06 March 2008

The idea is born

So where should I start? After selling our company in July 2007, I took some time to travel around the US on a motorcycle. Liked the trip a lot, and generally liked traveling by motorcycle. Here's my first bike in Glacier National Park (currently parked in DC waiting to be sold):

It's a great bike, but a "cruiser" style, and I didn't feel confident taking it down gravel roads to trail heads, camping sites, etc. And I'm not really a "polish the chrome" kind of guy. At the same time, out west especially I noticed quite a few funny-looking, really rather ugly, BMWs with big aluminum boxes on the side, everything covered in dirt. These were "dual sport" bikes, in particular BMW's take on the dual sport: the GSs, or Gelande-Strasse (ie, on and off road) meant for traveling off the beaten path. Lots better for serious traveling:

  • bigger wheels,
  • better suspension,
  • better riding posture,
  • better windshield,
  • more power,
  • more rugged,
  • no chrome,
  • much bigger fuel tank (8.7 gallons).
Kind of ugly, but much better to ride. Bikes you can take almost anywhere, certainly on any type of road. This ad clinched it for me ;-):
Anyway, after renting one for the day while I was in Vegas, I ordered the latest GS (2007 R1200GS Adventure) while I was in Utah, with delivery planned for late October. Here's the bike on its first foray outside of DC, to the Shenandoahs in early November 2007:

I guess the real reason the GSs appealed to me so much is that I had realized that motorcycles and adventure travel were a perfect match. I tired of the backpack/bus/hostel routine many years ago (too slow, inflexible), and the backpack/rental car/hotel routine (too boring) not long thereafter. On a motorcycle, especially a dual-sport, you can go anywhere, don't have to physically carry your stuff on your back, but aren't enclosed in the isolating bubble provided by a car. Perfect!

Anyway, at some point last year while surfing the web I found a motorcycle trip from Beijing to Munich, organized by a group which shall remain unnamed (you'll see why) but which I'll call the "Organizer". The Organizer sets up trips all around the world (Silk Road, Africa, Southeast Asia, etc.). The trip looked pretty serious, and those wishing to participate had to submit an application to determine whether you had the riding skills and temperament to make the journey--the Organizer said that participants typically had been riding for many years and many hundreds of thousands of miles. At the time I had been riding for about three months and had a total of 1600 miles under my belt. But how hard could it really be?

Usually I avoid organized group trips like the plague, because having someone else do all the planning takes a lot of the fun out of the equation for me. In this case, while I was confident that I had the necessary travel experience to do this kind of trip on my own, I had to acknowledge that my almost total lack of motorcycle knowledge/experience meant that going with a group would be a much better idea, at least this one time.

So I submitted an application to the Organizer, playing up my extensive travel experience despite my rather limited riding experience. They basically told me that because of my limited experience and my type of bike (BMW R1200C), I wouldn't be a good fit. But if I got more experience and a more suitable bike, they'd reconsider.

Anyway, I ended up meeting with one of the Organizers last fall at a BMW campout near Seattle, with a bonfire, food, beer, whiskey, cigars, and a bluegrass band--a great time!

I completed my US trip in mid-October and picked up my new GS at the end of October, and basically rode it a bit all winter. Went on short trips to the Shenandoahs, Gettysburg, and lots of rides up to White's Ferry outside of DC.

So the new GS and the 15k miles from the US trip were enough to convince the Organizer that I could make the trip from Beijing to Munich, so I began thinking about some add-ons to make it a proper round-the-world trip:
  • ride from DC to Seattle, where it would be put into a container for shipment to China,
  • ride from Beijing to Munich as part of the Organizer's trip; and
  • continue on to Brest on France's Atlantic coast to make it "around the world".
Hopefully I'd pick up enough mechanical experience to be able to do similar trips completely solo in future.

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