Lisa Thomas

Lisa Thomas’ name is an awe-inspiring one in the world of adventure riding. This veteran round-the-world motorcyclist has been on the road for eleven years now, ever since she first set out from the UK on her BMW F650GS. She has ridden a record 500,000+ km over these years, winning her a place in the record books for what is sure to be a long time to come. Lisa talks to us here about her nomadic life on the road with her husband Simon, illustrated by some incredible photographs from their journey. [Rashmi Tambe, Editor]

Women Who Ride: Lisa Thomas on a beach in Borneo

Name: Lisa Thomas
Age: 52
Country: United Kingdom
Languages: English
Years Riding: 36
Height: 5’ 3”
Inseam: 29”
Current motorcycles: BMW F650GS
Past motorcycles: Honda C90,  Honda CBR 500, BMW 650 Strada


Lisa, you’ve been on the road for eleven years now which is roughly a fifth of your life. Did you ever imagine that your forties would be so rich and full of adventure?
Wow,  you know what? I have never ever thought of it as a fifth of my life!  Although Simon and I had worked out that we had spent over half of our married life on two wheels whilst living in a tent. To be honest I’d never previously imagined that any decade of my life, let alone my forties would be this full of adventure and excitement.

Women Who Ride: Lisa Thomas rides the Silk Route

Lisa Thomas rides the Silk Route

You turned 50 while you were out on the road. How did you celebrate the big day?
It was a good one! We made it to the Australian Horizons Unlimited meetup just north of Brisbane. We gave a presentation and then a big cake was brought out with ALL 50 candles on it! I think we almost set the place on fire. It was a great night!

Which places do you hope to go to next that you haven’t been to yet?
Well, as we’re still on the road we’re still trying to get to a lot more places but we hope and plan to get to Antarctica, our last continent. We are desperate to return to Africa to explore the northeast. Alaska  hopefully in 2015, plus I’d liked to reach the Dominican Republic and Haiti and of course Cuba but currently our budget, or should I say lack thereof, is our main restriction!


Will it be possible to bring your bikes to Antarctica?
It’s possible but very, very costly unless you have connections! And we don’t! We will try our utmost to make it happen.

You’ve visited 78 countries so far. Did you ride through any that you could see yourself settling down in some day?
Oh gosh!  So many!  I really like the northwest of Argentina, the western Cape in South Africa, the south island of New Zealand,  Thailand  (all of it!), and the west and south of Mexico. Oh and the southern part of Belize.

Women Who Ride: Lisa Thomas rides in New Zealand

Lisa Thomas rides in New Zealand

What’s the longest length of time that you’ve stayed put in one location?
Five months in Malaysia.  This is when Simon was rebuilding his motorcycle due to his accident on the island of Borneo and we were waiting for parts to arrive from Germany.

Women Who Ride: Lisa Thomas wrenching on her bike

Lisa Thomas wrenching on her bike

Do you keep an eye on political events occurring in countries that you’re going to ride through?
I do try to be aware of political situations as they can of course greatly affect your travels through a country. To tell the truth though, around 70% of the time we are unable to keep in touch with the “outside” world via internet, TV or newspapers because we are out in the sticks. So we are unaware there may even be a problem and ride through peacefully.  People around the world are generally just trying to get through their working day with as little hassle as possible and care little for the politics and even less for their politicians!

Have you gone into a country with some set expectations and been surprised at what you found?
Always, you can’t help it.  Every country has negative press and I am always happy to find that generally it’s exaggerated.

Women Who Ride: Lisa Thomas in Iran

Lisa Thomas in Iran

How many miles a day do you like riding if there is no time constraint?
That’s difficult to answer as it really depends not upon the miles but the terrain that’s underneath those miles!  However, if all is good and the day an easy day with perfect temperature, then if I’m between 5 to 8 hours a day in the saddle I’m happy.

You ride an F650 GS. Was there ever a point in your travels when you wished you had a lighter and more nimble bike?
LOL! yes! When my bike is on the ground and I have to pick it up! Or when there is a real tricky rocky section where all you can do is ride up on the pegs but go slow. Now that’s when you feel the weight of the bike!  However I love my bike and I do generally prefer  to ride a heavier bike.

Women Who Ride: Lisa Thomas with a sleepy GS

Lisa Thomas with a sleepy GS

Are you and Simon evenly matched when it comes to your riding rhythm and the types of terrain you like to ride on?
Despite Simon’s R1150 GS  being larger, surprisingly yes, we are.  We both generally  ride at the same speed and luckily we love the same type of terrain.  We both love riding in sand and deserts.  In fact my bike is great in these areas.  After almost twenty years of riding together, eleven of which are on this journey, we know how the other will react to different road situations and terrain.  Often there is no need for any spoken word.

Women Who Ride: Lisa Thomas in Izamal, Mexico

Lisa Thomas in Izamal, Mexico

Do you use any intra-bike communication system while riding?
When we left we used a wired system. There was no Bluetooth at the time we left in 2003.  We now use the SENA Bluetooth SMH10s and absolutely love them!  Its great not to have a bunch of wires in the way and the clarity of speech and lack of wind noise is amazing.  It’s been a life-saver, quite literally in some cases.  It makes the day so much better because we can warn each other or share a moment of excitement as it happens or let your partner know that you have stopped to take a photo rather than let them worry why you have suddenly disappeared from the road!

Are you a happier person now than you were before you started your trip?
Absolutely.  I know that I’m more understanding and accepting which in turn makes me more relaxed and happier.  I am definitely a lot less angry with the world than when I was in the UK.

Women Who Ride: Lisa Thomas with a group of kids in Flores, Indonesia

Lisa Thomas with a group of kids in Flores, Indonesia

You’ve had the opportunity to interact with women in many different cultures. Do you have thoughts that you’d like to share?
I feel very privileged having been born and raised in the UK and all the advantages that has provided me.  Women generally have a very tough time in most other countries in the world and many have often told me that to see another woman doing what I do gives them strength and courage to try different things within their own lives. To be able to give any kind of hope or belief to others is a pretty intimidating thought and a responsibility whilst also being immensely rewarding.

There is definitely also a sense of sisterhood among women.  There have been times when I’ve shrugged my shoulders or shaken my head as if to say “Ah! Men!  What can you do with them!?” The local women always laugh and agree and shake their heads too.  Women of the world unite!

Women Who Ride: Lisa Thomas with new friends in Java

Lisa Thomas with new friends in Java

Women Who Ride: Lisa Thomas with a group of students in Sumatra

Lisa Thomas with a group of students in Sumatra

I’m sure you have tons of stories to regale your followers with. Perhaps you could share a somewhat funny one?
I think the funniest one is from quite early on in the trip.  Simon and I were in Norway, camping by a fjord. He had decided to clean his bike even though it was freezing cold. He washed and polished it and then tried to start it.  It wouldn’t start.  He tried again.  Nothing.  He fiddled with a few things.  Still nothing.  He started to get angry.  I asked him if he needed any help.  He replied gruffly “What do you think you could do that I haven’t already tried?  It’s just not starting!” So I waited and watched.

He got more and more upset as it was still not starting.  Not being able to stand it any longer – although it was funny – I said “perhaps I can help as I have an idea as to why it’s not starting”.  He said ‘”Ok smartarse…what do you think you know that I haven’t already tried!?’  I just went over and pointed to the vast 42 litre and normally unmissable fuel tank that he’d earlier disconnected but was still lying on its side on the ground and said “Doesn’t this need to  be on the bike?”

We both fell about in hysterics.

Do you occasionally go back to the UK to see friends and family?
Currently our finances make this impossible. We have however had some family and friends come to visit us in certain parts of the World. We’re not too sure that we would recognise the UK after so long on the road!

Do you see your ride coming to an end any time soon?
If it wasn’t for lack of cash we would like to keep on going. However if one of us becomes seriously ill or injured, or one of us makes the decision that the time has come to finish – then we would. Neither of us is ready for it to end right at the moment but we really need to bring in some serious funds for us to keep going.

Is the thought of going home someday and settling down somewhere – wherever that might be – an exciting or scary one?
Totally scary!

Women Who Ride: Lisa Thomas in Central Russia

Lisa Thomas in Central Russia

Some lighter questions now. What’s the last enjoyable or inspiring book you read?
Unfortunately being on the road all the time I don’t get much of a chance to read. However I do now have a Kindle (amazing things!) and when I can I have immensely enjoyed reading a few of Sam Manicom‘s books.

Do you have a favorite food?
Thai food.  All of it! :) And a great Argentinian asado which must include Patagonian lamb and morcillia (blood sausage).

Are there women riders who inspire you?
Patsy Quick – the first British woman to complete the Dakar Rally! To ride the Dakar rally is not only a physical challenge but a mental one too. In my opinion it is the ultimate challenge and the ultimate achievement in terms of motorcycling.

What do you think would attract more young girls and women into motorcycling and exploring?
Belief in themselves. Unfortunately many women feel uncomfortable getting out of the shadow of their own stereotype.  They must get out there and do it! Also magazines need to shine a light on more of the women that are out there doing it!

Finally  – what kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
Oh dear! How do I answer that!?  I hope to show that being a woman should not stop or hinder you in any way.   Just make the decision and do it. Whatever that “it” is for you.  Do not be put off by the naysayers, there are always plenty of those around.  Women are strong. We may not always be as physically strong as men but we have mental strength and stamina.  Use it! Additionally, do your own research.  Do not always rely upon others views and opinions to shape yours but do be open to well intended and informed advice.  Someone’s idea of a hellish road and terrible border crossing may turn out to be the best and one of the most enjoyable for you.  People’s opinions are like arse holes…everyone has one! ;-)

Any thoughts about the Global Women Who Ride Project?
It’s a fantastic idea.  Motorcycling is a brotherhood (or should I say sisterhood!) of riders. We have met so many riders on the road over the years who have become long-term true friends.  Anything that can join riders – especially women riders- together is wonderful.

Women Who Ride: Lisa Thomas in Mongolia

Lisa Thomas in Mongolia

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