Expedition rides abroad are a unique form of motorcycling, to the usual concerns of adventure motorcycling around bike maintenance, injury prevention and treatment you can add the following
1. How to deal with the language barrier
Language. We speak English only and while Jo is adept at mastering a few phrases in the local lingo, I’m a moron. I learn the words for hello, thank you, please, cold beer, and toilet. The rest I get by with sign language – if I want a chicken meal I act like a chicken, if it’s beef I moo, for lamb or goat I bleat and so on. So long as you are infectiously friendly you get what you want in the end. Never speak louder because you can’t get your point across, always be friendly and make it obvious your trying. We always give people things too in order to break the ice. We carry business cards with a map of all our trips on the back, we also carry laminated maps of our route that we can use as a talking point with people – even though we have no common language. It never fails.
2. Interactions with border officials
Border officials can be arseholes, this is the area of most frustration. They have you by the short and curlies so you either comply or you fail. Bribes are never big – a bottle of coke might help say, but never anything more than that but 95% of the time you don’t need anything apart from patience. Don’t shout at them (easier said than done, I often do) as it can make things go a lot slower. Again a friendly disposition, get them talking around your laminated map so the ice is broken.
3. Managing social interaction with the local peoples
Local peoples – this is the richest part of the experience. If you go through a country seeing the sights, but remain insulated in your own little travelling group and minimise your interaction with the locals, you have failed. It’s an adventure ride not an expedition. We’ve always found that the twice daily chai stops and the lunch break to be superbly rewarding and where we really get the full experience – invites into homes and businesses etc. This is what global travel is about. Make it a central part of your day. You can see all the sights on the internet.
4. Handling the food, prevention of dietary-induced illness
Food. It is highly variable in both quality and safety. Our experience has been that if you get crap food it normally passes through within an hour and you’re right again. So always carry a little bit of safe food with you (biscuits, noodles say) just in case you can’t find any local fare that doesn’t give you the squirts. Also sanitation is a big issue so carry those alcohol washes and always clean your hands before and after eating. With water we don’t buy it generally, we carry a ceramic water filter and fill our water carriers with filtered tap water.
5. Navigation that enables you to get the best from your short time at each location
Navigation. The GPS has revolutionised motorcycling expeditions. With paper maps we’d always overnight on the outskirts of towns because we’d lose way too many hours navigating in and out. No longer – we always ride to the centre of town, park the bikes and find accommodation. The result is a far richer experience of the urban environment and total immersion in the local society. Getting good mapping on your GPS with autorouting is an absolute must before you leave home. It simply has enriched the experience beyond question.
6. Catering for variable fuel supplies and quality
Fuel. We seldom run out of fuel – and our bikes never have enlarged tanks. Weight is a real battle on bikes anyway and to be carrying extra litres of fuel unnecessarily is just not smart. When we do find that fuel is going to be an issue, we buy some containers and strap them to the bike emptying them into the tank as soon as we can. Then we dump the containers or carry them on empty.
Quality of fuel is another thing altogether. We’ve been on fuel as low as 72 octane and at altitudes of over 4,000 metres. That makes for interesting riding. This is where fuel injection comes into its own – it simply is a lot easier for dealing with crap fuel. But electronic componentry isn’t everything and if you’re unfortunate enough to drown your bike in a river and its electronic ignition then more than likely you’ll be needing to order in electronic modules – and that could delay you for quite some time. So being able to readily service your bike is good but the modern electronic intensive bikes are way more reliable anyway. No easy answer here – the choice depends on the ride you’re doing
We never borrow for the bikes. We have elaborate but totally fraudulent documents for world motorcycle insurance that sometimes work on border officials, other times we have to just pay up. What you really want is health insurance with an evacuation clause. That is getting increasingly difficult to get but is still possible, especially if you don’t mention the motorcycle.
8. Ask for help when planning
Chances are someone may have been down the road you are about to travel, so why not ask them for help. Their a loads of websites out there with very active motorcycling communities. One of the ones I check out when about to go on a new expedition is the Horizons Unlimited site.