Inspiration: Big Trip

Triumph Tiger tackling the Himalayas

Tigers in the Himalayas

Triumphs travel on the Silk Road

The GlobeBusters motorcycle travel company have embarked on the first organised motorcycle trip to Tokyo. See here for the first leg of the trip. The group has now reached the halfway mark. For the Ride caught up with GlobeBusters’ expedition leader Kevin Sanders to hear his highlights so far.

“I had waited years and now I’ve done it… successfully ridden a Triumph Explorer through the rarified air, 5,150 metres above sea level, with all the challenges for man and machine that brings, to reach Everest Base Camp in Tibet,” Kevin says.

The GlobeBusters tour leader’s first attempt was halted two years ago when a devastating earthquake struck the Himalayas, destroying roads and infrastructure, and bringing suffering to scores of people in the region.

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The route

Now, spearheading a group of 15 riders on an expedition from London to Tokyo, he has returned on his XCA and things have changed: “The road that was once a bone-rattling, gravel graveyard for shock absorbers is now pristine ‘blacktop’, with more perfect twisties than you’ll ever see in the Alps,” he says. “Being at the foot of the great mountain was a humbling experience, one of many we’ve experienced since leaving London.”

After racking up 11,000km since leaving Ace Cafe in London, the group has endured around 2,000km of some of the most potholed roads on the planet, through endless desert dune-scales, with temperatures topping 40˚C.

Triumph Tiger water crossing off road
Making a splash in Tajikistan

“As the smooth but busy roads of Europe gave way to rougher terrain, the landscape grew less familiar and Uzbekistan, with its atrocious roads, blazing heat and sand, provided the kind of challenge that the Tigers thrive on.

“From there we pressed on into Tajikistan, an incredibly poor country that gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1992, before being battered by a five-year civil war. It has continued to struggle with poverty and instability since it became its own state, so don’t be fooled by the grandiose government buildings, presidential palace and smattering of high-end international chain hotels (used by Embassy staff), and the huge, wide, perfect-paved road in the capital Dushanbe.”

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Dancing through the Turkmenistan desert

“A few blocks out and crumbling Soviet monoliths, unmaintained walkways and makeshift markets show the real underbelly of this country. Far away from the capital, it is a harsh, rural existence. Before we got there though, the potholes claimed one bike, shattering its drive shaft case, but we’ve already got a new part en route to us for when we enter China, so the rider and his bike won’t be in the support vehicle for long.

The punishing Pamirs

“The last two weeks we’ve seen so many picturesque minarets, bright turquoise domes and elegant geometric tilework – all stunningly beautiful – but that all changed when we left Dushanbe, after a bike service where we switched to off-road knobbly tyres in preparation for the Pamirs. The reason for the change is that the Pamir Highway, one of the world’s most famous routes for the adventurous motorcyclist with a fearsome reputation, is not to be taken lightly.

No barrier stands between the narrow road and the fast-moving river, and it’s high… very high

“In the 10 years we have been coming here, the road shows improvement in parts, but much of it remains unpaved, with pits of gravel and sand. It’s an area constantly wrecked by landslides, avalanches and bleak winter weather. No barrier stands between the narrow road and the fast-moving river, and it’s high… very high. The main mountain pass, Ak-Baital Pass, tops out at 4,655m.

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“The Pamir Highway is also the prime connection to Tajikistan’s GBAO Region (the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, but our nickname for it is ‘GlobeBusters Adventure Off-road) and our route through this area is along the Wakhan Valley, tracing the northern Afghan border. It is one of the most breathtaking places on the planet, as the road slices through the rugged, snow-capped Pamirs, along weathered gorges and verdant valleys under a brilliant blue sky.”

Brilliant blue sky and brutal challenges

“On a bad day, temperatures plummet, snow carpets the narrow single track and the chill factor of high winds makes it a brutal challenge. Thankfully, this year the weather has broadly held for us. Ironically, the Pamir Highway designation is the M41, which conjures up images of a three-lane, high-speed motorway. That could not be any further from the reality of the challenge we face! The route of the Pamir Highway has been in use for millennia and forms one link of the ancient Silk Road trade route – we followed the tracks of the boldest merchants and explorers from ancient times.”

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Days away from anywhere

“Our Triumph bikes, a Tiger Explorer XCS and Tiger 800 XCS, met the challenge of the Pamirs head on. The low-down torque was perfect to drive the bikes through some pretty tricky stuff – mud, rockslides, river crossings, sand. And even though we’ve been forced to buy what must be pretty low-octane fuel stored in old plastic water bottles or buckets through some of the small villages, it hasn’t affected the bikes’ performance.”

“Let’s face it though, this part of the trip is not about top-end power or speed – the conditions are too unpredictable and treacherous. However, even with early-morning icy starts, freezing temperatures and thin, oxygen-starved air, the bike fires up first time. It’s dependability that is the key when you’re days away from anywhere with notable infrastructure.

“Surviving the Pamirs leads us on to an even bigger challenge – China, and our route across the Tibetan Plateau to Everest Base Camp, riding to altitudes of almost 5,400 metres!”

Check back on FTR to find out how they get on.

See here for the first leg of the journey.

Everest base camp… next stops Beijing and Tokyo