Tiffany Coates embarked on her first motorbike trip, overland to India – as you do - with her friend Becky in 1997. They had just eight weeks’ riding experience between them and planned to be away for eight months.
Tiffany found she loved motorcycling so much that she didn’t come home for two-and-a-half years. 24 years later, she has ridden over 300,000 miles and today she is the world’s foremost female motorbike adventurer, having crossed every continent on two wheels, some of them several times.
We talked to Tiffany about the highs and lows of life on the road in one of her rare moments at home in Land’s End.
What’s your favourite place to motorcycle?
Pakistan. Actually - anywhere with a high mountain range.
What’s a good starter trip for someone who hasn’t ridden abroad before?
Head across the Channel and down through France to Corsica.
What was your first bike?
My first bike, Thelma [a BMW R80GS], is my forever bike. When I get older, I’ll buy a sidecar so I can keep riding her.
What is the most challenging thing about your nomadic lifestyle?
Speaking from the heart - it’s being away when you get bad news.
Are there particular challenges to motorcycle adventuring as a woman?
I meet plenty of sleazy border guards but, on the bright side, it’s much easier to get away with not paying bribes. However, many men find it inconceivable that a woman can do something mechanical. Mechanics don’t always believe me when I tell them what’s wrong with Thelma, even though I know my bike inside out.
Have you ever been in real danger?
My biggest scare was in the Namibian desert – one of the most sparsely populated places on Earth. My friend Maggie and I were only five days into our trip across Africa. We curled around a bend and ploughed into deep sand that had drifted on to the dirt track. You’re supposed to ride through sand, so I got the revs up, but I could feel the bike fishtailing. I ended up unconscious, blood pouring down my face. Maggie thought I was going to die. Not long after, a 4WD bus full of Swiss tourists came by and picked us up. I came to on the bus. The nearest doctor was four hours away, so I just managed without.
Where would you like to go that you haven’t yet visited?
Gabon and Cameroon.
How did you find out about Gerbing heated motorcycle clothing?
In the early days, I was riding from Plymouth to Wales and stopped off on the way at a friend’s. He lent me his wife’s Gerbing jacket. When I got back on the bike, it began to rain. Normally I would have frozen, but the jacket kept me warm and cosy. I pulled over and called my friend to say: ‘You are not getting this jacket back!’
How long have you been wearing Gerbing?
Since 2001. I’ve been around the world in Gerbing.
Can you think of some trips where your Gerbing kit was indispensable?
The one that springs to mind is the Arctic Ocean Ice Road, riding on permafrost. This is the most northerly point in the Americas that you can reach by road. It is very beautiful and exceptionally cold. My Gerbing electric jacket was an absolute life-saver.
What’s your favourite bit of Gerbing motorbike clothing?
I would have to say the heated gloves. I wear a gauntlet-style [the Gerbing XRLs] to keep my wrists warm, in a men’s fit, because I like them a bit loose. Underneath, I wear silk liner gloves for an extra layer of warmth. I should add that Gerbing trousers keep my legs warm, often without me even plugging them in. One of the best things about heated bike clothing is that you need fewer layers, so it is easier to pack, which is great for someone like me!
Have you tried any other brands of heated motorcycle clothing?
No. Gerbing is amazing. I have never been able to fault it so have never needed to try.’
What’s the worst weather you have ever ridden in?
Up on the Tibetan plateau - way west. You are up on the elevation (over 4,500 metres) for 10 days straight. You are suffering extreme oxygen deprivation. I was leading a group to Everest base camp and it began to blizzard. You can’t just stop riding. It’s really remote. You have to keep going.
What luxuries do you always take with you?
My luxury item is a brass pepper grinder I bought in Turkey on my very first trip. I have to eat some pretty boring food sometimes while travelling. There is nothing that cannot be improved by a grind of black pepper!
What are you up to next?
Planning my next adventure. I’m also going to be at Motorcycle Live at the NEC in Birmingham, talking about my travels – come and say hi!
Find out more about Tiffany:
Come to the Motorcycle Live show (4-12 December) – Gerbing will be there too!