The big Russian biker embraced me with vice
like bear hug before kissing me on the cheek;
I felt it only appropriate that I returned in
kind. Sinus “the Russian king of bikers”
and I were saying farewell and I was truly sad.
For years I had dreamt of doing what I considered
to be the ultimate bike ride, from London to
Vladivostok. It would be a ride into the unknown,
into the storybook historical lands of Ghengis
Khan and Tamerlane. A ride into blazing deserts,
soaring mountains and cities bejeweled with
magnificent centuries old architecture dotted
along the Silk Road.
While working in South America as a tour leader
I had convinced three other riders to join me
on “the last Stans” ride. Within
four months of our set departure date we met
Cathy McLean, an incredibly brave girl fighting
a losing battle with the rare and unusually
cruel disease of Freidreichs Ataxia. It was
hastily decided to turn the ride into a charity
ride and with Cathy, along with us, transforming
her support group, Freidreichs Ataxia Network
into a registered charity which still exists
today as a fundraising and support group for
sufferers of the disease.
Our itinerary had us sailing out of Newcastle
and into Bergen, southern Norway, before riding
across Sweden, Finland and into Russia. We then
planned to ride the “road of death”
in Kazakhstan before joining the Silk Road in
Uzbekistan. From Uzbekistan we planned to ride
into Kyrgyzstan before briefly entering Kazakhstan
and Russia again then riding into Mongolia.
From Mongolia we would enter Russia for the
last time and ride the legendary Trans Siberian
highway before reaching Vladivostok four months
after leaving England.
The bikes of choice were the Honda Transalp
650 v-twins and were fitted with 35lt fuel tanks,
Touratech panniers along with crash bars and
aluminium bash plates. Aside from these additions
they were stock standard.
The first few days were a disaster. Instead
of popping champagne bottles and a waving crowd,
we left Debenham, England, half a day late.
Within a few hours two of the four bikes had
broken down, we had become lost, it was cold
and we were hungry. Eventually all four bikes
broke down. The problem turned out to be that
the vacuum pumps supplied to lift the fuel out
of the tanks were not up to the job, we kept
running out of fuel even though we still had
up to 10lts on board. We missed our Bergen ferry
by two days. Getting to Vladivostok seemed like
a bad joke, let alone our intention.
The thrill and overwhelming anticipation of
what lay ahead struck us as we eventually sailed
into Bergen. We had left very early in the season
and snow still lay on the ground as we rode
North through the Western Fjords.
Voted as one of the worlds most scenic spots,
the fjord lands were stunning. The days were
spent hugging the dramatic deepwater Fjords
that were surrounded by snowcapped peaks and
the evenings were spent enjoying a beer at a
simple cabin situated at a ridiculously scenic
The riding became more difficult as we ventured
north. Our progress was being hampered by the
constant snow and at times raging blizzards.
Hours would be spent in truckstops gulping hot
chocolates as we attempted to thaw out.
Our original plan had us going to the top of
Norway to Nordkapp however the weather had slowed
our progress to a crawl. It was decided to drop
Nordkapp and ride the Lofoton Islands instead.
As we neared the Lofotons the clouds broke
and we were greeted by some of the most spectacular
scenery any of us had ever seen. The ensuing
30 minute ride was the greatest ride I had ever
experienced. Every corner was a scenic overload
and every vista literally took our breath away.
Tiny red roofed huts stood by the shoreline,
racks of Atlantic cod dried in the midnight
sun. Storms raged, briefly, above the dramatic
towering mountains that stood all around and
rainbows formed, dipping into the Atlantic.
The roads were in excellent condition and there
was no traffic, we felt as if we had stumbled
onto a biking Shangri-La.
The ride took on a new perspective as we entered
Russia. We faced new challenges with the language,
alphabet and Russian drivers. There is something
about riding in Russia that can’t be put
into words. It’s a unique, thrilling experience,
one that wasn’t possible only a few years
We rode onto St Petersburg then onto Moscow.
Riding into Red square was one of those magical
biking moments as we parked our bikes in the
shadows of St Basils. We continued onto Suzdal,
an old Russian village seemingly caught in a
time warp. The golden Cupolas of the many churches
glinted in the afternoon sun while the old crumbling
Kremlin stood like a sentinel over the tranquil
Crossing into Kazakhstan, the roads immediately
disappeared to be replaced by an incredibly
rough dirt track that stretched off to the horizon.
It was what we had come for, to ride the desolate,
silent and expansive Kazakh Steppe. Camping
out on the steppe in the stunning silence and
overwhelming loneliness are moments that will
stay with us forever.
The bikes were performing well despite our
best efforts to wreck them with numerous low
speed falls and frame smashing tracks.
The reception we received in the Kazakh cities
was nothing short of amazing. Locals seemed
to be overcome with joy that we had gone to
the effort to visit. People lined the footpaths
cheering and clapping, the drivers blasted there
horns with even the police joining in the celebrations
escorting us with sirens wailing and lights
flashing, it truly was incredible.
We entered Uzbekistan and rode into Tashkent.
No road is so evocative or as historical as
the Silk Road and we rode a lot of it while
we crossed the blazing deserts to reach the
Silk Road oasis cities of Samarkand and Bukhara.
Spending days in these cities was like stepping
back into history as we explored the Souks and
Medressas and watched as the setting sun drew
another day to a close over the Silk Road.
Within one day we had left the heat of the
deserts and climbed 3500mt into the cool magnificent
mountains that make up Kyrgyzstan. The riding
was brilliant as we rode amongst the Central
Tien Shan Mountains toward Song Kol. Song Kol
is a beautiful lake virtually engulfed by the
pristine wilderness, riding across the open
grasslands of the yawning valleys toward some
Yurts, situated lakeside, was the ultimate expression
of biking freedom.
The Yurt dwelling families greeted us with
a mixture of dismay and curiosity. Their welcome
was genuine and humbling, however, as they insisted
we join them for some food and salted mare’s
After a brief taste of how they lived, we rode
onto Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek where
we serviced the bikes and fitted a new set of
Metzler Sahara tyres for the dirt and sand of
Mongolia. The Continental TKC-80s had done 8000
miles and still had a few more to go but we
felt it necessary to change onto the dirt tyres.
Our days were spent riding and exploring the
wonderful alpine valleys that tumbled out of
the Central Tien Shan Mountains that border
Leaving Kyrgyzstan we again rode into Kazakhstan
before continuing onto Russia. No ride across
Russia would be complete without a visit to
Siberia’s jewel in its crown, Lake Baikal.
The world’s deepest freshwater lake is
magnificent, surrounded by pine forests, 100ft
tall cliffs and beautiful islands. The experience
was made all that much better as we were shown
around, for three days, by some of the boys
from the Irkutsk Motorbike Club.
One such member was Timur. Timur lead us out
to the lake on his home made bike. With a 1950
BMW motor fitted inside a Ural frame, a rear
wheel off a Lada and a hand painted fuel tank,
the bike was Timurs pride and joy. Of course
things like bike registration, indicators and
brake lights were considered a silly extravagance.
rode onto Mongolia and into a land of indescribable
beauty, unbroken vistas and utter silence. The
riding quickly became the most difficult we
had encountered, yet we reveled in it. Navigation
proved impossible even with our GPS units as
we rode across the vast empty landscape. Scrambling
up unmarked passes, falling into freezing rivers
and tip toeing across ancient lava fields became
daily events and we loved it, hoping that it
would never end.
End it did though as we yet again crossed into
Russia and entered the endless Russian forests
of the Taiga.
Trans Siberian Highway was declared open by
Vladimir Putin some years ago yet it is anything
but. 1100 miles of dirt and mud awaited us.
The days were spent riding the world’s
longest highway through the endless Taiga forests
of Eastern Siberia. The forest itself was turning
the colours of autumn and we rode through a
kaleidoscope of colours as far as the eye could
see, it was spectacular.
15,500 miles after leaving England we rode
elated in Vladivostok. It was a moment I had
dreamt about for years and it was a moment that
didn’t disappoint, the knot in my stomach
tightened and a lump in my throat rose. “We
did it” I thought, “We did it”.
I struggled to keep focus on the Vladivostok
traffic; my vision had suddenly become misty.
With one final kiss I waved Sinus goodbye,
“you good man Mick” he bellowed,
but I couldn’t agree, for Sinus epitomized
all the incredible people we had met along the
ride, the very people that will stay in our
memories forever, the people that made the ride
what it was, “amazing”.
The four Transalps did an incredible job, we
suffered two cracked radiators, one leaking
rear shock and a seized carburetor (only after
the carby ingested so much dust through a cracked
air box drain line that it wouldn’t run).
Not a single drop of oil was used in 62,000
miles, combined, that the four bikes had covered,
not bad for four hopelessly overloaded 650s.
In the end we raised $20,000 for Freidreichs
Ataxia Network. The fundraising struggle continues
to this day as does Cathy’s struggle to
Our main concern during the ride was that the
moment we reached Vladivostok the interest and
therefore, fundraising, would stop, to an extent
this has happened.
This ride and the desire to continue the fight
against Freidreichs has been the catalyst to
the formation of Compass Expeditions a motorcyle
expedition company offering the London to Vladivostok
ride as well as an extensive list of expeditions
covering South America. Part proceeds of each
and every expedition goes to our charity, the
charity we, along with Cathy McLean, established,
Freidreichs Ataxia Network.
For more about the ride, us and Freidreichs
Ataxia please visit us at www.compassexpeditions.com.
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