Russia, Mongolia and China- 2008 "A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" was how Winston Churchill famously described Russia. To many people, myself included, the Far East was a closed book and touring Asia was probably the last thing on my Planned Rides list a few years ago. That all changed around 2006, with the screening of The Long Way Round: it became apparent that it was actually possible to ride in the former USSR and, with some thick skin, the PRC too. On most RTW tours, these countries were excluded for political reasons and few people have been able to travel in the one or the other, let alone both. As I investigated the possibilities in 2007, things gradually fell into place. The initial idea was to do it with local equipment, on a motorcycle, starting in Moscow. And the most indigenous form of transport in Russia just had to be an Ural with a side-car. It presented many advantages: three seating positions to choose from, lots of storage space, a fair range (especially with jerry cans), two-wheel drive and mechanical simplicity. Disadvantages were also apparent: lack of performance (100 km/h max), inherent instability of a side-car configuration, weight of the rig and lack of riding comfort. But it was worth considering, so the Ural factory was contacted to explore the possibilities. If you are curious about the lack of commercial success of the Ural brand, wonder no more. The factory and its agents have a totally dogmatic approach that simply excludes marketing flair and customer relations as we know it in the capitalist world. It was suggested we buy a rig in South Africa and import it (!?) to Russia as the export version is not sold in Russia, and it is considered much more reliable and refined than the local version. In order to get a feel for riding such a machine, it was necessary to hire or borrow one for a while. Fortunately one of my friend's father owned an authentic Russian version (albeit one-wheel drive only) with the side-car on the right hand side (South African export versions have the side-car on the left). After locating the ignition key we arranged to pick it up and I gingerly rode it home. The combination of imbalanced traction, poor brake force distribution and sheer inexperience combined to see me disappearing off road even before getting home. But after a week of practice and some adjustments, I got confident enough to open her up all the way to the maximum speed. 100 km/h. Although the Ural was not particularly comfortable, it could certainly be suitable, particularly on bad roads and in colder weather. Colder weather. Brrr! An urgent look at the climate of the Russian Federation was obviously required. For the time slot we had chosen between April and June, the picture looked thus, superimposed on the elevation: With half the trip at mean temperatures below 5ºC (and therefore night times well below freezing) this did not look particularly appealing to people used to sunny skies. A quick calculation of the likely temperature at each location in the reverse direction (China to Russia), with rainfall added for good measure, looked much better: Riding in the opposite direction had immediate implications on the choice of motorcycle: we would now have to obtain a vehicle in China, where the maximum capacity available for locals is 200cc. That meant two bikes, made in China. Less power, questionable reliability, but cheap. There are various 200-GY Chinese made bikes sold under various badges such as Zongshen (Dragon), Lifan, Qingqi and Shineray. Check out http://www.mychinamoto.com for some local enthusiast blogs. These are basically face-lifted Chinese derivatives of the Honda XL185 with 8 litre tanks, about 240 km range and a 100 km/h claimed top speed. After trying in vain to find Chinese motorcycle dealers on the internet, I gave up looking and decided that we would just locate one when we got there.