Nostalgia’s getting better all the time
I’m getting an itchy backside. No, it’s not what you might think (I hope, anyway), it’s just that Ted Simon seems to be on his third ride around the world and I haven’t done one for years. Plus, I now have a motorcycle I’d love to use for such a trip.
Yes, the little BMW XCountry is casting its spell. I know that the “new” G650GS is probably a better bike in several ways, but I’m riding the XCountry quite a lot and I enjoy it every time. That’s both for commuting and for long-distance touring with the excellent Hepco & Becker aluminium luggage, and for just about everything in between.
The way the bike is set up now, it would be just about ideal for a really long ride, to Europe or even all the way around. It is especially light, with a dry weight of only 148 kg, which can be very handy if you need to fly it anywhere or, indeed, pick it up from some third-world drainage ditch. The suspension is soft enough to make it comfortable on third-world roads, as well – and even on NSW roads if you’re careful – but resilient enough to be fun. The seat is relatively low, so “paddling” through Calcutta traffic would not be a problem. The tyres are tubeless.
You will have read about our work on the bike in these pages, but perhaps I’d better summarise it very quickly.
We’re using BMW’s own versatile, neat and strong tank bag. Advantages include the zip-open extension and a clever waterproof map pocket, while disadvantages are limited pretty much to the fact that the bag is not secure and can’t be made secure. For “international” riding you’d want to take it with you whenever you left the bike (which is not a bad idea anyway) or make sure it had absolutely nothing in it you’d miss seriously if it was suddenly gone.
The main cargo capacity is provided by a pair of Hepco & Becker panniers on that company’s frames. These also include a small rack. Distributed by Motorcycle Adventure Products in Australia (07 3139 0387, www.motorcycleadventure.com.au), the top-opening aluminium panniers are strong and versatile. You can use them as seats or tables when you stop. It would be possible to strap stuff to their handles, too. Inside they are simple boxes, without protuberances to make packing difficult. They lock and lock onto the bike, which is very useful.
More luggage space is provided by one of PacSafe’s seat bags. This offers quite a bit of extra capacity and is constructed with a layer of strong wire mesh in the material, making it just about impossible to cut. It also locks shut and locks onto the bike with a strong wire cable and a single padlock (Andy Strapz, 03 9770 2207, www.andystrapz.com).
That leaves the rack.
This is vital because it makes it possible to overcome one of the bike’s few limitations, the small 9.5 litre tank. That’s actually not quite as bad as it may sound because I’ve had more than 250km out of the tank with some fuel still in there. Nevertheless, the rack means you can carry extra fuel without making special arrangements. I use a plastic 5 litre lawn mower fuel container, strapped on with an Andy Strap and locked on with the security cable from the PacSafe bag if necessary.
Is that enough luggage space for an around-the-world ride?
Well, let’s take a look. Your luggage is going to consist of three basic “groups”. That’s stuff you’ll need every day; stuff you’ll need very occasionally; and stuff you hope you’ll never need. The third category is made up of your first aid kit (see below) and your photocopied paperwork plus spare credit card and travellers cheques. It goes at the bottom of one pannier. This is the pannier you will always remove and take into your hotel room or ferry cabin with you, where you will lock it to something solid. This pannier will also contain most of your clothes, a pair of very light slip-on shoes, your wash bag (toothbrush etc) and your diary and maps. Consider taking a silk sleeping bag liner – some third-world hotel beds are really third-worldly, although I’ve never encountered bedbugs. Unless they just didn’t like me.
Stuff you’ll need very occasionally includes your toolkit and spares, which goes at the bottom of the other pannier, and your “good” clothes for border crossings and civilised evenings out. These are invaluable to make you look respectable, which can speed up crossing formalities very substantially. I used to carry a non-crushing polyester safari suit. You can stop laughing now, it looked naff but it worked. This pannier can also hold the clothes you know you’ll need some time but aren’t wearing currently, such as the long underwear you’ll want in the mountains.
As for the stuff you’ll need every day, some of it (like your camera and the map you’re actually using) will go into the tank bag – but do remember to take this with you whenever you leave the bike! It can also hold sunscreen, insect spray, pocket knife, water bottle and so on, but don’t overload it if you’re going to be carrying it up those 1000 steps leading to that amazing temple. The BMW tank bag has no shoulder strap, but we have worked out a way of fitting one – just clip it on. Keep your spare keys in here, too, right at the bottom and ideally attached to the bag so they can’t fall out and leave you stranded when you lose or break a key, which you will, especially if you don’t have a spare.
Paperwork, cash, credit cards and travellers cheques should be in a chest or belly pouch – out of sight and impossible to leave behind somewhere.
Extra fuel can go on the rack.
The rest of the everyday gear belongs in the PacSafe bag, where it’s easy to get at. This is also a good place for your book – got to have a book, travel usually includes interminable waiting at some stage and you’ll need something to relax you before going to sleep. Add a lightweight rain suit if your normal riding gear isn’t waterproof. That will leave some room in this bag, but don’t worry – you’ll think of a way of filling it up.
Last time I did the trip it was easy – the only real barrier was Burma, which was closed to through traffic. It’s a bit harder now, with northern Pakistan and Afghanistan right off my list for the time being. But other possibilities have opened up in China and Russia, and southern Pakistan seems relatively safe as I write this, anyway.
The important thing, no matter where you’re going, is to check and check again. Your first stop probably should be www.smartraveller.gov.au, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website. In my experience, DFAT, in the form of Australian embassies and consulates, will not help you much when you’re overseas, beyond very basic consular contact. If you are in trouble somewhere, get relatives and friends to lobby your local parliamentarian to push DFAT to help you; that can work. But its advice can be very useful while you’re still here, although it does lean towards the ultra-cautious. The health information is always invaluable.
There will be many individual websites for the countries you may consider visiting, but one that’s more general and useful is www.lonelyplanet.com. Not only does it direct you to the appropriate printed guide, it has a lot of up-to-date information and it tends to keenly point out freebies. As well as that there are comments from actual real travellers, many of them quite recent. That can be an eye opener, no mistake!
Something that many people (including me sometimes) forget to consider is the weather, or rather the climate. Going to Malaysia? Check the timing of the monsoon. No, it doesn’t rain all the time during the monsoon but it does rain every day, and roads can be affected. Going to Europe? When are the passes closed for winter? I recently tried to ride up to the famous Stelvio Pass and found that its surroundings were feet deep in snow and the maximum temperature was minus 2. It was officially open, too!
Cold, excessive cold anyway, is bad but so is excessive heat. I’m just about to set out for Death Valley, California; in summer, of course. It’s currently 41 degrees – and that’s partly cloudy! What was that about following your own advice? The mercury hit 47 on a recent trip I did through South Australia.
Planning encompasses other things as well, of course. Like, will you have enough money? In Asia, the word “backpacker” describes someone who in effect is a bum. You do not want that word applied to you and to avoid it you need a reasonable amount of money to show at the border.
Ah, borders. Will you need a visa? If so, should you get it here or wait for the border? You will almost certainly need a Carnet de Passage et Douane, a kind of passport for your bike. Ask at your local automobile club (NRMA or RAC) because that’s where you’ll get it from. They will be able to tell you if you need one for the particular countries you want to visit. Most (but not all) countries now accept our photo licences, so international drivers licences are less important – although some rental places may still insist on them.
Don’t forget that health comment above and get all the necessary shots. Then use insect repellent to keep mosquitoes away and/or wear clothes with long sleeves. There’s always more; do your research and don’t, whatever you do, go off half-cocked. I’ve seen that too often and usually the person responsible also needed the contents of my first aid kit.
I mentioned the first aid kit above – start with a recognised kit, such as the one you can get from the St John’s Ambulance in NSW, and build on it with prescription drugs from your doctor. Just tell him or her where you’re going and when, and they’ll know what to give you. If they don’t, a quick look at www.smartraveller.gov.au will get them up to speed.
And, to conclude…
Hmm, this story has turned into advice for globetrotters, which is not what it started out being. It was just going to be a ramble about how I miss doing the big ks. But that’s okay, I’m not entirely out of the business. I’ve just spent four days buzzing around the South Island of NZ with a couple of mates and I’m off to zig-zag around California for a couple of weeks, and then we’re going out to White Cliffs, so maybe I don’t actually need an around-the-world ride.
It’d be nice, though.