Life on bikes

You’re rarely on your own on a solo motorcycle trip

Many people fear the idea of a solo motorcycle trip. Dutchie, our resident itinerant wants you to know that most of the time on the road, you are rarely lonely. As his stories over on At The Handlebars constantly prove, you’ll meet plenty of people on the way, many of whom you’ll find yourself riding with.

The beginning of the grinning

Motorcycling has brought me in touch with different kinds of people. Postal bike hooligans; old timers atop ancient Ural bikes, resplendent in leather trench coats and goggles; dirt-obsessed overlanders aplenty… all of whom I identify with immediately.

Throughout my experiences of crossing paths with this motorcycle mad bunch, there sprouts an instant feeling of kinship when you meet them on the road (the occasional dick excepted).

Image: atthehandlebars.com Another old Armenian chap and his Ural

It’s exciting, meeting another rider doing the exact same thing you are, someplace new, halfway across the world. You’ve both generally got an instant grin on your grime covered face and a light-heartedness at your side… even if you both look like you’ve just travelled through seventeen time warps on other planets.

The meet and greet

As these meetings can be few and far between, the greeting usually involves more headlight flickering than a dance party, awkward arm movements and somewhat doubtful bike control amongst all this. Realistically, we could just simply pull over safely to the side of the road and say g’day properly, but hey, we ride bikes, half our sense went out the window when we began this riding malarky.

Before long you’ll start yammering on about bikes and roads and get the low down on each other real quick, and that’s generally where it all begins. Sharing experiences and talking bikes – you know, everything from what tyres you’re running, to that time you had to drag your bike back from the edge of an anus-clenching freefall into Morocco’s Dadès Gorges.

Before you know it, you’re riding some silly road that you’d never ride on your own, with someone you’ve just met, out of love for the same thing. That kind of makes us kin right?

Together we roll

Riding around with your new friend a thousand new doors that weren’t there before suddenly appear. Offroad tracks that you previously envisioned as a deathtrap of burnt clutch plates and flat tyres now appear like a fun gallop through a field of flowers instead. Of course, these doors are not limited just to the on road aspects.

Having a second man around is priceless when it comes to a bit of mechanical know how. Chances are, one of you knows something the other doesn’t and that generally goes both ways. It’s a godsend when you get a flat rear tyre and the bead won’t break. Especially helpful when you need someone to hold the torch during the wee hours.

Then there are all the memories you build together. Every rider I’ve had the pleasure to ride with has helped create some amazing memories, like seeing the Karakoram Highway for the first time. Or riding out to the centre of Kapadokya in -7 degrees to see hot air balloons rise with the sun. That kind of stuff is priceless in my books.

The small things, which I have begun to feel are an important part of a riding partnership, should never be overlooked. Splitting the cost of a room or a meal, or the other half of the pair going for a walk and bringing back a snickers bar and cold tinny. All that stuff keeps your head well above water.

Your base fears melt away much quicker because you know the cavalry is right behind you. Let’s not kid ourselves – sometimes we try to overcome those fears on our own, and sometimes we fail. And when that happens, it’s nice having that extra set of hands to help dust us off and push start once more.

atthehandlebars.com
Pic: atthehandlebars.com Heading off road is less daunting with a buddy around

Sunrise at Kapadokya

One cool afternoon after a day ride with Amis, a mate from Tunisia, I parked my Triple next to an absolutely filthy GS700. Covered in a combination of eagle feathers and all kinds of muck, it looked like it had seen its own adventure – inside another adventure.

Casually strolling out of my €5 a night hostel came a short South Korean, wearing down overalls tucked into some fur lined, Mongolian leather boots. Soon-Ki grinned and I returned the favour. It didn’t take much to get the conversion going with a knowing “this your bike mate?”.

A few hours later over dinner, I posed a question to Soon-Ki, who was gazing at his beer lovingly. “I’m off to the viewpoint for sunrise tomorrow mate, do you want to come?” to which he replied with a laugh, a swig of beer and a “Yes”.

On the road during the wee dark hours of the morning, my fingers were ready to drop off. My eyes streamed rivers, and nose dripped salty boogers. Soon-Ki rode behind, bare hands underneath his handlebar boxing gloves – also lined with fur.

Shortly thereafter, we arrived at our destination and walked down the side of a mountain. All we had to do now, was kick back and enjoy the show.

As the dark slowly receded, the pinks and purples of sunrise melted into the horizon. The occasional hot yellow flare of a hot air balloon lit up the brightening sky. Gradually the army of hot air balloons rose up above the snow dusted red rock landscape, picked out by the first rays sunlight.

Watching the Balloons at sunrise, Kapadokya
atthehandlebars.com Soon Ki watching the Balloons at sunrise, Kapadokya

It was unique in a way, because we were the only humans in sight, surrounded by an alien-looking landscape.

Two days later, our short bromance came to an end by literal means of a fork in the road. We bumped fists, had a cheeky giggle and gave each other a mutual nod of respect. Not much needed to be said… we understood each other quite well.

Soon-Ki is in Africa somewhere now, probably still missing a frame bolt and wearing those leather fur lined boots from Mongolia. I hope he’s given the duck down overalls a miss now though.

atthehandlebars.com Rowan, the 'Gingerbread Man'
Pic: atthehandlebars.com Rowan, the ‘Gingerbread Man’

A chance meeting

The Gingerbread Man isn’t a very imaginative name for a bloke with red hair. The good thing about a certain Mr Rowan Carroll is, he lets me know these things.

Rowan and I had a mutual friend in common, who we’d crossed paths with intermittently along our separate ways. I met my Australian compadre in the most unlikely of places – Islamabad, Pakistan. I suppose when one crosses the world on a bike, everywhere seems like an unlikely place.

“Hey mate, I’m heading up this way for two weeks, feel free to come along or do your own thing…”. That’s all it took.

Two days later, we were headed up north to ride the next sixteen days together.

Having another rider around gave us both the confidence to give it a squirt on the rocky jeep tracks and offroad sections that vein off the Karakoram Highway. It was nice knowing if one of us did screw up, the backup was right behind to pick us up. So off we went, over sand, gravel, mud, dirt and snow.

It’s tough to label what the best part of the ride was really…

Setting up camp in a sandy river bed surrounded by razor sharp, snow-capped mountains. ALMOST making it to the highest border crossing in the world. Seeing four of the world’s greatest mountain ranges. Crossing paths with wild Yak and dancing with the locals.

Of course, there was that time I binned it at 60km/h. Oh, and the case of the four flat tires. Can’t forget about the four days of heavy rain either, especially our second day in, when there was a literal river crossing on every tight corner. And landslides, we endured a couple of those too.

I think it’s safe to say that the whole ride in its entirety was a blast, sixteen days not to be forgotten. All good things must come to an end, and as they do, many more good things appear on the horizon.

By the time this article goes live, the Gingerbread Man will be off into Iran, hopefully with a more resilient tire than his old K60.

One bike good, two bikes even better

I really enjoy sharing the road with compadres from all over. They teach me things… like mechanical tricks and life skills. I’m presented with the chance to learn more about my own strengths and weaknesses, and how I can better them.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy riding on my own, because I do. I’ve done some amazing stuff on my own, from riding into the Sahara to looping the Dolomites to riding through an Iranian desert solo.

Rowan and Trumpet above the Kalacha Desert
atthehandlebars.com Rowan and Trumpet above the Kalacha Desert

The difference, however, between riding on your own, and riding with another is this – the memories you create on your own are more catered to be just for you, whereas the memories you create with another are for you to share. You can kick back over a beer, begin with ‘remember when…’ and let the laughter roll.

After all, that’s what this biking malarky is all about right?

Get yourself sorted:

Get the deeper stories behind Dutchie’s travels at his blog, atthehandlebars.com

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The Author

Dutchie

Dutchie

Dutchie is a truly global nomad. He's currently heading home from Britain to his native Oz via Turkey, Iran, Pakistan - places that are home to some of the kindest people on the planet when it comes to looking after a biker on the road.

His first experience of bikes was tooling around on the back of his dad's BMW R80 (in teal, rusty as hell and noisy as f#ck).

An ace photographer (that'll make him blush) and blogger, he's been riding since he was 19 and has spent a decade on bikes, from lithe Kawasaki Z750's, through crotch-rocket Daytona 675's and on to today's continent-busting Triumph Tiger 800 XC.

You can read up on his latest progress at http://atthehandlebars.com