Tiffany Coates

Today we interview a legend of motorcycling, Tiffany Coates, who is among a select set of people who have ridden their motorcycles around the planet. She is possibly the only one who has done so as part of a female duo. I first heard of Tiffany via a BMW Unscripted video that a friend forwarded to me (which you’ll find below). I highly recommend watching the video to fully understand the phenomenon that is Tiffany Coates. I was also lucky enough to see her in person once when she did a talk in Seattle a few years ago. The talk was brilliant, as was she. As someone who often dreams of riding around the world herself someday, Tiffany’s life and her stories give me hope that this is an achievable dream. I hope you feel the same after you read this. [Rashmi Tambe, Editor]

Can you tell us more about your round-the-world motorcycle ride and subsequent trips? 
I’ve always been a traveler, and enjoyed visiting other countries. The motorcycle part of it all came about by accident. My friend Becky and I wanted to travel to India and a spur of the moment decision was made to go by bike. At that point neither of us had bikes, licenses or even knew how to ride, so it was a steep uphill learning curve. It involved an intensive riding course, successful passing of our tests (which isn’t easy in Britain) and then a search for a secondhand bike which could take two of us plus our camping gear across the world to India. We ended up with a five year old BMW R80GS and within two months of getting it, we set off. It was a baptism of fire.  In the early days we were dropping the bike several times a day as we literally learnt on the road how to ride such a big bike fully loaded with two up on which we could only reach the ground on tiptoe.

A little know fact about this trip is that I sold ALL my hair to a wig maker the night before we set off  – it got us got enough money for tyre levers and some other tools.

We had such a fantastic time on that trip that we didn’t stop once we’d reached India but continued on to Australia and home through Africa, stopping to work at various places along the way. What had started out as an eight month trip grew into a two and a half year round the world journey and I was hooked on motorcycle travel.

Women Who Ride: Motorcycling Legend Tiffany Coates rides in Peshawar, Pakistan

Tiffany Coates rides in Peshawar, Pakistan

Since then I’ve also ridden from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, including around the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines of South America, to Timbuktu, around Madagascar, twice across central Asia , to Outer Mongolia, Siberia and Japan, and through North America taking in all the wilderness areas including Labrador. As a result of all my travelling, I have come to the attention of the various motorcycle travel companies and now work as a freelance tour guide for them.

Women Who Ride: Motorcycling Legend Tiffany Coates rides past baobab trees

Tiffany Coates rides past baobab trees

Do you and your friend Becky hold the record for being the only female duo who have ridden a motorcycle around the planet together? Yes, apparently we do – if such a record exists. I’ve never encountered any other female duos riding on one bike doing long distance rides, let alone trans-continental expeditions. 

Do you feel like you changed as a person after your RTW ride? Any experience that takes someone out of their comfort zone changes them as a person and usually for the better. I’m more confident as a result of my travels and also have the belief that you can do anything that you want to do. As for happiness, yes I’m a happy and fulfilled person because I am able to realize my dreams of travels. I feel I’ve got a great balance in my life between living in a place I love and doing work I enjoy while at the same time being able to travel to different places.

Women Who Ride: Tiffany gives lifts to locals

Tiffany gives lifts to locals

What was the most joyous experience you had while out on the road? There is a lot of fun and laughter on the road, sharing funny moments with people I meet, both locals and other travelers. Joyfulness for a bike traveler is also often experienced when having successfully completed difficult sections of roads, tracks and at times entire countries! It’s combined with the feelings of great satisfaction and achievement. For me, one that stands out is the challenge of having crossed Africa, after  the final sandy stretch in Sudan and knew that once we’d crossed the border into Egypt it would be tarmac all the way if we wanted it.

The huge amount of hospitality and warm welcomes the world over as we’ve pulled into small villages, been greeted enthusiastically and invited into homes whether it’s mud huts or wooden shacks. The very giving and sharing nature of people who at times have virtually nothing to give except water. Shrieks of delight from local women as we try on their traditional clothing. The warmth and hospitality that was extended to us, especially from families such as Midhat, his mother and sisters in Wadi Halfa, who would invite us into their house night after night as the sun set over the desert to chat, share henna hand painting tips and delicious Nubian food.

On the flip side, did you see anything that made you despair? Luckily there are not many but generally, scenes of poverty, Aids orphans in Africa, the blind ignorance and intolerance of one religion against another.

Would a rider need to be an expert mechanic to do the kinds of rides you do? Definitely not! I’m living proof that you don’t ned extensive mechanical knowledge or experience. I had never owned any vehicle before buying a bike and setting off on my first bike journey. I was very much aware that I knew nothing about mechanics and maintenance. My co-rider Becky and I spent two days with a mechanic friend learning basic maintenance on our bike, how to do a full service and spotting other problems. We both had to prove we could not only remove the wheels but also change tyres before he would let us leave the country.

Women Who Ride: Tiffany Coates wrenching on her bike

Tiffany Coates wrenching on her bike

You probably haven’t counted but if you had to do a back-of-envelope calculation, how many miles do you think you’ve ridden since you first started? You’re right, I’ve never stopped to calculate just how many miles I’ve done, though since nearly all my riding has been done on just the one bike it’s not too difficult to count up, so I would say just under 250,000 miles.

You did your RTW trip with a friend and you’ve done a lot of  solo rides. Which do you prefer? I’m a gregarious person who likes to chat and so I have a definite preference for travelling with a companion. Another plus is sharing all those great experiences on the road, from the incredible sunrises to amazing mountain scenery. However I do seem to have ended up doing a lot of my trips solo. Due to a couple of issues, there are not a lot of people who want to travel to the same places and in the same way that I do.  I also know that travelling with the wrong person can ruin a trip and so I’m a bit fussy about who goes with me.

Have you ever felt like you were in danger on your rides on account of being a woman? Travelling can be a risky undertaking but then so can crossing a road. I’ve not felt particularly threatened due to my gender. The main danger is from sleazy comments, leering and unwanted advances.

Do you have any advice for people who are thinking about doing epic trip like yours? It might sound clichéd, but follow your dream. If there’s a place you want to visit on two wheels or just to take off with no plan in mind then go for it. Take advice and listen to those who have done it, whilst ignoring the doom-mongers who haven’t been anywhere and seem to see bogeymen behind every tree.

I am an optimist and I just think of the positives without dwelling on the things that can go wrong. When and if things don’t go according to plan, deal with them as they happen. Do as much or as little planning as you want, and don’t be put off by those who may insist that a big trip must be planned down to the smallest detail. If you want a journey with more freedom, then allow for flexibility rather than a fixed itinerary.


Your motorcycle Thelma is a big heavy BMW R80. How does riding a fully loaded bike like that affect your riding experience when you’re off-road? The last time I weighed Thelma, she was 230 kg (500 lbs) with no fuel or luggage. By the time these are added into the equation, she’s probably close to 300 kg (660 lbs) plus the weight of a pillion rider – maybe 360 kg in total and then I start to think “Eeeek, how do I manage to do so much off-roading with that much weight?”

The answer is I don’t know, because I’ve never had anything else to compare it with. All my early riding experience was two-up with our luggage. I learnt to off-road in these conditions from the dirt back roads in Europe to rocky trails in the Himalayas and river crossings in Africa, not to mention the sand of the Sahara. It was a case of not having any choice but just doing the riding. After a while, it became second nature.

Women Who Ride: Tiffany Coates rides off-road

Tiffany Coates rides off-road

Have you ever thought of replacing her with say the latest shiny BMW 1200 GSA? She’s my baby! Also, I don’t have that kind of money.

If you could design the perfect bike, what would it look, sound and feel like? Thelma after she’s been on a diet and so she would weigh only 130 kg!

What do you think of the new electric bikes? I’m not a bike collector having only ever owned one bike, but I would like to try one out.

You are a motorcycling hero to many. Do you have heroes of your own? Theresa Wallach and Florence Blenkiron, they were the first riders to cross Africa by motorbike and did it back in the 1930s. I think it’s an incredible achievement for two women of that era to have undertaken and completed such an immense adventure. I love seeing people’s faces when I tell them that the first motorcyclists to cross Africa were a pair of women.

Are there women in motorcycling today who inspire you? Every woman who rides is pushing back the boundaries for all of us. I’m very impressed with those women for whom there are deeply held cultural beliefs about the role of women in their communities and for whom it is much harder but who do it anyway.

What do you think would attract more women and girls into motorcycling? Less sexism with more acceptance and readiness on the part of some male riders with antiquated views to realize that actually women can and do ride well. The bike manufacturers waking up to the fact that women riders are increasing in number and therefore they should acknowledge it. Increased visibility and acknowledgement of women who are already riding and can be role models.

You lead motorcycle tours these days. What sorts of places do you go to and what do you like about this job? Motorcycle travel is my passion and working as a tour guide gives me the opportunity to share that passion whilst also using my knowledge and experience to ensure that my fellow riders have a great ride exploring remote parts of the world.

I specialize in the more off-beat tracks and trails of the road and so will lead groups just about anywhere including through the Andes in South America, to Tibet and up to Everest Base Camp. My current mission is to get more women travelling and so I’m leading two women-only groups through the Himalayas in India, exploring the beautiful region of Ladakh in Kashmir. These two-week trips are taking place during late June 2014 and August 2015.

(Editor Note – If you want to ride with Tiffany, as of June 1st 2014 there is still space on the Ladies of Ladakh tour.)

Women Who Ride: Tiffany Coates in Nepal

Tiffany Coates in Nepal

When you’re at your home base, what local rides do you like doing? My home base is Land’s End on the southwest tip of England. As it’s a rural peninsula that I live on, the riding is fantastic. There are lots of twisty roads winding through tiny villages with great coastal views. I particularly like the road along the north coast to St Ives which includes an off-road route past ruined mine workings at Botallack. These granite mine stacks have been there for over 200 years. It’s a great combination of history and amazing views along stony tracks that other vehicles don’t get to see.

Women Who Ride: Tiffany Coates near Land's End in England

Tiffany Coates near Land’s End in England

What do you do when you’re at home and not riding? I love being active and live by the sea  so I surf, walk the coastline, scuba dive and sea-kayak. In the winter I like to snowboard.

Do you feel creatively satisfied in life? Definitely, I’m in the lucky position of having a life that I love at home but also being able to travel to all these amazing places, experiencing life on the road and the different cultures that I encounter along the way.

What was the last book you read that was inspirational or enjoyable? Touching the World: A Blind Woman, Two Wheels, 25,000 Miles. The incredible travel tales of Cathy Birchall who was blind and travelled with her partner Bernard Smith around the world on a motorbike, it’s a great read for anyone.

Any favorite foods? My mum’s roast dinner and also the foods of India and Thailand.

You appear to have done it all when it comes to bragging rights and escapades. What does the future hold for Tiffany Coates?
There are always places that I want to see and explore. Oman and Borneo are on my current wish list.

Any chance of a book coming out of the incredible adventures you’ve had?
I’ve got 70,000 words written about my first journey, I just need to find a publisher. I’d like to get it printed to show that you don’t have to be a bloke to do these types of journeys. It’s not rocket science – Becky and I set off with virtually zero knowledge and experience. Also, that it doesn’t need a huge pot of money to fund it.

What kind of legacy do you hope to leave? I hope to be around for a lot longer before needing to leave a legacy! However, I would hope that people would look at me and my riding, and realize that it’s the desire to travel that’s important rather than how much riding has been done. And that anyone can follow their dreams.

Can’t get enough of Tiffany? Check out her website Tiffany Coates Travels the World  for more. She is also interviewed in the Ladies on the Loose DVD.