A trip through rugged Portugal – by sidecar
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Most people relocate by employing a removal team to shift their belongings from A to B. But such convention wasn’t for Rob MacDonald and partner Zayne Dagher. When the time came to move 1,800 miles from Amsterdam to their new home in Portugal, they carried their worldly essentials (including their dog) in a pair of Russian-built motorcycles with sidecars.
These days sidecar manufacturers are few and far between. The world’s leading maker of offroad-ready sidecar motorcycles is Ural, which is based in the Russian city of Irbit, but MacDonald, a retired Royal Marines lieutenant colonel, and Dagher, a graphic designer, are such fans of the Ural marque they were recently appointed as official retailers of the machines and granted a unique remit to provide regional support to other owners and dealers throughout Portugal, Spain, Ireland and the UK. It’s a role that’s inspired them to combine their love for the rugged Ural sidecar with riding in the equally rugged countryside around their home in Pombal, a small town that’s handily situated on the main railway line connecting Lisbon and Porto.
Gusto Sidecar Adventures offers tailor-made sidecar trips around the region, both for licensed motorcyclists and for non-riders who are happy to take in the sights, sounds and smells from the (relative) comfort of the sidecar.
The fact that the Ural is two-wheel drive – a feature that harks back to the original military design and which is essential to their suitability for Russia’s ice- and snow-covered roads – means that they can be ridden on terrain that even four-wheeled SUVs might struggle to tackle. That makes it possible, says MacDonald, for riders and passengers to get out and discover the real Portugal, a country that is rare in that it allows motorcyclists almost unrestricted access to the countryside. The area around Pombal is full of contrast, being bordered by the Serra de Estrela, the highest mountain range in continental Portugal, and quickly transitions between historic villages, dense woodland and wide plains.
“Before booking anyone in, we’re careful to explain that riding a Ural is not the same as riding a solo motorcycle,” cautions MacDonald about the 750cc machines. “They weigh around 360kg unladen and can be very tiring for a novice to handle. But we can teach the basic techniques and, once people are confident, we can tailor a sidecar adventure to suit their abilities and to fit in with the aspects of Portugal that they want to discover.”
But one of the key features of the trips is that it’s not necessary to be a motorcyclist to enjoy them, as Amsterdam-based fashion technology executive Michaela Larosse discovered last year. “I was visiting friends in Portugal and they recommended that I went to see Rob and Zayne en route,” she says. “I’m not a biker and never will be, but once I discovered that they were running the sidecar adventures I realised that I would be able to enjoy the adrenaline rush of motorcycling in both safety and comfort – so I decided to stay for a few days and do one of the tours. Zayne and I chatted about what I wanted to see, and she built an itinerary around that. She and Rob have a really in-depth knowledge of the area, and she took me on this incredible adventure around Pombal that was, literally, off the beaten track.
“As a city-dweller, getting out into the Portuguese countryside and seeing rich forests, spectacular hilltops and beautiful villages gave me a completely different perspective on the world. Some of the trails we travelled along would have been completely inaccessible to a regular four-wheel-drive vehicle – and, although I felt slightly guilty about it, being able to sit back and enjoy this extraordinary landscape unfold in a sort of cinematic way while Zayne did all the hard work felt like a real privilege.”
A Gusto taster day costs €150, and bespoke packages for multi-day trips can be created with or without on-site accommodation at Gusto HQ