Motorcycle tourism: renewed geographies of a marginal tourism practice

Jean Scol



Motorcycle tourism is often considered a marginal practice with special habits where taking the road, riding styles and camaraderie play essential roles. These rallies are a good example of the unusual and marginal nature of this tourism. Moreover, motorbike tourism has for a long time been ignored or rejected by regions and tourism professionals who had a negative image of motorcycles and motorcyclists. However, bikers have changed. They are on average older than in the past, well integrated within civil society and often have good incomes. They are therefore high potential tourists who authorities should attract by offering products and services tailored to their needs and specialties. These services, driven by the community, professionals or associations, especially in the form of dedicated routes or accommodation identified or labeled for bikers. Those new customers have also caused a proliferation of specialized tour operators. From simple regional trips to the world tours, motorcycle travels sold by tour operators usually include adventure, sports or are clearly upscale. If many destinations conform to a classic world tourism map, others are more original, more marginal, and are part of a (at least partially) renewed geography.

Keywords : Motorcycle, tourism, habits of conduct, rallies, actors, territories, routes, accommodations, labels, tour operators, destinations, adventure, geography



Motorcycle[1] riding, although marginal mode of transport (CERTU, 2010) compared to the almighty automobile[2], is practiced by tens of millions of Europeans including several million French[3]. Used to make daily trips or for recreation, the motorbike can also be used for tourism purposes and even gives birth to tourism practices with special meanings, some of which have their roots in the same terms as tourism in general.

While they had long neglected – if not feared or despised – this form of tourism, industry professionals and institutions have in recent years come to realize the economic importance of motorcycle tourism and now devote increasing attention to it. This paper therefore proposes to highlight the strong existing ties between motorbikes and tourism and to demonstrate how motorcycle tourism is involved in the reinvention of the concept of travel. It also shows the importance of routes as an object of tourism and the existence of itineraries and mythical destinations for motorcycle travelers.

The article also looks at specific tourism practices observed among bikers. It finally questions why and in what forms motorcycle tourism is now attracting the growing interest of tourist areas and tourism professionals. Research about the motorcycle tourism phenomenon is rare (Delignières and Regnault, 2007) and mostly comes from sociology, anthropology or studies on road safety. Works about tourism bikers themselves are with few exceptions almost nonexistent (Broughton and Walker, 2009; Walker, 2010).

Our own research is therefore based on the little literature available on the subject, extended to contributions relating to tourism in general and sports and adventure tourism in particular. We also rely heavily on the analysis of a large corpus of specialized motorcycle magazines, websites, blogs or books recounting motorcycle travel stories but also of hundreds of paper brochures or websites operators specializing in motorcycle travel.

This research exploits the many observations made in the context of our own experiences of motorbike travel or immersion in many major motorcycle tourism events such as the large concentrations of Millevaches (2011 and 2012), Altes Elefententreffen (2011), or Tententreffen ( 2014)… Those observations are supported by a survey conducted during these events with a random sample of two hundred bikers as well as by dozens of more or less structured interviews conducted with bikers, tourism professionals in the public and private sectors, voluntary organizations and journalists from the motorcycle press.

Tourism and the motorbike: a legit couple?

For the general public and for many political leaders, legislators or officials in charge of road safety, motorcycles are primarily too fast, too noisy, too polluting, or too dangerous. They are also driven by marginal people, wearing helmets and boots, leather-clad, difficult to control and often criminal offenders (Duret, 2005; Codron, 2006; Thompson, 2013).

This is the cliché of the bike and rider, set up by the cinema (Morsiani, 2013) in the 1950s, 60s and 70s (L’équipée sauvage in 1953[4], L’aggression in 1975[5]…) and regularly highlighted in the most recent productions (Sons of Anarchy[6]…). In the iconography of the film, the rider is often the anti-hero, the villain[7] … This legacy is still being peddled under the heading of miscellaneous facts by the press in general. It is also present in security statements by some officials lambasting motorbikes because as harmful to the good results of their road safety policies.

Yet for those who practice it, biking is above all a great mode of travel, sometimes synonymous with speed and thrills, but especially freedom of meetings and travel (Tesson, 2015; Lobo, 2013). For bikers, the notion of travel still has its true meaning, in every sense

Indeed, the general trend observed among people traveling, even in the context of leisure and tourism, is marked by the desire to reduce travel times, usually perceived as lost time. Sometimes traveling (very) long distances, but spending little time on the road, rail, in the air or on the sea became dogma, the standard of the modern traveler.

In short, the trip is most often used only to move from one point (of residence, or departure) to another (destination). In contrast to this view, for the motorcyclist, the trip that led him to his destination is not seen as a constraint but as a chosen time. It is lived with interest, it is a sought and claimed ‘homelessness.’ It defines a path, steps, a circuit, a real tour. For these reasons, the trip made by motorcycle is, in the literal sense, a tour (Deprest, 1997; Boyer, 1999). This character is also strengthened by the quest for strong experiences, discoveries and initiations still often claimed by motorcycle travelers.

Motorcycle tourism exists and the practice is well recognized, promoted and valued as part of the national and international federations of motorcycling. These, initially in charge of motorcycle sports, now also feature tourism (and recreation) commissions. The French Motorcycle Federation (FFM) organizes an annual Tourism Championship[8], while the International Motorcycling Federation (FIM) programs each year tens of rallies and tourist circuits for affiliates bikers.

These strong links between tourism and motorcycling are responsible for quite specific tourism practices.


The appeal of the road…

Making the choice of a motorcycle travel is choosing to take the road, to eat it, and to live it. Moving, becomes then at least as important as the destination or rather is the destination: “[for motorcyclists] the road leading to the destination is more important than the destination itself” (Walker, 2010: 156). A major and recurring component of motorcycle tourism is the road, frequently a goal in itself, as a physical object that should be consumed or even to challenged and defeated: bikers say “to be lived”.

The following excerpt, from an article published in the monthly Moto Magazine about a motorcycle trip in Patagonia, illustrates perfectly the special relationship between the rider and the road: “[…] Although frequented by regular coach lines, the southern part of route 40 (Argentina)[9] remains a privileged domain of adventurers. For it is in fact a track, with a reputation for being difficult in addition to being monotonous. Following the western border of the country, often not far from the Andes, it is a challenge for many riders. Its major difficulty is as a stretch of 650km, almost desert […] in the end, as often, the satisfaction having simply “done it”. And to have been able to contemplate some treasures scattered by Mother Nature along this axis. […] Enough to recover from one’s efforts in this grandiose decor“. (Moto Magazine No. 263, December 2009 – January 2010: 109).

So the bike routes are the one providing the pleasure of riding “The bike, the old car … are great ways to renew the pleasure of riding” (Chaspoul, 2011: 5). The route must above all provide beautiful curves and elevation changes that highlight the pleasures and qualities of driving: “Driving a motorcycle requires much greater skill than driving a car, and for many bikers testing their own driver skills is a very motivating challenge “(Walker, 2010: 148). The road must also offer quality landscapes. Thus, motorcycle tourists avoid as much as possible the monotony of motorways and major national roads. They prefer their small roads, often called on “tourist roads” on maps and travel guides. They favour small and mountain roads because they are the ones that offer the most curves (“The real fun of traveling is curves“, advertising slogan of the Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM in spring 2015), elevation changes and require more technical steering (P. Duret, 2005).

The recent Michelin Guide “France: 100 motorcycle trips” (Orain, 2013) and “Europe: the Alps on motorcycle” (Lecoutre and Dautheville, 2011) illustrate this search for the pleasure of driving in the motorcycle tourism. Each proposed route associates driving pleasure and tourist discoveries. Their authors make an unequivocal apology of driving a motorcycle on the mountain roads “Profusion of curves and uncrowded roads make the mountain a perfect playground for the biker in search of big spaces and perfect trajectories” (Lecoutre Dautheville, 2011: 11). In Germany, the forty-six motorcycle tourist guides published by Bruckmann editions are also largely devoted to mountain regions, to which twenty-eight are entirely and eighteen others partially dedicated.

Moreover, the attractiveness of the road as part of tourism and its full enjoyment is regularly mentioned, in advertisements and slogans, by the organizers of trips and bike tours. “It is not the end of the road that counts, it is the road” (slogan of the T3 motorcycle travel agency). The same occurs in the publications of the (few) regions that begin, for example in France, to be interested in this type of tourism[10]. Most of them are mountain regions that boast the sinuous nature of their road network as able to excite the pleasure of driving “This alpine department … [provides] … kilometres of winding roads. It’s one of France’s départements with the most mountain passes[11]“.

If the road can be experienced, as such, as an objective of the travel, it designates most of the time a true route which leads bikers to a final goal that often marks the beginning …of the way back.

Figure 1. Driving, the road, basic objectives of motorbike tourism.
Source : Jean Scol, Commune de Millevaches, Corrèze, France, December 8, 2012.

Driving his motorcycle (individually or in group) is an essential motivation of motorbike tourism. It often means to travel hundreds or even thousands kilometers, for the sake of “having done it”. It sometimes means driving in very difficult conditions, on iconic roads or towards iconic destinations, simply to meet other bikers.

Mythical routes and destinations

We have already mentioned in the previous section, the importance of the road as the object of tourism for bikers. Thus, very often, the motorcycle tourism consists of a loop-shaped roaming, or its purpose is to achieve a specific end goal, often charged with a strong symbolism. These routes and destinations fuel motorcyclist and motorcycle travel mythology. So there are, for bikers, mythical routes and destinations. Outside Europe, we can name the famous Route 66, which connects the western and eastern parts of the United States of America, from Chicago to Los Angeles. Thousands of bikers[12] ride it every year, in one direction or the other on gleaming machines. Some come to Europe to live an American dream, made of great natural areas with a background of country music or rock’n roll. Others are more sensitive to the memory of Peter Fonda[13] and Dennis Hopper[14], who in the film Easy Rider[15], travel along Dixie Highway[16] from Miami to California on their chopper[17] motorcycles (see map 1). South of the continent the Pan-American Highway, after thousands of kilometers, leads bikers from around the world to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the Americas.

Africa, meanwhile, appears to be a vast playground for European bikers looking for improbable tracks and roads. These, among other routes and destinations, cross the desert or the vast semi-desert expanses of the Sahara and its margins, often as far as Dakar. This route was made famous by the great rally-raid that linked Paris to the capital of Senegal, every year between 1979 and 2006. Nevertheless, some routes are still more demanding or ambitious. Such as the one which brought a group of bikers to travel 18,000 km and to cross eleven East African countries from Cape Town (South Africa) to Tunis from 8 December 2010 to 20 February 2011.

Some European routes and destinations are especially popular with bikers (see map 1). The North Cape road is one of the most legendary, as it seems to lead towards the end of the World.

The Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea, is a destination many European bikers deem worthy of visiting at least once. Since 1907, every first week of June, The Tourist Trophy (TT) is held, the most famous of motorcycle road races, also a major tourist event for the island.

In France, the Route des Grandes Alpes crossing the French Alps longitudinally and the Route des Crêtes (Ridge Road) in the Vosges mountains are pretexts to satisfy the pursuit of steering fun and landscape discovery. This is also the case in Germany with the German Alpine Route (Deutsche Alpenstrasse), Austria with the Grossglockner High Alpine Road (Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse) and Italy with the Stelvio Pass[18].

Figure 2. Some mythical places and roads of motorcycle tourism in Europe and North America
Source : author's personal data compilation. Design: Jean SCOL. Realization Jacqueline DOMONT - TVES Laboratory, June 2014.

The Rally, a biker tourist practice

In the sense used in this article, the rally is a collection of individuals united by a common passion. It also implies a more or less long journey and, for most participants, at least one night spent there, usually camping. Although participants in such events are not always aware[19], the latter two criteria (travel and night spent outside the usual place of residence) make the rally a real tourism practice within the meaning adopted by the WTO and – for lack of a better definition and in a different way – by professionals and researchers (Dewailly, 2006; Lozato-Giotard, 2006; Stock, 2007). The rally is not a phenomenon restricted to the world of motorcycling.

However, it remains a form of tourism practiced mostly by motorcyclists. Usually organized by a motorcycle club or a similar association, the concept is simple (Portet 1998). It brings, for a weekend or for a few days, motorcycle enthusiasts on a piece of land (pasture, sports field, parking or speed circuit ground…) transformed for the occasion into an ephemeral camping site. For an often modest fare, bikers who have come alone, with his or her spouse and family or, more often, accompanied by members of his club are invited to pitch their tents, enjoying wood made available to them to light a campfire, sharing meals, participating in the various activities offered by the organizers (walks, concerts, games…). But the main attraction of the rally is probably linked to the pleasure of being among bikers and sharing their common passion: motorcycles. The rally is deeply marked by the spirit, habits and traditions of the world of motorcycle forged in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. These habits are based largely on the principles of solidarity and camaraderie within a community that boasts its marginality (Oudin 2009): “It is necessary to have a good perception of the sense of camaraderie among the riders to understand the motivations […] of motorcycle tourism” (Brougthon, 2007 in Walker, 2010: 153).

Figure 3. Millevaches winter event 2012: the concentration is a form of tourism closely linked to motorcycling
Source : Jean Scol, Millevaches, Corrèze, France, December 8, 2012.
On 8 and 9 December 2012 more than 3,500 bikers from all over France (but also some from Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg or Germany) have gathered to participate in the famous winter concentration of Millevaches (Corrèze, 950 meters). Marked by abundant snowfall on the roads of France and on the plateau, this edition was highly appreciated by the participants. The main purpose of winter concentrations is to prove that the rider is able to brave the bad weather to satisfy his passion.

The phenomenon is well known in North America (Thompson, 2013), for example with the famous huge rallies such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the Dakotas or the Daytona Beach Bike Week in Florida[20]. However, Europe has the largest number of such according to our definition (see fig. 2). Thus, in 2013, close to 3.400 rallies were organized in thirty-four countries, including more than 1.100 in Germany, nearly 350 in the UK, 300 in Italy, more than 250 in Spain, 200 in France and 160 in the Czech Republic (see fig. 4).

Figure 4. Distribution by countries of 3396 bikers' rallies held in Europe in 2013
Source :, accessed 1/16/2014.
Design : Jean SCOL. Realization Jacqueline DOMONT - TVES Laboratory, April 2014.

Of these, about 10% were held in winter. These winter rallies are an exclusively European phenomenon. Invented by German biker in the 1950s[21], they meet some specific features that distinguish them from other gatherings. Indeed, the success of a bike rally at all other times of the year seems, at least in part, depend on favorable weather conditions for motorcycling and camping (dry, preferably sunny with positive temperatures) (CERTU, 2010). The success of a winter rally rests, apart from the absence of rain, on totally opposite conditions.

These are conditions that a large majority of ordinary bikers consider as completely incompatible with the practice of the motorcycle. In the case of a winter event, cold and snow are not only welcome but ardently desired. Their intensity and abundance even define the level of success of the event. This often results in a real competition between winter events. If the most difficult are not always the most popular, they are often the most famous and are for the amateur a form of rally, an ultimate goal. Participate in one of these “extreme” winter events confers to the rider a status, an aura that distinguishes him from others. It was already in the minds of the initiators of the first winter event, and it remains largely true today, to make a kind of natural selection of bikers by snow cold and ice. Only the most motivated, most experienced, for whom motorcycling is a lifestyle, will succeed, leaving behind the less experienced “Sunday bikers”.

To find conditions that best meet the requirements for a successful winter event, some are organized at latitudes close to the Arctic Circle. This is the case of the twenty Scandinavian winter events and particularly of those held in Norway. All are held at least north of the sixtieth parallel and even beyond the sixty-second for the Savalen Rally[22] or the First Run organized in Roros (62 ° 34 ’27’ ‘N) in the province of Trondelag, within 450 km south of the Arctic circle!

To compensate for less northern latitude, other winter rallies are held at high altitudes. This is the case for Tauerntreffen in the Austrian Alps, at 1,700 meters or in France for Marmots winter event at over 2000 meters in the municipality of Saint-Veran, in Hautes-Alpes. In Russia, the continental climate given to the city of Gritsovo by its longitude (38 ° 07 ’48 “E), seems to guarantee winter conditions of great rigor to the Samovar Treffen. In Germany, the two historic concentrations of Elefantentreffen are also organized in the regions among the coldest in the country, in Loh-Thurmannsbang-Solla, in the mountains of the Bavarian Forest near the Czech border for the first one, and close to the Nurburgring, in the Eifel mountains in Rhineland Palatinate, for Altes-Elenfantentreffen (fig. 5).

Figure 5. Twenty representative winter events organized from 2 November 2013 to 2 March 2014.
Source:, accessed 1/16/2014.
Design: Jean SCOL. Realization Jacqueline DOMONT - TVES Laboratory, April 2014.

If the winter 2013-2014 was relatively mild over a large part of Europe, some of these winter events still recorded largely negative temperatures. At the 23rd Savalen Rally, organized from January 23 to 26 in Tynset, Norway, in the Hedmark county, the maximum temperature was 6 ° while the minimum was down to -19 °. The latter, however, remained well above the -35° observed in 2010! Great success also for the same dates to the 11th Tauerntreffen at Edelraute in the Styrian Alps of Austria, with temperatures ranged from -5 ° to -10 ° and a beautiful snow cover guaranteed by the altitude (1700m). The organizer of this winter, however, regretted the -25° of the 2005 edition!

This very marginal form of biker tourism is also of great interest for professionals. It is indeed common that rally fans (in winter or not) precede or prolong their stay in the surrounding tourist accommodation structures and take the opportunity to explore the area. The Office of Tourism of Meymac in Corrèze, at the foot of Millevaches plateau, emphasizes the presence of many bikers in hotels and restaurants of the area the day before or even two days before the winter event of Millevaches[23] and often into the night following the event. For those of Marmots event in Saint-Veran or Tauerntreffen in Austria, some of the participants also prefer the cozy comfort of the local hotels and hostels to the crude and cold conditions offered by the campsite. In the Kristall Rally, all participants are welcomed at the hotels.

In a more general way, a growing number of territories and tourism professionals now pay attention to all motorcycle tourist activities.

Figure 6. Companionship and conviviality are the engines of motorcycle tourism
Source : Jean Scol, Millevaches, Corrèze, France, December 8, 2012.
Motorcycle concentrations (here winter concentration of Millevaches in December 2012) is a form of tourism whose pretext, besides the pleasure offered by the road, is to share a moment of conviviality with other motorcycle and travel enthusiasts.

Stakeholders of motorcycle tourism

Stakeholders of tourist development in the regions, and especially institutional players, have until recently been, and sometimes even now are, rather averse to motorbike tourism. First, because they are unfamiliar with the world of motorcycles; something they often find too dangerous, too fast, pollutant, disturbing. But also because they hang on to the image of the biker in black leather jacket (Oudin, 2009), that of the Hell’s Angels, known thugs and unsociable … “The thunderous armada passed, making as much noise as a bomber training […] a show evoking both Genghis Khan’s hordes, Morgan Raiders and the sack of Nanking … “(Thompson, 2013: 189).

This archaic vision of bike and biker is still causing some rejection of motorcycle tourism in certain places and territories. It is, for example, the case in France, in the Massif des Vosges, where, encouraged by some environmentalist associations, the administrative authorities regularly plan to close or restrict access of motorcycles to the famous Ridge Road. This rejection is however no longer systematic since many stakeholders in tourism development now know that the average traveler biker is rather a mature person (35/64 years)[24] (CERTU, 2010; Delignières and Regnault, 2007), who may have a good social status and a rather comfortable income (CERTU, 2010; Delignières and Regnault, 2007; Walker, 2010). Often he is also an amateur of good food and good conditions of accommodation, he may spend a lot when his travels.

On the Ridge road, innkeepers and operators of small family hotels are also the first to defend the free movement of this privileged clientele who, on sunny days, provide them a very important part of their turnover (Scol, 2005).

Unlike the Vosges, the authorities in charge of the management of the National Hohe Tauern Park in Austria have fully integrated the presence of motorcycles tourists on the high roads of the region and have realized the economic value they represent. Far from seeking to discourage them, the National Park and public company that operates the tourist routes in the region, particularly the famous Grossglockner High Alpine Road, developed a charter and a specific hosting policy (Motorradfreundlicher Grossglockner 2003) for this type of tourism. They make developments that are adapted to it, such as the road surface coated with a high adhesion asphalt, doubling of the safety rails, the provision to secure lockers and free helmets, the creation of parking and information points specific for bikers.

More generally, a growing number of European territories (Scotland, Luxembourg …) have implemented policies and initiatives favorable to tourists on motorbikes.

In France, this trend began in the late 2000s as part of public policies for tourism development of certain institutional territories, particularly in the department of Doubs with the program “Motards Bienvenue!” (Bikers Welcome) (Lebugle, 2011), in the Massif Central with the program “Auvergne Terre de Motards” (Auvergne the land of motorcyclists) (Collin, 2011) or Region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur with the “Sunny Ride Experience” program (the Magadure and Simon, 2011). Other initiatives come from the private or voluntary sectors and from the world of tourism, (Fédération Internationale des Logis[25], Fédérations départementales et nationale des Gîtes de France[26]) or motorcycle (FFM, FIM, FFMC[27], les Chevaliers de la route[28]) but also local bikers clubs, the motorcycle press, industry and motorcycle trade).

Collaborations between these stakeholders from different backgrounds are often strong; they create real networks and are building real projects of tourist areas dedicated to motorcycles. In Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, this partnership network takes, for example, the form of a “Moto Club Paca” created in 2006 by the CRT and local CDT. In 2011, the club had about 140 members including the FFMC antenna in Bouches du Rhône (FFMC13), the Mutual of Motorcyclists, the motorcycle tour operator France on Wheels and the Bistrots de Pays association. There were also members the Quality Camping Network, the Logis de France Provence, independent hosts, the association of the Alps Great Crossing, two motorcycle providers as well as publishers of a multimedia motorcycle tourism guide for Provence-Alpes-Côte-d ‘Azur…

The initiatives in favor of motorcycle tourism are of two types: creation of tourist routes for bikers and the promotion or certification of accommodation (hotels, guesthouses, campsites). Although the discovery of heritage (in the broadest sense) is not neglected, the selected itineraries focus mainly on the pleasure of driving and riding, mountain regions are preferred. The various labels are based on terms of reference and are awarded to tourist accommodation establishments that offer specific services for tourists traveling by motorcycle: a parking lot or secure garage, a drying room for motorcycle equipment, tooling, grease for transmission chains, and information on repair shops, weather, sites and tours.

Labeling places for “biker tourist accommodation” is increasing across Europe, particularly in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy with chains as Alpen Mottorad Hotel, Dolomites Bike Hotel or Biker Hotel.

The market for motorcycle tourists has also drawn the attention of some big names in global hospitality. They develop specific programs for their motorcyclist clients: labels “Riders-Friendly” at Best Western USA, “Easy Rider – Pure Feeling” at Marriott Frankfurt and recently the eight Best Western hotels in Corsica. We also note the existence, in France and Europe (Romania, Bulgaria), of bikers’ campsites which welcome the motorcyclist customers.

Activist bikers or peoples very involved in the world of the motorcycle are in many cases the origin of these initiatives. In the Doubs region, a project leader of the CDT, biker and activist in FMWC, is behind the “Welcome Bikers” program. In Saône et Loire, the network of “motorcyclists cottages” is an idea supported by the chairman of the county agriculture chamber. The latter is also director of the local Gîtes de France federation and a militant biker to the FFMC. This federation is also widely sought by the territories determined to finalize and validate the various labels or tours dedicated to bikers.

On the other hand, operators specializing in motorcycle travel are becoming more numerous. We had identified nearly 600 of them, distributed in 72 countries in 2012 and more than 700 and 77 countries in 2015. A large majority of them are located in Europe and North America. But they can be found on five continents and sometimes in countries as touristically marginal as Bhutan, Ethiopia or Honduras. Although generalist operators are not entirely absent from this market (e.g. Thomas Cook Belgium) most of these companies are artisanal or family size. At the origin of a “bike” business, there is usually a biker traveler who made a profession of his passion (West Forever, Itinéraires évasion). It is also very common that a Western expatriate created an operator located in developing countries (Morocco, India, Mali, Madagascar, Vietnam), often sharing the leadership with a local national (Vintage Ride in India …).

Many of these operators claim the creation of “adventure” products (Concas, 2012; Bourdeau, 1994). However, it seems very incongruous to compare a comfortable crossing of the US on Route 66 and an assault on the Himalayas organized by the Franco-Indian Vintage Ride agency. The first is done riding a luxurious and very expensive Harley-Davidson, as proposed (among others) by the French operator West Forever, the latter following swirling and stony tracks on a modest Royal Enfield costing only a few hundred Euros. And what about the real expeditions sold by the British Globusters operator, that takes the customer for weeks, months or even nearly a year from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, or for a round of the World of more than 40,000 km? Nor is there much in common between the trans-Saharan African expeditions and very safe discovery journeys to Italy, Greece, North Cape or the Alps, strongly popular destinations among European bike travelers.

An analysis of paper and electronic catalogs of the 578 operators surveyed in 2012 shows that the latter offered a total of 120 destinations. These corresponded to 1511 travel proposals. The geographical distribution of these designs the contours of the organized motorcycle tourism market (see fig. 7, 8, 9).

Figure 7. Frequency of occurrence of the 120 locations identified in the programs of 578 tour "bike" operators in 2012.
Sources: Data compilation of tour operators from the site, accessed May 2012.
Design: Jean SCOL. Realization Jacqueline DOMONT - TVES Laboratory, April 2014.
Figure 8. Occurrence frequency of the continents in the destinations offered by the 578 motorcycle tour operators in 2012.
Sources: paper or electronic catalog of 578 sample motorcycle tour operators. Example: 39 countries in Europe are sold by operators.

These countries are cited 626 times in the catalogs of tour operators concerned. Representing 42% of total 1511 travel proposals in the 578 operators of programs.


According to their overall performance established by WTO in terms of international tourist arrivals, Europe, Asia and the Americas are, in this order, the three continents most sold by “bike” tour operators. However, Africa receives only 5% to 6% of international tourist flows, but its share of citations in catalogs exceeds 16.5%, it appears to be as a very attractive market for motorcycle tourism. This situation owes much to the promises of adventure evoked by the continent (Concas, 2011).

Figure 9. The first 40 destinations offered by the 578 motorcycle tour operators in 2012
Sources: paper catalogs or the Internet 578 motorcycle tour operators from the sample and WTO 2013.
Example: Destination France (world's top tourist destination) is cited at least once in the 2012 or 2013 program by 143 motorcycle tour operators; Morocco (twenty-seventh global destination) at least once in the 63 organizers.

 An analysis of this distribution by country shows that among the twenty most proposed locations, eight are European, six are American while Africa, Asia and Oceania have each only two. The classification of these twenty destinations according to their appearance in the specialized tour operators programs, however strongly challenges the ranking of recipient countries. France and the USA are getting up in strict accordance with their rank first and second global destinations. By contrast, Morocco, South Africa, India, Australia, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Peru and Portugal occupy good rankings while none of these countries is higher than the 27th place (Morocco) in the ranking of receiving countries and even the 65th place for New Zealand!

The countries of Europe most frequently offered are often marked by their Mediterranean location, where the climate is conducive to motorcycling, or because they are Alpine countries offering good riding routes (curves, slopes …) (see fig.10).

Figure 10. Some bike tours offered by tour operators Edelweiss Travel Twintour in Europe in 2012
Source:, accessed 1/16/2014.
Design: Jean SCOL. Realization Jacqueline DOMONT - TVES Laboratory, April 2014.

The USA evokes the great outdoors, legendary roads and the American dream for custom motorcycle enthusiasts, especially Harley-Davidson fans. Morocco is an African adventure land at the gates of Europe. It is a destination of limited risks for motorcyclists who dream of wilderness and rolling on track. South Africa offers similar driving conditions especially for the Anglo-Saxon riders, with the possibility to observe the “Big Five” game animals of Africa (West Forever). Australia and New Zealand are also images of wilderness to conquer (Concas, 2011). Argentina, Chile and Peru are the three best countries in a tour of South America, whose reputation was strengthened since 2006 by the “Dakar” rally-raid. Finally, India is the fifth most frequently proposed destination, especially by Indo-European agencies, often circuits at the handlebars of Royal Enfield motorcycles, a local brand heir to the British colonization and very “vintage” productions, faithful to the spirit and technology of the 1950s. Most tours include the discovery of Rajasthan and Himalayan northern provinces of the country. Some go even as far as China, Nepal and Bhutan.


Motorcycle tourism consists of a set of marginal practices. It represents a very small part of the total market and therefore fits well, in this dual capacity, within the interstices of the tourism field. It is based on its own tourism practices and habits. It is rather mobile and the road is frequently a much more critical component than the final destination. It is marked by the existence of routes and mythical destinations, and draws a specific geography. Sports concepts, exploits, challenge or adventure permeate motorcycle tourism. However, it is also marked by very strong human values like friendship, solidarity, the feeling of being part of a fellowship, a family.

Originally rather self-organized, individually or in more or less structured practitioners groups (associations, clubs), motorcycle tourism like many other more unusual forms of tourism (ecotourism, adventure tourism) now raises the growing interest of territories and professionals who had formerly ignored it. They see an opportunity to capture and develop a new high value niche market. This commitment is part of three current trends of the tourism market.

– Market segmentation aimed at diversification and specialization of the offer to the specific categories of clients and aspirations;

– In the context of increased competition, the willingness of professionals and regions to move away from traditional forms of tourism and to show their ability to adapt and to offer innovative products;

– The willingness of customers who want to experience adventure, or at least an “original” tourism, but who also want to overcome the constraints of the logistics of the trip and have the means to afford the services of professionals.

Thus, tourism products multiply in the form of organized trips, dedicated routes and accommodation. Benefits that are often part of the logic of adventure or sports tourism and almost always in the range of the rather upscale travel.

Yet the population of bike travelers is growing older and nothing can guarantee the sustainability of this type of tourism. Indeed, its habits are widely marked by biker traditions forged in the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s. They may not meet fully the aspirations of younger generations of bikers, for which the bike seems to have become a more fleeting hobby than a real life style.


Philippe Bourdeau , Le tourisme d’aventure, Téoros, vol. 13, n°3, 1994, 5 pages.

Marc BOYER, Le tourisme de l’an 2000, Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 1999, 265 pages.

Paul Broughton et Linda Walker, Motorcycle and Leisure: Understanding the recreational PTW rider, Coll. Social Studies, Ashgate, Farham (RU), 2009, 216 pages. (en anglais)

CERTU, Usagers et déplacements en deux-roues motorisée : Analyse des enquêtes ménages déplacements, 2010 [en ligne], 51p. A partir de URL:  [consulté le 15 décembre 2013]

Claudine Chapsoul, ” Réenchanter la route (éditorial) “, in Claude Origet du Cluzeau (dir.), Tourisme sur la route, Les Cahiers Espaces, n°108, mai 2011, , les Editions Touristiques Européennes, 2011,  pp. 5.

Clémentine Concas, ” L’aventure encadrée “, in Claude Origet du Cluzeau (dir.), Tourisme sur la route, Les Cahiers Espaces, n°108, mai 2011, , les Editions Touristiques Européennes, 2011,  pp. 36-38.

Clémentine Concas, Le voyage d’aventure : un système organisé autour d’un tour-opérateur responsable et d’aventuriers encadrés, mémoire de Master professionnel “Tourisme” (2ème année), spécialité Développement et Aménagement touristique des Territoires, sous le direction de Sakia Cousin, 2011, Université de Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, Institut de recherche et d’études supérieurs de tourisme, 98 pages. A partir de l’URL  [consulté le 20 mai 2015]

Etienne Codron., Les Gangs de Motards Criminalisés – Note d’Alerte n° 7 – GMC, 2006 [en ligne] Site web de l’Institut de criminologie de Paris. Université Panthéon ASSAS, Paris II. A partir de l’URL  [consulté le 23 janvier 2014]

Emmanuelle Collin (CRDTA / Comité Régional de Développement Touristique d’Auvergne) (Propos recueillis par  Hermine de Saint Albin), 2011, « L’Auvergne, Paradis des motards », in Les Cahiers Espaces, n°108, mai 2011, Tourisme sur la route, (sous la direction de Claude Origet du Cluzeau), les Editions Touristiques Européennes, Paris,  pp. 74-77.

Françoise Deprest., Enquête sur le tourisme de masse : L’écologie face au territoire, Coll. Mappemonde, Belin, 1997, 207 pages.

Valérie Delignières et Hervé Regnault, ” Motards, capital spatial et construction identitaire hétérotopique : récits et pérégrinations des motards rennais “, Norois, n° 204 (2007/3), 2007,13 pages.

Jean-Michel Dewailly, Tourisme et Géographie, entre pérégrinité et chaos ?, Coll. Tourisme et Sociétés, L’Harmattan, 2006,  221 pages.

Pascal Duret, “Voyage en tribu motardes : un écheveau d’infimes différences pertinentes”, in Michel Laurent et Pierre Therme (Coord) Actes des journées de recherche en A.P.S., Aix – Marseille II, , Centre de Recherche de l’U.E.R.E.P.S , Aix – Marseille II, 2005, pp. 109 -118.

Pierre Lebugle, (Directeur du CDT du Doubs), (Propos recueillis par  Hermine de Saint Albin), “Le Doubs dorlote les motards “, in Claude Origet du Cluzeau (dir.), Tourisme sur la route, Les Cahiers Espaces, n°108, mai 2011, les Editions Touristiques Européennes, 2011,  pp. 71-73.

Yannick Le Magadure et Ariane Simon ” Les touristes motards un marché de niche pour le CRT Provence-alpes-Côte d’Azur “, in Claude Origet du Cluzeau (dir.), Tourisme sur la route, Les Cahiers Espaces, n°108, mai 2011, les Editions Touristiques Européennes, 2011, pp. 78-82.

Jean-Pierre Lozato-Giotard,  Le chemin vers l’écotourisme : Impacts et enjeux environnementaux du tourisme aujourd’hui, Delachaux et Niestlé, coll. Changer d’ère, 2006, 192 pages.

Fabien Lecoutre et Anne-France Dautheville, Europe : Les Alpes à moto, Editions Michelin, 2011, 223 pages.

Eric Lobo, Road Angels: Le tour du Monde à moto, Editions Transboréal, coll. Sillages, 2013, 289 pages.

Alberto Morsiani, Rebells on the Road: Moto et bikers du cinéma, Editions Gremese, 2013, 127 pages.

Philippe Orain (dir.), France 100 virées à moto, Editions Michelin,

2013 ,480 pages.

Claude Origet du Cluzeau (dir.), Tourisme sur la route, Les Cahiers Espaces, n°108, mai 2011, les Editions Touristiques Européennes, 2011, 101 pages.

François Oudin, 2009, Ethnologie du quotidien des passionnés de moto, Thèse de Doctorat d’Ethnologie, Université Paul Verlaine – Metz, Ecole doctorale Pième, Département de Sociologie, thèse soutenue le 16 juin 2009, 2 tomes, 452 pages et 163 pages.

François Portet,  “Moto et motocyclisme : l’amour de l’objet et le goût du risque”, in Christian Bromberger (dir.), Passions ordinaires, Bayard, 1998, pp 452 – 475.

Jean Scol, “L’enduro du Touquet : un week-end à la plage” in Claude Sobry C. (dir.), Le tourisme sportif, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion (Université de Lille III), 2005, pp.315-344.

Mathis Stock (dir.),  Le tourisme : Acteurs, lieux et enjeux, Belin, coll. Sup Géographie, 2003, 304 pages.

Sylvain Tesson, Berezina: En side-car avec Napoléon, Editions Guérin, 2015, 199 pages.

Hunter S. Thompson, (Roman traduit de l’Américain par Sylvie Durastanti),  Hell’s Angels, Gallimard, coll. Folio, 2013, 385 pages.

Linda Walker, “Tourism and leisure motorcycle riding” in  Bruce Prideau and Dean Carson (ed.), Drive Tourism: Trends and emerging markets, Routledge, Coll. Advances in Tourism, 2010, pp. 146-158 (en anglais)


Other sources

Le Journal des Motards, magazine bimestriel, Editions Motards, Puget sur Argens, France.

Road trip: le premier magazine de tourisme moto, magazine bimensuel, Editions 6pack Publishing, Clermont-Ferrand, France.

Moto Magazine : le pavé dans la mare, magazine mensuel, Editions de la FFMC, Montreuil (93), France.

L’intégral, magazine mensuel, Editions Larivière, Clichy, France.

Moto Journal, magazine hebdomadaire, éditions Motor Presse France, Issy-les-Moulineaux, France.

Moto Revue, magazine bimensuel, Editions Larivière, Clichy, France.

L’Officiel du cycle, de la moto et du quad : la revue de la profession, magazine mensuel, éditions Motor Presse France, Issy-les-Moulineaux, France.


Publications, papers and web sites of : CRDT d’auvergne, CRT de Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, CDT du Doubs, CDT du Jura, de l’OT de Nevez, des Gîtes de France (Fédération nationale et antennes départementales), de l’association des Hôtels ‘Logis de France’ et de la Fédération Françaises des Motards en Colère (FFMC). Mais aussi les sites web des sociétés ou associations Bikerhotel, Motor Bike Hotel International, Mobike Hotel, Moho Motorrorrad Hotel, Alpen Motorrad Hotel GMBH et sa filliale Dolomiten Bike Hotel GMBH.



[1] Statutes of the Federal Association of the French Motorcycle Federation (FFM) define by the term “motorcycle” or “bike” motorcycles, scooters, mopeds and generally all land vehicles with 2, 3 or 4 wheels fitted with an handlebar, propelled by an engine and conforms to the highway code
[2] The study made by CERTU (CERTU, 2010), reveals that the movement of motorized two-wheel vehicles account for less than 2% of trips in France.
[3] The number of motorcycle users in France is unknown. The only figures available are for the fleet of motorized two-wheel vehicles. They vary widely (from 1.4 to 5.7 million) based methods and counting organisations and may not be strictly comparable to the number of users.
[4] American film by László Benedek (1953) with Marlon Brando. The story is inspired by clashes between biker gangs in the city of Hollister (USA) in 1947.
[5] French film by Gérard Pires (1975) with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Catherine Deneuve: The revenge of a man whose wife and daughter were murdered by three bikers on the road vacation.
[6] American television series by Kurt Sutter; broadcast in France on M6 from October 2006. The series features an outlaw bikers club  who have seized control of a small town in the United States and live by different expedients
[7] There are nevertheless a few examples of film productions (Ghost Rider ) or BD (Joe Bar Team, Little Kevin) which tend to give the image of friendly bikers.
[8] The annual Tourism Championship of France, organized by the FFM, aims to take part in selected events in France or in Europe by the federation and to validate one’s travelogue. The number of points is assigned (individually and / or Club) depending on mileage.
[9] Author’s Note.
[10] See part V
[11]Article published in the Gîtes de France journal n° 86 – Winter 2009, “La Drôme is full of bikers” about the creation of a label “Welcome to bikers” in the cottages of the département.
[12] Bikers usually drive a custom or a chopper machine (see note 18).
[13] Peter Fonda: actor, director, writer and movies producer, was born in 1940 .
[14] Dennis Hopper: actor, director, poet, painter and photographer born in 1936, died in 2010.
[15] American film produced and directed in 1969 by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. The film traces the journey of two hippies bikers across the southern United States. Easy Rider is still considered today a cult film for both heirs of the hippie culture and for bikers.
[16] Unlike Route 66, the Dixie Highway is not a historical route. Its layout repeats the path traveled in Easy Rider. He was especially reconstructed by the French tourism operator motorcycle West Forever who owns its intellectual property, deposited at the National Institute of Intellectual Property (INPI).
[17] A chopper motorcycle is greatly modified by its owner or by a specialist garage. It is generally lowered, equipped with a (very) long fork, a disproportionately high handlebars, a low saddle and decorated out in bright colors and shiny chrome fittings.
[18] The Stelvio Pass is located on the Swiss-Italian border. With an altitude of 2758 m, it is the second highest road pass in Europe. It is crossed each year by tens of thousands of bikers from all nationalities.
[19] Several bikers interviewed at rest stops of rallies did not consider them to be tourists as they did not enjoy their stay to explore the area.
[20] The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and Daytona Beach Bike Week each host more than 500,000 visitors and resemble real festivals of motorcycling.
[21] Ernst Leverkus, then editor of the newspaper Das Motorrad, launched the idea of the first motorcycle winter evemt in January 1956. The rally was baptized Elefantentreffen (meeting of Elephants) and will quickly become the inspiration and the model for most the kind of events. Moreover, the “treffen” suffix used by many winter even outside Germany (Tauerntreffen in Austria, Samovar Treffen im Russia, Canards-Gast-Treffen in France …) marks this relationship.
[22] The English word “rally” is also often used (even outside the UK) to mean a concentration of motorbikes (Fjord Rally, Dragon Rally, Savalen Rally).
[23] The Millevaches is the most important winter event organized in France. It is held every first weekend in December in the Creuse, on the plateau and in the town of Millevaches, at an altitude of just over 900 meters. The Millevaches gathered over 3,500 participants in 2012 and 2013.
[24] The study made by CERTU (CERTU, 2010) shows that in France 35-64 years olds represented 48% of motorcycle users in 1995-2000. In the 2006-2009 period, this same age group represents 66% of users. On the same two periods, the share of 18-34 year olds collapsed and spent only 25%. This evolution therefore shows a marked aging of the average age of motorcyclists in France.
[25] Ex  Fédération Nationale des Logis de France since 2007.
[26] The federation has 500 certified “bikers” establishments in France and Europe. Gîtes de France offers 1900 “biker atmosphere” houses or cottages.
[27] FFMC : Fédération Française des Motards en Colère (French Federation of Angry Motorcyclists).
[28] “The Knights of the road” is an association created by the magazine “Le Monde de la Moto ” (World of Motorcycles) in the 1970s and which (among other activities) attributes the “Relais Motard (Biker stop) label for accommodation and catering establishments.


Scol Jean, Lecturer in Geography, Université de Lille,
Laboratoire Territoires, Villes, Espaces et Sociétés (Univ Lille 1, TVES EA 4477)


Translation French > English

Hervé Théry