A sort of homecoming: The Long Ride to Japan 2019 (TLRJ)
I think I was in 2006 then I was reflecting which long motorcycle trips I would like to do in the next decades. I looked at a world map and I identified three big journeys: a trip through Africa, a trip to Japan and a trip through South America.
This should do for a while. In 2008, I inserted another trip through Dubai, Oman, Iran and Turkey. About 10.000 fantastic kilometres. Later I realised the trip through Africa in 2011, another 10.000 km. Then I had planned to do to the trip to Japan next. However, in the following years I had other projects. I got active in long distance rallies and spent three weeks each in 2013 and 2017 in Northern America riding the notorious Iron Butt Rally, the longest motorcycle rally in the world. In the meantime, I had also to renovate my parents house in Germany. This meant I had neither time nor money to embark on a long and costly globetrotter trip in these years.
But slowly I felt the need for another adventure. I focussed on a ride to Japan, crossing Russia via Moscow and Vladivostok. Sometime in 2015 , I told my English mate John Young about the plan. He proposed to do it together. I agreed and since then, we were wondering when we could actually do the trip. In 2016, we had the plan to do a test ride. The plan was to ride through Belorussia and Russia, visit Moscow and Kaliningrad and return home. We met at the XBR meeting in Germany, but my XBR showed some problems. I swapped the generator and battery with Hans and one day later than planned, we started our trip. However, the transit visa for Belorussia was not valid anymore so we had to skip the trip to Moscow and planned to use at least the Russian visa and visit Kaliningrad and the Curonian Spit. The trip went quite well, we also visited Riga and Vilnius and got terribly soaked in Poland. On the trip home, my electrical problem re-occurred, Later it seemed that it was simply a bad regulator that roasted the batteries. Bad luck, but the trip itself was a good dress rehearsal.
In late 2017, the XBR was completely refurbished and received a newer motor. I did a trip to the XBR meeting and the bike went quite well.
We had planned to do the trip to Japan in 2017 – however, I wanted to ride the 2017 Ironbutt Rally which meant that there was no time and money left.
This was still a problem in 2018 as I first needed to “save” some leave days (and money) before I could think of a long trip like this. So we had to postpone the trip in 2018 again. But 2019 is finally the year where it should happen.
My basic idea is that the XBR500 should go back where it came from – its production site in Hamamatsu. Today, no motorbikes are produced there any more. In principle, the itinerary is simple: Moscow, Omsk, Irkutsk, Vladivostok. Some years ago, I had the idea to cross to Sachalin and to take a short ferry to Hokkaido. However, the ferry stopped to transport vehicles. At the moment, taking the ferry in Vladivostok via South Korea is the only option to get to Japan.
But first of all, we’ve got to get to Vladivostok. It’s just some 12.000 km. What could possibly go wrong?
I contacted a company in Vladivostok in January to get the latest information about the ferry crossing. At the same time I realised that there is no possibility to enter Japan with a German registered vehicle. Germany did sign the 1929 and 19668 Conventions on Road Traffic, but not the 1949 Convention on Road Traffic. But this is the one Japan asks for. What now? Well, there was only one chance out of this problem….I could change the registration from a German to a Belgian one…Belgian vehicles are permitted in Japan…but this would mean I would loose my old number plate that my bike carried for 32 years and was in more than 50 countries! What a sacrifice! When the ferry confirmed that they wouldn’t take only German registered vehicles on board, I knew I had no other choice.
So I started the procedure…Visit customs and get the import paper….get an insurance paper and send all the papers and old documents to the DIV, the Belgian registration office. I expected to have the number plate soon. However, I received all my papers back, together with a letter that I had to get a validation or homologation number for the motorbike! The XBR was never officially sold in Belgium, so I assumed this would be the reason for this extra procedure. I called the DIV what I had to do. They told me to contact the office for homologation. I called the office for homologation. I needed to send copies of all documents. Then there was silence. Another ten days lost…And then I received the letter with the validation number. Now just send the papers again…Another ten days later….I got the new number plate!!! During these two months, many things were put on hold, because the Belgian registration was the crucial step.
I have also ordered the ferry ticket for the boat trip from Vladivostok to Japan, with a stop in South Korea. I wanted to have a ‘first class’ ticket for the trip, but I only got ‘second class’ for the Korea to Japan trip as ‘the Koreans don’t want to share the rooms with Westerners’, whatever that means. This sounds interesting… I also established contact with the ferry company and learned a lot of things. Customs procedure will be tricky in Japan, including a – 45 km round trip to the Japanese Automobile Federation for a paper and the translation of my driver’s licence.
I had asked for a quote for air freight transport back from Japan. A whopping 6200 €. My next request was for sea freight transport, this was much cheaper…so the bike will return my ship and I by plane, obviously. And there’s a lot more to do, taking care about insurances, ordering tyres, installing open street maps on the sat nav, applying for the Russian visa…
The XBR is in pretty good shape, it got a younger motor last year and was brushed up last year. So I could think of some modifications…I had bought a heated shirt (42 W) from warm’n’safe as my heated jacket (90 W) would draw too much power for the XBR’s tiny alternator (170 W). I connected a harness and a controller, together with a digital voltmeter that lets me check if the energy drawn is too high. First checks suggest that this seems to work nicely. I’m prepared for the chilly Siberian tundra!
I had a crazy idea about the reserve tyres. One set of tyres could last until Vladivostok, but then I would have to change tyres. I’d have to carry both tyres in the back. Nasty. I’d have to find a shop to change the tyres in Eastern Russia…..and then I had the idea: why not carrying whole wheels? It’s more weight in the back, but apart from that, it gives a lot of advantages. No stress to find a tyre change solution and if I’d have a flat tyre or dent a wheel in a pothole, I could just swap the wheels and continue. Sounds easy. I have enough rims in the shed, when reaching Vladivostok, I could just dispose of them. I decided to tinker a tyre holder, it doesn’t look too bad for my limited welding skills.
And then there was a change in John’s plan. He had the idea to skip to trip to Japan and to go directly to Canada and to the American east coast, creating a round-the-world trip. I think this a good solution as he is more interested in Russian and I am more interested in the Japanese part of the trip. So he will leave the ferry in Donghae, Korea. But we still will have some loooong way to go together.