At five to seven I was ready for breakfast. The bike was already prepared. I started the ride at a quarter to eight. “Only” 750 km to go. It drizzled. Not unexpected, but according to the forecast, it should soon be dry. That’s why I didn’t put on the rain gear. The roads were wet and very slippery. I forced myself to slow down and to avoid any calamity. I went at 30 km/h in the city and ignored all the traffic behind me. Outside Khabarovsk, I increased the speed to 60-70 km/h, it was incredibly dangerous. The drizzle got stronger and stronger and turned into proper rain. This was nerve-wrecking, any slip and fall could mean the end of the trip, so close to Vlad. After 45 km, the road got better. I had seen a sign in Khabarovsk: Road construcction project for 232 km (!). Later I saw another one: 430 km (!!). This meant that basically all the road between Khabarovsk and Vladivostok was scheduled for a make-up. There were a few good parts, but mostly it was difficult. Not as long as it was dry, but in the wet, all the liquid tar that was used to fill the cracks turned the surface into a skating track. About half the day I had to ride extremely careful.
Then it stopped to rain and there was even same sun rays sometimes. People are definitively more friendly down here. I saw more and more signs of “civilisation”, even a lot of writing in latin letters. More international flair. Finally I entered the larger Vladivostok area. I could not get to the sightseeing point over the Zolotoy Bridge, it was closed off. So I had to improvise, I found a good spot along a main road.
It was done, After 12040 km from home, I had reached my first destination: Vladivostok. Without any major problem. The XBR performed spectacularly. Again. (Later at the hotel, I detected one missing nut. One. Nut. That’s all). Incredible. In a bit more than two weeks. Nothing broken, nothing bent. Honda XBR500.
Sorry, I thought I was at the Rossky bridge, but actually I was at the Zolotoy Bridge 🙂
It returned north to the hotel, but not via the direct route. An accident in the north had collapsed the traffic out of the city. I went south over the bridge and did a huge, but quick detour and arrived at the hotel 30 min later. The hotel is a Kitsch palace like I I have never seen before. Tomorrow will be a total rest day, I’ll write more about the hotel, hehe.
I had some excellent dinner in a huge hall made of logs, accompanied by Russian live music.
Of course I woke up at 6 a.m. And at 7 a.m. Difficult to change a habit when you’ve been preparing your bike during
14 days. Finally I got up at eight and had breakfast. The rain front was moving slower than predicted, it was still dry! I decided to leave already and at a quarter to ten I was on the road.
Another big river crossed. I stopped for petrol before arriving at the hotel Paros at noon, right before the drizzle started. It is très chic, the right place to relax half a day. I went to the restaurant and had some very delicious seafood. I checked the touristic possibilities in Vladivostok, because I will spend some time there.
Tomorrow is the final day (750 km) to Vladivostok!
In the morning, I had my bike ready at 7 a.m. The cleaning lady asked for the keys, but I insisted that I first needed to bring down the luggage. As the restaurant was not open, I asked for the breakfast. With the help of the translator app, the receptionist asked: „did you order it yesterday?“ Er, no! „There is no cook“.
Excellent. No breakfast. A fantastic establishment. I left with the plan to get something on the highway. At the first „Café“: opens at eight….the mini market had the cashier behind the typical bullet-proof glass…OK, let’s try later down the road. After an hour, I gave up and ordered a heated coffee can and some biscuits from a cashier in some other bullet-proof petrol station. OK, now let’s see….I had a booking only 430 km away, a dull hotel in probably a dull forest. I would arrive far too early at lunchtime. What to do the whole day? Wasn’t there an alternative?
When I arrived at the junction at 12:20, I made a decision. I filled up and reserved a hotel in Birobidzhan, some 590 km away. Sat Nav said arrival time 19:30, including the jump to the next time zone, so in principle six hours. This should be possible, the road was very good and I made good progress. I had the wind from the front now, but still I kept the speed at 110 – 120 km/h. Btw, I get passed by cars at 140 – 160 km/h, so I’m not going particularly fast. It was sunny with clouds now, the initial cool temperatures had risen to some nice 21 degrees.
I moved very quick, only very few road works slowed me down now. I was even considering to move even further to Khabarowsk, 170 km more, where I had my booking for the next night. In the end, I decided against this 1200 km monster trip, my 1030 km today were already a lot. When everything looked so rosy, I passed a sign….construction works for the next 320 km…..WHAT? And immediately, the road got bad, longitudinal groves that are not a problem for cars, but for bikes! And heaps of sand! Potholes, 15 cm deep! Huge missing parts of the surface, liquid asphalt all over the place….what was going on here?? This was dangerous! I needed to slow down. Focus! Luckily, it was dry….But I would have to do the rest of this road tomorrow in the rain! Ouch…I filled up again, Mars bar, Red Bull, juice. The magic mix to push for the last 130 km. I arrived at the hotel in Birobidzhan at 19:45 and was immediately involved in a chat about the bike. I had already noticed that people got gradually friendlier again, the grumpiness had disappeared. The climate? I checked in, parked the bike, filled up oil and was surprised how nice my room was. After a shower, I entered the restaurant and with the help of a friendly waitress I ordered dinner, some very good 97-98 degree celcius hot soup covered with yeast bread and some kind of very good Cordon Bleu variation. And a Bavarian Wheat beer! During dinner, I read about the history of this town. It is the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region here. Started as a project some 100 years ago, it was a safe haven for Jews before the founding of the state of Israel. First the settling was voluntary, later forced under Stalin. Due to emigration, the share of Jewish population decreased from 25 % in the 1950’s to about 1 % today.
Seeing the weather forecast for tomorrow, I considered leaving early tomorrow, banging towards Vladivostik, hopefully avoiding the rain front that will come in from the west. But on second thoughts, why the stress. I am on minus 1 days anyway, I don’t need to arrive at minus 2 days. And this would mean four days too early! So, I have ridden 11000 km in the last 14 days, have done some 1030 km against the wind today….why the hurry. Ok, I’ll have to ride two hours on this dangerous road tomorrow to Chabarowsk….take it easy. And a couple hours of rain during Friday, so what! I’ll arrive more relaxed on Friday in Vladivostok. So tomorrow it will definitely be a late departure, a short ride in the rain to a plush hotel where I can relax more. I’m glad I did these 600 km extra today so I don’t have to do them tomorrow in the rain.
When I woke up, everything seemed normal – but then I had a strange feeling….and two seconds later, I rushed to the bathroom. I made it in time. Only just. What was that??? Had I eaten something bad? I follow strictly the “Cook it, peel it or leave it” motto. And I take daily my Saccharomyces capsules to fortify my guts against any attack. So what went wrong? Hard to say. I went in counterattack mode and swallowed another capsule plus one Imodium pill, just to be on the safe side. I packed my stuff, got the XBR out of the parking and went for breakfast. This time, I was incorrectly on the ground floor while breakfast was served on the 11th floor…I listened to my guts….everything seemed to be under control…let’s go! At a quarter to eight I left the place. My GPS guided me to the right road, the Amur highway. The road was very good again, leading through green hills and valleys. It was a scenic ride today, lots of forest. There were some occasional road works, but I made good progress. I filled up every 225 km, 100 km and 170 km. Petrol stations were rare, but available. I noticed today, that east of Krasnoyarsk, people seem to be more grumpy (with exceptions). It was hot and I tried to drink plenty of water. After 400 km, the good road seemed to have more and more ‘dips’, deepenings in the surface. In contrast to low speed bumps, these were dangerous at high speeds – the bike’s shocks are compressed to the max. One technique is to ride slower…..or to stand up and dampen the hit with your own body like a cross rider. This was tedious at times, but often these dips were marked by truck skidmarks before them.
At a quarter to there, I was already in Mogotcha. Much too early! I reserved a room in Skovorodino, some 320 km down the road. The bike rode fine again, I made good progress, the weather was fine and I could go further tomorrow, During the last 10 km, the sat nav sent me on a shortcut, which meant 5 km on a very bumpy piste. Thank you, Garmin! I filled up and arrived at the hotel. It had the worst ranking I ever have booked, but at least I had a room. As I didn’t want to have a shared bathroom, I had booked a suite. I paid half price as I need it only for 12 hours, not 24 h (?). It’s quite shabby, but reasonably clean and I have enough space. In the restaurant, I managed to order a Gösser beer from Austria (!), Borshtch and Shashlik. It’s quite hot in room, the airco doesn’t work and choosing between heat or mosquitos, I chose heat. I realised that going 200 km further tomorrow than planned doesn’t make much sense, as I can’t find a better accommodation than the already booked one. This means I will have a short day (450 km) tomorrow. Then there will be two full riding days to Khabarowsk and….Vladivostok!
I got up at six in the morning, took the bike out of the parking and parked it in front of the hotel. I was waiting when the breakfast room opened at seven. At 7:25 a.m., I was on the road. I expected it to be a long day, only 665 km, but the tales of the road from Ulan-Ude to Chita are numerous. „The worst road I’ve ever seen“, „horror road“ and other globetrotter statements shock the curious traveller. I rode south, into a dry country. Was this a Mongolian climate already? After a while I turned east. The road was quite all right, maybe the first part was already renovated. I wondered when the bumpy part would start. As I had heard about few petrol stations along the way, I filled up after 130 km. I wanted to order 8 litres and showed eight fingers to the lady at the desk. However, she apparently understood „5.3 litres“. Actually, that was the right volume that fitted into the tank. The landscape was hilly and dry, with small mountain tops. Basically no traffic and a smooth ride. There were green valleys with rivers and floodings. This was quite nice actually. When would the bad part start?
After 270 km, the road got very bumpy. This must be it! Still 380 km to go! There were no holes, but one bump after the other. I slowed down to 70 km/h to make the ride bearable. After 5 km, this bad part stopped and a perfect new tarmac welcomed me back. I hoped this would last as long as possible….Suddenly I entered a very long construction site…the road turned into an off-road piste! 5 km later it was all rosy again.
After 210 km since the last fuel stop, I stopped at a dodgy petrol station. I ordered more petrol than I needed, just in case…this pump worked accurately, I filled up the tank to the max. This should bring me to Chita. Only 5 minutes later, I was hopping through a 7 km road works section. Bumpy bumpy bumpy….But the XBR has seen worse. The road ascended up to 1000 m and I was thankful for the coolness up there.
I was rewarded with an excellent road afterwards…the wind was blowing strongly from the back and I had to slow down the XBR, it wanted to go fast, fast, fast! Brrrrrr, hold your horses! 120 km/h is enough! I was hot now and this was more than enough. But the XBR seemed to like the ride, it purred like a cat.
It took several attempts to find a „Mini-Market“ in a petrol station where I could buy some water and a snack. Only two hours to go. The road was fantastic and slowly it occurred to me the notorious horror road has been turned in a quick high speed road between the to cities.
At 5 p.m., I filled up again in Chita and after a short ride through the city’s rush hour, I arrived at the hotel. Communication at the reception was difficult (no English). I parked the bike underground and walked the incredibly long way to my room. 210 steps, I counted them. That’s about 70 m. Including a ride in an elevator. The restaurant was a bit strange…first, I ended up in the wrong one (closed), it is situated next to the strip club „Roxy“ on the 11th floor. Actually, the Café is downstairs.This is a weird hotel indeed. According to booking.com, it’s the best in town, but I have seen better ones during this trip…
I have booked accommodation for the whole stay in Russia now; in Vladivostok, I could not stay earlier in the booked hotel, apparently a lot of places are booked now and prices (compared to the rest of the country) are very high. If I stick to the new plan, I will even accelerate to plan A -1 day, arriving on Friday night instead Saturday. It is slowly time to have a rest day, so the earlier I get to Vlad, the better. The only night where it was impossible to book something is tomorrow. There is very little touristic infrastructure in the Amur region. I will try to find a hotel somewhere, maybe in Mogocha, 600 km from here. 9150 km lie behind me, only 2850 km to go!
During the night, my right lower arm was aching which kept me a bit worrying. I got up early and left the hotel as soon as possible. The receptionist was as grumpy as yesterday. When I was about to take off, I read a message from Johannes about the carburettor spring, it can be changed to a softer position. I remembered this vaguely, but it was too late now, I was about to start. At a quarter to seven I left the parking. It was sunny and quite mild, probably another nice day was in front of me. At first, the road to Irkutsk was quite good, but then the unavoidable road works started. At least it was dry. Today, there would be to time zone change and the sat nav indicated an arrival time of 14:15! Well, I knew this would not be true, there would be road works, fuel stops and and and and….I estimated 5 p.m. But even this would be fantastic, the earliest arrival on the whole trip so far. My hand started to ache again. A cruise control would be nice now….But then then I had a fantastic idea, the best idea of the whole day: some days ago, I had spotted in one of the side bags of the tank bag a tool that was lying there since….the Ironbutt Rally 2013? It is called a “cramp buster” aka “throttle rocker” and helps to relieve the force on the throttle hand. You’re basically pulling the cable by the weight of your hand. No more pain the whole day, fantastic!
So I took the time and stopped for the first time at a works section. This picture shows and average construction site with the typical groves and some gravel. Real bad ones would consist only of coarse gravel.I made good progress and soon I had to fill up near Irkutsk. I had a little second breakfast and even the possibility to check the tyre pressure: everything still ok! I took the road to the west and slowly the road ascended towards some mountains. I realised that I had switched from plan B to plan A now! In my initial plan, John and I would have started in the morning from Listvyanka at the Lake Baikal shore and passed here at the same time. After one week, I had caught up the lost day resulting from the disastrous border crossing one week ago. Excellent. The road went over a pass of 999 m altitude before it descended again. Finally I spotted the great landmark of this trip: the Baikal Lake.
I descended to the lake and was surprised by the temperature drop of 10 degrees! I was fresh down here, only about 12 degrees. I rode along the southern shore now and I expected to find a certain touristic infrastructure, with some cheesy souvenir shops where I could purchase a sticker for my panniers. Nothing could be farther from reality. Along the whole shore, I couldn’t spot anything that could be related with trapping tourists….any tourist. I crossed the town of Baikalsk, where I found at least some nice motives:
It was difficult to get a clear shot on the lake and apparently the lake shore was not as important to the locals as in Europe. I took a decision to make a turn and enter a town where there was access to the lake. Finally I got to the shore and asked a Russian to take a picture of me. I learned a new Russian word today: “откуда (atkuda)?” meaning “from where?” My response is “Бельгия! (Belgium)”
Soon it was time to fill up again. It was a rather dodgy station with only two pumps and no tarmac. But stations got more and more rare at the south side of the lake. I ordered 13 litres (which was in principle too much)….and the tank was not full at all! Did I make a calculation error? I ordered another four litres….and the tank was not full! I started to worry….yes, the carb was leaking again, but had I really lost so much petrol during riding??? During the next hours, I was concerned about the leaking carb….I was still in a safe zone, but in the next days, petrol pumps will be rare. I stopped 130 km later again and filled 9 litres again…still not full! But then I started calculating….the only explanation was that both stations (Rosneft) had non-calibrated pumps that delivered less petrol than indicated. The 17 litres at the first station should have clearly overfilled by tank….but they didn’t. Cheaters!
The roads were sometimes excellent, sometimes horrible, and everything in between. Roads works came back. Suddenly I was stopped by the police. For the first time in Russia, I saw a cop with a speed gun! Uh-oh! He showed me that I had been riding at 97 km/h….so? He told me many things and then showed me “5”. “500?” I replied. He called his colleague and both of them tried to explain me the penalty. In the end I understood “5000”.
I laughed humbly. You’re joking, right? Ok, here we go….I took out my fake wallet with many bills of little value. Look, I only have….1500 Rubles….They gave in and typed “1000” on their phone. Deal! And off I went.
When I left the shore of the Baikal, the temperature rose immediately from 16 degrees to 26 degrees. Wow! So the lake acts a an enormous fridge in summer. At the second petrol stop I saw a young girl asking the clerk what braking fluid she should take. I indicated: “it’s either DOT 3 OR DOT4, don’t mix!” Outside, the girl was talking on the phone, otherwise I would have tried to explain that topping up braking fluid will not revolve her problem, whatever the problem was.
I was getting hot now and the vegetation changed as well. At the entrance of the big town Ulan-Ude I filled up again. Now I could see that everything was all right with the XBR, the two petrol stations were simply cheaters.
I activated my mobile phone navigagtion to the hotel and at 5 minutes to five, I arrived at the Mergen Hotel. A plush five star bunker with all amenities for the price of a modest single room in Europe. The next days will be shorter and the accommodation will be very simple. I had a shower and washed my riding gear. For the first time in the whole trip, I could relax for an hour on the bed. What a luxury. 8400 km. Eleven days. Like the Ironbutt Rally that will start in a few days. At least the distances will be shorter now.
Tomorrow will be a hard time, the road is notoriously bad and I expect a long day.
I visited the restaurant and chose some local specialities. Ulan-Ude is the capital of the Burjatian Republic and there is quite some Mongolian influence here. I ordered a fish soup with delicious fish from the Baikal, and, English ladies and gentlemen, please grab your chairs, Mongolian horse stew. Excellent.
I have some time to plan the next days. The most tricky thing will be to find accommodation after Chita where I will be staying tomorrow. But something will show up.
When I was writing the last post yesterday, I sat close to the reception for best internet coverage. I got to chat with the receptionist and told her a bit about the trip. Apparently, the hotel is frequented by Russian celebrities and rock stars. Unfortunately, none of them was known to me. I learned some new words in Russian and my plans for the next days were received with a certain smirky disbelief. It was a nice conversation but I had to hit the sack. In the morning I had breakfast at seven and got a cooked one: a massive omelette and some pancakes. Everything delicious, so I didn’t want to leave any. This took a while, so I left only at 8 a.m. Not without thanking the nice and friendly people from the Hotel Kupecheskij, their friendliness is outstanding.
The sky was blue but the huge flooding in Krasnoyarsk indicated that there must have been massive rainfall during the night. Luckily it was Saturday morning, so the traffic was bearable. Nevertheless it took quite some time before I hit the Transsib highway again. It was a lovely morning and with a bit of luck, I would finally escape the rain today (spoiler alert: I didn’t see a single drop today). The road was good and the views were relaxing. Nothing to report until I hit Kansk. The sat nav and the road signs were diverging again and this time I followed the GPS. Supposedly the shorter route, but I hadn’t counted on the road in the city. Very bumpy. And flooding. And a bit of mud as well. But at least the sun was shining. After 220 km, I had my first petrol stop. The distances between them gets shorter as there are less and less of stations.
Two hours later I noticed that my speedometer wasn’t working anymore. I stopped at a petrol station and investigated the problem. Yes, the cable was broken. Of course I carried a spare one. Fixed after 10 min. I decided to fill up already. A friendly old man tried to talk with me – from where, where to….petrol talk. I managed quite well the get the message across.
The highway was excellent now. Mostly in perfect condition. The bike was running fine at 110 – 120 km/h. Of course I was still passed by many cars. The bike seemed to like the new spark plug.
Trains were one reason to lose time; they are enormous! Road works are another. More and more stops were
necessary; every thing you lose about 5 min. I am riding a tight schedule, I knew I would do the 800 km in 11 hours and so it was. Clock went one hour forward again; this also costs one hour per day. I filled up in Nishneudinsk and had a „Danish“ hot dog. Not too bad actually.
Although the bike rides fine and the views are realaxing, there is a certain tension building up. I’m getting closer to the tricky part – the road between Ulan-Ude and Chita and the five days between Chita and Vladivostok where accommodation is very rare. If I’d have a technical problem there, I’d be in trouble. But let’s enjoy the nice ride now! In Tulun I changed the batteries of my spot, but as I found out later, I had pressed the wrong button the whole time, instead switching on the tracking, I sent OK messages all the time. Hmmm, is my attention going down? I don’t think so, but I have been riding 7700 km so far in ten days without a break, a certain tiredness wouldn’t be strange.
Another 140 km to go….the leaking carb was mostly under control, the (mostly) good roads avoided my back aching, but in the last two hours, my right hand and lower arm started to ache. The carb has a strong spring and you need quite some force to open the throttle. Do this 10000? 20000? 30000? times in ten days….
The road work got annoying. I was tired and had to stop many times. Once the guy was missing so I entered the passing and found some oncoming trucks who weren’t very happy about me.
Finally I took the turn to Sayansk and hopped a bumpy road for 10 km. I filled up at a dodgy station and arrived at a quarter to eight. The personnel at the Hotel Ermak is in sharp contrast to the previous night – they have a quite „robust“ attitude when it comes to pleasing the customer. Actually I felt more like an intruder spoiling their evening. I turned out that I had canceled not John’s, but my room which caused a bit of confusion, especially as there was no English spoken.
There was a big party in a hall, the people were not the greatest singers, but compensated this with devotion and volume. When I passed by the room, I was exposed to a toxic atmosphere of ethanol. But that kind of ethanol that had already passed the body once and was exhaled again. Impressive!
I had a quick shower and presented myself in the restaurant 20:20 as it was announced that it would close at nine. My request was received with some annoyance and the proposal „fish?“ was readily accepted by me. No beer though! Water then. A carrot salad as entrée, salmon with mashed potato and a pastry. For the tenth of the money like yesterday. But apparently not every hotel can be like Kupecheskij’s, eh?
Later I changed the setting of the throttle cable on the carb, hoping this will give less pain in the hand. Normally, without the delay at the Russian border, I had planned a short ride to the Baikal from here, with a relaxing afternoon for John and me as a reward for the last days. Also the next day would have been short. Now I will do the trip to Ulan-Ude in one go tomorrow, without stopping at the Baikal. A pity, but it means I will be finally back on track of the PLAN!
I will be another 800 km tomorrow, without a time zone change, but I don’t know how many road works await me. I better leave early. 7700 km done so far. 4100 km still to go.
You know what? This country is big…..really big. I mean BIG!
This morning breakfast was served only at 8 a.m. – too late for me. I had ordered a pastry in the restaurant the night before and made some tea in the kitchen. At 7:30 a.m., Alexander was waiting outside the hotel and we took off. Not without leaving a puddle of petrol before the entrance, ahem. We left Novosibirsk behind and rode in the sunshine, for a change. The road was not too bad and we made good progress. After a while we stopped and Alexander had his breakfast. My carburettor was overflowing like hell, uh-oh….what to do? It had done this before the trip once. As the behaviour is not constant, I don’t suspect the floater valve, but the floater itself. I continued, playing with the fuel tap, finding the right position to avoid overflowing during riding. After a while, I managed. At the next petrol stop in Kemerovo, the situation was ok again. During the rest of the day, the carb would work more or less, but only very little with the barely opened tap.
After Kemerovo, the roads changed from excellent to „mmmh, ok“. I could slowly feel my back aching. All these bumps and the saggy seat, not a good combination. Dark clouds surrounded us, but it wouldn’t rain yet. The road was wet, though. During hours! No problem with a good surface, but when the tarmac was in a lousy state….when entering Mariinsk, the city greeted us with a slipping back wheel! Oooooaaaaaahhhhh…
The bypass around the didn’t really seem like a good idea, but careful riding is the top priority. The road was rather slow, with mixed wet surfaces. Road works and railway crossings slow you down:
Alexander said that he had an appointment in Achansk for the tyre change, I would continue another two hours to Krasnoyarsk. The drizzle started and finally we got soaked a little bit. In Achansk, Alexander must have stopped and I lost him. And then I got lost, as the road signs and the sat nav were contradicting. It took a while to find my way out the city again.
Still 170 km to go, pfffff. It is the ninth day of the trip, and I’m constantly under pressure. Catch up with the plan. On day 9 in the Iron Butt Rally, many people have their low point. Well, it would be nice to have a rest day, but….actually, after three more „relaxing days of around 650 km, this is the first of four hard days of 800 km each, and the forth is the notorious Ulan Use to Chita piste (650 km). At least, the rain had stopped now…four days with rain, where is the promised weather change? Along the road, many dealers sold furs and had stuffed, entire bears in front of their tents. With about 30 km to go to Krasnoyarsk, the landscape and the temperature changed. The green grass land turned yellow and the air was suddenly warm….
I stopped at a petrol station and after a difficult communication, I filled the tank. However, the safety valve did not work and with a huge gush I distributed one litre of petrol over the tank and the hot motor! Aaaaargh! In panic, I pushed the bike away from the large puddle under it. I filled up the oil and 10 min later I arrived at the hotel. Not situated in a chic environment, but it is very charming with friendly personnel. To celebrate the first 6900 km, I changed the spark plug!
The restaurant is fascinating! It is equipped in Siberian style and appears like a museum. I am the only guest. The menu was very delicious, in the end I ordered Siberian dumplings and fried white salmon, a speciality and very expensive for local standards. But at least I have tried it once, it was very delicious. I washed it down with German beer…
Alexander will only get his tyre changed by noon tomorrow, but I have to leave early. I have informed him about my plans the next days, maybe he can catch up. It will be another 800 km trip tomorrow!
In the morning, I had breakfast at seven and started the day with sunshine. I could not leave before it was checked that everything was ok with my room. This was the case so I entered the Omskii morning rush hour. I had to cross the whole city and slowly, very slowly it occurred to me that I had made a mistake. As usual in the morning, the sat nav did not indicate the exact routing, but only the general direction. The road leading out of the city was very bumby. This should be the road to Novosibirsk? Probably I was doing a “shortcut”? And so it was. The roads was very bumpy, with lots of cracks and potholes, but in contrast to one day earlier, there were no huge bumps and it was sunny! So I went hopping for about 50 km, crossing a small town before I finally reached the Transsiberian Highway again.
What a relief! I rode again through the Siberian grasslands with lots of birch trees. After two hours, as predicted, the sunny weather ended and for the rest of the day, Banana Man was back. I noticed that the cover of the sprocket (where I had lost a bolt some days ago) was very l loose – the second bolt was almost gone. I tightened it, making this the first “repair” on this trip. Soon the rain welcomed me. For the rest of the day, short sunny periods alternated with light rain or even heavy rain. No reason to remove the rain suit.
After I while, I passed a Russian rider at the side of the road, exchanging friendly waves. Some time later, when I was (as usual) singing anything that comes to my mind (they had a 80’s Greatest Hits tape in the breakfast room this morning, soooo…), I saw the Russian biker with his ST1300 behind me. He made no sign to pass me, so we rode together for a while.
After half an hour, I needed to fill up and stopped at a rather shady station. The cashier was hidden behind a blackened, secured window, spooky. I had a chat with the friendly biker who spoke English. This makes communication so much easier than usual. His name is Alexander from Moscow and he said he was going to Vladivostok as well! We chatted a bit about our plans and continued our ride. It was strongly raining again and this time he was in the lead. When I followed him overtaking a truck, I noticed that the surface in front of me was cut away, leaving a myriad of little groves! There was no chance to stop the overtaking due to oncoming traffic, so I had to move back to the right lane! WOOOOOOAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!
The XBR turned into a Rodeo horse, kicking out with its back wheel. The front wheel was more of my concern, because this definitely mean touchdown. With adrenalin up to the eyeballs, I managed to keep everything under control. I had to reduce speed considerably and was soon overtaken by the truck again. Rule number one during all trips: keep the shiny side up! Don’t fall down!
A while later, we decided to stop for lunch and so I had my first typical road restaurant in Russia.
A pork chop with mashed potato and cabbage. Very good. Alexander told me that he has two months for his trip and that he spends the nights in ‘Biker Posts”, some hostels for bikers. He told me that the road would be fine, except between Ulan Ude and Chita. This I also read in other places, and Google Maps confirms this. We might ride together these days, although I have a series of pre-booked hotel rooms that I do not want to cancel. We’ll see how it goes. In any case, it is an advantage to have someone speaking the language and riding in front with a big bike.
We continued after filling up and the weather was the same mix as before. However, close to Novosibirsk, we got into heavy rain! Shortly after, our ways parted, but we’ll stay in contact. I headed to the local Honda dealer, Johannes had sent me the address yesterday. Much to my surprise, it was a combined Honda/Triumph dealer! Very shiny and modern!
I asked for a bolt to fix the sprocket cover, and please use some Locktite as well. Done! I chatted with the manager and bought two litres of oil. Yes, like the ones I left at home. They only had the modern stuff, like synthetic and 10W50. But ok, this will do; I’m using tractor oil now: mineral 20W50, haha!
I was disappointed with my new BMW rain suit. !49 Euros and I have wet pants??? Really? Grrrrrr……It was very warm now and I got cooked in my Banana suit. And I still had to survive the Novosibirskii rush hour as well! Lots of filtering through the traffic, one more petrol stop and then I was at the Ramada, where I left a little puddle of petrol in front of the entrance….it seems the carburettor float valve is not closing well, hmmmm. Closing the tap helps. One bolt of the pannier rack is a bit loose, I can’t tighten it…but with some of my monster zip ties, at least the tyre rack does not move anymore. Another oil check in the big parking garage…and finally I could strip my clothes in the room, I felt like a boiled egg! I have a whole appartment suite, not that I need it, but it is spacious. And for the price of a shabby pension in Western Europe.
In the restaurant, I wanted to order a beer from Andechs in my home area (haha), but there was nothing left. So finally it’s a local beer.
Today, I have ridden 6100 km since I left. Half time! Only 5800 km left to Vladivostok. And these will be the tougher part. But I have 11 days left, so this should be feasible if no technical problems occur.
This morning, the sky was grey and rainy. I had the luxury of a proper breakfast again. I advised that I wanted to remove the bike and that they should take care of the “Sabaka” (dog), I wanted to come out of the parking alive. The guy walked with me to the yard, but then walked away. So it was me against the dog. What can I say, I outpaced him. But it was a close shave.
I hit the road at 7:45 a.m., in full gear, including long johns this time. The weather was dull, occasional rain kept the road surface wet. After an hour, I was passed by the three Russian riders while waiting at some long roadworks! I catched up with them when they were having a break. I may ride slow, but constant. In Makuschino, I had to leave the main road, as it would lead into Kasachstan. The shortest way to Omsk cuts through there. As I have only a single-entry visa, this was not an option. So I had to go around and do some extra 150 km. When I turned, a nightmare started to evolve. It seemed to me that this was the worst road I ever rode on and that can still claim to be a “tarmac” road! Cracks, potholes, bumps and above, in wet conditions! It was so bad that I only could go at 70 km/h, or even 60 km/h. And then the temperature was 6 degrees with strong, icy gusts from the side.
What a ride! I spotted a petrol station and decided to fill up after only 185 km! I needed a break. Then I was at the pump, the other three Russian riders showed up as well. I “chatted” a while with the Gold Wing rider. Lots of petrol talk with little common words..
And on I went. How long would this road take? All the missing 350 km? This can’t be. I tried to ride as careful as possible, but I couldn’t avoid all the bumps the bike had to take. Morale was at a low. Why, why why am I doing this in spring? In the icy rain? Why????? Why Siberia in June?
Then, in Berdjuschje, I had to turn and the road got slightly better, but I still had to be very careful. Only when I finally reached the main road from Tjumen, the things changed. I rarely welcomed a proper road so much! But a doubt started to haunt me….could it be that my shocks were starting to fail me??? On the good road, nothing was noticeable, but with bumps I could feel the hard bump. My lower back started to ache….What if I was losing the shocks? I needed to act. I would stop at the next station and contacted Johannes by Whatsapp. This took a while….50 km and no petrol station in sight! Finally, one turned up. It was pretty old school, mainly for locals who needed Diesel. There was even no 95 octane petrol. I filled up with 92 (actually I was served) and was returned the surplus as I had erroneously asked for 16 instead 13 Liters at the pre-pay.
The vehicles that left the station seemed to like blue smoke, this was incredible! A tractor and a two-stroke motorbike left the station in a blue haze. In the meantime Johannes had provided some options: No chance to send new shocks, no much time, too risky with customs. But apparently some Harley models have the same shocks! There are HD dealers in Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk! I decided to look at this option later in the hotel. This problem troubled me the whole afternoon.
Slowly the temperature went up. Sunny with heavy rainfall in between. No reason to get out of the rain gear. I passed a strange landscape – grassland and trees, but whole birch forests standing in water with no leaves. A bizarre sight. I had to empty my bladder at a certain point and stopped next to the road. Only a small part of my body (ok, not THAT small) was exposed to the air in this process, but immediately many blood-thirsty monster mosquitos tried to have a picnic! What a mess! I tried to flush away some of them, but rather opted for retreat and fled this place!
I got closer and closer to Omsk. It was still early and I congratulated myself for changing the plan yesterday. These distances were feasible and give me enough time to rest. Some 20 km before Omsk, I was stopped by the police again. But….did I do something wrong? I wasn’t aware of…Ok, documents….I reached for my licence….and could not find it! Panic!!! Where was it? Then I remembered I showed it yesterday to the policeman….maybe in the fake wallet? Yes, there it was! Oufffffffff!!!! The policeman looked at it, showed it to his colleague and gave it back to me. Go!
In Omsk, it was sunny and warm now and i got slowly cooked in my “Banana Man” gear. I could still feel the strange effect when the shocks had to work. I had changed the setting to the max and this seemed to improve things a bit, but this was strange…I had the feeling that I was sitting on a board….and then I had an epiphany! What if the saddle was worn out? It’s a Russell Day-Long saddle, but…..what if? I had to stop for petrol again and checked the saddle….this was a possibility! I had noticed earlier that the shape had changed….I had bought the saddle in 2013 when I was a lot lighter…in a non-heavy duty version…I was sitting very much in front, due to the wheels in my back. When pressing the saddle, I could feel the hard plastic below. Can it really be? I called Johannes and told him the good news. He suggested to put something on the saddle if the feeling would change. So I rode the last 3 km to the hotel on my gloves and my fleece….and it felt great! Really? Well, this is definitely the smaller problem! Thanks Johannes anyway for the great help I hope I don’t need it and it’s only the saddle.
I arrived at the Hotel 41 with its iconic helicopter in front. At 6 p.m., although the clock had turned forward one hour. A relaxed evening? It was about time! And tomorrow the same distance like today! I really like my cunning plan.
My soup of the day was a classic Borshtsh, followed by some mixed meat platter. I’m sufficiently far from home to apply the “no fresh vegetables” rule now. No risks taken. Tomorrow I head for Novosibirsk!
Before going to bed last night, I had a brilliant idea….what if…I would consider the idea I had the first morning after our border disaster? Instead of desperately catching up the lost half day – what about falling back a half day and be in accordance with the initial plan, only one day late. It would make things so much easier – no monster rides, no desperate search for accommodation in the middle of nowhere, staying in nice hotels in the bigger cities….Instead riding like a berserk in three days to Krasnoyarsk, I could do it in four… But would I really be behind one day? I had had planned a short day between Kemerovo and Krasnoyarsk, and a very short day when getting to the Lake Baikal where I had planned us to pass a quiet day after 10 days of hard riding. If….I would skip the stay at the shore in Listvyanka (that includes going there and back from Irkutsk) and ride directly via Irkutsk to Ulan Ude??? This could work! I would be back on plan! What a cunning plan! It also leaves me one option: I could stay at the Eastern shore of Lake Baikal instead ot going to Ulan Ude, falling only 200 km behind the plan. With 3600 km to go and 8 days left, this should be no problem at all!
This meant that I could have proper breakfast this morning. No rushing in the early morning. It does not mean that the daily rides will be a piece of cake, but there is no need for monster rides of 1000 km or more per day. Not very appealing nor safe under these road conditions.
Finally I hit the road at 9 a.m. and first got lost, riding north instead east. Lost 20 km. But no need to worry, my daily plan was to get to Kurgan, only 720 km away. It was cool and cloudy. After half an hour, I got stopped by the police again! I was sure not to have crossed the white line…but maybe I overtook a car within the lane. Same game game again…do not understand…showed my licence…but the policeman also wanted to see the bike papers. I opened the left pannier and sighed loudly…the registration paper was buried somewhere in there….the policeman showed some mercy and said it was ok. But, I had to pay a “Straf”. Oh, this was different! He typed something on his phone…70? Oh, that’s cheap! Oh wait….Euro???? Ok, if he tries to play foul, I play foul. How much in Rubel? 5000! I grabbed for my fake “hold-up purse”…..look, I only have 4000 Rubel left…..He accepted and sent me away. Without a receipt, of course….Mental note: next time, put only 2000 Rubel in the fake purse…
This time I was wearing all my proper gear. But on the way to Chelyabinsk, I noticed that it got colder and
colder….chilling! I checked the altitude…oh! 440 m! I was riding up the Ural mountains. And then it started to rain lightly. This was the weather for most of the day. Dry, but with patches of rain that made the riding….interesting. I crossed the border between Europe and Asia without knowing where it was; unlike the route further north between Perm and Jekaterinenburg, there was no monument. This was touch, mountain roads, drizzle, and a gusty, icy wind from the west. Luckily, for the whole day it was blowing from the back, but when I had it from the side, the bike shook like a leave in the wind. I crossed several passes, the highest at 823 m altitude. This does not seem much, but the temperature was already low in the lowlands. Up there it was 7-8 degrees, but the strong icy wind made it feels 5 degrees less. And the XBR is not a spoiling bike, no fairing, no heated grips, no heated seat….I started to shiver….this was f*cking cold! When I had to fill up (Lukoil), I spent some time in the interior to warm up. I had another “Grill Dog” (LOL) and decided to put on the rain suit, not because of the rain, no! It keeps the wind out. Slowly it got warmer when I decended from the mountains…I saw some “working” ladies next to the road…in hot pants! And I was freezing inside my gear…two shirts, fleece, jacket, rain suit….brrrrr.
Down in the plain, it was less icy, but the wind still blew strongly from the back. The road turned into a dual carriageway and I took the long ring road around Chelyabinsk. When I got the wind from the side, I noticed how strong it was. I had to remove one ear plug, as the wind pressed so hard against the helmet that the ear plug got pressed into the ear…that did hurt! Without the ear plug, it was ok again.
The long road to Kurgan was filled with trucks that had to be overtaken…endlessly! I stopped for petrol again….warming up again. It was less cold, but still chilly. I got into a conversation with a guy from the station…without understanding all the words, we managed to get the message across….bike talk! From where, to where, he had a Honda as well, very good, etc etc. A nice guy!
The landscape had changed.Less forest, more grass land. But also some swamps. And mostly birch trees. Slowly the clouds vanished and the last hour I rode in sunshine. Interrupted by enormous road works. But at least I could pass to the front easily.
Just before Kurgan, I filled up again. When I returned to the bike, I was shocked: I found a puddle of liquid right under the bike! It took a while until I realised that it did not come from my bike and was probably water. I checked the oil level….a lot was missing! I filled up 0.6 L, quite a lot! On the other hand, I was riding hard yesterday, and in 1200 km, this is possible. I left most of my oil at home. But, in the worst case I buy some car oil, there’s plenty of it. No worries.
I arrived at my hotel, the “Cosmos Business Hotel” on Gagarin Street, next to the “enormous” airport. Four stars, haha. But clean and with everything you need. I parked my bike behind the hotel, guarded by a barking dog, gulp!
I had dinner with another soup, Solyanka this time. Not very local, but delicious. And some sizzling lamb meat, with some Russian red wine. Tomorrow will be a relaxing 650 km ride to Omsk, around the Kasachstan border. I did a check today, I have ridden a 4800 km so far. I only have 7000 km left to Vladivostok!
In the morning, we decided to change the plan of the following days. The cunning plan so far had fallen into pieces. Instead of Kazan, I booked a hotel in Nizhni Nowgorod. Still a 900 km to do today. In the evening, we would decide on the next days.
We started at a quarter to eight and rode through the green landscape. Sunny weather, a relaxing ride. After an hour, I spooted a petrol station and we stopped there. I wanted to pre-pay the petrol in the little house, but nobody was there…finally I found two woman: “no petrol!”. John used his jerry can to be on the safe side. Soon we discovered a shiny, new station where we finally could fill up. The next three hours saw more and more traffic the closer we came to Moscow. I spotted a car on the hard shoulder with a lost wheel. While I was still wondering how this happened, I saw two guys after one kilometre rolling back the wheel! Unbelievable! I was glad not to be the victim of this exemplary driver.
With a hundred km to go to Moscow, we had to fill up again and found even a working air pump. I told John that we could visit the Red Square for a picture, despite the massive loss of time. John then told me that he would quit in Moscow.
Well, this didn’t come as a surprise. As much as John is an experienced IBA veteran and one of the few people capable of doing this ride under these circumstances, this is not the perfect time for him. He had a loss in his family that kept him focussed on that matter for quite a while. I understand perfectly well how this affects your mindset when you should focus on something else. All his preparations were delayed. I guess he felt under pressure the last four days. And this can drain the energy from your body. I think he couldn’t manage to really enjoy the ride, and then he realised that he probably had bitten off more than he could probably chew. His old bike and he himself are perfectly able to do this trip, but this would need more time. My concept of the trip was always “get through Russia as quickly as possible” and then enjoy the riding in Japan. But this requires a tough ride. With our modern bikes, this would be a walk in the park (not really, but…), but on these old bikes, this is a totally different story. I fully understand his decision and under these circumstances, it’s the best he can do.
We rode to the centre of Moscow and took THE picture so far.
John asked me to guide him to the hotel we had booked the day before, he wanted to stay there. He checked in and then it was time for goodbye. I am sure John will design a new Plan that will make this a memorable ride (Murmansk? Nordkapp?). Good luck, John!
It was already 3 p.m. and I still had to ride 420 km! The traffic in the inner ring of Moscow and getting past the outer of the three rings around Moscow took quite a while, lots of traffic, lots of filtering. Argh. I noticed that my chain needed some tightening. I stopped, had a drink and fixed this. Aaaah, this is different! The next four hours were a wild ride, mostly dual carriageways, but many red lights, lots of traffic and crazy drivers who thought they were race drivers (real race drivers don’t drive so aggressively, though). I pushed the XBR to a new speed window of 110 – 120 km/h (70 – 75 mph). In the rays of the setting sun, I filled up just before Nizhni Nowgorod. I had booked a plush hotel in the centre to relax and to have good facilities. I crossed the Volga in the dusk, but had no possibility to stop for a picture. It felt like crossing the Mississippi….I checked in at the hotel (the receptionist spoke English!), had a shower, washed my riding underwear under the shower and went to the restaurant.
They had Belgian Affligem beer (!), and I ordered Schtschi soup and a Beef Stroganoff. All very good. I tried to figure out a plan for the next days, but the only certain thing was the next day and the ride to Ufa. Nice hotel in Ufa booked. Went to bed after midnight. It was a tough day (900 km plus the centre of Moscow).
I couldn’t manage to upload the video yesterday, so here it is….
Got up early today, had a shower and packed my stuff. At 6:30 a.m. I met John at breakfast. At 7:10 a.m. we started our day in nice sunshine. The hotel was conveniently located next to the motorway, in no time we were rolling towards Warsaw.
The road to the north east had a nice surprise: all the road works were gone and we could roll on a new dual carriageway. We could make up some time in relation to Garmin’s calculation. I had estimated a 10 hour ride for today. After three hours, we stopped for our first fuel stop. We could go much more, but we decided that this pattern (stops every 170 – 200 miles) gives us a good structure during the day. We met some bikers from Austria that are on a trip to Murmansk and the Norwegian west coast. But what was particularly different about them was the fact that one rider had only one leg! I have never seen this before. We saw them a couple of times today, they rode faster, but we more steady. After a friendly chat we continued our ride. The nice road ended in the north east of Poland and from there is was mostly a normal road to Kaunas in Lithuania. Which means overtaking, overtaking, overtaking. We might be slow on motorways, but we are quick on these type of roads as trucks block a lot of cars. But not us. Not for long. We stopped at the Lithuanian border sign as John did not have that picture. Close to Kaunas, we met a dual carriageway again. Riding was very calm. I didn’t find the time to take a picture of the many picturesque stork nests along the road…
In Kaunas it was time to fill up again and a quick Bratwurst hot dog. The motorway turned into a nomal country road again, but we made good progress. After the first massive bump at the village entry, we learned to enter the towns. A quick stop at the Latvian border. The clock turned forward one hour. In Daugavpils, I decided to ignore the bypass around the city and entered the city. I was simply curious. We saw our first Lenin statue and orthodox church, which golden tops were in stark contrast with the dull city. We arrived in Rezekne and filled up again. I had booked a new hotel that is really nice and well run. Glad I did that. The rest of the city is quite….hmmmm, dull? So finally a shower tonight nd a proper change of clothes. We had dinner together (rabbit liver, quite good) and pork chops. We had for the first time some time for a longer chat. While going through the plan for the next days, we realised what is ahead of us! Days 5, 6 and 7 will be massive! But we are seasoned Iron Butt Rally veterans, if we switch into the right mind set, we can do this. We just need to leave early on these days.
Tomorrow morning, we’ll hit the Russian border after 30 min. After the bureaucratic hassle, Moscow is calling!
This old, cheesy Schlager from the 70ies came to my mind when we entered Poland today.
In the morning, John arrived a wee bit late – he had not slept very well, he was too nervous. I could perfectly understand this, in the morning, my nervousness reached its peak. So after so much time, we’re really doing this!
A last goodbye and we set off at 8 a.m. There was a light drizzle that stopped soon. Riding together with a 50 year old bike needs some adaptation. We rolled at 94 – 100 km/h (60 – 63 mph) the whole day.
But the funny thing is – you still make some progress! We limited our stops to filling up and a necessary drink. Plus a sandwich at lunchtime.
For a while, I was nervous for different reason – I spotted that the voltmeter indicated a system voltage of 14.5 V! I remembered my problem in 2016 when a defect rectifier grilled some batteries…again?? But later, the value went back to the correct cut-off value of 14.4 V and didn’t rise anymore. Phew!
We decided to increase your distance between fuel stops. At this low speed, the consumption of the XBR is very low, about 4.5 L/100 km (52 mpg), this would give me a range over 400 km (250 mls)! But in the end we stopped every 300 km, it’s good to stretch the legs from time to time.
At our third stop, already in Poland, some Durch HD bikers started to chat with us. They claimed to have visited Irkutsk. And having ridden a Harley Davidson through the Gobi desert. Sure…
Before getting to the hotel close to Łódz, we filled up again. We checked in and John told me that he would go directly to bed. He got up very early today and we have done quite a distance, 1100 km in total! This will be the longest stint of this trip, at least by distance. I didn’t bother to change clothes and went directly to the restaurant.
I got what I wanted – good old Polish classics: Barzcz, duck breast and pivo (beer). Now I am pretty tired – some good sleep is needed. Tomorrow will be another long day – like so many that are ahead of us. Breakfast will be served at 6:30 a.m., so an early start is possible. Next stop is Latvia!
The XBR was refurbished some 18 months ago – another used, but younger motor and a lot of goodies and new spare parts. I rode it for 1000 km last year and had no issues (of course). As written in the last post, I had the crazy idea to build a tyre rack to carry two whole wheels. I had welded a plate for my rack in the back. This means that this time I will leave my big box at home. I had the idea to keep the rims in place by attaching an axle to the rack. My friend Heinz helped me and even sacrificed an old front axle of a CX500! The diameter was exactly turned and adjusted to my rims:
I discovered another problem…the type plate had suffered during the ‘fairing period’ in 2013 when I had attached Harri’s Habermann fairing during the 2013 Ironbutt Rally. The clamp broke the plate apart and entering Russia in 2016, I had to discuss with the Russian officer that yes, the plate is not entirely visible, but it’s the VIN in the frame that counts, doesn’t it? I got away with this, but I expect the Japanese customs officials to be more bureaucratic, so I needed a replacement. My friend Ton managed to get me some printed copy of my plate, thanks for that! However, I did not look exactly like an original type plate. In Europe, this should not be a problem, but what about Japan? I played it save and ordered a generic blank plate in Germany. The numbers needed to be hammered in the plate, and it almost looks if it was the original plate…
I did quite some test rides with the two wheels in the back, visiting Germany and England. Over this 1000 km, the rack proved to be stable (to my surprise, actually). I bought a scooter seat cover that I will use to cover the wheels and disguise them a bit.
During the test rides, I noticed that the carburettor gave me some problems…idle speed was not fine and once during one ride the throttle would not return to the idle position! I had a closer look at the carb…indeed, it seemed that the throttle did not move back smoothly. Hmmm, could it be that the Mikuni carb was already worn too much? After only 100.000 km on four continents? Maybe yes. But I still had the grey, Café Racer XBR with a new Mikuni carb, I could change it completely, together with the throttle cables…well, it was almost new. The only person who actually rode this bike after its refurbishment was – John Young when he had troubles with his Explorer and he borrowed the grey XBR from me to get back to England. Finally I swapped the carbs and…the bike ran fine in idle…very stable. Later, I visited Choice from Mainjet.de, the Mikuni expert, and he opened it. Indeed, many parts were worn. It did make sense to change the carb after all.
On my first ride to work, I ended up in a puddle of petrol, the carb was overflowing! Luckily it was a singular event. An additional fuel liter was installed!
I visited my GPS shop in Zolder and they provided me with some open street maps for my Zumo 590. Garmin does not provide maps for Russia nor Japan…I do have limited search function capabilities, but at least I I have proper maps on my Sat Nav.
As I couldn’t find my rain suit (!), I bought a new BMW rain suit at my local dealer. It is expensive, but it comes now with an integrated hood. This means that in heavy rain, no water can run down your neck any more, what a great improvement!
When I returned from my ride, I made a worrying discovery:
The bike smoked worse than a two-stroke Trabant running on a 33:1 mixture! But only from the left exhaust, only basically at idle speed. Hmmm…this pointed to some worn valve stem seals…A bit rare with the XBRs, but after 34 years, any seal under permanent heat stress can get too hard and lose its function. Only three weeks to go, and now this popped up! One thing was clear: the seals needed to be changed. In theory, I should be able to do it myself. However, my stress level was already increasing, not only because of this trip, but also because of all the other things I had to finish. If I would just ride around in Europe, I would have done it myself. I applied some risk assessment: during this trip, nothing can go wrong. We’ll be too far from home, under too much time pressure to reach Vladivostok to take any risks. I tried to contact some Honda garages, trying to get an appointment for this surgery….no chance. In my despair, I called my old mate Stefan, the best mechanic I know. He squeezed in a short visit to help me with the replacement, ten days before our departure. A 1000 mile trip for him. I ordered some specialised tools for the seal replacement, and got the seals and joints. The plan was to change the seals without removing the cylinder head. This is possible if you blow up the cylinder with compressed air. My spark plugs are smaller than the usual tools for cars, so Stefan sacrificed an old spark plug and turned it into an adapter for the air line. We worked together (compressing the valves, removing the valve collets, removing the valve springs, removing the old seals, putting on new seals, putting back the springs and collets) and after the first valve we got some routine and the seals were changed very quickly. The motor was closed and with great anticipation, the motor was started:
No smoke! The whole intervention was successful! Kudos to Stefan for his help! With the bike finally in good order, this gives a lot of peace of mind…
I have packed a lot of tools and spare parts, much more than I actually will need, but on this trip, nothing should go wrong. It goes into the tank bag to build up some counter weight for the wheels in the back.
The bike received new tyres, four in total. The cost less than the two tyres for the BMW K1600…
So the bike should be fine. For the next 12.000 km. Or 15.000 km. Or 18.000 km.
I still had to some paperwork…I needed to get a Carnet de Passage de Douane (CPD) for Japan. It took some weeks and a deposit to get the important document. The transport back is also arranged. For the bike and for me. I requested the insurance green card for Russia. I contacted Honda to find out where the XBR was built. After many attempts, I was told that is was produced in Kumamoto. So I will ride to the south of Japan as well.
I had started to learn some Russian online, but I couldn’t find enough time. My plan to study some Japanese was not successful. I did some basic study of Japan places to visit. But in the end, I will have two days on the ferry to make my final plan, having a look at the weather forecast.
You can follow my ride by watching my SPOT GPS track: https://spotwalla.com/tripViewer.php?id=1e0255ce46bfb61968&hoursPast=0&showAll=yes
Before I start to pack my bags next week, I go for a little ride to Britain – same procedure as every year! As the defending champion, I will ride the Brit Butt Rally 2019 this weekend, starting in Leicester. The little XBR still has to wait, this weekend it’s time for the beast again – the BMW K1600.
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.
Another motorbiking year gone, time to look back. It was a good year with many new impressions. It started with my new bike, the new K1600GT. A true monster bike. There’s plenty of everything. At the end of the year, it has 38.000 km more on the odometer. It could have been more, but more about this later. This is still a good distance, the average biker needs ten years to achieve that. For the first time, I rode quite a lot in winter, enjoying the heated gear.
The first winter trip led me at the end of January (!) to John Young’s bike meeting at his house in Staffordshire. I had never done such a long trip in the middle of winter before, but the heated gear makes winter riding a walk in the park. It was also the start of a series of rides to visit some places as part of the 50-50 Challenge, a 2018 programme to visit many places related to the 50th anniversary of the Triumph Trident triples.
Only three weeks later, I headed over to Britain again, this time with Gerhard and Thomas. The reason was a more serious one: we formed part of the large motorbike group that accompanied Bev Kilner, the late wife of Chris Kilner at her last ride to the crematorium in Aberstwyth in Wales. Bev and Chris had developed some great Brit Butt rallies. The ride behind the hearse through the sunny Welsh mountains at -1 degrees was unforgettable. I rode to Harwich, took the ferry to Rotterdam and attended the European Ride to Eat. Chilly, but as I said, the heated gear makes riding at the freezing point a piece of cake…
On the 28th of February, my ST1100, the bike that successfully finished the Iron Butt Rally 2017, arrived at home. It had taken James Cargo almost 8 months to return it back to me. Eight months!!! But that’s not all. All my belongings that were still in the panniers were mouldy and rotten. AND: James Cargo had lost my bike registration papers not only once, no, but twice!!! As a consequence, I declined the payment of the transport. My expenses had summed up considerably, not considering the reserve bike I had to buy (K1600GT), hahaha! I checked the bike and discovered that it was only riding on TWO cylinders…Resistance measurements showed a problem with one ignition coil. When I wanted to exchange them, I found a broken ground cable of the coil. A new cable later, and everything ran fine! No need to change the coils, as the resistance values were within specs. How lucky I was at the Ironbutt Rally 2017 when I ran the last 50 km on only two cylinders and made it to the finishing line!
At the end of March, I did a long trip to Andalucía in Spain and could test the K1600 for the first time on proper warm roads. It was a mixture between sporty riding and tourism, visiting Granada, Ronda, Gibraltar and the White Villages. I made another holiday stop in Northern Spain near Soria where it was considerably cooler. A really nice trip to welcome spring.
In April, I received an Emergency call from John Young from Holland: his Triumph Explorer had a problem and he feared he wouldn’t make it home. Without a second of hesitation, I wanted to help him to get back home. Hmmmm….this wasn’t easy…the BMW was at the dealer for a service, the Pan was still not running properly on all four cylinders after the IBR17, the black XBR had a small problem I can’t remember, soooo…..this is an example why you need more than one bike! In the end, the newly re-built cafe racer XBR was the only bike at hand….but it took John to his home place where he took his van and returned to pick up his bike.
In late April, I finished my bike preparation: a new Russell day-long saddle, the Maple platform with my old tourtank in the back, wind deflectors on the handlebars, and the Clearwater ‘converts night-to-day‘ Sevina lights. The bike was in proper rally mode now. I did a first test ride to my hometown in Bavaria and everything worked to my liking. I went to Viena, from where I repeated the ‘Viena – Hamburg Triple Run’ of May 2nd, 1968. Fifty years ago, the new Triumph Trident managed to do the distance in one high-speed trip, only interrupted by petrol and chain-servicing stops. As I tried to repeat the original ride, I started in Viena at 5:45 a.m., crossed through Munich and arrived in Hamburg at 2 p.m. after 760 km. In 1968, the testers of MOTORRAD had achieved a riding average of 140 km/h. With the Munich traffic, all the speed limits on the A7 and all the road constructions, it was impossible to achieve this. In the end, my average was 138 km/h, this was quite quick under these circumstances, but it demonstrated the exceptional, venturous ride of 1968.
The weekend saw a short ride to a German Ride to Eat at the end of the river Rhine in Holland. The special thing was that I rode two-up! The test of rider, pillion, gear and new bike in preparation for the common holiday trip in summer was considered successful.
The end of May saw the first rally with the new bike, the Brit Butt Rally 2018. It had a controversial new format, i.e. not claiming points at the end of the rally, but sending the pictures directly by e-mail. Again, apart from finding the best route to get most points, some mathematical puzzle using multipliers had to be applied. The ride was great, the bike performed fantastic, I visited Scotland, mastered a lost flag and found the right spots to take pictures from.
For the forth time in a row, I finished first place. The bike had passed the test.
In the beginning of July, I did my only trip with my old XBR this year, the ride to the yearly German XBR/Clubman meeting. On a short trip in the morning, my old buddy Jo was riding in front of me and overlooked a car that ran right into him! Luckily he could avoid the worst and only some light material damages were the result. A close shave!
At the end of July, it was finally time for some big holidays! First, I went with Gerhard to England again to participate in the Brit Butt Light Rally 2018. The last two years, I could not join and the BBL2015 was the last European rally that I couldn’t win…the bike performed well again and although I had some troubles during the rally, I told me not to give up and was rewarded with a first place. I returned home and started the trip to Kirkenes where I met MJ.
We started a fantastic Hurtigruten cruise from there and explored Western Norway on bike after arriving in Bergen. Really beautiful. Our journey ended in Oslo, from where I rode to Jönköpping where the European Tour 2018 started. After three exciting days, I was declared winner and managed to get home despite some cut-outs of the bike.
The problem came back during the Wolfhound rally. I had planned a winning route, but the cut-outs returned in Dublin, so I had to abandon the rally. I jumped on the ferry to Wales and made it to the house of John with some cut-outs. He offered me his van to return home the next day. What a generous offer, especially when he had to change his plans and picked up the van himself! So much appreciated. The BMW garage still could not solve the problem and when I just wanted to leave for the German Butt Rally in Austria, the bike stalled again. I received another generous offer, this time from Gerhard. He lent me his new GS1200 Adventure! Wow! I went down to Austria and built an easy route that was worth lots of points. What stroke me later was that nobody else saw this simple and quick route worth of lots of points. So I visited Upper and Lower Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Carinthia and Salzburg. I had lots of time left to spare, but the clever route gave me the fourth and last rally win this year.
As I stayed in my home region, I could do finally a nice trip with my mate Stefan, still on Gerhard’s GS. We visited Austria again and discovered nice roads in Styria that even I didn’t know so far. In fairness, the GS indeed is a nice bike for the Alps, no wonder it won most Alpenmaster trophies by MOTORRAD.
At the end of October, it was time for a last long trip: the German Ride to Eat to the Rhine source in Central Switzerland. I tried again the BMW and tested it with my new diagnosis tester: no error recorded. What had the garage done? BMW advised to disconnect and connect the main connector of the central computer ten times. This worked. Strange, but true. All this fuss because of a bad contact in the connector? The answer seems to be “YES!!!”
It wasn’t a motorbiking event, but many biker friends showed up at my big birthday party and covered my with funny presents. Thanks, mates!
The last ride out in 2018 was ‘The Long Ride to Peace’. I had invited British, German and Dutch friends to join me one weekend to visit the Flanders Fields around Ypres to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice of World War One. We met on Friday evening and set off on Saturday to visit places like Hill 62, Tyne Cot, Langemarck, Yorkshire trenches and dugouts, Menin Gate and the Flanders Fields Museum.
On Sunday morning 11/11, we met at 11 a.m. at the Pool of Peace to commemorate the end of the slaughter 100 years ago. A very impressive and touching weekend.
Concluding, a very good year indeed. Kept the rubber always down and had no big issues with the bike (excluding a stupid connector). It was a good rallying year, four starts, four first places. Have seen a number of great places, especially in the Nordic countries.
What’s on tap for 2019? Well, definitively less riding with the BMW, it will be a XBR year again. I haven’t done a long journey since 2011 and I had to postpone my next planned trip many times. Next year, it will finally materialise: a trip to Japan on my old XBR. The one that rode the Ironbutt Rally in 2013. A long ride through Siberia and a ride to the XBR’s origins in Japan. I had this trip in mind for more than 10 years, so it’s time to happen. Three years ago, my mate John Young proposed to join in and to do this journey together. We still had to postpone the project twice, but 2019 it’s time making it happen. Stay tuned!