For his very first trip to Israel last year, Karl from Canada was not interested in seeing the sights through the window of a coach bus.
Fortunately for this longtime motorcyclist, a kindred soul in Israel named Raz Tsafrir had just started offering Desert Road motorcycle tours. Karl signed up for one of 12 inaugural trips organized by Desert Road in 2022.
“Raz showed me things from a bike that I’ve never experienced before in my life, from the Sea of Galilee down to the Egyptian border. I had the time of my life,” Karl reported afterward.
Motorcycle tourism has been popular for many years in many countries. Biking, explains Tsafrir, “is a very social activity and we ride in herds.”
But even renting a motorcycle in Israel was impossible until about eight years ago due to insurance issues, says Duby Nevo, a part-time tour guide and proprietor of BikeLife Israel.
“When it became possible, I decided to do it,” says Nevo, who has 10 motorcycles available for rent and helps individual clients plan guided or self-guided itineraries.
Currently, Desert Road (guided group motorcycle touring) and BikeLife Israel (motorcycle rentals and optional guiding for individuals) are the only two businesses of their kind in Israel.
Amazing adventure on two wheels
Tsafrir saw an unmet need for guided group tours. He launched Desert Road in partnership with Issta Sport, a division of the Issta travel agency.
“I’ve been touring the world on motorcycles for 25 years,” Tsafrir tells ISRAEL21c.
“I think it’s the best way to see the hidden treasures of Israel. We have a story you won’t find anywhere else — historical, religious, geographic, cultural, food and wine – and when you add an amazing adventure on two wheels it is an experience you don’t get any other way.”
Tsafrir, now 57, is nothing if not adventurous. Previously employed in the secret service and then the high-tech sector, he pivoted to tourism and became a licensed guide just as the pandemic hit.
But the tourism lull gave him time to work out the myriad details involved in bringing motorcycle tourism to Israel in a big way.
The not insignificant hurdles included Israel’s sky-high costs for the bikes (“We have a 100% tax on vehicles in Israel, which makes the price twice as much as elsewhere”) and for insurance, gas and hotels.
An authentic experience
Ido Veg, CEO of Issta Sport, immediately saw the potential of Desert Road despite the price tag.
“We are always looking for new content to offer around tourism and when we met Raz it fit us like a glove,” Veg tells ISRAEL21c. “We were really excited about giving riders a way to see Israel from the seat of a bike, a different way to experience Israel.”
Veg says travel trends are going in the direction of the unusual.
“If people have the money, they are looking for something special so they can really feel the authenticity of a place. We believe Raz and Desert Road can give them that once-in-a-lifetime authentic experience.”
Desert Road offers four-, five- or seven-day packages for two to 16 participants, typically European or North American tourists. Each day, the cyclists cover between 250 and 350 kilometers.
Tsafrir says the tours are accompanied by an emergency vehicle. Fortunately there hasn’t been much call for it. “We once had a flat tire and we fixed it,” he says.
The itinerary spans national parks, religious and historical sites, wineries and breweries from Tel Aviv to the Galilee, Jordan Valley and Negev Desert, and often includes encounters with soldiers and ordinary citizens. Some tours end with a Bedouin-style overnight at Khan Be’erotayim desert lodge.
“When we get to Jerusalem we ride into the Old City on motorcycles, something people ordinarily cannot do unless they live there,” says Tsafrir.
After a summer break, groups are scheduled for October and November. Professional enduro extreme rider Pol Tarrés from Spain will join some of the groups.
ISRAEL21c readers can get 10% off Desert Road bookings by clicking here.
Aside from the peak of summer heat, the weather in Israel is perfect for riding, emphasizes Duby Nevo of BikeLife Israel. Even winter rains are often localized.
“It may rain in the north, but it might be sunny enough to go bathing in the Dead Sea and Eilat,” Nevo points out.
“Compared to Europe or the USA, distances between attractions and sites are short, giving us the ability to face the weather.”
Best of all, Nevo says, “The Israeli people are absolutely amazing and welcome visitors into their country with open arms. I simply want to bring people together in the best way I know how, by riding and showing Israel in a unique way.”
To get 10% off a two-day motorcycle rental from BikeLife Israel, email Nevo (firstname.lastname@example.org) for details.