Lois Pryce

Lois Pryce needs no introduction here. Anyone who has ridden a motorcycle long enough has heard about the intrepid motorcyclist’s solo riding adventures across the Americas and Africa, or read her books Lois on the Loose and Red Tape and White Knuckles: One Woman’s Adventure Through Africa. What she does is not easy, whether it’s riding through heavy crosswinds towards Ushuaia or crossing the Sahara and a war-ravaged Congo. You’d be forgiven for thinking it is though because of the witty, cheerful way in which she recounts these stories while underplaying the tremendous focus, skills and perseverance needed to complete journeys of such magnitude.

Lois is also a contributing editor for the Overland Journal, co-host of The Adventure Travel Film Festival, actor in the DVD Ladies on the Loose and part of London’s all-girl bluegrass band The Jolenes. Here she talks to Global Women Who Ride and shares her thoughts about exploring the world on two wheels, and  her own heroes and inspirations.

Rashmi Tambe
Editor, Global Women Who Ride

Women Who Ride: British Motorcyclist Lois Pryce

Age: 41
Country: United Kingdom (London)
Languages: English
Years Riding: 13
Height: 5’4”
Inseam: 30”
Current Motorcycles: 1978 Yamaha XT500, 2006 Yamaha TTR250
Past Motorcycles: 1959 BSA Bantam D7, 1963 A65 Star, Yamaha XT225 Serow, Honda Bros 400, 1978 Yamaha XT500, 2004 Yamaha TTR250

Lois, would you call yourself a traveler who just happened to pick a motorcycle, or a motorcyclist who likes traveling, among other things? Probably the former. But the motorcycling and the travelling both kind of came together at the same time – a perfect storm scenario!

You’ve ridden through North and South America, Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East. Off the top of your head, do you know how many miles in total you’ve ridden on your various bikes? Maybe around 60,000 miles? I must admit, I’ve never added it up!

Have you gone into a country with some preset notions and been surprised at what you found? Pretty much every time! Most notably was Iran and Angola. Expected the worst… found the very best!

What is your favorite part about riding into a new country? The strangeness of everything and all the little details  – what do the bank notes look like? What is the national dish that everyone eats? The label design of the national beer… the design of road signs… that kind of thing.

Women Who Ride: Lois Pryce in Morocco next to a road sign depicting a camel

Lois Pryce in Morocco

As a traveler, you’ve had both breadth and depth of experiences. From what you’ve seen of this planet and the people so far, do you feel hope or despair for our world? I feel hope on a small human scale but if I think about the bigger picture it is easy to feel despair. I believe that change can be made on that small human scale – that is where it will begin – not with politicians and G8 summits but with men and women (particularly women) engaging with fellow humans and making small differences which will then grow. This is the upside of globalization.

Have your travels changed you as a person? I’ve always been pretty happy but I think that they have made me calmer and less of a worrier, so that can only aid personal happiness, right? Also, my travels have made me less judgmental and more tolerant, which has got to be a good thing!

Women Who Ride: Lois Pryce during her solo cross-Africa ride

Lois Pryce during her solo cross-Africa ride

During your travels you’ve had the opportunity to interact with women in many different cultures. Do you have any observations or thoughts about that which you’d like to share? Yes! Women’s lives are pretty damn tough in most parts of this world. We are extremely lucky to live in the West where our freedoms are enshrined in law. And also, where we can choose the kind of lifestyle we want. If I was from say, Algeria or Peru, or even an upcoming country like India, it would be very hard to live the life I have chosen. There is a long way to go before all women in this world are truly liberated.

Women’s lives are pretty damn tough in most parts of this world. We are extremely lucky to live in the West where our freedoms are enshrined in law.

When I read  your first book Lois on the Loose, it felt like you pretty much just quit your job, got a bike and took off for Alaska in a series of quick cuts like in a Guy Ritchie movie. I imagine that reality was slightly different though. Can you talk to us a bit about your background with riding off-road and working on bikes before you did your big Alaska-Ushuaia ride? Haha! I like to cut to the action! I hadn’t ridden off-road very much so I was pretty useless at that when I set off. I had done a bit of practicing in the UK but it involved a lot of falling off and driving into bushes and ditches! I did an evening class in motorcycle maintenance which was useful but I learned more by owning two classic British BSAs – lots of tweaking and bodging by the side of the road with those damn things!

Women Who Ride: Lois Pryce changing the clutch on her Yamaha Serow

Lois Pryce changing the clutch on her Yamaha Serow

You rode through the Americas on an XT225 and through Africa on a TTR250. Was there ever a point in your journeys when you wished you had more powerful bikes?
I was happy on the XT225 until I got into the Andes and then the altitude really affected the power. I was crawling up the mountains at 10mph sometimes!

In Africa I was riding a TTR250 which is a great bike and never failed me once. There were a couple of times when trying to get going in deep sand in the Sahara that I could have used a bit more oomph, but they were outweighed  by the many benefits of that bike.

Women Who Ride: Lois Pryce crossing the sand dunes in Niger

Lois Pryce crossing the sand dunes in Niger

If you could do it over, is there any aspect of your rides that you would do differently? Oh, the usual… take longer about it all!

Is a ride through Asia and Australia on the cards? I believe those are the only continents you’ve left uncovered so far. I’ve been to Australia but not on the bike. As for Asia, the destination at the top of my list is India. I would love to go there so maybe that will be the next trip but at the moment I am slightly obsessed with Iran so am going back there next week!

If Doctor Who appeared in his Tardis and offered to take you and your motorcycle to any time in this history of the Earth, where (or when?) would you choose to go and ride and why? Southern California, late 60s/early 70s. On Any Sunday era – something involving Steve McQueen!

What is your favorite type of terrain to ride over? I love deserts. Sand riding is fun but I do love a good river crossing too!

Do you have any fun local rides that you like doing around where you live? I live on the outskirts of London and we have a weird network of semi-illegal abandoned trails that nobody knows about!

You have typically stuck with British and Japanese bikes and given that one German manufacturer a wide berth. Any reason why? I started out riding British bikes because I liked the look of them and I have always been into old vintage stuff – clothes, design, furniture, vehicles etc. Then when I started riding off-road and planning my long-distance ‘adventure’ rides I found that the small Japanese trail bikes were perfect – light, simple and reliable. I have ridden a BMW in Brazil when I hosted an all-women tour and found it comfortable and smooth but it doesn’t really do anything for me, and I can’t stand the look of the modern BMWs!

What are your thoughts about the new electric bikes? I would LOVE one! I think they are the future – especially for off-road riding which often upsets people with the noise.

If you could design the perfect motorcycle for yourself, what would it look, sound and feel like? It would look and sound like my 1978 XT500  – but with less vibration!

Do you perceive any differences between the way female and male adventure riders approach long distance travel? Without wanting to generalize, men seem to go all day and only eat once. Women like to stop, eat and go to the loo more often!

Are there women motorcyclists who inspire you? From the 1930s, Theresa Wallach was a great inspiration – she was the first person to ride a motorcycle the length of Africa and appeared entirely undaunted by anything. She went on to do lots of amazing stuff with motorcycles. I recommend her book about her Africa trip, The Rugged Road.

Theresa Wallach [I
mage courtesy of the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame]

These days I have great admiration for Patsy Quick, the first British woman to complete the Dakar Rally. I got to know her when I interviewed her for my DVD, Ladies on the Loose. She is great fun, a very warm person – and of course, a brilliant rider!

What do you think would attract more young girls and women into motorcycling and exploring? Seeing more women and girls doing this kind of thing, and showing that anyone can have a go. I like to remove the “heroic”, macho image of adventure and exploration and show that it is available to all, male and female. Travel in foreign lands is all about engaging with other people who are different from you – that is the key to a successful trip. It’s about being open, and opening yourself up to people. Sometimes the more vulnerable you are, the better your experience.

I like to remove the ‘heroic’, macho image of adventure and exploration and show that it is available to all, male and female.

What’s the last enjoyable or inspiring book you read? Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it!

What or to whom do you turn to when you need inspiration? Music (playing it and listening), being outdoors, particularly around water, and for the human touch, my husband, Austin – a source of endless inspiration (and entertainment!)

Are you working on any side-projects to satisfy your creative side? I play banjo in The Jolenes – an all-female bluegrass band. I am also learning the guitar and my ultimate goal is to write a novel.

Do you have a favorite food? Love a good curry!

What kind of legacy do you hope to leave? It makes me very happy when people tell me that my books have inspired them to kickstart their lives, take a chance, leave their job, hit the road, learn to ride a bike – whatever it might be. That is a great feeling to have made a positive difference to someone’s life with my words. I believe massively in the power of books and music. I’m a better writer than I am a banjo player so hopefully my books will continue to encourage people and I hope to keep on writing for the rest of my life, in some form or other.

It makes me very happy when people tell me that my books have inspired them to kickstart their lives, take a chance, leave their job, hit the road, learn to ride a bike – whatever it might be.

Do you have any advice for potential adventurers who might be reading this? It’s very important to follow your gut instincts and ignore the naysayers. Just have a go… it really is so much easier than you think.

Thoughts about the Global Women Who Ride Project? I think it’s a great idea! One of the amazing things about motorcycling is the camaraderie between riders. It’s truly heartwarming and I have made many great friends through motorcycling. Anything that brings people together is good. favicon