Motorcycle Travel Guide: Central Asia

Welcome to Central Asia. The Stans are at the heart of the ancient Silk Road and one of the very best regions in the world for adventure bike riders and motorcycle travellers to explore. This packed ultimate guide explains everything you need to know about riding a motorcycle through Central Asia. 

Motorcycle Adventure Travel Tajikistan

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Motorcycle Travel Central Asia

Central Asia is our absolute favourite place to travel on a motorcycle – in the world! We fell in love with it back in 2018 when we rode from the UK to Japan. The legendary Pamir Mountains, the nomads of Kyrgyzstan and the incredible history of Uzbekistan… chasing Marco Polo’s footsteps and rolling along the ancient Silk Road is special, and exploring it on a motorcycle is a must for any adventure traveller and rider.

This guide aims to create an overview for travelling in Central Asia on a motorcycle so you can quickly and easily get your bearings. It’s also packed with loads of links to more in-depth guides on specific countries, routes and info for when you’re ready to dig deeper.

You can jump ahead by checking out the Destinations section for all our guides on Central Asia countries. But for now, here’s what you need to know about riding in Central Asia in general.

READ MORE: Country Guides for Central Asia

Which countries are in Central Asia

Central Asia is also known as the ‘Stans’. Stans means ‘land of’, so land of the Tajiks for example. In some circles, Afghanistan is a part of Central Asia, but not in this guide. If you’d like info on travelling there, visit our Afghanistan page.

We’ll be covering travel through the below countries in Central Asia:

Epic adventure motorcycling in Kyrgyzstan guide

Motorcycle Travel Along the Silk Road

What is the Silk Road?

The legendary Silk Road was a series of trade routes spanning over 4,000 miles connecting the East and West from 130 BCE until 1453 CE. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t one road, but a massive network of roads, trails, paths, passages and tracks across land and sea through Central, East, South, Southeast and West Asia – including East Africa and Southern Europe.

While the Silk Road was enormous – at it’s very heart lay Central Asia. So riding a motorcycle along these roads and through the Stans will take you back in time to when traders and travellers traversed these harsh but beautiful landscapes. We recommend having a read up on it, it’s fascinating – The Silk Road

Afghanistan Mad or Nomad (3)

Motorcycle paperwork for Central Asia

Visas

Each country in Central Asia has its own visa requirements and rules. And those requirements are different dependent on your citizenship. You will need to check each country you plan on visiting and make sure you have the appropriate visa in place in your passport before you travel to the country. Bear in mind that some visas take time to process, even if done electronically, so make sure this is done in good time and before you land at an airport or arrive at a land border. We list visa information in the Motorcycle Travel Guide for each country and you’ll also find info in our Central Asia Visa Guide linked below.

READ MORE: The Central Asia Visa Guide

Motorcycle insurance

Motorcycle insurance is again dependent on which country you are travelling through and whether you are on a foreign, purchased or rented motorcycle. You’ll find info on visas and motorcycle insurance for Central Asia in the Central Asia Visa Guide (linked above).

Afghanistan soldiers in Wakhan

Personal insurance

Personal travel is not compulsory, but is incredibly important. This will cover your medical bills should anything happen. This is important for Central Asia as you are very likely to be in remote regions and may need proper support, evacuation and repatriation. You’ll need to make sure your insurance actually covers you to ride a motorcycle too. There’s lots of sneaky info in the fine print, for example, you might not be allowed to ride anything over 125cc, or not as your main mode of transport or not a rental etc. Check carefully and ensure you’re covered. For a complete guide on what to look out for, have a read of this guide.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Motorcycle Travel Insurance Guide

Driver’s licence

You will need a full driver’s licence to legally ride your motorcycle in Central Asia. That goes for whether you’re riding your own personal bike, renting or joining a tour.

International Driver’s Permit

Aside from a valid licence, countries in Central Asia technically require an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). These permits are just translations of your licence into other languages so police and officials can check that you’re legally allowed to ride abroad.

This page on the UK Gov website has a complete list of the countries that require an IDP and which IDP convention you need. IDPs are easy to get and very cheap. If you’re from the UK, it’s about £5 from the post office and takes five minutes. There are also websites you can get an IDP from.

How to motorcycle in Tajikistan and Pamirs

Temporary Import Permit

You will need to get a temporary import permit (TIP) for your motorcycle at each border crossing. The TIP duration is dependent on the country, but can often be extended. Again, have a read of the Central Asia Visa Guide for more info on TIPs for each country.

Note, none of the countries in Central Asia require a Carnet de Passage. Here’s a guide explaining what a CDP is, just in case you will be entering a country after that does require one.

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How to ride a motorcycle in Central Asia

You have three options here: take your own foreign registered bike, rent a motorcycle or buy one. Which you go for greatly depends on how long you’re going for and where you want to ride.

READ MORE: Should I Ship, Buy or Rent a Motorcycle

motorcycling in no-man's land in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan

How to get to Central Asia on your own motorcycle

Covid, the Russia-Ukraine war and the situation in Iran has made overland motorcycle travel to Central Asia difficult. But it’s still possible by crossing land borders or freighting in your own bike. 

Central Asia land borders for motorcycle travellers

Here are the countries you can enter Central Asia via with your own motorcycle using land borders and the Caspian Sea Ferry. 

Afghanistan motorcycle travel

Azerbaijan

One of the most popular and common routes to access Central Asia from the West is to take the Caspian Sea ferry from Azerbaijan. This is the method we used back in 2018. You can take one of two ferries departing Azerbaijan to either Aktau in Kazakhstan or to Turkmenistan. However, since Covid, Azerbaijan has shut its land borders and so this route is not currently possible – unless you freight your motorcycle into the country.

We have a dedicated guide on how to take this ferry where we also post updates on the border situation.

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Guide to crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry

Russia

Russia is an alternate route in from the West or from the East (if coming from Japan or have shipped your motorcycle to Mongolia).

If you’re coming from the West, due to the conflict in the Ukraine, the typical route now is to ride via Turkey, into Georgia and then cross the border into Russia. Ride north and enter Kazakhstan. You can then ride Central Asia and exit into China for South Asia, back to Russia to go West or East or go into Iran (Afghanistan is not advisable at the moment due to Taliban control).

If you’re coming from the east, then it’s likely you’ve either shipped to Vladivostok or are exiting from Mongolia. Either way, you will need a Russian visa or transit visa.

Regardless of which direction you’re coming from, if you go via Russia, your main difficulty is obtaining a Russian visa. Transit visas are currently more tricky to get and you will need to source another if you are leaving via Russia again. A Russian visa is expensive and you are often required to get it from an embassy while in your home country. But it is possible and the easiest current option.

You will find guides on obtaining Russian transit visas, how to put your motorcycle on the Trans Siberian Railway in Russia and our recommended Russia shipping companies out of Vladivostok on our Russia pages.

READ MORE:

motorcycling through Siberia

Iran

Unfortunately, travel to Iran as of 2024 is heavily restricted. Please visit your home country’s foreign affairs government website for up-to-date info. If you were to enter Iran, your entrance to Central Asia would be via Turkmenistan. As we discuss further on in this article, Turkmenistan is a difficult country to enter due to its strict visa requirements. Even if you do get in via Turkmenistan, you may not be able to exit via Turkmenistan, so would need an alternative route out of Central Asia as well. This makes it a dicey option.

China

China is another way of entering and exiting Central Asia. It’s a popular route for overland travellers who want to transition between Central and South Asia by getting to/from Pakistan, India etc.

However, China is not an easy country to travel through and you can not take your foreign registered motorcycle through China without a guide and tour company. Travellers opting for this route usually set-up or join Facebook groups with other travellers to split the costs of a guide because of how expensive it is.

For more information on how to transit through China, visit these dedicated guides.

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Shipping a motorcycle to Central Asia

Shipping, freighting or couriering a motorcycle to Central Asia used to be easier before the Russia-Ukraine conflict. There are still companies who may be able to find a haulier for this route.

We recommend checking out our recommended motorcycle shipping companies page and clicking the country you’re looking to ship from and to and get in touch with them.

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Renting a motorcycle in Central Asia

Central Asia is an incredible place to ride a motorcycle and is a very popular route for overland motorcycle travellers. So you won’t struggle renting a motorcycle here. However, we’re specifically talking about Kyrgyzstan here.

You’ll struggle to find good rentals in any other Central Asia country. Kyrgyzstan is definitely the absolute best country to rent a bike, there’s no shortage of quality rental companies based here, and their bikes are already prepped and well-suited for the terrain and off-road riding you’ll encounter.

You will also be allowed to cross borders with a Kyrgyz registered bike to the other countries in Central Asia so your adventure won’t just be limited to Kyrgyzstan. But of course, this is something you must agree with the rental provider first.

We recommend you have a read of our guide on how to rent in Kyrgyzstan and then check out rental companies finder page and click on Kyrgyzstan. Scroll through that page and you’ll see our recommendations, choose a company and email them directly.

READ MORE:

Rental motorbikes in Osh Kyrgyzstan guide

Buying a motorcycle in Central Asia

Buying a motorcycle in Central Asia is also a possibility, and if this is the route you’d like to go down, then we recommend contacting the rental companies based in Kyrgyzstan and asking them as they may be willing to sell you a bike and then purchase it back after your trip.

What motorcycle to ride in Central Asia?

Central Asia is not the region for you if you’re not into off-road motorcycle travel. We’re not saying it’s gnarly off-road, but there’s plenty of endless gravel and that makes up the mass majority of all the good routes.

We recommend taking an adventure bike – any adventure bike. You could do the whole of Central Asia on anything from a 125cc off-road bike to a 1200cc BMW R1200GS with all the trimmings. It’s completely dependent on your skill level, budget, how much gear you think you need and how you like to ride.

Personally, we’d suggest a single-cylinder adventure motorcycle. We rode Central Asia on a Yamaha XT660R and felt that was a  great bike for the trip. So, you could go on anything from a Honda CRF300L (we reckon this would be perfect) up to a 600cc single. Or even a mid-weight adventure bike with a parallel-twin motor if you have further to go thereafter.

The most important factors are comfort, ground clearance, decent trail tyres, good fuel mileage and simplistic to repair and maintain because your bike will take a beating.

However, you can ride any bike anywhere because any bike is an adventure bike if you have an adventure on it. We rode with Franck LaFontaine through the Pamirs and he was on a Royal Enfield 500cc Bullet. So, it can be done, but it just makes life easier (and more fun) when you’re on a suitable bike.

If you decide to rent a bike in Kyrgyzstan, it’s highly likely you’ll be put on an old Yamaha XT600.

If you’re still not sure what bike to take, have a read of our detailed guide that aims to help you whittle down your choices and check out our adventure bike guides for the best adventure bikes, round the world machines, prep guides and more.

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The best motorcycle rides in Central Asia

Central Asia is brimming with out of this world rides, routes and tours. There’s so many to choose from, so we have dedicated guides for each of the three best riding countries showcasing the best things to do there, which also list our favourite routes.

READ MORE:

Motorcycle adventure riding in Kyrgyzstan

Where to ride a motorcycle in Central Asia

We have dedicated motorcycle travel guides for the countries in Central Asia and landing pages packed with info on how to ship a bike there, rent, things to do, routes and more. You’ll find all of the guides we have in the Central Asia section under Destinations. But we’ll briefly explain the pros, cons and important info for each below.

Please note, not all borders are open to international travellers, so use iOverlander to double check the best border and current situation before heading for the border.  

READ MORE: Central Asia Country Guides

Motorcycle Adventure Travel Tajikistan

Tajikistan

Tajikistan is the holy grail of Central Asia because it’s home to the legendary Pamir Mountains. This is truly an incredible country to motorcycle travel. The roads and routes take you high into the mountains and along the Pamir Highway and Wakhan Corridor bordering Afghanistan. You’ll find plenty of off-roading along the way and jaw dropping views. Tajikistan should be your priority and can not be missed.

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The river panj between tajikistan and afghanistan in the Wakhan Corridor

Kyrgyzstan

Very close behind Tajikistan is Kyrgyzstan. It’s a nomadic country full of green mountains, nomads living in pastures, horses everyone and beautiful views, wonderful people and an incredibly welcoming culture. Kyrgyzstan is the place to start if you’re renting a motorcycle or joining a tour. It’s also a great place for overland travellers riding with their own bike to stop and recuperate in the city of Osh due to the excellent adventure bike mechanics there.

Bear in mind, the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is currently closed as of 2024. So to get between these two countries you will need to transit via Uzbekistan.

READ MORE:

Kyrgyzstan motorcycle travel

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is the jewel of Central Asia. The north west of the country is harsh and baron. The only reason to travel there is to visit the Aral Sea. But it’s a long and tiring road. The main reason overland travellers traverse this section of Uzbekistan is because they have taken the Caspian Sea ferry to Kazakhstan and need to enter Uzbekistan at the northern border. It’s then a long slog to Khiva.

But, once you’re in Khiva, Samarkand and beautiful Bukhara you’ll have quickly forgotten the tough ride. These are beautiful cities for any adventure traveller.

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Samarkand Rajastan

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is more of a transit country than an adventure motorcycling destination. For overlanders it’s usually accessed from Kyrgyzstan as a route to Russia and onto Mongolia or from Russia in the west to get to Central Asia. It’s a vast country with few adventure riding possibilities. You will find decent motorcycle shops and repairs are available in Almaty.

READ MORE: All Kazakhstan Motorcycle Guides

Motorcycle camping in Charyn Canyon Kazakhstan

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is a very difficult country to get into. You have two options here: full visa or transit visa. To get a full visa you need to sign onto an organised tour and have a full-time guide with you. This is very expensive and not practical for overland motorcycle travellers. The second more popular option is to get a transit visa. But these are very strict, hard to get and you can not deviate from your route.

You’ll find more info on both visa options and how to get them on the Turkmenistan page.

READ MORE: All Turkmenistan Motorcycle Guides

Turkmenistan border

Adventure bike riding gear for Central Asia

You’ll face desert heat and freezing temperatures riding through Central Asia. We crossed the region in June and July and had sweltering weather on some days and snow storms for the next. It’s hot and dry and mountainous and chilly at elevation. And most roads and routes will be gravel and off-road.

So, proper adventure riding gear is an absolute must. We would recommend wearing an adventure jacket and trousers that are not waterproof. Instead, go for lightweight, breathable and fully vented for maximum airflow when needed. It will need full protection – most importantly, back, knee and elbow guards.

Pack cheap waterproof throwovers in an easily accessible bag on your bike and just chuck them over your gear if the heavens open up. Also pack a warm jumper or compressible down jacket in case the temperatures suddenly drop too.

This type of layering system allows the best ventilation, versatility and protection for a region with a constantly changing climate.

For more info on riding gear and our recommendations, have a read through the riding gear guides below.

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Cold weather riding in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan

Road and motorcycle riding conditions in Central Asia

Most of your route through Central Asia will be off-road. There is a lot of gravel, sand and mud to negotiate. The riding isn’t gnarly and you can get through on a Royal Enfield Bullet if you like, but there is a lot of the above terrain so it makes sense to be prepared for these types of conditions as they will be unavoidable.

You will also be riding at altitude at times and face hot and freezing temperatures and the terrain is remote and can be harsh with no help for miles. Your riding skill and experience needs to be up to the challenge. So, it’s not the best place to start if you’re not used to adventure riding.

This can easily be remedied though by practice and training before you go. It makes sense to invest in your own skills. Have a look at our recommended off-road schools page or try trail riding or go on some practice runs.

READ MORE:

road conditions in the Pamirs aren't so bad

Health and safety

Health

You should ensure you are fully vaccinated to travel in Central Asia. Each country has its own recommendations for travel vaccines. Check out the Travel Health Pro and Fit for Travel websites for more info on specific countries. It’s important to be fully vaccinated as the last thing you want is to fall ill in a foreign hospital and ruin your trip.

Have a read of our health article below for more advice.

READ MORE: How to Stay Healthy While Motorcycle Travelling

Staying safe

Of course, there is crime in Central Asia. But for the most part, it’s a very safe region to travel through and the people there are incredibly kind and very welcoming. It was never a concern for us, but follow the standard safety rules in cities.

More importantly is safety in remote regions. You will be travelling on long, lonely and empty roads where others may not pass for some time. So, it’s wise to carry a form of Emergency GPS Satellite Communicator in case you need help in a medical emergency. You’ll find more info in the below guides.

READ MORE:

Adventure Motorcycling in the Pamir Mountains

Bribes

You may have heard horror stories about how you’ll have to deal with bribes in Central Asia. But we haven’t met or spoken to anyone who has had to deal with that in this part of the world for a long time.

READ MORE: How to Deal with Bribes on the Road

Land mines

Land mines and unexploded bombs can be a concern in some parts of Tajikistan and elsewhere. You should see signs for explosives and take them seriously. Be careful where you ride, look out for signage and stick to marked and obvious trails.

Motorcycle travel in Tajikistan

Navigation

We rode the entirety of Central Asia using a cheaper burner phone strapped to our handlebars and downloaded Maps.Me offline maps. This was the perfect setup. You don’t need specialist equipment to navigate this part of the world. More info in the below guide.

READ MORE:

Lost and map reading while adventure biking in Kyrgyzstan

Mechanics

For motorcycle repairs your best bet is Osh, Kyrgyzstan. The rental garages there have exceptionally good mechanics who work on overland adventure bikes as their bread and butter. You’ll also be able to find spares and tyres at these shops. They know what they’re doing and are overland meccas.

A basic understanding and knowledge of adventure bike maintenance and field mechanics is a very, very good idea for Central Asia – especially considering the remote nature of it’s terrain. At the very least, you should be able to repair a puncture.

Have a read of the below guides for more information on tools, tips and adventure bike preparation guides.

READ MORE:

Muz Too mechanic in Osh Kyrgyzstan

Accommodation

Don’t expect fancy hotels throughout Central Asia. In Almaty, Kazakhstan and big cities you’ll find posh offerings, but on the road expect to stay in very basic lodges, camp and yurts.

We found camping throughout Central Asia very easy to do. Uzbekistan was tricky because of the heat, and Kyrgyzstan had yurt camps everywhere which we much preferred due to their warming dung fires.

If you’re not used to wild camping and want recommendations, we recommend downloading iOverlander. More on that in in the below section.

Yurt camp in Lake Song Kol Kyrgyzstan

Resources

We highly recommend downloading iOverlander onto your phone. It’s a free app with pins on important points throughout the world. It’ll be your best friend for Central Asia as it will show you where the border crossings are, places to camp, mechanics, hotels, immigration, custom houses, food, drink, petrol etc. Download it now and check it out.

For up-to-date info, we also recommend joining the Overlanding Central Asia Facebook group.

READ MORE: The Top 5 Free Apps for Motorcycle Travellers

Food and water

Don’t expect culinary delights throughout Central Asia. Meat and rice drenched in animal fat (plov) is common place. The more remote, the more simple the food and don’t expect a lot of vegetables! Stock up on emergency supplies in towns and villages.

Finding water isn’t usually a big problem through Central Asia, you’ll find outdoor taps and water fountains and can resupply in towns. But beware, there are long distances between towns, so before you set off you should make sure you have enough food, water and fuel.

Cyclists tend to carry water purification straws and we often met cyclists who we shared our water with as they were running low. We carried a spare 5 litres in a Rotopax container.

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Kitchen in Kyrgyzstan yurt

Finding fuel

We never found this a problem throughout Central Asia. You’ll find petrol for sale at most towns (it may be from a pump or a coke bottle). Beware that in Uzbekistan there are long stretches (in the north west) without any fuel and you will need to carry a lot of spare petrol. See our Motorcycle Travel Guide for Uzbekistan for more info.

But through Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan you should find fuel at most towns. Just calculate accordingly and fill up when you can. We carried a spare five litres in a Rotopax cannister and our tank was 15L offering a total of 20L.

Out of petrol in Uzbekistan

 Language and communication

Russian is the most commonly used language throughout Central Asia. But if you don’t know your Cyrillic, don’t worry, it’s easy to get by. You will find people who can speak English due to the bottle necking of routes through Central Asia that overlanders take. We also recommend having a read of this guide.

READ MORE: How to Communicate When You Don’t Know the Language

Our motorcycle travels in Central Asia

We have been riding around the world for the last six years (since 2018) and nowhere has come close to how incredible Central Asia is. It’s a pure adventure motorcycle traveller’s dream. If you’re interested in reading our blogs on the ride through, check out the Our Adventures section or skip straight to the blog below. 

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Motorcycle travel in Wakhan Corridor

Read more on motorcycle travel in Southeast Asia

Thanks for checking out the Motorcycle Travel Guide: Southeast Asia. We hope you enjoyed it! Here’s a few more articles on motorcycle travel in Southeast Asia that we recommend you read next. 

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Are you planning a motorcycle trip in Central Asia? Do you have any questions, tips or suggestions? Let us know in the comments below. 

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