The Weakest Link

Expedition motorcycling is different to any other form – whether it be cappuchino canters on the road, adventure rides, trail riding or touring. The requisite motorcycling skill is necessary of course but beyond a certain competency that factor becomes irrelevant. In self-organised expeditions like the one we’ve nearly completed everybody has to bring something to the table – to take responsibility for some aspect of the organisation – whether it be logistics, medical, mechanical or maintenance. That too is taken for granted.

By far the most important attribute (and difficult to find) in a rider though is they must be selfless. In other words on the road they must always be looking out for the welfare of the others. This, beyond anything else is what differeniates expedition riding from normal touring, where self-preservation (and typical of motorcyclists self-interest) is all that matters. The reason is obvious. An expedition ride is long, covering several months, often with a number of countries and the achievement is to get everyone to the end of it. If one bike goes down excluding its rider from completing, then the expedition fails. For this reason especially, ensuring that help is not far away is of primary importance.

On a less dramatic but still important scale, there’s the cost to the itinerary of a rider or machine being taken out, the delays in getting both repaired so as the trip can continue. Unlike a normal tour you can’t just call up the local dealer to fix the bike, or send the rider to the nearest hospital and continue on. So the quicker support arrives from other team members the quicker the trip can resume.

For these reasons an expedition ride really only works if each member takes responsibility for the one behind them, making sure they are continually in touch with them. The rider in front of one is pretty well irrelevant (so long as they stay upright!), it’s care of the one behind that matters. Under this approach, when a bike stops with a problem, before long all bikes have regrouped at that spot – and the full assistance capability of the group is at work.

But if one rider ignores that simple rule and rides as though they’re on a cappuchino canter around NZ say, looking out simply for themseleves, then the expedition team is weakened markedly. Others may try to compensate for the recalcitrant but this becomes a distant second-best approach. Long delays and huge doublebacks to trouble spots will ensue.

As a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, an expedition team’s on-the-road efficiency is constrained by the unreliability of its weakest link. I’d estimate that the cost to a group of having a single member unreliable in this regard, is that traveling time is raised by about 40%. The reason is you never know whether the guy behind you is the unreliable one and that you should therefore be ignoring them. Each time you determine it is him, you then have to stop and determine that the rider behind him is intact – that’s the hassle, the pain that unreliability instils.

It’s hard to get the perfect team. It would be glib not to acknowledge that the Silkriders have had our problems on the road. On the five expedition rides I’ve done abroad, this particular trip has come closest to perfection – easily. But perfection we have not attained – despite the fact that as yet we haven’t (touch wood) had a major casualty go unattended as a consequence of that imperfection. We have though been facing longer transit times per section as the trip nears its conclusion. I’d say we’re down to 30% below what we could be now.

The thing about continual improvement is that there’s always another expedition awaiting to make that next step up!

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