A Journey Through Latin America on Norton 500s

Two Brits follow Che Guevara's route on a journey through Latin American each aboard a Norton 500

| March/April 2012

Two Brits have followed in the tire tracks of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara and written a motorcycle diary of their own along the way. Chronicled in a book written by co-conspirator Stephen Holmes, To Infinity and Beyondtells the story of the pair’s epic 5,000-mile trip on two 1940s Nortons through some of the world’s most dangerous terrain.

Che Guevara’s epic journey through Latin America on a 500cc Norton single in 1952 is one of the most famous, and arguably most important, motorcycle trips of all time. What he saw on his travels changed him forever, and led to Guevara becoming one of the key figures of the Cuban Revolution and one of the greatest icons of the 20th Century.

His epic trip with Alberto Granado has been the subject of a best-selling book and a major movie, both called The Motorcycle Diaries. Beyond repair after countless crashes, Guevara’s Norton 500 never finished the trip, and he completed his 5,000-mile journey by other means. Fifty-seven years later, Holmes and fellow traveler Peter Sandford followed — and completed — Guevara’s original route on period Norton singles.

Making plans

The trip came about after 55-year-old Sandford, who runs a windsurfing business in the U.K, watched The Motorcycle Diaries in January 2008 and thought it would be fun to replicate Guevara’s trip — and actually complete it on two wheels. A quick call to friend Holmes, a 53-year-old truck driver, assured him of a traveling partner and the challenge was on.

To recreate the journey, Sandford and Holmes would have to travel through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Columbia and Venezuela. Along the way, the pair would have to contend with some of the toughest environments on Earth, including the Atacama Desert, the driest region on Earth.

And as if that wasn’t going to be tough enough, they’d be making the journey on period Nortons, just like Che. “I thought it would be a blast and a heck of a challenge to do the trip on a Norton exactly the same as Che’s,” Sandford says. The problem was, a 1939 Norton 500 Model 18 like Guevara used was hard to find. After three months of searching, Sandford found one on eBay and another through the British Norton Owners’ Club, both costing around $4,000. They weren’t the exact 1939 Norton 500 Model 18 that Guevara used — they’re both a few years newer — but they were as close as possible to the original.

7/8/2013 4:14:01 PM

excuse me, is it possible to use photo by Stephen Holmes and Peter Sandford for italian materials (blog and leaflets)? Gianlugi Salvi has written "la mia meta" http://www.editorialetipografica.com/sc.asp?ID=2432 and he would like use this photo with Norton motorcycle for its blog and leaflets. Naturally, we will put the photo's authors in caption.

Peter Hoffman
5/30/2013 2:26:42 PM

A wonderful adventure no doubt! I just wish the inspiration hadn't been a mass murdering totalitarian sex offender. Charles Manson rode a motorcycle, maybe there's a trip in that too? http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2004/09/the_cult_of_che.single.html.

William Plyler
4/11/2012 5:03:32 PM

Che??? Really??? What next? How about a jolly trip through Hitler's concentration camps? How about a quick tour of Pol Pot's killing fields? The Soviet Gulag? What in the world are you thinking? If the authors are really going "stay true to the spirit of Guevara’s journey", how many people will they kill after the trip?

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