After spending last year on a road trip through the American West, I became aware of the overland travel community, or those who embark on long, multiple country journeys in their own vehicle.
Within that community there is a fairly well sought after dream trip which entails driving (most frequently by motorcycle) from somewhere in North America to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina.
Taking a trip like that really appeals to me on some level, even though I haven’t actively pursued it. The main problem is that I’d never actually ridden a motorcycle before.
Upon arriving in Medellín and deciding to stay here for than just a couple of weeks as I initially planned, I sought out some way to actually learn how to ride a motorcycle.
My friend Sebastian put me in contact with a driving school, or escuela de conduccion, down in Envigado called AutoSur.
Taking my first spins around the block on a motorcycle down in Envigado as opposed to within the heart of Medellín felt just a little more sane to me some how.
AutoSur offers one-on-one motorcycle instruction classes for 45,000 pesos ($24) for 45 minutes. So I scheduled my first class a few days beforehand for an afternoon session.
Arriving at their offices, I simply handed over the money and waited for my instructor. There was no need for licenses, paperwork or other formalities.
I was given a helmet and reflective student vest (good to be safe!) and taken over to the little automatic bike.
Instruction is in Spanish at this facility, and while I have a decent intermediate ability in everyday Spanish, there are obviously words related to driving and automobile parts that I don’t regularly encounter which made it a little more difficult.
I just asked him to speak slowly and simply and found that I got the point of most everything, though some of the minutiae might have been lost.
We started by going over all of the basic components of the bike from the acceleration, brakes, kick stand and so forth. And then commenced with actually driving it around their small parking lot just getting a feel for turning and braking.
After that we headed out to the quiet street in front of their facility to take a number of laps and practice driving with infrequent traffic.
Eventually we headed out for a drive around the block into the thick of traffic as I followed behind the instructor.
We arrived at a quiet cul-de-sac where we proceeded to jump into the components of a manual bike and how it differs from the automatic.
While I normally drive a manual vehicle back home, it was definitely hard adjusting to the feel of a manual bike and getting the hang of the clutch, acceleration and whatnot.
I killed it many a-times in that cul-de-sac and even nearly crashed into a low hanging tree branch as the engine shuddered violently when I botched the clutch.
We covered a lot in just one 45-minute session, but I really didn’t feel secure with a manual bike so I opted to take a second follow-up class a few days later.
In that class we jumped immediately into the manual bike and headed out to the cul-de-sac for a number of laps. I was able to catch on much faster the second time around, so soon thereafter we headed out to drive all over Envigado.
My tip to you: check out a few how to videos on YouTube in English beforehand to get a better grasp of the subtleties with the clutch and handling the bike. It helped immensely for my second class and it is definitely better to go in with more knowledge so you have more time for hands on practice.
The rest of the class was basically just touring around as I once again followed the instructor as we drove all around the city for half an hour.
It was nice not having to worry about the navigation aspect when you’ve got a lot more on your mind, like other vehicles, erratic drivers, remembering which gear you are in and not killing the engine at stop lights.
It might be a motorcycle cliche, but I agree that it was incredibly liberating and exhilarating to have the wind whipping by while making my way through the crazy traffic, roundabouts and up and down the hills of Medellín.
It’s a fun and totally different way to see and experience this beautiful city.
We would stop on occasion as he would give me a few more pointers on maneuvering the bike, shifting through the higher gears and accelerating after stopping on inclines, among other things.
A number of people (both locals and foreigners) have remarked that I must be crazy for deciding to take my first turns on a motorcycle in a hectic South American city like Medellín.
While I can certainly attest to feeling a heightened sense of awareness and being alert, I never found it to be overwhelming or scary. More than anything it was just a really fun experience and something I have always wanted to do.
Since the classes are one on one, you are free to progress as fast or as slow as you like and with as much or as little exposure as you like. The staff at AutoSur were very friendly and accommodating.
Medellín and motorcycles go hand in hand. They are absolutely ubiquitous here. Why not experience the city the way many locals do?
If you’ve ever wanted to learn or try it out for yourself, head out to AutoSur or one of the other driving schools in the valley to get started. It really is a blast!