Top 10 Motorcycling Roads Around the World
All motorcyclists dream of riding in exotic locales. That longing, it’s in our blood. Sometimes we see movies like Long Way Round/Down and think, “I’d love to ride there.” Other times we’ll see a beautiful landscape or glorious stretch of road while flipping through our favorite magazines or watching some movie or television show, and fantasize wistfully about what it would be like to be one with nature in that locale – with a motorcycle between our legs, of course.
Even more often, we daydream while slogging through our daily commute, wishing the traffic and smog would just dissolve so we could find ourselves on a winding ribbon of asphalt, slicing through a forest or hugging some coastline somewhere. Anywhere but here.
Ah, wanderlust – it’s what separates us from those filthy animals in their soul-sucking cages. Obviously, many of the world’s most renowned riding roads are relatively attainable and make great moto-vacations: Route 66, the Cabot Trail and Pacific Coast Highway come to mind. But we at Motorcycle.com dream bigger. We asked ourselves, “If money, time, family, jobs and everything else were chucked out the proverbial window, and we could ride any road anywhere – where would we go? Which road would be our ultimate motorcycling fantasy?”
Submitted for your approval, in no particular order: Motorcycle.com’s Top 10 Fantasy Rides. If you’ve been fortunate enough to cruise any of them, we look forward to reading your comments. If you think we missed any epic rides, feel free to pipe up; you certainly wouldn’t be the first person to share your fantasy over the internet.
We begin with every racer’s dream lap. About 43 miles south of Cologne and 75 miles northwest of Frankfurt lies the legendary Nurburgring. The complex features a Grand Prix race track built in 1984, but it’s the much longer old Nordschleife (“north loop”), built in the 1920s around the village and medieval castle of Nürburg, that holds the greatest charms. The epic 12.8-mile circuit is one of the most demanding and difficult racing circuits in the world; so tricky, in fact, the F1 racer Jackie Stewart nicknamed it “The Green Hell.”
The north loop has more than 1,000 feet of elevation change as it traverses the hills of the Eifel Mountains. It is open (with restrictions) to the Touristenfahrten i.e., any road-legal car or motorcycle. Traffic moves only one direction, and there are no intersections, stop signs or lights. Passing on the right is prohibited, and there is no blanket maximum speed limit.
In June of 2012, 33-year-old Andy Carlile, a Brit who moved to Germany just to be near the ‘Ring, set the record for a motorcycle lap on the Nordschliefe – 7 minutes, 10 seconds aboard a crashed and salvaged 2005 Yamaha R1 with carbon fiber wheels. Watch a cool video of the run here.
PHOTO: Nurburgring; Map, Wikipedia
Amalfi Coast, Italy
Located on the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula in the Province of Salerno in Southern Italy, a drive around the Amalfi Coast is widely recognized as one of the greatest in the world. While that designation doesn’t always translate to a great motorcycle ride, we’ll happily take our chances.
Picturesque Amalfi has been featured in films for as long as cameras have rolled at 24 frames per second, mainly chick flicks like Under the Tuscan Sun. Our favorite is the 1957 Humphrey Bogart classic Beat the Devil, featuring a very sultry Gina Lollobrigida. Gamers may recognize it as a setting for fictional tracks in “Forza Motorsport” and “Gran Turismo 4” games.
A UNESCO Heritage Site, the Amalfi Coast is a popular tourist destination for the region and Italy as a whole, so the off-season would be a more suitable time to gear up and really ride it. In the meantime, a quick internet search showed several companies offering rentals and tours via motorcycle or scooter – and we can’t think of a more appropriate opportunity to fall in love with (or aboard) a Vespa, even if only for a few days.
PHOTO: Splenderosa; Map, NYTimes.com
Transfagarasan Road, Romania
Built in the 1970s as a strategic military route by Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Transfăgărășan (DN7C) is 56 miles of twists and turns that run across the tallest sections of the Southern Carpathians, of Romania. It is a winding road, dotted with steep hairpin turns, long S-curves, and sharp descents. The road connects the historic regions of Transylvania (ooh, vedy sceddy) and Wallachia.
In this hilariously awesome clip the “Top Gear” crew drive the route (the real action starts at about the 5-minute mark). Says host Jeremy Clarkson: “The Transfagarasan is the most amazing road I have ever seen… From above it looks like every great corner from every great race track in the world has been knitted together to create one unbroken great ribbon of automotive perfection…” Afterward, he declares the Transfăgărășan “the best road in the world,” a designation the show had previously bestowed on Italy’s ubiquitous Stelvio Pass.
PHOTO: Mission Red Pla.net; MAP, Wikipedia
Los Caracoles Pass, Chile and Argentina
Chile and Argentina share more than 5,000 miles of border, and the most important step between the capital of Chile, Santiago, and the Mendoza region of Argentina is a series of hard switchbacks on an extremely steep incline: the famous Paseo de los Caracoles, a.k.a Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, also called Cristo Redentor. The Argentina side is a gentle ascent, up relaxed though rugged mountain scenery. The Chilean side, however, is another, more perilous story.
At 10,500 feet, Los Caracoles is considered one of the world’s most dangerous roads. It has many steep inclines and hairpins. There are no guardrails. The road is covered with snow for the most part of the year; still, traffic is intense; cargo trucks and even double-decker tourist buses travel the road on a daily basis year-round, forming long, slow convoys, hence the name (caracol means “snail.”) Extreme patience and skill are the key, and the adrenaline rush and thin air make for a thrilling, if occasionally slow, motorcycling experience.
PHOTO: Tui Travel PLC; MAP, NYTimes.com
Guoliang Tunnel Road, China
High in the Taihang Mountains of the Henan Province, the village of Guoliang, China had a problem: its only access to civilization was a steep, narrow stairway embedded in the mountainside. For years, its 350 inhabitants pleaded with the government to build a roadway to connect them to the outside world, to no avail. So they decided to build one themselves.
A team of 13 men, not an engineer among them, set about carving a 3/4-mile-long roadway inch by inch, using nothing but hand tools. Today, the road – about 15 feet high and 12 feet wide – is a tight squeeze twisting past the tunnel’s 30 “windows,” which provide views off the precipice down to a tumbling abyss hundreds of feet below. More terrifying is that the road was built on the path of least resistance: the tunnel twists, turns and dips in unpredictable places, making for what’s sure to be the white-knuckle ride of a lifetime.
We couldn’t find a video depicting a motorcycle ride along this legendary tunnel. But for a taste of what it’s like to ride the Guoliang Tunnel Road, click here.
PHOTO: RefinedGuy.com; MAP, SSQQ.com
With its 9% gradient and 11 hairpin bends, Norway’s County Road 63 is one of the most popular moto-tourism locations in an area known for having plenty of them. Given the choice, we couldn’t decide which Norwegian switchback pass we wanted to ride. So we chose the one with the coolest name.
“The Troll Ladder” is a steep winding mountain road located in the Rauma region of Norway. Usually wet from either the rain or the mists off the Stigfossen, the road is crisscrossed by waterfalls on its way to the top (or bottom, depending on your perspective), riders who conquer the challenging road are rewarded with a viewing balcony at the top of Trollveggen (Troll Mountain), offering spectacular views of the winding turns and the valley below.
One of the more popular rides in Norway, YouTube is full of videos of the Troll Ladder being ridden; here’s a sampler.
PHOTO: Foundwalls.com; MAP, Stoffs.se
The Hana Highway, Hawaii
If you ever wanted to visit Jurassic Park, here’s your shot. Another of the world’s most beautiful drives that makes for a marvelous motorcycle ride, Hana Highway is a breathtaking 60-mile stretch of road along the north side of the island that connects the small town of Hana to the rest of Maui. With more than 600 turns and 60 one lane bridges, it’s not for the novice or timid rider. The ocean is down on one side of the road, with mountains rising on the other, and a few spectacular waterfalls that keep your attention wandering.
The road is paved and in generally good condition, but there are wet areas from not only the waterfalls but the common downpours for which Hawaii is famous. Despite several drops of more than 1,000 feet, there are few guard rails.
Breathtaking and dangerous? Sounds like the ideal fantasy ride.
PHOTO: GoHawaii.com; MAP, Hawaii-Guide.com
The Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road, Abu Dhabi
Spanning some 7.3 miles and climbing nearly 4,000 feet on an 8% grade, the otherworldly Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road, about 90 minutes’ drive southeast of Dubai, is arguably one of the finest in the world. Cut into the Jebel Hafeet Mountain that spans the border with Oman, it boasts 60 corners and a surface so smooth those who’ve ridden it say you’d swear it were a racetrack.
With a mixture of fast straights interspersed with sweeping curves that merge perfectly from one to another, the Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road looks to be a tight, technical and thrilling ride; here’s a video to whet your appetite.
PHOTO: WonderfulInfo.com; MAP, Naeem Moola Photography
Serra Do Rio Do Rastro, Santa Catarina, Brazil
South America is one of the best motorcycling destinations on Earth, and its largest country, Brazil, boasts one of its most epic motorcycle runs. Serra do Rio do Rastro is a mountain range located in the state of Santa Catarina in Southern Brazil. It is marked by remarkable landscapes and deep crags.
The journey of the Sierra do Rio do Rastro goes from 4,790 feet to sea level in only eight miles, with an average gradient of 9.2%. But if you think this is going to be some leisurely afternoon putt-putt, think again: there are 250 corners. Hang on.
It is one of Brazil’s most famous motorcycling roads, and online videos such as this one make it clear this is not a run for the faint of heart. We can’t wait.
PHOTO: SaoJoaquimOnline; MAP
Karakoram Highway, Pakistan to China
The Karakoram Highway, a branch of the ancient Silk Road, is the highest border crossing in the world and one of the few routes, paved or not, that crosses the Himalayas. At an elevation of 15,397 feet, it connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range. Over the course of its 800-mile stretch between Kashgar and Islamabad, you’re bound to see many of the highest peaks and longest glaciers (outside the Polar Regions) on Earth.
You’ll also ride over the Khunjerab, the highest paved mountain pass in the world, where you just might encounter yaks, snow leopards, outlandish jingle art trucks and surly border guards. One tourist website advises intrepid visitors to travel only by day and to “keep going.” Sounds like a lovely, cold, potentially dangerous and downright epic ride. Count us in.
PHOTO: Horizons Unlimited; map, Wikipedia.