Grace Mwari is an off-road motorcycle tour guide at Offroad Adventure East Africa. She takes riders for safaris in little known places to experience wildlife, culture and the most spectacular scenery. She is currently the only female enduro racer in Kenya and has been riding for the last five years. Her first ride was the Leh Ladakh region in the Himalayas. She has since ridden in South East Asia, Southern Africa, East Africa, Morocco and parts of Europe.
What do you love most about travelling via motorcycle?
I love the freedom that comes with it. Biking offers me access to places less travelled and is quite affordable and fun.
How did you get into motorcycles?
A friend encouraged me to try it out and consequently embarked on training me. Around that same time, I had housemates who were riders and they thought I was capable of doing it. I was living and working in India and when they invited me on a trip to the Himalayas, I did not think twice about it. I got hooked after that trip and have been riding ever since.
What have been some of your most memorable expeditions so far?
I did a four month expedition through India, Nepal and most of South-East Asia. This trip was part of my maiden ride to the Himalayas, and it started north of Delhi in a place called Manali. We rented our Royal Enfields and started the journey riding on some of the world’s highest motorable roads and mountain passes such as the Khardung Later pass. We rode through Leh Ladakh, ending the trip on a houseboat in Dal Lake. It was physically and mentally demanding.
I had an accident on the third day when I hit a rock and literary flew off the bike, landing in a pool of freezing water. A nice Tibetan family took care of me. Their Tibetan butter tea definitely kept us from freezing. My “bike packing” all over South-East Asia was also amazing. For most countries, I had to enter by air and rent out a bike. Food in Laos and Myanmar reminded me of home.
I also visited Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and more. I had some challenges traveling solo as an African woman but I’m glad to have seen beautiful places, made new friends and experienced different cultures. My Morocco trip marked my first ride on desert sand. Jordi Arcarons, a Dakar legend, taught us what it takes to ride in the biggest dunes of the Sahara. While in Europe I enjoyed riding through the mountains near Madrid in Miraflores De La Sierra.
What’s it like taking on solo adventures?
Having company is good but solitude is also valuable. In addition to the convenience of riding at my own pace, I also get to learn how to do motorcycle fixes on my own. Most people are genuinely happy and excited when they see a woman riding but there are also a few occasions during my cross country rides when I have met really hostile men who felt I shouldn’t be riding.
Any interesting encounters you’ve had on the road?
I broke my chain when riding at 130km/ hr south of Tanzania… It was raining and there was no town within a 200km radius. Luckily a friend came to my rescue! When I took on a solo ride to the northern frontier on the Matthews Range, I had an encounter with bandits between Wamba and Maralal. They took all the cash and water I had then let me go. I have also ridden unknowingly into a war zone between the Myanmar army militias 20km from the Chinese border in the Kachin State.
You are currently the only female enduro racer in Kenya…how did you get into it and what’s that like?
When I returned home from India, I met Yuri and Yuki of Dirt Masters who invited me for their weekend off-road rides. I bought my first dirt bike and tried out one of their enduro race events. Aside from being fun, I got to improve my skills during the races. It usually feels great when I get ahead of some male participants because there is no special treatment.
What are some of your top tips on travelling via a motorcycle?
Carry a map and have a tentative plan for checking distances between gas stations. Pack light but bring appropriate clothing for riding and when you’re off the bike. For offthe-beaten path adventures, ride responsibly; mind the people and animals that are using the same tracks. Bring enough water and energy snacks. Be prepared for unexpected weather and pack some tools and spare parts.
How has travelling impacted you?
Travelling has helped me grow mentally, built my confidence, helped me make memories and appreciate my home country of Kenya even more. I have also met the nicest and most humble people who give meaning to the sense of humanity. I have learnt so much from them.