Deciding to go on a long distance travel through weird and wonderful countries is not something that usually takes place on a whim; a number of events usually precipitate it. In our case, the following explain how and why we reached the state where we are on April 23rd, 2007 – with 2 motorbikes prepared and ready to cross Europe and North Africa on a 3 month odyssey.


Toni Oberhofer, step up to the witness stand. Every apprentice needs their mentor, and every knight needs their Jedi Master. Similarly, every motorcycle traveller needs their Toni. It’s not often that your work manager can give you decent advice on how to focus more on global motorcycle adventures and less on corporate computer rubbish, but Toni is a rare breed of man. In a 12 year period, Toni has managed to travel from his hometown in Bern, Switzerland to Cape Town, Delhi, Marrakesh, Ankara, Sudan and beyond – all whilst being employed in a highly respectable global company! Toni is now happily married, and has resigned himself to Switzerland until BMW make a suitable long distance sidecar suitable for his wife and baby boy. But he was only too willing to show us photos and part with the knowledge that would suitably inspire 2 willing listeners to come up with their own journey.


Following this in late 2005 there was a viewing of The Motorcycle Diaries -  the classic 2 wheeled adventure of Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado through South America in 1951. Not exactly the tough as nails, fully qualified adventurers preparation but hey, the idea had to be planted somehow. So the seed of a South American motorcycle trip was sown and planning for the mission started back in January 2006.


Then the documentary that has spawned perhaps a thousand similar trips - Ewan Mcgregor and Charley Boorman’s highly organised, beautifully shot and limitlessly funded galavant around the globe in The Long Way Round. Viewing of this (what could be called the ultimate buddy flick) will always entice a man and a motorcycle to abandon all trappings of the daily grind and head to the horizon, towards the potholes and visa wranglings of far off lands.


The route on The Long Way Round for the Middle Asia and Siberian sections was fanciful. Without the help of a large crew and 6-wheel drive trucks it may have ended up the most well hyped one way trip to Kazakhstan ever made. But for us budding 2 wheeled travellers, there were a few things to take note of:


1)      Pack Light (you wont break your frame on bumpy roads, and you can pick the bike up when you fall over)

2)      Choose a bulletproof, low tech machine

3)      Travel with a good mate!




It was this documentary and Toni’s experience that cemented our choice of machine – the venerable Yamaha XT660. A mere 165kg total weight,  and a basic design of 30 years pedigree which, in various formats, has crossed the globe thousands of times over. Machines were purchased in February of 2006 and preparations started


Fuel Tank and Luggage carrying were the main concerns. For this we went to and bought the necessary pieces. The hassles that were encountered in fitting the tank and the luggage racks were enough to keep 2 bike engineers occupied for a week, so don’t think that this is an easy job! The 26 Litre tank in particular would end up taking a year to setup properly. Rounding off all the niggles of a backyard workshop manufactured part, and marrying it to Japanese engineered machinery led Pierpaolo to keep a photo journal of all the extra “improvements” he made just to get the damn thing to work. He’s up to 10 pages and still counting… let’s hope that we will not wish we had written 11 when it falls apart somewhere on a dusty road somewhere in Dirkadirkastan.


Not interesting reading, but for the Tech Nerds, train spotters and prospective travellers amongst you out there, the following items have made it into our panniers for the trip


* Motorcycle Jacket

* Motorcycle Pants

* Undies X 4 (always clean, couldn’t give Mum the embarrassment if we were knocked down)

* Socks X 4

* T-shirts X 4

* Pants X 1

* Shorts X 1

* Fleece X 2

* Toothbrush and Paste

* Camera, mobile, ipod

* Maps and Guides (My 1989 Lonely Planet for Algeria is a collectors item I hear)




1 of these:

* Water Purification Tablets

* Sunscreen


as well as the following, dispensed by my veterinary brother. The idea was to be able to cover the bare essentials of gravel rash, gut problems (general sickness) or bum problems (diarrhea). If we come back half Labrador, then I hold him responsible:


* 1 small bottle of SM 23 - the brown dab on for mouth ulcers, rarely required but a godsend if you have them


* Flagyl - antibiotic called metronidazole for all things gastrointestinal.


* Cephalexin antibiotic for skin and respiratory infection

* Sterile dressings x 5

* Bandages : "SOFBAN" 7.5cm wide : is a roll of thin cotton wool, use as 1st layer to pad it , then wrap in "COPLUS " 7.5cm , an elastic conforming outer wrap.

* Physohex : small bottle of antisceptic

* Nurofen PLUS : super anti inflammatory with codeine , good to relive pain and inflammation

* Broad spectrum Antibacterial eye drops : just in case.

* Condoms (nice to see some brotherly optimism at least!)





1 Helmet

Bring "second" bike key

2 Lateral Bags and rain covers

1 Rear Bag and rain cover

1 Tank Bag and rain cover

1 Locker for helmets

1 disk locker for the bike / small padlocks for the bags


Resin per tank (to fix the tank if damaged)

1 Spare part of chain

2 spare tubes: front - rear

1 Repair Tube set + 1 Pump

2 Spare sparks each = total 4

1 Fuel filter

Change both Tyres

1 X Clutch, 1 X Front Brake cables

Wire / screws / glue and other useful parts

1 Chain puller tool

Screw driver + other main tools/keys

1 Spare set of Brake Pads for front and rear






In June and July of 2006, 2 Shakedown trips for the riders and their machines were planned. One to ride with Pierpaolo’s back to his home North of Venice (2000km), followed up by a 2 week trip to and around Sardinia. Of the valuable things we learned on these expeditions, the following stick out


1)      Northern France in June can be as cold and wet as Scotland in December

2)      Plastic bags make great socks in the rain

3)      Smile, and the world’s traffic police smile with you

4)      Yamaha XT660’s are comfy bikes for doing long distances, if a little slow.



After a successful shakedown, the idea of finalising our rough plan for the trip was at the forefront of our minds. The original plan was to do a South American trip up the Andes, starting off in Argentina, then heading up through Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and finishing up in Brazil. January 2007 was the proposed kick off date, but due to family and work commitments this date was not realised.





So we started off into 2007 in our jobs thinking “One day, we’ll do a big trip like this, but I just don’t know when”. Well around March it was thrust upon us that our current employer would no longer be in requirement of our services, and it may benefit us to look elsewhere for pecuniary gain…


…which we naturally took as our cue to kick some life back into the 2 wheeled continent crossing. And so the seeds of an adventurous idea had sprouted, and suddenly we had just 5 weeks to harvest, and plan what would be the trip of a lifetime.


Looking at the South America option, this was now unfeasible. The upcoming winter in the Southern Hemisphere, coupled with the logistical problems and paperwork involved in getting our vehicles to Argentina in quick time forced us to rethink our journey entirely.


What we knew is that we had around 3 months to take off, and that we should target to do something amazing – after all, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to do a once in a lifetime trip.


So we opened ourselves up to some ideas. The idea of doing a trip to the far East, through Eastern Europe and a lot of countries ending in –stan, then into Mongolia and and China was put through its paces. But the permissions and organisation required to get two guys on their own bikes into China was beyond what we could achieve in our mere 5 week planning and preparation window.


Finishing before China was also not an option – trying to send our bikes back at the end of the trip from the dusty depths of Tajikstan or wherever the road cut out was not something that I was particularly interested in, and I suspect the Tajiki agent for DHL probably felt the same way.


OK, so China makes the Marco Polo journey a bit difficult and ending up in a country called Blahblahstan is not feasible…what about a trip to India? Its been done before, but there is plenty of mind blowing countryside and culture on that well travelled route, and the opportunity of going beyond Turkey and into the mosques of Iran and the Hindukush of Pakistan was all too appealing. And the only visas we need are for 2 countries – piece of cake!


Make that a Hestor Blumenthal duck soufflé, with the added tang of cordite and shrapnel. Our contact with the embassies in the UK showed that no one could guarantee an Iranian Visa, and this was the week before 15 English sailors very publicly enjoyed the free room and board provided by Iranian customs officials.


Then my friend Mike Summerfield - route planner extraordinaire and a man that sat with my father for around 100,000 miles in a Jeep surveying long distance rally routes around the world - started discussing the difficulties one can expect when going through Iran and Pakistan. Given his route planning background in far flung places, it usually pays to listen when Mike speaks. But I started going into a haze either when he was talking about the quality of the fittings in his Iranian jail cell, or at his witty recounter of the generously munitioned and trigger happy bandits in the Baluchistan area… its not important really. What did become evident was that queuing for 10 days on a London pavement, all on the fanciful whim of gaining a visa that permitted the holder to be a target in a shooting gallery was probably not the best way to spend our limited time and resources. So our “India and beyond!” plan bit the dust.


Logistics of moving the bikes and hassles with Visas in far off lands steered us in the direction of doing a loop circuit, starting in London or Italy. The idea of going through Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa had an idiotic ring to it that gives these things such appeal.


But it was revenge of the bureaucrats, and an education in country diplomacy. You want to go to Libya? Oh yes, that’s nice and easy, provided you have an armed government escort to take you through the scruffy bits (about 2000 km from diplomatic reports). You want to go between Israel and Lebanon? Surely you must be kidding! The Israelis will never stamp your passport with a Lebanese stamp in there. You want to go from where to Syria? Oh how you make me chortle!!! They don’t stamp anyone’s passport if they can’t sing the hokey pokey backwards in Farsi, and especially not when the ink on the Israeli visa is stamped in such an aggressive tone of red.


All of this made my head spin and forced me to think. But the one thought that came hammering home was of the Eurovision Song contest. I surmised that as long as bad pop music exists, neither Lebanon, Jordan or Syria will be granted an entry in this competition. And it’s not because they can’t write bad pop music; my travels around the world thus far have enlightened me to the fact that the over synthesised warblings of casting couch starlets exist in places where scientists previously thought no life could exist. That includes Eastbourne.


And it’s a nay to the hecklers who proclaim they’re not European enough – Israel won the highly uncoveted accolade of Eurovision winners back in 1998, when Dana belted out the miss (not quite a hit) “Diva” to wrestle the title back from a relieved United Kingdom. The fact that Dana later relieved herself later in the gents trough is a matter completely beyond the scope of this analysis, but it also proved you don’t even have to be of a definitive sex to enter Eurovision these days.


No, the reason why Lebanon, Jordan and Syria (aka the Axis of Tabouli) will always be spared entry into Eurovision is because they will always fail to abide by the golden rule, and that is “Vote For Your Neighbour”. Greece and Malta know this and, next to flat pack furniture and getting nude, it’s what the Scandinavian nations do best. No matter how awful your neighbour’s song is, you must always give them the maximum 10 points.


Given the schoolboy antics of border guards along the Axis of Tabouli, I can’t ever see the Jordanians getting down to the musical offerings of Israel. And could Syria could find enough tomatoes to throw at both entrants? Eurovision may make bad listening, but it does bring diplomatic harmony to a world gone crazy. But if you can’t leave your pride and musical taste at the door, then Terry Wogan won’t be ridiculing your entry next year.


That’s basically a long way of saying that obtaining visas to certain parts of this planet requires a bit more planning then what can be squeezed onto a beermat at your local pub. Cross off Iran, strike through the Middle East…hmm, the options are starting to look a bit limited for our big 2 wheeled adventure.


OK so lets cut out all the painful countries that don’t want to give us Visas, and focus on the ones that will happily stamp our passports and give us full escort to our welcoming ceremony in the capital. Whereupon we will be showered with the adulation of nubile university students, who find unshaven bikers “exotic”.


Well we couldn’t quite get that route nailed down, but we came up with one that just about fits the other requirements. Striking a balance between interesting and new on one side, with pragmatism and ease of organisation on the other, we came up with the following itinerary:


Depart UK / Italy




(back to Spain)


















And so The Short Way Round TM was conceived and born. Think Ewan and Charley, but without the in depth planning, screen credits, Hollywood looks and glamorous adoring wives to return home to.


Attention to detail, route marking and diplomatic knowledge of all cultures being entered into on this trip is optimistically described as “patchy”, but in the good old spirit of Italian/Aussie/Pommie comradery we will have a go, give it our best shot and if all else fails, change sides and reverse our bikes back to the winning team.


The only thing uncertain about this so called plan is the Algerian visa. Organising a tourist visa beforehand was a painful and uncertain thing, but reports from one couple who have notched up 400,000+ miles on a Harley crossing the globe say that we can pick up a 7 day transit visa in Alicante Spain and get to Tunisia quick smart.


As my Lonely Planet for Algeria is the 1989 edition, this speedy run through the country may be a blessing in disguise!


So with all the preparation almost complete we are ready to set off… informs me I have 1,139 km to ride until I meet my travel companion for the next 3 months and 18,000 kilometres at his friends place near Girona. The Newhaven ferry to Dieppe will be my first country crossing of this adventure.