a few thousand dollars, and you are surrounded by witnesses.
One of the odd things to think about is that the poorer the country, the less likely you are to have your bike stolen (generalizing here). Things taken off your bike, different story, but outright theft is rare. Part of the reason for this, outside of the fact that poorer countries seem to have fewer professional theives is that your bike (truck etc) is unusual. If a local trouble maker stole your bike and rode it around, people would see him and the cops would find out. One of the few stories I have heard of a bike being stolen in central America, the thief was caught in a couple of days for these reasons. That does not mean theft can’t happen, it is just less of a concern. Europe? Well, I recommend handcuffing yourself to the bike 8^) America? Well, if it isn’t a Harley, who would want it 8^).
So, you are travelling by bike, you want to stop for the night. What do you do with the bike? My experiences are that in most less? developed countries they understand security. You should be able to find a hotel that has secure parking This parking might be in the lobby or in your room or at a parking area down the street. It might even be in an alley where the homeless sleep. One place in Guatemala showed me a gated alley to park in. The place was the same place that they let the less fortunate in town sleep. These people were the alarm system. In exchange for permission to sleep there they offered protection for the vehicles. When getting a hotel, you lose a lot of your bargaining power just by the fact you have a bike. You WILL pay for parking in many cases, and you will not get the best rate available. Still, you have mobility, and can use that as a bit of a bargaining chip.
So you are checked into your hotel. What now? Well, leave nothing of obvious worth on the bike. Your bike will often become the center of attention to guys or kids with a lot of time on thier hands. No sense tempting anyone. If you have locking bags that cannot be removed from the bike and brought into your room, it might (MIGHT) be better to just leave them unlocked so that they are not pried open by some “curious” person. It has always amazed me how a $10,000 bike will be protected by the staff of a hotel where rooms are $10 or less a night. Still, it is good to have padlocks, and a good cable lock when you can. It is also a good idea to learn a few words in the local language relative to secure parking, hours of the day they might be open (nothing worse than finding out that the parking place opens 3 hours later than you wanted to leave) and fees.
Before you leave in the morning, find out what the security situation is on the route you plan. Personally, I have never travelled in areas where this is a significant concern, but have been told that it is good to ask the police, or tourist information people. There are places where this is critical. This changes by country and situation, so find out what is the best source of information, it might be the army, or your own counselate. There are some places where it is advised, or even required, that you get a military escort. These are rare, but it does happen. There are MANY places where you really don’t want to drive at night. Even if security is not a concern, animals in the road may be.
Now, you are on the road, and you are stopped at a roadblock, military or otherwise. They want to search your stuff. Happens all the time. Almost all the time this is a quick search, generally friendly or the guards are just bored. Sometimes you can have fun with this. You should ALWAYS be friendly. Remember, you are a guest. A guest with a $10,000 or so piece of gear that cannot be abandoned and that can be confiscated on the smallest excuse. They have a lot of power over you. As for fun, you can often get your picture taken with the guards. I know of people who have convinced the military to let them hold the rifles while getting thier picture taken. I have also seen people close to arrest for openly taking a picture at a border station. You have to use your gut instincts on this. Having had a lot of experience crossing the US borders to Canada and Mexico I recommend NEVER joking in any manner at all. Be pleasant, answer ONLY the questions you are asked, and do not say ONE WORD that does not fit the questions. It is not that you will be in danger, it is just that these and some other borders where security is taken seriously can cause you serious inconvenience. Nothing like having your bike taken apart because you said something that you thought was funny at the time.
Ahead you see a police road block. These things have been great in this country, so you assume this one will be as well. The police at this block accuse you of some traffic offense and tell you that the fine is $200. This is one of the trickiest parts of using your own vehicle (including in your own country). You have little leverage. If you have time, and can take the chance of spending some time in “jail” you might be able to save yourself a few bucks. Maybe not. Sometimes you can bargain your way to a minimal fee (cash of course). Sometimes not. Many countries frown on this kind of corruption, and if you start taking down info like names and badge numbers (badges? we don’t need no stink’n badges) you can get down to a minimal “fee”. Sometimes not. How much of a fight you put up is highly dependent on the country, your time and your finances. When stopped at a roadblock, and the officer does not specify an offense, just says he has not had his coffee today, giving him a dollar is probably a good thing. These kinds of situations present an opportunity for extortion so you generally don’t want to hang around any longer than necessary, but they sometimes they present an opportunity to converse with someone you would otherwise never meet. Some of my most memorable experiences on trips was trying to talk to the “kids” manning the road blocks. Your choice.
I could fill hundreds of pages with advice, and someone else could fill just as many pages with contrary advice. The bottom line is, use the same principles of security as you would with any travel: Maintain situational awareness and limit your exposure to risks. I follow a motto that you should never leave on a trip with anything that you are not willing to lose. If you cannot afford to lose a $20,000 bike, don’t take a $20,000 bike. With care, both you and your vehicle are reasonably safe. You will hear horror stories, but the worst instances are rare.
Bob L is Vagabond Journey Travel’s motorcycle travel correspondent. He has been traveling on a motorcycle for longer than I have been alive. He has taken long distance trips on motorcycles through Central and South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and across the USA and Canada more times than I assume he cares to remember. To ask Bob a motorcycle travel question that will be answered on this site, fill out the form on Ask Motorcycle Travel Questions.