Dateline: 8 January 2014
I was asked recently what sort of motorcycle can be used to ride to Mongolia via Kazakhstan.
My experience is that any motorcycle can go almost anywhere.. and most of the continent of Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific has metalled roads.
The problem, east of Poland, is where the roads are under repair.
In Ukraine, Russia and Siberia, generally speaking, they close one lane and work on the other. It’s hot melt, deep ruts and scarified surfaces for hundreds of miles but it’s ok.
In Kazakhstan they close the road completely, bulldoze a parallel track and fill it with sand.
Here’s a link to what’s being repaired in Kazakhstan. http://en.trend.az/regions/casia/kazakhstan/2222339.html and check out http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/
Use Bing maps for planning – they are much better for border crossings and routings than Google
The temporary roads in Kazakhstan are not impassable; but the local car and truck drivers drive through them at pace, (they don’t have “bike aware” campaigns in Kazakhstan ) causing instant dust storms.
If the wind blows you really can’t see more than 10 yards. If it rains, you’re knee deep in mud. All great training for the Dakar; but to be honest, it’s some of the most difficult riding I’ve ever done – it frightened me a lot. Fortunately, each section under repair is rarely more than 45 miles. Then you get a rest on tarmac for about 25 miles, then you’re back in the sand for another 45 miles. Don’t plan for anything more than 200 miles per day.
Try to make sure you take a spare container of petrol. They don’t build gas stations on the temporary roads; in Kazakhstan you can ride 140 miles between stations. Whenever you see a gas station, top up your tank.
Your bike will cope, no worries. The only difficulty with a cruiser is that generally you can’t stand up on the pegs to get better balance when you’re riding through sand. Just go slower.
I rode a Victory Vegas up to the Iran / Iraq border through a few thousand miles of “under repair” and similar bad road conditions. But none were as bad as Kazakhstan. Because of the lower centre of weight on the Victory I just slowed down and plugged along at 20 mph.
Tyres will make the biggest difference, even on a cruiser. Buy some knobblies in Western Europe, swap them for your road tyres in Ukraine or Russia before you cross into Kazakhstan.
I’m currently banned from Kazakhstan btw. Same as in Russia, you must register with the police, or stay in a hotel which will register you within 7 days of entering the country. I didn’t know I had to do this in Kazakhstan. Consequently, on exit they gave me a choice of paying a fine, or not. I didn’t pay the fine; now I can’t go back for 4 years…
Also, you’ll need a multi-entry visa for Russia. If you’re getting to Kazakhstan via Europe you have to enter Russia to get into Kazakhstan. You have to re-enter Russia when you leave Kazakhstan.
If you can, get some experience on sand, plus some fire roads / green lanes and really bad roads with little surface left. At least then, when you see the tricky stuff, you’ll have some idea of how to cope.
Roads in Ukraine are reasonable but lookout for potholes and traffic cops at the entrance and exit of towns and villages. Don’t pay a bribe for a traffic infringement of any kind. They cannot arrest you... they make a big song and dance but just ask for a protocol. This is a document ordering you to go to court to pay the fine. They know you’re not going to court.. so eventually they will let you go. Incidentally the traffic cops are only paid $80 per month, and 80% of what they extort goes up the line to the police commanders and eventually the politicians.
Russia is similar. What I do in all the eastern countries is stop, take off my helmet and gloves, walk right up to them, smile and shake their hand. They’ll ask you what size your bike is, how fast it goes and what it cost. Always talk down the price or they’ll think you are rich enough to be fleeced! The smile and the handshake work wonders btw.. many times they’ll have the conversation and tell you to go… :)
In Kazakhstan my coping mechanism was to slow down and have a serious conversation with God. After two offs, God finally stepped in and helped J
Let none of the above put you off your planned journey. When you have an off, an accident or when you’re lost or you’ve run out of fuel or can’t find anywhere to sleep – that’s when the real adventure begins. You will be amazed at how helpful and friendly people are going to be, no matter which country you’re in.