Sibirsky Extreme 2012 - The Toughest Ride of Them All

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Colebatch, Oct 18, 2012.

  1. Colebatch

    Colebatch "Moto Porn"ographer

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    I had a good sleep in, in my hotel in Ulan Ude. I had only a short ride today. Asphalt .. 450 km to Irkutsk ... along the shores of Lake Baikal. But the bike had a list of things I needed to get done to it. From alloy welding the front of the bike up, to new tyres, brake pads, new chain, new rear indicators (I damaged them in my fall near Olgiy), oil change, oil filter, head bearings, a long list of missing bolts etc. The bike was really needing a rest and a lot of replacements after the thrashing I gave it across Mongolia.

    Irkutsk was the end of Stage 2 of the trail. I had to have the bike prepared for Stage 3, the run from Irkutsk to Magadan, via the Western half of the BAM and the Road of Bones. I would be away from the bike in Moscow for a week. I needed to get to Irkutsk early enough to discuss all of this at the bike shop there. I needed it to be ready when I flew back to meet Terry in Irkutsk. Terry was still in Mongolia. They had no wifi or phone coverage there so I didnt even know where they were now, or how they were going.

    I left Ulan Ude and grabbed breakfast on the road. It was a pleasant enough cruise into Irkutsk. I stopped for lunch and fuel and arrived at the bike shop in Irkutsk about 3:30 pm after a scenic but uneventful 6 hours on the road. I spoke to the mechanic there ... and told him the bike was his for a week. I wrote him out the list of things that needed to be sorted. He nodded.

    The list was long. A few things were starting to break and to fail. For the first 10,000 off road km the bike had been fine. Just the cracked front subframe before Kazakhstan. Everything else was just routine maintenance. Now, 2000 km further, the bike, which has had years of improvement put into it, was starting to suffer. Nothing was fundamentally weak. Nothing was failing for the wrong reasons. It was because the stress of SO MUCH off road, aggressively ridden, day in day out, was taking its toll. Its not like I dont know how to prepare a bike for this sort of trip. I have probably prepared and ridden more bikes for more tough adventure bike trips than almost anyone. Each time I do it, the bikes are better ... faster ... tougher. I thought back to my flying days and the failsafe engineering that goes into aircraft. It doesnt matter how well you build an aircraft - or how overengineered it is - the airframe can only take so much before it has to be pensioned off. And it occurred to me that maybe asking a bike, any bike, to do something as demanding as this trip, this Sibirsky Extreme Trail, from start to finish, at the speeds you need to go at to finish it on schedule, was possibly asking more out of the bike than its possible to put into a bike. After 2010, when I rode from Magadan to Holland with zero problems with the bike, nothing that needed to be fixed and just 2 bolts and a fuel tank cap that needed to be replaced (after Mongolia ironically) that I thought the bike was bulletproof. But that trip was only 8500 km (5300 miles) off road. The rest was asphalt. This trip was 18,000 km off road. Certainly for the first 8,500 - even 10,000 km of offroad, the bike remained bulletproof. But now that I was up to 12,000 km off road, the difference was beginning to show. It occurred to me that there is a limit. Maybe at this pace, you can not get more than 10,000 km of offroad in before you start to run into issues. Thats when I began to wonder .... is this trail the toughest test you can reasonably put an adventure bike through? Maybe I had even gone too far this time. Maybe this much off road is too much (without rebuilding the bike). I wanted to talk to Terry. His bike had been through the same as mine this trip. I needed to get a better feel from him how his bike was doing. But he was in the middle of nowhere. I would have to chat with him when we met up again in Irkutsk.

    I unpacked the gear I would need for a week in Moscow and called a cab, jumped in and headed off to Nina's place - my refuge in Irkutsk. I had to wake up at 5am the next day for the flight to Moscow. I had made it,. Another mad rush through Mongolia. I dont know why, but everytime I seem to be in Mongolia I have mad time restrictions and need to ride across the country as if I am in a rally race. In 2010 it was because I had to get a flight to Holland for my son's birthday. In 2009 it was because it was late September and the snows had set in , but I had a 4 day window of warm weather in which to race across the country. I dont mind it. I love riding flat out in that terrain. But I had taken great pains this year to put together a spanking good track ... and I was missing it. The KTMs mechanical issues has squeezed our planned time in Mongolia by a week. Thats the breaks.

    I was hoping like hell that the other 4 were getting great pics. (I see now that they did :D)

    Anyway. I was in Irkutsk, and my work was done ... for now.

    Tomorrow - Moscow !
  2. WnRn

    WnRn Left right out

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    This is not one of the guys in the Mongolian Dakar Team is it? :D
  3. (sp?)

    (sp?) flaming ahole ;)

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    My coworker is from Belarus and grew up on a collective farm there. He's in his 40s and emigrated to the US just after the Soviet Union crumbled. He's since gotten an engineering degree is married and has several kids.

    We went out for a Russian lunch today and I described to him in detail what this trip entails and how it was planned. He shakes his head and says "it's dangerous".

    Sure is. Keep it coming!

    Thanks.

    Steve
  4. Island_Rider

    Island_Rider n00bsauce

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    I don't really have any comment that hasn't already been said - Thanks to all five of you for taking the time to share! I'm deeply envious of your adventure, and can only wish that one day I'll have the time, skill, fortitude... Oh yeah, and money to try my own version one day.

    I've been devouring this RR - three evenings bring me to this page now. Like everyone else... More!!!

    At the very least I'll have no choice but to go out and play in the mud this weekend!
  5. Colebatch

    Colebatch "Moto Porn"ographer

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    Here are the tracks as at the end of Day 61 ... up north I had zoomed ahead, and reached Irkutsk.

    In the middle of Mongolia, the gang of four had just passed the sacred mountain Otgon Tenger and were heading through rarely used mountain tracks towards The Great White Lake, then on to Ulaanbaatar (on the far right of the map below)

    [​IMG]
  6. Packer

    Packer Been here awhile

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    Beam(st)er, you make that Mongolian mother look like a child:D I hope you don't mind me asking but how tall are you?

    I'm up to date with the report and getting a daily trickle charge as you each post up your contributions. It brings a little light into a drab Scottish winter full of rain and rain and rain and........................
  7. EvanBA

    EvanBA Adventurer

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    Between your crew and rtwdoug I know I must ride a motorcycle across Russia someday. Thank you for the report and inspiration. :clap
  8. TRF

    TRF n00b

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    Dangerous, yes sure it is!

    I been read all threads what i could find here and been wondering what could be really biggest challenges on trip like this. Basicly in case when some one planning to do this alone. Sure, accident on backwoods is biggest, but next ones; locals, no? Animals like wolfes and Bears, are them really risk?

    GO ON :)
  9. ROD CURRIE

    ROD CURRIE Been here awhile

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    It is indeed a great place to ride but consumerism is tearing in as you'll see when we get to Ulaan Bataar. I think we're seeing the last hurrah of an ancient way of life. I truly hope I'm wrong.
  10. ROD CURRIE

    ROD CURRIE Been here awhile

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    Hi Steve.
    I'm sure your co-worker means well, but it's not dangerous and I'd hate anyone to think that it is. We're not SAS soldiers, superheroes, world class riders(in my case far from it) or even tough guys, just ordinary people who've manage to snag enough time off work to do this.

    At NO point on this trip or on trips in Africa, Europe and the States have I ever felt threatened, intimidated or in any danger whatsoever. I've had the odd scary road experiences but those can be encountered anywhere on a moto.

    If me or the guys or hundreds of other travellers had taken the "it's dangerous-ergo I'll not do it" attitude there'd be no ADV forum.

    I repeat I'm absolutely sure your friend means well, but it's truly not dangerous...so get out there everyone -Its a hoot. :ricky
  11. ROD CURRIE

    ROD CURRIE Been here awhile

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    Guys.
    Sorry to hijack the thread for a minute but a guy I've ridden with in Affriky, and friend of myself and Walter is riding the mighty Dakar right now. He's the most gifted motorcyclist I've ever come across and is sponsored by our friends at Adventure-Spec. Lyndon Poskitt...

    So go on the Dakar website and follow him too.

    Go Pyndon!!:clap:clap:clap:clap
  12. ROD CURRIE

    ROD CURRIE Been here awhile

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    Basically TRF-This is just my opinion and it's simple-you'd be off your head to try to do this alone.

    We were in places so remote at times that if you broke your leg when alone you might not be found for days...maybe never. :deal

    It's always a question of balancing risk and the only way you could remove enough risk to make it acceptable would be to avoid the very places Walter wanted to see because of their remoteness and unspoiled beauty.
    So plan a trip on the slab solo by all means, but if you're adding remoteness and thus risk, start adding a pal or two to mitigate that risk.
    Then we get into a different discussion of the best number of riders...the more you have, the more complications you potentially add. Yes, like KTMs that won't run and delay the whole gang.

    It's all a balance.
  13. Colebatch

    Colebatch "Moto Porn"ographer

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    Youre not wrong mate.

    I have been visiting that country since 1994 ... and the changes are incredibly rapid.

    As you now know, the streets of UB are now jam packed with brand new Landcruisers, BMW X5s, Lexus 4WDs ... traffic jammed 24/7 with $100,000 cars. Who wants to stay out in your ger, when in the city, the cash is rolling in.

    Mongolia is scheduled to have the second fastest economic growth in the world this year, at 13%. The foreseeable future is the same. The huge amount of money rolling in from the new coal and copper mines and the small amount of people to share that wealth around means it will soon be a very very wealthy country indeed.

    I think in coming years, the Mongolian countryside will lose population, and the traditional way of life will become little more than a fantasy, as the population moves to the mines and the big cities to seek their fortune. That what happens when money becomes so easy to make. Not many Emiratis still choose to live the traditional desert Arab life when they can have a Lamborghini in Dubai. I wouldnt expect Mongolians to be much different.

    Get it while you can ... Mongolia wont be the same in 5 years.

    Ask Terry ... he last saw UB in 2007. Now he saw it in 2012 ... ask him how much it changed in 5 years. And the reality is that it will change more in the next 5 years cause the money pouring into Mongolia in the next 5 years will dwarf what has come in over the past 5 years and filled the city up with neon lights, non stop bars and restaurants, and 24/7 traffic jams. Australian, Canadian, Chinese and Russian mining firms are falling over themselves to throw money at the country. Its a miners dream come true. Enormous untapped coal and copper deposits, and the worlds biggest consumer of both coal and copper is just next door .... China.
  14. Colebatch

    Colebatch "Moto Porn"ographer

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    I second what Rod says.

    The most dangerous part of the whole trip was sitting the front seat when Hassan, the mad Chechen of the Altai, was driving us around in his van. Rod bravely went 5 hours with him ! :clap:clap:clap
  15. Maverick75

    Maverick75 Rat

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    Walter, I'm interested in your current perspective on the suitability of the BMW for a trip like this. As a mechanical engineer I fully understand the concepts of 'design life'and 'fit for purpose'. Your bike has done well but in all fairness, this is the type of riding it's supposed to have been designed for. Cracking brackets (especially aftermarket) I can understand, but bolts loosening and going missing rings extreme alarm bells. This is usually an indication that the material that holds these bolts is undergoing stresses beyond it's original design criteria (and not just the bike getting too old for the job).

    This is not a brand bashing post (I owned a BMW for a very satisfactory 6 years as well) but considering your first trip on the Honda 400 twin, which was relatively trouble free, I can't help to think that the consumer driven weight reduction in heavy off-road capable machines, coupled with a stagnation in engineering fundamentals, has created a class of bikes which are a little too weak to 'get flogged to hell and back' and keep on riding.

    What I'm really trying to say is; twenty years ago you could take a stock machine, put a set of bags and some crash bars on it, and literally ride the world. Even though the technology in modern bikes is awesome, how much prep do we need to consider on the current crop of machines?
  16. ROD CURRIE

    ROD CURRIE Been here awhile

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    HI Maverick. Appreciate what you're saying but if you want to take a bike with a 20 year old design, stick your bags on and ride on the terrain we rode-feel free but have something to carry the bag of bits back...because that's what you'll have. :evil
    The MAIN roads in and across Mong are brutal, less than 10% (W?) of those roads are sealed- most with endless heavy corrugations and as you'll see on tomorrow reports some with enormous and endless holes....5 metre wide and 3 metres deep-I kid you not.
    Truly-I'd defy any bike to cover these roads and not need watching for loose bolts and broken bits. They just get battered to pieces.
    Paradoxically the "country" roads are much better due to the light use they get with small vehicles.

    Regarding the suitability of the modern bikes I think we've established that most modern mounts are developed more for the wannabee adventurer with budget suspension and cycle parts to match (plastic bashplate anyone?)-the true adventure market is just too small to merit the R & D, tooling and marketing, dealers carrying the stock etc.etc so we have to take what we feel most appropriate and upgrade accordingly

    I've had bikes since 1970 and I don't want an old one thanks..apart from a '71-'74 CB750 if anyone has a peach :wink:...... I couldn't afford one then.
  17. trailtosakhalin

    trailtosakhalin Adventurer

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    I think you have to try to get best out of both worlds. So that's why i am preparing Yamaha XT600 (BY1999 & 1992). Old simple engine and improved with suspension, tank etc etc.

    For our trip to Mongolia

    Simple engine, good suspension, soft luggage and good simple camera's (dust, water and shockproof).and a Montana :D
  18. Colebatch

    Colebatch "Moto Porn"ographer

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    Hi Mav: The comparison is not valid I am afraid on many levels.

    Firstly ... 20 years ago I was a novice rider, and had a bike that I nursed carefully offroad in first or second gear .. maybe 30 km/h across Mongolia.

    Now I ride a bike flat out in top gear off road, regularly topping 120 -130 km/h. There is probably 20 times the stress off road at that speed than at 30 km/h. Any bike can and will make it across Eurasia at moderate speeds, and nothing should break. ANY bike. The stress comes in due to the speed of riding, the sheer volume of off road distance to cover and the relentless nature of it. Its not softened by many asphalt sections at all. The way I ride a bike now vs the way I ride one 20 years ago is incomparable. If I tried to take the take the old TransAlp on this trip, it would never have made it out of Ukraine. It certainly would not have survived a single day of my thrash across Mongolia this year. The Hondas have a great engine, but they are way too heavy, have no ground clearance, have terrible brakes, brittle plastics, crap suspension, not enough low down torque for off road riding etc. Where I am now in terms of bike selection and preparation is light years ahead of where I was then.

    Remember, I also rode Magadan to Europe (the kinda reverse of this trip) in 2010 on the same bike and had ZERO issues (two bolts). But I pointed out that trip was only 8000 odd off road kms (This trip now is ALL offroad.) A lot of those off road kms were ridden at more moderate speeds too because I was riding with Sherri Jo for part of it. Moderate speeds = no problems. The problems are a result of the stress of speed plus a few issues were related to the battery draining completely after the very deep water crossing near Astana. You cant design bikes to be more ford resistant than the XC currently is. Its about the best bike out there for water crossings. The only design issue that could be raised from that issue is that the starter clutch wears, especially if the starter turns too slowly (i.e. from low batter voltage). Would I take another bike because I need to be wary of the starter clutch wear issue? no.

    Secondly: Bolts loosen on all bikes, even brand new Dakar bikes, specifically built to survive the Dakar ... as a result of severe vibrations at high speed. High speed riding on rocky terrain in particular can eventually shake any bolts loose. Ask any KTM LC4 owner owner how much locktite they need to use.

    Thirdly ... this is not exactly the type of riding my bike is supposed to be designed for. In fact there is no bike from any manufacturer which is designed for anything like this kind of travel. There is no bike from any manufacturer that is even close to being designed for this kind of travel. Adventure bikes are designed for asphalt use with occasional light use on well groomed gravel graded roads. Off road bikes are designed for regular cleaning service and maintenance after short bursts of a few hours off road at a time. There is nothing designed to do this kind of travel. Thats not even debatable ... the products on the market are so so so far away from being fit for this kind of purpose.

    In summary: I know of no other bike I would expect to have taken what I threw at it this year, at the speeds we rode at, and not had issues. Thats exactly why I started to question whether or not the trail is realistically possible. Again if you look back at all my previous trips, things that fail usually result in me or one of the people that help me with bike prep having ideas to fix it, to reduce the risk of a particular failure happening again. Thats why I have a list as long as your arm of modifications to the bike. All making it tougher, more durable. Not this time. With the exception of the prototype front subframe which was easy to recommend a fix to, the rest of the issues are just bike fatigue (bike has 130,000 km on it, about 60% off road) and or unavoidable (you can avoid a lot of issues with regular maintenance, in a warm workshed, with a complete supply of tools - but, when you are on the road in a tent in Mongolia, and its raining, and you have a deadline, the bike has to make do without the luxury of ideal maintenance - It just has to be as tough as it can be to start with.

    If I had ridden at the speed I ride on a stock TransAlp or Africa twin. it wouldnt have made out of Ukraine. An XT600, DR650, etc also would have cracked subframes and numerous other problems if ridden that hard, off road, for that long. I could have taken a bulletproof KTM 690 rally on this trip and broken plenty parts of the bike. As for your question regarding how much prep do you need to do, well it depends how do you intend to ride it. The more aggressively you want to ride, the more prep work you have to do. The more things you need to protect, strengthen, improve. To do this trip in particular, you would need to do a load of prep work and make a load of bike modifications.

    Its not a question of bike selection ... its a question of was I being beyond realistic to set out to do this, bearing in mind the speed I like to ride. Any bike can ride around the world. Most can ride around the world without any problems. But I don't believe any bike can take 3 months on this trail, at these speeds without a few bolts coming loose and other assorted issues. The fact that I could hold the bike together with cable ties and ride another 1300 km to Irkutsk, on a deadline, already actually speaks volumes for the toughness of this bike.

    At no stage was I thinking I hadnt prepared the bike well enough, or I had chosen the wrong bike for the job.

    Was this route tougher than any bike? That was what I began asking myself as problems started to mount in Mongolia.
  19. trailtosakhalin

    trailtosakhalin Adventurer

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    OK so on a XT600 BY 1999 with normal average speed should do the job :D

    Than i am on the right direction with my preparation :D
  20. jspagnol

    jspagnol Chibani Rider

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    Walter ,

    I have been browsing thru this thread but could not find the answer : what brand is the helmet you were wearing on that trip ?