Over the 10 months I’ve been on the road, I have met or passed many other motorcylists. Some ride in groups (often organised tours), many in pairs, numerous solo riders too and a few couples riding ‘two-up’; some on big bikes and some on very small ones. I’ve met riders on brand-new big adventure bikes, heavily laden with state-of-the-art-kit. I’ve met young kids just out of university on local 125’s, who had showed up in Santiago with a few thousand dollars, bought a bike, strapped their rucksack to the back and just set off. I once road through the night into Argentina alongside a leather-clad biker atop customised chopper with his luggage precariously strapped to the back. Riders from UK, the States, South Africa, Australia, Germany, France, Korea, Argentina, Holland, Brazil….. Whoever we are and whatever we are riding, we share a camaradie.
And of course, in addition to the gringos on their two-wheeled adventures there are the locals. Motorbikes are not the favoured means of transport down south in Patagonia, where distanced between towns, villages and even service stations regularly exceed 100kms. But in Peru, the cheap Chinese moto is ubiquitous. Often with two on board, sometimes three (but they don’t quite equal the standard family of four – dad driving, son standing in front, mum on the back with daughter sandwiched between – that you find in South East Asia), you encounter them everywhere. Sometimes, when I have been congratulating myself and my mighty 660cc off-road bike for exploring some apparently little used and knarly track in the mountains, a 125 has cheerfully bounced passed me with two local men on board, nonchalantly negotiating deep sand and ruts without a hint of a slide or a wobble.
But in Santiago, the motoquero is a different breed. There a lot of bikes here in the city, even though motos in Chile are not cheap, (they are more expensive than in UK by a clear margin). The small street bike is definitely the most prevalent. But given where and how I have been riding during my time in South America, it is a particular sub-set of motoquero that catches my eye – those riding the so-called ‘adventure bikes.’ I am staying in east Santiago, and have to pass through the most affluent part of town whenever I head into the centre – or anywhere for that matter. And the king of the road here is the wealthy middle-aged cruiser, resplendent in a spotless riding jacket and designer jeans, atop a BMW GS1200 or in some cases a machine that more resembles a small space ship than a moto.
Yesterday, a rider with the same model of bike pulled up next to me and my trusty steed outside a supermarket, and commented that my bike looked like it had been through a war. To someone who had never ventured further off-road than a shopping mall car park, I guess my bike had been to war. I then went to clean the old girl before getting her serviced tomorrow, only to find myself queueing at the carwash between an enormous 1600cc BMW and an even more enormous 1800cc, 400kg Honda Goldwing – bigger than your average car out here. From what I could see, their ‘bikes’ were already spotless – cleaning your machine on a Sunday must be one of those things some men do regardless of whether they need it. They eyed my filthy and woefully under-powered mule with mild curiosity and said a cursory ‘buenos dias’.
Out on the open road here in South America, we bikers always wave at each other or flash a headlight as we pass. In UK, this is part of The Bikers’ Law. But here in Santiago, the BMW cruiser brigade don’t roll that way. I get excited whenever I pass another Tenere or a KTM, as I stand a greater chance of a wave from them. But Las Condes isn’t the Bolivian Altiplano, so I guess that’s just the way it’s going to be until I’m back on on the road….