London to Bangkok. 66 days. 11 random strangers. 7 proper adventure bikes, one ruggedized custom and a batmobile. What could possibly go wrong.
If you can’t read text, but you can read maps, then just feel free to take a look at our route instead:)
I rode this route in 2014, loved it, and wanted to do it again. That’s how this little plan got started. The last time I rode out to Kazakhstan alone and met up with an organised tour but this time I decided to try my hand at sorting it all out myself and seeing if I could attract some other like minded souls to join me. I would try standing on the other side of the fence. Poacher turned gamekeeper. I’d take a group half way round the world through Europe, Russia, the stans, China and Asia. Easy peasy lemon squeezy… in my head.
The interweb cast it’s net and drew in some riders from around the world. It all got serious pretty dam quick and before I knew it their were new bikes being bought, containers arriving in the UK and people in the air heading for the off. It felt like someone had tied my guts up in a gordian knot but there was no going back now.
Ace cafe 8th August. Off we go. The group will grow as we travel and pick people up on the way. It’s all a bit surreal. I walk into the car park and in ride Bob and Carrie from the USA on their brand spanking new and shiny 1190 Adventure. Bob deals in specialist insurance and Carrie is an interior designer. They’re all packed to the max and ready to go. Few minutes later Tony, a London landlord arrives on another sparkling new Africa twin. Then Pomi, a businessman from Luton rolls up on the batmobile. Pomi has decided to bring the most inappropriate bike I could possibly think of for a trip like this. A Vistory Vision. A 3 tonne, 20 ft long lump of shiny black plastic and metal. He knows the risks. I know its possible to get these things through more shit than you’d ever think possible. I’ve met people on big Harley’s in places I’m convinced they could only have reached by dropping the bloody thing from a helicopter. It would take a serious fuck off helicopter to even lift this thing off the ground though. It will be ‘interesting’ to see how it does.
Take the bikes through the city for lunch then down to Folkstone to meet the next rider.
The Chandos Premier Guest house is a real bed and basic. I can only imagine the local inspectors are blind or that all the rooms are nailed shut and the doors wallpapered over during their visits. The shower room has a cubical raised so high that you could base jump from it to the floor. Not that you can see the floor as the 1 sq ft room is filled with a basin anyway. I didn’t bring a parachute so had to repel down to the ground and try to dry myself off standing on one foot with my bollocks in the basin. Still, its all good practice for what I know is to come.
We meet up with Bruce, a Canadian oil man on his GSA, and we head down into town for fish and chips. Folkstone is such a sad looking place. Tired, dirty, ragged and half empty. We end up eating plates of bland beige food in a decrepit chip shop with steamed up windows and no English spoken before heading back to the bed and basic for a bouncy night among the bed springs and wafer thin blankets.
Up early, bolt down a full english then a quick ride down to the white cliffs and wave goodbye to Blighty in the warm summer sunshine.
My plan is to skip through Europe ASAP. Bit selfish really as I’ve been all over here loads of times. It’s just all so flippin dull. You could be in an old cartoon with the same old scenery going past repetitively. The tarmac to green ratio has nearly hit 100% I reckon and it’s just a blur of blackness under the wheels to Soest in Germany for the first night. First night on my first epic adventure. First hotel on my first night…. knock on the door… it’s empty… look in the windows …. its empty… nobody about… doors locked. Shagamuffin! This is Germany. I expected saluting guards, precision, efficiency. I at least expected a warm body to be in residence. Phone the booking number. “OK, I’ll be there in 15 minutes”. Great. At least it’s not raining. Eventually a little Bosnian bloke rolls up, lets us in and away we go. Apparently Germany is shut on Mondays. Part of some EU cost cutting measures. Be warned.
Soest is a lovely little place. Loads of beautiful old (shut today) buildings and a big square full of (mostly shut today) restaurants. It’s just up the road from one of the dams that the Dambusters ‘altered’ back in the 40s.
Good food and a good nights rest later and we’re off again. Compasses stuck on East. Next stop Berlin. A simple cookie cutter hotel within walking distance of the Brandenburg gate. We start to walk down to Alexanderplatz but its bloody miles so sit outside in the freezing cold and consume a curry. When in Rome and all that…
Next target is Warsaw, home of the colour grey. Nobody does grey like Warsaw. Today they have the full watercolour pallet in use. The sky is a dark , angry shade and doing its best to drop all its contents onto our cold soggy souls as we trudge through the storm to the capital. I reckon it could rain like this continuously for 10 years and the place would still look dirty. We slop slowly along through the battered old assortment of cars, buses and trucks to the hotel in the centre where we meet up with Rob and Leonie from Australia on their GSA. They’re both in the oil industry too. They shipped their bike to Dublin and spent some alone time touring about and visiting ‘rellies’ before catching up with us here. Rob is about 9ft 3 and Leonie has to be measured with specially calibrated equipment under a microscope because she is so tiny. They’re a perfect match.
Warsaw at least seems to be resisting the Eurobland disease quite well and still feels eastern European. Could just be all that grey though.
The storm has thankfully run out of steam by the time we head off towards Lithuania. We quickly reach the EU high tide money mark where the roads begin to turn from fast motorways to roadworks and contraflows and the lorries turn from environmentally uber friendly supertrucks to black belching arthritic 2000 a day smokers. Breath in… over take… breath out. It’s bright and cold though and life on the bike is good. Thoughts of home and work start to take 2nd place to ‘WTF is that stupid wanker playing at’ and life on the road begins to take shape. These things always take a few days to fade in and it will go on for a while yet. We have so far to go. We’ve hardly started. I’m getting to know my KTM 1190 too. It’s a delicious bike. It’s alive and it kicks. It farts and it belches. It’s an unknown quantity though. I’ve used my old 1150 GSA for years on these trips and I know it inside out. The KTM is a different animal from a different time. If something goes wrong, it’s going to need to talk k’tmish to the KTM mother ship. I don’t speak k’tmish. That could be a problem.
Next stop is Kaunas City. Not Kaunas. Kaunas city. Kaunas city is a delightful little beauty spot nestling on the big sprawling arse that is Kaunas. Hole up in a hotel on a quiet pedestrianised area watched over by a beautiful old church. Eat drink and be merry.
On the road and out of Lithuania towards Latvia. The lines between the countries are getting ever more blurred but thankfully the influence of mother Russia gets more obvious as you head further and further towards her clutches. Big statues dominate the towns and people begin to wear the soviet frowns, along with fashions from the 80s. Everything is low rent and dilapidated and the english language is getting harder and harder to use. We get a lot more stares from the locals too. The journey is really starting properly now.
There really does seems such a massive divide between the young and the old out here. Traditions are living out their final days amongst the older generations and many I’ve no doubt will die with them. The east/west line is moving in this direction and will soon swallow these old countries for good. I really find it quite sad, but then I live in the west so maybe that’s a bit hypocritical.
The weather does it’s utmost best to hold us back and we spend the day fighting fierce crosswinds and head butting evil gusts every time a truck goes in the opposite direction. Roads are pretty good though and generally not that busy so its an easy ride up to Rezekne. It’s still a fair way to Russia from here but it definitely has that border town feeling. Isolated and alone and with a bit of an atmosphere about it.
I go out to take some pictures. I pull away from a turning and a load of warning lights come on . TC, ABS and a some others. WTF! Bike is still running and appears to be OK. I only pulled away normally, no reaching for the sky or burnouts, just the usual. Stop the bike, restart, all the lights stay on. Fucky wanky tits. These fucking stupid electrics drive me to buggering distraction. If I had a big pair of scissors and could easily identify the culprits I’d just cut the bastard wires right now. On. Off. On. Off. Bike starts but the lights stay on. What a big bag of wank these systems are. I ride the bike back to the hotel, turn it off and ‘do a Rossi’. I get on my knees and pray to the Gods of Orange and Black. I pray that the electronic brain fart fucks off into the night, never to be seen again. Then I spend a fretful night dreaming of having to push the bloody thing to China.
I wake up and go to breakfast, tired and aching from all that pushing the bike in my dreams. Entering Russia today. My head is spinning about, worried about the potential for a buggered bike in the land of the hammer and sickle. Jesus, the bloody thing has only done about 7000 miles. My old GSA would laugh at that. I don’t think it’s memory goes back to when it was 7000 miles old. I don’t really have much choice though, the bike was running at least yesterday. I’ve got some black tape to stick over the warning lights if I have to…
Bob tells me he can’t find the original registration document for his KTM too. Ok. That could be a problem… I’m sure he has it somewhere, probably, so we all head out to the bikes. I put in the key, turn, and my prayers have been answered. The dash is clean. No warnings. No lights. I put it to the back of my mind and pretend it was all a horrible dream… la la la la la
Getting out of Latvia is a piece of cake as usual. Just a wave and a smile for the europeans, and a stamp for the others. The Russian border is always an exercise in the maximum consumption of time for the least amount of movement and the most amount of repetition. Everything seems to be going remarkably smoothly. Too smoothly. Then someone gets the Uzzi out, loads it with turds and starts firing it about. I get hit first. I am such an achingly massive twat! For some unknown reason, the Russians want to see our European bike insurance documents. I’ve got mine with me, no problem. “Problem”. “Really? What?” “Expired. No entry”. You know those TV shots when the camera pans backwards and the person stays put looking as though their world has just ended… Shit on a stick! I’ve printed out last years certificates. What a ten foot tosser I am! IPhone to the rescue. Email. Insurance. Ummmmmmmm. Buggery titwank, I don’t have this years certificates. I reinsured a few months ago but they haven’t sent me the documents. That’s convenient… It’s my bad I know. I’ve just forgotten it in all the noise of organising the trip. At this point I thank God for the 24/7 society we live in. I’m standing at the Russian border, up to my testies in shit, talking to the lovely Carole at MCE. “No problem. They’re on their way.” “Thanks Carole. I think I love you”. One ping from the phone, forward it to the grumpy young lady at the computer next to me, hit print and I’m back in the game:) Unlike Bob….
“You go home” says the official, and points back to Latvia. He cannot find his original registration document and has offered a photocopy. This bloke has been recruited from the KGB fraud department and can spot a copy at a million miles. Bob looks at him. “You go home”. The message couldn’t be clearer. Most of the riders are through and waiting the other side. I know Bob has the document, Bob knows he has the document. The officer probably knows he has the document too but he’s not having it. Bob and Carrie turn back towards Latvia. They’ll find it and catch us up.
The moment they ride past the border back towards Latvia something clicks. They’re off the bike, diving to the bottom of a random bag and there it is. A USA registration document is not like a proper big A4 UK one. It’s about half the size of a credit card and looks like a receipt from 7Eleven. Can you buy a Ktm at a 7Eleven? Nothing would surprise me. They come back round and we start the process all over again. In another comedy twist, Bob’s bike is registered in his company’s name rather than his personal name. We try to explain, and I prepared a printed Russian translation of the situation before I left but this doesn’t seem to help much. The bloke in the booth looks like his brain has overheated and shut down. He’s just dribbling and hitting the enter key over and over and over. They take out the faulty bloke, install a newer one and we’re through… Phew. I play hallelujah in my trousers using a celebratory fart I had saved just for this occasion. Turns out I had enough for 15 verses. Result.
Insurance. They’ve moved it since I came last time but we eventually locate it in a little shed outside an abandoned petrol station. It’s about £7 each. Bargain, even though I suspect it’s totally and utterly bloody useless.
The first real town is Velikiye Luki 100 miles away. I’ve been here before. It’s a real mess. Lots of the big buildings look abandoned but look closely and they’re still being used. 95% derelict with the last 5% struggling on in the chaos. Its a real contrast with Europe. The only new buildings seem to be the gas stations. Still, the Russians just get on with it. I’m fucked if I would though.
The hotel today is an old converted school in the middle of an imposing soviet housing estate. It looks like Precinct 13 on the outside. You expect to be greeted by a prison guard, handed an orange jumpsuit, given a try of slop and told to keep away from Mr Big. Step inside though and its all comfy clean beds, good food and lots of beer, a theme close to every biker’s heart.
As luck would have it, a team from China is here with an electric car that they have driven overland heading for Spain. They tell tales of their destruction across Kazakstan where they’ve managed to smash a wheel in a hole. Great. Thanks for that. I’m really looking forward to it.
I’m wandering about after dinner and I step through a door/time machine that takes me to a wedding back in the 70s. Collars as wide as a Vulcan bomber’s wings, make up thicker than butter slapped on toast and a vodka charged atmosphere that would set off a breathalyzer at 200ft. Definitely cheap, but also very definitely cheerful.
Breakfast and I give out the usual warnings about the bat shit crazy Russian nutter drivers they’re likely to meet today. Just imagine all the vodka soaked revelers we saw last night sat behind a wheel of a big fast car and in a hurry to get to their own funerals. I know the fire is ready, it’s time for the baptism so off we go to meet our destiny.
East from Velikiye Luki is pretty quiet for a long time. “What’s all the fuss about” they think. “This is a piece of piss – stupid twat!”. The only distraction from the billions of trees are the stuffed animals stalls. Fancy a brown bear? Maybe a wolf sir? Just a small one. Or a boar’s head. Much more fashionable and comfortable than an Arai…
Gets really really cold and bleak too for a while… know what I mean boys..
And then the fun begins…. Moscow is one of the world’s biggest, strongest, most deadly twat magnets. As you get closer and closer, more and more and more twats are drawn in to join the fray. The city is just dragging them all in with an invisible, irresistible force and today they have the magnet turned up to 11. There are twats in every direction. Here a twat, there a twat, everywhere a twat twat… All barely in control and seldom driving in a straight line for more than 50 yards. The lane indiscipline is truly quite impressive. Absolutely no notice is taken of anything other than the barriers on each side of the 6 lane motorway, everywhere else is a free for all. I love it. It’s a no holds barred survival exercise and any sign of weakness is instantly punished mercilessly. It’s just like falling into some big fuck off river rapids with a load of jet skis, big power boats and supertankers thrown in for good measure. You buck and weave your way through as random projectiles constantly skim past you at high speed from all sides. We are just little fish swimming with sharks. Some of the riders at the back of the group later recount tails of wafer thin passing distances and near death experiences. Welcome to Russia! As the get to the centre we all find each other again, spit out mouthfuls of adrenaline, lets the pulses calm down and finally allow ourselves a quick moment just to blink. Moscow city traffic is just a solid metal jigsaw. Lots of very hot metal flowing at the speed of lava through the streets. It’s fractious and tight. An ambulance sits in the traffic, lights flashing, not moving an inch. It’s probably the same one I saw when I was last here 2 years ago..
Get to the hotel and meet up with Tor, a highly entertaining Norwegian oil man on a ‘ruggedised’ Victory High Ball. He has fitted the bash plate from a Scania truck and has other some custom stuff to try and stop the inevitable destruction about to be wrought on it as we head south. We’ll see..
Out to dinner in the rain. I love wet cities in the dark. Moscow isn’t that far from home but it feels like a million miles tonight.
A Day off in Moscow. Get up and go for breakfast. What’s that noise? It’s a harp. Of course it is. Everyone has breakfast accompanied by a slim slinky Russian girl playing the harp in a ball gown, of course they do. I feel a bit underdressed in my just my underwear and socks but I really don’t want to get scrambled egg or jam on my freshly laundered tux. The weather is still doing it’s best to batter it’s way through the windows using it’s highest calibre raindrops. A few of us venture out anyway and descend into the labyrinth of the Moscow metro. These old stations look more like great dining halls or museums. Beautifully built with ornate fixtures and fittings, great paintings and incredible mosaics, and each one unique.
I took some Russian evening classes before coming out. Being able to read the alphabet helps a lot but I still think I’ve achieved a superhuman feat just getting us 2 stops down the line down to Red Square:)
Flush with the success of finding Red Square we get back on the Metro and find our way out the city to the Moscow Space Museum. The rain has gone up a notch to ‘Biblical’. Jeeeesus it’s proper falling down now. There is a HUGE fuck off statue of a rocket launch outside but you can’t look up without your eye sockets instantly filling with water. Get to the museum. Closed. Moscow is closed on Mondays too. Probably the only thing the Russians have in common with the Germans..
A few of us go and buy a job lot of brave tablets and get a taxi out to the wolves den. The Night Wolves that is. Putin’s Motorcycle Militia as they’re also affectionately known.
Turn up and it looks closed. “Oh dear .. how sad… let’s leave… immediately..” Go to the gate and two bouncers approach us. I say bouncers, but I doubt they actually bounce. I think they’re made of lead … or possibly iron. I think they would just leave a dent in the tarmac if you tried to bounce them. I could try it, but I decide not to, just out of respect. “Any guns, any knives?”. “Nope, we’re clean” “Do you want any?” Ummmmmm. Wander down to the den. It looks like a Mad Max film set. All weird and dark. Thankfully pretty empty tonight too, except for the kittens. Even hard bikers love kittens. They’re wandering around the tables and sitting on your lap, looking into your eyes and digging their claws into your bollocks. I’m not about to slap a Night Wolves pussy so I just cry quietly until the bloody claws are retracted and it moves on to lick itself clean.
Some human mountain/machine/experiment joins the table next to ours. He’s almost totally square. His neck is so thick it looks like he has ears on his shoulders. Don’t look.. don’t look…. don’t…… I looked… I couldn’t help it… It was like looking at death, just for a fraction of a second. Time to leave…
Next morning the lazy Russian harpist is having a lay in so I have to breakfast in silence. Where’s the fun in that. I feel a bit overdressed now in my sparkling white dress suit, complete with bow tie and cummerbund….
We want to take some pictures of the bikes by Red Square so we make our way across town. Russians start work late and work late so the roads are thankfully abandoned. I go ahead down the road and tell the others to wait, then I’ll take their pictures one by one in front of the cathedral. I’m laying down and crawling about in the middle of the road, trying to get the perfect angle. Turn round and what do I see? A police car with the lights flashing thinking I’ve had a one man RTA. Either he sees I’m just some stupid foreigner pissing about or, more likely, he decides he doesn’t want to get blood on his gloves so off go the lights and on he goes, careful not to run me over as I roll about in the road.
Tambov is the target today. A faceless Russian town on the road south towards the border with Kazakhstan. We hurry out of Moscow before the bloke gets to work and turns the big twat magnet on. You’re out in the countryside surprisingly quickly too. No suburbs fading out for miles and miles, just … out, and into open ground. Sunny and cold, but flat and dull. The roads generally get worse and worse as you head south in Russia but these aren’t too bad, until you hit Tambov. We’ve all seen this stuff but sometimes it’s just difficult to believe it’s real. Tarmac all rolled up and grooved with deep holes and ripples that turn the ride into an assault course. Some of the holes are so deep that the cars have to go though at weird angles to stop them bottoming out or beaching themselves. Where the tarmac is actually flat, its like polished glass and the air is full of the noise of cheap tyres squealing scrabbling for grip. Our nicely refurbished, clean and modern hotel nestles amongst the ruins of the city centre. I take my bike down the road to some secure parking in a multi story car park next to a casino. There isn’t a bugger in sight so I just leave the bike under the protection of an old woman with a mop and bucket and leave. I’m sure it will be fine…
Sit outside the worlds slowest service restaurant and watch the sun go down. I took a menu. If I go back, I’ll order when I leave London. That way I’ll only have to wait 6 hours for my food when I arrive…
I’m keen to give the riders some idea of the tarmac shit storms that we’re likely to encounter as we get further and further away from what we like to think of as civilisation, and southern Russia is absolutely perfect for that. I have absolutely no bloody idea how these roads get so absolutely shit. Perhaps they have some giant nocturnal tarmacpecker birds that come to destroy them during under the cover of darkness, perhaps they have a special breed of moles with metal teeth and a taste for tarmac. Who knows. The fact is they’re just shit. Shot to pieces with deep sharp pot holes and generally suffering from about 300 years of neglect. The only thing they seem to do is have small teams that go and paint them the exact same colour as the surrounding tarmac, just so you can’t see the fuckers until your front wheel disappears down them. Twatting the holes is absolutely unavoidable, you just have to slow down. I find installing a 12 inch titanium spike on the seat, then riding standing up with the point just below by tummy banana concentrates my mind and makes me just a little bit more careful. Even with my helmet on and ears plugs in, all I can hear is shouts, expletives and ‘twangs’ as rims are battered, tyres bruised and balls sent back to places they last visited in adolescence.
Not much between these places down south though. Just little villages. Getting hot down here though. Stop at some random building, start exploring doors and you’ll usually find a windowless shop or two. They look like tiny nuclear bunkers complete with 100 years supply of biscuits and 20 times refrozen ice lollies.
Saratov is a big city straddling the mighty Volga river. They have a ancient tram system throughout and the roads have worn so badly that the rails sit about 1 foot clear of the surface. The Victory has a real problem scraping it’s way through all the junctions and takes a proper battering. We come to a section up a steep hill where the ruts in the road are so deep you have to commit to a course at the bottom and hope that nothing coming in the opposite direction has chosen the same rut. You have absolutely no chance of changing course without using heavy lifting equipment. It’s comical really. Some of the ruts are so deep that the pegs are nearly touching the top and its a scary experience, especially when you have a bloody great tram right up your chuff.
Tonight’s bed is in a boutique hotel not far from the river. It looked good on the internet but it failed to mention that the place was manned (or rather womanned) by an evil bleach blond bitch, so foul and vile that’s she just been kicked out of hell. She’s a real life Bond villaness. She’s Mrs Jekyll from the tips of her toes, past her fine figure and up to her full pouty smiling mouth but from there up she’s pure Ms Hyde. She oozes a toxic mix of sex and trouble, and she looks like she gets her kicks by biting the bollocks off budgerigars.
There is nothing else for it, I just have to get on with it. We lock eyes. OMG. She’s got the bitchometer turned up to the max and I have to hold on to the counter to stop myself being driven to my knees. This is going to be difficult. She speaks absolutely no English so I’m immediately at a disadvantage. She has the booking in front of her but she’s determined to make it difficult. I’ve booked 7 rooms but she’s given me 6 and tells me the hotel is full. No more rooms. I try to argue, I honestly do… Mrs Jekyll widens the smile and leans forward but Mrs Hyde takes over the words and it’s just like the Exorsist. I don’t know what “Your mother sucks cocks” is in Russian but I suspect that’s what’s being delivered. I learnt a little Russian but my vocabulary doesn’t run to “No, my mother doesn’t let yogurt slingers pass her lips you evil bitch. Just get your tits out of a tangle, look at the booking and give me my rooms before I ring Satan and promise him my soul if he takes you back, gives you testicles for tits and sets you on fire for all eternity”. The result was inevitable. Demon-in-a-dress 1. Biker 0.
I find a cleaner cowering under a cupboard, avoiding the ten foot spiked tongue of Beelzebella, and get her to come and reconfigure one of the rooms to a twin. She’s happy to get away and breaths a sigh of relief as soon as the lift doors shut. She changes the room then climbs up into the roof to hide from Hyde. Poor girl.
I go down for round 2 with the Angel of Darkness. I need to ask her for some directions and to get some taxis. I creep round the corner and I’m sure I see some yellow feathers on her lips before the forked tongue has a chance to clean up the evidence. I have to go to her side of the desk and use google translate. I just see a flash of her screen showing lots of scared little faces on budgieboiler.net before she has a chance to clear it. Witch… We get a couple of taxis ordered. They turn up and we have to jump through the windows and drive away half hanging out the cars as the drivers refuse to stop for fear of being eaten alive.
Down to dinner alongside the Volga. Relax, unwind and look out over the dark water towards tomorrows target. Next stop Kazakhstan:)
Get up and go for breakfast. Lucyfer is still on duty. I don’t think it sleeps…quite scary really. She wants to talk to me about the rooms. In a typical ‘female rewriting history’ moment she sets her smile to ‘smirk’ and uses google translate to tell me that I booked 7 rooms but only paid for 6. I almost convince myself that this thing sitting in front of me is not actually a woman but just a beastess of the night with tits and that actually I would be quite justified by lumping in the mouth with a large piece of concrete. The problem is we have all fallen in to her trap and she knows it. The hotel is like a little prison and has a 20ft high steel fence all the way round it. We and the bikes are all on the inside and the bitch wont press the button to open the gate unless I pay for the unused room. Her manicured hand, complete with nails fashioned by Sabatier is hovering over the button as she turns the smile from ‘smirk’ to ‘smug’. BEEEEEEEATCH. It’s bloody check mate and she knows it. I have to get my get out of jail credit card and pay up for a room she knows I didn’t use and that she said I couldn’t. I run down the pet shop and buy a ‘ladybudgie’ desperate for a sex change then rush to the vets to have its balls removed and replaced with small high powered explosives. As we leave the compound I hand ‘bomber’ over in a small cage as a leaving present. I’m sure she wont be able to resist….Next Page