Living the ADV Life Down Under

Our chat with Damien Ashenhurst

“Australia is such an unusual country, there’s almost nothing in most of it but that’s were all the bucket list rides are.”

Damien Ashenhurst is the founder and man behind ADV Life, Australia’s top website and digital hub for all things to do with adventure riding. With a lot of road behind him in the off road bike world, a few years ago he transitioned from fulltime motorbike journalist, to independent digital creator and hasn’t looked back. Having always had bikes and been passionate about riding his bike in inhospitable places, the journey started at a young age for Damien, but with a musician interlude. 

“I was a musician at first,” says Damien. “I made a living working all night and sleeping all day. I played drums, in bands around Newcastle and some studio work. When I stopped playing, when I had kids, because you can’t really work nights with a family, I thought, ‘well, if I’m getting rid of the kits and the guitars, I’m getting a bike again’.

“I still remember my first bike, like everyone else, it’s such a magical thing. I remember seeing it in the showroom, we would go and visit them, it was a 1986 Yamaha YZ 80. I would just sit there on it while my dad was chatting away. The whole time he was there I was sitting on the bike, there was some kind of magic pull to it. Then one day, I came home from school and it was in my bedroom. They’d bought it for me, and they had extended themselves to do that, so it was quite emotional. I was hooked.”

Initially for Damien it was dirt bikes and MX, riding hard and fast that stoked the fires, but when he came back to biking and as he grew up a bit, the slow ride aspect of adventure biking grabbed him. Maybe it just happens when you get older, you learn to stop and savour the details of what’s around you. Adventure riding allows you to do that.

“The adventure bike riding, when I first tried it, it sort of flicked a switch,” says Damien. “All I had been doing was riding as fast as I could through everywhere we went, hitting things as hard as I could, or jumping off things that I thought were big, dodging trees and that. All of a sudden, I could stop and look at things, I just thought ‘this it is for me’. I don’t know if it’s an age thing but I really appreciated being able to see the places that I had ridden for so long. We have so many amazing places here, but I had never stopped to look.”

Indeed, adventure riding in Australia can mean many, many hours on the road with not much to break up the journey, it’s a vast country. It makes the destination mean something more to you when you get there. There is real adventure in the people you meet along the way, but in wilds of the outback, you need to rely on local people to make sure you can get where you want to go.

“The longer the trip the more you have to rely on people,” says Damien. “Especially in Australia, where you get really remote areas. You have to call days ahead in certain places to make sure that they’ll have fuel at the service station. There’s no guarantee that they will, but they can tell you there’s a fair bet that they should have fuel when you get there.

“You could just ride around and ignore people, but that’s defeating the point. The best stories, apart from sunsets, sunrises, stars at night and I love all that stuff but it’s the people you meet and the places that you’ve seen. I’ve met some very strange people in some very remote places. They’re the most colourful people, there’s no two ways about it. “

Damien was the editor of Dirt Action magazine for 15 years and when he found his passion for ADV he took the idea of an adventure bike magazine to the publisher. Eventually they took it up and launched Australian Adventure Bike magazine, but after some time he decided to leave publishing and set up the ADV Life website.  

“I had a fairly big life change, I met my partner and, I like to turn things upside-down every now and then, so I left,” says Damien. “I was relaxing for a coupe of weeks and it only took that long to realise that I wanted to go for a ride. My partner said that if I was going to go for  ride, I should photograph it and then write a story. We built the website ourselves, as a proof of concept. I went out and I took some photos, I did a little video and I liked it. I thought, let’s do that again, and let’s do it for ourselves.”

Life looks different for Damien now, with the freedom to do his own thing, he works for a lot of brands, doing reviews and launches and riding tours. 

“Most of the time I ride by myself, or maybe with one other person, if there’s a job on. So, for example in a couple of weeks I’ll be on safari with BMW for their 30th anniversary safari and I’ll be the photographer. A month after that I’ll be lead rider for Daryl Beattie Adventures so we’ll be in the desert for 31 days straight, doing a double Simpson Desert crossing, then Canning Stock Route to Broome and then home, then I’m back up to Darwin to ride with BMW all the way across Australia to Broome. So that’s with a group of up to 160 guys, with Daryl Beattie it’s maybe eight guys or I’m by myself, So I have the best of both worlds.”

It’s a good time to be in adventure riding, things have really taken off in the last few years, especially after the pandemic. But the constant striving for bigger and better bike tech is driving up costs. Prices are proving a barrier to entry, especially for younger riders, who are already feeling the cost-of-living crisis. Thankfully he sees reasons to be hopeful.

“If you look at the CFMoto 450 MT,” he says. “Without puling the bike apart to its nuts and bolts, they’re offering a bike that can do anything my Africa Twin can do for a third of the price. It alleviates the stresses of cost because the price of bikes is getting ridiculous and it’s going to start excluding people from getting involved. I saw the same in music, the price of guitars got up to $14000 for a good guitar, you could buy a car for that. I remember when buying Japanese was a punchline, or Korean cars… Now I think I see this disrupter coming in from China and that might help a bit because otherwise I see us hitting a brick wall if adventure bike prices keep climbing the way they are and only premium bike models and the absolute top technology are on offer when we really don’t need it.”

Touring is another growth area in the market and Australia has some really good operators, The difficulty of touring the country means there is an established professional network of touring operators that is much needed.

“Australia is such an unusual country, there’s almost nothing in most of it but that’s were all the bucket list rides are. Like the Finders Ranges, in South Australia. which is one of, if not my favourite, Northeast Queensland, which is just a horrendous place for humans to be. Nothing wants you there. It’s hot, it’s humid, the trees have spikes all over them, you can’t have a swim because the crocodiles will eat you if the croc misses you then a shark or an Iruknadji jellyfish will get you. If you go for a bushwalk a cassowary bird will gut you with its talons. No one wants you up there, the Universe is saying ‘go away’ and yet we persist. 

“You see some incredible stuff though. “All these places, they’re so far away from everything and that’s why these tour operators survive, because they make it as safe as possible to get there and back. You can do it alone, but it’s ballsie and it can be quite lonely because you’re riding for such a long time. If you’re out in the desert and you throw your swag down and you hear all the weird sounds of the desert, it can be a bit out there. I like to have company out there because you can appreciate things together, I really like the sense of community. “

Thank you to Damien Ashenhurst for sharing your inspiring story with the BMIC, be sure to check out and follow his Instagram and the ADV Life Aus YouTube channel for the latest adventures.