2011 A Sidecar Adventure
Lang has always had an eye for things military and the WW11 Russian sidecars had not escaped his notice. With the idea of a possible trip in mind in June 2010 he went to Ukraine with his old school mate John Salter and met Nadia and Sasha, in Bila Tserka, 90kms south of Kiev. Sasha in his early 30’s had worked on bikes all his life and in recent years had started his own business restoring Dneprs for an American market. Nadia his wife in her early 20’s, a very petite ballet teacher and able to speak English, was also very hands on in the workshop. Here not only did Lang and John inspect the bikes he had on hand, but the four of them headed off for a five day trip around the countryside.
Lang came back super enthused and the trip was advertised for May 2011.
We set off with 20 bikes and one support vehicle initially planning to go through eight countries, Ukraine to Israel. Syria had just started to become a problem so in Turkey we did a 180 degree turn and continued through Greece to Italy and ended in Genoa.
Following is the story of yet another adventure.
Friday 29th April – Bila Tserkva
Lang and I have been in Ukraine now for two weeks, 2 nights in Kiev and the rest in Bila Tserkva where the bikes are being prepared, slowly but surely. The saying “All will be right on the day,” has passed through our minds on numerous occasions.
Our group of 18 riders have been arriving during the week in Kiev. Some went off sightseeing, four came down to Bila Tserkva early and the rest were collected in a mini bus from Kiev on Thursday morning.
It is now the 1st May and here we are still in Bila Tsverka. The best laid plans etc. Ukraine is unbelievable, the paper work and all the bureaucracy is unbelievable, and there is such a laid back attitude to everything. Urgency does not seem to register in the psyche of the locals here, and corruption is alive and well.
Some bikes are having last minute adjustments so we have postponed the start of the trip by two days.
On the up side our hotels are a good standard, the food and drink are great and the prices are very cheap. The troops are in good spirits and taking the slow motion in their stride.
Keep posted for the convoy to roll out southward bound.
Sat 7th May
We are on the road. A pretty rag tag group but we are moving.
Our first night we headed 252 kms to Holovchynsi SW of Bila Tserkva. Lang had stayed here when he came over last year and it is a very pretty resort on a lake and with plenty of parking space for the bikes.
We had always thought the first day could have ended up with the country side littered with broken down bikes. Thankfully most bikes reached our first destination intact. We only lost one rider who overshot the mark and ended up in a hotel in another town. There were some roadside repairs done by the riders along the way which enabled them to keep mobile and the two that required a tow arrived exhausted and cold at the resort at 11pm.
The mechanics had their own dramas during the day getting all the spares ready and last minute attention to many small problems with the bikes before they left the workshop. This meant they did not get away until very late, were not able to provide the support needed so Lang jumped in with me and we brought up the rear in the trusty little Lada van.
Normally it will be Nadia and I in the van going ahead to organize accommodation, and Sasha and Lang will sweep the group making sure any problems are addressed as soon as possible. Obviously it will take a few days for us to develop a working pattern.
We stayed another night in Holovchynsi with the bikes that needed the extra attention, and did a day of maintenance. Seven of the riders by lunch time were happy with their bikes and decided to push ahead to Kamyanets-Podilsky to do some sightseeing in this very pretty town.
Everyone again made our next destination Kamyanets-Podilsky , some quite late at night with still a lot of major maintenance being done and a lot of hold ups along the way. Lang and Sasha’s bikes both had major rebuilds in the hotel carpark – amazing stuff.
We have stayed another night in Ukraine in Chernivtsi to allow us to utilise the extra local mechanics we have up until we cross the border, which now is 40kms away.
The first week has made everyone realise we are having an adventure and not a tour.
Romania here we come!
Tues 10th May
If there was any doubt that we were on an adventure and not a tour it was dispelled once and for all at the Ukraine/Romanian border.
We all arrived at the border mid afternoon with bikes and Lizzy the Lada. Earlier, customs had turned back the first nine bikes to attempt the crossing. Lang with Sasha and Nadia on arrival went to state our case. Apparently new laws have been introduced in the last week and the Ukraine customs not being to sure what they were, tried several scams to block our way. In the end they came up with the problem of how and what did we pay for the bikes and the great worry, did we spend any money in Ukraine. Everyone had to produce all their documents and receipts of purchases etc.
These were taken by Sasha in to the inner sanctum where they would raise documents for each bike which would then be signed by the owners and of course a payment made. This process was to take all night as they would call us one at a time and it could take two hours to process each person.
At this point all tents were erected on a grassy area outside the border gate. After the first few were called we all got excited thinking it might take less time so, down came all the tents. The rules then changed and the remaining contingent outside the gate were told nothing would resume until morning, so up with the tents again. Just to fool everyone they started taking people again at 4am. From then it was an ad hock process.
The last lot consisting of Dan, Lee Myles and Lang were not allowed in the first gate until 8pm on the second day and were finally through the two border checks at 3am the next morning- 36 hours after arrival at the gate! They then got on their bikes and rode two hours to Falticeni where the rest of us were staying overnight.
I have been through some memorable border crossings but I think this takes the cake.
Just to make things more interesting they refused Nadia and Sasha’s passports as a document had not been signed by a very “important’ person. They believe they can clear this up by going back to Kiev and hopefully catching us up in 4-5 days time. Apparently it was something to do with their marriage documents. ( That proved to be famous last words!)
We are still having lots of small problems with the bikes but somehow we are managing to progress every day and get all the chickens home to roost, even like today when Dan put his bike on a tow truck for the last 100kms.
We are reliant on Hub with his mechanical knowledge to work on the bikes. His role has changed from participant to being a member of our admin team, and to help him out our group’s mechanical knowledge is on a steep incline upwards.
Also since being in Romania as soon as we pull into our accommodation the local bikers are out in force offering spares and lots of practical help. The locals here are a lot more friendly than the Ukranians. We also can now read the signs easily without dealing with cyrilic script.
The troops are all very upbeat and enjoying the continuous new adventures being presented on seemingly an hourly basis!
Tomorrow we are heading for the Danube Delta area.
Rising out of the ashes – we continue to stagger along.
This is the in house report.
The border crossing was a nightmare. From first in to last out it took 39 hours. The Ukranians were just being bloody minded and decided to process us as slow as possible and of course collect a payment from everyone. It was not exorbitant by our standards but was a fortune to them.
I entered at 5pm with the first lot and had to stay with the car the whole time. The riders were taken inside to pay, sign papers and wait. Even though I was driving the car which was in Nadia’s name I progressed through the Ukranian side relatively easily but then had to wait in no mans land in a line of cars for the next 5 hours to be processed by the Romanian customs.
Hub was first out, as, while lined up he took out his camera and was immediately pounced on by the police, taken to the front of the line told he was a very naughty boy and was let go. He then went off and found accommodation close by, so that when the next 9 were processed in dribs and drabs during the night there was somewhere to go.
I arrived about 1am and found him holding up the bar –it was so great to see a friendly face.
Lang with the last group was not even allowed in the first gate until 8pm the second day and did not get through into Romania until 3pm Our group rather than waiting moved on so the last four arrived at our hotel at 5am, had a few hours sleep and were on the road again.
Just to add to our woes Nadia and Sasha were not allowed to cross the border as there was some problem with their paper work. They stayed and helped everyone else without a wink of sleep then drove back to Kiev to sort everything out. I have just heard they are now back at the border and should catch us up by today or tomorrow.
Hub has now stepped up and become our mechanic, and we have managed to move everyday. We are getting so much help from local bikers, either working on the bikes or sourcing parts and directing us to workshops. The Romanians are so much more friendly than the Ukranians.
I have become the sweep vehicle and done lots of tows, even towed Dan the other day. He got lots of ribbing about having his mother in law tow him across Romania.
Our group are all up beat and it helps that our accommodation has been very good and plenty of great food and drink at the end of the day. Most angst is directed toward the Ukranians and all seem very understanding of the situation we have found ourselves in.
The bikes seem to be improving as we iron out the major flaws and people get used to their own bike and their limitations.
It has been a bit stressful but Lang just goes into survival mode and is able to make things happen.
So onward we go. Our aim is to reach Istanbul on the 15th and we are travelling well to achieve that goal.
Last night was spent in a hotel over looking the Danube river in Tulcea
Love to all Bev
Friday 13 May
We are now in Nesseba, Bulgaria. Again a country of amazingly friendly people.
The country side here is very lush with a lot of agriculture in evidence. There is a mix of old communist buildings and the very new modern resorts particularly around the black sea area.
We crossed the border from Romania into Bulgaria with very little trouble, and continued on to Nessebar which is a big tourist region on the Black Sea. Here we decided to stay for two nights so problems on the bikes could be addressed and a little of R & R for those lucky enough not to be having problems.
Nadia and Sasha are still catching up to us, and everyone is still on a steep learning curve dealing with their bikes under Hub’s dedicated direction.
Martin White went ahead of us to Istanbul to meet up with his wife. He had a few issues at the Turkish border so we will see tomorrow if the rest of us are going to have any issues.
I will get Lang to do a report on the bikes when he has a moment to spare.
On Ferry out of Istanbul
Another day of towing Lang and a late arrival into Istanbul on the 15th. The front runners were at the hotel early afternoon enjoying the sights of this exotic metropolis.
The run into the city was certainly a challenge as everyone in the entire city was out having a Sunday drive and picnics along the water front enjoying the spring weather. All our group except Lang made it under their own steam which was quite a feat.
The hotel was on a steep hill and the promised parking was on a very narrow busy street. The next morning we risked having all bikes towed away so a hasty search for parking found a vacant block not too far away. The area made any major work on Lang’s bike impossible so another day of towing until we are able to do an engine change.
Most of the group were able to do some sightseeing in around town on our second day. I even managed to fit in a visit to a Turkish bath to recharge my batteries. Dan Gridley flew out to OZ after handing over the bike he had been riding for the last two weeks to Dave Griffith who will be with us for the rest of the trip.
This morning after a 6am start we are now on a ferry crossing the Sea of Marmara to Bursa ,and from there will overnight in Canakkale. Tomorrow after another short ferry ride we will be on the Gallipoli Peninsular where we will spend the next two days.
We have decided to double up a lot of our remaining days to allow ongoing maintenance on the bikes as well as a chance to relax and enjoy the country side we are passing through.
Thus 19th May
Yesterday the mobile contingent left Canakkale and went the short distance over to the Gallipoli Peninsular, crossing the Dardanelles by ferry.
Eight of us remained to work on three disabled bikes in the hotel car park. When Lang and Hub stripped Lang’s bike they found a bolt had come loose in the gear fly wheel. Fortunately it had not caused any severe damage and did not need an engine change . Never the less it was major job which took all day to fix. At the end of the day everyone was tired so we decided to stay another night in Canakkale.
This is an area steeped in military history, and to us Australians Gallipoli obviously has very special significance.
On the peninsular hillside opposite Canakkale gigantic letters spell out the first few words of a poem commemorating the stuggle at Gallipoli in 1915.
The translation is
Traveller, halt! The soil you heedlessly tread once witnessed the end of an era.
Listen! In this quiet mound there once beat the heart of a nation.
Sunday 22 May
We are all here on Thassos Island in Greece enjoying the sunny weather and beautiful surrounds. Some have hired modern bikes, cars or little motor scooters to visit monasteries, Roman ruins or enjoy the local fare at fabulous waterfront cafes.
Most of the group had two nights here but five of us were again doing catch up.
Sadly Paul and Martin pulled out of the group. Paul’s bike has given him a run of bad luck and they have decided to finish their holiday riding BMW’s through Europe.
Paul was going to leave his bike at the side of the road, but our mechanics in the group saw the potential to get some essential spares we may need before the trip ends. Paul generously offered to come to the border with it to get it across into Greece with his paperwork.
We saw Robert and Brian go back into Turkey and tow the bike to the border where Lang met them with Lizzy Lada and towed them back to Alexandroupoli. Here in the back blocks we did a Zorba the Greek. We stripped the bike of all useful parts loaded the bikes and car to the gunnels disposed of the frame and as it was so late in the day we spent the night at Komitimi enroute to Thasos.
Lizzie is now so loaded she can not carry another gram. The electric fan stopped working so every time I start the car I have to lift the bonnet and connect the wires straight to the battery to stop her overheating. Her tiny 1,200cc engine is still bravely pulling the car, her load and often a half ton of bike as well.
Our bike problems are definitely being sorted with fewer faults every day. The regular problems are just the price of driving 75 year old technology 6,000km across Europe. Most people are becoming good at diagnosing faults and if they can not fix them themselves, can give Hub an indication of what is going on.
Hub continues to perform miracles and has kept everyone going. We are all very grateful for his dedicated mechanical work.
Moral is still very high and the continuous change of scene is pleasing the majority. Everyone is looking forward to the week or so running up the Adriatric coast through Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia etc.
Off to Thessalonika tomorrow then into the hills.
Wed 25th May
I am at present sitting at the Greek / Albanian border and have been for the last two hours, having left Florino early this morning. The mountain climb was all but impossible but the little car and all the bikes made it in first gear.
Already 10 of our riders have gone across the border and reported it was a hassle free event. Lang and Hub have left me here to twiddle my thumbs and they have taken Lizzy back to tow in Marcel. We believe he has had a major problem .
Over the last few days we have had a lot of small problems, mostly electrical, and all have been rectified along the way. Ivan had an electrical problem and Lee bought him a car battery and with jumper leads hooked it up and carried it in his sidecar.
Everyone is really sorting out their own bike’s idiosyncrasies and doing more and more of their own preventative and repair work
Yesterday morning at Thessaloniki Lee Harman decided to leave the group to catch a ferry across to Southern Italy and will ride from there up to the north. For the rest of the group we have booked an overnight ferry from Zadar Croatia to Ancona Italy on the 30th..
I have had a message from Sasha and Nadia, the first contact we have had from them in two weeks and they are about 300 kms behind us, and should catch us up in another day. We are certainly looking forward to another mechanic and the spares he is bringing.
Evening of 25th at Progradeci, Albania
Marcel’s problem was not as major as first thought and he was able to ride under his own power from the border, albiet with the car battery in the sidecar fix. His starter shorted out, flattening the battery and this was fixed immediately.
The scenery here with a huge lake and mountains down to the water is spectacular. Prices are cheap and the small town very pretty. Most bikes required only daily maintenance and everyone was relaxed well before dinner.
Sasha and Nadia arrived at the hotel at 10.00pm absolutely exhausted after a 500+ kms ride non stop. We are still unsure what actually held them up during this period.
Phil Barnaart is downloading some great photos see them on
Last night we spent just south of the very historic town of Durres. Albania is similar to Romania and Bulgaria, in that they are a mix of vey primitive life styles in the rural areas and very flash coastal resort areas. We have seen hand ploughing and seed planting, ancient old farm machinery in use and donkey and cart as their general means of transport.
Tonight we will be in Tivat, Montenegro
Sunday 29th May
We are all now in Split, Croatia.
Yesterday we had a long day from Tivat along the coast and three border crossings. We passed from Montenegro into Bosnia and then into Croatia. It is a very beautiful part of the world and Dubrovnik in particular is spectacular.
This long run was to enable us to have two days in the one place and allow Sasha to do some long needed major repairs.
Late in the day Robert Hazell’s bike had differential problems and was unable to continue. Nadia and I had to double back with the spare parts and between Lang , Brian and Robert they got the bike mobile, but the five of us decided breaking down in the dark was not an option so stayed 90kms short of Split and joined the rest of the group here early in the morning.
Thurs 2 June
We arrived in Ancona, Italy on the overnight ferry from Zadar in Croatia sailing at 10.00pm and arriving at 7.00am on the 31st May.
At present we are at a camping site in Poppi on the Eastern side of Florence. Here we are spending two days as we had two major break downs yesterday.
We did some serious mountain climbing travelling from Urbino where we had camped out side the beautiful walled city the previous night and here to Poppi. Sasha’s bike broke a bearing and Susan Horrobin siezed the universal joint on her bike. After towing Sasha a short distance we were lucky enough to flag down a passing tow truck and ended up with the two bikes arriving on the back of the truck at the camp site ready for the repair work.
Here in Italy it is working out better to camp as the towns are so crowded and this gives us plenty of space to work on the bikes and spread out a bit.
Sun 5th June
We have all arrived in Genoa. That is all except Stuart Wood who in Poppi decided to visit friends in Venice and catch up with us tomorrow.
The last few days have seen only minor problems with the bikes and all arriving under their own steam. Lizzy Lada has had a few issues with her carburetor but somehow manages to get me to my destination. She has done extraordinary service hauling such a heavy load of spare parts during the six week period.
Nadia has been riding with Sasha on his bike so I have done all but one leg of the whole trip on my own. Early in the piece I did get plenty of company at the end of a tow rope with hand signals our only form of communication. It is a bit sad to say that I have formed a very special bond with my very faithful GPS and get quite a feeling of well being hearing her calm voice giving me directions.
From Poppi we had a camping night in Pisa, checked out the leaning tower in this beautiful ancient walled city. We were going to stay two nights but the consensus of opinion was to do the short hop to Levanto and see Cinque Terre. Many of us did the train trip between the five towns and a few of us did the cliff face walk between the towns of this spectacular UNESCO listed area.
Tonight we will have a finale dinner and then over the next few days organise the shipping of the vehicles to our home ports. Most of the group have arrangements to fly home later in the week.
Thurs 9th June
The trip is well and truly over. Yesterday we tucked 15 bikes into two forty foot containers which will be shipped to Brisbane and the additional two bikes went into a 20 foot container to go to New Zealand.
We came into Genoa on Sunday and Lang was able to organize the shipping first up on Monday. On Tuesday everyone scrubbed their bikes until they gleamed, getting rid of 6 weeks of road grime and oil leaks. They were then put into a warehouse on the dock overnight. It only took a few hours yesterday with a lot of grunting and groaning and only millimeters to spare to pack them into the containers and the shipping agent had a crew on hand to do all the tie down, before the doors were shut and sealed.
As always the end of a trip brings very mixed emotions.
This particular project has given Lang and I challenges we could never have planned for in advance. Lang as always has the capacity to just keep his focus on solutions and shut out all the negatives enabling things to keep moving forward. For myself I think I had a guardian angel on shoulder, that my poor little car kept going was a miracle, (along the way it gave me some very very scary moments) and that all the accommodation was done on-the-run and worked out so well. I am told what doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger!
With any group we have been involved with you always have the handful of people that perform above and beyond expectation and to these people we owe an enormous debt of gratitude.
Hub has really stood out as the person who was so unbelievely dependable and for ever a calm problem solver. His ability and practical skills make him a giant among his peers.
Lang and I will have some down time before our trip home staying with our good friends Sandro and Wilmy in Garlenda Italy and then we have a few days with John and Nui Salter in Thailand.
As with all our trips I like to remind people the reason we undertake such things
Einstein once posed the question is the universe friendly?
In the ten countries we have travelled through on this trip we have made connections with local people that have left an incredible inpact and reasurred me that mankind is basically good and caring.
This is my favorite quote about travelling
All time is now
It takes you out of the everyday routine
The leaden weight of routine
The fetters of habit
The cloak of cares and
Slavery of home
It allows you to experience the here and now.
And Lang’s favorite quote from Robert Louis Stevenson
I travel not to go anywhere
But to go
I travel for travel’s sake
The great affair is to move Bev